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:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Definition of leadership escapes Parliament Hill pundits

Every now and then we make an effort to clear the backlog of newspapers sitting on chairs in our office in the Baxter Building. And like prospectors panning for gold, we usually stumble across a nugget or two that makes the effort worthwhile.

This week it was a column, on the end of the latest session of Parliament, by Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail.

The piece, 'Harper's angry-man syndrome dominated Parliament', (June 18/07), at first got a cursory skim-through. Blah blah, the usual, blah blah, Stephen Harper is bad, the Conservatives are bad, if only they were more liberal everything would be good, blah blah. But as we turned the pages, a nagging something kept saying "Go back." We've learned to listen to that little voice, so back we went.

Blah blah, Stephen Harper is bad, the Conservatives are bad, blah blah. Same old...

But 'nagging something' said keep reading. So, again, we read the column. Slower, line by line.

"He took on the media, creating unnecessary frictions." Was that it?

A small, cheap shot.

Martin fails to mention he's a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery that is openly feuding with the Prime Minister. As such he's not an unbiased observer of Parliament, he's an open adversary to Stephen Harper. The Globe and Mail proudly maintains a boycott of Harper press conferences and as such must be considered biased in its coverage of Stephen Harper until proven otherwise.

Martin, more than other Globe journalists except maybe Jeffrey Simpson, has an extra reason to slag Stephen Harper.

Martin was exposed as one of the journalists (like Simpson) who got tossed an extra bone or two by the Liberals for his, uh, expertise. Records show Martin collected $2,500 in 2005, to speak to managers in the Department of Justice on "Leadership in the New Canada." and another $4000 the same year for a speech to civil servants in training.

Now, he'll say it was only a measly $6,500 in walking-around money. Sure it was in what was expected to be an election year but that little bit of change couldn't buy him off--- he's a professional, he's above bias, yesserie Bob, he's got editors, and he doesn't write in his pyjamas.

So, maybe it wasn't his Press Gallery allegiance that was calling out to us. What was it?

The column was all about how the last session of Parliament was ugly, rancourous, and mean-spirited and it was all Stephen Harper's fault. Why? Because he's angry.

'Angry' has replaced 'scary' in the lexicon of liberal pundits.

"Where does all the bitterness come from?" asked Martin, who proceeded to indulge in some crackerbarrel psychoanalysis. Harper was "apart as a youth." He had a tendency to "turn away." Sometimes he would "go dark." (Okay, we don't know what he's talking about either.)

But it's got to be bad, because, dammit, he's just not a team player.

"Governance in Canada, most experts would agree, is about consensus-building. Patience, compromise, reaching out...For him, politics is chiefly about confrontation."He gives some examples. Harper wasn't conciliatory enough to Bono, the rock star Liberals love. He actually expected members of his party to vote for the budget rather than vote to bring down the government.

"He took on the provinces, threatening legal action." Actually, Lawrence, it was the other way around, Harper challenged the provinces to sue him -- but we quibble over the facts.

And then it dawned on us.

Lawrence Martin was exhibiting the signs of Harperphobia --- a specific fear of something he hadn't seen before and couldn't understand. Something known as---a leader.

It's a strange animal almost never seen on Parliament Hill, hence the attempt to put it into the safe, familiar context of liberal mythology --- "consensus-building, compromise, reaching out---oh God, yes, reaching out."

Harper, well, he's just un-Canadian. Can you believe he once actually enrolled in the University of Toronto---Toronto, dammit---and quit, Martin chokes. How much more proof do you need?

Just look at the evidence. "The Harper idea of consensus-building was through consultations - with his own mind."

Oh, no. He thinks a matter through, weighs the pros and cons, and reaches a conclusion which he then uses to make policy. He's so sure of himself, he challenges you to challenge him, in court if necessary. Yikes, what's wrong with him? He's acting like --- a leader.

Martin even quotes Preston Manning to bolster his point.

