Thursday, June 25, 2009

An open letter to Senator Anne Cools about 90sAREover and the Richard Warman allegation

Dear Senator Cools,

There has been some buzz in recent days about the testimony of Professor Robert Martin of the University of Western Ontario regarding Human Rights Commissions, which (if you haven't heard it already) can be heard here (loading can be slow, so be patient).

Professor Martin, who spoke in his testimony of his high regard for you and noted that he regarded you as a dear friend, seems to have been especially exercised by allegations that Richard Warman was responsible for a nasty racist screed about you -- so nasty, that he wouldn't (quite rightly) repeat its words. (Nor will I.)

The problem with Martin's testimony is that Warman didn't write that post. He has denied the matter under oath and has sued for defamation those who have made the allegation in unprivileged circumstances. Moreover, the allegation was debunked over a year ago, largely on the internet (from where all these allegations began), including at my site.

One of the basic facts, as you may know, is that that the racist post in question was made by someone using the pseudonym "90sAREover". The allegation that this was Warman depends on the claim that "90sAREover" had the same IP as "lucy" (Warman's pseudonym) and a computer with the same set-up.
  • the IP in question, however, was a web-caching proxy shared by most Rogers customers, as I have shown in a post called "Why there is room for doubt that Richard Warman wrote the Cools post". To summarize a long and technical argument, 90sAREover could have been any Rogers customer, or anyone with access to the computer of any Rogers internet customer. This could have been millions of individuals.
  • It has also been claimed that Warman's computer was set-up identically to the one that made the racist post. This would not be especially helpful even if true: something over 10% of users had their computers set-up that way (see here), and 10% of millions is still hundreds of thousands. The set-up, however, was not identical. In a post called "why Richard Warman is innocent" , I demonstrate that the computer used to write the racist post was different in at least one key respect from Warman's computer, with the result that they must have been computers.
The technical argument of my posts may be unintelligible to you, and there is no reason that you should believe me -- an anonymous guy on the internet. If you forward this letter to someone knowledgeable in these matters they will confirm to you that there is no good evidence that Warman made the post in question. (That the IP was a proxy and therefore represents a potentially vast pool of users has been endorsed, for example, by the Conservative blog Catprint in the Mash.)*

During his testimony, Prof. Martin said that you personally were greatly agitated at Warman for these remarks. You have every right to be agitated about this post. But not at Warman, who did not make it.

Obviously, if you have any questions that I can help with, I'd be happy to do so.

Best regards,


Edited to clarify catprint's analysis.*

Monday, June 22, 2009

The end of rubber ducky

I'm sure that I'm not the only one to react to the following story with shock and dismay:Canada to pull plug on ‘rubber duck' chemicals:
Health Canada plans to ban the “rubber duck chemicals,” six compounds widely used in the manufacture of soft plastic children's toys, after similar restrictions in the United States and the European Union.

Scientists have raised alarms about the compounds, known as phthalates, because they may block the production of testosterone, a critical male hormone.

There is growing scientific evidence – disputed by makers of the chemical – that everyday exposures can cause a slight feminization of baby boys, particularly during fetal development.

Phthalates are among the most common chemicals added to plastic, making it more pliable and less brittle. They are also found in cosmetics and other personal care products, although the new Health Canada regulations would not cover that variety, known as DEP.

Health Canada also said it would propose a cut to the amount of lead allowed in consumer products, such as paints on toys and children's jewellery.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement that the measures would “help ensure that products intended for children are safe.… This is part of our overall effort to ensure that families have confidence in the quality and safety of what they buy.”
And, so, in memory of the passing of our dear friend the rubber duck, I offer you this musical interlude:

National Aboriginal Day reminds us there's lots still to be done

Before it slips my mind, it's useful to note that yesterday was National Aboriginal Day across Canada. Ceremonies were held across the country. Some of this was celebratory, of course, but there are some sad things to remember, too, including Canada's sad legacy with regard to residential schools, as this story in the Globe reminds us.
While National Aboriginal Day was marked across the country yesterday with celebrations of culture and community gathering, in Saskatoon there was a sombre tone as survivors of Indian residential schools were honoured.

