Saturday, December 31, 2005

The threat to boobies

The terrifying booby predator sadistically enjoying the rewards of his lastest kill.

(if Dave can have fun on this blog, then so can I! Phffft!)

Friday, December 30, 2005

And Another One Bites The Dust

The government of Prime Minister John Howard in Australia is taking a beating in a poll conducted by Newspoll reports The Australian in this article.

In total, two-thirds of Australians, about 66 per cent, now believe it was not worth going to war, up from 58 per cent a year ago. Just 27 per cent believe it was worth it, compared with 32per cent a year ago.

Australia's Howard now has poll numbers similar to those experienced by Bush and Blair. Further, Howard has taken popularity hits as a result of his legislative package which included controversial labour/industrial relations legislation.

Interestingly, John Howard's reaction to polls and opposition demands is virtually a mirror of Bush's performance in the US. He uses the same arguments for continued Australian presence in Iraq and offers the same rhetoric when responding to critics. And, it is even more interesting that Australian public reaction is going in the same direction as that of the US.

Know your candidate. Conservative wingnuts..part deux

Where in the world does the Conservative party dig up their candidates from? First there was Darrel Reid, the former president of Focus on the Family Canada, and now Rob Anders.

Anders, the Conservative candidate and current Member of Parliament for Calgary West is an embarrassment to any rational thinking human being. This is the man who blocked the Canadian House of Commons from bestowing honourary Canadian citizenship on Nelson Mandela (an act that requires a unanimous vote). Anders, the lone holdout, refused to vote along with the rest of the Commons because he believes Mandela to be “a communist and a terrorist”. Huh????? He then managed to bring further shame on himself by refusing to answer the phone when Mendela attempted to call him.

He has no qualms about kicking his constituents in the economic teeth. His riding was allocated $ 500,000 in grants to create student jobs. He refused the grants saying that it would create “"unfair interference in the free market". Ummmm, shouldn’t an MP be trying to create employment in their riding, not unemployment?

In February 2000, Anders was forced to leave Chinese New Year celebrations on Parliament Hill because he was wearing an anti-China T-shirt. Even members of his own party were disgusted with him.

In the current election campaign, Anders sent out a questionnaire to voters asking four questions:

Do you like the way Paul Martin spends your taxes?
Are the Liberals doing enough to fight crime?
Do you support homosexual sex marriage?
Do you think more should be spent on the military?

Look at question number three. Homosexual SEX marriage? As opposed to …homosexual friendship marriage? But the real kicker is, he sent out this survey to voters in British Columbia. Anders is a candidate in Alberta!

If the Conservative Party of Canada wants to lead this country and thereby act as the representatives of all Canadians, they really, really need to do some housecleaning in regards to their candidates.

British "30 year files" reveal the trouble with pandas

The British government has placed a large number of old Top Secret files in the public archives. This is a standard practice 30 years after the file is considered closed. Observers remarked that some of the documents were the most secret they had ever seen, some of them detailing 1975 plans in the event of a nuclear war.

The mid-1970s were an extremely tough time for Britain. Rampant inflation was ravaging the economy and there was a strong possibility that Britain would be forced to declare a form of national bankruptcy. In 1976 Britain had to borrow 2.3 billion pounds sterling from the International Monetary Fund just to maintain services.

Given Britain's desperate financial condition, the gift of two pandas, Ching-Ching and Chia-Chia, from China created something of a fuss. The London Zoo was nearly broke and had to build a habitat for the two critters. Failure to do so raised concerns in cabinet that it would be viewed as a snub. There was also the concern that the cost of imported bamboo shoots, a panda's sole diet, was more than the zoo could afford.

Panda creating controversy

Whither the Rhinoceros Party

The acrimony of the current Canadian election campaign leaves one wondering not only about the personal ethics, but about the overall quality of the people who wish to be awarded the power to form government. The current crop of Canadian politicians leave much to be desired and large groups of Canadians will vote while holding their noses. All parties have glaring flaws and many seem to be completely out of touch with the electorate. It is little wonder that voter turnout is declining at each election. Elections Canada has asked that Canadian voters be allowed to "officially decline" their ballot, thus registering a protest which is officially counted as opposed to the current model which simply records an unmarked or overmarked voting foil as a "spoiled ballot".

Not so long ago, however, Canadians had an option which no longer exists today. They could vote for the Rhinoceros Party of Canada candidate in their riding.

Many people considered the Rhinos a ridiculous group, but consider that they had achieved "party status" on the Canadian political scene and at their peak during the 1980 federal general election they ran 121 candidates, taking over 1% of the popular vote for a total of 110,286 ballots cast in their favour. While the Rhinos never won a seat in Parliament, in some ridings they placed a strong second, ahead of major political parties.

Some of the Rhino Party promises:

- repealing the law of gravity,
- building sloping roads and bicycle paths across the country so that Canadians could "coast from coast to coast",
- abolishing pumping oil out of the ground as that oil is there to keep the earth moving smoothly on its axis and if you withdraw the oil, the whole thing will grind to a halt,
- painting Canada's coastal sea limits so that Canadian fish would know where they were at all times

And if some of those election promises seem a little worrying, well worry not; the Rhino party always promised to break every campaign promise they made, (a promise they claimed the major parties put into actual practice).

If all this sounds a little silly, look at it this way. The appearance of the Rhinoceros party on the ballot was intended to provide a place for voters to register a protest vote. When the mainstream parties, their candidates and leaders represented the things Canadians found distasteful, when the campaigns of the major parties had reached levels of behaviour for which Canadians felt they should be punished, a vote for the Rhino candidate sent a strong message. Every time a ballot was counted as Rhino, it deeply humiliated the candidates of the major parties and registered voter disgust.

Cornelius, the First, a rhino at the Granby zoo was listed as the party's official leader.

Alas, on September 23rd, 1993, the Chief Electoral Officer ordered the Rhinoceros Party of Canada removed from the Registry of Canadian Political Parties when the Rhinos attempted to abstain from that year's election. In order to remain "official" the party would have had to run at least 50 candidates. The Chief Electoral Officer ordered the party's agent, Charlie McKenzie to liquidate all assets and return any revenues to the Receiver General of Canada. McKenzie, on the advice of party members refused and, after two years of threats, the Chief Electoral Officer refused to prosecute making McKenzie Canada's least most wanted fugitive.

Canada needs a political party like the Rhinos. While they admittedly put the "mock" in democracy, they performed a vitally useful role in allowing Canadians to express an alternative view at the ballot box and send the major parties a clear message.

There have been other attempts to create humour parties in Canada, but none was so influential as the Rhinos. We can but hope that one day, they will return to the Canadian political landscape. Federal election campaigns just aren't the same without them.


Hey. If you can't have fun with it, there's no reason to have a blog. These are Boobies.

... And Then The Plane Just Flew Away

Get on the airplane, get drunk, get loud and abusive with the crew, the airplane makes an unscheduled stop on a near-desert island, get booted off the airplane, the airplane leaves, possibly get sued for the cost of diverting the flight. I guess the guy is lucky the aircraft captain actually landed the plane before kicking him off.

Read more here

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Next Bush Target - Freedom Of Information?

A December 16, 2005 memorandum originated by George W. Bush to the heads of executive departments and agencies entitled, Guidelines and Requirements in Support of the Information Sharing Environment contains a line which, if nothing else, should raise the curiosity of those interested in maintaining or improving the free release of government information.

