Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kennedy protests Kay allegations

But his leadership campaign already has a record of “fibbiness” about what happened behind closed doors

There’s a great scene in the film “State of the Union” in which presidential candidate Spencer Tracy sells his integrity piece by piece to a handful of interest groups in the back of a cab, in exchange for delegates to the Republican convention. (There are many great scenes in this under-appreciated film, which is at least the equal of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” You should seek it out if you haven’t seen it).

Anyhow, turning to the business of chicken (as a friend of mine says), it seems that the erstwhile (and future?) Gerard Kennedy campaign team is outraged at National Post columnist Jonathan Kay’s contention that Kennedy put similar deal-making ahead of Canada’s security and the Air India inquiry. The nub of the column’s assertions vis a vis Kennedy:

Among veteran Liberal insiders, it is believed that the several hundred Sikh convention delegates [MP Navdeep] Bains and his allies led into the Dion camp (via Gerard Kennedy) came with a price: an end to the investigative powers contained in the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was opposed for predictable reasons by various Sikh, Tamil and Muslim organizations.

Indeed, I am informed by a well-informed source that the critical deals were cut months in advance, and were driven by Bains -- and, in the case of Muslim delegates, by Arab-Canadian MP Omar Alghabra -- through Kennedy, who’d been staked out early by ethno-politicians as an empty vessel into which they could pour their parochial agendas.

Chris Selley reports on the Kennedy/Dion push back on the Macleans website today:

Rob Silver, Kennedy’s national policy director during his leadership bid, fiercely denied that any such discussions ever took place. And he suggested that the direct link between the legislation and the Air India inquiry is too recent to have come up during the leadership convention.

“The issue of the sunset clauses in the anti-terror legislation was never raised by Navdeep Bains or any of his supporters,” Silver told “It was never raised by Omar Alghabra and it certainly wasn’t part of the discussions with Mr. Dion’s camp.

Alghabra told that Bains “never knew much” about the Act. For his own part, Alghabra said that he intended to push for the clauses to be sunsetted, but had never discussed the issue with Dion and didn’t remember it ever coming up during the convention itself.

I can tell you for a fact, as far as I know, there were no deals signed by anybody,” Alghabra said of Kennedy’s decision to back Dion. “I never asked for anything in return.”

Leaving aside the very intriguing question of how Omar Alghabra would know what Navdeep Bains does or does not know about federal legislation, this would not be the first “no deals” denial emanating from the Kennedy camp. As I blogged on December 4th:

The sucker this time was rookie Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland, chair of Gerard Kennedy’s Ontario operation. Holland was the focus of a short insider piece on CBC’s Sunday Night last night. From the beginning Holland speaks of an “arrangement” between Kennedy and Dion. Negotiations with the Dion camp and the “deal” are referred to several times throughout, by Holland and others.

Unfortunately for Holland, his star turn has made a liar of his candidate, Gerard Kennedy. In all the weekend interviews I saw, Kennedy denied that there was a deal between him and Dion.

Jane Taber: Had you made a deal with Mr. Dion?
Kennedy: No deal. I get nothing for this. We had a lot of conversations. I did with Mr. Rae and Mr. Ignatieff as well. We all have to have that contingency. And to me it’s how do we assemble the party. How do we get the new drive forward.
--Question Period, CTV, December 3

He said he cut no deal in exchange for his support. “I get nothing for this. This was not a negotiation. This is an understanding, this is mutual respect and I know that it's tempting to see it another way.”
--“All the right moves for Kennedy,” Toronto Star, December 3

I would agree that Kay’s column would benefit from the naming of a source or two. But unfortunately for Kennedy, his campaign already has a record of fibbing about what happened in the back of his leadership cab.

Profile in Chutzpah

Reisman refused to defend freedom of speech when it counted, yet she interviews "Infidel" author on stage tonight

It would be an understatement to say that I was surprised when I read that author Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be appearing tonight to plug her book “Infidel” at the Bay/Bloor Indigo store in Toronto, where she is also to be interviewed on stage by so-called “Chief Booklover” Heather Reisman, Chapters/Indigo CEO.

You may remember Chapters/Indigo from such films as: “The Competition Bureau Made Me Do It” (about how Canada’s second-largest book chain was permitted to buy the largest), and, more recently, “Not on My Newsstand!” (about the furore surrounding the Western Standard’s decision to republish the Danish Muslim cartoons a year ago -- free subscription may be required).

Chapters/Indigo banned that issue of the Western Standard from all Chapters/Indhimmigo stores (book seller McNally Robinson and Air Canada also banned the issue). Later, Chapters/Indigo also banned an issue of Harper’s magazine that published some of the cartoons.

I am having a hard time running down a quote explaining the book chain’s decision to ban the Western Standard, though apparently it had to do with not wanting to offend Muslims.

However, here’s some of what Hirsi Ali said in a speech entitled “The Right to Offend,” given in Berlin on February 9th of last year:

I am of the opinion that it was correct to publish the cartoons of Muhammad in Jyllands Posten and it was right to re-publish them in other papers across Europe.

Let me reprise the history of this affair. The author of a children’s book on the prophet Muhammad could find no illustrators for his book. He claimed that illustrators were censoring themselves for fear of violence by Muslims who claimed no-one, anywhere, should be allowed to depict the prophet. Jyllands Posten decided to investigate this. They – rightly – felt that such self-censorship has far-reaching consequences for democracy.

It was their duty as journalists to solicit and publish drawings of the prophet Muhammad.

Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the courage to show their readers the caricatures in The Cartoon Affair. These intellectuals live off free speech but they accept censorship. They hide their mediocrity of mind behind noble-sounding terms such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘sensitivity’.

I think it is right to make critical drawings and films of Muhammad. It is necessary to write books on him in order to educate ordinary citizens on Muhammad.

I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission.

