Wednesday, February 28, 2007

laura bush: 1 bomb a day in iraq (what planet is she on?)

Laura Bush: Much Of Iraq Is ‘Stable,’ There’s Just ‘One Bombing A Day That Discourages Everybody’
February 27, 2007

Larry King Live {February 27, 2007}, First Lady Laura Bush said she understands "how the American people feel" when they express frustration over Iraq, but insisted that "to leave now would be a serious mistake." She said of Iraqis, "This is their opportunity to seize the moment, to build a really good and stable country."


KING: Has the war worn you down? I mean, the public, obviously, is — more people disapprove than approve. It’s hurt the standing of the presidency. What has it done to you?

BUSH: Well, of course, it’s wearing, wearying. There’s no doubt about it. I understand how the American people feel, and that they feel like things are not going like we want them to there. On the other hand, I know how important it is for us to continue to help the Iraqis. And to leave now would be a serious mistake. And I really agree with the president on that, that the Iraqi government needs to get up and running as fast as they can. And, of course, we want our troops to come home. Nobody wants war. No one is pro-war. We want the — to be able to have a democracy there, to have the people in Iraq who have been oppressed by a dictatorship for all of these years to be able to build a good government that represents everyone. And I think it will happen. Is it going to be fast? No. we never expected it to be fast.

KING: So it’s going to be going on when you leave office.

BUSH: Probably. I mean, I have no idea and there’s no way I can predict. But I hope not. I hope that they can build their government and reconcile with each other and build a country. This is their opportunity to seize the moment, to build a really good and stable country. And many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day this discourages everybody.


will the cnd public ever see the agreement?

Canada signs deal with Afghan human rights body over detainees' treatment
MURRAY BREWSTER February 28, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) -
The Kandahar office of Afghanistan's Human Rights Commission has agreed to act as watchdog for detainees captured by Canadians to ensure that valid complaints of abuse are investigated, The Canadian Press has learned.

The agreement with military commanders addresses some of the concerns raised by human rights groups about the practice of handing captured Taliban prisoners over to Afghan authorities who have a reputation for torture. It could also take some of the fire out of a burning debate over allegations that Canadian troops abused detainees last spring.

"Canadians respect human rights very well," Abdul Quadar Noorzai, the Kandahar manager of the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, said in an interview. He was eager to trumpet the agreement signed last Friday with Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

"It is one of the greatest acts taken by them and I really appreciate it from the core of my heart," said a beaming Noorzai, who has worked for a year to carve out such an arrangement.

Although he would not produce a copy of the agreement saying it's up to Canadian authorities to do so, the respected human rights advocate said the deal allows him to investigate cases of suspected abuse involving detainees captured by Canadian troops.

There are well documented cases of torture in Afghan prisons.

On Monday, Canada's Military Police Complaints Commission opened a wide-ranging investigation into allegations that on 18 occasions troops handed over prisoners knowing they would be abused. Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association lodged the complaint that prompted the investigation.

Similarly, at least three investigations are going on into the alleged beating of three captured Taliban who were picked up near the village of Dukah, 50 kilometres west of Kandahar, on April 7, 2006. According to prisoner-transfer logs obtained and released to the media by an Ottawa law professor, the prisoners suffered lacerations and contusions.

Prof. Amir Attaran said the injuries appear to have been inflicted while the men were in Canadian custody - an allegation the military denies but is nonetheless investigating.

The agreement signed with the Afghan human rights commission gives potential victims a vehicle to get their complaints investigated, documented and presented to either Canadian authorities or the local judiciary for prosecution, Noorzai said.

A complaint would have to be well founded in order to be brought to the attention of the military or the Afghan courts, he said.

"I need to prove the allegation," said Noorzai.

"If the case has facts behind it, I have to do something for the person."

Canada is the only NATO country so far to strike such a arrangement. The Afghan commission hopes other alliance members will do the same.

The negotiations were started almost a year ago. The contract was signed on Friday when Nader Naderi, commissioner of the Afghan Human Rights Commission based in Kabul, was in Canada and met with the minister of defence.

Noorzai said eventually he would like to see the agreement expanded, or a separate arrangement signed, that would allow the commission to report on civilian shootings by foreign troops.

Over the past month, four Afghan bystanders have been killed in unintentional shootings involving Canadian soldiers.

The Afghan National Police and the human rights commission have recommended that military convoys be escorted by Afghan authorities through Kandahar's chaotic streets - a suggestion the Canadian army is considering.


MP unrepentant for defying Dion, as he should be!

Liberal MP unrepentant for defying Dion on anti-terror vote
February 28, 2007

Stephane Dion says there will be "consequences" for Liberal MPs who defied his order to oppose renewal of controversial anti-terrorism measures.

But Tom Wappel, the only Liberal to openly side with the Tory government's motion to extend the provisions, was unrepentant and said he's willing to pay whatever price his leader chooses to mete out.

Indeed, Wappel said he's stunned that he was the only Liberal to vote Tuesday with the government given previous Liberal support for the security measures.

"Given that it was Liberal legislation, given that our own Liberal ministers told us that there was nothing that they could suggest to us to fix in the act, I'm flabbergasted that I now find myself the only person supporting the Liberal legislation that the Liberal ministers supported," Wappel said in an interview.

One other Liberal MP, former justice minister Irwin Cotler, abstained. A dozen others weren't present for Tuesday's vote, including four who had previously argued strongly in favour of renewing the security provisions.

Dion said disciplinary action will be meted out but declined to specify, calling it an "internal caucus matter."

Victoria MP Keith Martin, one of the Liberals who supported renewal of the measures but didn't show up for the vote, said no one should be punished for voting according to their consciences.

Martin said allowing some dissension in Liberal ranks is healthier than the absolute discipline imposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who expects Tory MPs to be "little more than potted plants and to park their brains at the door."

Tuesday's vote was the first real test of Dion's fledgling leadership. His decision to impose unspecified punishment suggests he's determined to put his stamp on a fractious caucus.

He is also taking steps to try to revive his faltering popularity among Canadians. He embarks Friday on a two-week, cross-country tour, hoping to counter Tory attack ads by showcasing a positive Liberal vision for the country.

His tour starts Friday in Halifax with a major speech on social justice. He is slated to give another major speech on the economy next week.

Whether the toxic, hyper-partisan debate over the anti-terrorism measures will help or hinder any political party remains to be seen. But the fallout from the controversy continued Wednesday.

Lawyers for the Liberal party and Liberal MP Navdeep Bains issued a letter demanding that Tory MP Pierre Poilievre withdraw "false, misleading and inflammatory statements."

Poilievre told a radio interviewer last week that Dion has caved into to "extremist elements" in his caucus who are don't want to combat terrorism.

Wappel was one of two Liberal MPs on the Commons sub-committee that reviewed the Anti-Terrorism Act, introduced by the previous Liberal regime in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Before the Liberals were turfed from power last year, two of their ministers, Anne McLellan and Cotler, appeared before the sub-committee and defended the act. Both, Wappel noted, recommended renewal of two controversial provisions empowering police to detain terrorist suspects without charge and to compel testimony before a judge.

In its report last October, the sub-committee also recommended renewal of the two provisions.

Wappel noted that there was not a peep of opposition from Liberals at that time. Nor did the matter become an issue during the Liberal leadership race, won by Dion on Dec. 2.

It was only after a caucus committee meeting on Feb. 5 that he learned the new leader had decreed "a 180 degree reversal" of the Liberal stance on the issue.

"Under no circumstances did I expect that it would be anything but a formality and, yes, we'll support the extension . . . To me it was a total shock," Wappel said.

Having recommended renewal of the measures in the sub-committee report, Wappel said he had no choice but to support the government motion.

"I have to stand by what I wrote in October. Otherwise I can't live with myself."

Former Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy, meanwhile, lashed out at allegations there were deals struck at last December's convention to strike down the security measures.

A column published this week alleged that Kennedy's delegates from the Indo-Canadian and Muslim communities had made their support contingent on the promise that he oppose the measures. The vast majority of Kennedy's delegates went on with their candidate to back Dion and help him secure the leadership.

Kennedy says the allegations made by Poilievre that were repeated in the newspaper column "are totally baseless without any factual foundation whatsoever," Kennedy said.

