All posts tagged Sun News Network

Sun Media – not its squalid commentator Ezra Levant – is the problem

Ezra Levant, on the job with his Sun News microphone. Mr. Levant is not the problem. Sun Media is the problem. Below: Justin Trudeau, Bernie Farber, and Brian Mulroney.

Ezra Levant is a squalid nuisance, barely worth contemplating.

Sun Media is the problem.

On Monday, Sun Media apologized for Mr. Levant’s repellent and sexually obsessive hysterics about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s parents, one dead and the other an elderly grandmother and thus neither in a position to defend themselves.

This only happened, of course, because Mr. Trudeau threatened no longer to talk to legitimate Sun Media journalists, of which we have been repeatedly assured there are a few, after Mr. Levant’s Sept. 23 rant, and because former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney intervened in his current role as a member of the board of Quebecor, which owns Sun Media.

Within seconds of the apology being read by an anonymous narrator, Mr. Levant’s smug visage was back on the air and, not long after that, in the pages of the local edition of Sun Media’s newspaper here in Edmonton. No apologies from him, thank you very much.

In other words, thanks to his enablers at Sun Media, Mr. Levant has gotten away with it again, just as he got away with his sinister racist screed about an entire people, the Roma, his false statements about George Soros, his reference to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council as “idiots” and “censors” for mildly ruling that he really shouldn’t tell people he disagrees with to “f**k your mother” on the air.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m compelled to inform readers that Mr. Levant has called me personally “a snitch,” “a weasel,” “a bully” (presumably for daring to criticize Sun Media), a person who unprofessionally sneaked union propaganda into Calgary Herald news stories, a “union boss” – if only it were true! – and a big chicken for refusing to appear on his program. Plus the Spanish obscenity translated above, of course.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note in light of this that when the shoe was on the other foot, and the self-described free-speech advocate was being criticized for his Roma commentary, he did not respond to my three requests for his comments about the situation.

As far as I am aware, only in the case of the hate-filled monologue about the Roma – when according to Rabble’s Karl Nerenberg charges were seriously considered under Article 319 of the Criminal Code for public incitement and willful promotion of hatred – did Mr. Levant himself apologize.

So we can count on it that Mr. Levant will make inappropriate comments again – and again, and again – and that each time Sun Media will say, sorry, so sorry, it’ll never happen again … all the while tacitly encouraging Mr. Levant to continue.

In other words, it’s Sun Media that gives Mr. Levant a multi-media platform for hate, obscenity, hectoring abuse and bullying. It’s Sun Media that allows him to play unsupervised on national television. It’s Sun Media that defends his excesses. It’s Sun Media that apologizes for them – usually with enough qualifiers to render the apology meaningless. So it’s Sun Media that ought to be held responsible for what he does.

Sun Media’s defences of Mr. Levant can be quite elaborate. In 2012, Sun News Network Vice-President Kory Teneycke publicly defended Mr. Levant’s noxious rant about the Roma. The former member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political praetorian guard barricaded himself inside Sun Media’s “message box” while doing his best to sound contrite about Mr. Levant’s savage commentary.

Mr. Teneycke refused to acknowledge the patently racist overtones of Mr. Levant’s sinister remarks and suggested they were merely meant to be satirical. Anyone who heard the original nine-minute episode of Mr. Levant’s program knows this explanation is so preposterous that Mr. Teneycke himself may have been engaging in satire.

Thankfully, other respected public figures, like Bernie M. Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, treated Mr. Levant’s appalling remarks with the gravity they deserved.

Unfortunately, though, readers will be hard pressed to confirm any of this now, since Sun Media seems to have washed all copies of Mr. Levant’s poison down the corporate Memory Hole. A recording placed on Youtube.com by a third party was removed “due to a copyright claim by Sun News Network.”

And even Sun Media didn’t bother apologizing in 2011 when Mr. Levant dressed up in an orange wig and mocked the death from cancer of NDP leader Jack Layton.

Why would Sun Media encourage this kind of behaviour by its commentator?

I can only speculate, of course, not being privy to their strategies. But it seems reasonable to conclude Sun Media fully endorses Mr. Levant’s messages, even when they disavow particular examples like his rant about the Roma and now the attack on Pierre and Margaret Trudeau. Surely, at least until Mr. Mulroney stepped in, Sun Media also supported the attacks on the elder Trudeaus as a way to get at their son.

Finally, presumably Sun Media underwrites Mr. Levant’s efforts to debase public discourse for the same reason as does Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party, which is closely allied to Sun Media: because it is an effective voting suppression tactic that helps keep the Conservatives in power.

So don’t expect Mr. Levant to act any differently, or Sun Media to do anything more about it except issue meaningless apologies, as dictated by circumstances, in future.

This may be good enough for Mr. Trudeau – whose spokesperson said yesterday, no doubt with a sense of relief, that the Liberal leader would talk to Sun Media reporters again.

It ought not to be good enough for anyone else. Sun Media is the problem.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Brian Gallant has a thin resume? Stephen Harper hasn’t held a real job since he quit the mailroom in ’79 or whenever!

New Brunswick Premier-designate Brian Gallant, grabbed from his campaign website. Below: Cranky old National Post opinion thingy Kelly McParland, age undetermined; Justin Trudeau, 42, getting off an airplane with some old guy, 62; Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair, 59.

As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’ …

— Bob Dylan (age 73)

If anyone has the right to be bitter about bright young Liberal leaders with good looks, great hair and supposedly thin resumes like those of New Brunswick premier-elect Brian Gallant and You-Know-Who, I guess it ought to be the not-quite-sixty-something Thomas Mulcair.

The highly accomplished Mr. Mulcair, after all – who is credited by no less an authority than former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (age 75) with being the best Opposition leader in Canada since John Diefenbaker, which is no mean praise for those of us old enough to remember The Chief – is seemingly being eclipsed by this trend as much as any politician.

But Mr. Mulcair, who will be 60 in exactly one month, just keeps beavering away in the hope and expectation that hard work, persistence and a razor-sharp inquisitorial style in Question Period will pay off in the end.

Maybe it’s because he used to be a Liberal and therefore knows something us non-former-Grits do not. More likely it’s just that you’ve got to be an optimist to be a New Democrat, as we Alberta Knee-Dippers have been proving all the way back to the Calgary Manifesto of 1932.

