Most of the US Supreme Court gets it, thankfully

George Bush might not know it, but yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to declare the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay illegal is good news for the US. It is not, however, good news for the Administration, but as many know and the Right is confused about, these are two very different things.

The decision forces the Bush administration to charge the prisoners either through civilian or military courts and it urges them to treat the prisoners as prisoners of war rather than “illegal combatants”, as they have been declared. POW status allows the US to incarcerate the prisoners until the end of the conflict, however it mandates that they be treated well while in detention and that they be released without penalty at the end of the war.

This is good news because it is a declaration to the world that the current administration has stepped too far and that there are some checks in the system that can “reign it in”. In the long run, the war against terrorism (if it is real) will only be won by demonstrating that the governance structures in the West are better than tyrannical theocracies anywhere. The judgement might be read as a defeat by Administration officials, and Bush sure does seem glum about it, but it is a political salvo over the bow of extreme groups that wish to attack the West.

The dissenting opinion unfortunately shows that some of the judiciary have partaken of the Bush Freedom Loaf (TM):

“this court [that] would hold that conspiracy to massacre innocent civilians does not violate the laws of war. This determination is unsustainable… We are not engaged in a traditional battle with a nation state, but with a worldwide, hydra-headed enemy, who lurks in the shadows conspiring to reproduce the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.”

To be existential, the difference between massacring innocent civilians intentionally and launching an attack against a populated area that will produce large numbers of known civilian casualties (like say, Falujah) is slim or nil. And I won’t speak of a nation that will apply sanctions and embargoes on another nation knowing full well that it will result in the slow death of civilians.


GIGO at CanWest

It appears that CanWest Global, or FoxNorth, appears to be ready to pull out of the CP consortium. As POGGE suggests, this oughta make for some fine, balanced coverage. Their announcement also states that they will be forming their own news service, in order to more efficiently bless the fertile grounds of the international media with their brand of, uh, fertilizer. This oughta be interesting – I fully expect to see expanded coverage of Canadian issues on Fox News and WSJ south of the border, now that they have their own ilk established here. (Does this mean they are going to dump Reuters, too?)

I can only assume that CanWest was what PMS Harper was referring to when he talked about going around the Ottawa press, so this plays nicely into his hands, and into the hands of the Right in the US that would love to be able to tell stories of the takeover of the Right in their erstwhile pinko neighbour to the north.



It looks like the Tories might be getting caught in their own accountability problems. It looks like the Tories did not declare their convention fees two years ago, which amounts to ~$1.75 million in undeclared contributions to the party. John Baird, the minister in charge of the accountability act said that the party simply did not declare convention fees as donations and did not provide tax receipts.

This has bearing on the current leadership situation in the Liberal party, as they are charging $995 for entry into their leadership convention, which I believe is going to be in 2012. Apparently, they are planning justifying this price (which I presume includes free drinks) by making it a tax-deductible donation to the party. Since the new donation limits proposed in the accountability act limit personal donations to $1000, there is obviously a problem.

I am not really familiar with the ins and outs of campaign and party financing, so I will be following this one from the sidelines. It will be interesting to see how this all goes down.

[Update – there are indeed lots of people that know more about this stuff than me on this.]


Will the Liberals jump early?

Citing Stephen Harper’s craftiness, the president of the federal Liberal party, Mike Eizenga, suggested that the Liberals making plans for a fall election by preparing for a hasty early vote should the writ be dropped.

Some Tories figure that the Liberals are running scared, I presume after Harper has at least proven politically competent to the Canadian people (should there have been any doubt). In my mind the more likely reason is that the recent game of chicken over Rona Ambrose has the Liberals reconsidering the idiocy of spending an entire year looking for a leader. Bill Graham has tried to talk a good game, but everyone knows that his hands are tied and with every speech he seems even more pathetic – not even his own party seems to be paying attention anymore.

With the BQ scared and faltering in Quebec and the Liberals staring at their bound wrists, the NDP has stepped up and proven to be a real opposition to the Tories, the only real opposition. This is every bit as dangerous to the left side of the Liberal party as the Tories are to the right, and they can ill afford losing any more credibility. Jack Layton’s performance the last few months may well be as much a factor in an early leadership convention as an actual election call.

Kinsella is right, a new leader will revive the party’s spirits and free them to be able to challenge the Tories when challenge is required. Whether the new leader resonates with the Canadian voter is a different question, one that only time and an election or two will answer. The big question for me is not when the Liberals choose their leader or even who they choose, but how they react to the polls after the leadership convention.

I’m willing to bet that the convention “bump” they receive will be smaller than they hope for and will not last as long as they like; the stink of their performance this parliamentary session is going to take a little while to wash off.


Senlis Council report poo-pooed by Canadian military

The Senlis Council, an international “security and development thinktank” which has taken on the task of evaluating global drug policy, today published a report on the situation in Afghanistan. In it they claim that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are being seen as promoting and aiding the American government’s efforts to remove the poppy plantations that are used to produce much of the world’s opium and heroin. From the Afghan standpoint, the American policy results in the destruction of valuable crops with little or no compensation and no support for the development of profitable alternative crops. Farmers so pressured often enough are turning to the Taliban or other warlords for support.

