Monday, December 31, 2007

New Evidence on Who Killed Bhutto

Top investigative journalists have learned that Tony Blair’s new mideast assignment is a cover. In reality, Blair heads up a hit squad to assassinate key Muslims with the goal of manipulating politics in Islamic countries. Blair converted to Catholicism to engage the support of Vatican assassins, long known as deathly tamperers in international affairs. Blair's first high profile hit was Benazir Bhutto... No, he didn’t send a subordinate: He shot her himself! Then jumped on the car and smashed her head into the roof! Then blew himself up! Now his double has taken over (call him "Fony" in homage to that other famous replacement, Faul McCartney).

In other news...

I was reading online comments to a Globe & Mail article on toxic house dust this morning, and several commenters referred to something called "chemtrails" as if everyone should know what they were. I googled the word, and the first hit is this site, which explains that Henry Kissinger initiated a plan to reduce world population by spraying deadly chemicals that look like jet streams. This depopulation agenda is being implemented by the New World Order, a group intent on diminishing the population of every country but China - which it wants to raise up as the next superpower. The author of the chemtrail web site is a member of the American Society of Dowsers, a group devoted to using psychic energy to locate underground water sources.

Now, I'm a "field reporter" for Zombie World News, so I generally accept this sort of thing for its entertainment value, and I wish I could leave it at that. But nutbar theories are really getting out of control. Sure, we've always had them: for example, in the 19th century many popular novels featured somnambulism, and consequently a high percentage of the population believed that they sleepwalked. But the current beliefs in nutbar conspiracies, in the paranormal, in psychic abilities, in armageddon, in angels and demons, in creationism - all represent a sliding away from civilization into barbarism.

I've had intelligent, educated friends tell me with great conviction that 9/11 was a Jewish conspiracy (there was a documentary claiming that on the Canadian Vision channel); that tampons contain ground glass; that all Social Sciences are a plot by the devil. In my last job, at least three people (all city dwellers with university degrees) didn't believe in Darwin. Some friends and relatives regularly forward me emails containing hoax information, and no matter how often I refer them to snopes and its ilk, they never check the facts - they blindly believe what is written down, no matter how ridiculous - and they send it on to everyone in their address book.

Why does it matter? Chris Volkay argues, "When we believe in fairy tales, we keep ourselves timorous children. We lose our individual strength and begin looking to things outside of ourselves for that strength and guidance."

There's also the tragic situation of learned people wasting their time defending truth. Anthropologist Richard Leakey is fighting to keep early hominid fossils on display in Kenya, against objections from evangelical creationists. (Here's a great article on the debate against creationism.)

There are groups devoted to combatting nutbar theories (for example, Skeptics' toolbox and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry), and I'm all for them, but it's like holding up a toilet plunger against a tsunami of water rolling at you. In a world where US middle east policy is largely dictated by people whose support for Israel is based on the belief that The End of the World is Nigh, what are we to do?


Thursday, December 20, 2007

If Harper Cancels the Inquiry...

... we will have to find another way to get to the bottom of Mulroney's extraremuneratory cash.

As lawyer Eddie Greenspan pointed out in the Hill Times recently, it would be foolish to forego the inquiry, because the House Ethics committee is not made up of trained lawyers. Lawyers have the skill set to get to the bottom of contradictory evidence. For example:
"If there was a safety deposit box, he had to go into it, and if he went into it, he had to sign in and sign out. So, you can put together the pattern and exact history of what happened," Mr. Greenspan said. "You would then get a lot closer to independently determining whether or not he ought to be believed or not believed."

Similar documentary evidence should also exist surrounding the voluntary tax disclosure Mr. Mulroney said he made in 1999, six years after he received the $225,000 in cash from Mr. Schreiber.

"If there's a voluntary disclosure, as Mr. Mulroney says there was, there's going to have to be a file at Revenue Canada," Mr. Greenspan said. "There's going to have to be documents back and forth at Revenue Canada. There's got to be a trail. Get it, and then that way you independently confirm what he's saying."

Don't forget that the Ethics committee hastily convened and called Karlheinz Schreiber because Prime Minister Harper was threatening to extradite Schreiber to Germany before he could give any testimony. If Harper now tries to cut off his promised public inquiry, the Ethics committee may need to adapt to get to the truth. They can use lawyers - if not directly, then in a preparatory way - and they can force Revenue Canada and others to give up privileged documents.

During his defamation suit against the government in the mid-90's, Mulroney claimed that he had never had any dealings with Schreiber. On the basis of that statement the government paid him $2.1 million and apologised. Last week Mulroney admitted to taking great wads of cash from Schreiber in the early 90's, but claimed he did nothing wrong. And Harper wants us to just take his word for it again. My answer is: No, no, no, no.

Make no mistake that it is Harper who is trying to kill the public inquiry, and he is doing so for purely partisan reasons. Recent polls have indicated that the majority of Canadians don't want an inquiry, but they have been fed a lot of horror stories about an inquiry being an expensive waste of time. The Hill Times reported,

NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.), who has been questioning Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney at the committee, said in an interview on Friday last week that the Conservative MPs on the committee have begun to signal that there is no need for an inquiry. He said he is concerned that the Conservatives on the committee, under tight centralized communications control from the Centre, are being told to make the suggestions by the Prime Minister's Office.


Conservative MP Russ Hiebert (South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, B.C.) last week emerged from the committee meeting with Mr. Mulroney and read from a prepared statement, which said further committee hearings into the affair were not necessary because they amounted to a "partisan witch hunt." Mr. Hiebert said the views were his own, not scripted by the PMO, and were written during the committee meeting. But CP reporter Jennifer Ditchburn aptly pointed out that Mr. Hiebert read from computer-printed notes with bullets.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let's Get Back on Track on Liberal Issues

I recently watched a very enjoyable long interview with Jean Chretien on Allan Gregg's show on TVO. The experience reminded me why I like Jean Chretien: his candor and willingness to share his insights without any pretense. One thing that came up that I had forgotten about was that at the end of his term he tried, unsuccessfully, to legalize marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana is one of those things that I tend to forget about because I don't use marijuana or spend any time with anyone who does. But when I do think about it, I realize that it should be a bigger issue. Noone should have a criminal record or spend time in prison because of soft drug use. There is no evidence that marijuana ever leads to other crimes, as more addictive drugs do. There's plenty of evidence that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Back in 2001, the US National Review even thought we were about to do it. Let's do it.