Instead, it seems that it is the Conservatives, still enjoying the perquisites of power, who are reacting with fury, hatred, panic and vitriol to the phenomenon of appealing young Liberal leaders doing well at the polls and the polling stations. The Liberal they’re most infuriated with, of course, despite yesterday’s foot stomping and breath holding about Mr. Gallant’s election victory, is federal Leader Justin Trudeau (who will be 43 on Christmas Day).

Consider the bitter screed in yesterday’s National Post, the publication founded by permanent Canadian resident Conrad Black (age 70), by columnist and commentary editor Kelly McParland. (I could find no age for Mr. McParland – perhaps that’s information he guards closely, as is his right – but judging from his on-line photographs he must be almost as old a wheeze as me. Either that, or he really should make some lifestyle changes.)

Regardless, Mr. McParland’s diatribe sounded for all the world like that of an angry old man infuriated that the same old obfuscatory Tory tricks are not working any more. He raged against New Brunswick and Ontario voters’ lack of seriousness – read willingness to vote Conservative. (“Canadians want to quit worrying and be happy.”)

He screeched at them for their coolness toward Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the old sourpuss (seemingly 65 although only 55) of 24 Sussex Drive. (“They don’t want to hear about restraint or challenges or the need to persevere. They want a vacation. They want to be young again.”)

And Mr. Gallant’s relatively young age, seemingly, almost moved him to a paroxysm of frustration. (“You don’t know whether to shake his hand or buy him a new scooter.”)

Sticking loyally to the Harper PMO’s main talking point, Mr. McParland assailed the resumes of both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Gallant: “At 32, Brian Gallant, the premier-elect, could be Justin Trudeau’s younger brother. To say his resume is ‘slim’ would be an understatement. He spent a short stint as a lawyer in Moncton, but otherwise has been running for office since he was 24.”

OK, let’s make just one point about that: Other than being on Reach for the Top and being a professional politician since the age of 26, unless you also count being a member of the Young Liberals’ Club in high school, Prime Minister Harper’s resume makes Mr. Gallant’s seem hefty.

He got a job in the mailroom at his dad’s company in 1978, for crying out loud. How long he stuck around seems to have been excised from his online resumes. After that, he got a couple of economics degrees from the University of Calgary’s Political Creation Science Department, best known as the market fundamentalist Canadian equivalent of Oral Roberts University. And when he wasn’t running for office, he worked as an agitator for extremist market fundamentalist Astro-Turf groups. That’s it!

This is not to say that Mr. Harper’s political accomplishments are either inconsequential or came easily. Of course not.

But for the life of me, I cannot see how they are any different from the political accomplishments of successful young politicians like Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Gallant – who will be the youngest premier in Canadian history, by a month, when he is sworn into office.

By contrast to the PM, Mr. Gallant managed to get through law school, which I would suggest is considerably more of an accomplishment than getting a “Calgary School” BA and MA from ideological friends and fellow travellers in the faculty.

By contrast to both, Mr. Trudeau, who has Bachelors degrees in literature and education from two different universities, has worked as a teacher, for heaven’s sake, which is as real a job as you can get. If the Conservative Party wishes to demean him as a “drama teacher,” he can be confident that most Canadians don’t seem to be buying it, and for good reason.

That’s the Conservative way, though, isn’t it? If you can’t get anywhere with the facts, make up new facts. And if that doesn’t work, start spewing hatred and abuse.

Speaking of which, at least Mr. McParland’s sour whinging sounds pretty level-headed compared to commentator, if that’s the word, Ezra Levant’s increasingly bizarre and obsessive rants on the so-called Sun News Network on the topic of Mr. Trudeau’s parents. It’s actually kind of sad to see someone come unstuck in public as Mr. Levant, circa 42, appears to be doing.

Meanwhile, if cranky old Canadians like Mr. McParland and some of the other columnists he supervises at the National Pest just can’t stand the idea of a politician who looks young and has nice hair, they should think about voting for Mr. Mulcair. He may be old and cranky too, but he’s also smart, accomplished and better spoken than any other federal party leader.

One way or another, eventually the Pest’s opinion providers are going to have to reconcile themselves to the fact that the times, they are a-changin’.

They certainly shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Mr. Harper’s resume is weighty enough not to float away on the first gentle puff of breeze.

It’s as thin as a single sheet of paper! The man hasn’t held a real job since he left the mailroom in 1979 or whenever the heck it was!

This post by David Climenhaga (age 62) is also found on Rabble.ca.

A return to civility? An end to Internet anonymity? Please! The leaders of all Parliamentary parties need protection now

Political discourse in Canada, as seen by the National Post, that well known champion of common courtesy. Below: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

The National Post is shocked, just shocked, at the tone of the public commentary responding to the threatening break-in at Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau’s Ottawa home while his wife and small children slept.

“Canadian political dialogue is devolving into a mosh pit where even the vilest personal attacks are more or less routine,” lamented political columnist Michael Den Tandt in the Post yesterday, apparently in response to some of the ferocious debate that reports of the frightening incident sparked in the comment sections of various media outfits.

This is true enough, although a mosh pit is for too benign a metaphor for what has become routine political discourse in this country, thanks in large part to the rise of what’s known here as the Online Tory Rage Machine.

These boiler rooms full of angry Conservative Party agitators respond instantly to any issue with furious online denunciations of anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasms of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no matter how mild the disagreement.

Fret about the death toll in Gaza, get ready to be called a friend of terrorists, if not an outright terrorist yourself. Express some worries about sabre-rattling in Ukraine, and you’ll be told you’re in bed with Vladimir Putin. Express doubts about the war on drugs, be prepared to be accused of drug use yourself, or maybe selling the stuff. And just try talking about moderate firearms regulations and then watch with astonishment the threatening tone the response to your remarks quickly takes on.

For, oh, the past eight years or so, it’s been relentless – and, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of the Harper government. And it is semi-official – who can forget the famous Craigslist ad of 2011, when this stuff was really getting off the ground, seeking social media writers to “make up facts” and use “sarcasm and personal insults” to “score points” and “stir outrage.”

No one has ever persuasively denied this was legitimate, although recruitment of operatives seems to have moved to more secure channels, perhaps the back rooms of various right-wing centres for “building democracy.”

This routine abuse of the CPC’s doubters, let alone its actual opponents, has even crept into legitimate media, through the agency of the prime minister’s favourite TV station, the semi-official Sun News Network.

Hell, thanks to Sun News, the Two Minute Hate is practically a Canadian institution now, except that it seldom runs for less than eight or 10 minutes.