"Stephen had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy."

In other words, he's at the top of his game with few peers as smart as him in what he does.

And that's bad, why?

Well, because, says Martin. "His heavy-handed dictatorial style reminds some (read Martin, who wrote the book on him - ed.) of Jean Chretien in his final years as prime minister." But Chretien was driven by a lack of intellectual security, says the Globe columnist, while "Mr. Harper is driven by a surfeit of it."

Translation: Harper is sure of himself and doesn't hide his confidence.

Ottawa hasn't seen the likes since --- dare we say it --- Pierre Trudeau.

But he was from Quebec, which is close to Toronto, which is good enough for pundits who have the onerous task of deciding who is "Canadian" and who is "un-Canadian."

Now the only thing out of Quebec is Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

He's a citizen of a foreign country.
He's a real man of the people (snicker)---he eats a hot dog with a knife and fork.
His wife wears the pants in the marriage---as Chatelaine magazine put it in a profile:

"She does the banking, writes the cheques, keeps the books, files the taxes and buys all of his clothes - even his underwear. ... It's comments like this that have backroom Liberals shaking their heads. Says one, "Many suspect she controls him. She reads his briefing notes. He takes her advice and brings it back to staffers. She's the one people need to go to in order to get to him."

And despite his penchant for tossing insults at Stephen Harper in every interview he gives, nobody confuses Dion with a leader. Heather Mallick, CBC's own far-left commentator (how far left do you have to go to be far left at the CBC?- ed.) gushes at Dion's ability to admit his own weakness, including this tidbit:

"Truthfulness, a certain dignity and a comfort with intelligence are actually seen as handicaps in a Karl Rove world.

But it doesn't work this way with Canadians. We are more straightforward.

Take for instance this business of "flip-flopping" being seen as a sign of weakness among American politicians. It is considered a deadly insult. But here is Diebel on Dion reconsidering his insistence a decade before on a particular clause in any constitutional deal with Quebec: "I don't agree with myself, " Dion said, and that was it. Such a thing seems fine to Canadians, who are known to change their minds over time."

"I don't agree with myself."

We couldn't make this stuff up if we tried.

This is what the Parliamentary Press Gallery is used to in Ottawa.

Whether you agree with him or not, whether you support his party or not, whether you like it or not, Stephen Harper acts and thinks like a leader.

And to Ottawa pundits---that's scary.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tales from the Leather Set: Krista loses a ring, Bandidos gain a chapter

Say it ain't so....

Shriek, The Black Rod's society reporter, tells us a certain fairytale marriage has hit the shoals.

It's a dark day indeed for all little girls still dreaming of frog princes, castle weddings and jackets of the finest black leather.

The word from the East is that the lovely and talented CBC national reporter Krista Erickson has been a social butterfly lately, sans wedding ring and definitely sans husband. The whereabouts of the aforesaid hubby, Mr. Krista Bob Morrision, are unknown at press time.

The Missus, meanwhile, was in full Krista-mode at a recent garden party given by the Speaker of the House in Ottawa, according to Frank magazine. Standing at the entrance with your camera and having your picture taken with Ministers and MPs is a smart move for a newbie trying to get one up on the pack of tired Parliamentary hacks.

Being carried around on the shoulder of Pink Scott Brison so that guests get a good look at your derriere is another way of being remembered.

But whispering naughty banter to a widowed MP is pure Frank fodder.

How we all remember brighter days, when love was in full bloom. Was it only last summer that Krista, then the host of the CBC's Winnipeg supper show, left for Scotland with her newly-divorced beau to be married at the super-swanky ultra-exclusive Skibo Castle. Madonna got married there. Ashley Judd got married there. Bill Clinton stayed there--although with whom we're not certain.

We don't even want to speculate how much the wedding cost, although we're sure it was a lot less than Madonna spent ($219,000 to rent the entire 47-room castle for her guests, $293,000 for the champagne.) If the lovebirds manage to patch things up, good for them. If they don't, we want our wedding present back.