"This is simply a concoction that serves one interest, the decision by the prime minister to take into partisan terms what should have been in the public interest, which is the safety of Canadians."


US plan for Iran


Condoleezza Rice Goes too Far!

Olbermann - Special Comment: Condoleezza Rice Goes too Far


Paralympics recruits injured soldiers .... soldier on .... !

Sports plan targets wounded soldiers
Disabled Canadian veterans could be competing at 2010 Olympics

February 28, 2007 The Provincee

WHISTLER -- Wounded Canadian soldiers will be recruited to become elite Olympic athletes.

The Department of National Defence is working with the Canadian Paralympic Committee on a program called "Soldier On" to help members of the military who are wounded in action, on the job, or otherwise, to use sport to recover.

The hope is that some will go on to compete in the 2010 Paralympic Games. "I would think there is a good chance that we will probably produce some very good athletes," said Lt.-Col. Gerry Blais, director of casualty support for the Canadian Forces.

He pointed to the soldiers' high level of fitness, sense of duty and drive as strong assets for a Paralympian. Blais said the partnership is a way to help disabled soldiers deal with life-changing trauma.

"The ultimate aim is to promote healthy lifestyle and show [them] that their life isn't over because they have undergone an amputation or have a spinal-cord injury or something of that nature," said Blais from his Ottawa office.

Funding and other details for the program are still being worked out.

About 328 soldiers have been disabled since Canada arrived in Af-ghanistan in 2001. Annually, another 20 are disabled while serving.

Cpl. Jesse Melnyck lost his right eye last August when he was shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan. It was the third tour of duty for the 25-year-old signal operator, now based at CFB Petawawa, Ont. He plans to attend a summit on the program this May to find out more details.

"I really do believe in service to the nation, that is who I am," said Melnyck. "I think military members will see this as a challenge and they will want to be involved. They want people to see they are not broken."

Sgt. Karen McCoy, an aviation technician at CFB Gagetown, N.B., dreams of running in the Paralympics. "It is a dream for me to run," said the mother-of-two who lost her leg to cancer two years ago. "I don't give up. My kids would love to see that, and I would love to do it for other people in the service to show them that you don't give up."

It's a win-win situation, said Brain MacPherson, chief operating officer for the Paralympic committee, adding the Paralympics were started to help veterans.

The U.S. already runs a similar program and has a pool of about 20,000 soldiers to draw upon. "They are betting a full 10-per-cent of the U.S. Paralympic team going to Beijing for the [2008] Summer Games will be those soldiers who got injured in Iraq," MacPherson said.

Master Cpl. Brett Rickard lost his leg just above the knee while working on an army fuel truck in 1988.

He believes strength in spirit and the support Forces members give each other could help put military personnel on the podium. "It would be awesome," he said from his base at North Bay, Ont. "I would be very proud to see Canadian Forces members on the podium."

And sit-skier Josh Dueck, a non-soldier who is training to compete at the 2010 Games, is looking forward to the military competing.

"I believe the work ethic and morale that these individuals from the military can bring into sport is huge," he said. "I have had the opportunity to ski with some people injured at war and they are phenomenal athletes. Ski racing to them is not intimidating . . . these guys have been shot at, so they say, 'What, all I am going to get is a face full of snow.'"


Flaherty , will he deliver or all talk?

Working poor to get tax break in budget
Feb 28, 2007 TheTorontoStar Les Whittington Ottawa Bureau

Next month's federal budget will commit hundreds of millions of dollars to a new tax break designed to help the working poor struggling to make ends meet even when they have full-time jobs.

A tax measure intended to assist those at the lowest end of the income scale has been under discussion in Ottawa for years, but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he is determined to finally deliver on it.

Called the working income tax benefit, or WITB, the plan is intended to offset the double whammy of higher personal income taxes and loss of social benefits that are a disincentive to work for many low-income families and people moving into the workforce from welfare.

Such a program is likely to be welcomed by advocates for the poor as a step in the right direction. But how effective the measure will be depends on how much money the Conservatives are willing to commit to the program, which could require up to $1 billion a year to make a significant difference to Canada's working poor.

Flaherty's target is a situation often called "the welfare wall." As a result of increased taxes and reduced income support from government programs, a typical single parent with one child who takes a low-income job can lose almost 80 cents of each dollar earned, according to a policy paper the finance minister released in November.

In addition, the parent could also lose benefits such as subsidized housing and prescription drugs while at the same time being weighed down with new expenses arising from his or her job, the paper noted.

"There are situations where somebody receiving social benefits will go to work and the net benefit for them will be $1.08 an hour," Flaherty told the Toronto Star recently. "So, quite rightly, they say, `There's not much in it for me going to work.' So, the new tax benefit is a way of increasing participation in the workforce."

The program to be announced in the March 19 budget is likely to take the form of a refundable tax credit, which reduces what a taxpayer owes the government and, if nothing is owed, becomes a refund to the individual. Anyone working full-time and earning up to $10 an hour is expected to benefit, and the program would have to provide a tax break of at least $1,000 annually to be meaningful, analysts say.

Finance Department officials aren't saying how much Flaherty will earmark in the budget for WITB. Estimates of the cost by outside economists range from $300 million a year to $1 billion.

"It's an incentive for people to work," said TD Bank economist Don Drummond, who contributed to a groundbreaking 2005 study of the problem entitled From Welfare to Work in Ontario: Still the Road Less Travelled.

"The people who benefit from Flaherty's plan are those who are working but at very low wages," Drummond said. "You can't just look at it in the short-term, as well. If you can get people removed from welfare and get them some work experience, they'll stay in the workforce."

Rising housing costs, reduced government benefit programs and the trend toward part-time employment have contributed to the plight of the working poor in recent years. In Ontario, for instance, nearly 400,000 working people live on $17,000 or less a year.

While benefits for children and seniors have been bolstered, little has been done for those at the low end of the income scale.

And anti-poverty advocates, women's organizations and other social policy groups have been calling for an income supplement from the federal government.

"The concept is certainly a good idea and we've known for many, many years that that's one of the sort of holes in the income security system," Ken Battle, president of the Caledon Institute for Social Policy, said when asked about the WITB proposal.

"The idea of supplementing low earnings to provide an incentive for people to either get off welfare and/or stay in the labour market makes sense."

He noted that it is an often-debated idea and versions of it have been put in place in Quebec, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

"But it's not the Holy Grail," Battle cautioned. "It's not some magic bullet that's going to cure all the problems of the welfare system and unemployment."

Flaherty's plan is expected to require the co-operation of the provinces to go into effect.


O'Connor is desperate for troops ... let's all sign up!

Canada eyeing using more reservists to bolster Afghan mission
More part-time troops, traditionally peacekeepers, now seeing combat

February 28, 2007 CBC

Canada's army is at least 3,000 soldiers short of meeting the nation's military commitments in Afghanistan and needs a serious boost in manpower, a commander in the Canadian Forces says.

Lieut.-Gen. Andrew Leslie said the concern is so great he is considering dipping into the part-time reserve force — troops traditionally used in peacekeeping — to bolster the ranks seeing combat in Afghanistan.

"By February 2009, just about every soldier in the regular army, and I'd say about 20 per cent of the reserve force, will have gone through [combat]," Leslie said.

The mission in Afghanistan, which is the crux of Canada's military efforts, requires nearly 2,500 fresh troops every six months, he said.

Right now, some 3,000 to 5,000 new soldiers would be needed to reinforce operations in Afghanistan, and "we're looking at somewhere between 400 to 600 reservists being part of that mix."

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has no objections to deploying reserve soldiers for combat missions.

"All soldiers, no matter what their origins are, are all trained to the same standards," O'Connor said. "We put the same effort in, with the same cost, so from my point of view, it makes no difference whether you're regular or reserve."

The Canadian Forces is looking to offer full-time soldiering jobs to as many as 1,500 part-time troops in order to keep the army prepared to fight.


canada should shut up and just buy into afghanistan; ya right!

Canada urged to stop complaints about Afghan burden
Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service February 28, 2007

OTTAWA - Canadians should lose the notion their troops are the only ones bearing the brunt of violence in Afghanistan, say two of Canada's biggest players on the international stage.

