June 28, 2004

And I for one welcome our new insect overlords

As of 8:24, my election prediction is probably not, as it turns out, going to be 100 per cent accurate, with the Liberals doing much better in the Atlantic than I expected. Oh, well.

I would not be totally disconsolate at even a small Lib minority, albeit the smaller the better, frankly. I think the next year in Canadian politics risks being so profoundly unworkable politically that the Conservatives' long-term prospects might even be better served as being the "should-have-wons" this time, rather than have a narrow minority of their own. The perfect (again, thinking long-term here) scenario for Stephen Harper was probably the Libs getting just under them in seats and making some kind of unseemly grab for power in tomorrow and the coming days. That would be almost certain to finish them off in any subsequent election. A slight Lib minority has some of the same advantages, at least as far as where the blame for the coming "chaos" ("political fluorescence," to my mind, but others are more timid) gets put.

UPDATE, 9 pm EDT: As much as I like it, there's no WAY this current staggered poll closing thing lasts past tonight. An hour-and-a-half of televised dead air between 8 pm and 9:30 pm? The complete moment of desperation for broadcasters with absolutely nothing new to say on air is about 15 minutes away... they could have put in an extended musical half-time show, or even a couple Seinfeld episodes... as it is they're going to have to fight to bring back any viewers they had all over again. No way the networks allow it a second time. Me? I planned ahead, and got in a nice lasagna dinner, and, um, did some blogging, obviously. Oh, well, off to organize my sock drawer now.

UPDATE: 10:40 EDT: Okay, back from throwing the crystal ball into the dumpster. Wow; that was a surprise. Oh, well... it's the second-worst-case scenario for the right... a BIG Lib minority... with the Libs and NDP together having 158 seats and climbing, a Lib-NDP coalition avoids the must-appease-separatism trap I was fixating on, and gives an actual real chance of a minority coalition that holds off another election for a year or more... but makes certain the previously-mentioned leftward shift in Canadian political life. Only a total Lib blowout would have been worse for conservatism. Federalized daycare, a windmill in every pot, and a moratorium on new defence spending, here we come.

And yes, you do have to attribute some of this to a major anti-rightist tide in Western countries, that is at least partially attributable to distaste for President Bush. This was the politics of fear and anti-Americanism at play. The man has singlehandedly created a Bizarro Reagan-Thatcher counter-revolution worldwide. Just goes to show any political movement has more to fear from failings in its own leadership than failings on the other side.

Oh, yes, and we get a new defence minister, as David Pratt's been turfed. Oh, goody.

UPDATE, 11:30 pm: Just heard Layton's "I'm king of the world" speech. Not a word about foreign policy (except a restatement of the NDP's opposition to missile defence), all new rights and handouts.

UPDATE: 10 am Tuesday: As is becoming usual, I'm wrong again: I've been consistently wrong since Friday in fact... Libs and NDPs together as of this morning at only 154... one vote shy of that ruling coalition I posited. So long as that tally lasts, the Libs will have to always keep either the Conservatives or the Separatists happy, or the government could fall. "Don't tip the boat" centrism seems the only order of the day, and we're potentially back on track (knocking heavily on wood) to a new election within a year if these numbers hold. Recounts could make a big difference right now, and, regardless, House of Commons attendance records promise to become much more interesting. At this point one napping MP could conceivably bring down a government. There won't be any free votes, but otherwise a one- or two-vote margin is a paradise for MPs that want to push constituency interests within their parties. Now the party leader HAS to listen to you, or risk your just "happening" to be out of town that day...

Posted by BruceR at 08:31 PM

Election niblets

*Hear that faint slapping "D'oh!" sound in the distance? That's Mike Harris and Bernard Lord slapping their foreheads, Homer Simpson-fashion. Even if he's not PM tomorrow, Harper has definitely won the right to contest the next election for the Conservatives. Canadians may not yet wholly trust him as PM, but even those who oppose him with their hearts and tiny, Martinite souls seem to have accepted he'll make an effective Opposition Leader.

*In addition to campaign finance reform (below), the jury for which is still very much out, it's worthwhile noting that we actually do elections in Canada, when all is said and done, pretty well. The idea this year of replacing the no-longer-tenable news blackouts, so that Newfoundland results don't influence B.C. voters five timezones away, has been replaced this year with semi-staggered poll closings, to produce a comfortable and fairly similar result. It's a reasonably graceful way of bringing the Canadian voter into the Internet age, slowly. Accusations of gerrymandering, as well, are almost never made in Canadian elections, and have not played a role in the election this time. If the fix is in, it's a subtler fix. Voting is still paper-based, as well; the chances of a Bush-Gore legitimacy crisis in this election are effectively zero, even if (as seems highly likely at this hour) the popular vote winners do not also win in the seat count.