And speaking of way back when...

The recent story about a Hells Angel gang member being stabbed on "trendy Corydon Avenue" perked our interest.

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Bruce Owen pieced together a tale based on unidentified, anonymous, suitably-mysterious "sources" who told him gang member Corey "Tiny" McInnes was stabbed at the NV nightclub, 720 Corydon Ave., early Sunday morning. His attacker, said Mr. Source, was, in turn, chased down by "gang associates" who gave him a good beating aroud Cockburn Street.

If what we're told is true, this incident may actually be more significant than it appears at first glance.

A week or two before Tiny got the blade, The Black Rod learned on good authority that---THEY'RE BAAAACK. The Bandidos motorcycle gang, to be specific.

They're back and they're 17 strong, making them bigger than the established Hells Angels. And they were entertaining what might, in hindsight, have been their sponsors, almost two dozen members of the Rock Machine.

See, we said we were going way back.

The Rock Machine was Quebec's No. 2 gang in the Nineties, homegrown and second only to Les Hells. The two units fought a turf war for years, leaving more than 150 people dead, including two prison guards and an 11-year-old boy who was killed when a car bomb exploded outside a biker hangout.

Not so long ago, 2001 to be exact, the Rock Machine flipped and joined the Bandidos Nation.

The Bandidos had a probationary chapter in Winnipeg since 2004 under the sponsorship of the Ontario Bandidos. Then came that unfortunate incident last April where eight members of the Ontario chapter were murdered. And three members of the Winnipeg chapter were charged with their murders. Messy.

Everyone thought that that was the end of the Bandidos in Ontario, and certainly in Winnipeg.

"There's three guys left out west," said Yves Lavigne, a chronicler of the Hells Angels and other gangs in Canada, last April. "If they were smart, they would burn their colours, head out to the mountains and become cowboys. Because it's a lot safer riding a horse for them than riding a Harley."

But, obviously, they didn't take his advice.

A Bandidos website noted in mid-January:
Nuevas incorporaciones a BANDIDOS NATION.
´No Surrender Crew´

We're pretty sure 'Manitomba' was a misspelling, rather than a reflection of our reputation as the Murder Capital of Canada.

The reference to the No Surrender Crew is interesting. That's the nickname the Ontario chapter went by before it was wiped out.

With their official sponsors out of the picture, the Winnipeg chapter, the rump that was left, was in limbo.

But what if a Quebec chapter of the Rock Machine filled the role of sponsor.
Presto, back in business.

The Black Rod is told the Hells Angels in Winnipeg are considered a spent force with most of its members either going into jail, just out of jail, or charged and facing jail. They can barely keep the minimum number of members on the street necessary to keep their charter.

Nature hates a vacuum, and crime hates it worse. So the Bandidos are moving in.

The midnight incident on "trendy" Corydon might have been an example of what to expect over the summer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007 Week 22

In Brief:

· As predicted, following the death of Mullah Dadullah the focus of the fighting has moved east
· The long-awaited move to retake the village of Musa Qala from Taliban insurgents has probably begun.
· Al Qaeda in Afghanistan needs money. Lots. Quickly.

Charlie don't surf and Ahmed don't swim

In a fitting metaphor for the sinking fortunes of the Taliban, about 60 insurgents drowned Friday while trying to hightail it away from allied and Afghan forces in the Kajaki district of Helmand province.

It's the latest black eye for the insurgents who only three months ago were bragging to Al-Jazeera that they controlled Helmand province and were only waiting until the snows melted before capturing Kandahar province next door.

Taliban forces are being chewed to pieces by British-led operations in Helmand. The latest, Operation Lastay Kulang, involves 2000 troops, including 1000 British and U.S. soldiers. The goal is to trap Taliban fighters north of Sangin in the Kajaki Dam region. The pell mell retreat by the 60 of the drowned rat insurgents is proof of the success of Lastay Kulang.

