Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Continuing Imprisonment of Omar Khadr

This is an absolute disgrace:

OTTAWA – A Guantanamo judge has dismissed an argument that Omar Khadr was a child soldier when he was captured in Afghanistan and so in need of protection, not prosecution. The ruling clears the way for the Toronto detainee’s trial.

U.S. Army Col. Peter Brownback’s ruling today, which upholds the Pentagon’s position that there is no minimum age for prosecution for war crimes, comes on the heels of an appearance by Khadr’s U.S. military lawyer before Canadian legislators.

That flies in the face of international law and basic morality and despite domestic and international pressure, Canada's Conservative government absolutely refuses to act until all legal proceedings and appeals have been exhausted with their useless foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier, towing the party line by stating that they're not concerned because he's "being well-treated".

That's not the point and we have no way of knowing if that's actually true, especially since Khadr's lawyers claim that he has been tortured and mistreated to the point where his psychological and physical well-being is at serious risk:

Mr. Edney said that when he saw Mr. Khadr recently, his client was so mentally debilitated that he wanted nothing more than crayons and some paper to colour on. Contrary to federal government assurances that Mr. Khadr is doing just fine, Mr. Edney said, his client is actually "ill and going blind. He needs all sorts of help."

The secrecy involved in these so-called tribunals also ought to be enough cause for concern as the Bush administration keeps changing the rules:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration assured the Supreme Court last December that Guantanamo Bay prisoners who felt they were unfairly being detained could have their cases thoroughly reviewed by a federal appeals court. Now, it's not so clear.

When the first case arrived at the appeals court, the Justice Department told the judges they could look at the evidence but should act on the assumption that the military made the right decisions at Guantanamo Bay.

That assertion led to a testy exchange recently between Appellate Judge Merrick B. Garland and Justice Department attorney Gregory Katsas. Garland wanted an explanation for the contradiction. Katsas said there was no contradiction at all.

The exchange underscores the challenge facing the administration: It doesn't want judges overseeing terrorism cases, but it can't eliminate them from the process without first getting their approval.

Normally, a prisoner who believes he's being unfairly detained can ask the courts to free him. It's a right known as habeas corpus that dates back to the 1300s and was written into the Constitution.

But the administration says that right does not exist for Guantanamo detainees. For years, administration officials have tried to limit judges' role in hearing detainees' cases and twice the administration has been set back by the Supreme Court.
[...]
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the new detainee law. In doing so, it might spell out what role the appeals court is supposed to play.

It may sound like a mere argument about words — a semantics debate between "preponderance" and "deferential" — but the outcome will help determine how much oversight courts have over what happens at Guantanamo Bay.

The legal quagmire has gone on for years while the Gitmo prisoners are held in a hellish limbo while being presumed guilty.

Meanwhile:

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, April 28 -- The Defense Department's former chief prosecutor for terrorism cases appeared Monday at the controversial U.S. detention facility here to argue on behalf of a terrorism suspect [Salim Ahmed Hamdan], that the military justice system has been corrupted by politics and inappropriate influence from senior Pentagon officials.

Sitting just feet from the courtroom table where he had once planned to make cases against military detainees, Air Force Col. Morris Davis instead took the witness stand to declare under oath that he felt undue pressure to hurry cases along so that the Bush administration could claim before political elections that the system was working.

Davis told Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred, who presided over the hearing, that top Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England, made it clear to him that charging some of the highest-profile detainees before elections this year could have "strategic political value."

Davis said he wants to wait until the cases -- and the military commissions system -- have a more solid legal footing. He also said that Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who announced his retirement in February, once bristled at the suggestion that some defendants could be acquitted, an outcome that Davis said would give the process added legitimacy.

"He said, 'We can't have acquittals,' " Davis said under questioning from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the military counsel who represents Hamdan. " 'We've been holding these guys for years. How can we explain acquittals? We have to have convictions.' "

Does anybody, including our foreign affairs minister, need any more evidence that the entire military tribunals process is just a political farce created by an imperialist administration bent on justifying to the public that its 'war on terror' is supposedly succeeding at the expense of defendants whose fates are predetermined?

Several other countries have long ago repatriated their citizens who were interred at the Gitmo gulag, yet Canada's government - holding on to its Bush poodle status even though he will soon be a distant memory (good riddance) - continues to try to boost the political image of the Republicans by using Omar Khadr as a political pawn. If only there was a way to hold this government criminally responsible for abandoning the one Canadian citizen left rotting in Gitmo.

The situation is simple: Canada's Conservatives are complicit in the prosecution and mistreatment of a child soldier and there is absolutely no defence for that.
 

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mini-update

I'm going through a rather rough lupus flare right now and will get back to blogging when it lets up.

In the meantime, have some cheesecake:



Please use the comment thread to fill me in on any stories or blog posts of interest that I might be missing since I haven't been traveling the intertubes that much lately. Thanks!
 

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quote du Jour: Paul Begala on the Democratic Primaries

From his Wednesday nite appearance on Larry King's show:

BEGALA: Super delegates do exist. I don’t like them. James [Carville] is right. It’s a house of lords. With all respect to Robert Wexler, who is a congressman and a super delegate, I don’t like that system. I don’t like anything that’s anti-Democratic. I also don’t like the proportional system.

I think it should be winner take all the way the electoral college is. Instead, the Democratic party has now organized their party like five-year-old t-ball. sally [sic] gets a trophy and Jimmy gets a trophy and Timmy gets — no, it should be like the World Series, winner take all. It’s tough, but that’s life.

Amen to that.
 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Video: Boston Legal's Alan Shore at the Supreme Court

During Tuesday nite's episode, Boston Legal character Alan Shore (James Spader) presented his defence of a mentally-disabled black man convicted of raping a child and who had been sentenced to death in Louisiana as a result:



Love the digs he took at the supremes and a great performance, as always.
 

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alberta Budget 2008: Health Care Premiums are History

Finally. Effective January 1, 2009. That's the biggest sound bite to come out of Tuesday's budget. Considering the fact that this province has been swimming in oil money for so long, that move is long overdue.

The Calgary Herald has more:

Spending up 12%

Finance Minister Iris Evans' first financial blueprint projects $37 billion in operating and capital spending this year and a relatively small surplus of $1.6 billion, based on extremely conservative commodity prices, such as oil averaging $78 per barrel this year.

The Cons always low ball the oil money projections so they can claim "success" each year when they pretend to act surprised at how much of a surplus actually results from that little game. Then they use that little trick to talk about how wonderful they are. It's gotten pretty old.

As for that increased spending, here are a few details:

Despite all the spending, no new K-12 schools or post-secondary facilities are planned for the fiscal year, although operating budgets will see substantial increases. The health budget will see a $1.1-billion increase in program spending, sending the total health tab to more than $13 billion.

More details here on the official budget page and here from the Herald.

Note: we're still playing catch up here from all of the slashing and burning the Cons did during the 90s to the health care system, education, and infrastructure spending - the 3 main areas of concern for all Albertans (the majority of whom kept re-electing this useless party anyway...insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results...lots of that happening in this province, obviously.)

But while Albertans may save more cash, very little is being socked away for the future. The government has allocated $279 million to inflation proof the province's primary savings vehicle, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, but doesn't plan any direct deposits into the account.

Expect grumblings from fiscal conservatives over that issue although I don't know what they're complaining about since the Cons have kept stashing money away in that fund for a supposedly rainy day despite the more pressing needs Albertans have had that some of that money could have been spent on.

Fiscal cons have also been on the government's back for its pattern of 'spending like drunken sailors' under Ralph Klein (who actually was a drunk, but not a sailor), so expect blowback on that front too.

Exhibit A:

"We have some very serious concern about this government's addiction to spending," Scott Hennig, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Monday on the eve of the budget. "It's irresponsible and not sustainable."

Afaic, if they'd actually spent more of that drunken sailor money on helping the poor in this crazy boom economy, they might have gotten some kudos from me. But the tories rarely spend on anything they can't see a fiscal return from, so that isn't surprising.

