Friday, November 30, 2007

Why I Suspect a Cover-Up

I heard someone on the news say today that the Liberals are going to try to twist the Mulroney-Schreiber investigation to smear the current government with cover-up allegations. This sort of spin drives me crazy. It's not a smear. There is strong reason to think that there may be a cover-up that goes deep in the Harper government. In particular, Peter MacKay may be implicated. We need to get to the bottom of this. If Harper, MacKay and others are cleared, that's great - but we can't let the cover-up ride the way we've allowed the Airbus scandal and Mulroney-Schreiber payments to go on and on until most of the witnesses are dead.

These are the few things we know to date about the cover-up:

- Mulroney is influential in the current government and with Stephen Harper. His influence is heightened by his importance to the old Progressive Conservative branch of the party, which was subsumed by the Reform-Alliance party.
- Mulroney swore under oath that "I had never had any dealings with [Schreiber]" when in fact he did.
- Mulroney and his spokesman have told several lies, including that his agreement with Schreiber was a legitimate consulting deal concerning a pasta business.
- Schreiber sent a letter to Harper last spring that detailed his allegations against Mulroney. Harper claims he never saw the letter.
- Elmer MacKay drafted a letter in 2006 for Schreiber; the letter attempted to absolve Mulroney of wrongdoing in his deals with Schreiber. Schreiber claims that he was coerced into signing the letter to prevent being extradited to Germany.
- Schreiber claims that Mulroney told him that he showed the 2006 letter to Harper, and that Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appeared willing to cooperate.
- Elmer MacKay sent at least one fax to the RCMP trying to get them to stop their investigation into the payments, and we know that this fax was sent from Defence Minister Peter MacKay's constituency office. (Given that Elmer is the former solicitor general, this communication is a pretty big deal.)
- The RCMP did indeed abandon their investigation, even though the press uncovered a huge amount of evidence of wrongdoing.
- Elmer MacKay is close to his son Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister.
- Peter MacKay has personal ties to Schreiber (Schreiber got him a job at Thyssen; Schreiber lived in his father's home).
- There's a mystery around who paid off Peter MacKay's large leadership campaign debt (estimated at $500,000).

Peter MacKay's denials sound pretty convincing at the moment, but it's easy for him to deny everything now when so little has come out. Here are some questions we need to get answers to:

- We know about the letter, the fax and Mulroney's lies, but what else did Elmer, Mulroney and others do to cover up the Schreiber-Mulroney deal?
- Did Peter's constituency staff help Elmer with the cover-up (other than helping him send the fax to the RCMP)?
- How involved was Elmer in the cover-up?
- Who else helped with the cover-up?
- Did Peter help Schreiber with Bear Head?
- How much money has the MacKay family received from Schreiber?
- Harper has admitted that he knows who paid off Peter MacKay's campaign debt: was it Schreiber who paid it off?
- Did Mulroney talk to Harper, Nicholson or anyone else in government about Schreiber? They say no, but it seems he must have: if not, what was the purpose of the 2006 letter?


Mulroney's Testimony: Dig into the Cover-Up

I'm getting a little ahead of myself (since Schreiber's testimony is just beginning), but sometime soon the Ethics committee will call Brian Mulroney. That is a huge opportunity, if the Ethics committee can take the right approach.

Mulroney will have several goals in testifying:

1. Salvage his reputation
At this point, Mulroney can't salvage his reputation among people who have closely followed the Schreiber payouts. The known facts show him to have lied and perjured himself, as well as to have made a deal for large quantities of under-the-counter cash while prime minister.

But that's not game over. Mulroney is a smart man, and he is going to work like crazy to rehabilitate himself in the public eye. Given the evidence against him, this may entail muddying the water so that people who support him have a way to justify their support. But given the number of lies he's been called out on, his best strategy will be to appear to come clean and then to apologise.

2. Reduce his legal liability
In the same way that Bill Clinton tried to explain the sentence "I did not have sex with that woman," Mulroney will doubtless try to argue that "I had never had any dealings with him" was not a lie. The argument might go like this: When he said this in 1996, he was referring to a time in the past, before accepting all the cash. (Even that wouldn't be true, as they have had dealings since Schreiber bankrolled Mulroney's leadership bid in the early 80s. Unfortunately, just after Mulroney took office a mysterious series of burglaries, thought to be masterminded by his team, did away with all documentation of his leadership donations.)

