The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Call Grissom: Crocus bullet matched to smoking gun

Manitoba's Opposition leaders are wasting their breath calling for NDP Finance Minister Greg Selinger to resign and the government to call another inquiry into the Crocus scandal.

That's like asking the leaders of the Gambino Family to come clean on who killed Jimmy Hoffa. Could happen. But not likely.

They still don't understand the importance of the "smoking gun" memo leaked to Liberal leader Jon Gerrard.

If they did, they would know the only call they have to make is to the RCMP.

The Selinger Memo is clear evidence that the NDP conspired with the Crocus Investment Fund to hide the fund's liquidity problems from future investors even to the extent of letting them run a Ponzi scheme.

Three paragraphs of the memo tell the entire story: (emphasis ours)

* Crocus recently requested two very significant changes that would allow it to raise more money from Manitobans and induce investors to keep their money invested for a longer period of time...These changes are thought by Crocus to be necessary to deal with a potential liquidity problem that could arise over the next few years.

* The possibility of liquidity problems is very real, but the two requested changes may only push the problems further into the future when they could be even larger. This is because Crocus has not done what its Prospectus says it will do, which is to arrange its investment portfolio so that funds are made available through liquidation of investments to fulfill requests for redemptions.

* In effect, Crocus is requesting the ability to use money from new investors to pay off earlier investors who want to redeem, rather than using profits earned on the investment portfolio.

Using money from new investors to pay off earlier investors is the very definition of a pyramid scheme, aka Ponzi. The Black Rod was the first to call this into question in our story almost two years ago

Ever since Watergate, the defining question of every political scandal is what did they know and when did they know it.

Here is proof that on November 27, 2000, the premier of the province, Gary Doer, the finance minister, Greg Selinger, and presumably the entire NDP cabinet knew that the Crocus Fund was in trouble. They knew what Crocus wanted the NDP to do to help, and they knew how investors would be affected.

A conspiracy needs an overt act to come into being. You can talk about robbing a bank all you want, but its only when one of you buys a gun that the talk becomes a conspiracy to rob a bank.

The Selinger Memo says Crocus wanted the government to make two changes to the rules governing the Crocus fund:

(a) removing the annual selling limit. Labour-sponsored venture funds like Crocus and Ensis were limited to selling $30 million worth of shares each year. Sell more and they would have to pay a penalty of 15 percent of what they collected over $30 million.

(b) eliminating the 'cooling-off' period. Investors who got a (generous) tax credit for buying into a labour-sponsored fund had to hold their shares for 8 years before they could redeem them. They then had to wait three years, the cooling-off period, before they were eligible for another tax credit for investing in Crocus (or Ensis).

The memo states:

By requesting elimination of the annual selling limit, Crocus is seeking to use money from new investors to pay for redemptions by existing investors...
That Cabinet maintain the annual selling limit for Crocus and ENSIS at $30 million, but agree to retroactively approve sales: over the limit for one year with no conditions.

Translation: Go ahead, run the Ponzi with our blessing.

The government also eliminated the cooling-off period, as requested.

Two for two. Crocus was very grateful.

Crocus Chief Financial Officer Jane Hawkins told the 2002 annual general meeting how happy they were:

For the year ending March 1, 2002 gross sales for the Fund were $25.1 million. With this result Crocus was the market leader among labour sponsored funds in Manitoba, capturing 58% of the gross sales in our province.

Redemptions for the period were $15 million including $5.3 million that was "redeemed and reinvested" as facilitated by the elimination of the "cooling off period". Since the "cooling off period" was eliminated, approximately 20% redeemed and reinvested, 35% of shareholders redeemed, and 45% have chosen to leave their investment in the Fund.

But as predicted in the Selinger Memo, the problem only got worse.

In 2000, Crocus collected $35 million from investors (yes, $5 million over the legislated limit), and paid out $2.1 million in redemptions.

By 2001, redemptions more than doubled to $5 million. The auditors general's report says that in January of that year a senior account manager within the Industry, Economic Development and Mines department said Crocus needed to sell assets to fund redemptions or they would run into liquidity problems as early as 2002-3.

But 2002 was crunch time, as sales clocked in at $25 million and redemptions at $17.1 million. The Auditor General noted that in January, 2002, even before RRSP season, an official in the Department of Finance said the Crocus fund's "continuing requests for legislative amendments may be a sign of management issues and that an independent review of CIF's operations may be in order."

The government ignored him.

The quick fixes provided by Greg Selinger weren't working any more. Crocus had to act fast. Shareholder value was evaporating and, said the Auditor General, "funds raised from new shareholders were needed to cover redemptions."

"...(the Crocus Investment Fund) was heading for financial difficulties and non-compliance with its legislated liquidity requirements. This in turn, necessitated the Solidarity transaction."

Ahh, yes. The infamous Solidarity Fund "loan."

Crocus borrowed $10 million for two years from their counterpart, the Fond du Solidarite of Quebec, at a whopping interest rate of 10 percent. Oops, make that 20 percent when all was said and done.

Not one to hide their light under a bushel, Crocus management announced the loan as an "investment" by the Fond, which proved how well Crocus was doing.

The one thing Crocus wasn't about to do was sell assets to raise the money to pay off investors. Not even when their own prospectus (quoted in the Selinger Memo) said that's what they should do in these circumstances:

"... the Crocus prospectus states: "To the extent it is permitted, the Fund intends to arrange its investment portfolio so that funds are made available through liquidation of its investments and securities, for the fulfillment of requests for Permitted Redemptions." However, Crocus management are now advising us that the typical hold period for their investments will be ten to 14 years. This means that they do not expect to be able to sell assets in order to meet redemptions over the next few years."

We can now see why Crocus management was so reluctant to sell its investments. They had been hit hard by the market crash of 2000 and they were doing their darnest to prop up the valuations of the fund. Whether that meant, to quote the Auditor General, "the Fund's practice of investing, and providing follow-ons to maintain investment value" (read Maple Leaf Distillers), or hoping nobody would challenge the book value of an investment (the $1 million invested in the Blye Brothers movie dreams was eventually recouped at ten cents on the dollar).

If Crocus had started selling assets at fire-sale prices, the share value of the fund would have slipped faster than it already had. That would have meant more redemptions and fewer investors, which would mean still lower share value.

In other words---a death spiral.

So instead of liquidating investments, Crocus had another idea to pitch to the ever-so-helpful NDP.

From the Auditor General's report:

Over the last few years, CIF experienced liquidity issues and had revenues that were insufficient to cover operating costs. Divesting investments could be considered a key solution to liquidity issues. CIF identified the promotion and development of sub-funds whereby CIF could earn management fees and leverage public sector monies as the key solution to liquidity issues.

The Crocus Investment Fund, reeling from its own financial problems, saw the answer -- in handling other people's money.

And they had big ideas:
* The I-OVO Trans-Atlantic Growth and Accelerator Fund - to handle North American companies wanting to do business in Europe and European companies that wanted to do business in North America.
* The Institutional Superfund - a $250 million fund with money from the Civil Service Superannuation Fund, Workers Compensation Board, MPI, University pension plans, the Teachers' Retirement Allowances Fund and Civic Employees Pension Funds. Among others. CEO Sherman Kreiner personally pitched this to Gary Doer at a private meeting on November 19, 2002.
* An alternative energy fund
* A value added agriculture fund, and, of course,
* A First Nations businesses fund.

