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 adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Monday, February 25, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Weeks 7 and 8

Canada's top general this past week flushed out the biggest threats to this country's mission to Afghanistan.

In a speech last Friday Gen. Rick Hillier said MP's are endangering the lives of Canada's soldiers by delaying a decision on our role in Afghanistan. The Taliban see the debate as a weakness to be exploited by increasing attacks and casualties to frighten Canada out of Kandahar.

And, he said, "the least our soldiers could expect" is a unanimous vote of support for the troops once a decision is made in Parliament.

The counterattack from the Taliban's best allies in the country was immediate.

Huh uh, said the citizen of France who leads the Liberal Party of Canada. Wat duz zee gen-ee-rall know? The Tal-ee-ban will killing be the Canadians soldiers, debate or non.

Shut the f___ up, said the NDP's defence critic. The general is stupid and a liar, she said in slightly different words, yet eloquently summarizing her party's cut-and-run surrender philosophy.

The soldiers on the ground and their replacements en route had to be shaking their heads in despair.

It was different in-country where the Taliban launched a three-day terror blitz in Kandahar province which may have backfired big time.

Sunday the 17th a suicide bomber (possibly wearing a police uniform although accounts differ) slipped into a large crowd attending dog fighting matches. He blew himself up, killing more than 100 people, including his likely target, the fiercely anti-Taliban police commander Abdul Hakim Jan and 35 other police officers. The slaughter of civilians was so unprecedented that nobody has publicly claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Janes, locals were disgusted by the high civilian casualties "and condemned the bombing as a grave sin against Islam."

A sucide attack of this proportion without any regard to civilian casualties is so out of character for the Old School Taliban commanders like Mullah Omar, that it's a clear sign that they have been pushed aside by the more radical Al Qaeda-linked new breed. The backlash from the civilian population that the Taliban has always claimed welcomed and supported them will be punishing to Taliban fortunes.

The very next day, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a Canadian army convoy in the town of Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan. The convoy was passing through a bazaar of small shops and roadside vendors. The explosion left four Canadian soldiers shaken up, but killed 37 civilians and wounded more than 30 more.
The dead and wounded were from the Achezai tribe, which makes up the local police force as well. The Taliban attack has made permanent enemies of the Achezai tribe, and as the Al Qaeda defeat in Iraq has shown, there's nothing more dangerous to them than the enmity of local tribesmen.

The following day, a third Taliban attack killed one civilian when a remotely detonated car bomb went off as a police car passed in a suburb of Kandahar city.

It may be a sign of the revulsion over the dogfight bombing but within days local authorities captured 7 men accused of assisting in the attack.

If the Kandahar attacks were an attempt to influence the Canadian parliament, the Taliban may have been testing another weak link in the NATO chain Tuesday when they fired five rockets at a Germany base near the northern city of Kunduz. The rockets were fired by timing devices. Two of them landed on the base but caused no damage.

On the other hand, the attack on the Germans was likely just a matter of money.
"We have intelligence information that Taliban would give 50,000 Pakistan rupees (900 US dollars) for their fighters for firing one rocket on Afghan and international forces targets. If the rocket hits the target the person would be rewarded with 100,000 Pakistan rupees," a Kunduz government spokesman told told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The British in Helmand province suffered two dead in separate incidents last week bringing the total coalition killed in 2008 to 17. Cpl. Damian Lawrence of the Yorkshire Regiment was killed Sunday while on foot patrol in the Kajaki district and Cpl. Damian Mulvihill of the Royal Marines was killed Tuesday by a landmine while patrolling near the town of Sangin.

But the British struck back.

On Monday one of the coalition's top targets was crossing the desert by motorbike with a couple of lieutenants when soldiers from the Special Boat Service dropped into their path by helicopter. When the gunfight ended, Mullah Abdul Matin, and his pals were dead and crossed off the most-wanted list. Troops recovered night vision goggles, grenades and a detonator and some slightly shot-up motorbikes.

A few days later British and Afghan troops attacked a concentrated group of insurgents between Musa Qala and Kajaki districts. In the five-hour battle an estimated 30 Taliban fighters were killed, mainly by air support. Another 11 were captured.

Among the casualties was Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Bari.

"Mullah Abdul Barry (sic), a Taliban commander, was wounded in the attacks and later died of his wounds in hospital," said an official NATO notice.

Bari led Taliban operations against the British in northern Helmand province in the Kajaki, Musa Qala and Baghran districts. He escaped when British-led forces re-captured the town of Musa Qala in December. His former colleague Mullah Abdul Salaam, who defected to the government forces before the British push into Musa Qala, spoke to village elders about Bari in mid-January according to Afgh.com.

"Abdul Bari is our brother," Salaam said. "He can come and sit among us. He is from this land. Speak with him. But don't let him be stupid. If he is not on the right path then don't let yourself be sacrificed for him. Tell him to take his jihad somewhere else."

But there's an indication there was more than jihad on Bari's mind. Following the fight, Afghan forces seized weapons, two trucks full of explosives and half a ton of opium. They said they also destroyed a heroin-processing factory.

The battle may have been a preemptive strike against the Taliban leader who needed to sell the drugs to finance operations in the coming spring.

To wrap up the week, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army convoy in Khost province, killing only himself. And seven security guards died Saturday when their vehicle hit a landmine in Kunar province.

We will end the overview of the week with three developments that will affect the fighting once the winter snows melt in the next few weeks.

* The Afghan National Army (ANA) will boost troop levels in mid-March across the Taliban's traditional stronghold of southern Afghanistan, the Afghan Defence Ministry's chief spokesman has said. Mohammad Zaher Azimi told reporters in Brussels: "A year ago we had only 30,000 trained troops available. Today we have 70,000-plus weapons such as M16 and M4 [infantry assault] rifles." 2008 Jane's Information Group

*Pakistani Moderates Make Gains in Northwest at Taliban's---Voice of America News
Pakistan's Islamist political parties fared poorly in this week's elections, particularly in their traditional stronghold in the country's northwest, where the military has battled pro-Taliban militants in the past year.