Here's a view into how they choose their priorities:

Funding boosts also will go to some controversial programs, with $7 million more headed to the Horse Racing and Breeding Renewal Program, and an additional $3-million for bingo associations. Combined, the two increases equal the same amount of new money dedicated to after-school children's programs in Alberta.

Gambling v children? Look who wins.

I'll add opposition party reaction as it comes in...
 

Convicted Felons in the US Military

This is the US military's idea of hiring the best and brightest:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army and Marine Corps let 861 convicted felons join their ranks in 2007, an 88 percent jump over the previous year that helped meet recruiting goals in wartime, according to data released on Monday.

The Army, the largest branch of the U.S. military, gave felony waivers to 511 recruits last year, up from 249 in 2006, according to the figures released by a congressional panel. The Marine Corps granted 350 waivers, up from 208 the year before.

The waivers for convictions ranging from assault and burglary to manslaughter and sex crimes allowed the military to enlist people otherwise precluded by recruitment standards.

Nearly 250 recruits were granted waivers for their burglary convictions -- 142 from the Marine Corps and 106 from the Army. Another 87 waivers were granted for recruits convicted of aggravated assault.

Both the Army and Marine Corps also granted waivers to recruits convicted of making terrorist threats, including bomb threats. The Marine Corps granted five such waivers in 2007 while the Army granted two.

The Army gave waivers to eight people convicted of arson, 56 convicted of grand larceny and five convicted of sex crimes.

The Marines gave waivers to 11 people convicted of carrying a weapon on school grounds.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce defended waivers, saying the pool of recruits reflected society at large.

"We are a reflection of American society and the changes that affect it: today's young men and women are more overweight, have a greater incidence of asthma and are being charged for offenses that in earlier years wouldn't have been considered a serious offense, and might not have resulted in charges in the first place," he said in an e-mail.

Alrighty. So let's see if I have this straight: making terrorist threats, bomb threats, killing people etc etc etc weren't "serious" offences before...well...sometime before the army decided that people convicted of those types of offences should get the chance to be all they can be in the US military? Have I got that right? And I guess there are too many fat and sick kids now too which makes these waivers the best idea ever!

(Hint: how about ending all of the massive military spending and focusing on health care for everyone for a change? And if all of those convictions can be waived, why not empty some of your overcrowded prisons at the same time - or would you only do that if those people promised to die for you too?)

Well, I guess they can join right in with all of those members of various hate groups over there and have a grand old time of it.

What's wrong with this picture?
 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Raidgate: The Warrants Are Out

I'm still working on the name here. Should it be InAndOutGate? SchadenfraudeGate? HypocrisyGate? SucksToBeYouGate? MillionDollarWhinyBabiesGate? HoneyIBoughtTheElectionGate?

Whatever you call it, it it looks like money laundering to me:

Search warrants and a sworn affidavit to support last week's police raid on Conservative Party headquarters spell out an alleged “in and out” scheme under which the party allegedly funnelled $1.1-million through the local election campaigns of individual Tory candidates so they could spend more on their national campaign.

As expected, the affidavit alleges that in the 2005-06 election campaign, the Conservatives' national headquarters transferred money to 67 local candidates - who immediately transferred it back as “payment” for campaign advertising. Amounts ranged from just over $2,000 to $52,000, it states.

The “scheme” had two significant consequences, the affidavit states: First, it allowed the Tories to spend more than $1-million over and above the spending limit on election expenses. Secondly, it allowed about 67 local candidates to claim a 60-per-cent rebate on the amounts, totalling $825,000, for which they weren't entitled.

That G&M article also has links to the text of the affidavits and warrants.

Lucky for Steve, he's hiding out in NOLA at the Three Amigos meeting. Maybe he can get some tips from Bush about how to avoid the law back home.

Related:

Raidgate: Warrant Details to be Released Monday
 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Man's Most Valuable Trait


 
 
Man's most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

- Euripides

Raidgate: Warrant Details to be Released Monday

Via CBC:

A search warrant that led to last week's raid of Conservative Party headquarters will be released Monday by an Ontario court, but it was made public Sunday to some media by the Tories, the CBC's Keith Boag reported.

The Conservatives, who already have the warrant containing hundreds of pages of documents on CD-ROM, gave private briefings about it in Ottawa to select media, including the Toronto Star and CTVglobemedia, Boag said.

CBC News requested to attend the briefings, but was rejected and told by party spokesman Ryan Sparrow that it was a private meeting, Boag said, adding reporters from the Canadian Press, Maclean's magazine and Canwest Global Communications Corp. were also not permitted to attend.

Giving some reporters a briefing before Monday's court release of the warrant allows the party a chance to shape the story, but it also creates the impression that the Conservatives need to spin it, Boag said.

Gee. You think so, Keith??

The TO Star offers some hints of what's coming down:

Specifically, Lamothe [assistant chief investigator in the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections] cited three potential offences under the Canada Elections Act.

The Conservative Party itself and the Conservative Fund Canada are separately alleged to have knowingly spent more than the allowable national $18.2 million limit. The Conservative Fund Canada is the party's fundraising arm, which is the official chief agent for its national campaign and has responsibility for administering and reporting financial transactions.

The third allegation comes under the obligation to file "true and complete reports." The allegation is that the party's official agent filed returns with Elections Canada "that it knew or ought reasonably to have known contained a materially false or misleading statement" on its expenses.


[...]


Senior party officials took the unusual step of briefing a limited number of reporters on the documents at a downtown hotel Sunday afternoon.

Speaking on condition they not be identified by name, they framed some potentially more damaging emails that Lamothe cited in his package.

One of those emails included an email by an employee at the party's media buying agency referring to a call from the head of the Conservative Fund, Irving Gerstein.

"They may be spending up to their legal limit on this campaign," wrote David Campbell advising others of Gerstein's call. "They are also thinking of 'switching' some of the time over to the ridings. It sounded like the reason was to legally maximize advertising expenditures."

A senior official said emails may contain "heated language" in the course of a campaign, but no evidence of illegality.

Sure. Uh huh. "Heated language". That should work.

And:

But the officials denied the party deliberately sought to skirt national limits by using up spending room in local campaigns that were less likely to produce wins for the party, or that the Conservatives sought to direct media spending into ridings that were more likely to win them.

They scoffed at suggestions it might have made the difference in a dozen or so ridings and won the election, saying it is "crap."

Ah yes, "crap". That's always the best defence in court.

"Your honour, I object on the grounds that this is crap!"

Get your popcorn ready for Monday's question period and watch out for exploding grey matter.

Related:

CTV has more - including the Cons' game of "Where's Waldo the warrant?":

They scheduled briefings at an Ottawa hotel, but when word of the meetings leaked out to other media organizations, the party moved the briefings to another hotel next to their party headquarters.

Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said the secrecy around the meetings likely did more harm than good for the Conservatives.

"Obviously, that smacks of desperation," he told CTV News. "What they've done is made their situation worse, because they look so guilty."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Obama on Bushco's War Crimes and Impeachment

During last week's big media focus on Bittergate, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News took his opportunity when he had access to Barack Obama to ask him about how he would deal with the alleged (and I use that term loosely) war crimes of the Bush administration.

Here's his response:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween [sic] really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.

I really don't know what could be more "exceptional" than the possibility that the Bush administration committed war crimes. But, when Nancy Pelosi took impeachment "off the table" months before the 2006 election, justifying that stand by saying that the Democrats would just be too darn "busy" if they won back control of the senate to be distracted by something akin to a "witch hunt", most of The Party fell in line. Well, they're were "busy" all right - busy siding with the Republicans and Bush while they enabled him to continue to destroy the country. Obama has obviously bought into that finger-wagging pronouncement, talking points included, and his statement minimizes those crimes by calling them "dumb" policies (which is exactly how he referred to the Iraq war - "dumb"). What kind of serious legal judgement is that?

