The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mayor's "lost" speech to the city: the address Sam Katz meant to give

Ladies and Gentlemen...

I am announcing today that I will be running for mayor of Winnipeg in 2010.

(Pause for reaction.)

I'm planning a lot of big changes to the way the city runs, and I'm not leaving it to someone else to screw up. I'm sticking around until the city is running like a fine watch and that means one more term at least.

I may not be your typical politician, but my mother didn't raise a fool.

I will not raise property taxes this year. (Wait for applause.) Or next. (wait for cheers to die down.)

What kind of an idiot would raise taxes in an election year? Stand up Councillor Swandel.

There's going to be plenty of money sloshing around in the next couple of years, enough to keep Winnipeg afloat until after the next vote. That's when I'll bring the hammer down. (Note to self: Don't say this last part out loud.)

Before I go, I'm going to replace Plan Winnipeg with a new long-term planning blueprint.

In the coming months, I will be announcing details of a Transportation Authority Commission, a new jumble of people that's going to be responsible for expanding roads, bridges and transit in an orderly fashion.

And after I'm safely elected, I'll create a new water and sewer utility that can raise rates and blame the Public Utilities Board instead of me. Hey, am I getting good at this or what?

My predecessor was a flaming lefty who thought the only way to raise needed revenue for the city was to raise taxes. Genius. I intend to use business principles. The water utility will sell service to neighbouring communities. Once we've got them hooked, we jack up the price. That's genius.

I've learned a few things in the past five years as mayor.

One, Bureaucracy is good.
And two, pointless spending is fun.

Hey, it's not my money.

We've got all kinds of well-paid managers for every department in the city. On top of them, we have the city auditor who's there to make sure they're doing their job right. Now I'm going to add a layer of bureaucracy by creating a Chief Performance Officer who will take the auditor's reports and watch that the managers do the job they're paid to do.

Then I'll spend $3 million on an "aboriginal youth strategy."

Yeah, you and me both...what the hell is that?

That's the beauty of it. There's no definition. It just sounds great. That way there's no goals to measure success or failure, but it will sure help me get re-elected. (Note to self: is this sharing too much?)

Sure there are a thousand other programs in the city that do exactly the same thing. But I can't attach my name to them. This one's mine alone.

Your money is going to go to 11 projects that focus on helping Aboriginal youth to succeed through education, employment training, career development, leadership, and skills training.

Sure, White Boy. For you this means get your Grade 12, don't get arrested and get a job.

But when you attach the word "aboriginal" to anything, you've got to fancy it up or people don't think you're doing anything. So...

I am also pleased to announce that I will be recommending in this year's operating budget, to invest 3 million dollars over 3 years in our Aboriginal Youth Strategy to take advantage of our partnership and develop more sustainable, long-term, and meaningful initiatives to encourage employment and training opportunities that ensure Aboriginal youth have the tools necessary to succeed.

I just love to use all those big words to say dick all. Can I say dick? Sorry.

Let's get back to the city...

Let's face it, downtown is dead. We tried everything. CPR. Paddles. Transplants. Zippo.

There comes a point where you have to concentrate on the living. All together now.


I say "eye" and you say "key", then "ahh."

Everybody on the left hand side say Eye.
Everybody on the right hand side say Key.
Everybody in the middle say Ahhhh...

C'mon, where's your spirit?

We've dared to dream big to attract this major investment in our city. This Spring, we've got to hold public hearings. The usual boo birds will be out in force, so I'm counting on you to give me a little help here.

Okay, what else?

40 percent of the hotel tax is going into a pot to expand the Convention Centre.

We've established a new Special Events Marketing Fund to grease the bids for future conferences and special events like the Junos, Grey Cup, or the Canadian Country Music Awards. Skip the Olympics. Who needs that headache?

We've got our own headaches. We're still the murder capital of Canada. And the car theft capital. And the gang capital.

If Winnipeg is to be a choice city to work, live, and play,we need to be a safe city. We've got to do better.

But don't be asking me for money to remove graffiti or shut down crack houses. We've got to build museums for millionaires, and the money's got to come from somewhere. These rich folk are my neighbours in Tuxedo. They've got me by the yiechees. I had to thrown a developer under the bus this year to make them happy. And I'm the guy who campaigned on making Winnipeg a welcoming place for investors.

I would like to share with you some inspirational words from an unknown author.

"The highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity. Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity... these are the choices that measure your life. Travel the path of integrity without looking back for there is never a wrong time to do the right thing."

This guy couldn't get elected dog catcher. I wish he was running for Mayor next year.

We've got to take advantage of the economic downtown. People who wouldn't be caught dead in Winnipeg now need jobs. Even in Winnipeg.

My advice to all Winnipeggers who have sought other greener pastures and have moved out-of-province, is...sure the winters last eight months of the year and we're colder than the Arctic, but we're cheap. Come home and let us be part of your solution.

To all the young professionals, you can't do worse than Winnipeg. Wait, that doesn't sound right.

Families and newcomers looking to plant roots - grow with us! We bust grow ops in every part of the city. Some pretty big ones, too.

Ladies and gentleman, I know everyone in this room believes in the potential of our City. Your action is an integral part of the future of Winnipeg. And that future is built on action. And today is the right time to take action.

Thank you very much.

Renee Zellwegger rebrands us

Can we get our money back?

If there's any justice in this world there has to be a warranty on brands that go bad.

A bad brand is like a nickname that ruins your life. "Hey, Stinky, how's it goin'?"

And we're stuck with a cropper.

A few years ago the tall foreheads of Gary Doer's economic development committee decided Manitoba needed a new image---fast. They hired a new york company called InterBrand which claimed to be the experts in the field, having come up with sharp, slick slogans for cities and countries around the world.

