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

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Tell The Goyim. Lesley Hughes sues.

Former CBC radio host Lesley Hughes thinks the way to prove she's not anti-semitic is by suing the country's major Jewish organizations dedicated to fighting anti-semitism.

Go figure.

Hughes, whose most current claim to fame is as a 9/11 Truther, says she's not being hired for freelance work because she's been labelled an anti-semite for something she wrote 7 years ago. She apparently hasn't considered that its her bizarre anti-American conspiracy theories that are the stumbling block.

In that 2002 column published by Winnipeg's community newspapers, Lesley Hughes wrote:

"Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it. About 3000 Americans working there were not so lucky."

The context of her assertion was that the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, had "warned the American intelligence community ... about the attacks on the twin towers on that heartbreaking day."

In short, the Mossad, knowing about the planned terrorist attacks, alerted Israeli businesmen to clear out asap, and they did just that, the lucky buggers.

Her column became a cause celebre in the 2008 federal election campaign, resulting in Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's jettisoning her as a liberal candidate in the Winnipeg riding of Kildonan-St. Paul. Ever since, Hughes and her supporters have been frantically proclaiming that she's a great friend of the Jews and nothing could be further from reality than allegations of anti-semitism on her part.

She's decided that lawsuits are the best way to prove that.

Lesley Hughes is apparently still mystified why anyone would see her writing as anti-semitic. So, let us explain.

As we said, Hughes is a 9/11 Truther, which means she's joined the community seeking the "truth" about the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York (primarily), because, obviously, the official story that groups of terrorists financed by Al Qaeda hijacked two jets and flew them into the World Trade Towers is not the truth.

The Truther community is a big tent. At one end of the spectrum stands The Jews Did It crowd which argues that Israel was behind the 2001 terror attack. Hughes has distanced herself as far as possible from that bunch. In an article for the far-left Canadian Dimension magazine titled Lesley Hughes Responds, she wrote:

"The Canadian Jewish Congress seems to have assumed that I am one of those who subscribe to a bizarre conspiracy theory that the world’s Jews were responsible for 9-11, a ludicrous idea I have never supported."

Nor, apparently, has she any truck nor trade with the other, extremely popular, end of the Truther spectrum which declares that the New York attacks were an inside job by the CIA or some other U.S. agency. As she wrote in Canadian Dimension:

"I have also been labelled an extremist nutbar who has promoted, rather than investigated, the possibility that 9-11 was an inside job."

Note the careful qualifying clause. She doesn't promote the idea, she investigates it. Weak, Lesley, weak.

Here, then, begins the problem for Lesley Hughes.

9/11 Truthers like her paint themselves as the last true searchers for truth. They're just asking questions to find the facts. What's wrong with that?

Well, Hughes apparently doesn't realize that this isn't the first time we've heard that line. And she won't like the truth about who used it before her.

In the Nineties, a new generation of Holocaust deniers popped up, only they didn't declare that the Holocaust was a myth invented by Zionists after the war. No, they said they were just asking questions to uncover the truth. Why were there no wartime pictures of gas chambers in Auschwitz? Do you know how long it takes to burn a body in a crematorium? How much fuel is needed? How could 6 million bodies be destroyed in such a short time? Just asking...

So you can see how the modern-day search for the truth of an alleged conspiracy is an eerie and unsettling echo of a previous search for the truth which hasn't been forgotten by people with a reason to have long memories.

Lesley Hughes has a coterie of supporters, one of the biggest of whom is Anthony Hall, an Alberta university professor and fellow 9/11 Truther. Hall, like Hughes, paints himself as an indefatiguable truth-seeker constantly under attack for exposing the lies of the establishment. He's written many internet articles on the subject, some of which veer into unrestrained cheerleading for the Durban Anti-Racism Conference which ended three days before the WTC attacks.

In a paper presented in Edmonton in September, 2008, Hall wrote:

In the long run global security through peace is only attainable through concerted efforts to ease the maladies identified at gatherings such as the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance. (The Lies and Crimes of 911: A Canadian View of the War on Terror’s Origins, Anthony J. Hall Sunday, September 7th, 2008)

Here's how another observer, Linda Grant of the Guardian, saw the same conference
(The Guardian, Tuesday, December 18, 2001, The hate that will not die)

"...delegates from Arab governments and NGOs sought unsuccessfully to have Israel designated as a racist apartheid state, and called for the establishment of a UN committee to prosecute Israeli war crimes and to isolate totally the country. The European Roma Rights Centre issued its own statement, written by Dimitrina Petrova, its executive director: "The aggressive exclusion of Jewish participants and the accompanying, blatantly intolerant anti-semitic spirit plaguing the entire process, prompted us firmly to distance ourselves from this forums unfortunate outcome." In the exhibition area, a book of cartoons reminiscent of the Nazi era, depicting Jews with talons for hands and clutching blood-soaked money, was distributed by the Arab Lawyers Union. One of the unions leaflets, in which the Star of David (a religious symbol of Judaism, as well as an emblem of the Israeli flag) was superimposed on the Nazi swastika..."

When Anthony Hall was in Winnipeg this March, he was approached by the Jewish Post and asked about a website where some of his articles have been posted and which carried a colourful graphic of a swastika, or as the story in the Post described it "On the bottom right corner of the menu bar on www.mtl911truth.org there is a large swastika made up of bullets, the Israeli flag, the American flag, the British flag and the NATO flag."

"Prof. Evelyn Schaefer of the University of Winnipeg's Department of Psychology told Hall that the swastika was very offensive and that that she was displeased that Hall knew about this site and the swastika and had not asked to have his article removed." said the Jewish Post story.

Hall said he understood her concern and that he had in the past demanded an article of his be removed from an obviously anti-semitic website. He suggested she take up her objection to the swastika with the man behind mtl911truth.org.

Hall, and Hughes, have publicly condemned the anti-semitism that permeates the 9/11 Truther world.

But when you walk in the swamp, you can't be surprised to find the mud sticks to your shoes.

Hall travels the country promoting his 9/11 conspiracy theories and has found himself associating with others in the movement such as Michel Chossudovsky, a professor of economics at Ottawa University who runs GlobalResearch.ca, a 9/11 website where one can find articles such as

Claim: WTC Leaseholder Silverstein Warned Not To Come To Work On 9/11
by Paul Joseph Watson
Global Research , May 15, 2007
New York 9/11 truth activist Luke Rudkowski claims WTC complex leaseholder Larry Silverstein and his daughter got a warning on the morning of 9/11 not to come to work that day - his source? - Silverstein's own security guards.

Here we go again.

There's that advance notice meme that's become a standard of the 9/11 conspiracy world.

In this case it's directed at Larry Silverstein, a real estate developer who won the lease on the World Trade Towers six months before the 9/11 attacks. The Truthers love to point out that Silverstein made a $124 million down-payment, then insured the complex for $7 billion, including coverage for terrorist attacks. He eventually collected $4 billion.

Do you recognize the story? Of course, it's the old Jewish lightning legend. Landlord, Jewish, burns down his business to collect the insurance, 21st Century style.

Are we seeing a theme running through this 9/11 Truth thing?

Which is why we shouldn't lose sight of Lesley Hughes and her little article. What did she write that's stirred up such a storm?

"Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it."

Jews? Check.
Advance notice? Check
Anti-semitism? Impossible, says Lesley Hughes. In fact, she was so sure of it she repeated--in her response printed in Canadian Dimension magazine Oct. 1, 2008-- her conviction that the Israelis should be applauded, not condemned.

"Six years ago, I wrote a column which examined evidence that the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan may have been motivated by the drive for oil and drug profits.
As background, I reported that the intelligence agencies of Germany, Israel and Russia all warned the CIA that the attacks of Sept. 11 were coming, a fact also reported in the London Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, and on Fox News. I noted that the U.S. disregarded the warnings, but Israeli businesses took them seriously, and (sensibly) vacated the Twin Towers."


Hughes styles herself as a freelance journalist and she could claim that her long career on CBC radio qualifies her to the title journalist.

But anyone professing to be a journalist would, even in 2002, instantly recognize the story of an advance warning to Israeli businesses as an offshoot of the anti-semitic canard that popped up literally within 24 hours of the terrorist attacks---the 4000 Jews Rumour.

Slate.com tracked the rumour to its apparent source.


On Sept. 12, 2001, an American website Information Times
The story spread like wildfire in the Arab world starting with the Sept. 15, 2001, story in Syria's government-owned Al Thawra newpaper, according to the U.S. State Department.

Even today it's an article of faith in the Middle East that Israel warned Jewish employees at the World Trade Centre to stay home on Sept. 11.


While the initial story was quickly debunked, it obviously morphed into a new variation, this time that Israeli businesses were told to get out of the WTC.

Any journalist would see the connection in a millisecond. And would start asking the proper questions.

What businesses got the advance warning? And how, exactly, did the word get out?