While we're at it, let's address some of those other liberal ideas that seem to have got forgotten during two years of right wing rule. Let's take back the government and take on a humanist agenda:

* Social issues
We managed to legalize gay marriage and the fall of western civilization didn't happen. In fact, the biggest issue of the day (when the law was being discussed, I was chased down driveways while canvassing for the Liberal party because people were so upset about it) has turned into a complete non-issue. Let's take on the causes of other people who are treated poorly by our society, such as people with disabilities. Once we acknowledge a problem, making it better is frequently not that difficult.

* Making real improvements on the environment
There is so much that we need to do. Two items at the top of the list: Ontario consumers need to reduce electricity consumption so that we can shut down the Nanticoke coal-fired generating station; and we need to do something now (not 20 years from now) about pollution from the Alberta tar sands. We also need public education to reverse a trend to consume more and more. As long as we continue to build domiciles that are designed to require air conditioning, to build cities that require long car trips to buy a carton of milk, to shut down intercity transit, and on and on and on, we'll get nowhere. In fact, our disposable-consumer society gets worse every day, with a recent trend towards disposable cooking and cleaning products (Swiffer disposal brooms and mops; disposable crock pot liners; disposable microwave bags; and on and on).

* Creating stronger regulations to protect employees
Civil servants with their strong unions may forget this, but most Canadians don't have pensions. Complete reliance on self-directed RRSPs can lead to disaster in these volatile times. We need stronger regulations to protect employees from unjustified firing... and so on.

* Keeping people out of jail
Stephen Harper wants to build more jails and fill them, especially with young people (link). I want to do the opposite: make every effort to keep people out of jails, especially young people.


Throw the Book at Him

In a column today (Mulroney effectively stands down his accuser), Sheila Copps argues that Mulroney "argued forcibly that he had never held bank accounts in Switzerland as alleged by his arch-nemesis, Karlheinz Schreiber."

I don't think we can dismiss the bank accounts so quickly. In his testimony, Mulroney showed himself to be a hair-splitter. He had previously said that he had no bank accounts outside of Canada; in his testimony this week, needing to weasel out of charges they he crossed the border with illegal amounts of cash, he said that while he had no accounts, he had a safety deposit box in a bank in New York.

Why not apply the same logic to his Swiss testimony? He may have a safety deposit box in Switzerland. More likely, GCI or some other helpful group has a bank account that it uses to siphon illicit cash to Mulroney. It's not Mulroney's account, but it's there for Mulroney.

We shouldn't accept Mulroney's word on these issues because they simply don't ring true. Caught taking money when he wasn't legally able to, he claimed the only explanation that would partly exonerate him: he was doing international lobbying. Asked to provide details, the only information he provided was the vague answer that he talked to two men who are, alas, dead and gone. He provided absolutely no corroborating evidence, and we have to conclude that he provided none because there is none: the entire story is a lie.

Al Capone shielded his illegal activities so successfully that the only thing the government could get him on was tax evasion. We should continue to try to get to the bottom of Mulroney's shennanigans, but if we can't, we should bring him in on tax evasion charges and throw the book at him.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

The New World of Opera

Opera may attract a lot of rich old people and tickets may cost the earth, but it still requires a hefty subsidy from the state as well as a constant flow of private donations. Nobody is getting rock star-rich: an opera production requires dozens of talented musicians and production staff. Even when people pay up to $500 a ticket, ticket sales don't pay the whole way.

That is starting to change. The New York Metropolitan Opera is broadcasting eight operas this year, live, to over 600 cinemas around the world (with an encore presentation of each opera a few weeks after the first date) in a series they call HD Live. That's a whack of dough.

The Met was always richer than most other opera companies. Prices are higher and the hall seats 4,000 people, which is exactly twice as many as Toronto's Four Seasons opera center.

The Four Seasons is a far better place to enjoy opera. No seat is further than 90 feet from the stage, and all seats have not only great views but also glorious sound. I recently had a conflict with a performance in my season's ticket and had to take a replacement seat in the fifth (top) tier - it was great. I could see perfectly and the sound was in some ways better than the ground floor, where the orchestra slightly overpowers the male singers. (Never the females: a classically trained soprano is the loudest thing produced in nature.) Also, there are decently priced seats at the Four Seasons (my ticket in the fifth tier was $35), whereas at the Met the only cheap seats are the three rows of standing room at the back of the orchestra and first balcony, which are truly crappy ways to see an opera, and which cause problems for the people who purchased the $200 seats at the back of the ground floor, because the standing room people regularly pour into seats they think might be empty, causing late-returners to have to call the usher and make a fuss.

Cinemas in Canada charge $23 to see a performance of the Met. The performances in my home town are so popular that the Conestoga Mall Galaxy theater sometimes opens up a second cinema for them. If there were an average of 200 people at each performance, that's 23x200x600 = $2,760,000 per performance. Compare that to what they pull in at the opera hall: at an average price of $200/ticket, a performance grosses 200x4000 = $800,000. For the season, the cinemas bring in 16x2,760K = $44,160,000. That's gross of course, and would be offset by the cinema's cut and by production costs. But still - it's a whole new world. I hope the musicians and staff are seeing some of it.

The first time I saw a Met performance in the cinema it took me a little while to get used to the lack of directionality of sound. The sound quality was fantastic but live operas aren't miked, so when someone sings you can hear the voice coming from their body. After half an hour I got used to the lack of directionality, and it hasn't bothered me at subsequent performances.