Two million dollars later the Gotham geniuses unveilled their creation. Ta daaa….Manitoba would henceforth be known as the home of Spirited Energy.

Yep, think New Coke, the Edsel, the Hindenberg (the finest in transportation anywhere).

It was so soul-less and artificial it looked, sounded and smelled like a something created by a committee---which is exactly what it was.

Stage One of the reveal was sell-it-to-the-locals. That went so disastrously the province scrubbed Stage Two, tell-it-to-the-world. They're still trying to salvage what they can from the multi-million dollar boondoggle, so we're stuck with a redesigned provincial symbol and a psychedelic squiggle background to all provincial advertising.

The old-style, Disney-like buffalo has been replaced with a sharper, bigger, blacker cousin because nothing says "here's a great place to live" better than a mean looking animal looking for trouble. The trippy squiggle on the other hand says "look, they're stuck in the Sixties. Groovy, man."

So why bring it up now?

Because we're being re-rebranded.
For free.

Movie stars Rene Zellwegger and Harry Connick Jr. are on a cross-country (U.S.) press tour to sell their just released romantic comedy New In Town, which was partially shot in Winnipeg. It opens in theatres everywhere today.

The reviews are less than warm; nobody in the U.S. today finds the shutting down of a factory in a small town amusing. So the interviews with the stars eventually slide into funny anecdotes about Winnipeg, more specifically how hellishly cold, brutally cold, and criminally cold Winnipeg is.

"I didn't realize that 'Yes, you really do need the coat that looks like a duvet.' Everyone was walking around in their Herman Munster boots, and I'd laugh. 'They look like Gene Simmons, 10 inches off the ground!' But you NEED them," Zellwegger told Orlando Sentinel.

"Why do you live in that town? Let's just be real, it's not human to live in a town like that, you know what I'm saying? That's just crazy cold. Don't go to Winnipeg between October and March," joked Connick in L.A.

Flush. Whoooooosh...With one sentence, $2 million down the drain.

Spirited Energy was supposed to replace Frigging Cold as Manitoba's world image. It didn't stand a chance. Because everyone in Winnipeg and in Manitoba knows that Connick is telling the truth. And nobody is laughing harder at the Winnipeg cold stories than us.

You can't rebrand Cyrano de Bergerac by talking up his wit and charm and hoping people don't notice his honker. Winnipeg is the Cyrano city. Manitoba is the Big Nose province.

Way back when, The Black Rod tried to decipher Interbrand's method for inventing a brand.

Check it out. You'll be surprised how closely we called it---the re-rebrand, that is.

The premier's economic advisory committee demonstrated their acumen by wasting a whack of money denying the obvious.

Interbrand gave them what they wanted, then took the money and ran.

But, it didn't have to be that way.

One of Interbrand's methods is to use the obvious---with a little sugar and a little spin. What if…

What if they had looked at something as obvious as the cold but with more potential. It was right there in front of their faces, like, well, Cyrano's nose.

Can you spot it in this excerpt from a story in the Boston Globe?

But Winnipeggers say there's more to their city than frigid temperatures
By Linda Matchan
Globe Staff / February 27, 2005

''We have had this constant stigma in the marketplace, in the community, nationally, and internationally as a place that is boring, is freezing cold, and full of mosquitoes," says Ash Modha, a Winnipeg businessman who co-chairs the Premier's Economic Advisory Committee's Image Task Force, which is overseeing the effort.

''Two of them are true -- the cold and mosquitoes," Modha says.

''We can do larvaciding to fix the mosquitoes, but we can't do anything about the cold, and that's the bottom line. . . . We keep getting hit with the same stigma of cold, cold, cold."

The province and its capital would like to temper that image and convert it to cool. This doesn't come naturally to humble Winnipeggers, despite the city's wealth of assets, not least of which is a population so friendly the provincial license plate reads ''Friendly Manitoba."

Winnipeggers' relentless pleasantness can seem almost surreal to a Bostonian. A real-life experience, in December:
Visitor to random department store clerk: ''Could you tell me where I could find a telephone?"
Clerk: ''The pay phones are around the corner, but would you like to use mine?"

That's right. Our brand could have been the warm hearts of Manitobans. Friendly Manitobans. Friendly like you won't find anywhere else on the continent. Our hearts creating an oasis of warmth in a sea of cold.

But here, from the same Boston Globe article, is what the government braintrust thought of that:

''We want to create a brand new progressive image rather than friendly Manitoba," says Modha. ''That's basically been the promotion for years. We are friendly, but we are more than just friendly. There's a lot more to the province than being friendly."

Instead they stuck us with a slogan and image so pitiful that anyone using it without the proper derision might as well be branded on the forehead with a big 'L' for Loooooser.

Can we get our money back? Surely someone knows where the receipt is.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Further Adventures of Bruce MacFarlane, Manitoba Special Agent 204

What's a mild-mannered Manitoban like Bruce MacFarlane doing as a possible defendant at the International Court in The Hague?

The Hague? Think Slobodan Milosevic Think cold-blooded massacres of innocents. Think rape camps. Think war crimes. Think bloodthirsty bemedalled Serbian generals and heartless mustachioed Croatian killers. The last thing you'd think is Bruce MacFarlane.

And you would be wrong.

Almost a year ago--in March, 2008---MacFarlane was appointed by the court in The Hague as a special investigator of a very sensitive case---a case involving one of their own. Now that case has backfired and MacFarlane could wind up on the hot seat himself.

First, a little background.