Mulroney's best tactic will be to appear to cooperate fully, but he will be careful not to say anything that could further implicate him.

3. Put an end to the scandal
The most important goal for Mulroney must be to stop the negative talk about him, and to stop the investigations. He might even admit to wrongdoing and pay a fine or voluntarily return the $2.1 million - anything to stop this. (For those who think he can't afford it, think again. He and Mila have enormous collections of art, jewellery and antiques, and Mulroney has made a ton of money since leaving office.)

Given Mulroney's goals, the most lucrative line of questioning for the Ethics committee may be the cover-up. Mulroney is not going to spill the beans about his 1993 agreement with Schreiber (for one thing, it's the subject of a civil suit as Schreiber tries to get his $300,000 back). But Mulroney's interests will be served by coming clean with the Canadian public about something and apologizing - and the thing he can come clean about without subjecting himself to further litigation is the cover-up. The committee would do well to make sure they give Mulroney every opportunity to come clean about the cover-up.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Harrington Lake

Karlheinz Schreiber says that when Mulroney was visiting Harper at Harrington Lake last year, Mulroney discussed Schreiber's situation with Harper and gave him a letter from Schreiber. Harper denies the allegation.

Today I heard a lot of pundits opining that it was impossible that Mulroney could have done this because it would have been impolite to raise business in a family social gathering. Words like "preposterous" were used.

In what world do these pundits live? When two prime ministers get together, even with their wives and kids and even at the beach, the guys are going to go off together for a time and talk business. There is nothing impolite about it. (What they talk about it anyone's guess.)

In the months to come we need far, far better commentary on the Schreiber-Mulroney inquiry. Today's commentary was shabby, riddled with inaccuracies, and heavily slanted.


Kudos to the Ethics Committee

I was listening to the Mike Duffy this afternoon on CTV Newsnet, and I was struck by his opinion (repeated several times) that, based on what we heard today, there's no need for a public inquiry.

The Duffster may have a slight conflict of interest in that he was a Mulroney favorite during Mulroney's years as prime minister, according to Stevie Cameron in On the Take... but I don't think he's being partial. His sentiment was echoed by many of the pundits who spoke out today. Another frequently offered opinion was that the Ethics committee did a bad job today; that Shreiber played them for fools; and that an American congressional committee would have been much more professional and effective.


I watched the testimony live this afternoon, and I saw something quite different. The committee members asked questions I wanted to hear and they asked them well. They didn't seem overly partisan and they stuck to the goal of finding the truth. The committee - and in particular its chair, Peter Szabo - were so concilliatory and even kind to Schreiber that they might even have led him to say more than he intended. He started by passing on each question. Slowly, he started to talk. The atmosphere was so non-confrontational that he seemed to fall into the trap of trying to charm the committee.

Okay, he didn't say much - but he said a few things deliberately (for example, that his agreement with Mulroney was for $500K but he withheld $200K of it), and he let a few things slip (like Mulroney telling him that Harper had read his 2006 letter). I think the committee did a very effective job. This is just Day 1, and I have a good feeling about the ongoing testimony next week.

As to the comparison with the US, I've been watching congressional inquiries and senate confirmation hearings since Watergate, and they're generally awful. They usually go something like this: a senator has X minutes to ask a question; he uses almost all the time posturing about what a Great Man he is; then in the closing seconds he asks a question in a querulous manner which the questionee bats away easily. (The best example of this was the Bork Supreme Court confirmation hearings; Bork demolished senator after senator, even though it was a case of winning all the battles but losing the war.)

Bob Rae and Jean Chretien have said that the terms of the public inquiry should be very narrow, and I know that they both know a whole lot more than I do. But I can't agree with them. This is a very unusual and serious situation. We have a scandal that has been inadequately addressed by the RCMP in part because a former prime minister lied in court about his role in it. We have a current government who has been threatening to extradite the main witness before we can get testimony from him. We needed the extraordinary use of parliamentary powers to bring Schreiber before the Ethics committee immediately; and we need a wide-ranging public inquiry.