In the last provincial elections in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, a coalition of Islamist parties - many sympathetic to the Taliban - swept into power, causing many observers to worry about a growing Islamist political force.


This week, however, the Islamist coalition called the MMA lost its majority, winning just 10 of the 96 contested seats in the provincial assembly.

*Accord for attacks by pilotless planes: NYT (from Dawn, Pakistan's most widely circulated English language newspaper)

NEW YORK, Feb 22: American officials are reported to have reached a quiet agreement with Pakistani leadership to step up secret air strikes against suspected terrorists.

The New York Times said in a report on Friday that the strikes would use pilotless Predator aircraft. The new arrangements allow, among other things, an increase in the number and scope of patrols and strikes by armed surveillance aircraft launched from a secret base in Pakistan. This is reported to be a far more aggressive strategy to attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban than had existed before.

The newspaper said that the change, described by senior American and Pakistani officials who would not speak for attribution because of the classified nature of the programme, allows American military commanders greater leeway to choose from what one official who took part in the debate called 'a Chinese menu' of strike options.


Instead of having to confirm the identity of a suspected militant leader before attacking, this shift allowed American operators to strike convoys of vehicles that bear the characteristics of Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders on the run, for instance, so long as the risk of civilian casualties is judged to be low.

One thing for certain---this ain't your daddy's war.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Labeled a perjurer by NDP, Zanidean cleared by Regina police

The NDP government's manipulation of the justice system for political purposes has reached disturbing levels.

The latest example is the belated revelation of the results of a police investigation into high-level allegations of perjury by key prosecution witness Ray Zanidean at the trial of James Driskell for the murder of Perry Dean Harder.

When the federal justice minister ordered a new trial for Driskell in 2005 he said it was, in part, because " For 11 years after Mr. Driskell's trial, the Crown failed to disclose information that Mr. Zanidean likely committed perjury at the trial."

The same day, Manitoba's then-Attorney General Gord Mackintosh announced the government would stay charges, instead of holding a new trial, in part because, as a letter from his office stated:

"There is a basis to believe that Zanidean may have committed perjury at the first trial in at least two areas. For that reason the issue of possible perjury will be referred to an outside police agency for further investigation and a prosecutor from outside Manitoba will be retained to provide advice to them."

Well, it turns out the results of that "further investigation" have been known to the government for months but have been kept secret.

Why?

Because the investigation determined THERE WAS NO PERJURY.

The investigation by Regina city police, concluded -- and a Winnipeg special prosecutor concured -- that there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of successfully prosecuting Ray Zanidean for perjury despite the impression left by the federal and provincial justice departments.

You can bet the lynch mob will continue to perpetuate the myth by using the weasel word "likely" committed perjury, even if it can't be proven.

Of course they'll scream, uh, bloody murder if anyone says Driskell "likely" committed murder even if that can't be proven either, despite the fact there's more support for that proposition. After all, the evidence against Driskell was presented to a jury which convicted him beyond a reasonable doubt, while Zanidean has never even been charged, has undergone cross-examination under oath on his statements, and has withstood two year's worth of police investigation.

The fact that authorities cannot substantiate the claim of perjury comes as no surprise. More than a year ago The Black Rod predicted the outcome of the investigation simply by examining the evidence from the show trial (aka the Driskell inquiry) of the police and prosecutors who compiled the evidence to convict Driskell. See for yourself at:

http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/08/driskell-inquiry-defence-never-rests.html


The NDP knew it in 2005 when they announced with great fanfare that Zanidean would be investigated. They knew it in 2006, before the phoney investigation into Driskell's conviction, when they announced, with faux embarassment, that the investigation wasn't yet completed; in fact it hadn't even started due to come sort of (snicker) "miscommunication".

But it's clear now that the "miscommunication" was designed to delay any investigation in case the results were what they turned out to be.

Instead, the Driskell "Inquiry" was allowed to proceed, with the lawyers given free reign to accuse Zanidean of perjury on the record without fear of contradiction.

Zanidean, by the way, was not given the chance to challenge the lawyers because inquiry counsel Michael Code said everybody knew what he was going to say and he was a liar anyway.

The NDP says they have to keep the police investigation secret to protect the reputation of an innocent man.

Yeah, after they allowed him to be slandered daily at the Driskell inquiry.

Shamefully, the NDP had no such concerns about the slander of others at the inquiry.

The Winnipeg Free Press went so far as to fabricate a quotation, allegedly from the inquiry, to support a story slandering former crown prosecutor George Dangerfield for condoning the non-existent perjury. See the details at:
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2006/09/true-but-false-driskell-inquiry-like.html

The Winnipeg Free Press, wouldn't you know it, hasn't published a word on the update of the perjury investigation.

The FP did, on the other hand, publish another not-altogether accurate story on the justice system featuring none other than former Justice Minister Gord Macintosh.

"Youth act made even worse, say ministers," read the headline over the story by the FP's new Ottawa reporter Mia Rabson. She wrote:

"A federal bill amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act makes an already bad piece of legislation even worse, provincial justice ministers said in Ottawa Friday."

Somebody should review basic grammar with Little Mia, particularly the distinction between singular and plural. While she and the headline writer cited "ministers", only one minister made an appearance in the story, Huff 'n' Puff himself, doing what he does best, blaming Ottawa for his failures.