While the memorandum itself appears to be a fairly mundane bit of government housekeeping surrounding the sharing of information between departments, paragraph 2c refers to a type of information for which there is no current definition. Guideline 3 of the Information Sharing Guidelines requires Standardize Procedures for Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)Information.


I've dealt with sensitive information for most of my adult life. If it had anything to do with national security, it was classified. If it dealt with personal information it was classified. If it was simply related to bureaucratic or political operations, it remained unclassified.

To promote and enhance the effective and efficient acquisition, access, retention, production, use, management, and sharing of Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information, including homeland security information, law enforcement information, and terrorism information, procedures and standards for designating, marking, and handling SBU information (collectively "SBU procedures") must be standardized across the Federal Government. SBU procedures must promote appropriate and consistent safeguarding of the information...
(emphasis mine)

But if the information is unclassified there is no requirement to safeguard it other than to retain it for record and historical purposes. Throughout the memorandum, indeed throughout the US government there is no clear definition of sensitive, with regard to information.

It is interesting that just two days prior to this memorandum Bush issued an Executive Order reiterating policy and procedure regarding the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). However, as far back as March 2002 the Federation of American Scientists had identified new restrictions which were not consistent with FOIA and had encountered the term Sensitive But Unclassified when making FOIA requests.

The new restrictions have alarmed scientists, public interest groups, and concerned citizens because they interfere with the conduct of research.

This article, from Georgetown Law Library bibliographer, Sara Kelley provides a sampling of the types of information that has been identified as SBU and raises several alarms.

Particularly troubling to many openness advocates are the critical infrastructure information protections of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, because they include not only a new and arguably unnecessary FOIA exemption, but also a ban on the direct use of such information in civil litigation.

With no clear definition of sensitive being produced by the White House nor by any government department, virtually anything could be exempted from FOIA access at the whim of a senior civil servant or political appointee.

Classified information, which is currently safeguarded, has a declassification date and a schedule for release under FOIA. SBU information is not classified, therefore has no declassification date, no schedule for release and need never be made public since it does not fall within the framework of the Freedom Of Information Act. SBU, which is not a security classification takes on the strength of making information permanently secret.

SBU has far reaching and dangerous implications. The first thing that comes to mind is that politically embarrassing or damaging information can easily be locked up forever or even destroyed without the public having ever been aware of it. It allows the administration to evade congressional oversight, to shield a controversial program from public awareness, or otherwise manipulate the political system through strategic withholding and disclosure of information. Environmental hazards, defective products, and risky corporate practices only tend to find their solution, if at all, following a thorough public airing. Withholding controversial information from the public means short-circuiting the political process and under the current administration policy there is no measure to prevent abuse. Indeed, the use of SBU is an attempt to work around the FOIA.

The Bush administration has used SBU to remove declassified information from public access. Information which was declassified in accordance with FOIA schedules has been declared sensitive, thus causing it to be locked away from public access forever, in complete violation of the FOIA.

The Freedom Of Information Act provides for exemptions for certain types of information. Given the topics under which such exempted information may be categorized, there is no legitimate reason to withhold unclassified information under any circumstances. If the information requires classification then it is applied and a declassification date is assigned. If the FOIA does not provide sufficient protection for certain information then it is contingent upon the administration to go to Congress and ask for amending legislation thus providing the American public a view as to what type of new information is now exempted from the FOIA.

Given the Bush administration proclivity for secrecy, an inclination to willfully ignore the law when it doesn't suit their purposes and a failure to ask Congress to modernize legislation, this appears as yet another power grab by an administration which has already abused the trust of its citizens.

Capturing The High Ground

So, the annual campaign in the bogus War on Christmas has ended once again and, as usual, the high ground was captured by the forces of non-theistic, anti-superstitious good. Bill O'Reilly, the religious right's rabid mouthpiece, has lost. No matter how hard he tried or how loud he yelled, Santa Claus did not appear to him. Perhaps O'Reilly is just too stupid to figure it out.

This season for me involved driving several hundred miles in each direction over wintry mountain roads to visit a scattered family. The highlight was being in the company of a 2 1/2 year old as he soaked up the effect of the gathering clan. While the holiday was something of a novelty, he quickly adapted to the idea that there were presents which required unwrapping, toys with which he needed to play and goodies which needed eating. Santa Claus remains something of a mystery, but clearly anyone who arrives on a firetruck at the local community Christmas party, departed having made a positive impression. The idea that he now had his own small wheeled vehicles and a flexible track on which to operate them (complete with a supply of AA batteries) added even further to the day.

The terms Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays had no meaning for him, yet you could see a sense of excitement and pleasure surrounding this day. He was having a blast. As time goes on he will look forward to Christmas with anticipation, as many kids do. With luck, he will forge good memories of this time of year and perhaps look back on them with nostalgia. That is what Christmas time is actually about for a lot of us. A look back at a time when we were kids. A day when family, feasting and festivity took priority. As adults, we capture that through the kids in our lives. Otherwise, we look back at our time and try to remember the good times while forcing other times into the deep recesses of our memory.

And that's where O'Reilly lost the battle. He wants Christmas to be what it was when he was six years old. He doesn't give a tinker's damn about his supposed saviour, nor about the meanings of the greetings or the words used to describe the event. He just wants Christmas to be what it is in A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd. What O'Reilly is too dense to figure out is that the story is about kids at Christmas yet it makes no mention of Christian observances.

Personally, I thought a laughing, smiling 2 1/2 year old captured the moment when we walked up the steps and he announced, "HI! I have snot on my face!" A cold will do that to you, at Christmas or Festivus or whatever one makes of this time of year.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ice Capades on Rubber

Living between two mountain ranges delivers one undeniable fact of life: If you want to go anywhere outside the valley, you have to drive over at least one range. Mountain driving has its own special set of challenges under normal circumstances. Doing it during the winter just seems to add to the excitement.

Preparing a vehicle for winter mountain driving shouldn’t be taken lightly. Almost all Canadians and most Americans living in the northern US are very familiar with winter driving. Mountain driving isn’t all that much more difficult except for the landslides, avalanches, lack of road shoulder, sheer drops and, of course, whatever nature placed on the road to make things more fun.

You may notice other drivers tend to have a “death-grip” on their steering wheels. They’ve done this before.

Drivers from the Canadian southwest coast have a tendency to forget the necessities of winter mountain driving. The first thing that slips the mind is the things that meet the road; the tires. All Season tires are great, if you don’t plan on driving on snowy, icy roads. For that you need grippers, and in this environment, ice grippers are a really good plan, particularly when the overhead road condition marquee says, Highway open. Compact snow, ice, slippery and slushy. Conditions good. (Good, is relative. It’s better than a white-out.) Watching a brand new Jaguar come out of the snow tunnels with its All Season tires spinning as it tries to climb an icy 8% grade is….well, entertaining at least.

It is just good policy to make sure your vehicle is well maintained. It’s a matter of survival to make sure the maintenance is done before driving the mountains during winter. Little things like oil, coolant, belts, hoses and fuel turn into big problems when the temperature dips below zero, the air gets thin and snow is building on the road. And there is one other thing which drivers have a tendency to forget: Windshield washer fluid – lots of it. It also helps to have a shovel, a candle, a few blankets, some sort of food, water, flashlight, flares, a book to read, deck of cards, jumper cables and chains. If there’s any room left, a passenger is always handy. You may also want to take some hot coffee, tea or soup.