And that’s not to mention the Harper Government’s approach to political advertising, which as we know nowadays tends to target on the mostly imagined failings of Mr. Trudeau, with an occasional halfhearted sideswipe at Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.  The fact it doesn’t seem to be working just arouses them to new heights of vituperation.

Not that I’m jumping to any conclusions, but it’s not hard to imagine the possibility that one of the many violent fruitcakes of the right was motivated by this stream of invective to decide they had to … do something.

This has served a purpose for the government. For one thing, keeping the tone of political debate ugly, and fostering the sense that all politicians are corrupt, is a well-understood technique of the political right in North America. It has the tendency to suppress the vote by people who might otherwise be motivated to do something about the state of affairs at the ballot box.

For another, it does in fact have a chilling effect on legitimate democratic discourse and the expression of views not approved by the official right.

Mr. Den Tandt, in the traditional enabling manner of the mainstream media, tries to paint this as something equally contributed to by intemperate supporters of both sides. “As quickly as Trudeau haters popped up to dine out on the break-in, Stephen Harper-haters piled on with their own equally anile attacks,” he wrote, and, I admit, I had to look up “anile” to realize it is sexist as well as largely incorrect.

Although, in fairness, I have noticed in the past few months that traditionally mild-mannered Canadian progressive commentators are holding themselves back much less than in the past – a sleeping dog, perhaps, than the political right may yet regret having awakened. Or perhaps not, since the goal of the strategy was always to debase political discourse.

And so we come to Mr. Den Tandt’s proposed solutions: an end to Internet anonymity and a return to “time-tested standards of common courtesy and decency.”

Well, I understand they’ve been trying something like the former idea in Russia. But good luck with getting any of that to happen in Canada, where, among other things, it would immediately put the Online Tory Rage Machine out of business.

We’re well past all that, I’m afraid. What needs to happen now is for the Mounties to assign protection to the leaders of all Parliamentary parties, and their families. Even the one with only one member. Right now.

That’s going to cost us a few bucks. We’re told we had to pay $47 million from April 1, 2009, to Jan. 31, 2011, to protect Mr. Harper and his family.

Well, so be it. The alternative is much, much worse.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Is there any benefit for Albertans in a criminal prosecution of Alison Redford? Not really

Alison Redford, in days past, somewhere in the skies over Alberta. OK, I never said I was a master of Photoshop! Below: Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy, Alberta Tory leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, leadership candidate and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Will Alberta benefit from a police investigation of Alison Redford’s use of the government’s small fleet of passenger aircraft?

Not really.

Here’s why: Notwithstanding the hyperbole from a number of elected officials of more than one political persuasion, not to mention the opinions of numerous columnists, bloggers and Twitterers, a trial, let alone a conviction, is extremely unlikely.

For all the ethical murkiness of the behaviour exhibited by Ms. Redford and unidentified members of her staff, not to mention some of her caucus mates as well, it’s not at all clear any laws were broken.

Maybe Ms. Redford shouldn’t have taken her daughter along on the government plane, but there’s no way the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are going to conclude that was a criminal breach of trust.

And certainly her staff shouldn’t have put the name of fictional “ghost riders” on the flight manifests as a sneaky way to ensure privacy for the premier and her political aides on certain flights. There have been some denials, but there seems to be no question this actually happened, as reported the day before yesterday by the CBC.

But was that a criminal breach of trust, whether or not Ms. Redford knew about it, as she says she didn’t? Fat chance.

There are so many obstacles to a successful prosecution here about the only thing this topic is good for is a question on some future law school examination.

The commentators screaming for Ms. Redford’s head on a platter – including those of the right-wing, tax-hating persuasion employed by Sun News Network and like organizations – may have missed it, but police and Crown prosecution time and resources cost tax money.

Is it really a good use of our tax dollars to have the police pursue a political case that stands no chance of resulting in charges, let alone a conviction?

A typical right-wing opinion about this case was expressed yesterday in the Edmonton Sun by columnist Lorne Gunter, who argued that if Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy “can be charged for padding his expense account to claim his Ottawa home as a secondary residence and to pay for a trip to the funeral of a personal contact, then what Redford did seems far worse.”

No, what DCS Duffy is accused of is far worse – and, significantly, Mr. Gunter omits to mention the most serious charge in the PMO-Senate Scandal, the allegation Mr. Duffy accepted a bribe, the offering of which the RCMP has bizarrely concluded wasn’t a criminal matter.

Sorry, but taking your kid on an airplane that was already flying somewhere – even numerous times – isn’t an offence of the same magnitude as taking a bribe to execute your public duties in a particular way or submitting fraudulent expense claims with the intention of pocketing the cash.

This is true even if the accusations against Mr. Duffy happen to be an embarrassment to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom Mr. Gunter admires. But Mr. Gunter is right about one thing. Truly, some of Ms. Redford’s activities and those of her staff and caucus stink.

What stinks about them, though, is the instinct to deceive on the part of Ms. Redford’s office when a perfectly legitimate argument could have been made that the premier and her staff needed to be unaccompanied on those flights so they could discuss political questions frankly and openly.

Well, we’re all having our fun with this – and to that accusation, I plead guilty too – but we also need to keep in mind that a criminal investigation by the police may in fact be the best possible outcome from the perspective of Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party.

It would give them at last the opportunity to kick her out of caucus and argue that they’ve dealt firmly and appropriately with the single bad apple in their ranks. This is what Tory leadership frontrunner and former Redford friend Jim Prentice seemed to be suggesting was an appropriate response yesterday. Likewise, her former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is seeking the same job.

It would also allow former members of cabinet like Ric McIver, the third leadership candidate, and Finance Minister Doug Horner, both of whom surely had at least an inkling of what was going on, to claim the many problems Albertans are starting to see with the PC Party’s leadership cadre were the work of that one bad person, now thankfully gone.

And it would provide the perfect excuse for the lot of them to zip their lips and say they can’t comment on an active police investigation that’s conveniently likely to go on for months – thereby avoiding the need to answer questions about the ethical problems endemic to their party.

As an aside, one other likely effect of this affair will be the loss of the government’s small air fleet, which in fact serves a useful purpose for the taxpayers of Alberta.

For flight within Alberta, government aircraft save time for legitimate government work and allow for double tasking by the premier and his or her staff – exactly what Ms. Redford and her political advisors were apparently trying to do when someone cooked up this stupid Fakes on a Plane scheme.