When some Obama supporters at Daily Kos Obama were confronted with Obama's response, (a site whose founder called talk of impeachment "impeachment porn" in 2006 while doing everything he could to chase off impeachment supporters from his site - good little party disciplinarian that he is), some actually defended it by claiming that 1) Obama's life would be at risk if he actually gave an stronger answer and 2) that he'll apparently pull the impeachment rabbit out of his hat if he wins the presidency. Now why does that remind me of the "Is Nancy Pelosi a Freakin' GENIUS??" post, which a lot of people actually bought into, at the same site last year? And how did that work out, folks? Guess who's still gone unpunished for war crimes and his multiple violations of the constitution? Some "Freakin' GENIUS" she turned out to be.

So, excuse me if I mutter a little "pffft" at Obama's so-called promise to look into what the Bush administration has wrought on the American people, the millions of innocent Iraqis and the rest of the world while the Democratic party enabled him and chose to look away. The message is clear: once again the Democrats will be too "busy" trying to be bipartisan (a word which means they don't want to offend the Republicans' delicate sensibilities ie. they'll continue to buy into their fearmongering) if they win back the White House.

During last Sunday's CNN Compassion Religious Test Forum, Obama had this to say when asked about torture:

BROWN: Let's go to Dr. David Gushee, who is the president of Evangelicals for Human Rights.

Dr. Gushee?

DAVID P. GUSHEE, MERCER UNIVERSITY: Senator Obama, recently yet another disturbing memo emerged from the Justice Department. This one said that not even interrogation methods that, quote, "shock the conscience" would be considered torture nor would they be considered illegal if they had been authorized by the president.

Senator Obama, this kind of reasoning shocks the conscience of many millions of Americans and many millions of people of faith here and around the world. Is there justification for policies on the part of our nation that permit physical and mental cruelty toward those who are in our custody?

OBAMA: We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period. We don't torture.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don't farm out torture. We don't subcontract torture.

That lie is the Bush administration's "position" as well. Both Obama and Clinton have used that statement while ignoring the fact that the Military Commissions Act gave the CIA immunity from prosecution for torture. What are you going to do about that, Senator Obama?

No one who's seen the Abu Ghraib evidence can say that the US does not torture.

OBAMA: And the reason this is important is not only because torture does not end up yielding good information -- most intelligence officers agree with that. I met with a group -- a distinguished group of former generals who have made it their mission to travel around and talk to presidential candidates and to talk in forums about how this degrades the discipline and the ethos of our military.

It is very hard for us when kids, you know, 19, 20, 21, 22 are in Iraq having to make difficult decisions, life or death decisions every day, and are being asked essentially to restrain themselves and operate within the law.

And then to find out that our own government is not abiding by these same laws that we are asking them to defend? That is not acceptable. And so my position is going to be absolutely clear.

And it is also important for our long-term security to send a message to the world that we will lead not just with our military might but we are going to lead with our values and our ideals.

That we are not a nation...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ... that gives away our civil liberties simply because we're scared. And we're always at our worst when we're fearful. And one of the things that my religious faith allows me to do, hopefully, is not to operate out of fear.

Fear is a bad counsel and I want to operate out of hope and out of faith.

You can hope and have faith all you like but I noticed, Obama, that not once did you mention the victims of torture. Instead, you talked about the fact that torture doesn't work, that it's hard on America's military and that the US image has suffered. Where's the compassion in that?

I think it's also quite naive to think that America's "values and ideals" are not wrapped up in US military might. If he truly believed that, why has he promised to boost military spending and power while propping up torturing regimes like Israel? It may not be Bush-style fear that he's selling but there's no doubt that he has faith in using the military-industrial complex to fix US problems around the world. Just look at how hawkish he's been towards Iran and Pakistan. That kind of rhetoric is simply a repetition of neocon philosophy - might makes right. Obama may not be singing "Bomb Iran" as openly as McCain, but he certainly won't rule it out. Maybe they could do a duet. Obama's also quite on track for remaking the world in the US image. Just how much more American intervention can the world take?

For all of this Obama campaign talk about "change", what's obvious is that the status quo will remain very much in effect if Obama wins the presidency. He has a point when he complains about the distractions that have taken the focus off of the real issues but the fact is that all of these sideshows have probably benefited the candidate since, when it comes to matters of foreign policy and domestic accountability, Americans would just be in for 4 more years of hell no matter who wins.

It appears that the only place Bush administration officials may ever face responsibility for what they've done will be in a foreign court - and that can't come soon enough.

In the meantime, Obama won't have to worry about being tarred with that "witch hunt" moniker and that's just fine with him and the Democratic party.

Related:

"We'll make you see death"; A harrowing account from a man the CIA handed over to Jordan – smuggled from prison on tiny paper – exposes U.S. complicity in torture.

ACLU: Secret Bush Administration Torture Memo Released Today In Response To ACLU Lawsuit (4/1/2008)

US torture - when can the prosecutions start?

Top US general 'hoodwinked' over aggressive interrogation

Torture Questions Hover Over Chertoff

Minneapolis citizens calling for Bush arrest at GOP Convention
 

Thursday, April 17, 2008

'Dad, Stephen Harper's suing me now!'

 

"Stephen Harper is bringing change to Ottawa, strengthening democracy through lawsuits."
 

Quote du Jour: Netanyahu - Israel Benifiting From 9/11

Via Ha'aretz:

The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on Wednesday reported that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan university that the September 11, 2001 terror attacks had been beneficial for Israel.

"We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

I'm sorry but, when was it again that American public opinion didn't favour Israel?

What a gruesome quote.
 

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Worst.Dem.Debate.Ever.

While there's no doubt that ABC's Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos seemed to be auditioning for jobs as TMZ-like Spanish inquisitors, spending almost the entire first hour of the Dem debate tag-teaming questions about almost all of the scandals du jour (Wright, Ayers, Bosnia, Bittergate, the flag pin flap etc.) instead of focusing on policy issues, there's no denying that Barack Obama lost tonite.

His "hope" and "change" message seemed to have been left in his wallet in another pair of pants. Under fire from all three fronts, he struggled to fight back and did so at times using the same kind of "old politics" that he so decries ie. attack with nasty talking points when you're attacked. That style of campaigning has increased during this Pennsylvania stint of his run as he tries to look like the counter to Clinton's Rocky.

During the debate, he simply look befuddled, washed out, defeated, frustrated, and flustered while Clinton's message was that she was the one capable of standing up to the viciousness coming down the pike from the Republicans. And, like her or not, (and I don't like either of them), she does have a point.

I suspect Obama will get some sympathy votes from people who thought the moderators gave him too hard a time. On the other hand, to voters who've only heard his "hope" blurbs and haven't really taken the time to follow the campaign yet (yes, those people do exist), I can imagine some confusion after tonite's performance because he came across as an almost entirely different person.

Although Obama has become a Teflon™-Man of sorts and has been the media's darling, when huge fans of his like Andrew Sullivan write that "He failed tonight in a big way", you know this was a really bad showing.

I'll have more on the actual substance, such as it was, tomorrow...
 

Cons: RCMP Raid Was a 'Publicity Stunt'

Pass the tissues. Oh how I weep for those poor victims of the RCMP raid of the Cons' headquarters.

Not.

The tories are scrambling to paint themselves as being oppressed after yesterday's raid (which continues today). The problem is that they appointed the two Elections Canada officials they're now suing and that they applaud the RCMP (even protecting Zaccardelli to the bitter end) except when they're the targets of a legally-sanctioned warrant. And now, they're also trying to implicate the Liberals in some sort of conspiracy theory:

News of the raid first broke on CBC Newsworld Tuesday and other media quickly arrived on the scene. Liberal staffers from the Liberal research bureau, which is one block away from the Conservative party headquarters, then followed with a video camera to record the event.

Several Conservatives expressed suspicion Wednesday that the media and Liberals were made aware of the raid. Liberals insist they learned of it by watching television. CBC News has not yet said how they became aware of the raid.

