Saturday, April 03, 2004

Hello, I must be going

I've moved. You can find me at www.pogge.ca. Please change your bookmarks. If you want to, that is.

And by all means drop by for a visit. Take your shoes off. Stay a while.

Department of the blindingly obvious

Powell admits his Iraq intelligence flawed
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged that the "most dramatic" part of his presentation to the United Nations making the case for war on Iraq was based on flawed intelligence.

Powell also said he hoped a commission investigating the U.S. intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction would reveal how the CIA ended up depending on unreliable sources for key evidence he used to argue for war.

The acknowledgement about alleged mobile chemical arms laboratories could further hurt the credibility of the Bush administration, also under fire in an election year for failing to stop the September 11 attacks.

The United States justified its first preemptive war by accusing Iraq of amassing illegal arms and invaded last year without explicit U.N. approval and over the objections of many allies.

In February, 2003, Powell made a major presentation of the U.S. case against Iraq at a special session of the U.N. Security Council, where he said the United States had several sources showing mobile chemical weapons laboratories.

But on Friday, the top American diplomat said the evidence on the trailers has been shown to be shaky.

"Now it appears not to be the case that it was that solid. But at the time I was preparing that presentation it was presented to me as solid," Powell told reporters on a flight home from a trip to Europe.
Shaky? I can think of a few other terms. And I like the careful phrasing: how did the CIA end up depending on unreliable sources. Paging Ahmed Chalabi.

The article describes this as "the most straightforward acknowledgement from the Bush administration that the information was probably wrong." Powell has shown a tendency to stray just a little bit off the reservation recently. Of all the major White House administration figures, he may have been the one with the most credibility on the international stage. Those days are gone but if the rumours of his departure from the administration even if Bush wins a second term are true, I look forward to his memoirs. I won't take anything he says at face value but I'll bet it'll be an interesting read.

Updated to add the link on Ahmed Chalabi, courtesy of The Agonist.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Checking out briefly

I'm off on a quick trip. There will be nothing new here until later on tomorrow, but I'd like to leave you with a question about something that's puzzling me.

Why is the Liberal party so intent on building a cult of personality around someone who appears not to have that much personality in the first place? Or is that just me?

OK, that's two questions. See ya.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

At last a reason to look forward to the election

Don at Revolutionary Moderation is running a contest that should make things more interesting once Paul Martin gets around to dropping the writ. Your chances of winning depend on your ability to predict how often and how badly people can screw up. You can read about it at his blog, or in the cross-post at the BlogsCanada E-Group Election Blog. I'm already working on my entry. After all, I know a lot about screwing up. In fact, I've been told I'm an expert.

I'm not surprised. Are you surprised?

File-sharing doesn't kill CD sales, study finds
A study of file-sharing's effects on music sales says on-line music trading appears to have had little part in the recent slide in CD sales.

For the study, released Monday, researchers at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina tracked music downloads over 17 weeks in 2002, matching data on file transfers with actual market performance of the songs and albums being downloaded. Even high levels of file-swapping seemed to translate into an effect on album sales that was "statistically indistinguishable from zero," they wrote.

"We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales," the study's authors wrote. "While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing."
The study, conducted by Harvard Business School associate professor Felix Oberholzer and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, associate professor Koleman Strumpf, used logs from two OpenNap servers in late 2002 to observe about 1.75-million downloads over their 17-week sample period.
Even in the most pessimistic version of their model, they found that it would take about 5,000 downloads to displace sales of just one physical CD, the authors wrote. Despite the huge scale of downloading worldwide, that would be only a tiny contribution to the overall slide in album sales over the past several years, they said.

Moreover, their data seemed to show that downloads could even have a slight positive effect on the sales of the top albums, the researchers said.
This comes on the same day as this:
The Federal Court of Canada ruled Wednesday that Internet Service Providers can't be forced to turn over identities of suspected music swappers, throwing a roadblock in the path of the recording industry's efforts to crack down on the practice.

