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May 18, 2006

Afghanistan

The House voted tonight, 149-145, to extend the Afghan mission for two years past its previous end-date in January, 2007. Here are stories from CTV, CP, CBC, the Globe, and the Post. Oh, and for good measure, the Beeb, the New York Times, Reuters, and the AP.

The vote itself was controversial - which is to say, members of the opposition objected to the issue being put to a vote at all. (Some failed even to show up.) The Harper government had announced the vote on Monday, giving Parliamentarians thirty-six hours to prepare themselves for a six-hour debate on the non-binding resolution. This was, according to many in the opposition, not nearly enough time to come to an informed position on the motion.

Indeed, even Andrew Coyne, who supports the extension, remarks that Harper's gambit "didn't show a whole lot of respect for Parliament." I'm not entirely sure what he means, and I've left a comment to which I hope he replies. For I must admit that the notion that thirty-six hours and a six-hour Parliamentary debate do not - can not - prepare a Member of Parliament to vote for or against the resolution strikes me as somewhat ludicrous.

Here's the text of the resolution:

That,

(1) whereas this House on April 10, 2006 debated a motion in support of Canada's significant commitment in Afghanistan,

(2) whereas Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is an important contribution, with that of more than 30 other countries, to international efforts under the auspices of the United Nations and NATO,

(3) whereas these international efforts are reducing poverty, enhancing human rights and gender equality, strengthening civil society and helping to build a free, secure and self-sustaining democratic state for all Afghan men, women and children, and

(4) whereas Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is consistent with Canada's support of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights around the world,

this House support the government's two year extension of Canada's diplomatic, development, civilian police and military personnel in Afghanistan and the provision of funding and equipment for this extension . . . .

I take the language from Hansard which indicates, for what it's worth, that the government had the unanimous approval of the House to take up the resolution today.

In any case, what possible reason could the opposition parties have to object to the 'snap' process? In his remarks following the debate, interim Liberal leader Bill Graham - who supported the resolution - suggested that he believed the Bloc might have been brought onside had the process not been rushed. What would have changed their minds? In other words, if their opposition was on a purely procedural level - unlike the NDP, which clearly opposes the Afghan mission as a substantive matter - what would increased time have done to bring the Bloc around? Indeed, given that the Bloc announced its opposition to the motion before the six-hour House debate, it is hard to credit Graham's suggestion that more time would have allowed skeptical MPs to have their doubts allayed, as his doubts were allayed during the debate.

In fact, the experience of the Liberal Party in the matter seems to give the lie to the suggestion that MPs were short-changed. There's a lot going on in this CP article, but the lede is pretty straightforward:
It took Stephen Harper holding "a gun to their heads" over the risky Afghanistan mission to produce what some Liberal MPs said was the best caucus meeting they've ever attended.

For three hours Wednesday morning, Liberal MPs and senators listened to impassioned arguments on both sides of the debate over the prime minister's motion to extend the mission by two years. "It was riveting," said one caucus member.

Insiders said the discussion ranged over all the possible approaches Liberals could take to the motion: support, oppose, abstain or boycott. . . .

Bill Graham, the acting leader, eventually left it to individual MPs to vote according to their consciences after the six-hour debate later in the day.

So the key impact of the 'rushed' process on the Liberal Party was to allow members of that party to listen to the debate, examine their conscience and the wishes of their constitutents, and cast the vote they thought appropriate. And this is disrespectful to what sort of democracy, exactly?

And yet this notion - that MPs were voting against the process, and not the resolution - will persist, I think. It will persist because it serves everybody's interest. Following the vote, Harper told the press gallery: "[S]upport for the mission is a lot stronger than the vote. There were a lot of people in there who wanted to vote against the government, particularly on the Liberal side, and I think that's unfortunate." In other words, if folks are voting against him, they're not voting against his policy - so the fact that it squeaked by with four votes is misleading. For their part, the opposition parties (with the possible exception of the NDP, which can't decide whether to get in on the 'it's just the process' game) can maintain the position that they fully support both our troops and their mission. Despite all the media buzz about falling support for Afghanistan, opposition MPs have absolutely no desire to go into an election campaign as the guy who voted against the troops; or against rebuilding Afghanistan; or against killing terrorists; etc.