Here are some of the things I think we need to figure out, through a combination of the Ethics committee hearings, public inquiry and RCMP investigation:

- Should we prosecute Mulroney for perjury in his defamation case?
- Should we act to get our $2.1 million back from Mulroney from the defamation case?
- Should we prosecute Mulroney for making an agreement while he was PM to get $500K from an arms dealer and/or taking receipt of some of the money while an MP?
- What exactly was the agreement between Schreiber and Mulroney that Mulroney was supposed to get $500K for? Schreiber has said that he tended to pay money to people after they helped him, rather than before. Today he made an odd comment about the payment being partly for Mulroney's support of German reunification. Was there anything else Mulroney did while PM that Schreiber was "greasing his palm" for? (There is evidence that Mulroney was pushing Bear Head as early as 1990.)
- Who got the Airbus bribes? When and how much? What did they do for them? We know that Schreiber distributed $10 million in Canada. We know that Mulroney fired all Air Canada directors and installed new ones when he became PM (and it was the new directors who approved the Airbus deal). We know that Frank Moores was directly involved in the Airbus deal. We need to connect the dots.
- Who else got money from Schreiber and why?
- There was an attempted cover-up (we know this because of the 2006 letter that Mulroney and Elmer MacKay got Schreiber to sign). What was the extent of the cover-up and who else (other than Elmer and Mulroney) was involved? Elmer used Defence Minister Peter MacKay's constituency office equipment in the cover-up: how serious is that? What did Harper know?


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Perplexing Case of Elmer MacKay

In the whole sorry saga of Karl Schreiber's shennanigans in Canada, the weirdest part has got to be Schreiber's relationship with Elmer MacKay. Elmer is mostly remembered as the guy who gave up his seat in Central Nova so newly elected PC leader Brian Mulroney could run there. In thanks, Mulroney made Elmer Solicitor General. Later Elmer became even more famous as the father of our lovelorn Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay.

Back in 1999, Schreiber was in Switzerland when German officials issued an arrest warrant for him. Elmer flew to Switzerland and flew back to Canada with Schreiber. Once in Canada, Schreiber was arrested on the German warrant to face extradition. Elmer paid $100,000 in bail. (Trudeau-era Justice Minister Marc Lalonde paid another $100,000 bail. However, Lalonde is generally described as a lobbyist working for Schreiber, while Elmer consistently describes his relationship with Schreiber as friendship.) Karl lived in Elmer's house for a while.

What is this strange relationship between Elmer and Karl? Many parents wouldn't cross an ocean to fetch back an errant child, much less a business acquaintance or friend.

As late as 2006, Elmer used Peter MacKay's constituency office resources to try to force the RCMP to back down in its investigation of Schreiber.

I wonder if Karl has been shaking down the Conservatives for a long time, threatening to reveal secrets if they don't keep him out of trouble.

Or Karl might be receiving help staying out of Germany because the German case against him includes bribes he paid to Canadians for the Airbus deal - some people in Canada may worry that if the Germans ever get him home for trial, the lid will be blown off the whole Airbus controversy. It is mighty suspicious that decades of RCMP investigations have revealed so little about the Airbus scandal: most of what we know about the scandal (such as Frank Moores' involvement) was uncovered by the media.

Or maybe Elmer MacKay is just the best friend a shady arms dealer could have.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Leave the Partisan Politics at the Door

NDP MP Pat Martin is crazy mad. He's foot-stomping, spittle-spewing, eye-bugging mad. He's hollering accusations at anyone and everyone who isn't in the NDP. The method in his madness emerges when you realize that he's blaming the Liberals for the Mulroney-Schreiber scandal: The Liberals are trying to delay the Ethics committee! Schreiber gave money to the Liberals! Don't investigate the possible cover-up by Stephen Harper: investigate those dastardly nogoodniks, the Grits!

Since the Liberals and NDP share values, policies, and more importantly, a large common voter pool, it seems pretty obvious that the NDP wants to spin this Conservative scandal to smear the Liberals. Here is why they shouldn't do that:

* We need to clear this matter up completely and fairly. There are several layers of scandal here, from the whole Airbus-bribery scandal to the Mulroney-taking-money-while-in-office scandal to the Mulroney-getting-$2M scandal to Where-did-the-rest-of-Schreiber's-bribe-money-go.