Florence Hartmann had been the official spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the former prosecutor of the Tribunal, from 2000 to 2006. After she left her job she wrote a book, the contents of which got her charged with contempt of court for telling tales out of school. If convicted, she's looking at up to seven years in prison and/or a fine of 100,000 Euros.

It seems that her 2007 book Paix et Châtiment (Peace and Punishment) "disclose(d) information related to the decisions of the Appeals Chamber dated 20 September 2005 and 6 April 2006, including the contents and purported effect of these decisions, as well as specific reference to the confidential nature of these decisions." Or so the indictment says.

And to make things worse, she's accused of doing it again in an article she wrote entitled “Vital Genocide Documents Concealed” which was published in January, 2008, by the Bosnian Institute.

What's all this highfalutin' lawyer talk mean?

It seems that during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the court agreed with the Serbian government to go into closed sessions to see documents from Milosevic's Supreme Defense Council. Serbia was then allowed to redact parts of the evidence before it was put on the public record.

At the same time, Bosnia had charged Serbia at the UN court with war crimes. The charges were eventually dismissed, and Hartmann says Bosnia could have proved its case if it had known about the documents withheld by the Serbs in the Milosevic case.

But the fact that the court had seen the documents and had allowed Serbia to withhold some of them from the public was supposed to be a secret.

She decided to tell the secret.

In September, 2008, Bruce MacFarlane was appointed amicus curiae prosecutor in the case. He is preparing to go to trial Feb. 5 and 6 in The Hague.

Up to now, he thought the worst that could happen was to be painted as an enemy of freedom of the press. Hartmann has been giving media interviews in which she is accusing the UN war crimes tribunal of "trying to silence the truth". She's being hailed by supporters as a whistleblower being muzzled by a corrupted court.

And who's doing the muzzling? Our Bruce.

And now things have gotten weirder.

Hartmann traded her French lawyer for a pair of new counsel, Brit Karim Khan and Belgian Guenael Mettraux. Talk about irony, both of them have long experience defending accused war criminals before the UN court, the very people Hartmann wants convicted.

But today they have their sights set on Manitoba Special Agent 204, Bruce MacFarlane.

Hartmann's lawyers are arguing the charges should be dismissed because of irregularities and abuses committed by MacFarlane.

They've filed a number of motions in court, including one to have MacFarlane dismissed. They want the court to call a hearing into their evidence, a hearing where they would put MacFarlane on trial for his alleged abuses and flaws in his investigation.

And for good measure, they said they want to call MacFarlane as a defence witness.

The UN Tribunal says that, usually their proceedings are broadcast (with a 30-minute delay.)
If our local television stations know how to tap into the satellite TV broadcasts, we may get to see Manitoba's Bruce MacFarlane in action.

"Se-cret a-a-a-gent man, se-cret a-a-agent man..."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Phil Fontaine, National Chief and chief comedian

Goodness knows we need something to laugh about during this long and brutal winter.

That's why we have to thank Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, for giving everyone a good chuckle with his comments about the forensic audit of the Winnipeg office of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC, for short).

Winnipeg Free Press reporter Mia Rabson, playing the foil, set up the joke by asking Fontaine what he thought about the audit findings of gross mismanagement at INAC.

"People have been too quick to blame First Nations people for mismanagement, and what have you when the opposite appears to be true?" he said with Steven Wright deadpan.

"We've been repeatedly blamed for mismanagement practices, and our leadership is always accused of being corrupt." he riffed before delivering his punchline...

"There is no doubt in my mind we need to ensure there is greater power and authority in our hands, not less. "

Oh, stop. Our sides are hurting. We've got to catch our breaths.

Whatever props Fontaine gets for comic timing he loses for reading comprehension, or lack thereof.

Let us take you through the INAC audit. We try to use terms simple enough for even a Grand Grand Chief to understand.

The audit examined three matters:

· how Manitoba Hydro fudged the books and overcharged the federal government $7.9 million on a project to clean up soil contaminated by diesel power plants on reserves.

· how the Fairford reserve got a $1.2 million overpayment without anyone noticing, and

· how INAC managers bent, bent and bent the rules to channel more than $400,000 to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs for their pet project, a Legislature Building of their own.

Let's look at the last one first. We're sure Phil Fontaine found it a knee-slapper.

The AMC wants to build something they call a Governance House. It's literally a mini-Legislature to feed the gigantic egos of the local chiefs and let them feel important. The building is to be a "gathering place" as well as a "visual 'brand' for First Nations." (If the deal falls through, we could sell them Spirited Energy. Slightly used.)

First, the AMC needed an urban reserve to put it on.

In 2006 Manitoba Hydro (them again) sold a parcel of land at 480 Madison Ave. near Polo Park to the Long Plain Reserve for a proposed urban reserve. Long Plain paid $1.1 million, (using a portion of a $16 million land claims settlement they got in 1994). The AMC had found their urban reserve.

The auditors said that the AMC's May 2007 Business Plan " projected the total cost of construction and tenant fit-out at $91.8 million." But in early 2006 they were just looking for seed money.

And Indian Affairs came through for their buds.

First they gave AMC $143,440 for, as the auditors put it, negotiations "leading to the creation of the Governance House Project." They don't say what happened to a separate request for $56,560 for the Grand Chief's office.

The initial payment was slipped into the annual budget under the heading Contributions for the purpose of consultation and policy development.

But, concluded the auditors, "the investigation team found no wording in the authority that would justify its use to support negotiations for the acquisition of property or for adding lands to a reserve. Further, the team found no evidence on INAC's files to suggest that AMC had, within the context of this project, investigated, developed, proposed, reviewed, informed or consulted on any policy matters."