How Reisman could look this woman in the eye, much less interview her in public, is beyond me. But as Susan Sarandon’s character says in "Bull Durham," “The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness.”

Toronto Star to appeal $1.5 M libel award

The Star reports today that it will appeal the recent judgment against it in favour of Northern Ontario businessman Peter Grant, over a 2001 story that implied Grant was exploiting his friendship with then-Premier Mike Harris to ease approval of a golf course expansion:

Grant's lawyer, Peter Downard, declined comment, except to say: "We will fully respond to the appeal at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way."

In its notice of appeal, the Star argues that [Superior Court Justice Paul] Rivard erred in not allowing the defence of "qualified privilege," in which media are given wide latitude to publish controversial opinions on matters of substantial public interest.

Further, the judge was wrong in failing to find that there was no probability that the Star acted with malice, according to the appeal.

Rivard also made numerous other mistakes in his charge to the jury, both in his instructions on the law and in his summary of the evidence, the newspaper says.

The plaintiffs contended that one quote, by cottager Lorrie Clark, was particularly libellous: "Everyone thinks it's a done deal because of Grant's influence ... but most of all his Mike Harris ties."

The judge should have instructed the jury that these words could only be regarded as a statement of opinion, not fact, the Star says.

The judge also failed to adequately instruct jurors on the legal principles to apply in considering damages, including the exceptional nature of aggravated and punitive damages, according to the appeal notice.

The jury of three men and three women awarded Grant $25,000 in aggravated damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The jury also awarded $450,000 in general damages.

The total, $1.475 million, was one of the highest libel awards in Canadian history.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Gunter gets it . . .

Like the Live Earth producers, the Suzuki tour has promised to buy carbon credits to cover its emission tracks. But buying credits is to reducing emissions what the medieval practice of buying indulgences was to absolving sins.
--Lorne Gunter, "Conserve as I say, not as I do," National Post, today

Friday, February 23, 2007

Buying and selling indulgences in the United Church of Carbon

Suzuki’s bus and Fluffy’s farts have something in common

Suggestible as I am to the hypothesis that the passing passions of the left are tantamount to religions (or substitutes therefor), I had yet to be 100% convinced that environmentalism had reached this level. But when environmental confessors are selling the equivalent of indulgences by issuing, “carbon offsets” to David Suzuki, the Rolling Stones, and the owners of gassy cats, well, the analogy does seem more apt. From today’s Globe and Mail:

But in an era where hyper environmental sensitivities abound, the Suzuki organization, one of Canada's biggest anti-pollution think tanks, anticipated some might view it as hypocritical to talk about global warming and the environment, while burning fossil fuels to travel.

So the foundation pledged, before the tour began, that it would offset all of what it calls the "major" emissions of the trip.

"At the end of the tour, we will calculate the total emissions from the tour, and purchase high-quality carbon offsets that support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects," said Paul Lingl, a climate-change specialist with the foundation. The group says it's buying what it terms "gold standard" carbon offsets from my climate, a Zurich, Switzerland-based non-profit company that funds energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Under carbon-offset schemes, individuals and groups can claim their activities cause no net addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by funding projects that fully offset their emissions. Rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and organizations that want to burnish their environmental image have been buying these offsets for years.

Happlily, even if you are not Mick Jagger or an eco-gelical on a country-wide tour, purchasing an eco-indulgence is still within your reach. From Bloomberg News:

Sydney-based Easy Being Green says it will mitigate your cat's flatulent contribution to global warming for A$8 ($6). The same company could also make your granny "carbon-neutral" at A$10 a year, according to a report in the Australian newspaper last weekend.

Then there's Carbon Planet Pty, another company cited in the article. If you are hopping on a short-haul flight between Sydney and Canberra, and feeling bad about the damage you are doing to the ecosystem, you can buy credits worth A$23, for which the Adelaide-based company will guarantee to keep 1 ton of carbon dioxide out of the air for 100 years.

I am hardly the first person to catch on to this indulgence analogy, as this Google search suggests.

Officially Screwed and Dust My Broom are also on to Suzuki today.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dauphus to run in Papineau

Well, I guess it's (finally) official. From CTV:

Justin Trudeau has confirmed to CTV News that he will take on the Bloc Québécois in the next federal election when he runs for the Liberals in the Montreal-area riding of Papineau.

Trudeau was originally expected to run in the Montreal-area Outremont riding, recently vacated by Jean Lapierre, a former Liberal cabinet minister.

Instead, he will seek nomination in the tougher Papineau seat, currently held by Bloc MP Vivian Barbot.

"I don't want to be handed anything, I don't need to be handed anything, I'm more than capable of bringing the fight and it will be a chance for me to demonstrate my own political abilities," said Trudeau.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Obama to Clinton: I came to play

The Barack Obama campaign is showing itself to be equal to the patented Clinton rapid-response machine, by quickly slapping back at Hillary’s challenge that Obama distance himself from Hollywood mogul David Geffen’s criticisms of the Clintons at an Obama fundraiser last night.

Geffen made some highly critical comments about the Clintons, which were reported by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. From Editor & Publisher:

"Everybody in politics lies, but they [the Clintons] do it with such ease, it’s troubling,” Geffen said.

Among other things, Hollywood and music mogul Geffen told Dowd, "God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton?" and "Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”

More from Dowd:

-- "I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Mr. Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they’ll wait until Hillary’s the nominee to use it. “I think they believe she’s the easiest to defeat.”

-- She is overproduced and overscripted. “It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Mr. Geffen says. “She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

-- Once, David Geffen and Bill Clinton were tight as ticks. Mr. Geffen helped raise some $18 million for Bill and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom twice. Bill chilled at Chateau Geffen. Now, the Dreamworks co-chairman calls the former president “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson released this statement this morning:

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.

"While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser."

