Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 Olympics spawns a further armouring of NAFTA

Well, colour me surprised. Who could have guessed that security arrangements for the 2010 Olympics would spawn a further militarization of North America and U.S.-Canada security integration?

G&M :
Canada and U.S. authorities are talking about extending cross-border security measures that were implemented for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and were to end with the closing of the Winter Games.
The joint patrols [RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard] will end with the Paralympics but spokesmen from the two agencies said yesterday legislation that would allow joint maritime policing on a permanent basis is on the agenda of both the U.S. and Canadian governments."

That's just an Olympic rebranding of Bill C-60, the amusingly named Keeping Canadians Safe (Protecting Borders) Act, tabled in Parliament in November.

The Cons actually sidelined C-60 when they prorogued Parliament, but as The Library of Parliament helpfully points out, not passing parliament didn't prevent its implementation during the Games because C-60 is but the legislative arm of the earlier Security and Prosperity Partnership inspired Shiprider Projects and the Canada-US Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations signed in May 2009 by Canadian Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan, and the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet "9/11 terrorists entered the US from Canada" Napolitano.

Fun quote from that 2009 signing :
Van Loan said the pact shouldn't be viewed as Americans encroaching on the jurisdiction of Canada because it's a joint effort.
"Because of the integration of our North American economies ... effective management of the border is essential to the health of both of our countries' economies."

At the time we were advised that the Canadian border proved an unmanageable obstacle to the US ability to pursue bad guys into Canada, conjuring up memories of old movies in which a car chase ends in an obligatory squeal of tires and a cloud of dust before a government road sign that reads "You are now entering ....".
It was always crap of course as even Stockwell Day acknowledged back in October 2006 that "U.S. agents carry out investigations in Canada without the knowledge or approval of the Canadian government" but we just retroactively approve them anyway.

C-60 seeks to embed part of that practise into Canadian law. Clause 11 :
"In the course of an integrated cross-border operation, every designated officer is a peace officer in every part of Canada and has the same power to enforce an Act of Parliament as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

In every part of Canada. Same power as the RCMP.

The Library of Parliament page on C-60 also advises that passing C-60 will necessitate changes to "the Criminal Code, the Customs Act, the Export and Import Permits Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act."
I'll bet.

Then there's that big fat Homeland Security Olympic Coordination Center in Bellingham built to augment NorthComm's bi-lateral Civil Assistance Plan, which already "allows the military from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency."

The collaboration of "40 U.S. federal, state and local agencies, including military intelligence groups, the navy, national guard, air force, coast guard" and assorted Canadian security agencies was mandated to "specifically co-ordinate the U.S. response to any terrorist attack or domestic emergency during the Winter Games."

They'd like to extend that now too.
Well we knew that.
As the FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge announced back in Sept. 2008 :
"This facility will provide a strategic response platform to facilitate critical response efforts during the Olympic Games and beyond."

And beyond. We've now reached 'and beyond'.

h/t Dave : Told ya so.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Max for PM? You betcha!

C'mon, he's decorative, he's dumb, and besides, since he came out today as a climate change 'skeptic', the Blogging Tories have been falling all over themselves to get their teabagging credentials in order :

"Maxime really is great!!! Keep up the good work Maxime. One day you will be HM PM.

"You had me at Bonjour"

"Finally a Canadian Conservative Speaks Truth"

"Enter Maxime Bernier with a daring volley launched in the heart of climate lunacy."

"Maxime Bernier for Prime Minister! Finally, someone on the government side with the cajones to speak out."

Finally - I think they meant to say - a Sarah Palin with cajones.
Max speaks :

"What is certain is that it would be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars and to impose unnecessarily stringent regulations to solve a problem whose gravity we still are not certain about."
Gravity? Gravity is also a hoax! The earth sucks! Max for PM! You betcha! Also! Too!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rights and Democracy gone rogue

Go, Paul Wells!

A good overview of the Rights and Democracy debacle : Paul Wells from Maclean's, Chris Selley from the National Post, Payam Akhavan who recently quit the R&D board of directors, and David Matas who was reappointed to the board in November after having previously served on it from 1997 to 2003.

The Cons' attempts to align Canadian policy with that of the far right in Israel began with their 2006 support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the seige of Gaza and their boast of being the first country to cut off aid to Palestine for democratically electing the 'wrong' government. It continued with the banning of George Galloway from Canada, the defunding of KAIROS and UNRWA, the political flyers insinuating that the Libs are soft on anti-Semitism, and the establishment of the orwellian Canadian Parliamentary Coalition on Combating Antisemitism.

