February 2010 Archives

February 27, 2010

Unscheduled musical interlude


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February 26, 2010

Friday night

From Wikipedia:

The Brazos River extends through Central Texas to the Gulf of Mexico near Freeport, Texas. It features in many prison songs because it runs past virtually all of the old prisons in Texas. "Old Hannah" is the name given to the sun. "Captain" is one of the ranks in the hierarchy of prison guards, the man in charge of half the workers in a field. The term was also used outside the prisons to mean the white boss. In some of the old slave songs the singers call Jesus their captain. A "bully" is an inmate working in the line. The word can also be used as a verb, in which case it means working hard.

The title as super'd onto the video (if it's showing up) is wrong; it should be Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos. This is Eric Bibb.

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To follow up on yesterday's post in reaction to a motion passed by the Ontario legislature, Alison in comments was kind enough to supply the text of the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. Here's a part of the definition of apartheid with my emphasis added:

Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members of a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, the right to form recognised trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
Now please read this guest post at Mondoweiss by a Palestinian and then explain why using the term apartheid in discussion of Israeli treatment of Palestinians is not only wrong but is so far over the top that people who do deserve the unanimous condemnation of elected officials who are supposed to be representing them.

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February 25, 2010

MPPs unite to condemn "odious" Israeli Apartheid Week

In a rare show of unanimity, Ontario MPPs of all political stripes have banded together to condemn "Israeli Apartheid Week."

I didn't know we elected MPPs to tell us what to think. The reason I'm posting this is this part in particular:

"I want the name changed, it's just wrong," [Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman] said, emphasizing that "respectful" debate about the Middle East is much more constructive than slinging slurs.

"Israeli Apartheid Week is not a dialogue, it's a monologue and it is an imposition of a view by the name itself--the name is hateful, it is odious," he said, adding it is also offensive to the millions of black South Africans oppressed by a racist white regime until the early 1990s.

Emphasis added. Here's one of those black South Africans in 2002:

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has accused Israel of practising apartheid in its policies towards the Palestinians.

The Nobel peace laureate said he was "very deeply distressed" by a visit to the Holy Land, adding that "it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa".

Perhaps Peter Shurman and the rest of the members of the Ontario legislature would like to have a respectful debate with Tutu on the subject of apartheid before overstepping their jurisdiction and telling the people they're supposed to represent what to think.


I had originally included a quote from a memo purported to be from Nelson Mandela but I now have reason to doubt its provenance so I've eliminated that portion of the post. It doesn't really change my point. In dismissing Israeli Apartheid Week as "odious" and "condemning" it, the Ontario legislature has done what it pretends to challenge: calling names while refusing to actually examine the issue and "respectfully" debate the people who think apartheid is an appropriate term to describe what's happening in the occupied territories. But I'm sure they felt a moment or two of moral superiority while betraying their purpose as representatives of all of the people of Ontario and not just those on one side of an issue.

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Arrests children, denies them due process and terrorizes them into confessing to things they didn't necessarily do. But if we criticize Israel for this behaviour we can look forward to our own elected representatives accusing us of being anti-semitic. Awesome, isn't it?

H/t to Filasteen.

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Oh look! A leak!


Military told to heed abuse claims

OTTAWA-Canadian military brass were told it was a crime to ignore allegations of prisoner abuse and that it was their duty to investigate it, according to a top secret document revealed to the Toronto Star.

Buried in documents withheld from a special parliamentary committee by the Conservative government, the May 22, 2007 five-page memo from the Judge Advocate General (JAG), Brig.-Gen. Ken Watkin, followed on the heels of a series of media reports and diplomatic dispatches alleging serious prisoner abuse.

Read on to see Richard Brennan and his sources make the point that this memo contradicts the claims of Rick Hillier and others that no one said anything to them about torture. But another question it raises is: what's the justification for keeping this memo from the special committee? Are we to believe that national security is somehow at greater risk now that we know about it?

It's already obvious that prorogation didn't make this story go away.