* Partisan politics is going to prevent us from clearing this matter up. Spin will muddy the issues. The public will break on partisan lines. The investigation won't get accurate testimony. We'll never get to the truth.

* We need to restore faith in elected officials. Over-the-top partisan stunts have the opposite effect: they just make everyone look dirty and they just disgust the public.

I want to know the whole truth, even if the Liberals, NDP or Bloc are also implicated in this primarily-Conservative scandal. Canada's squeaky clean self-image has been stripped away to a scary, brutal possibility that our top government officials have been taking bribes from arms dealers. The shit is going to hit the fan and we need our elected officials to react responsibly.

Update: In the weeks following this post, during the meetings of the Ethics committee and other events, I thought Pat Martin did an excellent job and was sober, responsible, and effective.


Raise the Gas Tax

In a recent post I listed the gas tax charged by 16 countries. Canada's gas tax is extremely low compared to every country except the US.

Raising the gas tax is an extremely unpopular proposal. Joe Clark's minority government collapsed in 1979 when he tried to do it. The unpopularity of such a move is why we need to make it the major issue in the next federal election. We need to give the next government a mandate to raise the gas tax.

Anyone who truly supports environmental improvement has to support a higher gas tax. It's the only way we're going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Every country in Europe has had high gas taxes for decades. Their economies haven't collapsed and their societies are more equitable than ours. We can do it without hurting people.

What's right environmentally is not the only argument for raising the gas tax. Canada is backing itself into a corner. With the enormous rise in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the Alberta tar sands, Canada is emerging as the environmental monster of the world, surpassing even the US in growth of emissions. If we don't clean up our act, we can expect not just international condemnation and disgrace, but international sanctions as well.


Theater Etiquette

We're well into theater season, which unfortunately coincides with cold & flu season, which results in some very frustrating experiences for theater-goers. Here are some rules to remember:

* Coughing or sneezing loudly is just as rude as shouting. You should always mute a cough by bending forward in your seat and covering your mouth. If you have a reasonable expectation of coughing, take a scarf with you to cough into. Or keep your coat in your lap.

* Before the lights go down, get your cough drops ready. Put them in a breast pocket or pants pocket. If you're fairly certain you'll need one, unwrap it in advance.

* Bring a bottle of water and put it on the floor in front of your seat, where you can get at it easily if you have a coughing fit.

* When you're at the opera, do not talk when the orchestra is playing. A surprising number of people talk through the overture, as if the opera doesn't begin until someone starts singing. Likewise, do not start talking until the orchestra stops playing.

* An opera is more like a play than it is a concert of songs. Consequently, you should not clap when the singers stop. Doing so disrupts the performance. Clap at the end of a section, when the orchestra stops playing. Better yet, clap only when the curtain goes down.

* If someone around you is talking, you don't have much recourse. You shouldn't shush them (which only causes more disruption). It's also pretty rude to touch a stranger (although it might be necessary in extreme circumstances). Wheeling around and glaring is permissable, as is notifying an usher at the interval.

* In live theater, music and dance, audiences should be absolutely quiet. The etiquette of movies is looser. At the movies, people chomp on popcorn, slurp drinks, and talk more; there are more kids. I don't talk in movies, but I decided some time ago not to let myself be bothered by other movie-goers who do. Try to think of it as part of the excitement of sharing a movie experience with others.


Religious Persecution

The Halton Catholic School Board has not only removed Philip Pullman's books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) from its libraries; it has even removed catalogs that advertise the books. The reason given is that the author is an atheist and the books have atheistic themes. Halton's move was based on a local complaint and is subject to review, but the campaign against the books (and atheism in general) is widespread, and has been promoted by groups such as the US Catholic League.

It would be outrageous if a school board banned books because the author was Muslim or Hindu; why is it acceptable to have open season on atheists? Atheism is a deeply held conviction of many people, including myself, and we should have equal rights with people of differing faiths. Persecuting atheists should be just as illegal as persecuting other faiths.

Fearing atheists as devil-worshippers or god-killers is tantamount to calling educated women witches. Atheists are no threat. We don't even proselytise. You never see atheists out knocking on doors trying to badger people into changing their faith.

