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December 18, 2007

Two Points

Warren Kinsella has a long missive today in which he accuses Ezra Levant of hypocrisy for his recent defense of free speech in the National Post. Kinsella's argument, in essence, is that because Levant has pursued defamation actions against others in the past, he is in no place to object to object to such actions when they're brought against those he agrees with.

But here's the thing: Levant's piece isn't about defamation. It's about proceedings before human rights tribunals. And Levant's fundamental point is that proceedings before human rights tribunals are not legal actions: no firm rules of evidence, no proper judges - in short, no due process. Levant appears to welcome a legal action in the Maclean's case: he believes Macleans would win in a heartbeat. I see no hypocrisy in seeking recourse in the courts - and expecting others to do the same.

But - and here's my second point - what if Levant was a hypocrite? Would that make his argument fail? Of course not. Sure, it would make him a hypocrite - but even a stopped clock is right once in a while. Kinsella's missive is pure ad hominem. Levant is a hypocrite, he says, so disregard his arguments. But the strength of Levant's arguments have nothing to do with the integrity of the man making them. Human rights tribunals are either important tools in the fight against inequality or extra-judicial affronts to due process and the rule of law - or both; but they are what they are regardless of Ezra Levant's character.

A THIRD POINT (12/19/07 10:30): I understand what Warren is saying, and while I can't speak for Ezra, of course, I think there might be a misunderstanding about the ideological bases of Levant's column. Kinsella assumes, I think, that Levant is making a libertarian critique of human rights tribunals, according to which free speech is a supreme value. If that were the case, Kinsella would be right: a legal action can have as much of a limiting effect on speech as an administrative action, and so it would be inconsistent to employ one while criticizing another on free speech grounds.

But I don't think Levant is making a libertarian critique; I think he's making - and yes, this is hair splitting, but it's important hair splitting - I think he's making a classically liberal critique, according to which free speech is important - as is the rule of law. A classical liberal would say (I think) that free speech can appropriately be curtailed in certain limited instances, but only according to due process - that is, only where there is a judicial hearing replete with procedural safeguards to ensure that the speech should not be protected and that suppression would not unduly chill the legitimate expression of the speaker and of others.

In other words, I understand Levant to be saying - and if he won't say it, I will - that (1) free speech can appropriately be limited, but in order to police such limits it is of paramount importance that procedural safeguards be used, but that (2) human rights tribunals and commissions, as currently organized, do not employ sufficient safeguards to be trusted with the policing of otherwise appropriate limits on free speech.

Posted by David Mader at 09:06 AM | (1) | Back to Main

December 13, 2007

Two Quick Thoughts on the Committee Hearing

1. A Christmas tree? Don't get me wrong; I'm not opposed to public religious displays. I think a Christmas Tree in the Parliamentary foyer would look great. But isn't it a bit - I don't know - informal in a Committee hearing?

2. And speaking of formality - is my connection bad or is Joe Comartin's nameplate hand written? Mulroney's appears to be typed, but unless Comartin picked a cartoonish font, his was done by hand.

Posted by David Mader at 11:14 AM | (2) | Back to Main

December 11, 2007

Freakonomics, Ontario Style

How curious:

Auditors found that 55 per cent of first-time drivers enrolled in the program but crashed their cars about 62 per cent more often.

And yet, no one at the Ministry of Transportation has figured out why, Auditor-General James McCarter said in his first report since Premier Dalton McGuinty's government was re-elected to a second term Oct. 10.

"While this statistic could be the result of a combination of many factors...the ministry had not followed up on the reasons for the higher collision involvement rate," wrote McCarter.

Why might drivers-ed grads get into more crashes? The AG's report (pdf) suggests that it may be due to poor instructors - they note that instructors have more tickets than average. (Although presumably they drive far more than average.)

But it seems to me there might be a number of other explanations, some intuitive, some not. Perhaps drivers-ed grads are concentrated in urban areas where there are more drivers per road, and therefore more chances to get in an accident. Or perhaps drivers-ed grads get into more crashes not because their teachers are bad but because their teachers are good. Perhaps, in other words, drivers-ed grads are too cautious, drive too slow, and otherwise take normal drivers by surprise.

I'd love to see the data underlying the report.

