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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Maich misrepresents Power Corp critics

Macleans columnist Steve Maich rants against Fox News and right-wing blogs for suggesting "a vast pro-Iraqi conspiracy reaching to the heart of corporate and political power in Canada," specifically Maurice Strong and Power Corp. He complains that we -- for although un-named, The Shotgun was among the places this topic discussed -- found a "labyrinthian web of corruption that could form the backbone of a John le Carré novel." But, Maich adds, "just like a good novel, it's mostly fiction." What Maich ignores is that most of the right-wing blogs merely noted the connections and called for greater official and media scrutiny which is what Maich himself is suggesting when he says that Strong should answer questions about what knew and when he knew it (which is what we bloggers called for) and that we wait for Paul Volker's official findings.

Posted by Paul Tuns on May 24, 2005 in Media | Permalink


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Tracked on 2005-05-26 11:54:49 AM


Wow, it almost makes talk of a Liberal media conspiracy to sound just as ridiculous as a right wing conspiracy.
Sounds like Maich took on the challenge of applying more media scrutiny and alleviated those righty tighty fears. I think his point is that what a waste of time it is dispelling conspiracy theories that people make up for a good story without all the facts.
I guess we could all sleep tonight if it weren't for the vast and unstoppable liberal media conspiracy. Trust no one.

Posted by: Winston | 2005-05-25 6:27:25 AM

If Maich states that 'it is mostly fiction', this is a conclusion not a call for scrutiny, and is as much without evidence as any common conspiracy allegation.

The right wing blogs have not provided conspiracy tales but have instead provided tables, names, dates and financial data. This is not fiction but fact. Such facts are evidence of activity whose agenda is not for the formal public purpose (such as oil-for-food) but for criminal purposes (private gain). To define such conclusions as 'fiction' is insisting that the facts be denied and the Other Fiction (the formal oil-for-food)be accepted.

I'd suggest that it is Maich who is authoring fiction.

Posted by: ET | 2005-05-25 6:29:26 AM

Maich just took those dates and financial information and arranged them in chronological order and disproved the conspiracy theory. It didn't sound very difficult to do once you stop making wild assumptions.

Posted by: Winston | 2005-05-25 6:56:28 AM

Winston- we are not talking about conspiracy theores, i.e., fiction. We are talking about facts.
The Maich article is superficial, filled primarily with perjorative adjectives rather than facts. That's not an empirical analysis.
Putting something in chronological order has no relevance, for what Maich is leaving out of his list is the agreements, the agendas, the activities that go on behind the public board meetings. As I'm sure you know, a great deal of decision-making is done in this manner.

You'll want some empirical data. (I hope). Take a look at Kevin Steel's March 14, 2005 article in the Western Standard on the system...and the PowerCorp connection.
Kevin Steel - March 05/05. Western Standard.
Mark Steyn. Feb 14/05. Western Standard.

Then, you'll see what's going on.

Posted by: ET | 2005-05-25 7:24:15 AM

The Kevin Steel, Mark Steyn pieces are the exact kind of labyrinthian web of corruption Maich is talking about. You can connect dots all day, but if you don't connect them in order then you don't get a fuzzy bunny, but a mess of angry scribles that don't mean anything.

Posted by: Winston | 2005-05-25 7:52:31 AM

Mark Steyn?! chuckle...snort...

Posted by: A Hermit | 2005-05-25 8:03:27 AM

Winston - linearity isn't a sign of validity. Whether you refer to temporal or spatial linearity, such direct links are not a sign of validity, nor do they reveal the true nature of a system. That's only valid in mechanical systems, and NO living system is mechanical. NO living system operates in a linear fashion. OK?

A complex network is non-linear. It doesn't function within connections that are 'ordered', are linked via abstract temporal linearity. It is complex and it is REAL, it's REAL.

All living systems, and that includes human societies, are complex. That means that they function as networks with connections that are not ordered, are not linear, but are multileveled, mix up temporality (I'm sure you don't want a lecture of the nature of time); mix up spatial zones. That's the only way complexity works. That's why living systems are not machines.

So- Steel's and Steyn's complex networks are valid. Your search for 'ordered links' is an attempt to reduce this complexity to a mechanical linearity. That won't work. Life isn't like that. Machines are.

Posted by: ET | 2005-05-25 9:31:45 AM

ET. True life and systems are complex, but you can't make it more complex then it is to suit and idea. If certain individuals weren't in positions of power and companies didn't own other companies at the right time (when contracts were issued) then you can't link individuals to scandals that were never there in the first place.
Confusing, but my point is that it isn't a matter of getting your hand caught in the cookie jar if the cookie jar never existed when you had the opportunity. They have an alibi.

Posted by: Winston | 2005-05-25 10:29:52 AM

I find it scandalous that so many people in high government positions, including Prime Ministers, either worked for or were associates of Paul Desmarais Senior at one time or another. This is not conspiracy... it's fact. Desmarais broke no laws by associating with or placing key people in government, but it did give him, potentially, influence far beyond anything that should ever be tolerated in a democracy. The American Left goes all screechie over Haliburton and Cheney, yet the links connecting Cheney and Haliburton to the Oval Office are virtually nothing when compared to the connections Desmarais has to the PMO. Anyone who believes in Democracy should be concerned, even if no law has been broken. Confict of interest threats, on the otherhand, have their stamp all over this issue. Stating emphatically that Desmarais has control of the PMO is conspiracy theory, at this point; but stating that he has great ties to the PMO is not, because the facts bare it out.