Can we not take the Halton Catholic School Board to court for breaching a fundamental tenet of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - freedom of religion? The assault on atheism is a denial of my right to my own faith.

Update: US School Bans Dictionary


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The State of Mulroney's Finances in 1993

Mulroney spokesman Luc Lavoie admitted today that Mulroney accepted cash from Schreiber in 1993, before leaving office. But, Lavoie said, the poor fella had to do it - he was broke, busted, done in by the paltry salary of being Prime Minister. "Whatever savings he had he had spent while he was prime minister,” Lavoie said.

In 1993, Mulroney bought a $1.67 million mansion in Montreal, and then he spent a further $1 million in cash to renovate it.

If Mulroney was so broke, where did he get all that cash?

Who else was slipping thousand dollar bills into envelopes and meeting him in hotel rooms?

(And since when is a desire to live the high life a justification for shady dealings with arms dealers?)


Fun Factoids: al Qaeda

Doing some research about al Qaeda recently, I learned some interesting things.

One: the reason there are so many ways of pronouncing the name is that the Arabic pronunciation requires being able to make a voiceless uvular plosive as well as a voiced pharyngeal fricative. The former is, I believe, the first consonant in the name Khomeini; sort of a combination of a k and an h. That's easy enough. But the voiced pharyngeal fricative is not so easy for us non-Arabs to get a handle on; even in phonetic symbology, it is represented by a question mark. To make matters even more difficult, there is controversy over whether this sound is truly a voiced pharyngeal fricative, or whether it is a voiced pharyngeal approximant, epiglottal consonant, voiced epiglottal fricative, epiglottal approximant, or pharyngealized glottal stop. In other words: don't worry about it.

Two: In writing my last post, I stumbled on al Qaeda's list of targets: "Western, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim apostate and Shiite" communities. (Muslim apostates are ex-Muslims. Shiites comprise 15% of the Muslim world and are concentrated in Iran and Iraq.)

That means that al Qaeda doesn't target quite a few groups, other than its own religion of Sunni Muslim. The groups that are getting off scot-free include Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Confucianists, Christians who don't live in the West, Baha'is, Jainists, atheists who don't live in the West, animists, Taoists, Shintoists, Druze, and the Vodunsi.


Our Achilles' Heel

A burning issue for our government, businesses and civil society should be our increasing vulnerability to computer breakdown. Consider just three stories that were in the news recently:

* Air Canada had a small computer glitch (a communications error) that grounded planes for hours. One inconvenienced traveler said on the news, "Don't airlines have backup systems?" Apparently they don't. Planes were grounded for only six hours, but the ensuing mess lasted much longer and affected airports worldwide.

* Britain lost computer disks containing confidential details of 25M residents - all the recipients of child benefits in the country. The data is a potential goldmine for identity thieves, as it contains bank account information as well as personal data. The astounding thing about this is not that someone made a mistake and lost the disks, but that the government does not use strong encryption to protect confidential data.

* Fresh news broke about the al Qaeda "hacker wing" that is dedicated to cyber-terrorism. In late October, al Qaeda announced it would start its attack on November 11. Of course, al Qaeda is trying to keep us in a state of fear, but it's true that they have been targeting computer usage for some time; just last March Scotland Yard broke up a ring that was trying to bring down the British internet (particularly targeting the stock exchange).

Our computer vulnerability is already having consequences. For example, three years ago a friend of mine had a recurrence of breast cancer and was scheduled for chemotherapy in our local hospital. Her treatment had to be delayed for several months because of a computer virus that had disrupted the hospital's computer system. She died - just another unreported casualty of inadequately protected computer systems.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Smell Test

As Geoffrey Stevens pointed out in a column today, what UW President David Johnston needs to do in framing the terms of reference for an inquiry into the Schreiber/Mulroney affair is to "draft a mandate that will pass the 'smell test' among the members of the public." What we the public need is a complete understanding of the relationship between Schreiber and Mulroney, including a complete airing of the 1988 Airbus bribery scandal. It's about time.

We need a complete airing because the whole buried scandal stinks to high heaven. Brian Mulroney has described his relationship with Schreiber as extremely casual - he says they only met for coffee a couple of times. But it seems that that is a total lie. We know that:

* In 1976, Schreiber contributed at least $25,000 to Mulroney's leadership bid of the Progressive Conservative party.

