Tag Archives: The StarPhoenix

Every once in a while I have something to say

Over the last two years, I haven’t had a lot of fun doing much of anything.  Work has been painful and I found myself coming home many night and just collapsing into bed.  I often needed a nap between coming home from work and when I wanted to go to bed.

It’s the infection in my leg.  It just won’t leave and it takes a lot out of me.  The worst parts are when the specialists go, “You are cured!  Congratulations!”.  The next thing you know I am back at Royal University Hospital being pumped with antibiotics to stop the spread of the infection and for weeks after that I am waiting for the medication to beat it back into my leg.  I am losing entire months at a time doing this.

When I have been strong enough, I found myself writing some extra columns for The StarPhoenix because there were times when I was so weak that finding that pre-written column, editing it, attaching it to my email, and sending it seemed like a major accomplishment.  Luckily even though I have bad days, I don’t have those kind of bad days any longer.  It was horrible. 

Basically for every four columns I write, I have three that I don’t write for a variety of reasons I will share below

  • They are too long.  Sometimes 650 words isn’t enough space to say what I want to say.  I know that if I was a better writer, I would be able to say it in that but I am not.
  • It’s about the ethics of sports and that isn’t what my column is about.
  • It’s a about some aspect of my column that I want to expand on but it didn’t work or didn’t fit into the column I filed.
  • It’s an idea that I think Murray Mandryk or Tammy Robert is going to do a way better job of writing about and I want to see what they have to say first.  In other words, it is a provincial matter.

I was going to do something with them on a different website with some advertising and sponsorship and even some guest writers  but that started to sound like competition, even if it was a niche idea. If only I had a place of my own where I could post my own writing….

Oh right.  The perfect place for them is to post them right here.  So Wednesday mornings, expect to see some long(er) form content here. 

P.S.

I get asked how the ankle is doing.  The swelling is more manageable then ever but at night the pain from the damage to my nerves is intense.  I still wear an ankle brace for compression on it but more or less it is doing better.  I am on antibiotics for another full year and then we will see if things have improved.  Yes, I know you are not supposed to be on antibiotics for a year.  By the time I am off them, it will be close to three years of antibiotics. 

This and that…

  1. The antibiotics are beating back the infection in my right leg.  A week ago the infection had encircled the leg and covered about 80% of the lower leg.  Now the circle is broken and it is about 20% of the leg.  Remarkably if the dog brushes up on it, a kid hits it, or if anything falls on it, it still falls on the painful part of the leg.
  2. A lot of you have asked what the doctors are doing about it.  The don’t really know why it the infection keeps reoccuring.  About 10 times now I have been declared cured and within days of having absolutely no trace of it for weeks, it comes back when I come off the antibiotics.  Each time it comes back with more force, faster, and harsher and I get way sicker in the process.   In all of the opinions I have gotten, the doctors keep telling me that this isn’t supposed to happen. 
  3. I still feel like death.  There is a feeling that the infection has done long term damage to my body, especially the last time.  Mentally I feel better.  The fever takes a weird mental toll on you in that it is exhausting to be either freezing and trying to get warm or burning up and trying to break the fever and stay hydrated.   It’s all I was thinking of for several days.  Despite staying in bed, I was exhausted and not sleeping.  I was too tired to even read anything.
  4. I try not to get angry or frustrated over it but I had some choice words for a doctor who was reminding me that my core fitness needed improvement.  Umm, i have been told to stay off my feet for 14 months now, I barely go out and of course my fitness is going to suck. 
  5. I was going to take this week off my StarPhoenix column to recover as I had nothing left in the tank but I read a great Sports Illustrated column on this years NCAA football season and how he had predicted how Ohio State would be an offensive juggernaut.  It made me think back to all of the predictions that made so much sense in the pre-season of any sport and how few played out that way.  I had some fun predictions for 2016 provincially, municipally and for the Riders.  Prediction columns are fun, where else can I talk about Eric Olauson and Bill Belichick in the same space?
  6. A lot of you know that I have a passion for word processors.  With a new Acer E-11 Netbook for Christmas, I am trying out a few right now.  I just installed Corel Office which is a slimmed down version of WordPerfect, Quattro Pro and whatever they use for presentations and I am trying a full blown version of WordPerfect X7.  I’ll let you know how it goes.
  7. Speaking of word processors, with my beloved Windowns Live Writer being discontinued by Microsoft, there is a new open source version called Open Live Writer.  Microsoft has allowed some of their code to be open source (this is a big deal) and it is being developed and upgraded by a team of developers.  The biggest difference is that Open Live Writer is compatible once again with Blogger.
  8. I wish someone would tell Jeb Bush that it is time to pull the plug on his campaign.  It’s over Jeb.
  9. The lack of star NDP candidates for the upcoming provincial election tells me that the NDP knows that it isn’t going to win.  Two relative unknowns in Saskatoon Fairview and Saskatoon Meewasin also tell me the same thing.  Cam Broten may be Premier in 2020 but it seems like the goal is 20 seats (and be a government in waiting in 2016).
  10. Speaking of Saskatoon Meewasin, has there ever been a MLA with a lower profile then Roger Parent.  No website and he even uses a @gmail.com email address on his bilboard ads.   I can’t even find him in Google News (you search for “Roger Parent” and “Saskatoon”, he isn’t there).  He is like the Saskatchewan Liberal Party of the Saskatchewan Party caucus.  I would say this about a New Democrat, Liberal, or Saskatchewan Party MLA but if you are going to do so little work in being a MLA, you don’t deserve to even win a nomination or be elected.
  11. I saw Darren Hill beaking of at Rona Ambrose about this one Twitter but I agree with Rona Ambrose and that is the Liberal Party should have a referendum on changing the way we vote.  Moving from First Past the Post may be the right thing (although I disagree with it) but it is a big of enough change to our democracy that we should have a say in it. 
  12. A couple of things about Brad Wall.  More and more his government reminds me of the Grant Devine regime with it’s dependance on mega-projects to spur the economy.  The stadium in Regina, the Children’s Hospital (which we don’t need nor do we have the population to support) and the carbon capture project.  Huge projects that are costing a recently struggling economy a lot of money.  I might be okay with this but I don’t see a plan from the Saskatchewan Party on how to deal with low commodity prices other than complaining ot the feds (like Grant Devine).  Now with no budget on the horizon before the provincial election and a struggling economy, it gives me an uncomfortable feeling that things are worse than we are being told.  Of course in the end, Brad Wall might not be here much longer and may have his focus on the federal Conservativ leadership race.
  13. I am suprised by the Cleveland Browns inability to acknowledge and get help for Jonny Manziel being an alcoholic and having a drinking problem.    There is a difference between being a party goer and what Manziel is doing.  I am also suprised by Manziel not being able to control his friends cell phone’s.  You don’t think Tom Brady’s friends have cell phones?  Yet you don’t see those kind of videos appearing of him.  In fact with Tom Brady’s Facebook, he has done an amazing job of controlling what people see of him.
  14. This is one of the most damning things I have ever heard someone say of a coach.  Despite that it is what destroyed Josh McDaniels, Bobby Petrino (multiple times) and how many other countless coaches.  Football is a people business and while we talk of the genius of coaches like Belichick with x and o’s, it is their ability to manage and lead men that makes them so impressive.  Not just players but assistant coaches, support staff, and even the guys who take care of the field and bring them all together.  Chip thought it was X and O’s.  He was wrong.
  15. When did Facebook rants become news?  Ryan Meili ran twice for the leadership of the NDP, lost both times and would never run for his party again.  When he runs provincially or federally under someone else’s leadership, I’ll take this more seriously but for now I don’t see this as big news.  I agree that Broten is taking the party to the centre, it’s worked well for the NDP in the past under Romanow and Calvert but it has been a disasterous move for the party federally and provincially elsewhere other than Alberta.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Is the Lorje Leak ‘Inside baseball’?