With government aircraft in a province the size of Alberta, officials can fly in and out of some of the smallest airports, work between meetings and avoid having to be paid while they line up for commercial flights. Notwithstanding Ms. Redford’s unconscionable misuse of the planes, how are we taxpayers going to be better off if they are sold and the work contracted out to the high-cost private sector?

I suspect voters in their current justly disillusioned mood won’t be sympathetic to this view, but it remains a fact it’s not a bad use of our tax dollars, just like it’s a fact a doomed criminal prosecution of the former premier is not a good use of our taxes – no matter how much it secretly pleases her former caucus colleagues, who never much liked her anyway.

No, Ms. Redford’s crimes are political in nature – although not in the sense that phrase is normally used in totalitarian states. That is, they are known to the public, possibly immoral, but highly unlikely to be deemed illegal by a court.

They – and more importantly those of her party – can only be punished in a political forum. And the only meaningful way to do that is to fight an election over them.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

With floodwaters rising again, will Sun News Network renew its hysterical ‘gun grab’ attacks on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Sun News Network columnist Lorne Gunter is presented an award by National Firearms Association President Sheldon Clare for his commentary on the so-called “High River Gun Grab.” (Grabbed from the NFA’s website.) Below: Floodwaters roar through High River last year. (CBC Photo)

Rain is falling and floodwaters are rising again in Southern Alberta.

A year less a day since catastrophic floods hit the nearby town of High River, population 13,000, local states of emergency were declared yesterday on the Blood Reserve, around the towns of Claresholm and Cardston, and in the areas of the cities of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

So, in the event that rescuers have to go door to door again this year, searching for trapped residents, what happens if they find some firearms lying around? Will the Sun News Network renew its campaign of vilification against the RCMP for the 2014 version of what its commentators repeatedly called the “High River gun grab”?

For a year now, a group of highly ideological, far-right political commentators employed by Sun News have been attacking the RCMP in highly inflammatory language, accusing the Mounties of “kicking down doors,” perpetrating a “gun grab,” being “obsessed with taking High Riverites’ guns,” and “focusing on disarming the civilian population” during the rescue effort that followed last year’s floods.

Each of the quotes in the paragraph above comes from a single column by Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Sun. This was only one of several columns and a TV news documentary by Mr. Gunter saying essentially the same thing. Similar or identical phrases and sentiments appeared frequently in the work of other Sun commentators, including Ezra Levant, Rick Bell, Brian Lilley and even Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian who really ought to know better.

Throughout their seemingly co-ordinated campaign, High River was identified time and again as the epicentre of this supposedly sinister RCMP “gun grab” campaign.

It seems likely their goal of all this angry verbiage was merely to support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its wedge issue and fund-raising campaign based on exploitation of the unjustified gun-confiscation fears of a radical segment of Canada’s gun-owning minority.

There is no doubt Sun News Network’s “gun grab” campaign received plenty of attention in radical gun ownership circles, which already feel empowered by the Conservative Government’s destruction of the federal long-gun registry. Several organizations dedicated to ending all restrictions on firearms ownership in Canada widely circulated links to these articles.

Indeed, the National Firearms Association, which appears to model itself on the U.S. National Rifle Association, liked Mr. Gunter’s coverage in particular so much they invited him to their recent convention in Vancouver and gave him an award. That award, the NFA said in a news release that garnered little attention at the time, was given to the columnist “for his excellent series of work on Alberta’s High River Gun Grab.”

In his remarks to the NFA’s convention delegates, the release also said, Mr. Gunter spoke “about his work on the High River incident and his efforts to ensure that the issue continues to be an important news story.” (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances of what the Mounties really did during and after the flooding in High River are not nearly as clear or as apparently dastardly as the narrative promulgated by Sun News, a version of events that is now accepted by a large number of radical gun-ownership advocates, or, as they style themselves, Law Abiding Gun Owners.

When the floodwaters rose, the authorities, with the RCMP in the lead, went door to door through High River, looking for citizens trapped in their homes and getting them to safety. My guess is most people in High River were mightily glad to find Mounties, Fish and Wildlife officers, Canadian Forces soldiers and other rescuers on their doorsteps.

But sometime during that dramatic rescue, a police officer or someone saw a weapon in a home being searched, and this uplifting story of Canadians helping Canadians became a bizarre tale of suspicion, paranoia and hatred for the police.

Encouraged by Sun News in particular – but with lots of repetition through the rest of the mainstream media barking chain – this interpretation of events began with the claim the Mounties were violating due process by searching homes that were empty but not in flooded areas, grew into the notion they were searching for guns and not people, and eventually took on in some circles the quality of legends about black helicopters, planned takeovers of the Homeland by the United Nations and explosives planted in the Twin Towers on 911.

Believers in this theory accept with great passion the idea there was in fact a conspiracy, and they are extremely difficult to dissuade.

Indeed, encouraged by the Sun News Network campaign, many residents in the High River area, the conservative politicians they elect to represent them, and Conservative MPs in other parts of Canada are now calling for a commission of investigation into the RCMP’s conduct – which, it is said here, would cost us a fortune, but would at least likely clear the air about just how silly some of these theories are.

Supporters of Alberta’s Wildrose Party even tried to suggest former Premier Alison Redford was behind the alleged grab. (This theory doesn’t account for the fact she would have been too busy at the time measuring the windows of her Sky Palace luxury suite for new curtains.)

Now, this whole narrative never really made a lot of sense. For one thing, all levels of government were pretty busy at the time with legitimate rescue, reclamation and restoration of property and services in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Notwithstanding the fact that not every house in the town was flooded and most doors were locked, only 300 people remained in the town, and those in defiance of a provincial order, so the place was largely abandoned. Doesn’t it make sense that the authorities would want to collect firearms left in the community – even those properly secured in safes – to prevent them from falling into the hands of anyone prepared to exploit the disaster?

And it is reasonable for genuinely law-abiding citizens to wonder what role this unjustified year-long Sun News campaign played in creating the conditions in which a murderous gunman, reported to be obsessed by hatred of police and fear the Mounties in particular wanted to seize the weapons owned by Canadian LAGOs, killed three police officers and injured two others on June 4 in New Brunswick.

I am not suggesting the goal of the commentators behind this campaign was to foment violence against Mounties. I expect all the Sun News columnists were as shocked as were other Canadians by the Moncton assassinations.