Macintosh, representing current Justice Minister Dave Chomiak, declared the Conservatives were sticking it to Manitoba, particularly after a much-touted all-party-and-then-some delegation went to Ottawa last September with a list of the changes they wanted to see in the act.

"This is the first legislative expression on youth crime from the Conservative government and it's a troublesome signal," he said.

"Not only does the bill not reflect what was asked, it some ways it makes it worse," said Macintosh.

His beef?
Apparently, it's these proposed amendments adding to when a judge can deny bail:

· when the young person is charged with committing an offence that endangered the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person;

· when there is a substantial likelihood that the young person will, if released from custody, commit a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangers the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person.

Macintosh says that linking bail to a "substantial" "likelihood" of "serious" "bodily harm" creates too many hurdles for the Crown to meet.

And he's right.

The Manitoba delegation wanted to see tougher bail laws particularly to corral car thieves. Theft of an automobile is not considered a violent offence in federal law and the proposed amendments will have no effect on the young criminals Manitoba wants most to see off the streets.

What was missing , though, is where the proposed amendments reflect exactly what the Manitoba delegation wanted.

"Clause 2 of the bill, by amending subsection 38(2) of the YCJA, adds the following two principles of sentencing:
· denouncing unlawful conduct; and deterring the young person, and other young people, from breaking the law."


There's a very good reason why Macintosh wants to deflect attention from the major amendments to the Youth Justice Act which topped the list of changes wanted by Manitoba.

You see, the federal NDP is foresquare against them.

When the Supreme Court ruled, in a Manitoba case, that deterrence cannot be considered in sentencing young offenders, federal NDP justice critic Joe Comartin crowed victory.

Youth crime bill pushes deterrence
Nov 20, 2007 04:30 AM
Tonda MacCharles
Ottawa Bureau

snip

It reintroduces as a sentencing principle for judges the idea of general deterrence and denunciation. This comes more than a year after the Supreme Court of Canada found it was not a valid consideration for judges under the revamped act. The high court noted there is "much controversy" over the concept, and said Parliament had already made the "policy choice" to take "general deterrence" or denunciation out of the mix for sentencing young people.

It also makes it easier for a judge to deny pre-trial bail to an accused young person. A judge may consider "any pending charges," whether the charges are for a serious violent crime, and if the person is a repeat young offender, has a history of breaching release orders, or is a risk to cause "serious bodily harm" to another person.

Mackinnon said the provision puts "too much of the decision-making back in the hands of police officers" because it encourages officers who want to ensure a youth is jailed to jack up the number of charges they lay in an incident.

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) said the measure is "basically useless" and a "political" move "because our judges are already dealing with the detention of youth when appropriate using the same type of criteria that's in that part of the bill."

and he elaborated further:

Monday, November 19, 2007 7:53 PM ET

MP Joe Comartin, the NDP's justice critic, told the CBC's Politics, a nightly political interview show based in Ottawa, that he was skeptical of the proposed changes.

"Denunciation doesn't work," he said. "We know that from any number of studies done around the globe."

Deterrence is not a principle that's viable either, he said, adding that if the Tories really wanted to do something, they'd be looking at prevention, putting more police officers on the streets and more programs in place.

Think he's changed his mind ?

We learned just this past week that when the Manitoba delegation went to Ottawa it met with federal NDP leader Jack Layton---and Joe Comartin.

How Comartin must have laughed up his sleeve to listen to the Manitoba bumpkins pitch adding deterrence to the sentencing guidelines for youth.

There's talk of a federal election soon, and Macintosh knows the federal NDP will be painted as soft on crime, particularly in Manitoba, when they fight, as they will, to keep deterrence out of the young offenders act. So he's tried to turn the blame on the Conservatives to give the federal NDP a cover for opposing changes to the YCJA.

Macintosh and his Manitoba NDP colleagues are willing to sacrifice the very amendments they claimed to want, for the success of their federal cousins.

Or, as we said, manipulating the justice system for political purposes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 6

We were just about to put Week Six to bed when we got word of the fate of Mansoor Dadullah.

If the name sounds familiar, it should, as you'll see. The last time we wrote about him we wondered what would become of him. Now we know and it would be tragic if it wasn't so funny.

Mansoor Dadullah's life this past year has been a microcosm of the fortunes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and so we're forced to re-top Week Six with his story.

A year ago, last March, his big brother Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's chief military commander, was shot to pieces by British (or Australian) special forces, sucking the life out of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive he was supposed to lead. He didn't even have time to strap his artificial leg on before he gasped his final farewell.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar appointed Mansoor Dadullah to take over his bro's leadership of insurgent forces in the southern and western provinces---just in time to see his fighters decimated by an aggressive NATO offensive.

And that was the high point of the year. In December, Omar got wind that British diplomats were roaming Helmand province with pockets packed with cash to bribe Mansoor Dadullah into switching sides. Omar immediately sacked Mansoor and ordered his troops to shun their former leader.

After a month of sulking, Mansoor tried to sneak into Pakistan Monday from either Helmand or Kandahar provinces, only to be spotted by border security guards. He and five companions refused to stop, and the guards gunned them down. Mansoor is alive, but "critically wounded."

With his luck, he'll live, and get to undergo, uh, questioning by Afghan intelligence officers.

Mansoor's capture comes two weeks after one of Al-Qaeda's top leaders, Abu Layth al-Libi (spellings vary) was killed in Pakistan by a Predator drone. This week we learned from the Kuwaiti daily al-Watan that the Hellfire missile also killed three other important Al-Qaeda leaders, two Kuwaitis and a Libyan. It looks like there was some sort of terrorist summit meeting under way when the bomb dropped.

Don't you love stories with happy endings.

Mansoor Dadullah may actually have gotten out of southern Afghanistan while the getting was good for the British are bringing in their big guns for the coming spring fighting season.

