Saturday, June 30, 2007

Kids on Canada's No-fly List

And so it begins. CBC reports that two boys with the same name - ages 10 and 15 - ran into problems because someone with their name appears on a no-fly list.

Both boys were eventually allowed to board, once they were cleared by security after long delays, but their families fear they will face the same problem every time they try to fly.

"Canada is telling him he's guilty until proven innocent every time he flies," the Ontario boy's mother, Heather Butt, told CBC News.

Heather said an airline official at the airport could not say what no-fly list her son's name is on, and how to get it off.

"We said, 'What do we do?' and then, much to our amazement, she said we could possibly change our child's name," Heather said.

So, if your name is "Alistair Butt" too, be prepared for the same treatment (or just change your name as well. Don't choose "T. Kennedy" though. That one's on the US no-fly list, as senator Ted Kennedy found out in 2004. Maybe "George Bush" would work - although he should be on Canada's no-fly list.)

Just one thing - aren't the ages or birth dates of these people on no-fly lists accessible to airport security people? It's not like some 40 year old guy could pass himself off as a 10 year old. I'm just sayin'... Whoops. Sorry. Silly me for trying to inject some common sense into this issue.

A Vehicle Crashes Into Glasgow's Airport

Okay. So we in North America woke up to the news on Friday of "amateurish" car bombs being found in two cars in London. Today, an SUV crashed into Glasgow's airport setting it, and the building, ablaze. And, of course, despite confirming there is no credible threat to any US airports, security has been increased at their airports too.

CNN loves this kind of stuff and has been showing the same short clip of the burning vehicle all morning - speculating that this is about "blowback" because of the Iraq war or possibly even because Salman Rushdie was recently knighted or that these events have happened because the 7/7 anniversary is coming up or that it's a message to Gordon Brown or...etc...(CNN can always be counted on to whip up a frenzy when these things happen. Mind you, they've never spent hours analyzing bomb incidents at abortion clinics. It's not like that's "terrorism" or anything, right?).

They also keep identifying the vehicle involved as a "Land Rover".

The BBC's story doesn't seem to match that:

Eyewitnesses have described a Jeep Cherokee being driven at speed towards the building with flames coming out from underneath.

They have also described seeing two Asian men, one of whom was on fire, who had been in the car.

Strathclyde Police said two people had been arrested and detained in connection with the incident.
A Whitehall spokesman said the incident was not being treated as a national security threat however the prime minister is being kept informed of developments and is expected to chair a meeting of COBRA - the emergency committee later.

You wouldn't know any of that if you were watching CNN.

Eye-witness Richard Grey told BBC News 24: "A green Jeep was in the middle of the doorway burning.

"There was an Asian guy who was pulled out of the car by two police officers, who he was trying to fight off. They've got him on the ground.

"The car didn't actually explode. There were a few pops and bangs which presumably was the petrol."

So, was this a "terrorist attack"? We don't know yet. It appears the mens' actions were possibly deliberate but we have no idea why this incident happened. At least one "expert" on CNN had a cooler head and reminded the anchor that if this had been a "suicide attack", whoever planned it would have had to be a fool to put two guys in one car instead of using two vehicles for maximum impact.

I'll scout around for more info. No doubt the online right-wing pants-wetters (like these guys) have been been eating up this news - as they always do - to justify scaring the crap out of anyone they possibly can while pounding their chests about what mighty (keyboard) warriors they are in the GWOT. They rarely let facts get in the way of their love for building up hysteria. What fun would that be?

Update: From the "I'm sorry - what?" file - security expert Peter Bergen, appearing on CNN, said today, "Whoever's involved in this, they probably went to Pakistan for training." Really? They'd have to go all the way to Pakistan to learn how to put gas cans in their cars to use as possible bombs? Seems to me that anyone who's every driven with a gas can in their car knows the darn thing can explode if it's near a flame. I didn't have to go to Pakistan to learn that. Did you?

Friday Nite Video: Janis Ian - At Seventeen

Circa 1976 (when I was 17):

This one came to mind when I heard that Jann Arden covers it on her new cd. Glad she's revived it.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Gitmo: The Dems Write a Letter

Lobbing yet another softball from their bottomless satchel of cushy weapons, the Democrats sent a letter to Bush on Friday asking him to close Gitmo - because we all know that when Bush gets a letter, he cringes in his faux cowboy boots.


I'm sure he'll be extremely bothered by that bit of prose as he BBQs ribs on July the 4th while wishing the noise of the fireworks would end so he could hear himself think his ever-so-deep thoughts about humanity. Because that's just the kind of "compassionate conservative" guy he is - except when he's busy being this heartless bastard.

Anyway, someone else has written a letter about Gitmo too - a child whose father is a detainee there who her family fears is close to dying and who, unlike the Democrats, has absolutely no power or visibility to actually do something serious about closing that gulag so she can hug her father again. All she could do was to write a letter, but: "The children decided not to post it in case it prejudiced their father's case". was Shaker's idea to leave their London home in the summer of 2001 because he felt frustrated at not having a proper home to bring up his family.

"The council couldn't find us a flat or house in London so we decided to leave. Shaker was always helping people in England and he wanted to help the children of Afghanistan, but wasn't sure whether he should be teaching or help build a hospital."

For a few weeks, the family shared a house with Moazzam Begg, a Briton who was freed from Guantanamo in 2005, who had also gone to Kabul to help children in Afghanistan. But when the American invasion started, the country became a very dangerous place to be.

"The bombs were falling every night and we had to leave the city to stay in a village. The children were terrified and kept telling us to be quiet in case our noise made the bombs come.

"Shaker was frightened too and I can remember his face now, it was almost as pale as the colour of the cream suit he was wearing. Shaker left the village to find a safer place for us. But in the middle of the night the villagers told us we had to go with a group travelling to the safety of Pakistan."

Zin recalled: "I was pregnant with our fourth child and we were all scared. In the end, I just went. I didn't see Shaker again. Sometimes I regret that decision. What if I stayed - would we all be together now?" Shaker was captured in December 2001 by the Americans, who claim he was fighting with the Taliban. Reprieve, the human rights group with is representing him, maintains that he was sold by villagers to the Northern Alliance who in turn sold him on to the Americans.

From there he was taken to Bagram airbase and later flown on to Guantanamo Bay. He has never seen his youngest son.

Nancy Pelosi, who likes sports analogies too, assured Americans on Friday that when it comes to dealing with the Iraq war: "We have many arrows in our quiver, and we are sharpening them". The only quivers I see from the Dems are the shakes they get when they think about strongly opposing Bush on anything.

Why are they sharpening arrows while pitching out softballs? And just how long does it take to sharpen arrows anyway?

Quote du Jour: Mike Duffy

"The Liberals have been in power for the last 140 years."

- Duff on Friday's Mike Duffy Live

Which begs the question: What the hell have you been smoking?

Supreme Court to Hear Gitmo Detainees' Cases

I don't think this is good news considering the obvious right turn the US Supreme Court has taken with Roberts in charge. As Justice Breyer said this week about the school desegregation decision:

"The majority is wrong," Breyer said.

And about the court in general:

"It's not often in law that so few have changed so much so quickly."

I find that to be quite a remarkable statement coming from a supreme court judge.

So, the fact that the court has suddenly decided to take up the case of the Gitmo detainees' rights doesn't bode well for them, as far as I'm concerned:

High Court to Hear Terror Detainee Case

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2007; 11:42 AM

The Supreme Court said today that it would review the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees to challenge their confinements in federal court, reversing a decision in April not to take up that issue.

The justices did not say what had changed their minds. The Bush administration had praised the court's earlier decision not to review the matter.

In my mind, that means the court will most likely rule against the detainees.

At the time, only three of four justices necessary to grant review--David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer--were willing to take the two cases involved, saying "these questions deserve this court's immediate attention.'' Two other justices, John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy, issued a statement saying they might want to hear the issue in the future.