“I do find it odd when I look at a photograph as I did this morning, and I see someone knocking on the door with cameras, news cameras present, and to see that there were Liberal party people in the hallway,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

“I find that very strange indeed. This is I gather some sort of enforcement warranted activity that was being undertaken. In my life as a lawyer in the courts of Canada, I'm not used to the media being along with officers carrying out their duties. It's rather unusual actually.”

Obviously, Flaherty has never watched COPS.

Ontario Tory MP David Tilson made similar remarks.

“Why are they picking on the Conservatives?” asked Mr. Tilson. “It's very suspicious.”

Well, nail Harper to a cross and give him a crown of thorns.
 

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Canadian News Roundup: Popcorn Edition!

- We, on the left, have been waiting for this headline for a long time: Tory headquarters raided.

OTTAWA- The RCMP is raiding Conservative party headquarters in Ottawa at the request of Elections Canada, confirmed an investigator.

Police officers in civilian clothes, but wearing flak jackets and one wearing a holster, entered and left the offices at 130 Albert Street, but refused further comment. They were searching suites on the 12th and 17th floors of the downtown building where senior Conservative party officials work.

Elections Canada officer Andre Thouin left the headquarters carrying a box of what he said were "documents that concern me," but he declined further comment, other than to say the RCMP was helping to carry out "an order."

The Cons, acting like true maroons during question period today, kept insisting that they had turned over all relevant documents to Elections Canada related to this investigation:

Elections Canada and the Conservative party have been engaged in a protracted legal battle over $1.2 million in alleged campaign spending irregularities from the 2006 election.

The party allowed Tory candidates to claim expenses for TV commercials that were produced for the national campaign.

The Conservatives insist the transactions were legal but Elections Canada disagrees and rival parties have labeled the scheme outright fraud.

Peter Van Loan called this an "imaginary scandal". It's not so "imaginary" when you have the RCMP raiding your offices, is it Van Loan? I guess your "imaginary" lawyers will have to defend this "imaginary scandal" in "imaginary" court.

- Bonus news of the day: General Rick Hillier has resigned, effective July 1, 2008. About damn time. Hillier has been serving as a political mouthpiece for the Afghanistan war for years. He's been nasty, explosive, arrogant, and cocky towards anyone who's challenged him. I guess he'll have ample time now to prepare his defence against war crimes charges filed against him. Good riddance.

- Speaking of Afghanistan, the tories have yet another scandal to deal with:

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- A quiet campaign by Canadian diplomats, who have been working to ease the governor of Kandahar out of his job, was thrown into chaos yesterday as Canada's Foreign Minister, Maxime Bernier, shattered months of secrecy and spoke out against the governor in public.

Canadian officials initially believed that Mr. Bernier had taken an important step in advancing their agenda over the weekend, when he met privately with President Hamid Karzai and asked him to replace Governor Asadullah Khalid, who has been dogged by accusations of torture and corruption. Calls for the governor's removal have grown louder this year, after The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring reported on Ottawa's attempts to conceal allegations that Mr. Khalid was personally involved in the torture of detainees.

Afghanistan's President told the Canadian delegation that a new governor would be appointed for Kandahar "within weeks," said a senior official who attended the meeting.

That promise is now more difficult for Mr. Karzai to keep, according to Canadian and Afghan sources, because Mr. Bernier's comments yesterday gave the impression of Canadian pressure on a President who is often satirized as a puppet of foreign masters.

"In light of this, it's much less clear what will happen next," a Canadian official said.

"There's a bit of scrambling now."

Whoops!

This is the same Harper government that was recently accused of providing cover for Kandahar's governor. I guess he's become disposable since then.

- Speaking of coverups: Ottawa tries to halt military probe of Afghan prisoners. What is the Harper government so afraid of? The truth, obviously. They've mishandled this detainee file from the start. If they actually had any integrity, they'd expose exactly what happened. That's a huge "if" though and they're proven time and time again that they'll run from any threat of being held accountable for their actions.

- And, in another blow to the government, "Terror charges stayed". Looks like a really bad week for the tories. What goes around, comes around.

Update:

- I forgot to add one item. Wondering what's driving the Immigration minister's power grab? How about this headline? "Alberta pursues 41,000 foreign workers"
 

Monday, April 14, 2008

Documentary: The World According to Monsanto

Most Canadians are aware of the 'David v Goliath' lawsuit launched by Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser (who is still accepting donations for his legal bills) that went on for years, reached the Supreme Court, and finally resulted in victory for Schmeiser:

Schmeiser pleased with victory over Monsanto

In an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Percy Schmeiser has settled his lawsuit with Monsanto. Monsanto has agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser's fields. Also part of the agreement was that there was no gag-order on the settlement and that Monsanto could be sued again if further contamination occurred. Schmeiser believes this precedent setting agreement ensures that farmers will be entitled to reimbursement when their fields become contaminated with unwanted Roundup Ready canola or any other unwanted GMO plants.

If you're interested in what's in your food, what's lurking in your yard if you use Roundup™, what the health effects are, and Monsanto's history of abusing the planet and the lives of the people its products have touched, you can now watch the complete documentary, The World According to Monsanto, posted on the Information Clearing House site. (1 hr 49 minutes)
 

Polygamist Cult Awarded US Defence Contracts

We all know by now that the word "vetted" doesn't appear in the Bush administration's dictionary but it sure would have come in handy more than a few times.

McClatchy reports that two firms linked to the polygamist sect that was recently raided in Texas were awarded millions in small business loans and military contracts.

Steve Barlow, human resources manager for NewEra, said last week that it would be inappropriate to comment, "Given everything that's going on. I could only give you the company motto: 'Good parts on time.'. "

And just how do they make those 'good parts on time'?

According to the article, there's been a lawsuit filed against NewEra that answers that question:

John Nielsen, who worked for the company when it was Western Precision in Hildale, said in a 2005 affidavit that he and other FLDS members were made to work for little or no wages, even as the company was bringing in lucrative government contracts and other work.

At the same time, $50,000 to $100,000 in company profits were going each month to FLDS "and/or" Jeffs, Nielsen said in the affidavit, filed as part of a civil lawsuit.

He said he and other sect members thought their working for free or for extremely low wages would bring them redemption. Instead, Nielsen said in the affidavit, he was found to be "wanting" by the sect's leadership, ordered off the property and separated from his five young children and his wife. She was "reassigned" to another man, becoming the fourth of his six wives.

"It broke my heart," Nielsen said in the affidavit. He declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

Slave labour - which somebody obviously knew about since that suit was filed in 2005. Yet, nothing was done - just as governments have let abusive polygamist cults there and in Canada get away with staying veiled in secrecy for decades.

Who knows what will come out of these investigations now? One person put it bluntly:

"There's a lot of bad shit in there," said a high-ranking official with the federal Justice Department who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case.

It's time to rip those places apart and stand up for the victims once and for all.

And it's also time for the US government to stop looking the other way when it hands out contracts. But then what do you expect from an administration that just renewed Blackwater's contract despite the objections of the supposedly 'sovereign' Iraq government? Human rights always take a back seat to US military concerns.
 

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Darfur

"My son was clinging to my dress. An Arab looking man, in a uniform with military insignia, stopped his car next to me. He grabbed my son from me and threw him into a fire."
- Kalima, resident of the village of Kidinyir, Darfur

It's been 5 years. And what has the world done?

"Since the genocide began five years ago, more than 1 million children have been tortured, raped, wounded, displaced, and/or traumatized," stated a press release from STAND Canada (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur), which organized the Toronto rally.

"UNICEF reported in their Child Alert Report that 'The children of Darfur have little prospect of a decent, independent future for themselves ... (as the majority of them) live beyond the reach of current international relief efforts, leaving them exposed to malnutrition, illness, violence and fear.'"

More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced in the ongoing conflict between the Arab-dominated government and African rebels.