The two diplomats delivered that message directly to politicians in Ottawa on Tuesday from the NDP, who have called for a troop withdrawal, and the Liberals, who want Canada to serve notice to NATO that it will end its Afghanistan combat operations in 2009.

"The idea that Canada is in the south alone is simply wrong. The idea that other countries are not contributing or increasing their contribution does not reflect the reality," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told the Commons defence committee, one of four public forums where he appeared Tuesday in Ottawa.

Appathurai credited Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor and Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, for raising Canada's clout in NATO by calling on allies to commit more troops to Afghanistan, with fewer restrictions that would prevent them from front-line fighting in southern Afghanistan, where 2,500 Canadian Forces troops are based.

But Appathurai's remarks suggested Canada should stop complaining about whether some of its allies are pulling their weight because the number of troops in the south has mushroomed to 12,000 from 1,000 in the last 18 months.

"Canada is not bearing the burden alone when it comes to casualties," he added. "Over a dozen NATO countries have lost troops in significant numbers. I can tell you we have the flag down in front of NATO headquarters on a regular basis ... These sacrifices are being made by everybody and in all zones, in the north, the west, and the capital and the east and the south."

That remarkirritated NDPdefence critic Dawn Black.

"I also have some trouble listening to you talk about the casualties other countries have suffered," she told Appathurai.

Chris Alexander, the UN's deputy special envoy to Afghanistan and Canada's first ambassador to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, challenged MPs to abandon suggestions that NATO countries should withdraw their troops.

The billions of dollars spent in the last five years assisting Afghanistan would "go up in smoke," while the very existence of NATO and the UN would be threatened if the West withdrew, he said.

"And most tragically, none of us around this table would be able to explain to the families of the 44 Canadians who have lost their lives in Afghanistan what the purpose of that sacrifice was," Alexander told the committee.

Since 2002, 44 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan.

While neither Appathurai nor Alexander wanted to make specific recommendations on how long Canadian troops should stay in Afghanistan nor offered direct criticism of the NDP's calls for withdrawal, both stressed there would be a role for Canadian soldiers long after February 2009, the extent of Canada's current commitment.

Alexander drew parallels with the reconstruction of the Balkans, which is in its second decade.

"If we are rushing for the exit, if we are trying to cut things short, if we are flagging in our commitment to achieving the objectives ... we will be giving comfort to the enemy of this transition and we will, quite frankly, be undermining the achievements and the efforts that are underway today," Alexander told the committee.

Later, Appathurai said the issue of "why" NATO is in Afghanistan is simply not up for debate.

"There is no controversy in any serious discussion," he told a luncheon audience of diplomats, military and non-governmental organizations. "Anyone who calls that into question is not being serious."

Alexander said while Afghanistan remains desperately poor, its gross national product and annual per capita income have doubled in the last five years. The extension of health care to 85 per cent of the population and the fact that more than five million children were back in school were indicators of progress.

He said Canada's infusion of $200 million of extra aid spending represented "principled engagement and investment" that would set the bar higher for other countries.

Alexander made clear he was not sugar-coating the challenges that lie ahead, both in defeating the renewed insurgency and rebuilding a shattered country.

"Until then, peace is still an elusive goal in Afghanistan."


1.75 per vote; next federal election; supplement your local club!

Small parties' stipend assailed as risky
KIRK MAKIN 27/02/07 JUSTICE REPORTER globeandmail

A recent court ruling that gives small political parties $1.75 for each vote cast in their direction is ripe for exploitation by any mischief-maker or frat-house drinker who decides to run a fake party in the next federal election, a federal prosecutor warned yesterday.

Crown counsel Roslyn Levine urged an Ontario Court of Appeal judge to suspend the effect of the ruling until it can be appealed, because an election appears to be just around the corner.

Ms. Levine told Madam Justice Karen Weiler that any university student organization, golf club or pool hall can now declare itself to be a political party, run a single candidate and line up to collect "easy money" for each vote.

"One can only imagine that in a city like Kingston . . . a student union may decide it wants a bigger budget for beer," Ms. Levine said. "It can have 10,000 students vote for its Beer Party; $17,500 is not a bad take. I don't want to single out students, but it is open to abuse to any entity that wants to obtain public funds."

However, Peter Rosenthal, a lawyer who represents a coalition of small parties in the appeal, rejected Ms. Levine's argument as alarmist and futile. He said that the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled firmly in favour of equal treatment for small political parties.

"If there is such irreparable harm to the public interest, why did it take the Attorney-General so long to apply for a stay?" Mr. Rosenthal asked. "They are valiantly trying to save legislation that the Supreme Court has said is undemocratic."

But Ms. Levine fought back, saying that once a fake political party spends its ill-gotten gains, it may very well be impossible for the government to recoup the money.

She said that a single, well-publicized incident involving a fraudulent political freeloader will "make a mockery" of the electoral process and do irreparable harm to the Chief Electoral Officer.

She said that the Chief Electoral Officer has been placed in a position where he has to probe the motivations and earnestness of new parties, and possibly deregister some of them he sees as insincere.

Ms. Levine also told Judge Weiler that Ontario Superior Court Judge Ted Matlow's ruling will likely apply to every region of Canada in the next election, because the federal Chief Electoral Officer has historically strived to ensure electoral "evenness" across the country.

"The spectre of having a decision by a single judge of Superior Court apply across the country without a fulsome analysis is not something that is in the public interest," she said.

Mr. Rosenthal argued yesterday that the government need not worry about the Chief Electoral Officer having to assess the sincerity of fledgling parties, because the Supreme Court has also stated in the past that it is dangerous and unacceptable to try to assess the worthiness of a political party.

Before adjourning the case, Judge Weiler said that the Court of Appeal will attempt to hear the case at the earliest possible opportunity -- late in June.


dion's pitch

Dion make gas-tax transfer pledge but doesn't commit on one-cent GST request
February 27, 2007

A federal Liberal government would make permanent the current five-year deal that transfers a portion of the gas tax to municipalities, party leader Stephane Dion said Tuesday while stopping short of agreeing to fork over one cent of the GST to cities.

In an election-style speech to delegates attending a summit on Toronto's future, Dion pledged that, as prime minister, he would make research and development, immigration, public transit and the working poor a priority. Dion suggested he wouldn't be able to honour such commitments if he agreed to a one-cent GST transfer that he said would take some $5.5 billion out of federal coffers.

On Monday, Toronto Mayor David Miller called on Ottawa to provide permanent funding for cities by giving them one cent of every six cents collected through the GST.

While Dion said he's sympathetic to mayors who rely on property taxes which don't "grow at the same speed as the economy" for revenue, he called a permanent gas-tax transfer a "good first step."

"Our cities and communities need stable, long-term commitments, with predictable funding," Dion told conference delegates, noting it would give cities an extra $2 billion a year.

"Our federal and provincial governments don't make decisions based on short-term commitments, and neither does the private sector. We shouldn't ask our cities to do what we wouldn't do ourselves."

Dion cast himself as a prime minister who would "fight" to ensure the municipalities had their needs met "on transit and other infrastructure needs."

"I will work with your mayors and understand their challenges and need for real financial partnership over the long-term."

In his speech, Dion also urged the Conservatives to help the poor by funding the working income-tax benefit, which supplements the wages of low-income earners, to the $2.25-billion over five years proposed by the Liberals two years ago.

He also called on the Harper government to reinstate the national day-care program and promised to invest $250 million a year to cover the indirect costs of university research - something he said the Harper government has slashed to just $40 million.

A Liberal government would also reinvest in financial assistance for post-secondary students, which Dion said the current government has cut by 70 per cent.

"For the GTA and other university regions to prosper, we need to reverse those cuts," he said. "We need to keep our universities first class universities in the world."

Dion was on TheHour with George. [yawn]


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

newly arrived CND soldiers do most of the civilian shooting!

Canadians kill Afghan civilian; police want to accompany military convoys

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) -
Frustrated by a spate of civilian shootings, Afghan National Police and the head of the local human rights commission have recommended to Canadian commanders that military convoys be shepherded by local authorities.

The issue was brought sharply into focus again Tuesday when a civilian driver was gunned down as he approached a broken-down Canadian armoured vehicle. It was the fourth time this month that an Afghan bystander has been shot dead by Canadian troops.