Nevertheless, this is a fair question that deserves to be asked. Even if our conclusion is that it did not, surely is reasonable to wonder if this irresponsible and barely credible stream of attacks on the conduct of the Mounties during a natural disaster one year ago has the potential to unleash more mayhem against Canadian police officers in the future.

This is especially so now that we face similar natural conditions in the same region.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Newsprint ‘wraps’ – not good for fish and, as it turns out, not much good for newspapers either

The Edmonton Journal’s “wrap” Friday, showing the hidden front page inside. Below: The wrap’s uninspiring front page.

Now that nobody sells fried fish wrapped in yesterday’s edition of the local daily any more, presumably for fear the ink will leak through into your liver, the term “wrap” has come to be faintly respectable in newspaper circles.

The word nowadays is used to describe a four-page advertising feature that wraps around the entire newspaper. They’re one of the few profitable services the declining industry has left to sell in an era when fewer readers want the print product, and when ads hardly work at all if you can’t click through to a web page but nobody can figure out a way to make very much money from the Internet.

It’s hard to see, though, how wraps are going to provide much more than short-term gain in return for future pain for the flagging industry.

At any rate, it’s hard to imagine the question being asked in Alberta journalistic circles last Friday about the wrap that covered the Edmonton Journal that morning will do any good for the paper’s reputation, let alone anything at all to persuade readers what what they read in the local daily is suitable for anything but wrapping fish.

This is a pity because the Journal’s reporters still work hard and produce an excellent product by the standards of most Canadian cities. And it’s hardly their fault if their paper’s fortunes are chained at the ankle to owner Postmedia News’s expensive boutique flagship product, the National Anvil, otherwise known as the National Post, just as the water starts to slop over the decks.

The question that had everyone abuzz Friday: Was it mere coincidence that the day Alberta Health Services bought an expensive “wrap” obscuring the Journal’s cover, bad news was expected on the front page the next morning about the province-wide public health care authority?

Certainly the coincidence between the timing of the appearance of the four-page wrap Friday morning, dully laid out and full of inconsequential stories about what a wonderful job AHS is doing, and the scheduled arrival on Thursday of two reports from the Health Quality Council of Alberta that highlighted the mishandling of long-term care by AHS and the provincial government was … shall we say … evocative.

Leastways, it seems probable given what was going on Thursday that AHS and the government’s spinners would have known the news from the report about the health care provider’s controversial “first available bed” policy was going to be bad, and that it was likely destined for Friday’s front page.

So speculation was everywhere that was the explanation for the wrap’s appearance Friday morning.

In the event – as often seems to be the case with AHS – the $20,000 or $30,000 or whatever was spent on the wrap (I’m speculating here based on my own experience with newspaper advertising) was not needed if indeed something sinister was going on.

As is well known, the tragic shooting in Moncton, N.B., dominated front pages everywhere in Canada, and the story about AHS’s troubles slipped deep inside, to page 8. Nor was the story that was written likely to do AHS much harm, since the government sensibly promised to implement all the Health Quality Council’s recommendations.

But even if the timing is nothing but an unfortunate coincidence – which is also quite possible, given the speed at which a bureaucracy as big as AHS can move – such cynical speculation will do little to improve the public’s perception of AHS, or the newspaper that sold it the advertising feature.

Wraps have been much in the news lately in the Ontario election, with various political parties being encouraged by the shameless Sun News Network to buy wraps that appear to be legitimate Sun front pages – if such a concept is not an oxymoron – touting their candidates as if the coverage had been written by real journalists.

The goal of these ads, quite clearly, on the part of both Sun News and the parties that have bought them was to deceive readers.

No good can come from this. They don’t buy much credibility for their purchasers, and, in the long term, they’ll leave the remnants of their sellers’ reputations as sources of news in tatters.

If these papers were smart, as well as desperate, they’d forget about this particular advertising vehicle before the wheels fall off.

The NFA is right about one thing: it’s time to talk about guns and mental health

The National Firearms Association’s logo and slogan. What do you think their message is? Below: NFL President Sheldon Clare and the organization’s Executive VP, Shawn Bevins. All photos grabbed from the NFA’s public Facebook page.

Enough time has passed since the shocking murders of three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, N.B., for Canadians to start to ponder the serious issues raised by this tragedy.

Unsurprisingly, the need for calm reflection didn’t hold back the so-called National Firearms Association from immediately publishing a press release that bizarrely argued the shootings proved Canada should have fewer controls on guns than the eroding regulatory structure we have now.

The NFA crassly rushed into print on the day of the apparent assassinations, well before the suspected shooter had been captured, let alone before most of us had any idea what was going on.

But common decency or respect – for the facts or for the dead – didn’t seem to guide the actions of Canada’s wannabe National Rifle Association, as it rarely guides the increasingly militant and hysterical self-described law-abiding gun owners the organization represents.

So last Thursday afternoon, while police were still searching for the suspected killer and large swaths of Moncton remained in a frightening lockdown, NFA President Sheldon Clare, Communications VP Blair Hagen and Executive VP Shawn Bevins put their names to the press release that, as the firearms lobby on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border frequently does when a law-abiding gun owner crosses the line into lawlessness, tried to blame the mentally ill for the slaughter.

Accordingly, the news release stated, “the NFA deplores the terrible actions by a clearly deranged individual that led to these deaths and injuries.” (Emphasis added.)

However, it went on, getting to Messrs. Clare’s, Hagen’s and Bevins’s main point, “incidents like these demonstrate the validity of the mounting evidence that none of Canada’s firearms control efforts over the past 50 years have had any effect on preventing violence, or otherwise stopping bad people from carrying out their evil deeds.”

Canada’s “excessive” gun-control efforts, they argued, “do not in any way increase public safety, but merely contribute to an expensive and unnecessary regime which harms only those of lawful intent.” Like the presumed Moncton shooter, one could speculate, up until 24 hours or so before June 5.

“Resources wasted on this fundamentally flawed firearms control regime could be better placed to support a health care system which could be better enabled to diagnose and treat conditions that put people’s lives at risk,” the NFA concluded, with the release’s authors no doubt patting themselves on the back for their cleverness.

Now, while it is certainly true that Canada needs a health care system that can do a better job of diagnosing and helping people with mental illness, this call for improved mental health care is highly ironic coming from a group that represents the increasingly paranoid Canadian variants of the Tea Party and that has made common cause with the federal political party dedicated to dismantling Canada’s public health care system.

Nevertheless, let’s indulge Messrs. Clare, Hagen and Bevins for a moment and discuss the issue of mental health and guns, which they suggest is the real problem requiring action.

