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:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dying on the NDP's altar of political correctness

When 58-year-old James Duane was run down and killed by a car thief he became the latest blood sacrifice to the NDP's gods of Political Correctness.

Do you think that's too extreme? Then keep reading.

This week the Winnipeg Free Press broke the taboo on the governing principle of the NDP's social policy. They spoke the unspeakable: that native-run Child and Family services put children at risk because their chief policy is politically correct family reunification and NOT the safety of their wards.

That overarching philosophy has meant that children seized from their parents are put in the care of often unqualified staff and into the homes of often unqualified fostering relatives. And the NDP has turned a blind eye.

The Free Press and other mainstream media outlets in the city are still refusing to report that a similar race-based philosophy rules the NDP's auto theft policy.

Everyone knows by now that the vast majority of car thefts are done by about 150 chronic repeat thieves. But it's apparent that the NDP refuses to do anything about the thieves other than hire more and more police officers to babysit them.

What nobody wants to say is that the NDP won't touch the repeat car thieves because most of them are aboriginal, and the NDP recoils at being seen as incarcerating aboriginals.

They have made a calculated decision that they can weather the political fallout of people being killed and injured by these car thieves, easier than angering a key political constituency.

In 2000, when six people were killed by car thieves, the NDP could legitimately say "We're new in office. Give us a chance."
In 2004, when two people were killed by car thieves, the NDP could legitimately say "We're passing new laws. Give them a chance."
But by 2007, with car theft raging and the repeat car thieves undeterred, the NDP were flat out of excuses. Except one.

"Don't blame us. Blame Ottawa. It's their fault."

The Manitoba NDP didn't make revamping the Youth Justice Act a priority when the Liberals were in power.

And they certainly didn't say a single bad word about their colleagues in Ottawa when NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin boasted that the NDP and Liberals joined forces to keep the idea of deterrence out of the Act, thereby limiting the sentencing options of judges.

General deterrence is "of no value" and was "consciously" excised from the new youth justice act, Comartin told the Toronto Star last year.

The Manitoba NDP are now engaged in a massive charade of pretending that all would be well if only the federal law was changed.

And the mainstream press is letting them get them get away with it -- by not reporting that the NDP in Manitoba has all the power it needs to take the repeat car thieves off the streets under exclusively provincial legislation.

The Child and Family Services Act empowers the government to act in loco parentis if a child is at risk ( ) and every accident involving a stolen car involves a (usually underage) car thief.

Instead, the press refuses to hold the NDP accountable for their failure.

When a jogger was almost killed on Wellington Crescent, the press engaged in an orgy of handwringing and lamentations of "How could this happen?"

When Rachelle Leost was killed on Inkster Boulevard, the press engaged in an orgy of handwringing and lamentations of "How could this happen?"

When James Duane was killed on McGregor Street, everyone knew the script by heart. Handwringing followed by lamentations.

Not one reporter confronted Manitoba Justice Minister Dave Chomiak over the government's feeble attempt at deflecting attention to Ottawa. Or over his own failure as a cabinet minister.

For "Six Months" Chomiak is the epitomy of failure in the NDP government.

As Health Minister he undertook to eliminate hallway medicine in six months. How did that work out?

Citizens soon learned that, under the NDP, hallway medicine was cadillac treatment. On Chomiak's watch we saw people dying on waiting lists and in hospital emergency wards.

Now they don't even make it to the ERs. They're dying in the streets.

And Chomiak's response? "Not my fault."

Former Justice Minister Gord Macintosh must have bequeathed his freqent flyer card to Chomiak, because Dave "Dr. Death" Chomiak plans another trip to Ottawa in the fall, his second of the year, to lobby for tougher laws against car thieves.

Macintosh went to Ottawa six, or eight, or ten times during his stint as Justice Minister to lobby for tougher laws. How did that work out?

Chomiak claims he wants the law changed to make auto theft an offence of its own.

When Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle presented Bill C-343, a private members bill on auto theft, earlier this year to do just that as part of a package to toughen sentences for repeat offenders, Chomiak didn't rush to support it. We searched high and low for the news release from Chomiak endorsing the bill, but we still can't find it.

And Chomiak didn't utter a peep as NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin dismissed Bill C-343 and declared auto theft was primarily committed by organized crime gangs which the bill didn't address.

We searched high and low for Chomiak's angry letter to Comartin setting him straight about the causes of auto theft in Manitoba, but we can't find that either.

The Manitoba press should be demanding Chomiak's resignation today, tomorrow, the day after, and every day until he's replaced by someone who is willing to put public safety ahead of political correctness.

Remember that when your father, your mother or your child is the next to be sacrificed on the NDP's pc altar.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007: The Defining Battles

The battle of Panjwai was the defining battle in Afghanistan in 2006. NATO was taking over security and reconstruction missions from the U.S. and the Taliban saw this as a heaven-sent opportunity.

As luck would have it, the Canadians would be the lead country in Kandahar province, the virtual heart of Taliban country. The insurgents couldn't believe their luck. They expected to impose heavy casualties on the under-rated Canadians, breaking their will to fight and forcing them to abandon the NATO mission. This would cause a split in NATO and the eventual withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.

Instead, the Canadians stood their ground, took the fight to the insurgents and drove them out of the Panjwai district in a humiliating public retreat. The victory, which still hasn't been given the recognition it deserves in Canada, destroyed any illusions the Taliban might have had that they could defeat NATO in open battle for territory.

The defining battle in 2007 is being fought by the British in Helmand province. It is the battle for Kajaki Dam.

Kajaki Dam is nothing less than the largest reconstruction project the West has planned for Afghanistan.

Successfully completed, it will bring electricity to two million people, taking them on a great leap forward from a fourteenth century lifestyle into the twentieth century.

But its shaping up to be a modern-day equivalent to the epic Labours of Hercules.

- First the British have to clear Taliban fighters out of the valley where the Kajaki Dam is located.

- Then they have to build a new road up the valley from the main road that links the major cities of Afghanistan (it's like the Trans-Canada Highway only circular) to the dam.

- Then they need to drive two 12-tonne transformers and a 26-tonne turbine into the mountains.

- Then they need to provide security for the work crews while they install the new equipment.

- After that, they have to build a transmission line which will eventually stretch 118 miles from the dam to Kandahar City.

It's hoped electricity from Kajaki's repaired turbine can be flowing by early 2008. But the Taliban understand that the Kajaki Dam project will be the turning point in the Afghanistan insurgency, and they're doing everything they can to stop it.

This spring the British began a series of rotating offensives centred on the Kajaki Dam project. They drove Taliban fighters out of the Kajaki valley. They drove them out of Sangin, a village at the other end of the valley, and where British forces had been under a virtual siege most of last year. Starting Tuesday, they've started an offensive to drive the Taliban out of the Gereshk district which is where the existing dirt road meets with the main ring road.

Time is not on the side of the British. To achieve the goal of electricity by 2008, they have to start work on the road to Kajaki Dam within a month.

Taliban fighters continue to harass British troops and create instability to deter work crews. NATO forces are playing whack-a-mole with the insurgents who show up almost daily to lob mortars at British forces. U.S. and NATO aircraft are continually on the lookout for these Taliban forces and bomb them into oblivion whenever they catch them. But they've kept coming.

Still, the British have only to look to neighbouring Kandahar province to see what the fruits of victory look like.