The shootings have put a strain on relations between Canadian soldiers and civilians, who are often caught in the crossfire or hit by wayward warning shots.

"I ask you: why are civilians being shot?" said Abdul

"It would be better to let Afghan army or Afghan police handle security on convoys. If they were to let the chief of police know when they are moving between places it would be great."

Kandahar Police Chief Asmatullah Alizai made the proposal in a meeting with Canadian military officers last Friday.

"It is an offer we are giving serious consideration to at this time," Canadian army spokesman Maj. Dale MacEachern said Tuesday when asked about the proposal.

The proposal would require the Canadians to share convoy times and routes with Afghan authorities - something that makes the military nervous because of security concerns.

MacEachern said "operational security is definitely something we're going to be looking at" as the offer from the Afghan National Police is evaluated.

The latest incident happened early Tuesday when an Afghan man driving a white Toyota - the kind favoured by suicide bombers - was shot and killed by soldiers who formed a security cordon around the broken-down armoured vehicle.

MacEachern said the driver failed to heed repeated warnings to stop and stay away.

The car apparently drove past one checkpoint manned by Afghan National Police. "The driver then reportedly accelerated towards Canadian vehicles, which prompted the soldiers to fire on the vehicle, causing it to swerve into the ditch," MacEachern told reporters at Kandahar Airfield.

Army medics attempted to treat the victim but he died a short time later.

No explosives were found in the vehicle.

Co-ordination among foreign troops, Afghan forces and civilians is not very good, Noorzai said in an interview Tuesday with The Canadian Press. He suggests this is one of reasons why there have been so many shootings.

While careful not to directly criticize Canadian troops who face the daily threat of suicide bombers, Noorzai expressed frustration over the deadly shooting of civilians. "Why can't they be shot in the leg?" he asked.

The Canadian army's rules of engagement allow for what's called escalation of force. Troops shout warnings, fire warning shots into the ground or in the air, and only when a person fails to heed the warnings are they allowed to take aim.

Earlier this month, an Afghan police officer and a homeless man were shot near the governor's palace after a Canadian convoy had come under fire. Days earlier, a man described by the army as deranged was shot in the village of Senjray on the outskirts of the city.

Two other non-fatal shootings, one of them involving an Afghan army officer, have happened since the beginning of the year.

Most of the shootings involved freshly arrived soldiers. All of the incidents are under investigation by Canadian military police and, in some cases, local authorities.

In 2006, there were five civilian shooting incidents, two of which resulted in deaths, according to figures provided last month by the army. Separately, last August, one Afghan police officer was killed and five others hurt when they sped toward a Canadian artillery position in an unmarked vehicle.

In a separate, unrelated incident Tuesday, a militant with explosives strapped to his chest blew himself up near along a crowded street, injuring three bystanders.

No Canadian troops were in the area.

Elsewhere on Monday, NATO troops fighting in Garmsir, Helmand province, mistakenly killed two civilians and wounded four others. The soldiers inadvertently dropped mortar rounds on the location.

Lt.-Col. Rory Bruce, a NATO spokesman, said the alliance is deeply saddened by the news of the death of innocent civilians.

The incident happened as troops engaged a Taliban position.


UN: Israel resembles an apartheid

Occupied Gaza like apartheid South Africa, says UN report
The Guardian February 23, 2007

A UN human rights investigator has likened Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa and says there should be "serious consideration" over bringing the occupation to the international court of justice.

The report by John Dugard, a South African law professor who is the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, represents some of the most forceful criticism yet of Israel's 40-year occupation.

Prof Dugard said although Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes, "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." His comments are in an advance version of a report on the UN Human Rights Council's website ahead of its session next month.

After describing the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army, he said: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

He dismissed Israel's argument that the sole purpose of the vast concrete and steel West Bank barrier is for security. "It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers," he said.

Gaza remained under occupation despite the withdrawal of settlers in 2005. "In effect, following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza became a sealed-off, imprisoned and occupied territory," he said.

Prof Dugard said his mandate was solely to report on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and he described as a violation of international humanitarian law the firing of rockets by Palestinians from Gaza into Israel. "Such actions cannot be condoned and clearly constitute a war crime," he said. "Nevertheless, Israel's response has been grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate and resulted in the commission of multiple war crimes."

Read the UN report (pdf)


Canada Pension Plan, invests in the US

CPP enters U.S. office venture with $500-million investment
Canadian Press Feb 27

With investments worth $500- million (U.S.), the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has entered a U.S. office properties joint venture with TIAA-CREF Asset Management.

CPP said Tuesday it will invest $300-million, or 49 per cent of the price, in a series of Class A U.S. office buildings, while TIAA-CREF will plug in another $312-million, or 51 per cent, into the deal.

The anticipated value of the partnership will be about $1.5-billion.

The agreement begins with two suburban properties near San Francisco and another in McLean, Va., near Washington, D.C.

From there, future investments will focus solely on large capital properties with a value of $100-million to $200-million, especially partly leased locations in stable metropolitan areas with at least 500,000 residents, the company said.

CPP is also committing $200-million to TIAA-CREF's direct investment strategy, which handles “institutional-quality” assets in the United States.

TIAA-CREF is a division of Teachers Advisors Inc. With more than $405-billion in assets under management, it is a major provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields and one of the largest real estate investors in the United States.

“We are pleased to partner with TIAA-CREF Asset Management which is a knowledgeable, long-term investor in the U.S. real estate market,” said Graeme Eadie, senior vice-president of real estate.

“Our investment significantly increases our exposure in the U.S. real estate market which supports our focus of diversifying the overall CPP Investment Board portfolio by product type and geography.”

TIAA-CREF executive vice-president Scott Evans said the joint venture “speaks to our commitment to building relationships with high quality institutional investors by providing investment solutions centred on our nearly 90 years of portfolio management experience.”

The CPP Investment Board invests the funds not needed by the Canada Pension Plan to pay current benefits. To build a diversified portfolio of CPP assets, the board is investing in publicly traded stocks, private equities, real estate, inflation-linked bonds and infrastructure to balance its government bond portfolio.

As of Dec. 31, the CPP fund totalled $110.8-billion, including about $5-billion in real estate investments.

CPP gets freer rein to invest in derivatives
Finance Minister says agency has proved itself mature enough to operate without restriction

STEVEN CHASE Globe and Mail Feb 26

Ottawa and the provinces have quietly relaxed their leash on the board that manages Canadian Pension Plan investments, allowing it to expand its use of derivatives beyond “plain-vanilla” applications.

That removes a restriction in place since 1998 when the CPP Investment Board was handed the task of managing the country's public retirement funds. The board now manages about $111-billion.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's department said it's removing the board's training wheels — and allowing more exotic uses of derivatives — because the agency has proven itself mature enough to operate without this constraint.

“Since its inception ... [the board] has developed a global reputation for sound risk management and corporate governance policies,” the Finance Department said in a Feb. 24 note on a decision to repeal restrictions on derivative use.

“Therefore, [the rule] is no longer required as a prudential measure,” Finance said.

Derivatives are investment contracts in which the price is derived from the value of underlying assets. They include futures contracts, options, and swaps. They can be used to mitigate risk but also for more speculative purposes, and can produce outsized profits and losses.

The repealed federal regulation in question, Section 14, stipulated that the board use derivatives only for very basic purposes such as hedging against risk and required that it hold cash or other assets to back a derivative investment.

“Regulation 14 really only contemplated a very simple, plain-vanilla usage of derivatives,” Don Raymond, the board's senior vice-president of public market investments, said of the regulation that's been excised.

The CPP Investment Board said it lobbied for the change in Ottawa and the provinces, which share responsibility for the fund, on the grounds that it would make investing more efficient and cut costs.

Board officials argued the change will put them on a more level playing field with other pension funds and should help increase returns.

“We can't guarantee obviously, but there are some pretty simple arguments in terms of efficiency ... that lead us to believe that will in fact be the case,” Mr. Raymond said.

He said the change does not mean that Canada Pension Plan investments will face any greater risk in the market. “With the exact same amount of risk, we should be able to generate higher returns primarily because of these efficiency arguments,” he said.

