Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Never mind the wife and kids, I’M the victim here

Well, Belinda Stronach is in the news again and, yet again, she is the victim of dastardly forces determined to deny Canadians the benefit of her goodness and leadership.

Stronach has decided that what is important in the Domi divorce is not the break-up of a marriage nor its three children, but that yet again she is the victim of a political culture that is biased against women in general and her in particular. From today’s Globe and Mail:

During a television interview yesterday, she refused to discuss the seriousness of her relationship with Mr. Domi, but said female politicians appear more likely to face scrutiny of their private lives.

“I'd really like to say that, in a country like Canada, there isn't, but I do believe there is a double standard,” she told CTV's Mike Duffy Live. “When I decided to enter public life, I didn't realize how public it would be.”

She suggested that this attitude, coupled with the confrontational nature of the House of Commons, could affect women willing to run for office.

“It's unfortunate for other women in this country that want to seek political office and to make a contribution,” she said.

As implied above, it wouldn’t be the first time Stronach demonstrated a narcissism to rival Bill Clinton’s (no wonder they’re simpatico).

She cut and run from the Conservative party, because she had irreconcilable political differences with Stephen Harper – not because she wasn’t getting enough attention or being promoted enough. Yet she has seen Harper close up in her role in brokering the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties in 2003, and from the leadership race in 2004.

She couldn’t run for Liberal leader, because the party wasn’t going to allow a pure one-member, one-vote process – not because she was politically radioactive and new election laws prevented her from financing a lavish campaign out of her own pocket like she did in 2004. Yet in the Conservative leadership race she argued in favour of the riding-weighted one member, one vote process, likely because it would have given her an edge in Qu├ębec.

Now she is alleged to have been the trigger that ended a 13-year marriage that has produced three children. (As they have been neither admitted nor proven, I am not going to assume that the allegations are true.)

Here’s one option she could have taken: through a spokesperson, express concern for the family and decline further comment. Here’s what she did: gave a TV interview in which she refused to confirm or deny the alleged affair, instead focussing on her own suffering and attempting to hitch it to the larger issue of the travails of public life.

Of course, Stronach would or should have known that the interview was destined to spawn another round of stories about the divorce allegations. Yes, it is fair to say that Mrs. Domi must shoulder most of the blame for drawing attention to the situation, with the explosive and detailed allegations set out in her divorce papers. But Stronach, had she paused to reflect, should know better. She’s been a public figure for years, has two children, and has been through two divorces herself. Leanne Domi and her three kids haven’t.

It may also be that Stronach’s concern for women in public life is yet another injection-moulded spin from the Magna assembly line. Despite her lamentations on CTV, and current position as head of the Liberal women’s caucus, Stronach’s sister act may be more talk than walk, if Leanne Domi’s divorce papers are to be believed:

Leanne says Stronach "insinuated herself" into the Domis' life in the summer of 2005 when she attended the Formula One races in Montreal and dropped into a cocktail party. The Magna heiress coolly said, "hello" and then ignored Leanne and other wives -- who offered her champagne -- and "doted on the men (she sat directly beside Tie) as though they might disappear at any minute, the document says.
--Ottawa Sun, September 26

But, in Stronach’s defence, why would she pay attention to the “wives of?” In the eyes of someone who has never grasped the concept of a team, wives are just another amorphous group of lower life forms – like a caucus. When you are a star, ignoring lower-status women is not necessarily sexism, just good time management.

As I noted recently, Stronach is the only person in the world who fails to grasp that, were she not a wealthy, attractive, woman, she would have no public life which to lament. And, her hypothesis that men would not be subjected to similar attention in similar circumstances is unconvincing, as the case of the late Ontario cabinet minister Al Palladini suggests.

In 1995, Palladini was the target of a claim for child support from a former girlfriend. At the time of the suit and during their relationship, Palladini was married. The details, allegations, and headlines were ugly and painful to everyone involved. (I was working for him at the time.)

He did not enjoy the experience, and I’m pretty sure there were some reporters he wanted to deck, but he never once publicly whined about his situation, nor blamed the furor on his Italian heritage (hello, Joe Volpe) or on some other fatuous reason – even after the Toronto Star’s Tracey Tyler followed him to his former girlfriend’s house and photographed him through a window, which photo appeared on page A1. Why? Because Al Palladini was a man. You’d think that by now, Stronach would know how one acts.