The Panjwai district, a war zone last year, is universally seen as a relatively peaceful area now. Residents who fled the fighting have returned, the markets are open and a variety of aid projects are underway.

The Taliban concentrate their attacks on ambushes, roadside bombs, rockets (two a week, according to Thursday's National Post), and suicide bombers.

IEDs, the roadside bombs, have killed 19 Canadian soldiers in the last three months. The Canadian military has issued a $1.8 million contract to two B.C. based companies to adapt the police technique of geographic profiling for use in Afghanistan.

Developed by former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, geographic profiling in combat is being used in Iraq. "Quite successfully," said Major Dave Waller, a project director with Defence Research and Development Canada, the military's research arm.

If there's one black mark in Kandahar, it's still the footdragging of CIDA, the agency that's supposed to be financing most of Canada's reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. CIDA has transported its stultifying bureaucracy to Afghanistan to the point where Canada's reconstruction effort currently consists of endless meetings, consultations, discussions, planning, and announcements. Everyone knows it; nobody wants to admit it.


So where does the Afghanistan mission stand after a year and a half of NATO involvement?

The Education War is won.

As we wrote in The Black Rod in the very first War in Afghanistan piece, ,
education was always the Taliban's weak link.

Mainstream reporters periodically write or broadcast stories about the Taliban's attacks on schools, teachers and students. They paint a picture of chaos in the education system as a result of these assaults. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Yes, insurgents are burning schools, killing teachers and threatening parents who send their children, especially their daughters, to school. They occasionally murder schoolgirls in cold blood to intimidate villagers.

But they've ultimately failed.

What the MSM stories always leave out is that Afghan parents are defying the Taliban by the millions. They are sending their children to school even at the risk of death. The Taliban cannot stop it and cannot co-opt it. A generation of literate Afghans is being created, one which will never accept the medieval lifestyle of the fundamentalists.

The Electricity War has started

As we said, this will be the tipping point. If the British and their allies can bring this to a successful conclusion in the next year or even two, the insurgents will not be able to recover. What inducements can they offer two million people who will have power to their houses, electric lights, irrigation for their fields, satellite TV, radios, everything we take for granted, but which is only a dream to the Afghans.

The Opium War

This is where the mission will end successfully or falter. International forces will eventually have to join with the central Afghan government in a full-scale eradication of the poppy fields.

The drug lords provide the Taliban with fighters and the bulk of their financing in exchange for protection of the poppy fields and help during harvest.

The Taliban wiped out the opium trade when they were in power, and the world did not come to an end in Afghanistan. It can happen again. And if the Taliban is to be defeated it has to happen.

The seeds have been laid.

Roads are being built to cut the time to markets from days to hours. Electricity will bring irrigation for land which can now grow poppies and little else. The poppy farmers won't want to shift to alternate crops. That's not the point. Farmers in Canada would grow marijuana if they could without too much hassle from the authorities.

To defeat the Taliban, the opium trade will have to be destroyed to starve the insurgency of its main source of funding.

Done successfully, Afghanistan can foresee itself as the Israel of the East. It will be a sovereign country surrounded by other countries (Pakistan, Iran) which will work to keep it weak and subservient. It will likely have to fight a low level insurgency for decades. But, like Israel, it can thrive, providing its citizens a better life with each generation.


Well, we said the sands are shifting almost daily in Afghanistan.

Since Sunday, U.S. forces have been fighting in the Musa Qala district. More than 160 insurgents are said to have been killed, including 50 on Thursday in a 12-hour battle.

Is this the long-awaited push to retake Musa Qala?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007: Assessing the first six months part 2

The sands are shifting so rapidly in Afghanistan we can hardly keep up. We've had to combine the latest developments into our six-month overview of 2007.

Afghanistan is abuzz at a report on a private TV channel that rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has declared a ceasefire. A statement, purportedly signed by Hekmatyar, was read out on TV and circulated in Kabul. We've found versions of the statement quoted in news stories, but the most thorough was in a story from Agence France Press

""Hezb-e-Islami members have refrained from killing brothers (fellow Afghans) and the destruction of the country and have resumed political activities," the statement read.

The group "has come to the conclusion that with fighting one can neither build a government nor a country. We have experienced this in the past 20 years of war," it said.

However, it called on the "Americans and British" -- a reference to a 37-member NATO force and separate US-led coalition -- to withdraw from Afghanistan as the Soviets did after their 1979-1989 occupation of the country.

"This is for us to start working together for establishing an Islamic government through political struggles," it said.

The authenticity of the statement read over the phone to AFP by a national security council official could not be independently confirmed.

A spokesman who has acted for Hekmatyar in the past denied the statement was authentic. But giving it validity was the news from the Afghan Ministry of Defence that only a week ago 30 fighters, aligned with Hekmatyar's faction Hezb-i Islami, "had laid down their weapons and agreed to cooperate with the government." The fighters come from the Tagab Valley of Kapisa province, a region about 60 kilometers (45 miles) north of the capital, Kabul.

Hekmatyar was an on-again, off-again ally of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but in recent months he had condemned attacks on civilians, especially schools and hospitals, which are often the targets of Taliban insurgents. Early in the year he disrupted plans for a Taliban spring offensive by announcing he was dropping out of the coaliton of insurgent groups that were supposed to lead a general uprising of tribes and return the Taliban to power.

If, indeed, he's stepped away from outright insurgency against the government, then it's because he's concluded who's winning and its not his former allies.

The second seismic tremor to alter the Afghan political landscape was a report on Radio Free Europe of a Taliban pamphlet in Helmand province that criticizes Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and his leadership council for surrendering command of insurgent groups to non-Afghan commanders.

The pamphlet says the council supposedly met in Quetta, Pakistan, and decided to put Al Qaeda fighters in charge of Taliban operations.

"We criticize the decision of Mullah Mohammed Omar," said a copy obtained by a tribal elder who read its contents to a reporter from RFE. "They want to appoint Uzbek or Chechens instead of a Taliban commander. And Mullah Muhammed Omar, you should know that Pashtuns never want to be slaves. We will not accept a Chechen or Uzbek commander."

A Taliban spokesman in Pakistan claimed the pamphlet was a part of a disinformation campaign by the Americans. If so, it's brilliant. If not, it means a big division in Taliban ranks, especially in the South where Canadian and British troops are stationed.

And if bad news comes in threes, here No. 3 for the Taliban, who are on their way to becoming the Palistinians of the East in their penchant to never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan in 2001, had by last year rebuilt their training grounds in the tribal regions of Pakistan. They made a deal with the Pakistani government that if they paid lip service to an agreement not to launch attacks into Afghanistan, the government would turn a blind eye to their activities and leave them alone.

But they couldn't leave well enough alone. Some factions kept trying to extend hardcore fundamentalist sharia law into Pakistani villages. When the leaders of the pro-Taliban, pro-Al Qaeda Red Mosque tried to do the same in the capital of Islamabad, the government drew a line.

They eventually raided the mosque, sparking in turn a suicide bomb campaign of retaliation which has killed more than 100 people so far. But the Taliban in the tribal regions decided they would go even further. They renounced the deal with the government.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Now, according to the Washington Post, Pakistan has plans for an offensive.

"There will now be a full-scale military action against Taliban hideouts in the entire tribal areas," a Pakistani brigadier general told the Washington Post.Nobody could be happier about this than the U.S. which has complained to Pakistan about the sanctuary the Taliban enjoyed.