Mr. Raymond emphasized that risk management is at the heart of the board's investing strategy. “We're not going to be taking any more risk as a result of this,” he said.

The change, which took effect Feb. 1, required the approval of two-thirds of participating provinces representing two-thirds of their total population. All nine provinces agreed to the move, Finance said. Quebec was not involved because it has its own separate public pension fund.

Finance said the change will give the board managing CPP funds the same margin to manoeuvre as rival organizations in the market.

“[It] will allow the board to undertake transactions that competing pension funds can already undertake to increase returns without increasing risk,” Finance spokesman David Gamble said.

The Canada Pension Plan fund had an 8.7-per-cent return in its most recent quarter. In the three months ending Dec. 31, the fund grew by $7.5-billion to $110.8-billion. For the first nine months of its fiscal year, the fund had a 10.1-per-cent return or a gain of $10.3-billion.


harper sells Afghanistan, the american vocabulary

Harper goes soft on mission
From Allan Woods The Toronto Star Feb 27

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Afghanistan aid announcement yesterday was part of the government's new kinder, gentler approach to selling Canadians on the mission.

Gone was talk of the war on terror, the grim realities of 9/11 or the need for Canadians not to cut and run.

In their place, Harper talked of reconstruction, a multilateral approach, community involvement and economic growth.

Harper's message to Canadians follows the advice his government has received in recent months about the poor results of its American-sounding PR effort on this divided country.

A series of studies on the government's communications strategy paved the way for the new Tory spin, including one obtained by the Star advising that a winning vocabulary includes the words "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction" and "hope."

The report, commissioned by the foreign affairs department, counselled the Tories to "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values." It recommended the government make no mention of freedom, democracy and liberty, "the War on Terror," 9/11 or military actions of U.S. soldiers in the country.

In announcing the $200 million in aid yesterday, Harper noted it will "accelerate the reconstruction and development process" and support "proven" projects that encourage "community involvement."

It will help "nurture economic growth" by building a road to "facilitate cross-border trade" – presumably not in poppies, the source of heroin. To make sure of this, the money will also go toward building Afghanistan's "counter-narcotics infrastructure."

The money will also help aid workers, police and diplomats to rebuild the economic, physical and governmental infrastructure of Afghanistan, Harper said.

Where Afghanistan was once an "incubator" of terrorism, Harper referred to it yesterday as "the front line of the international security challenge of the modern post-war world."


CND killed another afghan; defense or a trend

Canadians shoot Afghan civilian
Graham Thomson, CanWest News Service
February 27, 2007

KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan -
Canadian soldiers have shot and killed an Afghan who ignored warnings to stay clear of a military convoy. It is fourth time in little more than a week that Canadians have been involved in a shooting.

On Tuesday morning, troops opened fire on a car they say sped towards them despite repeated warnings to stay back.

Afghan National Police officers had set up a security cordon around a stalled convoy in the west end of the city when the car approached. Soldiers say the driver ignored signals from the police to stop and drove through the cordon picking up speed as he neared the Canadians.

Fearing they were under attack from a suicide bomber, the soldiers opened fire, hitting the car and forcing it into a ditch. The driver was declared dead at the scene.

Military spokesman Maj. Dale MacEachern said it would be unfair to lump all four shootings together into a “trend.”

“Each is an individual case with its own set of circumstances,” said MacEachern.

The shootings are creating a public relations nightmare for Canadians who are trying win over the Afghan people through security patrols and reconstruction projects. Local residents have expressed dismay and frustration at the shootings.


Canada's silence is shame

UN watchdog says Canada too often silent as human rights trampled

Canada votes at the United Nations to uphold international human rights but rarely speaks out against the worst global bullies, says a new report.

It's just one aspect of a review by UN Watch that casts the renewed UN Human Rights Council as badly, if not fatally, flawed.

The non-government group says Canada in 2006-07 spoke out against abuses by just six of the 19 most repressive regimes in the world.

At the UN General Assembly, Canada "led the resolution that held Iran to account for its policies of torture, arbitrary arrest and repression," Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, told a news conference Monday.

"Canada also joined other democracies in citing major abuses in Belarus, Burma and North Korea, and in supporting the failed attempt to censure Uzbekistan."

But Canada's silence at the UN Human Rights Council was deafening in other cases, Neuer said.

"Canada took no action whatsoever ... against China's violations of civil, political and religious rights - which harm over a sixth of the world's population. Canada was equally silent regarding Fidel Castro's police state, where journalists languish in jail for daring to speak the truth.

"It said nothing about Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow women to vote or drive a car, or its state-sponsored schoolbooks that teach children to hate Christians and other non-Muslims."

What's worse is that Canada, even with this dubious record, is among the top performers at the new UN Human Rights Council, Neuer said.

It doesn't help that almost half of the 47 member countries, including Cuba, are serious offenders who tend to protect each other from criticism.

"It's very distressing," Neuer said. "The founding of the council was hailed as the dawning of a new era, but the reality is that a great many non-democracies were elected."

The UN General Assembly voted last March to create the new human rights body after the credibility of its predecessor, the 53-member Commission on Human Rights, took an international pounding.

Among low points was the election in 2003 of Libya, a notorious thug on the human-rights stage, as chair of the body. That unseemly scenario was the result of a regional rotation scheme - one of many procedural glitches decried by outraged human rights advocates who increasingly called the commission toothless.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan himself conceded: "Unless we remake our human rights machinery, we may be unable to renew public confidence in the United Nations itself."

The reconstituted council was to include only members who "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights" and be subject to review. Countries had to be approved by a majority of the 191 members of the UN General Assembly.

It turned out to be a poor filter. Initial members of the new council included China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan.

Such so-called "abuser states" are now collectively "fighting tooth and nail" in Geneva to water down periodic reviews and other mechanisms that might rebalance a skewed process, Neuer says.

The council has so far come up with just 10 resolutions addressing specific countries: eight condemnations of Israel and two comparatively soft knocks on Sudan.

"It's a very depressing time," Neuer says. "At the same time, it's an opportunity for democracies to stand up and fight for what's right."

Neuer called on Canada to forge stronger ties with European and other member countries to hold China, Saudi Arabia and other offenders accountable.

He conceded that the council is a highly partisan process, and that there's a political price for speaking out.

"But I do not accept that, and I think victims around the world cannot accept that as an answer."

Conservative MP James Lunney, who responded to the report on behalf of the government, said Canada can "play a very significant role in addressing these concerns.

"We're moving in that direction ... but of course we need a lot of wisdom in advancing in that area."

Ottawa has raised concerns about China's human rights record in other contexts, Lunney added, most recently in the case of a Canadian citizen being detained there without access to consular staff.

As for the UN process: "Let's just say it's very complicated because of the composition of member states and the intrinsic partisan nature of many of the players."

That's no excuse for not at least speaking out, said New Democrat MP Pat Martin.

"Even though the report says Canada is voting the right way, silence is shame."


Monday, February 26, 2007

scrap school boards

i don't agree with the outsourcing to other countries; but perhaps worth looking at for other provinces; pros / cons ...

ADQ wants to scrap school boards
Feb 26, 2007

(CBC) -
ADQ Leader Mario Dumont said if elected premier he'd abolish school boards and reinvest the savings to streamline and improve Quebec's education system.

The province could pump up to $150 million into schools if it eliminated administrative boards, Dumont said on Monday during a campaign stop in Saint-Nazaire, in the Saguenay.

Dumont said school boards are bloated and suck up education dollars that could be used in the classroom. "The administrative costs are going up at a much bigger pace than the investment in the children, in the classes," said the ADQ leader.

Whatever school boards now accomplish could be assigned elsewhere, Dumont explained. School boards currently handle tasks such as payroll that could easily be outsourced to countries such as India, where labour costs are low.

Municipal governments could take over responsibilities such as maintaining schools grounds and snow removal. And regional education directors could assume the tasks of buying educational materials and hiring staff, Dumont said.

An ADQ government would also put an end to school taxes, and introduce new taxation powers for municipalities to generate revenue they'll need to pay for increased responsibilities under a reformed education system.

The ADQ's proposed education reform would cut administrative costs, leaving more for the classroom, and that could have a positive influence on the province's dropout rate, the ADQ leader said.

