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March 25, 2008

The Navel-Gazing Press

This story is pretty remarkable:

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is on a Middle East swing, meeting with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian and Saudi officials -- but his office says he has no time to talk to reporters back home about the trip.

Day met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Monday to discuss "issues of mutual interest,'' but his only communication with Canadian media was a news release.

I can understand the CP's frustration, and I don't mean to excuse the Conservative government's record on public relations.

But does the CP really operate under the assumption that it deserves as much attention as the governments of sovereign nations? Put aside the pettiness of the story - the fact that, rather than a) not reporting Day's trip or b) reporting Day's trip and writing a second "story" about the press's lack of access, the CP opted for c) making its own concerns the primary focus of a story ostensibly about foreign affairs. Take a moment to consider the self-importance underlying the assumption that the affairs of the Canadian Press are of as much importance, and as much interest, to its readers as the affairs of the Minister of Public Safety.

Again, I don't mean to suggest that the Conservative government's approach to public relations is not worthy of attention itself. But a little perspective would be nice.

Posted by David Mader at 08:44 PM | (0) | Back to Main

Speaking of Devastating Critiques

Ouch. (And speaking of ouch: "[N]obody should depend too heavily on Jim Flaherty to pick a winner: he has the unique distinction of being the only man in Canadian history who managed to lose to both Ernie Eves and John Tory." Double ouch.)

I don't think it takes anything away from Wells's missive to note that the degree of control he laments is only possible due to a structural flaw in our governmental order - the combination of legislative and executive power in the office of the prime minister - and to the exploitation of this flaw by earlier premiers. There was one by the name of Chretien who, as I recall, was particularly bad in this respect.

Posted by David Mader at 01:51 PM | (1) | Back to Main

Pierre Elliot Obama?

Lionel Chetwynd engages in some political heresy in today's National Post. In a way, the piece is a more subtly devastating critique of Obama than even Christopher Hitchens's recent piece in Slate.

Posted by David Mader at 01:45 PM | (0) | Back to Main

March 24, 2008


Is this how they built Stonehenge?

I'm still a bit confused about how they got the cross-stone on top of each arch - though I've never been, I assume that at Stonehenge those cross-stones aren't attached to the standing stones, meaning they couldn't have raised the entire structure at once as demonstrated in this video. But in any case this is a remarkable piece of ingenuity.

Posted by David Mader at 05:32 PM | (0) | Back to Main

At the Risk of Asking an Unpopular Question

Does anyone know anything about the actual legal merits of the Brenda Martin case? There seems to be an assumption that her multi-year incarceration without trial is a violation of her natural rights. But does anyone know whether her incarceration is a violation of her rights under Mexican law? I know absolutely nothing about Mexican law, but it strikes me that as a civil law jurisdiction and an heir to the Spanish legal tradition, Mexico probably doesn't have anything directly akin to the common law's writ of habeas corpus, which prevents indefinite incarceration without trial.

I know nothing about Brenda Martin or her case; from what I've read, it seems quite possible that she's guilty of nothing more than a series of bad, but not criminal, choices. But much of the outrage surrounding her case seems to stem from an assumption that because the Mexican justice system has flaws, Martin's treatment must be a manifestation of those flaws. That may well be true, but surely we'd need to know something about Mexican law to draw that conclusion, no?

THAT BEING SAID: If the Prime Minister were to replace the current faineant Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I certainly wouldn't complain.

Posted by David Mader at 05:00 PM | (2) | Back to Main

March 23, 2008

The End of Dr. King's Dream?

Kelly Nestruck and I debate Barack Obama's race speech in the comments at Off the Fence. A taste:

[Kelly:] I find it interesting that your criticism of Obama's speech is that it wasn't idealistic enough - that it wasn't all "we are all brothers and sisters" platitudes. I think that's what I admire about it; it's fearless, it touches those thorny issues that most politicians stay far away from - until they explode into race riots. Obama is parodied as giving speeches full of empty, feel-good rhetoric, but I think that though he is positive and upbeat in his message, he is also decidedly unblinkered in facing the problems some would like to pretend aren't there or are only there on the fringe.

[Mader:] My argument is that if one's starting proposition is race difference, racial harmony will be that much more difficult. The alternative is not easy, of course, as we've seen for the past forty years. Saying that, in a deep sense, race should not matter requires those who identify by race to surrender a core part of their identity - in exchange, however, for a universal identity. Reverend Wright and, as you point out, a significant percentage of African Americans have never surrendered their racial identity in return for a universal American identity.
Like any good political discussion, it contains a reference to South Park.

Posted by David Mader at 11:04 PM | (0) | Back to Main

March 19, 2008

A Question for Mr. Wells

Paul Wells marks the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War by reminding his readers that Stephen Harper supported Canadian involvement in the war at the time. Wells' implicit suggestion is that the subsequent failures of the Iraq war effort call into question Harper's judgment on the issue, and Wells has repeatedly suggested that Harper be asked more specifically about the matter.