I should have scanned the news for a few minutes more before I posted because this from James Travers looks to be even more explosive:

In the winter of 2007, three insurgents captured by Canada's top-secret Joint Task Force Two disappeared into the notorious Afghan prison system. Three years later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Parliament rather than release related documents that raise difficult questions about the role of this country's special forces and spies in targeting, capturing and interrogating key enemies.

There are concerns that the men were either killed or ended up in one of the American "black site" prisons. We may be getting closer to the explanation for the government's attempts to shut down any inquiries into this whole matter.

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February 24, 2010

Since we're now only days away from the resumption of parliament, this would be the perfect time for something to happen to get everyone thinking again about the treatment of Afghan detainees and the government's endless attempts to stonewall on the issue. And right on cue, the acting chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission has decided not to wait for the government to get around to naming a replacement for the previous chair, Peter Tinsley. Former Windsor police chief Glenn Stannard has named himself to take Tinsley's place on the Hearing Panel and is notifying the interested parties concerning the resumption of hearings. Works for me. Kady O'Malley brings us the news and has a copy of the letter from the Lead Counsel making the announcement.

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February 22, 2010

So much for rooting out corruption

Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has unilaterally taken control of the country's top electoral watchdog, provoking outrage from western diplomats, the Guardian has learnt.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which forced Karzai into a runoff election after it disqualified nearly 1m fraudulent votes in last year's presidential election, previously included three foreign experts named by the UN.

However, according to a new presidential decree published today, Karzai will have the exclusive power to appoint all five panel members.

After allegations of massive fraud in the recent presidential election, Karzai promised solemnly that his government would turn over a new leaf, root out corruption and earn the trust of both Afghans and the allies on whom Karzai depends to stay in power. So much for that. There are parliamentary elections due in six months. Does anyone think this move on Karzai's part ensures that the outcome will be any more legitimate than his own re-election? And as if that weren't enough:

In another development likely to infuriate the president's western backers, he has defied US pressure to pass a separate decree to help fight corruption.

The failure to pass the decree before parliament returned to work on Saturday means a key pledge to enact new anti-graft laws legislation by the end of February, made by Karzai at the international conference on Afghanistan in London last month, will almost certainly not be met.

Does anyone still think that a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan has a legitimate local partner?

H/t to Steve Hynd.

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Timing is everything


Opponents of the long-gun registry were pleased to point out that the legislation to kill it didn't die on the order paper when Stephen the Petulant prorogued parliament because said legislation is a private members bill and the rules for those are different. What the suspension of parliament did, however, was give the folks at the Toronto Star time to do some digging and discover that Peter Van Loan, who was the minister of public safety at the time, wasn't entirely honest with us.

The release of an annual firearms report last fall was delayed by testy officials in the public safety minister's office who demanded to know, among other things, details about an employee "celebration" of the program's 10th anniversary.


Emails obtained by the Star show then-public safety minister Peter Van Loan's office sat on the report for weeks until after a contentious parliamentary vote that saw 12 NDP and eight Liberal MPs succumb to political pressure and support ending the long-gun registry.

Afterwards, Van Loan told reporters he had the report in hand for "several days."

Oh my goodness gracious. Van Loan lied. Who woulda thunk it? And why would he do that?

Unhappy with the contents of the report, ministerial staff asked for further explanations of statistics that showed a rise in police queries to the firearms registry, and greater satisfaction with service provided over the Internet or telephone.

Emphasis added. Guess that explains it. I wonder if the deliberations on that legislation will be even more contentious once parliament resumes. And I'd ask when we can expect Van Loan's resignation from cabinet but I know better.

H/t to Antonia Zerbisias.

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Government breaks the law almost every day

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I'm hoping the title will whet your appetite enough to get you to click on this link and read about the way governments routinely interfere in Access to Information requests. That's a quote from veteran Canadian Press reporter Jim Bronskill but even more interesting are the comments from an unidentified Conservative staffer that indicate that the obstruction of the release of a report on Public Works that's currently under investigation is just the tip of the iceberg. Once again, this problem didn't begin with the Conservatives but they're refining obstruction of the system to an artform.

