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What’s in a headline

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Interesting twist on statistics in a story in today’s Globe and Mail.

It’s a story based on a survey of people visiting sexual-health clinics in the Netherlands. Headline: “Swingers’ STI rates higher than prostitutes, study says.”

Correct as far as it goes but not, in my opinion. the most interesting aspect of the story. Here are the stats on the sexual practices of people with STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) visitng the clinics::

  • Swingers – 10.4 per cent infection rates
  • Straight people – “just over 10 per cent”
  • Female prostitutes – “just under 5 per cent”

Key takeawayfact in all this – BOTH straights and swingers showed higher infection rates than the hookers. The headline I’d have put on this story:

“Prostitutes healthier than straights or swingers.”

But would that be too embarrassing to too many people?

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Head of CSIS should go

June 23, 2010 1 comment

When President Obama fired Afghanistan commander General Stanley McChrystal following highly critical remarks about Obama and his advisors by the General and his staff in Rolling Stone magazine, the President used these words:

The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.”

Change the setting to Canada. Apply it to the injudicious interviews given to CBC-TV by the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Richard Fadden.

On the eve of the arrival in Toronto of G20 leaders from around the world, including China, Fadden tells Peter Mansbridge that cabinet ministers in two provinces, which he did not name, and British Columbia municipal politicians are under control of foreign governments.

In the interview, Fadden hinted darkly that the foreign government was China. He spoke of the compromised ministers as being ethnically from the foreign country, and said they were influenced by free trips to their homelands and other considerations.

These statements have been variously described as astonishing and troubling.

Made without supporting evidence, they smack of McCarthyism, the technique U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy used to smear respected public officials with charges of being Communist, or under the influence of Communists.

If there is evidence for these charges, their public disclosure represents a betrayal of Canadian security, and blows the whistle on Canada’s efforts to keep foreign intelligence under control. It’s a betrayal of CSIS, or a betrayal of the principles of democratic governance. Hard to say which is the worst sin.

Premier Gordon Campbell of B.C., which has two cabinet ministers of Chinese ethnic origin, is outraged.. He says the statements are shocking and irresponsible.

“To cast aspersions and doubt on people in public office — we don’t know which cabinet ministers and which provinces he’s talking about — but to say that kind of thing at a public function and then release it to the media without talking to people directly involved is to me … I’m frankly incredulous by it,” he said.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Harper’s people are dodging questions about Fadden’s outburst. An official in the Privy Council office says “we have no knowledge of these matters.” Yet Fadden had told Mansbridge that CSIS was “in the process of discussing with the centre (the PCO) how we’re going to inform those provinces.”

In a move for damage control., CSIS says in a statement that  the agency “has not deemed the cases to be of sufficient concern to bring them to the attention of provincial authorities. There will be no further comments on these operational matters.”

Yet they were of sufficient concern for Fadden to blab on national TV that Canadian officials are doing the service of foreign governments.

Of course, many Canadian officials are favorable to the positions of certain foreign governments. Notably Israel and the United States. But that wasn’t what Fadden was talking about.

So much for the CSIS pr exercise that was no doubt designed to attract positive attention (and more funding), timed to hit the headlines just when we’re all nervous about world leaders meeting in Toronto.

Director Fadden has displayed either colossal misjudgment or has engaged, wittingly or unwittingly, in smear-mongering. He should resign. As the President said of his General, “the conduct does not meet the standard.”

It’s not the terrorists, it’s the protestors

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Now we know what we’ve suspected all along. It’s not terrorists that worry the G8 and G20 meetings – it’s the protestors who will show up to make their arguments — sometimes in a violent way — that the system spawning these meetings is corrupt and irredeemable.

Interviewed last night on CBC-TV’s The National, Richard Fadden, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, conceded “We don’t think there is anyone who is really interested in doing anyone any harm from that (the terrorist)perspective.”

The threat — and the apparent justification for a billion dollars spent on security — comes from the fact, according to Fadden, that  “Nothing attracts the world media like the G8 and G20, so anyone who is interested in getting their issues in front of the public, I think, are interested in being in Toronto.”