Did the message come through the secret shortwave radio that all Israeli businesses have to keep in touch with Tel Aviv? Or was it more personal, with a mysterious man coming through the front door, giving the secret Mossad handshake and the identifying code "Moishe sent me."

And then there's the question that dares not be asked?

Why did the secret warning from the Israeli intelligence service caution the Israeli business owners to get out quickly, break their leases if necessary, but above all DON'T TELL THE GOYIM.

Lesley Hughes stated as fact that Israeli businesses hightailed it out of the WTC without a word to anyone of the impending terror attacks. When confronted, she repeated the story. Proudly. Defiantly.

She's so convinced she's the last bastion of true investigative journalism that she's blind to the swastikas, the applause for Durban, the oblique references to Jewish lightning, the sly meaning of advance warnings--- for Jews only--- that infect her chosen 9/11 Truther community.

Anti-semitism? Me? How could you say that? she asks.

In the words of that old Jewish hillbilly----

If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The 10 Reasons Richard Balasko must go

Less than a month ago Manitobans learned the details of a carefully organized scheme by the NDP to defraud the public treasury of tens of thousands of dollars by falsifying 1999 election expenses to get public rebates they weren't entitled to.

Why weren't we told about this eight years ago when Elections Manitoba uncovered the fraud?

The man who can answer that question is Manitoba's Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko. And he refuses to tell.

No wonder people suspect he has colluded with the NDP to keep a lid on the scandal.

Pundits who should know better cry that it's a witchhunt, that Poor Richard is an honest civil servant being made a scapegoat. They are being willfully blind.

Here are the top 10 reasons Balasko has to go.

1. Richard Balasko won't say why no charges were laid against anyone connected with the NDP's 1999 campaign for altering election returns and submitting information they knew was false to Elections Manitoba.

Balasko has been consistent for more than a decade whenever asked about investigations conducted by Elections Manitoba. He has said he can't talk about them. That's the law, he claims. And he might even get away with that excuse if it wasn't for....

2. Balasko won't say why no charges were laid against anyone connected with the NDP's 1999 campaign for altering election returns and submitting information they knew was false to Elections Manitoba, even though charges were laid against Conservative and Liberal Party campaigners for much less serious and often inadvertent mistakes.

Now this makes it fair to ask why we shouldn't suspect collusion between the NDP and Balasko.

Trust me, he says.

Forget that. Let's look at the evidence through the prism of collusion and see if it comes out distorted or true to life.

3. Balasko hid from the public the real reason the NDP was made to repay $76,000 to the treasury. Here's how Elections Manitoba notified the public (thanks to Dave Chomiak for quoting the exact wording in the Legislature):

"As a result of a further assessment of the statements and considerations of the issues raised, the New Democratic Party and several New Democratic Party candidates amended and refiled certain financial statements."

4. Balasko hid from the public the fact that the NDP had been running the same fraud scheme since the mid-80's, and had scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public purse, which they were being allowed to keep.

5. Balasko never told the public that the NDP tried to intimidate the forensic auditor who uncovered their scheme and that, in the auditor's view, this was an attempt to disrupt, if not obstruct, the investigation.

Why wasn't the NDP investigated for obstructing an investigation of their election finances? Balasko won't say.

6. Balasko never told the public that the NDP breached their own code of ethics which prohibited falsifying election returns.

7. Balasko hid from the public until after the 2003 election the news that the NDP had repaid the $76,000 they got illegally.

8. Balasko must think people are stupid and they will believe the string of coincidences he spins out.

The NDP made a deal with Balasko to repay the money just after the forensic auditor was taken off their file, just as they insisted. They submitted amended 1999 election returns two days before the 2003 election was called. Elections Manitoba made the repayment public four days before Christmas, 2003.

And that's not even suggesting a thing about the 36 percent raise in pay Balasko collected the same year as he negotiated the payback that he now can't talk about.

9. As the man tasked with maintaining the integrity of the electoral system in Manitoba, it was incumbent on Balasko to correct the falsehoods Premier Gary Doer and Justice Minister Dave Chomiak spoke daily in the Legislature.

When the Premier and the Justice Minister insisted the NDP fully cooperated with Elections Manitoba, Balasko had to tell the public that that was true only if you define cooperation as stalling for 3 years; lying to the investigator; attempting to disrupt, if not obstruct, the investigation; threatening the auditor that the government would freeze him out of future business and demanding he be removed from any dealing with the NDP.

10. And finally, Balasko has lost the confidence of the Legislature. The only support he has comes from the NDP members whose secrets he's keeping.

The prism says Go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Richard Balasko: keeper of the NDP's dirty election secrets

Manitoba's Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko had the responsibility of assuring the public that elections were fair and honest.

It was on his watch that a forensic auditor examining the 1999 election returns discovered the NDP had engaged in an organized scheme to defraud the public by falsifying election finances to get rebates they weren't entitled to. In fact, he said, they had been doing this for every election in the past 15 years.

Instead of informing the public, Balasko covered-up the information. He squeezed the auditor out by refusing to pay his fees. Then he allowed the NDP to silently refile corrected returns three years later and repay, without interest, the $76,000 they tried to scam from the public purse. Nobody from the NDP was charged, but election candidates and agents with the Conservatives and Liberals who made honest accounting mistakes were dragged into court.

Balasko says he can't discuss his secret negotiations with the NDP regarding their 1999 returns but everything he did was supported by secret legal advice which he can't reveal or discuss either.

Trust me, he says.

Richie, that train has left the station.

The Chief Electoral Officer must have the confidence of the members of the Legislature. Today the only support he has is from the NDP, whose secrets he's keeping.

The NDP ran a dirty campaign in 1999. They knew it.
The inner-circle which devised the scheme and those who were responsible for falsifying the election returns didn't even tell their official election agents, leaving them to be the fall guys in case the scheme fell apart.

Finance Minister Greg Selinger knew it was dirty. The moment he found NDP accountants had been altering election finance reports, he demanded a letter exonerating him from any responsibility. He then joined the conspiracy of silence for the next six years, until outed by one of the NDP's agents.

Other cabinet ministers like Nancy Allan knew it was dirty. They were informed in 2003 that their campaigns had been used to scam money for the NDP from the public purse. They, too, have kept the public in the dark.

We changed the laws so it could never happen again, they now say. That's not the point. They ran a dirty election in 1999---and for years prior---and the public deserved to know.

The man with the responsibility to tell them was Richard Balasko.

Balasko is sitting on a bushel of secrets, two of which deserve special mention.

One, he's never given the slightest acknowledgement to, and the other he hinted at a few times and which could be a scandal bigger even that Rebategate.

David Asselstine, the forensic auditor who turned up the NDP rebate scheme, wrote to Elections Manitoba explaining his decision to leave his job with them. Note this sentence:

"In a letter dated Sept. 27, 2001, from Mr Tom Milne to Mr Green, a complaint was levied against my conduct in an interveiw with Ms Hindle, a controller of the Manitoba NDP when various unions and the Manitoba NDP entered into " quid pro quo" transactions to obtain public funds."

We know how the scheme worked with the unions. They provided volunteers for 13 NDP election campaigns in 1999. The NDP paid the "volunteers" the daily salaries they were foregoing to work on the election. Their union then "donated" the exact amount of those salaries back to the NDP. The NDP then claimed the payment to the volunteers as an election expense for which they received a 50 percent reimbursement from the public purse.

The obvious question is "What unions?"

How many unions participated in this fraud?

How many union execs were aware of it?

Did Balasko's negotiations with the NDP include a promise never to reveal this information?

If not, why not tell us today which unions were entangled in the NDP scheme.

Could it be that he doesn't want anyone to know whether the trail leads to CUPE, whose regional director was Eugene Kostyra?

There's a familiar name.

You'll remember it was Kostyra who was the Crocus Fund's secret back channel to Finance Minister Greg Selinger. Huge Uge is a familiar face in the NDP inner circle.

But Balasko is sitting on an even bigger secret.

Here's what he told the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs in April, 2004:

"On the elections finances side, a couple of items in our past reports I would draw to your attention. One is we believe there needs to be a very specific requirement in the law that reimbursement that is paid must be used to settle election debts. We had circumstances in the '99 election where this became an issue. From an enforcement and compliance point of view it would be very helpful. It seems to us to be just plain logic that the reimbursement should be used to settle the expenses of a campaign, but it is not spelled out in the act. That does to some extent limit our ability to enforce compliance with that."

That's all he said.

Cryptic? Yes. Obvious? Oh, yeah.

In 1999 the NDP collected $76,000 for expenses they never had. This money wasn't going for printing bills ie. signs and brochures. It went directly into the kitty for the next election.

And the NDP had been doing this for at least four previous elections, taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public under false pretences.

They were being reimbursed for election expenses which, because of their cheque-swap scheme with the unions, they didn't have. This money could then be spent on the next election with no trace. It didn't have to be included as a donation on any formal election returns because it wasn't.

Balasko knew what was going on. Did he ever tell the public in plain words?