I tend to agree with Prof. David McGrane on this.

Charles Smith, an assistant political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s St. Thomas More College, said if Lorje is found to have broken the law she will have a "professional obligation" to resign. "I think she’d have to step down," Smith said. "I don’t see how she could stay on."

Regardless of the outcome of the police investigation, the "whiff of scandal" now surrounding Lorje will "dog her over the next two years," make a re-election bid challenging and "make it very difficult for her to act and do the work she was elected to do," Smith added.

After her colleagues sanctioned her Monday, Lorje told reporters she had "no intention of resigning."

She apologized for the breach, but maintained she did not know she was breaking council’s code of conduct when she sent a document to "a trusted adviser" for "private, independent, confidential advice" in early June. Cline, who received the document, was an NDP MLA alongside Lorje from 1995 to 2003 and served in cabinet with her from 2001 to 2002. He owns a home on 11th Street East in Nutana, where riverbank slumping has been a problem since 2012.

City solicitor Patricia Warwick said the leaked document contains legal advice, is subject to solicitorclient privilege and contains information that could be "injurious" to the city if it’s made public.

Councillors Darren Hill and Tiffany Paulsen told reporters after Monday’s meeting they have heard from numerous constituents calling for Lorje’s resignation and they would step down from their posts were they in her position.

David McGrane, a political science professor at the U of S, said he doesn’t see "any reason" for Lorje to resign. He said he suspects voters with short memories will have forgotten about the leak – which he described as "inside baseball" – by the time the next municipal election rolls around in October 2016.

"As long as this doesn’t reproduce itself, it should really wash away within a short amount of time," he said.

I’ll add in some disclosure to this.  Wendy and I are both friends with Pat Lorje, something that came up many times in the previous leak investigation that didn’t find anything.

I agree with Charles Smith.  I think that anyone that is convicted of a crime who is in public office should resign.  There is more than adequate precedent for that and I think it is part of a functioning democracy.  If she is not charged or convicted, I also agree with David McGrane that this will not affect her electability.  People just don’t tune in enough to care that much at the two year point of a mandate.

Also kudos to McGrane for using the phrase “inside baseball” in his interview with Andrea Hill. 

What I Read

I get asked all of the time what I read and I thought I would toss it into a blog post.

For news, the first site of the day I check on National Newswatch.  If you aren’t checking it out everyday, you are doing your news all wrong.  I then check out the links of The Morning News and browse Metafilter.  I have had an account for years but rarely log in.  I check out the National Post, Macleans, and The Globe and Mail.  Once I get the national news I check out The Toronto Star and Calgary Herald.  While not daily reads, I do read everything that is posted to the Hill Times.

The two sites that I explore the most are Yahoo! Sports and ProFootballTalk.  I check Yahoo! Sports about 10 times a day and ProFootballTalk in the morning and then again in the evening.  It is America’s Cup season which means that I spend a lot of time on YouTube.  I generally watch the 20 minute race recap and if I have time, I watch the whole race on my TV via the PS3 app.  YouTube on your television will forever change the way you watch TV.  It is amazing.

I also follow Doug Smith’s Sports Blog where he lives and mostly dies with the Raptors.  I read it because he is a great source of Raptors news but also because he has a unique blogging style that I really like.  Once I am there, I generally find myself in The Star’s sports section where the goal is to avoid the Toronto Maple Leafs coverage.  Then it is to check out the National Post sports but more or less I am just there to see if I missed anything that Bruce Arthur wrote and I missed his tweet to it.

Sportsnet.ca is my next sports stop and that is see what Michael Grange is writing about.  Much of Sportsnet is written by television personalities and it shows but Grange is a sportswriter.

I don’t blog a lot about military technology and affairs but I do read Wired’s Danger Room daily and Tom Rick’s The Best Defence Blog.   For urban discussions I follow a lot of people on Twitter but I also check out the Direct Transfer, Streets Blog, and The Atlantic Cities.

I subscribe to The StarPhoenix and pick up a copy of Metro News.  I also read Planet S. Saskatoon Express, and Verb weekly, mostly because I know some of their writers and I respect what they do.  

For magazines, I subscribe to Spacing, The Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, and Foreign Policy. 

For blogs like most of the free world, I read Kottke.org daily and check out Gordon Price‘s blog weekly.  I would read City Hall Notebook more but The StarPhoenix kind of let it die, although it seems to be coming back to life lately.

There are always a couple of books on the go.  I own a Kindle but don’t use it much.  Mostly because I prefer to browse Indigo and McNally Robinson.  For all of the wonderful things that Amazon.com does, browsing books is the domain of the bookstore.

What am I missing?  Suggestions?

The StarPhoenix’s call for change

From a StarPhoenix editorial on Friday

In the postwar era, suburbanites ruled by the power of the ballot, and governments were forced to react to their concerns.

It’s also significant that the events in Saskatoon coincided with a report from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, which said that by mid-September the polar ice cap had retreated to historic levels, shattering the record retreat from 2007 and threatening to leave an ice-free Arctic decades sooner than expected.

The old way of building cities for automobiles is no longer on, Mr. Greenberg said. Except, as Saskatoon grows, that is exactly what is happening. Its suburbs still spread out in all directions, with large homes, two-vehicle-garages and car dependent citizens.

This isn’t only happening within city limits, where planners and city councillors are trying to adjust development patterns to favour denser development, but it’s happening past Saskatoon’s fringes where rural politicians argue that the city has no right to rain on their parade of sprawl.

The true test of Mr. Greenberg’s theory of a paradigm shift won’t just be the willingness of young citizens to sacrifice a Thursday evening to hear him. The test will be if they inform civic politicians on the hustings of their visions, if they turn out on Oct. 24 to mark their ballots, and if they spread the message those provincial and federal politicians and business leaders who are claiming that there is no difference between urban or rural interests.

Life in the cloud

As SaskTel winds down CDMA coverage in Saskatchewan, I need to upgrade Mark’s cell phone (a LG Rumor 2) that he loves.  He is on a cheap pre-paid plan with Virgin that I don’t want to upgrade or add data so I will keep with a feature phone, probably a LG Rumor Plus or a Samsung Gravity 3.  It’s talk, text, and email which is really all Mark needs right now.

I have been thinking about what I need ever since RIM’s network when down last summer.  This is how I am thinking.  I had a Blackberry Curve 8530 and like a lot of smartphone users, I have everything flowing through that phone.

  • Two email accounts
  • Blackberry Messenger
  • Text
  • Twitter
  • Flickr (which never worked on the phone)
  • Dropbox so I could send and receive files
  • The Score Mobile App (I have a problem okay)
  • MySask411 which replaced my phone book

I got a fair amount of work done and even wrote a couple of columns with it.  It worked really well for me until that outage.  When Blackberry went down, so did my phone.  I couldn’t get calls, I couldn’t even connect to a Wifi network.  My phone was essentially a brick that I carried around and hoped would return.  While it wasn’t the reason I switched a Samsung Galaxy Ace over Christmas (the cost of the new Curve’s were high on Koodo and didn’t seem to offer a lot more capability as well as my general lack of faith in the Blackberry platform) I essentially swapped out RIM for being totally dependent on Google and this week I had an uncomfortable realization about how totally dependent I am on Google.