In some ways the cinema version is better. The Met uses eight cameras, so the visuals are far better than you could get in the best seats - which, even if I could afford them, have been permanently reserved by season ticket holders. The quality of the Met productions is nonpareil. They have the best directors, set designers, singers, and so on. Not that small companies can't be just as good, but the Met is consistently mind-blowingingly good.

My local opera company (variously called Opera Ontario, Kitchener-Waterloo Opera and Opera Hamilton, and currently on hiatus because of financial difficulties) put on a production of Gounod's Romeo & Juliet a couple of years ago that is an example of a small company doing extremely well. Juliet was sung by up and coming Canadian soprano Laura Whalen. In the early, happy part of the opera she literally bounced with joy as she sang. Everyone in the audience watched her with a huge smile on their face, riveted. Her voice was high and pure, perfectly suiting a young woman in love.

Today's Met performance of Romeo & Juliet had a very different feel. Anna Netrebko as Juliette is almost a mezzo: her voice has an older, darker sound and a lower register. At first I thought she was poorly cast, but quickly I began to see that the casting was brilliant. Her voice evoked angst and pathos in a way that explained the action. The whole production was mesmerizing and I won't miss the encore presentation on January 5.

The Met isn't the only opera company that is expanding into cinema. The Princess Twin, an independent cinema in my town, has inaugurated an opera series this year they call "any company but the Met". Their operas aren't live and the filming/editing isn't quite as top notch, but they're also shown in High Definition and the sound is also phenomenal. Plus, it gives us a look into opera houses around the world.

As to who attends the cinema operas, they look like the same people I see at live opera only they're not as dressed up. Another difference is that nobody coughs. In the production today, I could hear people in New York coughing, but not a single person in the cinema audience. The great freeing thing about the cinema version is that I am not required to clap - I loathe clapping - and when the singers are taking their bows, I can get up and go without offending them. I like to leave an opera with the music in my ears, which 15 minutes of curtain calls messes up.

The next step in cinematic opera should be Wagner's Ring Cycle. The Met is rumored to be planning one last production of its classic rendition of the Ring Cycle, and they should offer it to the world in cinema format. The world might never be the same.


Immunity for Mulroney

Having received one comment in agreement (an almost unprecedented level of support for this blog), I will carry on with my idea of an immunity deal for Mulroney.

From his point of view, Mulroney has a lot to lose if he doesn't take an immunity deal: we might make him give our $2.1 million back; he could be charged with perjury; he could be charged with taking cash while an MP; he could be charged with tax evasion for not paying GST on his $225/300K; perhaps other charges yet to be determined.

For the Canadian public to buy it, this cannot be a deal between Harper and Mulroney. We should gain wide public support through consultation with all parties, as well as with journalists, academics, bureaucrats and jurists; and we should host a number of public forums to seek support for the idea. It should be clear before immunity is offered that the country agrees with the plan, including having the unanimous support of MPs and premiers.

It would be best if we had someone of very senior stature to promote the idea. Jean Chretien would not be ideal as he was Mulroney's political rival (and in some Canadians' minds, Chretien is tainted by scandal himself). It can't really be a Conservative, because that would raise charges of Conservatives trying to help their own interests.

Bob Rae would be great... if he weren't the Liberal candidate in an upcoming by-election. How about Lloyd Axworthy, Louise Arbour or Michael Lewis? How about asking someone outside Canada, like a former UN Secretary-General or Nelson Mandella? Nelson Mandella's use of truth and reconciliation to help South Africa move on after apartheid is of great importance to the world; as I have argued before, it's a technique that should be used much more widely, including in wrapping up the US invasion of Iraq. This might be an opportunity for him to generalize that brilliant technique for healing national psyches after wrongdoing. Being very elderly, he can't be expected to spend a lot of time on the matter, but he could propose the framework of how the process would work to the public.


How to Save $50 Million

How about this... let's offer Brian Mulroney immunity from prosecution if he fesses up to all his wrongdoing, and then we could avoid the incredible expense of a public inquiry. We'd need to decide on the timeline: do we want to know about his foreign-backed leadership campaign, or just focus on his time as PM and beyond? The deal would be that he has to come completely clean. We may need to provide immunity to some corroborators, such as Fred Doucet and Robert Hladun.

I don't want to see Brian Mulroney go to jail or have his finances crippled by fines - it all happened a long time ago. I just want to know what happened and how it happened so that we can prevent it happening again. Scratch that - it's happening as we speak; I'd like to find a way to minimize its occurrence in future.

Karlheinz Schreiber said something interesting in his testimony, which was that the ministries of transport and defence are where most of the graft goes on, because they are the two ministries with huge budgets. My intuition is that Prime Minister Harper is honest, but I'm not so sure about many of his ministers, such as Defence Minister Peter MacKay. If Mulroney has taught us anything, it's this: our political system should not rely on the integrity of its elected officials.

An immunity deal with Mulroney would not only save us the time and anguish of a public inquiry; it would also allow us to extradite the scoundrel Schreiber.


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Game Has Changed

Prior to Brian Mulroney's testimony yesterday before the Ethics committee, everyone thought that Mulroney was trying to salvage his reputation as a former PM. Now it is clear that he's given up on that battle and is just trying to stay out of jail.

Mulroney's story about his meeting with Schreiber on June 23, 1993, while Mulroney was still prime minister (which was that they didn't discuss any business or financial transaction, but just said "let's keep in touch"), is as flimsy as it gets. There is independent, unassailable evidence to the contrary: shortly after the meeting, Schreiber set up a Swiss bank account with $500,000 in Canadian funds and code-named it Britan; and at their next meeting, in August of the same year, Schreiber showed up with an enveloped stuffed with thousand dollar bills. (Would people would do that for me when I say Let's keep in touch.)