According to the Asia Times in June, Pakistan had given NATO permission to press hot-pursuit operations into Pakistan. You can bet the boundaries of action have been extended even more.

Whew. That was just this past week.

And that's doesn't even include the arrest in Quetta, Pakistan, of four of Mullah Oman's senior aides by Pakistani security forces.


Those arrested included two men responsible for Mullah Omar's letters and communications - Mullah Jahangir and Mullah Mohid. The other pair were said to be Mullah Nazir, who was the Taliban commander in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, and Mullah Tahir, the former Taliban commander of Kabul.

Remember, this was supposed to be the Taliban Year of Decision when they drove foreign troops out of Afghanistan, overthrew the central government and returned to power. Instead, their leaders were killed or arrested, their spring offensive was pre-empted, and they were driven out of important valleys in Helmand province where they had held sway even after 2001.

The only victory they are left to hope for is to get one of the NATO allies to quit. They tried kidnapping French, Italian and German aid workers. They collected huge ransoms and the French pulled out their 200 special forces, although that's not thought to be related to the kidnappings. They're trying now to intimidate South Korea to withdraw its 200 troops. We'll have to see how that turns out.

The Taliban insurgency has admitted it can't outfight the U.S. and NATO forces and they've switched their efforts to ambushes, suicide bombings and roadside bombs to create instability.

The international forces have bolstered their troop strenght by 9000, including 1200 Polish troops, half of them special forces, who are based in eastern Afghanistan. The Polish Battle Group took responsibility for the security of several areas in the eastern Afghan provinces of Ghazni and Paktika in late May.

Three hundred Australian soldiers have been bolstering Dutch troops in Uruzgan province. In June hundreds of Taliban fought a five-day battle against the 3000 Dutch troops and Afghan militia around the town of Tarin Kowt. The Dutch proved tough soldiers and beat them back. But overall the Dutch task force stated strategy has been to avoid direct confrontation with the Taliban. That's allowed them to use Uruzgan as a sanctuary where they can go to recuperate and prepare future operations in neighboring Helmand and Kandahar provinces against the British and Canadians.

The Aussies will provide the backbone in Uruzgan. Their stated mission is to go after take the fight directly to the Taliban.

The Afghan national army continues to grow as a major threat to the insurgents. Afghanistan plans an army of 70,000 by 2009 (two years behind the initial schedule.) At the end of 2006, the ANA stood at 30,000 soldiers and has now grown to about 35,000 with 10,000 in training. International forces from around the world are training recruits-the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, New Zealand, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia, Turkey and, now, India.

Because ANA soldiers, NCO's and officers are trained separately by different nations they have to prove they can work as a unit. That's what Canada's training detachment does.

This spring ANA units began taking the lead on operations at the corps level. They still fight with NATO and U.S. mentoring units and NATO combat support-artillery, engineers, communications and medical and logistics services. And they lack the modern weapons, body armour, and armoured vehicles of the NATO forces. But they've proven themselves brave, often fool-hardy, fighters in battle.

Critics love to point out that desertions are high and the re-enlistment rate for the first 3-year enlistees is only 35 percent (or 42 percent, the number varies by news source) instead of the 50 percent expected. What they fail to mention is that Taliban forces are often mercenaries hired for one battle or a single mortar attack, so the growth of the ANA, however slowly, is already turning the tide in the field.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has said he expects Afghan security forces will be gradually taking control of parts of Afghanistan in the spring of 2008.

The weak link in the security infrastructure continues to be the Afghan police. Nobody has much good to say about them. They steal from the citizens, extort money and goods and generally scare regualar Afghanis. On the other hand, they are suffering the most casualties of any of the government security forces. In a three month period this spring, more than 100 police officers were killed in ambushes and attacks.

Police checkpoints are being thrown up wherever ISAF forces move into an area, to restrict the movement of the insurgents. The Taliban have made the police special targets because they can often overrun stations manned by lightly armed and unmotivated police officers.

In a conference call this week with bloggers who cover military matters, U.S. Army Col. Raymond Bouchard, a senior advisor to the Afghan police, said new, better armed rapid-response units of Afghan police have been trained and will soon be deployed to counter such Taliban attacks.

Taliban Success Story

The single success the Taliban can claim unequivocally is the capture of Musa Qala, a village of 14,000 people in north Helmand province. They took control of Musa Qala in February and have held it ever since. The Taliban has set up sharia courts to enforce fundamentalist Islamic behaviour.

Residents of Musa Qala have said that TV sets and cassettes dangle from trees to remind villagers not to play music or watch television even in their own homes. Four men were hanged as spies in late June and their bodies left hanging for days to intimidate the villagers. The Taliban have imposed heavy taxes on the villagers which they must either pay or pay in kind by joining the insurgents.

"We could take the district in less than 24 hours, but we fear that non-combatants could be affected," General Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghanistan's Ministry of Defence said.

But residents of Musa Qala pleaded with the central government and NATO in the spring to retake the village regardless of the risk to civilians. They said they were willing to die in air strikes if the Taliban could be driven out.

Tomorrow: The Defining battle of 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Lazy Free Press reporting delivers predictable "solutions" for Magnus morass

The Winnipeg Free Press discovered Magnus Avenue this week, and there wasn't even a millionaire to be found.

After a relatively good story by James Turner on Saturday about the problems plaguing Magnus, the city beat heavyweights-- Bartley Kives and Mary Agnes Welch joined by Carol Sanders---combined to offer solutions.

Here's one. You guessed it---the perennial favourite.

"Tackle Poverty Head-on"

Mary Agnes Welch went to the biggest enabler in the city, Wayne Helgason, director of the Social Planning Council for his opinion. More government intervention in everything, he said. The words 'personal responsibility' never crossed his lips.

Those words are like garlic to vampires to people in the poverty industry.

In New Zealand there are virtually no beggars and no homelessness, said Helgason.

Uh, Wayne, the problem on Magnus Avenue isn't homeless people, it's the creepy people in the problem homes.

"Don't Tolerate Derelict Houses" was another solution.

Bartley Kives went to the expert on derelict houses, Rip Van Lazarenko, the hapless city councillor for the area. His answer? More housing inspectors.

In a word: WRONG.

The answer is more bulldozers and more graders.

If Kives had bothered to watch CKY news, which also discovered Magnus Avenue this week (will wonders never cease), he would know that the Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw which Lazarenko clings to is completely toothless. The city CANNOT shut down any building because of all the loopholes in the law.

There's a backlog of more than 500 houses already declared derelict but which can't be torn down. We don't need more inspectors to put more houses on the list.

Kives could have learned that from his other interviewee, Point Douglas Councillor Mike Pagtakhan.Yes, the same Mike Pagtakhan who chairs the city's housing committee which oversees the useless Vacant and Derelict Buildings Bylaw. Oh, Pagtakhan told CKY he's going to look into the bylaw. Yes, he's on the case.

Going to the people who have failed for answers is a pointless exercise.

Solution No. 3 from Carol Sanders was "Banish the Sleaze".
Well, duh.

Shut the crack houses, move the prostitutes out and give the kids something to do to keep them out of trouble. That's novel.

A founder of the William Whyte Residents Association complained the police simply swept crime into her neighbourhood when they launched Operation Clean Sweep in the Spence Area. Why didn't the police simply follow the crime north, they asked.

Instead, Police Chief Jack Ewatski disbanded Clean Sweep. Pure genius.

What word never appears in Sanders' story?
Clue: it starts with G and rhymes with 'bangs.'

