Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the Internet, Stupid is Forever

Sometimes I place things here just so there's a semi-permanent reminder of things so breathtakingly stupid they deserve to be preserved in free-floating electrons forever.

Yesterday, apropos of nothing, Edmonton Conservative MP Peter Goldring issued the following press release:
Warning: Consorting Without Protection Is Risky

OTTAWA – Peter Goldring, Member of Parliament for Edmonton East, today stated that MPs that consort with others should avail themselves of readily available risk protection for their health and integrity, to prevent besmirchment when encounters run awry.

“It will not be good enough to simply say that your intentions were honourable and you were just inviting a colleague to your apartment at two in the morning to play a game of Scrabble at the end of a day of playing sports and drinking. MPs must learn, as I have from encounters with authority figures in the past, that all do not tell the truth. I now wear ‘protection’ in the form of body-worn video recording equipment. I suggest that others do so too, particularly because some accusers hide behind a shield of supposed credibility which many times is not, and sometimes even hide behind a cloak of anonymity, which conceals their shameful indiscretion and complicity.”
Ummm... Goldring says as one of Harper's MPs he now wears "‘protection’ in the form of body-worn video recording equipment" to "prevent besmirchment when encounters run awry."

The backstory is likely Goldring's own encounter a while back with the local constabulary when pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. In 2011, according to the arresting officer,"Goldring, after an initial conversation, refused to roll his window all the way down for the breath test. The officer said Goldring refused to answer questions and sat behind the locked door of his vehicle and stared straight ahead." He was charged with refusing to blow. After a spirited defence at trial, he was acquitted in a decision that had a lot of legal observers scratching their heads.

So, Mr. Goldring's mania about recording everything and accusers hiding "behind a shield of supposed credibility which many times is not, and sometimes even hide behind a cloak of anonymity, which conceals their shameful indiscretion and complicity" is less about the current issue of MPs behaving badly and more about his own brush with the law. Plus some people just can't keep their mouths shut.

Only a few hours after Goldring's press release, the Prime Minister's Office no doubt gave him a hot earful and he issued a retraction, saying it was "inappropriate".

No word on his Robocop body cam, which I'm sure his Conservative caucus colleagues appreciate during closed door sessions and frequent chewings out by Harper. After all, you never know when you might be besmirched.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wars, Freedom and Liberty

Yesterday was Remembrance Day, and a particularly solemn one in light of the tragic murders of two soldiers on Canadian soil. It was also an awkward one for the Harper Government as veterans and their families regain their voices and increasingly speak out about the glaring disconnect between Harper's vision of Canada as a proud military power and how poorly his government looks after our old soldiers who now need and deserve our care and assistance.

With the centenary of the First World War being commemorated this year, it is rightly a time for reflections on that terrible war that cost 16 million lives with millions of others returning home terribly wounded. We do a disservice to the causes and effects of the Great War by repeating the simplistic history Harper and others put forward about what that war was about.

At the time WWI was touted as "The Great War For Civilization" and "freedom" and "liberty" were rallying cries for the Allies to continue to feed the horrific meat grinder of the battlefields of Europe. While "The Great War For Civilization" now sounds a little over the top, yesterday's Remembrance Day services did repeatedly keep referring to WWI being a war for freedom and liberty.

Modern scholarship, like Margaret MacMillan's wonderful book "The War That Ended Peace", explains the complexities of the beginning of WWI and the motivations behind the relentless stumbling towards conflict.

What World War One was not was a war of conquest. Except perhaps Austria-Hungary's ambitions in the small Balkan states, the rest of the war wasn't about a land grab in Europe. Unlike the Second World War when Hitler intended to add to Germany and create puppet states around it, World War One was expected to be a short military fight to "clear the air" and then everyone would go home. It was Bismarck's "diplomacy by other means" - a bloody nose to teach France and/or Russia a lesson and take them down a peg. Germany asked Belgium permission to travel through on its way to fight France and invaded when it was told no. It also tried to assure England that it had no interest in staying in France and hoped England would stay out of the fight while they sorted it out between them, which England seemed to have considered.

Except for swapping some African colonies and perhaps occupying part of ever-troublesome Serbia, no one was interested in having their flag fly permanently over a foreign country during WWI.

So when a hundred years later politicians still describe WWI as a war of freedom and liberty, it wasn't in the same sense as World War Two, when a truly evil government was bent on conquest and enslavement. No one wants an invading army in your country, and everyone rightly wants them to leave, but the Kaiser was no Hitler and he wasn't looking to enslave anyone. He was an immature, vain and short-sighted leader whose actions (along with others) led to war, but he wasn't at war to spread an ideology or make Germany bigger. It was a war about access to markets and raw materials and the personal rivalries of royal cousins, their generals and politicians.