I was one of the first bunch of Gmail users way back in 2004, back in the days where invites were limited to five per person and where actually being sold for money.  I got one, used my five invites on Wendy and some friends.  Gmail was so new and fresh it had that new email smell to it.  It served me well until this year when I got a notice that my email had been accessed by someone using an IP address from  Serbia.  It was really unsettling because as I had a decent password and changed it periodically.  Having not travelled to Serbia recently (or ever) the idea that I had been hacked was a horrible one.

As for my ID, you have your drivers license, your passport, your Saskatchewan Health Card, your Social Insurance Number but my email is just as big of a part of my ID as anything.  I have used it to sign up for Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, PayPal, even my bank and credit card uses it to communicate with me.  While I am careful, having everything exposed was not that pleasant and it resulted in new credit cards being issues, new passwords, and really all new everything.

Shortly after that I had a huge problem with email.  Emails were missing and there was about a 1500 email hole from about a year before that I discovered.  I wasn’t the only one that has had this happen to me.  The Gmail help forums are full of users that have lost thousands of emails and no one really knows why.

Since then there is someone that I will email periodically at The StarPhoenix that occasionally doesn’t acknowledge the email.  I am the same way so I never thought of it until Friday when I got a call from my editor to see why I never filed my column except I did on Wednesday.  I resent the column and it appeared.  It’s the second time it happened but I have long had these sneaking suspicions that it was a problem with the @thestarphoenix.com domain.  I checked the Gmail help forum and it tells me that I need to check with the domain name that wasn’t getting my email as they are of course faultless.  Of course the email was never received.

This isn’t the first time this happened.  A friend used to work at USA Today.  An email I sent him took a full year one time to show up.  I was working somewhere else and using their email (which was served up on Dreamhost) was the only server they ever had a problem with and then only sometimes.  It has happened to me before from SaskTel where an email just hung out for month before being delivered.  It happens but how do you know it happens.  I never got a bounce message in any of those situations so I assumed (incorrectly) that it had gone through.  Maybe we need to downgrade to Eudora 3 and start sending read receipts again.

So on Friday, my email was down, my cell phone was acting erratic (I think the problem was Koodo) and I realize that when things go down, they really go down.   What can you do about it?

Gmail

Leaving Gmail is really hard because I think we underestimate how much spam and email that we get and I really don’t want that to make it to my phone.  I know SaskTel has web access but so many friends of mine have had their email account become totally full after a couple of days that it is pointless if you are a heavy email user.   I can set up a 500mb account for myself on Dreamhost but I get thousands of spam a day and Gmail handles it better than anyone else.  I am in the process of putting coop AT jordoncooper.com to rest which will cut back on some of the spam but it’s a big problem when you are have old email accounts.  There are a lot of things that still use it, including some that I am sure I don’t remember but will need someday.

As Wired Magazine published yesterday, Gmail has a pretty big security hole in it.

But since Gmail added OAuth support in March 2010, an increasing number of startups are asking for a perpetual, silent window into your inbox.

I’m concerned OAuth, while hugely convenient for both developers and users, may be paving the way for an inevitable privacy meltdown.

For most of the last decade, alpha geeks railed against “the password anti-pattern,” the common practice for web apps to prompt for your password to a third-party, usually to scrape your e-mail address book to find friends on a social network. It was insecure and dangerous, effectively training users how to be phished.

The solution was OAuth, an open standard that lets you grant permission for one service to connect to another without ever exposing your username or password. Instead of passwords getting passed around, services are issued a token they can use to connect on your behalf.

If you’ve ever granted permission for a service to use your Twitter, Facebook, or Google account, you’ve used OAuth.

This was a radical improvement. It’s easier for users, taking a couple of clicks to authorize accounts, and passwords are never sent insecurely or stored by services who shouldn’t have them. And developers never have to worry about storing or transmitting private passwords.

But this convenience creates a new risk. It’s training people not to care.

It’s so simple and pervasive that even savvy users have no issue letting dozens of new services access their various accounts.

I’m as guilty as anyone, with 49 apps connected to my Google account, 80 to Twitter, and over 120 connected to Facebook. Others are more extreme. Samuel Cole, a developer at Kickstarter, authorized 148 apps to use his Twitter account. NYC entrepreneur Anil Dash counted 88 apps using his Google account, with nine granted access to Gmail.

This is where it gets nerve wracking.

You may trust Google to keep your email safe, but do you trust a three-month-old Y Combinator-funded startup created by three college kids? Or a side project from an engineer working in his 20 percent time? How about a disgruntled or curious employee of one of these third-party services?

Any of these services becomes the weakest link to access the e-mail for thousands of users. If one’s hacked or the list of tokens leaked, everyone who ever used that service risks exposing his complete Gmail archive.

The scariest thing? If the third-party service doesn’t discover the hack or chooses not to invalidate its tokens, you may never know you’re exposed.

The reliability isn’t just a Gmail issue but most of us switched to Gmail because it was run by Google and we never thought that we would have these issues. 

The other issue with Google is that even though they post an Apps Dashboard to let you know how things are going, this is a multi-billion dollar company with no way to contact them unless you are a large customer.  I have had Gmail down and nothing shows up on the Dashboard so it has to be a big outage to report it.  That’s fine if you are affected with others but if you are not part of a giant collective of frustrated Gmail users losing control on Twitter, what recourse do you have.  Google tells you to that they look at help forums but there are thousands of unresolved issues, some that go on for a long time.  This isn’t unique to Google, a friend had a nightmare in getting locked out of his Twitter account because of a Twitter database error.  It look a couple of months to resolve and that was even after it’s CEO got involved.  At least you can contact Dick Costello, who do you contact anymore at Google?

Google Contacts

I download and backup periodically my contacts for a couple of reasons, I need to keep them sync’d across my two accounts (one for work, the other one is personal).  They are also sync’d on my iPod Touch, iPad, and Android phone.  Of course I just read on Kottke this week that stealing your address book among iPhone developers is quite common.

It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference. It’s common practice, and many companies likely have your address book stored in their database. Obviously, there are lots of awesome things apps can do with this data to vastly improve user experience. But it is also a breach of trust and an invasion of privacy.

I did a quick survey of 15 developers of popular iOS apps, and 13 of them told me they have a contacts database with millons of records. One company’s database has Mark Zuckerberg’s cell phone number, Larry Ellison’s home phone number and Bill Gates’ cell phone number. This data is not meant to be public, and people have an expectation of privacy with respect to their contacts.

So while I am giving all of my contact information to Google intentionally, I (and so are most of you) am un-intentionally  giving up your contact information to developers (sorry about that) which is one of the reasons why there is so much spam in this world.  Thanks Apple.  So even if Google is protecting our private information, as soon as we sync it with our iPhone or iPad, it is compromised.

This brings up my next issue, which phone vendor can we trust? Apple allows people to download your most private of personal information, Google controls and ties it all together in an Android phone, with Blackberry you just have a crappy phone experience and does anyone expect Windows 7 Phone to be any better.  RIM has better security but isn’t able to deliver on their phones.

