Sunday, November 30, 2008

King Ralph (Goodale)?

Goodale rumoured to serve as Prime Minister in coalition government

Considering the contentious state of the Liberal leadership, some questions have been raised regarding who, precisely, would lead a Liberal/NDP coalition government.

The Globe and Mail, it seems, may hold the answer -- Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale.

Other rumours circulating had Stephane Dion serving as Prime Minister until a further-abbreviated Liberal leadership convention could take place.

For his own part, Goodale doesn't seem to have a very big problem with the undemocratic means by which he may come to be coronated Prime Minister.

"Mr Harper seems to have a very American republican view of the Canadian constitution," Goodale said. "We don't have a republican system in Canada - we have a parliamentary system."

Which is seemingly Goodale's way of saying that, if neither his party nor the NDP can win an election of their own merit, he's OK with them forging an undemocratic post-election governement through shady back room deals. It's OK because the rules technically allow them to do it.

All this aside, the Goodale for Prime Minister rumours may not have legs as strong as some may think. While speaking out of one side of his mouth and accusing the government of creating a deficit by cutting taxes, Goodale has also spoken out the other side advocating further tax cuts. And Canadians know how the NDP feels about tax cuts.

Goodale has also indulged himself in accusing the Harper government of having no plan to help the economy -- but also indulges himself in declining to mention that at election time his party's plan was to come up with a plan while in office.

Goodale's characteristic disingenuity aside, whether or not the NDP could effectively work with Goodale -- considered by many to be something of a fiscal conservative -- would be very interesting to see. If nothing else, those clamouring to see a second Prime Minister from Saskatchewan should be encouraged by this possibility.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's All About the ...Stimulus Package

Liberal/NDP coalition talks are all about the Benjamins

With the federal government having speculated that they will end a $30 million program subsidizing Canada's political parties to the tune of $1.97 per vote, Canada's opposition parties immediately started crowing.

The Liberals and NDP announced would defeat the government and attempt to form a coalition government. Many conservative commentators are calling it a coup d'etat. The National Post's Kelly McParkland has even called the arrangement a junta.

Of course, matters were very different just days ago when Parliament passed the throne speech despite the lack of an economic stimulus package in the government's prescribed program.

Then the government talks about cutting the subsidies received by each political party -- including itself. Now the Liberals and NDP are ready to defeat the government and try to form a coalition.

Anyone who honestly believes that this scheme really has anything to do with economic stimulus is a fool.

When the Conservatives first moved to cut these subsidies, there was a great deal of ambiguity related to their motives. Yet various partisans from the Liberals, NDP and Greens vocally accused the government of having devious intentions. Admittedly, those motivations are part and parcel of the government's own proposition.

The Tories have since backed off on the topic. But there's little news of the opposition preparing to back down.

With the talk of a Liberal/NDP coalition, there is no ambiguity. The Liberals and NDP want to protect their subsidies. The Liberals want to govern, and the NDP wants its first taste of federal power.

When the government mused about eliminating party funding from the federal budget, the opposition parties insisted that the government was being self-serving.

Whether or not this is true remains a significant question. If the government was being self-serving it deserves to be defeated and replaced. But while the case can be argued, it's far from certain.

But in the case of the proposed Liberal/NDP coalition government there is no uncertainty. The Liberals and NDP are being self-serving to the extent that they are set to help themselves to power that they have not won.

All the talk about a Liberal/NDP government is about money and power. Nothing more and nothing less.

How to Not Get Something Over With

University of Guelph Students Association drags its feet on Life Choice controversy

The latest development on the tale of the Life Choice controversy at the University of Guelph is being embraced by the editoral staff of the Guelph Mercury embracing the reinstatement of interim club status as a "welcome gesture".

This was done as the appeal process for Life Choice's suspension was delayed yet again, while a tribunal is adjourned to arbitrate the matter.

Previously, on October 30, procedural considerations stalled the appeal process.

"I believe the environment of this room is unsafe," complained U of G CSA's Human Resources Commissioner Joel Harnest -- the very same Joel Harnest who indulged himself in denouncing the Life Fair as "anti-choice", and helped lead the charge against Life Choice on the basis that it somehow rendered the University of Guelph cmapus unsafe for women.

So in other words, the "unsafe environment" of the October 30 appeal hearing more likely had to do with Joel Harnest hearing things he didn't want to hear rather than any particular risk of physical violence.

The October 30 meeting had been conduced in the absence of the CSA's adviser regarding its bylaws.

For one, Patrick Case, the director of the University of Guelph's human rights and equity office admitted that the procedure of the meeting was unfair when the CSA aired uninvestigated allegations of harassment against Life Choice. Case noted that such accusations needed to be either investigated for factualness or discarded.

The matter was delayed until November 19, when the matter was once again delayed due to poor preparation on the CSA's part.

Now, the matter will be delayed further still.

Which makes one wonder precisely how confident Harnest and his CSA cohorts are in their efforts to deny Life Choice student club status in the name of promoting their own agenda -- and they very much do have an agenda.

Some of Harnest's comments printed in the National Post are very indicative of what Harnest's agenda really is, and it should be considered altogether unsurprising considering his previous "anti-choice" rhetoric.

"It's not the responsibility of the CSA to support them because we are a pro-choice organization. And as a private organization we can choose who to associate with," Harnest insists. "My argument is that women are a minority in this country in terms of the power and stake that they have. We are defending the rights of women."

Of course, there are numerous problems with Harnest's argument. First off, the University of Guelph Central Students Association is supposed to be a governing body, not a "pro-choice group".

Secondly, while it can be expected that such organizations will reflect the views of its membership, it does not have the right to impose them on others. Furthermore, the CSA would have to demonstrate that a significant majority of students at the U of G hold "pro-choice" views before it could reasonably declare itself to hold such a stance.

Even then, being a "pro-choice" group does not give it the right to expel a club from its membership for holding contrary views -- particularly when the members of that club each, as U of G students, pay student fees to fund the CSA.

Furthermore, the University of Guelph's actions is proven that it is not a pro-choice group. What Harnest really means is pro-abortion group. Any group that would expel a member for daring to choose to express a contrary opinion is not pro-choice.

Now, with their rationale for expelling Life Choice unraveling before their very eyes under the scrutiny of the U of G human rights and equity office -- an organization that Harnest had to have imagined would back his agenda 100% without so much as a question -- the CSA is apparently looking for a way out.

Now, if their decision to expel Life Choice is overturned by a tribunal, it will at least seem as if their personal responsibility in the matter is diminished.

But it won't be. The University of Guelph Central Student's Association made a decision dictated not by the rules of the CSA itself, but by the political biases of its members.

Given the place this episode has taken as yet another chapter in what Charles Lewis considers to be the ongoing tale of left-wing intolerance on many University campuses, this is an episode that will not be forgotten.

Nor will the role of the CSA in bringing these events to fruition.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Questions of Tactical Brilliance Are Irrelevant

If this is about electoral strategy, then this is wrong

A recent move by the federal government to stop the flow of federal subsidies -- at a rate of $1.95 per vote received -- was bound to attract the outrage of Canada's opposition parties.

Even the staunchest supporters of the Conservative party have sufficient cause to wonder whether or not this is a strategic move on Harper's part.

Those who have subscribed to the notion of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a power-mongering ideologue for whom winning a majority government is all-important, this makes sense. For those who see Harper as a principled conservative looking for a way to prevent unncessary spending during a time of economic crisis may be impelled to see the move as more of a symbolic move, akin to cutting the bonuses and expense accounts of MPs and government bureaucrats.

