Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hands Off?

What does the Obama Presidency mean for Assata Shakur?

As president elect Barack Obama prepares to take office early in January 2009, a great number of urgent issues face his country.

Ranging from the war in Iraq to the current economic crisis, there are a broad number of issues that are on the agenda Obama will inherit from George W Bush.

One that has seems to have slipped through the public agenda is one that has been outsanding for more than 30 years: that of Assata Shakur.

For the unitiated, Assata Shakur is an aunt of the late rapper Tupac Shakur who is currently partaking of asylum in Cuba, where she has been since 1984 when she escaped from prison.

Between 1971 and 1973, Shakur faced criminal charges on seven separate occasions. Through the first six she was repeatedly exhonerated -- or, at the very least, found not guilty.

However, on 2 May 1973, Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey turnpike in which a state trooper was killed and another wounded. Shakur was also wounded in the incident.

Despite the fact that testimony given by two of the surviving officers contradicted the recorded radio calls of the officers from the scene, and despite the fact that Shakur herself never so much as laid hands on a weapon during the incident, Shakur was charged with several crimes, including both first- and second-degree murder.

Under the circumstances of the matter, an accessory charge would have been dubious enough. But in a trial conducted before an all-white jury, in which defense councel were cited for contempt numerous times -- alll under dubious reasoning -- Shakur was found guilty.

In 1984, Shakur escaped from prison and fled to Cuba where she was granted political asylum.

Considering the expectations that many African Americans have with blacks in positions of political power -- a phenomenon that Barack Obama described himself in Dreams From My Father -- many of Shakur's supporters in the United States will likely be expecting that Obama make Shakur the recipient of his first presidential pardon.

Considering the predictions of a warming in relations between the United States and Cuba upon Obama taking office, a pardon for Shakur could be a very real possibility -- if it appears on the Presidential agenda at all.

Granting such a pardon would certainly cement Obama's credibility with some of his celebrity supporters -- particularly individuals such as Chuck D and Common.

However, it would also give Republicans -- who jumped all over his associations with Bill Ayers (and rightfully so) -- all kinds of ammunition to use against him in a future election. Perhaps even something as damaging as the Willie Horton ad was to Michael Dukakis.

That alone may be enough to dissuade Obama from pardoning Shakur.

Despite the expectations of many of his supporters, Obama may not necessarily keep his hands off Assata Shakur.

Pop Culture and Philosophy vol. 1: The Dark Knight and the Dilemma of Responsibility

As anyone who's ever read a Batman comic -- or perhaps Dark Knight of the Soul -- knows, the world of Batman is philsophically intensive.

There are countless philosophical questions at the very root of the Batman character, and of the world he inhabits.

Because it was released prior to the release of The Dark Knight, Dark Knight of the Soul doesn't directly address many of the interesting questions raised by the movie. Yet this film is utterly full of them.

One of the more intriguing scenarios in the film is the devious boat dilemma, in which two ferries are being used to evacuate two very different groups of people from Gotham.

One ferry is loaded with regular -- and presumably innocent and law-abiding -- citizens. The other is loaded with accused and convicted felons.

Under the guise of a "social experiment", the Joker has bombed each ship, and given the passengers of each ferry with the detonator for their counterpart's bomb. At any point, the passengers of either boat can ensure their survival by destroying the other. However, the Joker promises that at midnight he himself with destroy both ships.

In the overall scheme of the matter -- which is rather ironic seeing as how the individual who has dreamed up this nightmare scenario insists that he himself isn't a schemer, or "planner" -- deciding not to destroy the other boat actually ensures one's own death.

The scene confronts the occupants of each boat with a key dilemma -- that of responsibility.

First off, the nature of the occupants of each boat is clearly in play. Trapped on one boat is a collection of ordinary Gotham citizens. In the other, a group of violent criminals -- "Harvey Dent's most wanted", as its been remarked. It very well could be surmised that the latter boat is more likely to kill the occupants of the former.

After all, they're criminals. Their apparent lack of respect for the lives and property of others is a precipitating factor in them winding up in this predicament in the first place.

However, to make such an assumption could very well be argued to be an ad hoc fallacy, arguing that the criminals are criminals because they're more likely to "kill and steal" (as one passenger puts it), and the ordinary citizens are as such because they're less likely to do these things.

This can be argued to be a fallacy because such a view overlooks the numerous complicated factors that influence the decision to become a criminal. Factors such as poverty and drug and alcohol are known to increase an individual's likelihood to engage in criminal activity. Furthermore, such poverty or drug use is unlikely to be exclusive to the passengers of either ferry.

Last, but not least, there is the question of relative guilt or innocence. Any number of individuals on the prisoner's boat could be innocent and wrongly convicted, just as any number of individuals on the citizen's boat could be guilty of some crime for which they haven't been caught.

This is all aside from simple considerations of character. The motive each man on the prisoner's boat for engaging in crime could range from anything between personality factors -- the previously-surmised lack of respect for others -- to economic desperation or even mental illness.

Likewise, the motive of each individual on the citizens' boat for remaining among the law-abiding is not entirely clear. It, too, could range between anything from personality factors -- perhaps these people have legitimately internalized society's rules and accepted as their own -- to economic comfort, or even mere fear of the potential consquences of criminal behaviour.

The situation is not nearly so black-and-white as those on the boats -- and many viewers -- may otherwise insist.

Each boat addresses the situation rather differently.

On the prisoner's boat, the prison warden holds on to the detonator. For the most part -- at least in the early going -- the decision seems to be largely up to him.

The captain of the citizens' boat seems to feel entitled to hold the same power over the situation. He tells the passengers of his boat that they aren't even going to talk about destroying the other boat. His passengers don't see it the same way. Intriguingly, they are much less orderly than the passengers on the criminals' boat. They loudly demand their say, using their obedience to the law as political capital with which they can demand the right to make that decision for themelves.

The National Guard sergeant on the boat concedes, and distributes rudimentary paper ballots among the passengers. When counted, more than twice as many passengers have voted in favour of killing the prisoners than have voted against it.

What has come into play is a diffusion of responsibility scenario.

The test case used to teach about diffusion of responsibility in sociology and social psychology is that of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was brutally murdered outside of her New York apartment building while her neighbours watched. None of her neighbours came to her aid, or even called the police.

Diffusion of responsibility is believed to become more and more pronounced as more and more people are present. The more people are present, the less responsible each individual feels for whatever events may transpire.

Thus, as merely one among 500 people on board the ferry, most of the passengers on the citizens' boat finds themselves able to do something that they initially considered themselves superior because they -- unlike many of the passengers on the prisoners' boat -- had not done. Namely, make the decision to take a life. And not merely one life, but hundreds.

Yet the situation is really not that simple. One person still has to trigger the detonator. Even with nearly 500 people involved in making the decision to kill a comparable number of people on the other boat, someone still has to take a direct hand in exercising that decision.

The captain -- being against the decision -- is clearly unwilling to do so. Even having presumably voted against destroying the other boat, there's little question that he himself would be directly responsible if he were to trigger the explosion.

The diffusion of responsibility would coalesce rather abruptly around the individual who conducted this legally unauthorized execution of 500 lives.

Even when an unnamed man who had argued vociferously in favour of destroying the other boat volunteers to use the detonator, he finds his enthusiasm for the act significantly diminished in the face of the fact that while he made the decision to destroy the other ship in concert with more than 300 others, it's he alone who has his fingers on the detonator.

In the end, he returns the detonator to its box, seemingly preferring to die rather than be directly and personally responsible for the destruction of the other ship.

On the other ship, the warden seems entirely unwilling to destroy the other ship. Yet as the clock ticks closer and closer to midnight -- the time at which both ships will be destroyed -- the warden has to consider the possibility of the loss of both ships. Not merely the loss of the innocent (or perhaps not-so-innocent) citizens on the other ship, but of the prisoners for which he, himself, is ultimately responsible.

It's unlikely that many people -- in the corrections system or otherwise -- will miss the passengers on his boat. But to lose both ships is a total loss. By saving the prsioners, at least the warden prevents that.

Then, naturally, there is the question of self-preservation. The warden may have a wife and children that he may want to go home to, just as many of his men must have families of their own. Furthermore, there is the matter of the families of the prisoners for which he is responsible.

If the citizens on the other ferry live up to their presumed innocent and noble character a great many people would suffer needlessly. The seemingly perverse nature of saving the prisoners at the expense of the innocent citizens aside, from a purely objective point of view it's prefereable to a total loss.

