Sunday, December 28, 2008

Samuel Huntington, RIP

More to come later. For now:

Globe and Mail article and comments section.

Edit: I can't be bothered. He was divisive, a borderline bigot, and far too influential.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Michael Ignatieff and Iraq, in his own words

The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq - NYT, December 8, 2002:
''This one's really difficult,'' said Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian-born writer and thinker who has written a biography of the liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin along with numerous books and articles on human rights. No one in recent years has supported humanitarian intervention more vocally than Ignatieff, but he says he believes that Iraq represents something different. ''I am having real trouble with this because it's not clear to me that containment has failed,'' Ignatieff told me.

The American Burden; The Empire - NYT, January, 2003
(This is the big one, folks.):
The impending operation in Iraq is thus a defining moment in America's long debate with itself about whether its overseas role as an empire threatens or strengthens its existence as a republic. The American electorate, while still supporting the president, wonders whether his proclamation of a war without end against terrorists and tyrants may only increase its vulnerability while endangering its liberties and its economic health at home. A nation that rarely counts the cost of what it really values now must ask what the ''liberation'' of Iraq is worth...

Iraq may claim to have ceased manufacturing these weapons after 1991, but these claims remain unconvincing, because inspectors found evidence of activity after that date. So what to do? Efforts to embargo and sanction the regime have hurt only the Iraqi people. What is left? An inspections program, even a permanent one, might slow the dictator's weapons programs down, but inspections are easily evaded. That leaves us, but only as a reluctant last resort, with regime change.

I Am Iraq - NYT, March 23, 2003
This time, over Iraq, I don't like the company I am keeping, but I think they're right on the issue. I much prefer the company on the other side, but I believe they're mistaken.

Why Are We In Iraq? - NYT, September 7, 2003:
Now the line seems to be that the war wasn't much of an act of pre-emption at all, but rather a crusade to get rid of an odious regime. But this then makes it a war of choice -- and the Bush administration came to power vowing not to fight those. At the moment, the United States is fighting wars in two countries with no clear policy of intervention, no clear end in sight and no clear understanding among Americans of what their nation has gotten itself into.

The Year of Living Dangerously - NYT, March 14, 2004:
A year ago, I was a reluctant yet convinced supporter of the war in Iraq. A year later, the weapons of mass destruction haven't turned up, Iraqis are being blown up on their way to the mosque, democracy is postponed till next year and my friends are all asking me if I have second thoughts. Who wouldn't have?

Democratic Providentialism - NYT, December 12, 2004:
Unless Iraq gets semilegitimate institutions next year, and a constitution that allocates resources and powers to each of Iraq's constituent peoples, the U.S. invasion will have traded a dangerous dictatorship for a failed state and terrorist enclave.

The Uncommitted - NYT, January 30, 2005:
Just as depressing as the violence in Iraq is the indifference to it abroad. Americans and Europeans who have never lifted a finger to defend their own right to vote seem not to care that Iraqis are dying for the right to choose their own leaders. Why do so few people feel even a tremor of indignation when they see poll workers gunned down in a Baghdad street? Why isn't there a trickle of applause in the press for the more than 6,000 Iraqis actually standing for political office at the risk of their lives? Have we all become so disenchanted that we need Iraqis to remind us what a free election can actually be worth?

Who Are Americans to Think That Freedom Is Theirs to Spread? - NYT, June 26, 2005:
If democracy plants itself in Iraq and spreads throughout the Middle East, Bush will be remembered as a plain-speaking visionary. If Iraq fails, it will be his Vietnam, and nothing else will matter much about his time in office.

Getting Iraq Wrong - NYT, August 5, 2007:
I made some of these mistakes and then a few of my own. The lesson I draw for the future is to be less influenced by the passions of people I admire — Iraqi exiles, for example — and to be less swayed by my emotions. I went to northern Iraq in 1992. I saw what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds. From that moment forward, I believed he had to go. My convictions had all the authority of personal experience, but for that very reason, I let emotion carry me past the hard questions, like: Can Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites hold together in peace what Saddam Hussein held together by terror? I should have known that emotions in politics, as in life, tend to be self-justifying and in matters of ultimate political judgment, nothing, not even your own feelings, should be held immune from the burden of justification through cross-examination and argument.

