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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the mind of a teenage killer

He's 16 and charged with murder.

It's the best day of his life.

To a normal person, being charged with murder would be devastating.
For him, it's the pinnacle of his world .

Especially since, as you'll see, he stands every chance of beating the rap. He'll be coming back to his 'hood with unparallelled street cred. He will be a prince of the city.

That's the way it is in the thug life culture.

Our sixteen-year-old, charged with killing a man by bashing his head with a baseball bat on Euclid Avenue just off Main Street, is just the latest to graduate from bluster to bloodshed. And you can bet he won't be the last.

Like his contemporaries, he's got a page on Bebo, the internet social networking site. It's illustrated with a panoramic night photo of Winnipeg, (note to Destination Winnipeg - it highlights the new Provencher bridge). Floating over top are the words MURDA CAP, the street gang boast of Winnipeg as the murder capital of Canada.

On his page he describes himself:

Ima Muthafukkin Ganxsta Best Believe It


And

A REAL MUTHAFUCKIN GANGSTA FROM THE PEG-CITY 204 THE REALEST CITY OUT THERE

He proudly displays Manitoba Warriors colours.

His preference in music?
Str8 Ganxsta Shit
Movies? Mafia flix

See the pattern. His life is defined by the the world of the street gang whose conventions involve partying, talking about partying, listening to gangster rap, smoking dope, drinking till you pass out, selling drugs, owning guns, and constant immersion in violent images---threats, boasts, challenges, and the resulting street fights.

Winnipeg thug life has added ramming police cars and running down police on foot.

Among Sixteen's Bebo friends is Justin C. whose own profile reflects the escalation (emphasis added):


Sports FOOTBALL.HUSTLEING.RUNNING FROM THE POLICE
He's Happiest When I SMOKE DAT BLUNT SEE MY DAUGHTER A COP DIES
.

Five months ago, Sixteen predicted his current circumstance in a rap he posted on his page. Here's an excerpt (emphasis ours):

YO U WANNA GO
2 ON 2
HOW BOUT U
BRING YOUR FUCKIN SET
AND WE GO CREW ON CREW
MY BOY'S COME DOWN STRAPPED UP
VEST UP HOLDEN THEM TECK'S UP
U BITCHEZ GONNA GET CHECK UP'S
U KNOW I'M BACK ON THE BLOCK COCK
AND I AIM SPITTIN MY GAME
BRINGIN THE PAIN
YOU BITCHEZ GONNA REMEMBER MY NAME
J TO THE A TO THE C O B
WITCH ONE OF U MUTHAFUCKAS WANNA FUCK WIHT ME
ALL LEAVE YOU DEAD IN THE STREET
WRAPPED UPIN SUM BLOODY SHEETS

THAT' HOW IT IS
I DONT PLAY
YOU BITCHEZ BETTER GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY


His every thought, his every action, his every acquaintance is filtered through the lens of the gang.

If he was in a cult, social workers would say he was being brainwashed and needed to be deprogrammed even if it was against his will.

But because he's a criminal, and a juvenile, he's allowed to play out his violent gang fantasies even to their inevitable conclusion.

He knows he holds the winning hand. He may be charged with second degree murder because the man he attacked later died in hospital, but don't expect a conviction.

He will argue the man left the scene on his own power and walked to Flora Avenue where he collapsed. Or was abandoned by a companion. He may have lived if he had waited for an ambulance. Or had gone to a hospital fast enough.

The murder charge will be plea bargained down to the original charge of aggravated assault.

Judge Ron Meyers has set the value of a life in Manitoba to one day in jail. What's aggravated assault worth? A half day? A couple of hours?

Given the love of Manitoba judges for double time, Sixteen will be home for Christmas, home to a rousing welcome by his gang buddies for whom a murder charge is the equivalent of an Oscar.

We are hearing a steady chorus of bleeding hearts calling for a holistic approach to gangs. Why won't any of the mainstream media point out that that's old news.

The NDP adopted a holistic approach to gangs nine years ago.
Let us quote from Hansard, April 15, 2004. NDP MLA Greg Dewar of Selkirk is speaking. (We've highlighted a few of the more relevant passages.)

"As I said, Manitoba in 1999 needed a change. They needed a different approach to crime, a vision for greater public safety. As a government we believe that you need not only to address the crime itself, which we have done, but as well deal with the very roots of crime. During our first mandate our government strategy had five components: enforce­ment, provincial law, community partnerships for prevention, victim-centred justice, and Aboriginal and community justice.

Mr. Speaker, our first budget, funding to police in this province rose to unprecedented levels. New RCMP funding helped enable the force to reach full complement in rural and northern areas for the first time in over a decade. I think the members opposite should be recognizing that in their comments.

The Member for Lac du Bonnet (Mr. Hawranik) I am certain probably overlooked that when he gave his introduction to this bill. In Beausejour, in Lac du Bonnet, Pine Falls, in Selkirk and Stonewall, all these communities and northern and rural Manitoba, for the first time in over a decade the RCMP has a full complement of members. I think that is something again that our Government should be proud of and the members opposite should recog­nize.

As well, we have added 20 more police officers to the current RCMP mobile strike force to fight crime outbreaks throughout the province. We set up a 32-person criminal organization and high-risk offender unit. I am pleased that the member for Southwood has just recognized the fine work of our Government and offered up some congratulations to me. I will just pass his congratulations on to all my colleagues. I thank him for offering that up.

As well, we have ordered an independent review of the prosecution service to be followed with a 58% increase to resources to establish a 10-person special prosecution team to target criminal organizations. Manitoba is now one of the toughest provinces in which to get bail for criminal offences.

We believe not only that there should be strong sanctions for criminal activity, we also believe that it is important to keep young people away, to keep youth away from the downward spiral of crime through community supports. I could go on. There is quite a list of achievements in that regard. I will just highlight a couple: Neighbourhoods Alive!, Healthy Child Manitoba, Lighthouses.

* (10:10)

I believe the Member for Elmwood (Mr. Maloway) has a Lighthouse in his riding. I am sure he will be eager to expand on that when he has the opportunity to speak to this bill, as did many of my colleagues over here on this side in government.


As I said, there is a Project Gangproof, there is the police and school initiative, there is the Safety Aid Program, and, as I have said, there is a vast list of them, but I do not want to take up all of my time on this. I know, again, several of my colleagues are eager to expand upon some of these wonderful things which we have done in this province.

We believe, Mr. Speaker, that we should have a holistic approach to organized crime, not like the Tories, who simply would build this big courthouse in Southdale, or south Winnipeg, which now sits vacant, a waste of valuable tax dollars. Instead of them wasting $3.5 million on a courthouse which is now vacant, we decided to bring, for the first time in the history of the province, a full complement of RCMP officers to rule in northern Manitoba. So that is their approach. Their approach is to waste money on a courthouse.

Our approach is to make sure that the comple­ment of RCMP is full in rural and northern Manitoba as well as to develop strategies to deal with the crime itself, not just punishment. We also believe there has to be an approach taken to deal with the roots of crime. That is the difference between this Govern­ment and the former Conservative government."


How's that holistic thing worked out?

Ask Sixteen.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Weeks 20 and 21

It's been a bloody two weeks in Afghanistan but its set the parameters for what to expect for the rest of the year.

We've said that a good way to measure the effectiveness of what we're doing in Afghanistan is to listen to the enemy.

In the past couple of weeks we've come across two interviews with Taliban commanders who revealed more than they intended. One appeared in the German magazine Der Spiegel's online edition, and the other in Pakistan's Asia Times Online. Taken together and compared with the fighting on the ground they tell a story of defeat and despair:

* The Taliban have abandoned all hope--and pretence--of a military victory against NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They're concentrating their efforts on killing police.


* Their only hope is for propaganda victories which they need to justify to their followers the deaths of almost 8000 fighters in the past two years.

* They've been reduced to reliance on their best weapon---suicide bombers, whose toll of hundreds of civilians is discounted as necessary and acceptable to Islam.

* The Americans have honed an incredibly successful defence against Taliban attacks in the East which has gone unnoticed by the news media, but not the insurgents forced to run for their lives.

"Taliban gearing up for spring offensive" read the May 18 headline in the Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.

Believe it or not, that's a great headline.

It means that the Globe and Mail hasn't noticed that the so-called spring offensive has been ongoing for the past two months. Who says killing 8000 insurgents in the past two years hasn't had any effect?