Of course even the notion of self-preservation doesn't account for the fact that, being responsible for the destruction of the other ship, the warden would be widely reviled for his actions. That revulsion would almost certainly be taken out on both himself and his family by the families of the occupants of the other ship and by orderinary citizens alike. Then, to top this all off, there is the matter of moral and criminal responsibility.

But perhaps this is all besides the point.

Regardless of who makes the choice and whatever choice they make, the role of the Joker in the entire matter is unmistakable. After all, it was the Joker who engineered this sadistic choice in the first place.

Even more important than this is the Joker's compunction for offering deceptive choices. When Batman and Commissioner Gordon are given the choice of saving Harvey Dent or Rachel Dawes from the predicament they've been placed in, the Joker gives Batman a false location for each: Harvey is where Rachel is supposed to be, and Rachel dies because of this deception.

But the Joker himself accepts little responsibility for the matter. When confronted by Gordon about their whereabouts, the Joker asks him who left them with. One can't help but remember that Dent himself confronted Gordon with his concerns about some of the officers in his unit.

Just as the Joker refutes any responsibility for the death of Rachel Dawes and the disfigurement of Harvey Dent -- insisting to Harvey that he's just like a dog chasing cars -- he would certainly claim no responsibility for the result of his boat trap.

One way or another, the people aboard the boats made their choices. Fortunately for the people of Gotham -- and unfortunately for the Joker -- each chooses not to destroy the other boat, even under the prospects of impending death. After all, without Batman's heroic intervention, everyone involved dies, no matter what.

Almost unequivocally, those involved have to be taking responsibility for the prospect of their own deaths. And even if the Joker refuses to accept any responsibility for his actions, that refusal may prove to be a moot point. Responsibility ultimately would have been forced upon him, although his contempt for that may in turn render forcing responsibility upon him pointless.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not Nearly So Simple

After Khadr comes back to Canada, what's next?

If predictions for the coming new year turn out to be true, Omar Khadr may be on his way back to Canada.

With Barack Obama planning to finally close down Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, many are expecting Obama to return Khadr to Canada.

Michael Byers is among them.

"I am absolutely convinced that Khadr is coming home," Byers remarked. "Not because Stephen Harper wants him to come home but because of the pressure from the Obama administration for Canada to provide this small degree of assistance with respect to their closing down of Guantanamo Bay."

(This last little bit is yet another manifestation of Byers' bizarre predilection for blaming Stephen Harper for things that were actually started by the Liberal party that he somehow prefers to Harper.)

This may or may not happen before Khadr finally goes on trial for killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. In fact, rumours abound that Khadr will be returned to Canada mere days before he's scheduled to go on trial.

If that is the case, then Obama will have to act quickly. He takes office a mere six days before Khadr's trial is scheduled to begin.

Even if Khadr is quickly returned to Canada, serious questions will remain for individuals such as Byers to answer. Most important is the question of what, precisely, will be done with Khadr after he's returned.

Essentially, there are two ways to treat Khadr: as a terrorist or as a child soldier.

If Khadr is to be treated as a terrorist, he will have to be charged under Canadian law and put on trial. At that point the government will have to deport Khadr, as they should have deported Khadr's family long ago.

In Khadr's case, however, the more appropriate method is to treat him as a child soldier. But even in that case, Khadr cannot simply be turned loose into the Canadian public. If Khadr is to be treated as a child soldier -- and considering that he was indoctrinated into Islamic militant ideology by his father and participated in combat at the age of 15 -- he will have to be rehabilitated. Above all, he must renounce the terrorist philosophy his father raised him on.

If Khadr cannot be rehabilitated and will not renounce the beliefs he was taught by his father -- something representing the ultimate form of child abuse by any civilized standard -- then Khadr will have to be treated as a terrorist, and either imprisioned for life or deported.

But, upon his return to Canada, Khadr deserves the opportunity to determine his own future. Whether he does that by working hard toward rehabilitating and reintegrating into society or in how he chooses to answer for his purported crimes will have to be seen.

What should be known in the meantime is precisely what individuals such as Michael Byers believe should be done with Khadr upon his return to Canada.

If Byers were to suggest another one of his trademark reckless ideological stances -- such as his stance that Canada should interact amicably with countries that beat and rape our citizens to death -- it should serve as yet another reason for Byers to be rejected again by Canadian voters in a future election.

Odds are, the Omar Khadr situation is not nearly as simple as Byers would like Canadians to believe.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Connie Crosby - "Continuing Efforts to Bring Omar Khadr Home"

Toni Inst - "A Child Soldier or Just a Child?"

Redemption of the Valkyrie

Some historical events can only really be understood with the perspective that comes with time.

World War II -- with its broad range of incredibly complex issues and events -- is certainly one of those events. One of the widely-disputed topics is the level of involvement of the German populace.

Books such as Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners dispute the notion that the German citizenry participated in atrocities such as the holocaust only under the duress of government coercion.

Even if the German populace's level of participation in the war was greater than previously estimated -- and according to Goldhagen's work it certainly was -- this doesn't overshadow the direct resistence that many Germans offered to Hitler's machinations, and even to his rule of the country.

Valkyrie is the story of the last of more than a dozen plots to depose Hitler and bring as peaceful an end to the war as possible.

The film opens with Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), serving in Northern Africa, protesting the execution of the war. Germany has lost Northern Africa, and the forces deployed their could be better deployed in Germany's defense.

Upon being wounded in an allied attack -- he loses his right hand and two fingers off of his left -- Stauffenberg is reassigned to Germany, where he serves as a staff officer.

Stauffenberg becomes widely known for his criticism of the war and is quickly approached by a group of dissidents led by retired General Ludwig Beck about deposing Hitler. In a bombed-out church, Stauffenberg confesses his distress at the current state of Germany.

The only way for Germany to recover its soul, Stauffenberg concludes, is for Hitler to die and be replaced.

He hitches a plot in which Operation Valkyrie -- Hitler's plan to use the reserve army to quell a potential civilian uprising -- would be used to frame the SS and the Nazi party for a coup d'etat after the planned assassination of Hitler.

Stauffenberg quickly gains Hitler's confidence, but finds navigating the rest of the web of intrigue surrounding the Fuhrer's inner circle to be exceedingly difficult. As should be expected with any such plot, the eventual failure of the plot hinges on Stauffenberg's inability to control his fellow conspirators and sway the necessary individuals to his side.

As one would expect in a movie about a coup d'etat in a police state, a mood of fear hangs heavy over the entire film. As afraid as most of the characters seem of Hitler and his regime, they seem even more fearful once the coup begins. As frightening as Hitler and his cohorts were, most of the characters are even more afraid of what may replace him.

Whatever else it may be, it could be expected that a coup d'etat against Hitler and the Nazi party will not go entirely peaceably.

Yet even as Operation Valkyrie goes off without a shot, so nearly does the Nazis'$ counter-coup.

The film takes the audience from the thrilling triumph of deposing a despot to the dejection of a decisive defeat -- worse yet, a decisive defeat when the stakes are the highest, when the conspirators are fighting to redeem their entire country.

On the journey, the film even makes a brief stopover with bureaucrats deciding which orders to relay -- those coming from Stauffenberg in Berlin or from Hitler at his private residence -- and with a reserve commander trying to figure out which side of the conflict is the coup and which side is legitimate.

In the end, it takes direct communication with Hitler for the commander -- a "committed National Socialist" to, sadly, support the existing regime.

Valkyrie shies away from none of the terrible consequences of the defeated coup. Stauffenberg tells General Olbricht to look his executioners in the eyes as he is shot.

He does so, as does Stauffenberg himself after him. Simply, it isn't enough for the viewer to understand that the conspirators died for their principles. The film forces the audience to witness it, and know in unequivocal terms the price these brave men paid for their courageous act.

Valkyrie serves as a powerful and important reminder of the role the German resistance played, and the price they paid for it.

Sadly -- and perhaps even necessarily -- Germany still lives under the shadow of Hitler and the horrors perpetrated under his regime. The preoccupation with preventing a repeat of the events of the second world war -- especially the holocaust -- continues to permeate German politics to its very core.

Movies such as Valkyrie should serve as a reminder to the German people of the oppressive environment that Hitler created in the German state and used to perpetrate his historical acts. Even if the holocaust should never be forgotten, the war should one day be forgiven.

