Friday, October 23, 2009

They owe money to everyone

From Canwest's list of creditors, released today:



Thursday, October 22, 2009

That pesky constitution

Anyone who thinks the Quebec government can use the Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter to over-ride today's Supreme Court decision in the immigrant education case should get a copy of the Charter and read Sections 23 and 33. In the case of minority education rights, the Notwithstanding Clause is blocked.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

General Hell-Yea!

Don Martin should stop judging generals by their ability to generate good quote and get out and talk to the real soldiers who are cleaning up Hillier's mess. Aside from the fact he was media-friendly, there's little of any value that Hillier brought to his job as chief of the defence staff. He undid the military command and control structure and tried to rebuild it in an American form, at a cost of tens of millions. Now that Hillier's gone, the forces are spending tens of millions to undo this organizational mistake.
As for being some sort of fighting general, well, where's the list of Hillier's victories? Certainly not in Afghanistan, where strategy has always seemed to be some medieval idea of staying in a lager or castle-like stronghold and venturing out into the enemy-dominated countryside to get killed. No chance of victory in that.
Setting aside what some might see as my bloodthirstiness -- I'm a firm believer in the idea that you don't send soldiers into combat situations unless you are prepared to do what it takes in terms of men and equipment (and killing) to win a military victory -- Hillier's great and grievous fault was his failure to understand that he was a soldier, not a political leader. He tried to manipulate political decisions, exactly the same behavior that convinced Harry Truman that he had to fire Douglas MacArthur. We live in a democracy, and we don't elect generals. At least twice in our history, generals tried to usurp the democratic power: once in November, 1944, when the general staff threatened to resign en masse unless Mackenzie King sent conscripts overseas (King gave in); and the other time during the Cuban Missile Crisis when, against Prime Minister Diefenbaker's express orders, the military and the minister of defence conspired to raise the military's state of alertness, effectively putting us on a war footing.
I don't care if Hillier was right or wrong about Afghanistan or any other military matter in which he crossed swords with the PMO. And I don't care whether the PMO was Paul Martin's or Stephen Harper's. When it comes to dealing with elected politicians, the representatives of the people must always win. The general's last response in a conversation with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence must be "yes Sir", and he or she must diligently carry out orders. If a general can't do so in good conscience, he should resign.
If Hillier wants to run the country, let him run for office. I suggest he sit down with a copy of William Manchester's great bio of Douglas MacArthur (American Caesar) and take heed of the contents therein.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ugly Olympic Medals

I think the organizers of the Vancouver Winter Olympics would really have had to work pretty hard to find lousier Olympic medals than these.

On some reflection, I must eat those words. The Vancouver medals are not nearly as bad as those from Turin, which look like CDs.

Canwest delisted

Well, it's over.
Canwest stock, which sold for $20 eight years ago and were among the TSX's blue chips, are now worthless. In early November, the stock will be delisted from the TSX.
This is a real tragedy.
Not the kind of "baby in a dumpster" story that newspaper reporters mistakenly call a tragedy. This story has flawed protagonists brought low by hubris.
I have been attacked professionally by at least one Canwest manager for following the collapse of this company. That's typical behavior of people blinded by failure and denial. Rather than address the problem, kill the messenger. Still, it's strange behavior for people playing at being journalists.
For three years, I have warned people that this day would come. In the first two years, all I saw was shock and denial. Canwest people claimed I didn't understand the situation. If that failed, they said I enjoyed this too much.
In fact, many good friends of mine have seen their careers cut short or have left journalism altogether. My former students at Concordia have almost no chance at a decent journalism job because of this mess.
Fortunately for Canwest apologists, we're in a recession. Eventually, the blame will fall on the economy because no one wants to look at the real problems.
This company is completely a creature of Canada's regulatory system. The CRTC -- along with Canadian academics and policy analysts -- bought into the flawed idea of media convergence. This absolute bullshit idea was engineered to break down the regulatory walls around broadcasters. Cross-ownership of media, decried in the Davey Report on Mass Media in Canada in the early 1970s, would not only be allowed under convergence, it would be encouraged. Media ownership concentration, the focus of the the Kent Commission on Canadian newspapers, would be ignored.
The public interest? Fuck it. We're too cool to worry about that.
But there was always important reasons to prevent too much media cross-ownership and concentration. People in Brandon, Victoria and Hamilton can tell you all about it. So can the readers of every newspaper in Canada, where news pages are empty of local coverage and columns are full of canned copy that's available for free on the Internet.
The Canwest mess is the worst, the fringe, of this regulatory failure.
Thank God the Internet is there to blame all this on. Forget the fact that the newspapers and broadcasters in this country made damn fine profits. Unfortunately, because Canwest was saddled with debt by its owners, those profits went to pay interest on junk bonds. Other Canadian media companies, with deeper pockets and less exposure to the convergence disaster, are quietly carrying on.
All this is a tragedy. We're a country of 30 million people spread out in a ribbon along the border of a superpower with ten times our population. We are trying to adjust to important changes to the economy, to demographics, and to the world geopolitical situation. We also should be having important debates on the environment, federalism and governance in general.
We need a strong media. Canwest's failure must be followed by a reconstruction of Canadian media that factors in the public interest and democracy's need for strong, independent, professional media.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Welcome New Senators!

Yes, you ladies on the back of the $50 bill are now honorary senators!