No wonder the only supporters he has in the Legislature are the government members who depend on him keeping his lips zipped.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Does Richard Balasko know the difference between the hot seat and the electric chair?

The NDP government of Manitoba heaved a huge collective sigh of relief when the Legislature rose last Thursday.

Big mistake.

The government members, particularly Premier Gary Doer, thought they had dodged a bullet that came too close for comfort. For almost three weeks they were on the grill, defending themselves against revelations that the NDP defrauded the public purse of $76,000 in the 1999 election by falsifying financial returns. Imagine their relief when the session finally came to a close.

Well, frying pan -- meet fire.

Instead of heading to the cottage to relax, the NDP are looking into the abyss.

Manitoba is hurling towards a constitutional crisis the likes of which hasn't been seen in living memory.

Richard Balasko, Manitoba's Chief Electoral Officer, who's up to his neck in credible allegations that he's been in bed with the NDP ever since the 1999 election, thumbed his nose at the Opposition Tuesday.

He was asked politely to come to a meeting of Opposition members to answer questions about Election Manitoba's dubious behavior when it came to the NDP's organized scheme to collect unwarranted rebates. In a letter declining the invitation, he gave them the figurative finger.

Balasko lectured the Opposition leaders that he was only responsible to the Legislature as a whole, not their rump, and that he had already answered everything he was going to answer at the meetings of the Legislative Affairs Committee he's obligated to attend.

In short, screw you.

Izzat so? Balasko didn't realize the fatal mistake he just made.


Up to now, the Chief Electoral Officer has been Manitoba's Mr. Cellophane. Remember the song from Chicago?

Cellophane

Mister cellophane

Should have been my name

Mister cellophane

'cause you can look right through me

Walk right by me

And never know I'm there!

Well, now, Richard Balasko is on the radar. And that blip is freaking big and getting bigger.

It turns out the Chief Electoral Officer is a pretty powerful friend when you're trying to hide a political scandal.

Manitoba's Elections Act outlines the "accountability" that Balasko claimed protected him from the Opposition's nosy questions.

He has to deliver an annual report to the Legislature to say what the hell he's been doing all year, and after each election, he has to make a report about the conduct of the election. The reports go to the Standing Committee of the Assembly on Legislative Affairs where he answers questions.

That's it, folks.

Balasko failed to say in his letter that the committee meets about once a year, for a couple of hours, purely at the will of the majority NDP and counting all the points of order they can raise to break up the questioning and eat up the time.

Other than that, he answers to no one.

Imagine that.

The man responsible for ensuring that elections are run fairly and that people have faith in the electoral system has to answer questions for two hours a year.

But what happens what there's suspicion the man has gone dirty, how can the elected representatives investigate?

Guess.

They can't.

Especially if the allegations are that he's been colluding with the ruling party, which can stifle every attempt to get at the truth.

And that's what we're seeing today.

The Opposition has uncovered credible evidence that Balasko and his office treated the NDP with kid gloves when they got caught falsifying election returns in a scheme that had been going on for more than a decade.

At the same time Elections Manitoba dropped the hammer on Opposition members who made honest mistakes, laying charges, harassing one candidate mercilessly for 80 cents in overspending, forcing candidates to decide whether to fight the charges and pay thousands of dollars in legal fees or pay a paltry, but humiliating, fine instead.

Balasko's fingerprints are all over.

* An Elections Manitoba forensic auditor turned up an elaborate cheque-swapping scheme by the NDP to trick Elections Manitoba into giving them $76,000 in rebates for election expenses they never incurred. Balasko was informed.

* The auditor notified Balasko that the NDP had been running the same scheme since the mid-80's.

* He also said he believed the NDP comptroller was lying to him and that the NDP's secretary had filed a phony complaint to disrupt, or obstruct the continuing investigation into NDP finances. A letter, which Balasko has never contradicted, says the Chief Electoral Officer concurred.

* The NDP attacked the auditor's integrity, and Balasko never came to his defence.

* The NDP threatened that the auditor would be punished by being frozen out of all future business with the government. Balasko froze payments to the auditor until he got tired of working for free and stepped away from the file.

* Elections Manitoba failed to investigate the NDP insiders responsible for the scheme to defraud the public, choosing instead to blame the agents who signed the false financial statements which had been altered without their knowledge by a central NDP auditor.

* Elections Manitoba failed to investigate the unions who were full conspirators in the election finances fraud.

* The NDP was allowed to refile corrected election returns without an auditor's signature as required by law. Balasko says that since Elections Manitoba told the NDP what corrections were necessary, they accepted the unaudited amended returns as proper. Except that an auditor could have included comments about the process to obtain the returns (it took 3 years) and could recommend further investigations, if not prosecutions. How convenient that Balasko took those options off the table.

* The NDP filed the unadited, amended 1999 financial statements two days before calling an election in 2003. Coincidence, says Balasko.

* Elections Manitoba kept secret the refiling until four days before Christmas, 2003 Coincidence, says Balasko.

When questioned about many of these strange decisions, Balasko said

- he depended on secret legal advice which he can't discuss,

- just as he can't discuss his secret negotiations with the NDP regarding their phony 1999 election returns, and

- just as he can't discuss why he laid charges against Conservative and Liberal candidates but let the NDP to quietly slide.


Balasko must have thought that with the NDP running interference for him in the Legislature and him running interference for them outside, he had closed the door on the Opposition and the upstart news media that have bothered to follow the scandal.

But thanks to his directing us to the Elections Act, we noticed one chink in his armour.

Under the heading REMOVING OR SUSPENDING A CHIEF ELECTORAL OFFICER we read:

Suspension if Assembly not sitting
26(2) When the Assembly is not sitting, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may suspend the chief electoral officer for cause, if advised to do so in writing by a majority of a committee consisting of the President of the Executive Council and the recognized leaders of the members belonging to the political parties in opposition.

In real language, that means Lt. Governor John Harvard can suspend Balasko if asked in writing to do so by two out of three members of a committee that consists of Premier Gary Doer, and the Leaders of the political parties in Opposition.

The Constitutional entanglements are mindboggling.

Given that the allegations against Balasko are that he had colluded with the NDP under leader Gary Doer, how can Doer even sit on the committee examining the allegations?

Will Doer argue that Jon Gerrard is not the leader of a party in Opposition given that the Liberals don't have enough elected members to qualify as a recognized party?

Will Doer refuse to sign an order in council if the other two members of the committee vote to demand the suspension of Balasko?

Will Harvard suspend the Chief Electoral Officer? Or will he spark a constitutional crisis by rejecting the will of the committee legally empowered to demand the suspension?

Or will Richard Balasko do the right thing and ask Gary Doer to convene a public inquiry to restore the public's confidence in the electoral process?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Single sentence from auditor explains NDP and Elections Manitoba fear of public inquiry

One sentence.

33 words.

That's all you need to read to understand why a public inquiry is needed into the NDP election rebate scandal.

For the past three weeks the Premier Gary Doer has defended his party by arguing that Elections Manitoba has already answered all the questions about the NDP's organized scheme to falsify 1999 election finances in order to trigger $76,000 in unwarranted rebates.

He goes on to add that every political party has in the past refiled their election returns and repaid money. And the kicker---the NDP cooperated with Elections Manitoba and abided by their ruling without kicking up a fuss.

Here's a sample of what Doer told the Legislature May 28, 2009:

"Obviously, Elections Manitoba had their legal advice. Our party had our legal advice. We-the instructions I gave to the party was to co-operate with Elections Manitoba. That's what they did. They co-operated fully through the matter. We could have disagreed with them and gone potentially to court or maybe not gone to court, but we decided to co-operate with Elections Manitoba. That's what we did."

Now read what David Asselstine, the forensic auditor who uncovered the NDP rebate scheme, wrote to Elections Manitoba lawyer A. Blair Graham in June, 2003. He refers to Graham and Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko when he says:

"I further understand that you both concur that the complaint filed against my conduct in the Hindle interview was contrived and was part of an attempt to disrupt, if not obstruct, the investigation."

One sentence. 33 words.

Hindle was the NDP's comptroller, the fancy name for chief accountant who maintains and audits the finances. After Asselstine interviewed her in 2001, the NDP's party secretary Tom Milne phoned Scott Gordon, the Manager of Elections Finances, to issue a not-so-veiled threat against Elections Manitoba's forensic auditor.

A memo Gordon wrote the same day documenting the call states:

"Milne said something to the effect that if he found out that Asselstine knew of the details of Hindle's family crisis at the time of asking her this question in the interview that he (maybe he said "we") would take every step possible to ensure that Asselstine would never get another cent of the government's money for work."

Now re-read what Asselstine wrote to Elections Manitoba.

Note particularly where he says "you both concur that the complaint....was contrived". We went to the dictionary to be double-sure of what we read.

Contrive, v.t., to devise; plan; to invent, design; to bring about, as a scheme. (Webster's New World Dictionary)

Concur, v.i., to agree; be in accord; have the same opinion.

