Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Markers: 2008

It's nearly the end of the year, and some of us seem to be compelled to say something about that, as though there were something materially different about the change of day when it's from December 31 to January 1.

There isn't. The foofaraw is a bit like the noise created by dimestore prophets as they made their forecasts about the new millennium. These temporal crossing-points are all artificial marks, borders, conventions. They have no independent ontological status. They can be a hell of a good excuse for a party, though.

And a year is a good arbitrary chunk of time about which we can take stock, assess, then promise to do better, and hope for the best. So here's another artifice--the list of ten highlights and lowlights of that chronological territory called 2008, cheerfully non-chronological. Do with them what you will.

  • Ineffectual Liberal leader steps down. I was genuinely embarrassed for Stéphane Dion, whose obvious lack of people skills--and a serious language barrier--provided so much fodder for the image-makers and spinmeisters who create "politics" today. A decent and intelligent man with an unyielding moral compass, in the wrong place at the wrong time, Dion finally got in touch with his core during his last few days in office. But it was too little, too late, and an appallingly amateurish video sealed his historical fate.

    We are not at the stage yet, and may never be, when we deconstruct the notion of "leader" and re-define what we mean by "politics." In the current context, Dion, whatever his gifts, was unable to deploy them to any effect. His d
    émission, long overdue, was a good thing for his party--and, I suspect, for him and his family.

  • Brenda Martin released from Mexican hell-hole. A Canadian citizen in Mexico is swept up by that country's corrupt and impossibly complex judicial process, and spends two years in the clink without a trial. Public and media sympathy (excepting certain right-wing commentators) helps to keep this case on the front burner. Some back-stage manoeuvering by Foreign Affairs officials and the government achieves her repatriation after a face-saving "trial" by a Mexican judge finally finds her guilty of something.

  • Harper apologizes to the Native people of Canada. An apology to Canada's Aboriginal people for decades of ill-treatment is finally delivered, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The words were unsparing, and the apology was well-crafted.

  • More government accountability promised. Well, that was actually in 2006, with the passage of the Federal Accountability Act, but a seasoned public servant, Kevin Page, was appointed this past March as Canada's first-ever Parliamentary Budget Officer. Mr. Page brings to this office years of experience, first at Finance Canada, then in the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board, and the Department of Finance.

    His job is to be a demanding one:

    The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (OPBO) provides authoritative, non-partisan financial and economic analysis to support Parliament and parliamentarians in exercising their oversight role over the government's stewardship of public funds and in ensuring budget transparency.

    The OPBO’s primary mandate is to support the work of parliamentary committees, including the Senate National Finance Committee and the House of Commons Committees on Finance, Public Accounts, and Government Operations and Estimates.

    Based on feedback from parliamentarians and best practices of peer organizations, the OPBO will use an open and transparent operating model. Specifically, this means that its analysis and advice will be published and subject to stakeholder scrutiny to ensure rigour in the methodology and impartiality in the advice.

    Nay-sayers claimed that his $2.5 million budget is too small to permit him to be effective. But Page disagreed:

    I think the resources that are set aside are reasonable, they are prudent and, you know, down the road one can look back at it, but I think just from looking at the resources set aside and having worked in some economic and fiscal shops, in central agencies, there is a lot that we can do with the resources that have been set aside to support Parliamentarians in my role as Parliamentary Budget Officer.

  • Dr. Henry Morgentaler is awarded the Order of Canada. And about time. This dedicated humanist put his body on the line for Canadian women for decades, enduring imprisonment, judicial injustice and assault. Henry not only believes in a woman's right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, but has assisted many of them in that choice, opening and operating abortion clinics throughout the country.

    Public opinion has shifted from the dark early days: a call for people to return their OoC medals in protest resulted in a tiny handful of the snowflakes, many from dead people. Public opinion polls (other than one inept "massive poll"), indicated a solid majority in favour of the award.

  • Harper wins a minority. The hope was, of course, for a majority government. Suddenly we were presented with an absurdly unconvincing "new Harper," a hockey dad with a blue sweater-vest. His wooden and over-scripted television performances, dumb mistakes by aides, and Canadians' endearing capacity not to be fooled all the time, kept the brass ring just out of reach.

    "Stay cool," he warned his rank-and-file at the Conservative convention in Winnipeg. The Long March was nearly over. But then, as we know, he failed spectacularly to take his own advice.

  • Barack Hussein Obama is elected. This election was not about Obama himself, a fairly conventional right-liberal American politician. It was a focal point for symbolic clashes of perspective and ideology, some of which have marked US politics since the American Revolution.

    A Black man is elected to the highest office in the land. The possibility
    of a "post-racial" politics--far from realized, of course--offers a way out of the racially-charged American political culture.

    Two parties means that binary thinking at its most excruciating will invariably come into play, and it did on this occasion. Daft talk of a Manchurian candidate and a closet Islamist, if not par for the course, was uncomfortably close to the mainstream. Obama, it seemed, was either a water-walker or the anti-Christ. His opponent John McCain was forced to assume the burden of the dark side, although he at times found it too heavy to bear.

    Obama's electoral triumph means that a corner has been turned in the all-important US political realm of symbols and images. And that was why I, with no stars in my eyes about the man or his politics, bought a round for the house when his victory was announced in a downtown sports joint.

  • The bar stays high on freedom of speech. It was no surprise to those of us not self-brainwashed: complaints brought in various Canadian human rights jurisdictions by offended Muslims were not upheld.

    Looking back on it, the rough-and-tumble blogosphere has taught me that being offended is an inevitable consequence of active citizen engagement in politics, and my own views on the speech question, therefore, have moderated over the years. I'm not yet ready to jettison hate speech provisions in our various human rights acts, unless such provisions in other legislation were to allow easy accessibility and the promise of enforcement.