*What genius, to turn over Iraq's sovereignty while all the terrorists were watching Peter Mansbridge's Canadian election coverage!

Posted by BruceR at 06:33 PM

Conservative identity theft

One note of interest for tomorrow morning might be the number of votes stolen by the "Progressive Canadian Party," identified only as the "PC Party" on the actual ballots. Given that the rightist alternative in Canada has for generations been known as the Progressive Conservatives, and colloquially as the PC's, I have no doubt we'll have a fair bit of "Pat-Buchanan-in-Florida" voting accidents, to local Conservatives' detriment.

The Progressive Canadians are running in 16 ridings according to their website: 3 in Nova Scotia, 1 in Edmonton, and 12 in Ontario. The Edmonton voters should know better, but I suspect there'll be surprisingly high totals in a couple other ridings. Take for instance Toronto-Willowdale, where Conservative Party Jovan BOSEOVSKI is halfway down the ballot, and PC Party Ardavan BEHROUZI is at the very top. That's a real easy mistake to make. Similarly in Oak Ridges-Markham, where Conservative Jim Conrad is up against PC fringer Bob Callow.

Aggregate ballot counts even for small parties can have a big effect now, as the 2004 campaign finance reform introduced an annual federal election subsidy, pegged at $1.75 for each Canadian who voted for you. It's possible Mr. Behrouzi, in particular, could do quite well for his party out of this (although it should have no effect on the reelection of Liberal ex-premier's brother Jim Peterson in that riding regardless.)

(NB: For the record, a party that doesn't run in all 308 ridings nationally has to get five per cent of the popular vote in the ridings they do run in, to qualify for the $1.75 per head per year; any party that gets at least 2 per cent of the popular vote nation-wide also qualifies. Four parties qualified based on their results in the 2000 election, and received $22 million this year. Critics have grumbled this subsidy, which is meant to replace union and corporate donations, as well as donations from the rich, has been a tremendous help to the Bloc Quebecois, which somehow ended up with roughly three times the money it had last election to fight this campaign. Bizarre results this time, the first election under the new rules, will reinforce the Harper Conservatives' argument that campaign finance reform should, again, be reformed.)

Posted by BruceR at 05:22 PM

Stand by for the microscope, redux

For anyone who still cares, email correspondent David T. pointed out an interesting (and damning) omission from the cockpit log of the Kandahar attack, which we first discussed in September, 2002. (Maj. Harry Schmidt recently had all charges dropped against him for the attack that killed four Canadians.)

The transcript released by the Canadian inquiry deleted one key piece of text for security reasons. That transcript was evidently later fully declassified, as a fuller version was printed and broadcast in some American media in January, 2003, as David pointed out to me. It's important because the redaction comes right in the middle of the first, while-still-in-the-air attempt by Schmidt ("Coffee 52") and his flight lead Maj. Umbach ("Coffee 51") to explain to their AWACS controller what they had been firing on.

Here is how the transcript initially read, from my post of Sept. 13, 2002, with some inline commentary I had previously made removed. The starting point is almost exactly three minutes after Schmidt's bomb exploded:

AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE [surface to air fire].
Umbach: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE, Coffee 52 [Schmidt's call sign]. 51 [Umbach], what do you have on that?
Schmidt: (21:29:27) Id say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52 [Schmidt himself], euh, as well.

Turns out that's not quite accurate. There was a significant, previously unnoted redaction in a Schmidt statement, and two of the speeches were switched. Looking at multiple transcript versions (helpfully provided by Dave T.) to clean it up, this is the fullest accurate version (changes in bold):

AWACS: (21:29:02) Coffee 51.
Umbach: (21:29:03) Go ahead.
AWACS: (21:29:04) Yeah, I need type of bomb dropped. Result, and, type of SAFIRE.
Schmidt: (21:29:10) That was a single GBU-12 dropped. It was a direct hit on euh the artillery piece that was firing. As far as the SAFIRE, multiple rounds, looked like a MLRS, to Coffee 52.
AWACS: 51, what do you have on that?
Umbach: (21:29:27) Id say the same. It was euh, sort of continuous fire, and euh it appeared to be leading us as we were flying by and then as we came back around.
AWACS: (21:29:46) Do you get a top altitude of the SAFIRE?
Umbach: (21:29:52) Negative. They were burning out before here.
Schmidt: (21:29:55) I would estimate the top at approximately 10,000 ft. And just to let you know. We split in azimuth, sending 51 to the south and 52 went to the northeast. And euh, one of the guns turned back around to the east firing at 52, euh, as well.