So this 'process' meme will persist. But let's not be fooled by it, you and me. Let's remember that everyone played politics with this vote - the government, who were happy to put the opposition in a sticky spot; the opposition, who were happy to fudge the issue; and the government again, who were happy to let them.

Of course they were playing politics. But - and the Liberals, and especially Bill Graham, are to be commended for this - it wasn't partisan politics. It was high politics. Because, as Jack Layton and Stephen Harper are making increasingly clear, politics in Canada is at a cross-roads. There are two seriously ideological parties, and they have significantly different visions regarding the future of this country. As they pull in opposite directions, it's no surprise that the un-ideological Liberal Party (or at least its caucus) is being rent in twain. Questions of decided moment - like the nature of our role in world affairs - will naturally bring these divergent ideological visions to the fore.

Those like Coyne who object to Harper's procedural gambit as disrespectful to Parliament imply that the Prime Minister put low politics over high politics. I disagree. We are at a moment, I believe, when low politics and high happen to coincide to a remarkable degree. The confluence of low and high politics is not an affront to Parliamentary democracy. It is its essence.

Posted by David Mader at 12:52 AM | (0) | Back to Main

Wait a Minute

Adam Daifallah notes the story of Richard Hatch, former Survivor champion, who's been sentenced to fifty-one months in prison for tax evasion:

U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres, at a court in Providence, R.I., on Tuesday sentenced Hatch to 51 months in prison.

"I believe I've been completely truthful and completely forthcoming throughout the entire process," Hatch, 45, told the judge before he was sentenced.

However, Torres responded by issuing a harsher than expected sentence because he said Hatch had repeatedly committed perjury during the trial.

"It seems unfortunately very clear to me that Mr. Hatch lied," Torres said.

I'm no crim-law expert - in fact I know very, very little about the field - but this strikes me as problematic. The judge cites, as an aggravating factor in his sentencing decision, Hatch's alleged guilt - in a crime with which he was not charged, and for which he was not convicted. Did Hatch perjur himself at trial? That's for a finder of fact to decide - and the story makes clear that, even if a charge had been laid, this trial, at least, was to a jury, not to the bench. In other words, even if there was a perjury rap involved, the judge would not be the one to make the decision. Post Booker and Blakely, I believe, aggravating factors at the sentencing stage must be tried to a factfinder. Sounds like Hatch has at least one plausible ground for appeal.

Posted by David Mader at 12:04 AM | (0) | Back to Main

May 16, 2006

Of E-Mails and Etiquette

The Volokh Conspiracy's Jonathan Adler highlights a Christian Science Monitor story on miscommunication in the e-mail medium.

Though e-mail is a powerful and convenient medium, researchers have identified three major problems. First and foremost, e-mail lacks cues like facial expression and tone of voice. That makes it difficult for recipients to decode meaning well. Second, the prospect of instantaneous communication creates an urgency that pressures e-mailers to think and write quickly, which can lead to carelessness. Finally, the inability to develop personal rapport over e-mail makes relationships fragile in the face of conflict.
Much the same could, of course, be said for blogging. I wonder, though, if - after the initial excitement of instantaneous communication wears off - we'll begin to see a return to letter-writing etiquette. Many have noted, with regret, the demise of the personal letter; along with the letter went, I think, the easy ability of English-speakers to communicate in writing. I refer specifically to intimate interpersonal communication, of course; the practice of business letter writing thrives (although it too is under siege from the e-mail medium, resulting in two tiers of written business communication).

It's time, I think, to bring that letter-writing etiquette back: the tone and formality, even in personal communication; the proper use of grammar and attention to spelling; the thoughtfulness and organization.

I'm certainly not an expert in these things; I have not grown up writing letters. And it must be true that letters resulted in a substantial amount of miscommunication and misunderstanding as well. But could a greater attention to the fundamentals of good letter writing do anything but improve the overall quality and utility - not to say pleasance - of written electronic communication?