In a 31-page decision, Judge Konrad von Finckenstein said the Canadian Recording Industry Association hasn't made its case for ordering ISPs to turn over the names of 29 suspected so-called music uploaders, people who offer music for others to download.

The industry had wanted the names so that it could launch lawsuits against individuals it claims are high-volume Internet music swappers.

As part of his ruling, the judge found that simply downloading a song or having a file available on peer-to-peer software such as Kazaa doesn't constitute copyright infringement.
I'd like to say that I hope this will put an end to this nonsense, but I doubt it. The people who run the entertainment industry seem to be slow learners.

Oh, woe is Paul

The curse of the new leader
With a very important national election looming, the Paul Martin government's political approach is under the microscope. Observers query its posture toward the Liberal legacy. Why, they wonder, after 10 years of sound rule, does Paul Martin not run on the record? Why does he not low-bridge the sponsorship scandal and play up the past decade's accomplishments? Why is he not, as former prime minister Jean Chrétien phrased it yesterday in London, "defending institutions"?

Canada's political history offers a clue. In abstract terms, the Liberal challenge is to retain power through a change in leadership. There have been nine previous such attempts at the federal level, seven of which ended in failure.

Why is the task so difficult? Mainly because the attempt to renew a government through a change in leadership usually begins in political adversity. After all, if the party weren't facing trouble, the incumbent leader would stay on and fight the next election. Liberals in the past couple of years have been understandably anxious at the prospect of seeking a fourth mandate in the face of a wave of political change that has now defeated five provincial governments from B.C. to Newfoundland and Labrador. They chose renewal.

As with all life's changes, the process of renewing an incumbent party and government carries with it a troubling measure of pain. The retirement of one leader and race for succession opens wounds. Cabinet shuffling, riding-level battles, program and personnel changes in the civil service and party apparatus -- these are often agonizing parts of the renewal process.
The article was written by John Duffy, described in the editorial blurb that introduces the piece as a "Liberal strategist". I'm glad it doesn't describe him as an historian because his historical analogies don't work.

The wave of political change at the provincial level is at least in part due to new financial realities at that level as the provinces struggle to cope with the reduction in transfer payments implemented by none other than Paul Martin when he was finance minister.

As for the rest, it misrepresents the recent transition. Jean Chrétien didn't resign because he was defeated or was unpopular with the voters, he retired because he was old. Were he five years younger I suspect he might have gone for a fourth mandate and won it. Paul Martin inherited a Liberal party that was in good shape in the polls, though it's true he inherited some liabilities in terms of the sponsorship scandal. If that's enough to cost him the next election it will be because he's rushed into it without dealing with the mess properly. His own impatience is hardly his predecessor's fault.

As for the "wounds" opened through "[c]abinet shuffling, riding-level battles, program and personnel changes in the civil service and party apparatus", has Duffy not been reading the news? Team Martin seems to be going out of its way to alienate and even ostracize anyone who wasn't a 100% Martin loyalist prior to his coronation. It wasn't Chrétien who abruptly froze wages and advancement in the civil service (except for the hand-picked elite who directly serve cabinet ministers, of course). Chrétien didn't force an almost wholesale change in cabinet which sent experienced ministers to the back benches. And it wasn't Chrétien's people who have played the games at the riding level that Paul Wells has documented so well. (Update: here's just one example. Browse the February and March archives for more.)

Trying to present Paul Martin as "cursed" is just so much political spin. Most of his "wounds" are self-inflicted and this article counts as another one. Martin spent years putting together a massive political machine that has demonstrated nothing short of ruthlessness in undermining his old boss and everyone associated with him. Now John Duffy wants to present him as some kind of martyr. See the anti-Chrétien and the burden he labours under.

Oh, please.

Link via Warren Kinsella (March 31st entry).

Update 6:53 pm:
OK, on reflection I whizzed by the reason for Jean Chrétien stepping down a little quickly back there. It's true that within the Liberal party there was a movement to force him out. But the strongest push for that came from the Martin camp and to the extent that this dissension in the ranks became a public issue and one that affected Chrétien's ability to govern, Team Martin bears as much responsibility as anyone else, if not more. To try to garner sympathy for Martin because he has to deal with the aftermath of his own actions, particularly when he seems so determined to make the aftermath even worse, is just silly.