The Sunday Times has reported that "3,000 paratroopers, including the entire Parachute Regiment" are being sent to southern Afghanistan and the number of UK special forces is being tripled.

"It will be the first time in the regiment's history that all four para battalions, including its reservists, have fought together on the same battlefield. The number of UK special forces personnel will rise to more than 800 and will include the bulk of the Special Forces Support Group, which is largely comprised of paratroopers." said the Times.

The Telegraph adds that "All three regular battalions of the Paras will take over from existing infantry in the southern province of Helmand in April, providing the backbone of 16 Air Assault brigade, it was reported. advertisement They will be sent out with extra firepower including more armoured vehicles and new Merlin helicopters. It is the first time that so many Paras have been sent on a joint combat mission since the Second World War."

The Telegram says that the paras will be sent out "with extra firepower including more armoured vehicles and new Merlin helicopters" and, according to the Times, The RAF will be adding Tornado and Typhoon ground attack planes to its existing Harrier squadrons

"The aim is for special forces to target the Taliban before they cause problems, while the paras provide security for reconstruction to get going in earnest," one officer told the Times.

And this year UK special forces will be going after drug barons who fund the Taliban. When NATO and Afghan forces recaptured the Helmand town of Musa Qala they discovered up to 70 heroin factories and an estimated $300- to $500-million in opium.

And the incoming troops know what's waiting for them. When 1 Battalion of the Royal Anglians returned to England in November they revealed that they had fired one million rounds in their six month tour. They killed more than 1000 insurgents. The intensity of the fighting his year could be as great as the British concentrate on refurbishing the Kajaki Dam, probably the most important single reconstruction effort of the current NATO mission to Afghanistan which is already one year behind schedule.

In next door Kandaha province, Canadian forces are seeing another rotation of troops this week. The fighting has died down considerably but Kandahar appears to be the prime target of the Taliban's roadside and suicide bomb campaign.

"A mine planted by Taliban insurgents and exploded by remote-control Monday night (Feb. 4)south of Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province, left three policemen dead and injured two others," police chief of Kandahar Syed Aqa Saqib told Xinhua news service.

At almost the same time in neighbouring Helmand province a civilian car struck a roadside bomb in Gereskh district, killing five people including a woman and two children.

A published report says that since 2005, the year Canadian Forces starting arriving in Kandahar province, there have been 34 successful attacks by roadside bombs. Twenty-eight soldiers have been killed and 72 have been wounded, according to statistics on the Canadian American Strategic Review website.

On Feb. 4, seven Taliban fighters were killed in an airstrike as they were they were trying to mine a road in Panjwayi district. Next day the airpower summary described the action this way:

2/5/2008 - SOUTHWEST ASIA ( AFPN ) -- In Afghanistan, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle conducted a show of force in order to deter enemy activities in the vicinity of Kajaki Dam. The on-scene joint terminal attack controller declared the mission successful.

An Air Force B-1B Lancer dropped guided bomb unit-38s on positions in Kandahar where improvised explosive devices were located. The mission was declared successful by the JTAC.


A day later three Canadian soldiers hunting for roadside bombs were shaken up when their Cougar bomb-hunting vehicle hit a roadside IED under a culvert 1200 feet from an Afghan police substation.

The only other attacks of note were a series of suicide bombings.

A suicide car bomber in Ghazni province, southwest of the capital Kabul, targeted an Afghan army convoy Friday, Feb. 7. The explosion killed one soldier and two civilians, one of them a child. Five soldiers were wounded.

The previous day a suide car bomber blew himself up near a NATO convoy in Khost province in the east. Three soldiers were slightly wounded.

And two civilians were injured in a bungled suicide attack in the southwestern province Nimroz.

The relative ineffectiveness of the Taliban's suicide bomb campaign is noteworthy. We've come across numerous individual accounts of the Taliban recruitment which, as you'll easily see, belie the image of a popular insurgency stocked with eager recruits.

Here's an excerpt from a story on youths in Afghanistan from IRIN, a United Nations news agency:

Youth in crisis: Coming of age in the 21st century
C O N T E N T S
AFGHANISTAN: Economy, violence hit prospects for youth

"A few days ago, while I was going to school, the Taliban stopped me and asked me to quit school and learn religious education in a Madrassa instead, or else I should join their armed ranks," 17-year-old Kandahar student Habibulhaq told IRIN.

"They also told me that I would be paid, but that first I need to get military training before taking part in the fighting against the government," the teenager revealed.

"Now I am afraid that they might kill me one day because I continued studying at school and didn't give in to their demand," he said.

[This article is part of a special IRIN series that looks at how conflict, poverty and social alienation are affecting the lives of schoolchildren ]

And here's a more chilling anecdote from the Daily Express about a 12-year-old boy attending school in the U.K. (Suicide Bomber, 12, at UK School, Daily Express, February 10, 2008):

Extremists recruited the boy shortly after his father, a Taliban fighter, was shot dead by British soldiers in a gun battle. One elder told him: "You must avenge his death by becoming a martyr." During intensive mountain training the youngster learned how to handle explosives and sophisticated detonators. He even went on dummy missions with bags taped to his body.

Taliban fanatics instructed him to wander towards British patrols, pretending to be a tearful lost child, and once surrounded by soldiers - or taken to an Army base - he would blow himself up.

But after weeks of secret training the boy blurted out to his mother what he was doing. She could not bear the thought of losing a son as well as her husband, so worried family members pulled all their resources together and paid for him to be spirited out of Afghanistan to escape the clutches of evil Taliban leaders
.

It's dozens of stories like this that Canadians never read about in the mainstream media as the pundits pontificate about the chances of an election over Afghanistan.