With best wishes to you, dear reader, I remain,

Your humble blogger,
Mader

Posted by David Mader at 11:10 PM | (0) | Back to Main

May 15, 2006

The Gun Registry

If, as this story suggests, Canadians have 'grown used' to the gun registry, does it really seem likely that they would continue to oppose its abandon (or substantial downsizing) once such a move has been taken? Isn't it equally likely that they will 'grow used' to not having the gun registry? In other words, if attachment to the registry is, as the pollster suggests, merely a function of its existence, wouldn't we expect a similar attachment to its non-existence?

Posted by David Mader at 04:48 PM | (2) | Back to Main

May 10, 2006

Luttig Resigns

My law school chums may want to take note.

Posted by David Mader at 06:15 PM | (0) | Back to Main

May 04, 2006

Communism, and communism

Thanks for all your thoughtful responses to my discussion of Communist chic. One particular explanation for our differing treatment of Communist and Nazi iconography was suggested by a number of commenters, and I'll let them speak for themselves. Here's how my buddy Jesse puts it:

Communism throughout recent history is given a pass in western society to a certain extent because we (well, at least me and the rest of the moderate to extreme granola munchers) sympathize with the socialist ideal. Racial Genocide as a political solution is so morally abhorrent that I would assume that even if the death toll in each case was just as gruesome, the common conception is that communism had everyone pitching in, and well, the wheels just fell of due to shoddy leadership and everybody started starving to death. (Obviously a misconception, but I think itís what allows people to glorify it without feeling guilty.)
Reader Alex sounds a similar theme:
The reason why you see Che shirts and not Hitler ones is simple - advocates of communism can make the case that Stalin and Mao weren't "real communists", but instead were perverting Marx's "great ideas" into essentailly supporting fascist tyrranies. . . . On the other hand, this simply isn't possible with Nazism - any philosophy that was more or less the brainchild of Hitler is eternally poisoned by association (with good reason, of course), and nobody can make a serious claim that they're only a believer in the economic plans of the Nazis and not their racism or genocidal tendancies.
Reader Stuart writes:
Communism, or the ideal of what it is supposed to be, has a romantic cachet of how it is supposed to be better for society, rather than the individual. Hence the intellectual fascination. Nazism, has no romantic cachet, not a single redeeming idea or feature.
And from the other side of the aisle, reader Neil asks:
[W]hy do conservatives always insist on muddling political systems with the actions taken on the orders of their leaders?
It's a fair argument, and if hipsters walked around with Marx t-shirts I'd concede. But they don't; instead, the Communist chic I'm troubled by explicitly adopts and celebrates symbols of Communism. That's capital-C Communism, being communism as applied, not small-c communism, being the communist ideal. Even if it's the case that communism does not necessarily lead to mass murder, and even if it's the case that fascism necessarily does (which is not necessarily true, I think), that still wouldn't excuse the embrace of symbols of actually-murderous Communist regimes.

Right? I mean, when a kid wears a Che t-shirt, the message is not "I believe Che Guevera bastardized an honorable political ideology by embracing unnecessary violence and murder." It's "I'm celebrating Che." Wearing a hammer and sickle doesn't say "I believe the Soviet Union misapplied Marxist notions and I abhor the murder that resulted." It says "I'm celebrating the Soviet Union."

And so, in response to Neil's comment, it's not conservatives who conflate ideology with regimes - it's progressives and others who sport the symbols of murderous regimes in an effort to express their support for the underlying ideology - an ideology which, they more or less have to insist, was misapplied by the very regimes whose paraphernalia they sport. They ought to be sporting these.

So that's that. Stuart further suggests that "Western armies uncovered the Nazi's mass graves, and we haven't done that with the Russian or Chinese communists yet;" similarly, reader "Troubled in BC" suggests that "we fought a 'hot' war against the Nazis and a 'cold' war against the soviets." While I think both statements deserve some qualification, I think both are fundamentally sound. Certainly they help to explain why, as a societal matter, we treat Communism and Nazism differently. But if anything they simply underscore the arbitrariness of the distinction; should we really have to be personally involved in the overthrow of tyranny in order to recognize its evil?