H/t to Impolitical who also reports on another specific incident.

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February 21, 2010

Obama justice: legalizing torture


The best title for this story I've seen yet comes from Yale law professor Jack Balkin at Balkinization: "Justice Department will not punish Yoo and Bybee because most lawyers are scum anyway."

Keith Olbermann's Friday night MSNBC segment with Georgetown constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley is more succinct: "Off the hook."

Late Friday the DoJ released two long-awaited reports, the FBI's "final" (heh -- we'll see) report on its investigation of the anthrax attacks in 2001, and the OPR (DoJ Office of Professional Responsibility) oversight report on the work of the department lawyers who produced a series of torture memos from 2002 to 2005. Silly buggers -- haven't they learned yet that Friday night document dumps just give Sherlocks like Marcy Wheeler and others a whole weekend to deconstruct their shoddy work?

Anyone who wants an eloquent and lucid summary of the corruption at the core of the OPR report should read Balkin's essay, linked above. I've wandered a bit in the weeds of the report itself and the running working threads at EW's place, so I'll add a few scattered amateur comments on the turn.

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February 20, 2010

Not quite the change I was hoping for


It says something about the evolution of the political discourse in the United States that Barack Obama's positions on torture and on fighting terrorism are actually to the right of Ronald Reagan.

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February 19, 2010

Friday night

It's back to the blues this evening. In fact, let's really go back and open with Mississippi Fred McDowell.

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Simple Answers to Simple Questions


When the perpetrator is one of "us" and not one of "them."

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

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February 18, 2010

Look who wants to talk politics


Now could someone explain to me again why these people don't pay taxes?

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February 16, 2010

Today in WTF? moments


This is from a CBC story based mostly on comments from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Iran:

Clinton went further on Tuesday, saying Iran's program threatens to dash hope of a nuclear-free Middle East.

"If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, that hope disappears," she said, "because then other countries which feel threatened by Iran will say to themselves, 'If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I better get one, too, in order to protect my people.' "

If Iran gets a nuclear weapon then it will only need about 199 more to catch up with Israel which we all know has had a substantial nuclear arsenal for decades. Of course we can't say for sure how extensive that arsenal is because, unlike Iran, Israel won't allow IAEA inspectors into the country.

Can Clinton really believe anyone's going to buy this?

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February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day heavy-breathing blogging


Someone once described these songs as the greatest make-out music ever, and I can testify to that am happy to repeat the obligatory tribute.

Johnny Mathis wasn't a heavy breather himself, at least not as a singer, but I think we could say that he has long been the cause of heavy breathing in others. He certainly gave male vibrato some of its finest moments on record. Ok: some of its most extended moments.

If you're one of the mockers, I would ask you to listen to his effortless shifts from major to minor, the perfect pitch (lost in many later performances), the range, the tone, the cool. It takes a great talent to make things look and sound this easy. And besides, you can dance to it.

I'd appreciate it if anyone can date this performance. This isn't Johnny at his bobby-soxer youngest, but it is if anything richer and closer to the pulse.

Johnny Mathis, "Chances Are" and "It's Not for Me To Say"

I wish you all oysters and chocolate tonight, or, y'know, whatever your version of a taste of paradise might be. (And I hope I'm not going to get fired for this.)

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Sunday morning


It's that new-fangled long weekend, at least in this jurisdiction, so I'm going to interrupt this frivolity with even more frivolity. You've got to stay with this one, now. You've got to have faith that you will be rewarded.

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Don't try this at home


Happy Year of the Tiger!

I have no idea what kind of monkey it is who is teasing the gorgeous tigers in this video, except he is an Old World monkey with a black face, the grace and talent of a Baryshnikov, and a wicked sense of humour.

The tigers aren't cubs, but they're very young -- teenagers, sort of, and I guess the monkey can tell. Must be fun to be a monkey -- oh, wait ...