A week ago the media reacted with astonishment when Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Kent told a Toronto publication that "an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada," despite the fact there is no military treaty between Canada and Israel to back that up.

Hey guys, wake up. This is not the first time he has said this. Peter Kent on his own website, July 2009 :

"We have only one policy on Israel and that is to stand with the only true democracy in the Middle East. We have, as you know, proclaimed many times Canada’s position that an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada."

An attack on Rights and Democracy or even just on plain old democracy, not so much.

Kudos again to Paul Wells and also Dr. Dawg for all their stellar investigative journalism here.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another NATO airstrike; another 33 dead civilians

AP : "NATO forces confirmed in a statement that its planes fired Sunday on a group of vehicles that it believed contained insurgents who were about to attack its forces, only to discover later that women and children were in the cars.

The strike hit three minibuses that were driving down a major road in the mountainous province. There were 42 people in the vehicles, all civilians, Bashary said.

"We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives," NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said.

McChrystal also sent along his regrets six days ago when 12 civilians including 6 children were killed by two NATO-fired rockets which missed their intended target by 300 meters, and still more regrets the following day for five more civilians killed in another NATO airstrike.

McClatchy's reports that Operation Mushtarak (translation : Operation Together) is all just "a trial run" for "the next big combat mission" in Kandahar this summer, described by ISAF officials as "the big prize for both the Taliban and the coalition":

"Coalition officers describe the Marjah operation, now into its second week, as a "confidence builder" for Kandahar now that extra troops for Afghanistan have been committed."

And what is the point of this "confidence builder" for "the big prize" again?

Journalist and historian Gareth Porter at The Real News Network :

"In my view this offensive has to be viewed as more of an effort to shape public opinion in the United States than to shape the politics of the future of Afghanistan."
It's propaganda, explains Porter, to sell the American people on the idea that when the inevitable negotiations with the Taliban for US withdrawal are held in 16 to 18 months, it will look at home as if the US is negotiating from a position of strength.

Saving face - that's what all these civilians and soldiers are dying for now.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Duffy and Greene do Triumph of the Swill

Senator Mike Duffy's covering email for the above Con fundraiser : "Thank you for taking a few minutes during this busy time to reinvigorate our Canadian pride, by listening to the Conservative story – Canada’s story. Our athletes’ success on home soil makes us think about the Conservatives incredible track record of historical firsts."

Cue Senator "Nance" Greene Raine : "In fact, with the proper training and preparation, all Canadians can achieve their goals, much like the goals Conservatives have achieved in history ... and with our strong leader, Canada will continue to compete with the world's best."

Own that Odium!


Friday, February 19, 2010

A plea from the People of the Talking Snake

On the February cover of The Catholic Register, the Church of the Talking Snake makes yet another desperate public plea to jetison their charitable status so that they can pay taxes just like everyone else :

"It is astonishing and sad that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is advocating that Canada fund overseas abortions, charged Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Collins released a statement on Feb. 4 in response to Ignatieff's public calls for the government to include contraception and abortion funding as basic components of a new foreign aid strategy to improve maternal and childhood health."

Well, actually Iggy only said he wouldn't support any new foreign aid changes from Harper that would limit access to them, but hey - these are minor details when you're launching a campaign to get your fair share of recognition from Revenue Canada.

Collins : "There are so many other steps that can be taken to promote maternal and child health throughout the world."

Archbishop Collins went on to suggest instead "clean water, food and immunization", measures which have at best an uncertain track record in preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV and STDs and the birth of yet another child you can't feed.

So far, attempts to determine whether Harper is about to reverse 30 years of Canadian foreign policy funding support for access to contraception and safe abortion have proved fruitless. The Talking Snake couldn't have done better himself.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Say, how's that Nafta Superhighway Trade Corridor coming along?

Haven't heard much about the NAFTA Superhighway Trade Corridor since it got promoted from a conspiracy theory to a US Dept of Energy plan called the Western Energy Corridor, embraced by Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the US Western Governors' Association, and now known as the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative.

But it cropped up in the news today.