Most importantly, however, the German people have to someday forgive themselves.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Joyce Arthur Speaks for Herself

Canadians have the right to debate abortion, no matter how terrified the pro-abortion lobby may be

Despite numerous efforts by the pro-abortion lobby -- and by politicians too afraid to stand up to them -- it seems there are still MPs on Parliament Hill who want to debate the issue of abortion.

And Joyce Aurthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada doesn't like it.

For her own part, Aurthur blames it on the Conservative party. Most of the Conservative party's MPs, she insists are "publicly anti-choice" (buy which she actually means anti-abortion).

"It's something that the Conservative party is out of touch with because Canadians don't want to go back to the abortion debate," Arthur insists. "People are happy with the status quo. It's working well."

But what she must mean by that is that she and her cohorts in the pro-abortion lobby are happy with the status quo and don't want to go back to the abortion debate. Some of them steadfastly insist that there is no debate.

But they and Aurthur are wrong. There are a great many Canadians who recognize the necessity of finally having this debate in Canada.

Rod Bruinooge, the Conservative MP for Winnipeg South, is much closer to the truth when he notes that this debate hasn't really ended. No matter what individuals such as Aurthur may prefer, this debate is ongoing. "I think the debate is ongoing," Bruinooge said. "We need to have a starting point of debating whether or not abortion should be legal right up until the moment of birth."

Bruinooge notes that there are members of each party on what he describes as an informal Parliamentary committee, although we won't identify any of them, insisting that each member should "present their personal philosophy on this issue."

Not that such an act wouldn't be politically perilous for these particular individuals. One may recall the outrage directed at NDP Peter Stoffer when he voted in favour of Bill C-484 -- the Fetal Homicide Bill -- being referred to committee for discussion.

Some of the most fervent believers in the pro-abortion lobby insisted that Stoffer should be cast out of the NDP caucus -- and this was just for voting in favour of the bill in questions -- which actually contained protections against the bill being applied to cases of abortion -- should be talked about.

The mini-controversy that emerged when Macleans Magazine columnist Andrew Coyne wrote a column advocating the reopening of the abortion debate.

Coyne never really advocated a particular stance on the issue -- he only noted that democratic debate is necessary to establish a legitimate consensus.

Yet the response to Coyne's column alluded to a significant fear of an actual debate. Robert Baglow, for example, ruled debate out of the question because to do so would be to "gamble on a woman's right to choose".

As Coyne himself noted, a debate on abortion would be emotional to the point of sheer savagery. It would give the most irrational denizens of each side -- the pro-abortion and anti-abortion lobbies -- an opportunity to seize the spotlight and draw attention to themselves.

And it's almost certain that many from each side simply will not tolerate a "third-way" abortion debate.

But Canadians have the right to debate abortion -- whether it's under rational pretenses or otherwise -- if they so choose. That's part and parcel of living in a democracy wherein our freedoms of speech and expression are legally protected.

To allow the pro-abortion lobby -- who are so content to slur their opponents with meaningless and nonsensical epithets such as "anti-choice" -- to curb sucha debate out of simple fear of losing would be unconscionable.

Rod Bruinooge's courage in raising the issue should be recognized and saluted, just as Joyce Aurthur's intellectual cowardice should be recognized and condemned.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Nick Taylor-Vaisey - "Abortion: Why Not Open the Debate?"

Jesse Ferreras - "MP Wants to Put Abortion Back in Limelight

Justin Hoffer - "Abortion Debate Reopening"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Shaking Hands With the Devil Redux

In the coming year, the world will mark 15 year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

As we approach this solemn marker of what very much was "Humanity's failure in Rwanda", as Lt General (ret) Romeo Dallaire's book insists, the time is always right to remember how the tenth anniversary of that atrocity was marked.

The original Shake Hands With the Devil film -- a documentary, as opposed to a docu-drama -- is the tale of Dallaire returning to Rwanda to confront what he continues to regard as his failure there.

In the course of the film -- which reassembles much of the media coverage of the genocide so adroitly that one almost feels as if they are actually there -- Dallaire encounters, and is in turn confronted by, not only his own defeat and by the Rwandans who survived (and surely some who participated in) the genocide, but by the very realpolitik that contributed to the horrors of 1994.

Even moreso than Roy Dupuis' portrayal of the general -- or even Nick Nolte's thinly-veiled misrepresentation in Hotel Rwanda -- Dallaire's journey in Shake Hands With the Devil provides Canadians with a window into Dallaire's soul.

It's nearly impossible to come away from this film not empathizing with Dallaire, even if only a little.

Shake Hands With the Devil is as important a chapter in the Canadian government's (and the United Nations') failure to stand by the espoused humanitarian principles of its foreign policy as Grant Dawson's Here is Hell (a book about the Canadian mission in Somalia).

More than anything, it's important for Canadians to understand that Canadians were engaged in Rwanda while the genocide unfolded. Canadians strived against the grim reality of the situation to put a halt to the killings, and were insufficiently supported by either their own government or by the United Nations (who had sent them there in the first place).

Canadians can never allow such a thing to happen ever again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stealing Richard Dawkins' Christmas

Dawkin's Christmas alternative not quite what it's cracked up to be

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring -- except for Richard Dawkins. Fortunately, that guy is a bloody idiot.

In an amusing article appearing in the New York Times, Olivia Johnson recounts a story about Richard Dawkins telling her that Sir Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day. Thus the 25th of December could be treated as an alternative atheist holiday -- celebrating the coming on the man who invented modern physics and mathematics.

Unfortunately, there turn out to be more than a few problems with Dawkins' suggestion.

First off, as Johnson notes, Newton wasn't really born on Christmas Day. When Newton was born England was still using the Julian Calendar. According to the Gregorian calendar, Newton wasn't actually born until January 4, 1643.

But this isn't the greatest difficulty with Dawkins' proposal.

After all, Newton was known to be a committed Christian. One popular story recounts Isaac's dealings with an atheist:
"The story is told of an atheist scientist, a friend of Sir Isaac Newton, who knocked on the door and came in after he had just finished making his solar system machine.

The man saw the machine and said 'how wonderful' and went over to it and started cranking the handle and the planets went round. As he was doing this he asked, 'Who made this?'

Sir Isaac stopped writing and said 'nobody did'. Then he carried on writing.

The man said, 'you didn't hear me. Who made the machine?' Newton replied, 'I told you. Nobody did.' He stopped cranking and turned to Isaac 'Now listen Isaac, this marvelous machine must have been made by somebody - don't keep saying that nobody made it.'

At which point Isaac Newton stopped writing and got up. He looked at him and said 'Now isn't it amazing. I tell you that nobody made a simple toy like that and you don't believe me. Yet you gaze out into the solar System - the intricate marvelous machine that is around you - and you dare say to me that no one made that. I don't believe it'.
The story concludes that the encounter with Newton converted the man from atheism to Christianity -- although whether this is true or not is a detail that has been lost to the pages of unwritten history.

It's rather ironic that Dawkins -- as committed atheist as Newton was a Christian -- would seek to supplant a holiday celebrating the arrival of the Christian messiah with a holiday celebrating an individual who many consider to be the atheist messiah.

An atheist messiah who himself was a Christian, interred in Westminster Abbey upon his death.

Only an individual whose thought tends to be as empty as Richard Dawkins' -- after all, this is an individual who can't seem to tell astrology and racism apart -- could dream up something quite like that.

Thanks, Chronicle Herald....

David Bulger oversimplifies Canadian law in regards to residence

Among those looking for further excuse -- any further excuse -- to complain about Stephen Harper's recently-appointed Senators, University of Prince Edward Island law professor David Bulger seems to think he's hit a home run.

Mike Duffy's appointment to the Senate, he insists, is unconstitutional.

Bulger insists that Mike Duffy resides in Ottawa, not Prince Edward Island.

"What it comes down to is: does he have to be a resident in the province at the time when he’s appointed? Some of us, and I am one of them, would argue yes," Bulger insists.

Bulger goes on to claim that the Elections act is the only piece of legislation in Canada that defines an individual's residence. "It states if you work in one place and you live in another, then where you sleep is your residence — and Mike Duffy sleeps in Ottawa," he continued.

Unfortunately for Bulger, however, this isn't true. The truth is that various pieces of legislation in Canada define what an individual's residence is. These acts cover various things, from taxation to eligibility for social services.