Allied and Afghan forces chased the group out of the Kajaki area to the Helmand river. The insurgents built a makeshift raft out of tires and wooden planks. They paddled off, watched by a military helicopter. Mid-river, the raft sank and all aboard drowned.

But it was this operation that also resulted in the biggest loss of the week to allied forces. A U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed about 9 p.m. Wednesday in the Kajaki area, killing seven.

The crew were all members of the 3rd General Aviation Support Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, and were based at Fort Bragg--Chief Warrant Officer Chris Allgaier (ALL-guy-er), of Nebraska, pilot; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rodgers of Nevada, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Charlie Bagwell, of North Carolina, mechanic and crew chief; Sgt. Jesse Blamires of Utah; Sgt. Brandon E. Hadaway, of Alabama.

The two combat photographers aboard were Master Cpl. Darrell Priede of Canada and Cpl. Mike Gilyeat of Britain.

The helicopter may have been hit by an RPG round. It had just dropped off between 30 and 40 Special Forces soldiers. The U.S. has a batallion of troops from the 82nd Airborne operating in Helmand province. It's possible this group was headed for Musa Qala, where the first reports of fighting have appeared since the Taliban overran the village in February.

On Wednesday, an airpower summary said an "Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs supported ground forces fighting enemy personnel in Musa Qala by providing escort to a coalition convoy in the area." The next day, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a guided 500 pound bomb on an enemy compound from which mortars were fired "on coalition troops in Musa Qal'eh."

It's likely the Americans have been given the task of driving the Taliban out of Musa Qala while the Brits concentrate on their prime mission of driving insurgents out of the Kajaki Dam area. NATO hopes to carve out a safety zone around the Kajaki Dam so that contractors can get to work this year on restoring and expanding electricity to 2 million people, a project the Taliban wants to stop. Officials are hoping to bring a third turbine in this summer.

In a media interview Sunday, June 3, 2007, the British Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier John Lorimer, spoke about the progress of Operation Lastay Kulang:

"To date the operation has been successful," he said. "We have managed to clear the areas that we wished to clear and we also have now engaged with the local nationals, with the tribal elders, and we're helping bring reconstruction and development."

British and Afghan forces have been fighting off harassing attacks by Taliban forces ever since driving them out of the Kajaki and Sangin Valley areas.

On Sunday Taliban militants ambushed a convoy of 24 supply trucks in Helmand, killing one driver with a roadside bomb. NATO and Afghan forces escorting the trucks fought back. A 10-hour battle complete with airstrikes killed "an estimated two dozen enemy fighters" said a coalition statement. In the south of Helmand, Harrier jets have been bombing Taliban hideouts and an insurgent trench system around the town of Garmsir. On Thursday a 500-pound bomb was dropped on fighters spotted near Kajaki Dam.

On Thursday, two F-15Es dropped 500-pound GBU-38s on an underground complex in Sangin after ground forces saw Taliban fighters enter the opening. And Royal Air Force GR-9 Harriers fired enhanced Paveway II munitions at caves being used by Taliban fighters. Secondary explosions revealed the cave was a possible ammo cache.

On the ground, NATO and Afghan troops killed 34 Taliban in gunbattles, including four commanders.

It hasn't gone totally quiet in neighbouring Kandahar province either.

Operation Hoover

1000 Canadian, Portugese, British and Afghan troops launched Operation Hoover to root out as many as 300 Taliban fighters believed holed up in villages in an area known as Nalgham near the Arghandab River. The Afghans were in the lead with NATO mentors, Canadian Leopard tanks, British air power and howitzers manned by gunners from the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery backing them up.

The two-pronged offensive also included soldiers from the 2 RCR battle group massing just north of the Arghandab River in a classic hammer and anvil manoeuvre to prevent insurgents from escaping as the armour punched south.