Some, however, can't seem to resist the urge to assess the strategic virtues of the move. In a Full Comment blog, Ian MacDonald muses on this very topic:
"Had the Conservatives been returned with a majority in last month’s election they had every intention of cutting off public financing of political parties, and they would had the means and the muscle to do it over the howls of opposition protests. Now they’re doing so anyway, touting it as part of Ottawa tightening its spending in yesterday’s economic update.
But all three opposition parties, who live on the Elections Canada annual subsidy of $1.95 per vote, were instantly outraged and will ferociously oppose it, which means if they defeat it in the House, the government will fall on a question of confidence.

And Stephen Harper said he was hoping for a more civility in the new House. Forget it, Prime Minister. This is a declaration of war. It’s tactically brilliant, but could prove fatally flawed. Harper does not want an election with the economy sliding into a deep recession and the government falling into a deficit. But he should not assume the Liberals will go into a snap election with St├ęphane Dion as their leader. The Liberal caucus will not allow it, and would step in to elect either Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae.
Of course, any snap decision in leadership will inevitably produce significant rifts within the Liberal party.

Not to mention the fact that Dion himself may insist on fighting this election. Should he force the party to remove him before the leadership convention, the blood on the floor of the Liberal party will almost certainly attract some sharks -- from both within the party and without.
"The move would save taxpayers about $27 million a year. That’s chump change in $200 billion of federal spending, nothing more than symbolic gesture of Ottawa doing its part. But for the opposition parties, it’s their lifeblood -- $7 million for the Liberals, $5 million for the NDP, $3 million for the Bloc Quebecois, and nearly $2 million for the Greens. The Conservatives get about $10 million based on their current 38% share of the vote, but are much less reliant on the public subsidy than the other parties -- last year the Conservatives raised $16 million on their own, four times as much as the Liberals.

But it’s the Bloc Quebecois, the party that wants to break up Canada, that is the most reliant on the federal subsidy. While its provincial cousins, the Parti Quebecois, are worse than broke and went into the current Quebec election $800,000 in debt, the Bloc is flush with cash. The $6 million the Bloc would receive over the normal two-year life of a minority Parliament is more than 10 times what it would raise on its own.
Which is precisely what one should expect from a party that wants to break up the country, and so can only fundraise in the portion of the country it wants to excise -- in this case, Quebec.
"One of the reasons the PQ is effectively demobilized, as well as broke, is that many of its best people are on the Bloc or federal government payroll, in 49 parliamentary and riding offices. Like the NDP and the Liberals in the House yesterday, the Bloc screamed that the cuts to party allowances were an attack on democracy itself, although to all appearances democracy functioned quite well before parties were subsidized in the 2003 campaign finance reform, which banned corporate and union donations as the tradeoff for the public subsidy.

In the House yesterday, Harper replied to a fulminating NDP Leader Jack Layton that “protecting the entitlements of political parties is not going to do anything for the Canadian people.”
And he's right -- they won't.
"And here’s his closing argument in English-speaking Canada. Should the taxpayers of Canada finance the separatist movement? Answer: no.

But Harper should also beware of what he wishes for. In the toxic atmosphere he has instantly created, his government could fall. And in the ensuing election, in a steep economic downturn, he could lose to either Iggy or Bob.
That is, provided that either Iggy or Bob can unite what will almost certainly be a very divided party behind them in time.

Then again, there is still the other side of this issue -- the one that is actually more important.

The strategic virtues of this move are actually irrelevant. If this move is really about political strategy, then this move is just plain wrong -- and Canadians should judge and reject Stephen Harper and his party based on that.

Tories in For Sleepless Nights?

Two Bizarre, Confusing Sets of Priorities

Conservatives to cut party subsidies in economic update

As the country seemingly prepares to face down a recession-driven deficit, news reports indicate that the government may be set to cut the subsidies granted to Canadian political parties.

The subsides account for $30 million a year. But they account for a disproportionate amount of each party's total revenues.

At a rate of $1.95 per vote received, these subsidies would pay out $10 million to the Conservative party, $7.7 million to the Liberal party, $4.9 million to the NDP, $2.6 million to the Bloc Quebecois and $1.8 million to the seatless Green party.

The subsidies account for 37% of Conservative party revenues, 63% of the Liberal party's revenues, 57% for the NDP, 86% for the Bloc Quebecois and 65% for the Green party.

For their own part, Green party leader Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Gerard Kennedy have their own theories about the move. Unsurprisingly, their theories make the worst possible assumptions about the move.

"It's a very cynical ploy on Mr Harper's part obviously geared toward bankrupting the Liberal party more than helping out the Canadian taxpayer," May insisted.

"Is this really what we should be talking about, or should we be talking about the real measures that are going to help [Canadians] have a more secure job, more secure pensions and [allow their] savings to grow or at least be more secure?" asked Gerard Kennedy.

Each side of the debate actually has its merits. At $30 million, the subsidy cuts will fall far short of making up any shortfalls in federal revenues. Although it can be argued that every little bit counts, this is a $30 million that could just as well stay where it is.

At the same time, however, it's interesting to consider that the Liberal party -- a party whose members and supporters often seem to think it's entitled to govern indefinitely -- would so desperately need government subsidies simply to stay alive.

It isn't unreasonable to think that any party positioned to potentially govern the country should be able to fund itself through its fundraising efforts. To suggest that the country owes the party a subsidy even during a time of financial crisis suggests a woeful lack of priorities on the part of the Liberal party.

It's only natural that Gerard Kennedy and Eliabeth May would so desperately want to insist that there's a conspiracy to destroy the Liberal party afoot.

While it should be considered that this decision is very much in the Conservative party's favour, the truth regarding any insidious conspiracy is much different: the government is making a poor decision for what will most certainly be poor returns.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stop the Double Talk on Afghanistan

Government needs to make up its mind on Afghanistan, then tell the Canadian people

If one were to believe the election-time and immediate post-election talk of the governing Conservative party, Canada will be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

If one were to believe the party, not even the election of the pro-Afghan war Barack Obama as American president won't change that.

Yet in the immediate wake of a conference between the defense ministers of NATO countries engaged in Afghanistan, Peter MacKay seems to be humming a distinctly different tune on the conflict.

"There are many ways in which we can make contributions beyond 2011," MacKay recently mused. "What we've said is the current combat mission, the current configuration, will end in 2011. That's a firm date, confirmed by Parliament and respectful of Parliament."

Which would actually be the right decision. With Canadian aid agencies expected to remain active in Afghanistan after 2011, a Canadian military presence is Afghanistan to ensure their safety and security is nothing more than the responsible thing to do -- and nothing less would be acceptable.

But Canadians have a right now what these "many ways in which [Canada] can make contributions" are.

MacKay is also looking toward other initiatives as alternatives to the combat mission in Khandahar. "After 2011, I suspect, and I don't want to speculate, there's always going to be a call for Canada to participate where we're needed, when we're needed," MacKay suggested. "We've never shied away from that. We've always stepped up."

Which is all well and good -- but Canadians also have a right to know what other missions the government is considering. Whether it involves an aggressive peacemaking/peacekeeping mission such as that required in Darfur or more Chretien-era "mission diplomacy", Canadians have the right to know.

Under normal circumstances, there would be very little cause for concern. Under most circumstances the Canadian government has chosen its foreign engagements very responsibly -- the lack of an intervention during the Rwandan genocide being a particular exception.

With the government seemingly wavering on the Afghanistan mission -- wavering between an irresponsible disengagement and a responsible reengagement -- many Canadians may be forgiven for suspecting that there is more afoot than simply double talk on the Afghan war -- and they have the right to know what that is.

Peter MacKay and the government needs to come clean.

The What the Fuck!? Files Vol. 5: Kill Whitey

Racist and wrong -- it's a perfect combination

One bets that any non-retards attending Carlton University are wishing the Carleton University Students Association allowed for the recall of councilors.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Preston Manning: Christians Have Responsibility to Environment

Manning makes pitch for theological environmentalism

Speaking at a recent conference at Calgary's Rocky Mountain College, Preston Manning sent a message to Albertan Christians:

He wants them to get involved in the environmental debate.