While for the most part these acts stipulate that individuals have to live full-time in those provinces in order to be eligible for social services, these laws do maintain exceptions for individuals who must spend significant portions of the year -- in some cases, up to eight months -- living outside of their home province for the purpose of work or education.

To top it off, Bulger's insistence that where an individual sleeps defines their residence is incredibly oversimplistic. It overlooks the very nature of the profession that Duffy -- and many other Canadians -- work in.

Simply put, Duffy works as a journalist. His job -- which one expects that he will be resigning from -- required him to spend significant portions of the year in Ottawa.

Duffy's job is very similar to other examples: blue collar shift workers who often work in other provinces while maintaining residences at home, and the other example that Bulger himself mentions, that of a Member of Parliament.

In the specific latter case, the individual in question lives for significant portions of the year in Ottawa while they work in Parliament. Yet when election time rolls around, these individuals vote not where they sleep for most of the year -- in Ottawa -- but rather in their own ridings, where they presumably maintain permanent residences.

Likewise, shift workers who in many cases can sleep up to two thirds of the year in aother riding, province, or even country vote not where they sleep, as Bulger insists, but in the riding in which they maintain permanent residences.

One would have expected a Constitutional expert of Bulger's alleged calibre to know the difference. One would at least have expected the editorial staff of the Chronicle Herald to check Bulger's facts before reporting them.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Canadian Firebrand - "Mike Duffy Gets His Reward"

John Cairns - "Big TV News Names to the Senate: Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin"

LeDaro - "Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin: Santa Did Visit Them"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ken Dryden: Pwned With the Truth

Dryden fails to close snakeoil sale to economist

Coming via National Post Full Comment is the sordid tale of Liberal MP Ken Dryden trying to sell his mendacious pro-Coalition rhetoric via email to economist Sally Zerker.

Zerker begins the exchange by expressing her concerns about the proposed Coalition -- concerns shared by 59% of Canadians.
"Dear Mr.Dryden;

I am a constituent in your riding. I cannot believe that I would live to see the day when you and your party would be willing to undertake such an undemocratic coup as is now underway with your attempt to oust the government. There is simply no basis for the kind of reaction by the Liberal Party which involves manipulating the democratic process to satisfy the unseemly passion for power. You are obviously entitled to criticize the government but that shouldn't justify going into a deal with the devils, socialists on one side and separatists on the other. At issue is power for its own sake because this move on your part is totally contrary to the interests of Canada. I can only say "shame on you and your party".

Dr. Sally F. Zerker
Dryden takes nearly two weeks to respond. When he does, however, the response is predictably partisan, and outright deceptive:
"Dear Dr. Zerker,

I had originally drafted this letter after the events of last week. The events of this week have also been of great impact to Canadians so I will try to speak to them as well.

We now have a new Liberal party leader, Michael Ignatieff. I support Michael and I support the process by which he was chosen as our leader. It is time for us to present to Canadians a permanent leader. Our economic situation as a country is such that world governments will be taking important decisions in the next months. The Harper Government, to say the least, has not responded to the global crisis in any real way. It is our job as the principal opposition party to push the Government to do more, and to do what is necessary. It is also our job, in this minority situation, to present to the public a party that is ready and able to govern. That requires a permanent leader who will plan and act like a permanent leader, and who is seen by Canadians as the permanent leader.

Michael has the overwhelming support of Liberal Caucus and of members across the country. I look forward to the important weeks and months ahead.

I would also like to say a few words about Stéphane Dion. This has not been an easy last two years for him or for the party. No one in Canadian political history has had to deal with the kind of abuse that Mr. Harper rained on Stéphane. But he hung in there and kept to those things he believed. In hockey, they say the “tough guys” are those who deliver thunderous bodychecks to their opponents. But to me, it’s easy to deliver the checks. The real “tough guys” are those who are willing to take a check to “make a play” — to make a pass to set up a goal. Those who are willing to accept whatever the punishment in order to achieve the bigger goal.

And that is Stéphane. He is as tough as they come. He went into politics not to get his name in the papers but because he thought those things he believed in most could be best pursued through politics. Now he is leaving as party leader, the public having delivered the message that he didn’t represent what they wanted as a prime minister but also, after all the blows, with his reputation for honesty, decency and intelligence absolutely intact, if not enhanced. A very significant achievement.

Now to last week. Let me try to tell you what I think —

This is a time when we face the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s. It is a time when as Canadians, as a world, as Parliamentarians, we know we need each other. We know we need to come together.

After the Speech from the Throne on November 19th, things began promisingly. All parties, knowing the expectations of Canadians, talked of working more co-operatively. There had been enough bad experiences in the past that MPs couldn’t be anything but tentative about this, still the words were there.

Mr. Flaherty’s Economic Update, however, turned out to be fundamentally, economically, distressingly inadequate. It did not reflect the dimensions of our problem. Other countries were acting seriously and determinedly. We were not.

All that would have been bad enough, but there was something more. Again, this was a time to work together. There was just one thing to focus on — the economy; people’s jobs; the well-being of families. Nothing else mattered. We knew that. Everyone knew that. But Mr. Harper just couldn’t resist. He chose to do what he had done before, but never so outrageously as this time. It was the very wrong moment to do the very wrong thing.

He decided as part of the Economic Update that there should be the elimination of public support for political parties. He argued that everyone needed to tighten their belts, and politicians should take the lead and set an example. What could be wrong about that? Except, of course, the impact of cuts like this relative to the economic crisis was practically zero; and further, the impact of this on what was his real intention would be anything but “practically zero.”

Mr. Harper knew that this would mean all the Opposition Parties and any fledgling party such as the Greens would be affected far more than the Conservatives, and that in the next few elections at least (and with minority governments these elections happen more often), these parties would have a far harder time competing and potentially winning, which real and fair competition is the basis of our democratic system. Further, that this action, so wrong on its own, was doubly, triply wrong in the context of an economic crisis where everyone needs to work together. Where everyone needs each other. Where everyone needs to trust each other and focus on just one thing: the economy.

This was Mr. Harper at his absolute worst (one would hope) doing something so completely so utterly political, so completely so utterly partisan and non-democratic, so fundamentally, so disturbingly, so outrageously wrong.

It was at this point, after knowing finally and forever there was no way of working with Mr. Harper, that the Opposition Parties began talking seriously about whether we could work with each other.

Coalition governments are not what Canadians are used to, and that makes Canadians anxious and uncertain. That is understandable. But coalitions are not at all uncommon in other very successful, very stable Western democracies – e.g., Germany, Netherlands, Belgium. And given the fact that we have four parties represented in the federal House of Commons and both the Liberals and Conservatives are strong enough to elect many Members (unlike a few years ago when the Conservatives were not), minority governments are now more likely, even probable. For a party to govern, it requires the support of one or more other parties, not necessarily under a formal agreement as would be the case with a Liberal-NDP Coalition, but with other-party, often Bloc, support nonetheless. That was what happened with Mr. Martin’s Government. That has been the case with Mr. Harper’s.

As we go into the next few difficult weeks, let’s keep these things in mind:

First, this would be a Liberal-NDP Coalition, led by the Liberals with a Liberal prime minister, where the Finance Minister would come from the Liberal Party, where 18 of the 24 Cabinet Ministers would be Liberals and 6 would come from the NDP. This is NOT a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois Coalition. The Bloc is NOT part of the government. Their part of the agreement is ONLY to vote for the Coalition when there are confidence votes during the next 18 months. They have no Cabinet positions. They have no say in the direction of the government or government policy any more than, as an opposition party, they do now.

Second, a coalition government, though unusual in Canadian experience, is absolutely contemplated under our Constitution. In our Parliamentary System, a government needs the support of the majority of the House of Commons. With a majority government, that support need come only from all the members of the governing party. With a minority government, there needs to be support from members of other parties as well. Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have 143 seats out of 308 in the entire House of Commons. A majority, therefore, is 155. The Coalition represents 163 seats. Just as it has been for the 141 years of our history, this Coalition would be a Government that represents the majority of the House of Commons. Again, different from what we are used to but entirely contemplated by our Constitution.

The last point –

I have said all that I’ve said above because the situation we have before us is not just about Canadians deciding between a Harper Government and a Liberal-led Liberal-NDP Coalition Government.

