Pants bomber a sign of "systemic failure" says Obama

Pretty frank assessment by a commander-in-chief of the system he says failed. Seems to me that kind of candour is refreshing …

“…once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253 — it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions. But what's also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been, so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.

The reviews I've ordered will surely tell us more. But what already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system, because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.”

Read the complete text of President Barack Obama's statement.

Inside the numbers on proroguing, courtesy of the PMO

Think Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing something a bit untoward by proroguing Parliament? Well, according to the helpful backgrounder provided by Harper's staff today, these prorogation periods and throne speeches have been pretty much run-of-the-mill things ever since Confederation. According to the numbers crunched by the PMO:

Average number of Throne Speeches per Parliament: 3.6
Number of Throne Speeches for 40th Parliament (after March 3 speech): 3

Average number of days of a Parliamentary session: 211
40th Parliament, 2nd Session: 338 days

Average sittings of the House of Commons per session: 109
Number of times Commons sat during the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session: 128

Average interval between Sessions of Same Parliament, in days: 151
Interval between 2nd and 3rd sessions of 40th Parliament: 63

(Note: The Parliament elected in October, 2008 is the 40th Parliament of Canada. That Parliament's 1st session was short, running until the coalition threatened to kill the government. The 2nd session of the 40th Parliament began with last January's throne speech and budget)

Rock'n'Roll at Rideau Hall: GG taps Neil Young and Burton Cummings for honours

Governor General Michaelle Jean today named Canadian rock legends Neil Young and Burton Cummings as Officers of the Order of Canada, the second highest ranking in the prestigious Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian honours.

Young and Cummings were among 57 Canadians who will receive honours from the Governor General to recognize a lifetime of outstanding achievement.

Among the other nominees to become Officers of the Order of Canada are hockey star Mario Lemieux, writer Clark Blaise, former Privy Council clerk Mel Cappe, former premiers Gary Filmon and John Hamm, stage impressario Peter Hinton, former federal NDP Leader Alexa McDonough, and filmmaker Ivan Reitman.

Among those become Members of the Order of Canada is the late David Pecaut. Though Pecaut was born in the U.S., he became a champion for Toronto's development after moving to that city. Pecaut died earlier this month.

There were no Companions of the Order of Canada appointed at this time. The Companion is the highest rank in the Order of Canada. No date has yet been set for the ceremony to award the honours announced today.

You can review the full list of Order of Canada honours at the GG's site.

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China says it will help foreign journalists. Riiiight.

China Daily, the state-owned/government-controlled English language newspaper, has this interesting file:

The government yesterday vowed to make the work of foreign journalists easier, even as it urged them to obey Chinese laws while covering breaking news.

"We will stick to the opening-up policy and continue serving domestic and foreign journalists. This principle has never changed," the State Council Information Office Minister Wang Chen said at a press conference.

Wang cited some emergencies this year, such as the outbreak of H1N1 flu and the July 5 riots in Urumqi, as instances in which the government had given prompt information, held regular press conferences and organized reporters to cover the news onsite.

Wang, however, admitted that the authorities faced a challenge in balancing news reporting and maintaining law and order during major incidents.

"We still need to figure out how to facilitate reporters' work while enabling law enforcement departments to maintain order," he said.

Wang hoped that foreign journalists would abide by Chinese laws and temporary regulations imposed by the authorities while covering breaking news.

"Such measures are taken not only to resolve incidents effectively, but also to protect journalists."

China issued new rules on reporting by foreign correspondents, lifting several restrictions, in October last year.

Under the rules, foreign reporters are allowed to conduct interviews without applications to foreign affairs departments and resident reporters need not renew their press cards annually.

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Afghan detainee issue not hurting Tories as they nudge 40 per cent in new poll

The federal Conservatives headed into the Christmas break as the preferred ballot choice of nearly two of every five voters, pollster Nik Nanos says.

Despite potentially explosive allegations that surfaced as the parliamentary season ended that Afghan insurgents captured by Canadian Forces in 2006 were handed over Afghan authorities where they faced certain torture — a war crime if, in fact, Canadians knew the detaineess were likely to be tortured — the Conservatives remain the top choice among decided voters although both the Liberals and the NDP are edging higher as well.