Related:

Human Rights Watch - Darfur: Childhood at Risk After Five Years of War
Globe for Darfur
Save Darfur
Amnesty International
UNICEF - As violence continues in Darfur, children go missing and families are torn apart
A 14 year old's blog against the genocide (Warning: some may find the pictures disturbing but that girl deserves to be praised for exposing the situation exactly as it is.)
 

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bittergate

Friday nite's cocky Obama has morphed into today's semi-apologetic Obama:

"I didn't say it as well as I should have," he said.

That's an interesting comment coming from a man who, as everyone knows by now, has a penchant for writing and delivering well-crafted speeches. And that's where his comments originated: from a speech he delivered last week to the upper-classes on San Francisco's 'billionaire's row'.

"It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
(Full context in the "speech" link above - catnip)

Obama defends his remarks by stating that they're true (as do his supporters). But, what I found interesting, was was his reference to those people being "anti-trade". I thought he was anti-trade - at least as far as NAFTA goes, which is generally what trade grievances have been aimed at since its impact has washed destructively through small town America. So, beyond today's revised explanation, I think that's a point Obama will have to address more fully.

It's too early to know what the fallout will be for Obama but I think this political mistake will come back to haunt him. The right-wing has already pounced on it, as have Hillary and McCain. You don't go after the G*d, guns, and gays beliefs (and he did add gays into the mix on Friday nite) without offending some fence-sitting independents and possible "Obamacans" (Obama Republicans). Beyond that, to say that rural people only 'cling' to guns and religion because they are economically depressed flies in the face of reality.

Obama, who has refused to call himself a "liberal" because he claims that labels don't serve anybody (hiding from his own voting record in order to take away a right-wing talking point), has now been pegged as an "elitist" - the next worst word to "liberal", as far as conservatives are concerned. That attack stuck against John Kerry in 2004 and it will similarly stick to Obama, who has already had a hard time appealing to "working class" (blue collar) voters. Whether Hillary gains ground as a result has yet to be seen. One thing's certain though - Obama isn't done explaining his remarks. His damage control machine is in overdrive.

In the meantime, this latest gaffe has already taken away the spotlight (such as it is) that ought to be shining full tilt on the Bush administration's torture policies. No doubt, the Republicans are happy about that.
 

Friday, April 11, 2008

Obama's Money People - Contradictory Stories

The Washington Post has an illuminating article about the source of Obama's campaign contributions, a topic of interest considering the fact that Obama hasn't committed to public financing - a system he called 'creaky' today.

Beyond the specifics of that indecision though are these two contrasting quotes from those two stories.

WaPo:

Obama's bundlers help make up a more loosely defined "national finance committee," whose members are made to feel part of the campaign's inner workings through weekly conference calls and quarterly meetings at which they quiz the candidate or his strategists. At one meeting, bundlers urged the campaign to link Iraq war costs with the faltering economy. And they got an advance copy of Obama's Philadelphia speech in which he addressed the incendiary remarks of his longtime pastor.

Obama policy advisers also meet with bundlers and other top givers. Anthony Lake, who served as President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, has met with so many Obama contributors that, in an unusual move, the campaign credits him for funds raised when he conducts the meetings. He's on the top bundler list. "This is the first time I've ever gotten involved in this kind of work in a campaign," Lake said.

But, here's what Obama said about that on Friday:

_Obama acknowledged that besides an unusually large number of small donors, he also has relied on well-connected fundraisers with corporate interests. But he said his financial operation is separate from his policy positions.

"We have a national finance committee, they are very active but they don't interact with me," he said. "They are not as a general rule part of my day-to-day policy or advisory committee. Although there are some people who have raised money for me who are also prominent business leaders, so if we were putting forward an economic plan and there was some expertise there we would tap into it."

Which version is true?
 

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Banned from Gitmo: Lord of the Rings

Is it Gollum's fault?:

[Omar] Khadr’s military lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, told reporters here yesterday that hundreds of pages of documents had been taken from Khadr, hindering his efforts to have the Toronto detainee help him prepare his case.

Khadr had not been allowed to keep the documents in his cell but was able to have the guards bring them to him in the past. When he asked for the documents earlier this week the guards brought him an empty box.

The public affairs office of the Joint Task Force – the military unit responsible for operations at the prison – issued a statement today saying the documents had been returned to Khadr.

“During his last visit with counsel, Khadr’s legal materials were combined/mixed with a variety of other items, to include a copy of the script to Lord of the Rings, various pictures and a variety of internet articles,” the statement read.

“The Lord of the Rings screenplay has been returned to Kuebler as a violation of the prohibition against providing detainees materials that are not directly related to his representation of his client.”

“The issue would not have arisen had counsel not provided materials to the detainee that were not related to the defense of his military case.”

One of Khadr’s defence lawyers had given him the movie script during a prior visit.

“He wants nothing more in life than to see Lord of the Rings,” Kuebler told reporters after coming to the base’s media centre for an impromptu news conference.

Can they possibly be more ridiculous? They've imprisoned child soldier Omar Khadr since 2002 without a proper trial in one of the most repressive environments known and yet they would deny him the slighest bit of entertainment in the form of a movie script and dominoes? What are they so afraid of?
 

Canadian News Roundup

- So, I was watching CBC teevee's live coverage of Rick Hillier's testimony about Afghanistan to the foreign affairs committee which was interrupted by a news conference about the horrendous murders in Merritt, B.C. this past weekend. Since CBC didn't resume its coverage of Hillier, I thought I'd check out the site of the foreign affairs committee only to discover this. Besides the title and the 'Home' and 'Francais' buttons, there's nothing else there. I know the Cons enjoy screwing around with the committees as outlined in their 'dirty tricks' manual that was revealed last year, but scrubbing a committee website is a bit much - even for them. If someone can find an actual working page for this committee, let me know.

- RCMP Deputy Commissioner Barbara George has been found guilty of contempt of parliament. That's as far as it goes though. It's just a slap on the wrist. I guess perjury isn't that big of a deal anymore.

- Despite the news today that industry minister Prentice has blocked the sale of the MDA space division to an American interest, MDA isn't giving up. Will the tories cave? I'm betting yes.

- The roadkill queen over at smalldeadanimals.com (who won't get a direct link from me) is being sued for libel - along with a few other Canadian wingnuts. My heart does not bleed for any of them. What goes around comes around. Canada's Michelle Malkin wannabe is raising money for her 'legal defence fund' but won't even say how much she's received or what her defence actually is - besides a big whine fest about how horribly persecuted she is. Sucks to be you guys but that's what you get when you constantly spew fearmongering venom day in and day out. Right-wingers were just full of glee when they heard that their dear leader was suing the Liberal party over the Cadman affair. But when one of their own finds themselves having to defend against a libel suit, all of a sudden the laws are so unfair! (Call the wahmbulance.) Some of the commenters over at the roadkill site are even trying to track down the complainant's home address - a tried and true Malkin technique - while others seem to think there's some sort of criminal case to be made against him. For filing a lawsuit? Really bright legal minds over there. Not.

- Actress Sarah Polley spoke out about the C-10/censorship bill today. Do you trust this government to make "moral" decisions on your behalf?

Ironic quote du jour:

While Verner appeared ready to negotiate with artists, not all Tories were in such a conciliatory mood.

In the press release, the Conservatives took specific aim at Polley. She has been a vocal NDP supporter and once lost a pair of teeth when the riot squad aggressively broke up an anti-Mike Harris demonstration outside of the Ontario Legislature.

"Individuals with vested personal and political interests should be honest with Canadians on what their true intentions are,'" said Pierre Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP.

"Hard-working Canadians are growing increasingly tired of special interest groups telling them what to do."

Especially the bedwetters in your party's back pocket, Mr Poilievre.

Speaking of bedwetters, I see Charles McVeety of the so-called Canada Family Action Coalition is whining about this issue on CBC's Politics. He seems to be quite concerned over the film "The Masturbator". Mind you, I think he just really likes saying "Masturbator" in public. You know how those repressed conservative types are. Then again, maybe he's just worried about folks going blind.
 