Manning seems to think that the environmental debate -- up to and including the purported "climate crisis" -- could benefit from having a distinct Christian voice join the debate.

"We've got a window of time now to reflect on how we should be responsibly developing our resources," Manning mused. "And we as Christians can bring a distinctive approach to acting as mediators which is rooted in our faith."

But Manning reminds Christians that they don't have the option of attempting to remain neutral in the debate.

"Jesus communicates constantly between God and man. As a mediator, He sacrifices His own interests to bring the parties together. He's not an aloof third party weighing the arguments of both sides," he continued.

Manning's model -- one could think of it as a form of theological enivronmentalism -- involves two principles: "creation care" and responsible energy development.

Manning's notion of "creation care" is a fairly simple one: Christians, who believe that the Earth is God's creation, have a responsibility to ensure that the Earth is well taken care of.

This comes a long way from Ann Coulter's "Earth is yours. Here, take it. Rape it. It's yours."

The other principle of Manning's theological environmentalism embodies considerably more detail. Developing energy responsibly must go far beyond the development of existing resources. It must also mandate the improvement of energy efficiency, as well as the development of alternative -- renewable -- energy sources.

Intriguingly, Manning seems to have endorsed a policy similar to Stephane Dion's Green shift carbon tax.

"Don't call it a tax, call it a price and don't tell people that it's revenue-neutral," Manning warned. "Be honest. Tell people it's going to cost you, but then convince them that putting a value on clean air and clean water is worth it."

In other words, Manning, like many economists, favours putting a price on carbon emissions, although he seems to draw the line short of rearranging Canada's tax structure around such a notion, and would remind any politicians willing to champion such an initiative to be prepared to take the inevitable political risk of being honest about it -- something Stephane Dion and the Liberal party declined to do.

Manning has also drawn attention to a significant generation gap in those who understand the importance of mediating between the environment and the economy.

"In boardrooms and cabinet rooms, those under 35 already have the environment and the economy integrated," Manning concluded. "The older generation has a lot of difficulty grasping that reality. We have to encourage and support our children as they start to lead the way."

Which makes a certain amount of sense. Considering the argument that each generation only holds the Earth in trust for the next generation, it only makes sense for people younger and younger to lead this debate.

Naomi Klein Has Some 'Splainin' To Do

Obama economic team fierce adherents of Klein's Shock Doctrine

In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein paints a sobering picture of the global economy.

In the book, Klein argues that the free market reforms instituted in many developing nations -- and in western countries albeit in a watered-down form -- have adapted the torture methods developed by Ewen Cameron, McGill University's notorious "Doctor Shock", to the global economy.

In the book Klein insists that economists operating according to the theories developed by Milton Friedman have taken advantage of economic disaster in many developing states. Where such disasters didn't occur naturally Klein argues that they imposed them.

Klein insists that free market capitalism has to be held responsible for the disasters that have unfolded wherever the "shock therapies" enacted by Friedman's disciples have been used.

The Shock Doctrine emerges as a damning indictment of conservative economic policies.

The book portrays many conservative-minded economists as vultures -- opportunists pecking the carrion left behind by economic disasters that have often been the result of the policies themselves.

One wonders, however, how Klein would treat the opportunism now being practiced by economists who share many of her Kenyesian views.

Terence Corcoran has connected the dots between Klein's Shock Doctrine and some of the initiatives being prepared by Barack Obama's incoming economic team.

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," said Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. Most readers should be forgiven for recognizing the similarity between those comments and those uttered by members of the Bush administration following 9/11.

Corcoran offers a scathing denunciation of what he perceives to be the not-so-new-found hypocrisy of the left, and of Klein in particular:

"Haven’t we heard all this before? Isn’t cashing in on crisis supposed to have been George W. Bush’s game, with the evil Dick Cheney at his side and propped up by the crisis-mongering cabal of capitalist free-market running dogs from the Chicago School, the Milton Friedmanites? Isn’t this Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine actually being implemented — not by the right but by the left?

Looks like it to me, which is perhaps why we haven’t heard too much criticism from the left on the emergence of Barack Obama as the world’s leading practitioner of the art of disasterism. Ms. Klein reached hard to paint President Bush as a ruthless crisis monger. He invaded Iraq after 9/11 because it was something his administration’s key advisors (and his father?) always wanted to do. The War on Terror was a pretext for privatization and security controls. Hurricane Katrina turned into a great opportunity to roll-back labour standards, close public housing and privatize schools in New Orleans. Free trade was foisted on Americans by politicians during economic turmoil.

All that was deplorable when the Bush administration seemed to be doing it, but it’s OK on the left now when their man is talking about turning the current economic crisis into an open pit for every policy intervention sitting in the filing cabinets of liberal think-tanks and Democrats in Congress. It’s apparently just fine to cash in on a crisis if the initiatives are the ones you want.
Which is all well and good.

But it isn't as if Klein has never criticized Obama. As a matter of fact, Klein has criticized Obama for not being progressive enough.

But if Obama's administration really does take the current economic crisis as an opportunity to implement the program Corcoran is predicting -- "radical labour reform, ratchet up government spending, nationalize industries, roll-out energy controls, re-regulate banking and industry, socialize health care, turn the economy over to the carbon police", Klein's Shock Therapy may face some serious impediments to its credibility.

After all, it isn't as if Keynesian economics haven't had their own fair share of negative consequences. In fact, as recently as 1993 Canadians were facing a fiscal meltdown, complete with a decimation of the country's credit rating.

Many of Klein's contemporaries have argued that the record deficits seen under Brian Mulroney's government between 1980 and 1993 were actually the result of hiked interest rates. Yet they cannot account for the fact that the government had already been spending at deficit levels since the glorious Trudeau years.

In other words, while de-regulation of financial markets and the resultant trading of Equity Derivatives resulted in short-term financial gain leading to long-term financial disaster, so have the Kenyesian economics that thinkers such as Naomi Klein favour.

Even if Obama turns around and implements a dream package of economic goodies for Keynesian disciples it isn't going to provide any sort of miracle cure for the global economy, or even the American economy. What it will do is lead the United States deeper into a cycle of ever-mounting debt that, if left unchecked, will inevitably destroy their economy.

What is needed now is not wholesale embracing of Keynesian economics, nor has the wholesale embracing of Friedmanism ever posed the prospect of an economic miracle.

Now is truly the time for a more pragmatic brand of economics. The remaining questions are: do the economic officials of the world have the political will to find it, and can they amass the necessary political capital?

Only time -- and Obama's actions -- will tell.

Monday, November 24, 2008

This Day in Canadian History

November 24, 1968 - FLQ terrorists bomb Montreal Eaton's store

In 1968, Pierre Trudeau assumed the office of Prime Minister of Canada when he succeeded Lester Pearson as the leader of the Liberal party.

In an election held on June 25 of that year Trudeaumania swept Trudeau and his Liberals into power with a majority government.

But not everyone was so pleased. In Trudeau's home province of Quebec dark clouds were beginning to coalesce over Canadian unity.

The day before the election Trudeau attended the St Jean Baptiste Day parade in Montreal. Enraged at his presence, Quebec separatists began to riot and barraged his grandstand with bottles and rocks. While the other officials seated on the grandstand took cover Trudeau stood his ground. A Canadian legend took shape that day -- that of Pierre Trudeau the fearless separatist fighter, facing down the separatists with little regard for his own safety.

It's become a potent element of the political mythology many Canadians -- especially Liberal partisans and those like-minded -- have built around Trudeau.