I was talking to a businessman who has been tied to his phone since AGT came out with the Aurora (such old technology, Google doesn’t even know about it) and he said to me the other day that he was willing to ditch his smart phone and go back to a flip phone (or a feature phone so he could text his kids).  His company email server was down and he couldn’t do “anything” and was frustrated in the same way we all get frustrated.  He said with a regular cell phone, when it went down, all it did was affect his phone calls.  Now when his smartphone isn’t working, it affects everything.  He was actually in the process of heading to Midtown Mall and purchase a cheap phone so as he put it, at “least I can call someone”.  In some ways as I looked at a Nokia C1 by Fido today I wondered if this may be what I really want, an update to the Nokia 1100 which is still the world’s most popular phone.

Koodo

Koodo’s cellular service is okay here in Saskatoon.  They use Telus’ network and do a not bad job of staying active.  I find that when SaskTel is having problems, so is Telus/Koodo which makes me feel somewhat better but not a lot.  In other words when I get no service at my house, neither does anyone else using SaskTel, Telus, or Virgin.  When Koodo’s network is acting up, I can tell by looking at my phone when something is wrong.  My Foursquare check-in options revolve around Carlton University’s campus, my network says Telus or even SaskTel instead of Koodo, and my calls drop more than they should.  Wireless is defined by it’s Ready, Shoot, Aim background and we shouldn’t be surprised with it’s technical difficulties considering the rate that technology is changing but more and more I keep wondering if a step back may be order and evaluate if I want all of my personal information being in a platform that is so easily exploited. 

Even if you can trust them now, can you trust them in the future.  Google’s recent privacy changes spooked millions and may have launched a competitor in Duck, Duck, Go.  These aren’t new concerns as I remember AKMA struggling with how much he should trust Flickr years ago.

I could come off the cloud but that is a lot easier said than done.  I could use Thunderbird for email and contacts and Lightning as a calendar.  I could use Dreamhost’s IMAP server, keep my email off my phone, and ditch my iPad, or at least not sync up information with it.  It can be done but it is a very different 1998 era web that I don’t think I want to go back to either.

When you think of the information you have in your Gmail account, address book, calendar, and other apps (think of Mint and your bank app on your phone), why aren’t we either demanding more security or at least taking steps to protect ourselves.  I know RIM’s the most secure but their phones are terrible right now.  I wonder if the next thing in wireless will not just be the cool apps but the cool apps that protect your data because right now my data isn’t feeling all that safe.

No Social Services Checks before Christmas

From Joe Couture of The StarPhoenix

A Saskatchewan Party government decision to change the date January social assistance cheques are released to after Christmas from before has come under fire from the NDP Opposition.

As of 2011, Social Services changed the date cheques were issued and direct deposits paid to Dec. 29 from Dec. 23.

“Our goal is to make sure people have money for not only Christmas, but for January as well,” Social Services Minister June Draude told reporters. “We want to make sure that there’s consistency and that people are able to budget.”

As the money is intended for food, shelter and other bills, recipients should look to other options for holiday celebrations, Draude said.

“We really count on places like the (community-based organizations) that work really hard with the ministry to ensure the extras for Christmas are available to our recipients,” Draude said.

I am not sure what I think about this decision.  The NDP are right that people need the freedom to spend Social Assistance money like they choose but after years of seeing how busy agencies like the Salvation Army, the Saskatoon Food Bank, and The Friendship Inn are in January because the January check was spent on Christmas cheer (in whatever form it came in), I understand what the Saskatchewan Party is getting at. Of course the other thing I wrestle with is are CBO’s are the ones that need to be counted on to provide Christmas cheer because the government of Saskatchewan doesn’t want to mail our checks earlier.

I know this would get no political traction at all but why not give those deemed unemployable a $50 or $100 Christmas bonus check?  You could even do as New York City has done and link it to performance markers like their annual review, maintaining housing, or making sure children get inoculations and shots.

It’s a tough season for those living under the poverty line, making it harder on those that have no other options doesn’t seem right at all.  In a province showing gains all over the economic spectrum, there is no need for government to have a heart three sizes too small.

Unemployed

Today was my last day at The Salvation Army Community Services.  It was a good run but like all things come to an end.  I am still going to be involved in homeless issues here or where ever we end up and I am still writing about urban issues in The StarPhoenix.  I am not sure what I am going to do with my life now.  I spent 11 years as a pastor in Spiritwood (while working at Lakeview Church during some of the same years) and I have worked for The Salvation Army for the last six years so unemployment is a rare occurrence for me.  I think I have been unemployed for a week in my entire life. 

I am not sure what I am going to do now and am open to suggestions.  If you are wondering what I am good at, I updated my LinkedIn profile (I think I finally figured out what LinkedIn is for) but you can always email me at jordoncooper@gmail.com.  Walking out of a job without a plan is crazy course of action but I am really looking forward to what is ahead and where ever it takes me.

My new job

Statue of Ronald ReaganFor those of you who haven’t heard, I am quitting my job at the Salvation Army Community Services, quitting my column at The StarPhoenix and pursuing something really important in life*.  My divine calling is not to help the homeless and the oppressed or talk about urban and geo-political and economic issues in The StarPhoenix; it is this.  My new goal in life is to put a statue of Ronald Reagan in every county in the United States and establish February 6th as Ronald Reagan Day which will hopefully become a national holiday.  Once I am done that, my goal is to move north of Canada and have a statue of Saskatchewan MP Len Blork put in every riding in Western Canada.  The question is where do I put the statue in Saskatoon.  Beside Ghandi or Gordie Howe?

 

* I’m joking.

Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra moving to Riversdale

The StarPhoenix’s Cam Fuller has the story.

The SSO announced Wednesday it will occupy the building at 408 20th St. West, less than one block west of the Roxy Theatre. It will be the first time the organization has housed all of its components under one roof.

The building will allow space for rehearsals, meetings, administration and storage. It will also house the symphony’s book and music sale inventory and the sale itself. The sale raised a record $119,585.08 this year.

The symphony’s first silent movie event at the Roxy Theatre last year got it thinking about the neighbourhood and helped developed a relationship with Tom Hutchinson and Terry Stannard of Magic Lantern Theatres, and Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District.

“That’s really the first time we’d been in the neighbourhood,” Jill Reid, SSO general manager said Wednesday.

“We had such a good reception there, we were so welcomed.”

The SSO signed a 10-year lease on the building, which has been used as a hardware store in the past.

“Good business involves wise investment,” Hutchinson said in a release. “Just as we invested in the Roxy Theatre in the hope that others would see its worth and support it, we know that investing in the future of the Saskatoon Symphony, and bringing its energy to Riversdale where it can be part of all the positive change happening there, will pay huge dividends to everyone involved.”

On my desk at work there is a RFP from the City of Saskatoon asking for a consultants report on how to fix 20th Street.  It may be a little late being put out because there has been more good news about investment on 20th Street than there has been for years.  In many ways it started with both Little Chief Police Station, the Roxy Theatre, and then later with the work that Shift Development Inc. has done with The Two Twenty and Collective Coffee.

The lost art of journalism

About a month ago, venture capitalist Chris Sacca wrote this on Twitter.

Journalism: The art of ignoring all the facts that don’t support the article you’ve already written.

I retweeted this and replied:

The same could be said for my blogging….