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Petraeus/Crocker Road Show

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations committee held hearings about the political future of Iraq that didn't grab the headlines they deserved. Independent journalist Nir Rosen, who has spent a considerable amount of time in the real Iraq, spoke the truth that was obviously missing from the Petraeus/Crocker road show on Tuesday:

Today Iraq does not exist. It has no government. It is like Somalia, different fiefdoms controlled by warlords and their militias. I have spent most of the last five years since April 2003 in Iraq, with Iraqis, focusing on their militias, mosques and other true centers of power. Events in the Green Zone or International Zone were never important, because power was in the street since April 2003.

Rosen also reported on one result of the surge that is sorely missing from the public conversation as well:

Many Americans are also unaware that a foreign military occupation is a systematic imposition of violence and terror on an entire people. American soldiers are not their as peacekeepers or policemen, they are not there to “help” the Iraqi people. At least 24,000 Iraqis still languish in American-run prisons. At least 900 of these are juveniles, some of whom are forced to go through a brainwashing program called the “House of Wisdom,” where American officers are arrogant enough to lecture Muslims about Islam. The Americans are supposed to hand over Iraqi prisoners to Iraqi authorities, since it’s theoretically a sovereign country, but international human rights officials are loath to press the issue because conditions in Iraqi prisons are at least as bad as they were under Saddam. One US officer told me that six years is a life sentence in an Iraqi prison today, because that is your estimated life span there.

In the women’s prison in Kadhmiya prisoners are routinely raped. Conditions in Iraqi prisons got much worse during the surge because the Iraqi system could not cope with the massive influx. Those prisoners whom the Americans hand over to the Iraqis may be the lucky ones, but even those Iraqis in American detention do not know why they are being held, and they are not visited by defense lawyers. The Americans can hold Iraqis indefinitely, so they don’t even have to be tried by Iraqi courts. A fraction are tried in courts where Americans also testify. But we have yet to see a trial where the accused is convincingly found guilty and there is valid evidence that is properly examined, with no coerced confessions. Lawyers don’t see their clients before trials, and there are no witnesses. Iraqi judges are prepared to convict on very little evidence. But even if Iraqi courts find Iraqi prisoners innocent, the Americans sometimes continue to hold them after acquittal. These are called “on hold” cases, and there are currently about 500 of them. And the Americans continue to arrest all men of military age when looking for suspects, to break into homes and traumatize sleeping families at night, and to bombs heavily populated areas, killing civilians routinely.

And, when Joe Biden arrogantly mocked Rosen's testimony, he gave this response:

BIDEN: Based on what you’ve said, there’s really no hope — we really should get the hell out of there right now. I mean, there’s nothing to do. Nothing.

ROSEN: As a journalist, I’m uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. And I don’t think that we’re there for the interest of the Iraqi people. I don’t think that’s ever been a motivation. […]

BIDEN: [If we withdraw], the good news is we wouldn’t be imperialists in Iraq, from your perspective.

ROSEN: Only elsewhere in the region. (laughter). … There’s no positive scenario in Iraq these days. Not every situation has a solution.

Well, the last thing an imperialistic empire wants to hear is that it can't, somehow, "win" a war - that "success", which no one can adequately describe from Bush on down, just is not something the US can control. Certainly not with its current policies.

While Petraeus and Crocker were testifying on Tuesday, Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to end his ceasefire - a real symbol of just how little control the US military really has in Iraq. And as Petraeus had to admit that al-Maliki's Iraqi government styled surge in Basra last week was premature, resulting in US forces having to join in to prop up the ISF (in the face of some 1,000 Iraqi desertions during the battle), he continually referred to the Iranian threat while neglecting to mention that it was actually an Iranian official who brokered the ceasefire. That part of the story doesn't fit in well with painting Iran as the enemy.

Last week, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) embarrassed herself when the panel mentioned that al-Maliki has been treating members of the ISF as his personal militia. She was quite visibly shocked. On Tuesday, she was obsessed with shared kisses between al-Maliki and Ahmadinejad:

At one point, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) expressed outrage that Iraqi leaders gave Iranian President Ahmadinejad the literal red-carpet treatment when he visited Baghdad in early March. Crocker responded, “Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously an extremely important issue for us, but it’s very much, I think, a mixed bag.” He also reminded the Senate committee that Iraqi Shiites “died by the tens, by the hundred of thousands defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy… ”

That hardly appeased Boxer. “I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing, but actually kissed him on the cheek. He got a red carpet treatment and we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free. It is irritating is my point.”

Crocker quickly noted that Vice President Dick Cheney, who visited Iraq later in March, “also had a very warm reception.”

“Did he get kissed?” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden interjected.

“I believe he did get kissed,” Crocker answered.

There were chuckles in the audience.

That exchange shows the two faces of the Democratic party - one that supposedly espouses diplomacy with countries deemed to be "hostile" while expressing outrage when it actually happens. Perhaps Boxer is unaware of the finer cultural aspects of the region where men often greet each other with kisses. I understand Boxer's frustration but perhaps she would have been wiser to spend what little time she had asking questions pushing for a concrete plan - something that General (we'll "pause and assess") Petraeus and Ryan (I'm only allowed to push neocon talking points) Crocker failed to offer.

And the two Democrats running for the presidential nomination don't have much more to offer since their withdrawal strategies mirror what Petraeus offered: relying on the conditions on the ground - a wait and see approach that offers no end in sight. When pressed on what those favourable "conditions" might be that would signal some sort of way out, neither Petraeus nor Crocker could offer anything definitive. Well, of course not, because once again no one really wants to define what "success" is. It's a moving target.

So, around and around we go.

The bottom line is that the Democrats are hamstrung. Bush knows it. al-Maliki knows it. Petraeus knows it. Crocker knows it. Rice knows it. Cheney knows it. And, finally, the Democrats know it. They gave up whatever chance they had to exercise their oversight when they refused to impeach Bush. Feigning outrage over kisses at this juncture is pointless political theatre.

Petraeus is following the tyrannical commander-in-chief's so-called "vision" (whatever that is) while Crocker knows he'll be fired if he veers anywhere off the accepted script.

The real conversation about what's happening in Iraq and what the future holds happened during last week's hearings. This week is a pure propaganda show which will be followed by...nothing, as usual.

As Adil E Shamoo writes:

The Iraqi people are sick and tired of five years of death and destruction with no end in sight. They are also tired of the rampant corruption in their government and its security forces. Iraqis are suffering like no other nation in the Middle East. Four million refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, and many more wounded: this is the American legacy in Iraq. When will American moral outrage be so deafening that our leaders have no choice but to leave Iraq and admit our awful mistake? And so we enter our sixth year of war, bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq under American domination.

The war is over. The only reasonable thing to do is to give the Iraqis their country back. But rationality is AWOL in Washington and the American public has moved on to domestic concerns, so the horrors - which Bush and McCain call "normal" - will continue.
 

Monday, April 07, 2008

Attacking Atheism: The Chicago Democrat Way

This is absolutely hysterical - and not in the hysterically funny sense.

Listen as Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) attacks an atheist testifying before her.

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) interrupted atheist activist Rob Sherman during his testimony Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield and told him, "What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous . . . it's dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!

"This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God," Davis said. "Get out of that seat . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon."

This is exactly why the separation between church and state exists.

What's "dangerous" is this kind of radical religious intolerance.

(h/t Canadian Cynic)
 

Quote du Jour: Benchmarks

Via the The Star:

As for Harper's [Afghanistan] benchmarks, they come with their own risks.

French analyst de Durand remembers how U.S. forces famously obsessed on benchmarks during Vietnam.

"They loaded all their benchmark data into a computer in 1968 asking: `When are we going to win?' The answer came back: `You won in 1964.'"

The Global Food Crisis: More Riots on the Horizon

What does that have to do with the price of rice in China, you ask?

As it turns out, everything.

Via The Guardian, Food riots fear after rice price hits a high:

A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world's most important staple foods increase by 50 per cent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis, with countries banning export and threatening serious punishment for hoarders.