At dawn the first day Afghan and Canadian soldiers roused some Taliban fighters and began exchanging small-arms fire. A Canadian sniper on a rooftop killed one insurgent.

A buried bomb hit and disabled a Canadian tank.

A second IED killed 25-year-old Cpl. Matthew McCully at about 8 a.m. local time on Friday. approximately 35 kilometres west of Kandahar City in the volatile Zhari district. McCully was a signals operator from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signals Squadron. He was serving as a member of Canada's Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, which trains Afghans how to fight as organized units.

Another Canadian soldier, also one of the mentoring team, and an Afghan interpreter were wounded by the bomb.

But sometimes the bomb planters don't get away.

On Thursday three men were setting a roadside bomb in the Panjwai area when it went off in their faces. Two were killed. What was left of the third was taken away for interrogation.

Operation Hoover scored another victory Friday. A three hour gunbattle with insurgents left 20 Taliban dead.

In the two southern provinces, NATO and Afghan forces killed well over 100 insurgents in one week alone, 94 in a single day (Friday). Is it any wonder then why the Taliban have concentrated their offensive operations in eastern Afghanistan?

The worst attack was in Zabul province on Thursday. A police convoy headed to Kabul was ambushed and 16 police officers killed.

Elsewhere a terror campaign has been launched by the Taliban. In Paktia province the home of a police official was attacked; six Taliban were killed. In Khost province small bombs went off before dawn Friday outside the homes of six government officials and one interpreter working with NATO. In Ghazni province Taliban fighters attacked the local auxilliary police chief's home Saturday. They killed his wife, two sons and two nephews. Ten insurgents were killed by police who responded to the attack.

In Kumar province five rockets were launched from a mountain, striking several civilian homes and killing two women. NATO has responded with airstrikes.

And Taliban commanders appear be making special efforts to overrun Asabadad in Kumar and Forward Operating Base Orgun-E in the province of Paktika in southeastern Afghanistan, home of the 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment 10th Mountain Division and U.S. Special Forces.

Orgun-E is one of the largest of about a dozen similar bases along the eastern border with Pakistan and across southern Afghanistan. Air operations report almost daily strikes on enemy forces in both these locations in a battle for control that's gone unreported.

Allied forces, meanwhile, have counted their own successes. In Ghazni they captured a Taliban subcommander who was an expert in setting IED's and who was responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians. In Khost three insurgents were arrested Sunday in a U.S. operation against Al Qaeda. They were hiding their Taliban ID cards when scooped.

At weeks end we learned that in the eastern province of Ghazni, hundreds of other Afghan and ISAF troops unleashed Operation Maiwand - named after a troubled Kandahar district where the British were defeated by an Afghan army in 1880. Four rebels have been captured since the launch of the offensive Saturday.

And a new offensive code-named "Hadalat" (justice) was launched in Kandahar - with Afghan and Canadian troops and US Special Forces. We're looking for details.

A sure sign of the insurgency's desperation is the plea by Taliban leader Mullah Omar for an independent body to investigate and identify those responsible for civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Yes, you read that right.

The head of the Taliban said the proposed investigative body should be comprised of the representatives of the International Committee of Red Cross, independent journalists, Afghan scholars and elders. The intent, of course, is to blame U.S. and NATO for civilian deaths.

Omar's call for investigations came a day after the United Nations human rights chief, Richards Bennett, said that between 320 to 380 civilians have been killed in the first four months of this year.

This number is much higher than one offered last week by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which said about 136 civilians had been killed to date this year.

NATO said last week that 85 people, including 40 civilians, died in the first 23 days of May from improvised explosive devices, including suicide and roadside bombs. Three children were killed when an explosive device they were playing with detonated in Sangin district of Helmand province on Saturday.

Omar also forgot to mention he plans to kill an Afghan doctor and three nurses kidnapped by the Taliban unless the government hands over Mullah Dadullah's body.

