Rob Ford and the media game

Posted May 26th, 2013 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford faces media in Toronto in December. Photo: The Canadian Press/Chris Young

A few people have asked me for my opinion on the Rob Ford story from the perspective of a working journalist. I wish I could. I’m a community news reporter so I don’t have an inkling of how the mainstream media world works other than some assumptions based on what I know about the business model.

Christie Blatchford made some good points about journalists moving the goal posts on the Rob Ford story. There’s no corroborating evidence to support printing allegations of Rob Ford’s crack cocaine use, and those that exist are conjecture and hearsay. Indeed, much like the allegations of Ford’s alcohol abuse, one is left wondering whether the “informants may have many and diverse motives other than a pristine dedication to the truth.”

But what is the media to do about such a story? Ignore it? It raises the dilemma as to whether something is newsworthy merely because everybody is gossiping about it. In an older world where the print media was the preeminent source of accurate daily information, one might be able to ignore such a thing. But in a wired world where traditional print media now compete with online American news sites like Gawker, how can they pretend it’s not happening?

Let’s be clear about something. Rob Ford has brought much of the vindictive nature of the beast upon himself. Regardless of who started the war with the Toronto Star, the National Post’s Johnathan Kay described it perfectly as a “blood feud” in which neither side can back down without losing face.

Under such a climate, in which a member of the government is openly at war with the free press, there can be no expectation of honour. What began as a war with Ford and the Star has certainly led to this media witch hunt of his family. Is it ethical? Surely not. But is it predictable? I’d say so.

Although I don’t know much about the mainstream media, I do cover civic politics. And we learn to play the game, the same as the politicians. We discuss the issues with a certain level of understanding that what’s off the record is off for a good reason and that nothing that’s going to be quoted is going to be malicious.

The government is a well of information from which reporters have to draw on constantly. It makes no sense to poison that well. If one reporter does then we all suffer, because if the politician refuses to speak to the media then we can’t do our jobs. And if that politician is making a special effort to actually block our attempt to do our jobs, it becomes something personal.

In that situation, I can see why the Toronto media, the Star in particular, decided to attack. And going to war with what is arguably the largest media company in Canada doesn’t seem to me to be a very smart idea. But I digress.

I can certainly imagine that if I, as a civic reporter, were put in a position where the politicians refused to “play the game” then the gloves would have to come off. The stuff you don’t print because you’re respectful and civil and want to maintain a working relationship doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a free-for-all and the ethical lines become irrelevant.

That’s not to say that I’m defending the Toronto Star or the rest of the media for attacking the Ford family. In reality I think much of it is based on a series of forced moves, like in a chess game in which both sides must make certain decisions or else face defeat. Both sides have much for which to be ashamed. There are no innocents in this game.

But what of the attack on Ford’s family by the Globe and Mail? Well, that’s another kettle of fish. At this point we’ve gone well beyond the point of no return, with an investigative feature story on the brother of a man who may or may not have smoked crack in a video tape that may or may not even exist.

Do I believe Doug Ford was a drug dealer when he was a kid? It’s hard not to believe it, given the numerous sources the reporters spoke to. As a journalist, it’s impossible to imagine that the story wasn’t rigorously researched and combed over by a phalanx of lawyers and editors. You don’t print defamatory material wily nily.

I have significant discomfort with the fact all of the people in the story making allegations are protected of revealing their identity. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want retribution for “snitching” on a powerful family, but in that case why snitch at all? It’s not like Doug Ford is being arraigned on 25-year-old drug charges.

The question here is its relevance. Does it matter? I’m no lawyer, but a court of law would likely throw it out. If Rob Ford is on trial in the court of public opinion for smoking crack, then whether his brother dealt hashish prior to 1986 really stretches the tenuous limits of what we’re supposed to imagine this means.

But look, what it actually means is simple. It’s a smear job against the Ford family that implicates everybody in the seedy underworld of drug trafficking, making it more plausible that the current Mayor of Toronto smoked a crack pipe and stupidly allowed himself to be filmed doing it.

Doug Ford dealing drugs as a kid is only interesting right now because of his brother’s alleged involvement in smoking crack. Printing it outside of this context is certainly interesting from a gossipy perspective, but would be barely newsworthy. What this tells you is that the media are going over the Ford family with a fine toothed comb looking for any news advantage over their competitors. I have no doubt the Globe and Mail raked in some serious money on this edition.