However, the bottles and rocks hurled at Trudeau that day paled in comparison to the coming storm.

On November 24, 1968, a bomb exploded in an Eaton's store in downtown Montreal. The Front de Liberation du Quebec, also known as the FLQ, quickly took responsibility for the act. Domestic terrorism had officially arrived in Canada.

The FLQ had been active prior to 1968. On April 20, 1963, Wilfred Vincent O'Neil became the FLQ's first victim. O'Neil, a security guard at a Canadian Army recruiting centre was killed by an FLQ bomb.

A year later, in 1964, Leslie McWilliams was killed in the course of an FLQ robbery of a gun store he managed.

In 1965, FLQ explosives intervened in a labour dispute between La Grande shoes and a Quebecois labour union when Therese Moran, a secretary, was killed.

Throughout 1968 and 1969, bombings became more and more frequent leading up to the 1970 October crisis when FLQ terrorists kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte.

Unfortunately, it took an international incident for the FLQ to be decisively dealt with. The pre-1970 victims of the FLQ included not only those killed, but numerous wounded. The most blatant act of unremitting terrorism, conducted according to a manifesto entitled "Revolutionary Strategy and the Role of the Avant-Garde", occurred in 1969 when the FLQ bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange. 27 people were wounded in that attack.

In today's age of preoccupation with international terrorism -- and a disproportionate focus on Islamic Militants in particular -- the events of November 24, 1968 stand as a stark reminder of the threat of domestic terrorism, one that has remained much more omnipresent throughout Canadian history than many Canadians would care to admit.

From violence directed at Canadian abortion clinics to the activities of various racial groups, domestic terrorism has often been largely ignored in Canada.

One can only hope that taking the opportunity to reflect on such episodes will lead to a realization of how deeply such terrorist acts can rend Canada's national fabric, and to a commitment by Canadians of all walks of life to take the issue of domestic terrorism seriously.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Redemption Lost in Transition

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the TV movie 24: Redemption. Those still interested in seeing this TV movie should consider themselves warned.

24 provides painful reminder of humanitarian failure

In just under two months, Barack Obama will replace George W Bush as the President of the United States.

Obama will assume office during what may be the most tumultuous period in the history of the United States. With American troops involved in two separate wars, humanitarian atrocities taking place in any number of places around the world and an economic crisis on the domestic front, Obama will face significant challenges.

As 24: Redemption, the most recent adventure of 24's Jack Bauer, demonstrates one of the greatest challenges Obama will face will be in terms of chasing down whatever gets lost in the transition between administrations.

In the film, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is waiting out the last couple of hours before her inauguration as president.

Across the world in Senegal, however, events are already underway that will shape the early hours of her Presidency. General Benjamin Juma (Tony Todd) has raised an army and is preparing to take control of Senegal.

During the final hours before his attack -- financed by an obscure conspiracy between American financial interests and rogue intelligence agents -- Juma is making a last push to recruit the child soldiers he will use as cannon fodder during his campaign.

His efforts lead him to a school where Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) is helping an old friend, Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle) raise and educate war orphans. When Benton dies in the course of helping the children escape, Bauer will have to face his past and answer a subpoena to answer for his torture of terrorism suspects -- a subpoena he has been running from for over a year.

The film concludes with a heart-wrenching scene replayed over and over throughout the history of the past 40 years -- American troops leaving desperate refugees behind as they evacuate their citizens, leaving men, women, and children to face certain torture and death at the hands of Juma's coup.

The film forces viewers to consider several realities: first off, a scene in which Bauer is tortured in order to force him to reveal the location of a the school's children reminds us that many of the dangerous forces at work in the world today don't respect our values. Neither flexibility nor strictness in how we observe our own values will change that.

Secondly, that hope for a better future simply isn't enough. We in the western world have to keep the courage to live up to our responsibilities, and do whatever we can to keep the world's most dangerous individuals -- whether it be military strongmen like the fictional Juma or terrorist masterminds like the very real Osama Bin Laden -- in check and under control.

Third, the vaunted neutrality of the UN means very little to these individuals. In the film, a UN aid worker helping Bauer and Benton is captured and beaten into revealing the position of Bauer and the children (although, to be just, he doesn't make them beat him very hard).

Finally, we must do whatever we can to prevent scenes such as that playing out in Dakar at the end of the film from ever happening again. Leaving helpless men, women and children to the tender mercies of a brutal military regime is nothing more or less than a betrayal of the values we claim to hold dear.

Whether this means being proactive on various fronts -- including controlling the international black market arms trade -- or simply ensuring that we have the capability to stage effective evacuations of refugees, we owe it to ourselves and to our values to ensure that these shameful scenes -- played out most famously in Vietnam and Rwanda -- never happen again.

For Canada, this means properly equipping our embassies around the world with the necessary security and transportation tools necessary to effect such evacuations. It also requires taking up Lloyd Axworthy's prescribed establishment and reopening of consulates in cities around the world, particularly those where Canada can exert the greatest influence, and do the greatest good.

Our values as a country -- which intersect with those of our allies in so many important ways -- depend on this.

The Canadian conscience simply must tell us "never again". If our allies won't take responsibility for the protection of refugees, we must.

The American political system, sadly leaves a good deal of time for redemption to get lost in the cracks. Canada, however, does not have the luxury of that time. Not if our national values are to survive intact.

Junk Science-Fuelled Triumphalism Interrupted

Bad conclusions drawn from bad science

In what some fervent demagogues continue to insist is a "war" between religion and atheism, more and more "warriors" are continually in search of what they believe is the metaphorical magic bullet that will win the battle for them once and for all.

In the form of a 2005 study, certain individuals seem to think they've found it.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Religion and Society, anthropologist Gregory Paul identifies what he believes to be a correlation between religiosity and poor social health -- marked by higher rates of crime, STD infection, teen pregnancy, abortion, and early adult and juvenile mortality.

Unfortunately for the demagogues, however, it turns out that there are several problems with Paul's study that should take the wind out of the sails of those using it to denigrate religion.

First off, the study itself is inherently and fatally flawed. It relies overwhelmingly on statistics as opposed to any kind of experimental research or case studies. In particular, the statistics used for violent crime rates and STDs are particularly problematic for this study -- such statistics frequently turn out to be far less reliable than Paul touts them to be, as many violent crimes are recorded in crime rate statistics only when charges are laid and a conviction attained. Many violent crimes (exempting, of course, murder) go unreported in western democracies. Likewise, STDs are only recorded when those suffering from the disease seek treatment. The shocking number of carriers who remain unaware they have an STD or choose not to seek treatment cast serious doubt over the results of Paul's research.

Moreover, Paul's research seems to ignore some of the world's most religiously devout states: no mention at all is made of countries such as Turkey, Iran or Saudi Arabia.

If the conclusions being taken away from Paul's work contained the merit some are crediting them with, one should expect theocracies such as these to have even higher rates of social dysfunction than the United States. Yet when examined by the outsider, the rates of "social dysfunction" (at least as defined by Paul) are much, much lower in these countries.

While the often-oppressive nature of these states demonstrates their own particular form of social dysfunction, the case of these countries actually offers significant cause for doubt in Paul's conclusions. Naturally, there are other factors underlying the low levels of social dysfunction in these particular countries. As such, while their low levels of social dysfunction (as it is defined by Paul) correlate with their high level of religiosity, the causational relationship between the two is extremely ambiguous.

Which brings one back to the number one reason why the conclusions being drawn from Paul's study are so comically remiss: correlation is not causation. In fact, this is one of the primary rules of any science, be it a social science or physical science.

Paul's study compares rates of religiosity to phenomenae of what he defines as social dysfunction. Yet other factors -- such as alcohol and drug use -- have been shown through various research methods, ranging from statistical research to individual case studies -- to be a very strong precipitating factor in each and every social phenomenon Paul identifies.