Sacca’s quote generated some discussion on Twitter and some email as well.  Some asked if I believed it, some just trashed it, while some wondered if he was right.

Here are my personal thoughts on the subject, something I have been thinking about for over 16 years.

Lawrence Phillips In 1995, a Nebraska football player named Lawrence Phillips violently beat his his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen.  He dragged her down a flight of stairs and it was a horrific scene.  A situation in any other university, the player would be expelled.  Instead of being kicked off the team, kicked out of school, he suspended from the Husker football team by coach Tom Osborne.  He sat out a game and then started to play again.  There was some national outrage but at the local Cornhusker press conference, the local media didn’t ask Osborne a thing about it.  The media was dependent on it’s access to Osbourne and wasn’t going to let a shameful decision by the coach affect that access and was silent when security kicked the network news crew out of there for asking hard questions. 

The same thing happened during the Rick Pitino debacle in Louisville, the Jim Tressel fiasco at THE Ohio State, and basically everywhere John Calipari that has coached.  Don’t even get started with Rogers Sportsnet brining in the compulsive rumor fabricator Eklund onto their trade deadline show.  He was proven to be a liar before they ever brought him on their air.  In many media markets the local sports coverage is so dependent on it’s access to the program that it has stopped covering the program and instead becomes beholden to it and transforms into it’s P.R. arm (it doesn’t have to be that way, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks essentially hate each other)

During the same time of the Lawrence Phillips assault and whitewash, investigative journalist Gary Webb was writing a series of articles about the Dark Alliance which accused the CIA of drug smuggling.  The San Jose Mercury News stood by the story, backed away from the story and when things got tough for the paper, tossed Webb under a bus which ended his career as an investigative reporter.  After Webb committed suicide, other papers started to verify his stories but the Mercury News blinked in the face of opposition.

Probably the most famous case of mass newsroom and editorial failure was the lead up to the Iraq War.  The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and most other papers were touting the American government line that there was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  At the same time some American and most of the world’s media outlets were saying that there was no weapons of mass destruction.  It was kind of surreal.  I would wake up every morning and read the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today and see compelling (and competing) arguments for the invasion of Iraq while in the evening I would come home and watch Kudlow & Cramer which had a regular series of experts (including Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector) on the show all stating that there was no WMD in Iraq.  I remember after the invasion of Iraq was complete and there was no WMDs thinking, “I got it right, CBC got it right, Kudlow & Cramer got it right, CBC got it right… why did almost everyone else get it wrong?”  The New York Times later talked about being caught up in the mood of the nation, believing Colin Powell, and their government sources.  So much for questioning everything.

We saw the same thing with the Irish media and their boosterism of the Irish economy the expansion of real estate values.  From Michael Lewis’ article in the New Yorker

The Irish IndependentKelly wrote his second newspaper article, more or less predicting the collapse of the Irish banks. He pointed out that in the last decade they and the economy had fundamentally changed. In 1997 the Irish banks were funded entirely by Irish deposits. By 2005 they were getting most of their money from abroad. The small German savers who ultimately supplied the Irish banks with deposits to re-lend in Ireland could take their money back with the click of a computer mouse. Since 2000, lending to construction and real estate had risen from 8 percent of Irish bank lending (the European norm) to 28 percent. One hundred billion euros—or basically the sum total of all Irish public bank deposits—had been handed over to Irish property developers and speculators. By 2007, Irish banks were lending 40 percent more to property developers than they had to the entire Irish population seven years earlier. “You probably think that the fact that Irish banks have given speculators €100 billion to gamble with, safe in the knowledge that taxpayers will cover most losses, is a cause of concern to the Irish Central Bank,” Kelly wrote, “but you would be quite wrong.”

This time Kelly sent his piece to a newspaper with a far bigger circulation, the Irish Independent. The Independent’s editor wrote back to say he found the article offensive and wouldn’t publish it. Kelly next turned to The Sunday Business Post, but the editor there just sat on the piece. The journalists were following the bankers’ lead and conflating a positive outlook on real-estate prices with a love of country and a commitment to Team Ireland. (“They’d all use this same phrase, ‘You’re either for us or against us,’ ” says a prominent bank analyst in Dublin.) Kelly finally went back to The Irish Times, which ran his article in September 2007.

So what causes entire newsrooms to get a big story wrong?  One local reporter suggested it was trusting different sources which kind of makes sense but it doesn’t explain why the CBC, CTV, and CNBC went a different direction than the New York Times and Washington Post.  This wasn’t the case of two reporters hearing two different stories about Jerome Igninla being traded, this was a story that sent a nation to war for years and the reporting was very one sided by the Times and Post.   Why did most of the American media buy the Pentagon sell job and most of the international media did not?

While it is popular to say that everyone got it wrong, a post by Arriana Huffington from 2004 that everyone did not.

Among them is Joe Lauria, a reporter who has covered the UN since 1990 for a variety of papers, including the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe. He bridles at Miller’s claim. "I didn’t get it wrong," he told me. "And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true."

This is no time for rewriting history, or for allowing those who helped the Bush White House market the war to fall back on the comfort and safety of a collective "we all screwed up." After all, as Jack Shafer pointed out on Thursday, even in the New York Times there were "at least four non-Miller stories published during the war’s run-up that glower with skepticism about the administration’s case and methods."

So what went wrong at the Times?  Michael Massing’s essay in the New York Review of Books offers this up.

Why, I wondered, had it taken the Times so long to report this? Around the time that Jehl’s article appeared, I ran into a senior editor at the Times and asked him about it. Well, he said, some reporters at the paper had relied heavily on Chalabi as a source and so were not going to write too critically about him.

After looking at this, he concludes

This points to a larger problem. In the period before the war, US journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration. Those with dissenting views—and there were more than a few—were shut out. Reflecting this, the coverage was highly deferential to the White House. This was especially apparent on the issue of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—the heart of the President’s case for war. Despite abundant evidence of the administration’s brazen misuse of intelligence in this matter, the press repeatedly let officials get away with it. As journalists rush to chronicle the administration’s failings on Iraq, they should pay some attention to their own.

Judith Miller, who was responsible for much of the New York TImes reporting blamed her sources.  This confused Slate’s Jack Slater as Miller claimed her roll is to share the what people in official positions tell her rather than question and investigate what she is hearing.

My job was not to collect information and analyze it independently as an intelligence agency; my job was to tell readers of the New York Times as best as I could figure out, what people inside the governments who had very high security clearances, who were not supposed to talk to me, were saying to one another about what they thought Iraq had and did not have in the area of weapons of mass destruction. [Click here for Miller Clip 3.]

More disturbingly, a later investigation by Byron Calame, suggested there was a fair amount of editorial incompetence in the New York Times Newsrooms as well.

By the spring of 2003, the newsroom was overwhelmed by the Jayson Blair fiasco, and Mr. Raines and the managing editor, Gerald Boyd, left the paper. When Bill Keller became executive editor on July 30, 2003, he focused on dealing with the trauma of the Blair scandal. Nevertheless, with questions growing about weapons in Iraq, he told Ms. Miller she could no longer cover those issues. But it took until May 2004 – more than a year after the war started and about a year after it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – before The Times acknowledged in an editors’ note that the coverage was flawed. Mr. Keller then directed her to stay away from all national security issues.

The Times weren’t the only ones who had jumped on the WMD bandwagon.  The Washington Post was in there as well.

