Friday, February 27, 2009

Petey "Airshow" MacKay, um, scrambles

Here's a little musical accompaniment to Dave, Boris, and Ed's posts today on DefMin Pete "Airshow" MacKay and the timely fashion in which he, um, scrambled Canadian jet fighters to save Obama from the Russkies in, um, international airspace, um, three days before Obama even arrived here.

MacKay : "I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence, which we met with a presence, as we always do, of F-18 fighter planes."

The Star :

It's not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence.
A senior government official said highlighting the mid-air meeting was a good way to show the worth and relevance of NORAD while its commander, U.S. Gen. Victor Renuart, was visiting Ottawa.
It's also a good way to "get some ink" for Canada's contribution to continental security, the official said.



Viva Palestina! People without borders.

According to the map, they're more than half way there.
On Valentines Day, British MP George Galloway and a mile long convoy of over 100 donated vehicles packed with practical aid for Gaza left the Houses of Parliament in London to drive 5,000 miles through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
The convoy includes a fire engine donated by the Fire Brigades Union, 25 ambulances, 2 buses, a boat, and trucks filled with a £1-million of medicines, cash, tools, clothes, blankets, and shoe-boxes filled with gifts for children, all donated to the people of Gaza. Thousands of dollars in donations have also come from the U.S.
As my arrow shows, they are currently in Tunisia and by tomorrow will reach Libya. The plan is to cross the border at Rafah into Gaza in early March, where they donate their booty and the vehicles and then fly back to their countries of origin.
What a remarkable undertaking.
There have been, as you might imagine, adventures.
Nine volunteers together with their cargo and vehicles were arrested under anti-terrorism laws before they even left the U.K. Six were released the following day, 3 on the following Wednesday, and the police detachment which made the arrests provided financial assistance to help them catch up with the convoy.
They all attended a rock concert in Madrid.
The border between Algeria and Morocco, closed for 15 years, was specially opened to allow the convoy through. Algeria donated their fuel and Morocco their food and lodging.
Read more at the Viva Palestina! website or the daily blog.
And sign their petition for more media coverage! For shame that a multi-faith, multi-national effort of such tremendous goodwill should not be making headlines.
A big hat tip to Lagatta at Bread and Roses.
Excellent news.

MP George Galloway - Viva Palestina!

Braidwood Inquiry : Dziekanski compliant after all

From the very beginning the RCMP justification for stunning Robert Dziekanski has been that he was "defiant" and "non-compliant".
Constable Gerry Rundel testified on Monday that Dziekanski turned away from the officers in a "to hell with you guys, I'm out of here," stance.
Const. Bill Bentley testified he feared for his safety after "Dziekanski disobeyed a police command, threw up his arms in the air and appeared to walk away from the officers, which he saw as an act of defiance."

Yesterday the lawyer for the Polish government blew that excuse away when he walked Bentley through five frames of Paul Prichard's video which clearly show that Dziekanski turned away from the RCMP officers towards a counter because he was directed to do so. In the video RCMP Cpl. Benjamin Robinson is plainly seen vigorously pointing towards the counter with his arm extended straight out in front of him and Dziekanski turns toward it as directed. At this point the four officers surround Dziekanski and RCMP Const. Kwesi Millington fired his TASER™ for the first time.

When the inquiry resumes on Monday, Const. Millington will face tough questioning as to why he then zapped Dziekanski for a further 20 to 25 seconds after he was already on the ground.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Braidwood Inquiry : A second RCMP officer recants

RCMP Const. Bill Bentley in October 2007, prior to the public release of Paul Pritchard's video of Robert Dziekanski's death :
"Robert Dziekanski, 40, had grabbed a stapler 'and came at the police screaming' during the incident."

Const. Bill Bentley yesterday at the Braidwood Inquiry, after being walked through Paul Pritchard's video :
"If we didn’t have the video, would your evidence be today that Mr. Dziekanski grabbed the stapler and ran toward you screaming?” commission counsel Patrick McGowan asked.
“I don’t know,” Bentley replied, prompting derisive laughter from several people in the public gallery."
Now Bentley says : "Dziekanski "actually appeared calm and cooperative and wasn't doing anything as the officers approached."

That's quite the switch, Const. Bentley.

Vancouver Sun : "Lawyer David Butcher, representing Bentley, asked that official inquiry transcripts, video, audiotapes and exhibits at the inquiry should not be released without a court order. It is believed Poland is considering charges against the officers. The request will be ruled on later."

Transcript of RCMP testimony is still not up at the Braidwood Inquiry site yet but in the past it has usually lagged by several days.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Circling the wagons for TASER™

Feb 12, 2009 : Tasers potentially lethal, RCMP head tells MPs when introducing new TASER™ policy guidelines to a House of Commons public safety committee in Ottawa :

RCMP Commissioner William Elliott :

"The RCMP's revised CEW policy underscores that there are risks associated with the deployment of the device and emphasizes that those risks include the risk of death."
Feb 25, 2009 : Police defend use of tasers and proclaim their safety when they want to expand their usage in the face of an increasingly hostile public :

Chief Tom Kaye, VP of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police :

"To date, there is no evidence, either scientific of medical, that a conducted energy weapon has been the direct cause of death anywhere at any time on any person."