Have you noticed what's missing here?
Year after year it's the same story---Crocus has liquidity problems and management come up with one stop-gap solution after another to hide the problems and entice more investors to part with their money.

And Greg Selinger and Gary Doer pretend everything is fine.

Jon Singleton concluded the government missed all the "red flags". But the Selinger Memo puts a whole new perspective on Singleton's report.

We now know that in November, 2000, at the latest, Doer, Selinger and the rest of the NDP cabinet were aware Crocus was or soon would be bleeding money. The Memo wasn't a red flag; it was a red banner.

You would think that Gary Doer would demand a regular update on the financial health of the fund. And that the finance minister would immediately put the Crocus Fund under a microscope and dissect its every move. After all, in 2000 he wrote in his cabinet memo:

" Therefore, the Province must be concerned with both the effectiveness of the economic development role of the funds, and with the safety of the retirement savings entrusted to them by thousands of Manitobans, the majority of whom are neither wealthy nor sophisticated investors."

You would think...

But Gary Doer has told the Legislature he and everyone in his government took a hands-off approach to Crocus. See no evil. Hear no evil. Do...well, let's stop there.

The Auditor General never saw the Selinger Memo when preparing his report on the collapse of the Crocus Fund. It's obvious why. It's a cabinet document and it's radioactive. How many other cabinet documents discussing the Crocus Fund are there and what other secrets do they hide?

The NDP is sweating blood at the leak. Selinger says there's nothing new in the memo.

He's referring to this brief reference in Singleton's report:
CIF was very up front with IEDM as early as mid-2000 on the fact that they would run into liquidity problems if pacing continued to be based on 70% of gross sales...

It's a big leap from some mid-level wonk in the department of Industry being told of Crocus's financial problems, and the Minister of Finance, the Premier and the entire Cabinet learning of it.

Had Singleton known about the memo, he undoubtedly would have had more to say about government's influence in making Crocus's problems go away. As it was, Singleton's observations become even more pointed now that we know how far up the food chain Crocus's influence went.

Singleton wrote that the Department of Industry and Economic Development under the NDP had an extremely cosy relationship with the Crocus Fund.

* "IEDM advised that much of its efforts have been devoted to developing a relationship with CIF that was more positive and cooperative than it was when they first assumed responsibility for monitoring CIF in 1998.
* IEDM spoke at length about needing to develop a trusting relationship prior to assuming an effective monitoring role. As a result, IEDM advised that they were reluctant to use more intrusive actions in performing their monitoring role.
* IEDM... sees itself first and foremost as an advocate for the LSIF initiative and only secondarily as compliance monitor.
* IEDM's monitoring efforts were " inconsistent and insufficiently documented."
* (IEDM did not effectively monitor CIF's compliance and did not assess the eligibility of CIF's investments.) "As a result, ineligible investments may be inappropriately counted towards the fulfillment of the Fund's pacing requirements."

Singleton wrote that once, in mid-2001 Crocus reps outlined their vision for the next 10 to 15 years to IEDM officials, who indicated there were issues of policy and practicality that had to be addressed first.

Fuggedaboutit, said the Crocus people. The plans "had already been cleared by those in higher authority"

IEDM did not believe it worthwhile to further pursue their concerns regarding CIF's plans, wrote Singleton.

This anecdote takes on an even more sinister meaning in light of the Selinger memo.

Another time, said the Auditor General, "IEDM acknowledged that they could have intervened but chose not to, and questioned what would have been accomplished if they had intervened. IEDM noted that they are not responsible for the performance of CIF." (This last comment is almost word for word what Gary Doer says in the Legislature every day that he's asked about Crocus.)

Not responsible? Let's quote Selinger's words again.

"Therefore, the Province must be concerned with both the effectiveness of the economic development role of the funds, and with the safety of the retirement savings entrusted to them by thousands of Manitobans, the majority of whom are neither wealthy nor sophisticated investors."

Selinger will argue that he can't be guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud because he didn't profit from helping the Crocus Fund. And in that we believe him.

He did it for ideology.

Can a pyramid scheme for ideology warrant a criminal investigation?

If it does or if it doesn't, the one thing Greg Selinger can be assured of, the final verdict will be delivered by the voters of Manitoba, of whom almost 34,000 lost money in the Crocus Fund.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

War in Afghanistan 2007 Week Eight

Can you believe it? It's been one year since Canadian troops arrived in Kandahar province as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

A new rotation of soldiers is underway and Week Eight of 2007 gave the newbies a little taste of almost everything they can expect.

The week started with a bang. And a bang. And a bang. A three-vehicle collision, in other words. Except that the vehicles were armoured military vehicles.

They were moving in convoy through the streets of Kandahar City just before dawn when the accidents happened. 13 soldiers were injured, nine of them from from 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment based at CFB Gagetown, outside of Fredericton. Six were choppered to the main military hospital at Kandahar Airport so doctors could have a closer look at them. All were expected to be back on duty right soon.

And you've got to wonder how many of that unlucky 13 were in the convoy that got hit by insurgents shortly after 11 p.m. the same night. Now that would be bad luck.

Major Dale MacEachern said the convoy was near the governor's palace when hit by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. Afghan police say insurgents were attacking a checkpoint or police station in the area when the Canadians rolled into the three-way intersection, forcing the Taliban to redirect their fire. The vehicles pushed through the attack, shaking off hits by the anti-tank rockets. Nobody was hurt.

Then about half an hour later, the convoy stopped to repair damage to one of the Canadian vehicles. They got ambushed a second time, this time by small arms fire only. In the confusion, an Afghan police officer and a local beggar were shot and killed by Canadian soldiers.

The attacks were the first time Canadians have come under sustained small-arms fire inside the provincial capital itself. Until now, Taliban insurgents relied on suicide bombers or improvised explosives in Kandahar city.

It's obvious that Canadian forces, especially those new in theatre, have been told to be aggressive with anyone who ignores signals to keep away from convoys, moving or stopped. A spate of suicide bombers and the disruption of bomb plots (see our earlier Afghanistan 2007 reports) has put everyone on high alert.

Just last week a soldier new to Afghanistan wounded the driver of an Afghan army pickup truck east of Kandahar when he tried to pass a security cordon around a disabled Canadian RG-31 Nyala vehicle. The truck was peppered with a blast of 7.62-millimetre machine-gun fire from the Nyala's turret. The driver was hit in the arm and leg and showered with broken glass.Lt.-Gen. Rahmatullah Raoufi, a senior Afghan commander, said such incidents increased the strain between the allies "(But) the Canadian who shot our man must be punished according to Canadian army law."

Week Eight wasn't finished with the Canadians yet. Friday morning 10 to 15 insurgents engaged Canadian troops in a firefight near the village of Hawz-e-Madad. Several Taliban fighters were killed and one captured. Canadian forces have been dug in east of Hawz-e-Mada for weeks since the last big military operation in Kandahar province in December.

Maple Leaf in the Bullseye

Canadians in Afghanistan can be excused for feeling as if they're in the bullseye---because by all accounts they are.

Mullah Dadullah (you gotta love the name), the Taliban's operational commander in southern and eastern Afghanistan, was on Al Jazeera T.V. this week spouting the usual terrorists rhetoric, which, however, often contains nuggets of real information.

He said the Taliban had completed their "war preparations" and were ready to begin their "feared Spring Offensive (TM.)" and the attack would include all of Afghanistan, but would focus on the south, where most of the troops are British and Canadian, in order to take control of entire cities.