Posted by David Mader at 06:36 PM | (2) | Back to Main

December 10, 2007

That's It?

If the Hill Times does indeed get it, does that mean that the most any of this could result in is a combined $4,000 fine and one year in jail for Schreiber?

After fifteen years of hand-wringing?

After an RCMP investigation?

After a Parliamentary inquiry?

After an official inquiry?

Four Thousand Dollars?

Terrific use of government resources, this. No partisan score-settling here.

IMMEDIATE UPDATE: Look, by all means get to the bottom of this. If crimes were committed, justice must be done. But let's stop treating this as a latter-day Watergate that shakes the foundations of Canadian politics. For purposes of comparison, note that your weekly poker game could land you in jail for two years. If Schreiber tried to bribe Mulroney, fine him two grand and jail him for a year. (Then extradite him.) If Mulroney took a bribe, fine him two grand and bar him from public office for five years. As I said before, I promise not to vote for him. But surely we can recognize that fifteen years after the fact, with precisely no evidence that any governmental policy was affected in any way by any alleged bribe, surely the controversy over this affair is far out of proportion to even the worst offense alleged.

Posted by David Mader at 03:00 PM | (5) | Back to Main

December 09, 2007

An Aside; or the Wonderful World of Reporters

Having given my rant on Schreiber without knowing anything, I'm in the process of trying to learn something. The CBC's decades-long story on the affair seemed a good place to start. But the most interesting tidbit so far has to do with the press, not Mulroney:

"After the National Post runs its article and editorial speculating about the fifth estate connecting Mulroney to the BRITAN account, the fifth estate decides that the off the record comments by Luc Lavoie were on the record." (Emphasis added.)

Classy. But it goes to show: there's no such thing as "off the record."

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

Thoughts on Schreiber

[NOTE: Didn't mean for the tone to be quite so cranky. You've been warned!]

The Schreiber affair has provided a wonderful opportunity for a news and politics junkie like me to view a political "scandal" from the perspective of an absolute outsider. I'm 25, and I've been following Canadian politics closely since I was in high school. But I started high school in 1996. I remember Mulroney's tenure, vaguely, but "Airbus" has always been a vague and amorphous issue to me, a leftover from a hazy era. So I have the advantage, I think, of judging the Schreiber affair - and particularly his performances on the Hill these past weeks - without my usual entrenched ideological and political preferences.

And here's what I've learned:

1) Karlheinz Schreiber is (in my opinion) a big, fat liar. He's been a liar for years. He's built a career on lying. And now that he's facing justice for some of his alleged lies, he's kicked his habits into high gear. I am left with the very distinct impression - an impression I suspect is shared by an awful lot of Canadians who, like me, know nothing else about the affair - that at this point Schreiber would say anything, implicate anyone, spin any tale and feed any appetite in order to remain the center of attention in Canada, rather than the center of a prosecution in Germany.

2) Brian Mulroney, if you're interested, has some seafront property to sell you. (The difference between Mulroney and Schreiber, best I can tell at this point, is that Mulroney at least would have some property to sell; Schreiber would sell you a fairy-tale and disappear with your money.)

3) We need better MPs. No great disrespect to the men and women on the Ethics Committee, but it would take good lawyers one day - say six, maybe eight hours - to depose Schreiber. It would take a good lawyer, I suspect, about twenty minutes to catch Schreiber in an untruth. But the MPs on the ethics committee seem entirely unable to steer Schreiber into a coherent account of the facts of the supposed scandal. Instead we have, each day, the spectacle of an octogenarian tale-teller waltzing circles around a room full of hapless MPs who occasionally fall over one another to accommodate the man's prevarications. It's embarrassing.