Mainly the "liberals". So why do the conservatives now want to hear the case?

Today's order, by tradition, does not indicate which justices decided to hear the cases, but the decision to reopen the matter is unusual.

I'm not as excited as this guy, obviously:

"This is a stunning victory for the detainees," Eric M. Freedman, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra Law School who has been advising some of the captives, told the Associated Press. "It goes well beyond what we asked for, and clearly indicates the unease up there" at the Supreme Court.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friday: Canada's National Aboriginal Day of Action

And the protests have already begun:

Armed Mohawk protesters barricaded a highway in eastern Ontario Thursday night, vowing to set up even more blockades as a national aboriginal day of action begins at midnight.

About 40 protesters parked a schoolbus on Highway 2, near Deseronto, just before 9 p.m. ET, forcing traffic to stop and turn around at the location, which is about 50 kilometres west of Kingston.

Protest leader Shawn Brant said the blockade is just a "soft target," done in anticipation of major blockades that will be set up somewhere along the high-traffic Highway 401, between Montreal and Toronto.

Protesters also intend to hit the CN Rail line between the two cities, Brant said, not giving exact locations for the blockades, but saying protesters are armed and ready to keep their blockades up until midnight Friday.

"We've made no secret that we have guns within this camp," he told the Canadian Press.
In anticipation of blockades, Via Rail cancelled all Friday train services between Toronto and Montreal and between Toronto and Ottawa.

One day of inconvenienced rail travelers is nothing compared to what our first nations people have suffered for far too long now.

And if all levels of government have any sense at all, they'll let the protesters make their voices heard peacefully while doing everything they can to avoid another Ipperwash style tragedy.

The Assembly of First Nations chief, Phil Fontaine, has also issued a statement on "potential illegal protests" on Friday.

We respectfully urge Canadians not to criminalize First Nations people with respect to the actions they plan to take on June 29th and beyond. Our people do have a right to protest, as do all Canadians. The Assembly of First Nations has never resorted to illegal activities, or anything beyond the rule of law, to advance the causes of FN people.

We understand the frustration that exists among too many of our people. Our objective in organizing the National Day of Action is to provide a positive channel for that energy. We invite all Canadians to stand with us in support of a better life for First Nations and a stronger country for all Canadians.

In recent weeks, the AFN has met with various police forces, as well as CN and CP Rail, because of our mutual interest in ensuring public safety and security during the various events that will make up the National Day of Action.

Visit this AFN page for more information about the protests and the national events schedule.

The treatment of aboriginal people in Canada is our nation's shame. It's a humanitarian disaster. And when the current conservative minority government decided to scrap the Kelowna Accord, it derailed years of work meant to finally begin to address those issues in a substantial way. Piecemeal policies have never been enough and they certainly are not enough now. Our aboriginal people deserve justice and their third-world living conditions must be dealt with immediately. Please support their day of action in any way you can.

The White House Flip Flops on Cheney's Role

Well that was quick.

All hat, no cattle:

WASHINGTON, June 27 — The White House has dropped the argument that Vice President Dick Cheney’s dual role as president of the Senate meant that he could deny access to national archivists who oversee the handling of classified data in the executive branch.

Mr. Cheney’s office had said that his dual role meant that he was technically not part of the executive branch.

In interviews over the last two days, officials have said that while the vice president does, in fact, have the right of refusal, it is for the very opposite reason: He is not required to cooperate with National Archives officials seeking the data because he is a member of the executive branch, with power vested in him by the president.

Cheney was against his power before he was for it.

They think they're pretty darn sly over there at the WH:

In an interview, a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said the executive order explicitly placed Mr. Cheney on equal footing with the president, who was the issuer and enforcer of the order, regardless of any other constitutional questions.

Speaking of the oversight office’s approaches to the vice president’s office, Mr. Fratto said, “It’s not appropriate for a subordinate office like that to investigate or require reporting from the enforcer of the executive order.”

A White House official placed further distance from the dual role argument by adding that Mr. Cheney did not necessarily agree with it.

Riiight. And there really is a tooth fairy.

And meanwhile, speaking of executive privilege:

WASHINGTON - President Bush, moving toward a constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers' demands for documents that could shed light on the firings of federal prosecutors.

Bush's attorney told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents for former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. Congressional panels want the documents for their investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' stewardship of the Justice Department.

After all, they tried so hard to be cooperative - in their own minds, anyway:

"With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation," White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. "We had hoped this matter could conclude with your committees receiving information in lieu of having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are at this conclusion."

"Unfortunate". That seesm to be this week's buzzword.

So, what's next?

Thursday was the deadline for surrendering the documents. The White House also made clear that Miers and Taylor would not testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas, which were issued June 13. The stalemate could end up with House and Senate contempt citations and a battle in federal court over separation of powers.

I'll tell you what: change that "could" to "should" and just get on with it already.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So the White House Got Subpoenas...

And I found that news to be exciting - for about a minute and a half. Yes, Patrick Leahy - one of the two Dems who's actually getting anything done this term - scored another point for taking this step, while the WH spokespuppet Tony Fratto wagged his finger:

"We're aware of the committee's action, and will respond appropriately," spokesman Tony Fratto said. "It's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation."

You see, "unfortunate" is about the maximum level of upset one can use to describe exactly how much Bush and Cheney care about this. They have lawyers who'll fight against this with guns blazing. (As long as Cheney stays away from the guns, no one will be shot in the face.) And besides that, they're above the law - as they've repeatedly reminded the congress, the American people and the rest of the world.

So, really, what is there to be excited about? That Leahy showed that at least one Dem had a spine this week? Well, yippee. Or maybe that he somehow got Orrin Hatch to vote for the subpoenas? (That's the bigger part of the story, afaic. Hatch is a cranky partisan bastard who would cut off his left pinky if party loyalty demanded it of him - so inquiring minds want to know if he was secretly drugged into voting for them or not...developing...)

Let's face it. Pelosi took impeachment off the table in May 2006. The Dems knew about the warrantless wiretapping program illegal spying then. So what are they going to do if the WH doesn't comply? Issue a search warrant? Storm the offices? Arrest the boy king and Darth Cheney? Now that would be exciting for more than a minute and a half. Too bad it's not going to happen.

It's just another day in BushcoLand™.

'Canada can no longer afford homelessness'

That's the correct conclusion that Gordon Laird of Calgary's Sheldon Chumir Foundation reached in his piece about how much homelessness costs our country.

The coldest, deadliest nights of the year are now behind us. But the cost of homelessness isn't. According to a new report from the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, Shelter: Homelessness in a Growth Economy, homelessness is costing Canadian taxpayers $4.5 billion to $6 billion a year.

Canada in 2007 collectively spends more managing homelessness than it spends on international development ($4.1 billion) or on annual debt reduction ($3 billion). In fact, the cost of homelessness in Canada is comparable to the cost of the $4.35 billion 2006 GST tax cut and the entire 2007 environment plan on climate change, fresh water and wildlife conservation.

Since the early 1990s, Canada's main response to homelessness has been to build new emergency shelter beds and fund front-line services to help contain and warehouse a growing pool of homeless Canadians.

It hasn't worked. Welfare services, municipal services, provincial health-care systems and the non-profit sector have been left to take up the slack for the estimated 300,000 homeless people as well as the upwards of 2.7 million low-income Canadians who now face housing affordability problems.

This nation's decade of relative inaction on homelessness, from 1993 to 2004, cost Canadian taxpayers an estimated $49.5 billion, across all services and jurisdictions.

All levels of government have shown a lack of leadership. Most provincial governments, for example, inadequately fund welfare, making it difficult, if not impossible, for recipients to find a place to live in our soaring real estate markets. Some of these same people then wind up in homeless shelters funded by all three levels of government. Taxpayers are paying at least twice and still we have homelessness.