Dumont cited Finland as a success story, where dropout rates diminished after the Scandinavian country eliminated one level of school administration.


Stephane Who? says Alder

Charles Adler: Stéphane Who?
Stéphane Who?

by Charles Adler / National Post: Full Comment February 26, 2007

You don’t have to be the second coming of Sigmund Freud, Xaviera Hollander, or Dr. Ruth to declare that Stéphane Dion has been having a sexless honeymoon. This shouldn’t surprise educated political observers — Dion wasn’t supposed to win the big prize at the Grit-gathering in Montreal. The consensus opinion emerging from the convention was that Dion won the leadership not because of who he was, but rather because of who he wasn’t. He wasn’t a tourist in the Federal wing of the Liberal Party: He hadn’t crossed the floor like Scott Bryson; He hadn’t crossed over from provincial politics like Gerrard Kennedy; He hadn’t crossed over from Harvard like Michael Ignatieff, from the NDP like Bob Rae or from the planet pucko like Ken Dryden. Dion was not a crossover artist. He had a legitimate federal Liberal pedigree, having paid his dues in several governments — he fought the separatist scourge while serving as Unity Minister and helped to shepherd the controversial Clarity Act.

There is a significant problem faced by any leader who assumes control of a machine because of who he isn’t. He gets tagged with the surname nobody wants to wear. It’s a three-letter word that begins with “w” and rhymes with boo. Remember Joe Who? Joe Clark received that crown of thorns more than three decades ago and when his obituary is written, it will be said that a Conservative leadership convention in the 1970’s was won by a man who inspired less enthusiasm in Canadian voters than the sight of rats in a New York City Taco Bell.

Stéphane Dion has been branded the Francophone Joe Clark by Canada’s punditocracy. It’s not exclusively because he wasn’t supposed to win the leadership but did. It is also because he seems to have a tin ear on the central issues of our times. He is trying to be the green guy, but cannot seem to explain why he wasn’t able to colour the Liberal agenda green when he was the Environment Minister. Eddie Goldenberg’s admission the other day that the Liberals had no intention of fulfilling their Kyoto obligations when they signed on was just another piece of Liberal larceny. And Dion is just another passenger in the getaway car.

On the issue of investigating and apprehending terrorists, Dion has been caught terrorizing his own caucus into taking his position. This despite the best judgements of Irwin Kotler, John Manley and others who served in the Chrétien government that responded appropriately to 9/11 by giving police special investigative authority. Dion’s ideas on how to catch terrorists have also been caught up in the webbing of the RCMP investigation into the Air India mass murder. Relatives of Air India victims have been seen embracing Stephen Harper in his attempt to keep the Chrétien legislation in place, while Dion has been whipping his caucus into defanging several key measures of that same body of law.

There is one upside to being Stéphane Dion. Expectations are low. If he manages in the next few months to lose an election that still deprives Harper of his coveted majority, some will conclude that Dion has achieved some success. When you’re a political “who,” people don’t ask for much.

Charles Adler is the host of Adler on Line, a National Radio Show on the Corus Radio Network. Contact Adler through his website


Deadly Dilemmas Afghan: Report from CCPA

Leopard Tanks and the Deadly Dilemmas
of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan

Feb 2007

Full report:
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative

Deployment of tanks to Afghanistan wrong decision, says CCPA study
CCPA National Office Publication Type:
Press Release Feb 26

OTTAWA: Aт€”The Department of National Defence was wrong to deploy Leopard 1 C2 tanks to the battlefield in Afghanistan, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The study was written by Michael D. Wallace, Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia and Senior Advisor to the newly established Rideau Institute on International Affairs.

Wallace argues that older-model tanks such as the Leopard 1 are vulnerable to a variety of weapons easily manufactured by insurgent forces or obtained on the black market. The number and potential severity of the risks of putting our 1960s-designed Leopard 1 tanks in harmт€™s way outweighs any additional protection they can supply to Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Introducing 28-year-old tanks into a combat zone replete with effective anti-tank weapons against fighters with nearly three decades of experience in attacking and killing far superior armour is not a wise decision,т€ says Wallace.

The improved Leopard 2 A6M tanks being sought from Germany will provide a good measure of additional protection for their crews, but they can still be overcome by improved rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices.

There is no such thing as т€˜invulnerableт€™ armour any more. Even the most modern and capable tanks are vulnerable to a variety of attacks,т€ states Wallace.

Wallace says indications point to the beginnings of an 'arms race' between the insurgents and the International Assistance Force, similar to one that has been going on between Coalition Forces and the insurgents in Iraq for four years. Each attempt to out-armour the insurgents has failed and only resulted in an increasingly skilled insurgency, both in making weapons and in tactics.

It is entirely understandable that our military commanders will exert every effort to minimize the loss of Canadian lives, but, according to Wallace, by doing so they risk further alienating the Afghan population and undermining the missionт€™s development goals.

€œHow are regional development teams likely to be perceived if they are preceded by a 55-tonne tank that could pulverize their village with a single shot?т€ he asks. т€œAnd how can Canada set its sights on human rights, reconstruction, and economic development if its view of the country is narrowed to the turret sight of a tank?

Leopard Tanks and the Deadly Dilemmas of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan is available on the CCPA web page at


Rice: bush won't abide by legislation on Iraq

Rice Says Bush Won't Abide By Legislation To Limit Iraq War

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Democratic-controlled Congress not to interfere in the conduct of the Iraq war and suggested President Bush would defy troop withdrawal legislation.

But Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said lawmakers would step up efforts to force Bush to change course. ``The president needs a check and a balance,'' said Levin, D-Mich.

Rice said proposals being drafted by Senate Democrats to limit the war amounted to ``the worst of micromanagement of military affairs.'' She said military leaders such as Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, believe the president's plan to send more troops is necessary.

``I can't imagine a circumstance in which it's a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress,'' Rice said. She was asked in a broadcast interview whether Bush would feel bound by legislation seeking to withdraw combat troops within 120 days.

``The president is going to, as commander in chief, need to do what the country needs done,'' she said.

The Senate Democrats' legislation would try to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq by revoking Congress' 2002 vote authorizing Bush's use of force against Saddam Hussein.

One draft version supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would pull out combat forces by March of next year and restrict U.S. troops to fighting al-Qaida terrorists, training the Iraqi security forces and maintaining Iraq's borders.

Democrats have acknowledged that the proposal does not yet have enough votes to overcome GOP procedural obstacles and a veto by Bush. But they are hoping the latest effort will draw enough GOP support to embarrass the president and keep the pressure on.

Levin said it was appropriate for lawmakers to limit the broad wording of the 2002 war resolution given how the situation in Iraq has deteriorated.

``This is not a surge so much as it is a plunge into Baghdad and into the middle of a civil war,'' he said. ``We're trying to change the policy, and if someone wants to call that tying the hands instead of changing the policy, yeah the president needs a check and a balance.''

Sensitive to wavering Republicans, Rice made clear that Bush had no intention of backing away from plans to send 21,500 more combat troops to Iraq. While the U.S. role has changed since its overthrow of Saddam, the United States is obligated to see the mission through by working to build a stable and democratic Iraq, she said.

Rice said it is impossible to distinguish what is going on in Iraq from the larger fight against al-Qaida.

``Some of these car bombs may indeed be the work of an organization like al-Qaida,'' she said of the violence that continues to rock Baghdad.

``I would hope that Congress would recognize that it's very important for them to have the oversight role,'' Rice said. ``But when it comes to the execution of policy in the field, there has to be a clear relationship between the commander in chief and the commanders in the field.''

Senate Republicans recently thwarted two Democratic attempts to pass a nonbinding resolution critical of Bush's troop plan.

In the House, a nonbinding anti-war measure was approved this month. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she expects the next challenge might be to impose money restrictions and a requirement that the Pentagon adhere to strict readiness standards for troops heading to the war zone.

But that plan has drawn only lukewarm support from Democrats in the Senate and some in the House, who believe it is a politically risky strategy that could be seen as an unconstitutional micromanaging of a president's power to wage war.

``We're going to fund the troops as long as they're there,'' Levin said.


afghan, sending tanks that are sitting ducks!