I've given Paul a hard time about this before, and while I don't have enough time to write a more thoughtful post, I can't help but be a bit pedantic once again.

Wells' major premise is that the Iraq war has been - at least to some degree - a failure. That's a pretty universal sentiment. But I assume Paul would concede that the war effort has taken a turn for the positive - relatively speaking - with the so-called surge, a significant increase in American troop deployment to Iraq in 2007. As most (including the New York Times) have recognized, the surge has been a military success, reducing terrorism and sectarian violence and producing a significant decline in civilian and American military deaths.

The success of the surge suggests that success in Iraq is tied at least to some degree to troop levels. I don't mean to suggest a direct correlation; the recent successes in Iraq have much to do with what the new troops are doing, not just with how many there are. But I think it's fair to say that even the new counterinsurgency tactics rely to some degree on the availability of troops in numbers that were previously lacking.

Now if success in Iraq is tied, at least to some degree, to troop levels, it follows that past failures were also tied, at least to some degree, to troop levels. Which means that those past failures could have been avoided, at least to some degree, had there been more troops on the ground.

See where I'm going with this?

The fallacy in Paul's argument is the assumption that the Iraq War would have proceeded through the same failures and setbacks had Canadian troops participated from the beginning. That may be true; it's quite possible that, absent better political and military leadership, the addition of Canadian troops wouldn't have made a difference. It's also possible that, as a practical matter, the size of any Canadian deployment would have been too small to make a difference, even conceding that more troops would have meant more success.

That's all possible. But I think it's also at least possible to say - as Harper ought to say, when Wells or his colleagues finally ask the question - that had our fine troops been on the ground in Iraq from the beginning, the intervening five years might have looked a lot different.

ON A RELATED NOTE (14:42): It makes me happy that my blog is the first result in a Google search of Canadian sites for the phrase neoconservative ideology.

Posted by David Mader at 11:43 AM | (3) | Back to Main

March 18, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering

The answer is no, there will be no automatic recount in Vancouver-Quadra, where the Liberal candidate won by 151 votes. Section 300 of the Canada Elections Act provides for automatic recount only where the margin of victory is less than 1/1000 of the total number of votes cast. In yesterday's by-election, there were 28,165 votes cast, which means that an automatic recount would only have been triggered had the margin of victory been smaller than 28 votes.

Note, however, that one may apply for a recount within four days of the vote. Any elector - that is, any adult Canadian - can make an application, but the application must make a credible showing that there was error in the tabulation of the votes.

I think it's unlikely that the Tories will challenge the result, and it seems equally unlikely that a non-affiliated elector will be able to mount a successful independent challenge.

Posted by David Mader at 03:23 PM | (1) | Back to Main

What is Victory?

In Stephane Dion's Liberal Party, it seems victory is losing a quarter of your seats.

I find it interesting, and somewhat curious, that yesterday's by-election results have been interpreted as though they were four open contests, rather than four contests for Liberal seats. I don't think this is the result of any sort of concerted media campaign by the Grits - frankly, I don't think they're organized enough to pull something like that off; rather, I think expectations have been dampened so much by a year of Dion leadership that only losing one of four seats really is seen as a victory.

That's not to say the Liberals have nothing to be happy about: in Willowdale and Toronto Center they increased their margins considerably, albeit with super-star candidates. Moreover, in both of those ridings the NDP was thoroughly marginalized, topping the Green party by a whopping four votes in Toronto Center and trailing the Greens by about 250 in Willowdale. Was it only two years ago that folks (myself included) were wondering out loud whether the NDP could challenge the Grits as the major left-of-center party?

But all in all, I can't read this as a victory for the Liberal Party, nor for Stephane Dion. They came out of the night down one seat and down roughly 16% in popular vote across the four ridings, and they very nearly lost an urban Vancouver riding that has been in Liberal hands since John Turner won the seat in 1984.

Breathing room? Sure, in the sense that Dion won't be asked to resign today, or tomorrow. But by any reasonable standard these by-election results are a step backward for the Liberal Party. If I were a Grit, and I were interested in the brand more than the leader, I'd push for an election as soon as possible - and a new leader as soon as possible after that. Because the only victories the Grits are going to get with Dion at the helm are victories like yesterday's - victories that aren't victories at all.

[All data via Pundit's Guide]

Posted by David Mader at 10:25 AM | (1) | Back to Main

March 10, 2008

To The Editor

Darren Lund makes an impassioned case for human rights commissions, but his argument is based on a faulty premise. His core claim is that "when hateful words actually bring blows, people need the protection only provided by rights commissions." In fact, hate-speech prosecutions before human rights commissions are distinguished by the fact that no actual harm or violence need be proven. Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, for instance, outlaws the communication of "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" - whether or not such hatred or contempt results in violence. By contrast, section 319(1) of the Criminal Code outlaws incitement of hatred that is "likely to lead to a breach of the peace." The tragic events related by Mr. Lund would seem to be a textbook example of a section 319(1) offence - provided, of course, that they were proven in a court of law.