There is no doubt the Coalition has its work cut out for it. Between now and when Parliament resumes on Jan. 26, it must demonstrate to Canadians that it can be a strong, stable, effective Government. It needs to begin planning and setting out its priority directions like a government. It needs to be ready to govern if it is called on to govern by the end of January. That is its challenge. That is its bargain with Canadians.

But Mr. Harper has a challenge too. And his challenge, I believe, is even harder.

A prime minister sets the tone of the House of Commons. Respect gets respect. Disrespect breeds disrespect. The Prime Minister is now fighting to stay on to win a battle that need never have been fought in the first place. To preside over a Parliament whose dynamics, whose very relationships, he has poisoned and destroyed. It’s too late. This Parliament cannot work with this Prime Minister. All of us have heard the angry voices every day in the House of Commons, and now across the country. Shout and scream versus shout and scream.

Mr. Harper has scorched the earth of civility and trust for all of us. For him, it is over. He cannot be trusted. He cannot repair what is irreparable.

We need a new prime minister.

That is what I believe.

In the next days and weeks, we will be preparing ourselves for the return of Parliament on Jan. 26 with Michael as our leader. It is our job to provide to Canadians the best that is in us whether in opposition or in government. That is what we will endeavour to do.

Thank you for letting me know what’s on your mind. Thank you for the chance to let you know what’s on mine.


Ken Dryden
Sadly for Dryden, Zerkler did not buy this disingenuous response. Her reply certainly voices the sentiments shared by a great many Canadians:
"Dear Mr. Dryden;
Thank you for your answer to my letter. I do appreciate your effort and I do pay attention to your opinion.

However, I do not agree with you about many aspects of your reply. I do not accept that the Bloc is not part of the coalition because as you noted, the majority you speak of, is only with the inclusion of the numbers in the Bloc. Secondly, I do not trust a Liberal coalition with a socialist party. If Canadians wanted socialists governing them they could elect them to power at the federal level. They never have because Canadians clearly do not want the kind of legislation that the NDP stands for and would enforce. Your coalition would have to make socialist-like concessions to the NDP and perhaps concessions of another sort to the Bloc. Also, I can't say I want Liberals back in power after the long history of Liberal authoritarianism when they were in a majority position. I did not enjoy how they used their power. As for Mr. Ignatieff, I am not thrilled that after 39 years absent from Canada, he does us a favour to come back here with the "chutzpa" to offer himself for the position of prime minister, and you Liberals are willing to anoint him.

Finally, I trust Prime Minister Harper even if you do not. The fact that all of you got so excited about the proposal to cut some of your bounty from tax dollars does not surprise me. People and parties on the dole are incenced when the flow stops or is reduced. I must say that it does not upset me in the least. It speaks very badly about the the Liberal Party management skills that it somehow finds itself broke, after all those years in power and the recipient of lobbiers' huge grants to the party.

It's true that PM Harper did not keep all his promises--he has kept most of them--but then no politician that I know of has done so. Indeed, the Liberal premier of Ontario broke over 200 promises and I never heard you or any other Liberal condemn him for it. And for me, Mr. Harper has kept a very important promise. He has done what no Liberal administration has done with regard to Israel and the Palestinians. He has been unbiased and fair. The Liberals pretended to be so, but they never were, and I can recognize the difference.

So, Mr. Dryden, I hope you can appreciate my point of view and learn from it.


Dr. Sally F. Zerker
Zerker's criticism of Michael Ignatieff is short and to the point. Whether the Liberal party wants to admit it or not, the fact that Ignatieff has spent the majority of his adult life outside the country is a real disadvantage for Ignatieff.

As will be the way in which he was selected. While partisans such as Dryden will naturally want to portray Ignatieff's ascension to Liberal leader in the most positive light possible, the simple fact of the matter is that the ascension of a leader who wasn't elected through democratic means and instead simply defaulted to the leadership through the closing down of the leadership process is not something that looks good on Ignatieff or the Liberal party.

Dryden is also being dishonest when he complains that no one in Canadian political history has had to tolerate the "abuse" that Harper heaped on Dion.

Dryden may say what he wants. The Conservative party never accused Dion of being out to destroy the country, nor did they ever accuse him of wanting to stage a military takeover of the country. The Liberal party did accuse Harper of these things. some Liberals insist on continuing to do so.

Ken Dryden may pretend otherwise to his heart's content. His party's own political ads stand as the dirtiest examples of politics-via-character assassination in modern Canadian history.

Dryden may also pretend to his heart's content that Dion was simply "taking a hit to make a play". Considering the voting plans expressed by 44% of Canadians should the Coalition actually come to fruition, the Coalition may score a quick goal, but would only lose the next game in disastrous fashion.

Even if Dion's reputation for "honesty, decency and intelligence" survived the recent federal election intact, it has not survived his move to build a Coalition government with the Bloc Quebecois -- separatists who he built his reputation fighting.

Now, Stephane Dion will end his career as an individual who sacrificed that reputation by cozying up to the Bloc in the shallow name of attaining political power.

Recent events -- such as the recently-announced aid package for automakers -- have truly put the lie to the most concrete of Dryden's criticisms. The Harper government's response to the economic crisis has been cautious, but it has also been methodical.

The Harper government was not "doing nothing" to address the crisis, as Dryden insisted. The government had already introduced liquidity into the Canadian credit market, and was working with the automakers and with Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government of Ontario to establish an aid package for that province's ailing manufacturing industry.

In Dryden's other criticism of the economic update -- that it was allegedly meant simply to destroy the opposition parties -- there is nothing short of a tacit admission that a great deal of the impetus of this proposed coalition was the opposition parties simply protecting what they view as their entitlements.

A Liberal coalition with socialists and separatists -- in defiance of a duly elected government -- would have been a bitter pill for Canadians to swallow under nearly any conditions. In the simple defence of their public subsidies? Intolerable.

Furthermore, there's a big question about whether or not this coalition is really about whether the opposition parties honestly believed they could work with Stephen Harper. These opposition parties have spent the last fifteen years in this country building our political environment to a point where they simply cannot be seen working with "dangerous" conservative politicians. This coalition is simply about whether or not they can beat Harper in an election. Consecutive Conservative victories have shown that, at least for the meantime, they can't.

But the greatest mendacity of Dryden's response deals with the nature of this coalition. As Zerker herself notes, the coalition cannot justify itself under its "62% majority" mantra without the Bloc Quebecois.

Furthermore, the Bloc's participation is necessary just to keep the Coalition stable. At a mere 132 seats, the Tories' 143 votes would be enough to defeat the Coalition should the Bloc abstain from any confidence motions.

Last -- and most importantly -- the Bloc formalized its support to the Coalition in the very same agreement in which the Coalition itself was formalized. Whether it recieves Cabinet seats or not, the Bloc Quebecois is very much part of this agreement and party to it.

Dryden himself insists that the Coalition represents 163 seats. He himself is counting the Bloc's seats in with the Coalition's total. If that isn't a tacit admission that the Bloc is part of this Coalition, few Canadians would know what is.

Dryden concludes by insisting that everything that is wrong with Parliament is Harper's fault. Yet it was Dryden's then-leader, Stephane Dion, who disingenuously accused Stephen Harper of lying when Harper spoke the truth about Dion's Coalition with socialists and separatists.

Sally Zerker doesn't buy Dryden's snake oil. Most Canadians should refuse it too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Harper Makes His Senate Appointments

Prime Minister appoints 18 to the upper house

A matter of considerable controversy for the last couple of weeks, Stephen Harper announced his appointments to the Senate today.

While some may not be willing to admit to it, Harper's appointments weren't the partisan landslide that many of them were expecting.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that partisan considerations didn't enter Harper's appointments at all. Defeated MP Fabian Manning, former MP Suzanne Fortin-Duplessis, former New Brunswick MLA Percy Mockler, Tory organizer Michael MacDonald, and fundraiser Irving Gerstein seem to round out the most blatantly partisan of the appointments.

Certainly, many will point to retired broadcaster Mike Duffy as similarily partisan. Yet they will conveniently ignore that Duffy has spent his career being accused of partisanship from both sides -- by both Conservatives who dislike journalists who show Canadians any negative aspects of their party, and by Liberals who aren't accustomed to being asked many hard questions.

Similarily, some will certainly try to portray Pamela Wallin's appointment to the Senate as a reward for her role on Harper's Afghanistan Commission. Yet they'll overlook the fact that Wallin has also been the recipient of Liberal party patronage as well -- she has previously served with distinction as the Canadian consul general in New York.