So the head of the allegedly non-partisan, independent Elections Manitoba and his official lawyer agreed that the party secretary of the NDP was trying to disrupt, if not obstruct, the investigation into NDP election finances by making a phony complaint. What did they do about it?

Did they order an immediate investigation? They had to, didn't they? Read the laws of Manitoba on this point....

Types of Offences
Sections 178 to 184 of The Elections Act and sections 78 to 88 of The Elections Finances Act describe the specific offences under Manitoba's election laws.

Additionally, both Acts provide that it is an offence to contravene or fail to comply with any provision of the Acts or

Regulations not specifically listed as an offence.

Specific offences under the EA are organized into five categories:
bribery and intimidation offences
voting offences
offences relating to candidates
offences relating to election officials and others
miscellaneous offences such as those relating to false or misleading information or misuse of the voters list
Specific offences under the EFA include:
obstruction of an audit, inquiry, investigation or examination
force and intimidation relating to contributions
false contribution receipts
false registration numbers
false statement in any application, statement, return or other document
false information respecting contributions
failure to file adequate documents
failure to comply with contribution rules
party/candidate exceeding expense limit
officers responsible for overspending
misuse of information filed under the EFA
failure to provide records

What did Balasko and Graham do about the attempt to obstruct the investigation? We don't know because, says Balasko, they can't discuss an investigation. Classified. Don't ask.

We do, however, know what happened to Asselstine.

He was gone by the time the NDP concluded its "negotiations" with Balasko to pay back the $76,000 and close the file.

What prompted Asselstine's split with Elections Manitoba? They were financially starving him---refusing to pay his fees and expenses.

But there's the next sentence in Asselstine's letter.

"I believe it is clear that Ms. Hindle was not being truthful when she claimed no knowledge of the arranged transactions designed to obtain the public funds in question."

Asselstine was telling the lawyer for Elections Manitoba that he was certain the NDP's comptroller had lied to him.

Was that investigated as a breach of the election financing laws?

Is the Chartered Accountants Association of Manitoba not concerned about this allegation which points to a breach of their own code of ethics? There's nothing preventing them from investigating such a serious charge. Here, for the record, is the relevant section of their own bylaws...

DECEPTIVE INFORMATION
Members shall not be associated with any information which the member knows, or ought to know, to be false or misleading, whether by statement or omission.


R401 Communication Issued in Connection with Financial Information A member shall not issue a communication on any financial information, whether for publication or not, when the information is prepared in a manner which might tend to be misleading.

R402 Association with Financial Information

A member shall not be associated with any letter, report, statement, representation, financial statement, or tax filing, whether written or oral, which the member knows, or should know, is false or misleading, regardless of any disclaimer of responsibility.

R402.1 Employer/Employee Conflicts It is recognized that under exceptional circumstances, compliance with Rule R402 may place a member in a difficult position vis-à-vis the member’s employer. Nevertheless, professional duty is failed if the member fails to comply with Rule R402.

R403 Known Omission

A member shall disclose any fact or information known to the member which is not disclosed in the financial information, the omission of which would make that information misleading.

R404 Material Discrepancy

A member shall immediately disclose any material discrepancy that becomes known to the member concerning financial information on which the member has issued a communication, or with which the member is associated.

But Elections Manitoba was seemingly unconcerned with what Asselstine told them.

Did they question Ms. Hindle about the charge against her? Did they ask whether she was acting on the orders of someone higher up in the party?

Reread what Party leader Gary Doer told the legislature above.

"We-the instructions I gave to the party was to co-operate with Elections Manitoba."

"The instructions I gave." To cooperate? We see that once again, the NDP has redefined a word. In their world, cooperation meant:

* Almost a year and a half after filing their 1999 election returns, the NDP was fighting the forensic auditor's investigation tooth and nail


* the party secretary was threatening him by falsely attacking his integrity

* the party's chief accountant may have lied to the forensic auditor about her knowledge of how deep and how long the rebate kickback scheme had been going on


* It took 3 1/2 years before the NDP refiled its election expenses and repaid the money it tried to scam from the public purse.

And how did Elections Manitoba respond? By investigating the obstruction? No, by ensuring the forensic auditor was forced out, then negotiating a way for the NDP to pay back the money with as little publicity as possible.

The only way we can ever get to the truth of Elections Manitoba's collusion with the NDP in burying the election finances rebate scandal is by a public inquiry.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Elections Manitoba sinks in NDP's rebate scandal quicksand

Gary Doer painted a bullseye on himself Wednesday afternoon.

Then he gave the Opposition all the ammo it needs to shoot holes through his vaunted teflon reputation for personal integrity.

Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen asked Doer a simple question five times during Question Period: who told you?

Doer has said he learned in 2001 that the NDP falsified election expenses in 1999, to trigger unwarranted rebates from the public purse. But he refuses to give so much as a hint to when and how he was told. Five times he was asked, and five times he refused to answer.

However, his deliberate silence on the issue constitutes an answer in itself.

Gary Doer, the Premier of Manitoba, is obviously protecting someone.

More to the point, he protecting himself.

Because if the truth comes out, the electorate will see the Premier is a co-conspirator in the cover-up of a major election fraud, and is likely the instigator of a campaign of harassment and intimidation of the forensic auditor who uncovered the scheme in the first place.

And it gets worse.

The timeline tells the story.

Using testimony from Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko plus memos and letters on file at Elections Manitoba we've been able to reconstruct the basic elements of the election finances scandal that's engulfing the NDP.

* In the spring of 2000, Manitoba's political parties filed their annual returns, including their financial statements for the 1999 provincial election.

"So some time later that spring of 2000 there would've been work under inspection and audit authorities on the transactions, which would then, over time, once that progressed, if there was a basis for an investigation, as there was in this case, then would've proceeded to investigation, but that would've taken some time." Balasko told the Legislative Committee this year.

And take some time it did. Forensic auditor David Asselstine uncovered the organized scheme by the NDP to submit falsified election returns to Elections Manitoba in order to get rebates worth $76,000 for the 1999 election. The NDP was not happy, and a memo in the Elections Manitoba files, dated Oct. 2, 2001, states that the party secretary Tom Milne was complaining about Asselstine's tactics and threatening that the NDP would make sure he never made another cent from the government.

Note the date.

Gary Doer never misses an opportunity to say that the NDP cooperated with Elections Manitoba and refiled their election finances once "an accounting error" was identified. But here we see that almost 18 months after the phony election returns were filed, the NDP was not only disputing the auditor's findings, but was threatening to punish him for investigating them.

We can safely say that Gary Doer had been informed prior to October, 2001---September at the very latest----that the forensic auditor had caught on to the NDP's scheme to defraud the public.

And can there be any doubt that he authorized the campaign of intimidation against David Asselstine.

That's what he's hiding by refusing to answer the simple question: Who told you?

* And as we dig further through the timeline, we see what else he's hiding.
The next reference to the scandal in the Elections Manitoba files which have been made public so far appears in a letter dated Sept. 9, 2002, from party secretary Tom Milne to Scott Gordon, an Elections Manitoba official. In the letter, Milne says he's taking Gordon's advice to put in writing his complaints that Asselstine is biased against the NDP and the insistence by the NDP that Asselstine have no part in auditing their 2001 annual report.

An excerpt from the Milne letter:
"It's become quite clear to the NDP that Mr. Asselstine is firmly of the view that the party has conducted itself improperly in that matter. Whether or not Mr. Asselstine's views result in charges being laid remains to be seen. However, it is clear that he believes that we have in some way, shape or form violated The Elections Act for the 1999 election. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate on the basis of a perception of bias to have Mr. Asselstine assigned to the review of our 2001 party annual return and we would ask that Elections Manitoba please assign someone else to that function."

Again, pay close attention to the date. September, 2002! We see that the NDP had been complaining about Asselstine for a year or longer.

And was now escalating its campaign against him by demanding he be removed from any dealings with them---because he caught them red-handed defrauding the public.

Remember this when Doer claims the NDP cooperated with Elections Manitoba.

Here's how Attorney General Dave Chomiak, himself a prime suspect in organizing and operating the fraud scheme, described the NDP's cooperation to reporters:

"We filed a return. When we found out Elections Manitoba had questioned it, we returned the money and refiled. End of story."

Hardly.

Can anyone believe that a low level NDP operative would approach Elections Manitoba to remove the auditor without approval in advance from the leader of the NDP, Gary Doer?

But you can believe that from here on in, the story gets even dirtier.

* Asselstine wrote to Elections Manitoba lawyer Blair Graham where he referenced this:

"On January 14, 2003, at the request of the CEO, I attended a meeting to discuss the apparent negotiations that you and the CEO were having with the Manitoba NDP concerning the findings of the investigation."

Kelvin Goertzen asked Balasko about that meeting.

"Can you indicate when those negotiations, as he describes them, would have begun with the NDP on this matter?