By coincidence we came across this passage from Shakespeare which seems almost written for Canada:

Henry VI, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 1

Messenger: Among the soldiers, this is muttered---
That here you maintain several factions,
And whilst a field should be despatched and fought,
You are disputing of your generals:
One would have lingering wars, with little cost:
Another would fly swift, but wantest wings:
A third man thinks, without expense at all,
By guileful fair words peace may be obtained
.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Pablogate's two dead myths: the roadkill of the CBC-Liberal Party collusion scandal Part Two

The House of Commons ethics committee reconvened Tuesday and the mainstream media acted as if it was business as usual.

In their eyes it's Sept. 10 again and all is well with the world.

But the CBC collusion scandal has left two corpses in its wake, and nothing will be the same again.


Fatality #2 --- The myth that professional journalists are more trustworthy than bloggers because they have standards, ethics and training that ensures their personal biases do not influence the fairness of their stories. Oh, and they have editors.

Well, ding dong, the witch is dead.

The CBC collusion scandal has been like an infusion of truth serum into mainstream reporters. And their confessions are eye-opening.

It started with pundits like CTV's Mike Duffy and Maclean's columnist Paul Wells who tut-tutted that 'it's no big deal, everybody does it.'

None other than CBC Publisher John Cruickshank pointed out that practice, by anybody, was unethical and unprofessional.

"When, as in the present instance, it is revealed that a reporter has been collaborating, even if only obliquely, with one party or another, an appearance of partisanship emerges that cannot be dispelled by claims that this is how political reporters interact with their sources." he blogged.

"Any time a reporter plants a question and covers the results, they are deceiving their audience about their detachment and fairness."

Then National Post columnist Don Martin wrote (Open season on Ottawa's flacks, Feb. 1, 2008) that the Parliamentary Press Gallery isn't even pretending to be detached and fair in their latest trumped-up "scandale du jour" where they're attacking PMO (Prime Minister's Office) communications director Sandra Buckler over something about something nobody outside their little circle cares about.

A "full-court-press-pile-on is taking place atop Stephen Harper's closest aides", he wrote.

"It appears to be a gleeful media overkill, which smacks of personal payback..."

And why? Because the press wants to punish the Prime Minister for the Krista Erickson-Liberal Party collusion scandal.

"Given this bitter, show-no-mercy reaction against a reporter with friends in the governing party, the PMO shouldn't be surprised if journalists cut them little to no slack when they make mistakes." said Martin. Or when they just feel like it, professional standards be damned.

Not convinced? Remember the truth serum.

On a recent broadcast of CBC Newsworld's "Politics" hosted by Don Newman, Toronto Star columnist Susan Delacourt (whose live-in whatever is, according to bloggers, a Liberal strategist) confessed that she and her media colleagues were making it personal in their reporting on the firing of nuclear regular Linda Keen. You remember her, don't you?

Keen was the bureaucrat who put the lives and health of thousands of cancer patients at risk because she refused to approve the reopening of the only nuclear facility making cancer-detecting isotopes. She was repudiated by every single member of the House of Commons and every single Senator, all of whom unanimously voted to overrule her and see the Chalk River reactor reopened.

Delacourt said the Parliamentary Press Gallery was using their on-going war with Stephen Harper over rules governing press conferences, cabinet meetings, and photo-ops to spin their Keen stories.

h/t to Joan Tintor http://joantintor.blogspot.com/2008/01/delacourt-keen-coverage-is-payback-for.html
(emphasis ours)

Delacourt: "And for the last two years, this government has sort of shown, sort of, the back of the hand to that whole idea of independence, or sort of distance, and I think this is where it catches up with them.

The media is gonna tell this story from the experience they know which is - we don't know what it's like to get someone on your doorstep firing you at ten o'clock at night - but we certainly know what it feels like to be trifled with and to be played around with and bullied."

Delacourt didn't even pay lipservice to the canard that professional reporters don't let their personal feelings influence the fairness of their stories. The Parliamentary Press Gallery isn't pretending that's the case anymore.

One year ago this week The Black Rod reported how the PPG's then president struck a deal with all the Opposition parties to reverse the PMO's new rules on the press regardless of who replaces Harper as PM.

http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2007/02/revealed-parliamentary-press-gallerys.html

A few months later, National Post columnist Warren Kinsella was even more blunt in a column (Time to make nice, Mr. Harper. The Press Gallery will get its revenge when it counts -- at election time
, Warren Kinsella, National Post, Thursday, May 31, 2007)

Kinsella mentioned the Toronto Star's Richard Brennan, "the tough-talking new president of the Ottawa Press Gallery" (who was later elected president of the PPG). Referring to quotes by Brennan in the weekly Parliament Hill newspaper The Hill, Kinsella wrote:

"Brennan -- whom we affectionately called "Badger" when he toiled at Queen's Park, after the sturdy carnivorous burrowing mammal with strong claws -- hinted at what is well underway: retribution.


"There's not a lot we can do, except push back, and that's what he is going to find," said Brennan. "We are pushing back."

What's different now is that Susan Delacourt feels comfortable enough to talk openly about this push back campaign. And we know why. She knows there will be no blowback.

We recently noted in The Black Rod that Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett confessed (see, truth serum) in his newspaper-approved blog (emphasis ours):


"In the mainstream media, there is an unwritten rule that demands that we not waste space writing about other media outlets. It's not universally respected, of course, but in general there is an "honor among thieves" philosophy that says, "I got my say, and you get your say."

Just last week Lett was emboldened to write that people should expect their newspaper to provide slanted news coverage.

" I've long conceded that newspapers reflect the gender, race, and demographic bias of the people who put them together...I just think we're all better informed when we acknowledge the FP is sort of white and liberal..."

His point being you should expect the Free Press (in this instance) to favour the liberal spin on stories. If you want to read something different, he said, you should search out other sources of news.