In the words of Strategypage.com (May 14, 2008, http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/afghan/articles/20080514.aspx)


"Taliban Moving At Half Speed This Year"
"Afghan and security forces waited, and waited, for the Taliban Spring Offensive, but it never came. Gun battles with the Taliban were down 50 percent so far, compared to last year. Roadside bomb attacks were about the same. But Taliban casualties were up, as more Afghan and NATO forces went looking for them."

Der Spiegel interviewed Taliban commander Qari Bashir Haqqani , 40, who is the Taliban's military commander in Kunduz province in the north of Afghanistan where German soldiers are stationed.

May 21, 2008
INTERVIEW WITH A TALIBAN COMMANDER
'What's Important Is to Kill the Germans'


"By his own account, he is the head of the radical Islamists' executive council for the province. He counts 13 mujahedeen groups under his command. Three of them have been created this year for the sole purpose of perpetrating attacks against the Germans and other foreign "invaders." "

(Haqqani conceded the Taliban aren't winning, but held out hope the coalition will quit soon. )

Haqqani: "We are confident that we will win this war sooner or later. We are prepared for a war that could last a few decades, but we are sure that the West will start to leave Afghanistan in 2010 and that many countries will pull their troops out."

(He praised suicide bombers.)

Haqqani: The bombers are our weapons of choice because the Germans and all the others are afraid of them.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you have any sympathy for the victims of this terror? Most are innocent civilians. And many NATO soldiers come with the honest intent of helping to reconstruct your country.

Haqqani: If the victims are Muslims, then we have sympathy for them and their families. We know that their deaths are important for the success of Islam and Allah, and we honor them as faithful and believers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But these victims do not die willingly -- they were maliciously murdered.

Haqqani: The Afghans do not hold the Taliban responsible for such collateral damages because they know that the Taliban doesn't have enough high-tech weapons at its disposal.
************

The situation was hardly more encouraging in the Kunar Valley in the far western Kunar province where Asia Times Online sent its Pakistan Bureau Chief Syed Saleen Shahzed. (ATO, May 23, 2008, Ducking and diving under B-52's).

After an arduous trek he arrived at a Taliban safe house and met with a couple of Taliban.

"Our camp will be joined by several groups and we will carry out an attack tonight," one Taliban fighter told him. "We will place you at a height in a secure place from where you will be able to cover the event."

Only it never happened. Instead of fierce insurgents attacking cowed American soldiers, we got a picture of a small band of rebels constantly in fear, anticipating betrayal at every turn, ducking in and out of caves and always on the run from troops, helicopters and aircraft (all of which they call B-52's).

"Saleem, we have to hurry and pass through this terrain before the sun rises. Once the sun is up, people will spot you as a stranger, and a few houses here have informers for the Americans," Shahzed was told. "The Americans can easily pay $1000 for ordinary information. This a huge amount of money for them."

"We awoke before dawn and found a note left by Zubair, in which he explained that the Taliban had been unable to make an attack during the night, but thatt they would do so that evening."

Shahzed headed back to Pakistan.

"As we started the climb up into the mountains, we heard low-flying B-521's nearby. According to the Taliban such low flights mean bombing operations. Soon there was a constant noise all around us, including that of drones. We took shelter among some trees and large rocks.

"Generally, after such a noise, the helicopters arrive. And if they spot any movement, they launch special forces who have already cordoned off the area," Zubair explained to Shahzed adding "we had better get moving--and fast."

"There was a palpable tensiion created by the noisy monsters in the sky..." wrote Shahzed.

"The tension heightened several notches when gunfire broke out to our north, so close we could see the muzzle flashes of guns fired."

They made it to Pakistan "but my relief was short-lived: another firefight had broke out ahead of us, this time between Taliban insurgents and the Afghan army. The drones were also back in force."

So ended the adventure of covering the frontlines Taliban style, a far different picture than the relentless spread of Taliban power propagated by the western press.

The Taliban failed even to get a propaganda victory though not for trying.

Two helicopters were shot down in the past two weeks, without any casualties. A military helicopter was forced to land in Nuristan province after being hit by enemy fire. And, more significantly, a helicopter carrying the governor of Helmand province was forced down near the village of Musa Qala which had been a Taliban stronghold for 10 months before being recaptured last December.

****************

The main thrust of Taliban attacks was directed at police. The Taliban know that attacking Americans is sure death; attacking other NATO troops is asking for a pasting, and even attacking Afghan army forces now is useless and dangerous.

That leaves the undertrained, underarmed police who can still be attacked with some degree of success.

We counted at least 20 police killed.

* One was beheaded when he went home on leave.
* Four were captured, interrogated, then murdered.
* Two bombs were discovered in Kabul intended to target police.
* A suicide attack in Musa Qala was aimed at the local police chief (who survived.)
* A suicide bomber disguised as a burqua wearing woman managed to kill 11 police in Farah province.

There were at least 5 suicide bombings over the two weeks just past. Two suicide bombers were captured in Balkh province in the north (it's next to Kunduz). Another was shot and killed before he could blow himself up in Khost province. A week later another suicide bomber in Khost killed four ANA soldiers and a child.

In Kandahar province a 10 year old boy was wired up with remotely-detonated explosives and sent to attack a convoy of Canadian soldiers. The next week another suicide bomber blew himself up attacking a Canadian convoy, wounding five soldiers and two children.

The terrorists have taken to placing remote-controlled bombs in bicycles in Kandahar. One blew up Thursday May 22 as a convoy of Afghan soldiers passed by. One soldier was killed. Five days earlier another bicycle bomb killed a 9 year old child.

By our count, six NATO soldiers were killed in the past two weeks, mainly with roadside bombs.
************

Finally, we can't let the week pass without expressing our disgust at our German so-called allies.

In March, 2007 we wrote how the Germans took credit for a vital road built by Canadians and paid for in the blood of three Canadian soldiers who died defending it during construction. (The Black Rod, Wednesday, March 14, 2007, The news from Afghanistan you haven't read). It's only gotten worse. Once again is "The News from Afghanistan you haven't read."

Der Spiegel Online, as mentioned above, carried this story:

German Special Forces in Afghanistan Let Taliban Commander Escape
By Susanne Koelbl and Alexander Szandar


German special forces had an important Taliban commander in their sights in Afghanistan. But he escaped -- because the Germans were not authorized to use lethal force. The German government's hands-tied approach to the war is causing friction with its NATO allies.

snip

He is the Baghlan bomber. The Taliban commander is regarded as a brutal extremist with excellent connections to terror cells across the border in Pakistan. Security officials consider him to be one of the most dangerous players in the region, which is under German command as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. The military accuses him of laying roadside bombs and of sheltering suicide attackers prior to their bloody missions.


He is also thought to be behind one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan's history, the Nov. 6, 2007 attack on a sugar factory in the northwest province of Baghlan. The attack killed 79 people, including dozens of children and many parliamentarians and other politicians, as they celebrated the factory's reopening.


Germany's KSK special forces have been charged with capturing the terrorist, in cooperation with the Afghan secret service organization NDS and the Afghan army. The German elite soldiers were able to uncover the Taliban commander's location. They spent weeks studying his behavior and habits: when he left his house and with whom, how many men he had around him and what weapons they carried, the color of his turban and what vehicles he drove.


At the end of March, they decided to act to seize the commander. Under the protection of darkness, the KSK, together with Afghan forces, advanced toward their target. Wearing black and equipped with night-vision goggles, the team came within just a few hundred meters of their target before they were discovered by Taliban forces.


The dangerous terrorist escaped. It would, however, have been possible for the Germans to kill him -- but the KSK were not authorized to do so.

The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before.

Warned of ISAF's activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul.

Want more? The Spiegel story continues:

"More trouble has been brewing for the Germans in Afghanistan. They are actually supposed to be currently participating in Operation Karez in northern Afghanistan in conjunction with the Afghan army and the Norwegian Quick Reaction Force. The operation, like a mission in autumn 2007, is aimed at fighting Taliban who have a stronghold in the northwestern province of Badghis. The Taliban forces there currently include about 150 hardliners and some 500 irregular fighters.

But because the area of operation, which is in Ghormach district, lies exactly on the border with the area under Italian command, the German government hesitated to deploy the reconnaissance, logistics and KSK forces which were originally promised by the German regional commander. It was only at the end of last week that German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung decided to approve the mission after all. At that point, Germany's allies had already been taking part in bloody fighting for a week."