Mr. Balasko: Once again, thanks for the question, because I can put some context to it. I would not, myself, accept the word "negotiation;" that would be Mr. Asselstine's characterization of it. But I cannot comment on matters that were the subject of an investigation.

After demanding that Elections Manitoba remove the forensic auditor who uncovered the altered election finances scheme, the NDP and Elections Manitoba CEO Balasko enter negotiations, a term Balasko rejects but without saying what his private, behind the scenes talks with the NDP were about.

Did Balasko meet privately with the Progressive Conservative and Liberal Parties before charging their candidates for 1999 election finace infractions?

If not, then this alone is reason for a public inquiry.

* Note once again that these negotiations are taking place almost three years since the 1999 election returns were submitted to Elections Manitoba. How did the NDP cooperate with the investigation exactly?

We get a glimpse of that "cooperation" three months later.

On April 16, 2003, the NDP called a special meeting of 13 official election agents at NDP headquarters. This is the meeting attended by Finance Minister Greg Selinger, whose agent also filed a report containing falsified election expenses.

At this meeting the agents and candidates were told that they were in trouble with Elections Manitoba. This is the first time that the agents, including whistleblower Jim Treller, learned that the NDP's central auditor had falsified the election returns that they signed in good faith. Now they were being told that unless they amended those returns, they faced being charged by Elections Manitoba.

Note that the NDP was giving their agents the 'heads up.'

Just over a week later, April 15, 2003, Elections Manitoba formally wrote these same agents and candidates and told them about the infractions and that amended financial statements had to be submitted. But their letter to the agents and candidates contained a fascinating admission:

"We've been advised that it's possible that neither you nor your candidate were aware of this at the time form 922 was filed, as matters concerning the revision of some campaign workers was apparently handled through the central office of the NDP."

The reason this admission is so damning is that Richard Balasko has at all times insisted that Elections Manitoba holds the agents, and only the agents, accountable for the accuracy of the election financial statements provided. They sign the papers and they are responsible in law.

Yet here Balasko admits he knows its not their fault.

And did he mislead the Legislative Committee last month when he gave this answer:

"I wouldn't have a knowledge of how the NDP internally would've managed the returns. Our point is that returns are publicly filed with Elections Manitoba signed by the official agents, and that's where we begin our review, and at the end of the day when returns were refiled with Elections Manitoba, again, they were filed by the appropriate-signed, sorry, by the appropriate officer of the campaigns and the central political party. So, from our perspective, Mr. Goertzen, we're dealing with the return before us, the publicly disclosed return, which is signed by the appropriate officer."

But we know that Elections Manitoba never took the next obvious step, to prosecute the individuals who altered the financial statements and who tried to deceive Elections Manitoba into giving the NDP rebates they weren't entitled to.

Why? The answer may lie in the next stops on the timeline.

* On May 2, 2003, the NDP called an election. The vote was held June 3, 2003.

The NDP’s revised 1999 election finances reports were provided to Elections Manitoba on April 30, 2003. The law requires revised financial statements to be audited, but these were not.


The Opposition in Question Period asks why not? But Balasko has answered that questions in committee in 2008.

“In this case, the auditor had resigned between the time of the initial return and the audited return. So, in addition to that, our practice is to go back to the initial auditor to provide another opinion. The auditor was no longer on this file."

The NDP had been successful. They had achieved the removal of forensic auditor David Asselstine from their file before the 2003 election.

Was that part of the “negotiations” between Balasko and the NDP? And was it coincidence that the amended returns were provided two days before the election call?

Or should we call it what it obviously was---coordination between the NDP and Elections Manitoba.

* Our timeline ends with a final letter dated June 23, 2003, from Asselstine to Elections Manitoba lawyer Blair Graham in which the auditor writes:

"I understand both you and the CEO agree that the Manitoba NDP was not entitled to the public funds that they had received since the mid-1980s that were generated as part of what the Manitoba NDP now refer to as a long-standing practice."

There it sits, like the 500 pound gorilla in the corner of the room.

The Manitoba NDP "was not entitled to the public funds that they had received since the mid-1980s." The Chief Electoral Officer and his trusted legal advisor agree. The rebates were "generated as part of what the Manitoba NDP now refer to as a long-standing practice."

And Elections Manitoba turned a blind eye.

Gary Doer has not only tied himself into the long-standing election fraud and the attempt to intimidate and eventually remove the auditor who dared to reveal the fraud. He's also managed to entangle Elections Manitoba into the coverup of the scheme.

- They knew the NDP had been taking money illegally for more than a decade.


- They knew how they did it.

- They allowed the investigation to drag on for two and a half years, as Richard Balasko met privately, secretly, with NDP reps to decide how to handle the scandal.

- The forensic auditor was removed from the NDP file just as the NDP wanted.

- The NDP paid back the money they got for the 1999 election, but was allowed to keep the tens of thousands of dollars they got illegally for years earlier.

- Elections Manitoba withheld any news about the overpayment prior to the 2003 election.

They "publicized" the payback in a tiny note four days before Christmas when as few people as possible would notice it.

The Chief Elections Officer now deflects all questions by saying he's legally bound not to discuss investigations.

Now do you see why a public inquiry is imperative?

Since Dave Chomiak, the co-chairman of the NDP's 1999 election campaign and a prime suspect in the election fraud, maniacally blubbers "as many liars" at every opportunity, we'll give the final word to today to author Doug Smith, who wrote the book As Many Liars about the 1995 Manitoba vote-splitting scandal:

From Page 160-161:
NDP lawyer Mel Meyers had his guns trained on Elections Manitoba's chief Richard Balasko, who was the first witness to appear before the inquiry. Myers wanted to know why Elections Manitoba dropped the inquiry without answering the obvious question, how did Darryl Sutherland, a person with no visible means of support, contribute over $4000 to his own election campaign, more than any other candidate in the election contributed to his own or her own campaign.

In response to criticism from Myers, Balasko argued that Elections Manitoba had been crippled from the outset by a lack of authority. "The investigators," he said,"did a good job with the tools they had at the time. The decision on prosecution, however, is not one that we take lightly. A decision on prosecution is something that we consider very carefully. And we determine that based on facts. We laid the facts out clearly before two independent legal counsels,…I made the decision that no charges would be laid consistent with all that legal advice."

(Boy, that's almost word for word what he and the NDP say today….ed.)
In response, Myers said that Balasko should have gone to the government and asked it to convene an inquiry that had the requsite power to get to the bottom of the affair. Balasko said that this option was not considered at the time."

Ten years later, will Balasko get it right this time?


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Black Rod: Where True Journalism Lives

How low have the standards for mainstream news media fallen?

Look no further than the latest Excellence in Journalism Award handed out by the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

The award was given to the Winnipeg Free Press, which Wednesday trumpeted its win without a trace of irony, shame, or the slightest understanding of the joke.

Staff Writer celebrated the win this way:

"The Winnipeg Free Press has won this year's prestigious Excellence in Journalism Award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation.
The national award is given annually to a news organization for 'overall extraordinary performance.'
The Free Press's body of work, including sending staff to cover the Afghan war, the puppy-mill investigation, Greatest Manitobans initiative and our Pink Paper helped garner prestigious award."

More details surfaced deeper into the story:

"The Free Press submission included the country's first paid-circulation Pink Paper, its investigative series into the province's puppy mill industry, its court challenges, charitable campaigns, and other facets of the paper such as its local arts coverage, independent Ottawa bureau, the contest to find the Greatest Manitoban and the subsequent best-selling book.

One of the CJF judges called the submission "dazzling."


Dazzling? Hardly.

Razzle Dazzle, the art of the con, is more like it.

Let's see, the Winnipeg Free Press got the award for:

* its Pink Paper (supporting breast cancer research). AKA a one-day gimmick.

* its Greatest Manitobans initiative. AKA a contest.

* its puppy-mill investigation. AKA huh? Does anyone remember anything about this major investigative piece? Anything?

*sending staff to cover the Afghan War. AKA assigning reporters. Shouldn't the quality of stories sent back be more important than the act of sending reporters out the door?

The FP submission boasted of the newspapers court challenges (like going after the Mayor's divorce papers?), its charitable campaigns (we have more to say about their support of Winnipeg Harvest, or is that vice versa), and its independent Ottawa bureau.

Have you noticed what's missing?

Right, a simple thing called---journalism.

Reporting good stories was apparently an afterthought, although they did find one---about cute puppies. Who doesn't like cute puppies?

The award was given, obviously, for marketing, not journalism.


Marketing is the new excellence.

But it got us to thinking. What would a submission by The Black Rod to the Canadian Journalism Foundation look like?

* We didn't have an independent Ottawa bureau, but we did break the biggest election story in Manitoba, which had the Winnipeg Free Press and every other news organization here and in Ottawa chasing us for days.

* And we did expose the phony pre-election claims by NDP MP Pat Martin and Liberal MP Anita Neville of supporting tougher legislation against car theft. It turned out that when given the opportunity to vote for the very laws they said they supported, they voted NO.