Charles Momy, the president of the Canadian Police Association :

"There has been no research to indicate clearly that tasers are involved in the deaths of any of the individuals that we've seen in the past years."

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino:

"150 studies worldwide have proven that “there is no direct link in any case in which a taser was deployed” to show that it was linked to the demise of an individual"

Bottom line : All officers need Tasers, police associations say

Hey, guys, does TASER™ still sponsor your annual Canadian Conference of Chiefs of Police? Just askin' .

Help Abdelrazik get a ticket home

Following yesterday's post on the plight of Abousfian Abdelrazik and the new catch-22 conditions our government has seen fit to impose on his return to Canada, Sumeet Jain, a member of BASAS, left the following comment.
[BASAS, the British Association of South Asian Studies, is, according to their website,"the largest UK academic association for the study of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and the South Asian Diaspora."]
Mr Jain's request :
"See the facebook group I have set up to support Abousifian.
I am asking everyone to send him a token donation to get a ticket home and to protest the Canadian government’s stand that anyone who supports him is a supporter of terrorism."

Quite right. Both Sudan and the RCMP have already cleared Abdelrazik of suspicion :

"The RCMP conducted a review of its files and was unable to locate any current and substantive information that indicates Mr. Abdelrazik is involved in criminal activity,"wrote Mike McDonell, the force's assistance commissioner for national security criminal investigations, in a Nov. 15, 2007, letter that formed the basis for the government's request that Mr. Abdelrazik be taken off the UN blacklist.
However, that request was blocked by at least one member of the UN Security Council – presumed to be the United States."
It is appalling that this has been allowed to drag on for more than five years, leaving Abdelrazik destitute and living in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum. If he is guilty of anything other than being on a no-fly list, bring him home and charge him.

Mr. Jain's facebook link above. Go.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Braidwood Inquiry : First RCMP testimony today

Today the Braidwood Inquiry heard from the first of the four RCMP officers involved in the Vancouver airport death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007. The transcripts will not be available for a couple of days yet so here's what the media have reported. It is the first time the officers have spoken in public.

Constable Gerry Rundel, who was not carrying a TASER™ that night, testified that he feared "for my safety to a certain degree" although he was not clear why.
Dziekanski did not appear to shoot any staples at the officers, Rundel agreed.

Global :
"Rundel said he knew from the police radio that a fellow in the international arrivals area was "throwing objects" and breaking glass and was likely intoxicated.
(In fact, Dziekanski had thrown a small table but did not break glass or threaten other passengers. Toxicology reports after his death showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system.)"

"Rundel said Const. Bentley first spoke in a "calm, friendly" manner to Dziekanski, but the incident escalated swiftly after that.
Dziekanski gestured toward his luggage but was told "No," by Const. Kwesi Millington.
Dziekanski complied with the request and moved away from his bags.
At that point Dziekanski threw up his hands and turned away from the officers in what Rundel interpreted as a "to hell with you guys, I'm out of here," stance.
"Within split seconds the Taser was deployed," said Rundel.

Pressed repeatedly by commission lawyer Patrick McGowan to say what specific command Dziekanski had disobeyed, Rundel became flustered but insisted that Dziekanski had moved away from his luggage, as he was commanded to do so by Cpl. Robinson, but then became "non-cooperative" or "non-compliant."
"Non-compliance" triggers the Taser deployment in the RCMP's training and use-of-force regulations, Rundel said."

The Star :
"He appeared to not be behaving like a normal person would behave," said Rundel. "It was all part of my observation formed by opinion."

"A criminal investigation conducted by the RCMP into its four members' conduct, which was given to crown counsel late last year, determined that the officers' actions were not criminal.

Dziekanski died Oct. 14, 2007 after getting hit five times with shots from the Taser gun. He fell screaming in anguish to the ground and the officers piled on top of him. Within seconds, he had stopped breathing.

The inquiry had heard earlier testimony from firefighters who later attended the scene that the RCMP officers appeared to do nothing to help the man."

In other news, RCMP in B.C. plan to buy 40 new Taser weapons. The force is budgeting $50,000 for the new model X26E Taser guns.

Ottawa continues to fuck Abdelrazik over

You remember him - one of Canada's other Maher Arars.

G&M : "Mr. Abdelrazik must present a fully-paid-for ticket home before “Passport Canada will issue an emergency passport," the government said in a Dec. 23 letter to his lawyers. But Mr. Abdelrazik, who is living in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum, is destitute and the government has warned that it could criminally charge anyone who lends or gives money for a ticket under its sweeping anti-terrorist regulations."

Previously, when Abousfian Abdelrazik, who has been cleared of all charges by both Sudan and the RCMP, previously when he did have the ticket money sent to him by his family in Canada to get home, a Foreign Affairs official confirmed :
"There is no unwillingness to allow him to come to Canada aboard a private plane which the Sudanese government is willing to provide".
So in Aug. 2008, Abdelrazik booked a flight to Canada on Etihad Airways, which was willing to fly him despite the fact it would mean they would be banned from entering U.S. airspace due to his presence on the U.S. no-fly list as a consequence.

Oh but the catch that time was Ottawa refusing him travel documents to get on the plane because :

Senior [Transport Canada] intelligence officials warned against allowing Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen, to return home from Sudan because it could upset the Bush administration, classified documents reveal.