"Questions are being raised about the Saskatchewan government's role in a massive rail and warehousing project involving grocery giant Loblaws.
The province has used its legal powers of expropriation to obtain farmland for what's called the Global Transportation Hub."
The Global Transportation Hub, courtesy of the Gov of Sask :
*The GTH is located in the middle of Saskatchewan, which provides centralized access to the North American economy
*Direct main line rail access to Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax, Gulf coast and Great Lakes ports and Midwestern U.S. trans shipment points
*Trucking connections to all major networks including Montreal (trans-Canada), Minneapolis/St.Paul, Chicago and points south and west, including Mexico

"Since the project was announced two years ago, the province has also expropriated land for Loblaw Companies Ltd. to build a one-million-square-foot (92,903 square-metre) warehouse and distribution centre. 
John Law, head of the government-created authority managing the warehouse project, said Loblaws would not have considered Regina for its warehouse if it had been forced to negotiate for land.
Faced with the prospect of losing a major investor, the government had to act quickly and so it did, Law said. "
So in order to further its Nafta Trade Corridor ambitions, the government of Saskatchewan expropriated land from a farmer for the benefit of a corporation.

Good to know.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On protesting

On Valentines Day, 2,000 to 4,000 people marched through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the annual Women’s March for Missing and Murdered Women. A memorial march not a protest, it is organized and led by women of the DTES to remember the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades. With no other competing agendas represented, it is the very essence of a respectful and focused peaceful grassroots march and only by chance coincides with the other daily Olympic protests here.
CBC's coverage of it on The National notwithstanding, doubtless this is the first time many people outside of Vancouver have even heard of it.
The previous day, a few hundred people took to the streets to protest an interwoven range of complaints highlighted by the Olympics - stolen aboriginal land, environmental destruction, tarsands, corporate greed, Gordon "Red Mittens" Campbell, Harper, poverty, homelessness, etc .
A couple of idiots threw a Province box through a window of Olympics sponsor Hudson's Bay Co., while others threw paint, overturned trashcans and traffic pylons, spat on police - who showed admirable restraint throughout - and insulted onlookers. 13 were arrested and four charged.
The media here and around the world immediately ate it up of course, and thousands hit the "agree" button next to the comments suggesting they be strung up under the CBC article about it.
Many progressive bloggers - my co-blogger here Rev, backed up by Dave in comments, Dr. Dawg, Cathie, Scott, Prole, JJ, Jim Bobby, and many other bloggers I like and respect - were swift to distance themselves from the vandals. They pointed out that such violence only serves to alienate potential supporters of the very genuine problems that all of them have supported and written to. The notoriety that comes with being a self-aggrandizing asshole will only hurt the given cause, they said.
And yet something about all this outrage directed at a few brats has been bothering me ever since.
We're talking rudeness and minor property damage here, right? They spat and broke stuff. When I walked past the broken window a few hours later, it had already been replaced.
Compare this with when Robert Dziekanski, in sheer frustration at his own helplessness, broke up furniture at YVR - it did not stop us from identifying with his plight. When the very few and vastly over-reported stories of property damage in Haiti came to light, we did not condemn the frustrated perpetrators for their actions. Indeed we thought it remarkable in the face of being denied the basic necessities of life displayed but refused them, that such incidents were so few and far between. So why the double standard for Saturday's vandals?
It takes hope and solidarity and strength of purpose to witness non-violently year after year as the Sisters in Spirit marchers at top do. Twenty years now the core of them have been waiting for action on their missing sisters. They march while waiting for the rest of us to catch up and claim their cause - which includes continuing murders and disappearances - as our own.
I think the angry hooligans from Saturday's protest just don't think they have the luxury of that kind of time to protest peacefully while waiting patiently for the rest of us to catch up to their sense of urgency about the world. I worry that our rush to condemn them means that we imagine we do enjoy that luxury.

Monday, February 15, 2010

You've come a long way, baby

Thirty years ago in 1980, Canada joined the U.S. in a 64 country boycott of the Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Today, under cover of wall-to-wall Olympics news, Canada has joined 15,000 coalition troops in Obama's assault on the town of Marjah in Helmand province, the biggest offensive since the U.S.-led invasion of Afganistan in 2001.
900 families have fled ahead of their arrival.
Yesterday 12 civilians including 6 children were killed when two NATO-fired rockets missed their intended target by 300 meters. Gen Stanley McChrystal sent along his regrets. Today five more civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike in Kandahar.
The photo shows women university students in Kabul in 1995.
Prior to the CIA-backed civil war in Afghanistan and the beginning of the Taliban rule in the mid 90's, 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women. 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let the Games begin!