Likewise, factors such as poverty and level of educational attainment have proven to have stronger correlatory relationships with these forms of social dysfunction than does religion.

It doesn't take a PHD in any social science to find all the holes in Paul's research.

Unfortunately, many of those touting his research as evidence that religion is "corrosive" are simply too motivated by the prospect of an ideological triumph to closely examine his work, blemishes and all. Consider this particular article from Slate magazine wherein Paul Bloom makes himself utterly transparent when he describes the more secular countries of Europe as "atheist societies".

If correlation were causation -- or at least if the forms of social dysfunction Gregory Paul chose to study were even relatively simple matters -- some of the triumphalism may be justifiable.

But unfortunately for the aforementioned demagogues, facts are quite different on each count.

Pretending that atheism makes on intellectually superior is one thing. But when such obnoxious triumphalism is based on a study as flawed as Gregory Paul's, it simply leads one to question the intellect of these individuals altogether.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's Define "Slavery", If We May...

On November 19, American alternative historian Howard Zinn gave a speech at the Univeristy of Quebec in Montreal.

While Montreal's 9/11 Truth organization took the opportunity to vent their outrage at Zinn for refusing to join their movement, Zinn also made some interesting remarks about Iraq war resisters. In a question-and-answer period, Zinn was asked a question about how Canadians can force the government to start sheltering Iraq war resisters.

It's widely known that Howard Zinn is an advocate of nonviolent civil disobedience, a tactic that he and many of his students used to protest the Vietnam war. There's little surprise that Zinn's answer invoked civil disobedience, but Zinn's remarks on the historical context of the matter simply defy credulity:

"It's going to take a lot of civil disobedience. It'll be like what Americans did in the 1850s when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave act requiring that slaves be sent back to their masters.

What happened is that we had citizens organize to rescue these slaves. To refuse to allow the authorities to take them back.

So you will have these organized citizens actions to protect and defend and give sanctuary to GIs who come here. That would mean violating the law. That would mean organization and mass action. Even if it fails, and even if the police come in and don't allow the rescue to take place, it will bring dramatic attention to the situation that may then arouse enough Canadian citizens to join the movement for the defense and sanctuary, and force a change in policy.
Of course, the reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act is a great example of citizens banding together to oppose an unjust law.

But the comparison between the two leads one to wonder if Zinn understands what slavery was, or if he spent any amount of time considering such issues before answering this question.

The key distinction between slavery and Iraq war resisters is actually the same as the stark distinction between Vietnam war resisters and Iraq war resisters.

Slavery is not a voluntary condition. It involves forcibly putting people into bondage in support of causes for which they will be disproportionately reimbursed for the value of their labour. In the modern context, slaves are generally considered to be property -- although in Greek (particularly Athenian) antiquity, slaves were actually regarded as indentured (and, once again, involuntary) employees).

A conscripted soldier, such as was the case during the Vietnam conflict, could certainly be successfully argued to fit this particular definition.

But Iraq war resisters -- universally members of a volunteer military -- simply cannot. They volunteered to join the military. In some cases, such as that of Brad McCall, they enlisted after the Iraq war began.

In some cases, that of Corey Glass, the soldiers in question weren't facing Court Martials at all.

Glass almost seemed disappointed. "I had absolutely no idea that I had been discharged," Glass told American network ABC. "This is insane. This is so weird. There are no warrants? No one is looking for me?"

In fact, Glass had actually been discharged from the US Army before he even arrived in Canada. He insists he didn't know this.

Iraq war resisters hiding in Canada are far from slaves. No matter what delusions they entertain, those seeking to ensure the Canadian state shelters them are far from a modern incarnation of the underground railroad.

Howard Zinn is widely known as a man of intense social conscience. But that social conscience may have gotten the better of him this time around, as his allusions between Iraq war resisters and slavery prove to be, ultimately, vacuous.

As for the 9/11 "truth" movement, Zinn can be forgiven for his lack of patience. It's simply not worthwhile to continue dealing with people too stupid to admit that their consipracy theories have been thoroughly and constantly rubished.

Thanks For Calling, Guys

Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Ben Stein sent packing by Academy Awards

When the Best Documentary Film Oscar is handed out at the 2009 Academy Awards, the producers of Expelled, Religulous and Slacker Uprising will not be accepting the award.

The omission of Ben Stein, Bill Maher and Michael Moore off the 15-film roll call of Oscar nominees, probably represents one of two things: either the less-than-spectacular stature of each of these films, or a rejection of a growing scourge in the genre of documentary film: the documentary style often referred to as Michael Moore-ism.

Films made in the Michael Mooreist style tend to be sensational and ultimately self-promoting; long on rhetoric and short on actual facts. The editing is usually cartoonish, relying on inter-cut clips of cartoon shows or amusing archive footage, often inserted into the film on a random cue -- what Richard Dawkins describes as a "lord privy seal" in his less-than-sparkling criticism of the film.

(Interestingly, Bill Maher's pro-atheist Expelled contained a great many such "lord privy seals" -- something that Dawkins declined to criticize. Commentators on Dawkins blog even went to great lengths to defend Maher's indulgences, which really only reinforces the known hypocrisy of many Dawkinites.)

Sometimes, the questions asked by such films are, in and of themselves, quite valid: Expelled, for example, calls into question the level of academic freedom at many institutions of higher learning, and Religulous questions many of the excesses of the religious faithful. Bowling for Columbine raised important questions about American gun culture, and about the effect organizations such as the NRA have on American society.

In the end, however, each film is ultimately self-promoting. Ben Stein clearly intends to elevate to heroic status among the community of religious believers -- or at least amongst those who believe in Intelligent Design theory. Bill Maher clearly wants to ascend to Dawkins-like status in terms of being a religion fighter. Slacker Uprising turned out to be nothing more than shameless self-promotion on Michael Moore's part, offering little more than a showcase of Moore speaking to large anti-Bush rallies and hobnobbing with like-minded celebrity buddies during the 2004 election.

Rarely has anyone gone to the lengths Moore has gone to in order to promote himself as a hero of the American left -- or, some would say, the global left, as the distinction between the two so often proves to be rather slim.

Films made in the Michael Mooreist style often feature one highly unethical feature: that of the late-film ambush, where an unsuspecting subject is lured into a compromising interview with a surprise interviewer.

Bill Maher lied to many subjects of Religulous in order to get them to appear, and later shamelessly admitted it. Richard Dawkins accused Ben Stein of lying in order to get him to appear in Expelled (but remained oddly silent when Maher admitted to lying in order to lure many of Religulous' subjects into interviews).

In each case, however, it could be argued that lying was the only way to draw these individuals into the richly-deserved limelight of ridicule. Few have parlayed outright arrogance into star status as effectively as Dawkins. And, quite frankly, anybody who has the audacity to claim to be the second coming of Jesus Christ deserves to be forced to defend that assertion in the public eye.

At base level, Moore's ambush of Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine seems to fit the same bill. Yet, as it turned out, Heston was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease during the time of the interview. While Heston certainly deserved to be called to account for his callous response to several shooting incidents, what eventually emerged was a failure of human compassion: the badgering of a man at the beginning of a slow, agonizing process of dying.

Perhaps moreso than Farenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine provided the model for the explosion of Michael Mooreist films in the succeeding years. That it won an Oscar and provided its maker with a nearly unprecedented stage from which to pronounce his political views only encouraged the proliferation of such films.

Which makes it perhaps fitting that the pale imitations of this film -- including Moore's own pale imitation -- will likely continue to be snubbed by the Academy.

But one way or the other, so long as self-promoting unethical hacks continue to look at documentary film as a venue through which they can lionize themselves, the Michael Mooreist style isn't going away.