Speakers included Ted Quewezance, who was taken from his family at the age of five and shipped to a residential school, where he said he was sexually abused for five years.

"I remember the day I was taken away," said Mr. Quewezance, whose voice broke as he talked about the difficulty of reliving his childhoor horrors.

Survivors have already received apologies and compensation from the federal government, and earlier this year Pope Benedict expressed sorrow for what had happened at the schools, about 75 per cent of which were run by the Catholic Church.
And, of course, is the lingering challenges with reforming the Indian Act and making native self-government a reality.

For coverage of a lot of these issues, it is worth visiting, Meaghan Walker Williams blog as well as the official Meaghan Walker Williams article archive (for several years she reported for the MSM on aboriginal issues).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stay classy, Vic!

Toews IgnatieffThe Lac Dubet Leader is reporting that Vic Toews has sent an anti-Ignatieff leaflet as his constituency mailing (link).
Provencher MP Vic Toews got in on the smear campaign action last week, sending out a mailing to his constituents painting Ignatieff as a Ukrainian-hater. Toews takes some Ignatieff quotes that could be interpreted as racial slurs toward Ukrainians and displays them completely out-of-context, giving the impression that Ignatieff has an ax to grind with anyone of Ukrainian ancestry.

The two quotes come from Ignatieff’s book Blood and Belonging, which explores Russian stereotypes of Ukrainians. At first the glance the quotes are provocative, but only because they’re being read completely apart from the book they’re taken from.

It is material that was fairly thoroughly discussed in 2006 when Ignatieff was running for leader the first time around.

I'm not surprised, of course, that Conservatives would want people of Ukrainian descent to see these quotes. It does surprise me, however, that a prominent minister would want his own name so closely associated with something that's a bit, well, sleazy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Will you take a cheque?

Here's an interesting one. Italian police report that they found some U.S. government bonds found in the false bottom of a suitcase. The suitcase belonged to two Japanese travelers who were about to cross into Switzerland. (link):
The bonds, with a face value of more than $134 billion, are probably forgeries, Colonel Rodolfo Mecarelli of the Guardia di Finanza in Como, Italy, said today. If the notes are genuine, the pair would be the U.S. government’s fourth-biggest creditor, ahead of the U.K. with $128 billion of U.S. debt and just behind Russia, which is owed $138 billion.
That's a heck of a surprise on your credit card bill.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tapes show that Raitt cares most about pleasing Harper

Stephen Maher, the reporter who broke the Raitt tapes for the Chronicle Herald, adds some perspective today (here; archive link).
What I find most surprising about the recording of Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is not what she says, but what she doesn’t say. …

At no point does she show any concern for the issues that Canadians pay her to look after.

When she discusses wind power and the medical isotope crisis, she only expresses concern for them in relation to her career hopes.

She doesn’t say: "I hope we make sure that wind producers are getting the support they need to develop their industry."

Instead, she is worried that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will blame her for a leak to CanWEA, the wind producers’ association. Someone in her department had let on to the group that they were going to get an expanded development fund to build wind farms in the budget.

The money wasn’t in the budget, though, and Ms. Raitt suspects Environment Minister Jim Prentice had taken it and steered it toward carbon sequestration in the oilsands, which is sure to put a glint in the eye of Calgary oil executives.

Ms. Raitt doesn’t care about that. She is afraid that Mr. Harper may blame her for the leak.
This, of course, is point similar to what I wrote here.

And for those wondering about the rest of the tapes, note this paragraph:
In the section of the recording that we have been able to decipher (we are now having the recording cleaned up electronically so we can hear more of the conversation), Ms. Raitt speaks to an aide about cabinet colleagues, her career ambitions and — over and over again — what might please or displease Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
So there might be a lot more to come.

Hmm ... who really left those notes at CTV

From today's Toronto Star:
But there was one sign she, too, perhaps suffers from the forgetfulness that cost MacDonnell her job.

Raitt was heading off the stage when she stopped, grimaced and walked back.