The initial payment didn't go far. By April the AMC was back with a "preliminary draft application" for $1.3 million in Governance House Phase 2 funding, including

- $205,000 for lawyers,

- $50,000 for media relations,

- $40,000 for travel,

- $450,000 for project management, coordination and R&D.

Oh, and $35,000 for land purchase costs.

INAC managers decided to start small. They knew that any funding over $400,000 had to go to Ottawa for approval. So they got creative.

The manager in charge approved $300,000 in Phase 2 funding under the guise of three separate items, a hundred grand each for architectural services, legal services and project management.

This time the funding came from the Community Economic Opportunities Program (CEOP) - a sub program of Economic Development Program.

The AMC Legislature had now become aboriginal economic development.

Not so fast, said the auditors. "Notwithstanding the merits of the Governance House Project, it is difficult to see how the costs involved in acquiring and developing a physical site can be considered as anything other than capital costs. Under both TB accounting rules and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), the cost of a capital project includes the costs of architects, lawyers and project management."

In other words, this was something other than economic development.

The INAC managers may have sensed as much. They kept Ottawa in the dark about the $300,000 in Phase 2 funding for five months. But when it finally became known, the wheels fell off the bus. And it's not like there weren't any red flags in the interim.

April 11, 2006
AMC project managers meet with MRO economic officer to discuss Phase 2 support, present plan for $1.3m, are told proposal is too rich, and represents more than 30% of total EcDev budget for Manitoba.

May 18, 2006
Grand Chief signs three $100k proposals (Proposals 1-3) for INAC support for architectural, legal, & project management 'phases' of the Governance House project.

Sept. 7, 2006
Third party assessor reports on the 4th (Phase 2) proposal identifying concerns about eligibility of certain costs reflected, recommending that further information be obtained & rating as high-risk.

January, 2007
HQ e-mails region re concerns about eligibility of expenditures for establishment of a physical site, land purchase, and questioning job creation claims.

May 2, 2007
Ministers Office instructs EcDev not to approve the proposal.

There was a pile of mismanagement on the Governance House file, but it was mismanagement on behalf of Manitoba's Chiefs. It put money into their hands which they weren't entitled to.

And it's hard to believe they didn't know and approve the "creativity" of INAC managers in hiding the funding from Ottawa.

What's that Phil said? "We've been repeatedly blamed for mismanagement practices, and our leadership is always accused of being corrupt."

Ya gotta laugh.

But the jokes keep coming.

There's the Fairford file.

In 1993, the Fairford Reserve, which now calls itself the Pinaymootang First Nation, sued the federal government over something or other. They lost. They appealed. The government cross appealed. So far, business as usual.

Then in 2001, the government made an offer -- look, we'll give you $1.2 million up front if you agree to take this out of the courts and settle it through negotiations. Fairford said yes, and the money was handed over, with two conditions. One, it was to be spent on housing. Two, it was an advance to be deducted from the final agreement.

Guess what? They finally settled in 2004 for $2 million. And, you guessed it, INAC "forgot" to deduct the $1.2 million from the final agreement.

From the Forensic Audit:
"For further insight into this transaction, the investigative team contacted the Minister's Executive Assistant for Manitoba at the time, who had attended the meeting with the First Nation. She stated her understanding as follows:

· The First Nation had understood and agreed to accept the $1.2 million as a repayable advance to be repaid when an agreement was reached.
· It was the negotiating team that suggested that the Minister make the advance to get the First Nation to the bargaining table.
· There was no "quid pro quo" negotiating leverage lost and there was no mistake as the advance was made at the request of the negotiating team.
· To her knowledge, the department had not increased the settlement mandate to $3.2 million.

So the Fairford Chief and council "had understood and agreed to accept the $1.2 million as a repayable advance to be repaid when an agreement was reached."

What did they think when they got a cheque for $2 million? It was a gift from the tooth fairy?

They knew they had been overpaid, regardless of what INAC did or did not do. But Fairford DID NOT abide by the agreement. They took the money they weren't entitled to and ran.

"There is no doubt in my mind we need to ensure there is greater power and authority in our hands, not less. " said Fontaine.

Phil, you kidder, you.

And there's still the worst example of INAC mismanagement, at least from the Canadian taxpayers' point of view.

It seems that Manitoba Hydro (yes, them again) used some creative accounting to hang onto $7.9 million they were supposed to return to the federal government.

The two were partners in a couple of projects started in the Nineties. In one, northern reserves were hooked up to the Manitoba electricity grid and their diesel power plants were decommissioned. In the other, the soil contaminated by years of spilled diesel had to be cleaned up. The federal government paid 75 percent of Project 1 to a maximum and 50 percent of project two to a maximum.

When the soil cleanup came in under budget and the power switch ran way over, Manitoba Hydro looked for ways to pass the costs to the federal government.

From the audit:

"The evidence available to the investigation team indicates that a recovery was certain as early as 2002, at which time officials from both Hydro and INAC were looking for ways in which to use the projected surplus."

When the INAC accounting manager for Manitoba was advised about a problem with the way spending was attributed, his attitude was "What's a million?"

Noted the auditors:
"The accounting manager, whose position description makes him responsible for certifying - under Section 33 of the Financial Administration Act (FAA) - the appropriateness and legality of almost all financial transactions in the Manitoba Region, responded:
"… what does [that] authority really any case it's [a] fait accompli it really doesn't matter at this point. Someone had agreed to [this] and it will [be] left to the forensic auditors to unravel it all…"

Ya gotta laugh to keep from crying.

In all the stories done on the INAC audit, why hasn't anyone asked the NDP government why it hasn't announced an investigation of Manitoba Hydro's role in stiffing the federal government out of $7.9 million? Who at Hydro deserves to be fired?