There is one winner in all of this: National Post columnist Don Martin, who has a book on Stronach coming out, and must have despaired when she took a pass on the leadership. Looks like he will have a happy Christmas after all.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A rant against the Star (but not written by me)

Below is an e-mail from Paul Lima, vice president of the Periodical Writers’ Association of Canada’s Toronto branch, contrasting the Toronto Star’s sponsorship of yesterday’s Word on the Street festival with how the Star treats its freelancers.

Always a tough go, freelance magazine writing has become an even grimmer business (if you can call it a business) in recent years, thanks to tightening editorial budgets and the demand for shorter pieces. How can you help? Pay attention to bylines (that’s the technical term for the writer’s name on the story). If you find a magazine you like, drop them an e-mail and let them know. Buy a subscription. If a writer you like puts out a book – buy it. Here’s Paul’s rant:

RUMINATIONS ON Word on the Street

Another Word on the Street has come and gone, and once again I feel elated and humbled. And just a tad cheesed off.

Why elated? WOTS draws 150,000 people. And they are all there for one reason. They like to (love to) read.

I write. They read. We write. They read.

You just have to feel elated to see so many people in one place because they like, admire, appreciate what you do. (And many of them even aspire to do likewise, which is pretty cool too.)

Heck, even if 99.9+% of them have never ever read a word that I have written, it's still wonderful to see all these readers gathered in one place at one time. It is also humbling. It's like, oh my gosh, people actually read.

For some of them, gauging by their enthusiasm for the written word, the need to read comes right after the need to eat and sleep.

Think about it. Somebody out there might laugh, cry, get angry, take a stance, change his or her mind, or act... based on... words. The written word. Maybe even words written by me. Or you. Truly humbling.

It makes me get the meaning of "In the beginning was the Word." Words are powerful tools. Or weapons. And we wield them. That
responsibility is humbling.

So why cheesed off?

Well, WOTS is sponsored by The Toronto Star, Canada's great liberal paper. And The Star (admittedly, like so many other newspapers and magazines) treats its freelance writers like crap, relegating us (them; I no longer write for The Star) to the bottom of the monetary food chain. It's as if The Star (and other publications) resents the fact that we even dare to want to be fairly compensated for our words. They want to keep our rates down (when was the last time a publication offered you a raise?*), and pay nothing for additional rights - electronic rights, in particular.

A buck a word was the holy grail of freelance writers in the 1960's. And guess what? Almost without exception, that is still the case today. (And The Star pays nowhere near that.) Is it any wonder that so many periodical writers are leaving periodical writing and looking to crack the corporate market?

I find the stance taken by The Toronto Star particularly galling because it is Canada's great liberal paper -- looking out for the little guy, and all that, all based on the Atkinson Principles ( that guide its editorial policy. But I guess when it comes to the bottom line, The Star is nothing more than just another voracious corporation hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to enhance shareholder value -- guiding principles be damned.

But let me conclude by saying this: I sure as heck don't let that cheesed off feeling ruin my day (let alone my week, month, year or life). When I am WOTS, I am mingling with readers (and writers). I feel elated and humbled. So much so that I worked a double shift at the PWAC booth, and stayed even longer. It's like I didn't want to go home and leave all those readers behind. But home I had to go, where a pile of corporate work awaits!

- Paul Lima
Freelance Writer
& VP Communications
PWAC Toronto
& NetWords Editor

[* Full disclosure: The Globe and Mail recently raised the rates it pays for Tech Quarterly articles. However, the gist of my assertion is, unfortunately, all too true.]

Friday, September 15, 2006

“We ordered 800 buses without fully knowing what the design would be”

Remember, these are the folks who just ordered $700 million worth of subway cars – without benefit of competitive tender. From the Toronto Sun:

The TTC is admitting it botched the seating at the back of its new low-floor buses for people with big butts or long legs and is vowing to fix the problem.

In its bid to squeeze as many seats as it could into the Orion 7 buses that lose some seating because of the low-floor, the TTC shoe-horned seats into the raised back of the bus.

"They're all jammed together so you can never get a comfortable seat unless your legs are two inches long," TTC chairman Howard Moscoe said.