On December 12, for example, The Washington Post ran a front-page story by Barton Gellman contending that al-Qaeda had obtained a nerve agent from Iraq. Most of the evidence came from administration officials, and it was so shaky as to draw the attention of Michael Getler, the paper’s ombudsman. In his weekly column, Getler wrote that the article had so many qualifiers and caveats that

the effect on the complaining readers, and on me, is to ask what, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?

The question is asked,

And why, he might have added, didn’t the Post and other papers devote more time to pursuing the claims about the administration’s manipulation of intelligence? Part of the explanation, no doubt, rests with the Bush administration’s skill at controlling the flow of news. “Their management of information is far greater than that of any administration I’ve seen,” Knight Ridder’s John Walcott observed. “They’ve made it extremely difficult to do this kind of [investigative] work.” That management could take both positive forms—rewarding sympathetic reporters with leaks, background interviews, and seats on official flights—and negative ones—freezing out reporters who didn’t play along. In a city where access is all, few wanted to risk losing it.

Which isn’t a lot different than what happened at the University of Nebraska with Tom Osbourne.  The other factor is the same that played into the Irish financial implosion (and the American housing boom), reporters were afraid of being on the wrong side of public opinion.

Such sanctions were reinforced by the national political climate. With a popular president promoting war, Democrats in Congress were reluctant to criticize him. This deprived reporters of opposition voices to quote, and of hearings to cover. Many readers, meanwhile, were intolerant of articles critical of the President. Whenever The Washington Post ran such pieces, reporter Dana Priest recalls, “We got tons of hate mail and threats, calling our patriotism into question.” Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and The Weekly Standard, among others, all stood ready to pounce on journalists who strayed, branding them liberals or traitors—labels that could permanently damage a career. Gradually, journalists began to muzzle themselves.

Not everyone censored themselves.

In the weeks following the speech, one journalist—Walter Pincus of The Washington Post—developed strong reservations about it. A longtime investigative reporter, Pincus went back and read the UN inspectors’ reports of 1998 and 1999, and he was struck to learn from them how much weaponry had been destroyed in Iraq before 1998. He also tracked down General Anthony Zinni, the former head of the US Central Command, who described the hundreds of weapons sites the United States had destroyed in its 1998 bombing. All of this, Pincus recalled, “made me go back and read Powell’s speech closely. And you could see that it was all inferential. If you analyzed all the intercepted conversations he discussed, you could see that they really didn’t prove anything.”

By mid-March, Pincus felt he had enough material for an article questioning the administration’s claims on Iraq. His editors weren’t interested. It was only after the intervention of his colleague Bob Woodward, who was researching a book on the war and who had developed similar doubts, that the editors agreed to run the piece—on page A17. Despite the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD, it began, “US intelligence agencies have been unable to give Congress or the Pentagon specific information about the amounts of banned weapons or where they are hidden….” Noting the pressure intelligence analysts were feeling from the White House and Pentagon, Pincus wrote that senior officials, in making the case for war, “repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998.”

Two days later, Pincus, together with Dana Milbank, the Post‘s White House correspondent, was back with an even more critical story. “As the Bush administration prepares to attack Iraq this week,” it began, “it is doing so on the basis of a number of allegations against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that have been challenged—and in some cases disproved—by the United Nations, European governments and even US intelligence reports.” That story appeared on page A13.

The placement of these stories was no accident, Pincus says. “The front pages ofThe New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times are very important in shaping what other people think,” he told me. “They’re like writing a memo to the White House.” But the Post‘s editors, he said, “went through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference.”

John Walcott of Knight Ridder The McClatchy Company suggests it was partially due to some lazy reporting.

If nothing else, the Iraq saga should cause journalists to examine the breadth of their sources. “One question worth asking,” John Walcott of Knight Ridder says, “is whether we in journalism have become too reliant on high-level officials instead of cultivating less glamorous people in the bowels of the bureaucracy. “In the case of Iraq, he added, the political appointees “really closed ranks. So if you relied exclusively on traditional news sources—assistant secretaries and above—you would not have heard things we heard.” What Walcott calls “the blue collar” employees of the agencies—the working analysts or former analysts—were drawn on extensively by Knight Ridder, but by few others.

It paints a pretty ugly picture of journalism.  The part of it that gave me hope was what happened to Judith Miller.  First of all, Maureen Dowd went to town on Miller’s reporting 

Judy admitted in the story that she ‘got it totally wrong’ about W.M.D. ‘If your sources are wrong,’ she said, ‘you are wrong.’ But investigative reporting is not stenography. . .

The next day, public editor, Byron Calame wrote,

Ms. Miller may still be best known for her role in a series of Times articles in 2002 and 2003 that strongly suggested Saddam Hussein already had or was acquiring an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction… Many of those articles turned out to be inaccurate."

Barack Obama's birth certificate Have they changed?  Well today Fox News asked their viewers regarding Barack Obama’s long form birth certificate, "is it good enough for you?"

The Nation looks back at the reporting that defined the Mission Accomplished event.  A mission so accomplished that there was another 4,000 American and a couple hundred thousand Iraqi casualties.  Try to control the grimace as you read what Maureen Dowd wrote.

George Bush - Mission Accomplished Maureen Dowd in her column declared: “Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity.

“He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ”revvin’ up your engine” myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies look like Lizzie McGuire.

“This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.”

So much for the paper of record.  It asks the question, if I can’t expect the New York Times, Washington Post, or the any newspaper in Ireland to stand up to popular opinion and keep digging for the truth, why expect more from The StarPhoenix or local television stations.  While they probably aren’t offered rides on Air Force One, how do I know that selections on The StarPhoenix’s 52 things to love about Saskatoon aren’t connected to advertising buys? (especially when reading this article) or electoral coverage is not influenced by the same access issues that sucked in Judith Miller and a lot of other respected journalists?  Who knows what information that James Wood has published after Premier Brad Wall offered to help him win the office football pool?

I almost everything before this paragraph last the day that Sacca’s tweet appeared.  Since then I have been wondering, do I trust journalism.

First of all, there is a difference between news entertainment and journalism.  What FOX News practices, what MSNBC does, and what SUN TV parades out isn’t journalism.  It’s driven by ratings and is all about profit.  Now I may find Keith Olbermann a lot more entertaining and less offensive then Glenn Beck, it’s still not journalism.  Does anyone even on the right think that Sarah Palin is on FOX News for any other reason than to further her own political aspirations (faltering as they are)?

I believe in it because as I have grown older and wiser, I know it when I see it.  This winter a reporter came in and did a story where she opened with the line, “I am just going through the motions on this story but at least I don’t have to endure another day of —-.”  Seriously.  Another local reporter assured me that I was off the record and direct quoted me.  I had read of stupid reporters in Warren Kinsella’s book Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics and The War Room but thought they were confined to covering politics (or Nebraska football).  Apparently it’s not and I learned it the hard way.  Even I have a blacklist of local reporters I will no longer talk to and sadly I keep a voice recorder in my office drawer after being misquoted.

Do I trust journalism?  I don’t know but I have grown to trust specific journalists and yes, I trust many outlets.  In addition to The StarPhoenix there are papers and magazines that are an important part of my daily life, including those that have screwed up big time in the past (I’m looking at you, The New York Times and the Washington Post).  They are the papers and magazines that I toss in front of Mark and later Oliver that will teach them a global worldview, the importance of figuring out both sides of a story, and in the case of some papers, how to handle a situation when you have screwed up.  Others will teach Mark what happens when you lose your intellectual integrity and only choose to see one side of an argument so I guess Fox News does have some value after all.