At least now the Academy is set to stop pretending it represents any form of excellence -- technical or otherwise.

The Wonders of Racial Diversity

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 2008 Book Club Selection: Dead Centre, Jamey Heath

Heath argues for ideological hegemony of New Democrats

In the wake of the 2005/06 federal election, many Liberals were pointing the fingers of blame at Jack Layton and the NDP, blaming them for the election of Stephen Harper and the Conservative party.

The NDP first helped the Conservatives defeat the Liberal government, then helped them form the election by winning seats away from the Liberals and by splitting the vote in many ridings won by the Conservatives.

Dead Centre author Jamey Heath has one thing to say about all this:


In Dead Centre, Heath insists that the Liberal party was the author of its own defeat. It was the Liberal party that concocted and managed the Sponsorship Scandal. It was the Liberal party that failed far too many times to satisfy progressive Canadians. It was the Liberal party that had exhausted Canadian patience with it.

Heath insists that the NDP should not stop trying to win votes and seats away from the Liberal party, but that the NDP should work toward the goal of supplanting the Liberal party as the engine of progressive political action in Canada. Furthermore, by supplanting the Liberal party, the NDP would have the opportunity to govern and would no longer have to settle for half-measures from the Liberals.

To many New Democrats, Heath's prescription seems to be just what the doctor ordered. But for a great many Canadians, Heath's vision is far from fully benign.

What Heath imagines clearly entails the further polarization of Canadian society. He insists that what he describes as the "meaningless middle" must be destroyed, as left-wingers seek a full "loaf", rather than merely crumbs.

Heath also indulges himself in his own fair share of historical revisionism, when he insists that Pierre Trudeau should be considered an NDP, rather than Liberal, icon.

The logic of embracing Trudeau -- considered by previous New Democrat scribes such as Walter Stewart to be a massive disappointment in terms of progressive policy -- seems far from iron-clad.

Dead Centre presents an interesting vision for Canada, but also reminds those Liberals who imagine that the NDP can be convinced to fold up and accept defeat so the Liberal party can govern the country indefinitely.

No, the NDP is in Canadian politics to win -- as they should be.

Ding Dong the Green Shift's Dead

Ignatieff, Rae, LeBlanc abandon Green Shift for good

In the aftermath on an election in which Stephane Dion staked his party's fortunes on his Green Shift plan and lost, it was only a matter of time before the Liberal party left it in the pages of history's footnotes.

As such, it's back to the drawing board for the Liberal party.

"You go back to the drawing board on how do you get to where we want to get to in a way that's going to be eminently practical and a way that's going to raise the interest and the passion of Canadians," Rae said. "It's not like cod liver oil. You've got to make sure that what we're providing for people is something that they actually want."

"The voters have told us to come back and think again about how to reconcile environmental sustainability and economic progress," added Ignatieff.

For Ignatieff, his casual abandonment of the Green Shift could become more ammunition for his opponents to use against him. After all, in 2006 he ran for the Liberal leadership on the strength of a carbon tax plan. Stephane Dion adopted a carbon tax and suffered one of the worst losses in the Liberal party's history.

Many Liberals will likely be forgiven if they come to suspect that Ignatieff's next big idea will be a comparably bad one.

Dominic LeBlanc has also confirmed that the Green Shift won't be part of his platform.

Bob Rae, at the very least, seems to have learned a lesson from the entire Green Shift debacle.

"You don't start with a theory," Rae said. "You start with the hard bedrock of the experience of Canadians in all walks of life. If you lose sight of that you can have an interesting life, but it won't be a successful political one."

Now, the only question that remains is thus: will the three candidates in the Liberal leadership race approach Liberals -- and, later, Canadians -- with a pragmatic -- even if ambitious -- program for running the country, or will they resort back to Liberal hallmark gimmickry?

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Denis Leary: Victim of the Politically Correct

Leary strikes back at critics

Denis Leary is an asshole, and he's proud of it.

In fact, throughout his comedy career Leary has built his reputation insisting that American citizens have the right to be assholes.

Leary seemed to have earned that label recently as his recent book, Why We Suck, was claimed to have taken Don Imus-like shots at autism.

As he pointed out on last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, however, the truth is actually quite different.

In fact, Leary address parents who seek autism diagnoses for their children.

"For me, the reason for writing the chapter was because I know people who have children with autism, and I'm offended by people actually trying to seek out a low-level diagnosis for their kids because they're too lazy to deal with their kids' behavior," Leary said.

Leary's alleged outrage stems from a single paragraph from the book -- one taken out of context by the New York Post. Yet that paragraph is accompanied by tales about autistic children Leary has known. He notes that autistic children are actually "smart and industrious, not lazy and stupid".

What Leary actually attacks is the diagnosis, not the condition.

Yet intellectually dishonest douchebags like the Boston Herald's Peter Gelzinis that the context in which Leary wrote his words is irrelevant. Galzinis insists that Leary is "twisting the truth", insisting on reducing the matter to Leary's choice of words.

Admittedly, referring to autistic children as "autistic fucking children" is more than just a little uncouth. But those who've bothered to get familiar with Leary's comedy know that Leary's disgust is not at autistic children, but at those trying to abuse an autism diagnosis in order to make excuses for their children.

In fact, it's individuals such as Gelzinis who are twisting the truth -- insisting that Leary's lowbrow brand of plebian humour justifies manufacturing an outrage in order to discredit him.

For his own part, Leary is willing to apologize for the offense that his words have caused.

“I have nothing but admiration and sympathy for the people I know who are raising children with autism. In fact, they were the inspiration for the chapter I wrote about the subject,” Leary insisted. “To them - and to all parents of children with autism - I apologize for any pain the out-of-context quotes from my book may have caused.”

All this while individuals like Gelzinis refuse to acknowledge their own role in the entire affair.

Denis Leary was the individual most likely to come under fire for being politically incorrect. It's just too bad that his critics won't admit the extent to which they've twisted words, and twisted the truth.

MacKay Expects Obama to Bolster Afghanistan Mission

Could the Canadian position on Afghanistan soften if it does?

When one considers the emerging phenomenon of "Conservatives for Obama", Peter MacKay's presence among this intriguing clique should be considered far short of surprising.

On numerous issues, MacKay has proven to be among the most progressive of his former Progresive Conservative colleagues.

Defense Minister MacKay is the most recent Conservative to greet Barack Obama's election to the Presidency with a great deal of optimism. In MacKay's specific case, he's optimistic that Obama's election will lead to a breakthrough in Afghanistan.

"It's fair to say the road out of Iraq leads through that, shall we say, that arc of instability; it will go through Afghanistan with specific concentration, we hope, on Kandahar province," MacKay announced. "I suspect one of his first orders of business, with his new secretary of state and defence, will be to knock on some doors and make some very direct appeals for other NATO countries and perhaps even non-NATO countries to step into the breach and share the burden."

Which, of course, will benefit Canadian forces in Afghanistan in the short term. In the long term, however, Canadian troops aren't expected to be in Afghanistan at all, with the Canadian withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for 2011.

But if Obama's election shores up additional international support for the mission, it could soften Canadian commitment to that withdrawal date, should Obama help public opinion turn in favour of the mission.

That is, if incidents such as the recent acid-throwing episode doesn't contribute to such an upturn.

MacKay seems wary of this possibility. "Targeting innocent children who want nothing more than to be able to go to school and get an education - it's pure intimidation of the most medieval kind," MacKay said.

"I hope that it will also cause our allies to step up our efforts," he added. "As if we needed further example of just how insidious and how deranged these people are when it comes to the level of violence to which they will stoop."

Obama -- and his incoming administration -- seem to understand the hefty cost that Canada has paid in Afghanistan.