But Obama was having none of it. From The Hotline blog:

The Obama camp has responded to Howard Wolfson's demands. From spokesperson Robert Gibbs: "We aren’t going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom. It is also ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because ’he's black.’"

Zing. This ain’t 1992, and Obama appears to be no chump, to be intimidated by phoney indignation over Hillary being on the business end of “the politics of personal destruction” for a change. (Is anyone unconvinced that, had Monica Lewinsky not saved the Dress, the Clintons and their proxies would still be calling her a liar, a nut and a slut to this day?)

This skirmish underlines the fatuousness of Hillary’s claim that she intended all along to announce when she did. Frontrunners never want to announce early, much less be forced into it by the threat of a fresh underdog as Clinton was.

With his “royal family” allusions, Geffen has touched on a looming negative for Hillary: after two decades of Bush-Clinton-Bush, are the voters going to view electing another Clinton as progress? The long campaign and Hillary’s early entry will likely only enhance this issue in voters’ minds.

Bromides, Bromines

Janke calls the BS off

(with apologies to Ira Gershwin)

Duffy spews bromides
Steve calls bromines!

Liberals woof “Kyoto!”
Steve finds they’re not green!


NOT green!

Let’s let the voters decide!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The inconsistency of Obama

From a devastating Niall Ferguson analysis of Barack Obama’s positions on Iraq, isolationism and Darfur, in Sunday's Telegraph:

Take a look at Obama's arguments for a speedy US withdrawal. Speaking on the Senate floor on January 30, he asserted that "redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve ... political settlement between its warring factions".

The key is "to give Iraqis their country back", since "no amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else's civil war". He repeated these words when he announced that he was running for the presidency last weekend.

Obama's call for rapid withdrawal from Iraq would make some sense if he was an old-fashioned isolationist. But he's not. His best-selling memoir-cum-manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, dismisses isolationism as unworkable: out of both self-interest and altruism, the United States has no alternative but to "help make the world more secure".

Indeed, he went so far as to urge the deployment of "a UN or Nato-led force". "If the United States does not change its approach to Darfur," he declared, "an already grim situation is likely to spiral out of control."

Wait a second. Here are two grim situations, each likely to spiral out of control. But in one (Sudan) Obama recommends military intervention, while in the other (Iraq) he recommends military withdrawal. Am I missing something?

Christpher Hitchens’ understated term for positions such as Obama’s is “not serious.” Unfortunately, it is the unserious world in which we now live that allows Obama’s brand of inconsistency to prosper unchallenged.

Monday, February 19, 2007


How does poverty ever “end” if it is continually redefined? Maybe that’s the point

The Star is making the most of its Monday news hole to plug its so-called poverty agenda (see also post below). The front page of their Life section is devoted to some folks who belong to “Make Poverty History” in Durham Region. One of them is retired welfare worker Ron Dancey:

Twenty or 30 years ago when he was assessing applicants at the Durham Region welfare office, Dancey was confident he could make a difference in people's lives. He could get to know his clients, their children and their needs, and find ways – albeit limited – to help.

All that changed, he says, with the election of Mike Harris as provincial premier in 1995.

"He put us back to the 1950s," Dancey says.

Except that it was a computerized version of the 1950s, he adds. Decision-making was taken out of the hands of welfare workers. Spread sheets and hard numbers replaced compassion and humanity. A misplaced number or even a typo in a computer file could hold up a cheque for days, Dancey recalls.

It wasn't always like that.

"We could get them the money and fix the paperwork later," he says. "It was very frustrating."

Gosh, you’d think Ron would have a word or two of thanks for Mike Harris, for halving his workload: on Harris’ watch, over 600,000 people left welfare, most for a job.

Then again, if by cutting welfare rates and implementing workfare, Mike Harris accomplished more in six years than I had in 30 years of handing out cheques and fixing the paperwork later, I might be a tad embittered too.

When you put this story and others like it about “ending poverty,” together with the Star’s front-page story about redefining GDP to include relative measures such as “ratio of top income earners versus bottom income earners,” then a rather glaring Catch-22 emerges: the same people who talk of ending poverty are also careful to keep changing its definition, so that the poor are always with us. Now why would they do that?

Star pushing for malleable “Index of Well-Being” to replace GDP

But who are the unidentified “Bay Street moguls” who endorse it?

The Toronto Star’s front page today carries a story about an effort to complement (their word) the GDP with something called the Canadian Index of Well-being. The article claims that “the CIW has gained a legion of fans, from former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow to Bay Street moguls to top government statisticians.” Yet the article does not quote any of these purportedly enthusiastic “Bay Street moguls” (to use the Star’s groovy 1970s terminology).

And it is not quite accurate to say that the CIW has “gained” a fan in Romanow – Romanow is actually one of the CIW’s prime movers, as a member of the national steering committee pushing for its adoption.

The index would be comprised of soft and subjective data (e.g. "affordable" housing, time management, community cohesion and diversity, civic engagement) that is ripe for manipulation by the usual suspects, i.e., the NDP, public sector unions, sociology departments and phoney pink tanks such as the Star-funded Atkinson Foundation (and, lo and behold, the Atkinson Foundation is behind the drive to establish the CIW!):

In health care alone, the CIW’s measure could include ER wait times, rates of cancer and other diseases, body mass index, smoking rates, life expectancy, infant mortality and low birth rates, even rates of depression and suicide.

Adding all these up, factoring in at least six other “domains” to produce an “integrated index,” would be a monumental achievement. There is still considerable disagreement over methodology (see sidebar) even though the first phase of the project is set for this fall.

Given the apparent reluctance of Bay Street moguls to go on the record for the Star, its reporter was forced to resort to quotes from current and retired Statistics Canada employees, and the less-than-disinterested Roy Romanow.

“We really need a different kind of statistical indicator – not to replace the GDP, but to complement it,” says Michael Wolfson, assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada.