So, what has Rob Ford done in light of the allegations of his brother’s seedy past? He’s called the media a bunch of maggots. Sigh. Thus further inflaming the war and continuing the blood feud. At the risk of repetition, it’s a mistake to pretend there are innocents in this chess game. The fact is that the media aren’t going anywhere. They’re going to continue to make life for the Fords difficult until they begin playing ball.

There are people who might think I’m defending the media’s actions or saying the Fords have no right to defend themselves. No. That’s not what I’m saying. If you want an example of how best to handle the media, Stephen Harper has been doing it expertly for years.

Harper is no friend of the media. From what I know of those who cover federal politics, he’s very selective, secretive, and careful about who gets to talk to him and when. Communications under the Harper government have been centralized so it minimizes the chances of embarrassing scandals.

But Harper is no fool. He knows exactly how to play the game. He uses the media to communicate exactly what he wants to say and doesn’t say a word more. If he’s pressed on hard questions he merely brings the topic back to the central point: his point. When pushed in another direction, he deftly brings it back with a simple phrase. “Let me be clear….” “We’ve said all along…” “This government has done x, y, and z…”

He doesn’t run and hide, or throw tantrums and call the media maggots… to their faces. Rather, he rises above to meet the challenge, and uses the system to his benefit. For that reason he’s not just a survivor as a conservative politician, he thrives in it. He is a grandmaster on this chess board. Now if only somebody could teach the Fords how to play.

Time to de-fund the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Posted November 11th, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

De-fund the CBC. It’s such a conservative thing to say, isn’t it? De-funding the CBC has been a polarizing topic between the left and the right for years. But I’m not approaching this issue from a left or right viewpoint. I’m approaching it from a value-for-investment viewpoint.

In the year 2012, is there any reason we need a state-funded multimedia broadcaster? With literally a world full of movies, TV shows, videos, music, and news content at our Internet fingertips, is there any reason to have to pay $1 billion a year for a Canadian company to provide all of it? The answer is painfully obvious. Of course we don’t.

Why on Earth would anyone want to keep the public broadcaster? Is it for its “Canadian content?” Well, that hardly makes sense. I could perhaps see an argument back when the CBC was putting out original content like “This Hour has Seven Days,” but that ship has sailed.

What other media organization could ignore its base so steadfastly and remain in business? Most people have realized the CBC mainly regurgitates American programming, has limited local news, and simply turn the channel. Worse still, despite the exorbitant cost of running the CBC, it has some of the longest commercials of any network.

“Friends” of the CBC say it’s important to save Canadian content programming. But, what are they talking about? What CBC shows are made in Canada today? And who, pray tell, watches these shows?

It’s almost as though the CBC proponents have buried their head in the sands of 1956, and refuse to acknowledge the rest of the world has moved on to the instant gratification of the Internet. Protect Canadian content? From what? Unless the CBC has the powers to block the Internet, the war was lost years ago with video on demand. The CBC today is sort of like a government-funded Blockbuster Video.

The argument that the CBC has to be government funded because it gives Canadian television actors and movie producers an opportunity they wouldn’t ordinarily get doesn’t really cut muster in 2012. It’s easier to produce an Indie film and debut it on YouTube than to waste your time running it past a CBC executive.

Look, I get it. I understand why people feel protective, and even patriotic of the CBC. I grew up with the same shows as everybody else, remember the same things. Back in the ’80s when nobody could get a TV channel to work at the cottage, we could play the Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders with rabbit ears pointed just the right way toward Toronto.

My dad used to listen to Peter Gzowski and CBC Radio One’s As it Happens. One of the strongest memories of my father is coming home from school and hearing the familiar refrain over that black transistor radio while he was doing the dishes or cooking dinner.

Back when there were two or three stations on TV, it made sense to have the CBC. What did one watch on the boob tube? Well, whatever was on the CBC, of course. What else would one watch? A movie on Betamax?

But look, it’s not the ’80s anymore. There are thousands and thousands of TV channels in every country of the world I can watch immediately at the click of a mouse button. There are tens of thousands of movies I can download whenever I want. There are millions of websites I can view at the slightest whim. The state-funded CBC providing Canadian-made content or not has no relevance in any of those decisions.

It’s not about hating or liking the CBC. If you like the CBC so much, make it a not-for-profit public broadcaster and donate to it like TVO (although the public Ontario broadcaster does receive provincial funding). It’s not like I’m lobbying to get Canadians to pay for movies and TV shows that I like. Why force me to spend tax dollars on something I don’t need?