"I often tell groups who have asked me to speak to them about media and politics that no single news organization has the responsibility to make readers/viewers fully informed." he wrote.

"...all news outlets - and alternative news sources for that matter - should have an opportunity to join the debate on any given subject. "

"I know that is presumptuous when one journalist gets access to a big organization like the Free Press and others don't. But isn't the beauty of the on-line journalism community the fact that technology is helping citizen journalists jump into the game with old-school, bricks-and-mortar news outlets?"


Gee, that's mighty sort of white of him, isn't it.

******
Back to Basics

Let's not forget where all this started--when CBC reporter Krista Erickson fed questions to Liberal MPs to embarass the Conservative government.

Frank magazine provides another clue to CBC's Liberal insider whose identity John Cruickshank is hiding for all he's worth.

"Readers will recall the Speaker's garden party last spring, when Krista stood by the main tent to get pictures of herself with Tories (sic) MPs and ministers (readily identifiable by the drool on their shoes.)

"At one point during the mock rutting ritual, it was, of all people, light-loafered MP Scott Brison who slung Krista over his shoulder Alley Oop-style. The sight of Krista's ass in the air had members's members rising on a point of privilege."


Read the rest in their January 30, 2008, issue.

The Hill Times had a tamer account of the Speaker's party, still including Scott Brison but with a different CBC reporter this time.


"Last Tuesday's event at The Farm in Kingsmere, Que., was lovely. After serving up some delicious vegetable and chicken on skewers, potato salad, roast beef and desserts, MPs, staffers and journalists mixed and mingled. Some played football, including Maclean's magazine's Kady O'Malley and Grit MP Derek Lee, while others sat close to the open bar and chatted. Others started picking people up, literally."

"CBC TV national reporter and funny gal Julie Van Dusen teased Liberal MP Scott Brison about not winning 'Sexiest Male MP.' She ribbed him for winning 'Best-Dressed Male MP' and pointed out that he wasn't too well-dressed on that very evening. The dress code for the evening was casual so Mr. Brison wore a light blue Lacoste golf tee and jeans with a dark blue striped sports jacket instead of his usual suit. Mr. Brison then proceeded to pick her up and when he put her down, declared, "I haven't picked up a woman in so long!"


C'mon. A party full of reporters and nobody's got cell-phone photos?

Supporters of Krista Erickson have meanwhile set up a Facebook site. Among her well over 100 "friends":

* Nancy Baroni, parliamentary assistant to Liberal MP Maria Minna
* Ryan Cotter, parliamentary assistant to Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett
* Richard Zussman, special assistant to Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua
* Stephen Dame, legislative assistant to Liberal MP Alan Tonks
* Bryn Hendricks, assistant to Liberal MP Hedy Fry

And

* Al Payne, assistant to Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal, the same Sukh Dhaliwal who sits on the Commons ethics committee.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pablogate's two dead myths: the roadkill of the CBC-Liberal Party collusion scandal

The House of Commons ethics committee reconvened Tuesday and the mainstream media acted as if it was business as usual.

In their eyes it's Sept. 10 again and all is well with the world.

But the CBC collusion scandal has left two corpses in its wake, and nothing will be the same again.

Fatality #1-- The myth that the CBC is unbiased, or in the words of the CBC Publisher, "detached from partisan interest", and "professional and dispassionate in all aspects" of its reporting.

The CBC confessed last month that one of its Parliamentary reporters, Krista Erickson, colluded with the Liberal Party in putting questions to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney before the ethics committee. She provided them with the questions; they would ask the questions and embarass the Conservative government; the CBC would get a story. In other words, business as usual.

Publisher John Cruickshank really had no choice but to admit Krista's sin. She got caught red-handed. A reporter revealed on live TV that the Liberals had been colluding with a CBC reporter. The Blogosphere published her name, spoiling the CBC's plan to keep it secret. Suddenly, nothing was as usual.

Cruickshank talked the talk. He blustered against anyone who suggested the CBC could be biased. WE HAVE A RULE BOOK AND IT SAYS WE CAN'T BE BIASED, he insisted defiantly. Look, he said, we've admitted poor Krista went too far chasing a legitimate story, but that doesn't prove the CBC is partisan.

No, Cruickshank would do that himself.

First he issued a false public statement.

Krista Erickson, did, in fact, provide questions to a member of Parliament, he conceded. The poor girl needs more training and gosh darn it she'll get it, he said. Period. End of story CBC-style.

Two days later, it was another story.

On his Publisher's Blog, Cruickshank blathered for 14 paragraphs about professional conduct, the CBC's "special reponsibility" to be accountable, fairness, perceptions of partiality, and how the CBC is superior to the private media "whose obligation is, ultimately, only to their shareholders."

Oh, he casually mentioned in paragraph 15, and "our reporter provided questions to two Liberal MPs using her BlackBerry." Period. End of story CBC-style, version two.

He knew any mainstream media outlet following the story had already reported CBC Explanation Version One and would not report the discrepancy. He offered no reason why he lied to the public only two days earlier by saying only one MP (of an unnamed Party) was involved. Nor would he identify the "two Liberal MPs."

Although most observers assumed one of them was Pablo Rodriguez, the francophone MP who asked Krista's questions in English, other names surfaced almost immediately.

Was one of the MPs Paul Szabo, the chairman of the ethics committee? Surely the CBC had a moral obligation to identify him if it was.
Or was it Scott Brison, Krista Erickson's playmate (more about that later).
Did she send her questions via Blackberry to Brison and Szabo, as appears more and more likely, with Rodriguez in the role of a beard to provide plausible deniability that he, and by extension any Liberal on the committee, had spoken with the CBC?

Cruickshank, for all his bold talk, abandoned any vestige of transparency and accountability. He chose to sacrifice all CBC claims to impartiality rather than give up the CBC's Liberal Party collaborators. They were to be protected at all costs, even the reputation of the CBC.

The CBC Publisher is now colluding with the Liberal Party of Canada in a conspiracy of silence.

- He knows who collaborated with Krista Erickson but he won't tell the Canadian public.
- He knows if the ethics committee chairman engaged in a partisan ambush of a witness, but he's keeping it a secret.
- He knows if a former Liberal Party leadership candidate was part of the conspiracy, but he's keeping the truth from Canadians.
- He knows Pablo Rodriguez tried to deceive the electorate by claiming he, not Krista Erickson, came up with the questions for Brian Mulroney---contrary to everything the CBC knows to be true---and yet Cruickshank says nothing.

The problem with trying to keep a lid on anything in the news business is that journalists are blabbermouths.

And National Post columnist Don Martin has just created a new problem for John Cruickshank and the CBC.

In his column on Feb. 1st, Martin mentioned "CBC reporter Krista Erickson, a friend of mine by the way."

"She flipped another person's questions to a Liberal MP who...."

Say what? Another person's questions?

Does that mean--uh, what it means? That there was another person involved with Krista Erickson in colluding with the Liberals? Another reporter, perhaps? Another CBC reporter, perhaps? Or a CBC producer?

Did Krista Erickson tell her pal Don Martin that? Did she tell John Cruickshank that her conspiracy involved another CBC employee? Is Cruickshank hiding this information as well?

Who would that other person be? Could it be someone from the CBC's Fifth Estate, who are rumoured to be linked to the CBC collusion scandal?

CBC credibility--- R.I.P.

(Fatality #2 tomorrow)

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 5

The coalition forces in Afghanistan hit another home run this past week and once again, it went virtually unreported in the mainstream Canadian press.

A Hellfire missile fired from an American Predator UAV killed a baker's dozen of Taliban commanders meeting last Monday in Mir Ali, a town in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.

When they got through putting the pieces together, they confirmed that one of the bodies belonged to none other than Abu Laith al-Libi, the No.3 man in al-Qaeda, behind only Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri. And that's not even the good news.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online spelled it out in no uncertain terms in his story on al-Libi's death:

KARACHI - With the killing of Abu Laith al-Libi this week, the Taliban have suffered their biggest loss since being ousted from power in 2001, and they are left without their finest military brain just two months before their spring offensive.

.... He was the de facto commander in chief of the Afghan resistance against the occupation forces in Afghanistan and he was the main engine behind all of the Taliban's successful attacks, especially in the east of the country.

...Libi was the best instructor the Taliban ever had.

Oh, boy.

And you can just imagine who else was blown up with him. Generals don't usually hold sitdowns with sergeants.

Libi had acted as a restraining influence on hard-line Islamists in Pakistan's Waziristan tribal areas who believe in war against any non-practicising Muslims and who supported attacks on Pakistan, often at the expense of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Asia Times Online says a Taliban delegation from the Afghan province of Helmand has arrived in South Waziristan "to build bridges between various feuding factions and unite them for the spring offensive. "

If Libi's death means the diversion of resources away from Taliban forces in Afghanistan it will be a relief for NATO forces, particularly the British and Canadians in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Libi's removal is just another blow to the top leadership of the Taliban. And we learned this week that the turmoil in Pakistan continues to pay dividends.

It turns out senior Taliban leader, Maulvi Saifur Rehman Mansoor, was killed in January in fighting between Sunnis and Shiites in the tribal region of Parachinar. Mansoor---or as the Pajhwak Afghan News Agency calls him, dreaded Taliban commander for Khost and Paktia provinces-- had been a member of the Majlis Shura, which is like the board of directors for Al Qaeda that supposedly gives the okay for all major worldwide terror attacks before money and logistics are provided.

Pajhwok Afghan News reports that a source in the National Intelligence Departments press office said, "The news of his death was being kept secret to keep Taliban morale from plummeting."

And the U.S. confirmed the death of Darim Sedgai, a top Taliban facilitator of IEDs and suicide bombers, of injuries suffered in an ambush in Pakistan. Sedgai was a powerful sub-commander of notorious Taliban leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The so-called Haqqani network is based out of North Waziristan and leads insurgent operations in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces. It was responsible for the deadly assault on the Serena Hotel in Kabul on Jan. 14. where at least eight people were killed.

Sedgai was put on a "12 Most Wanted" poster put out by the US military last October. He is the third sub-commander of the Haqqani network to be killed since October. Col. David Anders, Combined Joint Task Force-82, opined that "Siraj Haqqani will increasingly have to provide direct operational guidance rather than remaining in Pakistan. He will no longer have the luxury of hiding out while others do his fighting for him." And when he shows up, the U.S. will gladly eliminate him, as well.

General Dan McNeill, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said coalition troops will be pursuing Taliban insurgents aggessively this year.

"More important, what you will see different this year is the increased Afghan National Security Force capacity. So we expect to be not out front as we were last year, we expect the Afghans to be out front and we are going to support their operations," he said.

An early sign of this new aggressiveness is a 10-day operation that just wrapped up in Uruzgan province. Coalition forces searched compounds in the Deh Rahwood district targeting a Taliban arms supplier. They uncovered caches of small arms and ammunition rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, as well as an improvised explosive device, and three wireless sets have also been seized by the police, all of which will have to be laboriously replaced if the Taliban is to launch a spring offensive.

Although the Afghan army is expected to grow to 70,000 by the end of 2008, the general said, citing Afghan authorities, the ANA is not expected to be capable of independent operations until late 2011 or 2012.