4) We need younger MPs. Charles Adler has a rather incoherent rant over at Full Comment in which he gleefully predicts the downfall of the Harper government because of its ties to Mulroney. It's telling that Adler self-identifies as a baby-boomer, because only a baby boomer could so quickly jump to the conclusion that the sins of the Mulroney Tories must be visited upon the Harper Tories. For boomers, of course, Mulroney was the very definition of a Conservative, practically the only Conservative prime minister they'd ever known. But for folks my age, Harper, not Mulroney, defines the genre. And Harper is no Mulroney, as much as Adler and Stephane Dion might wish otherwise. I suspect that when Stephane Dion gets up and tries to peg the Schreiber affair on Harper, a lot of folks roll their eyes and say "there they go again." Schreiber may be the (long-overdue) climax to the Mulroney era, but, as befits a climax, it will also mark a definite turning point. After Schreiber comes what comes next. Harper has been talking about what comes next for two years. I'm not convinced Dion knows what comes next; I'm not convinced he realizes that Schreiber is a dead end, not a new beginning. The boomers will try, inevitably, to keep a firm grasp on the political disputes of the eighties and nineties. But a new generation of Canadians will, I think, only increasingly see that as the desperate rear-guard action of a cohort falling out of relevance.

By all means, get to the bottom of the Airbus affair. Might I suggest that you do so by attempting to, you know, get to the bottom of it, instead of re-hashing decades-old partisan jibes and grievances. By all means, find out what Mr. Mulroney knew, and said, and when. I promise I won't vote for him next time. But for goodness sake, finish it and be done. It's enough. If Canada's baby boomer politicians can't give up the past, they're welcome to keep living in it. But they should at least have the grace to retire and leave the House to those more interested in the future.

Posted by David Mader at 02:29 PM | (3) | Back to Main

December 05, 2007

This Moore Business

Irene Mathyssen will be getting it from all sides tomorrow, and rightly so: what she said would likely have been slander anywhere but the House of Commons, and the episode raises questions about whether Parliamentary privilege - which is designed to protect legislators from a hostile executive - should really apply between legislators, at least where the controversy is itself non-legislative.

But since Ms Mathyssen will be the main focus of the punditocracy, I thought I'd venture a slightly different thought. Recognizing that James Moore wasn't looking at pictures of scantily clad women on his laptop in the House of Commons, but rather pictures of his girlfriend, I have to ask: why was James Moore looking at pictures of his girlfriend on his laptop in the House of Commons?

The question has two parts. First, why was Moore looking at pictures of his girlfriend rather than attending to the business of the House? That it was his (presumably fully clad) girlfriend rather than scantily clad mystery women is important, of course, in that it undermines Mathyssen's implied claim that Moore was basically looking at porn, but it seems to me it raises a separate but important concern. Don't get me wrong; a picture of my girlfriend can certainly get me through a dreary day, and perhaps Moore needed that sort of pick-me-up. But I can't help but wonder just how germane Mr. Moore's belle was to the business at hand.

Second, why was Moore using his laptop in the House in the first place? I'm sure there are those who think MPs should be fully plugged in in the House, but frankly I don't see the need. The essence of the House of Commons is its function as an arena for the free exchange of ideas between MPs. It accordingly thrives on the interpersonal, on the interplay of arguments and asides between the individuals on the government and opposition benches. You don't need a laptop for that; indeed, as many a professor will attest, laptops tend to reduce, not increase, the level of engagement in a discussion-group setting.

I can imagine two 'necessary' uses for laptops and similar gadgets in the House: 1) to marshal facts and figures for an ongoing debate, or 2) to keep up with events occurring outside the House. The first doesn't move me: it's an MP's job to be prepared for the action in the House, so he or she should have the facts marshaled before entering the chamber - and if more information is required, there are a number of resources (the Parliamentary pages, the MP's staff, and the government and opposition lobbies) that an MP can use.

The second doesn't move me either. Is it so much to ask that when MPs are in the House they attend to the business of the House - and put their other affairs, whether or not related to their office, on hold for two or three or six hours? (Or, if communication is so necessary, is it so much to ask that they retire to the lobby until they are ready to focus again on House affairs?) Members of the government may feel a greater pull on their attention given their combined legislative and executive responsibilities, but I should think it particularly important for these MPs to dedicate their House time to legislative affairs, since the entire balance of their time is dedicated to executive affairs.

I may be wrong, of course, having never sat in the House, and I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise. But right now I see very little need for computers, telephones, or blackberries in the House of Commons.

I see less need for television cameras, but that's a different matter entirely, and the topic of another post.