    As Professor Richard Moon pointed out in his report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, complaints that have been upheld under Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act would have met the test for conviction under our Criminal Code. The problem, as he points out,
    is that the more formal procedures in that venue are not user-friendly.

    The procedural issue is confounded by the fact that hate speech has its defenders, and their defence isn't always principled. Campus anti-choicers comparing abortion to the Holocaust? Sure. Students wanting to set up a free-thinkers' club, defend Palestine or speak out for inclusiveness? Not so much.

  • The death agony of capitalism. We toldja. I know, I know. We'll bottom out, we'll survive, we'll avoid the Big D. But only by adopting socialist measures, like nationalizing banks and pouring massive amounts of government money into the economy. Greetings, Comrade Bush--better late than never. :) But about those top-hatted CEOs...

  • A new era of coalition politics. Coalitions in most industrial democracies are a fact of political life, and, with proportional representation, tend to create stable legislatures and a more collegial political atmosphere. In Canada, the notion that the folks elected by 60%+ of the population should agree to form a government was presented as virtually a treasonous act.

    Our PM and his media allies, trading on the average Canadian's abysmal ignorance of our political system, talked of coups and separatists and (horrors) back-room deals and cabals. A flowering exercise in political democracy was made to look so scary that Canadians got worried. A PM that they never elected was about to be toppled by three other parties, one of them separatist. (Never mind that the fear-monger in question made his own deal with the devil in 2004, and his then-party the Canadian Alliance tried the same thing back in 2000.)

    So the PM bolted, the Governor-General acquiesced, and Canada, by the time Parliament resumes in late January, will have gone nine months or so without passing a single piece of legislation. The coalition lost its momentum as soon as Harper padlocked the House of Commons, but coalition talk was heady stuff while it lasted--a wonderful glass of political Dom Perignon.
  • Ineffectual Liberal leader steps down. And who has replaced him, with no intervening election by his party? Why, that gentleman scholar and US ex-pat Michael Ignatieff, a man constitutionally incapable of the common touch, a blue-blood whose ability to connect with ordinary Canadians is, for different reasons, as shaky as Stéphane Dion's.

    Want a coalition? Be careful what you wish for. Because with Iggy at the helm it just might just be a Conservative-Liberal one.

  • Brenda Martin released from Mexican hellhole. And it was indeed heartening to see the Harper government jump to. But this merely throws into relief the stubborn refusal of that same government to act when our marooned citizens are of a different colour. Abousfian Abdelrazik and Omar Khadr come immediately to mind. And the active complicity of Foreign Affairs officials to keep the latter from returning home is, or should be, a national scandal.

  • Harper apologizes to the Native people of Canada. Words are just fine, and many find them soothing. We Canadians like apologies, and indeed they can be meaningful. It's not the utterer--the words carry their own mana.

    Yet there is something odiously hypocritical about Harper weeping crocodile tears while his government was one of only four that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, joining three other settler-states, Australia, New Zealand and the US.

    The kids in Attawapiskat still don't have their school. An openly racist Minister of Indian Affairs remains in place. What about an apology in the form of deeds, not words, Mr. Harper?

  • Morgentaler is awarded the Order of Canada. And this has opened the door to a gaggle of anti-choice quacks and loons, from Harper's dominionist buddy "Dr." Charles McVety, to Alan Bruinooge and his throbbing "massive poll," to his brother Conservative MP Rob Bruinooge's secret Parliamentary cabal. (As CC notes, some secret cabals are apparently more acceptable than others.)

    Somehow micromanager Stephen Harper failed to still Bruinooge's shrill voice. Which, in itself, is worrying. He subsequently re-locked the front door, but the back door is still ajar.

  • More government accountability promised. Kevin Page, as it turns out, hasn't been faring so well in his new digs. He actually performed in his job, and the government was not pleased. Remember that meagre $2.5 million that the nay-sayers were on about? That was roughly what the current interim $1.9 million budget was to rise to next year: and even that paltry amount is now being slashed. Don't mess with the mafia.

  • Harper wins a minority. Which, alas, means that he's still in power. OK, he overplayed his hand a little, and provoked a political crisis. But we got a good look at that hand, didn't we? No surprises there. He took off the too-tight sweater-vest and it was the same old, same old: a mean-spirited, vengeful, petty autocrat, who has bade Parliament adieu.

    And what's waiting for us down the road a spell? More anti-abortion initiatives disguised as concerns about pregnant women. The gutting of pay equity in the federal public service. A likely change of heart on the Afghanistan pull-out date of 2011.

    And the Liberals will find ways of supporting it all. Business as usual in the House of Commons--order has been restored.

  • Obama is elected. From symbol to reality: Obama has filled his Cabinet with Clintonians, turned his back on the GBLT folks who campaigned hard on his behalf, promised a troop surge in Afghanistan, and, even before the election, returned to the Senate to vote in favour of FISA. As I've said before: Change, I can believe in. Not much change so far. Maybe Iowahawk was right.

  • The bar stays high on freedom of speech. Well and good, of course. And that means more divisive, hateful, plain stupid talk infecting the public discourse. Yup, it's the price of freedom and democracy, but we don't have to like it.

  • The death agony of capitalism. We toldja. But besides feeling some latter-day self-justification, we obviously need to organize and build a new politics that can replace the old: a socialism for the people, not for the rich in hard times. People are being badly hurt. Golden parachutes for all of us, I say. But until we figure out how to do all that organizing, and what a new politics would actually look like, we're stuck being "progressive" in an unprogressive world.