Murray Brewster, who is covering Afghansitan for Canadian Press, was more specific:
"For weeks U.S. commanders have been warning that extremists, most of them based in neighbouring Pakistan, were preparing to unleash a bloody offensive aimed at driving NATO out of the southern region and capturing the crown jewel of the fundamentalist movement, Kandahar city."

Dadullah's threats, said Brewster, "caused a flurry of panicked, unsubstantiated rumours in Kandahar that aid organizations and foreigners were being targeted."

"Canadian troops on the ground will readily tell you they expect to be fighting this spring and summer in Helmand province... But they will also tell you that if the battles are in Kandahar province, in Panjwaii and Zhari districts - places already paid for with Canadian blood - then NATO's war is in trouble.", Brewster concluded ominously.

Ground Zero

The British in Helmand, next door to Kandahar, spent Week Eight in almost constant combat of one form or another.

The village of Musa Qala remains in Taliban hands since insurgents overran the local police three-and-a-half weeks ago. There's been a blackout on news from the area so we can only speculate at what NATO's strategy is.

Initially they waited until they got a shot at the leader of the insurgents, then they dropped a bomb on his head. Two commanders went down in quick succession. There were reports of probing by Special Forces and that NATO troops had located themselves about 90 minutes from Musa Qala. Then---- nothing.

Are they content to leave the estimated 200 Taliban fighters alone and isolated where they can keep an eye on them, and Special Forces can pick them off if they try to leave? Are they waiting for a top Taliban commander to surface? We can only keep watching.

The Taliban overran another small village, Baqwa in Farah province next to Helmand, the third this month (after Washir last week). They drove off the district police chief and security guards, stayed barely 30 minutes, destroyed a vehicle, stole a stash of light weapons and set the district building on fire.

"At 11:30, we lost telephone and radio contact with our police in Baqwa district. According to the people of the town, our policemen escaped in different directions, and the Taliban are in the district, although not in the center for fear of bombardment." Said Baryalai Khan, the secretary to the provincial police chief.

The next day about 160 Afghan police and soldiers, backed by a 12-man US special forces team, "retook" the village. NATO officials weren't too concerned about the new takeover which one spokesman descrimed as "more drug lord-inspired than Taliban extremist-inspired."

"We know that the Taliban extremists are connected to the drug trade, but for the most part, these were thugs who did not like what the police were doing in their area, so they intimidated them and perhaps called in some Taliban allies to help them push them out of the town," he said.

A greater concern is that the police in Baqwa warned their provincial headquarters of the Taliban's approach in large numbers, but NATO failed to respond. Given the ISAF's control of the skies, the absence of an immediate retort is a significant failure which only builds the Taliban's image and plays into their propaganda.

However elsewhere in Helmand, the British were taking the battle to the insurgents.

More than 250 British soldiers, supported by Afghan artillery units for the first time, attacked and wiped out a key Taliban headquarters around the southern Afghanistan town of Garmsir which one officer called "the Taliban gateway to Helmand.

"Starting late Saturday the battle last much of Sunday as troops from Z Company, 45 Commando, cleared three compounds, while a reconnaissance force made up of I Company, Royal Marines, and C Squadron, Light Dragoons, held off Taliban reinforcements.

The three large compounds were linked by trenches and underground tunnels. British troops were surprised at how extensive the Taliban's defensive complex was, with trenches 125 feet long, three feet wide and more than six feet deep with a network of firing points and cover positions.

"The area is littered with Taliban prepared positions; it's almost like a First World War battlefield in appearance said Major Jules Wilson, who co-ordinated the operation.

NATO Casualties

One 23-year-old Royal Marine was killed last Wednesday when he stepped on a mine while on routine patrol in the Sangin district of Helmand province.

A female soldier from Spain was killed when a land mine blew up the armoured ambulance she was driving near the town of Shindand in Heart province. Two male soldiers were injured. They were in a convoy of four ambulances on their way to support an Italian team training Afghan army troops.

Spain has almost 700 soldiers based in western Afghanistan as part of the 35 000-strong Nato force there.

A U.S. soldier died in a firefight Monday in Kunar province. Sixty-six U.S. troops were killed in action in Afghanistan in 2006Three men were killed in Helmand on suspicion of being U.S. spies. Two were beheaded and the third hanged. A reporter for Al Jazeera said the hanged man was killed for carrying an ID card from the US government development agency USAid.

Taliban plans

In his interview broadcast Thursday on Al Jazeera, Mullah Dadullah said 6000 fighters have been deployed in Afghanistan awaiting the spring offensive. James Bays, the news agency reporter, was taken to a rally of insurgents arranged for him to film.

"It was somewhat unnerving standing in the desert with such a large group - over 400 Taliban fighters. They were even youngsters holding weapons. Some were no more than 12-years old while others carried their ammunition in UN food bags."

Dadullah said the Taliban will counter NATO's superiority in weaponry with a campaign of terror bombing using car bombs, motorcycle bombs and explosive vests on suicide bombers.

"Praise be to Allah, who gave us this great power of self-sacrifice, among Arabs and non-Arabs," he said. But the one armament that terrorizes the insurgents is NATO airplanes and UAV's.

Air War

Even as a Taliban commander boasted to the Al Jazeera reporter that his forces controlled Helmand province, appointing their own governor and running their own hospitals and religious schools, they raced in fear from location to location.

"The journeys are often at break-neck speed - because of the risk of Nato air strikes," wrote Bays for the Al Jazeera website.

And NATO planes were busy in Week Eight. A B-1B Lancer disrupted a Taliban ambush near Kajaki Dam, the major reconstruction project in Helmand province. F-15E Strike Eagles helped the British ground troops in Garmsir. And when troops clearing a booby-trapped bomb in Uruzgan fought off an insurgent ambush, the Taliban fighters ran into a cave to hide; a NATO jet dropped a one-ton bomb on the cave.

Suicide Bombers

There was only one report of a suicide bombing attempt in Week Eight.

As 150 people gathered at the main government hospital in the city of Khost for the ribbon-cutting opening a new emergency ward, security personnel stopped a man disguised as a doctor who was trying to get in.

He started running, and NATO troops shot him several times. One soldier literally wrestled him to the ground and held him long enough for the crowd to escape the area. The soldier broke away before the bomber detonated his explosives. Two other soldiers were injured by the explosion, which, of course, killed the bomber.

Reports of suicide bombings are usually short on detail. But this week we came across two, one in a mainsteam newspaper and the other on the internet, which gave new perspectives on earlier this month.

The first, from Tom Coghlan of the Telegraph (U.K.):

Few foreign aid agencies are prepared work in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand. Two weeks ago, a white clad figure approached the sandbagged guard post outside the compound of one agency. Very politely the man explained that he was a suicide bomber. "I have no problem with you," he told the local guards, opening his jacket to show the bomb strapped to his body. "Just let me go inside and kill the foreigners."

The nearest guard shot him in the chest and the man collapsed against the sandbags, detonating the device as he did so. Though shrapnel peppered the surrounding walls, only the bomber was killed.

The next, from the Internet, compared to the official story that ran in newspapers across the world.

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, January 18, 2007
Two Afghans thwarted a would-be suicide bomber from attacking a U.S. base in Kabul on Tuesday, according to a news release from Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan.The incident happened when a driver tried to ram a vehicle filled with explosives through the front gate of Camp Phoenix, the news release says.

Realizing this was a terrorist attack, an Afghan security officer and an interpreter on the scene were able to stop the driver from detonating the explosives, said a Task Force Phoenix spokeswoman
in the news release.