While Canada's economy is booming, poverty is actually increasing. It was assumed that the economic boom would benefit all Canadians, but the evidence shows that the income gap is actually growing and affordable housing is harder to find. CIBC World Markets predicts that the average Canadian housing price will double by 2026.

Poverty is now the leading cause of homelessness in Canada, trumping substance abuse and mental illness. Canada's "new homeless" – families, women, students, immigrants, aboriginals – are simply low-income Canadians who need affordable housing.

Many governments, both here and abroad, are championing the notion of "Housing First," that is, immediately addressing housing needs through rent supplements. It has finally been recognized that homeless shelters are effective only as a short-term measure.

When I started working with the homeless in Calgary back in the early 90s after the last oil boom and bust, I suddenly realized how well hidden they'd been - stashed away in shelters, treatment centers, jails, short-term programs, hospitals, church basements, motels, or in parks or other areas where I had not ventured often, sleeping on someone's couch for a nite or a week, staying with family temporarily - very much invisible. And the stereotypical homeless person - the bottle picker or alcoholic - was definitely in the minority but was and is the most visible.

The number of homeless people who were working homeless back then hovered around 45% - a stat unfamiliar to most Calgarians at that time, I suspect. I haven't looked at the latest numbers here but considering the availability of low-wage jobs available here which, unfortunately, are the type of jobs that suit many homeless peoples' skill sets or stage in life, I'd guess that number has risen. The disconnect comes between the cost of living and those low wages.

Then there are the sick. I had a homeless client who went in for kidney dialysis regularly, another one with severe gout, several diabetics and epileptics, one with "wet brain" (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) and then there were the mentally ill, of course. People who were or should have been receiving government disability benefits. But those payments are not enough anyway, leaving too many housed sick people (and I know this firsthand) at an almost constant risk for homelessness because landlords typically ask for the first month's rent and a security deposit. (Here's an idea of how much that can cost at this time.)

It should come as no surprise that the poor are hardest hit during boom times: the cost of everything skyrockets because of "supply and demand". And, as we saw with the failure of Reagan's Trickle Down economics theory, the fact that more people are making more money definitely does not end up helping the disadvantaged.

Laird is right, the more homeless there are, the more services they need and that does cost more money - obviously. There are the problems that led to people becoming homeless along with the new problems caused by ending up homeless - a huge load for some people to deal with before they can reclaim any sort of "normal" life again. Those services, in this province, have mainly been surrendered to the private sector while the PC government stubbornly refused to raise welfare rates during the 1990s or to provide any extra services at all. (At that time, the allotment for a single, employable person was ~$400/month - unconscionable).

Along with increased homelessness over the years, the NIMBY (Not in MY Backyard) attitude grew here - even in the dead of the coldest winters when the City of Calgary needed to make more emergency shelter beds available to avoid having homeless people dying from exposure. I recall an interview with one fearless campaigner who absolutely refused to consider allowing a local empty building in her neighbourhood to be used because she feared for her safety. Last winter, when another community was petitioning the city not to open such a shelter in their area, she actually spoke in support of emergency shelters after realizing that her worst fears were never realized - she had continued to be safe in her neighbourhood, despite the fact that the shelter had opened contrary to her wishes. The lesson: not all homeless people are dangerous. And I think if the public actually took some time to educate themselves about who is homeless - including the families on the street - they might develop more compassion. But we're not there yet.

We saw the blowback in Alberta recently when the Stelmach government staunchly refused to impose rent controls. Let the market decide, was the mantra. The problem with that attitude in these times in this province is that soaring housing costs are no longer only affecting the poor and homeless: they're hitting the middle class as well. And, when that happens, the voices speaking against the market-based economy (which really means "whatever homeowners/landlords can get away with charging") become much louder - especially when other costs are rising as well, like gas prices. Suddenly, more people are "disadvantaged" and the gap between the homeless and the middle class narrows - especially when some realize they may be one paycheck away from actually being homeless too. Stelmach's response was to only allow landlords to raise rents once per year. Not enough Ed. Sorry.

Tory governments are in love with "task forces" here - talk til you drop and wait to find out that they're not going to do much of anything anyway. It's their addiction so they claim they're "listening" to Albertans. They may be listening but they don't exactly hear anything other than the sound of their own voices most of the time. In fact, they can be so out of touch that former premier Ralph Klein even admitted that his government had no plan for how to deal with the latest oil boom. They are always trying to play catch up and it is always years too late.

Alberta's year end surplus was $8.5 billion, "more than double the original estimate." Mind you, they've continually low-balled the surplus estimates so they can come out in front of the cameras like proud peacocks to proclaim "look how wonderful we are!" while using their so-called surprise as a justification to not properly fund services in the meantime. And, every year, it's "let's stash this away for a rainy day". Well, it's been pouring and they haven't even noticed - or they just don't care. Just how much have Albertans benefited from these windfalls? Ask around. Not much.

And so they'll continue to place small bandages on major issues like homelessness hoping nobody will notice that they have no willingness to seriously tackle the problems. Ostriches with tiny first-aid kits. That's what they are.

The only booming that's not happening here is the voice of Albertans coming through loud and clear in parliament on behalf of people who are suffering as the tory MLAs prefer to cover their ears and sing "la la la...I can't hear you" just like the spoiled children they are.

So no, you won't see homelessness wiped out in this province any time soon. However, if more people knew about how much it really costs to keep so many people homeless, maybe they'd actually give a damn. For that to happen, they'd actually have to start really caring about how this government spends its money instead of continuing to act like doormats. And, if they did that, fewer of those Tory MLAs would be headed back to Edmonton after the next election.

Shelter: Homelessness in a Growth Economy report (.pdf file) from the Sheldon Chumir Foundation

CBC Calgary Forum: Blueprint Alberta: Rent

Average cost of a one-bedroom apartment:
In 2003: $661
In October, 2006: $780

Rental vacancy rate in Calgary:
In 2003: 4.4 per cent
In October 2006: 0.5 per cent

NPR's special about Housing First.

h/t to The Progressive Economic Forum for highlighting The Star's article.

Quote du Jour: IDF Forces Kill a 12 Year Old Palestinian Boy

Via Reuters:

A 12-year-old lay in the street, his arms twisted at odd angles, near a house in a Gaza City neighborhood where residents and medical workers said a shell fired by an Israeli tank exploded.

He was pronounced dead in a hospital along with two men, their bodies shredded by shrapnel. Residents said the men were civilians.

A military spokesman in Tel Aviv said a tank shell fired in Gaza City's Shejaia neighborhood was aimed at a gunman, and he had no information about a house being hit. [Oh, they just never do, do they? -catnip] Residents said tanks in the area later withdrew towards the Israeli frontier.

Two Israeli soldiers were wounded by an anti-tank missile during operations that Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, described as "preventive measures" [pre-emptive strike, anyone? -catnip] to foil rocket attacks from Gaza.

And Abbas, who is now being funded by not only the US and Egypt, but by the Israeli government as well, released this canned statement:

Commenting on the raid, Abbas told reporters: "We strongly condemn these criminal acts, either in Gaza or the West Bank. We are against violence in all its forms and also we are against launching rockets (at Israel)."

And what about the fact that the IDF just killed 12 of your people, Abbas, including a 12 year old boy? Or is that just too sensitive for you to comment about now?

Why do Canadians prefer Hillary Clinton?

That was (basically) the query Reilly over at Best Guess blog sent to me after he'd seen this poll:

Hillary is Canada's Choice for US President

TORONTO, June 25 /CNW/ - If Canadians could choose the next US President, it would be Hillary Clinton by a landslide, according to a new poll released today.