Fighting for freedom and liberty? Certainly not in the sense that World War II was. World War One was a tragic and misguided conflict, but to repeat that countless men and women died in WWI for freedom is hardly true in any meaningful sense, especially compared to other conflicts that were about conquest or imposing an ideology on another country. Tellingly, WWI German war propaganda also told their soldiers that they were fighting for freedom ("Freiheit") as well.

As for "The Great War for Civilization", Germany, France, Austria and England were all at the height of their "civilization" before 1914. The war - although fought on both sides with barbaric ferocity - was not about anyone's desire to destroy civilization. The "barbaric Hun" was a useful wartime propaganda tool, but didn't reflect the sophistication of their pre-war society.

A hundred years later politicians who revel in a resurgent militarism repeat these tired phrases long since discredited, because no one will fight for corporate economic interests or the vanity of politicians, but you can still make people fight for freedom and liberty.

None of this takes away from the tragedy and sacrifice of the common soldier who inevitably pays the price for war, or our duty to remember the fallen. We simply owe it to them and future generations to be honest about what they made the ultimate sacrifice for and not hide it behind a false politician's slogan of "freedom and liberty".

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dean Del Mastro & Harper's Hobson's Choice

A convicted but noisily defiant Dean Del Mastro suddenly resigned as a Member of Parliament today.

Two days ago he was telling the world that he would go to the gates of hell trying to reopen his case after being convicted but before sentencing for what his press release called "fresh evidence". We haven't seen his "fresh evidence", but it appears it is some Elections Canada evidence that was disclosed at or before trial, but Dean and his legal eagles decided to roll the dice on it and didn't feel they needed to ask for an adjournment to review or contest.

But today Dean changed his tune from defiant and fight to the last breath, to resign immediately with what passes for political dignity. In his 15 minute resignation speech in the House of Commons today, Del Mastro was still defiant, defensive, self-congratulatory and expressed his undying love for the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives rewarded him with two things. First a standing ovation from the Government benches, which is odd for someone just convicted of willfully committing electoral fraud. Second, a proposed amendment yesterday from Conservative MP Tom Lukiwksi, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, amending the MPs' pension forfeiture rule that would limit the new rule to a specific list of criminal offences, coincidentally excluding a conviction under the Canada Elections Act.

So, Dean would get to keep his pension.

Harper was on the horns of a dilemma with Del Mastro's conviction on three courts of violating the Canada Elections Act, the most important of which was not the overspending, but the deliberate attempt to cover it up. The Canada Elections Act says clearly that anyone convicted of these offences is automatically stripped of their seat in the House of Commons and prohibited from running or holding office for 5 years. Parliament controls its own affairs, and Harper has in the past hidden behind a sympathetic and compliant Speaker and his majority to thumb his nose at everything up to and including being found in contempt of parliament - the only time it has ever happened in the Commonwealth.

Harper hates the courts and is determined to make sure Parliament (ie: Harper) is firmly placed above the courts. For him to implement a decision of the courts and Elections Canada regarding Del Mastro, his former parliamentary secretary and Ethics Committee member, would be to acknowledge the courts' authority over him. Not going to happen.

The other half of Harper's Hobson's choice was whether to kick out Del Mastro or not. If he kept him, he would have to fight the real observation that he was harbouring a convicted election cheat. If he kicked Del Mastro out, not only was he caving to the courts, but he was sending a lesson to the faithful that even his loyal foot soldier and attack dog would go under the bus when necessary. And there is no telling who the dog would bite once off the leash.

So in a remarkable about face, today Dean Del Mastro resigned his seat, still singing the praises of the Conservative Party.

What changed? His pension for one. One can imagine a scenario where Del Mastro was told by the PMO short pants brigade that if forced to make a decision, Harper would be forced to have his Conservative caucus vote him out of his seat, pensionless. In fact yesterday Peter van Loan - one of Harper's replacement attack dogs - indicated that the Conservatives might be forced to vote him out of the Commons and might not be able to protect his pension.

Unless - I'm guessing - Dean spares Harper the embarrassment of either keeping him or caving into the court and dismissing him through a vote.  In return, Dean keeps his pension (and possibly some unspecified token of future gratitude) and a small scrap of his dignity

Suddenly, defiant Dean turns on a dime and changes his tune and resigns full of love and praise for his (former) Conservative colleagues. He has fallen on his sword in return for keeping his pension and a farewell speech and Harper can scuttle off to China while the whole thing blows over.

Del Mastro's motion to reopen will go no where - at the best of times it's a rarity and what he complains of being "fresh evidence" is in reality a tactical mistake by him at trial - and any appeal is likewise doomed to failure.

In the meantime Harper has dodged a bullet and Dean keeps his pension after likely having had it explained to him that it was that or being hung out to dry by his own people with nothing to show for it.

Plus a standing ovation from the people who ordered him to walk the plank.

Ain't love grand?

Dean Del Mastro - definitely not a Conservative