Category Archives: Spin and Counterspin

On Timbits and terrorists and Thomas Mulcair

Over the past few weeks, the Conservative government has been introducing a flurry of bills that they have absolutely no intention of passing.

Many of the bills, which include motions to sentence certain criminals to life without the possibility of parole and to ban women from wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, have been labelled as potentially unconstitutional by legal observers and rights groups. But that’s besides the point.

The Conservatives are betting on two things: first, that these bills will be popular with their base, and second, that they can slur the Liberals and NDP for opposing these motions. As the CBC puts it, “who wants to run an election campaign arguing against tough sentences for murders and rapists?”

To claim that opponents of their measure are sympathetic to vicious criminals is a classic example of an ad hominem attack. If you’ve never heard of it, the ad hominem is an attack on the arguer rather than on their argument, an attempt to discredit the speaker rather than refute the speech. Ad hominems are common on schoolyards everywhere – like for instance, “What do you know about sports? You’re just a girl!” or, “Nobody cares what you think anyway, you dummy!”

Which sound pretty obvious. But I still remember watching George W Bush gravely intone in a speech to Congress days after 9/11 that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” to wild thunderous applause. Now, that’s barely one step removed from “If you don’t agree with me, you’re clearly an idiot”, but I don’t remember the New York Times calling him out on that one. Continue Reading

Bono is an arrogant self-important jerk who doesn’t care about the poor

Several years back I ran a kitchen on a volunteer hippie farm near Newcastle, Ontario. We had all types of transients coming through the farm, and all of them were strongly encouraged to either help tend the crops or work in the kitchen cooking the day’s meals or preserving the harvest. In the spirit of the dysfunctional laid-back-to-nature vibe of the farm, I kept rules to a minimum in the kitchen. In fact, there was only one hard and fast, non-negotiable rule: You can listen to whatever shitty music you like, but no Bono.

Looking back, I have a lot of regrets about that time of my life, but my injunction against U2 is something I’ll stand by proudly. Bono is quite possibly my least favourite person in the world today – and if you follow the news as closely as I do, you’ll know that that’s quite a statement.

My beef with Bono is that he’s very much “part of the problem” – he’s pretty much the quintessential “part of the problem” – but he’s managed to convince seemingly everybody that he’s part of the solution, that he’s being the change we need to see in the world. Which couldn’t be further from the truth: Continue Reading

Tory flip-flops, calls for carding to be abolished after pressure from elites

April 16, 2015:

In a high stakes move, the Toronto police board has passed a revised community engagement [i.e. carding] policy Thursday, rushing through a document before Chief Bill Blair leaves at the end of the month without the “progressive” citizen safeguards first sought by the board a year ago…

Board member Mayor John Tory said after the board vote that he chose to support the revised policy because it was the only way forward after an eight-month stalemate.

“That policy could not and was not operationalized,” said Tory. “Communication was diminishing, attitudes were hardening on all sides,” says Tory, although he says any suggestion that Chief Bill Blair was insubordinate were unfounded.

June 3, 2015:

After dozens of prominent Torontonians stood just steps from John Tory’s second-floor city hall office to demand an end to carding, the mayor said he heard their message “very clearly.”

But on Wednesday, Tory refused to join that call, instead doubling down on his position that the practice needs reforming, not shelving.

“Work has continued virtually non-stop on improving the procedure which governs police-community engagements and relations, and though it is a complex issue I think all sides acknowledge that we are making progress,” Tory said at a press conference held inside his office. “I have always maintained that the recently-passed policy is a beginning not an end.”


Toronto Mayor John Tory has called for an end of the controversial police practice of carding, which he said has “eroded the public trust.”

“It is my intention to see carding cancelled permanently and that we start fresh,” Tory told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.

Tory said he intends to go before Toronto’s police board on June 18 and call for the practice to be eliminated.

So what happened here? Continue Reading

Stephen Harper wants YOU to be terrified

Another deep dive into a Stephen Harper speech designed to provoke fear in your hearts
harper protecting canadians

Good ol’ Steve, keeping us safe! (Image credit:

As the Conservatives continue to slip in the polls going into the summer, Harper and his strategists seem to have seized upon the George-W-Bush-circa-2004 strategy for trying to get a not-so-popular government reelected – wrap yourselves in the flag and hype the so-called “terror threat” for all it’s worth. (We’ll have to wait and see whether the HarperCons employ the same kinds of dirty tricks and low-blow character assassinations that the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign ran, although given the deep institutional links between the Conservative and Republican Parties, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.)