I don’t want to give the impression the CBC is a complete asset loss. Although I don’t find much of the programming very interesting, I do like The Passionate Eye, and I listen to the radio now and then on the way in to work. I don’t like the radio too much, since much like the TV it gets killed by the private sector for local news.

The journalists and other people working for the CBC are skilled and valuable people who do great work. As a company with long history, it attracts some prime talent, and competitors like CTV, Sun News Network, and others would be lying through their teeth if they said they wouldn’t love to have a bunch of CBC employees defect.

There’s clearly value within the CBC and in the shows it produces. I just don’t think that with the operating losses the company posts it’s really providing a value to taxpayers that commensurate with our investment. It’s time to de-fund the CBC and let it sink or swim, or else sell it to the private sector.

That’s not a left or rightwing statement. It’s just something anybody with common sense should be willing to accept in 2012. It’s just time to move on.

Universal medicare aint so universal

Posted November 8th, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Nothing bothers me more than Canadians spouting off about how great our health care system is and how lucky we are not to be Americans. This is usually followed by some horror story about some Flint, Michigan worker who got laid off, lost his extended health benefits, became grievously ill, and kicked off in some decrepit public health care hospital corridor of the Bubonic plague.

Yeah, but reality is slightly less exaggerated. According to OECD data, the United States pays about twice than Canada as a portion of GDP for health care, which means that the dollars invested do not necessarily translate to better care. Even if we only look at the public medicare of Americans, they still spend more than Canada as a percent of GDP and also as an expenditure per capita.

Despite the high spending of medicare in Canada, there are fewer physicians per capita than in most other OECD countries, with just 2.4 physicians per 1,000 population in 2010, well below the OECD average of 3.1. The number of hospital beds for curative care in Canada was 1.7 per 1,000 population in 2009, half of the  OECD average.

Comparative rankings with other countries could go on and on, but it all adds up to the same result. Canada doesn’t have the best health care in the world, not by a long shot, and it’s certainly not free and “universal.”

Despite the Canada Health Act, residents in British Columbia pay a progressively rated health care premium, essentially an extra health tax, which amounts to $1,600 at the highest end for a family of three or more. British Columbians who make more than $30,000 a year, which is a gross income pay cheque of only $625 a week or $235 below the provincial average, will pay a monthly health premium of $133 come January, 2013.

About half of Canadian provincial expenditures are related to health care spending, with projections of $17.3 billion in B.C. by 2014-15. With a population of 4.6 million, the math means the province is spending $3,760 on every man, woman and child. The question is, are you getting your $3,760 worth?

I’d argue I’m not. I’ve seen a doctor a handful of times in the past 20 years, and I’ve gone over half a decade at a time without seeking medical treatment or care. Where does the money all go? Presumably to somebody else.

I suppose the argument goes that you don’t care about health care until you need it, but you’re grateful when you do. Again, not in my experience. The rare times I’ve needed health care have been due to tendon injuries from sports activity. For whatever reason, the government doesn’t see fit to spend money on physiotherapy.

I injured my tendon two months ago and saw a doctor today for a referral to a clinic that offers physiotherapy. It isn’t covered by all those health care taxes I give each and every day to the federal and provincial governments. So, the question is, why am I paying for something I can never take advantage of?

Think of universal medicare as a kind of gym membership for which you pay a monthly fee. Sure, it’s great if you take advantage of that membership frequently. But if you don’t ever go, then the membership is utterly useless to you. You can’t opt out of the gym membership since the government forces you to pay, and yet when you actually try and use the membership, they tell you to go and workout at another gym that costs you more money.

But what about extended health benefits through work? Don’t you, like every civilized person in Canada, have that? Yeah, and like everyone else, my extended health benefits pays a whopping 80 percent per treatment up to $300 a year for physiotherapy. Which means at $55 a session I can go to physio six times before I’m paying for the whole thing myself.

The B.C. government is spending $3,760 on my behalf every year. Where’s my friggin’ $3,760 worth of physiotherapy?

YouTube comments mock girl who committed suicide

Posted October 11th, 2012 in British Columbia by Adrian MacNair

On the one hand I realize these are just Internet trolls and they’re making these comments just to get a rise out of people like me. On the other hand, I really, really want to slap them upside the head. Hard.

A B.C. girl who committed suicide yesterday did so to escape bullying both at school and online. And based on the comments at this YouTube video, you can see how vicious some of these bullies are.