"It's been a disaster," he said. "We ordered 800 buses without fully knowing what the design would be."

The buses cost $500,000 for a diesel model and $750,000 for a hybrid bus.

"We're not too happy with them either," said Gary Webster, chief general manager. "We went too far, the seats are too tight and a lot of members of the public can't use them.

"We can't fix what we've got, but we think we can do better on the next order."

No doubt if their sole-source subway car order also goes bad, they’ll learn a lesson from that too. That’s NDP politicians for you: mismanaging other people’s money is never a screw-up on their part, just another learning experience (viz. Bob Rae and the Ontario budget 1991-1994).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Katie Klunk

Matt Drudge has been helpfully posting the ratings for the CBS Evening news since Katie Couric took over the anchor chair last week. They show that after her first night on the air, her ratings have dropped steadily and she is now in third place behind NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charlie Gibson.

No one should be surprised. The network evening newscast is a dying format and it is unlikely that Couric will save it. Longtime Washington insider Sally Quinn gamely attempts to spin Couric’s mediocre debut, in a piece full of post-feminist self-pity about how Couric is being held to a different standard because she’s a woman.

Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson, recent successors to the anchor chairs on NBC and ABC, didn't have anywhere near the same buildup or scrutiny. Nobody mentioned their clothes or hair, and nobody made anything of the fact that Gibson had been on a morning show, but Couric was criticized for not coming from prime-time news. Nobody mentioned the word gravitas. (Couric was accused of not having it.) Nobody made a fuss about Williams and Gibson's salaries, but much was made of Couric's $15 million.

(An aside: I for one would be interested in devoting more than a mere mention to Williams’ hair and clothes, but I can’t get past his assistant.)

Quinn's argument is more than a little reminiscent of Belinda Stronach’s whining about how she gets judged on her hair and clothes while others do not. (I sure hope she told off Anne McLellan for her observation about Stronach’s “great shoes” when Stronach crossed the floor.)

Stronach neglected to add that that commentary about her appearance is (at least) 99% positive, unlike for female politicians who have the misfortune of being less attractive and lacking the budget for Chanel jackets such as the one Stronach was wearing at an Ontario PC fundraising dinner a few years ago. Belinda must be the only person in the world who thinks her appearance had nothing to do with where she is in life. She is, as the saying goes, someone who was born on third base and thinks she hit a triple.

Which is to say that Couric’s X chromosomes and mother status were among the main reasons she got the job over many better-qualified men who have been reporting real news and conducting interviews of longer than 3 minutes. So we gotta take the bad with the good, girls. In any event, Quinn’s apologia is two weeks too late: you can’t manage expectations after the fact.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chris Matthews says Plame story too “complicated” to revisit

NewsBusters has a posted an impromptu interview with NBC Hardballer Chris Matthews, in which Matthews offers a lame explanation about why he won’t revisit the Plame/Wilson story now that Richard Armitage has fessed up that he leaked Plame’s identity to Bob Novak. It has to be read to be believed:

A: Well, the story's just gotten so complicated. I mean, it's just such a mess. Because what if it's true that Armitage was the source, but those other guys [presumably Rove and Scooter Libby], also were leakers, what then?

Q: Isn't that a question worth exploring on your show?

A: It could be but the problem is that Dick Cheney has so many apologists it's ridiculous. So many journalists like Bob Woodward will say or do anything just to get access to him. And then all the people in the administration too.

Q: I don't see why this is stopping you from mentioning the story at all. The viewers at least need some sort of closure don't they?

A: Hey listen I need to get out of here. I have to get back home.

Say, isn’t Matthews the guy who boasts of his show: “I promise not to let them get away with anything?” I guess not inviting them on is one way to do it.

Powell knew about Armitage's outing of Plame

Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has given an interview to CBS News in which he says that he immediately told then secretary of state Colin Powell that Armitage was the unnamed figure in Robert Novak's 2003 column on "The Road to Niger" starring Joe Wilson:

He says he was reading Novak's newspaper column again, on Oct. 1, 2003, and "he said he was told by a non-partisan gun slinger."

"I almost immediately called Secretary Powell and said, 'I'm sure that was me,'" Armitage says.