Even when Harper's so-called "window dressing" appointments lack some of those made by past Liberal governments. Nancy Greene, a winner of an Olympic gold medal and an astounding 13 World Cups, certainly cannot compare with Montreal Canadiens great Frank Mahovlich for public appeal. As with Mahovlich, however, Greene's performance in the Senate will tell the tale of her suitability for the chamber -- Mahovlich's performance demonstrated that he had no business being there in the first place.

Another notable appointment is that of Patrick Brazeau, the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Brazeau adds a key aboriginal voice to the Conservative caucus, and will challenge the views of many conventional aboriginal leaders such as Phil Fontaine, whom Brazeau has challenged in the past.

As the National Chief of the CAP, Brazeau represents a segment of the aboriginal population that is frequently ignored in Canadian politics -- off-reserve aboriginals.

While many will seek to portray Brazeau's appointment as merely a reward for his support of the Conservative party -- and to an extent it almost certainly is so -- Brazeau will prove to be a valuable addition to the Senate.

The Conservatives have also suggested that each of these Senators will be expected to resign their seat should any of their provinces enact Senate election legislation or call a Senatorial election. Expectations are that Pamela Wallin will be the first to have to do so when Saskatchewan calls a General Election, currently slated for 2011, that is expected to be accompanied by an election for the Senate.

Of course this is a thin answer for the concerns raised by many of those who favour an elected Senate to an appointed body. While the government can expect these Senators to resign in the event an election, it cannot force them to actually do so.

And while elected Senators would have been preferable to any appointment, at least Canadians will not have to tolerate the farce of Green party leader Elizabeth May being appointed to the upper house.

Other bloggers writing on this topic

KenonCanPolitics - "Harper Senate Appointments"

Dirk Buchholz - "Deck the Halls With Patronage Appointments"

Unhyphenated Canadian - "Would You Be On Our Way To Senate Reform If..."

Shaking Hands With the Devil

Shake Hands With the Devil is a reminder of the importance of Canadian values

In 1994, the world witnessed one of the worst genocides in human history unfolding in Rwanda.

Sadly, Canadian Lieutenant Governor (now retired) Romeo Dallaire witnessed those events from a front-row seat as the world did next to nothing to stop the horrific massacres unfolding in that country.

Shake Hands With the Devil -- named after Dallaire's book of the same title -- is the story of those massacres.

In any year, it is a sombre reminder of the fragile nature of peace in many parts of the world, and of the responsibilities that come with undertaking an effort to try and keep it.

The film presents the story in a brilliant bilingual style reminiscent of The Rocket, with the characters frequently slipping back and forth between French and English. Although the subtities are extremely sloppy, to the extent that they often cannot even be read, this bilingual style lends authenticity to the film.

The film opens with Romeo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis) in his civilian clothes, seated in an office with an unnamed defence ministry bureaucrat. The environment in the room is tense -- to put it lightly -- as Dallaire doesn't speak. Instead, he keeps himself locked up with his thoughts. As he comments on the flashbacks he has been suffering of his time in Rwanda -- which Dallaire has often remarked seem less like memory and much more like he is literally re-living the events -- Dallaire speaks to many of the individuals he dealt with in Rwanda.

The film follows Dallaire very closely throughout his tour of duty in Rwanda, and offers very deep glimpses into his soul as he conducts the business of his peacekeeping mission in that country. Dupuis masterfully depicts the disgust the real Dallaire almost certainly felt when shaking hands with the leader of the Interahamwe -- and the heightened disgust Dallaire must have experienced when it seemed easier to do it again.

The moment that Dallaire made his tragic turn toward suicidal behaviour contrasts starkly with the Dallaire in the rest of the film. It's saddening to witness Dallaire, a very proud and honourable man, mutilating himself with a razor.

Paul Kagame (Akin Omotoso), meanwhile, is portrayed as a consumate realist. While he seems to abhor the fact that the Rwandan Patriotic Front's retaliation will only lead to more killing, he seems to understand that such things were necessary. Perhaps the greatest difference between Dallaire and Kagami is that Kagami was allowed the option of doing the things he knows to be right.

Romeo Dallaire was allowed no such option, and it seems that Roy Dupuis understood this. Dupuis grasps the full fury that Dallaire must have felt when he was denied permission to sieze illegal weapons caches in Kigali. The film makes it seem like mere days before the fighting broke out. In fact, this occurred in January 1994. The killings would not begin until April 7, 1994.

The film doesn't back down from any of the grisly details of the genocide. Anything that could be fit into the just-under-two hours of the film seemingly was. However, those looking for an absolutely faithful historical flic may be disappointed. Some key figures, such as Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh and Faustin Twagiramungu, are missing.

Films like Shake Hands With the Devil are important -- particularly for Canada, and our underexplored history. Right now, films such as this are especially important, as Canada pursues a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Certainly, a seat for Canada on the Security Council would be a very good thing. But Canadians need to understand precisely why Canada is seeking such a position. There must be a reason.

One such reason seems obivious: international prestige.

Another is international influence. This is the motive Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon recently alluded to while speaking on the subject.

"Today, Canada is contributing to peace and security and making sacrifices in places as diverse as Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan. Each of these Canadian engagements flows from a UN mandate. For Canada, a seat on the Security Council is a further way of stepping up to our global responsibilities," Cannon said. "With your support on the Security Council, Canada will push for greater transparency in the Council work, which I believe would be beneficial to the whole international community."

Cannon also spoke of the pragmatic role that Canada has previously played in the Security Council.

"With a seat on the Council in 2011 and 2012 we would continue this tradition, pursuing an active agenda for the United Nations in such areas as peace building, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. Activities, as you know, that contribute to global stability and security are common goals that we all share," he announced.

But we as Canadians need to be mindful of the important responsibilities that come with Security Council membership. Romeo Dallaire and his haunted mental state stand as sombre reminders of what can happen -- both on an international basis and on an individual basis -- when the Security Council shirks its responsibilities.

The United Nations Security Council had a responsibility to stop the genccide in Rwanda. Wrapt up in petty politics, it shirked this responsibility. But it did not do so alone.

When it became obvious that the United Nations was not living up to its responsibilities in Rwanda, Canada -- having been committed to the mission -- should have done everything within its power -- both diplomatically and militarily -- to fill the breach.

Years of intransigence by Conservative and Liberal party governments in Canada sadly rendered the country unable to do enough. Canada's shirking of its responsibility to the Rwanda mission sadly began decades before the tragedy officially occurred.

If the Canadian government really wants a seat on the UN Security Council, it has to be prepared to live up to Canadian values and live up to its responsibilities as a member of that body.

If our government is only seeking a Security Council seat as part of quest for international prestige and influence, then we are truly shaking hands with the devil.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Senator Al Franken?

Comedian predicts narrow victory in the Senate election that doesn't end

Anyone expecting -- or led to expect -- the Al Franken/Norm Coleman Senatorial election in Minnesota to come to a swift conclusion upon the start of the recount was apparently in for quite the wake-up call.

The recount has proven to be a long and exhaustive process, with the Coleman campaign engaging in some highly dubious challenges. At one point arguing, for example, that any ballots featuring a vote for John McCain be counted as a vote for Coleman -- an obviously disingenuous take on the meaning of "voter intent".

With this recount starting to look as if it will never end, Franken, the Democrat candidate -- has recently announced that he expects to win that race by between 35 and 50 votes.

Franken himself would make a fine addition to the US Senate. But those clamouring for him to take a seat in that body need to be well aware of all the implications.

First off, Franken's talents have clearly been well-suited to the role of poliitical opposition. Even if he's often proven to be little more than a left-wing counterpart of Ann Coulter -- so it's unsurprising that one should note his level of disdain for Coulter -- one think that Franken has done successfully is keep a wide variety of right-wing commentators on their toes.

As a Democratic Senator, one can expect Franken to be little more than a loud mouthpiece for the Democrats and their sitting President.

Secondly, a Franken victory would give the Democrats their 60-seat filibuster-proof Senate. While those friendly or sympathetic toward the Democrats may view this with satisfaction, one has to consider the effect such a thing could have on the democratic process in the United States.

As the National Post's Terence Corcoran has noted, some Democrats seem to be looking to the current economic crisis in order to implement their own agenda in an environment reminiscent of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

As we've previously seen, times of economic crisis are not the times for revolutionary shifts in economic policies or practices.