I suppose the consoling factor is that the overwhelming majority of comments are respectful condolences to the family and wishes of sadness about Amanda Todd. The suicide of Amanda Todd has really shocked people. I wonder if this event will cause cyberbullying to be looked at in a new light?

On journalism and plagiarism

Posted October 2nd, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Margaret Wente, a journalist and columnist with the Globe and Mail, has recently become embroiled in the sort of scandal that is the worst nightmare for any person who picks up a pen for a living. To be called a plagiarist is a grave insult, impugning not only the skill of the writer, but his or her very honour.

The allegations of plagiarism brought forward by Carol Wainio, a professor at the University of Ottawa, revolve around a series of quote-lifting and reworded passages from other published sources without proper attribution. Wainio seems to have painstakingly and categorically documented numerous columns between 2009 to 2012 that partially or wholly plagiarized sources without informing readers of the origins.

More worrying still, Wente appears to have tried to rework the wording to make it sound like her own thoughts and ideas. In essence, much of it was carefully pilfered from obscure columns and slightly altered to avoid detection. It’s one thing to grab a paragraph from somewhere and plunk it in a story, forgetting to provide attribution. It’s another to change something slightly and call it your own creation.

The consequences have not been light. Aside from the harm to her reputation, Wente was censured by the Globe and Mail for not meeting journalistic standards, and was suspended by the CBC for the same reasons. Unlike other discovered plagiarists, however, she continues to make a living writing today.

The recent credibility hit taken by Wente has sullied a 25 year career in newspapers and given her reputation a good dragging through the mud. And although she seems to have brought it on herself, particularly with regards to her passive-aggressive apology, I sympathize a little with her predicament.

That’s because I’ve been close several times to doing that which she’s been accused. In the frantic rush to gather information together, organize it, work it into a story or article, sometimes it’s easy to forget what parts of the writing were copied with the intention of providing attribution, and what parts were conceived by yourself.

This isn’t to excuse Wente’s behaviour, but an explanation that such things are humanly possible because humans are fallible. I recall one incident in particular where I either read something or copied something from an independent journalist, Sean Holman, and reprinted it on my blog without attribution. Although I meant to provide a link to his blog, which usually suffices, I just forgot.

Holman soon contacted me, and although he didn’t accuse me of plagiarism, he implied I was operating unethically. Of course, as a blogger I’m not professionally obligated to provide attribution for anything, but he made his point. I felt bad. It was a mistake.

That doesn’t mean Wente made a similar accident, and she deserves to be held to a higher standard based on her occupation. I’m only suggesting that it’s certainly possible her actions weren’t malicious.

A number of people have said the journalistic community piled on Wente only because she’s a bit of a right-of-centre columnist, and that the feeding frenzy was typical of the media’s propensity to attack another member of the media only when it’s obvious the community as a whole sanctions the attack.

I think that’s a fair comment. Journalists aren’t very introspective, at least as far as the standards of our industry goes. Although we do have journalism awards and a press council, we’re not formally accredited. Anyone can be a journalist if a news organization is willing to pay them. With such a low, or nonexistent, barrier for entry, should we be surprised there are no hard and fast rules holding us to professional account?

And because of this invisible barrier, we’re left to our own devices to decide who’s doing a good or a bad job. Which is why barring any formal action from the Globe and Mail or a journalistic standards council, it’s left up to the people in the profession to censure Wente for her oversights and carelessness.

By the same token, because the rules are such a grey area, we’re reluctant to lash out against others in the profession. It’s less a matter of the “media party” and more a matter of keeping your head down, lest you speak out of turn.

The fact Carole Wainio found out Wente’s plagiarism is both laudatory and disturbing. Praiseworthy, that she did such indepth research to find out Wente’s transgressions against journalism. Alarming, to think somebody might be spending hours each and every day poring over my own work with the same fine comb. Not because I’m afraid of being “found out” but it’s a reminder we’re very much under the public eye. And nobody’s perfect.

But what about the editor? Isn’t it his or her job to provide oversight and fact-checking on articles to avoid such embarrassment? Why can a blogger find something when the newspaper can’t? Well, welcome to the new media.

I think that in an era of increasingly difficult deadlines, limited time and resources, plagiarism might even get worse. The pressure to convert hastily gathered information to instantaneous news has never been greater, and as salaries decline, and more duties are piled on inexperienced journalists, there’s nowhere for the industry to go but down.