Harper’s terror fixation has been on full display for the past few weeks. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen him posing in front of the same podium, which vaguely claims he is “Protecting Canadians” from unspecified threats.

First there was his super-secret-undercover-agent trip to Iraq for photo opportunities and fear-mongering, with a bleary-eyed press in tow. (I wrote up his trip here  and his speech to the troops here.)

Then there was the overhyped RCMP raid on a Montreal airport, in which they detained (but didn’t arrest or charge) ten young people allegedly attempting to travel abroad to join ISIS. (Link is to the Toronto Sun purely for the totally unrelated but provocative photo.) These highly-publicized but mostly insubstantial detainments were closely followed by a major Prime Ministerial announcement at that same airport that the Government of Canada was going to give the Mounties and the Canadian Border Services Agency even more money to keep doin’ what they’re doin’.

And most recently, right here in Toronto, Steve announced that we haven’t surrendered enough dollars or enough liberty quite yet to keep the terrorists at bay – we need to also give more money to CSIS so they can collect biometric information on pretty much everybody who enters Canada.

As I did with his fear-mongering hate speech in Iraq, I’d like to take a close look at Harper’s statement in Toronto, examining it both for its truth-value (low) and its propaganda value (high). I think it’s a useful indicator of what we can expect from the HarperCons in the election campaign this fall, and I hope that the more his rhetoric gets exposed and picked apart, the less effective it’ll be. Continue Reading

Bill C-51, Jenni Byrne, and the “reality-based community”

Reading the Globe’s best attempt at a profile of Jenni Byrne today, I was struck by how resolutely on-message the woman is.

Byrne, for those who don’t know – and she’s done her best to make sure that most people don’t – is the Karl Rove to Stephen Harper’s George “Dubya” Bush, the secret strategist behind the throne, the master of messaging and spinning and damage controlling.

In stark contrast to Rove, however, Byrne’s name is unfamiliar to all but the most die-hard politicos. She declined repeated requests for an interview with the Globe (although she did dispatch people loyal to her to provide quotes for the story and to rebut specific criticisms on her behalf). Her Twitter feed is a mix of anodyne hockey-related posts and retweets of government propaganda.

Rove, by contrast, was quite public about his influence, and become a fixture on Fox News. On Election Night in 2012, he very publicly (and somewhat suspiciously, given the history) tried to cast doubt on Fox’s projection that Obama had won Ohio and the presidency. He even went on Colbert.

Karl Ham Rove and Stephen Colbert talking some serious policy

But their methods are strikingly similar. Continue Reading

A close reading of Prime Minister Harper’s absurdly jingoistic speech to the troops in Kuwait

I’m hoping to do an update later tonight/tomorrow on the likely passage of Bill C-51, but I came across this video and it was too good to resist.

I wish I had stumbled across this while preparing yesterday’s post, but oh well, here it is now – Stephen Harper addressing the troops in Kuwait during his recent super-stealthy secret surprise visit to the front lines of the war non-combat operation against ISIS.

I retrieved the full transcript from the Prime Minister’s website, but I wasn’t able to find a full video of the speech. Do check out the link above for the abridged CP video, though – Harper’s tone of voice is priceless, like that of a pompous vice-principal addressing a high school graduation ceremony with the same tired platitudes he’s been recycling for decades.

What I’d like to do with this little gem of an address is to pick it apart, piece by piece, annotating any points of interest we come across. It’s an approach I first saw used by the incomparable Lambert Strether over at Naked Capitalism; check out, by way of example, this lovely takedown of Marco Rubio’s announcement that he was running for president, and the surprising amount of insight it yields into the man and his motives.

I lack Mr Strether’s firm command of the technical vocabulary of rhetoric (as well as his colorful collection of magic markers), but I know bullshit when I smell it, and this speech is full of it.