"Senior government of Canada officials should be mindful of the potential reaction of our U.S. counterparts to Abdelrazik's return to Canada as he is on the U.S. no-fly list," intelligence officials say in documents in the possession of The Globe and Mail.

"Continued co-operation between Canada and the U.S. in the matters of security is essential. We will need to continue to work closely on issues related to the Security of North America, including the case of Mr. Abdelrazik," the document says.

The Security of North America.

I really like how you capitalize "security" - makes it look so much more official.

Odette Gaudet-Fee, a senior Foreign Affairs official in Ottawa, July 13, 2005 :
"I wish I had a magic wand and make this case go away ... I find it unethical to hold him like this in limbo with no future, no hope and all because ... Obviously I cannot address the issue of the no-fly list"

Possibly the fact that Canada evidently arranged secretly for Sudan to arrest and imprison him, and then sent Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents to interrogate him in a Sudanese prison even as diplomats knew that he was being tortured - possibly that has dampened Ottawa's enthusiasm for seeing him again. Just like Arar.

Update : As Dr. Dawg notes, "No word as yet from human rights scholar Michael Ignatieff."

Send him a clue :


National Geographic does the tar sands

National Geographic, March 2009, excerpt:

"Here Syncrude, Canada's largest oil producer, digs bitumen-laced sand from the ground with electric shovels five stories high, then washes the bitumen off the sand with hot water and sometimes caustic soda. Next to the mine, flames flare from the stacks of an "upgrader," which cracks the tarry bitumen and converts it into Syncrude Sweet Blend, a synthetic crude that travels down a pipeline to refineries in Edmon­ton, Alberta; Ontario, and the United States. Mildred Lake, meanwhile, is now dwarfed by its neighbor, the Mildred Lake Settling Basin, a four-square-mile lake of toxic mine tailings. The sand dike that contains it is by volume one of the largest dams in the world.

To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds like the one near Mildred Lake.

The oil sands cover an area the size of North Carolina, and the provincial government has already leased around half that, including all 1,356 square miles that are minable. It has yet to turn down an application to develop one of those leases, on environmental or any other grounds."


Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Afghan Trap

What do you call a mousetrap which also captures the hand that baits the trap?


Friday, February 20, 2009

North America Next

A year ago the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave Arizona State University $15 million to establish a Center of Excellence for Border Security and Immigration. The border security research centre is led by Rick Van Schoik, director of ASU’s North American Center for Transborder Studies.
Arizona State U presser, Feb. 2008 :

"The establishment of the center by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security follows more than two years of work assembling a team of U.S. universities, Mexican and Canadian institutions, government agencies, technology companies and national laboratories.

Research at the center will focus on new technologies such as surveillance, screening, data fusion and situational awareness using sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and other technologies. The center will also provide research on population dynamics, immigration administration and enforcement, operational analysis, control and communications, immigration policy, civic integration and citizenship, border risk management and international governance."

Canadian advisors to NACTS include Former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Anne McLellan and Christine Frechette, Director of the North American Forum on Integration, and York University and the University of Alberta, along with notable US deep integrationists Stephen Blank and Robert Pastor.

In their Feb 2009 policy paper "North America Next: A Report to President Obama on Building Sustainable Security and Competitiveness", they make eight recommendations calling for deeper integration, including :

  • the inclusion of private sector and public-private P3 partnerships in meet-ups prior to the North American Trilateral Leaders’ Summits
  • a National Security Council deputy to expand their "focus on traditional security to include law enforcement, commerce, transportation, environment, water, and regional development in the three countries"
  • enhanced overall joint defense of North America which would allow Canada to continue responsibility for the Artic
  • a joint revolving fund for infrastructure investments in North America
  • a North American Greenhouse Gas Exchange Strategy to "ensure the United States continues to have priority access to Canada’s wealth of hydro-electricity, natural gas, light petroleum and uranium in exchange for offsets for the greenhouse gases created by their development"
  • "moving the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canadian borders (and their processing costs) away from the (actual) borders to the factories and farms from which trade goods originate", and
  • "building and improving trade corridors like CANAMEX that go from northern Canada to southern Mexico".

The paper recommends less emphasis on "integration" and more on "plug and play interoperability".

Just keeping you up on the new North American language here.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

President Obama visits

"When you walk in the door, all you see are pictures of Stephen Harper. I'd say between every window, in every available space of the wall, at eye level, every available space has a photo of Stephen Harper."
I had captions on this earlier, but you don't really need them, do you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hats off to BC Mary at The Legislature Raids

She not only scoops Big Media on this one ; she drives it.

From Ian Mulgrew at the Vancouver Sun :
Drug dealer linked to legislature raid imprisoned
RCMP oddly silent about key victory against cocaine ring :
"The key figure in Project Every Which Way, the organized crime investigation that triggered the raid on the legislature half a decade ago, has been convicted and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment.
This significant event went apparently unreported until it appeared on citizen journalist Mary Mackie's blog [The Legislature Raids] and was brought to my attention Monday.
I was surprised no one in the federal prosecutor's office or the RCMP had issued a statement since this is the organized crime connection that led to the raid on legislature offices Dec. 28, 2003."