Michael Ignatieff

Is it time to weigh in on Michael Ignatieff, torturer of Ukrainian wars in Iraq? I think so. Will he be our next Prime Minister? Seems likely. After more than a hundred years of every Liberal leader becoming PM, it's unlikely that there would be two in a row to miss out.

I have an odd relationship with Michael Ignatieff. As an undergrad I read some of his work, and was quite impressed. If you have any questions about what he thinks Canada can be, please read The Rights Revolution, his Massey Lecture from 2000, the year he took the post of Director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights.

I remember reading his piece in the New York Times advocating for the American invasion in Iraq and thinking something like: "Doesn't he see what we all can see, that this is a sham?" It had little to do with American values, and there were never going to beWMD found. For him it was about saving the Kurds and the Iraqi people, a position I can understand. I'm a big fan of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, but in practical terms it's a big ol' mess. Read: Iraq.

And then he came back to Canada. In his nomination and election campaign he faced criticism about his views on nations and nationalism (patently ridiculous to anyone who actually read his books), his support for the Iraq war and his misinterpreted position on the use of torture in a democracy.

Just so it's all on the table: I was hoping he would win the Liberal leadership race in 2006. We all know how Stephane Dion turned out, and my friends and I warned everyone. Of course he wasn't experienced enough. Of course he had baggage. And the wait probably did him some good: he has proven to be a competent parliamentarian in the interregnum.

And now he's the leader and presumptive Prime Minister of Canada. (I say this even though he has clearly stated that he isn't presuming to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.) Care for some recent media pieces about the man who would be king?

What he would do if he were PM, as told to Macleans in 2006.
A great piece by Terry Glavin at the Georgia Straight, 2006.
George Strombo interviews him on the Hour: Part 1. Part 2.
A blog post at Macleans that has many links to recent interviews and commentary.
at the Star weighs in again. (More later.)

If you want real background on the man, read his books. Read The Lesser Evil if you want to know his position on torture, don't read a few quoted lines on the interweb and presume to understand an entire book.

Edit: Or try a search for Ignatieff at the NYT. Their catalog from 1851 is available online, and there are 2340 results, many referring to Russian Counts and Generals and dating from the 19th century.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Homeless woman burns to death trying to keep warm

This is tragic. Sick-to-my-stomach tragic. Homeless Vancouver woman burns to death

Around 4:30 a.m. witnesses saw what appeared to be a burning shopping cart in downtown Vancouver, which turned out to have a person inside...

Police believe the 47-year-old woman burned to death by a fire she lit to keep warm as temperatures in Vancouver overnight fell to -9 C, with a wind chill that made it feel much colder.

In the preceding days, shelters were filled beyond capacity as homeless advocates, police and emergency workers tried to find the city's homeless shelter from the cold.

“Through the course of the evening our patrol officers had checked her...on two occasions,” said Vancouver police Constable Jana McGuinness.

“They had offered her shelter and she had declined and we are here this morning with this very sad tragedy.”

Homeless woman's body found burning in shopping cart in Vancouver

Graves, who has been an advocate for the homeless for over two decades, speculated the woman might have chosen to remain on the streets during the cold snap because many shelters do not allow street people to bring their shopping carts inside for the night.

A new shelter that will allow shopping carts is scheduled to open within days, said Graves.

The timing of this is horrible and sad. However, this problem is more than about how many shelter beds we open up. I applaud Gregor and the council's quick action on this, and without it there could have been more deaths. However, this is a bigger issue than which church we can persuade to stay open, or how many staff and volunteers we can find in the next few days.