Mulroney offered up this apparent lie because his back is to the wall. If he admitted to creating a deal with Schreiber while he was PM, he'd be in deep doo-doo. But by uttering such an obvious lie, Mulroney damages his own credibility even further than he has before. In the he said/he said game between Schreiber and Mulroney, Schreiber is emerging as the less uncredible of the two.

Mulroney didn't even try to explain away two serious matters - his not paying GST on the $225K or $300K he got from Schreiber, and his taking money under the table while an MP - but perhaps he's banking on the Canadian public letting it slide.

Meanwhile, the rest of the murky allegations around him - kickbacks, bribes, constant flows of cash, Airbus, Thyssen - all continue to be issues that need further scrutiny. Was, as Pat Martin suggested, the lobbying firm GCI a giant piggybank to funnel kickbacks to Mulroney? Were the Schreiber payments just one of many under-the-table schmiergelder arrangements Mulroney had? Was his lavish lifestyle supported by illegal activities? It's all very important, and if we really commit to getting to the bottom of it, we will.

If Mulroney were concerned about his reputation rather than about jail time or fines, he'd fess up to everything, take his lumps, and then have a clean slate to rehabilitate his name - by doing good works or writing useful books or something like that. It's not too late. But it doesn't seem very in character, does it?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

CTV Newsnet: Fire Mike Duffy

I can sort of accept that Mike Duffy's sidekick in his broadcasts about Brian Mulroney is Mulroney's old speech writer, who worked for Mulroney for four and a half years. This is not objective reporting, but I guess there's something to be said for giving our former prime minister the benefit of the doubt.

I was more bothered by Duffy continually stating over the last few weeks that we should not have a public inquiry. The country needs to finally find the truth about the serious allegations made against Brian Mulroney.

I was quite bothered when Duffy disparaged Stevie Cameron today and made personal remarks about her.

I was completely disgusted by Duffy's coverage this afternoon. Going way off track into allegations that someone from the CBC phoned someone on the Ethics committee and suggested a question to ask during the hearing, he acted as if this were the most important issue of the day. He made it sound as if the entire staff of the CBC and the entire membership of the Liberal party were involved. He blew it completely out of proportion. This is just the sort of "inside the beltway" bickering that turns the public off. It really seemed like he was trying to distract the country from Mulroney's testimony.


He Said He Said

According to Brian Mulroney, it has all come down to who we believe: arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber or former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In the past Mulroney has won the day because the credibility of the prime minister trumps just about anyone else, and especially trumps a shady character like Schreiber. I don't think any Canadians have illusions about Schreiber: he has lied, influence-peddled and made millions in shady dealings.

But in a recent poll, Canadians said overwhelmingly that they trust Schreiber more than they trust Mulroney. I agree with that.

Furthermore, there are other people who can testify to some of these points. So far the other insiders who we know of who are still alive (Elmer MacKay and Fred Doucet) have as little credibility as Schreiber and Mulroney. But a well-mandated inquiry could find other witnesses and get to the bottom of these issues, and that's what we need.

In Mulroney's testimony this morning, what I saw was a lot of legal research that was aimed at explaining away every issue that might implicate Mulroney. Craftily, he admitted to a minor "error of judgement", which was to accept the money in cash. To every other allegation, he has an answer that he thinks clears him. Here are the main points:

Did Schreiber lie repeatedly about these matters
Mulroney cited numerous cases where Schreiber contradicted himself.
>> For a long time, Schreiber tried to hide his secret payments to Mulroney, as did Mulroney. Both of them lied. Now Schreiber is fessing up. He may still be lying; so may Mulroney. I didn't find Mulroney's long-winded reading of contradictary evidence to be convincing one way or the other.

Why he dealt with Schreiber
He said that in 1993 Schreiber was known as a legitimate businessman, the president of Thyssen Canada with 3,000 employees under him. Mulroney said he had no idea that Schreiber was shady until 1999.
>> By 1993, was it widely known that Schreiber was involved in the Airbus influence peddling? I think so. This would all be in the public record.

He only took the money in cash, he said, because Schreiber said that he liked to deal in cash.
>> I think it is clearly in the public record that Mulroney likes to deal in cash. Lots of people could attest to this. This was not his first thousand dollar bill.

Why he didn't pay taxes on the money
He says the three cash payments were a retainer and/or for his expenses. Retainers are not taxable until they are invoiced. "Expenses are not taxable until the money is spent and the bill is sent."
>> This is preposterous. It seems clear that Mulroney was trying to avoid paying taxes on the cash. He only paid when it became public that he received the money. However, he has covered himself by the way he paid the taxes.
>> He may have paid insufficient tax, as he claims he got $225K and Schreiber says he gave him $300K.

Why he didn't pay GST on the money
>> As far as I could tell, he fudged this question. It sounds like he owes GST to the government.

What he did with the cash in NYC
He says he put it in a safety deposit box. This answers two problems: That he previously said he had no bank accounts outside of Canada; and that it's illegal to move that much cash outside of the US without a permit. He says he then spent the money in the US.

Why Schreiber gave him money
He claims he didn't do any work for Schreiber that broke ethics guidelines: it was all for international work. Thinking ahead to the civil suit that Schreiber has against him for not fulfilling the terms of the agreement, he said that he did good work for Schreiber and gave him a full report.
>> More to follow once we see the report. If this is true, why the secrecy? Why the other explanations for what he was doing (1-nothing; 2-pasta)?

Where the money came from
When asked about the source of the cash (Schreiber has said it was from a $4 million success fee paid by Thyssen when Mulroney's ministers signed a memorandum of agreement to look into supporting the Bear Head project), he said he had no idea.
>> This one is tricky. It is pretty important that Mulroney took money from the Thyssen success fee paid because his government wrote a memorandum of agreement on the Bear Head project. It supports the theory that, as Pat Martin put it, GCI was a piggy-bank for kickbacks to Mulroney. On the other hand, unless someone says that Mulroney knew where the money came from, I'm not sure where to go with this.