Now, as for driving… If the speed limit is 100 kmh (60 mph), it means that on a good day, when the road is in excellent condition, the highest speed you are allowed to go 100. Note the word Maximum on the sign. That is not a suggestion. If the road has snow, ice, slush or other winter water product on the surface, go slower; much slower. Trying to do the maximum on an icy piece of highway in the Fraser Canyon, when the right shoulder of the road is non-existent, the drop is 1000 feet straight down and the landing spot is a westbound freight train is (how do I put this gently?), unbelievably insane.

The Department of Transportation has a unique way of adding traction to slippery, icy roads. Add sand, you say? No no no. Gravel, rocks and small boulders! It actually works quite well, until you pass an 18-wheeler. This is the time to use some of your washer fluid. Highway tractor trailers passing in either direction will deposit several pounds of slush, ice, rocks and mud right in your field of view. It’s a good idea to remove all that quickly so you can see through the new cracks in your windshield.

If you encounter a sign that says Carry chains beyond this point, think for a minute. Note the sign does not say everyone except you. You need to have them. You should also have an idea how to put them on. Helpful hint – they go on the drive wheels.

If you see a sign that says Avalanche area. No stopping. Ignore the photo opportunity to your right. Take note of the snow pack up and to your left. Keep going. Do not stop. If there is a big horn sheep on the road, go around it and keep moving. If there a pair of wolf pups are playing on the side of the road, ignore them and keep moving. If this picture is not clear, no one can help you. Stopping in an avalanche zone is suicide.

As you reach the peak and start the journey downward into the coastal zone, you will probably breathe a sigh of relief. Only one problem – it’s too early. Ahead of you is something familiar. Ah, yes! You saw one of these at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics; a bobsled run!

Downhill off the mountains to the coast is perhaps the most fun you will ever have. An 8% grade that seemingly goes forever, hairpin turns, snow built up along the side barriers and a solid sheet of icy compact snow – all the way to the bottom. Where there are normally two or three lanes in your direction there is now a single track and you need to stay in it. Resist the urge to speed up. If you meet up with a group of people crouched over, zipping down the hill ahead you, don’t worry. It’s just the Austrian downhill ski team practicing for the World Cup. Just slow right down and never, ever slam on your brakes. (Unless you get a kick out of going down the mountain backwards.)

If you reach the coast, you are pretty much home free. You may encounter other who have made the same trip. It’s a good idea to share your experience. This will help you recover and make the return trip possible. And if you have to take a ferry, well that’s a different part of your winter adventure.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Off To The Front Lines of The War On Christmas

We've been called-up! So, we're off to the War on Christmas. Apparently there is a 2.5 year old human unit refusing to take up arms and we're needed to convince him that it's the thought that counts... and the Jurassic Park dino-buggy (batteries not included).

Admittedly, this is not the central front of the war, which is somewhere between Cranberry, New Jersey, and San Ysidro, California, but this is a significant action.

There will be postings from the front, but they may be sparse. Stay tuned!

Abortion IS birth control!

While perusing (I know, I know...I can only visit the site when I'm either in the mood for a good chuckle or when I've consumed copious quantities of wine), I came across a sentence that blew my mind. It's not the first time I've heard it used as a condemnation of abortion. Here it is (and NO, I'm not going to link to the site...I refuse to ruin your supper):

Finally, I examined the evidence tending to show that abortion is being used primarily and overwhelmingly as birth control.
Soooooo, let me get this straight. Abortion is used as birth control. DUH !!!!!! What did you think abortion was used for? As a flu vaccine?

Let's stop beating around the bush. Abortion is a form of birth control. Period. That is it's purpose. The point is to prevent birth, therefore, it is birth control. So let's stop pretending that it is anything BUT birth control.

This Just Plain Sucks

Another Canadian has been killed in a UN peacekeeping operation in another of the world's failed states. This time it was Mark Borque, a 35 year veteran of the RCMP, who had retired from the force two years ago. He was part of a team of 25 retired and 100 serving RCMP officers serving with the 1600 member UN police force in Haiti.

The police force, under the command of RCMP Chief Supt. Graham Muir is attempting to stabilize the area prior to upcoming elections. (Which have been repeatedly cancelled due to street violence.)

No matter how you view it, being on a UN peacekeeping mission is no fun, but it really sucks to die for somebody else's country.

Our hearts go out to Mark's family.

Aw, Jeez! This is going to start another fight.

While my belief system has been pretty much shut down, in the religious sense, for the past few decades, I do like to get into some of the historical bits that have caused religions to arise or evolve. Between episodes of reading the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, Notwithstanding Clause, I happened across this revelation.

It is most proper to call Him Yeshua. It was indeed his proper name, given to him by his parents, and only in Hebrew does this name have any meaning. In Hebrew Yeshua means both "Salvation," and the concatenated form of Yahoshua, is "Lord who is Salvation." The name Jesus has no intrinsic meaning in English whatsoever.

Well, you could have blown me over with a feather. My Kokanee got warm. And this is no half-baked group of nuts! This is the Essenes telling us. They should know about this too, since they are the original Christians.

Does this mean the local pastor will have to change his cry of "Praise JAY-Suss"? Next they'll be telling us that he wasn't white.

This was inevitable. Bush hacks try to shift the blame.

Scott, at Lawyers, Guns and Money, posts a look at the latest straw being grasped at by the disciples of The Big Brother State.

As I stated in this post, coming out of the bunker and blaming somebody else for their misdemeanors and illegal acts is the trademark of the Bush administration and the pack of rabid dogs that represent the administration's voice. I expect any day now the wingnut spin machine will churn out something along the lines of, "If Congress had been doing their job, we wouldn't have had to do it the way we did," or, "Congress knew and did nothing to stop us."

Place your bets at the Bull & Bear.

Monday, December 19, 2005

No Reason NOT To Use FISA, Unless....

Bush's admission of carrying out domestic spying without using established legislation and in clear violation of the US Constitution has started an absolute storm of excrement flying from all directions. Why would Bush do it? There is, as in all things surrounding secret intelligence gathering, a mystery. The problem is trying to solve it and it requires a short examination of what excuses have been offered so far.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' argues that such activity is legal and extends from the Afghanistan Resolution. Rubbish. Nothing in the Afghanistan Resolution provides that authority. In fact, Gonzales' entire press briefing was ludicrous and little more than an exercise in spin lacking plausibility.

A poster at Red State (via Ezra) tried to defend the constitutional legality of the Bush administration's domestic spying only to get it all wrong and then had to publish a "mea culpa" which rendered his position completely invalid.

Still others have just come out with full justification for Bushco's actions which is little more than talking through their hats. They know precisely what everyone else knows - nothing. In any case, the specious arguments provided by the likes of National Review do nothing to explain why the administration did not seek new legislation. (Gonzales did address that. The administration didn't think such legislation would pass!)

The conditions surrounding the changes made to FISA by the Patriot Act are clearly explained in this US Navy JAG memo. The arguments provided, so far, by the Bush administration for not securing FISA court warrants are easily dismissed by the USN JAG interpretation of the rules. There is extended retroactive approval of warrants, roving authority and expanded purpose.