Nanos surveyed 1,003 Canadians by telephone between Dec. 10 and 13 and asked:

For those parties you would consider voting for federally, could you please rank your top two current local preferences?

Here is the breakdown for the first choices: (The numbers in parenthesis denote the change from the last Nanos National Omnibus survey completed between November 7th and November 10th, 2009.)

National Decided Voters Only (n=745)
Conservative 39.5% (-0.3)
Liberal 30.2% (+0.2)
NDP 18.7% (+2.1)
BQ 7.7% (-1.2)
Green 4.0% (NC)
Undecided 25.7% (+8.2) of all voters surveyed

Nanos also surveyed the opinions of Canadians on who they think the most competent political leader is; the most trustworthy; and leader with the best vision. You can read the exact results here [PDF] but the bottom line is Canadians rank Harper highest on all those categories (by a long shot) while the opinion Canadians have of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff continues to decline sharply — and NDP Leader Jack Layton improves a bit.

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Looking back: The Internet and Political Journalism

As we're in holiday mode here at On the Hill, thought I'd rummage through the archives to find some interesting old stuff. Here's one: A post from Christmas in 2003, a few weeks after Howard Dean, then gunning for a chance to represent the Democrats in the 2004 U.S. presidental election, was discovered using something called the Internet to raise money and build support. Elite Beltway journalists pooh-poohed the Internet as a political tool and were promptly warned by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, New York University media critic Jay Rosen and then San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor that they were dangerously missing the boat. Here's Rich, writing in December, 2003:

… the rise of Howard Dean is not your typical political Cinderella story.

The elusive piece of this phenomenon is cultural: the Internet. Rather than compare Dr. Dean to McGovern or Goldwater, it may make more sense to recall Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. It was not until F.D.R.'s fireside chats on radio in 1933 that a medium in mass use for years became a political force. J.F.K. did the same for television, not only by vanquishing the camera-challenged Richard Nixon during the 1960 debates but by replacing the Eisenhower White House's prerecorded TV news conferences (which could be cleaned up with editing) with live broadcasts. Until Kennedy proved otherwise, most of Washington's wise men thought, as The New York Times columnist James Reston wrote in 1961, that a spontaneous televised press conference was “the goofiest idea since the Hula Hoop.”

Such has been much of the reaction to the Dean campaign's breakthrough use of its chosen medium. In Washington, the Internet is still seen mainly as a high-velocity disseminator of gossip (Drudge) and rabidly partisan sharpshooting by self-publishing excoriators of the left and right. When used by campaigns, the Internet becomes a synonym for “the young,” “geeks,” “small contributors” and “upper middle class,” as if it were an eccentric electronic cousin to direct-mail fund-raising run by the acne-prone members of a suburban high school's computer club. In other words, the political establishment has been blindsided by the Internet's growing sophistication as a political tool…

You can read my post — The Internet and political journalism (Dec. 24, 2003) — and find the links to the Rich piece and to Rosen's piece. It seems, sadly, that the link to Gillmor's piece has gone stale.

China puts reporters in courtrooms — on a very short leash

While Liu Xiaobo, China's most prominent dissident, was being tried and sentenced to 11 years in prison for criticizing the government last week, there was nary a word about his fate in any Chinese-language newspapers in China and only a few paragraphs in China's English-language papers. Perhaps the paucity of coverage was due to the fact that reporters, generally speaking, aren't exactly encouraged to cover trials — until – coincidentally? – Liu's trial. Here's an article from the Dec. 24 China Daily, the major state-owned English-language newspaper in China:

The media's lawful right to supervise trials in court should be guaranteed, but malicious or intentionally false reporting of a case will have legal consequences, the Supreme Court said yesterday.

The court suggested lower courts should be more receptive to criticism from the press. It also said the press should be more responsible and self-disciplined in reporting trials, in a document titled Regulations on People's Court's Acceptance of Supervision by the Press.

The document requires courts at various levels to provide assistance and support to journalists requests, and establish a method of communicate with the press.

The Supreme Court also drew a red line for the press, listing five situations in which journalists could be ethically criticized or even charged, including undermining national security, jeopardizing the authority of law and distorting facts.