  • A new era of coalition politics. An era in which the very idea of a coalition has been tainted in the minds of Canadians who are at the same time sick to death of the antics in the Sandbox on the Hill, and nearly half of whom don't even bother to vote. We'll get, instead, the de facto Liberal-Conservative coalition we have been living with for two years, but far more artfully and professionally done this time.

    We dared to dream, and for a few days it looked as though democracy might erupt in our midst. Alas, 'twas not to be--for now.

Oh, well. Happy New Year to all of my friends, and to you other folks, too. 2009 promises to be a busy year for all of us. Party on.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Eat, don't squeeze

So the fellow has a strong dietary preference--what's all the fuss about?

UPDATE: (December 31) A violent flea weighs in. Apparently the way to crush barbarism is to become barbarians ourselves. Gaza echoes.

Free Hossein Derakhshan!

The "blogfather" of Iranian blogging in Farsi, Hossein Derakhshan, disappeared from sight a little while ago. Now we learn that he's in an Iranian jail, charged with spying for Israel. Remembering what the Iranian justice system is like, we must, regrettably, fear the worst.

Please send politely-worded correspondence to the Iranian Embassy. You might help to save a life. We can only hope.

[H/t Scott Tribe]

NOTE: Emails to the addresses on the embassy website appear to bounce--at least, mine have. I'm waiting for word from the embassy about the current e-address. In the meantime, try this one:

UPDATE: (January 2) The embassy confirms that is the e-address to use.


Shorter Carolyn Kennedy: "I'm wealthy and bored, so what about
, you know, a Senate seat?"

Best blogposts of 2008

 chosen by the bloggers themselves. Go check them out at Jon Swift's place.


Written by brebis noire, crossposted from The Black Ewe

The holidays have brought on a spot of brain fog. I’ve taken a vacation from everything requiring mental effort and concentration, in spite of all my best intentions I haven’t even been catching up on the reading I wanted and needed to do.

Today, the real reason for this brain fog hit me: I’m back in Winnipeg, and have become a sleepwalker again. In Winnipeg in December, the sun does not come up in the morning until past 8 o’clock, then it makes a low arc in the sky before dipping back under the horizon sometime around 4:30. The temperature has not climbed above -20 Celsius, except for one day, but that was Christmas Day and it went by too quickly and the mercury dipped back down again that night. I went for a walk on Christmas Eve day, and by the time I realised I’d gone too far, my legs had started to freeze and the walk back was more urgent. When I finally made it back inside and started thawing out, my legs turned red and were violently itchy for at least an hour; I think the small veins and capillaries at the surface of my skin were re-dilating after some cold-induced vasoconstriction and were releasing histamine in a panic.

Anyways, back to the sleepwalking. I saw Guy Maddin’s weirdy-weird but wonderful movie My Winnipeg last summer at the Polo Park movieplex, and I have to thank him for explaining some dark and funny mysteries about this place where I was born and raised. Winnipeg is a city of sleepwalkers, according to Maddin. I’ve thought about this in the months since I saw the movie, since I didn’t know whether or not I agreed. In more recent years, Winnipeg has become a city of drivers; not many people walk anymore, except in the malls. But when you start walking outdoors in Winnipeg, you easily fall into a trance-like state, where time stands still and you simply walk endlessly on flat ground covered by crunchy-squeaky snow. You want to believe that the walking helps you to think, but really you’re past thinking, you’re simply surviving and repeating thoughts to yourself, ones you’ve already had, and you’re certainly not coming up with anything revolutionary. Time doesn’t stand still, you just don’t notice how it’s passing. One thing is certain: trancewalking is an excellent way of ignoring or avoiding conflict.

I loved Maddin’s exaggerations and embellishments, and I’m sure that everything he put in that movie happened - just not exactly the way he says it did. My theory about the frozen horses in the river is that one horse may have escaped from a stable and plunged into the icy river, but in Maddin’s childhood memory, one horse morphed into an entire stable, and they froze instantly. In any case, Winnipeg constantly produces outrageous news stories - just read the papers! said Maddin himself, in today’s paper in fact.

So the cold and dark would explain the brain fog, or laziness, as I prefer to call it when it happens to me. A funny thing about the sleepiness that afflicts me when I’m here is that I didn’t notice it when I was growing up, and in fact I’m convinced it doesn’t affect children. It hits you at puberty, and by the time you really notice how heavy and sleepy you’ve become, you’ve already made plans to leave - if only temporarily - to make it go away. I moved away when I was 18, I now know it was because I was especially in danger of becoming a dedicated sleepwalker. I spent years away from Winnipeg trying to shake myself awake, but since I keep coming back, I remain susceptible.

Of course, I have to tie this in with animals at some point, might as well go for it now. Hibernation in turtles, amphibians and fish, is my first thought. A few years ago, someone brought a toad to the clinic where I now work, an ordinary greenish brown toad in a box; he was on his way to being released. The person wanted a professional opinion on how the toad could possibly have lain immobile for an entire winter trapped in a cement wall, and then resurrected when the wall was broken down and he was inadvertently rescued. Not knowing much about toads, I tried to remember what I had learned about amphibians and what they might do during the winter. Toads can dig, so they can reach deep ground that does not freeze. The part of the concrete wall in which he was encased likely didn’t freeze, according to the rescuer, and it was actually quite damp, so that might have helped it survive.Frogs, on the other hand, can’t dig, so they have a more complex challenge to avoid freezing or dehydrating during the winter. Adaptive evolution is a delightfully complex process, and I applaud the frogs and other cold-blooded survivors of the Ice Age for their sleepy resourcefulness.