And, we understand, Fairford expects to sign a Municipal Development and Services Agreeement with the City of Winnipeg this month or next. That's the agreement to what an urban reserve consents to pay in lieu of taxes for city services.

Will this be another back-room deal dropped in the laps of city councillors an hour before a council meeting, leaving them no time to read it or understand the fine print?

The MDSA is the last step before Fairford can apply for an urban reserve.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

War in Afghanistan 2009 Week Two

Without fanfare, the U.S. has been steadily dismembering Al Qaeda's leadership for well over a year now with pinpoint missile attacks on hideouts bordering Afghanistan. January 2009 has been no exception.

On New Year's Day, an American Predator drone aircraft fired three missiles into a village in Pakistan's lawless South Waziristan tribal region. One hit a vehicle carrying 3 to 5 men (accounts vary). The other two destroyed a building.

This past week we learned who the HVT (high value target) was --- the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the man who was training terrorists for attacks in the U.S. and Europe.

His name, not that you would recognize it, was Usama al-Kini. His deputy, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, died with him when the Hellfire turned their vehicle into a ball of fire. Both men were Kenyan-born.

Two other nobodies were also killed in the airstrike.

Al-Kini was a senior al Qaeda commander who had a $5 million bounty on his head for planning the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya which killed 224 civilians and wounded more than 5,000 others. He became al-Qaeda's chief of operations in Pakistan in 2007.

He is suspected as being responsible for suicide attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto on her return to Pakistan in October 2007, and the September 2008 bombing at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. More than 50 people died in the Marriott attack and 270 were wounded.

The Jan. 1 drone attack was followed the next day by another that killed 4 Uzbeks in yet another village in South Waziristan. In the past 18 months, Predators have killed about a dozen top members of al-Qaeda. It's driving the terrorist organization crazy because it demonstrates how well the U.S. intelligence network is working.

The Predator drones have killed two men who were each, at one time or another, been ranked as al-Qaeda's number three in command. Among others blown to bits by the silent UAV's were al-Qaeda's chief of military operations, and several of the their most experienced experts in explosives and biological weapons. In October, an al-Qaeda commander who was in charge of the funnelling suicide bombers from Syria into Iraq was killed in a US commando helicopter raid across the border from Iraq.

The London Times implies that the Americans are getting some high-level help in their assassination campaign:

"Although the airstrikes have caused protests in Pakistan, intelligence exchanges between Islamabad and the CIA appear to have greatly improved since the sacking in September of Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj, the head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

"He was replaced by Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, who was in charge of military operations and had launched offensives against militants in the tribal regions. General Pasha is close to General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan's army chief, who has taken a stronger hold over the ISI, which in the past enjoyed significant autonomy."
(Predator attack kills al-Qaeda leaders, January 10, 2009, Zahid Hussain in Islamabad and Michael Evans, Defence Editor)

The effect of the rain of death has been devastating.

The Times reported:

"The top hierarchy of al-Qaeda has taken such a hit from US missile strikes that Osama bin Laden and his deputy have had to replace people in the terrorist organisation with men they have never met, according to Western intelligence sources. "

"A dozen of al-Qaeda's "senior management" have been killed by Predator drone attacks, which have been so effective in locating their targets that the militant group has been forced to move from traditional outdoor training camps to classroom-style facilities that are hidden from view..."

"The killings have had a huge impact on the structure, organisation and effectiveness of al-Qaeda, limiting the capacity for commanders to liaise with each other, further separating the top command from the lower ranks and introducing a high degree of uncertainty and a constant awareness of the likelihood of death lurking in the skies."

(Death from above: how Predator is taking its toll on al-Qaeda, Unmanned and heavily armed drones are killing off the 'senior management', Michael Evans, January 3, 2009)

Notice the mention of classroom style facilities. The building destroyed by drone missiles on Jan. 2 was a former girls school that had been taken over by followers of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan's umbrella Taliban organization.
Schools Out? Schools In.

On a not exactly related note, Afghanistan's Ministry of Education said late last year that the Taliban had killed 141 teachers and students in 2008. They added that Taliban attacks closed at least 651 schools.

Most of the closures were in the four southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan. In these four provinces up to 80 percent of schools are closed.

In the worst-affected Helmand Province, only 54 schools, primarily for boys, are functioning. In 2002, the province had 223 schools operating. Afghanistan's education authorities estimate that more than 300,000 students are being deprived of education.

Sounds awful, doesn't it?

What's always missing from these stories is context.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2000, an additional five million students in Afghanistan are getting an education, according to IRIN, the news agency of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

More than 6 million students are currently enrolled in 11,000 schools across the country.

And at least 3,500 schools have been built since 2002, with hundreds more planned.

The Taliban know they have lost the Education War. Despite a terror campaign that's included the mutilation of teachers, the murder of students and the destruction of tens of thousands of textbooks the Taliban is forced to issue denials they are responsible.

"Our Mujahideen have not attacked schools and schoolchildren," a Taliban spokesman told IRIN via telephone from an unidentified location. "Criminals - whom the government cannot stop - are carrying out such attacks," he said.

But IRIN has the night letters delivered by the Taliban threatening teachers and students with death and villagers know Taliban fighters are behind the attacks on the trucks carrying school books to Kandahar province. The denials fool no one, but they're necessary in the face of almost universal desire by parents for their children to get an education.

An intriguing new development

And what's this? A definite theme is developing as we scan the news of the Fighting War in Afghanistan. It may well be what defines the conflict in 2009.

In the most unexpected places, we're detecting signs that '09 will be the year when the Drug War and the Fighting War become one and the same.

British sources are already anticipating that the arrival of 30,000 American troops throughout the year will mean resources to finally tackle the opium producers head on. The effect will undoubtedly be more fighting which, in turn, will be interpreted by the mainstream media as defeat of NATO's mission.