* In 1983, Schreiber was active in deposing Joe Clark so that Mulroney could take over as leader (among other things, he paid for jets to fly anti-Clark delegates to the party's general meeting in Winnipeg).

* In 1988, Schreiber made large payouts to Canadian officials to influence the decision by Air Canada (then a crown corporation) to purchase 34 aircraft from Airbus Industrie for $1.8 billion. There is proof that in February of that year, Frank Moores was working for Airbus to influence Air Canada to buy the planes. In March, Mulroney appointed Moores to the board of Air Canada. That same month, Air Canada approved the Airbus purchase.

* In 1993-94, Schreiber gave Mulroney three payments of $100,000 each, in envelopes of cash, in hotel rooms. Years later, after these payments were exposed, Mulroney paid tax on the money. The money came from the same Swiss bank accounts as the Airbus bribes, and in keeping with Schreiber's mnemonic naming system (he gave bribery accounts names that were similar to the first names of the recipients), the account was called Britan.

There is much more we need to know. Many people in the Airbus/Schreiber/Mulroney scandal are dead, but the inquiry should get evidence (under oath) from those who are still alive. For example, Frank Moores and Gary Ouellet are dead, but Fred Doucet, the third partner in the lobbying firm Government Consultants International (CGI), lives. Doucet seems to have always been the middleman in dealings between Mulroney and Schreiber, partly because he was Mulroney's chief of staff.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mulroney's M.O.

Brian Mulroney has called for a "full-fledged public commission of inquiry which would cover the period from 1988 to today".

Mulroney has shown himself to be a brilliant tactician in winning legal battles. His M.O., shown again here, is to get out in front of the issue and protest his innocence loudly. But I remember all the years of bluster and lying from this man, and I don't believe him. If he sincerely wanted to get out in front of this issue, he'd tell us what his deal with Schreiber was that netted him $300,000 cash; he'd fess up to what other money he has taken from Schreiber over the decades of their friendship; and he'd tell us what he knows about Schreiber's other payees.

In his statement, Mulroney protests his innocence vis-a-vis the letter sent by the RCMP to Swiss authorities. I don't know how the RCMP worded that letter, but based on the previous out of court settlement he got from contesting it, it seems clear that the RCMP wrote it badly.

Another interesting point in Mulroney's letter is reference to the extradition order of Karlheinz Schreiber as "an extradition order confirmed twice by the Supreme Court of Canada." It sounds like Mulroney wants Schreiber to be extradited to Germany so that he will stop talking in Canada. As I have argued before, we should delay that extradition, and perhaps even offer immunity to Schreiber, in order to get more information out of him.

Who knows - maybe Mulroney is innocent. But this time, I'd like the inquiry to be complete and to avoid manipulation from Team Mulroney.


Monday, November 12, 2007

What About the Other $9.7M? ...and other issues

Brian Mulroney has now admitted to receiving $300,000 in cash from arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber, and Schreiber has claimed that the deal that led to the payout was made while Mulroney was Prime Minister. This is a very important issue and requires investigation.

But we seem to be losing sight of the bigger picture. Schreiber is thought to have handed out a whole lot more money in bribes to get Air Canada to buy 34 airplanes from Airbus Industries in the late 80s. Reports in the early 90s were that $20M was distributed, $10M in Canada. I'm glad that Stephen Harper is appointing someone to decide what to do about the Mulroney scandal, but we must find out what happened to the other $9.7M.

You'd think that that amount of money would leave a trace. It has been documented that the Mulroney's lavish lifestyle was mostly paid for in cash. But surely some estimates could be made of how much they spent and where it came from. Ditto late Newfoundland Premier Frank Moores, who is widely believed to have been a recipient of Airbus bribes.

My guess is that Stephen Harper is going to want to keep the terms of his investigation as narrow as he can - perhaps as narrow as who in the Privy Council got Schreiber's letter seven months ago and what they did with it.

It's our job to make sure that the investigation is more substantive.

For example:

* Schreiber is only admitting to a very small percentage of the influence money he paid politicians in Canada, and it may be unrelated to the Airbus bribes. After decades of investigation and controversy, the only way to get to the whole truth about Airbus may be to offer the man immunity. I agree that it's not pleasant to grant immunity to an international criminal, but keep in mind that he's 71.