For some fun, check out www.mediaright.ca

Posted by: PM | 2005-05-25 10:59:54 AM

A few of Maich's key points are either misleading or wrong. For example:

"Between 1991 and 1997, Total attempted to negotiate a deal to develop some of Iraq's oil fields, in accordance with UN sanctions, but no agreement was reached and the talks were ultimately abandoned."

Wrong. Yes, Total company officials were in Baghdad in 1997 to sign deals, and yes, these were never completed. But the talks were ongoing and in fact Total intended to press its case for developing Iraqi oilfields even after the American invasion. See http://www.brookings.edu/dybdocroot/fp/cusf/analysis/marcel.pdf

"However, Total has been careful not to tie its fate too closely to Paris's. It relies on its own commercial relations in Iraq and turns to diplomatic support only when it judges such support useful and available. As long as France does not participate in the coalition operations in Iraq, Paris will have little influence over the occupying administration to support Total's bid. Despite suggestions that France's opposition to the American invasion of Iraq would adversely affect its oil interests, the company's chief executive Thierry Desmarest indicated that they would press their claim for oil contracts in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq on the grounds of their commercial merit."

Also see this July 2000 World Oil article (which I've linked here before)
"Johnson's argument was motivated by TotalFina Elf's Patrick Rambaud, who suggested that the sanctions were keeping Iraq from increasing its production capacity in a manner that could hamper economic growth. TotalFina Elf is one of the companies expected to play a key role in rebuilding and developing the Iraqi oil industry when sanctions are repealed."

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2005-05-25 1:26:08 PM

Maich (somewhat misleading): "Power used to own a small stake in Paribas, which it sold in 1998."

Sold it to Paribas, it appears. BNP Paribas held a 20 per cent stake in Pargesa, the Swiss subsidiary of Power Corp, beyond the year 2000, the result of some kind of share swap, it seems. Anyway, “small stake” is very ambiguous. To quote from Dave Greber’s (largely laudatory) 1987 biography of Paul Desmarais, Rising to Power:

“So Desmarais also learned and applied the notion that 50.1 percent voting power is absolute control, but in the modern world of corporate capitalism, where corporations might have thousands of small shareholders, it’s possible that the owner of a relatively tiny percentage of voting stock has effective control, as long as that person is the largest single shareholder. Economists, securities commissions and business theorists differ wildly when defining the breaking point, so any expert and any number could be quoted; the reality is though, that there are companies like Bell Canada and American Telegraph and Telephone whose controlling shareholders own less than one percent of voting stock.”

At any rate, the company records show they were definitely entwined beyond the bank merger. (Coincidentally, in 2000 after the bank merger, the United Nations started granting Iraq all kinds of exemptions to the sanctions and business at the bank really started to pick up--a little fuel for the conspiracy buffs.) As for that pre-merger "small stake" in Paribas, Maich appears to be minimizing here. Desmarais invested in Pargesa--a Swiss shell company--just before the French under Mitterand nationalized Paribas. The French lost control of the Swiss branch of Paribas to Pargesa--where all the big money went during the nationalization. It caused a scandal in France but it was all done within the law, though some considered it ethically shaky, done with insider information. Desmarais was one of four big beneficiaries of the switcheroo. And when the French re-privatized the bank in the late eighties, Desmarais was one of those in control.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2005-05-25 1:41:40 PM

Maich: "Shortly after the BNP takeover, Paul Desmarais stepped down from the company's board."

Maich is the first person to write that the BNP/Paribas merger was "a takeover." It's splitting hairs, I suppose, but I might read this as torque (methinks the lady doth protest too much) implying oil-for-food BNP swallowed weeny-teeny Paribas, which Desmarais only had a "small stake" in. It was a merger. As for stepping down, yes, Desmarais was pulling back from direct involvement in all his business affairs, gradually handing control over to his sons, Paul Jr. and Andre. And neither of them took his seat on the board, as Paul Jr. did on the board of Total. But Pargesa and BNP Paribas remained intertwined and Michel Francois-Poncet (d. 2005, age 71) was simultaneously on the board of Power Corp, the board of Total Oil, the president of BNP Paribas, and the vice-president of Pargesa (at least until 2003). Also, John Rae in 2000 was on the board of BNP Paribas Canada, though I don't know how long he held that seat. I don't think it's indulging in conspiracy theory to suggest that businesses that share personnel might also share common interests.

At any rate, the main thrust of the criticism that I read before writing the WS cover story was not that Power Corp was a "key beneficiary of the whole affair" as Maich states. (I do know of one person who thinks that, but he's a party of one.) Largely, the criticism had implied that Power Corp influenced Canadian foreign policy to their advantage, keeping Canada out of the Anglo-American alliance in Iraq because a Saddam WITH sanctions would definitely do business with BNP Paribas, a Saddam WITHOUT sanctions would probably do business with Total, but no Saddam would make things a bit more difficult.

Posted by: Kevin Steel | 2005-05-25 2:02:47 PM

You know of what you speak, Winston does not, maybe he cannot read and gets all his information from the MSM. Follow Kevin's links Winston and do some homework. You might be surprised!
If you can't read, just wait for the'oil for food' scandle to unravel on T.V. You can then claim with truth that you are "shocked"

Posted by: Jema54 | 2005-05-25 3:15:54 PM

Thanks, Kevin.

Posted by: Tony | 2005-05-25 6:58:41 PM

Winston as in "Winston Smith" is applying the rhetoric of doublespeak to try (vainly) tell us that the facts are not facts. Up is down, etc.

Posted by: capt joe | 2005-05-26 2:01:26 PM

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