My vote

Mount Lougheed I became a Conservative in 1980.  I was six years old and I wandered in where my parents and friends were watching Pierre Trudeau defeat Joe Clark in the general election.  I asked what happened and I was told that a bad man had taken power and a good man had lost. Oh did I mention we were living in Alberta at the time.  Soon after that the National Energy Policy was enacted and according to my teachers, Peter Lougheed not only saved Canada from the rising tide of socialism sweeping across Canada but fought off the villains from Kryptonite as well.  I actually remember watching a documentary about Peter Lougheed climbing Mount Lougheed.  It was riveting.

When we moved to Saskatchewan, Grant Devine was in power and I got involved in Conservative campaigns when I was 12.  I even ran for the Bill Boyd lead Progressive Conservatives in 1995 (got my clock cleaned).  I left my partisan ways behind me, became a pastor and became officially non-partisan.  While we no longer featured a lawn sign in our front yard, I still voted Progressive Conservative and donated a little money when we could afford it.  I bought a membership to vote for Joe Clark during his comeback and even had a Carol Skelton lawn sign in 2004.

During that time, my own political worldview had changed.  During the 2003 campaign, Eric Cline knocked on my door and we had an engaging discussion about deficits, the complexity of the U.S. economy, and his residency in the riding.  As he left I promised I would vote for him, the first time I have ever voted for an NDP candidate.

As I approached this election, I realized I was truly undecided.  I want to like Stephen Harper.  He wears sweater vests, he plays the piano, knows hockey, and he’s funny when Rick Mercer drops by.

I trust him on the big things like the economy but the things that bothered me started to add up. 

  • resampled_big_20110326-Campaign-Gallery02-11Bev Oda should have just been fired.
  • Centralization of power in the PMO and the constant neutering of the cabinet ministers (so much for Team Harper, there is no team, it’s Steve).  Dimitri Soudas steps to the microphone more frequently than most ministers which asks the question, what the ministers other than Jason Kenney (courting minorities), Jim Flaherty (finance), John Baird (getting angry at people), and Tony Clement (tweeting it live as it happens) doing?
  • He’s a tactician but I want a visionary.  I don’t get any indication that Harper has a big picture or dream for Canada.  He’s a competent manager and an excellent political thinker but I don’t see a lot of vision there.
  • Harper was just found in contempt of Parliament because he would not tell Canadians how much things cost.  Is this not why a Parliament is so important, to hold the government responsible.  Rewarding that seems wrong to me.  I know bringing down the government on that was a bit of a political game but the Speaker’s ruling was not.  It bothers me and shows a pattern of distrust for democracy that goes back to Harper’s Reform Party days.
  • The idelogical war against Insite.  As this excellent editorial in The StarPhoenix points outConservative Leader Stephen Harper has promised that within 100 days of achieving a majority mandate he would present Parliament with an omnibus crime bill that would in effect revert Canada’s legal and health systems to 19th-century standards.
  • I hate the level of income tax I pay as much as the next person but we need taxes.  Taxes aren’t evil, they are a part of being a community.  We need to come together to share the costs.  The right’s approach to taxes is that they are a burden on society and I despise that language.  By coming together as a country, we can do a lot more than I can do as an individual and that costs money.  At the same time, if you are going to bash taxes, stop spending our money like an idiot.  Chretien knew this.  G8/G20 summits don’t need fake lakes, nor do they need the kind of costs that you spent.  As PostMedia News pointed out, So the G20 summit, in Toronto, ended up costing $679 million. About $574.6 million was spent on security. Canada shelled out a lot more, however, than other countries that have hosted similar summits. The 2009 G20 summit, for example, set the United Kingdom back $20 million, with another $28.6 million spent on security, according to research out of the University of Toronto. In a July 2010 report, the U of T researchers say that between $129 million and $200 million was spent on Canada’s 2002 G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alta.
  • Where were the Conservative MPs during the potash debate?  Prorogued?  Held captive?  Away from the newspapers, telephones, email, and all other forms of communication?  Thank goodness Brad Wall or Dwain Lingenfelter didn’t waste anytime lobbying them and instead went to people that make decisions because they contributed nothing to the debate.

It isn’t just Harper’s performance as leader that I struggle with, I have some problems with Kelly Block as a local MP.  See part of me is spoiled by some great local representation.  A couple of years ago Wendy emailed Darren Hill about an abandoned lot and within minutes Hill and the fire department were both looking at it.  Over the next couple of days, Wendy was sent and forwarded a deluge of emails while the problem was resolved.  I was impressed and we both became avid supporters of Darren Hill.  In some ways if he was running in Saskatoon Rosetown Bigger, it wouldn’t even be close who we would be voting for.

Cam Broten replaced Eric Cline and has been a great MLA and local representative.  I think he was the first Saskatchewan politician on Twitter and alongside Pat Atkinson should be the model of how to use social media as a politician.  Of Twitter doesn’t make Cam a great MLA, he’s approachable, helpful, and fun to talk to.  

In my previous dealings with Carol Skelton, despite being in cabinet, she personally answered my emails and invited further conversation and comment.  I really appreciated that about her.  She also would periodically stop in and comment or email about something on Wendy’s or mine blog which was nice.  While she had constituency staff, I never dealt with them and always with Skelton, even if it was on minor issues.

A little over two years ago, a friend had a major issue that needed an MP to help with.  She emailed Kelly Block and was emailed promptly back the Conservative talking points on the subject by a staffer.  The staffer didn’t even acknowledge the situation.  I understand MPs can be busy but it was when government was prorogued and even if wasn’t, what else is there for a backbench MP to do than reply to constituent concerns.  At the same time, some of the Saskatchewan Party and NDP MLA’s were contacted.  Every MLA but one responded personally immediately and promised to work on the issue, even though it was a federal one.  The one MLA who did not respond immediately was travelling and was in an area where there was no cell phone coverage.  Once he was back in touch, he got involved as well.

As I watched this and read the responses, you had some MLAs working their butts off on the subject and then you MPs who had nothings else to do other than work on constituency concerns, having their staff send out talking points.  I realized then that something was wrong.  It happened on a couple more occasions where an inquiry into Block’s office were met with talking points from an staffers.

Speaking of staffers, it’s hasn’t been a strength either.  In 2010 it was Kelly Block’s Ottawa aide, Russell Ullyatt who leaked some confidential memos to lobbying groups in a huge breach of confidentiality (and stupidity) and was running a direct mail company out of her Ottawa office.  He was no stranger to controversy but Block defended him with this,

“I certainly didn’t Google Russell Ullyatt,” Ms. Block said, adding she checked all his references before giving him a job.

Speaking of jobs, there was rumors that Ulyatt was running a printing company out of Block’s office.

Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi told reporters later the board of internal economy — the secretive, all-party committee that oversees the operation of the House of Commons, including MPs’ offices — is also investigating suspicions that Ullyatt was actually running a private political printing and mailing business out of Block’s office.

Joe Preston, the Tory chair of the procedural committee, appeared to suggest the same, although Marcel Proulx, the Liberal member of the internal economy board, refused to confirm the investigation.