The Gonzales examples of FISA warrants lacking agility are all pre-9/11. The Patriot Act eliminated those barriers. Gonzales and General Hayden (Deputy Director National Intelligence) during their press briefing excused skirting FISA because of the onerous preparation required to present an application for a warrant. That simply doesn't fly. It takes no new legislation nor violation of the law to streamline a bureaucratic process. If there is a log jam, kick some ass, take some names and get on with the frigging job. And if there is an administration that has no compunction about leaving a trail of broken bodies to meet their ends, it's this one.

We can also accept that we have yet to hear anything close to the truth. This administration is made up of pathological liars. And we know the lies aren't the of the little white variety, the US adventure in Iraq and the "reasons" for going there, being the most durable piece of evidence in hand. The truth is a long way away and it isn't going to come out of the White House.

So, let's presume the obvious. The administration knowingly violated the Constitution, did not seek new legislation, did not inform Congress and avoided oversight. What, aside from the Nixonian belief that as President, George W. Bush thinks he can do anything he wants, would motivate the administration to engage in this kind of illegal act?

One point is, they thought they could get away with it. That has been the harbinger of this entire administration. They lie and they are stunned when they get caught. From fake intelligence to torture, they make up excuses, crawl into the bunker and then emerge blaming somebody else for letting them get away with it.

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog suggests that the reason for avoiding FISA warrants is that they may be spying on the media. That is entirely possible. In fact, I think it's a given. This bunch hates things that they cannot control and the media, or at least a percentage of it, is beyond their reach. The FISA court would likely go ballistic if an application for a warrant included any part of the news media. But, I would go further than that. The one thing out there that is definitely not tame is the blogosphere.

Another hallmark of the Bush administration is procedural laziness. Bush himself, is an intellectually lazy individual. From poor student to failed businessman, he has never been required to perform to a high standard. This bunch doesn't like doing the hard things. It is much easier to ignore the difficulties of diplomacy, for example, than to engage the world as a sane government. If something requires patience, skill, finesse and negotiation, it is set aside in favour of the more expedient, expensive and clumsy hammer. If the administrative process to produce applications for warrants was less than instantaneous, it would have been consistent with past behaviour to ignore the process and the warrant and simply generate an executive order creating something new. Bush, having been told by all those around him that he is all powerful, would see nothing wrong with this. He has, after all, misinterpreted his primary role, that of protecting the US Constitution.

There is, however, more to this. This is the gang that was supposed to be standing on the wall on Sept. 11, 2001. They had received prior warning and did nothing. Alerts had been issued from the field and they responded by engaging in the politics of self-interest. What they had, in those hours before the attack on New York and Washington DC, was enough information to have caused an increase in vigilance. Instead, they left the wall unguarded. They were not at their posts. And then suddenly, they had to scramble to get some sort of act together. This knee-jerk administration, caught up in the personal fable of their self-described heroism, had to act. But they had nothing to act upon. By ignoring the vital information they had diminished the importance of the intelligence gatherers. Aside from the knowledge that it was probably Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda who had attacked, they had no clear picture.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Bush and his coterie had to find out the size and scope of a problem they had neither studied nor which they understood. In short, they had nothing. Further, politically they were in jeopardy. While they could expect the population to rally around the President in the days following Sept. 11, they needed to demonstrate that they were firmly in charge and in possession of all the information necessary to fend off any further attacks. But they had nothing. So, without even knowing what they were looking for, they went on an electronic fishing expedition.

It would be impossible to go to the FISA court with an application for a warrant which did not identify either a person or a defined target. With nowhere to look, they used "shotgun effect". Hit the broad system in roughly the correct area and the likelihood of turning up something useful from one spot is reasonably good. But they could not get a warrant for that. It is pure speculation at this point, but it is not out of the realm of reason that Bush ordered NSA to intercept any and all communications within and outside the US until they turned up solid intelligence of al Qaeda activity. That's fishing, and they could not get a warrant for that. The enemy they sought out was nobody and everybody, but everyone was a suspect.

The Bush administration, populated as it is with swine like Rove, Libby, Perle, Cheney and a host of others, has a narrow view of the enemy. Basically, it is anyone or any group who would bring them down. Whether that is a member of al Qaeda or a US citizen who loudly disagrees with the administration's prosecution of a war, both are the enemy. The former is labeled a terrorist; the latter is labeled a traitor. How many times has Bush or one of his cohorts cried "treason!" whenever someone utters disagreement with his war-hawk foreign policy?

Given the duration of Bush's illegal surveillance and the amount to which he has admitted, there should be some substantial results. In that the NSA was engaged in intercepting and analyzing communications, unchecked, they should have produced by now, a rather extensive picture of any network that exists in the US. Further, because of the unimpeded ability of the NSA to vary the target based on an earlier intercept, they should have a complete or near complete intelligence analysis of al Qaeda and their operations worldwide. Unless this surveillance was too focused on something else.

So, what is the disposition of Osama bin Laden? Or are we to believe he's been maintaining radio silence for the past four years?

We haven't even scratched the surface of this nightmare.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

That Dreaded December 25th Patrol

The week leading up to Christmas, whether you engage in the secular or religious observance of the day, is usually a period of anxious confusion for most people. Events are being planned, attended or supplied. Last minute gifts are being purchased, rooms decorated and greetings exchanged. As daylight grows shorter, people hurry about to complete the last tasks to ensure a family gathering, no matter how small, is a happy event.

For one group of people, however, this is hell week. They too, look at the calendar and see December 25th. They too, are thinking of gifts, of decorated houses, of anxious kids and of a family gathered for a cultural feast. And thinking about it makes their situation worse, because all of those things are thousands of miles and a cultural world away from the reality of their situation. They will, if they are lucky, share Christmas with a husband, wife, kids or lover by way of a 5 or 10 minute phone call. They will, despite the numbers of people around them, become lonely and at times, driven to tears.

They are the people we have sent to the hell holes of this world. They are the young men and women we ask to place themselves on the killing fields to effect change. They are the soldiers, sailors and air force personnel who are fighting wars, keeping the peace, disarming factions and facing extreme danger amongst populations and cultures most of us don't even understand. They could be American, Canadian, British, Dutch, Australian or any other of the nationalities who have deployed their armed services. To them, December 25th holds the same significance as it does to those of us at home, but unlike us, it will pass slowly and often, painfully - a feeling shared by those at home hoping for a loved one's safe return. Many will have the modicum of a day off, a mass gathering for dinner in barracks or mess, some festivity and then a return to routine. It isn't home though, so it will always be remembered as a "Christmas away". For others it will be Christmas day on duty, on watch or on the flight-line. For a significant number it will be a day no different from all others on the calendar - a day on patrol.

I have led that Christmas day patrol. It's the same as all other patrols and, at the same time, very different. While patrolling is always dangerous, that departure from camp on Christmas morning to patrol the streets or perimeter of an unsafe area brings its own special dangers and fears. While everyone says they are focused on the mission, the truth is, everyone is thousands of miles away. Concentration is difficult to maintain. As on every patrol, the members fear the reality of an ambush, a sniper, a landmine and these days, a suicide bomber, but the fear is exacerbated by the dread of it happening on this day. Nobody wants to die, but they especially don't want the letter home to read, "Killed 25 December...".