You would think that Statistics Canada would know better than to initiate a new statistical product that is begging to be abused, after years of seeing their Low Income Cut-off figure brandished by politicians and activists as a de facto “poverty line.”

Wolfson also says “GDP tells us how big the pie is, but not how the pie is divided.” Actually, Wolfson’s employer, Statistics Canada, already does a lot of work on “how the pie is divided,” such as this table: “Incidence of low income among the population living in private households, by province (1996 and 2001 Censuses).” Or how about “Average income and income shares by after-tax income quintiles, showing different income concepts” (Tables 8-1 through 8-5 in this 2004 report)?

Sigh. Here’s Roy Romanow’s take:

For the long-time NDP politician, the GDP’s limitations as a measure of well-being are revealed in the negative inputs it includes.

Expenditures on cancer treatment, divorce, prisons and funerals are counted alongside factory production and restaurant meals as good for the economy, but few would say such things have improved their lives.

“If you don’t measure what counts, what counts is never measured,” says Romanow.

Actually, GDP doesn’t “count” any of the above activities, or anything else, as “good for the economy” (but I might mention that, having spent some of the past year working for family lawyers, divorce did help keep a roof over my head). The GDP measures their objective impact in an objective way. It’s up to the public through its elected representatives to debate and decide what is “good for the economy” and what “counts.”

The CIW is a thinly-disguised attempt to short-circuit that debate by limiting it to a select group of policy makers and interest groups, then releasing the “result” in the guise of a “statistic” that would be pre-inoculated from any challenges.

All of this is reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s observation that “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Update: Star print story on Bush Afghanistan speech

“Snub” allegation from yesterday’s Star P.M. not repeated

A lengthy report on Bush’s Afghanistan speech appeared in today’s print and internet edition of the Toronto Star, entitled “Bush promises more soldiers for Afghanistan, seeks help” (see the “World” page). The print story is closer to my take on the speech (see post below) than it is to the brief item in yesterday’s Star P.M., headlined “Bush snubs Canadian troops.”

There was no comment from the White House in the Star P.M. story (their reporter's call had not been returned in time for the electronic Star P.M., which goes out mid-afternoon). Washington bureau chief Tim Harper has now obtained comment:

A National Security Council spokesperson told the Star that Bush wanted to publicly thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian troops for their dangerous duty in the south, and said Ottawa's contribution was crucial to the success of the mission.

"The lack of a specific reference to Canada was an oversight," said council spokesperson Kate Starr.

However, in a sign of the sensitive nature of the subject, the White House later amended its statement, saying "oversight" may be too strong a term and noting other contributing nations were also not mentioned.

Exactly. As I said in my blog post last night: Canada has made an extraordinary commitment and suffered painful losses. But this is a NATO effort and, in singling out one country for praise, Bush risks alienating or insulting other countries who no doubt have media outlets that are equally prickly or prone to trouble-making.

The story has further Bush administration comments:

"The success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan is dependent on member nations like Canada," Starr told the Star. She said Canada has provided leadership, as well as troops and equipment needed to complete the job.

"Canada is a clear ally in the war on terror and the president appreciates Prime Minister Harper's leadership. The president would like to thank Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian people for dedicating Canadian military personnel and support to NATO and its efforts in leading a multinational brigade responsible for southern Afghanistan."

Harper also makes a point I made in my post last night, that in his speech Bush took up the cause of the Harper government, in asking NATO countries for more help in Afghanistan:

Bush was largely parroting the Ottawa point of view in calling for more troops and fewer restrictions on NATO nations already stationed there, a message largely aimed at France and Germany, so the alliance can launch its own "spring offensive" against the Taliban.

"We've been saying this for some time," [Peter] MacKay said, adding he hoped Bush's entreaty would encourage other allies to commit to a heftier role. "We want to see other countries with greater capacity come into the south whether it be more troop deployments, more training, more equipment."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Star story distorts Bush speech

Bush did not “snub” Canadian troops – he encouraged other NATO countries to increase their role in Afghanistan

Today’s Toronto Star P.M. arrived with an item from Washington bureau chief Tim Harper on George W. Bush’s Afghanistan speech today. It’s headlined “Bush snubs Canadian troops.” The key paragraph:

In telling the world that the Afghanis have “a lot of friends’’ in the world, Bush lauded contributions made by such players as Bulgaria, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Norway and he mentioned the efforts the British who are engaged in the most intense fighting in the south along with Canadians. But the omission of Canada was notable, particularly since the Harper government has banked on the 2,500 Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan to raise Ottawa’s profile as a partner in the war on terror.

Now here’s the paragraph from Bush’s speech:

For NATO to succeed, member nations must provide commanders on the ground with the troops and the equipment they need to do their jobs. Many allies have made commitments of additional forces and support -- and I appreciate those commitments, but nearly as much as the people in Afghanistan appreciate them. Norway, Lithuania and the Czech Republic have all agreed to send special operation forces to Afghanistan. Britain, Poland, Turkey and Bulgaria have agreed to additional troops. Italy has agreed to send aircraft. Romania will contribute to the EU police mission. Denmark, Greece, Norway and Slovakia will provide funding for Afghan security forces. Iceland will provide airlift. The people of Afghanistan need to know that they've got a lot of friends in this world who want them to succeed.

First of all, nowhere in the speech does Bush single out British forces. He repeatedly refers to “NATO forces” and their operations and successes in Afghanistan. Yes, Canada has made an extraordinary commitment and suffered painful losses. But this is a NATO effort and, in singling out one country for praise, Bush risks alienating or insulting other countries who no doubt have media outlets that are equally prickly or prone to trouble-making.