Other animals don’t hibernate, and while Winnipeg isn’t a place where you will find an abundant variety of wildlife, you will reliably find great numbers of a few single species. Deer, for instance, have flourished. Particularly around here in the suburbs reclaimed from farmers’ fields, where people have taken pity on them and set out hay or other types of feed to get them through the long winter months. Really, you wouldn’t know how they ever survived without us, as they hang around the feeding stations nearly all day long, and don’t run away unless you try to approach close enough for a chat. Some people have taken feeding wildlife to ridiculous lengths; my parents gleefully reported that one of their neighbours, on at least one occasion, cooked up a chicken that she took outside and delivered to a fox and her new litter of kits.

Then there are the insects. They spend the winter in diapause, waiting for the world to become more hospitable before they come to life again. In places like Winnipeg, it seems that only a relative few species have perfected the diapause to such a degree that they can proliferate when the days start to grow long. Mosquitoes, dragonflies, bumblebees and giant water bugs were the insects that plagued me as a kid; when summer came, they were suddenly, alarmingly, everywhere. I must have been four or five years old the day I went to visit my best friend across the street, and when it was time for me to go home, I could not cross back because in the space of a few hours the street had been invaded by an army of giant water bugs. A real nightmare, these bugs could crawl, swim AND fly, and their large pincers weren’t just for decoration. In my mind, I can still see the driveway and street littered with hundreds of them, even as my friend’s mum told me not to be such a scaredy-cat, there were only a few bugs and I was much faster than they were. Even though I begged her to drive me home, she eventually convinced me I could outrun the bugs, so I took a deep breath and ran as fast as I could; somehow I made it across those 50 metres from door to door in one piece. A scene like that would have featured in my version of My Winnipeg, with no (conscious) exaggeration.

So here we all are, several species of animal, stuck in the depths of an Ice Age winter, each doing our best to make it through until the better days arrive, as they always do. Some of us do it best by giving in to the sleep, while others find it easier to stay awake. For the ones who won’t give in to sleep, their job is to take care of the ones who can’t get by alone, and to stand against the dark and cold.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Now is the time for fighting"

Gaza, the world's largest outdoor prison, is under sustained aerial bombardment, which means in plain English that Israeli forces are dropping bombs on people with nowhere to flee. The death toll at this moment: 270 Gazans.

There has been a heavy civilian loss of life, according to the Ottawa Citizen's print edition (the lengthy article "'Now is the time for fighting,' Israel says," which carries considerable criticism of Israel, has been removed from its on-line edition, and replaced with a more politically acceptable one).

The body count rises, while the US and Britain blame it all on Hamas, the elected government of Gaza. But even our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, has responded to the attacks with a call for both sides "to use all efforts to avoid civilian casualties and to create the conditions to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need in Gaza."

And Nicholas Sarkozy, whose election in France was celebrated by the Usual Suspects, condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force."

Israel, however, will continue with its latest measured response: "The operation will last as long as necessary," says Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak. In other words, we can expect lots more dead civilians in the coming hours and days.

UPDATE: Being called an anti-Semite by a blogger who jokes about the Holocaust and defends neo-Nazis is, as I've mentioned before in a similar connection, a perverse badge of honour. Welcome, SDA readers, but please note that cussin' and trollin' are no longer permitted here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Celebrating Channukah in Israel bulldozing a mosque.

(Hands up all those who think that Muslim forces bulldozing a synagogue would be similarly ignored by the media.)

Israeli Bedouins are under attack once again.

From Josh Berer, who shared this information yesterday:

Hello friends,

Many of you will remember the flurry of emails we sent out around the end of November regarding the Straw-Bale Mosque in the unrecognized village of Wadi al-Naam. We in conjunction with another organization, Bustan, managed to organize a demonstration and show of support with the people of Wadi al-Naam and stopped the demolition of this mosque. We were, and continue to be, very thankful to all who showed their support with us and the Bedouin of Wadi al-Naam.

We are extremely sad to tell you that this morning at five o'clock AM Israeli forces arrived at the mosque and razed it to the ground. The builder and director of the project, Mahmoud Jarbeau, was sleeping in the mosque when he heard the rumble of bulldozers, and awoke to find a demolition team at his door.

He served for 9 years in the Israeli Defense Forces, ending his career as an officer in the Paratrooper Corps, and has poured more than 40,000 US dollars of his own savings into the project over the past 6 months.

We called an emergency meeting to discuss our response, and have decided to begin rebuilding the mosque immediately, and would like your help in doing so!

In addition, we are actively soliciting financial support from the community to help in the rebuilding process. God willing, it will be rebuilt soon, and will serve as a testament to the will of the people to persevere in the face of enormous adversity.

A constructive protest is planned:

Join us in rebuilding the mosque on Friday, January 2 in Wadi al-Naam!

We can arrange transport from Beer Sheva, and want to see as many people as possible there to help us rebuild! It's going to be fun! We'll dance around in mud and then build it into walls, the walls become a building and there you have a mosque!

Meanwhile the destruction of homes continues as well--for the apparent crime of being Bedouin in Israel:

Also today, a home was demolished in the unrecognized village of Mkaimin, near Lagiya.

Raya Abu Atik lived in her tin home since 1975. She waited together with the rest of her community for the government to recognize her village, a village that is in this location since Ottoman times. After more than 25 years was still no recognition of the government, but after 25 years tin homes erode. Eventually it was blown away by the wind. Her community tried to re-ground the tin home, but it flew again in the next strong wind. So the community pitched in and built a new home – again a tin home, same size, same location. This was two years ago. It did not take long and a demolition order was posted on the "new" home. Arguing before a judge, the family showed arial photos from the 1980s, showing the same home in the same location. The judge was not impressed. This morning, a rainy morning in the middle of the Jewish holiday of Hannuka and on Christmas day, the police forcefully took the 12 children living the home out to wait in the rain while the budozers demolished their "new" home. Now all the children are spread out among their neighbors. Their community will pitch a tent for the family.