Throughout the entire patrol each member will, in his or her own mind, visualize home and curse the son-of-a-bitch that sent them there, knowing he is living well, comfortable and safe. They will curse those who are not sharing the fact that it is too cold, or too hot or too wet. They will curse the comfort you enjoy while they worry about having enough water to make it through the mission. They will curse you for your safety while they put their life at certain risk. And they will silently beg to be able to make it back to camp without incident. On this day, "just leave us alone".

They will count the kilometers, watch the rooftops, and keep their eyes on the ground ahead. They will wish their helmet was more comfortable, and wish their LBV or PLCE was a better fit around the chest. While they would like to be home now, they know they do not want to be pulled out early with a sucking chest wound, a missing limb or worst of all, inside a rubber bag. They just want to make it through the worst day of the year.

And then it will be over. Another day will be scratched off thousands of calendars and the tour will be one less day and a wake-up. And on the next patrol, the sentry won't say, "Merry Christmas, guys," and no patrol member will answer with, "Yeah sure. Ho ho, fuckin' ho."

To the men and women of this world who do that horrible job, please stay safe. Keep your eyes open, your head down and above all, keep your powder dry.

All of us thank you.

Spin terms that drive me crazy!

Under the Bush regime, spin terminology has achieved new heights of both creativity and downright stupidity. We expect spin from politicians. We accept it. Most spin terms are so commonplace and mundane that I can easily let them go in one ear and out the other, but there are times when I feel like my head is going to explode! Here are some of the spin terms that make me crazy.

“America has an image problem in the Muslim world”. This implies that the Muslim perception of the U.S. is at odds with the reality of the U.S. WRONG!! It’s not the image that’s the problem…it’s the reality that sucks! America does not have an IMAGE problem, it has a REALITY problem.

“Achieving victory in Iraq”. Sounds laudable enough doesn’t it? One problem…what the hell constitutes “victory”? It changes every 30 seconds! You can’t achieve a goal until you actually DEFINE the goal..dammit. (it’s kinda like running a race, you can’t cross the finish line until you know where the finish line is)

“Commander-in-Chief”. OK, this is not a spin term, it’s a legitimate phrase. It’s the current holder of the title that puts it into the category of spin. The root word of commander is “command” denoting control over something. This president has control over nothing…he merely does what others tell him to do. He’s not a Commander-in-Chief, he’s a Sheep-in-Chief. (sounds like the main course on a menu doesn’t it?)

“Mission accomplished”. See “ achieving victory in Iraq”

"Illegal spying on American civilians being described as a “program”. This one is showing up all over the place. Not only does Bush and his cronies refer to the spying as a “program”, it also seems to be the terminology that the MSM and even the blogosphere is using when referring to this outrage. I object to the term “program” because it makes it sound so benign, so routine and ordinary, just another innocuous government program, no different from say…the student loan program. Call it what it is – an outrage, a scandal, criminality, reprehensible….anything that doesn’t imply that it was harmless and nothing to get your shorts in a wad over.

“Women and children”. As in a sinking ship when the call goes out for women and children first, or in Women’s and Children’s Hospital or the HIV Women and Children's Fund . I have only one thing to say, and kindly picture the look of total disgust on my face when I say this. Women and children…is that one category or two?

“Pro-life”. If you’re pro-life, then you’re for life..all life..even low lifes. That means that you are against the death penalty, you’re against carnivorous eating habits, you’re against letting people starve to death in Africa. If you claim that you are pro-life but you don’t support life in all its myriad forms, then you are not pro-life…you are merely ANTI-ABORTION. Get the word “life” out of it – I know it makes you feel morally superior, but you have no damn right to it.

This is just a small sampling of what drives me to drink. Feel free to add to the listing - I'm interested in hearing what other phrases make people want to poke a stick in their eyeballs. If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go join the elephants for a round of rice beer. I need it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

More great advice from Mrs. Mills!

Once again, Mrs. Mills of the Sunday Times in London solves one of the world's long standing dilemas:

I am having a Christmas soirée, but all my friends have different food requirements. One is on a high-protein diet, one is doing low-GI and one has a wheat/gluten allergy. What is the right party food to serve in such a situation?

And the answer

Mulled wine.

Check out the whole article here

Fallujah is reaching a new boiling point

Hala Jaber, of the Sunday Times reports that Fallujah is the epicenter of a new militant insurgency. Failure of the Iraqi and US governments to provide the promised reconstruction after the November 2004, US assault (Operation Phantom Fury), has caused the civilian population to cast their support behind the insurgents.

Stoking the anger has been the slow pace of compensation payments, despite the allocation of $490m by Iraq’s interim government last year.
Dr Hafid al-Dulaimi, head of the city’s compensation commission, reported that 36,000 homes and 8,400 shops were destroyed in the US onslaught.
Sixty nurseries and schools and 65 mosques and other religious establishments were wrecked. Falluja’s mayor, Dhari abdel Hadi al-Irssan, claims that only 20% of the compensation promised has reached the city

Residents of Fallujah risk being robbed by Iraqi troops.

One woman was driving home with $2,000 she had just received as compensation for losing her home when she was stopped and robbed by Iraqi troops. She has filed a formal complaint. Another man lost $3,500 in a similar incident.
Yet even these deprivations pale by comparison with the fatalities Falluja families claim to have suffered at the hands of occupying forces. Witnesses spoke of American Marines dumping bodies in the Euphrates just after the offensive and of mass graves where hundreds are allegedly buried.

The insurgents are still in Fallujah and gathering support. They are also reorganizing differently.

... "The new resistance that has been forming in Falluja is one that will be characterised by revenge and settling scores,” the commander of one fundamentalist faction explained.
“As well as fighting the occupation, its aim will include avenging . . . the crimes committed by the so-called (Iraqi) forces in the period after the offensives,” he said.
The commander claimed that US and Iraqi troops had “violated the sanctity of homes, families and even religion . . . The arrests of thousands of men mean that every home now has suffered the loss or detention of at least one of its males”.
Having melted away in the face of earlier US onslaughts, the resistance has learnt to organise itself differently. Another faction commander added: “Groups and cells are being formed but, unlike in the past, the hierarchy and leadership will be difficult to track.”.

US military commanders in Fallujah admit that there is growing sympathy for the insurgency. If the US doesn't bring it under control by rebuilding the city quickly, Fallujah will erupt, as all fermenting insurgencies do, with more strength than 13 months ago.

Read the whole article here.

2005 Koufax Awards

It's time for the 2005 Koufax awards. To my surprize, The Galloping Beaver has been nominated in two categories: Best New Blog and Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition, (with thanks to The Happy Feminist, and a great plug from Laura). It should be noted that I nominated The Happy Feminist for the same two categories, so it should be obvious that the Koufax awards are a fun and friendly way to recognize members of a very active blogging community.

Check out the competition and the categories at Wampum and if you feel like nominating go to this thread. Right now you can still make multiple nominations in each category.

Have fun, and do check out some of the other great blogs out there.