Because, to be blunt about it, the NFA in particular and the anti-gun-law lobby in general appear to have a real need to address questions about the mental health of some law-abiding gun owners.

That is to say, just for starters – judging from the enraged, paranoid and threatening responses from some in the no-controls faction of Canada’s gun owning minority (about 30 guns per 100 people) – mental illness appears to be a genuine problem among that segment of the population attracted to multiple gun ownership and unrestricted firearms activity.

It is particularly troubling that such a significant percentage of the gun enthusiasts who comment publicly on the issue appear to believe that public support and agitation for registration rules similar to those required of automobile drivers constitute the first step in a massive conspiracy by the state to seize their beloved weapons.

The tone of their commentary inside their private online enthusiasts’ chat rooms is more frightening. There, they talk openly of the need to use violence to overthrow governments that dare to regulate their enthusiasm.

At the same time, apparently unaware of the contradiction, they frequently disparage liberal “gun haters” and would-be “gun grabbers” – the supposed authors of this mass totalitarian conspiracy – as limp-wristed namby-pambies unable and unwilling to protect the Canadian state from a variety of foreign threats, some real, but mostly imagined.

This paranoia has been effectively used as a wedge issue to generate votes and raise funds, by the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and encouraged by a group of neoliberal “journalists” associated with the Sun News Network in particular – yet another irony, since it is the secretive and intrusive Conservatives who constitute the biggest threat to freedom in Canada in all areas except perhaps gun ownership and the requirement to provide census data.

Judging from news reports, it was a motivating factor in the Moncton police murders. Because, it is safe to say, these notions didn’t just spring fully formed into the shooter’s mind. They came from somewhere – and they sound suspiciously like the very stories told by extremist gun owner groups on both sides of the border through the Internet.

This is not to say that there are not genuinely responsible and sensible gun owners. I hear from some of them too, who respectfully disagree with the positions taken in this blog and sometimes offer persuasive arguments worth considering. I even hear from some gun owners who have no objections to registration of firearms.

Nor is it to say that anyone could provide credible figures that state X or Y per cent of Canadian gun owners or gun enthusiasts are mentally ill.

But I am saying that you only have to read the correspondence received by advocates of mere registration of firearms in Canada to recognize that a significant portion of pro-gun letter writers, if not law-abiding gun owners, have mental health issues.

We all know from a cool-headed reading of history that violence has always attracted some people who are mentally ill, and that weapons of all sorts quite naturally exert a powerful attraction upon people who want to commit violence.

Indeed, I would go farther and suggest because of this natural and understandable draw, there is a connection between violence and the manufacture and sale of low-calibre firearms designed to look like military assault rifles.

The gun-lobby is forever complaining that bleeding heart liberals mistake these weapons, often designed to fire .22-calibre bullets, with military assault weapons that use heavier ammunition and are capable of fully automatic fire, and therefore show themselves to be uninformed.

But surely it is fair to wonder, since these rifles are essentially the same as other small-calibre “varmint rifles” and are supposedly merely purchased for “sport” or rodent control, why a traditional .22 wouldn’t satisfy these gun owners. I think we all intuitively understand the real reason.

And none of this addresses the tragic interconnection among guns, mental illness and suicide – because in reality most people who do harm with guns, do it to themselves. According to the Canadian government’s now out-of-date figures and analysis, gun use in suicide is far higher in the United States than in Canada

And in the United States, despite the often successful efforts of the NRA to prevent accurate records from being kept by law enforcement agencies, the Centre for Disease Control has captured death-certificate data from throughout the United States, Forbes Magazine reports. “When so-called ‘self-inflicted’ death by gunshot is taken into account, the liberal thesis is supported almost perfectly: more guns, more gun deaths; less guns, less gun deaths. It’s as simple as that.”

The NFA is right about this much: we need to spend more on identifying and treating mental illness in Canada.

A good place to start would be by talking honestly about the nexus between mental illness and firearms.

But don’t get your hopes up expecting more help for the mentally ill if the NFA gets its political way. It’s said here they don’t care a fig about this issue, except as an excuse to divert attention from their main program, which is the imposition of a wide-open and totally unregulated gun ownership regime.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

What happens now that we know there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chip? Nothing?

Greenpeace Canada info-graphic showing connections among the far-right Conservative Party of Canada activists behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute. Below: Dr. James Talbot; Dr. John O’Connor; Ezra Levant.

Alberta’s chief medical officer has now confirmed that statistics released a couple of weeks ago indicate there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chipewyan, a predominantly native community about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Fort Chip, as it is often known, has long been a subject of controversy about the health impacts of bitumen sands development because – possibly coincidentally, and possibly not – it is not far downstream and downwind of the largest Bitumen Sands mining and processing operations in Alberta.

Nevertheless, the Edmonton Journal reported earlier this week, the government has no plans to try to identify the possible causes of the cluster of serious diseases, which includes unusually high rates of bile duct cancer, plus some others.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, before we get to that, a caveat: I am just a layperson who notices things, often sees connections with other things, notes them down and writes about them. I am not a medical professional, a statistician or a clairvoyant. So readers are entitled to take my conclusions with as large a grain of salt as they wish. I am, as they say, just saying…

Still, now that we’ve got that out of the way, what does this week’s news suggest?

First of all, it suggests Dr. John O’Connor, the physician who famously practiced medicine in native communities in the region, was onto something when he reported back in the mid-2000s that … wait for it … there was a cluster of unusual cancers among residents of Fort Chipewyan.

For saying this – regardless of why he reached his conclusions – Dr. O’Connor has been attacked in the vilest and most damaging terms imaginable, and very nearly lost his ability to practice his profession as a result.

Both the federal and provincial governments harshly criticized Dr. O’Connor for daring to suggest the Bitumen-extraction industry might have been the cause of the serious health problems he observed among residents of Fort Chip and nearby communities – including, as he then observed and has now been confirmed, an unusually high rate of bile duct cancer.

Not only did the provincial government dispute Dr. O’Connor’s conclusions, in 2007 Health Canada physicians laid four complaints of professional misconduct against him with the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. These included accusations he blocked access to his patients’ medical files, claims of billing irregularities, and the charge, redolent of totalitarian states, that he caused mistrust of government in Fort Chipewyan and “undue alarm” among residents of the community.

The accusations nearly resulted in Dr. O’Connor losing his license to practice medicine, and hence his livelihood. Eventually, according to the Edmonton Journal, he was cleared of all the charges against him.