UPDATE: More on Israel's ethnic cleansing of Bedouins and its forcible seizure of traditional Bedouin land in the Negev here. According to RCUV, the aim is to force Bedouins off their lands and into existing towns, to make way for an expected influx of 250,000 Jewish immigrants into the South Negev over the next five years.

Gut Yontiff, Ezra

I wish this guy would become a Christian. Then we could accuse him of anti-Semitism.

As CC commenter Reality Bites puts it, "If you want to be wished a Merry Christmas, renounce your Judaism - and Jews around the world will finally have a reason to celebrate Christmas!"

Happy holidays, Ezra, you logorrheic lump of sanctimony.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And to all a good night

'tis the season of magic, wonder and goodness. The sick kid got to keep his pony. Told ya. And so the stories write us.

Best wishes to friends, foes and sparring partners. For those keeping the tradition, enjoy your turkey--and try not to leave too many leftovers.

As for me, I got my presents early this year.

May you all have a joyous and festive celebration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Working: balbulican's Christmas meme

It’s simple. Just list all the jobs you’ve had in your life, in order. Don’t bust your brain: no durations or details are necessary, and feel free to omit anything that you feel might tend to incriminate you. I’m just curious. And when you’re done, tag another five bloggers you’re curious about.

And here I am, just beginning my Christmas shopping. Thanks a bunch, balb.

  • Messenger
  • Mid-Canada Line maintenance crew
  • Clerk One, federal government (Department of Labour and Canadian Government Travel Bureau)
  • Construction
  • Passport Bureau processing clerk
  • Teaching assistant
  • Part-time mover
  • Grants Program Officer, Canada Council (later SSHRC)
  • Third Executive Vice-President, PSAC
  • (After re-org) Regional Executive Vice-President, National Capital Region, PSAC
  • Consultant/Researcher/Writer
  • Teaching assistant (full-time student, but maintaining my consultancy business)
And I tag, in turn, Buckets, Damian Penny, Mark Collins, Sir Francis--and my co-blogger, Marie-Ève.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Payback time

There's no whore like an old whore.
--Brian Mulroney

Happy New Year, Senator Mike Duffy. You've earned it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Time to salute some honest journalists:

Goody, two shoes:
Roger Cohen has some insights on a recent bit of journalistic licence.

Striking sanity in Ottawa: OC Tranpo drivers and their families face a bleak Christmas. Hugh Adami takes on the vicious mob mentality whipped up by CFRA hatemongers Lowell Green and Steve Madely. In other news, an anti-strike rally at City Hall produced all of three people. Even the organizer, conservative madcap Emrys Graefe, failed to appear. Miss the bus, Emrys?

"I say you are no Parliament. I will put an end to your sitting.": Paul Wells tell it like it is about our Maximum Leader.

Small but vital: She hasn't thrown a shoe at me yet for calling her "sprightly," but maybe she should. Kady O'Malley is always on the inside track. A must-read, and of course the target of the usual vile insults from the knuckle-dragging Right.

Just a few names that occur to me whenever the Senator-wannabe and the rest of the crowd at Fox North make me despair for the future of Canadian journalism. Readers are invited to supply more, with examples.

UPDATE: Those of us who have had a public life know what it's like to trap oneself in recognition/thanks lists at the mic--you'll inevitably leave people out. Reader Brian Mc reminds me that I have done just that with Dan Gardner, who combines readability with solid research as he smashes icons and idées fixes with gimlet-eyed focus. Sorry, but better late than never, Dan.

And--yikes!--while I'm at it, let's not forget my friend Antonia Zerbisias, a fine journalist and blogger who maddens the Usual Suspects with good sense and needle-sharp wit. Besides, anyone who can drive Kathy Shaidle simply mad with envy is right up there, in my book.

And Heather Mallick! A martyr to the cause of deft writing and skewering, publicly flogged by a snivelling CBC exec as propitiation to the Harper-god, but still up and running. Thank goodness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Homophobia: a political fashion accessory

While President-elect Obama is palling around with homophobes down south, the Vatican and the US have refused to sign a non-binding UN declaration opposing the criminalization of homosexuality around the world--joining fifty or so Muslim nations whose notion of "reparative therapy" can be extreme.

Tough times ahead for the GLBT folks, for sure. Once again the Christian so-cons and their supposed enemies the Islamists close ranks, while US Presidents--of whatever stripe--give aid and comfort to the haters. These days they're calling it outreach.

Hold those tough questions

Nice to see that in this turbulent world some things never change. Like Stephen Harper's personality--that ever-toxic combination of little-boy pettiness and Maximum-Leader arrogance:

Global National's anchor Kevin Newman was so tough on Stephen Harper during his interview around the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City that he was told by Harper communications staff he would never get another interview with the PM, according to a well-placed source. True to their word, Mr. Newman was shut out, denied a year-end interview with the Prime Minister that is traditional for television anchors. (The PMO did offer Global a year-end interview but it could not be with Mr. Newman, according to the source; Global said no.)

Come on, Stephen, man up--you've still got CTV, after all, when you need your daily fix of fawning and cossetting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Gatineau Wal-Mart Death Watch

It's official. The count-down for the eventual closing of the Gatineau, Québec Wal-Mart has begun.

Just months after Wal-Mart shut a unionized tire shop in Gatineau, about 150 employees at another Wal-Mart in the Hull sector have won bargaining rights.

The United Food and Commercial Workers said the Quebec Labour Board has certified the group for bargaining three-and-a-half years after the original application. It said the adjoining tire and lubrication shop was also certified in 2005 but the certification of the main store was delayed by labour board hearings over Wal-Mart motions. ....