Almost four in ten Canadians want Senator Clinton as the next US president. A new poll conducted by The Strategic Counsel on behalf of The Globe and Mail and CTV News shows Hillary Clinton is the strong favorite among Canadians who give the New York senator a three-to-one lead over Rudy Giuliani (12%), the next most popular candidate among respondents. 11% would vote for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton's closest rival for the Democratic nomination.
Canadian support for Hillary Clinton cuts across age,education level,and even political affiliation. "She's as popular among Canadian Conservatives as she is among Canadian Liberals," says Woolstencroft, "and I think that says something about the kind of broad, personal appeal that the Clintons have managed to secure here in Canada."

Hillary Clinton enjoys strongest support among Quebeckers (51%), Francophone Canadians (52%) and, overwhelmingly, Bloc Quebecois voters (67%)

I gave Reilly my best guesses by e-mail about these poll results, but I'd like to know what my fellow canucks have to say about them too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Justifying Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan

It never ceases to amaze me that military spokespeople can spew talking points full of denial and actually believe that others are too dense to see right through them.

How else can you interpret a statement like this - knowing that 90 Afghan civilians were killed last week in botched air strikes and ground combat?

We think the procedures that we have in place are good -- they work," he [U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, NATO's deputy commander in eastern Afghanistan] told reporters at the Pentagon by videolink from Bagram Air Base near Kabul.

No - they don't, obviously.

And he added that "NATO forces had intentionally fired into Pakistan in one recent incident said to have resulted in the killing of civilians."

Now, think of all of the times the US has scolded other countries militaries or insurgent groups for crossing a national border. Think of Israel's response to Hezbollah soldiers crossing over from Lebanon last year and the revenge war that sparked. Yet, the US military has absolutely no qualms about killing Pakistani civilians while insisting that their methods to avoid civilian casualties "work".

Pakistani officials say 10 civilians were killed in the strikes in North Waziristan, opposite Afghanistan's Paktika province. Pakistan publicly urges foreign forces not to carry out operations on its territory or using its airspace.

And note:

Pakistan has said that NATO has apologized for the strike and told Pakistani officials the firing was inadvertent.

Inadvertent? Bullshit.

Addressing an incident last week in the border area with Pakistan, Votel said the local NATO commander had taken action after identifying a sizable group of insurgents that had come across the frontier into Afghanistan.

"The commander on the ground determined that he needed to continue to address that threat until it was eliminated, and that included firing into areas that were in Pakistan," he said.

Every time they open their mouths, they lie.

"Liberal Media", my ass

If the New York Times is supposed to be a part of the "liberal media" conspiracy that so many right-wingers are so bloody scared of, then why would they post this sanitized Pentagon propaganda editorial about just how wonderful things supposedly are at Gitmo?

Maybe next week we'll be reading that there are actually amusement park rides at Gitmo too - aka "Gitmo Disney"™ - which the Pentagon has been keeping under wraps to avoid having a huge flurry of crazed tourists flocking to the heaven-like facility torturing gulag for their winter vacations.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This is Just So Wrong

Via The Guardian:

Tony Blair has landed a major diplomatic job as the international Middle East peace envoy, responsible for preparing the Palestinians for negotiations with Israel. His role, to be announced today, will be largely to work with the Palestinians over security, economy and governance.

Working from an office in Jerusalem, and possibly another in the West Bank, Mr Blair will become the special representative for the Middle East quartet of UN, EU, US and Russia. The announcement comes on the eve of his departure from Downing Street tomorrow and is privately welcomed by Gordon Brown.
The idea of Mr Blair doing this job is understood to have originated with the prime minister himself in conversation with George Bush, who then suggested it to the UN. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is said to be a keen supporter and Washington was reported last night to have mounted "an enormous push" to ensure Mr Blair got the post.

A man who lied his country into war with Iraq is thought to have enough integrity and dignity for such a post?

It was being stressed last night that Mr Blair's role - in the short term at least - would not be to act as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or to become a negotiator for the road map to peace. He might, however, be responsible for trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas. The now defunct Hamas government has not received any international aid since its election in March 2006, although aid has been sent directly to the poorest Palestinians through a temporary international mechanism.

The quartet says aid can only be conditional on the Palestinians accepting the right of Israel to exist and giving a commitment to exclusively peaceful means and to abide by all previous agreements.

Well, that all sounds quite lofty and simple but Charley Reese offers a realistic perspective on what life is like for the Palestinians while politicians pontificate:

Alas, President Bush discovered that he didn't like democracy after all. In his mind, democracy is only good if the election produces the results he wants it to produce. He immediately cut off aid and contact to the Palestinians, boycotted them and began a campaign to get other countries to withhold aid. These actions only harmed innocent Palestinian people. Since Hamas officials, unlike Fatah, were not in the habit of squandering public money on personal luxuries, the only people deprived by Bush's actions were ordinary people.

Now the president is pretending that the Fatah gunmen, whom he has been arming, were just sitting peacefully in the shade recently, trying their hand at knitting or crocheting, when all of the sudden those bad Hamas guys came up and started shooting. Regardless of Bush's lies, the truth is that Hamas fought back in self-defense. Between Fatah's gunmen and Israeli assassins, the Hamas guys must have felt like targets in a shooting gallery.

The Gaza Strip is a hellhole. It's a small patch of land, 41 kilometers long and about 6 to 12 kilometers wide. Its 360 square kilometers are crammed with 1.4 million Palestinians, about 1 million of them refugees from Israel's earlier wars. Unemployment is over 50 percent, and the poverty level is 60 percent. Nearly 18 percent of all children there suffer from malnutrition.

Israel controls its water supply and its air and land routes, and subjects its people to frequent closures, not to mention military attacks. It's true that some members of Hamas have resorted to terrorist acts, but the ratio of Israelis killed by Palestinians is small in comparison with Palestinians killed by Israelis. In the year 2006, according to B'Tselem, a respected Israeli human-rights organization, 660 Palestinians, including 141 children, were killed by Israelis, while only 23 Israelis were killed.

Try to visualize, if you can, 141 children. That's about the population of four average classrooms. Now visualize a heap of dead children. Those shot in the head are probably not recognizable, but you can see the bullet holes in the young, tender bodies of the others. If you can visualize this, then maybe you will get an inkling of the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by the Israelis.

Blair will certainly not be rattling the Israeli government's cage, so how can anyone expect that he will advance anything - let alone peace? And the more western governments divide and punish the Palestinian people by backing Abbas, the worse the situation will become.

There are no easy solutions and Palestine is not Northern Ireland. Blair lacks international credibility to be considered an impartial diplomat in this situation. Once again, he'll get his marching orders from Washington and Israel - from people who deliberately put the road map on hold and who chose to fund Abbas in an attempted military solution (ie. coup) thinking somehow that more violence is the answer. As with Iraq however, they're just creating more resistance in the Palestinian territories. Blowback - the thing they never plan for.

Related: Olmert promises to release 250 Fatah prisoners

Shalit's father: If Hamas wants talks, Israel must make deal

With friends like these...:

It is difficult to think of an American president who has caused more damage to Israeli interests than the president who is considered one of the friendliest to Israel of all time. No leader has done more than Bush - by commission as well as omission - to destroy the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.

How's that war against drugs working out?

Well, let's see:

VIENNA — Afghanistan produced dramatically more opium in 2006, increasing its yield by nearly 50 per cent from a year earlier and pushing global opium production to a record high, a UN report said Tuesday.
Afghanistan's opium production increased from about 4,500 tonnes in 2005 to 6,700 tonnes in 2006, according to the 2007 World Drug Report released by the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Opium is the main ingredient for heroin.

In 2006, Afghanistan accounted for 92 per cent of global illicit opium production, up from 70 per cent in 2000 and 52 per cent a decade earlier. The higher yields in Afghanistan brought global opium production to a record high of nearly 7,300 tonnes last year, a 43 per cent increase over 2005.

The area under opium poppy cultivation in the country has also expanded, from nearly 257,000 acres in 2005 to more than 407,000 acres in 2006 — an increase of about 59 per cent.