People want information, but they don’t want to pay for the sort of oversight and quality control they expect. Some of the best journalism being done today is still the long form, slowly researched, feature writing, freelance kind, not subject to being rushed or risked.

The rest of us are copy editing our own stories because the editors were let go, just like the photographers. The industry is steadily condensing the many jobs of journalism into one, with fewer eyes to provide oversight, and less time to invest in that redundancy. It’s not just plagiarism that becomes an issue when that happens, but the product as a whole.

Canada’s favourite poster child for terrorism comes home

Posted October 1st, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Papa Khadr knew this day would come. The young terror apprentice, Omar, son of Ahmed Said, is back in Canada, the country of his birth. And just like his immigrant father planned, Canadians are tripping over themselves to absolve him of his crimes.

Ahmed Said was nothing if not perceptive in his examination of our country’s rights and freedoms. The Egyptian-born terrorist picked Canada as a base of operations knowing it afforded not only excellent consular services, but it came with all the attendant privileges of the sort of society radical Islam wishes to destroy.

Ironic, aint it?

Critics of Guantanamo Bay have long cited Omar Khadr as the last western prisoner holed up in Cuba. This fact was pointed out ceaselessly and tirelessly by those critics, perhaps as some sort of shaming attempt. It’s consistent with the moral relativism of the left, in that they lobbied for his release because as a westerner he is born into a privilege that exceeds the lowborn scum of the non-western world.

Ironic, aint it?

Ahmed Said Khadr was fully cognizant of our western moral relativism and disinterest in the Muslim world. There are injustices in Canada when a Muslim isn’t allowed to wear her burka to a soccer game, but whether or not a 9-year-old girl is married to a senior citizen in Pakistan is really none of our business. So, getting Omar Khadr released from Guantanamo Bay is a matter of imperative. The Yemeni-born radical… not so much.

Much has been written about Ahmed Said’s progeny, most of it lamenting his status as Canada’s little “child soldier.” The first of his kind, really. Never before in the history of Canadian civilization (and I’ll admit, we don’t have a very long history) has a person under the age of 18 imprisoned by a foreign military in a foreign country ever been referred to as a child soldier.

The main reason it’s a first is because such a designation is, technically speaking, idiotic. Little Omar, as daddy dearest desired, was raised in the western cradle of decadence, with colour televisions, co-ed classrooms, and Black History Month. The kid was likely literally taught what a real child soldier is in school.

The reason children in Africa are referred to as child soldiers is because most of them were born, raised, and died in civil war. Militias in wartorn regions of the continent would wander into villages, rape the women, slaughter the men, take sex slaves from the little girls, and recruits from the little boys.

These new recruits, some no older than six or seven, would be given assault rifles and told to shoot their friends in the head. Maybe their parents. They were physically and sexually tortured. They were psychologically brainwashed every second of every day. Failure to comply with any demand would result in a bullet to the skull. Unmarked grave if they were lucky.

Does Omar Khadr sound like a child soldier? This western-born and raised, western-educated boy who can be seen smiling in photographs in Canada with his siblings? Am I expected to believe growing up in Scarborough is like growing up in South Sudan?

We’ve established Omar Khadr isn’t a child soldier. So, what is he? Well, technically speaking he was an enemy combatant, fighting alongside an Islamic militia force known to be allied to a global terrorist organization. I think the most accurate description would be that he was a terrorist apprentice.

But more importantly, is he responsible for his crimes? Did he possess the moral maturity to distinguish that what he was doing was morally wrong? I would argue that, taking into account his age, upbringing, and family associations, it’s likely he was aware that what he was doing was wrong, but only according to the laws of the infidels.

In his mind he likely believed he was doing good. Despite his exposure to western philosophy, morals, and culture, Omar’s father brainwashed his children to believe that their aims served a higher religious and political purpose that justified their actions.

In the same way that a young person raised in Nazi Germany was brainwashed to believe the Jews were a degenerate race deserving extinction, Omar Khadr was raised to believe the western world was a blight on the earth. And although some part of him probably sensed that what he was doing was wrong on some level, his filial obligations led him to believe his path was righteous. Because there is no greater role model for a son than his father.

Ahmed Said, bloodthirsty lunatic that he was, raised a family in Canada, knowing full well that his children would be able to carry out his dangerous work with the safety net of a Canadian passport. And he was right. Omar Khadr wasn’t some Pakistani or Afghan who will rot in Gitmo, unnamed and unknown, for the rest of his days.