"Hopefully, Wal-Mart won't squander another chance to prove its critics wrong, and it will take this opportunity to show the world that it believes in human rights by sitting down with these Hull workers to negotiate a contract in good faith," Wayne Hanley, president of the Canadian UFCW, said in a statement.

Wal-Mart will never admit that its unofficial management policy precludes bargaining in good faith with employee unions. When Wal-Mart closes its Gatineau store, the official excuse will likely be economic considerations.

By the way, the graphic at the top of this blogpost is the marketing poster for a terrific documentary produced in Canada.

Winter lights

From dead Jews to fat African Americans, it's a yuk a minute at Small Dead Animals.

Christmas in Delisle. I think I'd prefer celebrating with the Bramptonians.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hate we can believe in

Read it and weep.

Is there nothing Obama won't do?

Gute cop, bad cop?

On Monday, in a small town in the state of Bavaria, a skinhead stabbed the police chief Elois Mannichl in front of his house.

... the attacker rang the police chief's doorbell and said before stabbing him: "You're a leftist pig cop, and you will no longer hang around the graves of our comrades." German officials said the knife missed Mr Mannichl's heart by less than two centimetres (one inch). The attacker's comments were an apparent reference to this summer's funeral of a regional neo-Nazi leader, who was buried with a Nazi swastika flag, which is banned in Germany. Mr Mannichl later ordered police to re-open the grave and remove the swastika.

From Spiegel, more is available about the conflict between local members of the far-right National Democratic Party and Mr Mannichl.

Police chief of Passau, Alois Mannichl, had become a hate figure for the far right. But it left no doubt that it was deeply critical of Mannichl. "This turns Alois Mannichl into a martyr, which he isn't," the statement said. "The Passau police chief repeatedly abused his office and pursued the national opposition with the help of his police apparatus." More than 300 people staged a demonstration against far-right violence on Monday afternoon in Passau.

Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, said the assault showed that far-right violence had reached a new dimension. "This attack on an individual prominent representative of the state is new," Herrmann told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We must take this escalation of violence very seriously."

Arson attacks and racist assaults by right-wing extremists are part of everyday life in parts of Germany. Authorities have expressed concern this year that the country's neo-Nazi scene is becoming more violent. Mannichl had been singled out for criticism by the NPD on previous occasions and he had infuriated local neo-Nazis in August when he ordered the grave of prominent Nazi Friedhelm Busse to be reopened days after his funeral after a swastika flag had been laid on the coffin during the ceremony.

The flag, banned under German law because it bore a forbidden far-right symbol, was removed and legal proceedings were instigated against NPD activist Thomas Wulff who had been spotted laying it.

Police believe there's a possible link between the stabbing and the burial of Busse because the man who attacked the police chief had shouted: "You won't be trampling on the graves of our comrades any more."

The chairman of the German police federation, Konrad Freiberg, said neo-Nazis had adopted a new strategy this year of trying to intimidate individual police officers. He told MDR INFO radio that many police involved in tackling the far right were threatened and harassed, even at their homes.

One wonders why and how the skinheads have decided to systematically target police officers who oppose their budding reign of terror. To encourage them to leave the police force? And what of those who are not being not subjected to harassment and assaults? Are they potential members or allies of the reactionary right?
...the governor of Bavaria, said Germany should consider trying once again to ban the far-right National Democratic Party. A previous attempt to outlaw the party failed in 2003 due to a legal bungle when some of the NPD members called to testify were found to be informants of the domestic intelligence agency.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

OC Transpo union president steps down

According to Le Droit, Ottawa's French-language newspaper, André Cornellier, the president of the striking OC Transpo drivers, has stepped down temporarily from his position after he and his family received personal threats:

Depuis le déclenchement de la grève, mercredi dernier, le président de la section 279 du Syndicat uni des transports (SUT), André Cornellier, a reçu cinq courriels portant atteinte à sa sécurité et à celle de sa famille.

[Since the strike began, last Wednesday. the president of Local 279 of the Amagamated Transit Union, André Cornellier, has received five emails threatening him and his family.]

He will be replaced by my old friend Randy Graham, international vice-president of ATU.

In news that may not be unrelated, an official lawyer's letter has been delivered to local radio station CFRA:

L'avocat du syndicat, John McLuckie, a aussi envoyé une lettre à la station anglophone CFRA, demandant à son coloré animateur Lowell Green de se rétracter, pour des propos qu'il a tenus sur les ondes la semaine dernière, et qui inciteraient à la violence à l'endroit de M. Cornellier et des chauffeurs d'autobus d'OC Transpo.

«Dans son émission du matin, M. Green a répété que 's'il était un plus jeune homme', il trouverait une façon d'être physiquement violent à l'endroit du président de la section 279, André Cornellier», est-il écrit dans la lettre dont LeDroit a obtenu copie.

[The union's lawyer, John McLuckie, has also sent a letter to English-language radio station CFRA, demanding that its colourful talk-show host Lowell Green retract remarks he made on the air last week, inciting violence against Cornellier and his OC Transpo drivers.

"In his morning broadcast, Green repeated that 'if he were a younger man' he would find a way to be physically violent towards the president of Local 279, André Cornellier," he wrote in a letter, a copy of which was obtained by Le Droit.

Meanwhile, thanks to the bullying intransigence of Ottawa's unloved Mayor Larry O'Brien, the strike continues, with my Councillor Clive Doucet being one of the few voices of sanity to be heard so far.

[H/t Cas77 msg.#200]

UPDATE: Other media have not confirmed this report. Cornellier might have stepped a little to the side, but not down. He remains very much the leader of his troops.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

Marie-Ève and I would like to thank our nominator, the bloggers who supported that nomination, and the voters who helped us win the bronze medal in this year's "Canada's Best Progressive Blog" category.