The Telegraph, January 5, 2009

Britain should be prepared for a 15-year struggle in Afghanistan
After Britain's toughest year in Afghanistan, our defence correspondent argues that the public needs to be convinced that the campaign in Helmand is worth fighting

By Thomas Harding
05 Jan 2009

…With American reinforcements arriving in Helmand, however, the stage is set for us to take on the drug barons at last. That, of course, will stir up an even more vigorous reaction. But if our road-building operations go as planned, farmers' fruit will not rot on the way to market as it does now, making it a more viable crop than non-perishable opium. Similarly, the illegal checkpoints that fleece drivers will go, and Afghan security forces will be able to manoeuvre between towns more easily, despite the risk of roadside bombs.

The Independent, January 11, 2009

UK forces in Afghanistan in worst ever winter campaign
By Terri Judd
British troops are fighting their deadliest winter campaign to date in Afghanistan as the Prime Minister continues to resist calls to send reinforcements.

(Colonel Christopher Langton, a senior analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies) agreed that the spike in violence could be due to factions fighting to protect interests in the face of a determined Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal, who has taken a hard line against corruption and the poppy trade.

Sometimes it just took a little digging to get the true story…

Afghan militants cross into Pakistan in bold attack
Officials say hundreds of Taliban insurgents traversed the rugged border and attacked a Pakistani military camp. At least 40 militants and six Pakistani soldiers were killed.

By Laura King LA Times January 11, 2009

Meanwhile, NATO supply routes through Pakistan, menaced for months by insurgents, have come under new pressure. Most previous attacks have centered on the historic Khyber Pass near Peshawar, but today insurgents blockaded a road leading to a lesser-used southern crossing into Afghanistan, at Chaman.

Daily Times, Pakistan January 12, 2009
Troops repulse Afghan Taliban attack, 46 killed

PESHAWAR, Pakistan
Also on Sunday, tribesmen blocked the southwestern supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan at Chaman with burning tires and felled trees.
They were protesting the killing of one of their members in a raid by the Anti-Narcotics Force.

Continual reversals in the insurgency have forced the Taliban to form alliances with drug dealers. They've become dependent on the money and manpower supplied by the drug dealers who, in turn, need the Taliban to stave off the poppy-eradication campaigns of the government. The United Nations estimates that last year, the insurgents made as much as $300 million from the opium trade.

In the past two years the Taliban have suffered some hard blows such as when British troops dismantled their heroin labs and storage facilities in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province. Last November, Afghan Counter Narcotics Police seized more than 38,500 pounds of poppy seeds in a single raid.

Provincial governors and shuras (local councils) have been lobbying farmers not to plant poppy. They've offered government assistance as an incentive for farmers to plante legal crops, although that may have been overshadowed last year by higher prices . The UN says revenue from wheat, for instance, has tripled in one year.

In Nangarhar Province, with help from Japanese aid workers, rice production has increased fivefold, to 60,000 tons compared to 12,000 tons the previous year. Allied and Afghan forces have reduced opium production there by 95%.

The Afghan counternarcotics service said this past week that 7,700 tons of raw opium was produced in Afghanistan last year---500 tons fewer than in 2007. 18 Afghan provinces are now considered opium-free. In 2007, 13 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces had that distinction, and in 2006 only six. The UN estimates one million fewer Afghans were involved in opium cultivation in 2008.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations drug office, has said the alleged successes of the drug war are illusory because Afghanistan has had bumper crops of opium for three years running and the Taliban has stockpiles of the stuff and doesn't want to reduce the price by flooding the market. He told the New York Times his information came from "undercover surveyors in Afghanistan who closely observed the autumn planting season and the buzz around markets where opium is traded."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

#38. Incompetence killed this woman at Seven Oaks General Hospital

The day after Christmas 2007, a woman was taken to Seven Oaks Hospital.

She was 89, approaching the end of her life, and her family couldn't care for her at home anymore.

Their only choice was to take her to the hospital where she would be looked after while they tried to find a nursing home for her. They assumed that a hospital was a safe place for their elderly mother, a place she would get the proper medical care she needed in her final days, and that she would be treated with dignity and respect.

It was the biggest mistake of their lives.

The woman was admitted to palliative care on the fifth floor of Seven Oaks Hospital. Her children visited her daily.

The first time they noticed the bruises on their mother they naturally were alarmed.

Imagine what they felt when they were told that severe bruising was considered a normal part of life for the elderly at Seven Oaks General Hospital.

Old people are frail; they need help walking, help going to the bathroom; without that help, they can fall. And repeated falls, with the bruises they cause, are to be expected, the kind nurses at Seven Oaks told the woman's family.

The hospital has a no-restraint policy. And the nurses are just too, too busy to assist all the old people who need help. They just weren't too busy to attend the pre-strike meetings which frequently denuded the ward of any nurses.

The shocked family redoubled their visits, staggering them through the day and evening, staying longer each time.

But the bruising continued and soon her whole body was covered in blue. The family began taking pictures to document their mother's suffering. And after each fall there was another excuse which usually boiled down to 'not enough staff.'

Hire a private nurse, they were told.

One evening, as one visiting daughter was about to leave, she pleaded with the nurses to put her mother to bed. It was late, she was sleeping in her chair. The nurses refused. It wasn't time for bed, they said. They would keep an eye on her.

The next day the daughter noticed something unusual about her mother.

A bone near her neck was obviously sticking up where it shouldn't. She called a nurses aide. Hmm, said the aide, it looks like she's got a broken collarbone.
She probably broke it when she fell under the watchful eyes of the nurses a half hour after the daughter left the night before.