The bank account code name Britan refers to Brian
Mulroney says Schreiber's lawyer Eddie Greenspan wrote a letter to the Fifth Estate saying this was not so. (No mention of other accounts being named Maxwell for Max and Frankfurt for Frank Moores.)
>> This one is important because the bank account Britan supports Schreiber's testimony and contradicts Mulroney's. Mulroney said that when he met Schreiber on June 23, 1993, while he was still PM, there was no discussion of anything that would involve remuneration. But there is independent verification (from the bank) that Schreiber set up this account shortly after June 23, which supports his story.

Why there are questions around Mulroney's credibility
It's all Stevie Cameron's fault.
>> This strikes me as typical Mulroney misdirection by maligning someone else. There were tons of questions about Mulroney before Stevie Cameron started writing about him.

Whether he ever took other cash payments
He said he absolutely did not. This runs counter to dozens of sources who describe his predilection for cash, including paying $1 million in cash for renovations on his house in 1993.
>> We need a forensic accountant to examine the expenditures and income of Mulroney. I don't think it will take long to realize that there was a whole lot more expenditure than there was income. I don't think it will take long to prove that the Mulroneys dealt in huge quantities of cash. The forensic accountant could look at things like the inventories kept by the companies that moved the Mulroney possessions out of 24 Sussex. They would also need to talk to the men who funnelled Progressive Conservative supporter cash to Mulroney while he was PM.

Whether he influenced the purchase of Airbus and/or took money for it
Mulroney said that the RCMP fully investigated the matter and cleared him completely.
>> This is extremely disingenuous. Mulroney interfered in the RCMP investigation by launching a defamation suit against the government when the RCMP tried to get information about the Britan bank account - the account that Mulroney did indeed get money from. It is by no means clear that Mulroney had nothing to do with the Airbus purchase. He fired the Air Canada board of directors and appointed his own men before the board voted on Airbus. One of the directors who he appointed was Frank Moores, who was a lobbyist for Airbus. We know that Airbus gave at least $10 million in kickbacks to Canadians. The smoking gun is there. All that's missing is a secret bank account or other proof that Mulroney got the kickback. As to why we can't find that, see my earlier post How it might have gone down.

I never had dealings with that man
Why he claimed under oath that he had had no dealings with Schreiber
In his defamation case, for which he got $2.1 million, Mulroney said he had never had any dealings with Schreiber. Now he says that he thought the question was about Airbus.
>> The lawyers need to work this out. It sounds to me like he was lying under oath, but it's a legal matter.

Why Schreiber is accusing him of wrongdoing
Mulroney says it is all to avoid extradition to Germany.
>> I agree completely. However, that doesn't mean it's not true. Schreiber has a chip to play, which is his relationship with Brian Mulroney.

I find watching Brian Mulroney difficult, and always have. Pat Martin summed it up this morning, when he said something to the effect of: "I'm not calling you a liar, but I don't want anyone here to think I believe you." My feelings are stronger. I find his indignant, self-righteous, sanctimonious, injured, belligerant tone to be false and manipulative. The days when his word is sufficient are over. We need a broad-based public inquiry that includes a forensic accountant to examine Mulroney's finances.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Too Good Not to Commemorate

New word: adamantiumtastic
Invented to describe a new blast-proof fabric: The fabric "absorbs and disperses the energy from explosions thanks to an inner structure so adamantiumtastic it can be used in body armor, window covering, military tents and hurricane defenses." (At the time the article about the fabric was written, the word appeared nowhere on the web except this article.)

My brother guesses the etymology as: adamantiumtastic = adamantine ("too hard to cut, break, or pierce", also a mythical substance in Dungeons and Dragons that is the hardest material available) + fantastic

Favorite sentence
Tim Russert sits like Leona Helmsley's bereaved dog Trouble, glassy-eyed on a satin pillow, enjoying the aroma of his own farts as he rolls a jingly, slop-coated ball to his Sunday playmate.

- Steven Weber, I am incurious and yellow in the Huffington Post

(I seem to have a fart theme this week. I also have found myself, quite suddenly, to be completely off Tim Russert.)


Strategies for Getting at the Truth

We need to learn to differentiate truth from fiction in the testimony; and we need to get more people to come forward.

Analysing Schreiber's testimony
It is a fact universally acknowledged that an arms dealer fighting extradition must be a little loose with the truth. However, it also seems that Karlheinz Schreiber is providing a lot of solid information. Here's a start at some guidelines for analysing Schreiber's testimony:

1. Trust the positives more than the negatives
When Schreiber says a meeting happened at a particular time, it quite possibly did; but when he says that something didn't happen, it's dodgy. For example, he has repeated emphatically that Mulroney didn't get Airbus money. However, he also said that Fred Doucet and Frank Moores essentially told him that they were giving Mulroney Airbus money. ("Send money to Mulroney's lawyer in Geneva." What's it for? "Airbus." Why? "Are you naive!?") In any event, Schreiber simply doesn't know what money Mulroney got from GCI and why; his emphatic denials are more an indication that he doesn't want to implicate himself in the Airbus scandal.

The reason that Schreiber's positives are more accurate is probably because they are easier to verify or disprove. In addition, almost everything he is saying was previously exposed by journalists like Stevie Cameron and Harvey Cashore, and was corroborated by other sources.

2. Look for nitpicking of phrases
In his his statement on day 2 or 3 of testimony Schreiber said he never "met privately" with Mulroney during Mulroney's time as prime minister. Then on day 4 he comes up with a meeting in March 1993, and alludes to other meetings... oh, it seems that those meetings weren't private: another person was present.

3. Look at the context
Schreiber appears to be a very emotional guy. He seems to dislike some of the committee members. When he finds a question disrespectful or otherwise annoying, he might not answer as accurately or completely. At other times he seems to want to please his questionner by providing fulsome answers.