“This is the largest area under opium poppy cultivation ever recorded in Afghanistan,” the report said, noting that two-thirds of cultivation was concentrated in the country's south.
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned that Afghanistan's insurgency-plagued Helmand province was becoming the world's biggest drug supplier, with opium cultivation there larger than in the rest of the country put together.

Oh and despite the best efforts of that Alaskan "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" teenager, whom the US Supremes decided on Monday should have his first amendment rights curtailed, apparently cannabis use has reportedly declined in America. Obviously, his nefarious plot to "promote illegal drug use" has failed miserably.

And remember, pay no attention to the drug lords behind the curtain. It's students with banners who are the real threat.

Related: A new US Government Accountability Office report "slams the federal government for failing to coordinate the work of U.S. law enforcement agencies overseas to fight terrorism." What caught my eye was this part:

As a result of these weaknesses, LEAs [law enforcement agencies], a key element of national power, are not being fully used abroad to protect U.S. citizens and interest from future terrorist attacks," the GAO concluded.

For national security reasons, the GAO did not name the four countries its investigators visited, describing them only as having "key roles in combating terrorism."

In all four there was more U.S. funding devoted to fighting drugs than to fighting terrorism, the report said

In one country, described as an "extremely high terrorist threat to American interests globally," the State Department provided six times more funding to stop illicit drugs and crime than it did for anti-terrorism assistance, the report said.

In another country, an embassy official said most training and assistance funding from the U.S. was dedicated to counter-narcotics efforts "even though drugs were no longer a strategic concern in that country."

So, I guess that begs the next question: How's that war against terrorism working out?

Happy Birthday, George

"Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." (from Nineteen Eighty-Four)

- Eric Arthur Blair (pen name George Orwell) June 25, 1903–January 21, 1950

What did that C-SPAN caller say Cheney's job was?

I guess you'll just have to listen and find out...

(You can read Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency on the WaPo's site here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Consequences of Faux Humanitarian Intervention

When NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Canada this past week he tried to sell Canadians on an extended military commitment in Afghanistan beyond 2009. And to do that, he thought he could score political (and/or emotional) points by referring to our country's recent history as peacekeepers.

To critics of the mission, he said: "Please realize (that) in a nation like Canada, with such an enormous tradition of peacekeeping ... you are there for a good cause, and I know how dramatic it is if Canadian soldiers pay the high price, but I still say you are there for a good cause, you are there to defend basic universal values."

And writing for the Ottawa Sun, columnist Greg Weston laments that the Afghanistan war hasn't been sold properly to a public that overwhelmingly wants our mission to end when it's supposed to:

Rather than aggressively using the media to help frame the Afghan mission as a difficult humanitarian effort in a dangerous environment, Harper's failed spin machine has allowed the conflict to be framed by deaths, official snafus and other negative events. [Maybe that's because that's what's actually going on no matter how many happy puppy stories Harper tries to trot out? -catnip]
Whether the government can reverse the tide of public opinion on Afghanistan is a matter of some doubt, in part because the PM and his pointless grudge-match with the media are part of the problem. [And, in part because we shouldn't be there. Period. -catnip]

It's a "humanitarian effort", you see. It's about "basic universal values".

Except that it isn't and the public will not be fooled into thinking that it is.

Writing on the other side of the pond about the waning so-called "neutrality" of the UN and Tony Blair's part in that, Robert Fisk writes about the dangers inherent in the latest "humanitarian intervention" fiascoes:

The Iraq war has shattered the cause of humanitarian intervention endorsed by Tony Blair and directly led to the targeting of relief workers in conflict zones where they are no longer considered to be neutral, according to a former senior UN official.

[Ed. note: 6 UN peacekeepers were killed by a bomb in Lebanon on Sunday.]

In a speech in London tonight, Sir Mark Malloch-Brown will say: "The brutal truth is politics is making it harder and harder to serve victims' needs by reaching them with assistance or bearing witness to their suffering and thereby staying the hand of those who would harm them."

Mr Blair's belief in the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, or the use of force to advance moral causes, led to Nato's air war with Serbia to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars, and later to British military intervention in Sierra Leone. The doctrine was also used to rally international support for the invasion of Afghanistan.

And what effect has that had?

Sir Mark, the former UN deputy secretary-general under Kofi Annan, however, points out that the Sudanese President, General Omar al-Bashir, has been able to use the Iraq invasion as the prime reason to delay acceptance of a UN force in Darfur. "Tony Blair and George Bush have repeatedly called for the right kind of action in Darfur only to be rebuffed as the architects of Iraq. Bashir has tried to make them his best weapon.

"It is not their loss of credibility that concerns me today, but rather that of humanitarian workers. The trouble is the two are linked," he goes on. "I have watched the work I used to do get steadily more dangerous as it is seen as serving Western interests rather than universal values."

While at the UN, he says, he would see the maps of Darfur showing ever-widening yellow circles that mark no-go areas for humanitarian workers. "Iraq is the immediate cause for this. And 9/11 the preceding trigger - but both come at the end of a process that has knocked humanitarian work off the straight and narrow of non-political impartial help ... bringing help to the needy."

Interesting that he should use the same phrase as de Hoop Scheffer. But the problem is that as far as conservative western leaders are concerned, western interests always trump those "universal values" and because those interests must be satisfied, the accepted doctrine is the use of military force - which they either fail to understand or refuse to admit as having a huge ripple effect.

Canadian troops are not on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. We are not promoting "values". We're in the thick of battles in which 60 soldiers have now lost their lives. While politicians mimic Donald Rumsfeld who constantly complained about the lack of Good News™ coming out of both war zones he was responsible for, (and the record of achievements in Afghanistan is small as this current bunch of leaders try to convince you otherwise - with opium production fueling over 90% of the country's economy as tiny bandaids are offered as political solutions), apparently people like de Hoop Scheffer think they can tug at our humanitarian heartstrings to keep sending more troops to die into a country we've been at war with for 6 years now.

To what end?

That's the question more Canadians have been asking themselves lately and they're not satisfied with the answer.

I suppose history will judge our "will" as it does that of America in Iraq. In the US however, the main reason to call for the troops to come home seems to be that the war is being lost. In Canada, we have a different perspective: just how much good can we accomplish in Afghanistan?

We're different nations, the US and Canada, and we have different expectations of our roles in international affairs. (Well, we did until this minority Conservative government took over.) But what Robert Fisk has written about - the perils of the doctrine of "humanitarian intervention" and the way it has played out - whether that's the actual or perceived policy - and the effects it's having on the actual peacekeepers (such as those in Lebanon who were killed this weekend) is not something that western interests should overshadow on the international stage. If the people who are the most vulnerable and in need are not able to trust those who are trying to help them, who else can they turn to?

Bush, de Hoop Scheffer and Harper need to realize that war is not a "universal value" and that as the use of military force continues to make life more instead of less treacherous for too many civilians (with 90 killed this past week in Afghanistan alone, which Hamid Karzai rightly railed against on Saturday), the people that they all seem to feign care for are continually being harmed, not helped. They need aid workers. They need peacekeepers. They need true humanitarian intervention. They need to be able to trust.

How can it be right then, that these wars these leaders so want to push as being for a "good cause", be allowed to go on when the very people they are supposed to be benefiting are suffering so much? More of the same is not the answer.

Sunday Food for Thought: In the Moment

For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment.
- Viktor E. Frankl

Saturday Nite Video Flashback: Ain't No Sunshine

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More Than Just Numbers

50,000 - The number of Iraqi women and children who have fled their country and are now prostitutes in places like Syria.

Less than 800 - The number of Iraq refugees accepted by the United States since 2003.

36 - The number of Afghans killed by the latest US airstrike in that country, bringing the total of civilians killed this year from 177-230, depending on who you ask.

60 - The number of Canadian troops who've died since the Afghanistan war began.

2 - The number of congresspeople (Kucinich and Ron Paul) who voted against condemning President Ahmadinejad in the US house for his alleged statement that "Israel should be wiped off the map".