And then there's these tidbits from Counterterrorism blog and Strategypage respectively:

Al-Qaida Leader in Afghanistan Begs for Cash Donations
By Evan Kohlmann
May 25, 2007
In a new As-Sahab Media Foundation video broadcast yesterday on Al-Jazeera, the declared leader of Al-Qaida's forces in Afghanistan Shaykh Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (a.k.a. "Shaykh Saeed") signals that the Taliban are suffering from a serious cash crunch. An unidentified interviewer asks, "What are the current needs of the Jihad in Afghanistan?" Whereupon, Shaykh Saeed responds:

"As for the needs of the Jihad in Afghanistan, the first of them is financial. The Mujahideen of the Taliban number in the thousands, but they lack funds. And there are hundreds wishing to carry out martyrdom-seeking operations, but they can't find the funds to equip themselves. So funding is the mainstay of Jihad. They also need personnel from their Arab brothers and their brothers from other countries in all spheres: military, scientific, informational and otherwise... And here we would like to point out that those who perform Jihad with their wealth should be certain to only send the funds to those responsible for finances and no other party, as to do otherwise leads to disunity and differences in the ranks of the Mujahideen."

Terrorist Cash Crunch Causes Change in Strategy
May 29, 2007: The Taliban announced a new strategy, which involves sending assassins and suicide bombers after government officials and foreign troops. There will be less emphasis on have large numbers of armed Taliban out and about (where they are spotted from the air, and attacked).

This new tactic was opposed by the late Taliban senior combat commander, Mullah Dadullah, as it meant giving up trying to control parts of the country. To do that, you need large numbers of armed Taliban to go out and terrorize heavily armed villages and tribal leaders. Even though the Taliban pay their gunmen twice, or more, than soldiers or policemen, the high loss rate has made recruiting difficult. Al Qaeda, which is desperate for cash, is willing to help with Taliban suicide bombing operations. The suicide bombers usually work for free, so this cost cutting measure avoids a collapse of the Taliban finances. While the alliance with the drug gangs brings in lots of cash, much of it gets diverted to friends and family of Taliban leaders. This is, after all, still Afghanistan, and that's the way things work here. Family comes first.

And finally, did he or didn't he?
Did actor Robert De Niro become the Afghanistan war's Jane Fonda?

An ex-CIA agent who helped De Niro research his movie The Good Shepherd spilled some beans at the TriBeCa Film Festival. According to New York Daily News gossip columnists Rush and Molloy:Rarely have former spooks shot from the hip like ex-CIA agents Milt Bearden and Robert Baer did during the "Spies Like Them" gabfest. In fact, festival co-founder Robert De Niro may have wished Bearden were a little more covert.

Bearden, a consultant on De Niro's "Good Shepherd," recalled introducing the director to "a bunch of KGB colonels and ex-generals" in Russia. Just to be social, De Niro joined the Russians in a sauna, where "a 9-foot-tall [masseur] with a tank tattoo" was wailing on him with wet birch branches. "He'd say to De Niro, 'Do you love me?' Bob didn't."

Later, on the northwest frontier of Pakistan, they had tea with some "fun-loving" Taliban warriors, who invited De Niro to "fire rounds from their machine gun across the valley," reminisced Bearden. "They said, 'It's not at anybody, we don't think.'"

While almost all the subsequent reports said De Niro fired the guns, that's not exactly what Bearden is quoted as having said. And De Niro, himself, doesn't mention the incident in an interview with UNCUT (UK) magazine:

Q: You went on a fact-finding journey to Afghanistan and Pakistan. What can you tell us about that?
A: That was an interesting trip! We met one of the commanders of the local Taliban. We had tea with them, and gave them $200 for a woman's school, which I know they went away and set up. It was very interesting in those tribal areas, because they're places like no other. It was all very cordial when we met them. Over tea, very friendly. They showed us how they defeated the Russians...

So, did he or didn't he?