And Paul Wells also responded to this Duffy article with more nuance and more detailed analysis than I was able to muster.

More on 'extraordinary rendition'

The Invisible Men
While the nation focused on Richard Clarke's allegations last week, CIA director George Tenet let slip other revelations in his testimony to the 9-11 Commission, admissions that sharpen the contours of the shadowy intelligence practice called "extraordinary rendition."

The policy, codified in the late 1980s to allow U.S. law enforcement to apprehend wanted men in lawless states like Lebanon during its civil war, has emerged in recent years as one of America's key counterterrorism tools, and has now expanded in scope to include the transfer of terrorism suspects by U.S. intelligence agents to foreign countries for interrogation—and, say some insiders, torture prohibited inside this nation's borders.
This Village Voice article is subtitled "Canadian inquiry may reveal CIA secrets on outsourcing torture" in reference to the judicial inquiry into the imprisonment and torture of Maher Arar. The piece provides some background into the policy of rendition and suggests that in the past, some people merely suspected of terrorism have simply been 'disappeared'.
"Plenty of renditions were not to the U.S. We just facilitated the renditions," said one former CIA official about terrorism suspects captured by the agency in the 1990s. "We'd arrest them and send them to Jordan or Egypt, and they'd disappear." The men were not brought to the U.S., said the former official, "because the evidence against them would never hold up in court."
George Tenet repeated the conclusion to the 9-11 Commission. "We were taking terrorists off the street," he said, "but the threat level persisted."

The practice of rendition is thought to have increased dramatically since 9-11, and in addition to suspects being handed over to foreign countries, detainees have also been sent to U.S. bases overseas, like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Tenet said rendition remains one of the principal strategies employed against the threat of international terrorism.

And he added that so-called "liaison partners"—foreign intelligence services—were essential to the CIA's effectiveness.

"Although liaison services are an essential part of an aggressive posture against terrorism," Tenet said, "their ability to share is sometimes hindered by their countries' own legal protections and open societies. These limitations include restrictions on rendering terrorists to countries that permit capital punishment."
Maher Arar may be just the 'tip of the iceberg'. That inquiry should get a lot attention from Americans as well as Canadians.
... American observers have an interest in what kind of intelligence causes authorities here to send suspects off to prisons in countries that permit the use of torture. "Who knows whether some of these people [we detained] were dissidents?" said the former CIA official. "Intelligence is imprecise. You can't go on a hunch and torture someone."
But it appears that's exactly what happened.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

A story with a moral

In 2002 a Canadian engineering company called Acres International was found guilty of "bribing the former head of a [World Bank] water project in the impoverished mountain kingdom of Lesotho". The individual who accepted the bribes is in jail for 12 years while Acres was fined $4.2 million, a fine which was reduced to $2.8 million on appeal (they had originally been found guilty on a second count which was overturned). The conviction has led the World Bank to consider barring the company from any future World Bank-financed projects, an option which will soon be under consideration by the bank's sanction committee.
Acres president Tony Hylton said it was too soon to guess what the committee's decision will be.

"The company's gone through an awful lot over the last couple of years with the Lesotho incident and what we're looking to do is co-operate as fully as we possibly can with the World Bank and try to move forward and get this behind us as soon as possible," he said.
The company had protested its innocence and suggested the Lesotho court was unfit to handle such a complex case.

"We think that findings were somewhat flawed," Mr. Hylton said yesterday, "but we've nevertheless agreed to pay the fine as part of our commitment to being a good corporate citizen. We just want to move on with it. We've paid a heavy price and what we're trying to do is take an industry lead in promoting honest and ethical business practices."

Acres has put in place a new "business integrity management system," he said.
They've agreed to pay the fine, be a good corporate citizen and put in place a business integrity management system. Well then, that should fix things up.