"With the assistance of the U.S. Security forces, they dragged the terrorist from the vehicle where U.S. security force soldiers then detained him," said 1st U.S. 1st Lt. Cathrin Fraker

U.S. and Afghan forces then cordoned off the area, and the bomb later went off as Explosive Ordnance Technicians tried to disarm it, the news release says.

"If it wasn't for the quick actions of the local nationals working for the U.S. Forces, several lives would have been lost," said Col. David B. Enyeart, the deputy Task Force commander.

Another side of the same story:

E-mail from afganistan 2/23/2007 Friend serving in AfganistanHi everyone.

I'm still alive but freezing my tail off. We got 8 inches of snow last week and it reached 5 degrees below zero that night. That's not why I'm e-mailing though. You may have heard about a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul last Thursday. It was at one of our FOB's (Forward Observation Bases) about 27 miles from here. But the real story is why no one was killed.

We employ several thousand Afghans on our various bases. Not to mention the economy that is fed by the money these locals are making. Some are laborers and builders, but some are skilled workers. We even have one Afghan that just became OSHA qualified, the first ever. Some are skilled HVAC workers.

Anyway, there is this one Afghan that we call Rambo. We have actually given him a couple of sets of the new ACU uniforms (the new Army digital camouflage) with the name tag RAMBO on it. His entire family was killed by the Taliban and his home was where our base currently resides. So this guy really had nowhere else to go. He has reached such a level of trust with US Forces that his job is to stand at the front gate and basically be the first security screening.

Since he can't have a weapon, he found a big red pipe. So he stands there at the front gate in his US Army ACU uniform with his red pipe. If a vehicle approaches the gate too fast or fails to stop he slams his pipe down on their hood. Then once the gate is lifted the vehicle moves on the 2nd gate where the US Army MP's are. So he's like the first line of defense.

Last Thursday at 0930 hrs a Toyota Corolla packed with explosives and some Jack Ass that thinks he has 72 Virgins waiting for him approached the gate. When he saw Rambo he must have recognized him and known the gig was up. But he needed to get to that 2nd gate to detonate and take American lives.

So he slams his foot on the gas which almost causes the metal gate to go up but mostly catches on the now broken windshield. Rambo fearlessly ran to the vehicle, reached thru the window and jerked the suicide bomber
out of the vehicle before he could detonate and commenced to putting some red pipe to his heathen ass. He detained the guy until the MP got there. The vehicle only exploded when they tried to push it off base with a robot but no one was hurt.

I'm still waiting for someone to give this guy a medal or something. Nothing less than instant US citizenship or something. A hat was passed around and a lot of money was given to him in thanks by both soldiers and civilians that are working over here.

I guess I just wanted to share this because I want people to know that it's working over here. They have tasted freedom. This makes it worth it to me.

{Name redacted for security reasons},
CPT, US Army

Yes, Rambo is a real person. You can see what he looks like at

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Black Rod Driskell Inquiry Report

We thought we knew what to expect from the Driskell Inquiry Report.

The Sophonow Inquiry blazed the trail for these modern-day Manitoba show trials. In the tried and true manner of Uncle Joe Stalin, you get the verdict first, then you bend, shape and twist the evidence at the public inquiry to fit the predetermined conclusion.
But even we couldn't predict the depths to which the Driskell Inquiry would stoop to achieve its purposes.

At its core, the Driskell Report is a chronicle of honourable men doing their best to ensure a man charged with murder gets a fair trial, while the justice system protects witnesses from intimidation and retaliation.

For their troubles, these men had to watch the Driskell Inquiry put their efforts through a perverted prism which turned the world upside down, good into bad, right into wrong, white into black.

Inquiry commissioner Patrick Lesage summed up the whole exercise in one sentence:
"Failure to disclose information to Driskell is the central issue of this Inquiry."

Since that seems rather broad, allow us to translate:

" Because the Winnipeg police and Manitoba Crown attorneys failed to give Greg Brodsky, James Driskell's lawyer, documentation that the RCMP in Saskatchewan were investigating Ray Zanidean for arson, he couldn't destroy Zanidean's credibility at Driskell's trial and couldn't keep Driskell from being convicted of the murder of Perry Harder."

Now look at the facts:

* Brodsky knew Zanidean was responsible for an arson. His client, James Driskell, told him all about it. Driskell helped Zanidean commit the arson.

* Brodsky knew Zanidean had a lawyer. He visited him, but his visit only managed to convince Zanidean even more that Driskell was trying to find him to have him killed.

*Brodsky mistakenly assumed that the lawyer was negotiating immunity for Zanidean on arson charges. He was puzzled when prosecutors ( truthfully) told him there were no outstanding charges facing Zanidean.

*When he learned that RCMP in Saskatchewan didn't have the evidence needed to file charges, he filled the gap. His client, James Driskell, would testify against Zanidean (provided he got immunity himself). To hasten the charges, he told Saskatchewan RCMP that it would look like a cover-up if they failed to charge Zanidean.

What he didn't count on was that higher-ups in the RCMP recognized what he was doing.

They could see that Driskell was an unreliable witness, having a strong motive to lie (avoiding a life sentence for murder). And that if Driskell was acquitted, all he had to do was recant his statement to police and make Zanidean an available target for retaliation. So they decided to wait until after Driskell's trial before taking any action.

From the Report:
Brodsky characterized this as "awful news", since he had hoped Driskell's statement would lead to Zanidean being investigated and charged with the Swift Current arson before the end of Driskell's trial,which would give Brodsky additional ammunition to use when attackingZanidean's credibility.

It wasn't disclosure that Brodsky needed, and wanted. It was paper.

He wanted police notes, a letter from the Crown outlining the negotiations with Zanidean, a criminal charge ---anything he could wave in the jury's face, without having to call witnesses for the defence. Which he had the power to do and which Commissioner Lesage conveniently fails to address in his final report.

You don't have to search long to see just how slender the "disclosure" reed is. To reach his conclusions, Commissioner Lesage had to take the Orwellian step of redefining the English language. We didn't see that one coming.

Lesaage: (emphasis ours)
" Although the term "immunity" was used frequently at the Inquiry,when I refer to immunity, I use it in its most generic sense, simply to mean an arrangement struck that results in a person being given favourable consideration concerning criminal conduct. "

In short, "if Zanidean wasn't charged with arson I'm blaming the Winnipeg police and Manitoba Crown attorneys and calling whatever they did 'immunity'."

Lesage obviously realized he needed some basis for ignoring evidence as strong as this:
P. 88
In his response on April 28, 1993, Quinney (the Saskatchewan director of prosecutions - ed.) confirmed that there had been no immunity discussions between Manitoba and Saskatchewan Justice, and advised that Saskatchewan Justice had never granted Zanidean immunity from prosecution.

You see, this is part and parcel of the Manitoba Inquiry model.

- You start with the conclusion that the accused was wrongfully convicted.
- Then you eliminate all the evidence against him.
- You're left having to find someone to blame. And that can only be the police and the prosecutors.
-Then you have to find a fault in the prosecution, even if you have to twist the truth to make it fit. In this case, disclosure about immunity.

You can see why Lesage had to redefine the word. Driskell's defence had all the information they needed (except on paper) and even used it at the trial. Brodsky raised the question about immunity and Zanidean's motive SEVEN times.