If Franken's election serves to enact such policy changes, it may not be quite the boon that Democrats imagine it to be.

Only time -- and the remainder of the recount -- will tell if the Franken campaign's prediction of victory will come true.

If it should, the rest of the story -- what Franken does when he actually reaches the Senate -- will be entirely up to Franken himself.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Senator Mario Dumont?

Lawrence Martin thinks former ADQ leader could claim a Red Chamber seat

With Stephen Harper set to fill 18 vacant Senate seats, a great deal of musing on who, exactly, Harper will appoint.

In today's Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin has made an interesting suggestion. Among other such conservative luminaries as Mike Harris and Kim Campbell, Harper may appoint the recently-resigned leader of the Action Democratique du Quebec, Mario Dumont:
"The leader of Quebec's conservative party, the Action Démocratique du Québec, has just stepped down. Mr. Harper needs allies from Quebec, and Mr. Dumont knows the terrain. The PM might even elevate him to a cabinet perch."
At face value, it seems like a worthwhile move.

After Dumont's ascension to the role of Opposition Leader in Quebec's National Assembly, many observers were looking toward a Harper/Dumont tandem as a modern day incarnation of the John Diefenbaker/Maurice Duplessis collaboration that gave Diefenbaker one of the most dominant majority governments in Canadian history.

Instead, Dumont's ADQ was decimated at the polls less than a year later. By appointing him to the Senate -- and possibly even cabinet -- Harper could still salvage something out of the once-promising association with Dumont.

Of course, there's also a downside to such a move. Appointing Dumont to the Senate would make it more difficult for Dumont to ever seek a seat in Parliament -- something that Dumont's previous individual electoral successes demonstrate he is more than capable of doing.

In Dumont, Harper could find what Michael Fortier has decisively failed to deliver: a successful Quebec lieutenant.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This Day in Canadian History

December 16, 1976 - Real Caouette passes away

Social Credit -- a political doctrine based on the teachings of Major CH Douglas -- tends to be more widely associated with Alberta. There, the Social Credit party governed for 36 years under the tenures of premiers William Aberhart, Ernest Manning and Harry Strom.

However, it's often overlooked that Social Credit also developed a strong following the province of Quebec.

Real Caouette, the charismatic force behind Ralliement des Creditistes, the Quebec wing of the Social Credit party, was born on September 26, 1917 in Amos, Quebec.

He would discover Douglas' political screed in 1939 and would win election to the House of Commons seven years later.

In 1962, Caouette led the Credistes to win 26 seats in the House of Commons. By contrast, the western wing of the Social Credit party elected only four members, even with the party governing in Alberta and British Columbia.

Interestingly, not only would Social Credit thrive in Quebec, but it would actually outlast its western counterparts.

According to Michael Stein, the Quebec voters who helped Social Credit attain its decisive emergence in Quebec were young and disaffected former Conservative and Liberal supporters, most of whom were voting in their first election.

Social Credit has always been distinguished by a paradoxical place in Canadian politics. Considering that Social Credit doctrine advocates turning loose what it describes as billions of dollars in untapped wealth being held by banks and the government, Social Credit would rely on a suspiciously high level of state intervention in the economy.

It really can't be considered a purely conservative ideology.

Yet Social Credit has, more often than not in Canada, proven to be little more than a haven for disaffected conservatives -- the obvious case is British Columbia's WAC Bennet.

In Quebec, Social Credit made a considerably greater deal of sense. Pre-1970s Quebec politics was often characterized by a preoccupation with English Canadian financial trusts that controlled a significant portion of Quebec's economy.

This is a historical political trend that would also, from time to time, benefit parties like Maurice Duplessis' Union Nationale and, obviously, Rene Levesque's Parti Quebecois.

Ralliement des Creditistes enjoyed the fervent support of its creditors. In 1973, Stein noted that not only were the Creditistes still active in Quebec, but its most active members were spending at least five nights a week on party activities.

Real Caouette, the face of Social Credit in Canada, would pass away in 1976. The movement would not survive him for long.

By 1980, the Fabian Roy-led Creditistes had been reduced to six seats in the House of Commons. The defection of Richard Janelle to Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative government would further reduce that number to five. At the conclusion of the 1980 federal election, they were gone.

While some still envision a Social Credit comeback, its clear that the SoCreds are a spent force in Canadian politics: an enigmatic vestige of Canada's political history long scattered to the four winds.

Monday, December 15, 2008

From Russia With Hope

As a relatively young and inexperienced American President (47 years), Barack Obama can expect to face many challenges on the foreign policy front.

One of the premier challenges Obama will face may not necessarily be rounding up additional support for the war in Afghanistan, but in dealing with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

As Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst, tells the Real News Network, Obama would be well served by embracing a Glastnost regarding relations between the United States and Russia.

As McGovern notes, one thing that is certain to appear on the agenda between the two are American radar and missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. McGovern insists that these sites are unnecessary, and that they are part of the "old thinking" vis a vis the United States and Russia.

McGovern suggests that those missile sites, as well as the prospects of Georgian and Ukranian membership in NATO, should be traded for concessions from Putin.

McGovern may well be right about missile sites in Eastern Europe (although not necessarily about the radar sites). With nuclear disarmament clearly returning to the global agenda, the dismantling of those sites would go a long way toward convincing Russia to dismantle more of its own considerable remaining nuclear stocks.

Ukraine and Georgia's proposed membership in NATO is a little less negotiable. While both the United States and Russia clearly have an interest in having each country within their particular geopolitical camps, Georgia and the Ukraine are both sovereign states, and have the right to make such decisions on their own.

Considering that each country is seeking NATO membership, there are clearly limits to the extent to which each country wishes to associate with Russia. Attempting to force them to associate more closely with Russia does no one any favours.

One thing that Obama absolutely cannot compromise on is the internal state of Russian democracy. Russian authorities have responded to the emergence of Gary Kasparov's Solidarnost movement by clamping down on their demonstrations, arresting up to 150 of their members, including some of its leaders.

Obama will face an increasingly complicated situation in Europe, as the New Europe, exemplified by Russia, will seek to build influence in what McGovern describes as the Old Europe -- France, Germany and Italy. With Vladimir Putin increasingly equating Russia as a European, rather than Asian, state it may also be a matter of time before Russia seeks to attain membership in the European Union.

Of course, Russia will only join the European Union under what it deems favourable positions, which for Russia entails a position of dominance.

Either way, many people will be looking to Barack Obama to provide new leadership on the Russian front.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Question Well Worth Asking:

What is the status of David Crutcher's Conservative party leadership?

When the Liberal party and the NDP recently decided to form a coalition government with the support of the Bloc Quebecois they had to have imagined it would be hard to distance themselves from the implications that move would have for national unity.

With western separatism becoming a vogue topic once again -- and western separatists becoming much more active -- perhaps it's only natural that some of those in the pro-Coalition crowd would seek to thumb their nose at such implications by trying to uncover associations between the Conservative party and western separatists.

At Boquets of Gray Buckets has uncovered what he portrays as some fairly damning alleged associations between western separatists and the Conservative party.

In particular, Buckets points at three separate episodes. Two of them can be immediately dismissed out of hand: he sights the case of Gord Stamp, who was forced to resign as Peter Goldring's assistant due to his separatist leanings, and Bert Brown, who apparently once made some ambiguous comments at an Alberta Independence Party convention.

Much more interesting, however, is the case of David Crutcher, a British-born Calgarian who is now the brains behind the Western Business and Taxpayers Association. Buckets points out that Crutcher's profile on the website identifies him as a member of the Conservative party.

The story actually turns out to be much more damning than Buckets would likely have many people believe. It seems that as far as his Conservative party membership goes, Crutcher's credentials are far from solid.

In 2007 Crutcher was forcefully removed over his role in the nomination of Craig Chandler, another disaffected -- and, some say, disgraced -- former member of the Alberta Tory party. Chandler left that party in 2007 when his nomination in the Calgary-Edgmont riding was refused by the party. He would later try and fail to attain election to the Wildrose Alliance party's board of directors.

Chandler had previously managed Crutcher's camapaign as an Alberta Alliance party candidate in the 2004 Provincial election.

All of these things considered, the question is well worth asking: what is the current status of David Crutcher's Conservative party membership? Is he actually active? If so, is the party executive actually aware of Crutcher's recent activities? And, if so, will the party revoke his leadership?