And a big shout-out to Emily Murphy!
No honor was too great for Ms. Murphy during her long and, I'm afraid, rather unproductive life. Ms. Murphy, who had no education worth mentioning, but did come from a well-connected Ontario Orange family, wrangled herself an appointment as a police court magistrate (thereby demanding she be addressed as "judge" for the rest of her life.) She was not one of those mushy, feminist lady law prof-type judges. Ms Murphy, er, Judge Murphy, was what we'd call a hangin' judge, dishing out evenhanded injustice to all, especially if they were yellow, black, red or non-white.
Once in a while, the good judge got to sink her teeth into a drug case. Quite frequently, the culprits were itinerant Chinese laborers packing opium. In her book, The Black Candle, Ms., er, Judge Murphy lets us know what the buggers were up to:

The drug traffic is chiefly in the hands of Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Negros, Russians and Italians, although the Assyrians and Greeks are running closely in the race… It is claimed also, but with what truth we cannot say, that there is a well-defined propaganda among the aliens of color to bring about the degeneration of the white race.

Well, there ya go. And Murphy published some pictures of (fully clothed) fallen white women posed in bed with dudes o' color to drive the point home. While feminist historians like Catherine Carstairs have bent over backwards to try to rehabilitate the good judge from the fact that she is responsible for Canada's pot ban, the fact is Murphy's "journalism" in Maclean's and the best-selling The Black Candle were the impetus for cannabis being placed on the schedule of banned drugs under the Opium Act. (Carstairs says it was done by the head of the federal anti-drug agency, but he didn't join the organization until five years after the cannabis ban.)
Specifically, about marijuana, Murphy wrote in The Black Candle:

THIS drug is not really new but, as yet, is completely unknown in the United States and Canada, although three of the American States – California, Missouri, and Wyoming – have legislated against its use, the authorities and police officers being woefully ignorant of its nature or extraordinary menace…
Charles A. Jones, the Chief of Police for the city, said in a recent letter that hashish, or Indian hemp, grows wild in Mexico but to raise this shrub in California constitutes a violation of the State Narcotic law. He says, “Persons using this narcotic, smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility…
“When coming under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged in to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict…

Murphy thought very highly of her work. She was appointed a delegate to the League of Nations conference on drugs, where she arrived with several crates of her masterpiece for free distribution to her colleagues. She nominated herself for the Nobel Peace Prize, but, alas, didn't win.

Having little regard for the unwashed and the idea of democracy, the learned judge set her eye on a Senate appointment. Mackenzie King didn't want to appoint her. She launched the Famous Five appeal to the Judicial Council of the (UK) Privy Council. Needing five names for this petition, she approached some of the country's more vocal feminists. Today, all are enshrined in over-size bronze on Parliament Hill. Ironically, once the Privy Council affirmed their right to be considered for appointment, none of them were offered a seat.
Well, now they're honorary senators, but Murphy's ghost actually haunts the courtrooms and jails where people are still punished under drug laws that are built on the Nativist idea that foreign people and their recreations are anathema, on the Victorian notion that addictions can be stopped by treating the addict as sinners, and on the absurd idea that Emily Murphy, not you, had the right to decide what was legal and proper for you to put in your body.

Welcome New Senators!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Canwest starts bankruptcy filing

Trading in Canwest stock, once considered a blue chip security, has been suspended by the Toronto Stock exchange, pending a determination by the exchange of whether it should be listed at all.

It had to come to that. It's been inevitable, really, since the Alliance-Atlantis deal, maybe even from the time Conrad Black snookered Izzy Asper with the newspaper deal.
Shareholder equity is likely wiped out.
The Aspers are no longer in control of Global TV and the National Post, and their ownership of the rest of the company appears to be unlikely.
As this unfolds, Canadian media will likely go through the biggest one-time shake-up in a century.
This marks the death of media convergence in Canada, which is a good thing both for journalism and the public interest.
The best scenario: Nortel-style break-up and sale to new corporate entities.
The worst scenario: break-up and integration into Canada's existing moribund media oligarchies, with lay-offs, further cuts to local coverage and closure of some titles.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Canwest to Shed its Newspaper Division?

Well, I saw this coming three years ago, but I never saw the players. I always thought TorStar would get the old Southam chain, a jewel that it chased through the 1970s and 1980s with the help of the Desmarais family.
It's not a done deal, partly because Paul Godfrey has lowballed the price. Canwest needs new owners and senior managers, people who are the best in the business. Right now, the newspaper chain is owned by people who think in the mode of Canada's dying CRTC-protected monopoly TV business, in which ''content'' is bought cheaply and spread across the country. That business model simply does not work in newspapers.
Canwest papers are under-staffed. Apparently, they have, with a few notable exceptions, toxic work environments.
Canwest papers can win back readers if they are properly capitalized so that some profits go back into the newsroom. Right now, huge amounts of money is being taken from these papers to pay the Aspers' debt for purchases such as Alliance-Atlantis and the newspaper chain itself.
People simply don't cozy up to the stricken and the living dead, which is how most Canwest papers seem these days. While North American papers in general have rolled over, taking comfort in the excuse of the Internet, Canwest papers have been especially lame. Meanwhile, the best European papers and news magazines, which are far superior to North American journalism, are doing just fine. The reason? People really do care about the news and are sick of being talked to like simpletons. European papers are also in the business of selling real news and analysis, not advising on yuppie lifestyle.
(Maybe we'll cross the Rubicon when every Canwest columnist who gets pregnant stops writing about their marvelous experience as though it's the first time it's ever happened to anyone, and as though any of us give a shit.)

Meanwhile, The National Post and the CBC (yes, you're reading this right) have made a deal to share financial and sports news. Certainly the oddest deal in modern Canadian media, and a bad one for the Canadian public. With all the cross-ownership deals (TorStar owns part of CTV-Globemedia which also owns CHUM, Canwest still owns a TV network, a chain of newspapers and much of the trade magazine business in Canada) there are too many media managers sleeping in each others' beds.