1. Q: What do you know about a fire in Swift Current?
A: I know about a fire in Swift Current.
Q: I'm suggesting to you, so there's no misunderstanding, that you set a fire in Swift Current.
A: Yes, I did.
Q: To collect insurance money? [ONE]
A: Not to collect insurance money.
Q: For what purpose?
A: I had a vendetta against my sister.

2. Q: And the police found out about that?
A: Yes, they did.
Q: And you're not charged?
A: Not yet.
Q: Not yet? Does it depend on how you do in court today?
A: No. What they told me was they give the Swift Current R.C.M.P. the information I give them, and that was it. Then I talked to my lawyer.
Q: You talked to your lawyer?
A: Right.
Q: About making a deal to avoid being charged in Swift Current? [ TWO ]
A: No, that's not what I said. What I did is I phoned my lawyer up and I said I've got to meet you, I got myself in a jam in Swift Current, I told the police about it. He said, 'What did the police say ?'
I said, 'The police told me that they have to contact the Swift Current R.C.M.P.'

3. Q: I'm suggesting to you that the whole purpose ofyour trying to implicate Jim Driskell in a murder is to keep yourself out of jail on the Swift Current fire; what do you say to that? [ THREE ]
A: I say that's not true. If I did it just to get myself out of jail, that's, then I did the wrong thing, because I have lost a fortune - for me it's a fortune- since this started. I've had to move out of my house; my garage got burnt; my house got broken into.

4. Q: That is, Jim knew you burnt the house down?
A: Jim was with me.
Q: That's how he knew?
A: Yeah.
Q: And he could be a witness against you?
A: Yeah.
Q: Not very much of a witness now, now that you're pointing a finger at him; would that be fair? [ FOUR ]
A: I don't know.
Q: Isn't that the reason you're testifying today? [ FIVE ]
A: I told you that wasn't the reason already, but I'll tell you again: No, that is not the reason.

5. Q: And you have no other explanation why you're not being charged with the Swift Current fire? [ SIX ]
A: The reason I haven't been charged is they have no evidence except what I told the city police. And they told the R.C.M.P.; it's a matter of getting the evidence now and charging me. That's what I'm assuming.

6. Q: That's to your advantage, isn't it?
A: No, it isn't. Because now the Swift Current police know about it, they know where I am, it's a - what I'm thinking, it's a matter of them gathering the evidence now because I think they need more than what I told the police, then they come and arrest me.
Q: Mr. Zanidean, would I not be fair in suggesting to you that you could not have a better advocate for your cause, that is, to keep you out of jail, then the Winnipeg Police; that you wanted the Winnipeg Police to help you out with the R.C.M.P. police in Swift Current? [ SEVEN ]
A: I wanted them to, but they said they couldn't.

The jury had no doubt that Driskell was claiming that the chief witness against him had a deal to testify in exchange for arson charges to disappear. They heard Brodsky make the charge SEVEN times.

And they still found Driskell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

And on the evidence that Lesage wants ignored.

He never explains in his final report that in the criminal justice system, the jury is the final trier of facts.

Jury members can believe all of what a witness says, some of what a witness says, or none of what a witness says. Obviously they believed enough of what Zanidean said to deliver a clear verdict.

Guilty of Murder.

In the Nineties, Canada and the United States were convulsed by a rash of trials of daycare operators who were accused of satanic child abuse. Dozens of people were convicted and sentenced to prison for conducting bizarre sex rituals with children in their care.

A decade later, nobody involved in these modern-day witch trials wants to talk about it. The "experts" on child behaviour, the police specializing in Satanic cults, the prosecutors who built the cases are still trying to explain what went wrong when they condemned the innocent in trial after trial.

Someday in the future, Manitoba show-trials like the Driskell Inquiry will be exposed as well.

And there won't be room enough on the prairie to corral all the shame the lawyers and the reporters who went along with the fraud will feel.

Friday, February 16, 2007

War in Afghanistan 2007 Week Seven

Three overlapping wars swept Afghanistan this week, at least two of them affecting Kandahar, the southern province where Canadian forces are stationed.

The struggle for control of Afghanistan during Week Seven of 2007 could be divided into the Ground War, the Air War, and the Poppy War.

The Ground War

Taliban forces have held the village of Musa Qala in Helmand province, next to Kandahar, for two weeks, the longest they've controlled any territory since the overthrow of their government in 2001. This week they overran Washir, another small village in a remote desert area 35 km southwest of Musa Qala. They captured 33 police officers. They fled after one day. The fate of the policemen is unknown.

In Musa Qala the Taliban knocked down a main government building with bulldozers and has spent the fortnight preparing defences for an expected assault by NATO to retake the village.

There's been some probing by Coalition forces but no full scale fighting. RAF Harriers provided close air support for troops in contact with Taliban fighters Tuesday and a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet fired a guided bomb into a cave after fleeing enemy fighters, killing about seven. An Air Force B-1 Lancer flew over the village giving what's known officially as "a show of force".

Fighting was light but not insignificant elsewhere in the country.

Kandahar, which had been the scene of heavy suicide bomber activity (see Week Six) recently, was quiet except for a rocket attack last Sunday on Kandahar Airport. Two rockets landed, and one soldier was treated when gravel was kicked up into his face. It was the first attack in a month and hasn't been repeated.

A factor in the quiet may be that February is rain month in Kandahar and its been raining steadily, making roads impassable and causing flash floods.

In Uruzgan, where Dutch soldiers are stationed, Taliban forces fought a five hour battle with NATO forces near Dutch headquarters at Tirin Kowt, losing six killed and 12 arrested. Three Afghan police were killed in the fighting. Navy F-18 Hornets provided close-air support.

Helmand province remains the cauldron of the country, and the Kajaki Dam has become the front line. The British has sent 300 soldiers to protect the dam as it is repaired and refurbished. Insurgents are determined to prevent that from happening. The governor of the province said this week that 700 Taliban fighters had infiltrated from Pakistan for the battle, including recruits from Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Chechnya.

British forces killed 11 insurgents Sunday and another 15 on Monday. But a flurry of 12 rockets on Tuesday forced work on the dam to stop. Two engineers, an American and an Australian, fled on the first helicopter out.

"The two expats had gone in to assess the facilities in Kajaki and found that the airconditioning and plumbing was not working. They came out to assess how to get those things fixed. To complicate matters, there was also a rocket attack which blew out windows from their compound." said an official with USAid, which is funding the dam project among others.

The contractor insisted on a security zone 6 km in radius around the dam before work could be restarted. About 50 Chinese engineers are expected before the end of February to begin installing a third turbine.

Eleven Taliban were killed near the village of Gereshk (which is close to Kajaki) in Helmand, during an operation by NATO forces which had been stalking a senior Taliban commander "with ties to Mullah Omar." It turns out the target was Mullah Abdul Hanan. Pakistani press accounts said the attack was based on "substantial information provided about a Taliban senior leader operating in the neighbouring province of Kandahar," information which may be immensely significant as we'll explain later.

The Air War

The coalition kept the heat on Tuesday when a Predator fired a Hellfire missile at fleeing enemy forces near Gereshk. Mullah Hanan was presumably the target again.

The Predator attack was just one of a series of air strikes against high-value targets all week. NATO has made targeted assassinations a priority in their new strategy of separating so-called Tier One Taliban, the religious fanatics motivated to kill and be killed in Jihad, from the Tier-Two fighters, locals hired or conscripted by the Jidadists.