Lesotho went to great trouble and expense to prosecute this case which involved several corrupt officials and other multi-national companies. There are additional investigations in progress. In fact the World Bank has praised the tiny African country for its courage and determination. The legal proceedings have cost about $6 million so far (admittedly a rough conversion on my part) but you'd think the fine levied against Acres would at least help to defray those costs. But apparently not.
Acres International, the Canadian engineering company convicted of bribing the former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, seems to be intent on wriggling out of paying a R13 million fine imposed on it for its crimes in the mountain kingdom.

The company's disingenuous bid to pay the fine in instalments compounds its offence, and its tardiness in paying up is shaming and shows contempt for a legal process that has won international acclaim.
Since the World Bank was so full of praise, maybe it'll help?
Despite promises of support, the World Bank has not delivered.
So Lesotho is getting squeezed by both sides.

And how does our government feel about all this?
As far as the federal government is concerned, Acres is a company in good standing. Export Development Canada, a federal Crown corporation that subsidizes exports, refuses to debar Acres, and the Canadian International Development Agency, a federal aid agency that on its own has provided Acres and its affiliates with more than $100-million over the years, only last month affirmed that no penalties were called for: "We will continue to fulfil existing contractual agreements with Acres and will consider new proposals when submitted."

...the very person who deposited Acres' bribes into the Swiss bank account of a corrupt foreign official, and who enriched himself in the process, was himself a Canadian federal official, appointed by the federal Cabinet and abusing his official capacity as Canada's honorary consul to Lesotho. The government's evident reaction: "So what?"
There's a lesson to be learned here. The individual who accepted the bribes is in jail. The impoverished country that dared to prosecute, at great expense, its own corrupt officials and large multi-national companies is having trouble paying the court costs. The corporation found guilty of corruption has the moral and financial support of its own government and feels it's in a strong enough position to negotiate how it's going to pay a penalty assessed against it in a court of law.

When in doubt, incorporate.

Hat tip to Bourque for that last link. Google did the rest.

Updated to add a link I missed -- to back up the court costs.

The wheel grinds slowly

Judge to interview potential Arar witnesses
The federal inquiry into the Maher Arar case will start looking at potential witnesses late next month.

Justice Dennis O'Connor said Monday that he will hear applications for standing at the inquiry beginning April 29.
Actual testimony isn't expected to begin until June 14.
If PM the PM pushes ahead with his spring election, the Arar case likely won't come into play. But this still has the potential to be the scandal of the year. It looks like the arrest and imprisonment of two other men are very much a part of this case, and it remains to be seen whether the raid on journalist Juliet O'Neill's home will be part of the proceedings.
On three separate occasions, an RCMP officer hauled away a total of seven garbage bags from Ms. O'Neill's house, then analyzed the contents. Officers followed her when she left home to go to work. They scoured the Internet for evidence of illicit e-mails. The Truth Verification Section of the RCMP's Behavioural Sciences Branch was certainly busy. (No, we did not make up that name.)

And what truth was so important that the constitutional right to free speech -- which includes a free press and, by extension, the right to keep secret one's confidential sources -- should be treated so shabbily? It all had to do with the disappearance and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom the United States had deported to Syria. Ms. O'Neill had written a story citing a leaked document that contained incriminating information that Mr. Arar had allegedly provided under torture. (Mr. Arar later said, credibly, that he confessed only because he was being tortured. The Canadian government has since called a public inquiry into Canada's role in his ordeal.) Under the Security of Information Act, both the person who gave that document to Ms. O'Neill and Ms. O'Neill herself could be charged. Yet her story in no way put Canada's security at risk.
The Truth Verification Section of the RCMP's Behavioural Sciences Branch? M'kay. That name alone may require an inquiry to explain.

Monday, March 29, 2004

OK, this is funny

The White House Props Department. Check out the T-shirts.

Via TalkLeft.

An interesting question

Chris at See Why? is taking things apart and thinking about them in different ways, as he often does.
Here's a question I've asked before, but not seen discussed elsewhere let alone answered: How would we have felt if Iran had intervened in 2003 on a humanitarian pretext to depose Saddam Hussein?