Buckets is actually spot-on when he suggests the Conservative party should restrict its membership to federalists.

But while Buckets seems to think he's uncovered quite the partisan smoking gun, he may want to keep a few inconvenient truths in mind: while Crutcher may well be maintaining a Conservative party membership, it most certainly isn't under the best circumstances. Nor is he as luminous a figure within the Conservative party as Rene Levesque was within the Quebec Liberal party.

Even Lucien Bouchard -- who served as Environment Minister in Brian Mulroney's government -- had previous associations with the Trudeau Liberals.

Furthermore, Rene Levesque was never forced out of the Liberal party. Rather, he resigned from the party when the Quebec Liberals refused to discuss a sovereign Quebec at a convention. His separatist sympathies had been no secret prior to that resignation.

Regardless, David Crutcher's membership status in the Conservative party clearly needs to be investigated, and addressed. If he does currently have an active membership in the party, it should be immediately revoked.

Likewise, Bert Brown's address to the inaugural convention of the Alberta Independence Party should be investigated. While it would be expected that a committed Alberta separatist would actually have joined the party there, it's worthwhile to know precisely what he meant when he wished the party "every success".

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gary Kasparov Revives Solidarity

Kasparov's opposition party may be the last chance to defeat Putin

Historical mythology holds that Ronald Reagan was the man who won the Cold War. Even if this is the case -- a matter of some debate -- for many historical scholars, Reagan was not the man who ended it.

In the minds of some, that distinction belongs to Lech Wealsea, the leader of Solidary. In 1989, Walsea led Solidarity to leadership of a coalition government in Poland in the first free elections held in that country since the end of the Second World War.

When asked what the Soviet government planned to do about it, then-President Mikhail Gorbachev said it would do nothing. To many, Gorbachev's acceptance of a non-communist labour union/political party winning an election in the eastern European bloc marked the formal conclusion of the Cold War, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

One has to imagine that legacy is on Gary Kasparov's mind as he's taken Solidarity as the name for a bold new effort to defeat the United Russia party of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev.

Kasparov is no newcomer to such efforts. He attempted to run in the most recent Russian Presidential elections, but was prevented from doing so through some rather unsavoury machinations by the Russian state.

"We are fighting for victory because we have something to say to our people and something to offer them," Kasparov announced. "On this very day, we are in a position to take stock of past mistakes and act differently."

"One of the tasks of the Solidarity movement is to rehabilitate those basic principles that, unfortunately, for a significant or even overwhelming portion of our fellow citizens, have become associated with failure, misery or reduction of freedom," he added.

Unfortuantely, Kasparov has an uphill battle to wage. With no seats in the Duma and the Russian government currently making it more difficult for opposition parties to win representation, it will prove excessively difficult for Solidarity to have the effect that Kasparov so desires.

Kasparov isn't alone in his predicament of being outside the Duma looking in. Yaklobo and the SPS (roughly translated as Union of Right Forces) were both weeded out of the Duma when the 5% rule that had set the lower limit for receiving seats in the proportionately-elected Duma at 5% of the vote was abolished in favour of a 7% rule -- only one recent move intended to increase United Russia's dominance in that chamber.

Another item on United Russia's agenda is a move to change the length of Presidential tenures from four to six years. With well over two-thirds of the Duma -- a Russian constitutional majority that allows United Russia to pass amendments to the Russian constitution -- there's little hope of derailing this process.

According to Russian law, Vladimir Putin will become eligible for the Presidency again once he's finished his brief time out as Russian Prime Minister. Upon winning the Presidency, Putin could serve for another 12 years.

In forming Solidarity, Kasparov is turning Putin's own tactics against him. While never officially associating with United Russia, Putin was instrumental in the uniting of hundreds of small conservative parties into the electoral powerhouse. Now, Kasparov is trying to do the same with Russia's numerous liberal parties.

Even if they understand the essence of time in restoring Russian democracies, other leaders in the new Solidarity movement seem to have abandoned any hope of accomplishing their goals expediently.

"We might not be able to launch an Orange Revolution right now, but we can certainly create an orange organization," mused Valeriya Novodvorskaya. The Orange Revolution, as most should recall, resulted in the ascension of Ukranian president Viktor Yushchenko.

While no electoral coalition capable of defeating United Russia can be built over night, Kasparov, Novodvorskaya and company need to come to terms quickly with the realities facing them. If allowed to reassume the Presidency under the proposed conditions, Vladimir Putin could conceivably serve for the remainder of his life.

Kasparov must make his case to the Russian people as quickly as possible. As Al Jazeera reports, Russian political culture, traditionally authoritarian in nature, may be taking an even starker despotic turn as Russians seem set to vote Joseph Stalin as one of the greatest Russians of all time.

Even more disturbingly, while Putin and Medvedev's efforts to eliminate the political threat posed by Kasparov will almost certainly be enshrined as legendary examples of political oppression, the Russian government seems to feel few compunctions about allowing Neo Nazi parties to march publicly.

Gary Kasparov has an uphill battle ahead of him. Hopefully, the wits of this Chess Grand Master are up to the challenge.

The Nightmare of Biological Warfare

Zombies-cum-biological warfare has been a theme of many recent movies -- 28 Days Later and the utterly-gone-to-shit Resident Evil films merely being a few of them.

Metallica has rarely backed away from dealing with the moral dilemmas underscoring warfare. Songs such as "One", "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Disposable Heroes" -- considered almost universally to be among their most classic works -- have addressed the human costs and horrors of armed conflict.

In the recently released video for "All Nightmare Long", off of their worthy recent effort Death Magnetic, Hetfield and company place the moral horrors of chemical warfare within the context of the Cold War.

The video uses the historic Tunguska explosion to set the table for the video, in which two fictional Soviet propaganda films, "Volcano Tunguska and the Revival of Organisms" and "Closing the Gap" are used to outline an insidious Soviet plot to use biological warfare to destroy the United States and replace it with a communist state.

In the video, a living spore is discovered in the ashes of the Tunguska explosion, reanimating dead animals. Taken for further study, Soviet scientists quickly discover that the spore can be used not merely to return the dead to life, but to reconstitute entire creatures from a few errant cells, or even heal injuries to the living.

In "Closing the Gap", a Russian propaganda film laments the Soviet Union's early inability to match the United States in the nuclear arms race. Soviet weapons tests, however, reveal new deposits of the reanimating spore, apparently lost at some point during the Second World War.

Further studies reveal two further details about the spore: animals reanimated by the spore tend to be extremely aggressive, and it quickly dies when exposed to radioactive Barium. The former discovery makes the spores militarily useful. The latter makes it controllable.

The film asserts that "An atomic US threatens the world with unchecked capitalist imperialism! They feed on the exploited and the spoils of war!"

The film also proposes the fictional Soviet solution to this threat: "We will feed them to their own!"

The Soviet plan involves sending a high-altitude balloon over the United States and dropping the spore from high altitude to be spread by wind. The dead are reanimated and turn violent. Naturally, they prove exceptionally hard to to control.

All that is left is for the Soviet Union to drag its feet, not deploying aid until it is too late. In the aftermath, the Soviets are left free to build a Communist state in the United States.

The stark immorality of such a scheme seems obvious, and it's the same moral dilemma faced by nearly any other biological war tactic -- biological warfare conducted on such a scale can't possibly discriminate between the guilty and the innocent.

Such tactics are all too reminiscent of total warfare, something humanity would be far better off having left to the pages of history. Yet total warfare continues to reemerge in all too many familiar patterns: civil and ethnic conflicts such as those in Rwanda and Darfur, and across the entire range of terrorist campaigns being conducted across the world today.

Sadly, biological weapons have provided those eager to engage in such conflict with the perfect weapon with which to do so.

The potential consequences of biological warfare go far beyond their applications during conflict. Zimbabwe's Minister of Information and Publicity, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, has recently blamed an outbreak of Colera and Anthrax on the use of the illnesses as biological weapons during civil conflict in that country. Furthermore, Ndlovu blames the United States and Britain for providing the weapons.

Realistically, there can only be one solution to the threat posed by biological weapons. Just as with landmines and, more recently, cluster munitions, a global ban on biological weapons needs to be pursued.

As Freeman Dyson notes, even Richard Nixon was able to see the wisdom of that.

The nightmare threat posed by biological warfare simply cannot be tolerated by any civilized society. It's time for the world to wake up.