So, now that Omar Khadr is home, now what? Well, it’s time to have the now-grown man psychologically assessed. Does he realize what he was doing was wrong? Does he have any remorse? Regrets? Does he renounce radical Islam? Is he a danger to Canadian society?

The fact some people, like the Toronto Star editorial board, want him immediately released without those questions asked, is frankly appalling. Let me state that again. It’s appalling.

Do I think Omar Khadr is a threat to Canada anymore? Actually, I sincerely doubt it. His father is dead. He’s been isolated and alienated from al Qaeda for more than a decade now. His brothers, who were also involved with al Qaeda in some capacity while their father was still alive, have disappeared into quiet obscurity. Were Omar released into Canadian society, I believe he’d also slip into the same obscurity, not unlike Karla Homolka.

But there’s one reason he wouldn’t disappear altogether. The Canadian left view Omar as some kind of martyr, a victim of western neoimperialist aggression against the Muslim world. Their deranged desire to elevate Omar to that of a Maher Arar, or worse, a Nelson Mandela, is a real danger.

Look, we can debate endlessly on how long a sentence a 15-year-old deserves for participation in war crimes, or what responsibility he bears for that participation. But what’s really important here isn’t what’s good for Omar. It’s what’s good for Canada. We need to establish that he’s not a threat now, or in any foreseeable future.

The best way to smooth that road would be for him to come out publicly and tell Canadians he’s not a danger and that he’s changed. But he won’t. For the same reason he’s never really expressed any remorse or culpability, I don’t think Omar Khadr really believes he did anything wrong. Who knows? Maybe he still believes his father did the right thing raising him the way he did. His notorious family certainly hasn’t apologized.

The sordid Khadr saga is an object lesson in the worst case scenario of failed multiculturalism and divided nationalities. It’s also an object lesson in our vulnerability to those who use our generous rights and freedoms with the manipulative intent to do great evil.

I pray we’ve learned something from all this.

Why have children when you can have a dog?

Posted September 30th, 2012 in pop culture by Adrian MacNair

From Family Guy: The post-Roe v Wade Brady Bunch

I just have to say that everything about Joe O’Connor’s story in the National Post last week rings true. People don’t want the stress and financial strife of having to raise the next generation when they can go golfing, buy new cars, and have all the free time in the world. In other words, they don’t feel like they have to “give back” to the next generation like their parents did for them:

No more. Gone are diaper changes and ballet classes, replaced by hot yoga and shopping trips to New York City.

“The childless couple lives in a vacuum,” she wrote. “They try to fill their lonely lives with dinner dates, theatre, golf, tennis, swimming, civic affairs and trips all over the world….

Worse, we’ve become a society where dogs and cats have become replacements for children. They’re relatively low maintenance, don’t require a college education, and you can always buy a new one when it dies. Still, the emotional attachment placed on the pets carry a surrogate value for children, something these people can’t seem to understand:

“I don’t think dogs should be treated like bags,” she says. “They’re living, breathing creatures and parts of people’s families.” She adds that she will never fly with her dogs again.
“I’ll miss her loving soul,” Rizer says of Bea, who used to sit by little Zander and gently lick his face. “She was one of a kind. I’ve never had a dog like her. You can’t replace a dog, especially one like that.”

Actually, you can replace a dog. You can go down to a city pound and buy one for $300 today. That’s why people choose them over the hassle of children.

They say the truth hurts and Romney said it

Posted September 18th, 2012 in united states by Adrian MacNair

The first rule of politics is you don’t tell the truth. The second rule of politics is you don’t tell the truth. Poor Mitt Romney learned those hard lessons recently when a video unearthed from ancient times (in politics, that would be May, 2012) basically reveals he levelled with a room of Americans by telling them a certain portion of the population is hopelessly useless and will continue to complain regardless of what the government does.

And he’s right. People have been expecting the government, whether it be in the U.S., France, or Greece, to do everything from create jobs out of thin air, to label the nutritional value of water. In other words, a certain portion of the population is irrepressibly irredeemably dependent on somebody else running their lives, and anyone with common sense would say “my job is not to worry about those people.”

Unfortunately, that sort of honesty just doesn’t cut it in today’s world. Nay, friends and 53-percenters, telling people that they’re responsible for their own lives, prosperity and happiness is tantamount to saying tic-tac-toe is an unwinnable stalemate. And I’ll be goddamned if someone doesn’t think one day they’ll lay down three Xs in a box for the big victory.