Let’s dive in, shall we? Continue Reading

News from the frontlines of Canada’s glorious non-combat operation

The release of the federal budget two weeks ago unofficialy ushered in Campaign Season 2015, marking the beginning of posturing and jockeying for headlines and advantage.

The HarperCons did their damndest to hammer home the notion that they’re strong stewards of the economy, despite the fact that the economy has pretty much been shit the whole time they’ve been in power and they had to essentially cook the books to get to a surplus.

Pundits responded to the government’s surplus triumphalism with a pretty big “meh.”

Trudeau’s Liberals countered by announcing the Very Exciting News that barely-out-of-office ex-chief of police Bill Blair was going to run for Parliament.

The announcement didn’t go over quite as well as the Libs had hoped, what with all the awkward questions about the G20 (and Trudeau declaring that it wasn’t his place to judge the arbitrary detaining of 1100 people, the atrocious conditions in which they were held, the horrific violence visited upon peaceful protestors and innocent bystanders, or really any of the TPS’ questionable conduct during the 2010 summit).

Then there was the spotlight that it shone on Trudeau’s repeatedly broken promise to allow open nominations in every riding, with even the hapless National Post poking fun at the Liberaleader.

Which is to say that so far, Campaign 2015 has been going pretty poorly for the two heavyweight parties so far. And with a near-tie in the most recent polls, both were looking for some kind of action.

Continue Reading

Criminal ex-police chief Bill Blair will run for the Liberals

Civil liberties violator, racial profiler, and apologist for police brutality Bill Blair announced today in an exclusive interview with the Toronto Star that he will seek the nomination for the Liberal Party in Scarborough Southwest.

This is one of those times when I hate being right.

You may recall that last week I was sounding the alarm about a “grassroots initiative” led by “local Liberals” to “draft Bill Blair” to run in the upcoming federal election. It was transparently an astroturf group, but based on the respectful and widespread coverage it received, I concluded that it was essentially a beat-sweetener put forward by the Liberal Party to float the idea and get some same press. At the time I said:

So one could see this as the first step in what would essentially be a coronation of Blair as the candidate for Scarborough Southwest. And ultimately, that’s the way I’m reading this…I expect that we’ll hear something next weekend, when Blair is officially a civilian, if we’re ever gonna hear anything at all. In the meanwhile let’s all keep our fingers crossed that this is some kind of horrible nightmare.

And now here we are. I’m sad to say I’m not surprised that he’s made it official. There were a few surprises in the Star’s gushing piece, though: Continue Reading

The Curious Case of the #PhonySurplus

Here’s the headline Stephen Harper & Co wanted to see following today’s budget announcement:


Strictly speaking, this is an accurate assessment of the budget – but only because of creative accounting.

Which is to say, the government is lying.

The $1.4 billion surplus announced by Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver a few hours ago relies on a few tricks. First of all, the government is withdrawing $2 billion from the federal contingency fund.

Continue Reading

RCMP devote 240 officers to entrapping two incompetent stoners, then complain they don’t get enough funding

So last week I was walking past a Toronto Star newspaper box, which I literally can’t do without checking the headline. This particular day the Star was whinging about the RCMP and its supposedly inadequate anti-terrorism funding, which at the time I thought was just a straightforwardly transparent attempt by the Mounties to get more money out of a government which is flogging the terror issue to death. (Hopefully that’s not a too-insensitive metaphor.)

But since then some of my reading has gotten me to digging further, and I’ve had to revise my initial impression. The Star was indeed pushing for more cash for the Mounties’ anti-terror programs, but they were also quite slickly drawing attention away from the actual content of those programs.


The gist of it is that the RCMP whined to Parliament earlier this year that they were bearing the main brunt of funding an inter-agency anti-domestic terrorism program known as INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team). Their contributions towards this program have increased by more than 3200% in the last twelve years while the federal government’s input has remained constant, not even adjusting for inflation. The result of this funding shortfall is that the Mounties have had to transfer resources and staff – over 600 staff! – from other areas of focus into domestic counter-terrorism operations. The article specifically references resources being transferred away from investigating economic crime, i.e. banks and hedge funds screwing over us common folk, as well as organized crime. The Star, being the loyal Liberal rag it is, doesn’t delve into this angle, but instead tries to make this a strictly partisan issue:
Continue Reading

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