Does anyone still expect a Basi Virk trial anytime before Gordo retires?
Mary does. Vehemently.
She's been covering it almost daily ever since she noticed no one else was, save Tieleman and the Tyee, and she has been dogging media types to report this for months.

As she says in comments at The Gazetteer :
"Hard to believe that the guy whose activities had launched the raids on the BC Legislature, had been on trial - in Victoria - and 3 months later, nobody had noticed?? I posted the details under a clear headline: Jasmohan Singh Bains sentenced to 9 years -- so that Google couldn't miss it. I thought it would be news. Real news.
But apart from my own wonderful commentors, it seemed that nobody noticed.

I was so sure that the Bains trial and evidence were important to the BC Rail issues, I kept mentioning it, wherever an opportunity presented itself.
Such as during that crazy week in Victoria when Dave Basi was in Supreme Court on charges of A.L.R. bribery ... and he was in another Supreme Courtroom on matters relating to BC Rail -- and still NOTHING in the newspapers!

I kept talking to the CanWest journalists; I kept saying "Don't let this be like the Bains trial where nobody knows ..." But that's pretty much what happened ... nobody would have known about that either, except for Bill Tieleman's blog and mine.

Why was I so determined? Because I have never forgotten that press conference, the day after police raided the BC Legislature, when RCMP Staff Sgt John Ward explained it by talking about Organized Crime being a cancer at all levels of society. I figured he was talking over the heads of our leadership, telling us things he knew nobody else would willingly tell us. I still believe that. So, apparently, does Ian Mulgrew.

So one day a week or two ago, I was writing to Ian to compliment him on a column he had just written. I added, "I just wish you'd been assigned to the Basi Virk case, then we might've heard about the Bains trial ..."
Next thing I knew, Ian Mulgrew's story was in Vancouver Sun.
Ian -- alone of all the West Coast journalists -- not only realized the significance of the Bains trial, but barrelled right past his CanWest handlers and got his story into print."

Background :
The busted drug dealer here is Jasmohan Singh Bains, cousin to Dave Basi.
Dave Basi was ministerial assistant to then BC Finance Minister Gary Collins.
Bob Virk was ministerial assistant to BC Transportation Minister Judith Reid.
An anonymous informant tipped off the RCMP that Basi was laundering money for Bains.
A subsequent RCMP wiretap on Bains led to both Liberal aides being charged with fraud, bribery, breach of trust, and accepting money in exchange for info on the sale of the Crown corporation BC Rail in November 2003.
Another cousin, government media analyst Aneal Basi, is accused of money laundering for allegedly accepting cheques and transferring funds to Basi from a partner at Pilothouse, the lobby firm for one of the US bidders for BC Rail.
Constable Ravinder Singh Dosanjh, now suspended from the Victoria police force, is charged with obstruction of justice in connection with this investigation.

And now, after six friggin years, there will be yet another one year delay in the trial while the Supreme Court decides whether defense lawyers may be shown the sensitive boondoggley government documents identifying the informant.
Good thing Mary will be on it.
Updated to include Mary's comment at The Gazetteer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tin foil - not just for hats anymore

CTV : "The federal government is repatriating a database of personal information about Canadian citizens after warnings the U.S. government might misuse it.
The database with details about several hundred British Columbians was turned over to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency last year as part of a controversial project to issue "enhanced driver's licences" instead of passports for land-border crossings."

The BC pilot project is the first step in a Canada-wide program that could have seen the personal information of hundreds of thousands of Canadians handed over wholesale to American officials.
But the Canada Border Services Agency has bowed to pressure from privacy advocates and is recalling the database, with the U.S. border agency promising to erase its records.

The CBSA signed an agreement with its American counterpart to ensure that the information would be accessed only by U.S. officers at the time of crossing for border purposes only.
However, the USA Patriot Act could trump that clause, forcing the U.S. border service to turn over information to American security agencies.

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart sounded the alarm about this over a year ago and also criticized the new enhanced driver's licences as creating a de facto national ID card for both countries.

Homeland Security Michael Chertoff told Canadians they shouldn’t worry about the sharing of biometric information with other governments.
"Your fingerprint's hardly personal data, because you leave it on glasses and silverware and articles all over the world," he said.

As I noted at the time, having a glass of wine in a public restaurant is not at all like having your fingerprints fed into a database like Server in the Sky.

There's also the problem of identity theft.

Watch here as an ethical hacker drives round the block with his $250 homemade tracking device and copies the RFID tags, or radio-frequency identification device, off two passports.

RFIDs are used to track cattle and merchandise.
People with RFID driver's licences are supposed to keep them wrapped in tin foil.
Personally I don't think I'll have any left over.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Geography has made us neighbours ...

The Canadian American Business Council will be running full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the National Journal next week, in advance of President Barack Obama's visit to Ottawa.
The ad features a famous utterance made by John F. Kennedy during his visit to Canada in 1961 :

"Geography has made us neighbours ... economics has made us partners"
Representing Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Campbell Soup, Wal-Mart, Bombardier, and Alcan, the Canadian American Business Council boasts Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Wilson as the chairman of the CABC advisory board.

Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson previously explained his position on Canada/US relations, courtesy of the Government of Canada website :

Advancing the North American Economic Area

"Economic integration is happening. Our businesses and consumers are making it happen"
"Building a competitive North American platform is essential"
"to engage the world as a North American economic powerhouse."
"a strong, dynamic, and increasingly integrated North American economy."
"we need to continually position ourselves better — position North America better"
"we build things together for North America"
"the North American economic partnership is working"
"we can improve the safety of products available throughout the North American marketplace"
"developing a sectoral approach to improving North American competitiveness"
"committed to keeping the North American supply chain running smoothly"
"we must stake-out a strategic position for North American companies"

"We [Canada] are champions for improvements to the infrastructure that our North American industries depend on."

We get your point, Mike, but just in case there's any doubt the Americans will, feel free to run with my graphic instead.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dziekanski may have shot staples

That's your defence - staples?
That there was the possibility of staples?

You RCMP lawyers have fucking lost it.
Millions watched four RCMP zap Robert Dziekanski within seconds of meeting him, kneel on his upper body till he was dead, and then stand around making no attempt to revive him.
We heard the immediate RCMP spin in the aftermath that only three officers were there, that the room was crowded, that they tried to reason with him, that when we saw the whole tape we would understand.

We also understand you need to prove that the officers felt themselves to be in danger.
But having a former Vancouver airport security guard testify that Dziekannski "made an attempt to squeeze the staples out" of the desk stapler he was holding for "five to 10 seconds", scratch that you say, maybe only "one to four seconds" is not helping your case here.

What we need to hear from the RCMP brass after 11 TASER™ deaths, is that something has gone terribly wrong with the RCMP recruitment process but you will fix it, or something has gone terribly wrong with the officer training program but you will fix it or something has gone terribly wrong with instructions given to officers as to when to use the TASER™ but you will fix it.

That there was the possibility of staples isn't cutting it and you RCMP lawyers should be ashamed of yourselves for thus embarrassing all the decent hardworking RCMP officers who had to listen to that crap yesterday.
Update : The Star : RCMP tightens rules on tasers
"Weapons potentially lethal, force says, and should be used only to protect officers, public"
... when "necessary" says RCMP Commissioner William Elliott

OK, but this isn't just about TASERs™, is it?
You keep spinning this as if it's all about the relative safety of teh TASER™.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Darwin Day !

Go, Dr Dan!

Dan Johnson, professor of Environmental Science and Canada Research Chair (Evolution and Ecology) at the University of Lethbridge, holds the 1/64 scale model of the HMS Beagle he finished just in time to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth today.

Yes, that tiny figurehead on the bow is a beagle Dan carved with an exacto knife. Details and pictures of the two month project for you shipbuilding aficionados out there are here at Dan's site.

A short history and a hearty hurrah for Darwin and his work written by Dan here.

And yes, he is that Dr. Dan.

Happy birthday, Chuck.

The Amway, Blackwater, Focus on the Family Tree

Bill Berkowitz reports that Amway is getting ready to make a comeback.
What superb timing.
Just as we are getting used to the idea that much of the financial markets is one giant ponzi scheme, a company roughly based on the pyramid chain letter is set to rebuild its brand : a multi-level marketing scheme based on selling cleaning products to yourself while buying motivational tapes from the person up the chain who talked you into it.

Don't sneer. Amway made over $7-billion in 2007, having exported 80% of its business abroad to China, India, and Russia - where presumably a whole new batch of "distributors" is out looking around for people willing to buy their motivational tapes.
It's all about the networking.
Berkowitz reminds us of Amway's own networks and Muckety provides a nice interactive family tree with many more links than I've pillaged here :
  • Amway co-founder Richard DeVos was chair of the Republican National Committee and former chair of the Council for National Policy.
  • His son Dick DeVos, billionaire former president of Amway, is married to Betsy DeVos, former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and founder of the National Right To Life Committee.
  • Betsy is the older sister of Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA.
  • Betsy and Erik's mom, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, is a director of the Council for National Policy along with Grover Norquist and Paul Weyrich and FotF's James Dobson, and a board member of Focus on the Family herself.

As Amway co-CEO Doug DeVos put it : "We thought, well, if we’re going to build a brand, build the brand that everybody knows already."

Fun fact : While the Mormons took the brunt of the coverage for their anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 campaign in California, the Colorado Independent reports that our Focus on the Family tree pumped more than six times as much as the Mormon church did into the Protect Marriage campaign - $1.25 million .


Binational poll on NAFTA and energy policy

From Environics, a poll of 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 American respondents conducted between January 22 and February 1, 2009 :

" Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, allows corporations to sue member governments for compensation anytime they feel that government policies, such as environmental policies, might reduce their profits.
Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose energy companies being able to sue national governments for lost profits as a result of government policies? "

U. S. : SUPPORT 26% ... OPPOSE 71% ... DON'T KNOW/REFUSED 3%

Canada: SUPPORT 23% ... OPPOSE 72% ... DON'T KNOW/REFUSED 5%

That 23% of Canadians support foreign corporations doing an end run around locally elected governments is surprising till you remember the following related fun fact :
Percentage of eligible voters who voted for Steve in the last election : 22%

Chomsky : Understanding the Crisis

A fascinating interview with Noam Chomsky at Foreign Policy in Focus.