With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world's poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Rice is the staple food for more than half the world's population. This is the second year running in which production - which increased in real terms last year - has failed to keep pace with population growth. The harvest has also been hit by drought, particularly in China and Australia, forcing producers to hoard their crops to satisfy local markets.

The increase in rice prices - which some believe could increase by a further 40 per cent in coming months - has matched sharp inflation in other key food products. But with rice relied on by some eight billion people [since the world population now sits at 6.6 billion, as pointed out in the comments, that figure is obviously a mistake. -catnip], the impact of a prolonged rice crisis for the world's poor - a large part of whose available income is spent on food - threatens to be devastating.

Just this past week, there were food riots in Haiti in which 4 people ended up dead.

And yet here we are, in the western world, wasting billions and billions of dollars on warfare to boost corporate profits with the goal of empire-building for its own sake.

Meanwhile the World Food Program has issued yet another urgent appeal for more funds

The World Food Program called on donor nations for urgent help in closing a funding gap of more than $500 million by May 1. If money doesn't arrive by then, Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in a letter to donors, the WFP may be forced to cut food rations "for those who rely on the world to stand by them during times of abject need."

The poorest face hunger as people around the world are being "priced out of the food market," Sheeran told reporters Monday in a conference call.

Citing food prices that had ballooned 55% since June, the WFP disclosed a $500-million shortfall Feb. 25, and the gap has continued to grow ever since, Sheeran said.
[...]
The Rome-based WFP feeds at least 73 million people in nearly 80 nations with an annual operating budget of $2.9 billion.

"We've never quite had a situation where aggressive rises in food prices keep pricing operations out of our reach," Sheeran said.

The reasons for the crisis:

Food commodities are becoming more expensive because of rising demand in developing countries, natural disasters and climate change, and the shift of millions of tons of grains to the production of biofuels.

At the same time, Oxfam has raised the alarm over the lack of promised aid follow through from rich nations.

The OECD said aid totalled $103.7bn (£51.8bn) in 2007, a fall of 8.4% in real terms. At the 2005 Gleneagles summit, G8 leaders, led by Tony Blair, committed to a doubling of their aid and to provide an additional $50bn a year by 2010. Three years on, this target looks likely to be missed by as much as $30bn a year, said Oxfam, enough to save 5 million lives. "These figures leave us in no doubt that the world's richest countries are failing to meet their promises to the poorest countries, especially in Africa," said Max Lawson, policy adviser at Oxfam. "The human cost is huge."

The EU's spending target on aid of 0.7% of national income by 2015 also looks badly off track, with aid from the world's richest countries falling from 0.31% in 2006 to 0.28% in 2007.

The OECD report shows only seven countries met or surpassed the 0.7% target, with Norway (0.95%) and Sweden (0.93%) topping the chart.

Though the United States made the largest donation ($21.75bn), it contributed lowest percentage of national income, coming bottom of the charts at 0.16%. The US spends the equivalent of $73 per American each year on aid, but $1,763 a person on defence.

So, once again, we're in the midst of this so-called global war on terror engaged in hyper-military spending with no end in sight while completely ignoring some of its root causes. As Bob Marley reminded us, "a hungry man is an angry man".

These increasing prices and related conditions cannot be sustained without a major impact to all humanity. It's long past time that rich countries change their priorities with a view to ensuring food security and life itself to those who need their help. Words are not enough and half-hearted actions have only created a much larger crisis that we all need to pay attention to right now. Spread the word. Take some action. Demand accountability. Make your voice heard.

Related:

Paul Krugman: Grains Gone Wild

Is India facing a food crisis?

Food prices rising around the world (noting violence in Egypt, Burkino Faso, Italy and Cameroon)

The Guardian offers this roundup:

There have been protests in Guinea, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Haiti, Bolivia and Indonesia. In the last two months Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, the Philippines and Thailand have stopped crop exports or raised prices to more than $1,200 a tonne to discourage exports.

A horribly bleak situation...
 

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Food for Thought: Softening Torture

Dan Eggen, writing for the Washington Post on Sunday, uses the term "permissable assaults" in his headline to his story about the newly-released John Yoo torture memo.

Thirty pages into a memorandum discussing the legal boundaries of military interrogations in 2003, senior Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo tackled a question not often asked by American policymakers: Could the president, if he desired, have a prisoner's eyes poked out?

Or, for that matter, could he have "scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance" thrown on a prisoner? How about slitting an ear, nose or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb? What about biting?

These assaults are all mentioned in a U.S. law prohibiting maiming, which Yoo parsed as he clarified the legal outer limits of what could be done to terrorism suspects as detained by U.S. authorities. The specific prohibitions, he said, depended on the circumstances or which "body part the statute specifies."

But none of that matters in a time of war, Yoo also said, because federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief.

Eggen notes this "dry discussion", as he phrases it but also adds, "No maiming is known to have occurred in U.S. interrogations".

Tell that to Maher Arar, Omar Khadr and several other prisoners of the Bush administration who have lived to tell of their torture. And it is torture. The use of the word "maiming", along with the word "assault" only serves to soften the offences that Yoo attempted to minimize on behalf of the bloodthirsty, fearful, and paranoid administration. Parsing words in the legal sense is only presented by Yoo in order to circumvent the relevant Geneva Conventions which prohibit such abhorrent treatment of prisoners while the passage of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, supported by some so-called Democrats in the house and senate, granted CIA interrogators immunity from prosecution for torture - a blank slate to continue at will no matter who succeeds Bush.

There was a huge public outcry following the airing of the Abu Ghraib torture photos but it seems the American public has simply given up on the idea of prosecuting the Bush administration for its war crimes. The fact that the release of the latest Yoo memo was just another 30-second story in the MSM last week shows the world that there is no longer any mainstream interest in what is the worst kind of inhumanity (along with the placing of the killings of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during the illegal occupation on the back burner while too many Americans are much too eager to believe that the so-called surge is actually working.)

Horror has become commonplace.

The Bush administration years are a textbook case on how totalitarianism is allowed to take root in a nation. Very simply, a compliant public surrenders.

Bush's biggest war hasn't been the so-called war against terror. It has been, instead, the war against domestic rebellion in the Unites States in the face of his dictatorial power grabs. And he has succeeded.

Through his application of the unitary executive theory, the rights-suppressing Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, invasion of privacy, relentless fear mongering and his willingness to detain people without due process while justifying the circumvention of the most basic human and civil rights with the help of lawyers like John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, the message George W Bush has sent is clear: he is the law.

Meanwhile, the American citizenry has decided to just wait him out - hoping that a new administration will not retain or add to the powers Bush has declared to be within the scope of the presidency. A dangerous gamble, no doubt, no matter who wins the White House. The balance among the three branches of the US government has shifted to the point that there is no longer, for all practical purposes, any way to ensure accountability. Who can the people trust when the Democrats refused to even attempt to impeach anyone in the face of such obvious crimes? No one.

So that's where America stands today - waiting to move on from these horrors while having no concrete assurances that that will even take place. And it's the waiting and the silence that are the problems. As Benjamin Franklin declared and as we are so often reminded: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."

And those who refuse to stand up to their government when it tortures get exactly the government they deserve. Waiting solves nothing and turning a blind eye is cowardice.
 

Friday, April 04, 2008

40 Years

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Quote du Jour: Gates Slams the NATO Allies - Again

You'd think Robert Gates would have learned a bit about humility when he had to backpeddle from insulting comments he made about NATO allies not knowing how to run counterinsurgency operations.

Apparently, he didn't learn a thing. Or perhaps, more correctly stated, he continues to believe that only the Great American Empire understands military realities.

How else can you explain this?

He [Gates] said when NATO took on the task of helping stabilize all of Afghanistan few or none of the allies "understood what we were getting into as an alliance, that the nature of the mission would change from what they anticipated it was likely to be, being much harder and taking much longer."