I have to confess, as much as I dislike Saddam Hussein, and as much as I'm attracted to the idea that Iraq's sovereignty couldn't have counted for much under Saddam Hussein, I don't think I would have been very happy about it. The fact is, I don't trust Iran's leaders. I wouldn't have trusted their intentions, or had much faith in their ability to do much good in Iraq (beyond, of course, getting rid of Saddam Hussein).

If any pro-war types are reading this, I'm curious: Do you share my reaction? If you do, do you notice that your dislike for Saddam Huseein can survive undiminished even as you frown at the thought of a humanitarian intervention to depose him?
There's more here.

Reframing the issue

Europe, U.S. Diverge on How to Fight Terrorism
While President Bush was giving an address earlier this month describing the war on terrorism as "not a figure of speech" but "an inescapable calling of our generation," the official in charge of overseeing Europe's counterterrorism efforts was offering a far different assessment.

"Europe is not at war," Javier Solana, foreign policy chief for the European Union, told a German newspaper. "We have to energetically oppose terrorism, but we mustn't change the way we live."

Between those two declarations lies a gap that reflects the different modern histories, cultures and approaches to terrorism of the United States and Europe, according to politicians and analysts on the continent.

The Madrid train bombings that killed 190 rush-hour commuters on March 11 -- the first major attack on European soil believed to have been carried out by Islamic extremists connected to the al Qaeda network -- has compelled European nations to reassess how they fight terrorism. At a summit that ended Friday, EU leaders announced several measures designed to increase cooperation among their police forces and intelligence services. But the attacks have not led to a fundamental shift in Europe's approach.
A couple of weeks ago, following the elections in Spain and the excoriation of Spanish voters from some corners, one of the things I suggested was that the bombings in Madrid might just galvanize the European community to slough off Bush's War on Terror™ rhetoric in favour of a more nuanced approach. This WaPo article suggests that the European attitude towards terrorism was always different but now the EU is taking more initiative to deal with the problem in their own manner. Close enough for blogging?
European officials say they recognize that the diffuse nature of Islamic terrorism -- small cells of militants operating autonomously -- is a new phenomenon that requires better cross-border cooperation to combat. They also concede that Islamic radicals are using European cities as staging grounds for attacks elsewhere, beginning with the Sept. 11 strikes, which were carried out largely by an al Qaeda cell in Hamburg. Several countries, notably Britain, have adopted tough anti-terrorism legislation and rounded up hundreds of suspected operatives. But many officials acknowledge they have been slow to implement steps to deal with terrorism on a transnational level.
Just as in the United States, where the CIA and FBI have been reluctant to share resources and information, intelligence and law enforcement agencies in Europe have jealously guarded their own sources, methods and information. While they may cooperate with each other and with their U.S. counterparts on a case-by-case basis, analysts say there is no overall strategy or protocol. And many fear that the appointment of a new "anti-terrorism czar" -- one of a package of new measures EU leaders announced Thursday -- could add another layer of bureaucracy without improving effectiveness.

"It is a defining moment for the lack of definition," said Timothy Garton Ash, an international relations analyst at Oxford University. "We have yet to see a really coherent European response."
It sounds like they may be closer to that coherent response. When they talk about an "anti-terrorism czar" it raises concerns that civil liberties will be jeopardized, but with a less hysterical approach they may end up with a better balance between security and privacy rights. Maybe they'll teach us North Americans something yet.

Link via The Agonist.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Trouble brewing

From Aljazeera (via Needlenose):
Iraq's top Shia cleric may issue a religious edict declaring the June transfer of power to Iraqis illegal if an interim constitution article is not amended, a close aide has said.

"If article 61 of the interim constitution is not changed, Imam (Ayat Allah Ali) Sistani may issue a fatwa declaring illegitimate all those (Iraqis) to whom power is transferred in June," said Ayat Allah Muhammad Baqir al-Mohri in comments published on Saturday.