Well, duh, we need a spy agency chief to tell us that?

The interview with Peter Mansbridge and a deeper report by Brian Stewart — showing the CSIS building shrouded in dusk and CSIS operatives cloaked in deep shadows — was clearly a public relations effort to clean up the CSIS image of blunders and incompetence. It didn’t work.

Just days ago, CSIS was knocked — along with the RCMP — for ignoring clear warnings that an Air India plane was about to be bombed. 331 people died as a result.

Prime Minister Harper is said to be ready to deliver a full, formal apology for that “oversight.” He is good at apologizing for the mistakes of previous governments.

Will he have an apology to Toronto — and the country — after the G20, for putting Canada’s biggest city through a police lockdown and for creating a paranoia of fear, all part of getting our “peaceable kingdom” used to the idea that machine gun-toting cops and steel barricades, identity passes and grillings by mysterious operatives, are to be part of Canadian life in the 21st century?

Categories: Politics Tags: ,

Send the G20 to the UN

June 21, 2010 Leave a comment

First there was the G6, a gathering of the heads of the six most powerful industrial countries formed in 1975 at the behest of France. Canada joined France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US the next year, making it the G7, and Russia in 1997, firming up today’s G8. In its early days, the heads of governments sat down with each other accompanied by no more than 15 aides.

Then there was the G20, originally a conclave of finance ministers and central bankers that got started in 1999. It’s since morphed into a body rivalling the G8 in influence and this year its Summit meeting in Toronto on June 26-27, hard on the heels of a G8 meeting in the Ontario resort town of Huntsville, will be attended by heads of governments from around the world.. Some are bringing upwards of a thousand people, most of whom will sit around waiting to be called on for their special expertise. Most will never get the call.

But first there was the United  Nations, the organization that was to bring an era of peace to the globe after two horrendous world wars. It grew out of a wartime idea by President Franklin Roosevelt that the victorious Allies would “defend life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands.”

These principles were at the root of the Atlantic Charter,  the document signed by FDR and Winston Churchill aboard a warship anchored in Ship Harbour, Newfoundland.

Canada has hosted four meetings of the G7/8, but none set loose the furor that is enveloping this year’s G20, and to a lesser degree the G8 meeting. Together they will will cost Canada over a billion dollars, most of it for an insanely elaborate security clamp-down that is sending thousands of police into the downtown of Canada’s largest city to man several square blocks hidden behind a 10-foot steel fence. The fact it denies the citizens of the city access to their own most vital locale seems beside the point.

Probably up to another billion dollars — there’s no way of counting the bills — will be lost by private businesses as a result of the G20. Restaurants are closing, cultural sites shutting down, theatrical events cancelled, major league baseball play suspended. Financial institutions are closing their doors and telling their employees to work at home or elsewhere offsite.

The proud boast that the G20 will “showcase Toronto to the world” has turned into an empty idiocy. G20 officials will see very little of Toronto and tourists will be in short supply, especially after a U.S. State Department travel advisory that warned Americans to stay away from Toronto.

Someone who’s been through a G20 meeting is editor David Sherman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He had this to say in today’s Globe and Mail:

Think of this as an employment program for police officers, although maybe no one else. (Unless you sell barbed wire, in which case this is the month you’ve been waiting for.

For many in Toronto, the logistics disaster of holding the G20 in the downtown core of a metropolitan city is just another example of the ineptitude of Prime Minister Harper.

But have a heart — feel sorry for the guy. He figured to win lots of small town voters by shipping the G8 leaders into Ontario’s rural cottage country, the Muskoka district where his Industry Minister, Tony Clement, has a tenuous hold on his seat. When the G20 suddenly reared its ugly head , Harper was left to dance around a pair of equally unpalatable decisions. Cram them into bunkbeds at the Deerhurst Inn in Huntsville, or ship them off to Toronto.

