Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On dit Non!

Amnesty International released its annual report on human rights and there was a fair amount of attention given to US violations in places like Guantanamo and the other military prisons. The report condemned the US administration for holding people without charge, without communication and in miserable conditions including torturing them. The Nobel Prize winning NGO went as far as saying Guantanamo, and its ilk, is the Gulag of our times.1
The release of the report summarily brought a condemnation of AI. The inevitable comparisons between the US human rights record and that of horrid dictatorships (as an example of how decent and noble the US is), invoking September 11th, 2001 and the war on terror, and the dismissal of AI as an anti-American organization, all were brought up in the various articles and op-eds in the Toronto Star, Washington Post and New York Times.

In Canadian politics, a growing scandal is erupting over discussion between Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal and Liberal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh.2 Grewal alleges the Liberals were trying to bribe him into abstaining or voting with them during the recent confidence vote. Long discussion tapes were released where Dosanjh and a representative from the PMO carfully discussed what could/would happen if Grewal supported them or abstained in the vote. But for bribery there is likely as much chance that Grewal was asking as the Liberals were offering (which doesn't really say much for either of them).

The secret identity of Deep Throat was also confirmed to be Mark Felt. The former deputy chief of the FBI was on the short list of those suspected of being the famous informant that brought down the Nixon presidency. Felt, now in his early 90s and retired, as passed up by Nixon for chief of the FBI and was annoyed by the Whitehouse's interference in investigating the Watergate break in.

Finally, the French public has voted No on a referendum about accepting the EU constitution. The constitution was approved in the French parliament, but Chirac said there had to be a referendum and it was thrown back in his face. The unpopular president spent more time threatening the dangers of voting no than promoting the benefits of voting yes. In fact most parties across the spectrum were telling the French public to vote yes and they didn't listen, presumably in defiance of being told what to do. There was also the fear that the EU constitution is too free-market oriented (ironically, the English think the opposite). The Netherlands are going to have a similar referendum shortly and they are polling a No result as well. It's not really known if these rejections will cause revisions to the constitution or if they may just vote again on the same one.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Canadian politics for the past week or so has completely revolved around Belinda Stronach. Paul Martin's Liberal government has survived a hard fought non-confidence vote from the Conservative and Bloc parties. It was a real squeaker,1 passed by just one tie breaking vote from the Speaker of the House. A key vote was cast for the budget (which is the confidence motion they were voting on) was cast by Chuck Cadman, an independent who was formally with the Conservative party.
Before the vote, however, there was a big shocker in Ottawa when former Conservative leadership contender Belinda Stronach left the Conservative party to become the Liberal Minister of Human Resources2, and the rarely mentioned (though she touts it greatly) Minister for Democratic Reform. This move, I understand, was a long time coming because of the ongoing dispute between Harper and Stronach. Stronach, who is a classic small c conservative didn't agree with some Conservative party (that is Alliance/Reform party) policies. The tension with Harper and the Conservatives joining forces with the Bloc to force an election was apparently enough to push her to leave the party. After consultations with David Peterson, arrangements were made in secret for her to join the Liberals. The shift was necessary for passing the vote and maintaining the government since every vote mattered.
In her move, Stronach has struck a blow to Harper and the Conservatives. Harper did his utmost to try to bring down the government and force an early election, but polls show now that even if there had been one, the Liberals would have likely gotten another minority. This has implications for Harper; if he can't win an election against the embattled, corrupt Liberals, then he probably can't win an election at all.
Stronach's own career however will also suffer because of this. She has said she's disappointed with the Consevatives, but she still is a conservative herself. This party change has given her a cabinet post, but that is likely as far as she'll ever get. Though maybe that's more than her former boyfriend Peter MacKay will get. He said he's been left worse for wear by the break up with Stronach, though it didn't seem to phase her one bit. Indeed, Stronach seems to be full of hope. Well I'll say she's definitely full of something...


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Safety and Stability

I've been thinking about a lot of stuff lately so this post will be a little scatter-brained, but that's why it's my blog. Please note that some of the stuff is a little disturbing, fair warning.

The opposition in the House of Commons has settled down a bit. Harper and the opposition members were disrupting the progress of parliament since they tried to hold a confidence vote, which the Liberals summarily lost and did not recognize. They've agreed to let Parliament get on with things for the next few days since Martin and Finance Minister Ralph Goodale have said they will deliver a budget on thursday of this week and that will be a confidence vote. Just to clarify, when government operates it must do so with the confidence of the House of Commons. Official confidence votes, such as votes on important matters of national interest or budget votes etc. if lost or ammended to by the opposition are supposed to instigate elections. So it seems all parties will be trying to call in as many MPs as they can for the upcoming budget vote this week.

In the US, Bush's nomination of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN has been stymied by not being approved by the Senate Foreign Relations panel. Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio sided with the Democrats stating he had heard enough about Bolton to question his approval as Ambassador to UN.1 The panel has agreed to let his nomition go to the Senate for an approval vote without their recommendation. This is a bit of a slap in the face for Bush, who's been trying to leave his mark in his second term with the selection of hard right wing appointees to key positions.