While the Canadian troops are not involved in the US effort, the report maintains that this distinction is not being made on the ground and the result is an increasingly difficult and dangerous situation for them.

Naturally, Canadian officials involved in the Afghanistan mission downplay or deny the council’s findings. Gordon O’Connor, the Defense Minister, maintains “it’s fine for this think-tank to come up with these conclusions. However, our people on the ground see things otherwise.” (Could this have come from the mouth of Stephen Colbert, or what?) That’s what I like about politicians – when confronted by research and facts, instead of considering how these new facts or interpretations might affect the situation and perhaps developing alternative approaches or even a sensible denial, they just deny their validity out of hand and continue on. We aknowledge no mistakes, therefore there are no mistakes to aknowledge.

Meanwhile Lt. -Col. Ian Hope, speaking for the military, says that the report erroneously claims that the Canadian mission is being dictated by a foreign country, and is therefore wrong. If that is actually what the report said, this conclusion would be accurate, but it is not – the report states that Afghans themselves will see no difference and make no distinction between US-led Operation Enduring Freedom forces and NATO-led ISAF stabilization troops. Since it happens that the US is actively pursuing a campaign to destroy the poppy fields, which for many outside of the main cities is the only source of income, making this distinction is obviously critical for the Canadian military. Since I’m sure Col. Hope can read, I can only understand his statement as an intentional misrepresentation of the facts to damage the credibility of the rest of the report.

And why would he want to do that, I wonder?


The more things chage…

the more they stay the same. Despite the bluster about federal accountability, it appears that helping out with a political campaign is still the best way to line up for the trough political appointments. Richard Bell, former campaign co-chair for Harper’s Tories (Harpies Terrors?) in New Brunswick has just been appointed a federal judge in the Moncton Court of Queen’s Bench.


Screw supper, I’ll just take the menu

Those that know me well, and others that just happened to be around when politics came up and I had a drink in hand will know that I don’t like flags. I don’t like flags and I don’t like national anthems. I don’t dislike these things because I hate Canada or because I think the world needs to or can be one big happy country, rather I don’t like them because I distrust the side-effects of patriotism. I’m not sure if it’s something I read somewhere or just something that developed, but as long as I remember I’ve felt that you can’t use your head and wave the flag at the same time. Standing up before a hockey game and singing the national anthem (which should be Northwest Passage in my opinion) is all well and good, but nationalism shouldn’t go a whole lot further than that.

As a case in point, south of the border we have the flag-waviest of countries going crazy and talking about limiting freedoms over something as idiotic as burning a flag. One would think that there has been a rash of these incidents or that there was a critical shortage of precious nylon that cannot be allowed to be destroyed, or that everything was going peachy keen and there was nothing else for the lawmakers to spend their taxpayer dollars on.

One would think.

Or, it might just be a time when, in the middle of an arbitrary and ill-defined war with just about nothing going per plan and a government busily constricting civil liberties while hurriedly stuffing the pockets of corporate friends, that the peeps need a diversion, a straw-man. And who can argue against protecting the flag? It’s like… like… like protecting your mom. Who is going to argue against that?

Arlen Specter, one of the Senators pushing this critical debate argued:

I think of the flag as a symbol of what veterans fought for, what the sustained wounds for, what they sustained loss of life for…

Yes, Arlen, it is exactly that, a symbol; a symbol, and nothing more. If you asked a veteran what she fought for, she might say “the flag”, but I bet she’d be more likely to talk about home, family, loved ones, community. And even if she said “flag”, I’d be willing to bet that flag was simply a surrogate, a symbol, if you will, of all of these other things that make up her nation. The reason that patriotism is not limited to a single country is that it is intimately tied in with all of these other things that exist everywhere.

This is the crux of the argument of course, the place where the debate should start. Unfortunately, in this most flag-waviest of places in the most flag-waviest of times, this is where the debate also ends. It ends with the desire to protect a symbol, and allows the continued desecration of what that symbol represents. And it ends here because it is convenient for the powers that be that it end here – that the flag does not represent America, but that it is America, and to attack one is to attack both.

On a technical note, it is important for the Senate and the Administration that flag burning be made illegal and that it be made illegal through means that don’t contravene or otherwise amend the Constitution. Again, to Mr. Specter:

I think it’s important to focus on the basic fact that the text of the First Amendment, the text of the Constitution, the text of the Bill of Rights is not involved.

And why is this important? From a pragmatic standpoint, constitutional amendments are much harder to pass into law. Also, like the flag, the First Amendment is a symbol of freedom, the freedom to worship in the manner one chooses and the freedom to express one’s views publicly.

And if it’s one thing we don’t want to do, it’s to mess with symbols.

[Update: The Senate vote to ban burning the flag, and thereby overturning a 1989 Supreme Court ruling, missed the required two-thirds majority by one vote. There actually were two votes today on this. The proposal for a constitutional amendment was defeated, as was an end-run around it, an attempt to ban it through legal means alone, proposed by Hillary Clinton and Bob Bennett. Said Daniel Inouye;

“While I take offense at disrespect to the flag,” he said, “I nonetheless believe it is my continued duty as a veteran, as an American citizen, and as a United States senator to defend the constitutional right of protesters to use the flag in nonviolent speech.”

Thank you, Senator.]