* There is a wealth of evidence that Mulroney received a ton of cash over his term as PM and beyond. Money came from the Conservative party, supporters and who-knows-where-else. Mulroney declared at least some of this extraremuneratory cash on his income tax (one year as PM he apparently claimed a $300,000 income, which far exceeded his salary), but it also seems likely that he didn't claim all of it. A tax audit would be appropriate.

* The RCMP investigation into the Airbus bribes went on beyond Mulroney's civil suit against the government. Can they produce some sort of interim report, or at least make some of the information they gathered public?

* It seems clear that Mulroney perjured himself in his 1995 civil case in which he got a $2.1M settlement from the federal government. He said he never received money from Schreiber, and now he has admitted that he did. Since Schreiber says the money came from the Swiss account code-named Britan, and the suit was over the RCMP's investigation of that account, we as a country should do what we can to get our $2.1M back.

* Mulroney was able to sue the government in the first place because of the way the RCMP worded a request for information. It was awfully convenient for Mulroney that the RCMP made that mistake. Are we certain that it was an honest mistake?

Yes, this is a can of worms, and it has been dogging the country for 20 years. It's time for some transparency.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Shakedown?

There's a lot going on behind the scenes in the Karlheinz Schreiber/Brian Mulroney story. When Stephen Harper announced that he was appointing an investigator who will recommend how he should proceed, he seemed uncharacteristically shook up.

The reason for his disquiet is, presumably, that this scandal has the potential to derail Harper's momentum towards attaining a conservative majority in the near future. Such is the influence of Mulroney in the Conservative party that any action against him will cause distraction and dissension in the party.

It could go further. Some prominent party members, such as Peter MacKay, are so closely entwined with Mulroney and with supporting him in this scandal that they could go down when all the facts come out. Schreiber hinted at coverup when he said that he had sent a letter to Harper months ago that outlined what is known to date. The coverup could go far, far deeper.

In fact, Schreiber, who is a smart man with a smarter legal team, seems to be initiating some sort of shakedown. He has been telling reporters that he has more tales to tell and more evidence to reveal. My guess is that Harper now knows that his government is implicated.

Perhaps Schreiber's goal is to delay his extradition to Germany by making himself indispensable to an inquiry in Canada. Perhaps he is hoping to blackmail the government into something more. What we know about him is that he has a long history of extremely dubious dealing; he gave Mulroney a significant amount of money but feels that Mulroney reneged on his end of the deal; and, facing the rest of his life in jail, he has very little to lose.


Sunday, November 04, 2007


The story of Helen of Troy is frustratingly enigmatic. On one level it is simple: Helen left her husband Menelaus to run off with Paris; Menelaus asked his brother Agamemnon to help get her back; Agamemnon enlisted a huge army of Greeks to attack Paris's home town of Troy; the Greeks battled for many years, finally destroyed Troy, and Helen returned home with Menelaus. But... it seems there are some puzzles and lessons for us lurking within the plot.

1. Agamemnon probably used his sister-in-law's defection as a pretense to attack Troy, which he had been wanting to do. As the ruler of many countries, it gave him a reason to force the kings under him to help him, and most seemed highly reluctant to help.

Helen was a figurehead. But in some ancient texts, Helen of Troy was also a fake. The story goes that when Paris and Helen stole away from Melelaus's castle they stopped first in Egypt, where an Egyptian priest stole the original Helen and sent Paris off with a simulacrum. The real Helen never got to Troy. The long war was fought over a fake Helen and the fake Helen went home to live with Menelaus. (The fakeness of Helen might explain some oddities in Book IV of the Odyssey, when Telemachus goes to Menelaus's court and meets Helen... why Helen was never able to conceive another child, although she had previously borne Hermione; why, in Homer's Odyssey, she seems so content to be back with Menelaus; why the Egyptians figure so prominently in post-Troy-Helen's household.) The biggest war in history was fought on a pretense, and even the pretender did not know that his pretense was a fake.