In Uzbekistan, President Karimov has been trying to calm things in the country and ease tensions and criticism from other countries because of recent violent outbreaks.2 Protestors have been against the government authoritarian rule and demanding certain prisoners be released. The government has said those prisoners are members of outlawed religious extremist groups. Rioters that broke into a prison in the city of Andijan were fired upon by government forces. Numbers vary but between 100 and 300 are believed to have been killed because of the incident. President Karimov, who has been leader since 1990, tried to defend the use of force as a necessary reaction. Unrest continues in the country.

I've also been reading about the genocide that occurred in Rwanda a decade ago. I should probably mention that some of the descriptions are graphic and disturbing so be warned. Anyway, one thing that I've noticed in the witness descriptions of the killings in Rwanda is how similar it sounds to some of the other stuff I've read. For example, the following accounts are from three different countries:

I) [...] had her breasts cut off. Then they cut into her chest and took out her heart. The men had their arms broken, their testicles cut off, and their eyes poked out. They were killed by slitting their throats, and pulling the tongue out through the slit. ... a 14 year old girl who was gang raped and then decapitated, her head placed on a stake at the entrance to her village as a warning.

II) [They] moved [...] hacking with machetes. Some people died immediately, while others with terrible wounds begged for their lives or the lives of their children. No one was spared. A pregnant woman was disembowelled and her fetus severed. ... Children begged for their lives and received the same treatment as their parents. Genitalia were a favourite target, the victims left to bleed to death.

III) people whose families had been hacked to death by [...] or who had crawled from under a pile of bodies of trapped civilians cut to pieces with machetes and mutilated by [them] ...

One of these countries is Rwanda and depending on which books you've read you'll know what the other two countries are and which description fits with which country. The Rwandan attacks were 10 years ago, the others were 20 years and 30-40 years ago. I do of course have great respect for the various authors of the books that I've taken these witness accounts from and I don't think people are aware of the kind of slaughter, devastation and mayhem that goes on in the world; and who is supporting it. The attackers in at least two of these countries (Rwanda being one) were supplied and tacitly supported by the French and the Belgians. Apparently the trade in arms is more important than trying to stop massacres.

1. Voinovich joined Democrats in questioning Bolton's suitability for the post.
2. Skirmishes continue in Uzbekistan.

Monday, May 09, 2005

See the forest for the...

Blair won another majority in his fresh, new third term in office. No sooner had he finished giving his thanks that members of the Labour party began calling for his resignation. Labour won a majority, but far less of a majority than it previously held, indicative of a loss of confidence in the Labour leadership. The loss was picked up mostly by the Liberal Democrat party and the Conservative party as well. The majority Labour had was about cut in half to some 67 seats (in the British House of Commons with 646 seats).

The insurgence in Iraq has taken a turn for the worse in the past few weeks. In spite of the many claims of the US occupation force, the elected members of government taking control has not broken the backs of the insurgents. Neither did any of the other things that the Bush administration claimed would break the insurgency; like the capture of Saddam, the raid on Fallujah, the handover of power, etc. ad nauseam. Bush has also taken a noticeable plunge in the polls since winning the election. The nominations the Republicans have been trying to make aren't terribly popular. Bush just selected David Wilkins, a South Carolina lawmaker and evangelical, as the new Ambassador to Canada. The appointment still requires Senate confirmation. Wilkins has only been to Canada once, some 3 decades ago, and apparently knows very little about us, including where maple syrup comes from...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Paul Martin's Sad Irony

The future of Paul Martin's Liberal government is up in the air. Martin's tv gambit seems to have given him a bounce in the polls; apparently knowing that an election will be called once the Gomery inquiry is over was good enough for Canada's voters. I don't know that this really instills any more faith in Martin, but waiting for an election early next year is ok for the election wary populace. Even with the NDP's support however, this may not be enough to hold off an election.
Unfortunately for Martin, Stephen Harper has decided he will attempt to bring down the Liberal government as soon as he can. Harper was a little hesitant to attempt a non-confidence motion before when he would have had a clear lead, but perhaps wants to attempt one now while he still has high hopes. A clear sign of Canada's lack of confidence in Harper, or fear of even, is that he still doesn't have enough popularity to form a clear majority. The exposure of massive corruption over the past several years from major federal Quebec Liberals has shaken the Canadian trust in the party, but not enough for them to trust Stephen Harper's Conservative party. Based on current polls, the best Harper could do now is form a minority government.
To add to the mix, the Bloc Quebecois would do very well if an election were called. They'd apparently sweep Quebec, with the exception of a few stalwart Liberal ridings. Because of this the Liberals and NDP have said the Conservatives are trying to support the separatists. Harper threw that argument back at the Liberals saying they've done the most to support separatists by perpetrating the massive fraud in the first place.
Because a confidence vote could happen soon, the Liberals and other parties are making sure that all members are available in the House of Commons. Martin even called back the Minister for Veteran's Affairs from a VE ceremony in the Netherlands. He said he regretted the decision but had no choice since he wanted to preserve his government.
It's pretty ironic that Martin created such a huff about becoming PM while Chretien was sticking around. Then he went from taking the mantle, to being expected to win a clear majority, to being lucky to get a minority, to being lucky if he makes it through two years as Prime Minister (barely a year if you count from when he won the election rather than taking over for Chretien). I guess if Paul Martin loses his leadership of the country he'll only have his vast fortune to comfort him... how sad.