* We didn't send anyone to Afghanistan, but our weekly War in Afghanistan reports provided more relevant information than the FP could muster at the best of times.

* The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was the subject of a multitude of stories in The Black Rod in 2008, as we red-flagged the demonstrably false claims for what the project would cost. Titles like 'BUSTED: The Human Rights Museum shell game' and 'Follow the Money' give the flavour of those stories. It took another year before the CMHR confessed that we were right in our suspicions, and in our estimates of the cost overruns.

* We were the first to report how Premier Gary Doer doubled the Manitoba contribution to the museum from $20 million to $40 million without notice or debate.


We exposed that the museum's advisory board included Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who opposed applying human rights laws to Indian reserves.

And we revealed that another advisory board member, Anthony Hall, was a 9/11 Truther, who was using his connection to the CMHR to promote his oddball conspiracy theories.

Fontaine saw the light and reversed his opposition to extending Canada's human rights laws to reserves. And the museum dropped Hall from the advisory board within a month of our story.

* We didn't need a court challenge for our three part series on Manitoba Hydro.


We revealed how the NDP is selling parts of our Hydro resources to Indian reserves which are buying in with money given to them by Manitoba Hydro. And we detailed how Manitoba Hydro plans a multi-billion dollar expansion on the basis of half-baked assumptions of future demand, assumptions which have the Public Utilities Board so scared they have demanded Hydro provide detailed risk analyses of their future projects.

* In June we covered the inquest into the death of Matthew Dumas, the doped up car thief shot by a police officer he tried to stab with a screwdriver. We particularly noted how the MSM reporters had to report on the story broken exclusively in The Black Rod literally three years earlier that the shooting of Dumas occurred just after he punched and fought with a police officer in a back lane.

* In July, in the finest journalism tradition, The Black Rod stood up to the lynch mob mentality of virtually every other news organization in the province covering the public hearing into the death of Crystal Taman. We reported facts found nowhere else in the MSM, proving that the predetermined findings of the inquiry couldn't stand up to proper journalistic scrutiny.

* We put a microscope on the claims of a severe nursing shortage by the Manitoba Nurses Union to justify a blank cheque on wages from the government. We reported how full time pay for part time work had created an artificial shortage which nobody wants to talk about.

The non-existent nursing shortage is a strategic tool of the NDP which relies on the nurses lobby to win elections. It's not as sexy as cute puppies, but we think it was a good story.

* In the time honoured tradition of localizing a national or international story, we reported last April on the local angle to the news that U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy had inoperable brain cancer. It turned out that Kennedy was being treated by "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. Kennedy is still alive.

* In October, we broke the story of Winnipeg Free Press strikers helping themselves to half a ton of pork that was either stolen from a Winnipeg Harvest satellite foodbank or was being discarded as waste because Winnipeg Harvest failed to distribute it to the poor for whom it was intended. Does that count as a charitable campaign?

Not a word about the mysterious picket line appearance of the pork, packaged and labelled as Winnipeg Harvest meat, appeared in the pages of the FP. Not a word was said about the poor who never got the meat because it wound up in the freezers of FP employees. Not a word was written on the editorial pages about Winnipeg Harvest's lack of accountability for so much food, or lack of interest in where it wound up.

But Free Press editor Margo Goodhand did have this to say about those employees who knew all about the missing pork yet failed every test as journalists by not reporting on it.

"This is for the most creative, hard-working, talented people that I know," she said as she accepted the award on behalf of the newsroom. "Every day, they set the bar higher for themselves and the rest of us. And every day, they make it fun to come to work."

Maybe she needs to get out more and meet a better class of people.

* We could go on about the real reason the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority fired Dr. Larry Reynolds, which we reported and the MSM didn't, and how we got Crimestat changed to make it more up-to-date for citizens, and why the word perjury no longer appears in Free Press stories about James Driskell, but our submission is getting long enough.

We'll leave it for you to decide where true journalism lives---The Winnipeg Free Press or the blogosphere.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chomiak falls to pieces under election rebate scheme questioning

The disintegration of Dave Chomiak is not pretty to watch.

Chomiak is at the forefront of the NDP's cover-up of its orchestrated scheme to falsify 1999 election expense claims to get rebates from the public purse. He's under a lot of pressure to keep the lid on, especially since he's a prime suspect in the fraud. No wonder he's coming apart at the seams.

Every day it's the same thing in Question Period as the Opposition asks questions about the scandal.

As soon as Premier Gary Doer lets him off the leash, Chomiak leaps to his feet, wildly waving sheafs of paper in his fists. His entire body quivers as he bellows at the Opposition for chasing "con-spy-raw-cies", spittle flying from his lips. The only break in routine are the days he's heavily tranquilized and responding in a monotone (we're not exaggerating, you've got to watch QP).

But Crazy Dave is the norm. And somewhere in the midst of his non-sequiters ("I don't beat my dog.") you can count on his suddenly blurting out the words "never seen as many liars", Tourette's-like and out of any context. It's gone from amusing, to troubling. We're watching a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Where once he referenced the Monnin Inquiry before his "liars" comment, now he just interjects the words into the middle of whatever sentence he's speaking. Or just babbles it out of the blue in relation to nothing. The NDP members behind him visibly cringe in silence at his performance.

There's a term in psychology for what we're seeing -- projection.

Wikipedia, the poor man's dictionary, describes "psychological projection" as a defence mechanism "where a person's ... unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and/or emotions are repressed, and then attributed to someone else."

In this case he's reduced to calling other people liars because he and his colleagues are being forced to spin a web of lies, day in and day out.

* Finance Minister Greg Selinger has known about the rebates-for-false-expenses scheme since 2003. He knew it was so wrong that when he learned about it, he demanded--and got--a letter from the Party exonerating him from any involvement. He then kept silent for six years. He only came forward last week after an NDP election agent blew the whistle on him.

Even then he insisted the NDP stopped the practice only because they banned union and corporate donations.

He's lying.

They stopped because they got caught red handed.

And as the defender of the public purse, he doesn't want to explain why he's not demanding the NDP return an estimated quarter of a million dollars they fraudulently received for elections from the mid-80's to 1999.

* Premier Gary Doer has said it was an "accounting error." It wasn't.

There was no error.

The NDP deliberately falsified election expenses by claiming union footsoldiers as paid help instead of unpaid volunteers.

The inner circle, which included Dave Chomiak, co-chairman of the 1999 election, even kept the official agents in the dark about what they were doing.

The scheme was carefully designed to take advantage of a legal loophole; agents couldn't be charged because although they signed the final papers, they didn't make the alterations, and allegedly didn't even know about them, and those who did falsify the returns didn't sign them and couldn't legally be held responsible for them.

Doer made this false statement in the Legislature:

Hon. Gary Doer (Premier): Mr. Speaker, one would note that the, the Minister of Finance obviously was involved and commented yesterday on this issue. When the filing was made with Elections Manitoba, it was first-firstly accepted. It was then brought to our attention that there was concerns that they had in terms of the filing, and we worked with them in a co-operative way. We worked with them in a co-operative way to amend the statements and the money was paid back.

That's like a tax evader telling the judge he did nothing wrong because for years the tax department accepted his deductions for 13 non-existent children. If they accepted the non-existent children for that long, how can it be tax evasion now just because they've discovered there are no children?

That's NDP logic.

* The NDP filed false election expenses for years to fraudulently get government rebates. Only after Elections Manitoba was given the power in 2000 to call in forensic auditors, and they began examining the 1999 filings, was the NDP scheme unearthed.

That doesn't retroactively make the previous filings true.

* The NDP must return the money it got through their fraud, with interest.

The day Selinger came out to speak to reporters to "clarify" his role in the NDP rebate fraud, he wasn't alone. We thank Tom Brodbeck for reporting on his blog that, strangely, Selinger was led to the reporters by none other than Dave Chomiak instead one of the NDP's PR flaks.

Not so strange.

Selinger delivered what's been known ever since the Watergate scandal as a limited modified hangout.

That's where one of the conspirators goes public with just enough information to take the heat off the scandal.

But what we learned later was that Chomiak couldn't resist speaking to the reporters himself. Amidst his ramblings he made these statements:

"So that’s by the way one of the reason I felt that it was necessary to answer all the questions, because I in fact had been at the two-hour hearing when the chief electoral officer of the Province of Manitoba (Richard Balasko) answered all of the questions that we have heard the last few days. It would appear it seems to be a figment of speculation in the minds of the leader of the opposition..."

What he failed to say was that the NDP majority on the Legislative Committee at which the chief electoral officer was a witness cut short the hearing after two-hours when everyone initially expected it to go another hour or two. (This was reported by FP reporter Mary Agnes Welch on her blog.)

* And as for Balasko answering "all of the questions", well ...

We've corraled a collection of his responses to Opposition questions:

Mr. Balasko: As you are well aware, investigations are to be conducted in private, and it's not my choice or my will to comment or not comment on the conduct of investigations and the contributions of people involved in an investigation.