A B-1 Lancer destroyed a building in a compound between Musa Qala and Kajaki early Wednesday morning, killing an important Taliban commander, Mullah Manan. He was the commander behind the forces holding Musa Qala and those attacking Kajaki. NATO said it had been tracking him for weeks. Manan is less of a tactical commander than a major fundraiser for the Taliban. His loss will hurt.

U.S. Special Forces also captured another commander in Khost province. He was the former chief of the vice and virtue police in the region.

The round-up and killing of Taliban commanders has spooked the insurgents. The news today is that they have killed three "spies" for allegedly tipping off American and NATO forces to where the insurgents are hiding. Moreover they don't know how much information NATO got from Taliban spokesman Mohammed Hanif who was captured in early January.What It MeansHere's where it gets interesting.

NATO appears in no hurry to clear out Musa Qala despite the immense propaganda victory the occupation is giving the Taliban.

The reason may lie in the targeted assassinations we've been seeing all week long.

Is Musa Qala being used as a honeytrap, to lure Taliban commanders into the open. Coalition forces have now killed at least three commanders in air strikes in and around Musa Qala. Each time, another commander has to be sent in to take charge, and he becomes the next target, which has to be greatly demoralizing to the insurgents.

But it gets better. And Kandahar, with its Canadian contingent, is at the very heart.Top Taliban commanders have made no bones about their plans to seize Kandahar in 2007. The plans include extensive negotiations with local tribesmen for the logistics necessary for a major battle-food and shelter for the fighters, safe houses for the commanders, ammunition dumps, and the treatment and evacuation of wounded insurgents.

And, say the reports based on discussions by sympathetic reporters in Pakistan with Taliban commanders, the battle will be led by the famed one-legged Taliban leader Mullay Dadullah himself.

Just by coincidence, the rumours are flying that Dadullah is already somewhere in Helmand province. A week ago the Globe and Mail reported that a Taliban commander reached by mobile phone in Helmand said Mullah Dadullah made the decision to break the peace deal with the British and take control of Musa Qala.

Don't forget how NATO forces around Gereshk were focussing on a major target connected to Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban. Was Dadullah the real target of the Hellfire missile?

Or is the emphasis on Kajaki Dam an attempt by Dadullah to tie down British forces and give Taliban fighters a freer hand in Kandahar in March?

And speaking of Mullay Omar, have you noticed the complete absence of Osama Bin Laden in any official commications from the Taliban lately? Dead or incapacitated?

The Poppy War

No, we didn't forget. The third war sweeping at least southern Afghanistan involves the government's plans to eradicate a large swath of poppy fields in Helmand province. One Taliban commander told a reporter that insurgents have been ordered to defend farmers whose poppy crops are threatened. Another said he's heard that Dadullah himself will lead the fight against eradication.

Is this another diversion of British forces to weaken the defences of Kandahar? Or is the loss of steady financing from drug lords behind the Taliban's decision to stand and fight the eradication teams?

The eradication campaign is a week old. Already one team has been blown up by a roadside bomb. We'll be watching how this war unfolds in the weeks to come.


For our regular readers:
The Driskell Inquiry report was released Friday.
The usual pack journalists have given their reports.
The report is 323 pages long, and The Black Rod intends to read each page, not just the summaries, conclusions and recommendations at the end. We'll have our report as soon as possible.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Anita Neville plays politics with guns, gangs and thugs

Thanks for nothing, MPI.

Citywide, car theft in Winnipeg is down 16 percent, and Manitoba Public Insurance is giving it's "immobilizer" program most of the credit.But don't go giving high fives just yet.

The cure is going to hurt more people than the disease if Barry Ward, chairman of the National Committee to Reduce Auto-Theft is right. He was a guest Tuesday on CJOB's Richard Cloutier Reports. He described the cascade effect that MPI's immobilizer program is going to have on crime in the city.

We're already seeing the first stage. According to police, Ward said, car thieves are switching from older Chryslers and GM's to newer model GM autos, SUVs and trucks. But the crime statistics show an even more disturbing picture.

Attempted auto thefts have skyrocketed. They're up 93 percent in the first six weeks of 2007.

It looks like car thieves are breaking into cars, and if they can't start them they simply move on to the next target. The result, though, is there are more victims left behind with damaged vehicles.

Ward said MPI can claim success because its achieving its goal of reducing the public health risk of car theft---there are fewer stolen cars racing down city streets which cuts the chances of serious or fatal accidents.But for every car not stolen (154 fewer this year than last), there are three attempted car thefts (441 more). And all it means to the car owners is a transfer of deductibles---from MPI to their house insurance---when a car is only vandalized and not driven away.

But it gets worse.

Ward said that eventually, the car thieves will turn their attention elsewhere---to house break-ins.

Coincidentally (or not) the number of residential break-ins has climbed almost 20 percent over the first six weeks of the year (from 250 to 299). So, more immobilizers equals more attempted car thefts and more residential break-ins.

What a deal.

That's what we get when 250 known car thieves hold the city hostage because federal and provincial politicians claim they're impotent. "What can we do?" they cry. "It's not our fault" they wail, especially at election time.

Surely the biggest crocodile tears are shed by Liberal M.P. Anita Neville. When she thought she might lose her seat in the last election, she was all for mandatory sentencing and restricting conditional sentences. Re-elected, she decided that jail was too tough on car thieves and burglars (see above.)

when a Conservative MP from Ontario referred to "Winnipeg, where crime is increasingly a problem, and where the streets are ruled by guns, gangs and thugs", Neville showed her true colours---as a cheap parochial politician.

Everyone knows the best way for a politician to get publicity is to defend your city right or wrong. At least that's the old way. If she had a clue she would know that MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton) pretty much got it right.

Winnipeg is known across the country as the murder capital of Canada. We got national headlines when police arrested six members of the Bandido's and charged them with a mass murder of Ontario gang members. We got more national headlines when three policemen were shot while executing a search warrant.

Just this month police were looking for three gang members in connection with an abduction, extortion and sexual assault with a firearm, for two men wanted for shooting at a party house that wounded five people inside (never mind the two small children upstairs!), and asked for help in identifying the gunman who shot one person at a Jamaican club (the stabbing at the scene also unsolved).

Guns, gangs and thugs, anyone?

"It is outrageous, it is misleading ... I am so angry...They are casting aspersions on Winnipeg when there is all kinds of economic outreach happening to try to attract people to the city." Neville told the Winnipeg Sun.

Well, what is Winnipeg's reputation?

A check of Winnipeg internet forums finds that people are in two camps: those that complain about the guns, gangs and thugs; and those that agree there's a problem, but say Winnipeg is no worse that any other city.

Here's a quick cross-section of viewpoints from ordinary citizens (i.e. NOT POLITICIANS) outside the city:

Nerve Magazine (Canada's Rock 'n' Roll Magazine), June 2006
Sergeant Kelly Dennison, a Winnipeg police officer, and Ryan, "a transient Winnipegger who spends much of his winters on the streets here in Vancouver," were asked how the real Winnipeg compares with the Winnipeg in a new novel, Langside.

Ryan: Stay in Osborne after dark. You cross the bridge, you're running a high risk of getting stabbed. Stay in your territory. Osborne's pretty neutral. Nobody really does shit there. Even coming back from a show at the Royal Albert Arms around there is pretty rough because you've got to go in front of Portage Place and they've got the [Indian Posse] station there.

They try to rob you or go after you with knives if you've got money or something, or if you've got booze, or if you're just drunk. They'll just roll you for whatever. Stay on the other side of the bridge after dark. Then you're clear.