The aide called a nurse. The daughter insisted her mother get an X-ray. I'll ask the doctor, said the nurse--- TOMORROW, when he comes in.

So the bruised and battered 89-year-old woman suffered with a broken collarbone all night until the doctor saw her. She's got a broken collarbone, the highly educated medical practitioner announced when he finally examined her.

The family's agony matched their mother's. One day a daughter arrived to find her mother almost naked in bed, her bedclothes pulled up around her shoulders, freezing, helpless, no blanket and no dignity.

They couldn't imagine how it could get worse.

Then, one day in January, one of the daughters noticed that the curtains were drawn around the bed nearest her mother's and a hand-written sign had been pinned on.

"Contagious. MRSA." read the sign.

The daughter knew what 'contagious' meant. She needed a nurse to tell her what MRSA was -- the antibiotic resistant Superbug ( in this case more properly referred to as HA-MRSA, as in hospital-acquired.)

Why, she asked, was a woman with a contagious infection being held in a room with five other patients? Shouldn't she be in isolation?

Oh, the isolation ward is full up and there's nowhere else to put her, a nurse said.

And anyway, she's only suspected of having the Superbug. The tests aren't in yet. The family kept visiting their mother until one day the patient behind the curtain disappeared.

The tests were in. She WAS contagious. Who would have thought?

You can guess the rest.

Everyone in that room came down with the Superbug, including the 89-year-old woman.

As her lungs filled with water and she fought for breath, more and more people on the ward were testing positive for MRSA,
until one day the hospital closed off the entire ward.

In February, 2008, the 89-year-old woman mercifully passed on. She was finally free of the tortures of staying at Seven Oaks Hospital.


On Tuesday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spewed out a barrage of numbers.

* They reviewed all 2,577 deaths in city hospitals last year.
They flagged 60 as "worrisome."
* They deemed 37 were "critical incidents
", doctor-talk for
'the patient died because of something we did or did not do for him/her.'

We don't know if the 89-year-old woman made the health authority's Top Forty. We don't think so.

Her (mis)treatment was considered so normal, we don't think anyone at Seven Oaks even put her on their "worrisome" list.

She was old. She was dying. She fell. It happens.

It's not our fault she caught the Superbug. Oh, yeah, maybe it is our fault she caught the Superbug.

No, it's her fault. If she was healthier she would have fought off the infection. Right?

File closed.

Except it's not.

37 is a number.
60 is a number.

And each time you read those numbers, remember that they stand for people who suffered needlessly in hospital and died because the system failed them.

And remember the treatment inflicted on an 89-year-old woman at Seven Oaks Hospital.

And ask yourself -- how bad does the system have to get before your mother's case warrants the attention of the health officials?

War in Afghanistan 2009 Week One

Standing on the ridge of a new year is an opportunity to look both back to where you've been and forward to where you're headed.

Looking back at 2008 we see a hard year pass into history and what may be a harder year looming. But we also see the unmistakeable outlines of success on the horizon.

First, let's bid the old year a glad farewell. The sacrifices have been heavy. The news media spewed unrelenting gloom, yet here's what hasn't been widely reported:

* Fewer people were killed in the War in Afghanistan than the year before.
* The United Nations says fewer civilians were killed than the year before.
* Fewer Afghan police were killed than the year before.
* There were fewer suicide bombings
* More Taliban fighters were killed than in 2007 (5000-plus)
* There was a 20 percent reduction in the amount of land used for growing poppies.

But the cost wasn't cheap:

* More NATO and U.S. soldiers were killed in combat than in 2007
* U.S. combat deaths totalled 133 compared to 83 the year before.
* Canada lost 27 soldiers in combat, the same as in 2007.

Associated Press recorded the deaths of 6,340 people in Afghanistan in 2008 from insurgency-related violence, almost 200 less than the previous year.

The United Nations counted 1377 civilian dead by mid-December. Their total for 2007 was more than 1500.

There were 123 suicide bomb attacks, compared to 137 in '07 The suicide attacks, though fewer were more deadly. They killed 411 civilians and wounded 860, compared to 300 civilians killed and around 700 wounded in '07.

The bloodiest attack in 2008 was at a dogfighting gathering in Kandahar province where almost 100 people were killed and an equal number injured.

About 25 foreign troops were killed and 60 wounded by suiciders in 2008, about 20 more in total than the previous year.

The vast majority of civilians are being killed by indiscriminate Taliban attacks. The number of roadside bombs doubled in 2008 to 2000 causing many deaths among foreign troops, but many more from the local civilian population.

The number of Canadian war dead was a great disappointment. A full third of the 27 died in December, victims of roadside bombs. This is an outrageous failure of leadership in the field. Reported excuses that the Canadians hit a streak of bad luck are insulting.

We've said it before and it has to be said again, bad officers need to be cashiered quickly. Poor leadership like that demonstrated in December would have never been acceptable in previous wars.

Strategypage reports that last year 138 NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, a rate of 3.45 per thousand troops. But, their analysis shows, barely "a third of the NATO force (mainly British Dutch and Canadian) do most of the fighting. This force suffers a higher combat death rate than U.S. troops. The British death rate was 6 per thousand, the Canadian rate was 11."

We can only pray that the coming year will show better results by the generals in command of Canadian troops. The Canadians have received delivery of new UAV's; maybe the officers can tear themselves away from showing off the UAV's to visiting politicians and figure out ways to use them to reduce the terrible toll from roadside bombs.

That said, what do we see ahead?

Obviously the biggest change on the horizon is at least 20,000 more U.S. troops. The American military is the most professional, most aggressive and most lethal in the world. They're coming to bolster NATO forces in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which is welcome news for the British, Dutch and Canadians in the fighting zone.