The insurgents launched meager attacks this week. An ambush on police in the Geresk district of Helmand province killed two police officers and left three wounded. A car bomb driven by a suicide attacker in Kabul exploded next to an Afghan army bus, killing one civilian and wounding four more.

The most successful attack was in Helmand province where a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, killing the deputy governor, Pir Mohammed, and five others. 18 people including two children were wounded.

Pir Mohammad had served as a deputy governor of Helmand for the past five years. He had two wives and 11 children, said Sher Mohammad Akhunzada, a former provincial governor.

Afghan authorities said Mohammad had just come from a meeting with the Helmand governor.

"After finishing his meeting, the deputy governor walked to the mosque for prayer," said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal. "As they were praying, the bomber detonated his explosives." The mosque's prayer leader was also killed, he said.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said an Afghan from the eastern Paktia province, Qudratullah, carried out the attack. The significance of this shouldn't be overlooked. The fact they had to import a suicide bomber demonstrates the lack of support for the Taliban in the south particularly when it comes to extremist tactics.

This comes on the heels of published reports last fall that Taliban insurgents had overstayed their welcome in Helmand.

"In Helmand there are reports of a lack of local willingness to fight for the Taliban."
(War without end, The Economist print edition, Oct 25th 2007)

*****

KANDAHAR, 27 September 2007 (IRIN) - Over 2,500 families have left their homes in different districts of insurgency-battered Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan over the past two months, provincial officials told IRIN on 27 September.

Many displaced civilians who have flocked into Kandahar city say they left their homes because Taliban insurgents tried to force them to join their ranks, feed and care for their wounded fighters and provide financial support for their campaign. (IRIN is a unique humanitarian news and analysis service. Part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)


More proof of the waning influence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, where the movement was started and where many of its leaders were born, comes from former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam who defected to the central government in December forcing the surrender of the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala.

From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Feb. 1, 2008:

"In exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Salaam says he decided to support the Kabul government after he became convinced that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his followers were violating the "orders of God" as revealed in the Koran.

"My brothers," Salaam says, "these were the first five verses of the Koran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira: 'Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all, has created man from a blood clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who has taught by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.' "


Salaam says those verses led him to question who the Taliban really are after seeing them "taking pens from our children and taking away schools and education."

snip

"If we take action based on the Koran and based on God's orders, God says to take up the pen," Salaam says. "But if the Taliban does not allow us to take up the pen, then I must demand to know what they are inspired by."

snip

"And now, [Omar] is so weak that he is hiding in a cave. He gives his orders on an audio recording. And he orders the killing of teachers and students and the destruction of schools. This is not the Islamic way."

One year ago, in almost the first Afghanistan report in The Black Rod, we wrote that the 'education war' would be the tipping point that would separate the insurgents from the population. It appears its come to pass and will only escalate.

The mainstream press, meanwhile, continues to undermine the mission in Afghanistan with an unrelenting negative slant to the facts. Here are a couple of examples of how far they will go.

Canadian Press
Number of students, teachers killed in Taliban attacks on schools up sharply
Jan 23, 2008
KABUL - Afghan education officials say the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled over the last year.


It says the attacks appear to be part of a Taliban strategy aimed at closing down schools and forcing teenage boys to join the insurgency. The Afghan Education Ministry say the number of students out of class because of security concerns rose from 200,000 to 300,000 last year.

Meanwhile, the number of schools forced to close rose to 590 from 350 the year before - a 69 per cent increase.

If you continued to read the story, say another 15 paragraphs almost to the end you would see...

Still, there is good news on the education front since the days of the Taliban, when girls couldn't attend schools and fewer than one million boys did. Some 5.8 million students now attend class, up from 5.4 million a year ago. Thirty-five per cent of students are female.

The Education Ministry's goal is that within four years 75 per cent of all boys will attend classes - up from roughly 50 per cent currently - and 60 per cent of all girls - up from less than 30 per cent today.


In other words, 100,000 students couldn't attend classes because of security concerns in 2007. BUT EVEN SO 400,000 MORE students started school in 2007.

That story, BURIED.

And how about this....

Taliban attacks on allied troops soar by up to a third
Jason Burke, Sunday February 3, 2008, The Observer

Attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan surged last year, according to previously unpublished figures from allied military forces fighting insurgents.
Statistics compiled by the multinational International Stabilisation Force in Afghanistan show attacks on international troops and the Afghan government have gone up by between a fifth and a third.

But although admitting the figures show a 'significant rise', Nato insists the geographic extent of the violence remains limited. 'Seventy per cent of the incidents took place in just 10 per cent of the country, where no more than 6 per cent of the population live, and many have been initiated by our forces as we engage with the enemy,' a Nato source said. 'That is the same area as in 2006 which shows the insurgency is not spreading.'

So, attacks went up by one-fifth to one-third -- and still the insurgency failed to accomplish a thing.

Indeed, NATO forces extended their control of territory, killed thousands of insurgents, decimated the Taliban leadership, built roads and bridges to speed commerce, extended health care into the most isolated parts of the country, and won the support of Afghans desperate for education for their children and jobs for themselves.

In the eyes of the press, that means NATO is failing and the Taliban is succeeding.
See how The Observer manages to pepper their story with negative buzzwords...

"The figures...will fuel the bitter dispute between Nato countries..."
"Recent weeks have seen fierce criticism of European nations' efforts..."
"...there has been a bad-tempered exchange..."
"Canada threatened to withdraw..."
"The argument comes as a series of reports warning of 'failure'..."
" British policy in Afghanistan sustained a major blow ..."
"A particular frustration for the US..."
"General Carlos Branco... conceded to reporters last month that violence had increased in Afghanistan, but argued that suicide bombs reflected desperation by the Taliban."

Now go back to the beginning of The Black Rod and see everything that's missing from the Observer's story. And wonder why.

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