On the people who are now designing Obama's economic policies :
"Dean Baker, one of the few economists who saw what was coming all along, pointed out that it's almost like appointing Osama bin Laden to run the so-called war on terror.
Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, Clinton's treasury secretaries, are among the main architects of the crisis. Summers intervened strongly to prevent any regulation of derivatives and other exotic instruments. Rubin, who preceded him, was right in the lead of undermining the Glass-Steagall act, all of which is pretty ironic. The Glass-Steagall Act protected commercial banks from risky investment firms, insurance firms, and so on, which kind of protected the core of the economy. That was broken up in 1999 largely under Rubin's influence. He immediately left the treasury department and became a director of Citigroup, which benefited from the breakdown of Glass-Steagall by expanding and becoming a "financial supermarket" as they called it. Just to increase the irony (or the tragedy if you like) Citigroup is now getting huge taxpayer subsidies to try to keep it together and just in the last few weeks announced that it's breaking up. It's going back to trying to protect its commercial banking from risky side investments. Rubin resigned in disgrace — he's largely responsible for this. But he's one of Obama's major economic advisors, Summers is another one; Summer's protégé Tim Geithner is the Treasury Secretary."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just another business expense

Nearly ten months after 500 migrating ducks died in the toxic waste of a Syncrude tailings pond in the tar sands, the governments of Canada and Alberta have charged the company with breaking two environmental laws. Their sudden interest was apparently prompted by a private lawsuit launched last month.

The maximum combined penalty that can be levied against Syncrude under those laws is $800,000.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yes, why don't we say the Pledge of Allegiance in Canadian schools?

"First we lost saying the Lord's Prayer in school, then the Pledge of Allegiance, and now the singing of O Canada..."
So complained the aunt of a student at the centre of the New Brunswick controversy over a primary school principal reducing the daily O Canada ritual to once a month and special occasions. I watched her say it on CBC National tonight.

Good grief, lady, what the fuck country do you think you're living in?
Canadian students don't stand up every morning and put their hands over their hearts and think up new and amusing ways to riff off "My friends are leeches ... in a bag ... "
New Brunswick is still in Canada, isn't it?

CBC National didn't tag the pledge gaffe in their otherwise sympathetic report into the savaging of Erik Millett, the school principal who tried to balance the conflicting demands of three sets of parents. He decided to change the playing of "O Canada" to once a month during assembly instead of piping it into every classroom every morning, rather than single out the students whose parents objected to the anthem by pulling them out of class. Instead he had the student of the pro-anthem parents lead the school in singing it at assembly once a month.
That was back in 2007 and that should have been the end of it.

Instead Millett has been recently pilloried in the media for "banning the national anthem in school", a number of ill-informed Con MPs denounced him in the House of Commons, and he received death threats from local parents who took sides. Death threats.
After being inundated by emails criticizing the principal's decision, the local school superintendent ordered that the anthem be placed back in daily rotation.

Tonight on CBC Millett tearfully recounted how this McCarthyist witch hunt all began when the Con federal minister he ran against as a Green in the election slagged him about his anthem dilemma in a newspaper article.
Millett's in therapy now and doubts he will return to teaching.

Read that quote at the top again.
Then go and help Liberal Arts and Minds figure out how to stop this kind of dangerous right wing jingoistic nonsense in Canada.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Afghanistan : Winning hearts, minds, and stomachs

Including stomachs sounds more in line with what Rory Stewart has been arguing for.

The Independent :
"The Obama administration today outlined a new campaign strategy for the war in Afghanistan, scaling back the ambitions of George Bush in a shift which senior officials and diplomats described as a "new realism".

Richard Holbrooke, Barack Obama's new envoy for Afghanistan, General James Jones, the new White House national security adviser, and General David Petraeus, the new commander of the Afghan campaign, all stressed that the US president's policy on the Taliban and al-Qaida would be governed by "attainable goals" matched by "adequate resources".

In the first major foreign policy speech from the new administration, the vice-president, Joe Biden, told a security conference in Munich that the strategic review on Afghanistan under way in Washington would "make sure that our goals are clear and achievable".

Notable by its absence in any of the speeches from the American team was any mention of building democracy in Afghanistan. Instead, the emphasis was on creating sustainable security to try to prevent the Taliban from extending their grip on the country."

Good. I'm resigned to a continuation of US colonialism in Afghanistan with or without a NATO gloss. They can't unshit the bed but if it's not too late they can help change the sheets.

Whose stomachs are involved though?
DFAIT is pleased to boost Canadian companies to get in on the corporate action :
"Canadian companies that had to struggle to get a piece of the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq have been given a chance to avoid that problem in Afghanistan.

The federal public works department has issued a call for construction companies that might be interested in bidding on up to $100 million in upgrades to NATO's main air base in southern Afghanistan.
The United States is footing the bill ...
The work at Kandahar Airfield would involve "improvements to aircraft parking areas, the taxiway and the construction of an ammunition storage depot..."

You telling me there aren't any Afghan construction companies who could benefit from a contract to improve a parking lot?

And will KBR Canada , "with offices in Edmonton and Calgary" qualify?

KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root and owned by Halliburton Co. , has just been awarded a $35 million Pentagon contract despite a $559 million fine for bribery in Nigeria, electrocuting US soldiers due to poor workmanship standards in Iraq, and running shell offices out of Cayman Islands box numbers to avoid paying taxes. Plus the alleged gang rapes and cover-ups among employees.