She'd left her speech on the podium.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The perils of having a big-screen tv

Spector on Oliphant

Norman Spector makes some interesting observations about the Oliphant inquiry into Karlheinz Schreiber's dealings with Mulroney and his government.
Under Jean Chrétien's Liberals, the project was put to death in less than two years; during the Conservative era, it proved impossible to kill. How can one explain the differing response to Mr. Schreiber's aggressive lobbying?

It was certainly not due to any change in his modus operandi: To counter the consistent opposition of the public service, Mr. Schreiber spent freely, engaging well-connected lobbyists of both political stripes. And their advice to Mr. Schreiber was consistent: Get the project out of the hands of the public service and raise it to the political level.
The rest makes an interesting contrast between the way Chretien's and Mulroney's governments handled similar pressures.

Paul Wells nails it: the real shame in the Raitt scandal

Yesterday I wrote and complained about Raitt's approach to policy. Paul Wells today makes a similar, though fuller and more subtle, point today (link):
There’s no point getting on too much of a high horse about all this. Everybody likes to get credit, and in politics when you enhance your reputation by doing good it puts you in a position to do more good. But that conversation was recorded in January. And since it is now five months since Raitt was so eager to be thanked, it would be cheering if she had done more in that time that deserved thanks. No such luck: Chalk River was shut down after she made these comments, it remains shut down, and there is no reason for optimism about its chances of starting back up any time soon.
Wells extends his analysis to make a sociological observation about the nature of minority government:
This is how it goes lately in Ottawa. We are now five years into a string of successive minority governments that began when Paul Martin nearly lost the 2004 election. There is no reason to expect the winner of the next election to have a majority either. It could be Stephen Harper, it could be Michael Ignatieff, but neither will command a majority in the House. So the distinguishing feature of post-Chrétien Canadian politics—its precariousness—will continue.

Which means just about every parliamentarian will continue to spend part of the day thinking the way Lisa Raitt did on that tape. Will your staff shield you on the issues? Or will you roll the dice and hope for all the credit? It’s all about jockeying for position, because in a state of constant combat readiness, position is all you have. In government you can’t plan, because in six months you might no longer be the minister. In opposition you can’t say what you would do differently, because even if you know, you need to keep it under wraps until the campaign that’s eternally around the corner.
This is, of course, correct. But just because there is this danger implicit in minority governments doesn't mean that it we can't hold someone responsible. Who?
Note that this eternal short-term memory syndrome isn’t the certain fate of any minority Parliament. Just this one. Stable minorities have often formed, in various provinces or in Ottawa’s past, when a governing party could reach out to one or two other parties. But Stephen Harper doesn’t trust anyone enough. He keeps power and authority too close to him to build stable relationships with any of his opponents. In fact, he keeps his own ministers out of the loop on any serious issue. Bureaucrats in the ministries talk about getting “the full Langevin,” when the Prime Minister’s staff in the Langevin Block, across the street from the House of Commons, take over a hot file and push a minister’s department out of the way.

We interrupt our regular program …

… for a musical interlude.

    Oh, Dear! what can the matter be?
    Jasmine's suing for privacy!
    Five hours, left in the lavat'ry!
    What will those tapes have to say?

    Oh Dear! what can the matter be?
    MPs getting all blustery!
    Someone's speaking too frank-i-ly
    What will the press have to say?

    Oh Dear! what can the matter be?
    "dice rolls" and "cancer can be sexy"!
    hey, hey! where's the apology?
    and what will Harper have to say?

    Oh dear! what can the matter be?
    my, my, now that's an apology!
    mem'ries offered so tearily!
    but what else will the tapes have to say?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raitt: "if it's just about money, we'll figure it out"

There is, of course, a good deal of snideness being said about Lisa Raitt these days and her political observations, which have become public by what can only be described as bad luck for her and good luck for Stephen Maher, who is in the process of putting together a string of noteworthy stories.

Now she is on the receiving end of a string of snipes. That is politics. There is, however, a policy end to this that is also rather disturbing.