Disgusting is the only term to describe the Germans.

The Canadian troops, meanwhile, have the honour of making it to the top of the Taliban enemies list.

Remember the Taliban commander, Qari Bashir Haqqani, who spoke to Der Spiegel? He identified the soldiers the Taliban most hates (never mind the first, they only get a mention because Der Spiegel has a German readership):

"Those who work for the invader in any capacity will be seen by the Taliban as enemies, just like the Germans, the Canadians and the Americans."

It's an honour just to be nominated.

Labels:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spring Cleaning 2008

On every street, in every yard, it's the same thing---spring cleaning.

The Black Rod is no exception. It's time to clear our desks of some of the accumulated stories, tips, ideas and downright juicy rumours that we haven't had time to get around to.

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Best definition of Negativapeg.

Journalists who don't regularly scan the various blogs and internet forums for story ideas are in the wrong business in the wrong century. You may have to pan a lot of sand to find a gold nugget, but it's well worth the effort for every good, aggressive reporter.

Recently we came across this comment on Skyscraperpage.com's Winnipeg City Transit/Rapid Transit thread (Page 40 to be exact) which excellently summarizes the Winnipeg attitude:

"furiousmcd Oppressive optimism Join Date: May 2007 Location: Winnipeg Posts: 41

Hey folks, I haven't commented on this board in a long while but I have definitely been thinking a lot about Winnipeg politics and transit. I have thought a lot about rapid transit...

I have noticed that in Winnipeg, the "I'll believe it when I see it" attitude mixed with cynicism towards high upfront cost prevents a lot of good from happening. However, once the project is completed and with all the naysayers considered wrong, the pride and momentum that results from the project is very significant. I'm sure you can all think of many projects that have followed this arc of drama and emotions.

So keeping to the topic of rapid transit, I have become convinced that we need something that is good enough to get the wheels in motion (intent of this pun yet to be decided ) without a high upfront cost and with efficient, reliable service that could get people out of their cars even in the winter. However, being Winnipeg, we also need the project to seem ambitious enough so it gets an overwhelming endorsement and enough support to go through. On this front, I would say that bus rapid transit fails.

From what I have seen, bus rapid transit has been received as being better than nothing but generally not as the preferred method that most people would choose if costs were not as important as they are. Personally, I see it as an underwhelming project with a lack of foresight and imagination; but that's just me.

Anyways, keeping away from the typical attitude of criticizing without offering anything constructive or helpful, I would suggest instead that we opt to build an on-street trolley in its own dedicated lane that links the University of Winnipeg to the University of Manitoba through Obsorne Village. By doing this it would keep costs significantly down while appeasing the rail transit folks; it would be a humble yet sure beginning to rapid transit in Winnipeg that could easily be improved upon in the future as more funding becomes available."

On a related note, Report on Business columnist Neil Reynolds had some fascinating information on public transit in the Globe and Mail yesterday. He quoted "Randal O'Toole, an Oregon economist with impeccable environmental credentials."

"Since 1991, American cities have invested $100 billion in urban rail transit," Mr. O'Toole says. "Yet no city in the country has managed to increase (public) transit's share of commuters by more than 1 per cent. No city has managed to reduce driving by even 1 per cent. People respond to high fuel prices by buying more efficient cars---and then driving more."

Randal O'Toole is an economist and a director of the Oregon-based Thoreau Institute. He has also been an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute since 1995.

What's the Thoreau Institute? Their website says:

Inspired both by Henry David Thoreau's love of the natural world and his dislike of big government, the Thoreau Institute seeks ways to protect the environment without regulation, bureaucracy, or central control. The Institute was founded in 1975 under the name of Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants to help environmentalists and others understand and influence public land management.

Wikipedia gives this description of the Cato Institute:

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Institute's stated mission is "to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace" by striving "to achieve greater involvement of the intelligent, lay public in questions of (public) policy and the proper role of government."
***********
The local angle. A lost art.

U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy has inoperable brain cancer. Did you know that a Winnipeg born doctor is doing cutting edge research on exactly this type of cancer? The Globe and Mail's story on Kennedy quoted "Winnipeg native John Sampson, a neurosurgeon at Duke University in North Carolina" who has uses a unique vaccine that's "helped some patients survive for three to six years" with the brain cancer that kills most in six to 12 months.

By coincidence, CTV featured Dr. Sampson in a report May 4 (Canadian-born doctor's vaccine fights brain cancer.) You can find him on Youtube discussing his vaccine.

Dr. Sampson is a neuro-oncologist and brain surgeon. John K. Samson, also from Winnipeg, is a rock musician who fronts the indie band The Weakerthans. He's not a doctor and he spells his name differently.
***************


Who knew?

Irvine Robbins, who founded the Baskin-Robbins chain of ice cream stores with his brother-in-law, Burton Baskin, was born in Winnipeg. He died recently in Rancho Mirage, California at the age of 90. Born here on Dec. 6, 1917, Robbins was the son of Aaron and Goldie Chmelnitsky Robbins, immigrants from Poland and Russia.
*************

The ever-popular Krista Report

Quick. Check your milk carton for this familiar face. Krista Erickson is MIA.

Has it been four months already since former CBC Winnipeg host Krista Erickson crashed and burned as CBC National's parliamentary reporter? Krista, as you will recall, got caught red-handed collaborating with the Liberal Party on questions to ask former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at a House of Commons committee meeting. Her transgression exposed the CBC's long tradition of helping the Liberals when CBC Publisher John Cruikshank threw her under the bus but refused to identify the Liberal M.P.'s she was colluding with, especially whether one or more continued to sit on the committee where they continued to lie to the public and deny any association with Krista.

None of the self-proclaimed journalists at CBC thought the CBC cover-up was a legitimate story, probably because collaboration with the Liberals is so assumed that it might as well be in the job description of CBC Parliamentary Reporter.

Cruikshank exiled Krista to Toronto for "more training." But the Hill Times reports that:

"Four months on, however, Ms. Erickson hasn't turned up at the CBC in Toronto and the public broadcaster is declining comment on her employment status."

The Hill Times says Krista went running to her union which has been going to bat for her ever since.

The Black Rod hears that Krista Erickson is moving to Calgary to become CTV Calgary's national reporter. Conservative MP for Calgary Centre and widower Lee Richardson will certainly welcome her with open arms.
**************

Ankle Angle

Car thieves are making a mockery of the use of ankle monitors. Only a handfull of thieves are wearing them. One cut his off and went on a rampage of stealing cars and ramming police vehicles. The other sweated out his entire two-weeks of monitoring, then went right back to stealing cars.

None of the reporters apparently thinks it worthwhile to interview P.C. justice critic Kelvin Goertzen who championed ankle monitors for years and then loudly proclaimed justification when the NDP adopted the measure early this year.
***********

No Shades necessary

The Winnipeg Sun made a big deal two months ago about transforming the newspaper and asking readers what they wanted to see different.

Apparently, the answer was---nothing. (but now it only costs a buck on Sunday ... - ed.)
Same old, same old to our eyes.
********************

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck....

500 ducks died in the Alberta oil sands and enviromentalists have gone nuts. Funny there's no mention that wind turbines, like the dozens already installed in Manitoba and the scores in the works, kill at least two birds each per year. In other words, hundreds of birds will die in Manitoba annually with nobody to speak for them.
********************

How Small Is This City?

Lawyer Hersh Wolch sells a house to Maple Leaf Distrillers owner Costas Ataliotis who stiffs him. Wolch goes to court and wins the right to sell the house for his money. Caught in the middle is the tenant who is renting the house. Correct us if we're wrong but isn't that tenant former Winnipeg Free Publisher Andrew Ritchie? Maybe he can move in with former FP editor Nicholas Hirst who has moved to Toronto but keeps an apartment in Winnipeg.
*****************

Number Nine. Number Nine. Number Nine.

A family of mother and nine children is put up in a duplex after their rented house goes up in flames. Boo hoo hoo. They're victims.

Someone in the family buys a gun and it goes off, almost killing a baby in the next suite. Stanley Julius Beardy, 18, faces nine charges, six for unlawful possession and careless use of the gun and three, count 'em, three of "failure to comply with sentence or disposition." Victimhood is so fleeting.