The only rational conclusion I can come to, looking at this criticism of his NATO allies, is to posit that Secretary Gates is involved (whether he knows it or not) in projecting the US administration's major mistakes in Afghanistan onto those countries who continued to take on the burden long after Bush basically abandoned the mission.

It was a US government decision to bail on Afghanistan, leaving any hope of mounting an effective counterinsurgency in the dust by choosing to focus militarily on Iraq. It was the US government that decided that taking care of Afghanistan after the initial shock and awe that it manifested there would be a much smaller task. It was the US government that chose to be ignorant in the face of Afghanistan's history with invaders. It was the US government that chose the same war plan (or severe lack thereof) and the same tactics in Afghanistan that it went on to use in Iraq. It's the US government that has failed on both fronts.

And yet Gates has the audacity to insult America's allies once again while only committing to helping Canadian troops in Kandahar after strong-arming France into sending troops to eastern Afghanistan to replace American soldiers posted there? A move was only made, btw, to ensure that Canada's minority Conservative government would follow through on its commitment to extend the mission to 2011 as expressed in a recent motion which was supported by the spineless Liberal party. If those American troops hadn't been pledged to Kandahar, Canada's mission would have ended in February, 2009.

The US only has 17,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. It has 160,000 in Iraq.

Canada lost its 82nd soldier in Afghanistan today.

We don't need to be told by Gates or anyone else about how long or hard this fight has been or that our government was clueless when it signed up for this war in the first place (a decision I was and remain opposed to).

Is it any wonder that US allies are extremely reluctant to send more troops into this failed war zone considering the hubris displayed by people like Gates who would rather lecture and cast blame on every other country than his own?

On top of all of that, we have Bush acting as if he's still going to be the president in 2009:

MUSCAT (Reuters) - President George W. Bush pledged at a NATO summit to provide a "significant" number of extra U.S. troops to the alliance mission in Afghanistan in 2009, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.
[...]
"The president indicated that he expected in 2009 that the United States would make a significant additional contribution," Gates said.

I guess he can make those kinds of predictions considering that he will never be held responsible for anything and we know that even if a Democrat wins the presidency (if Bush in fact decides to actually vacate the WH) that both Clinton and Obama have both promised to sink ever more money into the military-industrial complex - feeding the corporate beast almost on par with the Republicans should John McSurge win. But to pledge a "significant" number of troops? What does Bush know that the public doesn't? And what does "significant" mean?

The US military is so completely stretched to the limits thanks to the decisions of the Bush/Cheney/neocon administration and Rumsfeld's Pentagon (with Gates continuing down Rumsfeld's road) that experts have testified that it will take years to restore its capabilities. So, don't count on anything of significance happening on the Afghanistan front any time soon. The only thing we know is that the fighting will go on for a long time to come and soldiers from other NATO countries will continue to die while Gates, apparently, will continue to insult them.

Friday Fun: Ask a Mexican

 


(h/t Madman in the Marketplace)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Axis of Intolerance: Brad Wall, Tom Luwkiski & Kate McMillan

The Saskatchewan NDP is in possession of an allegedly damning 1991 tape containing "sexist, racist and homophobic comments" made by Saskatchewan's premier Brad Wall and Tory MP Tom Luwkiski.

I've contacted the Saskatchewan NDP office to get a transcript and/or copy of the video and will post the response when I get it.

Speaking of Brad Wall and conservatives behaving badly:

Blog loses Wall backing over comments

REGINA -- Premier Brad Wall distanced the Saskatchewan Party from a popular right-wing blog Tuesday over controversial comments posted about inner city Saskatoon.

Wall told reporters that the Saskatchewan Party would remove from its own website an endorsement of Wall from Saskatchewan-based Kate McMillan of smalldeadanimals.com.

Saskatchewan Party MLAs have referenced the website approvingly in the legislature in the past but Wall said that would likely not occur in the future.

Following the government's cancellation of $8 million in funding for the Station 20 West project in Saskatoon's core, McMillan posted on her blog suggesting "economic stimuli" for the area to get a private sector grocery store.

These included "put the cap back on the used needle . . . failing that, share it with your friends. It's a quicker solution to your problem anyway."

She also suggested "cross your legs" and "put down the spray can." McMillan later posted "try not vandalizing every business still standing in your neighbourhood, try not selling your ass up and down the street in front of the doors. Try parenting your sticky-fingered brats."

Wall said the comments were "beyond the pale."

I don't think I need to point out how ironic it is that a bigoted premier would find the roadkill blog's comments as being "beyond the pale" while wondering aloud why, considering that site's endless record of intolerant hate speech, this just popped up on his radar screen now. Frankly, Wall and gutter-dwelling Kate deserve each other.

Update::

Luwkiski has apologized. Here are some of the remarks he made that were caught on tape:

‘Let me put it to you this way. There's A's and B's. The A's are guys like me. The B's are homosexual faggots with dirt in their fingernails that transmit diseases.'

More:

[NDP deputy leader] Ms. Atkinson said the pair is heard on tape ridiculing Roy Romanow, who defeated the provincial Tories in the 1991 election. “They're done in the context of Mr. Romanow and his descent, his ethnic background,” Ms. Atkinson said.

“I would say that he is using an immigrant accent of some kind and he is referring in the end to Mr. Romanow ... There are those of us who grew up at a time when, in the province of Saskatchewan, negative things were said about people of Eastern European background and they were hurtful things,” she added.

Ms. Atkinson also said there were inappropriate remarks about the gender of the provincial Liberal leader at the time, Lynda Haverstock.

Wall's office hasn't issued a response yet.

While the Globe & Mail has closed its comments on this story, the CBC hasn't and you can see just exactly how ignorant people will try to defend what these politicians said. Sorry - there is no excuse for that kind of bigotry, folks. None.

Update:

Luwkiski held a quick press conference in which he said: "I have no prejudice against gay people whatsoever". But he wouldn't explain why he made the comments in the first place, seeking instead to distance himself.

CBC TV is now showing portions of the tape. I suspect the video will be online somewhere soon. Stay tuned.

Update:

Wall's reaction:

The video also shows Wall, then a young PC staffer, engaged in a mock interview with Kathy Young, now the Saskatchewan Party's executive director of communications.

Apparently speaking as a voter from Preeceville, a rural community which has a large Ukrainian population, he talks about liking then-Premier Grant Devine.

"Roy Romanow got his head up his ass. I don't even know how he walks upright with his head so far up his ass," he said in a gravelly, accented voice.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Wall said he would personally apologize to Romanow, who became premier after the NDP's landslide victory over Devine's Tories in that 1991 election, for his "bad language" and "disrespectful tone."

He said he didn't remember the evening but said he was doing an impression of a friend's accented uncle.

"It's not a bad impersonation of a people, it's a bad impersonation of one individual," he said.

However, he said he unequivocally apologizes if anyone was offended.

Typical response - just a lame explanation with the 'if anyone was offended' caveat. That's not going to cut it, Wall.

Let me add, as someone who went to school in Saskatchewan in the central/NE area heavily inhabited by Ukrainian people, (my daughter is, in fact, half Ukrainian - I'm French), that this type of bigoted ridicule will certainly not go over well. Saskatchewan's Ukrainian community has had to put up with decades of that type of intolerance - it certainly isn't a rare occurrence - so I suspect Wall may suffer enough of a backlash, as a result of these revelations, to force a more humble mea culpa than what he issued today.

Update:

The tape also shows the Sask. Party's Young joking about sending a letter bomb to union leader Barb Byers. The government has been embroiled in a fight with organized labour since taking office over a major overhaul of the province's labour laws.

Wall said Young's comments were not reflective of Young's and the government's views.

Update:

****CTV has posted the Luwkiski portion of the videotape****. (Right side of the page.)

Update:

You can see Luwkiski's comments at the end of this clip:



Update:

Giant Political Mouse has the full video and snippets from the transcript.

Related:

Follow the reactions of Saskatchewan bloggers at the Sask Blogs aggregator.

Regina Leader-Post

Refresh this page for updates.