The conversations were made in January, when troubles began to appear at Chalk River. Her take on the crisis is here:
“You know what? Good. Because when we win on this, we get all the credit. I’m ready to roll the dice on this. This is an easy one. You know what solves this problem? Money. And if it’s just about money, we’ll figure it out.”
Today, of course, we've learned from the Prime Minister that, no, money isn't going to fix it (link):
Harper told the media there's no quick fix to the shortage of medical isotopes caused by the shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear reactor and that in time Canada will no longer produce isotopes at all.

"Eventually, we anticipate Canada will be out of the business" of making isotopes, Harper said, adding that it was a difficult decision but the government determined that "we can't spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars and never produce an isotope."

Now, it seems to me safe to assume that it is not Lisa Raitt's fault that medical isotope production will end in Canada. But surely I'm not the only one to be concerned about what these comments reveal about this minister's approach to policy. It's not just that she seems more interested in getting political credit than solving the underlying problem — hey, if she would have been able to fix this, she should have gotten credit! The problem is that she seems to assume that the solution is money. "And if it's just about money, we'll figure it out."

We now learn, however, that it's not just about money. And if the minister had been looking for solutions other than money earlier, the government may have been able to avoid being in the position that it finds itself in now: scrambling to find a way to minimize the number of cancer patients who will die because someone fucked up.

Senior Conservative official: apology delayed because Raitt 'crying and feeling sorry for herself'

Why didn't Raitt apologise sooner? A "very senior" government official is quoted as saying (link):
"She was in her office crying and feeling sorry for herself."

What else, one wonders, is in those tapes?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The drip, drip, drip begins: Raitt thought clean energy funds diverted to oil producers

And now it begins. Stephen Maher has five hours of Raitt's musing about life, the universe, and everything. Out of this he will be able (one assumes) to mine a week or two worth of stories. Today, we learn that Raitt was concerned about how the environment ministry under Jim Prentice was channelling clean energy funds towards Alberta:
Money earmarked to support wind energy producers was diverted to research and development in the oil patch in backroom budget wrangling, the minister of natural resources said in a conversation with an aide in January.

Lisa Raitt told aide Jasmine MacDonnell that she suspects Environment Minister Jim Prentice took the money for wind power and redirected it to his Clean Energy Plan – a $1-billion fund for research and development in the oil sands.
Money quote:
“I would have no way of knowing that. I understand that's what happened. My suspicion is, what I told you, that Jim took the money for his clean energy plan. They said 'Ah, they don't need it.' There should never have been any choice. No one asked my opinion on it. If they had, I would have lobbied. Maybe that's why I'm invited to P and P (priority and planning, a cabinet committee). Oh, the prime minister's not going to like that.”

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Next on Raitt's hitlist: Joy Smith

And now from the Winnipeg Free Press:
she also makes disparaging remarks about Winnipeg Conservative MP Joy Smith.

Raitt said Smith had made a bad move by introducing a private member’s bill that would bring in mandatory minimum sentences for the human-trafficking of children.

"Speaking of career-limiting moves, I’m in shock that MP, Joy Smith, brought forward private member’s legislation on human trafficking," Raitt says on the tape.

Smith had just introduced the bill that week.

"She’s on Canada AM. And the reason being, is that there’s no way any of us should be introducing anything around justice issues or finance issues right now. You just can’t touch those two things."

Is an apology too much to ask for?

Apparently not if you are another Conservative minister. Apology offered and accepted.
Canwest: Health minister accepts colleague's apology for taped remarks:

    Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has accepted her colleague Lisa Raitt's apology for disparaging remarks made about her that were caught on an audio tape, and says she's putting the ordeal behind her so she can concentrate on her work.

If, however, you might be just a little offended that cancer be described as "sexy"? Not so much.
CTV: Harper and Raitt stand defiant in political storm:

    Despite intense pressure, however, both Raitt and Harper refused to give an inch as both stopped short of even issuing a formal apology.

Metroland: Harper, Raitt unapologetic for 'sexy' cancer comment:

    An unbowed Stephen Harper is standing by his embattled and unapologetic natural resources minister, dismissing the storm of criticism swirling around Lisa Raitt.