4. Remember his agenda
Schreiber wants to avoid extradition to Germany, and so he wants to continue to be a valuable witness. He wants to give us enough to titillate, but not enough to close a line of inquiry. Above all, he doesn't want to implicate himself. He has an immunity deal in Canada, but what he says can be used in Germany.

5. Inconsistency is a sign of telling the truth, not otherwise
A lie generally has no inconsistencies. However, when someone is telling the truth there will be lots of inconsistencies because of changes in memory, interpretation and context. I imagine that lawyers find Schreiber's inconsistencies in testimony to be an indication of truthfulness, rather than otherwise.

6. Corroborate
We have to use whatever Schreiber says as a starting point.

Analysing Mulroney's testimony
In the past, Mulroney's strategy was to appear personally injured and to be bombastic in his defence. He creates misdirection by attacking the credibility of everyone else. In his 1996 defamation suit against the government he was adamant that he had never had any dealings with Schreiber - a statement given under oath with great believability that turned out to be a bald-faced lie.

We don't know how he will play it tomorrow. He is bringing his family to court, and he tried to get the committee chair to agree to have them lined up at a table behind him - a sort of John Dean-Watergate photo op. (Szabo is trying to have them positioned more discreetly in the committee room.) This may mean that he's going to follow his usual M.O. as the injured party seeking justice; or it may mean that he'll make a public apology.

Whichever way it goes, we need to try to avoid being manipulated emotionally. Mulroney bullies people; he goes for sympathy; and he creates misdirection. It is possible that our first reaction will be the one he wants us to have.

Getting more witnesses
My hope is that as this story is exposed and people with first-hard knowledge see just how corrupt Mulroney was, they will start to come forward. For years Mulroney has been portrayed as the injured party. Many media outlets would not even cover the story. Stevie Cameron was vilified as a journalist with a grudge. Now, the tide appears to be turning. There are probably lots of politicians, bureaucrats, household staff, merchants - who knows, hairdressers - who have valuable information.

At this point, where will these witnesses go to tell their stories? The RCMP should reopen the investigation so that there's a contact person. Short of that, perhaps the Ethics committee could do something to address the issue.

The image I have in mind is the Mulroneys leaving Harrington Lake for the last time. Their servants were lined up in the drive to say goodbye. As the limo pulled down the driveway, one of the maids shouted, "Don't come back!"

There is a lot of information out there.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Mr. Clean" Gets Smeared

Over the last few weeks, it has been a given in media accounts that the Harper government is clean as the driven snow. There has been talk of the non-lavish lifestyles of Harper, Dion, Layton and Duceppe - and how their wives all have lucrative careers. There have been references to the Gomery inquiry and subsequent unspecified improvements in preventing government ethics violations. There have been columns about how Schreiber is appearing in an Ottawa that is completely different from the old corrupt Ottawa he knew in the 80s and early 90s.

Schreiber disagreed.

In today's Ethics committee testimony, Schreiber alleged that Harper's government is even more corrupt than Mulroney's. Schreiber said that the big budgets (and presumably the biggest sources of corrupt funds) are in the ministries of Transport and Defence, and that Peter MacKay was moved to Defence because his old portfolio (External Affairs) had no budget and so provided no financial benefit to its minister. Schreiber said that Harper is so isolated that he may have no idea what's going on. Schreiber went on to mention a series of projects that had allowed influence peddlers to bribe the current government: the Minto deal, something in Nova Scotia, and submarines. Ouch.

New Democrat MP Pat Martin added that tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the passing of anti-corruption legislation that Harper has yet to implement.

Is any of this true? I have no idea. I hope we don't have to wait 19 years to start looking into it.


How It Might Have Gone Down

During the years that Brian Mulroney was prime minister his spending hit astronomical levels. Mila was spending tens of thousands of dollars each week on shopping sprees for furs, jewellery and designer clothes. Mulroney bought over 50 pairs of Gucci shoes. The couple collected masses of Canadian art, furniture and antiques. Mila collected so much china that it took nearly 20 barrels to store it all, and at two dozen place settings per barrel, that was nearly 500 place settings. By the time the Mulroneys left 24 Sussex, it took 21 tractor-trailers to remove their belongings. This massive level of acquisitiveness, along with the high cost of US private schools and colleges for their four children, required many millions more than Brian Mulroney's salary.

The money to finance this lavish lifestyle came from a variety of sources. A special fund was set up in the Progressive Conservative party to collect donations for the First Family. Massive amounts of cash and gifts were brought into the house by the PC machine. But that only brought in a million or two per year. It was far short of what was needed.

So Mulroney set up some special arrangements with lobbying firms that were run by his less reputable old friends. They told him what they needed; he made it happen; the lobbying firm got "success fees" from the companies that got support; and then they funnelled the money back to Brian Mulroney.

One of those firms was Government Consulting International, or GCI. Airbus hired GCI to make sure that crown corporation Air Canada chose Airbus planes over Boeing. Mulroney fired all the Air Canada directors, appointed directors who would vote for Airbus, and voila - Airbus won, and forked over $10 million or more to GCI. Another GCI contract was Thyssen Industrie. Mulroney met repeatedly with Thyssen lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber to discuss the Bear Head project while Mulroney was prime minister; his ministers signed a memorandum of understanding for the project, which was sufficient for Thyssen to pay Schreiber and then GCI a $4 million success fee, which partly went to Mulroney. None of Airbus or Thyssen or Schreiber knew that the money went to Mulroney - the lobbying firms were run by his good friends and they were extremely discreet. And with Mulroney's power, they were very well compensated.

The beauty of the scheme was that with all the cash washing through 24 Sussex, nobody noticed the bribes. The PC party was providing so much money that everyone assumed all the cash came from them. Mulroney didn't need secret bank accounts because he and his wife spent the money as soon as they got it. Shortly after Mulroney left office he spent a million dollars in cash to renovate his house, but it barely merited a headline - and certainly not a police investigation or tax audit, as it should have. Everyone was used to the Mulroney's predilection for cash. Normal people just couldn't comprehend the insane greediness of the prime minister and his wife.