Q: Why do elephants drink so much? A: to try to forget

For years the elephants of Africa have endured taunts and barbs, accused of engaging in wild, drunken, bacchanalian parties after consuming the fruit of the marula tree. Despite their protests of innocence, the elephants have failed to dispel the spurious rumours, until now. Scientists have now proven that even the largest, laziest, couch-potato elephant could not possibly eat enough marula fruit in one day to get drunk. Elephants have announced a celebratory party in honour of their vindication. Free rice beer to all who attend.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Occupant: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC

Dear Elected One, (Assuming that is how you achieved office)

In that I am not a citizen of your country, but an all-the-while interested observer of US politics, I felt it my responsibility to offer some guidance as to your duties and responsibilities. (You seem to be confused). I will attempt to refrain from making subjective observations and instead, try to restrict my guidance to those documents, letters patent, terms of reference and any pertinent paper napkin musings which may clarify your expected performance for the remainder of your appointment.

I know I speak a different dialect of English than you. Please excuse the difference in our education. I tend to place the letter "U" where you think it unnecessary. Ignore it; it is of no particular importance. Likewise, I do understand your use of "y'all" when addressing someone and "all y'all" when addressing a group. But I digress.

Your first term of reference is the oath (or affirmation) which you swore (or affirmed), as per Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution. As you can see:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States

This is directly extracted from the Constitution. Note that nowhere, does it say, "So Help Me God." I know you said it, as did others preceding you, but it's not necessary. According to my research, the only higher power you answer to is the people who managed to successfully operate the voting machines. In fact, you didn't even have to put your hand on the Bible. You could have used, say, the Looney Spoons Cookbook, or nothing at all.

Notice that the oath says you are required to preserve, protect and defend: The Constitution of the United States. Wow. It turns out that it is not just some "goddamned piece of paper". It's your job! Now, I know for the past four years you've been using the line, "It's my job to protect the American people... my primary job." Not according to your terms of reference. In fact, the American people are more than capable of protecting themselves (and you). Look at what they did WITHOUT a president.

You may not declare war on anybody. You can ask, but you can't just do it without permission. If you need another war, you have to ask Congress, in accordance with Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Don't let that worry you though, because YOU get to be in charge of the army and the navy, (there is no mention of the air force) as Commander-in-Chief.

About the Commander-in-Chief thing. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution makes you the C-in-C. Be aware that it is the lesser of offices when compared to President of the United States. I notice you call yourself Commander-in-Chief a lot. That's nice, but then people might think someone else is the President... like your deputy. Since your deputy's oath includes the phrase "against all enemies, foreign and domestic" and doesn't include "protect" in reference to the Constitution, he doesn't have as high a calling as you, but he is looking for enemies. Beware the deputy.

You may make treaties with other countries, international organizations, and anyone else who tickles your fancy. The Constitution says so in Article II, Section 2. You do, however require two-thirds of the Senators to concur. (That's roughly 66 of them). It also goes that in order to dispense with a treaty, you pretty much have to go through the same process. Beware of minor deputies suggesting that a modern paradigm has rendered treaty conventions "quaint". Minor deputies are stupid people. You are the intelligent one. That's why THEY are reading the newspapers to YOU.

You should refrain from spying on your fellow citizens. (You are still a citizen, even though you may feel more important and make more money than most of them). I know sometimes you really feel like it, but there's that pesky Constitution again. Yep, the 4th Amendment. You can ask Congress to pass a law that allows spying, but you can't violate the Constitution. I have sent you a small blackboard and some "freedom" chalk, (British, not French). Write, "I will not spy on my fellow citizens without a warrant" 100 times. That will help you remember.

You MAY spy on embassies, foreign diplomats, tourists, etc. That should mitigate the fun you don't get to have spying on Americans. You can plant bugs in the Canadian embassy, for example. By the way, Tim Horton's is a Canadian phenomenom. It has pretty good doughnuts and great coffee. I know the CIA is going to tell you it is a hockey player. That's OLD intelligence. Don't use it. We all know where faulty intelligence gets you. Ignore the Tim Horton's outlets that are appearing in New England. They are of no consequence. Anyway, Wendy's actually owns Tim Horton's and we have Wendy's here. So, we're not really trying to take over New England. Wendy's is.

I know this has been a bit dry, but hang in there. I know you can do it. And oh, that ambassador you sent? That's why I feel you need counsel from outside your borders. You are getting some really crappy advice at home.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

HOLD IT JUST A DAMNED MINUTE! US Army changes interrogation rules 2 days before McCain Amendment

From Think Progress. The US Army has made an addition to their Field Manual which was discovered just two days before the McCain Amendment prohibiting the use of torture during interrogations. The classified addendum is the first change in the manual's Intelligence Interrogation section in thirteen years.

The new 10 page addendum is classified, making public access to the information difficult, but it is reported to list specific examples of interrogation techniques.

However, McCain specified that ALL interrogations should be conducted as laid-out in FM 34-52 Intelligence Interrogation. He was not aware of the changes being inserted into the manual.

In a high-level meeting at the Pentagon on Tuesday, some Army and other Pentagon officials raised concerns that Mr. McCain would be furious at what could appear to be a back-door effort to circumvent his intentions.

"This is a stick in McCain's eye," one official said. "It goes right up to the edge. He's not going to be comfortable with this."

The changes may actually restrict interrogation techniques and specifically prohibit torture, but that raises two points:

1. Why did this appear before the McCain amendment? It demonstrates a preposterous lack of political awareness on the part of the army if that is the case;

2. If there is nothing sinister in the addendum, why is it secret? The public manual has not changed, and requires interrogators to comply with a clear set of rules. The argument that the US Army does not wish to disclose interrogation techniques, so as to prevent enemies from preparing their people for questioning in the event of capture, does not wash. The previous version of that chapter had no classification and no addendum and the army expressed no concern.

If the US Army and their Commander-In-Chief, have nothing to hide, the high classification of the addendum is completely unnecessary. However, given the past actions and behaviour of this administration, the secrecy and the timing raises suspicion of yet another attempt to mislead the public and steer around the rules.

What's the Bushco definition of torture again?

Told Ya So!

Yesterday, I headlined that US Ambassador Wilkins was actually working for Paul Martin's campaign.

Today, a Decima poll, taken after Wilkins' speech and Martins "Shove it, Wilkie!" response produced the following:

A new poll by Decima Research suggested the dustup attracted a larger voter audience and raised support for the Liberals.
The online survey found that twice as many respondents said Wilkins's speech made them feel more inclined to vote Liberal (24 per cent) than Conservative (11 per cent).
It also found that 84 per cent of respondents had heard about the dispute.

So, Mr. Wilkins, if you really want a Conservative government in Canada, you're going to have to call Stephen Harper a dough-head. (Don't worry about that letter to the Washington Times. Means nothing really. It's just Stephen doing a little Moonie-bashing).

It's Called... Screwing The Pooch

Hussain Kamal, Iraq's Deputy Minister of the Interior confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was caught last year and then released.

I'm not even going to tell you who Zarqawi is because you probably already know. If you don't, please feed it to a search engine. It's that simple... even in Iraq.

Let's clear something up here:



Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Umm.. no. You have that wrong, Mr. Bush.

George W. Bush tried to improve his image with the American public by issuing a mea culpa over the intelligence used to justify his invasion of Iraq. Sorry, George, what you say simply doesn't wash.

It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq, and I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities

The intelligence was indeed wrong. In fact, a good portion of it was manufactured. There were solid pieces of intelligence that was accurate... and it was ignored.

Given Saddam's history and the lessons of Sept. 11, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision.