    Opposition parties and cancer survivors called for Raitt's resignation - or at least an apology - Tuesday for describing the shortage of isotopes used in cancer tests as a "sexy" issue from which she could benefit politically.

    They got neither.

Update. Teary Raitt says she's sorry

Raitt: Environment minister Prentice "panders to oil sands"

I suggested earlier today that there will probably be more coming out of the Raitt tapes. Sure enough, it's started. Another Conservative minister is slagged. From Oil Week magazine:
OTTAWA _ Yet another federal cabinet minister is being dragged into the Lisa Raitt taped-conversation controversy.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice is the second minister subjected to a less-than-flattering assessment from the natural resources minister.

Sources familiar with the tape say Raitt suggests her colleague is pandering to Alberta´s oil sands.

What makes that observation surprising is that Raitt _ as natural resources minister _ is responsible for defending the oil sands, while Prentice is responsible for reducing carbon emissions.

Sources say the Conservatives are bracing for more unwanted headlines from a five-hour audio tape obtained by the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

In the first such story, the Halifax newspaper quoted Raitt questioning the abilities of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

The five-hour recording was made by accident and found by a Herald reporter.

More to come from the Raitt tapes?

The Chronicle Herald, the paper whose reporter Stephen Maher broke the Raitt tapes, reported this morning on the court case arising out of Jasmine MacDonnell's request for an injunction.  About half way down is this interesting detail about the contents of MacDonell's recorder:
The last of the 15 files on the recorder was more than five hours long and consisted of a series of conversations between Ms. Raitt and Ms. MacDonnell as they were travelling in British Columbia."
We have heard perhaps 30 seconds of this discussion so far -- perhaps the most damaging. But there may be other details coming.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Raitt on nuclear isotope crisis: "I'm ready to roll the dice on this"

Chronicle Herald story about Riatt is now posted.
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt called the medical isotopes crisis "sexy," said she wanted to take credit for fixing it, and expressed doubts about the skills of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on a recording obtained by The Chronicle Herald.

Money quote:
“You know what? Good. Because when we win on this, we get all the credit. I’m ready to roll the dice on this. This is an easy one. You know what solves this problem? Money. And if it’s just about money, we’ll figure it out. It’s not a moral issue.”

“No,” says Ms. MacDonnell. “The moral and ethical stuff around it are just clear.”

“It’s really clear,” says Ms. Raitt. “Oh. Leona. I’m so disappointed.”

Who is paying for the lawyers? And what did Harper know and when did he know it?

Over at BCer in TO Jeff Jadras points out that Soudas' denial is strangely specific. He points to David Aken's piece here,
Dimitri Soudas, press secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said no government department is involved in the hearing in Nova Scotia on Monday afternoon. Soudas said he had no knowledge of the matter. Steve Outhouse, who has replaced MacDonnell as Raitt's director of communications, also said his office had no knowledge of the matter.
"No government department" seems to be overly specific, leading Jeff to ask the obvious question whether the Conservative Party is involved.

The important question here, I suspect, is who is paying for MacDonnell's lawyer?

This is all the more important in light of another little nugget in Aken's story.
Canwest News Service has also learned that senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office were briefed on the contents of the tape last week.
which leads us to that old classic: "What did the Prime Minister know and when did he know it?

Update. Note the Conservative Party, apparently. From here:
Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada, said the party has no connection to the matter.

Update 2. From question period today, as reported in the Globe and Mail:
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson didn’t address the question, or the inference that at least the Conservative Party of Canada is paying the legal bills. “The minister [of Natural Resources] is not a party to the action and the Government of Canada is not involved.,” Mr. Nicholson said.

Update 3 This may not add anything of value, but Tim Powers, a Conservative operative who blogs
at the Globe and Mail wrote: "Ottawa is all in a lather again about a tape recorder left behind in a bathroom by an aide to Lisa Riatt". So is this how it started? A lost tape recorder?

Addicted to secrecy

James Bowie has broken another example of the Harper government's addiction to secrecy (now also at the Star). Apparently Jasmine MacDonnell, the aide who was fired over Raitt's brief-fook, had made a tape of a meeting that includes Raitt's unflattering comments about federal health minister Leona Agluukaq and other matters.