Opposition MPs say they’ve seen expensive printing, paper-folding and envelope-stuffing equipment delivered to Block’s office. They’ve also seen huge stocks of brochures sitting in the hall outside her office.

A charge he denied.

Ullyatt told reporters on his way out of the committee that he operates his printing company out of his garage.

“I can’t even park my car in my garage because it’s chock full of equipment so, no, I do not operate a company out of a member of Parliament’s office,” he said.

Sadly the Conservative members of the committee would not let questions about the business be asked.

The Conservatives forcefully objected when opposition MPs tried to steer questions to the subject of Mr. Ullyatt’s private printing company, which has boasted of sending more than five million pieces of mail in the past two years as “Canada’s only completely political mail provider.”

New Democrat Thomas Mulcair, who has said he’s seen a “very elaborate printing machine” and pallets of boxes outside Ms. Block’s office, tried to ask why the Saskatchewan MP would need these materials. But Joe Preston, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said the questions were irrelevant to the leak of the budget report.

Parliamentary rules do not allow MPs’ offices to be used for activities that are clearly of a private interest, and a secretive all-party Commons body called the Board of Internal Economy is investigating whether Mr. Ullyatt was running a business out of Ms. Block’s office.

Ms. Block cut short her testimony to MPs on Thursday, saying she had “other commitments.”

She left after one hour, refusing to stay for a scheduled second hour of hearings and declining to answer any questions from journalists as she departed. Fellow Conservatives defended Ms. Block, noting that as an MP she is not legally required to appear before committees at all.

Speaking of mail outs, for the last couple of years we have been inundated full of Tory caucus prepared mail outs warning us of scary coalitions, sex offenders getting out of jail early, and other bad and evil things that Liberals and the Bloc does.  Most ignore the NDP which is kind of ironic because that is her biggest challenger in the riding.  Perhaps she may have been better served hiring Russell Ullyatt’s firm to do her constituency mail outs.

As I looked over them over the past year I realized that she wasn’t representing me in Ottawa, she was busy trying to sell the Conservative agenda back here.  Maybe that is why she had to outsource her email.

So what are my options?

The Liberals are dead in Saskatchewan.  No offense to Darren Hill who is a great city councillor but the Liberal brand has been dead in Saskatchewan since the early 90s and outside of Ralph Goodale, there is no Liberal presence in the province.  Early on in the campaign I couldn’t even find active Liberal riding associations and the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party goes offline for extended periods of time and only has 314 followers on Twitter and most of those are other politicians.  The Liberal Party in Saskatchewan doesn’t have a ground game and their fan base rivals that of the Phoenix Coyotes.  While it may or may not have made a difference, their campaign platform left me thinking, “this is it?”  You have Michael Ignatieff as leader, Bob Rae in the front benches, you have that thinkers conference and this is the best you can do?  A grant for college?  Yes I did like the Green Renovation Credit, it can hardly be called innovative and there isn’t what you would call much in the area of energy policy and while the Freshwater Strategy looked exciting, there really is nothing there.

Plus, as Chantal Hebert writes, they did this to themselves.

Liberal strategists did not factor a potentially surging NDP into their calculations because they presumed the Liberals were playing against the Conservatives in the major leagues and the NDP was not.

They approached the election with the mindset of a governing party but the physique of a third party.

When they plunged headlong in a spring campaign, the Liberals had been mired in the mid-twenties in the polls for an unprecedented length of time; they were at a historical low behind the NDP in Quebec and exhibiting little signs of life in the Prairies.

A base can only erode for so long — as the Liberal base has for decades — before it starts to disintegrate.

On a personal level, I am really disappointed in Michael Ignatieff.  I get disappointed when I hear the Liberals scream for a bailout package to help hurting Canadians, complain it isn’t enough and then point out the size of the deficit.  Tell me again how that works?  Or what about the stance against the CF-35s.  Now there is a debate that needs to be had over that programme and you would assume given Ignatieff’s background, he would see that?  Are 60 F-35s enough?  Can it compete against the new MiGs, Flanker H, PAK FA, and Chinese planes that are being designed for export (apparently not) and should Canada be purchasing air superiority planes or attack aircraft?  Should be looking at an interim purchase like Australia is until the F-35s can prove themselves?  Instead Ignatieff says, “Let’s have an open competition.”  Makes sense until you realize it would be between the F-35 and the equally over priced Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35.  There are no other options unless we want to purchase Russian and that will go over well at the NATO meetings.

It was the NDP who made the most amount of sense on this issue.

Layton indicated that the country has not had a defence white paper since 1994 and that a new white paper needs to be developed setting Canadian defence priorities before decisions on new fighters can be made.

Jane Taber and John Ibbitson quote a “senior Liberal” complaining about Ignatieff’s performance on the campaign trail.

…for example, that while the party’s health-care ads were being run on television, Mr. Ignatieff was talking about “rising up” and calling the Tories anti-democratic. He was repeatedly blown off message and seemed to come up with new themes almost daily, from concern-for-democracy to health care to wasted spending on the G8 and G20 summits. This confused voters.

layton_official My other option is to vote NDP federally.  Whoa.  I need to think this through.  There is a difference in my mind between the Saskatchewan NDP and the federal NDP.  Since NDP in Saskatchewan often get elected, they tend to pragmatists.  Sure there is an ideology there but if the ideology doesn’t fit the problem, the NDP can adapt and change.  They also don’t do things like promise $70 billion in new spending.  They also think before speaking about credit card interest caps that would a) make it harder for the poor to get credit cards and b) encourage more consumer debt.  Brilliant.  What’s next?  Variable rate mortgages for the masses?

What’s the cause of all of this? 

I think part of it has been three consecutive minority governments.  It turns every day into an epic struggle to either defeat or survive the next confidence vote.  In many ways the campaigning non-stop since 2005 which keeps party from seeking grassroots renewal and input.  It also puts all three parties into a crisis mode where all policies and ideas have to work RIGHT NOW because one misstep could either give Stephen Harper a majority or alternatively cause a government to fall.  Once you get into that mode, it’s hard to get out of it.  The additional risk is that the next loss could end the career of Ignatieff (done like dinner), Harper (likely done) or Layton (we have a winner).  Of course if a majority government is elected, the other parties can enter into a renewal process.

So I am left to choose between three tired leaders who are promising the status quo, nothing interesting, or a World Bank/IMF bailout and intervention if elected.  What a choice to make.

4o5ke In the end, I am going to lend my vote to Nettie Wiebe.  I don’t think Jack Layton will win power and in the end the seat is probably already going to the NDP anyways.  I do value strong MPs and I think that Wiebe will be that voice for the riding.  I don’t agree with Wiebe and everything but she has run three campaigns now with a lot of integrity and that is worth something.  My hope is that by actually seeing the possibility of power for the first time, Layton and the NDP brain trust will rethink the next campaign in 2013 and put together an economic plan that is fiscally responsible.  Saskatchewan and Manitoba NDP do it all of the time. 

I guess the NDP have a choice.  Do this interpret this as a sign that Canadians want them to spend us into bankruptcy or is it a sign that they are truly frustrated with the Conservatives, Bloc, and Liberals and want to see what they will do as a government in waiting.  At the same time it may send a message to the Conservatives and the now third place Liberals that a different approach is needed.  Plus it may be fun to see Bob Rae go head to head with Jack Layton in the next campaign.

It’s not a decision I am comfortable with but right now I don’t see another realistic option.