We who believe in robust free speech protections object to human rights commissions precisely because they do not require evidence of a breach of the peace. And where violence is involved, the courts of law are more than ably suited to provide a remedy. By basing his argument on those instances where hatred results in violence, Mr. Lund exposes the critical flaw of human rights commissions - and undermines his own position.

[Via Warren Kinsella]

Posted by David Mader at 11:58 AM | (0) | Back to Main

March 07, 2008

"Off the Record"

As I've noted before, there's simply no such thing:

A Barack Obama adviser resigned Friday after calling rival Hillary Rodham Clinton "a monster." . . .

"She is a monster, too—that is off the record—she is stooping to anything," The Scotsman quoted her as saying.

Remember this the next time you hear journalists bleating about some divine privilege that prevents them from assisting in criminal investigations by revealing a source's identity. Remember that journalists are perfectly happy to disclose the identity and comments of not-for-attribution sources when they feel like it. I have very little sympathy for Samantha Power, who should have known better, but I do spare a thought for those who fall prey to the shifting passions of the news media. It's no wonder so many hold them in such contempt.

Posted by David Mader at 01:04 PM | (0) | Back to Main

March 06, 2008

Another Refusal to Disagree

Here we go again:

A planned debate on abortion rights at York University’s Student Centre was cancelled less than three hours before it was scheduled to begin. . . .

Student Centre vice-chair Kelly Holloway said the debate was cancelled because it was an equal rights issue.

"The reason is that it’s an equity concern for the Student Centre. Having a debate over whether or not women should be able to choose what to do with their own bodies is tantamount to having a debate about whether or not a man should be able to beat his wife," Holloway said.

"The issue is violence against women, and women in this country have a right to choose what they do with their bodies. They have a right to have an abortion, and we don’t want to validate a debate that wants to threaten that right."

Sound familiar? It should, for two reasons. First, there have been identical episodes at Carleton and McMaster. Apparently hostility to the free exchange of ideas is something of a trend at Canada's premiere universities.

Second, Holloway's argument should sound familiar because it's precisely the same logical argument that is currently used to justify Canada's contested hate speech laws. Look at what Holloway is saying: anti-abortion speech is illegitimate and should be restricted because it represents a threat to Canadian women. That threat, however, is somewhat amorphous: Is it the risk that pro-life speech will result in attacks on abortionists? Is it the risk that pro-life speech will result in the deaths of women in back-alleys once abortion is restricted? Or is it the even more amorphous harm that results when a woman is forced to carry a fetus to term because she's not allowed to get an abortion?

All of these are sorts of harm that may result from pro-life speech - just as anti-homosexual speech may result in "the perpetuation of homophobic attitudes, perhaps augmenting the obstacles faced by gays and lesbians struggling with their sexual orientation and seeking family or community acceptance." The problem should be as obvious now as ever: almost every activity causes these sorts of indirect harms. We generally call them "consequences"; economists call them "negative externalities." If indirect consequences are enough to justify a limitation on speech, what speech will remain free from limitation?

The students' mistake, the fallacy that has led them astray, is the notion that advocating a pro-life position is akin to advocating spousal abuse. I think we can agree that it's ok to censor calls to violence. That's why it's against the law to call for the murder of abortionists. But treating the pro-life position as a call to violence because it may result in indirect harm can result in nothing but the total restriction of speech based on the subjective preferences of the censor.

[Via Jonathan Kay]

Posted by David Mader at 02:13 PM | (3) | Back to Main

March 05, 2008

Hold the Train

Kelly is Irish because his grandmother was Irish; I was born in Dublin and I'm not?!

I claim discrimination - I didn't ask to be born into diplomatic immunity!

Posted by David Mader at 09:46 PM | (1) | Back to Main

Not to Brag, Or Anything

From: David Mader
To: [Recipients]
Date: March 4, 2008 10:03:29 PM EST
Re: The Networks Won't Do It...

... but I will: Hillary will win Texas - at least the popular vote.

Every time the vote tally is updated, she narrows Obama's lead. With about 4% reporting, Obama was up 80,000 votes. With 11%, he's up 33,000 votes - and, as I say, every time the tally is updated that figure drops.

And here's the thing: the cities have already reported heavily, so we can expect those percentages to remain consistent (in other words, even if Obama gets a lot more votes from the cities, he'll get them in the same proportion); but a lot of the rural areas have yet to report - so Hillary's proportion will only increase. And yet even if Hillary's proportion remained the same as it is now, that proportion is obviously greater than Obama's - which is why she's narrowing his lead at every update.

In other words, Hillary is on pace to overtake Obama, and he doesn't have any unreporting areas to save him. Hillary wins the popular vote in Texas - you heard it here first!

[Post-Script: MSNBC called Texas for Hillary at approximately 12:45 AM EST; CNN followed shortly thereafter. With 84% of precincts reporting, Hillary leads by approximately 95,000 votes - a margin that continues to grow with every update.]

Posted by David Mader at 12:09 AM | (0) | Back to Main