Another attempt to link Sept. 11th and Saddam. The guy just won't quit, will he? Nothing about the decision was right. But he does have one thing accurate: His decision (a unilateral one) was to remove Saddam. He had no other reason to go to Iraq and that statement virtually proves it.

Status Quo.

Fair and Balanced... gotta love it.

What can I say? Yes, I'm afraid Fox News found out. We have been amassing an army of Red Green clones, armed with duct tape and enough Tim Bits to handle a forced march of 3 hours. (Please make sure the Winchells' are open along the way to allow the troops to resupply).

I wonder if Neil Cavuto realizes how downright stupid he looks with that headline across his nipples.

Wilkins Is Campaigning For Martin... really he is.

Laura at the LWC has a great post on the issue of David Wilkins (US Ambassador) telling Paul Martin to quit pointing fingers at the Bush administration.

What Wilkins doesn't seem to fathom is that such utterances will only serve to stir up Canadians. Most Canadians don't like Wilkins, not only because of the administration he represents, but because he is viewed as being wholly unqualified for the post he holds.

In other words, he's a knob.

Christian Theme Park Israel - Launching Pad For The Rapture

So what are the leaders of the Extreme Literalist Bible Movement doing when they're not dictating policy to the US government? Simple. They plan on building the ultimate theme park for Evangelical fundamentalist Christians - in Israel - on the banks of the Sea of Galilee.

The plan is for a $60 million, developed site on 125 acres of pristine Sea of Galilee waterfront. While the Israeli Tourism Ministry is involved, a majority of the funding is coming from none other than Christian Broadcast Network and 700 Club founder, Pat Robertson, and the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard.

The Christian Heritage Park will be built along the waterfront from Magdala to Bethsaida, both of which are major acheological digs. The town of Capernahum, supposedly where Jesus lived and practiced, is nearby, rounding out the ultimate Extreme Bible experience for the flood of American Evangelists expected to visit the area.

And it isn't going over well with a lot of Israelis.

The proposed site will butt against existing Palestinian-Arab villages, causing the residents, many of whom are Christian, a good deal of consternation. Christian Arabs claim that they have nothing in common with the American fundamentalist Christians and observe that American evangelists display a hostility towards Palestinian Christians, especially the Palestinian evangelists. American evangelists have embraced Christian Zionism which the Arabs find objectionable and have denounced.

Jewish leaders in the area are concerned that this is little more than a jumping-off point for American evangelical Christian missionaries and are worried that a huge influx of American Bible adherents will result in Christian proselytization. Given the behaviour of the likes of Robertson, Dobson, Haggard and other rabid evangelist leaders, the concerns of the Jewish community in the area of the proposed site are fully justified.

Environmentalists are concerned that the development, which would violate the current zoning, will destroy one of the few unspoiled areas in the country. Currently there are small monasteries, fields and small churches belonging to the Christian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

But, none of that will stop the fundamentalist Christians. This is all being planned in preparation for the Rapture, (and to make buckets of money). Israel is critical to the Rapture, thus this looks like less of a Christian sanctuary and more of a "next stage" on the road to fulfilling the fundamentalist prophecy. Additionally, the leaders of the evangelical movement in the US have strategically skated around the issue that on the day that all Born-Again Christians enjoy the "big event" the Jews of Israel will be expected to immediately convert or be instantly burnt up.

Of course, this whole thing could go the way of James Bakker's PTL Christian Heritage Park at Fort Mill, SC, which is now little more than an uncompleted, abandoned ruin.

It's so nice to see the Extreme Literal Bible Movement is raising funds and directing money to such worthy causes. I mean... to hell with starving children. Right?

Pirates of the Caribbean - Nope. Still not Johnny Depp.

A Rossland, British Columbia, doctor, sailing with friends in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela last month reports that he was attacked by pirates. While the incident is disturbing enough, the fact that it never made it onto the International Piracy Report should be raising some concern. In any case, mariners in all waters, in vessels large and small, need to be aware that piracy is not just in the movies and it's not funny. The doctor and his guests came out lucky. Pirates in that area usually kill everyone onboard and steal the boat.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Witches of Ghana

Asara Azindow used to have a life of independence and relative comfort. She owned her own home and her own business, a restaurant. When a meningitis epidemic broke out in her village, she was accused of causing the epidemic through witchcraft. Her business and home were looted and destroyed and the only safe haven for Asara was a witch camp. Asara is convinced that the real reason she was run out of her village in fear of her life was because she was a successful and independent woman.

Awabu Tamara is also an inhabitant of one of the witch camps. When the son of a relative became ill, Awabu’s witchery was blamed. When she refused to “admit” to being a witch, she was tied to a log and tortured for three months with beatings and whippings. A witch camp was the only place that could provide her with safety.

There are about a thousand women in northern Ghana inhabiting camps whose sole occupants are deemed to be witches. Many, if not most, of the women are elderly.

How has this come about? Two reasons; religious and economic.

Ghana is a religiously diverse and reasonably tolerant country. It numbers amongst is inhabitants Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and many others, including adherents to traditionally indigenous religions. Within the indigenous religions are the beliefs in multiple gods, reincarnation, and witchcraft. When tragedy or hardship hits a family or village, it is often considered to be the result of sorcery.

“In African traditional religions, there must be a reason why something happens to you, especially when it is bad. People see human beings as channels through which these unfavourable things can be introduced into the community”.

A few years back an outbreak of cerebral-spinal-meningitis resulted in five elderly women being beaten to death when villagers accused them of causing the disease. Anyone accused of witchery knows that her only hope of survival is to leave her village immediately. Banishment is forever.

The second reason, that of economics, is increasingly common. Ghana is a poor country where almost half of the population survives on less than $ 1 U.S. per day and annual inflation averages over 20%. The average lifespan is 58 years. When a Ghanaian woman becomes a widow, she is in danger of having one of her relatives, particularly a male relative, denounce her as a witch. If the relative does not want to be burdened with taking economic care of the old woman, or if the widowed woman has a home or possessions, all that needs to be done is to declare that the old woman was the cause a family woe. A man says his mother-in-law caused a relative’s illness, the mother-in-law is run out of the village, and her son-in-law promptly takes possession of her home and belongings.

Surveys done within the witch camps indicate that the older a woman becomes, the more likely she is to be declared a witch. Instead of being able to live out their old age with a level of dignity and some comfort, these women are forced into camps where they eke out a meager living by gathering firewood for sale and by tending small plots of land for food. Once she is in a witch camp, a woman is there forever. Recently, 100 women were released from their witch camp and were told they were free to return to their communities. Even though many of them had lived in the camp for the majority of their adult lives, every one of the women refused to leave the camp. They had no confidence that they would be safe anywhere else.

Within each camp is usually a tribal priest who exorcises each women upon arrival to dispel the evil spirits. But this doesn’t seem to carry much weight with the people of her village. There are laws in Ghana that forbid banishment and rituals that violate human rights, but no one has even been known to be been charged, let alone convicted, of accusing a woman of witchcraft. The women and anyone sympathetic to the women are reluctant to report these matters to the authorities for fear of being punished by their gods. Human rights organizations, women’s groups, the Ghana government, are all trying to battle the practice of banishment but they have met with little success. It’s a no-win situation for the women.