Homelessness in Metro Vancouver has risen drastically since 2002. The problem is complex, the reasons multitudinous, you can't help people that don't want help, blah blah. Some reasons are simple: More stringent welfare regulations which kicked thousands off welfare and the closing of spaces like Riverview, which drove hundreds of patients on to the streets. I'm going to do some research into this, and into the numbers, but it's not always as complex as we think.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Harper's hypocrisy II - aka move on dot Brenton

Should we move on dot org and simply wait until January before renewing our critique of the Harper government? Maybe. I couldn't help it though: I just saw this over at blogging a dead horse:

"Past Steve is coming back to kill future Steve!!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

2009 Budget consultations - online!

Have you ever wanted to tell Jim Flaherty how to do his job? You can, with Libby's Zoodles (does anyone else remember that ad?). The Finance Ministry has launched an online service encouraging everyday Canadians to submit their ideas for how the federal government should focus their efforts in saving our economy in the new year.

Consulting with Canadians

The Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, invites all Canadians to share their views and priorities as the Government prepares Budget 2009.“The Government is open to innovative new ideas that would help shape the plan for economic recovery in the 2009 budget,” said Minister Flaherty.The following ideas have been proposed as ways of providing stimulus in Budget 2009. Please rank them according to the priority they should have in the Government’s plan. If you’ve got another idea, rank that one as well. You will have the opportunity to spell out your ideas on the next screen.

  • Expedite Infrastructure Spending

  • Invest in Housing

  • Build strong sustainable labour markets and training incentives

  • Support traditional and emerging industrial sectors

  • Improve Access to Credit

  • Your Idea: If you believe Budget 2009 should have a different stimulus priority, assign a ranking to this box. You will be able to explain this priority on the next screen.

You are then asked to give short (50 words max.) comments on your choices, then finally fill out a short demographic survey. And apparently you can do it as many times as you want from the same computer. So get clicking, everyone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vancouver City Council's first meeting, Dec. 8th.

The short version: It was boring and lasted 25 minutes. You can watch the action here.

Slightly longer version:

Democracy in action, folks. Welcome to the boring side of civic politics. The exciting bits happen in the media, I gather. For instance: Frances Bula reports yesterday about the projects that city staff will be undertaking in the near future, and some of it is pretty exciting stuff (if you're a civic politics nerd): establishing the Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT), moving the sustainability office into the main corporate management office, and creating a list of all the landlords who have had orders from the city to comply with city maintenance standards, including the outcomes of those complaints. Scintillating stuff there.

In the council meeting nothing really happened. (See the meeting agenda and minutes.) There was motion after motion adopting recommendations for appointments to committee and regional bodies. That's it. There was some joking about Raymond Louie's penchant for seconding, and Gregor jokingly hoped that all meetings would be so easy.

I didn't think it would be a razzle-dazzle affair, but I did expect a bit more... I don't know what. I also expected that more people would be there watching. Maybe they all knew it would be boring.

Our new Vancouver City Council: Starting from the bottom, going clockwise:
Geoff Meggs, Kerry Jang, George Chow, David Cadman (away), Gregor Robertson, Tim Stevenson, Heather Deal, Suzanne Anton, Andrea Reimer, Ellen Woodsworth.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, complete with the chains of office.

A sceptre for bonking councillors if they step out of line.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Institutionalizing of a Chinese Whistleblower*

I just saw this in the New York Times: Whistle-Blowers in Chinese City Sent to Mental Hospital. Not so shocking; almost expected, even. What is odd is that it was even published. The story originated in a state-owned Chinese regional newspaper. Then it was picked up by the major state-owned media: People's Daily and Xinhua, which is astounding. People's Daily offers these headlines for today (not exactly critical stuff):

China registers historic progress in human rights
Chinese maritime patrol near Diaoyu Islands irreproachable
Economic stimulus package to improve people's livelihood

I did some research a few years ago that had me reading Chinese newspapers (translated). I was looking for articles about energy and East Asian relations, but you can glean quite a bit just from the tone and style of news stories. This story would never have been published five years ago.

And maybe not much has changed. The story has been picked up by media outlets from Tasmania to Croatia, but one day after it was published I couldn't find the story on any Chinese site, though I did find this unrelated story: Whistle-blowers given protection. A quick search for Xintai (the name of the city and mental hospital) on the English version of Xinhua returned this lovely picture:

My Mandarin is a little rusty, but I'm going to guess it reads "Sorry, your search has returned no results, but look at these cute cats... so cute".