New tanks no match for Taliban
Insurgents have weapons capable of crippling Leopards, report says
The Ottawa Citizen February 26, 2007

Canada's Leopard tanks in Afghanistan, as well as the new armoured vehicles the military soon hopes to acquire for operations there, are potential sitting ducks for insurgents, according to a report to be released today.

The study, done for the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, warns that insurgents have the weaponry to knock out the Canadian Leopards in Kandahar and can obtain the materials to immobilize the upgraded tanks the Canadian Forces want to purchase.

The end result is that the Canadian Forces will be trapped in an arms race with insurgents as they try to outdo each other, according to the study's author.

The report comes on the heels of new efforts by the Canadian Forces to lease state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks for the Kandahar mission and claims by the Taliban that it has access to more technologically advanced weapons for its planned spring offensive.

A Canadian military team was in Germany two weeks ago to work out details of the purchase of surplus Leopard tanks. The officers were also working on arrangements to lease from Germany the most advanced Leopard 2 tank available and have that shipped to Afghanistan as soon as possible.

There is interest in further building up of the armoured protection on that tank, already designed to withstand landmines, in order to deal with whatever new weapons the Taliban might use, sources said.

Military officials, however, say no decision has been made on the proposed purchase or lease.

But in a report to be released today, University of British Columbia political science professor Michael Wallace questions the use of the Leopards in Kandahar and argues that the tanks send the wrong message to Afghans.

"How can Canada set its sights on human rights, reconstruction, and economic development if its view of the country is narrowed to the turret sight of a tank?" he writes.

He said the use of heavier weaponry such as the Leopards creates the potential for further civilian casualties, which in turn only drives Afghans to support the insurgents.

Mr. Wallace said in preparation for their spring offensive, Afghan insurgents will likely also examine what is needed to defeat the Canadian Leopards and any new tanks Canada puts in the field.

Such information is readily available on the Internet, including a U.S. military site that details the design for an armour-piercing roadside bomb, he noted.

The rocket-propelled grenades already in use by the insurgents could be used to immobilize the tanks, he added.

"It's understandable why the military sent the Leopards since they will probably save Canadian lives," said Mr. Wallace, a senior adviser to the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute on International Affairs.

"But there is likely to develop in Afghanistan, as happened in Iraq, an arms race between armour and the armour-defeating weapons the insurgents have learned to build."

The Canadian Forces argue the Leopards are needed to provide firepower and added protection to troops. Last week, army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie said the Leopard "is the best-protected vehicle against enormous blasts."

The tanks provide protection against suicide bombers, roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, he said. The Leopards will also be able to move over irrigation ditches and other obstacles that hindered wheeled light-armoured vehicles during fighting last year, Lt.-Gen. Leslie said.

Taliban officials claim they have acquired surface-to-air missiles that will be used to attack NATO aircraft and they have also hinted that more advanced weapons may also be used.

"There are many more technological surprises in store," a Taliban source told the Italian news agency AKI last week. He did not give further details about whether that would include weapons to destroy armoured vehicles.

NATO, however, has questioned the veracity of Taliban claims in the past and pointed out that the insurgents tend to boast about capabilities they do not have.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant also doesn't believe that fighting will reach the same levels as last year since NATO plans pre-emptive strikes to disrupt Taliban forces.

Mr. Wallace acknowledges he has no easy answers on what the future course of action in Afghanistan should be. But he also notes the Canadian Forces and government don't appear to know either.

"We're getting more and more sucked in to something that's going to be harder and harder to get out of," he added.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Putin publicly reproaches US

Putin publicly reproaches US administration on Russia’s Army Day
News from the Kremlin / PRAVDA.Ru

On February 23 Russia celebrates the unofficial holiday of all men – the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland. This holiday evolved from its Soviet predecessor, the Day of the Red Army and Navy. Men’s Day was officially proclaimed a state holiday in 2002. It will soon be followed with a special day for all women, March 8 – the International Women’s Day.

Russia’s top politicians will lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay tribute to all those men who fell defending their native country. Flowers will be also laid at the monument to Marshal Georgy Zhukov – the legendary winner of many World War II battles.

President Vladimir Putin congratulated all servicemen, military officials and war veterans of Russia on the eve of the holiday at a special ceremony in the Kremlin. “Our army today is first and foremost a community of professionally trained people of strong will, who realize the importance of the military profession for our country and society,” Putin said. “We must thank them for all risks which they take during the army service,” the commander-in-chief said.

The president looked back at nation’s history, which, as he said, is filled with “many pages telling stories of courage and heroism displayed by the country’s defenders.” “We honor Russian military traditions that were born in fierce battles for our native land and liberating crusades for independence of other peoples of the planet. Those traditions became the spiritual core for both the army and the entire nation. Russia is a peaceful state that treats its partners with respect. We do not threaten anyone, nor do we harbor any aggressive plans. However, the significant conflict potential can still be found in today’s world. We may see certain nations ignoring international rights and using their military power to meet their own interests. This is happening at the time when terrorism, extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses a real threat to stability in the world. That is why, security for Russia and its citizens can only be guaranteed by means of strengthening the national defense potential and having state-of-the-art army” the Russian president said.

Opinion polls show that most Russians are certain the national armed forces are capable of defending the country from any aggressor. About 67 percent of the polled share this opinion, the center for national public opinion studies VCIOM said.


Cluster Bombs, US rejects ban

US rejects ban on cluster bombs
AFP February 23, 2007

The United States on Friday rejected an international call to abandon the use of cluster bombs, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We ... take the position that these munitions do have a place and a use in military inventories, given the right technology as well as the proper rules of engagement," McCormack said.

Forty-six countries meeting in Oslo on Friday pledged to seek a treaty banning cluster bombs by next year, with major user and stockpiler Britain and manufacturer France signing on, Norway said.

"We, ourselves, have already taken a couple of other steps with regard to technical upgrades to cluster munitions, as well as looking very closely at the rules of engagement, how they are used," said McCormack.

"So it is something that over the course of the years we have looked at very closely. We have taken very seriously the international discussion with respect to the threat posed by unexploded ordnance to innocent civilians," he said.

Japan, Poland and Romania refused to sign the accord, while key nations such as Israel and the United States did not take part in the conference.

The 46 countries agreed to "commit themselves to ... conclude by 2008 a legally binding international instrument that will prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians," according to the declaration.

A number of leading countries, including Britain and France, had previously said they wanted a ban to be part of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, a process which Norway and a number of other nations consider to be a failure.

A cluster bomb is a container holding hundreds of smaller bomblets. It opens in mid-air and disperses the bomblets over a large area.

The smaller bombs do not always explode on impact, which means they can continue to kill innocent civilians years later.

A recent report by Handicap International claimed that 98 percent of casualties from cluster munitions are non-combatants.


Americans whinning about our border

Going to Canada? Check your past
Tourists with minor criminal records turned back at border

C.W. Nevius / SFGateNews Feb 23/2007

There was a time not long ago when a trip across the border from the United States to Canada was accomplished with a wink and a wave of a driver's license. Those days are over.

Take the case of 55-year-old Lake Tahoe resident Greg Felsch. Stopped at the border in Vancouver this month at the start of a planned five-day ski trip, he was sent back to the United States because of a DUI conviction seven years ago. Not that he had any idea what was going on when he was told at customs: "Your next stop is immigration.''

Felsch was ushered into a room. "There must have been 75 people in line," he says. "We were there for three hours. One woman was in tears. A guy was sent back for having a medical marijuana card. I felt like a felon with an ankle bracelet.''

Or ask the well-to-do East Bay couple who flew to British Columbia this month for an eight-day ski vacation at the famed Whistler Chateau, where rooms run to $500 a night. They'd made the trip many times, but were surprised at the border to be told that the husband would have to report to "secondary'' immigration.

There, in a room he estimates was filled with 60 other concerned travelers, he was told he was "a person who was inadmissible to Canada.'' The problem? A conviction for marijuana possession.

In 1975.

Welcome to the new world of border security. Unsuspecting Americans are turning up at the Canadian border expecting clear sailing, only to find that their past -- sometimes their distant past -- is suddenly an issue.

While Canada officially has barred travelers convicted of criminal offenses for years, attorneys say post-9/11 information-gathering, combined with a sweeping agreement between Canada and the United States to share data, has resulted in a spike in phone calls from concerned travelers.