See, the truth is that there is a vast swath of people who have little imagination, originality, or wherewithal to pull themselves out of a situation they put themselves in, and their best solution to such a problem is to cast a vote for Barack Obama. Hope and change without the need to change? Perfect. Obama.

That sort of attitude is the difference between putting blue helmets behind barbed wire in Rwanda and U.S. Marines in Iraq. On the one hand, you do nothing, watch the carnage unfold behind your wire, and get confused when nothing changes. On the other hand, you do something, it’s painful and horrible and difficult, and in the end there’s something called progress.

Obama has perpetuated and reinforced the worst expectations of government. That it exists solely to fix the problems of the electorate, regardless of how powerless it may be to effect that change. Which means if the voters believe dumping trillions of dollars into make-work projects that go nowhere is going to change anything, then the government is obligated to waste that money doing it.

I love that the new Obama campaign is focusing very little on what sort of accomplishments the administration has made over the past four years, save putting a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s beard. Now, the new movement is less about hope and change and more about patience. And although Obama promised everything but the White House sink to voters in 2008, the truth is that he can’t get it done in four years. He needs eight.

Well, that aint the truth neither, folks. Obama can’t do it in eight. He can’t do it in 28. What he’s doing, the truth now, is blowing money faster than the mint can print the stuff. And the 47-percenters are peachy with it because it isn’t their money anyway. As Romney said, they don’t pay the taxes that Obama’s spending.

Look, I’m not saying Mitt Romney is some kind of Honest Abe, and that every word that drips from his tongue has the holy blessing of Christ Himself. In the war of politics, we all know truth is the first casualty, and Romney’s camp has been busy painting a caricature of Obama that’s as ridiculous as the one the Democrats are scribbling.

But here’s the thing. The last Democrat with any courage whatsoever once famously said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That beautiful quote is now a cliche but it’s no less relevant. Americans need to stop asking the government to be its mom and go back to being its elected assembly of representatives who are responsible for the fiscal security of the United States.

Goddamn it, the truth is that Americans do see themselves as victims. On the anniversary of the iPhone-entitled 99-percenters behind Occupy Wall Street, they’re still blaming the banks, the mortgage companies, the big corporations, the American government, the credit card companies, the oil companies, the illuminati, the Bilderberg Group. Anybody but themselves.

It’s got to stop. But it won’t. Not until somebody like Romney says it has to and makes people understand it and believe it. There was nothing wrong with the Hope and Change message in and of itself. The fallacy was that Hope and Change began and ended with government policy. And that’s a lie nobody can swallow.

John Cummins could use a few friends right now

Posted September 11th, 2012 in British Columbia by Adrian MacNair

Photo: Lisa Vandervelde, Black Press

Update: The Conservatives have responded to say they will not be fielding a candidate in Delta-South.

* * *

As a reporter, I know I’ve got to be pretty careful on this one. I don’t know if it’s an ethical concern to blog about a story you’re actually working on, but I generally don’t do it for obvious reasons.

Having said that, the timing of the “Friends of John Cummins” movement and the rumours of a BC Conservative civil war make me wonder if it has anything to do with the reason I can’t get an interview with the political party. And let me be clear that I’m not suggesting it does. Just that the timing is unfortunate.

I’ve been working on a political story about possible candidates for Delta-South, currently held by incumbent independent MLA Vicki Huntington. The riding is particularly ripe for the BC Conservatives, in my view, because Tsawwassen is a staunchly Conservative community.

In fact, John Cummins was the federal Conservative MP for Delta-Richmond East, which actually represents all of South Delta and parts of Richmond. You’d think this would be a riding of particular interest for Cummins and the provincial Conservatives.

It’s also the riding that Liberal politician Wally Oppal lost in the last election by just 32 votes. In fact, the initial count showed Oppal winning by two votes, spawning the automatic recount.

Huntington’s father, Ron, was a federal MP for the Progressive Conservatives in North Vancouver in the seventies, and a former minister of state for small business in the short reign of prime minister Joe Clark. So, you’d think Cummins would be courting Vicki for that seat, if he doesn’t intend to run a provincial candidate there.

Although rounding up candidates for a story about an election eight months away might be a little contrived, news of inner turmoil about a party’s leader just eight months out from an election can be categorized as a disaster.

When I saw the results of the byelections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope in April, it seemed to me the BC Conservatives were doing pretty well. They even demonstrated they can put in a solid third-party showing, splitting the vote in Chilliwack-Hope and handing over the riding to the BC NDP.