**********

Mr. Balasko: I appreciate your question, but I have to reiterate what I have said, which is that we're bound by the law, just as anyone else involved in an investigation would be bound by the law, and the law requires that investigations at that time to be conducted in private.

**********

Mr. Balasko: Yes, with regard to the letter sent to Thompson Dorfman and Mr. Graham, matters related to the investigation are not matters that are public to be discussed. They're required by law to be kept private.

************
Mr. Balasko: Once again, thanks for the question, because I can put some context to it. I would not, myself, accept the word "negotiation;" that would be Mr. Asselstine's characterization of it. But I cannot comment on matters that were the subject of an investigation.

Mr. Goertzen: You indicated that you didn't accept the word "negotiations." What characterization would you replace that with?
Mr. Balasko: I would not
.

***********

Mr. Balasko: As I mentioned before, the materials, certainly the second letter that you provided relates in investigation. I can't comment on the investigation, and that's a requirement that I'm expected to fulfil.

**********

Mr. Balasko: Mr. Goertzen, I find myself in the same situation that there's reference to matters in the context of an investigation upon which I cannot comment, and I'm being invited to comment, and you've been, I appreciate, very respectful of where the line is, and so, once again, that's where the line is.

**********

Mr. Balasko: I'm not in a position to respond to the comments that you're referring to.

***********

Mr. Balasko: Thanks for the question, Mr. Goertzen. I won't respond to Mr. Asselstine's comments in the letter.

***********

Mr. Balasko: As I've just replied a moment ago, once you get into an investigation, we're not in a position to comment publicly.

Nothing like a full and transparent explanation for why the NDP got special treatment, is there?

* The committee hearing did, however, provide at least one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Gary Doer has said he first learned of the false expenses scheme in 2001. He's ducked every question about when and how he learned the details. We believe the transcript of the Legislative Committee hearing provides a clue:

Mr. Goertzen: Thank you, Mr. Balasko. Second page further up, on that the third, in the paragraph, it discusses a conversation that was had between the provincial secretary of the NDP and Mr. Gordon from your office, at which time Mr. Gordon had apparently, in a memo dated October 2, 2001, had written that the provincial secretary for the NDP had said something to the effect that had Mr. Asselstine known of the details of an individual's family crisis when they were doing the interview, and that individual is somebody involved with the NDP, that they would take every step possible to ensure that Mr. Asselstine would never get another cent of the government's money for work.

In short, by Oct. 2, 2001, Elections Manitoba had been informed that the ruling NDP intended to make sure that the auditor who uncovered the false expenses fraud would " never get another cent of the government's money for work."

It was a clear and open threat.

The threat was made by Tom Milne, the NDP's provincial secretary.

Is there any doubt that by that point Gary Doer had been fully informed of the trouble the NDP expected with Elections Manitoba?

Or, more to the point, that he had approved in advance the threat to punish auditor David Asselstine?

At least when Richard Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation, he was man enough to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox himself.

Doer used union heavy Tom Milne to muscle Elections Manitoba into doing the dirty work. And Asselstine was gone before the 2003 election.

* And finally, we return to Dave Chomiak's favourite phrase "as many liars."

"In all my years on the Bench I never encountered as many liars in one proceeding as I did during this inquiry," said Justice Alfred Monnin after hearing evidence into a vote-splitting scandal involving members of the Progressive Conservative Party.

What Chomiak fails, as usual, to tell, is that one of those "liars" was someone he worked with on a daily basis.

The only sitting member of the Manitoba Legislature to be publicly criticized in the Monnin Report was....

NDP MLA (since resigned) Tim Sale.


Sale, the inquiry revealed, had conducted his own, private investigation during which he often spoke with witnesses before the Inquiry investigators got to them, surely not to help them get their stories straight before speaking on record.

In the most egregious incident, he spoke with a man named Jerry Sorokowski in a Salisbury House on Pembina Highway. But if he expected anything juicy, Sale was disappointed, since Sorokowski told him nothing to implicate the Conservatives.

A book about the scandal, "As Many Liars" by Doug Smith, describes what happened next.

"When Sorokowski spoke with the commission investigators a few days later he said that Sale had tried to dissuade him from meeting with them."

Noooo, said Sale. Sorokowski had misinterpreted a casual comment that, legally, he was not obliged to speak with the investigators. A simple miscommunication, eh.

That's not how Justice Monnin took it. As they say in legal circles, he tore him a new one.

"I would have expected Mr. Sale, a member of the Legislature, to urge in the strongest terms possible cooperation with the Commission's investigators. His advice is directly contrary to what he was expounding in the Legislature---a full inquiry in order to get to the bottom of the matter." Monnin wrote in his report.

Added Doug Smith,

"Monnin was offended by the effrontery of Sale's decision to investigate the affair after Monnin had commenced his work. Sale's persistence suggests a lack of faith in the inquiry and Elections Manitoba---for this lack of respect for duly constituted authority Sale came in for a severe tongue-lashing...."

How poetic. It reminds one of the epic poem Marmion by Sir Walter Scott with the famous lines: "O what tangled webs we weave When first we practice to deceive."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

War in Afghanistan 2009, Week 23

Midnight has tolled for Canada's Cinderella army in Afghanistan.

Three years of combat and counter-insurgency has ground down the Canada's ability, and will, to carry on the fight.

On April 30 a Canadian-built strongpoint in Panjwai district of Kandahar province was dismantled. Canadian military officials called it a tactical victory--- weasel words for 'we're retreating.'

The strongpost was built two years ago to disrupt Taliban activity in the region of Musan, a community about 40 kilometres west of Kandahar Air Field. Military spokesmen said in a briefing to reporters that the post had done the opposite, drawing constant attacks and heightening Taliban activity.

So the 65 Afghan national army soldiers manning the post, with their eight Canadian army mentors, were being drawn back to Kandahar City. They claimed the post was abandoned at the request of the Afghan military. Afghan officials said they had to leave Mushan because it had become isolated after Canadians last year dismantled two other strongposts east of Mushan which provided essential support.

"The villagers have not been abandoned," Major Stephane Briand, operations planning officer for the Canadian Forces battle group in Kandahar, was quoted telling reporters. "I can see how it could be [interpreted that way]. But the main reason for the drawback was to reassign [troops)."

"[Reprisals] can happen in Mushan, but it [also] happens elsewhere."

Canadian officers admit that much of the Panjwaii peninsula, an area of some 160 square kilometres, is back under Taliban control.

Panjwai was the scene of Operation Medusa, the bloodiest conflict fought by Canadian troops since the Korean War. The Canadian army made its reputation in Operation Medusa, blunting the Taliban's trumpeted campaign to defeat the Canucks, overrun Kandahar, and drive Nato forces out of Afghanistan.

Taliban forces announced a retreat and moved west to areas such as Mushan.

Canadian troops are now retreating closer to Kandahar City where 75 percent of the province lives. They are leaving the heavy lifting to the American forces which are moving into Kandahar as part of a force of 21,000 new U.S. troops coming in 2009.

A US army brigade of Stryker armoured vehicles is expected to be deployed around Kandahar province, in July and August.

Canadian forces were simply spread too thinly across Kandahar to have much impact on Taliban operations. Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, commander of the army, has said many times that the Canadian army has been strained by the constant demands of the Afghan mission.

While one battle group is deployed in Afghanistan for six months, another is training at home to replace it, while a third is recovering from its tour. But with battle groups up for their third stint in Afghanistan already, with at least two years of the mission to go, the pressure is showing on both men and equipment.

Canadian officers are trying to spin the redeployment of battle troops to safer havens near Kandahar by claiming the arrangement will actually mean a 30 percent increase in patrols. But that style of soldiering has already become outmoded.

The traditional strategy of using big units to “Find ‘em, fix ‘em, finish ‘em,” searching for main force insurgent units to destroy, will be abandoned, Pentagon officials have said.

Americans forces are adopting new and more aggressive tactics.

General David McKiernan has been fired as US commander in Afghanistan after less than one year, a period marked by an surge in Taliban attacks. He's been replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a Ranger and Special Forces expert.

Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent had some fascinating details regarding the change in tactics. Here are some snippets:

"Some U.S. officials have said that McKiernan’s preference for slow, cumbersome, large-unit sweeps, confined to Afghanistan’s few useable roads, allowed the insurgents to disperse without suffering damage. The elements of surprise that is key to fighting insurgents was never obtained, they said."

"McChrystal, who headed U.S. Special Operations forces during the famous troop surge in Iraq in the late spring of 2007, used a whole new array of methods to detect, locate and kill insurgent leaders, which many claim was key to the success of the operation."

"One key innovation was something called “fusion cells.” As first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed by U.S. intelligence sources, these consist of small, highly mobile teams of Special Forces and intelligence specialists working together supported by forensic and computer specialists, mapping experts, along with political and tribal analysts.