Impartiality as well as objectiveness are the most essential qualities in reporting legal cases, the document said.

A recent trial of a famous lawyer who was accused of perjury in Chongqing's crackdown of gangs exemplified how a report can affect public opinions.

In a story published in China Youth Daily, lawyer Li Zhuang was described as an accomplice of a suspected mafia gang boss.

Li was immediately criticized by netizens.

However, people in the law field argued the depiction of Li as an accomplice showed either the reporter's absence of legal knowledge or deliberate defamation.

The court said it hopes that the new regulations could confine some journalists from distorting or fabricating facts.

The Supreme Court held a news conference yesterday to answer netizens' concerns, which suggests the country's court system has been endeavoring to enhance its openness and transparency.

Let Liu Go. The Old Gray Men of China are wrong

Liu Xiaobo may have written the opening paragraph of Charter 08 which read:

the Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

The old, gray, backward men who run China think thoughts like that are criminal and on Wednesday, Liu will go on trial for thinking such thoughts.

That's not right. Period.

$10 million to renovate 24 Sussex? My buddy'll do it for a casino license …

A friend of mine from British Columbia was reading one of my pieces in today's papers:

Canadians may never give him the job, of course, but if they do one day pick Michael Ignatieff to be their prime minister, Ignatieff promises he won't live at 24 Sussex Drive until the 141-year-old building has a long overdue refit.

The famous address overlooking the Ottawa River is the prime minister's official residence. But its occupants, stretching back at least to Brian Mulroney, have been reluctant to give the place up in order to make repairs that have become increasingly costly and urgent.

Not Mr. Ignatieff.

"Zsuzsanna and I will check into the hotel," Mr. Ignatieff said in an exclusive year-end interview with Canwest News Service and Global National.

"It's a very good question. I think it is time for somebody to take one for the team, so we'll move into the Chateau or the Elgin [two downtown Ottawa hotels] for three or four years and let us get a residence for the prime minister that makes the country proud." [Read the rest of "Ignatieff would forgo PM’s official residence"]

After reading the piece, he sent me this clever note:

"Being from BC, I am able to offer to do those 24 Sussex Dr. renos for a casino licence."

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Ignatieff: "I’m going to be looking at the unemployment numbers first and deficit second."

I and Global National Ottawa Bureau Chief Jacques Bourbeau had a year-end interview Thursday with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at his official residence at Stornaway. We have one story up already from that interview, Liberal government would focus on jobs, not deficit. Later this weekend, Global National will air other excerpts and I'll have additional stories out of that interview up at our Web sites. In the meantime, here is a transcript of the excerpt in which he talks about the fiscal policy priorities of a Liberal government. Jacques had asked if Canadians did, in fact, find much of a difference in the Liberal and Conservative approach to restoring the federal fiscal balance:

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, Leader of the Official Opposition: Well there’s one place where there’s an emerging big difference and that’s payroll tax. You said in your question: They’re not going to raise taxes. Uh-uh. They are going to raise taxes. They’re going to raise payroll taxes big-time in 2011. And every employer, especially the small ones, we talk to say this is a job killer. So one of the big issues we’ve got is — yeah, we’ve got to get back into balance but is the smart way to do it to raise payroll taxes which will kill jobs. My vision of what’s going to happen in 2010 and 2011 is we’re going to have a lot of unemployment out there. We’re going to have a jobless recovery or we’re going to have a recovery where there’s still a lot of people looking for jobs. The worst thing you could do is make it more difficult for employers to take on labour. So one of the things where I think we’ve got to go as a party is say, ok, how do we create incentives for employers to hire people, especially young people. We’ve got 16 per cent unemployment for young Canadians.

People coming out of college and high school have got the highest unemployment rates in the country. Can we create some incentives for employers that say, you know, take on a worker and we won’t jack up your payroll tax. That’s the kind of thing that makes a difference.

They think the deficit’s the only issue you have to worry about and we’re saying unemployment’s the issue you have to worry about. That’s a differentiator. If I’m prime minister, I’m going to be looking at the unemployment numbers first and deficit second.