From a blogger travelling across the country....

dispatches from the west volume three: rolling through the prairies
August 09,

dispatches from the west volume two: killerpeg, manitoba

I've always thought of a city's downtown core as being the place to be, where people gather on summertime patios for drinks, wander streets window-shopping, hang out in public squares or gardens, business towers stack up to the sky, that sort of thing. In this town, downtown was synonymous with crime, muggings, stabbings, nothing good. Residents steered clear of downtown, going to lengths even in the daytime to avoid a downtown bus transfer. The city's response? A marketing campaign designed to re-kindle positive associations with downtown, almost in a touristy vein - Come have a good time, DOWN TOWN! Giant posters and bus shelter ads feature bright-eyed, smiling white families and couples, having a whale of a time on their respective downtown sight-seeing vacations. It's a little bananas.

From, somebody planning to come to Winnipeg for the Grey Cup....

Tue Jul 25, 2006 2:29 pm Post subject: bc49 wrote:

I am going to offend everyone because politically correct is not what I am about. Is Winnipeg a rough town? Sure all decent sized urban areas have areas you tend to avoid after dark but Winnipeg - from what I have heard over the years - seems to have a real bad rep. Roaming gangs of ABORIGINAL youth shooting it up with newly arrived AFRICAN gangs and both will kick a WHITE persons ass for venturing in their 'hood. With the cops doing little about it. I don't know maybe someone from Regina made this stuff up but much to the dismay of Tourism Winnipeg it seems to be a well travelled rumour. I only ask cuz I am going there this November and wonder if I should bring my hired goons for night travels.

Neville knows Winnipeg's reputation.

But like a cheap politico pretends she's pretending to be angry, pimping for voter sympathy. Because that's what it's all about.

She's looking at another election and she's scared. Again.

Last time she had to carry the albatross of Adscam. This year she's running away from the Liberal Party's flirtation with the anti-Israel left during the Lebanon crisis. In a strong Jewish riding, such a thing could tip the scales and Neville knows it. So she has launched a pre-emptive strike to become the great defender of Winnipeg's honour.

Neville is nothing more than a 64-year-old scold. She's a former school trustee who never outgrew the schoolyard where she was the class tattletale. Her entire career is one long shrill whine.

Conservative MPPierre Poilievre. "He should apologize."
Conservative MP Colin Mayes, who laughed at a joke she didn't like. "He should resign immediately."
Conservative MP Brian Pallister, who considered running for leader of the Manitoba Tories. "Call in the federal ethics commissioner to investigate his expenses."

Just this morning, radio station CJOB reported on yet another shooting in the heart of Winnipeg.

Sometime overnight, a man was shot in the back of the head by a pellet gun, right in front of the University of Winnipeg.

He was bleeding profusely from the wound and left wondering what column would Neville put this incident into - guns, gangs, or thugs.

Or should he ask his assailant to apologize for ruining Neville's fantasy.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week Six

Propaganda Success

Without firing a shot at a single NATO soldier, the Taliban have achieved their biggest propaganda success in two years.

An estimated 200 insurgents have now controlled the village of Musa Qala in Helmand province for 11 days. Last year they managed to take a village here and there and "hold" it for a couple or three days before Afghan government forces could muster to head out and confront the enemy.

But 11 days and counting is an unprecedented victory being touted in Taliban propaganda everywhere in advance of the traditional Spring Offensive.

And more and more it's looking like the Taliban commanders outfoxed NATO generals badly. Is it coincidence that the takeover of Musa Qala happened just as Canadian forces were being redeployed and just before the arrival of 1000 Polish troops coming to bolster NATO forces?

Coalition forces have responded to the takeover of Musa Qala with barrages---of pamphlets.

One barrage was a pamphlet telling the Taliban to leave. Since they're on a mission to fight and die, this had no effect whatsoever. The next was a pamphlet telling the residents to leave. About 1000 people, half the village, have gone.

An air strike on a green Corolla last Sunday, one week ago, killed the Taliban commander behind the capture of Musa Qala and about 15 of his fighters. Since then --- nada.

NATO officers have promised a "strategic" assault to remove Taliban fighters. British forces are believed to be tasked with leading the attack, but they lack the tanks and armoured vehicles that the Canadians have, which means we could be on the front line again.The insurgents have had almost two weeks to prepare their defences. Can anyone spell Fallujah?

NATO generals may be hesitant to engage because they think this is a feint, designed to engage coalition forces while Taliban fighters slip into Afghanistan from Pakistan to launch the Spring Offensive. The Canadians rotating into Afghanistan won't all be in-theatre until the end of February. The Polish troops will arrive sometime this month. Putting your greenest troops in the front lines, seems a losing proposition.

What's clear as crystal is that the idea of peace deals with the Taliban has been a debacle and will not be repeated.

Brits in the thick

The British, who cast the Musa Qala peace deal, have been in the thick of fighting this week in the Kajaki district of Helmand, the province where the Brits are based.

On Monday they announced they had destroyed a Taliban base of 25 compounds, clearing the area so that repairs to the vital Kajaki Dam can finally be restarted. But just how tought it's going to be to keep the area clear was demonstrated at the end of the week. Thursday the British killed 10 Taliban, capturing a trove of weapons and ammunition. And on Friday, they killed another 11.

Poppy eradication starts

Elsewhere in Helmand, British forces are gearing up for an epic battle against drug traffickers and their Taliban allies.

A poppy eradication campaign was to begin Saturday and the Taliban announced they were throwing all their might into stopping it. The British hope to destroy 22,000 hectares of poppies, about a third of the 69,000 planted last year. In a policy of separataing "the greedy from the needy" the British are targetting the poppies along the fertile Helmand river where farmers have the option of growing other crops.

NATO's new boss

Four-star U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill took over command of NATO forces last Sunday and it looks like he's already sending a message there's a new sheriff in town. Coalition forces announced today that mortar fire from Pakistan into the eastern provinces of Afghanistan will be met with artillery. The ball is in Pakistan's court to stop the insurgents.

And there's been an intriguing shift in what NATO sees as the objectives of the Taliban offensive. For months we've heard that the insurgency will concentrate on isolating Kandahar province, where Canadian forces are stationed, before launching an attack to take the capital Kandahar City. They tried that in 2006 but were crushed and scattered. Now we've noticed that NATO officers are saying the fighting in spring and summer will be centred on Helmand province. Is this a product of new intelligence or a sign that the Taliban sees the British easier targets?

A Taliban spokesman declared they are 80 percent prepared for a bloody spring offensive and that they have 2000 suicide bombers ready to launch.

He failed to mention that the last Taliban spokesman who said almost exactly the same thing last spring is now a prisoner of the government he tried to overthrow.

Back to Terror

We may be reading too much into this, but for all the cheap talk about fighting NATO, the Taliban appears to be reverting to pure terror tactics---assassinations, booby traps, and suicide bombings.

And Kandahar was the target of most of the attacks this week

* Last Sunday gunmen on motorbikes in Kandahar City killed two--- a provincial religious council leader and the caretaker of a major shrine--- as they walked through a bazaar.

* Wednesday two private security guards were killed in Kandahar City when a parked motorcycle packed with explosives blew up as they passed.

* The same day in the Zahre district a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint as a convoy headed to Helmand passed. Three policemen were killed.

* Saturday a suicide bomber in a van attacked a convoy in Kandahar City, but blew himself up prematurely. Four more policemen were killed Friday in an ambush in Panjwayi district of Kandahar.