* with apologies to John Cassavetes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

"During I arrived..."

Watching the Daily Show today I had the pleasure of seeing clips from this interview of George W. Bush by Charlie Gibson of ABC. When asked about his part in the Wall Street financial meltdown, President Bush had this to say:

W: You know, I been the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written people will realize that a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over, y'know, uh, a decade or so before I arrived at President, during I arrived at President.*

Are you kidding me? "...during I arrived at President."? They're giving this man a library? He's thinking of going on the lecture circuit?

* may be "in President", not "at President".

Friday, December 5, 2008

Au revoir, mon cowboy?

Has Stephen Harper given up on Quebec? Has Quebec said au revoir to the cowboy from Calgary? My friend Rob at the Tyee wrote a good piece about just that possibility (snipped below). Thanks, Stephen Harper, for fomenting separatist feeling in Quebec, just when it seemed to be slowly fading.... and good luck in the next federal election. His Quebec MPs were just thrown under the bus (apologies for being trite, but apparently it's the political phrase of the year).

Has Harper Hurt National Unity? :: News ::

After years of courting Quebec voters in the hopes of winning that elusive parliamentary majority, Stephen Harper made it clear this week he was done playing nice with la belle province.
If there needs to be a time out, Milner says, the prime minister and his baffling attacks on "the separatists" bear much of the blame.
In any case, the events of the last few days suggest Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, a Quebec native whose financial statement kicked off the political/constitutional/national unity chain of events, may have overstated things when he told a reporter earlier this year "the whole Quebec secession issue is gone."
"Indirectly you're saying that half the French Canadians in Quebec are devil-worshippers. It's not something that goes over well," he said, adding that the prime minister's "incendiary" comments suggest he may have written Quebec off.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Web diversion

Sick of the Parliamentary crisis? Take a break and have a dorky chuckle at the webcomics at xkcd. Like this one:

or this one:

How is this all playing in Quebec? Harper plays patriot game

...risks angering Quebec voters, many of whom have voted for the Bloc Québécois in the past and may resent the suggestion that BQ support is illegitimate...

He did not, however, use the word “separatist” in the French version of his speech, preferring the less-inflammatory term, “souverainistes.”

In Quebec, Premier Jean Charest said after hearing Mr. Harper's televised address that Quebec doesn't need anti-sovereigntist rhetoric from the federal government while it copes with the global economic crisis.

Quebecers say ‘Good riddance!’ to Harper: poll | Jerad Gallinger

The poll, conducted by CROP for La Presse, found that 76 percent of respondants would favour a coalition should the Conservative government be defeated. 62 percent thought that the Bloc Québécois should be a part of the coalition and have seats at the cabinet table, while 70 percent felt that the Bloc should support the new government even if they are not an official part of the coalition.

Adam M On The Front Page:

Once again, nothing is stoking the flames of the hitherto recently sleeping separatist movement as Stephen Harper's constant insults to Quebec's elected MP's. This is an insult and citizens of Quebec are taking it as such.

The separatist sentiment that this insanity is bringing out in people in Quebec risks reviving the PQ's polls in the ongoing Quebec election. Stephen Harper is giving something for the Quebecois to be indignant about: suggesting that their members are illegitimate and that their vote don't count.

Federal polling VI - coalition numbers

CTV released polling numbers on the coalition.

Do Canadians think the government should remain in power?

"Canadians are deeply divided on whether the Conservatives deserve to stay in power, with 35 per cent saying the party should continue to govern and 40 per cent wanting change..."

Hmmmm....35% is about what the Conservatives got in the last election, which is within the poll's margin of error. So, no more divided than before this "crisis".*

If the coalition falls, Canadians would want:
- Opposition coalition: 37 per cent
- Holding a federal election: 32 per cent
- No sure: 24 per cent
- Allowing the opposition to run by accord: 7 per cent

"A full 75 per cent thought the government should implement a stimulus package as soon as possible, while 17 per cent disagreed."