Some of the intelligence collection techniques involve using GPS devices to locate hostile bands, new space-based surveillance strategies, new methods of infiltrating enemy communications, and the use of tiny, hand-launched miniature drones like the Gnat which is packed in a tube that looks like a rolled-up umbrella. When when the drone is taken out, its spring-powered wings pop open, and it can be tossed into the air and can track targets up to three hours. Larger drones like the Predator can loiter for up to 14 hours.

The sensors and cameras on the Gnat are operated from a lap top computer by a single operator and are so powerful that can relay data to major command centers and even the White House Situation Room in real time, according to former and serving military officials.

Other collection devices include cameras mounted on the helmets of elite troops that relay intelligence such as papers found on dead insurgents to headquarter analysts who can analyze it with such a fast turn-around time, that, once interpreted, it can be used immediately to stage additional raids, sometimes several in one night, sources said.

Where in Iraq, the high-value targets were al-Qaida leaders, but in Afghanistan, the fusion cells will be focusing on Taliban leadership cadres in Afghanistan and in northwestern Pakistan, they said.

As in Iraq, quick, lethal reaction to intelligence is everything, and from now on, U.S. counterterror operations will be small, swift, mobile, based on precise information about targets, they said."

On Friday, June 5, Fox news reported "the Pentagon is sending 1,000 more special operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan to bolster a larger conventional troop buildup, and is revamping the way Army Green Berets and other commandos work to rid villages of the Taliban."

"Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal... who underwent a Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing Tuesday, is expected to put more emphasis on using commandos in counterinsurgency operations and on finding or killing key Taliban leaders."

"... McChrystal has asked two veteran special operators on the Pentagon's Joint Staff, which he directs, to accompany him to Afghanistan once he wins Senate approval for a fourth star. The two are Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, who headed intelligence for the chief terrorist hunting unit in Iraq; and Brig Gen. Austin Miller, a Joint Staff director for special operations.

Military sources say Brig. Gen. Ed Reeder, who commands special operations in Afghanistan, went in-country earlier this year to revamp the way Green Beret "A" Teams, Delta Force and other special operators conduct counter-insurgency.

"Reeder heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command. It is a mix of the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos, and the super-secret Delta Force and Navy SEALs who conduct manhunts."

"McChrystal is a former commander of Joint Special Operations Command, the home of Delta Force. He led the hunt in Iraq that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of Al Qaeda's leading terrorists in the Middle East, in 2006."

Those who worked with him talk of a tenacious warrior who worked to link his direct-action fighters with the intelligence operatives who provided crucial information on terrorist locations. McChrystal allowed Delta operatives at the troop level (akin to a conventional platoon) to call in Predator spy drones during a mission."

The front line in the Afghanistan mission, meanwhile, has moved into Pakistan's northwestern frontier.

In February the government of Pakistan surrerendered the Swat Valley to Pakistani militants (and, according to the Green news service AKI, paid them $6 million in compensation). The deal called for Pakistani troops to move out and Shariah law to be imposed on the tribal region.

The Pakistani Taliban saw this as a weakness to be exploited, and two months later moved 400 fighters into the neighbouring district of Buner, only 60 miles from the capital Islamabad.

Buner’s capture alarmed the Pakistani government and shocked the international community, and prompted the government to launch an all out offensive against the Taliban.

For five weeks now the Pakistani army has been fighting to drive Pakistani Taliban forces out of the Swat Valley and Buner. While the military progress on the ground has been slower than expected, the tide of public opinion has turned against the Taliban.

The BBC's correspondent in Pakistan sent this report Saturday:

"Only four weeks ago most Urdu television channels were acting as cheerleaders for the Taliban. Most Urdu columnists in newspapers were presenting the Pakistani Taliban as the reincarnation of early Muslim warriors.

Now in a rare consensus they are all clamouring for an all-out war against them. Even the people who were sitting on the fence - or considered the Taliban a localised problem - have suddenly realised that actually the Taliban are out to destroy their way of life. Every single opinion poll carried out in Pakistan has concluded that the country is a hotbed of anti-Americanism. But now, faced with a war against the Taliban, the nation seems to have united behind the most American of slogans: they are threatening our way of life. How did we change our minds so quickly? More than the government or the media, it is the Pakistani Taliban who are responsible.

This collective change of heart can be traced back to a two-minute flogging video that made headlines around the world. Everyone knew that the Taliban flog and behead people, and when they want to show their softer side they just shoot them or slice off their ears. But nobody had seen them at work. In this video men in regulation Taliban dress and beards are holding down a young girl and methodically whipping her. The girl screams. She asks for forgiveness. It is never clear what her crime is. One of the men in the video tells the other one to hold down the girl firmly. This series of images had more impact on the people's psyche than a thousand theological debates raging on television. For the first time a young girl's screams silenced the Taliban cheerleaders. Then the Taliban leaders, in a series of interviews, have been outlining their roadmap for the nation on television. It was not just the Swat valley they wanted to purge of evils like schools, music, democracy, barbers and the judiciary. If it was good for Swat, it should be good for the rest of the country. And later they wanted to impose the same model on the rest of the world. They demanded that the government give them arms to carry out their mission. It was a spectacular public relations disaster."

The Taliban has responded in its usual fashion, launching a campaign of suicide bombing within Pakistani cities, including the capital Islamabad.

And, predictably, this has backfired.

Following a suicide attack on a mosque in the Northwest region's Upper Dir district, which killed 33 people, local tribesmen formed a militia and attacked five villages known as militant strongholds. Three villages have been cleared of Taliban, with 11 militants dead. Fighting continues in the other two as 200 Taliban face off 400 angry tribesmen. At least 20 houses where Taliban fighters found refuge have been razed.

And to add insult to injury...Saturday, the Taliban ambushed a military convoy taking two senior leaders of the banned Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law to Peshawar. They intended to free the men. Instead, they killed them in the ambush.

The London Times reported last week that Al Qaeda has sent a hit team of seven men from Iraq to Pakistan to target senior Pakistani leaders--- President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Kiyani, and other senior military officers, cabinet ministers, and provincial leaders.

"The seven operatives, who were behind deadly attacks in Iraq, reportedly met in Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktia on May 3 to plan the operations, according to a report in the Daily Times. The al Qaeda operatives are assigned to cooperate with the Pakistani Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud." reported the newspaper.

And we just couldn't let this story go by.

In perfectly classic fashion, it demonstrates the lengths to which left-wing supporters of the Taliban will go to delude themselves and everyone else about their "cause."

Joanie de Rijke is a Dutch journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the Sorobi district of Afghanistan's Paktia province last year. She arranged to meet a Taliban commander, to ‘hear their side of the story’ of killing ten French commandos last August.

Lo and behold, despite her sympathies with them, she found herself kidnapped.

And raped.

By the commander she wanted so anxiously to interview.

The Taliban wanted $2 million in ransom for her, but the Dutch and Belgian governments said No. She is a Dutch citizen but lives in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of neighboring Belgium.

The far left magazine she works for, P-Magazine, managed to raise 100,000 Euros and offered it to her captors, who accepted. After her return home, she published a book last month in which she wrote she didn't blame the Taliban for raping her, she blamed the governments for not paying her ransom.

Her Taliban rapist “could not control his testosterone. I had the impression that afterwards he regretted what had happened. He knew it was wrong.”

He even “invited her to a threesome,” i.e. to have sex with him and one of his three wives. “Ghazi was a very religious man. It is all so hypocritical. He was a complete fool,” she wrote.

“I do not want to depict the Taliban as monsters. I am not angry with Ghazi Gul. After all, he let me live,” she said. About the rape, she explained. “It’s not black and white. These things can exist side by side. That doesn’t mean that I’m suffering from Stockholm syndrome.”

Currently, at least two western journalists of various description are known to be prisoners of Taliban groups.

Beverly Giesbrecht, publisher of the on-line pro-Taliban, pro-militant Islamic website Jihad Unspun, was kidnapped November 11, 2008 after arranging a meeting with a Taliban spokesman in the town of Miranshah, in the North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan, where she was gathering material for a documentary.

In March 2009, a Taliban video was sent to the Miranshah Press Club showing Giesbrecht pleading that the Taliban would be killed unless Canada paid a $2 million ransom.

"We have a very short time now. I am going to be killed at any time as you can see by the dagger. I am going to be beheaded like the Polish engineer, probably by the end of the month." She was referring to the gruesome beheading of Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak by the Darra Adamkhel-based Taliban on 7 February 2009.

No ransom was paid.

David Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the New York Times, was kidnapped also in November, 2008, with his driver and interpreter, in Logar province some 50 miles south of Kabul. Rohde was co-chief of the Times ‘s South Asia bureau, based in New Delhi.

While a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his coverage of the Srebrenica massacre.

The last word on his whereabouts came from Greek news service Adnkronos International (AKI) which quoted its sources as saying Rohde was abducted by a Taliban group known as Siraj Haqqani and has been taken to eastern Afghanistan.