Which brings me to Jesse's excellent concluding observation:
reading your article made me think about how selective we are when we condemn some action or movement, or better put, how silent the globe can be when faced with glaringly similar situations to Nazi Genocide. . . . Not only do people react more negatively to extermination based on some sort of rational selection, but the reaction is obviously much more intense of the targeted group is selected by a criteria that the majority of other people fit into (i.e. white, Judeo-Christian, Anglophone, etc.).
I think that's exactly right. Jesse's not suggesting, of course, that we're wrong to condemn the Nazi persecution of the Jews; on the contrary: the success of groups including the organized Jewish community in helping the western democracies to come to terms with the Nazi genocide should make us all more, not less, capable of recognizing other instances of mass-murder and genocide. We condemn the swastika because we recognize the depth of Nazi evil; we should recognize the depth of other evils as well, from Darfur (as Jesse suggests) to the Urals to the Yangtze.

Thanks again for all your great comments - and I'd love to hear responses to my reactions as well.

Posted by David Mader at 11:50 PM | (4) | Back to Main

Give Me Your Answer, Do

Gee, I should say "sort of nasty" things about Warren Kinsella all the time.

Actually, the first version of the post was nastier - because I think the daisy commercial was more than simply outrageous. It was, I think, irresponsibly misleading. To this day, Barry Goldwater is caricatured as a war-monger - when, as a libertarian, he was anything but. The notion that he would have provoked a nuclear war is particularly ludicrous given that the charge was leveled by Lyndon Johnson, whose own foreign policy legacy was hardly one of peace and love.

Not that the daisy commercial was ineffective as a piece of political advertising; on the contrary, it was supremely effective, as AD noted in the comments. But I think there are two reasons to wonder whether the ad might be a poor choice.

First, the ad was effective because it deeply mischaracterized Johnson's political opponent in a manner that was over-the-top yet believable; it played on the passions of the voter rather than their judgment. Sure, that's politics - but two can play at that game. I should think that Kinsella would raise an eyebrow at a firm called "Revolving Door Consulting" - not just because it would be rather a silly name, but because it would be in poor taste. The Willie Horton ad was effective as politics, but it was not something to be proud of. Ditto daisy.

And second, the political impact of daisy is rather suspect. Sure, it helped Johnson and his Democrats win in 1964. But in the ten presidential elections since, the Democrats have won only thrice. I'm not saying, of course, that daisy's short term benefit was also a long term detriment; I am suggesting, though, that playing to passions rather than to judgment is necessarily a short term game. You can only play it for so long - and, as the Harper government appears to be demonstrating, once it breaks down it breaks down quite thoroughly. The GOP was going to start a nuclear war; then they were elected and didn't. Hard to make the same claim again - and when that claim is your most effective political device, losing it has some significant political consequences.

But there I go over-analyzing things. I really didn't mean to be nasty, certainly not in a personal manner. I figure the guy who pens Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics and who plays in a band called - ahem - Shit From Hell can stand being called outrageous.

Heck, I figured he'd take it as a compliment.

Posted by David Mader at 11:21 PM | (0) | Back to Main

E-Mail

It seems some folks are getting 'mailbox full' messages when they try to send stuff to my maderblog.com address. Not sure why that is - the e-mails appear to be going through; in any case, to avoid the headache, please feel free to use my firstnamelastname at gmail address. If you get my drift.

Posted by David Mader at 03:41 PM | (1) | Back to Main

May 03, 2006

Stay Tuned

Thanks for the comments on the Communism/Nazism post; I've got thoughts on your great responses, which I'll post after my exam tomorrow. I've also got more up my sleeve, but that too will have to wait. Back soon.

Posted by David Mader at 11:28 PM | (0) | Back to Main

May 02, 2006

Thoughts on May Day

Andrew Sullivan gets it exactly right on 'communist chic.' It's one thing to mark May Day with a tongue-in-cheek call to "overturn[] the colonialist imperialist overlords that dominate our world and ruin modern society through their hedonistic pursuits and unbridled capitalism," as did one conservative friend; it's quite another to sport Communist iconography as a fasion statement - let alone as an ideological statement. Whichever way you slice it, Communism was bad. Still is.