In fact, the entire page about Magnus Avenue never mentions 'gangs'.

"Get More Kids Playing" was the final solution.

Yeah, if the gangs let them.

Somehow, the reporters forgot what the children of the north end keep telling people like the Governor-General. Kids are intimidated by gang members, sometimes even into "joining" the gang. Recreation venues can (inadvertently) act as recruitment centres, seeing as how the gangs have the run of the neighborhoods.

The Free Press can get a little credit for even recognizing that Magnus Avenue exists. But Sunday's story was just about as lazy as you can get. Not a single new idea.

No discussion about driving out the enablers with their free condoms and free coffee.

No suggestions on how to squeeze absentee landlords out of business.

No mention of the key ideas of the residents that Turner even included in his story the day before.

Here's another idea.

When a house is ravaged by a fire, its declared uninhabitable and its owned by an absentee landlord, tear it down immediately. Pay the landlord the value of the house -- which is zero the day after the fire.

Okay, cough up a token one dollar.

The landlord still owns the land, which is where the only value is. Now give him a month to tell council what he's going to build on it, or declare it abandoned.

The reporters could have collected a sheaf of ideas if they had actually talked to anyone who lives on Magnus Avenue.

And Harry Lazarenko doesn't count. He didn't think there was a problem until the murders literally started creeping up to his doorstep.

How can you write about poverty and not talk to a single poor person living on Magnus? You might have learned that they're less worried about their income than about the stray bullets and aggressive prostitutes in the area. Instead, the FP talked to somebody who claims to speak on behalf of the poor. Who elected him?

How can you write about the derelict housing without talking to anyone who lives next to one of the 18 derelict houses identified for demolition?

Or to somebody at City Hall as to why the bylaw to remove these houses doesn't work, has never worked, and will never work in its present form.

How can you talk about recreation without talking to any children, or any of their parents?

How can you write about a street that's had four murders in less than two years without talking to a policeman? Or better yet, one of the shooting survivors.

We bet they have a few ideas of what's wrong on Magnus and how to solve it.

It's not too late to do the story again. And do it right.

Right, Bob Cox?


Operation Light Dusting, as we're calling the cut-rate version of Operation Clean Sweep that Mayor Sam Katz has given the North End, has been in operation for one week. And, just maybe, people are sensing a difference. Here's one example of a Magnus Avenue resident emboldened to fight back.

Early in this past week a car thief was racing up and around Magnus Avenue in a stolen van, until he smashed it into a garage. A man in the neighbourhood chased the car thief, and chased him, and chased him, and chased him right up to Main Street where he caught up with him. He then hauled the thief almost a mile to the North End community police station at Main and Aberdeen Avenue.

That's where the sad part of the story begins.

When he produced the car thief to the police officer manning the station, what do you think he was told?

Was it "Good job. Thank you. I'll take over now. I'll slap the cuffs on this punk and get a cruiser to take him to jail. And another one to drive you home."

Ha ha ha. Yeeeeaaaah, that'll be the day.

It was more of what we've come to expect from the police "service."

"What do you expect me to do?" said the cop at the "community" police station.

Have we heard that one before?

The cop whined that there was no place to hold the car thief in the building. All he could do, he said, was put him in the back of the cruiser parked outside.

Oh, how tough it is to sit in a community police station all day and have to deal with citizens who catch criminals and BRING THEM TO YOU.

Still, it's one punk who learned the people of Magnus are willing to stand up and fight to retake their neighbourhood.

All they want is some help from the mayor and the police. But as ususal, there was no sign of a cop on Magnus when the car thief went into the garage, or when the citizen chased him for blocks, or when he caught him.

24 extra police, claimed the Mayor.

And every one of them MIA.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

What is it with usually rational people who refuse to see the obvious?

Mayor Sam Katz had hardly finished announcing a beefed-up police presence in the William Whyte district when the usual knee-jerk pundits were elbowing each other out of the way in their rush to pronounce the initiative a foregone failure.

"This is smoke and mirrors, folks," sniffed the leader of the pack, Lindor Reynolds, Winnipeg Free Press columnist.

"a band-aid to a wounded North End neighbourhood", derided her colleague, Mike McIntyre.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Operation Clean Sweep, the precursor of Sam Katz's cut-rate North End Initiative aka Operation Light Dusting, was a huge success, the only successful crime-fighting program that anyone can name that did what citizens wanted done.

Community and business spokesmen were unanimous in praising Clean Sweep for making their community visibly safer following its October, 2005 launch.

The 2005 annual report of the Winnipeg Police Service trumpeted the number of arrests made, charges laid and weapons seized during Operation Clean Sweep. Even the far-left Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reluctantly conceded in a State of the Inner City Report: 2006 that:

"In Spence neighbourhood, problems of safety and security are, according to most of those we interviewed, less serious now than a few years ago. This may be attributable to the revitalization of the community being led by the Spence Neighbourhood Association, or it may be attributable to Operation Clean Sweep. Many (but by no means all) of those we interviewed in Spence say they like Clean Sweep because people causing problems in Spence are now less visible, and the police are more visible."

Then some "genius" decided that a program that obviously worked should be dismantled and the previous program that didn't work should be reinstated.

So Operation Clean Sweep was quietly wound down against the wishes of the residents of the West End where its effect was most felt.

Predictably, to quote the 2005 police annual report, "criminal activity spiked as soon as the task force was scaled back at the beginning of 2006."

"Maggie Friesen, president of the Spence Neighbourhood Association, said gang and illegal drug activity is on the upswing once again."

Lindor Reynolds and Mike McIntyre confuse this rebound with the effectiveness of Clean Sweep and the model of zero-tolerance policing.

And they reach into their knee-jerk bag for the all-too-predictable rejoinder.

"Katz needs to start taking a look at the root causes of crime in this city," lectures Reynolds.

Ah, yes. And the rootiest of root causes? Poverty.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Poverty is not a root cause of crime.
There's nothing about being poor that leads people into a life of lawbreaking.

* When Manitoba Public Insurance talks about the best measure to cut auto theft, they don't say raise welfare rates, they say incarcerate the 200 repeat car thieves.

* When Redwood Bridge was closed for repairs, the residents of East Kildonan didn't suddenly become richer, but they did notice the crime rate went down.

* When a group of girls from Norquay School wrote the Governor General pleading for help to clean up their neighbourhood, they didn't ask for better paying jobs for their mommies and daddies. They asked for better police protection.

What's obvious even to children escapes the knee-jerk pundits.

The root cause of crime is criminals.
And the root cause of criminals is a lack of morality.

They haven't been taught right from wrong by their parents, their church or their schools. Or else they were taught and they just don't care.

They don't join gangs to raise money to pay the rent. They don't steal cars to drive their single mothers to work in the morning. They don't sell drugs to raise money for university tuition.

They do it for fun. That's what the pundits can't say.

Because they're too politically correct to admit that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong.

In their world, wrong is such a judgmental term and being judgmental is, well, wrong. In their world, you must be inclusive. And inclusive means accepting all behaviour no matter how repellant. And that means you have to find an excuse for that behavior. Poverty is a good one-size-fits-all excuse.

The pundits never write about the enablers of crime.

The "harm reduction" bodies that go around giving drug addicts free needles so they don't have to share --needles which wind upon the streets where children play and in yards where they threaten decent citizens with infection.