"There have been a number of very public statements from senior Democrats, including president-elect Obama, that there is enormous respect and recognition that Canada has done a great deal, perhaps even more than some expected," MacKay noted.

MacKay insisted his government remains committed to the 2011 withdrawal date.

But if Obama manages to drum up additional support for the Afghanistan war, it may simply not do for Canada -- a country that so often boasts of an Internationalist foreign policy -- to abandon its role in Afghanistan.

Peter MacKay will meet with the Defense Ministers of the eight NATO countries who are currently engaged in Khandahar. While the Obama administration is still planning its transition and will not present at the summit, current Secretary of Defense Minister Robert Gates will be present.

One can't help but wonder what kind of pressure will be placed on Canada at that meeting.

The time will be ripe for Canada to leave when the job in Afghanistan is done. Hopefully, Obama's renewed commitment will accomplish this goal by 2011. But if it doesn't, it may be necessary for Canadians to stay, if only to honour Barack Obama's renewed commitment.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Franken/Coleman contest will come down to the wire

When the ballots were counted in the 4 November Senatorial contest between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democrat challenger Al Franken, Coleman managed a very narrow victory.

So narrow, in fact, that Minnesota state law mandated an automatic recount.

The results of that recount -- and, barring any legal action on behalf of either candidate -- will be announced tomorrow.

Until that happens, AlterNet's Scott Rafferty offers numerous reasons why he insists Franken will emerge victorious in the contest. They are (in short) as follows:

-Minnesota only uses hand-marked paper ballots, leaving for fewer opportunities for electoral fraud. The notorious "hanging chad" is also not in play in this particular contest.

-The optical scanners used to count ballots also allow for voters to correct a potentially spoiled ballot before it's even cast.

-In Minnesota, every vote counts. Even if a particular ballot mark doesn't necessarily fall within the officially mandated standards, manual counters will honour it as a sign of intent on the voter's behalf.

-Courts in Minnesota require solid proof of electoral fraud before a box of ballots is discarded.

-Minnesota's ballots are single-page ballots, and are designed with simplicity in mind. You don't need to be able to follow a treasure map to pirate gold to vote in Minnesota.

-The hand-counting verification of a cast ballot allows for clumsily-corrected ballots to be examined and, if at all possible, counted.

-According to Rafferty, studies have shown Democrat voters to be more prone to the kind of errors that would result in an otherwise-discarded ballot being counted.

-The optical scanning machines used in Minnesota still have a 0.2 rate of error, even with perfectly-marked ballots. A hand recount will inevitably reveal a number of these ballots.

-461 voters in Minneapolis whose absentee ballots were discarded due to seeming signature discrepancies may yet have their ballots counted, if Al Franken's legal team get their way in court.

Of course, Rafferty provides few compelling reasons why a good number of these factors couldn't swing in Coleman's favour rather than Franken's.

But even if he's incorrect, in a contest this close it doesn't take much of a margin of error on Rafferty's behalf for Franken to still emerge the victor.

Which will certainly be a sad day for comedy. But then again, American voters can likely still count on Franken to crack a joke or two on Capitol Hill.

Justin Trudeau Calls for a Generational Shift in Canadian Politics

Son of Trudeau calls for more youth involvement in politics

If Justin Trudeau was unaware of one particular fact about Canadian politics, he's likely to learn it very quickly.

When your name is Trudeau, it isn't hard to get someone to come out to hear you speak.

In Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Trudeau drew a crowd of 1,000 people to a party fundraiser where he talked about the need to get Canada's youth involved in politics -- or at least in the Liberal party.

“The challenge that we face as a political organization at all levels, both federal and provincial, is the idea of mobilizing our young people,” Trudeau announced. “We need to reach out to young people as more than just campaign volunteers who lick envelopes and put up posters, but as those who actually have input and are valued for their idealism, their energy and the way of thinking they bring in, which is a lot more long-term.”

Trudeau noted that too many Canadians are being drawn into one-issue political movements. Youth especially so.

Trudeau's musings seem to closely resemble leadership candidate Dominic LeBlanc's recent calls for a generational shift within the Liberal party.

And by that he doesn't simply mean selecting himself -- at 41, the youngest of the officially declared candidates -- for the leadership.

"It's not enough to change the head, you have to renew the whole and that's done with a new generation of leadership that springs the party forward," LeBlanc insists.

Some may have to wonder if Trudeau embracing LeBlanc's "generational shift" idea is a prelude to an endorsement of LeBlanc. But if "like father, like son" can be considered a rule of Canadian politics, one may also question the extent of Trudeau's commitment to any such generational shift.

Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, first got himself elected Prime Minister using two broad promises: that of the "Just Society" and that of making Canadian politics more participatory.

In the end, the vague Just Society promised was abandoned entirely. And Trudeau's "participatory democracy" was ultimately meant only for those who were members of the Liberal party -- regardless of whether they had voted for the Liberals or not.

For the most part, Justin Trudeau, like his father, is making a positive impression on the Canadian political scene. But sometimes these impressions are hard to keep up, and Trudeau would be wise to remember that the polish can wear off a politician quickly if he's found to be too flexible in regard to his promises.

Trudeau should remember one other lesson his father's example teaches: always back a winner. Most analysts consider the prospects for an "up the middle" victory for the Liberal leadership to be rather faint.

He would be much better off backing either of the two main contenders.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Let's Give the Crazy Lady What She Wants, part Deux

"Bring it!!" she says again. And so it shall be brought

Poor Unrepentant Old Hippie JJ. At some point, one would think she would learn that some people will interpret "bring it!!" as a challenge.

Some may remember JJ's previous "bring it!!" challenge and her overwhelmingly underwhelming response to it.

But apparently old hippies never learn, once again insisting that the proponents of Bill C-434 and its successor initiative, resolution P-207, admit that it offers no protection to pregnant women.

Since the assertion itself isn't true, JJ would likely find it difficult to provide an example of the resolution's proponents admitting to it.

So, once again the Nexus will answer JJ's challenge, and pose questions that -- just you wait -- she'll refuse to answer. Questions such as the following:

1. Can you define a deterrent, and are you aware of how it serves to protect people from crime?

2. Can you explain how a law like Bill C-484, or a law like the one advocated in proposition P-207 will criminalize abortion considering that such laws have failed to have this effect in the United States?

3. How would you like to try to explain to people how reasonable conceptions of fetal rights will lead to a wholesale criminalization of abortion considering that it has failed to do so in the United States?

If JJ's response to the last time the Nexus responded to her own challenge is any indication of what to expect, one should expect they already have the answer to these questions:

Certainly, JJ could answer these questions, but she probably won't.

Few Nexus readers should bother holding their breath waiting for JJ to answer in good faith. After all, if there's anything one knows about old hippies it's that they never change, they just try real hard to adjust.

F1 Burnout Leaves Charest's Olympic Promises in the Dust

Formula One bids Montreal, Charest's dreams of sporting glory, adieu

Last week, Quebec Jean Charest tried to scrounge additional support for his party in the Quebec City area by promoting a Quebec City Winter Olympics as a realistic goal.

The failure of other sports-related election-time gambits aside, the recent cancellation of Montreal's Canadian Grand Prix certainly doesn't bode well for Charest in this context.

When Edmonton, a city considered to be far less glamourous than Montreal, can run an Indy event successful enough to ensure its long-term survival, the inability of Charest to ensure the survival of a similar race in Montreal should be far less than encouraging.

After all, a city like Montreal -- considered by many to be one of the world's cultural capitals, and rightfully so -- should have no trouble securing such an event. And if Montreal can't maintain a long-established spot on the Formula One schedule, Quebec City's ability to coordinate an event on a much grander scale simply has to be considered suspect.