We are seriously considering joining the Coalition. We, too, are ready to govern. But we will only sign on if JJ, unfairly deprived of airtime, is offered a Senate seat.

Many thanks to Saskboy and Co. in the meantime for all of their hard work.

Get out your begging bowls, Speech Warriors™

Richard Warman scores a biggie.

"It's still Canada"

This story, about some vicious Ottawa cops, needs wide circulation. Chief Vern White, what kind of "police services" are you running in my town?

Here's a close-up of the victim:

Let Ottawa's Finest know how you feel:

H/t Knitnut via Miss Vicky

UPDATE: (December 17) A representative of the Ottawa Police has responded here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Behold the face of the RepubliCons' perfect female.

"She can work 24 hours, no break, no pay and she won't ask for a raise," he says. "That's okay for a home budget." Also perfect for reactionary and retrograde Con ideologues.

Le Trung is an inventor who has been tinkering with robot technology since he was is Grade 3. Last week an article in the Globe and Mail covered his latest creation. Trung foresees that
Project Aiko, .... could lead to humanoid helpers for hospitals, retirement homes and even airports.
Does that not fit in beautifully with Harper RepubliCons' ploy to cancel pay equity for women? Many of the legal challenges regarding pay equity have been launched with respect to job categories, often in those employment areas that require little educational training but demand a lot of dedication, often in difficult and sometimes dangerous working conditions.

Pay equity was abolished from CPC policy at the November convention in Winnipeg. Its removal from government policy was fast-tracked and it became part of Finance Minister Flaherty's disastrous economic update.

Note that while some elements from Flaherty's contentious proposal were removed, the gutting of pay equity has remained on the table.

Mayor Larry: no tact, judgement or brains

Damn, I hate living in Ottawa sometimes, and for once it's not the winters I'm talking about. I'm condemned to reside in a place where a near-majority of my fellows took complete leave of their senses one fine November day in 2006 and propelled what a blogging friend calls the "dysgenic spawn of Daddy Warbucks and Lex Luthor" into the mayor's chair.

Now this bonehead, this simpleton, this "have a nice day" smiley-face, red-cheeked from yet another spanking by City Council, has decided he's a labour negotiator. He reminds me of the
Beverley Hillbillies' benighted Jethro deciding one morning that he wants to be a brain surgeon. Compared to Larry, though, Jethro would have had a relatively easy time of it.

With faint echoes of George Bush père addressing the former dictator of Iraq as "Saddam," thereby injecting a weird mano-a-mano element into complex world events, our Larry has made it personal with the OC Transpo union's president, André Cornellier, calling him by his first name and challenging him to call a vote of his members--on an offer that hasn't been on the table since the drivers' strike began.

If I were trying to conduct negotiations on the management side, I'd be pulling my hair
out at this point, and not as an hommage to the mayor, either. Exhibiting what he must see in his world of fantasies and delusions as real go-getter initiative, Larry has taken the wind out of his own negotiating team's sails by making this perfectly absurd public proposal.

"If you let your membership vote on the last agreement [sic], I will take this final offer to my council and I will recommend as head of council that our final offer be accepted," says our newly-minted labour expert. So let me get this straight: the ATU is supposed to hold a vote on a non-existent offer which, if accepted, will then be put before city council? You know, the folks who have had to steer Ottawa around the bald-headed guy for the last two years because he doesn't know how to negotiate a coffee pool, let alone a contract?

Cornellier, for his part, has accepted on his members' behalf the compromise proposal of a federal mediator, which he would send out to his drivers in a heartbeat if the City agreed. Nothing doing, says Larry, straining to look tough. And so Ottawans, many of whom voted for this idiot, will continue to trudge through the snow for the foreseeable future to write exams or to do their Christmas shopping or just to get to and from work.

And we have two more years of this crap to go. Thanks a bunch, fellow citizens.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The OC Transpo strike and a vile talk-show host

Here in Ottawa we have our own Bill O'Reilly--a bloated vulgarian by the name of Lowell Green, who has been growing ever more incautious in his little nest at CFRA.

He has now, according to one well-regarded local blog, threatened physical violence against striking OC Transpo drivers.

Here's the report from ZeroMeansZero:

Boy oh boy Steve Madely and Lowell Green sure didn't disappoint. Both beat the shit out of the drivers all morning yesterday with Lowell Green threatening to physically do damage to several people including one driver who Lowell wouldn't even let speak. Way over the top. Rumour is that [Ottawa Mayor] Larry O'Brien phoned the station afterwards to say thanks.

Our Lowell has a bit of a record of inflammatory anti-union remarks. Indeed, during my years with the PSAC, his hateful commentary against our union was the order of the day.

In 1998, according to CAW, Green urged drivers to ram picketers at the then-Corel Centre. (I was on that picket line myself, as it happens.) The result was a boycott of CFRA:

The Canadian Labour Congress has endorsed a national consumer boycott against radio station CFRA in Ottawa, Ontario after call-in talk show host, Lowell Green, encouraged listeners to drive over USWA members on a legal picket line at the Corel Centre, home of the Ottawa Senators.

The bargaining unit is made up of 75 cleaners, all but three of whom are part-time employees. The bargaining unit members have been without a collective agreement since March 7, 1997, when the Ontario Labour Relations Board issued a certificate.

The CLC executive council is requesting affiliates to ask their members to:

  • not tune into CFRA if in the listening area, at least until the station issues an apology and retraction of Green's statements;
  • write letters to CFRA management protesting Green's anti-union statements;
  • don't advertise on CFRA and encourage others to discontinue advertising;
  • send letters to the CRTC supporting the USWA complaint.
That boycott lasted until January, 1999, after Green was forced to deliver an on-air apology. Seems to me that another one is due. Or better still, why doesn't someone just fire the guy?