They are shocked to hear that the sins of their youth might keep them out of Canada. But what they don't know is that this is just the beginning. Soon other nations will be able to look into your past when you want to travel there.

"It's completely ridiculous,'' said Chris Cannon, an attorney representing the East Bay couple, who asked that their names not be used because they don't want their kids to know about the pot rap. "It's a disaster. I mean, who didn't smoke pot in the '70s?''

We're about to find out. And don't think you are in the clear if you never inhaled. Ever get nabbed for a DUI? How about shoplifting? Turn around. You aren't getting in.

"From the time that you turn 18, everything is in the system,'' says Lucy Perillo, whose Canada Border Crossing Service in Winnipeg, Manitoba, helps Americans get into the country.

Canadian attorney David Lesperance, an expert on customs and immigration, says he had a client who was involved in a fraternity prank 20 years ago. He was on a scavenger hunt, and the assignment was to steal something from a Piggly Wiggly supermarket. He got caught, paid a small fine and was ordered to sweep the police station parking lot.

He thought it was all forgotten. And it was, until he tried to cross the border.

The official word from the Canadian Border Services Agency is that this is nothing more than business as usual. Spokesman Derek Mellon gets a little huffy when asked why the border has become so strict.

"I think it is important to understand that you are entering another country,'' Mellon says. "You are not crossing the street.''

OK, but something changed here, didn't it?

"People say, 'I've been going to Canada for 20 years and never had a problem,' '' Lesperance says. "It's classic. I say, 'Well, you've been getting away with it for 20 years.' ''

A prior record has always made it difficult to cross the border. What you probably didn't know was that, as the Canadian Consulate's Web site says, "Driving while under the influence of alcohol is regarded as an extremely serious offense in Canada.''

So it isn't as if rules have stiffened. But what has changed is the way the information is gathered. In the wake of 9/11, Canada and the United States formed a partnership that has dramatically increased what Lesperance calls "the data mining'' system at the border.

The Smart Border Action Plan, as it is known, combines Canadian intelligence with extensive U.S. Homeland Security information. The partnership began in 2002, but it wasn't until recently that the system was refined.

"They can call up anything that your state trooper in Iowa can,'' Lesperance says. "As Canadians and Americans have begun cooperating, all those indiscretions from the '60s are going to come back and haunt us.''

Now, there's a scary thought. But the irony of the East Bay couple's situation is inescapable. Since their rowdy days in the '70s, they have created and sold a publishing company, purchased extensive real estate holdings and own a $3 million getaway home in Lake Tahoe.

"We've done pretty well since those days,'' she says. "But what I wonder is how many other people might be affected.''

The Canadian Border Services Agency says its statistics don't show an increase in the number of travelers turned back. But Cannon says that's because the "data mining'' has just begun to pick up momentum.

"It is too new to say,'' he says. "Put it this way. I am one lawyer in San Francisco, and I've had four of these cases in the last two years, two since January. And remember, a lot of people don't want to talk about it (because of embarrassment).''

Asked if there were more cases, attorney Lesperance was emphatic.

"Oh, yeah,'' he says. "Just the number of calls I get has gone up. If we factor in the greater ability to discover these cases, it is just mathematically logical that we are going to see more.''

The lesson, the attorneys say, is that if you must travel to Canada, you should apply for "a Minister's Approval of Rehabilitation" to wipe the record clear.

Oh, and by the way, if you don't need to travel to Canada, don't think you won't need to clear your record. Lesperance says it is just a matter of time before agreements are signed with governments in destinations like Japan, Indonesia and Europe.

"This,'' Lesperance says, "is just the edge of the wedge.''

Who would have thought a single, crazy night in college would follow you around the world?


US cannot control Mexico border, how can Pakistan control their border!

"If the U.S. cannot stop infiltration from Mexico, how do you expect us to control our border with Afghanistan that's mostly desolate and mountainous?"

Pakistan fed up with U.S. and allies on Afghanistan fed up with U.S. and allies on Afghanistan

Pakistan tired of hearing it's not doing enough on Taliban and Al Qaeda, says Haroon Siddiqui
Haroon Siddiqui / February 25, 2007 / TheTorontoStar

PESHAWAR–Those who invaded Iraq claiming it had weapons of mass destruction and have been blaming Iran and Syria for the murderous mess in Iraq, are also the same people now blaming Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan.

They say Pakistan is aiding and abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Maybe it is. But U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have offered little or no proof.

The American media are running a parallel campaign, hurling a more serious allegation, that the Pakistan army is extending logistical help to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Most such stories are based on unnamed sources.

The New York Times, which in the pre-Iraq war days carried phony WMD stories, is back practising the same sort of discredited journalism.

In a Washington-datelined story last week on ostensible Al Qaeda camps in North Waziristan, I counted 20 attributions to unnamed "American officials," "intelligence officials and terrorism experts," "American analysts," "counterterrorism officials," etc.

The assertions of Pakistani involvement have been repeated so often they have become part of the received wisdom of many Canadian politicians, editorial writers and pundits as well. I do not know and have not been able to ascertain whether Pakistan is guilty or not. But, given the track record of those making the allegations, we should be skeptical.

In the circumstances, it is useful to know what the Pakistanis, from President Pervez Musharraf down, have been saying.

+ Pakistan cannot possibly fully control the 2,400-kilometre border, most of it uninhabited terrain.

"If the U.S. cannot stop infiltration from Mexico, how do you expect us to control our border with Afghanistan that's mostly desolate and mountainous?" pleaded Tariq Azim, minister of information, in an interview in Islamabad, the capital.

+ Pakistan has done more in battling terrorism in the neighbourhood than any other nation. It has deployed 80,000 troops along the Afghan border, double the entire American and NATO contingent in Afghanistan, and has lost more than 700 soldiers, more than double the casualty count of all the allies.

+ It has helped arrest dozens of Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Musharraf: "Tell me how many Taliban leaders have been caught in Afghanistan. Name me one."

+ The Taliban do have sympathizers among their 15-million fellow-Pushtuns in Pakistan and among the 2.6 million Afghan Pushtun refugees living in Pakistan. But the main problem lies in Afghanistan, because of widespread corruption, opium production and the incompetence of the American and NATO forces, which have failed to bring security and economic development to the population.

"We don't deny that Taliban come and go but that's not the entire truth," Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesperson for Musharraf, told me. "If 25 per cent of the problem lies on our side, 75 per cent lies on that side."

+ Pakistan admits that a few dozen, or perhaps hundreds of Al Qaeda members are hiding in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Pakistan waged war on them and the Taliban over the last five years, but ended up alienating the local population. That's why it signed deals with the local tribes in North and South Waziristan, under which the army was withdrawn in return for the elders keeping the foreigners at bay.

"We did the same thing in Waziristan that the Brits did in Afghanistan," said Azim, referring to the arrangement the British made in Musa Qala in Helmand province. Both deals were opposed by the Americans, who insist on a military approach.

The deals did work, until recently, in that attacks on troops stopped.

But in both cases, some elements of the Taliban/Al Qaeda are now overriding the local elders and regrouping.

Lt. Gen. Ali Jan Mohammed Orakzai, governor of NWFP, architect of the deal, says: "It was imperative to switch tactics to a political approach after 700 soldiers had died, traditional tribal structures had collapsed and anti-government sentiments had soared, helping Islamic extremists."

In other words, Pakistan decided to cut its losses.

Sultan concedes that cross-border incursions have increased, but "we are not sure whether that's the result of the agreement or just a natural Taliban spike" in preparation for the expected spring offensive.

If the U.S. has new intelligence about Al Qaeda camps, it should supply Pakistan with the satellite pictures and other co-ordinates. "We have asked for proof and we never get it."

+ Pakistan is not knowingly hiding Taliban leader Mullah Omar, as alleged by Karzai. "Give me the address," snapped Musharraf. "I will go catch him myself."

+ Pakistan is tired of hearing that it is not doing enough, says Azim. "But nobody tells us what is enough. Nobody defines what will be enough." I asked him if Pakistan is getting fed up with the U.S. and other allies."Up to here," he said, lifting his hand to his throat.