0 - The number of US congresspeople who condemned Shimon Peres when he did say (no mistranslation here) that "Iran can also be wiped off the map."

4 - The number of countries that blocked a UN Security Council bid to suppport Abbas' emergency government. "The South African ambassador argued that the international community, especially the U.S., Israel and the Quartet, are to blame for the situation in the Gaza Strip."

$2.5 million - The amount of US aid given to Saudi Arabia in 2005 and 2006 which US lawmakers voted to cut off on Friday. (As if Saudi Arabia needs "aid".)

$2 billion - The amount of money allegedly funneled to Saudi's Prince Bandar through a British arms contractor. "Last week British Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged that his government shut down an investigation into the payments, in part because it could have led to the "complete wreckage" of Britain's "vital strategic relationship" with Saudi Arabia." (No wonder Bush wants Blair to head the World Bank.)

0 - The amount of credibility Star columnist Rosie DiManno has in her article about the antiwar movement, on a scale of 1-10.

400,000 - The number of dead in Sudan "by direct violence [genocide], disease and starvation"... "for Fiscal Year 2008, there is a projected $186 million shortfall for Darfur peacekeeping, and a $6 billion shortfall for America's core humanitarian assistance."

28 - The number of US soldiers killed in Iraq during the past week.

558 - The number of Gitmo detainees who appeared before Combatant Status Review Tribunals that whistleblower Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham (who took part in the hearings) now says "relied on vague and incomplete intelligence".

575 - The number of days left until George W Bush is history.

0 - The amount of patience I have left for violent warmongering, diplomacy-hating hawks.

The Madness of King George

And his sidekick, the Prince of Dickness.

On Friday, the White House (of course) defended Cheney who raised more than a few eyebrows earlier in the week when it came to light that he thought the watchdog office pushing for access to his office's documents should be abolished.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Cheney is not obligated to submit to oversight by an office that safeguards classified information, as other members and parts of the executive branch are. Cheney's office has contended that it does not have to comply because the vice president serves as president of the Senate, which means that his office is not an "entity within the executive branch."

"This is a little bit of a nonissue," Perino said at a briefing dominated by the issue. Cheney is not subject to the executive order, she said, "because the president gets to decide whether or not he should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should."

In response, (useless DLCer) Rahm Emmanuel has issued this threat:

The argument that Cheney's office is not part of the executive branch prompted ridicule by many administration critics. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that has been highly critical of the White House, suggested that Cheney is "attempting to create a fourth branch of the government." If he is not governed by executive branch security requirements, the group asked if he is covered by Senate rules.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said he plans to propose next week, as part of a spending bill for executive operations, a measure to place a hold on funds for Cheney's office and official home until he clarifies to which branch of the government he belongs. Emanuel acknowledged that the proposal is just a stunt, but he said that if Cheney is not part of the executive branch, he should not receive its funds. "As we say in Chicago, follow the money," he said.

I think it should be more than just a "stunt".

And as if that WH arrogance wasn't enough to make you bang your head against the wall, check this out:

WASHINGTON — The White House said Friday that, like Vice President Dick Cheney's office, President Bush's office is not allowing an independent federal watchdog to oversee its handling of classified national security information.

An executive order that Bush issued in March 2003 — amending an existing order — requires all government agencies that are part of the executive branch to submit to oversight. Although it doesn't specifically say so, Bush's order was not meant to apply to the vice president's office or the president's office, a White House spokesman said.
"Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government," the executive order said.

Yes, "government" - not the royals in the WH.

Spin, spin, them spin.

Fratto conceded that the lengthy directive, technically an amendment to an existing executive order, did not specifically exempt the president's or vice president's offices. Instead, it refers to "agencies" as being subject to the requirements, which Fratto said did not include the two executive offices. "It does take a little bit of inference," Fratto said.

And this guy tries to dispute the WH's interpretation, but he's a scientist. Everybody knows the WH loathes science and prefers faith-based "reality":

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' government secrecy project, disputed the White House explanation of the executive order.

He noted that the order defines "agency" as any executive agency, military department and "any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information" — which, he said, includes Bush's and Cheney's offices.

Oh stop being so bloody logical, will you?

Now I know that on some fronts I am simply suffering from outrage fatigue. Thus the maniacal laughter that emanated from my mouth when I read that Bush declared his office was exempt too. Every time you wonder "what's next?" with these guys, you're guaranteed to find yet another part of the constitution that they've taken their black marker to while adding their own penciled-in-blood revisions in the margin.

The unitary executive is no longer a "theory", it's reality. "This theory has no support in American history or the Constitution, and is a formula for autocracy," an editorial in the International Herald Tribune states. Anyone who still believes that the US is a democratically-functioning country is just fooling themselves. It stopped being that the moment Bush was selected by the Supremes.

Democracy in the US is just as "quaint" an idea as the Geneva Conventions, according to this administration. And, let's face it, since Nancy Pelosi took impeachment "off the table", all the Dems can do is write angry letters (that Bush and Cheney will continue to ignore) while pulling political "stunts", as Emmanuel plans to. Their country is going down the toilet at the hands of men who believe they are untouchable and the Democrats don't even have the will to fight to save it. Maybe outrage fatigue has gotten to them too - but - that's no excuse for enabling Bush and Cheney to get away with the worst administrative power grabs in American history, which the Dems were supposedly elected the last time around to end.

Congress sits at 14% approval while Bush (somehow) still hangs onto 26% (whoever those braindead people are). In almost any other country, that would be a recipe for a revolution. In America, it means "wait til '08, then we'll show 'em who's boss!". Yeah. How did that work out in 2006? And how much more damage will be done between now and then? I really don't think a lot of people care anymore. It's just "politics", after all. It's not like it all affects their lives or anything.

I think insanity is more than hereditary. It's contagious. And it's spreading outward quickly from its source: Washington, D.C.

At some point, we all become Alfred E Neuman. What else can we do?

What, me worry?


Friday Nite Video: Canon Rock

I saw this video sometime last year and thought this guy was absolutely amazing. You don't have to enjoy classical music (which this song originally was) in order to admire his obvious talent.

Check it out:

And who is this young man?

Via Wiki:

In August 2006 the New York Times ran an article which named the guitarist as Jeong-Hyun Lim, a 23-year old from South Korea who had taught himself to play. The arrangement used in the video was written by the Taiwanese guitarist JerryC and is called Canon Rock. Jeong-Hyun Lim's version of the song has received widespread media coverage. [3] [4] [5]

Friday, June 22, 2007

Video: Coming Soon - the CIA's 'Family Jewels'

Via The CNN Beard:

Wolf's underlings are slacking on getting the show's transcripts up, but I wanted to highlight Brian Todd's meaningless reassurance that "today there is far more oversight in congress". Yet, as he points out, the wiretappings, kidnappings and other criminal activities are still going on anyway. So what's the use having more oversight? If congress doesn't just rubber stamp whatever the CIA is doing - Republicans and Democrats, by the way - Bush creates his own ways to get around congress and the laws.

Whatever these "family jewels" reveal, they will be received by an American public that knows it has absolutely no control over what the CIA does because what it chooses to do is all in furtherance of Amercian global supremacy and exceptionalism - and those are doctrines that I think I can safely say most Americans support anyway. Oh there's outrage every now and then - about so-called "extraordinary renditions", about torture, about CIA-fueled coups oversees or one or the other CIA operation. Nobody really blinked an eye much when the news broke that Italy charged several CIA agents for allegedly kidnapping an Egyptian cleric. Why should they? Bush is protecting the agents and won't extradite them to stand trial.

So, whatever else these "family jewels" expose, it seems the American publics' senses have already been dulled for decades to the point that nothing the CIA does can actually be seen as surprising anymore. The "jewels" will make interesting reading for political junkies, historians, journalists and bloggers but their revelations will, no doubt, be eclipsed by the next scandalous starlet or blonde woman in peril news story. Remember, Paris Hilton gets out of jail next week and she's making the interview rounds. What do you think Larry King will be talking about? Those boring old CIA stories or Paris' time in the school of hard knocks (where the guards' jingling keys so disturbed her equilibrium)?