Tales of terror

Gitmo's kangaroo court judge Colonel Patrick Parrish refused yesterday to permit the display of evidence that clears Canadian citizen Omar Khadr--photographs that show the young man buried in rubble at the time his alleged victim was killed by a grenade.

Why did the judge refuse to allow the photographs to be viewed? Lieutenant-Commander Bill Kuebler, Khadr's defence lawyer, stated the obvious:

"Because they show he's innocent."

Meanwhile, in London, England, a coroner's jury has returned an open verdict on the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the closest they were permitted to come to finding that the police officers who executed him and lied about it afterwards were guilty of...something. (There really do seem to be a limited number of narratives available about out-of-control police officers.)

The coroner had already decided in advance that the police had done no wrong in pumping seven bullets at point-blank range into de Menezes' head, and he instructed the jury that they were not permitted to conclude otherwise. With their verdict, the jurors still managed to reject the police account of events.

Collateral damage in the war on terror. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. I can see the broken eggs here, all right--but where's the omelette?

The Mounties who got their man

Cracks are appearing in the conspiracy of silence surrounding the identities of the four Horsemen involved in the death of Robert Dziekanski.

The first RCMP officer to be outed was Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson, the supervisor of the other three Mounties during the killing of Dziekanski, who is presently facing new problems of his own, also involving the death of a civilian.

The goon who wielded the Taser no less than five times, for a total of 31 seconds of high-voltage electric shock--administered twice while Dziekanski was on the ground convulsing--is Constable Kwesi Millington, who has since been transferred to the Toronto West detachment of the RCMP in Milton, Ontario.

The two other Mounties involved are at present known only by their last names. Constable Rundel is believed to have been reassigned to the RCMP's Nanimo detachment (303 Prideaux St., Nanaimo, V9R 2N3 [250] 754-2345), and has been taken off front-line duties. Constable Bentley has been transferred east, but his current detachment is not presently known.

Meanwhile the RCMP and their friends in the Crown's office claim that the Tasering had nothing to do with Dziekanski's death, why, nothing at all, no siree. They continue to spin their fantastic fables about the contributing factors:
  • Dziekanski was suffering, they say, from alcohol withdrawal. With him on his carry-on luggage was an unopened bottle of vodka that he was bringing for a friend of the family. His lawyer quite reasonably points out that, were this allegation true, the bottle would not have remained unopened. Dziekanski's mother says that he had a problem with alcohol twenty years ago. The Polish Embassy says that the Crown's allegation is "factually baseless."

  • Dziekanski was hysterically afraid of flying, we are told. No doubt this unproven allegation arose from the Mounties' oh-so-objective "fact-finding" tour of Dziekanski's home town this past April. Recall that Dziekanski had been on terra firma for half a day before he was killed: is this a case, as I noted earlier, of "retroactive aviophobia?"

  • Dziekanski threatened the officers with a stapler, says the BC Criminal Justice Branch mouthpiece Stan Lowe. I have reviewed the video a number of times, and can find no frame in which a stapler can be seen. I am reproducing the video below: if anyone spots a stapler in the man's hand, please leave a comment. Given the other lies we have been told, I see no reason to take the RCMP at their word on this. But even if there had been such an object in his hand at the time, I agree with commenter Mike Steenhuus over at the CBC thread on this:

    "My conclusion is: If it takes 4 RCMP with tasers to take down one tired, thirsty, delirious man with a stapler, perhaps the RCMP should look into replacing their tasers with staplers.
    " [H/t Alison at Creekside]

  • The physical restraint used by the four officers, piling onto a man who has received five Taser shocks, was held to be a contributing factor in Dziekanski's death--one officer even knelt on Dziekanski's neck. Incredibly, some unnamed police"expert" found that "the officers' actions were consistent with RCMP policy and training."(Think about that one for a moment, and be very afraid.)

  • The official apologists have even managed to slip in a reference to "delirium," that dubious medical alibi for deaths after Tasering. One "forensic pathologist" managed to make the obvious sound like a scientific finding: he referred to the event as "sudden death following restraint." We knew that.
In any case, here they are, folks: Canada's finest, on the job.

Friday, December 12, 2008


The four RCMP officers who killed Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport are going to walk.

A Crown "investigation" that has taken more than a year has concluded that Tasering an unarmed man twice*--a man who was backing away with his hands in the air--then kneeling on his neck, and then failing to take resuscitation measures once the man's heart stopped, is perfectly acceptable behaviour by RCMP officers, as is lying about what happened before it was known that a video of the incident existed.

This is what passes for justice in Canada today. Our national police force, an institution that is rotten from top to bottom, has once again been allowed to kill with impunity. And we even got to watch the killing on national television.

It's time to disband this "horribly broken" outfit. And it's time to break up the cosy little cliques that have developed between police and Crown attorneys. Lives may well depend upon it.

Until this happens, no one is safe from the bully boys in red serge. No one. There are no checks and balances, there is no accountability. The RCMP is literally out of control. Its officers are, unlike the rest of us, above--or outside--the law.

What does this mean for ordinary citizens? Just ask the family of young Ian Bush. And the mother of Robert Dziekanski.

*UPDATE: It has now been revealed that Dziekanski was Tasered five times, not twice--the RCMP lied about that, too. "Three pathologists," unnamed, have put his death down to, amongst other factors, a "hysterical fear of flying"--this after being in Vancouver for half a day! So now we have retroactive aviophobia, right up there with "excited delirium" as a new medical alibi for police brutality.