Armitage immediately met with FBI agents investigating the leak.

"I told them that I was the inadvertent leak," Armitage says. He didn't get a lawyer, however.

"First of all, I felt so terrible about what I'd done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn't need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I as already doing that," Armitage explains. "I was not intentionally outing anybody. As I say, I have tremendous respect for Ambassador. Wilson's African credentials. I didn't know anything about his wife and made an offhand comment. I didn't try to out anybody."

He is also really, really sorry:

"Oh I feel terrible. Every day, I think I let down the president. I let down the Secretary of State. I let down my department, my family and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson," he says.

When asked if he feels he owes the Wilsons an apology, he says, "I think I've just done it."

But not sorry enough to tell the president what he had done, or save the bacon of Libby,Cheney or Rove:
That was nearly three years ago, but the political firestorm over who leaked Valerie Plame's identity continued to burn as Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began hauling White House officials and journalists before a grand jury.

Armitage says he didn't come forward because "the special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Coren back on CFRB

Christian bad boy Michael Coren is returning to Toronto talk radio station CFRB:

Michael Coren is one of Canada's most controversial talk show hosts. He returns to CFRB on Sunday September 10th to host a new talk show from 7pm to 8pm. Michael was in Israel during the Israeli - Hezbollah conflict this summer. He appeared on many CFRB talk shows providing commentary and exclusive reports about the conflict.
--CFRB e-mail

Coren was abruptly dropped from his regular Monday to Friday 7-8 time slot a few months ago, apparently for ridiculing fat people. For those outside the GTA, CFRB also streams live on the internet.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Wilsons are over like white after Labour Day

An editorial in the Washington Post today should signal the end of any credibility Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame enjoy among all but the most virulent Bush haters in the mainstream media. It comes days after it was revealed that it was deputy secretary of state Dick Armitage – and not Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby – who first revealed to columnist Bob Novak that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame worked for the CIA:

It follows that one of the most sensational charges levelled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue. The partisan clamour that followed the raising of that allegation by Mr. Wilson in the summer of 2003 led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, a costly and prolonged investigation, and the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury. All of that might have been avoided had Mr. Armitage's identity been known three years ago.

Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously. [Er, like the Post?]

Armitage’s admission is roughly equivalent to the blue dress in the Lewinsky scandal, the signal that “the f*** is off” as a politician I knew used to say. The fact that it was Armitage – a known rival of the so-called neocons/warmongers/chickenhawks in the White House and Defence Department – who revealed Plame’s CIA employment status to the media, and not the aforementioned neocons, utterly destroys the prosecutor’s, the mainstream media’s and the Bush haters’ “theory of the crime:” that the Bush White house deliberately endangered the life of a CIA operative because her husband criticized the administration. They were wrong. Oh, and the Wilsons are liars and fantasists.

I recall the frenzy in the U.S. media last fall, as it awaited indictments from prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, with some Democrats predicting a “Fitzmas” bounty of indictments, including one against Vice President Cheney. Even Jay Leno attempted to gin up the “scandal” in his monologue with regular jokes, usually delivered to a silent audience who had probably heard little of the issue, and didn’t understand it. I will be watching the Chris Matthews show this Sunday to see if he eats any of the bile he spewed over the last few years on this topic. But I haven't bothered seeing whether Leno has the fairness to mention the evaporation of the Wilsons along with their persecution fantasies: I switched to Kimmel months ago.

It would be interesting to know what Colin Powell knew and when he knew it. Has he known since 2003 that it was his own top aide who revealed Plame’s identity to Novak? Did he know that Armitage was the real leaker, while he watched Libby, Cheney and Bush publicly accused of a vindictive and possibly criminal leak to the media? If so, perhaps his silence was payback for the administration asking him to give his now-infamous WMD presentation to the UN Security council prior to the Iraq invasion.

As the editorial notes, Scooter Libby is still facing prosecution. [Joan's Note: but not unemployed, as Rondi Adamson helpfully advised: he got a gig at the Hudson Institute] Not for revealing Plame’s identity but for perjury during the investigation, because he could not remember the details of some discussions with journalists. His defense fund website is here. I’m sure after the Armitage revelation, Libby is feeling like that exonerated politician who years ago asked “Where do I go to get my reputation back?”