Monday, November 27, 2006

The CC wanker challenge -- step right up.

In defending its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the administration of George W. Bush produced one horrifying claim after another -- Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was behind the terrorist attack of 9/11, Saddam Hussein had WMDs and they knew exactly where they were, and on and on and on. And, as we all know, every single one of these breathless claims eventually crumbled, but that's not why we're here.

Not surprisingly, as each of those claims was shown to be howlingly inaccurate, the Left predictably accused the Bush administration of lying. "Bush lied, people died" went the refrain. But the Right was having absolutely none of that, no sir.

It didn't matter how spectacularly false a claim eventually turned out to be, Bush never, ever "lied." That simply wasn't an option, regardless of how much evidence his mindless defenders were clubbed with. However, there were apparently limits to just how much Kool-Aid these people were prepared to drink.

While the claim that the President "lied" was simply not an option, numerous wanks were forced to admit that, yes, the President had, well, "hyped" or "misled" or "cherry-picked" or "embellished" or "exaggerated" or some appropriate synonym. Even right-wing firebrand Pat Buchanan categorically rejected the concept of lying, even as he admitted to a mess of allegedly lesser offenses:

" ... they cherry-picked it. They hyped. But I personally do not believe the president of the United States deliberately lied about anything... [Bush] did not lie to them. The president emphasized, cherry-picked, hyped the causes for going, and set the others aside. That's not lying.

In short, Bush's behaviour might have been sleazy and tacky and questionable but, by God, he absolutely wasn't a "liar" and that was the end of that. Which brings us to basis of this post and perhaps the first in a series of wanker challenges: What would it take for Canada's wankers to admit that their heroes in the Conservative Party are, well, dishonest sleazebuckets? And I'm going to pose this question in the context of a recent development involving the CPoC.

As you can read back here, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made some news recently with a rather astonishing claim:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty hopes to eliminate billions of dollars in net debt within the next 15 years, calling it "a matter of fairness for future generations."

As many followup news pieces pointed out, what Flaherty was referring to -- something called "net debt" -- was most emphatically not the same as what most people already understood as the regular national debt:

Liberal MP John McCallum accused Flaherty of misleading Canadians by promising to tackle the net debt, calling the proposal "technically true but a gimmick."

"You are using this arcane statistic of net debt, which nobody except a few economists in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) have ever heard of," charged McCallum.

Even the Bloomberg news service clearly realized what was going on, given that a news piece they produced had that phrase significantly inside quotes:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty moved the country in that direction by pledging yesterday to buy back C$3 billion ($2.63 billion) in bonds each year, as part of a plan to eliminate the country's ``net debt'' by 2021. He also forecast combined budget surpluses of $50.1 billion over six years, according to a fiscal update released in Ottawa late yesterday.

And that same article's opening paragraph even took the time to briefly explain what Flaherty was actually talking about:

The Canadian government will seek to become the first Group of Seven nation to bring debt levels in line with assets, as it benefits from revenue windfalls stemming from the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East.

But that's not the worst of it since, as you can read in that earlier CTV article, Flaherty seemed to clearly and deliberately confuse the two types of debt:

{Flaherty] said the total net debt currently stands at $481 billion.

That statement is simply false -- the figure of $481 billion refers to Canada's national debt. Which brings us, finally, to the challenge I'm posing to Canada's wankers: I want them to give me their opinion on the ethics and/or honesty of Flaherty's actions. Note first that this challenge consists of two parts.

First, I would like to hear from the wanker community their opinion on Flaherty's use of the arcane notion of "net debt" -- a quantity sufficiently unusual that many subsequent news pieces had to explain precisely what it meant so that readers wouldn't be confused.

One could, of course, defend Flaherty by being pedantic as hell, and parsing his claim extremely carefully, suggesting that what he was saying was technically accurate. But we're all familiar with that kind of weaseling -- where you choose your words carefully to give one impression, while leaving enough room to have plausible deniability later. So, technical accuracy aside, what do Canada's wanks think of the ethics of Flaherty's announcement?

More importantly, what do those same folks think of Flaherty's flagrant falsehood, when he claimed that Canada's "net debt" was $481 billion? You could, of course, argue that he misspoke, or something equally lame. But it's hard to swallow that possible defense given how much work he must have put into constructing the whole "net debt" scenario in the first place. One simply doesn't "misspeak" about an amount like $481 billion, particularly if one is Canada's Minister of Finance.

So there's the challenge -- I want to know what this country's conservatives think of Mr. Flaherty's ethics and honesty. And, yes, there's a reason for this.

There's a perpetual complaint that it's simply impossible to have any sort of civil, political dialogue anymore -- that neither side even attempts to listen to the other, that the opposition is hypocritical and so on. Well, this is my attempt to see just how hopeless the situation is since, based on the responses I get (if any), I think we'll get a pretty good idea whether it's even worth trying to hold a conversation.