JACQUES BOURBEAU, Ottawa Bureau Chief, Global National: But regarding the deficit, if you’re saying payroll tax hikes aren’t the answer, then what is the answer? Because most experts are saying, in the next four or five years, we are going to have a significant structural deficit and Canadians at some point are going to look around and see who has a solution they think is viable. So what is it?

IGNATIEFF: Let’s remember where we are. We’re not in 1993. The debt-to-GDP ratio is significantly lower than it was in 1993. Why? Because of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. We’re in a different situation in 2010 and 2011 because Liberals managed the public finances of the country well. I think we can take a little longer to pay this deficit down. We should be very careful about payroll taxes which will make the unemployment situation worse. We need to focus infrastructure investment we’re making to create jobs, to focus on the unemployment issue and that begins to create some difference.

But look: We don’t know where we’re going to be in 2010-2011. We need to look at the books. Every Liberal who has been in government knows what the problem of the deficit is when you start paying interest charges, more and more interest charges, and you can’t invest in schools, you can’t invest in roads, you can’t invest in the things you want to do because you’re paying back the banks. But we’re not there yet. We’re not there yet. So prudent fiscal management, good structural investment that creates jobs — and my sense is that that the tradeoff is: Do you focus on the unemployment problem or do you focus on the deficit problem? We focus on the unemployment problem and we think we can pay down the deficit on a different gradient.

But remember: I’m being asked to solve this problem – I mean, hello? Jim Flaherty dumped us in the middle of this. We gave them a $12 billion dollar surplus when we left office in 2006 and they jumped us into a close to $60-billion deficit. You ask them to fix it.

DAVID AKIN, National Affairs Correspondent, Canwest News Service: I find this interesting because we’re going to have this debate when the budget comes out. And the last Liberal government kept a $3 billion contingency fund —

IGNATIEFF: — and that’s gone.

AKIN: Exactly. And the Conservatives took over and said you need to use all that to pay down the debt. So, there again Liberals were saying the debt wasn’t a screaming problem, we can pay it down on a slower scale. The Conservatives wanted to accelerate that. Same thing now. The Conservatives are saying, we want to be quicker getting out of deficit at the cost perhaps of some other policy priorities. So when they present the budget with a time horizon to still get out of deficit in five years, can we still say that Liberals will demand other benchmarks have to be hit first before we start projecting — it could be 2015, 2016 —

IGNATIEFF: With respect, this is a moving target. Every time these guys give us numbers, they give you a different for when they’re out of deficit. They give you a different number. The thing is moving all the time. We can’t even have a serious discussion here. In 2009, they said we’d be out in 2013. In the middle of the summer, they said, well, it’s actually going to be 2015. Now they’re saying some other number. They don’t have a plan to get us out of deficit. So the burden is not on me — I’m in the opposition — they’ve got to give Canadians a credible plan on deficit reduction and they don’t have any.

Every time Jim Flaherty gets up, it’s a different story. So I’ll look at their budget this time and we’ll see what story they’re telling Canadians in 2010 whenever the budget comes.

AKIN: The reason I think this is important is because we go back to the political stability issue. You and your party are going to have to decide whether or not to support the next budget at some point. Now, the Tories are telegraphing that they announced this year’s budget essentially last year. But it sounds like there’s two things that will be important for you to address. As you mentioned — the payroll tax, as you called it and this idea of a fixed timeline (on deficit reduction). Is that roughly the area — aside from the actual details in the budget — those two big goals …

IGNATIEFF: Well those are issues but, you know, we’re dealing with the Conservative Party of Canada here. We’re dealing with Stephen Harper. The capacity for poison pills, for game-playing, for omnibus budget bills that freight in some other thing that you never even saw coming. I’ve been around long enough to know I’m not telling you what I’m going to do because I’ve got to look at this thing and see what it is. Every time there’s some kind of weird curveball you never anticipated. You talk about stability. I want stability as much as the next person but to have stability, you don’t play games with budgets. The last omnibus budget bill, it was like a dumpster. They had a whole bunch of stuff piled in there. So I’d like them to not offer us a dumpster next time. I’d like a nice little slim book that gives me a clear up and down choice and I’ve indicated some of the things I expect.