There would always be rumors, but the only reason the truth ever came to light is that Mulroney cheated one of his backers, the arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber. Mulroney had played Schreiber for years, telling him that he could make the Bear Head project happen. After he left office Mulroney continued the scam, taking money directly from Schreiber in envelopes stuffed with thousand dollar bills. But one day in 1995 Schreiber learned that Mulroney had cancelled the project in 1990. And the rest is history.

Note: This is speculation.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Obama Lost His Way

For me, a lot of Obama's appeal came from the sense that he wasn't really in this one to win. He doesn't have the experience and he doesn't have the know-how: this has been painfully apparent in his campaign. But I gave him some slack because he wasn't attacking his two fellow front-runners, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards; he seemed to be running for VP, or running his 2012 or 2016 campaign - and that seemed about right.

But during the last couple of weeks Team Obama has changed the game. Not only are they on the attack, they've gone from Mr Nice Guy to Vicious Fight Mode in no time. And they're making a complete hash of it. Obama is losing the respect of important liberal thinkers while pandering to populists. To wit:

- Princeton professor Paul Krugman criticized Obama's health care plan. Team Obama struck back; Ezra Klein came to Krugman's defence and slammed Team Obama. Klein summed up, "Obama's rhetoric has become much, much worse than his plan. That it's ended with him having to go on the offensive against the most forthrightly progressive voice in major American media is evidence of that fact."

- Oprah Winfrey has stepped in to propel Obama into the Democratic candidacy. And Oprah isn't pulling any punches. Oprah didn't mention Hillary's name in the speech I heard her give in Iowa today, but her attack was scathing - so scathing as to damage Hillary's ability to win even if Obama and Edwards drop out. Oprah attracts massive crowds - bigger crowds than anyone else has ever been able to attract in a primary - but instead of encouraging political debate and involvement, she's twisting truth to manipulate her fans into voting her way.

Obama is like the guy who farts in the elevator. This primary was a pretty interesting ride until his inexperience and lack of good judgement screwed it all up.


Attitudes Towards Women Aren't Getting Better, Apparently

When New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen saw that Conservative MP James Moore was looking at a photo of a bikini-clad woman while sitting in the House of Commons and noticed that the image was visible not just to members of the House but also to visitors in the gallery, she rose and made a brief, composed complaint about it. Liberal MP Karen Redman rose and supported Mathyssen.

James Moore was outraged. Oh, not outraged that he had been caught displaying an inappropriate photo in the House of Commons. Outraged that some stupid prude of a woman would complain about it. The lowest of the low. Tarnishing the reputation of a red-blooded Canadian man. And besides, it was my girl friend. And (in perhaps the most irrelevant argument ever), my dog is in the photo too!

The men of the country crashed into the debate like the kettle drums in Beethoven's Ninth. This was the worst form of dirty politics. A smear. Don't old, ugly women know that young, pretty women like to appear semi-naked in photos? Doesn't that prove that all feminism is mean-spirited, humorless prudery that must be stamped out like brush fires in August?

In one of the more muted criticisms, Liberal MP Garth Turner wrote, "When a female MP stood one day last week and accused another member, a man, of viewing a babe on his laptop, it was a national story. The guy was ripped as a soft-porn pervert, before being revealed hours later as a blameless victim of a political smear."

I didn't see anything in Irene Mathyssen's statement to the House that constituted a political smear. She was respectful and she described the problem perfectly: the image could be seen by other people in the workplace and by the public. Nobody has disputed that fact. The only new information we got is that the woman in the photo is Moore's girlfriend.

Caving to pressure, Irene Mathyssen apologised. That didn't stop the criticism; if anything, it spurred men to even more nasty-minded attacks on women and their perceived political correctness.

A disturbing theme that ran throughout the men's attacks was that Irene Mathyssen and Karen Redman should be humiliated. Like this one: "They should both have to give lap dances to Peter Milliken." Yet another outraged male wrote, "She should be forced to stand in the House and issue an apology" (italics mine).

Another theme was that all rules against sexual harassment in the workplace should be abolished. For example: "The sensible response in the House, or any other workplace, would have been for her to avert her gaze, ignore the offending image and shut up."

Where are Jack Layton and Stephane Dion on this issue? Neither the Liberal nor NDP party web sites mention the event, much less stand up for Matthysen or Redman. (So much for "male feminists".)

How did Moore and Mathyssen sum up the experience? Moore, in Peter MacKay-style fake sorrow, lamented, "I hope nobody goes through what I did in the last 24 hours." Mathyssen, who truly had been raked over the coals, was more pragmatic, saying that her first step should have been to approach Moore privately and to ask him to stop displaying the photo in the House. But Mathyssen is not correct in that: When a woman perceives sexual harassment in the workplace, she should not feel that she has to approach the man privately.

The tragic thing about all this is that it happened in parliament, where Canada's laws and policies are formulated, and so it affects women and sexual harassment policies in workplaces across the country. We can't leave matters as they stand now. Someone needs to stand up and propose guidelines for laptop viewing in the House that are similar to current rules against displaying photographs. True, images of half-naked women are ubiquitous on the web, but that doesn't mean that it's appropriate to share photos of your girlfriend's buttocks with your workmates... especially not in full view of your colleagues and the public.

See also: Why we still need feminism

Note: James Moore is the same guy who boasted about his dirty tricks aimed to manipulate the Liberal leadership convention in 2006. See link.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

On to Mulroney

Columnist Stephen Maher writes today that at his appearance before the Ethics committee next Thursday, former PM Brian Mulroney is expected to have a new justification for taking Schreiber's cash - Schreiber paid him to lobby the United Nations and world leaders on behalf of Thyssen.