* Yes, I realize that 25% of respondents weren't sure, and some of those will be more likely to support the current government while others will be more likely to support a new coalition government. For the record, I'm in the "don't think the coalition is a great idea but I can't imagine Harper continuing as PM after he steered his party into this debacle so something has to change and I voted for a coalition party so I may as well support their bid for forming a not-batshit-crazy government" group.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Now they're getting desperate

Have you read about the flag issue today? Holy desperate, Batman. Stephen Harper had this to say in the House today: - UPDATED: On second thought, I think I prefer him wrapping himself in the flag …

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, as part of the culmination of the machinations of the leader of the NDP, we had these three parties together forming this agreement, signing a document, and they would not even have the Canadian flag behind them. They had to be photographed without it.

It turns out to be a complete falsehood. Either it was a deliberate lie or a horrible oversight, given the prominence of the flags in the background at the announcement of the accord yesterday.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Harper's hypocrisy

Now, I try to remain relatively non-partisan on here, but at times partisan criticism is unavoidable. And I don't mean to suggest with this post that the other parties and leaders are above hypocrisy, forgetting history or going back on their word. But this is getting to be a bit much. Here are three blatant cases of hypocrisy from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives:

1) Making it law that elections would happen on fixed dates, and stating that they shouldn't be called for purely political reasons. This was standard Chretien procedure that the Conservatives decried and then made illegal. "Fixed election dates stop leaders from trying to manipulate the calendar simply for partisan political advantage," our PM said. Then he went ahead and did it anyway.

2) Decrying the proposed Liberal-NDP-(Bloc) coalition as undemocratic, decrying the two parties for jumping in bed with the "separatists", and crying foul because the NDP and Bloc discussed the possibility of a coalition before the current crisis. Um, Sept. 9th, 2004, anyone? A letter was sent to then G-G Adrienne Clarkson asking her to consider dissolving Parliament (Martin's minority government was about to take power) before it had even started, and that the opposition parties had been "in close consultation"; this letter was signed by Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe and...wait for it....Stephen Harper! And Mr. Harper, it's part of our democratic system.

3) Mocking the NDP's association with the Liberals. From today in the House: “Why should anybody have confidence in the leader of a party who would agree to fold his own party into another party?” Can he be serious? Is he just mocking Peter McKay outright? Doesn't he remember being intimately involved in the formation of his own party?

Does this man have no sense of history? Or does he think we just don't remember any of it? Bizarre.

Parliament to be prorogued?

From a Conservative press conference today with Jim Prentice and James Moore: - Not with a bang but a press conference

5:58:39PM Question from CanWest: Is proroguing “on the table”? The government will consider “all options” - but Keith Boag wonders what other options there *are*, exactly.

Does the government have any precedent for *its* position, wonders another reporter. The precedence is “common sense”, according to Prentice. Which isn’t actually precedence.

And this from a completely unreliable source:

A supposed Conservative staffer in Ottawa just wrote to my friend (a journalist) that they just concluded a meeting where they (some MPs and staff) were informed that Parliament would in fact be prorogued this week.

I say supposed because my friend doesn't know who it is he is emailing with. He was trying to find out what the story was with the Draft John Baird website, and in his email exchange with the anonymous contact person they mentioned the above tidbit.

So, totally unsubstantiated and most likely a piece of propaganda from an opposition party. Still, pretty fun.

Our next PM?

John Ivison: Michael Ignatieff would be PM in a Liberal-led coalition - Full Comment

Michael Ignatieff will become Prime Minister in a Liberal-led coalition government if the opposition parties succeed in bringing down the Conservatives in a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons next week and if the Governor-General deems it to be a viable alternative, sources said late last night.

It is understood that the plan will be presented to the Liberal caucus Monday at 1 p.m.

It will be interesting to see if this (the presentation to caucus) comes to pass, and whether it will get leaked to the media.

Edit: Guess Ivison was a bit off on this one. The CBC is reporting that Dion will be lead the coalition. So he might not go down in Canadian political history as the only Liberal leader to not be Prime Minister.