This, however, has never stopped Sun News Network TV commentator and “Ethical Oil” propagandist Ezra Levant from using what we might call his national on-air bullying pulpit to launch a stream of vilification at Dr. O’Connor, calling him “a liar,” accusing him of “breaching professional ethics,” and saying “he just made it up.”

Now, Mr. Levant doesn’t have much credibility, in part because he attacks so many people in the same way – pretty much anyone who disagrees with him, in fact. Nevertheless, he has a devoted following and many of his acolytes no doubt believe his claims about Dr. O’Connor. His accusations are influential enough, it is said here, to make others with similar observations afraid to speak their minds.

Indeed, Dr. Margaret Sears, an Ontario expert in toxicology and health, told the Edmonton Journal doctors in the region were afraid of the negative consequences to their careers if they spoke out, or even were asked to treat patients who thought their might be a connection between their symptoms and nearby bitumen production.

She was not referring specifically to Mr. Levant’s on-air jeremiads, but it is not unreasonable to conclude just such an outcome was in fact the intention of the broadcaster’s on-air bullying. For, as has been noted in this space before, Mr. Levant is closely tied to both the petroleum industry in Alberta, through his so-called “Ethical Oil Institute,” and with the petro-government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a useful piece of work published earlier this week, Greenpeace Canada charted the connections among Mr. Levant’s so-called institute, the Harper Conservative Party, provincial versions of the same party and their energy industry patrons.

Greenpeace made headlines by calling for Elections Canada to investigate Ethical Oil for “colluding with the Conservative Party in order to get around rules that limit donations to political parties.”

Such a probe is of course unlikely because Elections Canada is already under attack from the Harper Conservatives for protecting the democratic rights of Canadians too effectively. But with that story in the news, mainstream media took notice when Greenpeace identified the frequent “mirrored messaging” between Ethical Oil and the CPC and the “multiple crossovers” among Harper Government staffers and Ethical Oil.

“Greenpeace argues election financing laws are breached even if a third party – in this case Ethical Oil – does not directly transfer money to a political party,” the CBC reported. “Greenpeace is urging the commissioner of elections to find that if Ethical Oil spends funds it raises on activities supporting a political party’s agenda, and has been set up by someone involved in the political party, then political donation limits have been contravened.”

“Our laws still ban oil companies from directly or indirectly funding political parties, so we hope that Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party will cooperate with the Commissioner in an investigation to clear this up,” Greenpeace said in its news release – no doubt rhetorically, given the uncooperative history of the CPC on such matters.

An effective info-graphic created by Greenpeace illustrates the connections among the CPC, Ethical Oil and their mutual operatives, including Mr. Levant, on this propaganda campaign.

Which brings us back to the Fort Chip cancer cluster.

“If anybody crunches the numbers for Fort Chipewyan, no matter how they are massaged, they wouldn’t show anything but a cancer cluster,” the Journal quoted University of Calgary professor John Dennis as saying this week. “It’s a huge red flag,” said the researcher, who conducted a review of the previous study at the government’s behest.

Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, told the same newspaper, in its reporter’s words, that “updated figures for bile-duct cancer in the northern community fit the definition of a cluster, as does the rate of cervical cancer. The lung-cancer rate comes very close.”

Of course, there could be many causes for the disease cluster – including lifestyle choices in an impoverished community. But it’s an interesting series of events just the same, isn’t it?

  • A physician has his character viciously attacked by a right-wing broadcaster linked to the Conservative federal government and the oil industry for suggesting there was a cluster of diseases in a community in a bitumen-extraction region.
  • A petroleum industry advocacy organization run by the same broadcaster is accused of breaching election laws to help the same government remain in power. Whether or not the group’s activities actually broke the law, the same group of right-wing activists are demonstrably involved in both campaigns.
  • Another study by other doctors shows the physician’s observations all those years ago were likely right, and yet a provincial government run by followers of the same ideology refuses to launch an investigation to find out what’s really causing the health problems.

Whatever can it all mean?

Could someone be afraid of the answers a credible study might reveal?

Did someone ask: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent doc?”

Is there an effort to keep a lid of science that might impact petroleum industry profits?

I’m not saying. I’m just asking.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Everyone must do their duty for Canada – even Sun News Network ideologues

Admiral Horatio Nelson gives up his life in the service of his country on the deck of HMS Victory on Oct. 21, 1805. Below: Horatio Nelson; his famous signal to his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Surely, Canada should expect no less!

NEW YORK

“England expects that every man will do his duty,” Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory to the brave sailors his fleet as the Battle of Trafalgar, the decisive naval fight of the Napoleonic Wars, commenced.

Sometimes there is a moment in a nation’s history when all good people must do their duty, no matter how hard.

Compared to the fate that on Oct. 21, 1805, awaited many British seamen – including Admiral Nelson himself – the sacrifice required of the supposed patriots employed in the Ideology Department of the Sun News Network is not very great.

Still, we recognize it is a sacrifice.

Sun News Network publishes the Sun tabloid newspapers, owns rural and small town weeklies across Canada and broadcasts the odious Sun TV commentary programs, and as such is home to a raft of so-called straight talkers like Ezra Levant, Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and the former Parliamentarian from Medicine Hat Monte Solberg.

Every one of these gentlemen would have us believe he is a loyal Canadian of the most patriotic stock. Indeed, it is part of the Sun chain’s shtick. The TV network, for example, characterizes itself as unapologetically patriotic.”

Now the owner of Sun News Network and the animating spirit behind its relentlessly spun news coverage and tireless far-right propaganda, Pierre Karl Péladeau, has announced that he will be running for the Parti Quebecois in the next Quebec election.

Technically, Mr. Péladeau is the owner of Quebecor Inc., the corporate owner of Sun News Network and other English and French media operations. But the line from Mr. Péladeau  through his corporate head office to the troops in the understaffed newsrooms of the chain throughout the land is direct and unequivocal.

Mr. Péladeau’s ambition, he bluntly admits, is to sever Quebec from Canada and create a new country that his children can be proud of. It has been said here his commentators have not done much to make them proud of Canada – but that was before the threat was obvious.

Now Mr. Péladeau may very well destroy the nation his network claims to unapologetically love.

Moreover, he says he has no intention of giving up his ownership stake in Quebecor – although it would seem he’s prepared to put it for a spell in what the Sun would no doubt call a Venetian-blind trust if it were a Liberal or New Democrat politician we were talking about.