Further, reporting that Bush said Afghanis “have” a lot of friends distorts Bush’s meaning, clear from the above paragraph: Afghanis “need to know that they’ve got a lot of friends in this world who want them to succeed.” Had Canada been included in the list preceding this plea, the reaction from the Star might well have been indignation and outrage.

Having read it in its entirely, the intent of Bush’s speech seems clear to me: the U.S. will increase its efforts in Afghanistan – in troops and dollars – and other NATO nations need to increase their commitments too. Just last December 1st, a Toronto Star editorial bemoaned the reticence of other NATO countries to join in the fight.

Bush’s speech suggests that the Harper government’s cause of getting other NATO nations to step up to the plate in Afghanistan, which dates back to last fall, has been taken up by Bush.

Conrad Black visits Rick Salutin’s U of T class

Calls journalism a craft but not a profession, says Post still “quite a fine paper”

From an article in today’s Varsity (free subscription may be required to view):

The Culture and the Media in Canada class at University College regularly hosts high-profile lecturers who speak to students about issues in the Canadian media. But, as course instructor, author and columnist Rick Salutin put it, yesterday’s guest “genuinely needs no introduction.”

For an hour yesterday afternoon, former media baron Conrad Black shared his insights on media bias in Canada, the United States and Britain.

He began his address by lamenting the “certain incongruity” between the tendency of journalists to hold themselves up as members of the learned class, yet at the same presenting themselves as belonging to the working class.

He added soon afterward that he “finds the affectation of journalism amounting to a learned profession to be tiresome. Journalism still is more or less a craft…with variable judgment criteria. There is no yardstick to measure them against others.”

He mentioned, however, that most journalists are pleasant, even interesting, people and that he is “not trying to demonize them, rather [he is] pointing out anomalies.” Later, he pointed out a number of journalists he respects, such as Edward R. Murrow and his friend Brian Stewart.

Black also discussed his concern with what he views as a blurring between reporting and commenting.

“There is a much-discussed bugbear in the distinction between comment and reporting. We have a natural instinct to include our commentary…a gratuitous opinion in anything we write. But it can be very much a distortion.” He said that competent editors must safeguard this distinction.

Black said this task must also be taken up by publishers, who are at the “apex of editorial and commercial interests.”

“The best course is to try and have commercial management encourage good, professional standards. Otherwise, it’s like the CEO of an auto company not caring about the quality of his products.” Black said. He said the role of management in the editorial office should be “protecting the integrity of the product.”

At the same time, Black said that newspapers should have an ideology, “but you need to try to keep it out of the reporting.”

When asked about his experience in establishing the National Post, Canada’s first new national newspaper in decades, he spoke about the homogenized climate of Canadian media in the mid-90s, when he founded the paper.

“On most important public issues,” Black said “a consensus was reached by [nearly all Canadian media] that made steady concessions to the nationalists in Quebec.”

Black claimed that these media outlets pushed for a “comfortable social safety net, higher taxes” as well as having a constant tendency to set Canada above the United States. While Black didn’t fully disagree with each issue, he did consider this consensus a “tired, old bowl of porridge” cooked up to appease Quebecois nationalists.

According to Black, the establishment of the newspaper went well, despite criticism of excess spending. “In this country,” he said “you need to spend money to create a national franchise.”

“I still think that it’s quite a fine paper” he remarked about the National Post, which he still writes columns for.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“Half of life is showing up on time”

I guess presidential candidate John Edwards is not a believer in this maxim, one of Woody Allen’s more famous ones (though it has been surpassed by “the heart wants what it wants”).

Tonight, Edwards was scheduled to appear on a rare non-Anna Necrophilia Smith, non-"American Idol" edition of "Larry King Live" (CNN’s top-rated show). But he didn’t make it. Perhaps he was busy going over paint samples for his monster house.

“We did it alone as the United States”

That’s how Hillary Clinton remembers NATO efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo. Her comment is at about 5:45 minutes, but if you watch this from the beginning you will also be treated to her assertion that her vote to authorize the Iraq invasion was based on “my own understanding and assessment of the situation.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What radio did to Dixie Chicks “not very American”

So the Grammys got even by compromising their own principles

More Dixie Chicks/Grammy Sweep fallout, in today’s New York Times. This is starting to look like the juiciest awards scandal since Pia Zadora's husband bought her a Golden Globe:

To some, the voting served not only as a referendum on President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war, but also on what was perceived as country music’s rejection — and radio’s censorship — of the trio.

Jeff Ayeroff, a longtime music executive and an academy member, said the resounding endorsement of the group reflected the fact that the academy represents “the artist community, which was very angry at what radio did, because it was not very American.” Mr. Ayeroff said he voted for the Dixie Chicks in at least one category.

Radio stations at least have the commercial imperatives of ratings and ad revenue to justify what the Times calls "censorship" of the Dixie Chicks' music. Ayeroff’s comment suggests that by voting for the Dixie Chicks, at least some academy members put politics before art. But that hypocrisy – like most hypocrisies endemic to the “entertainment community” -- would probably be lost on them.

But I would love to meet this unnamed hero:

Mr. Ayeroff, who founded the voter-registration group Rock the Vote, said a man sitting behind him in the Grammy audience snickered each time the Dixie Chicks received another trophy. “Finally,” Mr. Ayeroff said, “I got so disgusted, I turned around and said: ‘Dude, you’re in California now. Even our Republicans are Democrats.’

Yeah dude, shut up and clap while the Chicks get another undeserved Grammy.

And the AP confirms that, while Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines may be ready to make nice, country radio isn't:

"Most country stations aren't playing the Chicks, and they aren't going to start now," said Jim Jacobs, owner of WTDR-FM, a country radio station in Talladega, Ala.

The awards might have the opposite effect, sparking another radio backlash against the group. Country broadcasters said Monday that the group's five Grammys show how out of touch the Recording Academy is from the average country fan.