The official Olympic schedule so far :

"General Electric's entire board of directors, led by CEO Jeff Immelt, is making a long-planned trip to Vancouver for the first weekend of the games, after first stopping off in Alberta's oil sands to do some business.

Vancouver-based investment bank Canaccord Financial has at least one corporate hospitality suite booked for all the hockey games, as does Goldcorp Inc., which is hosting out-of town mining types and some employees from its global operations.

Teck Resources Ltd. plans a huge bash on the top floor of its ocean-side offices for the first Canadian athlete to win gold on home soil.

Bell Canada ... is feting clients with ... Vancouver singer Sarah McLachlan

Hudson's Bay Co. ... opened a retreat for the families of Olympic athletes the night before the Games, with a bash that drew Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff "
More exciting Owelympic events to come ...

P.S. VANOC and the International Luge Federation pronounce death by steel girder of Georgian luger due to athlete error.
Despite their joint statement that there was "no indication that the accident was caused by deficiencies in the track", changes to the ice profile, higher walls, and a later start to slow down speeds have been implemented anyway because the show (see above) must go on.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Jason Kenney at the CPCCA

Jason Kenney explains the difference between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel at yesterday's session of The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, Feb 8 2010 :

Irwin Cotler : "How does one distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and crossing the line?"

Jason Kenney : "Criticism of Israel predicated on a view of Israel as a criminal enterprise, as a state guilty of massive crimes against humanity simply for engaging in the normal responsibilities of a state to protect its civilian population from unprovoked attacks - I would say that criticisms of that nature go to the heart of the question. They are not criticisms based on particular policies or tactics; they are criticism of the existence of Israel as representing in that sense 'the collective Jew', and this is I I I and this is the problem I have with organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. They do not seek a conventional peace settlement between two parties; they seek the destruction, the annihilation of the only Jewish democ- state in the world and the driving of the Jews into the sea, and I for one, unlike some, I take them at their word. That actually is their intention.

And so I think here in the democratic west, we hear echoes of that that are sometimes less obvious, sometimes a little less aggressive, but nevertheless those voices who essentially say that Israel is an illegitimate state, that by virtue of its Jewish identity, it is an abomination and a criminal state. These kinds of sentiments in my view clearly cross the line from legitimate political criticism to an anti-Zionism which has at its heart a form of anti-semiticism.
There is a global effort with voices in Canada not just to delegitimize but to demonize the Jewish state."

What an appalling mess that is.
Apparently, despite the great care taken by the CPCCA to insist that they do not equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the "new anti-Semitism" includes "a view of Israel as a state guilty of massive crimes against humanity". And if Israel represents "the collective Jew', then any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic. Worse, it seeks to make Jews the world over collectively responsible for Israel's policies in Gaza.

Lib MP Anita Neville and NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis both asked for an apology for the divisive and partisan Con 10% flyers purporting to show that the Cons are better friends of Israel than the Libs.
"Some of your policies and spokespeople" said Neville, "will create an anti-Semitic response". Neville, who is Jewish, noted that the Con approach also makes Jews feel "other".

Kenney found eight different ways of saying he did not understand what she was talking about. "All I get is praise from Jews," he said, "everywhere I go."

I'm beginning to see the real problem with Jason Kenney's definition of "new anti-Semitism" at the CPCCA. It attempts to equate all Jews with Israel and then further reduces Israel to just the policies of its rightwing government.

You will recognize this of course as being the same tactic often used against Jews by genuine anti-Semites. It's a very very bad idea.
Kenney did however get off the best line of the day during his criticism of KAIROS.
"Why focus so much on the liberal democratic state of Israel?" he asked.
Good question.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before ...

Canwest :

"Because the president cannot rely on Congress to pass the legislation ... sources say the agreement as structured would allow the White House to use executive power to treat sectors of the Canadian economy as American by claiming supply chains are so integrated they cannot be separated.

While Canadian government officials declined to comment, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative distributed copies Thursday of the Canada-U.S. agreement for review by members of an industry advisory committee."

Harper and Co have been working hard since their dismissal of Parliament. Coincidentally they have decided now would be the best time to introduce a crippling new extension of NAFTA into our lives.

The Deal : In exchange for a 10 day window of opportunity in which Canadian corporations will theoretically be exempted from just some of Obama's protectionist Buy America economic provisions, Canadian provinces and municipalities will permanently relinquish their right to award local contracts to local businesses.
Our taxes, our jobs. Bye bye 'Buy Local', hello WTO.