According to the Star
Justice Gerald Moir will hear the injunction motion by an as-yet unnamed applicant who is also seeking an order of confidentiality or publication ban. Such an order could block any publication of the identity of the applicant seeking to stop the newspaper from publishing, said spokesman John Piccolo.
Now, it is not especially surprising that the government will attempt to keep the public from hearing a leaked tape. But we are not even going to know who is applying for the injunction?

update More now at the Globe and Mail.
An unnamed applicant wants to prevent the Halifax Chronicle Herald from publishing a story by reporter Stephen Maher. The hearing will determine whether the article will be subject to a publication ban and whether the name of the applicant will remain confidential.

Sources said Ms. Raitt's former director of communications, Jasmine MacDonnell was the applicant in the court hearing to have the story quashed.

Ms. MacDonnell was dismissed from her job last week after a binder of documents marked “secret” relating to the nuclear industry in Canada was left behind at a CTV news studio in Ottawa after an interview with Ms. Raitt.

Dmitri Soudas, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said Monday that the government of Canada was not involved in the injunction.

Some reports suggested that Mr. Maher had listened to a recording, taped by Ms. MacDonnell, in which the minister makes uncomplimentary comments about Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

Liberal MP David McGuinty told the House he has heard that Ms. Raitt had been recorded making disparaging remarks about her colleague, Ms. Aglukkaq, “who she described as not very competent.”

Mr. McGuinty urged Ms. Raitt to say whether that was an accurate description of what is on the tape.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rose in Ms. Raitt's defence, saying the minister was not party to the court proceedings and reiterating Mr. Soudas's statement that the government was not involved.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Are Whites-Only Signs part of the Conservative vision for Ontario?

According to leadership candidate Frank Klees, apparently yes. He has introduced a private members bill (which you can see here) that would remove the prohibition of such signs from the Ontario Human Rights Code. If there could be any doubt as to what Klees intends to do, it is dispelled by the explanatory note he adds to the bill:
The Bill repeals section 13 of the Human Rights Code which prohibits a person from publishing or displaying before the public material that indicates the intention of the person to infringe a right under Part I of the Code.

Section 13 of the Code has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a core value of democracy from which all other rights naturally flow and without which our political system would perish.
There is, of course, a lot of room for debate about what limits, if any, should exist in regards to freedom of expression. But when it comes to any chilling effect of "Whites Only" signs, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would say "Chill away".

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Crossing the border for health care

No, not that border. Our neighbour's other one. According to UCLA researchers a million Californians cross the border to Mexico for health care each year.
The study by the school's Center for Health Policy Research, published Tuesday in the journal Medical Care, affirms what has long been suspected – that the untamable cost of medicine is forcing many, particularly Latino immigrants, to look outside California for medical and dental care. As casualties from the recession rise and as budget-strapped government programs eliminate health services, more people are expected to head south to fill prescriptions, get teeth fixed or undergo care for chronic illnesses.

According to the study, at least 952,000 California adults – 488,000 of them described by the study as Mexican immigrants and about a quarter as non-Latino whites – head south annually for their medical, dental and prescription services.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Universal health insurance and entrepreneurship

Washington Monthly has an interesting article on entrepreneurship and universal health care.  Universal health insurance, far from suppressing entrepreneurs, could be a boon to it.

The main reason for this is a phenomenon known as "job lock," a term coined during the last round of debate over universal health coverage in the early 1990s. Job lock refers to the fact that workers are often unwilling to leave a current job that provides health insurance for another position that might not, even if they would be more productive in that other position. This is because employer-provided insurance is traditionally the only reliable form of fairly priced private insurance coverage available in the U.S. The alternative is to purchase insurance in the nongroup market, where insurance prices and availability are typically not regulated, so insurance companies can drop individuals when they become ill or charge them exorbitant prices. As a result, individuals feel "locked" into less productive jobs.

Over the past fifteen years, dozens of studies have documented the detrimental impact that job lock has on the economy.