Posted by David Mader at 10:02 PM | (2) | Back to Main

December 04, 2007

Iran: What Now

As reader Catelli (formerly Closet Liberal) points out in the comments, my earlier post on Iran and the newly published National Intelligence Estimate was rather cursory and not very straightforward, so I thought it would be useful to post a more comprehensive statement of my thoughts on the situation.

The first and, I think, most important point is that if the NIE is right that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not started it up again, that would be very, very good news. It would be good news in a tactical sense, in that the threat of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel would be rather significantly diminished, at least for now. And it would be good news in a strategic sense, in that it would suggest that something - perhaps diplomatic efforts, perhaps the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq - has deterred Iran from continuing its nuclear pursuits. An Iran that can be deterred poses far less of a threat to the region, and to global stability, than an Iran that cannot be deterred.

But for all this good news, we shouldn't let ourselves get carried away. That Iran can be deterred is good news; that Iran needs to be deterred is bad news. And the bad news remains. I fear that just as the Bush administration over-emphasized the threat of Saddam Hussein's WMD program in arguing for the invasion of Iraq, we're once again over-emphasizing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and consequently under-emphasizing the pervasive threat that Iran poses regardless of its nuclear capabilities. But it seems to me that our concern should be with tyrannical regimes, rather than with the tools they use. In this regard it's worth reviewing just two stories emanating from Tehran in the past week to remind ourselves of the true nature of the Iranian regime:

  • Foreign Affairs announced today that Tehran had expelled our ambassador to Iran. A number of factors are thought to have contributed to Tehran's decision, among them Canada's rejection of two Iranian ambassadorial candidates on the ground that both were involved in the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Canadian-Iranian relations have also been strained by the Tehran regime's stonewalling regarding the brutal murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was beaten to death by government officials in a Tehran prison after photographing anti-regime demonstrations.

  • Tehran announced late last week that it had developed a new missile capable of striking targets inside Israel, as well as American military targets throughout the middle east. In the words of Britain's Daily Telegraph, "Iran has repeatedly warned that it would target American bases in the region if it came under attack over Teheran's refusal to halt its controversial uranium enrichment programme." It is important to recall that the National Intelligence Estimate does not question the fact that this enrichment program continues unabated.

And that's just in the past week. Recall as well that Iran constantly spreads discord throughout the middle east: it funds and supports Hizbullah, the terrorist group that perpetuates civil strife in Lebanon and was responsible for the outbreak of the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli War; it props up the tyrannical Assad regime in Syria; and it funds and supports many of the insurgent groups in Iraq. Recall, finally, that senior members of the Tehran regime, including Mr. Ahmadinejad, have on more than one occasion discussed the eventual destruction of the State of Israel.

The point is that Iran is not a friendly regime, with or without the bomb. So while we may (cautiously) welcome the NIE as very good news, we must nevertheless remain vigilant regarding the threat that Iran continues to pose. That doesn't mean that we should - in the words of a certain presidential candidate - "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran." There are other way of encouraging the spread of free government and undermining tyranny - ask Lech Walesa and Ronald Reagan. But it does mean that we should refrain from assuming that just because there's a reasonable chance Tehran has put its nuclear weapons program on hold we're therefore in the clear.

We have miles to go.

Posted by David Mader at 10:06 PM | (0) | Back to Main

So It's Peace In Our Time?

Two obvious points:

1. Four years ago American intelligence - we're widely and often told - got it wrong on Iraqi WMD. Now we'll be widely and often told that American intelligence got it right on Iranian WMD. Maybe they were right four years ago. Maybe they're wrong now. Maybe a stopped watch is right once in a while. But isn't there something a tad ironic in the newfound belief in American intelligence estimates among those who've spent the past four years campaigning on its failures?

2. What if the NIE is wrong and Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, and what if they use those weapons before 2010 (the earliest date Iran could obtain nuclear weapons based on its peaceful uranium program, according to the NIE)? If Tel Aviv disappears in 2009 - heaven forbid - will President Bush a) be celebrated for having backed down from his war-mongering rhetoric in light of the NIE's report, or b) be criticized for allowing a duplicitous and tyrannical regime to develop nuclear weapons right under his nose?

UPDATE: The publicly released portion of the intelligence estimate is available here (pdf).

Posted by David Mader at 09:25 AM | (3) | Back to Main