Maher adds, "Mr. Mulroney’s latest story is perfect, because it does not involve lobbying the government of Canada, which is forbidden by the MPs’ ethics code."

To recap: First Mulroney said he had never had any dealings whatsoever with Schreiber. When that was disproved in spades (er, thousand dollar bills), he tried a new tack - it was a perfectly legitimate business agreement for Mulroney to help Schreiber promote his pasta business. Then Schreiber pointed out that the pasta business didn't start for years after the agreement with Mulroney.

The new story is laughable because if it were true, there is no reason for Mulroney not to have told it before. Why would he lay out two giant whoppers to avoid making such a benign story public? In addition, why would no hint of this reason have come from Schreiber, who has painted a confusing picture that includes the Bear Head armaments plant, the pasta business, influence with Kim Campbell (who Schreiber says he thought would win a majority in 1993), and a sort of giant gratuity for services rendered while PM. Everything in Schreiber's account is Canada-centric; there has never been any mention of international lobbying.

If Mulroney does try to dump this latest lie on the Ethics committee, then I hope they grill him appropriately: How do you explain the conflicting stories you told previously? Give us details of your lobbying of world leaders: strategy, who, when, where (and call those leaders for corroboration).


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Agreement in Principle

In his testimony yesterday, Karlheinz Schreiber seemed to be doing his darnedest to clear Brian Mulroney. Just last week, Schreiber told the Ethics committee that he and Mulroney had made an agreement on June 23, while Mulroney was prime minister. Today he made a big deal of saying that money was not discussed: it was just "an agreement in principle".

But Schreiber is being somewhat disingenuous. Consider:

- Schreiber said that an agreement was made on June 23 for Mulroney to do work for which Schreiber would pay him. The whole point of the meeting was for Mulroney to get money; Schreiber went to the meeting because "Doucet told me Mulroney was in desperate shape and needed money so badly that I should help him." Schreiber said he needed to check his bank records before knowing how much he had to pay, but it's not true to say that money was not discussed - just not the figure $500,000, presumably.

- Mulroney solicited the June 23 meeting with Schreiber via Mulroney's old right-hand man, Fred Doucet. Mulroney sent a car to pick up Schreiber and drive Schreiber to the official cottage of the PM, Harrington Lake. This was presumably Schreiber's first invitation. It is clear that Mulroney was using the trappings of his position to squeeze conservatives for money.

- There is no indication that this was a legitimate business discussion about lobbying. The only work that Schreiber said he was paying Mulroney for was to promote the Bear Head project, but Mulroney had cancelled the project in 1990 (as Schreiber later learned, and is the basis of his law suit against Mulroney). If what Schreiber says is true, then Mulroney was asking for large cash payments without being willing to do anything in return.

- Schreiber didn't seem to be treating this agreement as a legitimate business deal, either. As Schreiber describes the meetings where he gave Mulroney cash, there was no serious discussion of what Mulroney was doing for him. Mulroney instigated the meetings with Schreiber when he needed money. Mulroney didn't give Schreiber reports on the defunct Bear Head project. Again, this was not a legit business arrangement.

- Schreiber's story is that he and Mulroney agreed in principle that Schreiber would give Mulroney cash, but that Schreiber had to find out how much money he had before he committed a firm figure. It sounds like the agreement was that Schreiber would give Mulroney everything he had - and then he went to his Swiss bank accounts, found that he had $500,000, and told Mulroney he could have that much. What sort of business arrangement is that?

- Schreiber said he was partly willing to give money to Mulroney because he understood that Mulroney needed cash badly. When describing his reasons for agreeing to the meeting, Schreiber said, "the problem was they sold the furniture and Fred Doucet was out of his mind, no money, and Elmer MacKay was nearly crazy that they took the furniture away." The picture Schreiber describes is of Doucet and MacKay putting huge pressure on Schreiber to cough up everything he could lay his hands on.

- Schreiber said he was also willing to give money to Mulroney to thank him for helping with German reunification. This seems utterly absurd. However, it sets up an M.O. that I have read elsewhere - that Schreiber tended to pay people after they helped him do something, rather than before. (This may have been a way to circumvent certain anti-bribery rules.) Schreiber said he never paid Mulroney a bribe for Airbus, but perhaps the $500,000 was a thank-you for Mulroney's help in securing the Airbus deal. (At the least, Mulroney fired all the Air Canada directors just before the deal was approved and replaced them with his own choices, some of whom were associates of Schreiber.) It is clear that the sub-text of the agreement was that Schreiber was paying Mulroney in thanks for something, and the reunification story is an unlikely reason for the quid pro quo.

- When you've read Stevie Cameron's On the Take you realize just how much money Mulroney needed to maintain his lavish lifestyle. Mila's twice-weekly shopping sprees to Montreal, where she took an expensive suite and had designers come calling, were just the tip of the iceberg. That doesn't even touch on Mulroney's mega-Gucci tastes or the couple's extensive collections of Canadian art, antiques and jewellery. $500,000 over several years was not a great deal of money to Mulroney. It's difficult to believe that Schreiber was the only shady character being picked up by the prime minsterial limo.

So to sum up, we have a picture of the dying days of Mulroney's prime ministership. His bagmen were frantically badgering every rich conservative they could find for as much money as they could cough up. Mulroney was sending out his limo to ferry possible donors to official residences for private audiences where he pressured them to give every penny they could lay their hands on. Even if there was a facade of business in the deal, Mulroney did not offer any services in return - these under-the-table deals were apparently either thank-you gifts for services Mulroney rendered while prime minister, or some sort of con wherein Mulroney promised services he didn't intend to deliver. For years after he left office, Mulroney's men badgered the donors to meet Mulroney in hotel rooms and hand over huge quantities of cash under the table.

And that description is what pundits are describing as the clearing of Brian Mulroney.

One final thought: Why did Schreiber change his tone over the weekend? Did Mulroney settle the civil suit in which he sought to get his $300,000 back (plus interest)?


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