Even as this mayhem was going on, a "massive" development campaign has started in Panjwayi.

The Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development said this week that work has begun on 16 of an expected 50 projects. Elsewhere, four envoys of a national reconciliation program were kidnapped a week ago on their way from Uruzgan to Kandahar. Their fate is unknown.

And the Afghan government warned South Korea that the Taliban has threatened to kidnap S. Koreans working on aid projects to trade them for a top leader arrested a year ago.

This apparent switch to terror tactics may be a reflection of the difficulty the Taliban has had in recruiting new fighters and suicide bombers in the regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan.

Interviews with Taliban-supporting villagers by British newspapers have shown a frustration at losing so many young men and boys to the insurgency. Hundreds have been enticed to join the jihad, but with few returning alive, parents are growing reluctant to see their sons leave on one-way trips.

In Afghanistan, the terror tactics may be backfiring on the insurgents. Village elders are tipping off government officials about insurgent operatives. Coalition forces made a few good catches this week which promise to provide strong intelligence leads.

* Wednesday, two Al Qaeda men were among six men arrested in the eastern Nangarhar province thanks to a tip. One man was shot and killed in the raid. Coalition forces were looking for a known Al Qaeda courier known to pass correspondence for al-Qaida senior leaders. Hmmm.

*The same day, in Kandahar City, Afghan forces arrested eight men who confessed to killing police and several religious clerics.

* And Thursday, village elders lead Afghan and U.S. forces to two terrorists in Paktika province who acted as facilitators for foreign fighers and suicide bombers in Paktika and neighbouring Khost province.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Another missing piece of Driskell Inquiry puzzle; TV news and notes; Delacourt squashes rumour

The federal Department of Justice has been showing a lot of interest in The Black Rod this past week, and we're pretty sure it has to do with the final report of the Driskell Inquiry.

The Black Rod is the only news outlet that hasn't joined the media circus in glorifying the stacked "inquiry" into the alleged miscarriage of justice in the conviction of James Driskell for the murder of Perry Dean Harder.

We've carried stories from the Inquiry that you haven't read anywhere else, ranging from how defence lawyer Greg Brodsky interfered with the prosecution to how the Winnipeg Free Press fabricated a quote for their front page to "sex up" a particular story.

Today we'll present another piece of the story that's being ignored by the mainstream media. Let us introduce you to Ashif Madatili Kara.

Kara was a witness for the prosecution at Driskell's trial for murder in June, 1991. On the stand he testified that Winnipeg City detectives threatened him, intimidated him, wrote up a phony statement and forced him to sign it without reading it. He also testified that in a private conversation James Driskell told him he was furious at Dean Harder for "ratting on him."

"I want to get even with that guy. I'm going to kill him."

That's interesting.

Logic would say that police who were trying to railroad Driskell, would coerce a witness into saying he heard Driskell make a death threat.

Yet this witness says police coerced him into saying a lot of things, but not Driskell's threat to kill Harder.

That, he said, was the truth. He repudiated his signed statement yet still confirmed that Driskell threatened to kill the very man who wound up dead in a shallow, unmarked grave.

And his testimony corroborated the evidence of Ray Zanidean, the chief witness against Driskell and the person the commission counsel most wants to discredit.

Imagine that.

The only parts of his statement that Kara recanted were those implicating himself and his brother in a plot to kill Harder. In his statement he says Driskell asked him to help drug Harder to make it easier to kill him and asked his brother to lure Harder to a location where he would be killed.

But you won't read about Kara in the final report of the Driskell Inquiry because HE WASN'T CALLED AS A WITNESS and his existance wasn;'t even acknowldged.

The inquiry was intent on painting Zanidean as a liar and didn't dare call someone who would support Zanidean's trial testimony. Needless to say they DIDN'T CALL Ray Zanidean to give evidence either.

It's so much easier to call someone a liar when they aren't allowed to defend themselves.


Thursday, Global National finally got around to doing a story about plans to restrict oil sands development in Alberta.

It's only been a week since Liberal M.P. Mark Holland declared on talk radio that the Liberals intended to force limits on oil sands development, and oil companies better go along or "there will be consequences."

Only that wasn't Global's story.

No, Global reporter Francis Silvaggio did an entire piece on how the oil sands are threatened by----the Conservatives.

Yes, with the Liberals in full damage control mode and with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmack calling a news conference Monday just to address Holland's statements, Global did a whole story about the oil sands without a single Liberal in it.

Kevin Newman introed: "Under growing pressure to react to the growing proof of climate change, the Harper government is weighing tougher measures that many in Alberta's oil patch worry could mean an end to the oil boom."

Francis Silvaggio said Prime Minister Stephen Harper "appeared to single out Alberta's oil and gas industry." Silvaggio ran a clip from a speech by Harper at the Canadian Club about regulating greenhouse gases and commented: "Combine that with recent statements by Opposition leaders calling for increased controls on Alberta's resource industry, you can understand why Alberta's premier is getting a little ticked off."

Those Opposition leaders went unnamed and unclipped.


Susan Delacourt covers Parliament for the Toronto Star and she wants to put an end to persistent rumours that her husband worked for former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Delacourt's husband has never worked for Paul Martin. He and current Prime Minister Stephen Harper were once employed by the same think tank.

We would like to join her in putting a stake through the heart of this rumour, and anyone coming across this post while researching the rumour should leave knowing once and for all --- IT'S A MYTH.


is how deep the influence of the Parliamentary Press Gallery extends into the Liberal Party of Canada.

Here's how Susan Delacourt's colleague and fellow PPG member Chantal Hebert puts it in today's newspaper; (emphasis ours)

Ideological compass still eludes Liberal Party
by Chantal Hebert
OTTAWA (Feb 9, 2007)
No one would ever accuse Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's research team of lacking the journalistic instinct to dig into a story.
After all, some of the best former elements of the Parliamentary press gallery make up the group that lays the groundwork for the official opposition's daily onslaught on the Conservative government these days.


CTV Winnipeg finally woke up and realized that former anchor Janet Stewart may take more than a few loyal viewers with her to CBC News at Six.

Glossy ad spots extolling the CTV team approach to news and featuring residual anchor Gord Leclair and his new co-host Marilee Caruso are all over the station's broadcasts, as CBC sets to roll out their hourling format on February 19th and duel head to head with the longtime ratings leader.

Stewart has done well in her new post, replacing the scowly looks of her days beside Leclair with a new 'do, softer lighting and a more relaxed attitude.

One thing that is inescapable is the negative chemistry (if there is such a term) between her and CBC sportsfella Mike Beauregard. Viewers of the last 7 minutes of the newscasts have noticed that when Stewart tries to do the happy-chat style banter thing with him, she is often left floundering to find a way to gracefully exit the interaction. It's like Mike is the dry-witted guest who overstayed his welcome at the party two hours ago and won't take the hint.

Even though Janet finds a way to manouever around the dreadful live hits of some of the reporters she is saddled with, there is no escaping Beauregard's tired old act -- because he's sitting right beside her.

So realizing that something was missing from the ambiance of the newscast and faced with an extra 30 minutes to fill, CBC honchos pretended to conduct extensive auditions to add another on-camera face, before surprising everyone and no one, with the resurrection of 24 Hours original Murray Parker as local weather specialist.

Parker, 70, retired from CBC years before the newsroom even had computers, so hopefully he will remember to leave his chalk at home, and that global warming is the cause of any and all -40 windchills.