A quick search on the Web turns up a Julius Beardy on a list of nine family members who have more than a passing interest in the local thug life. In fact, a sister of Julius who posted the family tree concluded with the comment (emphasis ours):

thu bearDysz .. n0w ii liike thaat.
Thu Gangsterest Famiily y0u'll Ever Meet . ..
*************

Gary and Gail Sitting in a Tree...

K-i-...well, you know the rhyme.

What gives? Apparently Gary Doer.

The Premier of the province pops up travelling with Gail Asper to B.C. to promote the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He promises her $20 million more money for the museum than he's officially committed to. He drops her brother a cheque for $1.5 million when he wants money for another of his pet projects, saving the Manitoba Club from a developer who wants to build an apartment building near Upper Fort Garry next door.

But Doer is lucky. He can spend public money lavishly supporting the projects of another woman and the press asks no questions. Unlike Conservative MP Vic Toews whose personal life, including allegedly fathering a child last fall with a woman much younger than the wife he's divorcing, has become fodder for columnists since a story in the Winnipeg Free Press that Toews is being considered for a judicial appointment.

Doer dodged a similar bullet last year when the rumour went around that he was tomcatting with a prominent New Democrat and had even fathered her child. That rumour died away as the said Dippers' public profile diminished significantly, leaving in its wake even fresher rumours that Gary has found another friend whose profile has climbed stratospherically. Meow.
***************

Is it just us?

We remember when season finale meant somebody on your favourite show was getting married. But this year the networks are in a foul mood because almost every season finale seems to be ending in murder, mayhem or some form of mutilation. And that's just the good guys.

Law and Order SVU
Adam Beach's character, Brooklyn Detective Chester Lake, murders a rape suspect in cold blood and is last seen in handcuffs in the back of a cruiser car.

CSI Las Vegas
CSI Warrick Brown is shot twice in his car and left for dead.

NCIS
NCIS Director Jenny Shepard is killed in a shootout with a team of assassins. The new director reassigns everyone out of the unit. Gibbs gets a whole new team.

Bones
Cute, innocent Zack turns out to be a murderer in cahoots with cult serial killer Gormagon. His only saving grace is that he didn't eat anyone like Gormagon's followers usually do. He did deliberately cause an explosion that turned his hands into hamburger, though.

CSI Miami
Horatio gets shot and left in a pool of his own blood.
*************

Stephane Dion was a hero

Once upon a time Stephane Dion was a hero. That's no joke. As Quebec separatists drooled over what they figured was a sure victory in the 1980 referendum (they fixed the ballot count), Dion stepped into the field of battle and faced them down. They've hated him ever since.

Deny Arcand made a movie in 1981 about the referendum, sympathetic to the PQ. It was financed by the National Film Board, of course.

The movie is called Le confort et l'indifférence/ Comfort and Indifference and will be shown at Cinematheque at 7 p.m. Friday, May 23. Stephane Dion is nowhere in the movie. Masochists will love reliving the old constitutional battle. It's even in French.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A museum for human rights that supports the denial of human rights

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights' publicity machine was humming along on all cyclinders this week.

The newspaper reported that Gail Asper, head fundraiser, had collected another $1.5 million towards the museum.


It failed to mention that, as revealed in The Black Rod
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2008/05/canadian-museum-of-human-rights-follow.html, she needs to raise $1.5 million a month just to cover the rising cost of construction.

It's great to be rich. Millionaire moocher Gail Asper shamelessly revealed she has a whole army of mini-moochers, dedicated to "following up on the asks and crystallizing (donations)."

Translation: She's hit up everyone she can think of, and her volunteers have the job of begging them to cough up some moolah.

The panhandlers on Graham should be so lucky; they have to do all the work themselves.

The choreographed news reports also failed to mention that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be the only publicly funded facility dedicated to denying human rights to Canadians. You can bet that piece of news isn't being "crystallized" for donors.

WHAT?

There must be some mistake.

The museum is all about extending human rights, not denying them.

Isn't it?

Well..... It turns out that on the Asper Animal Farm there are some who are more equal than others when it comes to human rights. That should come as no surprise.

The museum's advisory board contains many names. Including Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. There's your first clue.

If you live on an Indian reserve, you are automatically denied the human rights enshrined in the Canadian constitution.

Canadian courts have repeatedly taken note that First Nations discriminate on the basis of sex, marital status, race and countless other transgressions of the Human Rights Act. With Fontaine on the board, though, you can bet the Canadian Museum for Human Rights won't be fighting to reverse that in your lifetime.

Last year, the Conservatives in Ottawa tried to pass a bill extending the Canadian Human Rights Act to reserves.

Well, you would have thought they wanted to bring back slavery with human sacrifice and mandatory cannibalism thrown in.

The native industry, with Phil Fontaine leading the charge, fought tooth and nail to kill the bill. They had three arguments:

* 30 years wasn't enough time for the reserves to prepare.

The Canadian Human Rights Act was imposed on everyone else in 1977, but reserves were given an exemption, which some people actually thought was temporary.

* the reserves need much more money to get ready.

So what else is new? Surely you don't expect Chiefs to dip into their travel budgets to build wheelchair ramps? We didn't think so.

* while Canadians have rights, aboriginals have extra rights, added rights and super special rights.

Oh, and ultra special super rights. So take a hike.

"Recent clanging of alarmist bells sounded by the government of Canada and so-called representatives of "grassroots" First Nations regarding the amended Bill C-21, an Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, hides behind a limited, restrictive, and imprecise understanding of the human rights of indigenous peoples," Phil Fontaine wrote opposing Bill C-21. (Human rights of Canada's First Nations people are not a zero-sum game... The Hill Times, May 12th, 2008)

"Not only do First Nations citizens possess the same fundamental human rights that all peoples and people enjoy, we also have inherent and constitutionally-protected collective aboriginal and treaty rights," Fontaine said.

He didn't mention that the Supreme Court has given natives special rights to stay out of jail for all crimes up to and including murder, if they can convince a judge the white man is to blame for their screwed-up lives.

But in its March 29, 2007, submission on Bill C-21 to the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, the AFN demanded a non-derogation clause be inserted into the bill.

"The repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act shall not be construed in a manner which abrogates or derogates from any aboriginal or treaty rights including customary rights and traditions that pertain to the First Nations people of Canada such as..."

Translation: you can pass the law but this clause says our "customary rights and traditions" trump anything in the Human Rights Act. Nyaah. Nyaah.

When the bill stalled in Parliament, the Liberal Party's aboriginal affairs critic crowed victory.

"Human rights rammed down a community's throats are not human rights," Anita Neville said (without a trace of irony.)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights goes to great lengths to say it will incorporate the treatment of aboriginal Canadians.

But with the greatest opponent of incorporating the Canadian Human Rights Act onto reserves on its advisory board, you can bet there won't be much call for direct action by those who Phil Fontaine dismissively labels "so-called representatives of "grassroots" First Nations."

A museum for human rights that supports the denial of human rights. Only in Canada, you say.

Ptui.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pat Martin and Anita Neville, caught in their own webs of deceit

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Once Michael Ignatieff was considered a "public intellectual" who gazed down from the heights of Harvard to share his erudite opinions on world affairs ranging from the war in Kosovo to post Cold War nationalism to the state of human rights in the wake of 911.

Now he's just another greasy politician trolling for votes in Winnipeg by pontificating about what he's been told is the city issue of the day---car theft.

But there's one thing we can thank him for---exposing how desparate NDP M.P. Pat Martin and Liberal M.P. Anita Neville are.

We've caught both of them have recently telling tall tales about their service in the fight against auto theft. But we don't know who is more to blame, this pair of Pinocchios, or the CBC and the Winnipeg Free Press which allowed them to (almost) get away with it.

The CBC reported this week that Liberal MP's. including deputy leader Ignatieff,came to Winnipeg to be seen doing something about auto theft -- namely holding meetings and hearing from "experts".

But deep, deep in the story Pat Martin popped up attacking Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher for blaming the Oppositon parties for undercutting every effort to toughen the laws against car thieves.

"The Tory minority government's hands are being tied by the opposition, Fletcher said.

'Hogwash,' says NDP MP

But Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin scoffs at that position. He also introduced a motion to have auto theft made a violent crime, but received no support from the ruling Conservatives, he said.

"I think they're saving it for a doorstep issue in the next election campaign," he said. "I think the Conservatives are rationing out justice bills so that they have something to campaign on."