Since there seems to be little hope of things changing in the near future, charitable organizations are trying to do what they can to alleviate the hardships of camp life and make the lives of the women in the witch camps more economically independent. Funds are being raised to buy farming equipment and livestock and to provide loans to start small commercial businesses.

International aid groups such as the United Nations are in agreement that the key to Africa’s economic success is the women of Africa. They are the farmers, the traders, the keepers of the home. Without the contribution of African women, there is no chance of Africa developing and expanding its economy.

Human rights abuses at the hands of family and clan are no less destructive than those committed by governments. Without change, Ghana will continue to slip deeper into poverty and oblivion and any hope for future generations of Ghanaian women will be lost forever.

The feet go in the shoes; Not in the mouth

What is it about Prime Ministers' Communications Directors that they can't seem to control their mouths in public?

In the latest gaffe by a PM communications director, Scott Reid, on a nationally televised panel discussion CBC News: Sunday, opened his mouth and jammed his foot in as far as it would go. He was criticizing the Conservative plan to give families $1200 annually as a child-care allowance when he said: (In context)

Don't give people 25 bucks a week to blow on beer and popcorn. Give them child-care spaces that work. Stephen Harper's plan has nothing to do with child care.

What form of brain-death does a supposedly intelligent and educated individual have to go through to emit such tripe? Certainly, criticize the Conservative plan. But don't lead into it by first insulting Canadian parents. And a Liberal communications director should have a better grasp on history, or is the 1944 Family Allowance Program (Baby Bonus) introduced by the then Liberal government, just too much corporate knowledge for Reid to maintain?

In November 2002, Francois Ducros, Communications Director for then Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in the presence of reporters, said of US President George W. Bush, "What a moron."

Whether Ducros' assessment of Bush was accurate or not, it was another example of a PM's communications director operating the mouth before engaging the brain and she was eventually forced to resign.

Reid has since apologized, but Canadians can be excused if they don't view this prime ministerial dilletante as an asset to either Martin's campaign or any future government he might form.

In the unlikely event that I was in the position of Paul Martin, I would have very few words for the likes of Reid after his communications screw-up: "Pack your gear. You're fired."

A word of advice for future and aspiring Prime Ministers. When interviewing those applying for the position of Communications Director, ask, "Do you ever think before you speak?" You might just get somebody with an acceptable level of intelligence.

The Outrageous Case of Cory Maye

Battlepanda is spearheading an effort to bring attention to the case of Cory Maye. Maye was convicted of 1st Degree Murder in Mississippi for shooting and killing officer Ron Jones during the late night execution of a drug-offence search warrant. The problem was, police were in the wrong house. Read more:

Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

Cory Maye is now on death row in Mississippi.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cry Foul... And ask about the American Gulag Archipelago

An article by W. Arpad Tota, in the Hungarian daily, Index, (translated from Hungarian) via Watching America is a demonstration of the outrage felt by many countries who have to live with the United States issuing report cards on the competency of their government, the durability of their democracy and above all, their practice of human rights. Issued by the US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" is a semi-factual document with an analysis of every country on earth - with the exception of the United States of America. While Tota's outrage at the contents is understandable, it should be pointed out that Hungary fared no worse from the report than did many other countries.

But Tota asks a very relevant question: By what standard does the US judge other countries?

For weeks I've been wondering what the difference is between a Soviet and American gulag.

Indeed. What, Mr. Bush, is the difference?

Placing concentration camps in Europe is a level of brashness that not even the Soviet Union achieved.

Not to mention an act which would have started a war in Europe. So, Ms. Rice (so-called Soviet expert that you are), explain how it is that the United States of America has just managed to out-evil the old "Evil Empire"?

The US, in providing criticism of the internal behaviour of other countries has become the worst kind of international hypocrite. A report from a source which, in the recent past, may have spoken with some authority, now stands to represent the phrase, "Do as I say; not as I do." The US has spiraled into the filth.

The Bush administration has been a litany of lies since September 11, 2001. From claiming an intelligence failure over 9/11 to denying the torture of prisoners of war, the administration has simply and intentionally withheld the truth, manufactured evidence and obstructed inquiry. It has engaged in "questionable" election practices which, if the Dept. of State were reporting on any other country, would be labeled "fraud".

The Bush administration has passed laws which seriously limit freedoms in complete contravention of the US Constitution. While they claim it was a temporary measure, Bush and his handlers are demanding that it be made permanent.

Habeus Corpus, that tenet of law which safeguards individual freedoms against arbitrary and lawless state actions, has been suspended, supposedly for specific activities, but the Dept. of State, in reporting on any other country, would identify that as an abominable abuse of power leading to a police state.

The Bush administration has engaged in what it calls "extraordinary rendition". Twisted vocabulary does not hide the fact that rendition without a request for extradition is illegal under international law. In that the Bush administration rarely adheres to international law where it is not convenient to them, they are fully aware that the rendition described by Rice is also a violation of US law - even with the Patriot Act in place. In 1998, Congress passed legislation that it is:

the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States.

If the Dept. of State were assessing the rendition activities of the current administration as that of another country they would place it under the heading of Disappearances. In the view of State, it is indicative of a totalitarian, repressive and lawless regime.

The Bush administration has gutted the Voters' Rights Bill, an act which, if the Dept. of State was permitted to view from the exterior, it would describe as a deliberate move to remove a basic democratic right. This, in a country which describes itself as the greatest democracy in the world.

The Bush administration, when faced with a natural catastrophe in New Orleans, failed to respond with appropriate speed and resources to mitigate the after effects of disaster. Instead of exercising firm leadership and control, the federal government vacillated and turned down offers of assistance from foreign countries. Resultant actions which isolated huge segments of New Orleans' population would have been assessed by the Dept. of State as "Intentional neglect by the state" of a distinct ethnic grouping if it had been reporting on any other country.

When provided with the opportunity to engage the international community in meaningful dialogue, Bush sent a rabid dog, in the form of John Bolton, to represent the US to the United Nations. The Dept. of State would view such an appointment by a regional power as "dangerous".

China has rejected all criticism by the US of her human rights standard as a hypocritical double standard. Four years ago, China would have had to face the condemnation of the world. Now, China simply points at the behaviour of the US and ignores comment. The world says nothing, because China is absolutely correct.

December 10th was International Human Rights Day. The US Department of State had a great deal to say about human rights abuses in countries around the world. Amnesty International had more to say about human rights abuses in the USA. The world paid no attention to the US statement, but they were listening to Amnesty International.

So, Mr. Bush, what is the difference between a Soviet gulag and an American gulag, since both are now fact?

Update: Today, the Bush administration denied the existence of American gulags. The American foreign policy department of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies isn't so sure.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Not Getting Your Point Across? Mow The Carpet!

Mrs. Mills is an advice columnist in the Times of London. Always a good read, she provides the most practical advice for the oddest of problems. From the 10 December edition, this teenage dilema caught my attention:

As a teenager, I regularly have screaming matches with my parents. I storm up to my room, but unfortunately the carpet is high, so when I attempt to slam the door it goes very slowly and doesn’t shut properly. How can I slam my door so it’s loud and my parents know I’m angry?


And the answer...

Use the lawnmower to trim the pile of the carpet to the height at which the door will swing easily.

You simply don't get that kind of practical advice from a major newspaper on this side of the Atlantic.... except for Newfoundland. (Even I can't figure out the beer order).

Do check out the rest of the column.