Or the "caring" groups that hand out free condoms to prostitutes to protect them from AIDs, without caring that the used condoms are strewn about in residential areas threating children and decent citizens with the very same infection.

Or the Christian groups that deliver hot coffee and sandwiches to prostitutes on Magnus Avenue and other residential areas so that the "sex-trade workers" can take a break from engaging in sex in public view and enjoy a little pick-me-up, so to speak.

After having all those people catering to them, is it any wonder the drug addicts and street prostitutes develop a sense of entitlement and resent the attitude of homeowners who want them gone?

That's what the police are fighting even as they fight the criminals. Yet the pundits were the first to criticize the police during Operation Clean Sweep for being "too aggressive" in stopping people for questioning.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

When you shine a light on cockroaches, they scurry for their dark holes. Criminals aren't afraid of judges. Or social activists. Or even newspaper reporters.

They are afraid of police.

The city spends a lot of money maintaining sidewalks and street lighting, so people who walk down back lanes should expect to be stopped.

People with jobs or who go to school aren't usually found walking the street at 3 a.m. People on the street at pub-closing time are not breaking the law, but they should expect to be stopped.

People can legally wear the clothes they want, but if you're wearing gang bandanas or Support the Hells Angels t-shirts, you're demonstrating that you identify with the values of these groups, and you should expect to be stopped.

If you're on parole, on probation, or on the street with a criminal record, you've demonstrated a propensity to commit crimes, and you should expect to be stopped. Quit whining. You should have thought of that before you decided on breaking the law.

It's not rocket science. It's common sense, even if the knee-jerk pundits can't see it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Andy, we hardly knew ye

Even though he dominated every photo-op this side of Michaelle Jean, the mystery that was Free Press publisher Andy Ritchie will remain a mystery. That is because he no longer remains as publisher, which is no mystery.

In a thunderclap of a memo from Chairman Ron Stern, WFP newsers were told late Tuesday that Andrew Ritchie had taken the high jump, er, would be "pursuing other interests".

Editor Bob Cox, the broadsheet's Robin to Andy's Batman, will fill-in as publisher until the third publisher in three years is hired.

FP staff was told that management "will also continue to implement improvements based on the employee surveys that you filled out earlier this year."

Left unsaid was that the main improvement sought by the demoralized rank and file was the removal of Mr. Andrew Ritchie from the masthead.

Even worse for Ritchie was his own standing with Free Press managers, whose survey skewered his leadership and vision and drove him to pledge allegiance to the memory of Carrie Nation.

He will be remembered as the Publisher who took news off the front page, ignored the rampant mangling of the English language in print, ran a malodorous smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz, and allowed fabricated quotes -- the most egregious sin of journalism.

He also took the Free Press online but the net effect was to alienate readers, by hiding news they wanted to read behind firewalls and hiding apologies and corrections on their web page to keep them out of print.

He tried to turn editors and reporters into bloggers because that sounded cool, but Ritchie found out that nobody wanted to do more work for the same pay and they had nothing important to say anyway.

Gordon Sinclair at least had the integrity to quit his blog before embarassing himself any further, but Bob Cox promised readers "the inside story", although he could only manage to blog on the future of the paragraph and a lame defence of his new city editor's last innacurate story from Ottawa.

Now that he moves into Andy Ritchie's vacant office ( did he leave his putter behind?- ed.), will subscribers notice any change for the better, or will they find out the hard way that Cox the acting Publisher is as disappointing as Cox the Editor turned out to be?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The NDP shellgame to get re-elected

With every passing week, another layer of the onion is peeled away and we see how the NDP conned its way into reelection.

This week it was the revelation from the citizens of Magnus Avenue that the NDP's Safe Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is next to useless for anything other than an election prop for Justice Minister Dave "Six Months" Chomiak.

Before that, it was the concession by MPI that the NDP's auto theft laws have been a complete failure and the only solution MPI has left is to blame car owners for lettting thieves steal their cars. So they are making immobilizers mandatory.

Premier Gary Doer said in a debate in May that he "would consider" the idea -- but the next time mandatory immobilizers was ever mentioned by anybody connected to the government, was on the last day of June when it was already fait accompli, weeks after the House had adjourned.

Gary Doer never mentioned forcing immobilizers on the public either during the election campaign, or in the legislature where he could have been grilled.

And before that, we learned that NDP Health Minister Theresa Oswald flat-out lied when she told concerned voters in St. James that there was no possibility the Grace Hospital emergency ward would be closed in the summertime - after the election.

We now know that every time she spoke, she knew there was every chance the ER would close because they had no doctors to fill the shifts.

Reporters attending Magnus Murder No.4 this past week duly noted that it happened outside a "known crack house."

In fact, it was the exact "known crack house" where Magnus Murder No. 3 happened in March.

How could a "known crack house" still be open four months later?

Don't we have tough new legislation to shut places like this down? Didn't the NDP boast throughout the election campaign of the law they brought in? Didn't they claim it had already shut down 200 crack houses, booze cans and whorehouses?

Well, it turns out that, as Police spokesman Kelly Dennison says after every murder on Magnus,

- just because every homeowner on the block knows it's a crack house, and
- just because every kid on the block knows it's a crackhouse, and
- just because there's crack needles strewn around the street, and
- just because there's a steady string of crack addicts coming to the house to buy a fix,

doesn't mean the police can do a thing about it.

They need "proof."

Now the Act says (section 6.1) that a court can make a community safety order if it is satisfied that
(a) activities have been occurring on or near the property that give rise to a reasonable inference that it is being habitually used for a specified use; and
(b) the community or neighbourhood is adversely affected by the activities.

The police, either through experience or supposition, say the burden of proof generally means they have to get inside the crackhouse to get the evidence they need.

So they don't bother.

Okay, they don't say the last part, but its implied.

And even if they did get enough evidence to convince a judge that the known crack house was adversely affecting the neighbourhood, the judge can apply section 6.2.(c) to shut it down and keep it closed "for up to 90 days."

By their claim they've shut down 200 nuisance houses. The NDP wants you to believe these places have been cleared of prostitutes and drugs and late-night drinking that plagued their neighbourhoods. Because there is a provision that the court can give and just order the province to take possession of the house. And the NDP wants you to believe that's what happened every time.

But did it? Or were these 200 places shut down for "up to 90 days", then reopened for business as usual?

Note also that the NDP can only claim 200 nuisance houses shut since the law was proclaimed in 2002. That's less than one a week.

Mayor Sam Katz says he has a list of 250 houses that should be shut down. At the going rate, it will take until 2012 to clear the backlog to 2007. That still might be better progress than Manitoba will make on car theft.

In 2004, then Justice Minister Gord Macintosh declared that the number of auto thefts was "unacceptable". He announced some anti-theft measure that have been long-lost in the ether for their uselessness.

MPI now intends to force every owner of a target car, and everyone knows this will eventually mean every car owner in the province, to install an immobilizer.

The intent is to get the car theft numbers down to the "unacceptable" level of 2004. MPI knows, the police know, and every citizen of Manitoba knows the problem won't be solved until the government starts locking up habitual car thieves for long periods of time. But the NDP refuses to use the provincial legislation they control to go after car thieves, so they will continue to attack law-abiding motorists and make them the enemy.

It may only be a matter of time before the NDP starts attacking another enemy - sick people.

Because if they keep coming to hospital emergency wards, they will make the government look very, very bad.

1. "Fix for ER doctors gets richer" reads one headline.

2. "More $$ for ER docs," reads another.

3. "The shortage of ER doctors in the four community hospitals in Winnipeg alone has grown to 14 full-time jobs today from 4.5 in the summer of 2003," states one story.

4. "In Winnipeg's four community hospitals---Victoria, Grace, Seven Oaks and Concordia-the system is currently working short almost 14 full-time emergency room doctor," states another.

5. "Grace Hospital emergency is currently operating with only one physician during day and night shifts. By June there will be the equivalent of three full-time emergency physicians on staff. Ideally, there should be nine," reads one story.

6. "The Grace ER was facing being short six of the nine full-time doctors it is supposed to have on July 1, and many in Winnipeg's western neighbourhoods feared their hospital ER was going to close," reads another.

Numbers 1, 3 and 5 were written IN 2006.

Numbers 2, 4 and 6 were written last month.

After one full year, with an election in between, NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

Faced with an emergency room crisis, the NDP did what they always do---throw money at a temporary band-aid solution until the next crisis.

What made 2007 worse is that Oswald lied throughout the election campaign about the status of Grace Hospital.

It was only AFTER the election that the province re-opened a contract with ER doctors and offered them a truckload of more money if they would work shifts through the summer.

Dr. Brian Postl, CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, revealed that there were 100 shifts in July and August at Grace Hospital alone which were unstaffed until the new deal.

100 shifts. That works out to 33 days when there would have been no doctor in the ER at Grace Hospital.

Theresa Oswald knew this when she campaigned and deliberately kept voters in the dark until after she was re-elected.

And like the NDP's auto theft policies, the new ER deal will only take hospital emergency rooms to unacceptable levels of staffing. Only one doctor per shift can be guaranteed.

That's a virtual prescription for ambulance re-directions, doctor overload, and unacceptable wait times for ill patients.

"There is nothing more important to us than getting the health care we need," said Oswald the day the new agreement was announced.

Well, nothing except getting re-elected, of course.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mayor Sam Katz gets the message

Winnipeg street gangs sent a message to Mayor Sam Katz last night.

Message to the Mayor:
"You're A Punk!"

Police had barely left the scene on Magnus Avenue where a man was shot to death outside a known crack house, when another man was gunned down in a drive-by shooting--one short block away.

It couldn't have been more brazen. Without the slightest concern for an increased police presence in the area, the gunmen shot the man in broad daylight within sight of the police tape at the earlier murder scene.

It's funny what a public bitchslapping can do. This afternoon the Mayor shook off his torpor and announced a "no tolerance" policy on crime and disorder in the Magnus area. Qu'elle surprise.

"Mini-Rudy" Sam Katz has been studiously ignoring the mayhem on Magnus Avenue. Three murders along a four-block stretch of one street weren't enough to catch his attention. Neither did the year-long wave of arsons and drive-by shootings and firebombings.

Instead Katz has been pontificating about how he's going to clean up crime by following the example of New York's legendary mayor Rudy Guilliani. Look, look, he brays at every opportunity, I introduced Crimestat.

Crimestat (def.) --a map on the Internet with red dots where cars were stolen and people were killed.

The gangs on Magnus Avenue showed on Thursday what they think about Crimestat---and Katz.

Sam Katz has confused his huckster's gift of gab with true leadership.

When confronted with his failure to address the pleas of the decent residents of Magnus Avenue for help, Katz has launched into a series of retorts.

There was the shuck and jive:
"Hey, I grew up in the North End. You don't have to tell me about the problem."

When that got lame, he switched to a game of Pretend.
"Hey, I believe in being proactive. I'm not going to wait until something bad happens."

When the bad happened and it became clear he was all talk and no action, there was always his last resort.
"The Mayor is on holiday. He knows of your concerns. He has a list but it can't be done overnight."

Which isn't true.

When Phil Haiart, the son of a doctor, was killed in October, 2005, by a stray bullet fired in a gang shootout in the West End, Katz acted virtually overnight. Within 10 days Katz and his sidekick former Police Chief Jack Ewatski rushed to the TV cameras to announce Operation Clean Sweep. They had cobbled together 40 police officers from who-knows-where to launch a round-the-clock patrol of the shooting area.

Within weeks residents were applauding the success of Operation Clean Sweep. Then, without warning, Operation Clean Sweep disappeared.

Friday we learned what happened.
The police blinked.

They caved to the complaints that police were too aggressive. While the law-abiding decent residents of the area were cheering the police, the " community groups" who always put the "rights" of criminals first, were complaining. People on parole, on probation, on house arrest were tired of being recognized and questioned. So the police stopped and sold out the honest homeowners and residents and oh yes, the youth at risk too...

Welcome to Jack Ewatski's legacy as police chief.

Oh, Katz claimed for months that Clean Sweep still existed. In fact, he said, it's now permanent. The only problem is that nobody could ever say where Operation Clean Sweep was. Because it had morphed into the Gang Unit or the Street Crimes Unit or whatever they're calling it today.

The last sighting of Sam Katz's Operation Clean Sweep Part 2 was Wednesday, the day before the shootings on Magnus Avenue, when the Street Crimes Unit descended on a house on Arnold Street to seize---wait for it----45 marijuana plants.

Wow, don't you feel safer already?

The Street Crimes Unit was still questioning the plants when one man was murdered on Magnus and another was shot in an attempted murder.

Before that the Street Crimes Unit spent weeks on surveillance of high school girls, uh, make that potential drug dealers, at a school in Southwest Winnipeg.

Whew, a tough job but somebody's got to do it.

The only place the Street Crimes Unit never turns up is on Magnus Avenue unless its after the fact, after the murders, after the firebombings, after the drive-bys.

Oh, wait, Mayor Sam says the Street Crimes Unit has been spending half their time in the area. Yeah, right.

Tell that to the residents of the area who have been pleading with the Mayor, with their city councillor, with anybody -- to send police. They haven't seen hide nor hair of this alleged intensive police presence.

If the SCU has been there what have they been doing? Lurking in the back lanes? Hiding behind telephone poles?

Note to street crime unit: the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the gang members use the front street because you never see a cop on Magnus Avenue between Main and Powers.

So now, says Katz, there will be an additional 12 police cruisers assigned to District 3. And they'll be assigned to clamp down on the public disorder that's making the Magnus area unliveable.

Before the words were out of his mouth, acting Police Chief Menno Zacharias already started the backtracking. The extra police would be available--- if they weren't needed to answer calls; there's already a shortage of police because of summer holidays, don't you know. And they could patrol the streets on foot -- if they wanted to.

Oh, well. Better than nothing. In fact, a lot better than the inaction the good citizens of Magnus have been used to from the Mayor.

"Mini-Rudy" Sam Katz showed in the Haiart case he could act when he wanted to. He just thought he could hide behind the fiction that Operation Clean Sweep existed when it obviously did not.It took a double shooting on one day to expose the lie.

Sam Katz has the blood of Aaron Nabess on his hands, because he could have prevented that murder if he had acted sooner.

He has the blood of the 19-year-old shot on Magnus Avenue Thursday night on his hands, because he could have sent a strong message when it mattered.

He has the blood of Thomas Roy Phillips on his hands because he could have been proactive and sent in Clean Sweep when the Magnus homeowners were begging for help well before Phillips was shot to death in his car in broad daylight on a day in March.

Just a few weeks ago the residents of the Spence neighbourhood were begging Sam Katz to bring Operation Clean Sweep back. The residents of Magnus Avenue have been begging Katz to give them the same protection that Operation Clean Sweep gave the West End.

On Monday, Katz went golfing with Winnipeg Free Press publisher Andy Ritchie.

He sent the gang members a message -- the streets belong to you.

On Thursday, they took him at his word.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The War in Afghanistan 2007: Assessing the first six months

Our apologies. A bout of illness interrupted our weekly coverage of Afghanistan early in June.

Before resuming our weekly coverage, we'll use this hiatus as an opportunity for a mid-year reality check on how the mission in Afghanistan has fared over the first six months of 2007.

On Wednesday, July 4, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, said in Rome that the Taliban's "summer offensive" got underway in June after local fighters were given a couple of weeks off to harvest opium crops.

We'll take that as official word that the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive is over. We can now take stock on how that well-advertised spring offensive worked out.

We can start by looking at what the Taliban planned to achieve. Since September, 2006, the Pakistan-based leadership of the Taliban was saying that 2007 was going to be the decisive year in their plan to retake Afghanistan.

"The spring of 2007 is predicted to become the turning point of the war," wrote Matt DuPee and Haroon Azizpour for (Blood in the Snow: The Taliban's 'Winter Offensive', Dec. 7, 2006)

Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online, interviewed Taliban sub-commander Qari Hazrat on the Taliban's strategy for 2007. (The vultures are circling, Asia Times, Dec. 13, 2006)

"We are not in any haste. Since the masses invited the Taliban to come down [from the mountains] to their areas, our strength is increasing with every passing day. Six months ago, groups of Taliban were operating with about 10 people. Now they have 50 members and growing. So we have enough time till next spring, and they [NATO] know what will happen until next year," Qari said.

"What will happen and what do they know?" I asked.

"They know that we will mobilize our strength and occupy the Herat-Kandahar highway and establish our pockets all over," said Qari.

"So that way you will isolate the Sangin district and the district of Gerishk - cut them off from the rest of the country?" I asked.

"Yes. And then we will not give them a chance to even find an escape route in their helicopters. We will hold parts of the Kandahar-Herat highway and our friends will hold other points. So Kandahar and other places will automatically come under siege and there will be little chance of reinforcements," Qari said, eating his final piece of bread.

Shahzad, travelled with Taliban fighters, picking up even more of their plans.(How the Taliban prepare for battle, Asia Times, 5 December 2006)

" The Taliban in Helmand are expected to play a central role in the planned fall of Kandahar. Many top field commanders are already concentrated there and Taliban leader Mullah Omar is expected to spend some time in the province making formal tribal arrangements that will unify all tribes under one pro-Taliban flag."

And still more. (Jan 25, 2007 AFGHANISTAN'S HIGHWAY TO HELL - The winter of the Taliban's content)

... the Taliban abandoned their one-dimensional guerrilla tactics and developed a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, militants would seize the main access points around Kandahar - the former Taliban spiritual headquarters in the province of the same name - and on the other, Taliban leaders would foment a popular armed uprising aimed at joining with the militants in the capture of Kandahar.

This is what happened in the mid-1990s when the Taliban emerged and seized power in the chaos following the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989: once the southwest was secured, eastern Afghanistan followed, and the two regions combined for the final assault on Kabul.

Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's main military commander, boasted that he had 10,000 Taliban fighters ready to sweep across southern Afghanistan, with 600 suicide bombers standing by for the call to turn 2007 into the bloodiest year yet.

"In spring, Allah willing, all the provinces will fall into our hands." he told Al Jazeera in March.

"If a person wants to enter a village, he looks for the main entrance, and then begins to attack the outskirts. In my opinion, the entrance is Helmand, Oruzgan, and Qandahar," he said.

So, how did it turn out?
For the Taliban---not so good.

In the first six months of the year NATO, Afghan and American special forces have killed about 2000 insurgents, including 40 commanders, one of whom was Mullah Dadullah. The only part of Afghanistan he managed to occupy was his grave.

About 103 international troops have been killed and roughly 350 Afghan police, army or intelligence personnel.

British-led forces launched a pre-emptive offensive in Helmand province, driving Taliban forces out of the Kajaki and Sangin valleys just as Canadian-led forces drove them out of the Panjwai district of neighbouring Kandahar province last year.

The coalition of insurgent groups splintered early on with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar announcing he was leaving the team to go it alone. And Taliban forces in Pakistan's tribal areas of North and South Waziristan fought a fraticidal war, with local tribes pitted against Uzbek immigrants and their allies. Hundreds were killed as Taliban leaders proved powerless to bring order to the lawless region.

The mainstream press, meanwhile, did its part to foster the myths of the Taliban. Jason Straziuso of Associated Press wrote (Fears of a Taliban blitz in Afghanistan subside, July 1, 2007) :

"The Taliban appears to have no difficulty finding recruits."


In May, the Globe and Mail carried a story on how the Taliban are recruiting the disabled to become suicide bombers. A doctor who examined the remains of suicide bombers in Kabul found they were often suffering from muscular dystrophy, amputations, blindness, and other afflictions. The Taliban play on their inability to support their families and offer payments to their survivors after they've blown themselves up.

A week ago the New York Times wrote about two captured suicide bombers. (Bomber's end: Flash of terror, humble grave, Barry Bearak July 1, 2007, New York Times). (emphasis ours...)

"The lockup is a busy place with small, crowded cells. On Thursday, officials said, the inmates included 11 Pakistanis and 14 Afghans who were thwarted suicide bombers. Two who were arrested on June 18 were Pakistanis.

"My target was Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Nangarhar Province," said a 17-year-old who uses the single name Farmanullah. Though the interview was unmonitored, the teenager nevertheless made exaggerated efforts to sound contrite. He presented himself as little more than a specimen of cannon fodder.

Pakistani members of the Taliban "came to my high school to recruit volunteers and told us if you didn't join the jihad, you would go to hell and never see the brides in paradise," he said. So he underwent suicide training in the Pakistani tribal areas.

But now hindsight, as well as capture, had made Farmanullah realize he was being used as a political plaything, he said. "We were told that everyone in Afghanistan was an infidel," he said. "Now I know this is not so."

Farmanullah's accomplice in the planned attack was another 17-year-old, Abdul Quddus, who was spoken to separately.

Suicide bombers are often disdainfully described here as impoverished, uneducated and physically or mentally handicapped. But Quddus said he was the son of a businessman in Peshawar and the graduate of a good private high school. His diction displayed refinement. His bearing was calm and prideful.

He said he had been attending a madrasa, or religious school, near the border and later agreed to take a blindfolded journey to a far-off camp for suicide bombers. He spent 40 days there with 20 other young men, he said.

"There are two types of bombs," he said. "One has a button, the other a fuse like a hand grenade. Explosives are packed in waistcoats that look completely normal. The maximum is 11 kilos, the minimum is 6," a range of 13 to 24 pounds.

He was carrying such a coat in a bag when stopped by policemen in Jalalabad. His arrest had not entirely doused his jihadi enthusiasms.

At first, he said he was sorry he had not completed his suicidal mission. Then he expressed ambivalence. "At the training camp I had allowed myself to become too emotional," he said, mentioning that movies he had been shown were probably one-sided and had overstoked his zealotry. But while he was now glad he had not killed the Afghan governor, some of his suicidal resolve remained.

"U.S. soldiers are still killing Muslims," he said. "I still believe in jihad against America, and some things are worth death."

Then just this week the news wires carried this story:

Afghan authorities, meanwhile, showed off a captured 14-year-old boy from Pakistan whom officials said had intended to set off a suicide bomb against an Afghan governor. Afghanistan's intelligence service showed off the 14-year-old Pakistani boy, identified as Rafiq Ullah, at a news conference also attended by the boy's father, Mati Ullah. The two shed tears and hugged in front of journalists.

The father said he had asked his son's teachers at the religious school he attends where his boy was but couldn't get a clear answer.

"I didn't know my son was going to carry out a suicide attack in Afghanistan," Mati Ullah said, his eyes full of tears.

The boy had been instructed by a Pakistani Muslim cleric to carry out the suicide attack, said Sayed Ansary, a spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence service. Rafiq Ullah's target was the governor of Khost province, where the boy was caught on Saturday.

And here's evidence that AP reporter Straziuso doesn't even read his own reports.

June 26, 2007
Afghan 6-year-old tells how he foiled Taliban bombing
He sought help of Afghan troops after militants put bomb vest on him
Associated Press

FORWARD OPERATING BASE THUNDER, AFGHANISTAN - The story of a 6-year-old Afghan boy who says he thwarted an effort by Taliban militants to trick him into being a suicide bomber provoked tears and anger at a meeting of tribal leaders.

The account from Juma Gul, a dirt-caked child who collects scrap metal for money, left U.S. soldiers dumbfounded that a youngster could be sent on such a mission. Afghan troops crowded around the boy to call him a hero.

Though the Taliban dismissed the story as propaganda, at a time when U.S. and NATO forces are under increasing criticism about civilian casualties, Afghan tribal elders and U.S. military officers said they were convinced by his account.

Forced to wear vest
Juma said that sometime last month, Taliban fighters forced him to wear a vest they said would spray out flowers when he touched a button. He said they told him that when he saw American soldiers, "throw your body at them."

The militants cornered Juma in a Taliban-controlled district in southern Afghanistan's Ghazni province. Their target was an impoverished youngster being raised by an older sister - but also one who proved too street-smart for their plan.

"When they first put the vest on my body, I didn't know what to think, but then I felt the bomb," Juma said as he ate lamb and rice after being introduced to the elders at this U.S.-Afghan base in Ghazni. "After I figured out it was a bomb, I went to the Afghan soldiers for help."

No difficulty finding recruits?

The Taliban's suicide army appears to consist of brainwashed boys, duped babies and hopeless disabled men.

(part 2 to follow....)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Free Press love affair with Health Minister blinds newsroom to reality of two-tier medicine

Everyone knows the Manitoba health care system is in shambles, but like gawkers at a car crash, we can't turn away from the latest stories about doctors and hospitals and the most recent government band-aid solution.

Not that it's easy going. Medical stories are written so obtusely that it's like deciphering hieroglyphics.

And the tidbits of information we do manage to glean lead invariably to more disappointment.

On Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press managed, purely inadvertently, to reveal more about the health care system than the government and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority want you to know.

The newspaper ran two stories which, together, tell one tale---a tale of two solitudes, a.k.a. -- the Manitoba health care system.Story number one, by reporter Jen Skerritt, was headlined "Project aims to allow better care for patients".

It was a rewrite of a government news release about a pilot project to spend $2 million on four private clinics--- in Winnipeg, Winkler, Steinbach and Morden-- which will somehow let doctors see more patients and spend more time with patients that need it.We say somehow because only one example was given.

The Assiniboine Clinic in Winnipeg will apparently be hiring a dietician and a nurse practioner to concentrate on people with diabetes and hypertension, supposedly freeing up the doctors to see more patients.

Midway through the story, the reporter casually mentions that in the area of the Assiniboine Clinic, another clinic has already shut down this year and a second will close in the fall, leaving their patients in search of a doctor.

Obviously a story that gushes about the "investment" the Health Minister is making in a government pilot project is not the place to discuss the closing of two clinics and how many people are losing their doctors, and how many other clinics in the city have shut down and why.

What a downer that would be when you're trying to hype the Health Minister.

But Skerritt's scriblings were still an important story, because it describes accurately the health care system you, dear reader, can expect in this province:

* Overworked doctors
* Clinics shutting their doors
* Patients in the lurch, and
* A health minister whistling past the graveyard.

Meanwhile, on another page, the Free Press offered a touching good-news medical story by columnist Gordon Sinclair Junior.

It seems that multi-millionaire Marty Weinberg, the founder of the Assante Corp., had a stomach-ache two years ago. So he phoned up his old childhood pal, Dr. Charles Bernstein, the head of Manitoba's gastroenterology section. And wouldn't you know it, Weinberg gets an appointment just like that, no waiting.

The diagnosis: an intolerance to gluten, an ingredient in breads and pasta.

But hold on, it gets better.

"Sometime after Bernstein diagnosed him, Weinberg travelled to the Mayo Clinic for a head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medical known as the executive check-up."

And while at the Mayo Clinic, he's told the doctors there consider Dr. Bernstein one of the best in his field.


Now, Weinberg is leading a fundraising campaign to create a research chair in gastrointerology at the University of Manitoba with Dr. Bernstein fitted for the job. He's already tapped a few fellow millionaires to top up the $3 million endowment, with a measly $400,000 to go.

Which leaves us with the second half of the tale.

Have you tried phoning a specialist for an appointment?


First you get the sneering receptionist who spells out the facts of life in Manitoba---you, the hoi polloi, can't just phone a specialist for an appointment.

You have to call your family doctor, and he or she has to decide if you really really need to see a specialist.

So you call your doctor -- assuming you have one.

And you're told you can have an appointment-- in a month or two or more.

So you wait. And wait. And wait.

Then, in the bureaucratically mandated ten minutes you have to talk to your doctor, you learn you will be sent for a series of tests. And before leaving, don't forget to make another appointment.

And get used to waiting.

Then when you see the doctor a second time, and depending on how much pressure he's getting from the bureaucrats, you may get a referral, or, more likely, more tests, and more waiting.

And while you're waiting, you can only dream of a head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medical at the Mayo Clinic.

Because you're not getting one.

Which makes us wonder if a millionaire can just phone up and drop down to the Mayo Clinic, or if a doctor friend has to make a call first, and if so, does Medicare pick up the tab ?

It was while pondering these nuances of the two-tier Manitoba health care system that we realized the Winnipeg Free Press had, again inadvertently, revealed more about itself than it wants you to know.

Once upon a time, reporters went to bat for the little guy. The underdog story was what made the news. Little David fighting Goliath.

But now, the Winnipeg Free Press is more likely to report on millionaires and their pet projects than on the little people.

When a group of students from Norquay School begged the Governor General for help in fighting crime and disorder in their neighbourhood, it made the news, with the focus on the Governor General.

The newspaper that sends reporters to Africa and Europe couldn't find a single one to go into the heart of the North End and talk to the students and their teachers and their parents.

A community fighting back against gangs and drugs and prostitution isn't news anymore at the Free Press.

Not when Gordo Sinclair can lead a campaign of millionaires willing to sign a petition to stop development of Upper Fort Garry.

Now that obviously warrants a half dozen stories and columns and op-ed pieces.

The rich and powerful and their "special" connections and their head-to-toe, state-of-the-art medicals at the Mayo Clinic?

Now, that's news.

The poor and their depressing anecdotes about their miserable lives? Puhhhh-leeeeease.

Not in the Free Press.