And reconstruction marches on. Strong stomachs will be required.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Paul Manly : "You, Me and the SPP"

Paul Manly is probably best known to most of us as the guy who shot the video of CEP union President Dave Coles exposing the 3 rock-toting Quebec police provocateurs at the Montebello protest against the SPP back in Aug. 2007.
Cribbing from his own description here :
"a feature length documentary which exposes the corporatist agenda that is currently undermining the democratic authority of the citizens of North America.
Two processes, the Security Prosperity Partnership (SPP) and the Trade Investment Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) are rapidly eroding and eliminating standards, civil liberties, regulatory systems and institutions put in place over generations through the democratic process."
A kick ass preview : The Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the SPP, ten minutes of interviews with Maude Barlow, Dave Coles, Michael Byers, Erin Weir, Gordon Laxer, Connie Fogel, Peter Julian, Ken Georgetti, and more. Clear, concise - an excellent overview.
You, Me and the SPP will be shown at Langara in Vancouver on February 14th and in other cities across Canada as part of the traveling World Community Film Festival [itinerary here].
Or you could buy the CD, or encourage your local library to do so, at his website, Manly Media.

Film Etiquette : "Giving the finger" now officially less obnoxious than urinating on bystanders

The Ontario Film Review Board has added "giving the finger", seen here being demonstrated in the Canadian House of Commons, to its list of infractions that contribute to a film being reclassified "from a General (G) designation into the Parental Guidance (PG) category".

But wait! Here's the best part. According to the guidelines in the 32-page manual, "the gesture ... is rated the equivalent of an animal humping someone's leg - more obnoxious than "a little bit of farting, belching", but "less obnoxious than a teenager vomiting and his friend urinating onto bystanders".
Unfortunately I don't have a HoC photo to illustrate that.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Friday night news dump : ConservaLiberals drop Cadman case

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday abandoned his $3.5-million libel lawsuit against the Liberal Party over allegations that he knew of Conservative efforts to bribe a dying MP in 2005.
The move was in direct contradiction with Mr. Harper's past vows to take the matter to a total victory in front of a judge.

"The truth is that this will prove to be in court the biggest mistake the leader of the Liberal Party has ever made," Mr. Harper said last March, speaking about Stéphane Dion.

The matter was settled, without an apology or a trial, and with all sides refusing to comment."

~ Globe and Mail, Feb 7, 2009

"Stéphane Dion and Stephen Harper are effectively functioning as leaders of the same political party, under the cover of apparent faked displays of "disagreements" in front of colluding affiliate corporate media organizations. These public displays, are designed to lull rank and file party members, and dupe Canadians into believing otherwise.

This strategy includes the defamation claim media spectacle about Chuck Cadman that was launched by Stephen Harper against Stéphane Dion.
Learned legal experts agree that this litigation claim will never see the light of day in a Canadian courtroom."

~ Yvette Lafleur, Global Research, April 2, 2008.

Well, you certainly called it, Yvette

In September Harper had the case postponed till after the October election.

In October the Cons' own former FBI expert testified the Zytaruk tape was not doctored as Harper had alleged under cross-examination.

In November the lead Conservative lawyer quit the case.

In a joint statement yesterday, the Liberal Party and the Conservatives said the matter was dropped and that no other comments would be made.

Now which of you is going to be the first to apologize to Tom Zytaruk?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Over 75% of infrastructure funds went to Con ridings last year

"The Opposition party's analysis of the $1 billion dispensed from the Building Canada fund found 21 of 26 projects receiving money are in ridings that elected Consevative MPs, Liberal infrastructure critic Gerard Kennedy said.
Kennedy told the House of Commons during Thursday's question period that it leaves the majority of Canadians living in opposition ridings "massively shortchanged."

Shorter Harper : I don't remember you Libs bringing this up when you helped pass our federal budget by a 211-91 vote two days ago.

Iggy : "I can't help but find I'm an impotent man," Ignatieff told the House. "Can the prime minister assure us that his infrastructure spending will benefit all Canadians, no matter where they live or who they vote for?"

Correction : Actually Iggy said "I'm an impatient man". My bad.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Update : 14-year-old girl zapped in cell for picking at paint on the wall

continued from here.

Ban stun gun use on young people, Ontario child advocate urges

Ontario Child Advocate Irwin Elman :
"When I saw the tape, we had a young person who was peeling paint off the wall of a police holding cell with her fingernail and she was quiet and on a cot," he said. "And our estimation, the use of a Taser was not proportional to the need to protect, I guess, the paint on the wall."

"We're asking for a moratorium on the use of Tasers on children and youth, certainly in our province, until there's established, full research about their use on children and youth," he said.

Ontario rejects call for banning taser use on minors

Community Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci :
"... police officers should be able to use all the tools in their arsenal when dealing with a dangerous situation.
And he says age should not be a factor in deciding how to deal with an individual.
"That police officer should have all the tools necessary to ensure that he or she chooses a course of action that protects the individual, protects the public and protects the police officer — regardless of age," Mr. Bartolucci said.