"I think (the listeners) are outraged," said Tony Lama, program director for KXNP in North Platte, Neb. "This is rural, conservative America. They are just disgusted."

The AP piece also has some interesting background about country music and the Grammys that I wasn't aware of:

Wes McShay, program director of KRMD-FM, in Bossier City, La., said country fans understand that the big stars don't win Grammy awards.

"If you're talking about who's selling out 15,000-seat auditoriums, those acts are not awarded at the Grammys year after year," McShay said.

Consider the Country Music Association awards handed out a few months ago in Nashville: Entertainer of the year went to Kenny Chesney; the other big winners were radio favourites Brooks & Dunn, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts.
That might explain Carrie Underwood saying “I love country music first of all” during her acceptance speech for Best New Artist Grammy. Perhaps she is worried that being a Grammy winner may sow doubt in the minds of country fans.

Update: Raymond Arroyo at NRO, in the same vein:

Like its wicked stepsister, Hollywood, the music business has become increasingly divorced from its purpose, estranged from its audience, and maliciously partisan. Not that they seem to care. Case in point: the 49th Annual Grammy Awards held at the Los Angeles Staples Center on Sunday night. Watching the proceedings, who could be blamed for wanting to staple some mouths shut?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Dixie Chicks’ repositioning complete

Failure of initial apology for Bush insult led to victim strategy

I feel badly for James Blunt and Rascal Flatts, who felt the sharp end of the gramophone needle last night, thanks to the American recording industry’s determination to also stick it to George W. Bush. They even trotted out Al Gore to compliment the “entertainment community” – usually known for their penchant for Escalades and Gulfstreams – on their environmental activism (God, I hope it’s 20 below when he comes to Toronto next week).

The Dixie Chicks are to be congratulated, however, for successfully recovering from a potentially career-ending blunder, and rebranding themselves from record-breaking crossover band into courageous truth-tellers.

Their repositioning has been so successful, in fact, that most have forgotten that the single “Not Ready to Make Nice” and documentary “Shut Up and Sing” (which I have not seen) were the result of the failure of lead singer Natalie Maines’ initial attempt to “make nice” after this offhand comment to a London audience in 2003: “Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,”

Maines actually did apologize shortly after, but the controversy did not blow over. It was just beginning. Angry country fans demanded that the Chicks be struck from country radio play lists and vowed to never buy their records or concert tickets again. The Chicks decided to make soup out of the vegetables being hurled in their direction: Maines retracted her apology, and the band famously posed nude for the cover of Entertainment Weekly with phrases such as “free speech” and “censorship” painted on their bodies. Later came a low-level feud with aggressively patriotic country singer Toby Keith.

Frankly, I didn’t give a hoot about Natalie Maines’ opinion about Bush then and I don’t now. Even before the Iraq war, it was rare that a month went by without some celebrity making a vicious personal comment about Bush. Just last night, "60 Minutes" did a profile of singer Norah Jones, noting that one of the songs on her new album contains a lyric referring to Bush, “maybe he’s not deranged.” Ha ha.

But for me, what raised the Chicks above the usual Robin Williams-Alec Baldwin-Sean Penn din is their portrayal of themselves as victims of censorship, simply because their fans chose to exercise their freedom to vote with their dollars, and radio stations with their airtime.

Their donning of hair shirts (to be removed only for nude cover shots) insults and trivializes the genuinely silenced, such as the Cubans and Iranians who are jailed and/or tortured for criticizing their leaders and regimes. But what about the death threats? Celebrities get death threats all the time.

The fact that the Chicks were able to successfully portray themselves as victims and thus recover from their own carelessness, should give hope to anyone who is afraid that 9/11 signalled the end of the public’s appetite for self-pitying public figures, and the unquestioned sympathy owed to anyone who’s gone through a public embarrassment.

Indeed, since this incident we have been treated to the verbal meltdowns of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington. Yes, some of their excuses and damage control tactics (rehab for homophobia?) strain credulity, but unlike the Chicks, they didn’t try to spin their screw-ups into a condemnation of vast segments of the American public. (Though Richards did lamely attempt to hitch his racist outburst to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.)

By permanently alienating so many country fans, the Chicks will likely never regain their previous level of success. But they have provided an interesting case study in turning raspberries into jam.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

New Yorker profile of of “24” creator

I haven’t gotten around to watching “24” myself, but I know a lot of Conservatives are devoted fans. Drudge has highlighted this New Yorker profile of Joel Surnow, the show’s creator. Some excerpts:

Surnow’s parents were F.D.R. Democrats. He recalled, “It was just assumed, especially in the Jewish community”—to which his family belonged. “But when you grow up you start to challenge your parents’ assumptions. ‘Am I Jewish? Am I a Democrat?’ ” Many of his peers at the University of California at Berkeley, where he attended college, were liberals or radicals. “They were all socialists and Marxists, but living off their family money,” he recalled. “It seemed to me there was some obvious hypocrisy here. It was absurd.” Although he wasn’t consciously political, he said, “I felt like I wasn’t like these people.”

Surnow said that he found the Clinton years obnoxious. “Hollywood under Clinton—it was like he was their guy,” he said. “He was the yuppie, baby-boomer narcissist that all of Hollywood related to.” During those years, Surnow recalled, he had countless arguments with liberal colleagues, some of whom stopped speaking to him. “My feeling is that the liberals’ ideas are wrong,” he said. “But they think I’m evil.” Last year, he contributed two thousand dollars to the losing campaign of Pennsylvania’s hard-line Republican senator Rick Santorum, because he “liked his position on immigration.” His favorite bumper sticker, he said, is “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism & Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.”