The G20 meeting raises a whole lot of difficult but important questions. Are these meetings really necessary? Aren’t all the decisions hammered out by staff before the Heads of Government get together? Has nobody heard of video conferencing? Is all that security really needed?

(Of course, it’s a win-win for the security forces. If nothing happens they can take credit — if there’s big trouble, all the cost and bother is proven needed. The fact a city has been militarized and people have been denied access to their homes and jobs doesn’t count for much.)

Okay, so there’s nothing like face time, no matter the cause. The worlds might not have survived WWII if C hurchill and Roosevelt hadn’t gotten to know each other in private meetings.

As the host of this weekend’s G20 meeting, Prime Minister Harper has called on the leaders to show “solidarity” in managing the global economic crisis.

What’s wrong with using the United Nations as a venue for that message? There’s 17 acres of international territory housing the UN on the East River in New York. It’s a secure site accustomed to receiving heads of government . Turning the UN over to the G20 once a year might, at the very least, restore a little of the world body’s blemished hope and glory.

Not the time for Coalition

Talk of a Liberal-NDP coalition/merger has been squelched — for now — by Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton. Both say it’s off the table. They’re wise to have said so, but trust me, the issue’s not going to go away.

The Old Warrior, Jean Chretien, gave coalition talk a new lease on life with comments he made after the unveiling of his portrait on Parliament Hill. “If it’s do-able, let’s do it,” he said. And he revealed that he’d had coalition talks with NDP influentials over the years.

It didn’t tale long for Chretien’s old campaign strategist, Warren Kinsella, to take up the call. He asserted that “serious people” from both camps are discussing the where, how and why of a Liberal-NDP link-up. He even had a name for the new animal – the Liberal Democrats.

Kinsella’s been around long enough to know how difficult it would be to forge a new party out of the Liberals and the NDP. His book, The War Room (Dundurn Press, 2007) spilt some of the secrets he’s harbored from his days as special assistant to Chretien when the Liberals were riding high at the expense of a divided right.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot. The right is united in Stephen Harper’s Conservative dynasty. The difference is that Harper’s never been able to get a solid hold on more than a third of the electorate..  So why do the Liberals have to  ponder the possible delights of a merger with the NDP?

It’s because of Ignatieff, stupid. Once hailed as a new messiah, he’s never been able to nudge the Liberals into more than an also-ran position against Harper’s furies. The splurge of speculation about coalition/merger seems to have been set off anti-Ignatieff elements in his own party. Shades of what Chretien’s backroom boys tried to do against John Turner in the 1988 election. This time they’ve a different target.

Ignatieff is further embarrassed by an Angus Reid poll asserting that a Liberal-NDP coalition led by him would go down to defeat, while if Jack Layton was the leader it would defeat the Conservatives.

Chantal Hebert, writing in the Toronto Star, correctly points out that Ignatieff is the guy at risk. She thinks his reluctance to support a merger now gives the NDP a great incentive to hold back, expecting it could extract a better deal after, not before, the next election.

Hebert has examined the entrails of the 2006 election and come up with the conclusion that had the two parties been in cohorts before the vote, they would have won 42 more seats than they did, producing a Liberal-NDP majority. But that assumes voters would have cast their ballots the same way they did when the two were at each other’s throats. Not a safe assumption.

Another poll, by CP-Harris, confirms a splintered electorate. The biggest faction, 28%, favors a pre-election non-compete pact between the two parties.

Both approaches — strategic voting in an election, or taking your chances at forming a governing coalition after the election, carry their own risks. The advantage to a pre-writ saw-off, obviously, is that it could prevent the election of some Conservative MPs who might win as a result of vote-splitting on the left.

Ignatieff is right, however, to resist a coalition or merger at this stage. The time’s not right for it, especially when the Harper government is falling victim to yet more blunders. Eventually, stunts such as the ludicrous $1 billion security bill for the G8-G20 will get to voters. If he can hang on long enough, Ignatieff may not need a coalition to move into 24 Sussex Street.