Friday, August 3, 2012

August 3: Hang out the flags....

The Moncton Times and Transcript for today rose to mediocre - with some sections actually quite decent. The stars of the day were the editorial and op ed pages. Not a bad column in either; and all fit to appear in any decent newspaper. And the front page has a lead story that is a real story - the fishermen's protest.

The rest of section A is pretty bland stuff. It's mostly trivial and boring. But at least it's not slanted. I do wonder, though, at the continuing obsession with the rate of liquor  sales in this province. There appears to be a sense that it's a patriotic duty to get smashed. Maybe we should look around for a rum to pour on kiddie cornflakes for breakfast.

There is a great lapse in acceptable journalism on the business page of NewsToday. "U.S. orders major Enbridge review". You've heard of Enbridge, I suppose? It's a very big player in the shale gas controversy in New Brunswick. Now, the US government is hardly a world leader in environmental protection. But even it is distrubed over the repeated spillages, seemingly lax safety controls, and damage caused by Enbridge operations.

Worse, it obviously believes it is getting false reports from Enbridge because in future it wants Enbridge to hire  an independent company to supervise its safety measures and to issue official reports on them.

In brief, the U.S. government is accusinig Enbridge of being casual, to put it nicely, and, perhaps, outright lying.

So why is this on a business page that relatively few read? Given the role of Enbridge in New Brunswick (and the very gentle and even secretive response of Alward et al, and the promise of  the government and the TandT to keep us informed on the shale gas issue) this should have been front page news - and with an editorial.

Even stranger is the choice of the sub headline. "Company says safety improvements are working". In other words, don't worry folks. Trust your friends at Enbridge. That sub head is supposed to reinforce the main thrust of the story. Instead, this one  denies it. (Everything's okay, folks. No need to read this article.)

The most chilling story is "Harper pardons raise concerns"  Farmers convicted of selling wheat directly to American markets have been pardoned, personally, by Harper. Not by the parole board. By Harper alone.

Now, we can argue forever over whether they should have been found guilty or whether selling wheat over the border should have been a crime. But that's irrelevant. They did sell wheat over the border. It was a crime. And they were found guilty. That's called due process of law.

If we decide what they were convicted of is not important, or that they've suffered enough, there's a due process of law for that, too. That's what we have a parole board for. But Harper has decided against due process of law. Instead, he has granted the pardon personally - and his authority, he says, comes from an ancient right of kings called The Royal Prerogative of Mercy. In short, Mr. Harper, though just a prime minister, has decided he is above the law and has the power of the absolute monarchs of centuries ago, a power that no prime minister of Canada or Britain, has ever claimed.

What he has claimed could just as well have been called the powers of the pharoahs or of William the Conqueror or Nero, emperor of Rome. If he has such a power, then he has the power to order Canadians to prison with no charge or trial, to assassinate at will, to behead his wife (or wives), to declare war.  The whole point of develping legal systems, rights, democratic government was to put an end to royal prerogatives. This is a step that takes us back into some very dark times, indeed.

So why did he do it? After all, if an elected leader  started talking like that in most democracies, people would be sending for the boys with straitjackets. And Harper could have handled it quite as easily and quickly if he had let the parole board deal with it.

The answer given is the story is that it was simply a political trick to please those in his western base who never liked the wheat board and its control of wheat sales. Perhaps. If so, it's a dangerous precedent for future decisions - and the issue is a terribly petty one for such a dangerous precedent. But, then, Harper is a terribly petty man.

But, still, I could wish the staff at Reuters and at the TandT had the wit to ask more questions. In a casual statement, Harper has wiped out centuries of the development of law, constitutions and human rights. No. I don't mean we're immediately going back to the dark ages. I do mean he has created the precedent for it.

In our constitution, the prime minister is nothing, simply an MP who can give advice to the crown. That is the heart of our democracy. Harper has just given himself the powers of the crown. And, lucikly for him, he can get away with it because he is dealing with a very weak governor-general.

He is not evil. He is certainly power-mad. And, I think, we have to consider quite seriously whether he is, perhaps, unbalanced.

I'm overdoing it? Hey. I'm not the one who claimed to have the power of the kings of ancient times.

On p. C12, there is a Reuters story that Netanyahu is not likely to attack Iran before the US election. That is not a news story. That is what is called a commentary. It is an opinion. A news  story is about something that has happened. An opinion is of what might happen - or not - is a commentary. I wish Reuters and the news editor at the Tand T would learn the difference.

Worse, the story assumes that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. There is no evidence it is. Indeed, its facilities seem to be producing a grade of uranium suitable only for nuclear power. And that is quite legal under international law. Anyway, the question of Iran has nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

And I would guess it quite possible that Israel will opt for war before the American election, even though it seems that a majority of Israelis oppose it. Netanyahu knows that a re-elected Obama could make things difficult for him; so it would be better to act before that happens.. But he might wait - if it looks as though Romney might win.

On the whole, this edition is a triumph by the standards of the Moncton Times and Tribune. The one, really crashing, blunder is that the editors did not see the significance of the pronouncement by King Stephen. And the major errors of journalistic style and ethics are the Enbridge story and the Netanyahu story.

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