That sort of dynamic could be expected in South Delta. Although the NDP haven’t traditionally been seen as a viable option for this region, splitting the vote between the Liberals, Conservatives, and Vicki Huntington, if she runs alone again, could send BC NDP candidate Nic Slater up through the middle.

I tried contacting the BC Conservatives riding association president, last listed as Christopher Summers, but he’s apparently left the position. Of course, that’s only a rumour, since I can’t get a spokesperson from the political party to call me back.

I was called briefly last Thursday by the media contact listed on their website, Jim Mitchell. But after I told him my deadline and what I wanted I never heard from him again. He didn’t answer his phone today or yesterday, and his voice mail doesn’t work.

Although the election is a long way away in May of 2013, it seemed like a good idea to get an idea of who’s running in South Delta. To that end I interviewed a potential candidate for the BC Liberals, the candidate for the BC NDP, and Vicki Huntington. The only party I couldn’t get was the BC Conservatives.

And then yesterday I began receiving emails from “Friends of John Cummins.” The form letter is endorsed by six regional party directors and includes supportive quotes about the leader. I tried emailing the account back on Monday, without reply. I also left a message for the contact on the form letter, but received no return call.

So, what gives?

Well, Les Leyne of the Victoria Times Colonist has some ideas.

As he points out, when regional directors announce support for their political leader, it’s not exactly breaking news. “Conservative riding association president says Harper a great guy.” Yeah, we know. Which means going public implies there’s fire where there was previously only smoke.

That means the Sept. 22 BC Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Langley could be a huge turning point in the party’s history. That’s when you’d expect the proverbial shit to hit the fan if things are truly rotten in the state of Denmark. And if they choose to dethrone Cummins, who would take his place? John Van Dongen? Someone else? And how quickly would that happen?

It’s a pretty big change to make at this stage in the game and a lot is at stake. The BC Liberals have never been so weak in the past 13 years, and the party could win a bunch of seats in Victoria. You’d have to think that if it’s handled improperly, nervous voters will stay away from amateur hour.

As for me, I just want somebody to call back the reporter.

DND cutting jobs in order to create them again?

Posted September 10th, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Is the government trimming the fat off the public sector? Or just looking to switch the workforce to the private sector? A new article from the Ottawa Citizen suggests the Defence Department would pay a private firm $100 million over the five years to provide the same services as workers who are currently scheduled to receive pink slips.

The contract, slated to run from 2013 to 2018, covers management services, maintenance and repair and janitorial services for army installations in western Canada, including 10 training areas and 17 armouries. And that has the unions representing the laid off workers royally pissed off.

According to the article, more than 1,500 DND workers across the country have been given layoff notices or indications their job is being considered for the chopping block. The military wants the new contract in place for the first day of fiscal 2013 in April.

But there are a few things we don’t really know from this article. How much are these replacement workers going to cost in wages and benefits? Is this a backdoor way of busting the union and the associative costly benefits and pensions that come with it? If so, maybe the problem isn’t the jobs but the affordability of the benefits package.

We’d really need to know how much money the defence department is saving by firing unionized workers and going to the private sector for what appears to be fairly routine services. I mean, if saving a few million dollars on janitorial services allows the defence department to maintain core services under an austerity budget, it’s probably a good idea.

We also need to know more about the math on this one. Are the feds spending $100 million on 1,500 replacement workers (or $13,333 per worker per year) or will there be fewer replacements for the jobs lost?

I am curious, however, as to whether these replacement contracts will follow suit in the other 19,200 public servant jobs being axed by the feds. Are the Conservatives really trimming the bloated public sector, bursting at a record 400,000 workers under the Harper government, or merely changing out the unionized workers for cheaper ones on the side?

As contracted workers the feds could create the illusion of cutting the fat, while really only changing the manpower perspective. They would still essentially work a public service job but wouldn’t be reflected in public service statistics. And who knows, maybe the contract would allow these workers to split time with several clients.

I don’t really have a problem with busting the unions to balance the books. That’s a fiscally smart idea, especially in a post-subprime meltdown world where governments can’t afford to pay golden pensions and banked sick days. Well, not for people who aren’t ex-members of parliament, anyway.

But I don’t like the sneaky idea of doing it under the guide of austerity. Let’s call a spade a spade. If the feds are busting the unions to save money, not cutting jobs, then so be it. Own it, and defend it. But it sounds to me like this is being done on the sly, and in bad faith, if they’re telling public workers one thing and doing another behind their backs.

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