Martin said the Conservatives are in government and can write legislation now if they want.

"Steven Fletcher saying that some private member's bill is the solution to this is hogwash when they're the ones that have the ability to write legislation," he said.

"If they put it forward, they will have my vote, and I believe I will campaign for them to get the other parties voting for it, too."

Well, we did something unusual in journalism in Winnipeg. We went in search of the truth.

Starting with Pat Martin's "motion to have auto theft made a violent crime."

We found the said motion on Martin's website:

Motion 295

Tue 20 Mar 2007.
Mr. Martin (Winnipeg Centre) - That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize that auto theft is an increasingly common and dangerous offence that is often associated with a profound threat to public safety and warrants more stringent deterrence than other categories of theft offences and property crimes; (b) amend the Criminal Code to include auto theft as a distinct stand alone offence; and (c) amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to give prosecutors more power to hold in custody young offenders who are arrested for auto theft.

To begin with, we can't find to whom he made this motion.

It's not in Hansard for March 20, 2007, although he refers to the House of Commons.
And it's a motion, not a private members bill.
Dancing the Watusi is a motion, too.

And there's clearly NO reference in Martin's motion to making auto theft a crime of violence, contrary to what he's paraphrased as saying to the CBC.

Neither is there any information in the CBC story about :

BILL C-343, A PRIVATE MEMBERS BILL INTRODUCED IN JUNE, 2006 BY ANDREW SCHEER, CONSERVATIVE MP FOR REGINA-QU'APPELLE;


which passed third reading in the House of Commons on Feb. 27, 2008, and has moved to the Senate.

The bill would amend the Criminal Code to make theft of a motor vehicle a separate offence. Fibber Martin told the CBC he not only welcomed such a law but would actively campaign for it. And yet a month after it passed in the House, he professes no knowledge the bill even exists.

Maybe this http://www.andrewmp.ca/EN/4513/68474

from Andrew Scheer's website is the reason why:

"While Scheer was very happy that his bill made it through the House of Commons... he was very disappointed that the NDP and Liberals took out some of the tougher provisions of the bill.

At the committee stage, the NDP and Liberals removed clauses of the bill that would have forced judges to hand out at least two years of jail time once a criminal had been convicted three times.

"It just shows how out of touch the NDP and Liberals are when they say that a two year sentence is too harsh. I really believe that we should treat repeat offenders more harshly, because once they have been caught three, four or five times, they are demonstrating that they have no interest in rehabilitation. To allow judges the option of light sentences is to put honest Canadians at risk for no reason," said Scheer. "

Scheer's bill contained mandatory penalties that got stiffer with each conviction. The sentence for a first offence would be a minimum punishment of a fine of $1,000 or a minimum prison term of three months, or both. A second offence would see a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000 or a minimum prison term of six months, or both. A third and subsequent offence would result in a minimum fine of $10,000 and a minimum term of two years imprisonment with a maximum of ten years.

We note that Crimefighter Pat Martin wanted to amend the Youth Justice Act to give prosecutors more power to keep car thieves in custody. Well, the Conservatives tried that in 2006. Here's how the Ottawa Citizen reported on that effort:

Opposition MPs soften Tory tough-on-crime bill
Committee loosens rules for house arrest
Janice Tibbetts, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, October 25, 2006

One of the Conservative government's key law-and-order initiatives has been dealt a critical blow by opposition parties, who have effectively gutted a bill that would have severely curtailed the use of house arrest and jailed about 5,500 more people annually.

The three opposition parties on the House of Commons justice committee, which held public hearings on the bill, have dramatically amended the proposal so that the vast majority of criminals will remain eligible to serve their time in the community instead of going to jail.

Pat Martin's NDP colleague in Ottawa, MP Joe Comartin, the NDP's justice critic, bragged about keeping deterrence out of the Youth Justice Act as a factor judges could consider in sentencing. And he brayed about gutting the bill that would have given prosecutors a stronger hand with car thieves. As the Ottawa Citizen reported:

"NDP MP Joe Comartin, the committee's co-chairman, said the opposition parties have rejected the "radical, extreme overreaction" of the Conservatives in their efforts to eliminate conditional sentences for about 80 crimes for which the maximum prison term is 10 years or more, including most car thefts, arson, break and enter and theft over $5,000."

And, no, we haven't forgotten Anita Neville.

Last month when Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew in to make a totally irrelevent-to-Winnipeg announcement about auto theft, the Winnipeg Free Press mentioned Bill C-343, then inconguously added:

"Manitoba Liberal MP Anita Neville, who introduced her own private member's bill on auto theft last month, said Sunday she'd also like to see the government address prevention."

Reporter Mia Rabson conveniently omitted the role of Neville's Liberal Party in trimming the mandatory penalties from the bill.

"Scheer's bill passed in February but in an amended form without mandatory minimum sentences. It is currently before the Senate." was all Rabson said.

She also failed to question Neville about the Liberals' role in watering down auto theft penalties especially since Neville's own belated motion pretends to call for stiffer sentences...

"Accordingly I am introducing this bill, seconded by my colleague from Saint Boniface. With the bill, everyone who commits theft of a motor vehicle for a second or subsequent offence would be guilty of an indictable offence and would be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years."

But everyone knows the game she's playing.

Anita Neville and Pat Martin know the Manitoba public is

incensed with car thieves, the judges who let them get away with it and the politicians who have failed to pass the laws to protect the public.

Anita Neville and Pat Martin know the Conservatives will go into the next election with chapter and verse on how the Liberals and NDP undermined every attempt to pass legislation to get tough with car thieves.

Both of them have reached into the bottom of their weasel chest of tricks to get some press showing how tough on crime they suddenly are.

Look, says Neville, I want to send them to jail for 10 years but the Conservatives won't listen. Look, says Martin, it's a penny - oh, um, Look, I wanted to go after the car thieves but the Conservative wouldn't let me.

You don't have to be a public intellectual to know a con job when you see one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 19

The Taliban have suffered another "major defeat."

And, as usual, you're not hearing a word of it in the mainstream media.

Don't take out word for it. We're simply repeating what the Taliban's biggest cheerleaders in Pakistan are saying. Here's how Asia Times Online reported it (May 3, 2008 ,Taliban claim victory from a defeat, By Syed Saleem Shahzad):

KARACHI - The Taliban have suffered their first major loss in this year's offensive, but they are putting on a brave face, even spinning the setback as a triumph in their broader battle against foreign forces in Afghanistan.


On Wednesday, several thousand US Marines captured the town of Garmsir in the southern Afghan province of Helmand in their first large operation since arriving to reinforce North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops last month.

The Taliban-controlled Garmsir had served as a main supply route for their insurgency in the area.

The Taliban, however, claim the loss of one base is not critical, and anyway, for NATO to hold on to its gain it will have to commit thousands of troops to the outpost, which is located in the inhospitable desert, if it is to effectively guard the lawless and porous border through which the Taliban funnel men, arms and supplies.

200 British troops from 5th and 2nd Battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) battle group have joined the 1200 U.S. Marines in the Garmsir offensive to stop the infiltration of insurgents from Pakistan.

American Forces Press reported more than a dozen insurgents killed in gunfights and with air strikes when troops searched compounds for a Taliban arms dealer.

"Troops found PK machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, fuses, small-arms ammunition and ammunition vests on the compound, and destroyed them to prevent future use."

The NATO and U.S. alliance has been delivering strong blows to the insurgency all week.

The only success the Taliban can claim is the deaths of five NATO soldiers.

· Canadian trooper Corporal Michael Starker of 15 Field Ambulance was killed May 6 in an ambush in the Zhari district of Kandahar. But we can't help think there's more to the story that's not being told. He was a medic and part of CIMIC, the civilian-military co-operation program designed to interact with local elders and villagers in a non-military way.


Were he and his partner attacked because a medic is an easy target? Or because they were so engaged in being non-threatening that they weren't prepared to actively defend themselves? Was he killed because he was involved in the "talking to the Taliban" initiative, and now the military authorities don't want to admit it?

· Two American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb May 7 in Khost province. Spc. Jeremy Gullett of Greenup, Ky., and Staff Sgt. Kevin Roberts of Farmington, N.M., were both assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's Fourth Brigade Combat Team

· One U.S. soldier was killed Friday May 9 in Paktia province when his patrol was attacked. Ara Tyler Deysie, 18, of Parker, Ariz. teen and a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribe, became the fourth soldier from the 101st Airborne to be killed in Afghanistan in a week. He was a member of the 101st Airborne Division's Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Squadron.