The British in Helmand are finally getting much-awaited helicopters. They've been depending on just eight Chinooks to serve 8,000 troops. This year they'll add up to eight Merlin helicopters, a dozen refurbished light Lynx and eight heavy Chinook choppers.

Brit commanders expect to be able to use the new equipment to respond quickly to intelligence on "high-value targets". It will also mean fewer movements by road--and fewer casualties to the Taliban's roadside bombs.

Two U.S. brigade combat teams moving into Helmand are bringing their own air resources to use in preventing the flow of Taliban fighters and weapons from across the Pakistan border. The result should be some needed breathing room for NATO forces in the centre of Helmand, particularly around the Kajaki dam where the project that could turn the war around is underway.

This summer British forces brought a third turbine to the dam. Engineers will be working all this year to get it hooked up. The hope is that power will be flowing from the dam sometime in 2010, eventually bringing electricity to another 2 million Afghanis.

Once that's accomplished it will be the tipping point of the war, in our opinion.

Now that's something to look for.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bad start to '09; spin replaces facts in New Year's car thief coverage

There's only one word to describe the controversial New Year's Eve beating of a car thief in St. Boniface---HOORAY.

Hear that, Keith McCaskill? Hear that, Davey Chomiak?


That's the sound of the public speaking. A public that's sick and tired of car thieves that roam the city knowing that they are virtually untouchable by the NDP's race-based justice system.

You don't like pictures of a car thief cowering in front of angry citizens? Get used to it, because there's more to come. The public is fed up with being told they getter get used to being victims because criminals have got "rights".

Well, now the decent citizens of Winnipeg are fighting for their rights to live in safety.

Hey, Gail Asper. You want human rights? They start right here, the right to defend your family, your property, your community, and your life. They start here, with the people, not with lawyers, not pompous professors, not cheap politicians, and definitely not the usual race-baiting hacks.

We wrote in The Black Rod's year-ender that 2008 was a watershed year for the mainstream media in Winnipeg, a year when their credibility went into the toilet. 2009 opened with them living down to every low expectation on the books.

They had different spins on the New Year's Car Thief story. Global News and CKY went for the knee-jerk racism angle. While the Free Press and CJOB took the stop-the-vigilantes tack.

The facts of the story were laid out for the reporters on where the story broke:

- A man leaving a New Year's party spotted someone trying to break into a friend's car.
- The man went back to the party to alert his friend.
- The men, accompanied by others at the party, ran outside and discovered the thief was trying to break the window of the first man's car.
- In the car was the man's terrified two-year-old son.
- The man's wife was either in the front seat or standing beside the car, screaming.
- The thief, undeterred, kept trying to get into the car.
- The group of men tackled the thief and held him for police.
- He tried to get away and the men had to use force to make him stay put.

When the police arrived, they took the man into custody. He didn't need to go to a hospital and he was "quite drunk", police said. They released him without charges, despite the fact that his attempt to smash the car window was seen by up to half a dozen witnesses.

Oh, and he was "aboriginal" in appearance.

The partygoers were not vigilantes, as the FP and CJOB tried to paint them. They were not a group roaming the streets looking for people they thought might be casing cars to steal them. They were law-abiding citizens who saw a crime being committed and risked their own safety to stop it.

They went to the defence of a woman and her child. They held the thief for police. They did exactly what good citizens are expected to do.

So how does the news media threat them? As criminals. And how do they treat the criminal? As a victim, to be pitied. How long will it be before Gordon Sinclair starts raising money for the, ahem, alleged thief?

Except for the Winnipeg Sun, the other professional reporters overlooked the fact of the terrified little boy in the car.

The year has barely begun and there's another classic example of how the MSM filters out inconvenient facts when they're pushing their own agendas.

This wasn't a racist incident. The citizens didn't beat up the thief because he was native. They beat him up because he was a thief who didn't want to wait for the police to arrive to arrest him.

But, but, but....what about the awful pictures? And that awful thing they wrote?

Two photos of the thief were posted on the internet.

They were so outrageous that they were printed in the daily newspapers and broadcast on t.v.

That's right, they were deemed perfectly acceptable to be seen in the family newspaper and on the family-friendly television news.

So, what's the beef about the pictures, again?

The only mistake they made was not to post a good closeup of the thief's face so that the neighbourhood could see who he was and keep a watch for him in the future.

The posting about the incident was headlined: us 1 - dirty indian thief 0

That's what's given the race-baiters the ammunition they needed. The knee jerk reaction of Global and CKY was, of course, to put the "thief" above the "us" in their reporting.

Dirty Indian Thief is, indeed, a slur. Not at Indians. At Indian thieves. It's an expression of contempt. And thieves should be held in contempt.

If the race-baiters are upset at a reference to the "dirty indian thief", then they should do something about the people responsible for the stereotype---the Indian thieves. Instead, they enable the thieves by making excuses for them (gangs are like families; they're only stealing your car because their mothers had to go to a residential school; it's poverty, man, its hard to get a day job when you're up all night selling dope and getting your neck tattooed).

The city is full of racial slurs of one kind or another. Snotty WASP. Paki cabbie. Jew lawyer. Don't we wish a world where the worst slur was Indian lawyer and not Indian thief?

And how much snot do WASP's have that makes this a definable characteristic?
Dishonourable Mention:
The worst reporting of the New Year's Car Thief was on Global News. Their first story (
now on Youtube) was a classic of bad journalism, starting with the fact that nobody at Global knows the first thing about blogs and bloggers. They think that anyone who posts on the Internet is a blogger. is a message board, not a blog.