Charest's failure to deliver a breakthrough in retaining the event is also, inevitably, a strike against his ability to deliver the Winter Olympics.

At least maybe now Charest can get down to focusing on real policy in this ill-considered provincial election.

Media Out, Gloves Off

Liberal leadership forum turns ugly

Before officially embarking on their Liberal leadership campaigns, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae promised to keep their campaign civil.

"We've talked about the importance of civility, talked about the importance of people working together, talked about the importance of how we build the party, talked about the importance of how we make sure that we can defeat the Conservatives," Rae previously said.

Ignatieff has even mused that he's more interested in running his campaign against the governing Conservative party than against his fellow leaders.

Now, with news of the unpleasantness ensuing at the first forum of the leadership campaign, a great many Liberals should be asking themselves what happened.

It seems the first problem arose with some confusion over whether or not the media would be allowed access to the debate.

Bob Rae insisted that he wouldn't attend under those grounds.

"It sends an awful signal to have a debate that is closed to the media, closed to Canadians," Rae insisted. "I am calling for open debates, and I think we have to start right now, this weekend."

Furthermore, the news release accused Michael Ignatieff's campaign of barring media presence from the debate, something that Ignatieff himself claims to know little about. Instead, he insists it's the Liberal party behind the move.

"I don't make the rules. The party makes the rules. I show up and do what the party tells me to do," Ignatieff insisted. "The party wants to have a family discussion and that's what we're going to do this afternoon."

Ignatieff further insisted that all three campaigns had agreed to the rule. Rae clearly disagrees. "What we agreed to is that we would come. The idea that it would be closed is news to me," he insisted. "You can't have a town hall without a town."

On that note, Rae has clearly drawn first blood in this campaign. After all, Liberals from across the country will be sending delegates to vote in Vancouver for the next Liberal leader. Thus, it isn't at all unreasonable to insist that Liberals across the country have a right to know what's being discussed in each and every leadership forum, and have a right to know about the positions being taken by each and every candidate (all three of them to date).

Perhaps the big winner is Dominic LeBlanc. While Rae and Ignatieff trade shots over who's making the rules and how, LeBlanc is choosing to try to stand above the entire mass.

"The game hasn't even started and they're at each other's throats," LeBlanc said.

But at the same time, such comments may undermine LeBlanc's standing as a serious contender. LeBlanc's apparent disinterest in the nature of the rules betrays a recognition that they may mean very little to his campaign: one way or the other, either Miachel Ignatieff or Bob Rae will lead the Liberals into a future election, and LeBlanc will be a kingmaker at best.

For his own part, LeBlanc echoes Ignatieff's narrative that each candidate's opponent in this campaign should be Stephen Harper. "I believe that for the sake of the Liberal Party this leadership process should proceed in a civil way where the opponent is Stephen Harper, and the opponents aren't other Liberals," LeBlanc insisted.

But once again, many Liberals will likely choose to take issue with the notion that external policy differences are more important than internal ones when discucssing the Liberal leadership -- particularly in a party with as stark a left/right divide as the Liberals.

With no media access to the debates, accusations flying over who's making the rules and why, and suggestions by two candidates that internal policy differences are largely off-limits, many Liberals may be questioning whether this leadership campaign will turn out any more favourably than the last.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blood, Oil and Water

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie Quantum of Solace. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Water is the new oil in the latest Bond flick

In 2006's Casino Royale, Daniel Craig reinvented the iconic James Bond as a gritty, brooding anti-hero.

With the most intense -- and realistic -- portrayal of Bond, Casino Royale rebooted the Bond franchise following a model similar to the recent Batman reboot.

What Quantum of Solace lacks in the preceding film's abrasiveness, it makes up for in relevance to the current -- and future -- state of international affairs.

Quantum of Solace picks up right where Casino Royale left off, with Bond taking Mr White (Jasper Christensen) to be interrogated by M (Judi Dench). But as it turns out, White has a man on the inside of MI6, and is shot during attempt by the man to help him escape. Whether or not he survives is never really revealed.

White's trail quickly leads Bond to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a would-be environmentalist financing his criminal schemes through charity fundraisers.

According to Amalric and director Marc Forster, Greene might legitimately care about some of the issues he pretends to champion. But as it turns out, Greene's plans are a good deal more insidious than either man is letting on.

Greene and Quantum even manage to charm the CIA into supporting their aims in Bolivia by promising them access to oil. Previously in the film General Medrano warns Greene that no one had ever found oil in the land they were apportioning from the Bolivian state.

The CIA's steadfast pursuit of American access to what they imagine to be Bolivia's new oil reserves even leads them to turn on Bond, as they perceive him as being in the way. Bond winds up framed for several murders he isn't responsible for, including that of Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini).

As it turns out, Greene's intentions are quite different. The prize instead turns out to be something far more precious to the peasants of Bolivia: water.

By building dams throughout their state-conceded parcel of land Quantum manages to gain control of 60% of Bolivia's water. They intend to profit by selling it back to the Bolivian people as a utility provider.

Such schemes have previously been tried in Bolivia.

As recently as 2005, Bolivians rioted in protest of the privatization of the country's water. Under duress of a full-fledged revolution, president Carlos Mesa canceled the water concession deal with Suez, a French company. Eventually popular unrest would force Mesa to resign.

Five years previously, Bolivians in Cochabamba had revolted against a similar deal with Bechtel.

In each case the deal had actually been brokered by the World Bank.

In Quantum of Solace the organization responsible for the concession deal -- later literally thrust down the throat of an indignant General Medrano -- is a clandestine, conspiratorial organization. Though Dominic Greene seems to be at the centre of it, we discover at the end of the film that the organization survives his ignominious fate -- one particular member is preying on the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

They have people everywhere, including within the British Prime Minister's Office and MI6 itself.

In real life, the organization pushing such deals is the World Bank. Like Quantum, they have people everywhere, although one imagines that they have far fewer paid assassins among their ranks. While Quantum sneaks around behind the backs of the global community, attracting attention only when they buy up too much drill pipe, the World Bank does its business in broad daylight, leading to some very ugly deals.

Selling a country's water supply out from under them is certainly one of them. When the World Bank -- an organization that pledges itself to the elimination of poverty -- is willing to broker a deal that would outlaw the world's poorest people from collecting rain water in order to avoid having to pay artificially inflated water bills, something has gone seriously wrong in that organization.

When one considers the various studies, including some by the University of Alberta's Dr David Schindler forecasting that fresh water will become increasingly scarce over the next few decades, water privatization schemes are not likely to go away.

In fact, it's considered that fresh water may become even more valuable than oil.

In a potential future water-based economy, Canada would stand to prosper immensely. After all, with only 0.5% of the world's population, Canada is home to 9% of the world's renewable fresh water supply.

While water desalization technologies will inevitably witness an increase in demand over the coming decades, Canadians will face looming questions over whether to export water in mass quantities or not, and how much profit they'll expect to accrue from it.

Canada could even become the target of water privatization schemes such as those attempted in Bolivia. This, naturally, is something that should absolutely never be allowed to pass. While no Canadian of good conscience could bear to stand by and watch the rest of the world go thirsty, there is no question that allowing Canada's publicly-owned water supply to be used for private profit is absolutely off the table.

As one of the world's wealthier countries, Canada should be able to resist such pressure so long as we can avoid needing any stabilization loans from the World Bank. Finance Ministers with an eye to the future should feel this added pressure knowing that the very water their children and grandchildren drink may be imperiled if they prove to be less than proficient at their job.

Blood for oil has become a frequently discussed trend in the history of the 20th century, and leading right into the 21st century. As the 21st century progresses, however, blood for water may become historically thematic.

Quantum of Solace could turn out to be a vision of a dystopian future for the world -- if it isn't already a snapshot of a dystopian present.