This is something that men like Messrs. Levant, Coren, Lilley, Bell and Solberg, and a host of lesser lights at lesser Quebecor addresses throughout the land, will have to think about as they put their minds to the work that will be required of us all to save our country.

Now, I’m not saying that they owe it to themselves to say and do the right thing, or that they ought to think about it, or eventually get around to it.

I am saying that they have a duty to speak up clearly, unequivocally and loudly for their country. Now.

These are the people who claim to be the Canadian masters of “straight talk,” and there has never been a time in our country’s history when straight talk has been needed more.

If they are threatened by their arm’s length proprietor, they have a duty to ignore him.

And if they are prevented from doing their duty, they have the additional obligation to quit and no longer serve a man and an organization that – regardless of how they are loved for their ideology by the PMO of Stephen Harper – would then be like a dagger pointed at the heart of our country.

If they do not speak up for Canada directly, forthrightly, courageously and immediately, we will know what they are made of, and what they are.

As Admiral Nelson might have said on that bloody day in 1805: “That will do, gentlemen. Make it directly!”

NOTE: Astonishingly, here in New York City where one comes every year to be reinspired by Broadway, there’s nary a word in the local press about the fate of the Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty, what Dave Hancock is likely to do in his unexpected role of interim premier, or who may try to replace him. This is shocking in a way since it was just a year and a few days ago that the government of then-premier Alison Redford took out a $30,000 ad in the New York Times touting the Keystone XL Pipeline. Do these people remember nothing? Well, we’ll return to all those things soon enough, leastways, if this blogger makes it out of town on Tuesday ahead of what the local press is covering: “The Snow Bomb.” This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Vladimir Putin’s strategic crisis in 2014 sure looks a lot like John F. Kennedy’s in 1962

President John F. Kennedy signs the proclamation of the “Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba” on Oct. 23, 1962. The order imposed the U.S. naval blockade on Cuba that Mr. Kennedy had announced during his televised address the night before. Below: Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Sun News bloviator Monte K. Solberg.

“Good evening, my fellow citizens,” President John F. Kennedy said grimly on Oct. 22, 1962. “This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba.

“Within the past week unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island,” the U.S. president said. “The purposes of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.”

President Kennedy went on to explain that the Soviet missiles in Cuba were each “capable of striking Washington, D.C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area.”

Worse, he explained, the Soviets appeared to be installing sites for larger missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the continental United States, as well as locations in Canada and South America. Obviously – however it was to be resolved – this situation could not be allowed to continue for long.

“This urgent transformation of Cuba into an important strategic base by the presence of these large, long-range, and clearly offensive weapons of sudden mass destruction constitutes an explicit threat to the peace and security of all the Americas,” the president stated.

“Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small,” President Kennedy continued in what may have been the most important passage in his speech.

“We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation’s security to constitute maximum peril,” he said. “Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace.”

Ergo, the Soviet rockets had to be removed by Cuba, or the United States would go to war.

I have been pondering this important speech and the thinking it represented in the context of the present U.S. and Canadian response to the so-called crisis in Ukraine, and the childish and belligerent rhetoric about it by our wedge-politics-obsessed Conservative leaders in Ottawa and their echo chamber at the Sun News Network, the CBC and the other official and semi-official state news outlets.

This is likely only to get worse now that the predominantly ethnic Russian population of Crimea has overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia – as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hypocritical and nearly hysterical sputtering yesterday illustrates.

Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian turned Sun News commentator wrote in the Sun newspapers earlier this week that “the Ukrainians should have long ago armed up and joined NATO.”

As we have seen, one of the key issues that led to President Kennedy’s speech during the Cuban Crisis of 1962 – not long before which the revolutionary government of Cuba had armed up and for all intents and purposes joined the Warsaw Pact – was how close Cuba was to Washington, D.C.

It’s just over 1,800 kilometres from the Cuban capital, near which some of the missiles were parked, to the U.S. capital. It’s estimated that it would have taken a missile like the ones the Soviets had installed in Cuba just 13 minutes to reach Washington.

The Americans believed the proximity of these powerful weapons made a first “decapitation strike” against the American leadership far more likely – since the flying time from Cuba to Washington was so short – potentially getting around the concept of “mutually assured destruction” on which great power nuclear strategy rested then and now.

While it was not so clear at the time, the general consensus of history now that we’ve discovered the truth about the “missile gap” seems to be that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was bat-poop crazy to take on the Americans in their own back yard. (Premier Khrushchev may have been suffering from a similar state of mind when he gifted the predominantly Russian Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in 1954.)

So if you accept that President Kennedy’s concern was legitimate, and his response, while extremely risky, was probably justified, you have to wonder how else Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to view the developing strategic situation in Ukraine today.

The distance to Moscow from the Ukrainian capital Kiev is 756 kilometres, considerably less than that from Cuba to Washington – a calculation that is little changed despite the passage of 52 years. A ballistic missile launched from Ukraine would reach Moscow in about six minutes.

There may be no American strategic missiles in Ukraine – yet – but there are certainly nuclear-capable U.S. Air Force units now in the region, most recently F-15 fighters sent with much publicity to Poland and Lithuania.

Likewise, Ukraine has not yet joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as Mr. Solberg suggests it should have, but some of its nearby neighbours have.

I dropped Mr. Solberg a line and asked him if these strategic considerations put the Ukraine crisis – or at least Canada’s and Sun News Network’s 1960s-style Cold War crisis rhetoric – into a different context for him.

Perhaps he gets a lot of email, but so far Mr. Solberg hasn’t bothered replying.

Thankfully, under the potentially volatile circumstances and apparent inability of certain elements of the U.S. state to stop pushing the Russians, President Putin’s responses have been pretty restrained so far, at least compared with the options President Kennedy publicly considered in 1962.

For the moment at least, the fight seems to have switched to the economic front, a war of sanctions and counter-sanctions that U.S. and Canadian politicians and their media echo chambers seem prepared to wage to the last Western European natural gas consumer.

Well, it’s better than all-out war, I guess, but you have to ask what flavour of Kool-Aid the clowns at Sun News Network are drinking. Grape, by the sound of it.

As for the Harper government, it’s never seen a wedge issue it wouldn’t exploit, even at the risk of a planetary catastrophe.

Given that, if Mr. Solberg’s strategic insights are a reflection of the geopolitical thinking of the Harper Government he not so long ago served, we should all be truly frightened.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca