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:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Winnipeg's Gang Violence Spreads from Crib to Community

Winnipeg's Thug Life underworld has just claimed three more victims. But it's not the number, it's the escalation of violence that should send fear throughout the city.

Five months ago, The Black Rod exposed the links between six murder victims and local gangs that have styled themselves after the Bloods and Crips of Los Angeles. See the whole story at

Each victim was either a member of a gang or a close associate. But the latest murder victims were neither. Only one had a loose association to a gang as far as we can tell so far.

In other words, the violence has spread beyond the gang world into the general community.

Gang members and their associates are now living the life they see in gangsta rap videos and movies where shootouts are not only commonplace, they're expected.

There's not even an attempt to keep from killing innocents anymore.

The three people shot to death in an Alexander Avenue house had simply been attending a birthday party, according to press accounts, when masked gunmen stormed the place, shooting people at random. Apparently, the thugs had been told to get out of a party they had not been invited to.

CBC Television caught on that one victim, 22-year-old Corey Keeper, had a Bebo page. (Bebo, for the uninitiated, is a social networking website like Facebook) They used photos of Keeper from the page in their story on the murders.

Had they reported everything they found, they would have painted a fuller picture of Corey Keeper, starting with his posting of a stylized W, the gang symbol for Westside.

His bio contains the now-ironic reference to his residence:

Hometown L.G.R n Murda Cap-P.

L.G.r is Little Grand Rapids, (in) Murda Cap -- as in the murder capital of Canada. Winnipeg. The title is worn as a badge of honour in the world of Thug Life.

Keeper introduces himself:

Well this year i finelly graduated an now i'm jus chilling an working
and training 4 the future
So let me introduce myself my name is Corey Keeper he who walk's the line all fine so i like to say is...i come from a small town by the name of Little Grand Rapids where everybody know's everybody so it's hard to get the paper going... becus there r so many snitches .so this is wat i got say is...
i'm the one that hold's the reefer in my hand...
i'm he who run's with the wolfs
i'm he who play's with the bears
i'm just as loyle as the eagles
so if you wit me join the Anishinaabe Revolution
an if u againts me you best be ready
cause i'm like the water in a pale
constanly flowing out do know when it's goin stop
just like i'm
so you could say i'm nsane but not fcuk up...i still know want i'm going to do
so peace out people

He lists his favourite movies, with the lessons each taught him:

Films: God father y? business is business.............
scarface y? the world is your's..........
blood in & blood out y? "go after what you want" ....................
the sopranos y? str8 up...........
Never Back Down y? the fighting..........
goodfella's y? got to stay in tact........
Enter da dragon y? fighting...........
Tender&Hustle y? being youself is better then being Someone else.........

He posts on the Bebo pages of his friends, bragging about his casual drug use, another badge of honour for gang members and associates.

Cray Kpr
wat up carlo's wat u been up to man??????????
since yellow Quill????????
me i chilling on a blu#t.........

He takes a survey, which includes the question:

What Weapon Best Suits Your Personality?

The answer:


Your brutal and straightforward personality is best fit to use a Sledgehammer. This powerful weapon has poor accuracy due to its weight, but what the heck - it's easy to use! You don't have to aim, you just smash it. And even if you miss, it intimidates your opponent very well.

But apart from the Westside symbol, his closest tie to the Thug Life appears in his list of Friends.

His friends include Northsyda who links to 2krazy4you-113 who is contacted by ChristopherA958 whose Bebo page contains the slogan:


Bloods up, Crips down.

One of the war cry's of the Winnipeg gang world.

Until now, residents in gang-infested parts of the city could take some comfort in knowing the gang members only killed each other, and it was an accident whenever someone was shot or killed in a drive-by or, as in the case of Phil Hiarart, when he wandered into the middle of a shootout.

In an attempt to prevent this sort of random carnage, the major Los Angeles gangs hammered out a 26-point code for Thug Life:

1. All new Jacks to the game must know: a) He's going to get rich. b) He's going to jail. c) He's going to die.

2. Crew Leaders: You are responsible for legal/financial payment commitments to crew members; your word must be your bond.

3. One crew's rat is every crew's rat. Rats are now like a disease; sooner or later we all get it; and they should too.

4. Crew leader and posse should select a diplomat, and should work ways to settle disputes. In unity, there is strength!

5. Car jacking in our Hood is against the Code.

6. Slinging to children is against the Code.

7. Having children slinging is against the Code.

8. No slinging in schools.

9. Since the rat Nicky Barnes opened his mouth; ratting has become accepted by some. We're not having it.

10. Snitches is outta here.

11. The Boys in Blue don't run nothing; we do. Control the Hood, and make it safe for squares.

12. No slinging to pregnant Sisters. That's baby killing; that's genocide!

13. Know your target, who's the real enemy.

14. Civilians are not a target and should be spared.

15. Harm to children will not be forgiven.

16. Attacking someone's home where their family is known to reside, must be altered or checked.

17. Senseless brutality and rape must stop.

18. Our old folks must not be abused.

19. Respect our Sisters. Respect our Brothers.

20. Sisters in the Life must be respected if they respect themselves.

21. Military disputes concerning business areas within the community must be handled professionally and not on the block.

22. No shooting at parties.

23. Concerts and parties are neutral territories; no shooting!

24. Know the Code; it's for everyone.

25. Be a real ruff neck. Be down with the code of the Thug Life.

26. Protect yourself at all times..

When you mix irresponsibility with guns, you get cold-blooded murder and the innocent be damned.

The snows of winter haven't even melted and there's a bull market in gun deaths, right here in Winnipeg.

How high will the market go in the heat of summer?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Katz meets his Waterloo

His lip quivering, his voice quavering, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz threatened to punch out the village idiot who showed up at an anti-budget rally with a sign depicting Katz as Hitler.

It was the only show of backbone he could muster in the week he met his Waterloo.

By week's end, his political enemies had seized him by the scruff of the neck and rubbed his nose in the dirt, forcing him to put on a happy face and declare how much he loved the smell of earth in the springtime.

For years, Katz had managed to outwit, outplay and outlast his opponents. Then, in the blink of an eye, he lost his political integrity so badly he was left trying to have another man take the fall in his place.

The man who once declared people needed to know the City of Winnipeg could be trusted to live up to its word---"a deal's a deal"--- watched his deal broken with a handshake, a smile and some shuck and jive.

It was cringeworthy.

The deal couldn't be simpler.

- The city had some surplus land southwest of the site of Upper Fort Garry.

- It issued an RFP--a request for proposals--to see what potential buyers had in mind for the land.

- They received three proposals---Heritage Winnipeg wanted a park and "interpretive centre", one developer dreamed of a 40-storey tower, and Crystal Developers pitched a 15-storey apartment building.

- City planners---you know, the people we pay to do this sort of thing---recommended the apartment building as the best compromise between raising some money for the city and preserving the heritage of Upper Fort Garry. The deal would see Crystal buy the land for $1.8 million. Annual property taxes of around $153,000 could go towards upkeep at a park and interpretive centre that could still be built on the lot next door.

- The city's Standing Committee on Downtown Development approved the deal in May, 2007.

The committee-- Councillor Russ Wyatt, Chairman; Councillor Jenny Gerbasi, Councillor Gord Steeves, Councillor Justin Swandel and Mayor Sam Katz---met in camera. Katz may not have attended. It's an obvious bet that Gerbasi voted against the deal, the only apartment development in downtown Winnipeg in 20 years.

The committee's decision is final. That should have been it.

But Heritage Winnipeg refused to allow the process to work. After all, it was just elected city councillors making the decision. Didn't they know who really runs the city?

Heritage Winnipeg morphed into Friends of Upper Fort Garry, a collection of millionaires, and, as it turned out, members of the Manitoba Club.

The Club had just spent millions renovating their premises and they weren't about to watch an apartment building go up in their back yard.

After all, you know who lives in apartments, don't you?

Riff-raff who can't afford their own houses.


So the so-called Friends launched a campaign to veto the city's deal. Luckily, they had among their members someone who owned a newspaper.

Step up Bob Silver.

The Winnipeg Free Press became the official house organ for the Manitoba Club and did everything possible to undermine the city, regardless of how much they had to twist the facts and skew the truth, to the point where witnessing the richest people in the city take money from school children was presented as a triumph.

How the millionaires, who spend more money on lunch in one day than the kids raised in good faith, must have chuckled.

The first break for the Friends came when Russ Wyatt backstabbed Katz and announced he had changed his mind and now rejected the Crystal deal. Then they came up with an archeologist who "discovered" that the edge of Upper Fort Garry was actually further west than anyone had known for a generation or two. Or maybe it was three, what's it matter?

The surplus land was now 3000 square feet less, which would mean Crystal would have to downsize their project to 120 apartments from 180.

To the disgust of the Friends, Crystal said "Okay."

The city would lose money on the deal, though. The land was worth only $1.2 million instead of $1.8.

But Wyatt and Gerbasi (of course) were determined to sink the project on behalf of the millionaires even if it meant permanent damage to the city's reputation as an administration that could be trusted.

They brought the deal with Crystal up a second time before the Standing Committee on Downtown Development with a motion to kill it in favour of the millionaires' park project.

Enter Sam Katz.

Instead of defending the integrity of the city, the mayor injected a poison pill which he sugarcoated as a "compromise." Shuck, meet Jive.

Katz, and supporters on committee, Steeves and Swandel, passed a motion to give the Friends until March 31 to come up with, among other conditions, $10 million of a $12.5 million plan to build a park encompassing Upper Fort Garry and the surplus city land.


No one has ever explained. Why did Katz undermine the Crystal proposal in December, 2007?

And why did Katz play nine councillors for fools March 19 when he got them to vote against a motion to give the Friends more time to meet the conditions set in three months earlier?

And he certainly did because by month's end, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry had failed to meet a single one of the conditions set in December. But the deal with Crystal developers was still off, in favour of the Friends.

* They had failed to buy the Grain Exchange Curling Club as stipulated. They had a memoradum of understanding to talk about buying the club, instead.

* Despite picking the pocket of every schoolchild they could find, they failed to come up with $10 million. They had to resort to counting twenty years of upkeep for a non-existent national park on the Upper Fort Garry site as part of their obligation.

* The Winnipeg Free Press, of course, didn't challenge a penny of this ficticious fundraising. And neither did Sam Katz. Instead he did everything short of carrying the president of Crystal Developers on his back in gratitude for walking away from the apartment project--- purely out of the kindness of his heart, of course.

* Rubin Spletzer said he was giving the Friends two more years to raise money for their project. Two weeks ago he showed up at city hall threatening to sue if they didn't live up to their deal with him.

Sniff. Sniff. Something smells.

And that smell emanates from the Mayor's Office.

* The city has a process to sell surplus land.

* They followed the process.

* The mayor amended the process in mid-stream.

* Then when the Friends failed to meet the pre-conditions of the amended process, the mayor says don't blame me, blame Rubin Spletzer for putting his project on ice.

* The city loses $1.2 million and $153,000 a year in annual taxes.

And Katz grins and shakes Spletzer's hand.

Thanks, buddy. Who wants people living downtown, anyway?

Hitler? Hardly. Charlie Chaplin, maybe.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

David Asper took our breath away

In this cynical age it's exceedingly rare to read anything in the newspaper that's so startling it takes your breath away.

Yet that's exactly what happened when we picked up the National Post on Wednesday, March 26, 2008.

There it sat. A front page editorial.

"Fight we shall" it declared.

"Scandals come and go: Front-page controversies that convulse Ottawa for weeks, or even months, often fade into obscurity after just a few years."

"So it was with Shawinigate, the scandal surrounding Jean Chretien's efforts to help secure a 1997 loan for the Auberge Grand-Mere, a Shawinigan hotel located adjacent to a golf course in which he had once held an ownership stake. As a result of diligent reporting by a former National Post reporter, Andrew McIntosh, Canadians learned that Mr. Chretien while he was prime minister, had phoned the president of the Business Development Bank of Canada in support of the hotel owner's otherwise questionable loan application."

Blah blah blah. The long-winded editorial explained that an Ontario court had ordered the National Post to hand over to the RCMP an envelope used to deliver forged Shawinigate documents to reporter McIntosh. The police want to test the envelope for fingerprint and DNA evidence to identify the forger. The Post is going to the Supreme Court to fight for the right to hide its source. (For the record, the Post never did any story based on the phony documents.)

"The parent company of the National Post, Canwest, has supported the protection of its journalists in several important cases recently. It has done so because of an unwavering commitment to its journalists, to readers who have the right to a free and vigourous press, and to a society that justifiably expects of Canwest...the provision of a credible check and balance against what might otherwise go on unaccountably in the shadows."

Oh, barf.

The Post is rewriting history, playing the victim and relying on the public's short memory for this malarky to succeed.

The newspaper---under the ownership of Conrad Black---did pursue Shawinigate vigourously.

But once the Aspers bought into the Post, they deep-sixed the investigation so fast and so deep that the paper's journalists screamed in outrage.

To see David Asper, who appears on the Post masthead as "chairman", tie himself in knots defending journalistic integrity is nauseating.

Seven years ago this month, Asper set the tone on the Shawinigate coverage his family wanted to see with a column titled To Chretien's accusers: Put up or shut up (David Asper, chairman of the publications committee of CanWest Global Communications Corp., March 7, 2001, National Post ).

Asper fils declared that the Post's reporting on Jean Chretien was too aggressive.

"This newspaper and others across Canada, including other forms of media, have had a remarkably unfair 'go' at the Prime Minister over alleged financial misdealings in Shawinigan."

"The media's coverage of the accusations against the Prime Minister has crossed a line that delineates solid investigative reporting from adjective-driven innuendo."

"The time is now long overdue for Mr. Chretien's accusers to 'put up or shut up' with facts and hard evidence."

"It's a sad comment that our national political affairs have been hijacked by mischievous, unfair scandal-mongering as opposed to things that really count."

When The National Post's editors and columnists defended their Shawinigate coverage, Izzy Asper was incensed at the assault on his baby boy and threatened Conrad Black that if it continued he would walk away from the deal to buy the Post.

"I have waited several days since the National Post's outrageous handling of and savage attack on David Asper's opinion piece on the Chretien/Shawinigan Hotel harangue. I had hoped the passage of time would soften my instinctive reaction. in fact, it hasn't and my concern for a troubled relationship has heightened.

"Neither you nor I would profit from a public battle which would give great pleasure to those who wish neither of us well, but regretably you have chosen to publicly throw a gauntlet, administer a public slap in the face which has both embarassed, humiliated, and held up to ridicule and dishonour both my family and my company." he wrote Conrad Black.

Black responded immediately:

"The facts are that Barbara, Peter Atkinson, Gordon Fisher, Ken Whyte, and I all warned David that writing in these newspapers accusing each of them of injustice to Chretien would produce great resentment amongst the journalists and would appear to any one in that country still interested in an independent press to be servile toadying to a rather corrupt regime in what is now more or less a one party state."

In a later letter he was more direct:

"I am aware that considerable pressure has been exerted by David Asper on National Post editorial personnel on behalf of Chretien. ..I am sending an exceptionally worded memo to the most senior editorial people at the National Post saying that should they receive any request from representatives of affiliated companies for material alteration of editorial content of the newspaper, the inquiring parties should be referred to Peter Atkinson or myself. The fact is that given the malicious cowardly ignorant dishonest and illegal assault of Chretien upon me I have shown great forebearance in encouraging as tolerant a tone in our coverage of him as I have. I have undertaken to make it difficult for reasonable third parties to critize the fairness of the National Post's coverage of political matters. I will do that, but not more than that. Perhaps David Asper would like to call me about this at some time."

"The general line taken by the PMO and competing newsmen in the press gallery is that your presence as a shareholder at the post ensures that any criticism of the government is about to subside."

He didn't know how prophetic he would be.

Once the Aspers took complete control of the National Post, Shawnigate coverage evaporated.

In June, 2002, the publisher of the Ottawa Citizen, Russell Mills was fired by David Asper, for publishing an editorial, without Asper's approval, calling for Chretien's resignation over Shawinigate.

Mills later spilled the beans. CanWest "offered me a financial settlement that was only available if I would portray my departure as a retirement and sign an agreement not to discuss the situation. I refused. I said that I had not spent 30 years in journalism attempting to pursue the truth in order to leave on a lie."

In July, 2002, Southam News national affairs columnist Lawrence Martin, who had doggedly pursed Shawinigate scandal, was told he was doing superlative work--- and his contract was not being renewed.

None of these dates made it into the timeline the Post carried beside their "Fight we shall" editorial. They didn't fit the historical revisionism of the Aspers' battle for truth and justice in the Chretien years.

The full truth of Shawinigate wasn't unveilled until February, 2004, when a judge of the Quebec Superior Court issued his ruling in Francois Beaudoin v Development Bank of Canada, a lawsuit at the heart of the scandal.

Beaudoin was the head of the federal Business Development Bank when Jean Chretien's friend, Yvon Duhaime, the owner of the Grand-Mere inn, asked for a loan. Beaudoin said no because he considered Duhaime a bad risk.

Chretien went to Beaudoin several times and tried to change his mind. But still no loan. Later eyebrows would be raised when it was revealed that Chretien was owed some money which he would only collect if the Inn was sold.

A couple of Chretien's pals helped the process along.

Michel Vennat was appointed chairman of BDC by Chretien, and Jean Carle, Chretien's former director of operations, was senior vice-president of public affairs. Together, said Quebec Judge Andre Denis, they conducted a smear campaign against Beaudoin for almost four years. Denis described it as "an unspeakable injustice" designed to "break him and ruin his career." The vendetta cost the bank $4.3 million.

The two men approved the loan to Duhaime despite Beaudoin's objections. When he quit the bank, they accused him of "irregularities". He lost his pension. BDC lawyers and accountants raided his home. Carle coordinated public statements with Chretien's office, something Judge Denis called "incredible ... Carle was convinced the prime minister is the only shareholder of the BDC. They are no longer looking like a corporation should, to give the media just the facts ... but only to repeat the position of the Prime Minister's Office." (Pardon the awkward translation.)

Vennat called in the RCMP to investigate Beaudoin as---wait for it--- the source of the "forged" documents sent to the National Post.

The documents purported to be sale records showing that Chretien was owed money from the sale. The RCMP raided Beaudoin's house, cottage and even the golf club where he was a member. His lawyer learned about the raid on Beaudoin's house from a reporter who had been tipped off by the PMO. Beaudoin was never charged with anything.

His vindication came from Judge Denis who awarded him his full pension and severance, and who denounced the testimony of Vennat and Carle.

It turns out that the over-aggressive reporting that so offended David Asper was too mild by half.

And that raises questions about Asper's new incarnation as the defender of the "a free and vigourous press" and his sudden "unwavering commitment" to journalists.

The National Post didn't run a story based on the forged documents. Good.

But was it because someone decided to run interference for Jean Chretien rather than concern about the validity of the documents?

Here's a lesson in journalism for you David.

If a source, no matter how reliable in the past, feeds you phony documents, all bets are off. There is no longer any reporter-source privilege.

You must demand to know where he (or she) got the documents, so that you can follow the story from that angle. If the source doesn't cough up a name, then he can tell it to the cops.

Spare us the drama. There's more to being a journalist than having your daddy buy you a newspaper. Ask some of the people you fired.

Start with an apology to Conrad Black. Then keep going until you reach the citizens of the country.

If you hadn't stopped the Post's investigation of Shawinigate, maybe we would have uncovered the sponsorship scandal years earlier, before the Liberals funnelled $100 million to their ad-pals.

Monday, March 24, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 12

If the latest information from Taliban sources is true, then the most recent rotation of Canadian troops to Kandahar could be the quietest on record.

This weekend, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad published what's become an annual lookahead to the coming fighting season, from the Taliban's perspective.

In previous years this Spring Offensive primer has been full of bombastic proclamations of the Taliban's imminent overthrow of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Not so this year.

"Instead of taking on foreign forces in direct battle in the traditional hot spots, the Taliban plan to open new fronts as they are aware they cannot win head-on against the might of the US-led war machine." wrote Shahzad.

"... the Taliban, according to Asia Times Online contacts, will open new fronts in Khyber Agency in Pakistan and Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan and its capital Jalalabad," he said.

"... the historic belt starting from Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province and running through Khyber Agency to Nangarhar is NATO's life line - 80% of its supplies pass through it."

Almost as if to confirm Shahzad's sources, bomb blasts Sunday destroyed at least 35 oil tankers and damaged 25 more at a Pakistani border crossing where they were waiting for clearance to enter Afghanistan.

The tankers were sitting in two parking lots in the tribal town of Landi Kotal, the highest point on the Khyber Pass. Six bomb blasts killed two people, injured 50 and set more than 60 tankers on fire. Each tanker oil tanker carried around 45,000 litres of fuel.

Over the past year, three oil tankers have been destroyed or damaged every month in Taliban attacks, according to news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The Asia Times sources may also give some insight into recent announcements by coalition forces in Aghanistan--specifically the expected deployment of 1000 French troops.

Canada has been begging for 1000 soldiers from a fellow NATO country to bolster their success in Kandahar province. France, coincidentally, has announced it will send 1000 troops to Afghanistan, but to the east, not the south. It's been assumed they will replace 1000 American soldiers who would supplement the Canadians in Kandahar. But there may be another reason for the French deployment

Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote on Asia Times Online:
"At the same time, the "war on terror" extends beyond US-British dominance. Although there are several disagreements at the operation level within NATO in Afghanistan, some partners, such as France, cognizant of the revival of the enemy's strength, have greatly enhanced their input into intelligence resources.

French intelligence is directly involved in fresh moves to track the most wanted targets, including Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yaldeshiv, besides bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

New funds have been allocated for clandestine operations by French intelligence in Pakistan's North and South Waziristan regions, as well as in Balochistan province, to track high-profile targets with the aim of assassinating them. This is being done in coordination with NATO forces in Afghanistan.

According to Asia Times Online investigations, French intelligence has infiltrated a network of donors who had been arranging money for the Iraqi resistance and the Taliban."

So, the French have a new agenda in Afghanistan which may explain why they want their troops in the east.

Help On The Way

But if this frees up American soldiers to help out in southern Afghanistan, then Canadian forces could be getting some much desired breathing space. Canada has 2500 troops in Kandahar, with about 1700 in the battle group that does the fighting. We know 3200 U.S. marines are moving into Kandahar this spring and, with possibly another 1000 from the east, we can see how military manpower in Kandahar will more than double.

The added troop strength won't all be there to help Canada's Cinderella Army---1000 marines are coming to handle training of Afghan police and soldiers and a marine air-ground task force of 2200 is designated to help blunt any Taliban spring offensive, probably primarily in Helmand province. But they will be stationed at Kandahar airfield, and available if needed.

The shuffling of the military cards is already underway on both sides of the battle. Some of it was noticeable in the past week's activity.

In Zabul province in the southeast, there was a major police search for a Taliban leader. When 40 Afghan police with their U.S. mentors entered a village, they were attacked by Taliban fighters. The Afghan police are still the weak link of the country's security forces, and a coordinated operation of this size is a sign of the progress being made. After a 40 minutes gunbattle the Taliban suspects tried to make a run for it on motorcycles. Three were killed and three captured.

Northern Afghanistan, where Germany leads NATO security operations, was the target of two significant attacks, perhaps foreshadowing what the Germans, who have had it extremely easy going so far, can expect in the coming months.

On Saturday, the district chief of Khanaqa district of northern Jowzjan province was stabbed to death. And four people were wounded when a bomb exploded in the city of Mazar-I-Sharif which was packed with people celebrating New Year.

And an AP story about the opening of a new girls school contained this surprising information:

"However, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Deh Hassan, German army commanders in the city of Kunduz say their previously calm sector has seen a surge in attacks since last summer, forcing Berlin to send in paratroopers to reinforce the mission.

"There's hardly any week, any day, when there is not a rocket attack," says Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich."

Taliban insurgents continued their campaign of suicide bombing.

In Kandahar, a suicide bomber on a bicycle attacked a crowd gathered around a shrine. He killed two policemen.

And in Khost province, intelligence agents arrested three men who were driving around looking for somewhere to detonate a car bomb. The suicide bomber was to be a 14-year-old boy who had been brought in from Pakistan.

Throughout Afghanistan, however, 14 year olds who hadn't been brainwashed by Islamic fanatics were attending school. Afghanistan's Education Minister says nearly 7 million children, a record number, are enrolled in the new school year, a third of them girls.

Last year Taliban terrorists killed 220 students and teachers, mostly in the south.

While insurgent instability is keeping 300,000 children out of school in the southern provinces, enrollment in the north and east has grown by 500,000 this year.

Education is so valued in a country where 70 percent of adults are illiterate that villages are setting up "protection councils" to drive off Taliban insurgents who threaten the schools.

Two mid-level Taliban commanders interviewed in Helmand province by The Daily Telegraph acknowledged they have lost the Education War and that it has split the insurgency.

"If we are too harsh to the community then we find it is really hard for us to survive," admitted the older commander. He said that more pragmatic Taliban figures were pushing for schools to be opened and for reconstruction work. But he said such efforts met resistance from the increasingly extreme fighters moving into Helmand. (Younger leadership for Taliban in Afghanistan, Daily Telegraph, Feb. 24,2008).

The story cited "western military officials" who told the newspaper privately that targeted bombings or assassinations by American and British special forces last year killed about 200 medium and high-level Taliban commanders. Another 100 were captured. The attrition of leadership has noticeably disrupted Taliban operations. Attacks in recent month have been less co-ordinated, the military sources said. And both Taliban commanders said the insurgency was increasingly recruiting from outside Helmand with the new leaders become younger and more fanatic.

But, if anything, the pressure on the Taliban, in the west at least, is only increasing.

British special forces have begun conducting covert operations against drug smugglers. In conjunction with an elite Afghan counter-narcotics police unit, they are launching raids against individuals involved in the opium trade. The raids will remove drug profits the Taliban uses to pay fighters and buy arms. And drug smugglers will begin to reassess their alliance with the Taliban which now brings unwanted attention from professional soldiers.

Western officials estimate that the Taliban earned about $50 million last year through payoffs from drug smugglers, taxing opium farmers, controlling smuggling routes, and supplying chemicals used to refine opium into heroin.


Monday, March 17, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 11

The pace of the war for freedom in Afghanistan accelerated this week, even as the cracks in the enemy's support foundation widened.

A year ago this month the Taliban was boasting of "a year of decision" when they would isolate NATO bases and capture a provincial capital or two prior to ousting the international coalition from Afghanistan. This year, as we reported last week, they've conceded they're unable to defeat U.S. and NATO forces and they're resorting to a campaign of suicide bombings and landmines to cause as much carnage as possible.

Between Saturday March 8 and Monday March 17 that campaign has killed seven coalition soldiers, bringing to 30 the number killed to date this year.

* March 8. One American soldier killed in eastern Afghanistan, Paktia province, by an IED
* March 10. Two American soldiers killed in Khost province by a suicide bomber.
* March 16. One Canadian soldier killed in Kandahar province by a landmine.
* March 17. Three soldiers, two Danes and one Czech, killed by a suicide bomber in Helmand province.


* March 12. Two Canadians soldiers were wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy in Kandahar province.
* The same day 3 Romanian soldiers were hurt when a roadside bomb exploded on the road from Kandahar to Kabul.

But the terrorists are most successful at killing Afghan civilians and police.

* March 8. An old man and two children killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province. The Taliban later issued a release saying they destroyed a tank and all the soldiers in it.
* March 10. The suicide bomber who killed two NATO soldiers in Khost also killed two civilians and injured 15 Afghan soldiers.
* March 11. A suicide bomber in Khost killed one policeman.
* March 12. The suicide bomber attacking a convoy of Canadian troops killed one passing civilian.
* March 13. A convoy in Wardak province hit a roadside bomb and three policemen were killed.
* The same day a suicide bomber attacked U.S. troops in Kabul. Six Afghans were killed. The four American soldiers travelling in an SUV and a truck were not seriously hurt.

As another rotation of Canadian soldiers begins its tour in Kandahar, it's with the knowledge that their jurisdiction is not the most dangerous place in Afghanistan any more. Senior Afghan general Zahir Azimi gave that designation to the neighbouring province Helmand, where British forces call the shots.

Helmand was the hotspot of Afghanistan most of last year and looks like it will repeat in 2008. The Brits have already begun their spring offensive to keep the Taliban off balance.

Off the public radar, fighting has picked up around Sangin, the Taliban stronghold now controlled by British forces. The daily airpower summary for March 11 read: Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fired cannon rounds and dropped GBU-12s, GBU-31s, GBU-38s and general-purpose 500-pound bombs onto enemy combatants and enemy buildings in various locations in Sangin. An enemy compound and weapon cache were among the targets destroyed. For March 12: In Sangin, a British GR-7 Harrier dropped a 540-pound bomb in order to destroy enemy mortar positions who were engaging friendly forces. By March 14, things were quieter: Royal Air Force GR-7 Harriers performed shows of force in order to deter enemy activities in Sangin.

Taliban forces are getting the message with deadly accuracy.

On Wednesday morning, Afghan and U.S. forces intercepted a strong force of Taliban insurgents trying to get out of Dodge by crossing into Pakistan from Nimruz and Helmand provinces. They were travellling on motorbikes. Imagine their surprise when U.S. helicopter gunships popped up over the horizon. In a four-hour battle, punctuated by airstrikes, 41 insurgents were killed.

In another operation in Helmand, nearly a dozen insurgents were killed as coalition forces struck Taliban support networks in Garmsir district. Troops discovered a weapons cache and "multiple opium processing rooms."

The British are gearing up big time for the fighting in the coming year.

The RAF has three Reaper UAVs in service this year. They had been intended for use as spyplanes, but they've now been fitted with 500-pound guided bombs and Hellfire missiles designed for targetted kills. The Reaper has a wingspan of 86 feet, similar to a Learjet. They will be flying from Kandahar airfield, although the controllers who will operate the aircraft in flight will be in a bunker 7000 miles away in Nevada. Reapers can stay in the air 14 hours. The RAF wants to buy another 9.

The Brits have started arming their Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles which they say will give them extra capability to kill insurgents hiding in caves and bunkers.

According to one British newspaper a CIA report described the impact of the missile this way : "The effect of the explosion within confined spaces is immense. "

"Those near the ignition point are obliterated. Those at the fringe are likely to suffer many internal and thus invisible injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs and internal organs and possible blindness."

And the British army has a new all-terrain vehicle ready for service in Afghanistan. Here's how Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph describes it:

"Fast, powerful and with a fearsome array of weaponry, it has already been named "Pitbull" by the soldiers who will drive it deep behind enemy lines."

"Armed with a mix of machine guns and an automatic grenade launcher, and with a range of more than 500 miles, the vehicle will be used to hunt down and destroy the Taliban during long range surveillance and reconnaissance operations. Its crew of three will be able to call in air strikes using onboard communications equipment. The new all-terrain vehicle has a 5.9 litre engine capable of 80mph on roads and 40mph across the Helmand desert. It has revolutionary air suspension which allows for a comfortable ride even over the roughest of terrain and helps the gunners to hit their targets while on the move. Known officially as the M-Wmik - Mobility Weapons Mounted Installation Kit - the vehicle will replace the ageing Land Rover Wmiks, variations of which have been in service since the Fifties . First to use the vehicle on operations will be the Pathfinders, from 16 Air Assault Brigade, due to begin arriving in Helmand soon."

Fighting is picking up in other regions as well.

An ongoing operation to sweep southern Uruzgan province left 10 Taliban fighters dead. Taliban insurgents captured five policemen in an attack on a police checkpoint in Farah province. The police chief was killed and his body left behind.

And in eastern Zabul province, Afghan security forces and NATO troops launched an operation Wednesday against Chechen fighters meeting in a local district. After a two-hour gunbattle three Chechens were dead and six wounded. The appearance of foreign fighters in the south may be another sign that the old guard under Mullah Omar is losing control of the insurgency to Al Qaeda backed Young Turks.

The fight has even crossed the border into Pakistan.

On Sunday a U.S. warplane fired four to seven missiles at the house of a Taliban leader in a village near the town of Wana in Pakistan's South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. The attack killed up to 20 insurgents as the Americans erased the safe from safehouse.

This past week Taliban leaders reinforced their weakness by appealing to warlords of the past to join their cause.

"There is no doubt that the former leaders and commanders of Jihad have given a lot of sacrifices for Islam and for the path of freeing the country," the Taliban said in a statement on their Web site. "Now, it is necessary that they stand beside their people and the nation and show their sacrifice once again against this invasion...the Islamic Emirate will adopt a understanding path with them and keep its bosom open for them," the statement said.

The Taliban's plea may have been inspired by the legal difficulties of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was once a feared powerhouse in northern Afghanistan. Now he's holed up in his home in Kabul's diplomatic enclave trying to stave off being arrested for kidnapping and torturing a former ally and the man's son.

"Increasingly, to the worry of his staff, he is drinking vodka heavily." said the correspondent for the U.K. Independent.

A bigger threat to the Taliban came this week from an unexpected source. Al Qaeda supporters who regularly post messages to a pro-Islamic terrorist website in Egypt have been scolding the Taliban for straying from the goal of global jihad.

In February, the Taliban announced it wanted to maintain good relations with neighboring countries. Then they expressed solidarity with Iran, condemning U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program. The Al Qaeda fan club went berserk. The Sunnis of Al Qaeda view the Shi'ite state of Iran as heretics.

"This is the worst statement I have ever read ... the disaster of defending the Iranian regime is on par with the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Iraq," posted Miskeen, one of the more influential writers on an al-Qaida linked Web site.

Mullah Salam Zaief, the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan and still a prominent spokesman for the Taliban told Radio Free Afghanistan,"The conflict in Afghanistan doesn't mean [the Taliban] has to confront the world. Afghans are very tired of war. They want their homeland. They want peace in their country. They want independence. Whether they are Taliban or other Afghans, I don't think either wants to confront the entire international community. The Taliban doesn't want to rule the world."

This is a fundamental disagreement, and its only going to get worse for the Taliban as the year progresses.

Taliban insurgents knocked down another cell phone tower, this in Herat province, bringing to five the number taken out of service because of fears that coalition forces use them to track Taliban commanders. But as we mentioned last week the lack of service is angering local residents.

The gulf between the people and the Islamic extremists is widening by the day.

Among their targets is another 20th Century invention---television. In particular Hop, an MTV-style music show on Tolo TV, one of the private stations launched after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, according to ther French news service AFP.

"These TVs (stations) are spreading immorality and unIslamic culture," declared a statement by Afghan religious scholars.

And driving them even madder is Afghan Star, an American Idol style show now in its third season on Tolo.

"Afghan Star... encourages immorality among the people and is against Sharia (law)," the statement said

But the show is attracting millions of viewers. The finalists included two men and, for the first time ever, a woman. The contestants were mobbed by hundreds of fans when they showed up for a news conference before the semi-final show.

If there's one thing we can say for sure, it's you can't fight the attraction of television. That battle is over.

The Culture War is won.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Political Scandals--old and new, and Krista too

What's this? Another political scandal in Ottawa?

What do we know for sure?

We know:

* In May, 2005, The Party was desperate to win the budget vote two days away.

* Emissaries were sent to a British Columbia Member of Parliament who could hold the deciding vote.

* There was discussion about the MP's pension

* Two Party reps floated inducements worth $1 million plus to entice the MP into voting the right way.

* A tape recording has surfaced showing the Prime Minister was aware of the approach to the MP.

But enough about the Liberal Party of Canada. We'll get back to them later.

What do we know about the Chuck Cadman affair?

We know:

- On May 19, 2005, Independent MP Chuck Cadman (Surrey North) voted with the Liberals on the budget, thereby saving the government from falling.

- A biography of Cadman is to be released March 17.

-In the book, Cadman's widow, Dona, is quoted as saying her husband told her he met with two representatives of the Conservative Party two days before the May 19 vote.

"They wanted him to vote against the government," she said. The Tories actually walked in with a list of offers written down on a piece of paper. Included in their proposal was a $1 million life insurance policy - no small carrot for a man with advanced cancer." (excerpt from Like a Rock: The Chuck Cadman Story by Tom Zytaruk.)

- When he was still alive and speaking for himself, Chuck Cadman talked with CTV pundit Mike Duffy about a visit from Conservative party reps before the crucial vote. He said there was "some talk" about an unopposed nomination if he ran for re-election as a Conservative and "that was the only offer on anything that I had from any body. So there were no offers on the table up till that point about anything from any party."

- The Liberals have known about the book for almost a year. The author gave an early version of the manuscript to former Prime Minister Paul Martin "for review" just after he finished writing it in February, 2007.

- The Liberals sat on the information, waiting to use it as their ace-in-the-hole in an election to deflect attention from their own history of corruption. But with no election in sight and the publication date just around the corner, their window of opportunity was narrowing, so they leaked it to their friends in the mainstream media.

-There is zero chance that a man dying of terminal cancer like Chuck Cadman would get any insurance, never mind a $1 million policy. Zero.

- Cadman told Duffy in an off-air discussion that the only insurance he had was the life insurance that covers all Members of Parliament. He would lose that if the government fell and an election was called. And Cadman was too sick to run again. He died six weeks after the budget vote.

-The Opposition parties are beside themselves hoping for a headline "RCMP investigates the Conservatives." But for all their bluster, they know an investigation will go nowhere.

The entire allegation is based on hearsay evidence from Dona Cadman-- and her daughter who says Cadman told her about the $1 million life insurance bribe on his death bed. Since Cadman denied it in televised interviews, the RCMP know they're just being used by the Liberals.

- The Liberals are trying to link Stephen Harper to the bribe by citing a taped interview with him where he says he knew some members of the Conservative Party were going to make a last minute pitch to Cadman to vote against the budget. That meeting took place in Ottawa on vote day, May 19, 2005. The alleged bribe meeting took place two days earlier, May 17, 2005. The Liberals hope nobody notices the PM is talking about a different meeting.

- Book author Tom Zytaruk decided the simplest way to solve the puzzle was to delete any reference to a May 17 meeting and rewrite his book so the Liberals don't look any more stupid than they do.

But if the Liberals and NDP really want a full-fledged investigation of political bribery ? There's lots to investigate.

On May 17, 2005, the Liberal Party of Canada attempted to entice Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal and his wife to: a) vote with the Liberals on the budget and b) join the Liberal Party. A variety of possible future rewards were dangled in front of Grewal in an unmistakeable inducement for his vote.

The Liberals were going for a double double cross. Grewal's wife, Nina, was also an MP, and you didn't get one without the other. Grewal, however, taped his meetings with the Liberal representatives, Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister's chief of staff.

In doing so he gave political science classes across Canada grade A evidence of how backroom politics operates in this country.

Tim Murphy told Grewal the defection machine was a time-tested mechanism. An independent emissary approaches the target turncoat, he said. That way the Party can deny it approached anyone and the MP can deny he approached anyone. Once the initial contact is made, negotiations begin. And so it was with Grewal.

In his case, Murphy told him the Party expected Grewal to show he could be trusted, first, before anything could be done for him. If, say, he sat as an Independent and voted with the Liberals on the budget, and four or five other confidence votes expected in the near future, he should know that trust is rewarded by the Party. The transcripts of the tasty promises of future treats are not the least ambiguous.

TM: "I'm thinking how Ujjal came into cabinet, the importance of honesty, faith and trust in the relationship and that at the one level Ujjal takes (a) risk, on another that his faith was rewarded and there is an element of trust underlying that obviously and I accept that can be difficult and sometimes, difficult burden to bear in politics, umm, because it feels sometimes like it is a career that does not operate on trust very much."

And elsewhere,

TM: I'm not offering and I'm making no offers. And I think that is a narrative we have to stick to it and I don't want to make the PM a liar. That's not to say that's what we are doing. but I think it is important that we can be honest about it.

But there also we understand that those people who take risk ought to be rewarded for the risks they take and, you know, that as you look through the process of, you know, making a difficult decision thinking about implications for you personally and then what that means that as we get out from under this, the gold fish bowl of right now and into a calmer temperature into the summer that then I think our flexibility to do things in that calmer period of time goes up considerably.

Dosanjh and Murphy discussed a cabinet seat for Grewal and a Senate appointment for his wife, who, said Grewal, was unlikely to win re-election in her riding as a Liberal. Nina Grewal was 47. If the Liberals named her to the Senate, she could sit for 28 years until mandatory retirement at 75. A Senator in 2006 collected $122,000 a year, meaning that the inducement for Nina Grewal alone was worth $2.2 million. And it was doable, unlike a $1 million life insurance policy for a dying man.

Belinda Stronach had whored herself out to the Liberals in exchange for a cabinet seat only a day earlier, so a cabinet position was not on the table immediately, Grewal was told. And a Senate appointment for the Mrs. wasn't out of the question, although, Murphy noted, the next B.C. spot was already spoken for.

As a further sweetener, Grewal was assured that Paul Martin was aware of the emissaries and their chat with him and the PM would call and offer his well wishes.

"I talked to the PM moments ago.He said he is going to Regina right now and he said he will be happy to talk to you over the phone tonight or in person if you want to move." Dosanjh said to Grewal.

The PM "is prepared, depending on how the conversations go, to talk to you directly both by phone an subsequently in person as you, as we see fit." Murphy added later on.

But there was something that could be done almost immediately as a show of good faith in return for a vote.

Joe Volpe, Minister of Immigration, had accused Grewal of taking money for visitors visas, and the Ethics Commissioner was investigating. Grewal wanted an apology from Volpe and a quick resolution of the investigation, which he was certain would clear him. Murphy and Dosanjh said they could, indeed, speak to Volpe and something could be arranged. The transcript of that part of the conversation is fascinating:

Can I say something? What Tim is saying to you, and what I understand tim is saying, is that we can make him do that if there is a deal and and he will do it before the deal is public.
TM: Yes

UD : So that , I am using very simple language...
GG : I understand that , my point...

: I think that before we talk to him, to do that, we need to have a deal in place. We should have a deal in place here and with the Leader. You simply, actually formally, (inaudible)

GG : Okay, I understand. Let me also be blunt. if I may. My point is that what we are talking is not part of the deal at all. This is somehing, what we are doing is the right thing to do. Make the way clear. It is just like to go somewhere the door has to be open. This is just simply a door which is inhibiting in my conscience to talk further or do anything. We are simply opening the door, but it (we can't make it out - ed) the subject of where we are going to.

TM : And I am saying I can only get the door only part way open.
UD : You can only get the door slightly open if there is no deal.
GG : You have to open the door where I can sneak out. (Laughter) That much the door has to be open.

TM: Well, I will see what I can do. We should actually be real careful about using "the deal" as a language because when you are asking, you want to say "No I did it from a principle basis."
GG : I agree

TM : "no deals". So I think we should, I know we're shorthanding, but let's not, because I don't think its good for either of us. But I think we all understand what we are talking about.

We all certainly do.

If the Parliamentary Press Gallery was truly interested in investigating a bribery scandal, it's all here, on tape:

* the promises of rewards,
* the teasing discussions of cabinet seats and Senate appointments,
* the millions of dollars in benefits,
* the Prime Minister who was aware of it all and just waiting for a phone call to consumate the deal.

In hindsight, the Dosanjh-Murphy tapes become doubly interesting.

Remember that the Liberal Party of Canada had funnelled tens of millions of dollars to selected ad firms for work that was never done or which was grossly overbilled, money that could be used for off-the-book spending, if necessary.

On May 17, 2005, the exact date that author Zytaruk initially claimed a bribe offer was made to Chuck Cadman, Tim Murphy talked to Grewal about the power held by the Independent MP's.

TM: As you know with this, its, the balance of power hangs with the two independents, right?
...My sense is that David Kilgour is unlikely to vote for us but he is (an) unpredictable man...And then Chuck Cadman, I think, actually, Chuck Cadman is an honest man. He has not made up his mind and he's going to wait and see what his riding wants and what the right thing to do it. and so I truthfully think with Cadman we won't know until Thursday.

And Ujjal Dosanjh was unusually interested in the status of Grewal's pension.

UD: I'm talking to you for your own welfare. I think you should tell Tim what you have in mind. The way you're approaching it isn't the way it's done. Then that is not good for you. I know you might not be ready to do it right now but you certainly be looking for a significant appointment for her, not for you. How old are you now?
GG: 47
UD: Your pension?
GG: After 8 years, at 53
UD: you will get after 8 years.

At that intriguing juncture, Tim Murphy walked into the room and the subject changed to whether Murphy wanted tea or water?

You don't think...


That would be just about as likely as catching the CBC red-handed collaborating with the Liberal Party as everyone always suspected.

Disgraced CBC reporter Krista Erickson, who was caught red-handed collaborating with the Liberal Party is tired to doing weather stories in Toronto while her former colleagues on Parliament Hill get to cover political scandals.

Erickson was exiled to Toronto for "more training" after the CBC announced that an internal investigation proved she had collaborated with at least two Liberal MP's to embarrass former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at the Common's ethics committee hearings into, well, nobody can exactly say what the hearings were into since they were into everything from Joe Clark's election to cell-phones.

After her cover was blown, CBC Publisher John Cruickshank picked up the CBC's historic alliance with the Liberals against the Conservative Party by refusing to name the MP's who collaborated with Erickson, particularly whether one or both were members of the ethics committee.

Cruickshank also let stand unchallenged the Liberal Party's public claim that they never cooperated with anyone from the CBC.

Truth can never stand in the way of good biased coverage.

But lo and behold, in a CP story last month-- 22 paragraphs down--- we read that Krista may be down but she's not out.

"Relations hit a low point last December when the CBC launched an internal investigation after Doug Finley, a senior federal Conservative party official, wrote a formal letter of complaint over allegations that a CBC reporter fed questions to a Liberal MP to ask Brian Mulroney during a parliamentary hearing.

The broadcaster announced last month that Krista Erickson, an Ottawa-based CBC-TV reporter, had been reassigned to Toronto after her actions were deemed "inappropriate." She is challenging the decision.
(CBC should receive stable, indexed funding for at least seven years: report, Sue Bailey, THE CANADIAN PRESS, Thursday, February 28, 2008)

Who knows, maybe the public will get some answers, yet.

And as twilight crept in, we read that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sued the Liberal Party for libel over the Cadman affair. The Liberal's website carried articles accusing Harper of knowing about an attempt to bribe Cadman.

The lawsuit claims $1 million in general damages, $1 million in aggravated damages, $500,000 in punitive damages and legal costs.

But that's not the worst of it for the Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, or his allies in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. On March 3, Conservative Party pundit Stephen Taylor wrote on his blog (emphasis ours):

"Today, the Prime Minister served notice to Liberal leader Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, Ralph Goodale and the Liberal Party of Canada indicating that they have libeled him with regards to the Chuck Cadman affair.

Harper's lawyer insists that the Liberals preserve email and phone records surrounding this topic Harper's lawyer insists that the Liberals preserve email and phone records surrounding this topic. If the Liberals are to maintain their position that Stephen Harper was somehow involved with a plan to bribe Chuck Cadman, they will have to go through a discovery phase where those records will become public. Harper likely hopes that this would put the Liberals in a difficult position and probably suspects that information
surrounding leaks, potential collaboration and planning will emerge."

The snow is still up to the roofs in Ottawa, but we bet a lot of reporters are already sweating.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Weeks 9 and 10

It's official, although you haven't read it in the mainstream press.

The Taliban have conceded defeat.

After two years of fruitless offensives designed to oust NATO from Afghanistan and overthrow the elected Karzai government, the Taliban concedes it's impossible. This year they're switching to terror tactics and offering to negotiate with the government.

According to Reuters, Taliban deputy leader Mullah Brother told a militant Website that: "Martyrdom attacks and roadside explosions will form major part of the such operations."

"Through our military commanders, local and central councils we are working on these tactics...which will be implemented across the country in the near future as the new military strategy."

Stop Killing Us

A big reason for the change is that the Taliban leaders are tired of getting killed. The U.S. has said it killed more than 50 mid- and top-level Taliban leaders over the last year.

Over the last fortnight, Taliban insurgents have destroyed four microwave phone towers in Kandahar and Helmand provinces after warning the phone companies to shut down service overnight. They fear that U.S. and NATO troops use cell phone signals to track insurgent leaders and kill them in night raids.

Radio Free Europe reports that the threats are actually extortion attempts to raise money for the insurgency. If true, it shows how desperate the Taliban has become for funds. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 cell phones have become the chief manner of communication in Afghanistan. Destroying cell phone towers affects thousands of users, which does nothing to endear the Taliban to local tribes.

Some influential local tribal leaders have already offered to help protect cell phone towers.

Abdul Ahad-Khan Masum, a tribal leader in Kandahar's Kajaki district, where a mobile tower was knocked out of service by the Taliban, said his people can protect the towers "if we are given the authority". As more and more tribes turn against the Taliban, they face a reversal of fortune like that which has defeated Al Qaeda forces in Iraq.

Oops. Too late

The U.S., meanwhile, continued its campaign of targeted assassinations, only this time in Pakistan.

Three missiles, which Internet chatter speculates might have been cruise missiles, destroyed a safehouse for terrorists in a village in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. Residents of the village in told AFP that the house was blown up by a missile fired from a pilotless drone and the blast was heard kilometres away. At least 13 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were killed, including an Al Qaeda fugitive from Egypt. The dead were 4 Arabs, 4 Turkmens, 3 Punjabi Pakistanis, and 2 Afghans. 6-10 wounded insurgents were captured.

Pakistani newspapers said the house was used as a staging centre for Taliban fighters in Paktika province, Afghanistan.

"The attack came as a big surprise to militants as it was a most secret and highly important militant compound: it was disguised as a madrassa (seminary)." wrote Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief, in exquisite understatement.

"Madrassas like the one struck in Azam Warsak are spread all over the border area and nothing is really taught - they are used as a cover by militants." he wrote.

"Thursday's strike therefore serves as a reminder to militants that, despite what politicians might say, they can expect no breathing space and that a ceasefire is not an option. That is, the changing of the government in Islamabad has nothing to do with the "war on terror". " said Shahzad.

Help Wanted

Another sign that all is not well with the insurgency is the call from the leader of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan for more foreign Muslims to join the fight and bring money.

"Your brothers in Afghanistan are waiting for you and longing to (welcome) you," Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said in an audio recording posted on an Islamist Web site.

"The time for reaping the fruit of victory and empowerment has come ... The infidel enemy has been badly wounded at the hands of your brothers and is close to its demise so assist your brothers to slaughter him," added the militant leader, speaking with an Egyptian-sounding accent. ."Only a loser ... who ridicules himself, disobeys God, and loves the lower life would let jihad down," he said. He added that doctors and electronics specialists were particularly in need.

You wouldn't know any of this good news if you depended on the MSM which, without its annual supply of Feared Taliban Spring Offensive stories, has resorted to new doom and gloom scenarios.

Among the most reported was an intelligence assessment by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell who last week said the Afghan government controlled only 30 percent of the country and Taliban insurgents held 10 percent. The rest of Afghanistan, was under the control of tribal groups. This was supposed to prove NATO was failing and Afghanistan was sliding back into anarchy.

"We regard the percentage mentioned ... as totally baseless," Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh told a news conference.

He conceded the government did not have a presence in numerous districts of Afghanistan, but said that did not mean the Taliban insurgents controlled them.
Afghanistan had a deeply rooted tribal society and traditionally tribes formed the basis of a successful administration of the country, Saleh said.

He said President Hamid Karzai's government enjoyed the support of political elites and tribal chiefs.

"Given the history of this country and its national formation and way of governance, we feel proud that we have the support of tribal leaders."

"While in America an administration fully backed by tribal chiefs or dominated by tribal chiefs may be seen as liability, here we see it as a strong asset," Saleh said.

When asked why his account of the Afghan government's control differed so much from that of McConnell, Saleh said: "I am in touch with reality. I am sitting in Afghanistan." (Afghanistan says U.S. control estimates baseless, By Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters, Mon Mar 3, 2008)

Three Dead

Three NATO soliders were killed in the past two weeks. Canadian Michael Yuki Hayakaze, 25, a member of Lord Strathcona's Horse armoured regiment based in Edmonton, was killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar. And Polish soldiers Corporal Szymon Slowik and Private 1st Class Hubert Kowalewski were killed, and another soldier wounded, when their vehicle hit a landmine as they returned from a humanitarian mission in Paktika province. They were promoted posthumously to Senior Corporal and Corporal respectively. All three Polish soldiers were given the Commander's Cross of the Order of the Military Cross for heroism and courage.

On the ground, coalition forces continued to degrade the Taliban insurgency and to demonstrate why Mullah Brother has ceded the battle.

Regional Command East

In eastern Afghanistan, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, Combined Joint Task force 82 deputy commander, reported that the forces under his command are conducting three times the operations they were this time last year, primarily because of the increased capacity of the Afghan troops in the region.

"Their proficiency continues to grow," he said. "One of the key things we're seeing right now is with their commando battalions; they are very highly trained and are operating throughout our area and having some very good effects. We think, ultimately, this capability is going to raise the standard throughout the army."

There had been 36 attacks in the 14 provinces of Regional Command East last month, he said, which if it continued at that pace would be 35 percent below February 2007 numbers.

A senior US general based in eastern Khost province said the number of attacks in his region alone had dropped by up to 50 percent in February, compared to the same time last year.

"We've had several locations here where the district and provincial councils have stood up to the insurgents and indicated they will no longer tolerate their presence," Votel said.

"We will soon be joined here by a provincial reconstruction team from the Czech Republic," Votel said. "They are going to be another member of our very progressive group of forces that includes not only the United States, but Poland, Turkey, New Zealand, French and Egyptian forces."

U.S. Army engineers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 36th Engineer Brigade have constructed nearly 200 miles of secondary roads since arriving in eastern Afghanistan in March 2007, Brigade Commander Col. Richard Stevens told reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
The road-building projects have connected about 120,000 Afghans living in 34 previously isolated villages, the colonel said. New roads and trails "not only allow coalition forces to reach areas that were previously inaccessible, they also provide the Afghan people better security, better access to their government, and increased opportunity for commerce," Stevens explained.

Stevens said his brigade has inspected more than 40,000 miles of road while conducting 1,200 missions in search of improvised explosive devices. Most IEDs in his area are homemade, relying on contact-detonation, he said. Mines that use radio signals for detonation are rare, likely, he said, because of the effectiveness of the coalition's anti-mine countermeasures.

Nevertheless, roadside bombs in Khost on three consecutive days killed 10 civilians and wounded 12 more.

Disrupt, Disarm and Destroy


Coalition troops searching compounds in the Kajaki district for a Taliban commander triggered a raging gunfight.

"While coalition forces conducted a search of the building during one operation, armed assailants who were barricaded in separate rooms engaged coalition forces with small-arms fire and hand grenades," said Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition forces spokesman.

"The assailants were killed when coalition forces responded in self-defense," Belcher said. "A search of the site after the exchange revealed a dead female and child in one of the rooms the assailants used to engage coalition forces."

Earlier, Taliban fighters got the worst of it, again, when they challenged Afghan and coalition forces in the Karez deh Baba and Kajaki districts when Afghan and coalition fighters launched an operation to disrupt weapons and drug smuggling.

"Throughout the day, insurgents kept trying to fight the (Afghan national security forces). The result was always the same," said Army Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman. "(The insurgents were) defeated."

Villagers provided crucial information about insurgent practices and the locations of insurgent safe houses, military officials said.

In another incident, troops found roughly 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate.

"This was an enormous find because this substance is a common explosive additive that could be used in IEDs," Bowman said.

The Afghan-led force discovered the insurgents' command center in a series of caves and a 100-foot deep interconnected tunnel system. Afghan troops suppressed enemy forces until the cave and tunnel system was destroyed with precision-guided bombs.


To add to the hurt, Royal Marines in the Upper Sangin Valley discovered and destroyed a drug factory, and 1.5 tonnes of opium, the precursor of heroin. That's a $400 million (Canadian) bite out of the capacity of drug dealers to finance Taliban protectors during the spring and summer poppy growing season.

The Commandos from Bravo Company unearthed weapons, identity cards and evidence - some in English - of bank accounts. The drug lab, which had apparently been operating for 10 years, was blown to pieces.

The Taliban is getting desperate for funds. In Pakistan, intelligence agencies arrested the Taliban's former defence minister and current #3, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund---again. His arrest, in the border city of Quetta, had been announced in 2006 but he had apparently been released nine months later. He fled to Afghanistan but had returned to Pakistan in January to raise money. He was picked up in Lahore after police got a tip he was meeting with business and fundamentalist groups he hoped would give generously.


They're Baaack. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, on the next six-month tour, that is.

But what are they coming back to, they may well wonder.

Kandahar has been on a roller coaster ride in the past couple of years. PPCLI bloodied the Taliban's nose and kicked them out of the Panjwai district in 2006. In 2007 some genius decided to put the territory in the hands of the corrupt, under-trained, under-armed Afghan police backed by a new National Auxiliary Police Force made up of Afghans with all of two weeks training. Last spring and summer the Taliban swept the police away and reoccupied much of Panjwai district. The Canadians had to go back and take it from them again.

Since then, the situation has shifted again.

Canwest foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher reported this past Monday:

"Actual fighting between the Taliban and the Canadians has dropped off to zero in Kandahar this year, according to Lt.-Col. Alain Gauthier, who was the commander of the Van Doo battle group which was responsible for the war here for six months until he handed over command to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in a ceremony on Friday.

"In the past two months the enemy has not had any direct contact with the coalition," Gauthier said before beginning his return journey to Canada early Saturday."

The last Canadian combat death was in September, 2007.

But insurgents have switched to using roadside bombs, and the occasional suicide bomber, as their weapons of choice. The suicide bombers generally kill only themselves and some unfortunate civilians; IED's on the other hand have taken a heavy toll of Canadian troops.

In 2007, 25 Canadian soldiers were killed by IEDs. This past rotation of troops suffered 10 killed by roadside bombs, almost half of the 18 casualties suffered by the previous rotation. Better equipment and better training is reducing the combat deaths from IED's.

And the next rotation headed for Afghanistan in April 2008 will be better prepared still. They've just undergone intensive training at Fort Bliss, Texas, concentraing on defeating the IED threat. Canadian trainers lead the gunnery, convoy live fire, first aid and most other training blocks, but they turned to U.S. soldiers for instruction on roadside bombs.

They started by examining examples of IED's. Then they made their own.

"If they know the pieces and the components that go into making them, it's going to be easier for them to recognize an IED," a trainer said.

Then it was on to roadside exercises. In one, they marched as a squad along a one-mile stretch of desert along which they encountered a half dozen different IED's. Then, in their LAV's and Coyote reconnaissance vehicles, they drove a seven-mile course pitted with another six roadside bombs they had to avoid or capture. Failure meant a heart-stopping starburst and a big cloud of smoke, followed by a fierce post-mortem.

And the current situation in Kandahar? It depends.

If you want the defeatist view, there's Brian Hutchinson of Canwest News Service who wrote
(Much remains to be done in Kandahar, Friday, February 08):

Kandahar has been without electricity for almost two months. It's causing a crisis, says Abdullah Kamran, a building contractor and commercial landlord. "Factories and light industrial plants are closing because they lack steady power," he explained. "People are out of work.""Why can't Canada send us generators to make electricity, so we can get on with our lives and become productive?" asks Kamran.


Students at Kandahar's university are fed up and on the verge of rioting, says a teacher there. "They have no drinking water, no electricity, no materials." There is talk that people of the Alokozai tribe, the ethnic group that dominates the Arghadab district, are planning to protest a perceived deterioration in living conditions by launching a work stoppage.

Canadian soldiers and government officials point out that before Kandahar city can thrive, the areas around it must be made secure. But the university teacher scoffs. Afghan warlords, chased away by Taliban leaders a decade ago, were allowed to return by coalition forces and the Afghan government, he says. "Thugs and criminals" now run Kandahar, he says.

"Kandaharis have two faces," says the teacher. "For six years, we have been showing our sheep face. Don't force us or pressure us to show our wolf face. Once frustrated enough, the general public will pick up arms. They will wage war on the government and coalition forces responsible for this mess."

If you're looking for optimism, there's Stephanie Levitz of Canadian Press:

Clearing canals
In Afghanistan simple projects change many lives


ZAKAR KALAY, Afghanistan - Drew Gilmour's eyes widened as the van took a turn on the bumpy rural road and suddenly dry dusty land was replaced by soaking wet earth.

"This is just since this week?" he asked, in disbelief. Yes, the Afghan engineer replied proudly. All this, just this week.

What Gilmour was staring at was hundreds of hectares of previously dead farmland now awash in water from a series of irrigation canals finally completed in a village about 18 kilometres from Kandahar city.

Water started running through the first of them this week.

Gilmour's company, Development Works, a private company which receives funding from the Canadian government, is overseeing the clearing of about 26 kilometres of canal altogether in the village.

Eventually, more than 3,600 hectares of farmland will be opened up for use, allowing farmers to increase their harvests by as much as 50 per cent.


Where others might see plain patches of ground, Gilmour sees potential.

In Zakar Kalay, shovels have already hit the ground for a bakery, where 60 per cent of the profits will go to paying teacher's salaries.

Next will be a solar-powered market and then a metal shop.
Over 2,000 metres of sewer have been built and 500 metres of road.

"This place will go from a collection of huts to a real village," said Gilmour.


"You have picked us up off the floor and helped us stand," said the village's deputy district leader Haji Mohammad Khan.
Villagers here don't speak of what happened to them during the time of the Taliban - they weren't around to see it.

Many of them fled to Iran and to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s.

...Now, Mohammad said, more than 800 families have come back to the village in the last six months.

"They have heard we have sewers, that there is water here now," he said. "So they are coming back to rebuild."


Anur Gul, an elderly woman whose voice was muffled by a black veil, said the work made her so happy she volunteered to help, bringing jugs of water from the well to wet down the concrete.

"Everything will be safe, everything will be fine," she said.


"Nobody from here, from anywhere, wants to join the Taliban," said deputy leader Khan. "Everybody just wants to do a job for themselves."

You know which side you'll find us.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

The striking nurses' union's dirty little secret

It took the mere hint of the Manitoba Nurses Union's dirty little secret to send their president rushing to the ramparts to create a diversion.

The MNU is threatening a strike if they don't get 10 percent over two years (that's only twice the current rate of inflation). But union Prexy Maureen Hancharyk knows she has to squelch the secret before public sympathy turns against the nurses.

Winnipeg Free Press columnist Catherine Mitchell (and the editor writing her headline) sent a chill down Hancharyk's back with this story Nurses' part-time ethic fuels full-time headache (Catherine Mitchell, February 29, 2008). Deep in the piece, Mitchell wrote, "More than half of Manitoba's nurses -- 52 per cent -- work part time..."

Hint: That's not the secret.

But in an op-ed column Hancharyk addressed the issue as if it was. "It's not easy being a full-time nurse" was the headline on her piece (Winnipeg Free Press, March 4). "To understand why nurses choose to work part-time, you have to understand the environment in which we work every day." she began, her main points being:

*40 percent of Manitoba nurses are too old (over 50) to handle the physical demands of the job. Some of them suffer back injuries lifting patients.
* One-third of nurses report being assaulted at work
* Almost half the nurses in the union are yelled at or insulted and it hurts their feelings.
* Two-thirds of new nurses show signs of burnout within their first two years.
* Most nurses are women. (Whooah. Say what?) They need to look after their children and homes as well as work. Even female doctors work less than their male counterparts.
* More than half the nurses come early, stay late and work over lunch.

That's pretty much it.

The MNU isn't too concerned that 52 percent of their 11,000 members work part-time, and you'll soon see why. Hancharyk would rather focus on the 800 nurse shortage in Manitoba and the alleged need to raise the pay of nurses to keep them from moving to other provinces which pay more.

To which we have to ask, what shortage?

Can you imagine a private business with 11,000 employees and more than half of them working part-time? The greenest manager would know how to fill 800 empty jobs, because the solution is obvious.

There's no nursing shortage in Manitoba. There's a management shortage.

The numbers say roughly 6700 nurses are working part-time. By our back-of-the-envelope calculations, if only 1600 of them got full time hours, the 800 nurse shortage would disappear and with it the huge overtime bill the province pays each year.

But there's the dirty little secret. Hundreds if not thousands of nurses DON'T WANT TO WORK FULL TIME. Why? Because they get FULL TIME PAY FOR PART-TIME WORK.

A nurse with five year's experience, like those over-50's Hancharyk talked about, is paid a tad over $31 an hour. That's almost $30,000 for six hours work three days a week. And many of the veteran nurses think that's just fine.

If they want a little more spending cash, they only have to take one of the constant overtime shifts available. They'll pick up more than $400 a day for a single day's work.

Last year (or the year before that-ed.) CJOB explored the reasons a provincial committee designed to reduce the number of part-time nurses failed. Richard Cloutier received call after call from nurses who confessed they were happy to work part-time all summer so they could spend their weekends at the cottages and beaches, all the while collecting an acceptable paycheque for the few days they did work.

The MNU will not force these nurses to take full-time shifts. The part-timers are a permanent dysfunction in the system.
The NDP, which owes the nurses union for their help at election time, will not force a change.
So, instead of nurses working for the public, we have a health care system designed to work for the nurses first.

The so-called nursing shortage is a permanent feature of the system. The MNU is a UNION, and unions depend on shortages of labour to drive up the cost of their service. Where's the bargaining power if there's no nursing shortage?

Union president would prefer you to look over here, over there, anywhere but at the real problem.

Nurses have grown too old to do the job? Buy a truckload of gold watches. For every two part-time nurses who retire give one new nurse a full-time job. Watch the retention rate grow and the burnout rate drop.

Nurses are being assaulted? Fire some managers who aren't addressing this serious problem. Nurses being insulted? You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Smedley. Patients are in pain, scared, dying in many cases and they're going to take their emotions out on the closest person around. It's part of the job.

Nurses being women? Eight hour shifts five days a week instead of 12 hour shifts plus OT will do more to bring families together than more money for 12 shifts plus OT.

52 percent of nurses come to work early and stay late and 59 percent work through their lunch breaks? Let's give 'em gold stars they can collect in their workbooks. When they have enough they get a MacDonald's coupon.

The regional health authority told Catherine Mitchell "some 22 per cent of Manitoba grads have left for work in other provinces." So to keep 22 of every 100 graduates we need to give 11,000 nurses a 29 percent raise? Uh, what's wrong with this reasoning? What happened to the Manitoba advantage-especially the cheap housing compared to B.C., Alberta, and Ontario? Isn't Spirited Energy enough to keep the grads here?

Or is the lure of full-time jobs (and a liveable climate) so great?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Winnipeg Free Press tries to stuff the internet genie back into the bottle


Like the burglar wiping off his fingerprints at a break-in, the Winnipeg Free Press is trying to scour the Internet clean of the evidence of how it manipulates "news" to further its vendetta against Mayor Sam Katz.

This weekend the website was ordered to take down its post of an infamous Free Press story "Top planner rips city in final report" (Feb. 16, 2008).

"This material is protected by copyright and cannot be republished without the newspaper's permission." declared the newspaper's new Copyright Sheriff, Steve Pona.


The FP is threatening to sic its high-paid attack dogs on a non-commercial Winnipeg website dedicated to discussing urban planning, rapid transit, and city issues----why? Dozens of FP stories are reprinted on the Internet. The crime stories by Mike McIntyre and Bruce Owen are particular favourites. The TOP PLANNER story is cached

and won't go away even if TRUWinnipeg is forced to pull the post.

Sheriff Steve isn't protecting the copyright.

He's trying to reclaim the very reputation of the Winnipeg Free Press which imploded on Feb. 16, 2008, the day the TOP PLANNER story appeared.

Because, you see, not only was the entire story WRONG, but it revealed how far the FP was willing to go to literally re-write news stories to further their private agenda.

At the risk of a nasty letter from Sheriff Steve, here's some of the story as it appeared in print.

Top planner rips city in final report
East gets job with province, says civic politicians ignore long-term issues

Updated: February 16, 2008 at 09:00 AM CST\
WINNIPEG -- the unplanned city?
Civic politicians and administrators put a low priority on urban planning, said Jacqueline East, who left her job as the city's planning and land use manager for a new one with the provincial government.

When it comes to long-range planning, East said, Winnipeg has no one working on it at all.

Mayor Sam Katz and St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, chairman of the city's planning, property and development committee, challenged her claims.

"I don't agree whatsoever," Katz said. "I don't think there's a low priority from elected officials on the planning, property and development department whatsoever."

But East, in a report this week to council, said it's obvious from the number of planning staff the city employs.


When reporter Joe Paraskevas read "his" story Saturday morning, the hair on his head stood straight up. The story in the newspaper only resembled his story by accident. He immediately phoned Jacqueline East to blubber a heartfelt apology. He then sat at his keyboard and sent e-mails to the Mayor, Justin Swandel, Brenda Leipsic and Jacqueline East to put on the record his shock at what was printed in his name.

From: Paraskevas, Joe
Sent: Sat 2/16/2008 11:05 AM
To: MYO-Mayor; Swandel, Justin; Salyn, Brad; Leipsic, Brenda; East, Jacquie

Subject: Apology

I'm writing this to all the people at city hall to whom I spoke about today's planning story. This is the most difficult letter a reporter can ever write on the job.

I believe all a reporter has is his or her reputation. People must be able to trust him to deliver a story that is not only factually accurate but also captures the right context. Today's story did neither, and I apologize.

While the fault for this lies elsewhere on the newspaper assembly line, I, as a team player, share the blame. I want to be seen as a reliable reporter, one who obviously must sell papers by emphasizing certain events or comments in his stories. But never at the expense of the facts or a sophisticated and accurate painting of a story's context.

Again, I'm sorry.


Paraskevas only gently hints at who was responsible for the travesty of a story that appeared in the Free Press news pages---an editor. An editor like Steve Pona. The mainstream media like the FP always boast that they are superior to citizen journalists like The Black Rod and TRUWinnipeg because, yes, THEY HAVE EDITORS.

Now we see the role of their editors--- to manipulate the facts and context of a story when necessary to spin a story to support the newspaper's unspoken agenda.

Five days after the TOP PLANNER story appeared, the FP carried a tiny, tiny correction on Page 2, saying essentially that everything in the story was wrong.

The correction was in the smallest print possible without needing a magnifying glass to read it and the only people who would have noticed it was those checking their lottery numbers.

It said among other things, that:

- Jacqueline East had not issued a report to council, another agency had;
- she wasn't commenting on her report because it wasn't her report, and she was still employed by the city;
- her position with the province hadn't started yet.

As to the accuracy of her quoted statements, let Jacqueline East comment (an e-mail she sent to colleagues, emphasis ours):

From: East, Jacquie
Sent: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 3:04 PM
To: PPD-Planning and Land Use Division;
Subject: FW: City Planning Service Plan

Hi all!

In case you might have noticed the WFP article on Saturday and in light of the fact that there are still some people who might think I would actually do something like what appeared in the paper on Saturday, I am forwarding the apology I, and others, received from the reporter. Suffice it to say, the article was not an accurate reflection of the sentiment or tone of the interview I participated in with the reporter on Friday, at Corporate Communication's request.

The reporter called me first thing Saturday to apologize and I am sorry that his version of the story was altered. I felt it was a relatively positive discussion and a chance to talk about urban planning in Winnipeg ... even included a wee kudo to the current political administration for beginning to engage in some discussions about urban planning in our city.

For those of you who had faith in me that this was the case ... thanks!


It should be noted that Paraskevas has reason to worry about his reputation. He was used previously by the Free Press, whether he knew it or not, to provide cover for another smear of the mayor by columnist Gordon Sinclair ( ).
It may be that the discovery of how he was manipulated the first occasion lead to the rapid email apology this time.

The Winnipeg Free Press responded to the revelation on the Blogosphere ( ) of Paraskevas' apology. Editor Margo Goodhand issued a note to staff to watch themselves when sending emails that could, ahem, embarass their employer.

We predict apologies to the ordinary Joe will henceforth be few and far between, and never, ever in writing, not even from the Staffer Joe.

There's been some confusion of late regarding the status of Uptown weekly and the various commuity papers. Here's the official story of what's going on:

Press Release: February 15, 2008
Canstar Community News to merge with Winnipeg Free Press
Employees of Canstar Community News represented by CEP Local 191 (the Media Union of Manitoba and N.W. Ontario) voted on a first collective agreement today that will merge the community news operation with the Winnipeg Free Press.

About 30 employees of Canstar are now part of the Winnipeg Free Press contract after today's vote. Canstar publishes free weekly neighbourhood-zoned newspapers such as The Herald, The Metro, The Times, The Headliner and The Lance, as well as the entertainment weekly Uptown and The Prime Times, a seniors' publication. Canstar is owned by FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership ("FPLP"), which also owns the Winnipeg Free Press and The Brandon Sun.

CEP became the bargaining agent for Canstar employees in Editorial, Advertising, Creative Services, and Distribution in May 2007. After a protracted and difficult set of negotiations the parties determined that the long-term success of Canstar's publications and its employees lay in a merger with its sister publication, the Free Press.

Many employees will receive a raise in pay and take part in the Free Press benefits package, including pension. Sadly, the merger will result in job loss for five Canstar employees in the bargaining unit. CEP Local 191 bargained recall rights for three of those employees in Creative Services (Graphic Designers). The first contract deal also restructures the advertising department for a more equitable distribution of sales accounts for commissioned sales reps.

"This was a difficult and, at times, troubling, set of negotiations, "said CEP National Representative Paul McKie. "But the committee believed, and the members have confirmed with their vote, that this was the right direction to take the newspapers."

And here's the same story from the voice of one of the affected Canstar staffers:

An Open Letter to the Free Press/Canstar Owners:

I've watched in horror over the past two years as the owners of Canstar, the weekly papers (The Herald, Lance, Metro, Times and Headliner) have time and again done everything in their power to shit on these papers.

It started with the firing of John Proven, publisher. We couldn't keep John. He liked this product. He fought for these papers. Under him, readership rose 20 per cent in one year, in an era where newspaper readership is on the decline! Who needs numbers like that? No, no, you decided to replace him with Bryan Metcalfe, a meek yes-man who left from Auto Trader who doesn't dare tell you to your faces that you're idiots. Possibly because he doesn't know.

Since Bryan's installment as publisher, readership has undoubtedly gone down, as what with his focus on cutting costs to the bone (ie - not hiring replacement staff) and only 'good news' such as pictures of people's pets. SO newsworthy.

And then Bryan hires his longtime good friend, Dan Zune, as Sales Manager. Dan left from Canstar years ago. But hey, everyone deserves a second chance, eh? The first thing he does is order t-shirts for the Sales Team. No one wears them. Sales plunge.

Staff start leaving in droves. Last year, the turnover rate was a whopping 110 per cent. Wow! Now THAT'S a number that shows leadership in tough times ! Staff get so tired of working unpaid overtime (some in excess of dozens of hours a week) that they unionize, which pisses you owners right off and you do everything in your power to stall the process. More people leave, including the union leaders.

The editorial staff has completely changed in the past six months. All of them have moved on, some to the dailies, some to radio or TV, hell, even one to the West Coast. Way to drive all your talent away. Many of them had been at the papers for several years and were excellent resources. But we'd rather have newbies right out of Red River anyway, instead of people with Masters degrees.

Distribution is in shambles. Half the city no longer even gets the papers anymore, despite what we tell our advertisers. It doesn't matter anyway - Bryan's mandate of 'good news only' means no one reads the papers anymore anyway.

After having to go to the Province for mediation, there's finally a union contract, so to speak - many people are laid off and the rest are being moved to the Free Press building. The papers are now part of the Free Press' 'Community News Department.' That move happens in May - despite numerous assurances in years past that this would never happen.

Yesterday was the final straw. You fired Paul Rutherford, the Managing Editor who was so instrumental in getting readership numbers up to a respectable level, and replaced him with John Kendle, who does nothing but write the occasional music review and fanny around with invoices. Nothing like replacing leadership with more yes-men! But that was the goal anyways, right?

The sales staff at the Free Press are gloating so hard right now that they're telling clients that the papers are shutting down completely and as a result, advertisers are pulling out of the weeklies. Of course, that means even less money for you owners down the line, as many of those advertisers simply can't afford to advertise in the Free Press.

You've really fucked things up, haven't you? You spent a shitload of money on a good product and turned around and killed it. Congratulations.


Someone else who's about to quit.