Although he is a supporter of President Bush—he told me that “America is in its glory days”—Surnow is critical of the way the war in Iraq has been conducted. An “isolationist” with “no faith in nation-building,” he thinks that “we could have been out of this thing three years ago.” After deposing Saddam Hussein, he argued, America should have “just handed it to the Baathists and . . . put in some other monster who’s going to keep these people in line but who’s not going to be aggressive to us.” In his view, America “is sort of the parent of the world, so we have to be stern but fair to people who are rebellious to us. We don’t spoil them. That’s not to say you abuse them, either. But you have to know who the adult in the room is.”

Star buries story of McGuinty campaign chief cursing out reporter

An interesting few paragraphs at the end of a story entitled "Sorbara boosts 'poverty agenda'" in today's Toronto Star:

But as they scrambled to shore up their left flank in time for the election in eight months, the Liberals found themselves forced to defend embattled campaign director Don Guy.

Guy wrote a bullying email Wednesday to a Queen's Park reporter, using profanity in criticizing her coverage of the Liberals.

He ducked reporters here, slipping into the meeting through a side door, but later said in an email to the Toronto Star that he sent a note to the reporter saying, "I regret the exchange."

McGuinty indicated he had no plans to reprimand his former chief of staff.

But NDP Leader Howard Hampton lamented the "vicious attack against a woman journalist."

"The premier's got to set some standards. You can't go around viciously attacking everyone who disagrees with you," he said.

Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak (Erie-Lincoln) said "some discipline should take place" for the intimidating tactic.

I don't think it's unfair to suggest that, had a Mike Harris staffer sworn at a reporter, it would have merited a separate headline. In fairness to the Star, this is the only reference to this incident I have seen thus far, but I will keep an eye out. (And if anyone has seen any, please let me know.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

'Boys hire "son of a Bum"

The Dallas Cowboys have hired Wade Phillips, son of Bum Phillips, as their new head coach.

I guess Bill Parcells can’t change his mind about retirement now. Or at least he can’t go back to the Cowboys.

Looks like Phillips fils is a Neil Diamond fan:

Phillips, who will be 60 in June, is a Texas native. His father was the longtime coach of the old Houston Oilers. "You ever read about the frog who dreamed about being a king and then became one?" Wade Phillips said. "I was a high school coach in Texas and now I'm the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. So my story is the same one."

I’m not convinced that Parcells was the problem in Dallas. And I don’t think it was Terrell Owens, who behaved himself pretty well last year. I think the problem is meddling owner Jerry Jones. Every time I saw him come down to the sidelines during a second half when the Cowboys were losing, I would yell at the TV: “Get back in your !@#$ luxury box and let your coach do his job!!” Why would he think coming down to the field would help when things are going badly?

Jones' last three head-coaching hires - Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Parcells - failed to win a playoff game. Phillips is the sixth Dallas coach since Jones bought the team in 1989 and immediately fired Tom Landry, who was the only coach the Cowboys had in their first 29 seasons.
--New York Daily News, today

This week in media boo boos

I don’t know whether it’s the curse of (my) age, tightening news budgets, or just the general decline of civilization, but I’m noticing more mistakes in the pages of newspapers and magazines. The mistakes I’m thinking of aren’t typos, or matters of interpretation. They’re the commonly known and/or easily checkable. Here’s what I spotted (or was brought to my attention) this week.

Feel free to send any other boo boos to me at (And yes, I am ripping off the style of James Taranto’s “Best of the Web Today” at

You should apologize to Sesame Street!

With abject apologies to Sesame Street, this column is brought to you by the letters “W” and “O.” That’s “W” as in new and “O” as in neo-conservative.
--Jim Travers, “Branding Team Harper” Toronto Star, February 6

Hey, at least they didn’t say he worked for Apple Computers

Mr. Jones, an accountant by training and a former IBM Canada marketing manager, leaped from local politics to the House of Commons in 1997.

He won the local seat as the lone Progressive Conservative MP in Ontario under leader Joe Clark, and served as the party's finance and industry critic.
--Jeff Gray, “Markham's deputy mayor faces sex-assault charges,” Globe and Mail, February 5

Boo boo: Jean Charest was PC Leader when Jones was first elected in the 1997 election – not Joe Clark. (h/t: Richard Ambler)

The fall of advertising and the rise of gullible freelancers

In April, Old Dutch Foods Ltd., the Western-Canadian salty-snack company, plans to smash through the Thunder-Bay barrier and begin distributing its chips on store shelves in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces for the first time.

Some aspects of Old Dutch – which has one-third of the market in Western Canada, second only to the PepsiCo juggernaut Frito-Lay – will never be imported east, however. Notably, the company’s distinct twin-pack chip.
--J. Kelly Nestruck, “Can Dutch this,” National Post, February 8

(On the Post’s website, this article is behind a subscription wall.)

Boo boo: See quotes below, collected from the free excerpts available in the Toronto Star’s full-text archives:

In a struggle for market share, Hostess has been buying truckloads of Old Dutch chips in the Toronto area for the last four months.
--“When chips are down: Old Dutch fights back,” Toronto Star, July 8, 1991

Old Dutch made a brief sortie into Ontario in 1959 but retreated after a few months when supermarket chains refused to stock the chips.”
--“Chip maker takes on big rival in Ontario’s munch market,” Toronto Star, July 28, 1991

P.S. I also remember buying the boxed twin-pack in Ontario. And trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of chips.

And it’s so rare for Ayn Rand to be misrepresented in the media!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand Since Lions Gate picked up the distribution rights to the film last year, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been rumoured for the lead roles. Published in 1957, the Russian-born author's seminal novel revolves around the economic collapse of the U.S. sometime in the future. For years, producer Al Ruddy tried to make it into a movie. But while Rand was alive she had script approval, complicating the process. Perhaps it's too late for Brangelina, but adopted children Maddox and Zahara may still stand a chance.
--Matthew Weiner (via, “Great book. Why isn't it a movie?” The Toronto Star, February 3, 2007

Boo boo: “The Fountainhead” is widely acknowledged to be Rand’s seminal novel (though “We the Living” was the first published.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Can’t wait for tonight’s replay of “Mike Duffy Live”

Unless Garth Turner resigns to run in a by-election (the timing of which is out of his hands, and which the PM would not likely call until at least after the Budget), I’m looking forward to this and other quotes being batted in Garth's direction today:

I am a democrat who believes everyone in the House of Commons, including the cabinet members who make up the government, should be elected. They should sit in Parliament as they were elected. If they decide to change parties, they should go and get re-elected.