To that end, I'm going to ask my regular (and not-so-regular) liberal/leftist commenters to refrain from commenting for the time being. I want to keep the comments section (at least for now) exclusively for those from the Right, to hear their perspective on honesty and ethics in government with respect to Mr. Flaherty.

And once we get some feedback, I think we'll be a lot closer to knowing whether there's any chance for a dialogue here at all.


Jason Hickman said...

Throwing the word "wankers" around mayn't encourage positive responses, but what else should I expect from a moonbat?

Just kidding. I may be willing to take a stab at this, but I want to read the Committee Mins so I can see what Flaherty said for myself. They don't appear to be published at the Parliamentary website (look under the "Evidence" column - I think that's where the "committee hansard" can be found), as of 11/27/06.

Anonymous said...

When your man Flaherty sez he "hopes to eliminate billions of dollars in net debt within the next 15 years," its was, as the disloyal opposition promptly pointed out, "technically true but a gimmick." Your disloyal opposition was able to make that point because everyone had access to the same facts.

When our man Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and our man Rumsfeld added that "we know where they are," they were making representations about the nature of secret intelligence data that only the president and secretary of defense were able to see, or, in the alternative, free to talk about.

In the American law of libel, a statement of opinion is not defamatory if the publisher sets forth the facts on which his opinion is based. In politics, where the facts are disclosed, or readily obtainable by anyone interested in finding out the facts, I'm willing to consider that spin.

Your man Flaherty is not in our league yet.

Anonymous said...


First of all. When you have the objective truth already decided, where people can prove their intellectual honesty based on them agreeing with you or not, it's not exactly a discussion, if that's what you're looking for.

Having said that, what Flaherty said wasn't really a matter of ethics to me, but rather was, as McCallum said, a gimmick. It was manipulative, and rather transparently so. I wouldn't call the man morally deficient based on this, nor would I say he was lying (since he was, technically, right), but he was certainly being purposefully misleading which I pointed out and criticized on my own blog (without even someone challenging me to do it!).

What he meant by saying that Canada's net debt is $481B, I can't really say. I would speculate that it seems unlikely that he thought that no one would call him on it if he had planned it as a big lie to fool the Canadian public. I think it is more likely that he misspoke himself.

I mean, do you really think the man is stupid enough to believe that the average Canadian (who may have been fooled) pays closer attention to his statements on the national debt than the pundits and economists (who can tell the difference between net debt and national debt), and that the pundits and economists and opposition members wouldn't call him on this inaccuracy? I think that's the assumption that you'd have to make if you were to argue that this was a lie to manipulate the general public.

Now, if he did think that he could slip such an inaccuracy past the committee and every one else listening in, than he is, once and for all, an idiot.

So, in conclusion: misleading? yes. manipulative? yes. unethical? I don't know... I consider it more playing politics and trying to make one's policies sound better than they are. But then again, I'm pretty lax on "ethics" in government - if they don't break the law I'm happy, which gives you a good idea of the bar I've set for ethics in government.

So, while I may not have met your standard for being an objective observer, in that I won't call it 'unethical', you can rest assured that I won't hold any other politician to a higher standard.

By the way, whatever happened to that last challenge you issued?

Anonymous said...

Ok...the responses were not compelling as no additional facts were exposed. Based on what we know, Flaherty was at best misleading (or bumbling) and at worst, outright lying. None of that is particularly surprising, because...well...this is Jim Flaherty after all.

My tolerance for unethical behaviour is in proportion to the consequences that arise from it. So, when BushCo lied the US into a disastrous invasion, it's unforgiveable. This thing with Flaherty? Meh.

M@ said...

I think Olaf's assessment is probably about where the bulk of the right side of the conversation probably lies. I tend to agree with his point of view myself.

However, what if the Liberals had made this announcement instead of the CPC? First, the (hilarious) term LIEberals would have been thrown around on right wing blogs a lot.

Then, they would have lambasted the finance minister in the same way Paul Martin was lambasted over adscam: "He was finance minister, and he didn't know the current net debt/what the adscam money was spent on? HAH!" There would have been calls for his resignation, for sure.

If you subscribe to an ideology -- ANY ideology -- it's inevitable that you'll be caught in this kind of self-contradiction.

In short, though, I think we can all pretty much agree that we're dealing with a finance minister who is not to be trusted. Something like having a convicted criminal as justice minister, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Andrew at Bound by Gravity has posted on this subject a few days ago. From his commenters, it looks like most people aren't impressed by the net debt thing - I believe someone pointed out that we were already going to be zeroing the net debt in ten years or so, without changing anything.

The really interesting thing is that someone else pointed out that the year after the net debt is zeroed, it will start rising again, because of rising social security payouts.

Anyway, read the comments to Andrews two posts on this subject if you wish to know the details.