And besides, there's that trusty "congressional oversight" to rely on to make sure everything's on the up and up. (Just ignore the fact that congress' approval ratings are in the toilet at a laughable 14% and that Bush sits at 26%. Trustworthy government indeed.)

For those who are interested, Common Dreams has more.

Quote du Jour: Harper's the Wanker of the Day (Again)

Steve's pitching Bush talking points again:

The Conservative government will not extend Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009 without a consensus in Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday.

"I will want to see some degree of consensus among Canadians on how we move forward on that," Harper told reporters Friday in Ottawa.

"I don't want to send people on a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work they're doing in the field."


[insert expletives here]

Friday Fun

Apparently, Nancy Pelosi has decided to support increased funding for Canadian troops. (h/t Wonkette)

From her website:

The Dems seem to really like our troops, as this old pic from their party's site shows as well:

And, in the spirit of Free Stock Photo Trade™, the Canadian government has returned the favour by having a pic of the infamous American "Everywhere Girl" on its website:

(She's the one in the purple hat on the right. Who knows where the rest of those people are from?)

No doubt this is all just another sign that North American Integration is upon us. (But we'll always have better maple syrup and bacon than those yanks.)

Related (in my mind, anyway): Speaking of bacon, the Calgary Stampede breakfasts are back. Free food. All over the city. Check out the listings here and go stuff yourselves! [Insert obligatory "Yeehaw!" here.]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Dick Who Would be King

The self-annointed King of the Holy Roman American Empire has spoken:

Vice President Exempts His Office from the Requirements for Protecting Classified Information

The Oversight Committee has learned that over the objections of the National Archives, Vice President Cheney exempted his office from the presidential order that establishes government-wide procedures for safeguarding classified national security information. The Vice President asserts that his office is not an “entity within the executive branch.”

As described in a letter from Chairman Waxman to the Vice President, the National Archives protested the Vice President's position in letters written in June 2006 and August 2006. When these letters were ignored, the National Archives wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January 2007 to seek a resolution of the impasse. The Vice President's staff responded by seeking to abolish the agency within the Archives that is responsible for implementing the President's executive order.

In his letter to the Vice President, Chairman Waxman writes: "I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions. ... [I]t would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials."

To which (the) King Dick responded, "Waxman! Off with your head!"

Gitmo Closing? Detainees Going to Kansas?

That's the speculation via the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and move the terror suspects there to military prisons elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.

Senior administration officials said Thursday a consensus is building for a proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where they could face trial.

President Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting Friday, the officials said, but after news of it broke, the White House said the meeting would not take place that day and no decision on Guantanamo Bay's status is imminent.

"It's no longer on the schedule for tomorrow," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council. "Senior officials have met on the issue in the past, and I expect they will meet on the issue in the future."
Previous plans to close Guantanamo have run into resistance from Cheney, Gonzales and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But officials said the new suggestion is gaining momentum with at least tacit support from the State and Homeland Security departments, the Pentagon, and the Intelligence directorate.

Cheney's office and the Justice Department have been dead set against the step, arguing that moving "unlawful" enemy combatant suspects to the U.S. would give them undeserved legal rights.

Yes, moving the detainees onto US soil would certainly complicate things for those who just want to keep them locked up while throwing away the key. But if Gitmo is shut down, at least Cheney's Halliburton/KBR buddies will be thankful that they got to build a new facility there to the tune of $30 million that opened just last year - a place that will hopefully be developing cobwebs sometime soon while the war profiteers count their gold.

Let's review some facts about Gitmo from that 2006 article:

An investigation earlier this year by New Jersey's Seton Hall University showed that, based on the military's own documents, 55 per cent of prisoners are not alleged to have committed any hostile acts against the US, and 40 per cent are not accused of affiliation with al-Qa'ida.

The same documents suggested only 8 per cent of prisoners are accused of fighting for a terrorist group, and that 86 per cent were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani authorities "at a time when the US offered large bounties for the capture of suspected terrorists".

And the usual bluster from Commander Guy™:

Speaking in the Rose Garden in June following the suicide of three prisoners, Mr Bush said: "I'd like to close Guantanamo, but I also recognise that we're holding some people that are darn dangerous, and that we better have a plan to deal with them in our courts."

Well, he had a plan. It was rejected by the Supremes. Congress came up with another one. That one was thrown out the window recently too. So here we are. Detainees stuck in a hellish limbo with no legal way to try them - very few of which are probably actually guilty of something. Even Bush has had to admit that with his catch and release program over the last 6 years.

Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.

And it's about damn time, oops "darn" time, that those detainees (kidnap victims stuck in the middle of nowhere whom the US government admitted torturing) saw something that resembles proper justice - a concept quite unfamiliar to the Bush administration - no matter what Darth Cheney and Abu Gonzales think.

Related: Sidney Blumenthal's "Imperial presidency declared null and void"

But I don't even play tennis...

So, I go in for physio for my back problems only to find out I have tennis elbow too. One thing's for sure: I need to stop seeing medical professionals. I have enough problems as it is without them adding to the damn list.

I wonder what they called tennis elbow before tennis was invented? Butter Churners' Elbow? Demonically-possessed elbow? Pushing Around That Stone Tire Elbow?

Oh, and I'm supposed to pretend I'm left-handed for the next week which will reduce me to this level of development.

And by the end of that week, I'll have yet another problem to be treated for:

Oh well. I guess my elbow won't hurt anymore or, if it does, the pain in my head will provide a handy distraction.

Happy Summer Solstice

In honour of the revellers taking part in celebrations at Stonehenge, I offer Spinal Tap for your viewing enjoyment:

Before the stage show:


The aftermath:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gaza Update

Israel sends missiles, tanks into Gaza.

About 200 Gazans, petrified by the chaos in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip, have been camped out for six days in a tunnel reeking of trash, urine and sweat on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing, pleading with Israeli authorities to grant them safe passage to the West Bank.

From a Haaretz editorial: "The pictures at the Erez crossing remind any person who still tries not to forget harsh scenes of locked, sealed gates from the previous century."

The fear that dangerous Hamas operatives might infiltrate into the West Bank is not baseless. But the Shin Bet security service presumably knows how to properly screen those seeking to pass - if that is what Jerusalem decides to do.

In the dark days before the Holocaust, it was similarly argued, not without justification, that the German and Austrian refugees fleeing for their lives could include moles seeking to assimilate into the countries through which they passed and sabotage them.

The lessons of history should never be forgotten.

The Christian Science Monitor has more about the Palestinian refugees.

And, as I predicted last week, Olmert begged for more money from Bush and got it, of course. "At the end of the 10 years, Israel will receive $2.9 billion annually in military assistance from the U.S."

While the dictator strikes again:

The prime minister asked U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for his assistance in expediting the handling of a number of IDF procurement requests meant to complete the replenishment of equipment and stores used during the Second Lebanon War.

Gates pointed out that though there is no problem with the requests in principle, there is an orderly procedure. However, Bush intervened and directed the defense secretary to expedite approval of the IDF's requests.

The reason Bush did that, of course, is because Ehud Barak is reportedly planning a massive military attack on Gaza and he needs the supplies - hoping to avoid a disaster like the failed efforts of the IDF against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer. So, screw this talk of "process", Gates.

There won't be any talk of "peace" while Barak is around. He was waiting for an aggressive move by Hamas and he reportedly got it.

So, here we have the same scenario: innocent civilians stuck in Gaza, which the Israeli government is reluctant to lift a finger for - even those with pressing medical problems - who will be subject to a sweeping military incursion. How many innocents will die this time? And, more importantly, for what?