Well that's just crap.
The "dangerous situation" is a 14-year-old girl lying on a cot in a police cell.
You're protecting paint here, Rick.
Paint, and the right to use a TASER™ on children for pain compliance.

Privatizing Hydro-Québec

Hydro-Québec is a crown corporation and the largest producer of hydro-electric power in the world. Worth $130B, its revenue in 2007 was over $12B, of which $2B went as a dividend to Quebec City. It provides Québec with the world's cheapest hydro rates.

The Montreal Economic Institute is a neoliberal think tank devoted to disbanding the wheat board and privatizing water, healthcare, and now apparently Hydro-Québec.

Yesterday the MEI released its report plumping for the privatization of Hydro-Québec.
Author Claude Garcia explained that while privatization would mean higher rates for Quebec consumers, they would gain the advantage of choosing their service provider and could be given shares in the new company. And why not sell power at 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to energy-thirsty consumers in Boston or New York, rather than at the current rate of 3 cents charged to Quebec's aluminum smelters?

Here's how that report was dutifully replayed in the media yesterday :

G&M : Report calls for sale of Hydro- Québec
"Hydro-Québec is racked by wretched inefficiency and would be better off to Quebec being privatized according to a new study commissioned by the Montreal Economic Institute."

CTV : Hydro-Quebec would be more effective if privatized, study finds
"A new study suggests Hydro-Quebec is racked by inefficiency and would be more valuable to the province if it were privatized."

CJAD : Sell off Hydro-Quebec, make an extra 10 billion a year. .
Bloomberg : Quebec Should Sell Hydro-Quebec, Globe Says, Citing Study .
Trading Markets : Privatizing Hydro-Québec would give $10 billion more a year to Quebecers .
Montreal Gazette : Our cheap power comes at a price .

OK, help me out here. If selling excess energy to the US is the goal, why not do it while retaining Hydro-Québec as a crown corporation for the longterm benefit of Quebec?
Could someone please explain that to me?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

14-year-old girl zapped in cell for peeling paint off the wall

The father of a 14-year-old mentally challenged girl who was TASER™ed in her jail cell for peeling paint off the wall is suing the Ontario Provincial Police on her behalf.

"Ontario's provincial advocate for children and youth, Irwin Elman, who has reviewed a videotape of the incident and the OPP's internal investigation, said he can't understand why police needed to stun the girl, who was lying on a cot when the two officers entered her cell and allegedly zapped her.

"I can tell you from what I saw there was no harm to herself or to any other person. It's not proportional to use a Taser... . It's a 14-year-old child in a cell, not harming herself or anybody else," said Elman, Ontario's independent children's advocate.

"The lawsuit, filed Jan. 23 at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kenora, says the officers entered the cell without warning, "violently" pulled the girl to the ground and applied the Taser to her right upper thigh for three to five seconds."

"A doctor who examined the girl in the hours after the incident reportedly observed twin burn marks on her thigh."

"OPP spokesman Insp. Dave Ross said yesterday the force was not contesting that the girl had been Tasered, but that the OPP's professional standards bureau completed an investigation in December 2008 and cleared officers of any wrongdoing.

You're shocked and surprised at the results of the OPP professional standards bureau investigation I'm sure. Did I mention she is First Nations?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Rory Stewart on Afghanistan

Photo : Women university students in Kabul, 1995

Then : Prior to the CIA-backed civil war in Afghanistan and the Taliban rule beginning in 1996, 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul University were women, and 70% of school teachers, 50% of civilian government workers, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women.

Now : "While the Bush administration boasts that millions of Afghan girls are now going to schools, what US media outlets won't tell you is that schools are still scarce in rural areas, and most schools that do function teach a curriculum limited to Islamic studies, similar to boys' schools during the Taliban era." ~Afghan Women's Mission

A couple of nights ago I watched Afghanistan expert Rory Stewart, the British diplomat to Iraq who walked across Afghanistan immediately following its invasion by the US, on tv on CPAC. He painted a pretty bleak picture.

No link but I took notes. Here is the stat that blew me away :

85% of aid money to Afghanistan goes straight to overhead and profits for private foreign contractors.

Holy shit. 85%. Cue Major General Smedley D. Butler.

Now that the fantasy of turning Afghanistan into a "shining, white city on the hill" has been shattered, he said, the international community would be better off focusing on the few things it does well and then getting the hell out. More troops just reinforces the Afghan sense of being occupied which only adds to Taliban numbers.

Stewart also stressed alarm at what he called Obama's "unrealistic picture of what can be achieved" : " 'We're going to win in Afghanistan.' I don't even know what he means. I don't know what he imagines victory would look like. You can no more win in Afghanistan than you can in the Congo, Chad, Nepal."

"What about women's rights", asked someone from the floor.

"This is what I meant by unrealistic expectations" he answered, warning that Afghanistan is not going to conform to western standards or return to pre-Taliban conditions any time soon - not women's rights, not democratic rights. Such unrealistic targets only lead to disillusionment and more troops, a longer stay.

Nonetheless he does support long term economic aid to projects with practical economic results - roads, electricity, hospitals, schools - and singled out CIDA as providing some of the better examples of reconstruction projects that work.
Stewart's own NGO to hire local Afghans to produce and market traditional handmade goods, Turquoise Mountain, is a CIDA beneficiary.

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