Sistani "may also order the Iraqi people to protest or carry out major popular demonstrations and sit-ins in all Iraqi cities," added Mohri.
Swopa at Needlenose explains:
...Article 61 outlines the schedule for elections and the drafting of a permanent constitution. It contains a clause enabling a two-thirds majority in any three provinces -- which, not coincidentally, is the number of provinces in the Kurdish region of Iraq -- to block any permanent constitution.

Sistani objected to this clause before the TAL was signed. By giving the Kurds a veto over any draft constitution they don't like, Article 61 creates a loophole that could make the "interim" law permanent ... exactly the kind of democracy-blocking technicality that the Shiite clerics have been fearing.
There's a potential for serious fireworks here. A large proportion of the Shia population will listen to Sistani. And he's a moderate compared to many of the Shiite clerics.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

I'm putting in my notice

In the near future I'll be moving to a new domain and converting to Movable Type. In due course I'll be importing all the posts from this site and, if the plugin I've found works as advertised, I'll be importing all the Haloscan comments too. What I don't have automated solutions for are links and trackbacks.

I'll be notifying all the bloggers who have kindly listed this blog on their rolls and providing a new link, but that won't take care of links to individual posts. I hate link rot. I'm thinking I can use Technorati to see who's linked to what, track down the new archival links, and send the appropriate blogger all the info necessary to make the correction. I'm not obsessive, I'm just a detail person. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Is there a policy and procedure manual for bloggers who move? Would that be like trying to herd cats?

I won't be deleting this site right away so things won't blow up immediately. When I make the move official, I'll leave a post up here on the front page with a link to the new digs, disable the comments and trackbacks here, take my site meter and go. But I'll leave this place standing for a while before I give blogspot back their disk space.

But first I have to figure out how Movable Type works and get it where I want it. It's always something. Posting may be light for a while but not necessarily non-existent.

Is there a Plan B?

Shorter John Manley: Canada isn't capable of making its own way in the world as an independent country so we should give up trying, find out what George Bush wants us to do and just do it.

I'm not sure how else to interpret Manley's comments once you strip out the obligatory "we can agree to disagree on certain things" qualification.

Politicians like Manley, Stephen Harper, Belinda Stronach and for that matter, Paul Martin, continue to discuss American policy as if it's carved in stone and as if it couldn't possibly be mistaken. That seems ironic when you consider that roughly half of Americans don't feel that way.

George Bush won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote. Recent polls suggest that the upcoming election could be just as close -- twenty-first century America is a deeply polarized country. With Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 commission this past week serving as a flashpoint, it looks as though a critical mass of Americans may be coming to the realization that the Bush administration's security policies are flawed. BMD may well be a non-starter or at the very least, get pushed to the back burner in a nation that is only now coming to grips with the fact that the threat it faces may not be the threat that Bush has been defending against.

Meanwhile the Bush administration's economic policies have seen the loss of over two million jobs in less than four years. Outsourcing in particular and free trade in general are bound to become more politicized issues which raises the possibility of a backlash of protectionism. It's a funny thing about backlashes, they tend to strike out blindly and catch people in a cross fire. Whether Canada is a friend, an ally, a trading partner or a client state, the fact remains that in the eyes of American politicians, Canadians aren't at the top of their list of priorities. We don't vote for them; we can't guarantee them job security.

On the surface the deep integration strategy looks comforting. It spares us the difficult job of making our own way in the world. And from that standpoint, I'm not sure whether comments like Manley's should make me feel disappointed or insulted.

But more importantly, just because the US is the last superpower doesn't mean it can't go wildly off the mark. Iraq is but one example. The refusal to take global warming seriously is another while the tendency to treat oil like it's in never-ending supply when it's obviously not is yet another. The American economy looks to be increasingly in trouble while ours remains in better shape. Why do we want to be more like them, again?

Instead of sitting on our hands waiting to find out what the White House thinks we should do, maybe we should try and come up with our own answers. Aside from being the grown up thing to do, it just might be the smart thing too.

Props: Orcinus for the Reuters link, Just a Bump in the Beltway for the Guardian and LA Times links. If you're not registered at the LAT, the Bump post quotes extensively from that article.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?