Or as Steve himself once put it :"I do think that the proliferation of domestic preferences in subnational government procurement is really problematic."

Stockwell Day has been pushing the provinces towards this since last June, even though many US cities and states sensibly have laws restricting their contracts to their own domestic contractors, and now much of Obama's US-only stimulus spending has already been spent.
Well, these are the folks who negotiated the softwood lumber deal for us after all.

CP :
"Harper says he doesn't believe there will be any opposition to the agreement, but adds his government could ratify the deal without Parliament."
John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, former Liberal deputy prime minister, Canada Chair of the deep integration project 2005 Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, and co-author of "Building A North American Community" is also celebrating :
"It's good that it has given us a relationship with the United States that recognizes the degree of integration of our economies."
2010 was of course the date by which Manley predicted "the establishment of a North American economic and security community, the boundaries of which would be defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter."

Or, as a Chicago School alumni once told me, Canadians will be ok with Canadian culture, industry, and military being absorbed into the US as long as they still get to vote and keep their flag.

We'll see about that:
"More than 25 organizations are meeting today in Ottawa to launch efforts to counter this and other trade deals whose aim is to destroy local democratic control over public spending."
Walkom and Laxer also think this is a crap deal for Canadians.

And now a few words for one of our Olympic sponsors

From the National Film Board of Canada and Cinema Politica :
The Coca Cola Case directed by Carmen Garcia and German Gutierrez

"a searing indictment of the Coca-Cola empire and its alleged kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders trying to improve working conditions in Colombia"

"On January 11, 2010, lawyers representing Coca-Cola sent Cinema Politica a letter implying that by showing THE COCA COLA CASE throughout our network we were violating the law. As far as we have been told, this is not the case, and we are continuing with our plans to screen this critical and controversial documentary throughout our network."

Cross country screening dates here - the truth that refreshes ...

Friday, February 05, 2010

Tony Clement channels George Bush

Industry Minister Tony Clement reprises George Bush's 2004 "Hard Work" performance:
"There’s no question that when we reviewed the situation there is a lot of work to be done. We’re doing work right now," he explained. "When the session does convene there’s no question that there’ll be a lot of work for Parliamentarians to do. And just as we’ve been working hard in our constituencies and throughout Canada, there’ll be a lot of work for Parliament to do after March 3."
A meddlesome reporter asked the minister if perhaps he had erred in suggesting only the chattering classes were particularly interested in the business of Parliament.
"I guess what I can tell you, again, is we’re working hard," Mr. Clement explained. "We’re working hard on behalf of Canadians. On behalf of their hopes and aspirations."
Proroguin' and recalibratin' - it's hard work. Not just anyone can do it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The greenest Olympic Games evah!

Somehow I don't think this is what Olympic organizers meant when they promised the greenest Games ever. Temperature today at Vancouver airport - a snow-sizzling 13°C

A week from now Cypress Mountain will begin hosting the freestyle ski and snowboard events on snow delivered via helicopter and a fleet of trucks from Manning Park 200 kilometres away.
It's an international news story now.

And although VANOC CEO John Furlong assures us that trucking snow always happens at every winter Olympic Games, personally I'm holding out for the South Park episode.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Canadian policy on Israel - It's a small, small, small world

It's so small it seems to fit entirely inside the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Israel in December. Speaking and chairing panels at that conference were ImmigrationMin Jason Kenney, Israeli NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, and Senior Legal Counsel to B'nai Brith Canada and new Rights and Democracy board member - David Matas.

It was from that conference that Jason Kenney announced the funding cut to KAIROS in his speech about combating antisemitism in Canada. Back home in Canada his office sited the rightwing Israeli thinktank NGO Monitor as disapproving of KAIROS when asked for an explanation of the cuts. As it happens, NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg was chairing a panel on Trends in the Delegitimization of Israel at the same conference.

Steinberg has been staging what he calls a Name and Shame campaign against a number of mideast human rights groups including KAIROS - and Oxfam! - since 2004. UNRWA, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency, was also on that hit list and in January it had its Canadian funding restricted to food aide only. Steinberg crowed about it in the Jerusalem Post and has promised to name names to our own Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism .

Most recently the Cons have blown up the Montreal human rights organization Rights and Democracy by stacking the board with pro-Israel hawks. Ex-VP of B'nai Brith and current R&D Chairman Aurel Braun invited NGO Monitor Gerald Steinberg to speak at R&D - you can watch Braun gracelessly slag previous R&D Chair Ed Broadbent at the CTV link below.
New R&D appointee David Matas co-chaired a panel on Antisemitism in Cyberspace at the Israel conference this December. Matas favours an enlarged definition of what constitutes "new anti-semitism". Matas :

"If you accuse Israel of crimes against humanity and Israel has committed crimes against humanity, then it is a legitimate criticism. If Israel has committed no such crimes, then it is antisemitism.

In my book Aftershock: Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism published by Dundurn Press, I have written chapter after chapter detailing criminal accusation after criminal accusation against Israel, and showing that all these accusations have no foundation either in fact or in law. The mere fact that the criticism would be legitimate if the accusations were warranted, does not save these accusations from the charge of antisemitism."

Paul Wells and Dr. Dawg have both done excellent coverage of the whole Rights and Democracy debacle and Kudos to CTV for their surprise coverage also.

Did I mention the next Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, parent of our own Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, is expected to be held in Canada this year? You can read their London Declaration from last year's conference here.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Olympic boondoggle : Blackmail and bailouts

The Canadian government emphatically and categorically denied today that it is currently negotiating a $90-million payment to the Wall Street hedge fund Fortress Investment Group to bail out Intrawest in time for the Olympics. Fortress is the parent company of Intrawest which operates Whistler Blackcomb.

The NY Post has been floating stories about a possible Canadian government bailout since December, most recently reporting on Saturday that Fortress is ready to sue if it is not paid off prior to the start of the Games :

"Fortress says it is negotiating with the Canadian government, which it says promised to make it whole for the time Whistler/Blackcomb Mountain is used for the Olympics. Intrawest is trying to get roughly $90 million, and wants to be paid before the Games start on Feb. 12, a source said.

If it does not get paid, Fortress plans to start legal proceedings, the source added. It is unclear if that could disrupt the Winter Olympics. "

In a 2002 agreement between VANOC and Intrawest, VANOC agreed to compensate Whistler-Blackcomb for revenue lost due to the Games, estimated at between $5 million to $30 million.

After Fortress failed in December to make the final payment on a $1.7-billion loan used to buy Intrawest in 2006, Fortress' lenders announced in ads in US papers in January that they will auction off equity in Intrawest on Feb. 19th, one week into the Games.

In a secret meeting on Oct. 8th 2008, the City of Vancouver took over the $1 billion price tag for financing the Athletes' Village after Fortress ceased payments on its construction. Not counting the new $885-million convention centre, the multi-billion Sea-to-Sky Highway improvements, or the new rapid transit line, Ottawa has invested at least $1.23-billion in the Games while BC has spent $765-million. Security is currently hovering around $1-billion.

Touchingly, Owelympic supporters continue to insist that all this is really about jumping and sliding really fast.


Yo, VANOC! Your trouser zipper is open!

"Your trouser zipper is open" is of course one of two examples from the "Embarrassing Situations" section of the Olympics "Business Etiquette Protocol Manual", the other one being "A button has come undone". This does not seem to be a very complete list of what to say in 'embarrassing situations' involving foreign dignitaries, and I can't see how either one would be much help in the event that, for instance, you throw up on their shoes.

At any rate, VANOC has itself wandered into open trouser zipper territory this weekend with its release of a promotional video which includes footage from Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
Leni, by the way, invented the burning stick relay for her film. VANOC felt a bit squeamish about all the Nazi salutes however so they edited them out.
Almost as peculiar is their choice of Coldplay's "Fix You" as a backing soundtrack. :
Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I will try to fix you

Um, er , "a button has come undone" ...

The Guardian : Vancouver's Olympics head for disaster

The Bailout Games have already been labelled a staggering financial disaster. While the complete costs are still unknown, the Vancouver and British Columbian governments have hinted at what's to come by cancelling 2400 surgeries, laying off 233 government employees, 800 teachers and recommending the closure of 14 schools. It might be enough to make one cynical, but luckily every inch of the city is now coated with advertisements that feature smiley people enjoying the products of the event's gracious sponsors.

Conservative estimates now speculate that the games will cost upwards of $6bn, with little chance of a return. This titanic act of fiscal malfeasance includes a security force that was originally budgeted at $175m, but has since inflated to $900m. With more than 15,000 members, it's the largest military presence seen in western Canada since the end of the second world war

... a corrupt relic of the 20th century that does little more than gut city coffers and line the pockets of developers and investors."

Actually the relevance of those Coldplay lyrics is starting to make a bit more sense now.

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