It would be a great idea for Mr. Emerson to do that, and hopefully he will decide that’s the right course of action. Given his new high-profile and powerful position, one would expect voters would be impressed enough to elect him as a Conservative. But maybe not. That’s their choice.

I am not demanding the guy resign today, given the fact he has just been handed huge duties and Harper surely had sound reasons for his decision. But it would look very good indeed on David Emerson to say something like this: Yeah, I understand the feeling of those people who are disturbed that I switched parties. I have decided my real home is with the Conservatives, and I am honoured to serve the PM, but I also realize it’s not all my choice. So after I’ve proven my worth in this job, and when the time is appropriate, I will go back to the voters.
--Garth Turner’s blog, February 9, 2006

Unfortunately, Turner does not have Emerson’s excuse of “huge duties,” given that the Liberals are not in government.

Credit-Where-Credit-is-Due Dept.: RepoCrepo posted an alert on January 22nd that Garth was primed and ready for the jump.

Businessman wins $1.5 M libel award against Toronto Star

2001 article implied Peter Grant was exploiting friendship with Mike Harris to speed golf course approval

I find it odd that news of this judgement was on page A15, given that $1.5 million is not far off the largest libel award in Ontario history. That was the $1.6 million awarded to former crown attorney Casey Hill in 1992. The Defendants were the Church of Scientology and lawyer Morris Manning. (Adjusted for inflation, that award would be worth just over $2 million today.)

There is no indication whether the Star will appeal
; it's likely they have not made that decision yet. I didn’t spot the article in the Star website’s main menu, but you can find it by searching for “libel.” Some excerpts:

HAILEYBURY, ONT.–A jury has awarded nearly $1.5 million in damages against the Star, finding that the newspaper libelled a wealthy Northern Ontario businessman when it published an article about his controversial plans to expand his personal golf course.

The jury of three men and three women, drawn from the area surrounding this town 160 kilometres north of North Bay, last night awarded $400,000 in general damages to Peter Grant and $50,000 to his company, Grant Forest Products Inc., a major local employer.

The jury also awarded Grant $25,000 in aggravated damages and $1 million in punitive damages. Superior Court Justice Paul Rivard had instructed the jury that punitive damages were meant to deter others from outrageous or reprehensible conduct.

Grant and his company sued the Star over a June 23, 2001 article headlined "Cottagers teed off over golf course; Long-time Harris backer awaits Tory nod on plan."

They say it falsely implied that Grant was exploiting his ties to the then-Mike Harris provincial government to try to manipulate the approval process for his proposed golf-course expansion on Twin Lakes, near here.

But lawyer Paul Schabas, arguing for the Star, told the jury that the article by senior writer Bill Schiller is a fair and accurate account of a matter of broad public interest.

Grant's plans to buy 10.5 hectares of Crown land and expand by 10 times the size of his Frog's Breath golf course sparked strong opposition from neighbouring cottagers worried about its environmental impact, he said. It was later approved in 2004.

Monday, February 05, 2007

"Anti-Sovietchik No. 1"*

Must-read Christopher Hitchens in the, about historian Robert Conquest, documenter of the Soviet Union's evils, who lived to see its collapse:

I thought I would just check and see how he was doing as 2007 dawned. When I called, he was dividing his time between an exercise bicycle and the latest revision of his classic book "The Great Terror": the volume that tore the mask away from Stalinism before most people had even heard of Solzhenitsyn. Its 40th anniversary falls next year, and the publishers need the third edition in a hurry. Had it needed much of an update? "Well, it's been a bit of a slog. I had to read about 30 or 40 books in Russian and other languages, and about 400 articles in journals and things like that. But even so I found I didn't have to change it all that much."

I am reminded of this anecdote from Martin Amis's short 2002 book Koba the Dread: When Conquest was asked in the post-Gorbachev years to give a new title to a revised edition of "The Great Terror," he said to his publisher, "How about 'I Told You So, You Fucking Fools'?"

* From Hitchens's piece:

Is it sweet to be so vindicated? As always, I have to crane slightly to hear the whispery answer. "There was a magazine in Russia called Neva, which found its circulation went up from 100,000 to a million when it serialized 'The Great Terror.' And I later found that at the very last plenum of the Soviet Communist Party, just before the U.S.S.R. dissolved, a Stalinist hack called Alexander Chakovsky had described me as 'anti-Sovietchik No. 1.' I must say I was rather proud of that."

Friday, February 02, 2007

Liberals: new dogs, same old tricks

Kudos to Steve Janke for outing Jason Cherniak’s Orwellian editing of John Baird.

This incident is reminiscent of the stunt the McGuinty Liberals pulled in the 1999 Ontario election. One of their ads included a clip of an old Global TV interview in which Mike Harris describes himself as “mean mad Mike.” The Liberals, however, omitted the set up to the quote, which was Harris explaining that if the Chrétien Liberals took the money they cut from the provinces and blew it on a new program (helloo Sponsorship!), then a “mean mad Mike” is whom they would have to deal with.

The late great Peter Naglik spotted the ad (quietly launched in the wee hours), dug up the interview tape showing the context, and by lunchtime the Liberals’ paid media had blown up in their face. Good times, good times.

If nothing else, Cherniak can now say that he has achieved the level of expertise of Dalton McGuinty’s 1999 communications team.