· Another U.S. soldier Sgt. Isaac Palomarez, 26, was killed the same day by a roadside bomb in Kapia province.

Roadside bombs continue to be the biggest threat to coalition forces. And to civilians.

Kandahar

In Kandahar, two civilian cars hit roadside bombs Wednesday, May 7, leaving eight civilians dead and six wounded. Another roadside bomb killed two policemen.

Kandahar remains a dangerous place, although intelligence operations are starting to blunt the Taliban's terror campaign.

Insurgents tried to blow up a minivan taking Afghan poice trainers to work by using a remotely detonated bomb affixed to a bicycle. Three policemen in the vehicle were wounded along with two passersby.

But Afghan security foiled a bombing campaign when they seized two bomb-packed cars and arrested three people on Saturday. Police had been tipped off to the arrival of the vehicles from Pakistan. When they stopped the cars, one a taxicab, west of Kandahar City, they found one of them filled with artillery shells and mines to be used in IED's and suicide bombs against Canadian troops.

One of the drivers confessed he had been paid $150 to bring the explosives from Pakistan to the Taliban. Of the three suspects in custody two are Pakistani and one is an Afghan from the Panjwaii district.

One of the men warned police about a pair of IED's that had already been planted. One was found outside the school in Kandahar city and the other in the village of Spin Boldak on the border.

(Nearly 25 schools have been attacked this year, according to UN figures. In the latest incident, militants blew up a school in the eastern province Paktika but no one was hurt.)

The Taliban's terror campaign was further disrupted by the discovery of a three-tonne cache of weapons in the western province of Heart on the border with Iran. The cache consisted mainly of landmines which one government spokesman described as "brand-new." They carried labels as coming from China and Iran.

The heat on Taliban insurgents is chasing them out of Helmand and Kandahar in search of easier targets. But that's not working out as well as they expected.

A group of fighters from Helmand province crossed into the neighbouring province of Ghor, a western province so quiet we can't say we've even heard of it before. They attacked a unit of Afghan police, which they no doubt thought were easy pickin's. But the police fought back.


When the shooting stopped a few hours later, six Taliban were dead and two others wounded and in custody. The dead terrorists included Mullah Jalil, who the Taliban had appointed as their "governor" of the province, and Mullah Abdul Saraj, his self-styled police chief.

It wasn't a good week for insurgent big wigs.

As predicted, the Taliban have focussed their fighting in the east in provinces closer to their camps in Pakistan's tribal region. But they're having just as little success.

A statement posted on an Islamist website Sunday reported the death of a prominent member of Al Qaeda in eastern Paktia province. It said Abu Suleiman al-Otaibi was one of two Al Qaeda leaders killed in "a fierce battle with the worshippers of the cross." Al-Otaibi was an Al Qaeda leader in Iraq before coming to Afghanistan six months ago.

The BBC reported that the bodies of nine Taliban fighters were brought to the village of Wana in tribal Pakistan. About 30 fighters, including the now-dead men and boys, crossed the border into Afghanistan almost 3 weeks ago to fight U.S. forces. They attacked a U.S. convoy in Paktika province, and paid the price. As they were trying to escape back to Pakistan, coalition fighter aircraft caught them and killed 12, including Maulana Muhammed Iqbal, the deputy commander of the Mulla Nazir group that operates in South Waziristan. Some of the others were captured.

The Taliban was able to take 9 bodies with them, leaving 3 behind. Seven of the dead were from Wana, and two were from Punjab, according to Pakistani news sources. News stories said Wana residents had difficulty identifying the bodies because they were so badly burned. Local tribesmen said three of the dead ranged in age between 15 to 20 years.

We managed to locate the contemporary accounts of the battle where they died:

Air strikes leave 15 suspected insurgents dead in Afghanistan

www.chinaview.cn
KABUL, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Air raids carried out by international troops on Taliban militants in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province have left over a dozen suspected insurgents dead, spokesman of provincial administration said Saturday. "The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in efforts to eliminate insurgents carried out air raids on their hideout in Charbaran district yesterday evening (Friday evening) ,killing 15 armed enemies," Ghani Khan Mohammad Yar told Xinhua. A number of arms and munitions have also been seized from the rebels, he further added. Taliban insurgents have yet to comment.


The daily airpower summary for April 25 described the blow that wiped out the fighters.

"In Orgune, an A-10 dropped a 500-pound bomb to destroy enemy combatants. The JTAC reported that the mission was successful."

Easy Targets

The Taliban has had to concentrate on the easiest of targets now that even police are fighting back and winning.

On Friday they killed two private security guards on the ring road linking Kabul with Kandahar. A Taliban spokesman said one of his group's men also died.

And in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar, the eastern province the Taliban has declared will be the key target for their spring offensive, gunmen stormed the house of a member of Afghanistan's parliament. His father was killed and the gunmen kidnapped three women and four children.

Suicide bombing Update

Two suicide bombings were attempted last week.

On Thursday, a suicide car bomber blew himself up on the western outskirts of Kabul, and injured three civilians. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said the target of the bomber was not clear since there were no Afghan or international forces or officials in the area at the time of the attack. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack and said that one of their fighters, a citizen from southern Kandahar province, carried out the attack.

And in Helmand a suicide bomber blew himself up and injured a British officer. No further details can be found.

The number of civilians being killed in Taliban attacks this year has increased dramatically according of military sources. NATO officials say the Taliban killed about 240 Afghan civilians in the first three-and-a-half months of this year, six times as many as during the same period last year. Most of these deaths were from Taliban suicide bomb attacks aimed at international forces.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights: Follow the money

The proponents of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights knew they were in trouble in 2004.

- Projected construction costs had risen 47 percent in three years.
- A cornerstone of the project, an endowment fund to bring tens of thousands of students to the museum in Winnipeg each year, had become prohibitively expensive.
- And the amount of money the private sector would have to come up with had leaped from $60 million to $103 million.

What a difference having friends in high places makes.

Within three years the self-proclaimed Friends of the museum were breathing easy as their problems evaporated one by one, and instead it was Canadian taxpayers who were reaching for the oxygen.

"Follow the money" a screenwriter once wrote, and so we did.

The results were as surprising as our discovery that the human rights museum intends to
inflate its annual visitor count by including cyber visits to its website.

Five years ago, Izzy Asper issued this statement:

"On April 17th, 2003, on the 21st Anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I, along with our federal and provincial governments and the City of Winnipeg partners, announced the potential creation of a groundbreaking $270 million Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This will be the largest human rights museum in the world and I am proud to have it located in my hometown of Winnipeg...

The Asper Foundation has proposed a unique partnership for funding the capital cost of the museum, estimated at $200 million for the first phase, with an additional $70 million being required for an eventual possible second phase. These sums include perpetual endowments to provide the income to fund student travel from across Canada. The national student program will sponsor 100,000 high school students and their chaperones from across Canada to visit the museum each year.

Israel Asper
Asper Foundation


The following year, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights released their annual report. It raised an alarm.

* The capital cost had grown to $243 million.
* The $35 million endowment fund that was part of the $200 million Phase 1 was now going to cost $50 million, they said, and should be hived off into Phase 2.
* And the $60 million the private sector had promised to raise was now $103 million to cover the increased cost of construction.

Fast forward a year, and Gail Asper, Izzy's heir and prime mover of his museum, is telling the Jewish Tribune the project is a go with no changes other than the bottom line. (All highlights ours)

September 22, 2005
Asper Foundation still needs $120 million for human rights museum

By Rick Kardonne, Jewish Tribune Correspondent
WINNIPEG - The Canadian Museum of Human Rights, slated to be constructed in the centre of Canada, at the intersections of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in downtown Winnipeg, will be Canada's only major Holocaust museum on a scale equal to Yad Vashem or the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. (Gail) Asper said that the total cost of the museum is projected to be $300 million.


The endowment fund, all $50 million, is back in the budget. If there was any doubt, the Asper Foundation spelled it out a few months later.

The Asper Foundation donates $20 million to Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Embargoed until 11:00, CT, January 19, 2006:
Winnipeg, January 19, 2006:
The Asper Foundation today announced a total donation to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights of $20 million. "We view this as an integral investment in the spiritual and economic renewal of Winnipeg and as an investment in firmly positioning Winnipeg and Canada as a global beacon for human rights recognition, promotion and celebration," said Gail Asper, Managing Director of The Asper Foundation.

snip

Total project costs are $311 million - including an endowment fund for the national student travel program.

But there was one significant change to the plans.

December 8th, 2006, Winnipeg, MB for immediate release:: Members of the Richardson Family and the Richardson Foundation today announced a combined gift of $3 million to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights...
Total project costs are $311 million...By year two of operations, it is expected that more than 20,000 students from across Canada will visit the Museum annually as part of a comprehensive national human rights program for young people.
-30-
For more information contact:
Kim Jasper, Director of Communications
Ph. 204- xxx-xxxx, Cell: 204-xxx-xxxx


The student component of the museum had shrunk 80 percent, from 100,000 to 20,000.

Then, in April, 2007, the museum backers won the tax money lottery.

The federal government committed to paying up to $100 million to the $265 million cost of construction, plus covering the annual operating costs of $22 million. And they would pass legislation making the Canadian Museum for Human Rights a national museum, the first outside of Ottawa. Glory be.

There was no mention of the endowment fund.

Stop right there.

Did nobody notice that the Friends now claim that the cost of construction has risen only 9 percent from 2004 to 2007, when it rose 47 percent in the 3 years preceeding 2004?

And who, exactly, is supposed to cover future costs which are inevitable in the this the biggest building boom in recent memory?

Well, that very question was asked in a very unexpected place---the Canadian Senate.

It turns out the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights held a hearing into the human rights museum Monday, March 3, 2008 before passing the law making it a national institution.

Senator James Cowan asked:
" ...you say that the budget to build and fit up the museum, including exhibition development, would be capped at $265 million. These projects have a tendency to run over the expected costs. Who will pick up the tab if the costs exceed $265 million? "

Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage, answered.
"The board of trustees will be accountable for bringing this project in on budget and making decisions with respect to the building design and the contingency fund set aside that allow it to bring the project in on budget."

So the people who have failed to raise the private sector's portion of costs is now responsible for cost overruns.

Uh, huh.

Oh wait ... there's a contingency fund built into the $265 million budget.

Sherwood said the contingency fund was 15 percent.

Or about $40 million if our math is correct.

But...

"That has been factored into planning and is one of the reasons for the urgency of this bill because at the moment the purchasing power of that $265 million is being eroded at the rate of between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month." said Ms. Sherwood.

That means cost inflation will be 8 per cent a year (using the highest number) according to the museum spokeswoman. Nevermind that the rule of thumb in Winnipeg projects is double that, let's use the museum's own figures.

Given that the federal government gave its blessing to a $265 million budget more than one year ago, the contingency fund has already been more than half eaten up.

And because the Friends failed to raise their share of the construction costs before March 31, construction won't start until 2009 at the earliest
by which time the contingency fund will be ZERO.

By the time the politicians get their picture in the paper digging shovels into the sacred dirt of the Forks to mark the start of construction, there will be NO cushion against rising costs.

So who do you think will be resposible for the $18- to $20 million in added costs per year?

Uh, huh. You.

But, you ask, what about the kiddies?

Remember that the $265 million is going to construction and exhibits and not an endowment fund to bring students to see the magnificent museum.

Well, the Friends have that figured out. As they tell visitors to their website:

"As a federal Museum, the Government of Canada will fund the operations of the Museum. Business plans developed by the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights indicate it will cost approximately $22 million annually, including $6 million for the student travel program."

This may come as a surprise to the federal government. It did to us.

The taxpayer has now apparently absorbed the endowment fund and is now on the hook for travel costs of students brought to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

But, look, we've come full circle. Where last time we examined the rapidly deflating claims of how many people would visit the museum each year, we accepted that we could at least count on the 20,000 students who form the bedrock of the museum's plans.

Not so fast.

Even after the Friends began talking of 20,000 students annually instead of the original plan for 100,000, they spoke of raising an endowment fund of $50 million, a figure that hasn't changed since 2004.

How many students will $6 million of today's money buy?

Are we watching the visitations shrink before our eyes? And the cost to us explode?

And the usual government watchdogs sleep like babies.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Gail Asper's Incredibly Shrinking Museum for Human Rights

The latest twist in museum boondogology arrived in Ottawa the last day of March, but only hit the newspapers this week.

A report (the Winnipeg Free Press says 77 pages, our copy has 126 pages) from the Advisory Committee on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was delivered to Josee Verner, Canada's Heritage Minister.

The FP summarized its main point Wednesday--- thanks for the dough, now screw off.

The Asper family is grateful that the feds have committed $100 million to build the museum, their daddy's pet project, and that Ottawa has agreed to spend at least $22 million a year to cover operating costs. But that's as far as the love affair is going.

The Aspers won't be giving up control of the museum to anybody. The federal government has been "advised" to keep their noses out of the operations of the museum, all in the interest of avoiding political interference by pressure groups, you understand.

Arni Thorsteinson, described by the Free Press as "Winnipeg real estate mogul", is chairman of the advisory committee. He was quoted saying:

"We want to make sure that the expectations of a couple of hundred thousand visitors per year will be met and exceeded."

The newspaper's online version of the story was more direct.


Museum could lure 200,000 a year
By: Geoff Kirbyson
May 7, 2008
A new report suggests Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights could attract more than 200,000 visitors a year.

Say what?

The closer they come to starting construction, the faster shrinks the alleged number of visitors the museum will attract. Take a look:

* The National Post, January 21, 2006
Quoting Charlie Coffey, the chairman of the national advisory council for the museum.
"Mr. Coffey said he expects the museum, which is scheduled to open in 2010, will see 400,000 visitors annually."

* University of Manitoba Alumni bulletin, August, 2006
Quoting Gail Asper, alumnus, BA '81, LLB '84, in a story titled "Building the Project of a Lifetime"
"She predicts the museum will generate as many as 300,000 visitors each year."

* Canadian Press, April 29, 2008.
"Doer government grilled on Crown donations to human rights museum"
Reporting on the controversial donations of $1 million each to the museum project by four Manitoba crown corporations reporter Tamara King quoted Carmen Neufeld, chairman of the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

"We felt this was a project well worth investing in. It's such an international project," said Carmen Neufeld. "As a good corporate citizen, we wanted to be part of that." The museum expects about 250,000 visitors a year, which will be good for business, Neufeld said.

Less than two weeks later, the estimated number of annual visitors has shrunk even further, to 200,000.

Oh yeah? Think again.

We're betting you haven't read the report from the advisory committee on the Human Rights Museum.

If you had, you would have seen this bombshell:

"It will be important, though, to acknowledge that visitors to this museum will also include online visitors, people engaged through outreach and through travelling programs."

That's right. Everyone who clicks onto the museum's website -- will be counted as a visitor!

How exactly will those "visitors" be contributing to Manitoba's tourist economy? And what portion of that 200,000 will be cyber-people?

The museum's backers have been stoking the idea that hundreds of thousands of human beings will actually be travelling to Winnipeg to gaze at the glory of the magnificent architecture and 21st century-style participatory exhibits. But right now the only sure living, breathing souls we can expect are 20,000 hard-drinking, hard-gambling junior high school students who are to be dragged to the museum each year courtesy of even more government funding.

However the advisory report should be reassuring to a lucky few.
The human right of the rich to travel at the expense of the taxpayer will be upheld to the highest degree.

Among the recommendations from Arni Thorsteinson is this (highlights ours):


Page 7
7. Study Other Museums - While the CMHR will likely be the first comprehensive museum of human rights, the Advisory Committee encourages the Board and senior staff of the museum to visit colleagues in similar institutions and conduct a formal, methodological study of museums with comparable objectives. An incomplete list of suggested museums includes: The New York City Tenement Museum (New York, NY); The National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC); The National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, DC); The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum (Washington, DC); Robben Island Museum (Cape Town, South Africa); District Six Museum (Cape Town, South Africa); The Museum of Tolerance (Los Angeles, CA); The National Civil Rights Museum (Nashville, TN); Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Wellington, New Zealand); Apartheid Museum (Johannesburg, South Africa); The Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA), and Member museums of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

Just for fun,we looked at where the 17 "member museums of the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience" are located.

Well, there's Italy, Russia, England, Chile, Argentina, and the Czech Republic.

American locations include Memphis, Atlanta, and Manhattan, New York.

The cynic in us says it will be along time before any board member goes to the museums in Senegal and Bangladesh, not when you can escape winter in Winnipeg by having to visit a museum in L.A. or Memphis or New Zealand.

Life is tough when you're rich and connected. Just ask Robert Rabinovitch, former president and CEO of the CBC.

Documents obtained through Access to Information (not by us) show he had to travel the world, staying at $1000 a night hotels that offered in-room massages, chauffeur-driven cars and gourmet food.

On your behalf, you thankless hoi polloi, Rabinovitch even had to stay at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel in Turkey where every room came with its own butler.

Thank goodness the rich won't have to suffer for supporting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

(Stay tuned for more, much more.)

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

War in Afghanistan 2008 Week 18

Three wars are being fought concurrently in Afghanistan.

The Taliban lost the Education War the minute they were driven from power in 2001. Afghan parents, like parents everywhere, want their children educated as best they can be. Despite the news medias' swooning over every attack on a school or murder of a teacher, the Taliban's attempts to stifle education has failed at every turn.

The Fighting War limps along but it's clear the Taliban have lost.

The Winnipeg Free Press may have been the first newspaper in Canada to admit the obvious in an editorial April 29, 2008, in which they wrote: "The war has already been won in the field...The war now is one of commitment as the Taliban attempt to sap the will of the West and the Afghan people to persevere."

After two straight years of terrible defeats in the field of battle, the Taliban conceded this year they cannot win. They're reduced to a campaign of terror against civilians and civil servants which the media diginifies by calling it asymetrical warfare.

That leaves the Drug War, and this past week, it dominated the news from Afghanistan.

Where they once railed against drug use and the poppy trade, the Taliban are now allied with the opium growers. They tax the growers and use the great sums they raise to fund their insurgency.

But this year the tide may have turned even in the Drug War.

Paging Al Gore

The weather in Afghanistan has been beastly, and that's good news for those fighting the Drug War.

Call it a triple threat---freezing winter temperatures, late rains on its heels, and a possible drought after that (temperatures are running 110 degree F. already). Add them up and Afghanistan's opium harvest could be cut in half in the southern provinces that grow the most poppies.

The Independent's reporter in Kabul, Jerome Starkey, had this Drug War update:

"The fierce winter cold - which claimed hundreds of lives across Afghanistan - is thought to have stopped millions of poppy seeds from germinating. Late rains have then stunted many of the plants that survived.

One expert said: "It was too cold in some areas for the seeds to come alive. Between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the seeds may not have germinated."

snip

"The poppy farmers worst affected are those who planted in November, after the cold spell set in. That includes half of Helmand's poppy farmers and a third of growers nationwide."

The Telegraph (Big advance in war on Afghanistan poppy, April 28, 2008) said that 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces will be declared "opium poppy free" this year, including Nangahar and Badakhshan, which as recently as 2004 were behind only Helmand in production.

However, Helmand's share of the poppy crop is a debatable number with estimates in the press varying by 150 percent.

Tom Coghlan, of the Telegraph, wrote:

"Last year 250,000 acres of opium poppy were planted in Helmand, according to Western counter-narcotics experts. Slightly less have been planted this year, while 10,000 acres have been eradicated."

While Michael Evans, of The Times, said in a story April 23, 2008:

"Last year, as part of the Government's eradication programme, about 3,000 acres (1,215 hectares) of poppy crops in Helmand were destroyed - out of nearly 100,000 acres in the province."

Tell it to the Marines

The weather isn't the only thing putting the squeeze on the Taliban's plans. When the British re-took the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand province, they also captured tons of opium waiting to go to market and destroyed drug labs for making heroin. That took a big bite out of Taliban funding.

Last week, more bad news for the insurgents as the U.S. Marines landed in Helmand. Woohaa.

The Marines immediately made their presence known in and around the town of Garmsir (alternately spelled Garmser) in the southern half of the province. British forces have been concentrated in the northern half and Taliban insurgents have had the run of the south until now. The mission for the Marines---disrupt the poppy trade south to Pakistan and the stream of insurgents north into Helmand.

USA Today was with them on their assault (Marines, Taliban battle in Afghanistan poppy fields - USATODAY.com , Paul Wiseman, May 2)

"Infantrymen from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit came under intense fire from rockets and rifles Friday, the fourth day of their mission in Helmand. Taliban leaders ordered their fighters to defend the ground at all costs, according to information intercepted by the Marines.

Behind the Taliban's resolve: The Marine Operation Azada Wosa - "Stay Free" in the local Pashto language - threatens to disrupt the Taliban's lucrative trade in opium, says Maj. Tom Clinton Jr., executive officer of the Marines' infantry battalion.

"We're sitting on their money," Clinton said at this military base near Garmsir, a Helmand market town seized earlier this week by the Marines. "If they don't have money, they can't buy weapons."

Operation Azada Wosa, the Marines' first mission since arriving, is designed to clear the Taliban out of southern Helmand, where they have operated with impunity for more than a year, and to cut off their escape routes to Pakistan."


A day earlier Wiseman described the Marine casualties:

"Six Marines had been injured, none critically: One was shot in the foot, perhaps accidentally; one suffered a concussion from a Taliban rocket or mortar attack; one was bitten by a dog; one fell from a roof and broke an ankle; two broke their legs; and two more sprained their ankles."

The Taliban found easier targets in another part of the country.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) April 30- A suicide bomb tore through a team preparing to eradicate opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 19 people, most of them policemen, the government said.

The hardline Taliban movement said one of its men carried out the attack in the small town of Khogyani in Nangarhar province, near the insurgency-hit border with Pakistan.


The bomb struck as a counternarcotics team was preparing to travel to opium fields to destroy illegal poppy crops, the interior ministry said in a statement.

"Nineteen people including 12 police and seven civilians lost their lives and 41 others were wounded," it said.


The dead included an Afghan working on a United Nations counternarcotics programme and a child, Nangarhar governor Gul Agha Sherzai told reporters in the city of Jalalabad 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Khogyani.

The Taliban almost scored their biggest publicity coup of the war Sunday by assassinating President Hamid Karzai. The attack on Karzai at a public ceremony in Kabul failed, although three onlookers were killed as well as three gunmen.

The news media seized on the attack as proof of the Taliban's ability to strike anywhere in the country, but follow up stories showed it was proof of the incompetence of the Afghan intelligence service which had prior warning of the assassination attempt but failed to stop it.

Afterward an intelligence spokesman said that the men who fired at Karzai exchanged "cellphone text messages with people in Pakistan's Bajur and North Waziristan regions and in the main northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar."

At mid-week the intelligence service raided the hideout of conspirators in the attack on Karzai. Seven people were killed in the ensuring gunbattle. Six other suspects were arrested elsewhere in Kabul.

Three NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan this past week.

* Sunday, Apr 27, 2008 Lance Corporal Jason Marks, 27, an Australian Special Forces soldier, was killed in combat in Uruzgan province.

* Wednesday, April 30, 2008, a Czech soldier was killed in the explosion of a roadside bomb in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan. He was the driver of the Humvee. Four other soldiers in the vehicle were injured, one seriously.

* Saturday, May 3, 2008, A British soldier, originally from Fiji, Ratu Babakobau, 29, was killed in Helmand province by an IED explosion.

His death reignited the debate over a shortage of helicopters to carry troops from base to base.

"The lack of helicopters means we are building up predictable patterns of behaviour. The enemy are just adjusting tactics to hit us where we are vulnerable," one senior officer was quoted in the British press.

There are only six RAF Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan. British commanders have asked for more but have been told by the Ministry of Defence that they "have access to other helicopters provided by Nato allies."

Canadian forces, hard hit by IED fatalities, have also asked for troop-carrying helicopters. But, speaking not even as armchair generals, we have to point out the obvious risks. While currently NATO countries suffer primarily single deaths from roadside bombs, a downed helicopter could mean multiple fatalities in one fell swoop.

A year ago a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Helmand province killing seven--- five American soldiers, a Canadian soldier and a British soldier.

Babakobau was the 48th soldier among the coalition to die this year. That's a rate of about 10 fatalities a month. Should helicopters become the primary method of transport, and the Taliban achieve anti-air missile capability, the death rate would rise exponentially.

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