* * *

Which prompts a question, one I've been kicking around since at least my freshman year of college. It is uncontroversial that twentieth-century Communism directly caused more deaths than German National Socialism. And yet, as Sullivan notes, we treat Nazi iconography much differently than we treat Communist iconography. Let's leave aside the possible historical and sociological explanations (that unlike Nazism, which was decisively defeated, Communism only gradually collapsed; and that whereas Nazism was essentially immediately discredited in the west, Communism developed a substantial sympathetic constitutency, particularly among western intellectual elites); instead, let's focus on the possible conceptual explanations.

The core distinction, it seems to me, is based on an intuition that Nazi mass-murder was qualitatively worse than Communist mass-murder because of its explicitly racial genocidal nature. In other words, although the Communists killed far more people, we find the Nazi genocide more morally objectionable because of the criteria used to select the victims.

Which leads to my nagging question: is mass-murder worse when its victims are chosen according to a rational, if reprehensible, classification such as race or religion, or is it worse when its victims are chosen in a manner entirely arbitrary?

Note that it's not important, given the framing of my question, whether the choice of an ordering characteristic in the first instance is in fact 'arbitrary;' we would all agree, I hope, that 'the Jews' as a group were an undeserving target of Nazi hostility, whatever the perceived role of individual Jews in the institutions blamed by Hitler and his fiendish crew for the deterioration of the German condition. By 'arbitary' I mean, rather, the selection of victims of mass-murder according to no rational criteria, whether justified or not.

The distinction does not purely mark Nazi and Communist actions; in fact, many discrete instances of Communist mass-murder did involve rational (though unjustified) classifications - I think of the Ukrainian Famine, caused by deliberate Soviet economic policies and resulting in the death of millions, or the Chinese Communist murder of 'landlords' and their families in the late 1940s and of intellectuals during the cultural revolution.

But unlike the German National Socialists, the various Communist parties of the twentieth century have also engaged in mass killing for its own sake, without employing even the most basic rational criteria for the classification of victims. During that same cultural revolution, and at other times in Communist Chinese history, Party members were able to demonstrate their loyalty, and so ensure their survival, by denouncing their fellows - often entirely without justification. The purpose of these 'purges,' it is alleged, was to maintain a climate of fear and so perpetuate the Communist Party in power.

Given all that, let's return to the core question once more: why is the Nazi mass-murder qualitatively worse than the collected Communist mass-murders? As to those Communist mass-murders that employed rational classifications, are racially- or religiously-based classifications necessarily more heinous than economically- or socially-based classifications? Why?

And as to those Communist mass-murders that failed to employ rational classifications, is the targetting of an identifiable group for rational though fundamentally misguided reasons necessarily more heinous than the targetting of randomly selected individuals simply for the purpose of utilizing the resulting climate of fear to perpetuate political control? Why?

As I say, this question (for, at root, it is a single question) has been bugging me for some years. I haven't encountered a satisfactory answer, and I haven't been able to come up with one myself. If you've made it through my ramblings and have any thoughts or comments, I'd love to hear them. You can leave them below, or e-mail them to me at lastname-at-maderblog-dot-com (if you catch my drift).

Posted by David Mader at 12:18 AM | (4) | Back to Main

May 01, 2006

Legal Quote of the Day

The task of this Court is to define aboriginal rights in a manner which recognizes that aboriginal rights are rights but which does so without losing sight of the fact that they are rights held by aboriginal people because they are aboriginal.
Regina v. Van der Peet, 2 S.C.R. 507 at para. 20 (1996) (Lamer, C.J., for the Court).

Posted by David Mader at 11:53 PM | (0) | Back to Main

That Gum Was Kosher

James Lileks stumbles across three Wrigley's chewing gum wrappers from 1932. Notice the OU on each. Nifty.

Posted by David Mader at 02:18 PM | (4) | Back to Main

How Fitting . . .

. . . that Warren Kinsella's new firm is named after the most outrageous ad in modern political campaigning.

Posted by David Mader at 01:24 AM | (2) | Back to Main