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February 12, 2010

Friday night


I feel like a change of pace. Anyone for bluegrass?

Shady Grove is one of those "traditional" songs that's been around forever and is in everybody's repertoire. Apparently there are hundreds of verses but we're not going to hear them all this evening. Here's Doc Watson with help from David Holt on clawhammer banjo.

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February 10, 2010

Update on the turn

National security. State secrets. Damage to international relations. The control principle. Executive prerogative.

In Canada, the U.S., and the UK, one version or another of those privileges has been invoked by governments in a number of legal cases having to do with torture, "extraordinary rendition," and surveillance. The question arises again and again in each of these cases: are our governments legitimately protecting us with such claims, or are they protecting themselves or others from embarrassment or worse, covering up crimes, domestic and international, stemming from the Cheney-Bush torture regime because none of our elites wants to confront those? Especially, of course, if they may have been complicit in them.

There has been another breakthrough at the UK end of the case of Binyam Mohamed, the case that some of us have been convinced for more than a year and a half may set precedents that could encourage our own courts to stop backing into their face-offs with executives, as our own Supreme Court recently did in its response to the Harper government's intransigence over Omar Khadr.

As has happened several times before, though, what we have from Westminster today is a good decision that still takes a half-step backwards ... except in doing that, it reveals most of what is still being suppressed.

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Deep thought


Maybe the real reason Stephen Harper prorogued parliament was so the opposition parties wouldn't be able to make fun of the government during Question Period when Canada wins the award for the ugliest pavilion at the Olympics.

H/t Impolitical.

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February 9, 2010

More like this, please


Impolitical spotted the story in French at Le Devoir and blogged it here. That got me checking the English language press to find a story at the National Post.

A federal watchdog is investigating whether the office of a minister in the Harper government interfered with a request under access to information laws to block the release of sensitive information.

Interim information commissioner Suzanne Legault has confirmed she is launching a "priority investigation" into the matter to determine whether the staff of a cabinet minister, Christian Paradis, attempted to intimidate federal bureaucrats into withholding information that was requested.

Good! Every information commissioner for years has reported that governments at all levels have been playing games with information requests and that the trend has been towards greater and greater secrecy. It's a trend that needs to be reversed and this is how it can start: with an investigation of a particularly obvious case of a government attempting to deny us information to which we're entitled. Hopefully this will broaden into a more comprehensive debate about the issue. Full credit to the Canadian Press for the original report and to Suzanne Legault for launching an investigation on her own authority (though I suspect she just got herself removed from the Conservative party's Christmas card list).

Now to return to Impolitical's post for a moment:

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February 7, 2010

Unscheduled musical interlude


'Cos I feel like I owe you one. This is Gov't Mule.

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February 5, 2010

Friday night


I've been feeling pretty crappy today so I'm going to wimp out and just throw up one and run. But it's a long one. And that fellow in the middle does play a nice guitar. Have a good weekend.

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February 2, 2010

Anyone else for yet another inquiry?


Proxy detention 'collusion' exposed

Governments around the world, including those of Arab and European states, have colluded in the secret detention of terrorism suspects, UN investigators have reported.

An extensive report, released on Wednesday, paints a disturbing picture of a systematic secret detention programme involving many countries.


The 222-page document, which will be presented at a forthcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, is the result of several years of investigation, and notes that secret detention is "a manifold human rights violation that cannot be justified under any circumstances".

Canada is mentioned specifically here:

The UK, Canada, Australia and Germany are all accused of "taking advantage of the situation of secret detention," by sending questions and receiving information from prisoners held in proxy detention.

Al Jazeera published this on Saturday. I don't recall seeing any follow-up in the Canadian media but I'm sure I just missed it. Right?

We already know about the cases involving Canadians such as those whose detention has been the subject of public inquiries here. And we know about Omar Khadr but his detention isn't secret. Why do I get the feeling there are still more?

H/t to JimBobby on Twitter.

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