First, the official Canadian transcript apparently had switched Schmidt (Coffee 52) and Umbach (Coffee 51) at one point, and merged Schmidt's statement with a new query from the AWACS controller. (These errors have not yet been corrected in the online version.) The AWACS operator calls Umbach (Coffee 51). Schmidt answers for Umbach, only remembering to use his own callsign at the end. (This is probably what misled the transcriber... alone, it says all any soldier needs to know about the command relationship between these two men, and who was really in charge that night, regardless of rank.) AWACS asks Umbach, the supposed flight lead, again for clarification on the situation. This time it is Umbach who answers.

Second, and more significant, Schmidt identifies, right after bomb impact, what he thought he saw. (This part was redacted, but without a little gray box to indicate that redaction, in the official transcript, back in Sept 2002; that error has been fixed now. I understand that Dave T.'s efforts may be in part responsible for that amendment.)

Schmidt says "multiple rounds, looked like an MLRS," a multiple rocket launcher, such as a BM-21, a surface-to-surface artillery piece without capability against aircraft. But then he talks about the tracer burnout height... which can only mean the small arms (rifles and light machineguns) by people around that piece . He never says the artillery piece itself was firing at him, as that is obviously impossible if he believes it's an artillery rocket launcher. And he had to know he was completely immune to small arms at the height he was at (over 10,000 feet even after weapons release).

If this is confusing, substitute some other weapon that everyone knows can only be fired at surface targets in place of "MLRS." Like "mortar" or "tank," for instance. If Schmidt had said he'd seen a mortar position engaged in firing, with small arms tracer fire coming from it as well, would it be easier to establish the level of perceived threat to a high-altitude F-16 here? Would that substitution make it easier to understand that Schmidt at first wasn't even trying to claim that the artillery piece itself was firing at him, just the people clustered around it? (This would change later, as Schmidt's defenders' story would change to saying Schmidt thought he saw some kind of anti-aircraft gun, which would at least give some means of justifying a self-defence attack.)

So, from Schmidt's own words, we know precisely what he thought he saw at the point of weapons release. Having lost track of how close to Kandahar he was, he believed he was seeing a surface-to-surface artillery piece out in the open, bombarding some distant target of its own, the crew of which were also firing their light weapons up in the air, presumably at him. A little thought on his part would have convinced him that made no sense (it was dark, and Schmidt was far, far out of range), but he didn't take that time. Instead, he impulsively dropped a bomb on a target that even at that moment, he knew had absolutely no chance of hurting him. Hence his self-defence claim is disproven.

There is no doubt Schmidt honestly believed he saw bad guys below. The accusation that criminal charges were based on throughout was that he didn't make an even minimal effort to confirm that, or even where he was at the moment, but instead just dropped a bomb on what were then from his perspective only some unidentified small arms muzzle flashes, somewhere in Afghanistan, and then dishonestly invoked his absolute right to self-defence to justify his reckless and destructive conduct. It doesn't, he was condemned by the transcript alone, and it's a true shame that he never saw his day in court.

By the way, you also see here the beginning of Schmidt's claim that he was actually firing to protect Umbach, with the reference to the guns "turning around" to follow Umbach. This was all misperception (The Canadian infantry squad on the ground did no such thing, were not even firing in the air at all. The "MLRS" in question, it should probably be noted, was actually a shoulder-fired Carl Gustav anti-tank weapon).

Posted by BruceR at 01:45 PM

We interrupt our history session for this election

I was going to finish off the Greatest Canadian military figure series today, but it'll wait until later. Instead, I'm just going to say what I would have said at the end of the final column: the 15 people I'm listing were all great, if still human people, who did great things for this country. The one thing they had in common, I think, was courage to do what had to be done. If they were afraid, they didn't act out of that fear, but out of courage, and a modicum of hope for a better future for this country.

I would encourage all Canadians to vote today. I would also encourage them to cast a ballot, not out of fear, but out of courage, and hope for our future. I do not personally believe that voting is intrinsically good. But a vote made in the name of a positive belief, an affirmative course of action, a vision, that's never a wasted vote to my mind, no matter whose crazy nutbar vision it might be. But if you're voting out of fear, then you might as well stay home. If you're going to fail as a human being anyway, you might as well be reclining with high-carb snacks while you do it, I say.

CASE IN POINT: The Globe and Mail opinion page, today. Shorter William Thorsell: "Pierre Trudeau (saas) settled all questions of importance for this country for all time. Don't you people know that?" It's this kind of nonstop booga-booga, "let's stampede the cows again" crap that really decided my vote this time out.

Posted by BruceR at 11:55 AM