2. During the 20 years of the Trojan war, kings all over the Greek world were cuckolded by wives that were left alone at home. Some, like Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra, took up with another man of their own accord. Some, like Odysseus's wife Penelope, had power-hungry suitors trying to force themselves on them. You could say that in avenging a man whose wife cheated on him, the avengers created a situation where their own wives cheated on them.

The cuckolding had huge ramifications... the great King Agamemnon, king of all the Greeks, fresh from his victory over the powerful Trojans, came home and was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus (at least according to Aeschylus in his Oresteia).

3. At the very end of the Iliad, Helen says of Hector, "I've never heard a nasty word from you or an abusive speech" and yet in Book III, Hector accuses Paris of being a "woman-mad seducer." In Book IV of the Odyssey, when Helen is back home with Menelaus, he refers to her as "my dear wife" and pampers her. Even though in the Iliad Helen describes herself as a "horrible, conniving bitch," in the Odyssey Helen blames Venus for "taking me over there, away from my country, my girl, and my lawful wedded husband." You would think that even if she were a pretense, she would be blamed by the central characters for providing a pretense.

The only people who seem to dislike Helen are the citizens of Troy (at the end of the Iliad, Helen says that Trojans "all look at me and shudder with disgust") and Achilles (in Book XIX, he says he detests her). But even in those cases, there is no direct allegation of blame.

Paris has a pretty big role in the Iliad, but Helen is oddly absent. (She gets more coverage in the Odyssey, where she is just a matron entertaining a guest in a side-story.) The Iliad is about the heroes Achilles and Hector, and the woman who supposedly started it all is barely mentioned. At some points in the Iliad it seems that Menelaus is more concerned with some unspecified goods that Paris stole than with Helen, but that is mentioned only in passing.

Helen isn't portrayed as stupid or even passive... she is just somehow completely unaccountable. Homer assigns more blame to a storm that wrecks a ship than he does to the woman who caused the biggest war and arguably the largest slaughter of men that had ever occurred. As in the simulacrum version, Helen seems to be missing.

See also:

* Iliad
* Odyssey
* Oresteia
* Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony


Friday, November 02, 2007

Oh Mr Bush... We Need an Extradition Up Here, Please

The Canadian government is not going to act on overwhelming evidence that former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney took at least $300,000 in bribes from a shady German businessman. Harper said, "Do they really want to say that I, as prime minister, should have a free hand to launch inquiries against my predecessors?"

There's an answer. Mulroney got the payoffs in cash in hotel rooms... in the United States. The US has laws about handling amounts of cash over $10,000. You can't cross the border with it or put it in a bank account without paperwork. Mulroney must have violated some of those laws.

Canada was too gormless to prosecute Conrad Black, and now we're apparently too gormless to prosecute Brian Mulroney. Perhaps the US can step in again?

See also:

* We want our $2M back


Cut It Out With the Tax Cuts Already

I'm a Liberal. I support my party. But why in the name of all that's holy is Stephane Dion calling for more income tax cuts?

The concept of fair taxation is pretty simple and is accepted by democracies around the world. People should pay according to their means. Rich people should pay a higher tax rate than poor people. Income tax achieves this by having progressively higher marginal tax rates.

Sales tax, a consumption tax, is the opposite of progressive taxation: it is regressive. While everyone pays the same sales tax rate, poorer people tend to spend a higher percentage of their income on taxable goods than richer people, meaning that poor people pay more tax relative to their income.

That was the reason I opposed the GST nearly 20 years ago when Brian Mulroney dumped it on us. At the time, his spin doctors muddied the water by saying that the GST was replacing the manufacturer's sale tax and so would be revenue neutral, but that turned out to be a big lie. The GST has been a gigantic regressive tax.

We need to reduce the GST to make taxation more fair. It's not very sexy, but reducing the GST is sound public policy.

Unfortunately, I doubt that Stephen Harper is going to take the next step in tax reform and add another tax bracket at the upper end of income (along with a higher top tax rate). He's probably not going to reverse the downloading of expenses to provincial and municipal governments. He's probably not going to reduce the percentage of government revenue that comes from sales tax and property tax, and increase the percentage that comes from income tax. Nor will he review the capital gains tax that hugely reduces taxes for the rich. That's the sort of policy that we Liberals should be talking about, rather than blindly proposing the opposite of whatever Stephen Harper proposes.