Meanwhile, Bush was busy hosting a congressional picnic on Wednesday.

MR. RUFFINS: Well, thanks for having us.

THE PRESIDENT: Kermit Ruffins and the Barbeque Swingers, right out of New Orleans, Louisiana. (Applause.)

MR. RUFFINS: Thank you. Thanks for having us. We're glad to be here.

THE PRESIDENT: Proud you're here. Thanks for coming. You all enjoy yourself. Make sure you pick up all the trash after it's over. (Laughter.)

Who's going to end up picking up Bush's trash in the Middle East once he's gone and who will bury the bodies?


Tony Blair as the UN's Middle East envoy? They're joking, right?

A Leader of Hamas Warns of West Bank Peril for Fatah

And yet another big lie had to be rolled out again:

The Americans say that their effort to aid, train and equip the elite Fatah forces was to protect the crossings to Israel and to deter Hamas, not to start a civil war.

A Secular-Democratic State Solution; The Light at the End of the Gaza-Ramallah Tunnel

Poetry of Mass Destruction

A book of poetry written by Gitmo inmates will be published this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal:

An 84-page anthology titled "Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak" will be published in August by the University of Iowa Press, giving readers an unusual glimpse into the emotional lives of the largely nameless and faceless prisoners there.

"When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees/Hot tears covered my face," Sami al Haj wrote in one poem. The al-Jazeera cameraman has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 on suspicion of aiding Islamic militants. "When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed/A message for my son," he went on.

The poems were cleared by the US military after being searched for possible coded information, but the review from the DoD is as expected:

"While a few detainees at Guantanamo Bay have made efforts to author what they claim to be poetry, given the nature of their writings they have seemingly not done so for the sake of art," says Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman. "They have attempted to use this medium as merely another tool in their battle of ideas against Western democracies."

Well, that's obvious. Pigeons hate America. Everybody knows that. And who would write a poem about a lark besides an anti-democracy Middle Eastern terrorist?

As far as "art" goes, some of those inmates should be given the Nobel Prize for Literature, considering the lengths they went through to write their thoughts down:

Writing poetry was both difficult and dangerous for the prisoners, who weren't given pens or paper until 2003. Some former inmates say they used dabs of toothpaste as ink. Other inmates, including Moazzem Begg, a British citizen held at Guantanamo Bay until 2005, say they scratched their poems into foam cups with spoons or small stones. Like most of the approximately 395 inmates freed so far, Mr. Begg was never charged with a crime.

The next time you eat onion rings...

...or may (or may not) want to remember this bit of Freudian Vegetable Analysis brought to you by law professor Ann Althouse (who also stunned the blogosphere with "Let's take a closer look at those breasts" - not to mention this little meltdown caught on video.)

So, tell us all about those onion rings in the new Hillary Clinton ad, Ann.

4. Bill says "No onion rings?" and Hillary responds "I'm looking out for ya." Now, the script says onion rings, because that's what the Sopranos were eating in that final scene, but I doubt if any blogger will disagree with my assertion that, coming from Bill Clinton, the "O" of an onion ring is a vagina symbol. Hillary says no to that, driving the symbolism home. She's "looking out" all right, vigilant over her husband, denying him the sustenance he craves. What does she have for him? Carrot sticks! The one closest to the camera has a rather disgusting greasy sheen to it. Here, Bill, in retaliation for all of your excessive "O" consumption, you may have a large bowl of phallic symbols! When we hear him say "No onion rings?," the camera is on her, and Bill is off-screen, but at the bottom of the screen we see the carrot/phallus he's holding toward her. Oh, yes, I know that Hillary supplying carrots is supposed to remind that Hillary will provide us with health care, that she's "looking out for" us, but come on, they're carrots! Everyone knows carrots are phallic symbols. But they're cut up into little carrot sticks, you say? Just listen to yourself! I'm not going to point out everything.

On c'mon Ann. Knock yourself out. We'll wait.

Don't forget to order some vaginas and penises the next time you're in your favourite restaurant. Tell them Ann Althouse sent you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Health Update: My Test Results

Okay. I just came home from the dr's a while ago and I'm still trying to absorb the news. I suppose that will take me a while.

As I wrote about here last week, I was having major pain in my mid-back, shoulder, hips and knees (with some nerve pain down my arm as well) - all on the right side. So, after having to put up with the incompetent Dr "it's the lupus" in the walk-in clinic near here (and believe me, now that I have my test results, he'll be sorry he ever dismissed me - the quack), I finally did see my dr who sent me for x rays of my knees, hips and spine. Today, I got the results.

The Good News: There's nothing visibly wrong with my hips or knees. The pain I have in them is coming from my spine.

The Unexpected News: (No, I'm not pregnant. As if.) There were 2 "calcified" spots found in my pelvic area. One possibility: bladder stones (which are like kidney stones and can be treated the same ways). The second: calcified fibroids in my uterus, which there's not much to do about at this point. (Ignore that butt-ugly fibroid pic at that site. My masses are only 5 and 7 mm big.) Anyway, I need to go for an ultrasound to find out what's going on there and whatever it is, it's not causing pain at least.

The Bad News: They found scoliosis, which my dr labeled as degenerative. Since I've never had that portion of my spine x rayed before, it could be congenital. My 81 yr old mom was born with it and also has osteoarthritis, but she's still mobile. But, in addition to that, I also have bone spurs in my spine. Thus, all of the pain.

As for what's to be done about my back, my dr advised me to "stay very active" and to see a physiotherapist ASAP to get some exercises and, hopefully, some treatment to help the pain. I certainly won't be doing Jane Fonda style aerobics, I can guarantee you that. But maybe more exercises will help me shed that extra 10 pounds as a bonus too.

Of course, the word that bothers me the most in all of this is "degenerative". In other words, this isn't going to get any better and could end up being debilitating - not that it hasn't been already at times - but it will get worse. So, I'm a bit rattled, to say the least.

Chronic PTSD diagnosed in 1995 (yes, I still have symptoms); fibromyalgia in 1999 (or so); lupus, one year after that; and now this.

I'm falling apart.

There's one other syndrome that I suffer from that I'm sure others do as well. It's called Not Quite Disabled Enough syndrome. The symptoms include believing that, even though you can barely move or think some days, you don't qualify for government help. (Let's face it: the gov't disability income program here is called Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH). Severely handicapped? Me? No.) So it took me a while to figure out that I actually did qualify for it, much to my financial detriment at that time (not that the amount they give a person to live on is much to speak of at all, but it's better than what I had been surviving on then.)

Along with that, through the happenstance intervention of my new guardian angel penlan - who contacted me last weekend about something else and decided that maybe I was too stubborn for my own damn good once I told her more about my circumstances - I've found out now that I probably qualify for accessible housing (who knew??) and the Handi Bus service (which I always thought was just for people in wheelchairs etc) after she discovered that I was having a heck of a time traveling by bus and c-train to my dr's office for over an hour while in major pain.

penlan knows her stuff and, as she's mentioned here before in the comments, she has very painful osteoarthritis and gets around in a scooter. So you see, I assumed I was Not Quite Disabled Enough to qualify for any extra help. (Being a stubbornly independent hard-ass at the best of times doesn't help either). Who knows? Maybe someone else will read this and discover there may be more help out there for them too. I hope so.

There are also several other services that I need to check in to. (penlan's got me working hard now.) For Albertans, Inform Alberta is an invaluable search site to find out which services are available. I've used it before, mainly on behalf of other people ironically, and it provides concise summaries of what's out there. In Calgary, we also have a 211 service through which you can also get listings for gov't and NGO services.

I think I'll leave it at that, except to offer this special cheesecake to all of you - especially penlan - as my small showing of gratitude for all who've been so supportive. It's really meant a lot to me. I'll try not to "awfulize" these test results. Maybe some comfort cheesecake will help... (One of these days, I need to buy the real stuff again. This virtual cheesecake only goes so far.)