Saturday, May 31, 2008

Release of footage showing Khadr interrogation sought

This is from the Globe and Mail.
The Harper government is adamant in its support for the Guantanamo injustice system even though Canadian lawyers and many others have suggested that Khadr should be repatriated and tried in Canada. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that Khadr''s rights were violated when he was interrogated by Canadian intelligence officials. However the CSIS complains that these judicial moves threaten to remove the veil of secrecy from CSIS activities. Translated this means that the joint criminal activities of the CSIS and their US counterparts are in danger of being exposed. What next? Maybe a demand for some accountability but not likely from the Harper government.

Release of footage showing Khadr interrogation sought
Video documentation of Canadian agents' questioning has been kept secret for five years
May 31, 2008
Canadian intelligence agents were videotaped as they questioned a 16-year-old prisoner held in Guantanamo Bay, and a court battle is brewing to force disclosure of the footage.
A videotaped interrogation of Omar Khadr over three days, conducted seven months after he was shot and captured in Afghanistan, has been kept secret for five years. Yet efforts are under way to force government officials to release four DVDs containing the recordings that may yield insights into the secrets of the U.S. prison camp and one of Canada's more ethically fraught investigations.
"There is a strong public interest in seeing first-hand the effect this terrible ordeal has had upon a young Canadian citizen," said Nathan Whitling, a Khadr family lawyer who hopes a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling will allow him to obtain and circulate DVDs showing the February, 2003, interviews.
The footage was publicly mentioned for the first time in a Guantanamo Bay proceeding this spring, said Mr. Whitling, a dual citizen fighting for his client in both Canada and the United States. Until then, he said, only privileged parties knew about the recordings.
The military commission prosecuting Mr. Khadr in the death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan may or may not air edited portions of the footage, Mr. Whitling said. But because U.S. copies are unlikely to travel from coastal Cuba or Washington agencies, he will be fighting in court to push Canadian officials to release any copies they retained.
The Globe and Mail and CTV yesterday filed a joint motion seeking to intervene and argue that the footage should be widely released. "The public disclosure, to the greatest extent possible, of the records and videotapes detailing the interviews Canadian officials had with Omar Khadr is of the utmost importance," said Peter Jacobsen, a lawyer who recently represented The Globe and Mail in a bid to reveal a $500,000 (U.S.) bounty the United States paid for the capture of one of Mr. Khadr's brothers.
The Supreme Court of Canada last week ruled that federal officials breached Omar Khadr's rights by travelling to a military prison that operates outside the continental United States. No one has ever suggested the Canadians mistreated the prisoner, but the top court found it was wrong for the agents to visit a prison camp eventually found to be "illegal under both U.S. and international law."
Because the contents of the interviews were shared with U.S. prosecutors, the Supreme Court last week ordered that Canada must now also release all relevant records to the Khadr defence. The Federal Court of Canada is to vet materials in coming weeks to make sure nothing is disclosed that compromises national security.
Canadian officials have not acknowledged they have copies of the DVDs, but will likely argue that any footage is the fruit of a sensitive intelligence investigation - and its release for public consumption could poison international intelligence relationships.
Arguments over the rights of the accused to see sensitive state information are bogging down terrorism-related prosecutions in Guantanamo Bay and beyond.
The Pentagon this week removed the U.S. military judge in the Khadr case after he threatened to suspend proceedings if prosecutors withheld evidence. The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has recently complained that the "judicialization" of intelligence practices is lifting the "veil of secrecy" over agencies like CSIS.
CSIS's intelligence interviews, in general, are legally designed to be kept out of court, but this is being challenged. Today, the 21-year-old Mr. Khadr is becoming a political cause célèbre, even though his case was politically untouchable a few years ago. Still, he was held in higher esteem by security agencies for his "intelligence value."
Raised in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, he was offered up by his father - since eulogized as a "martyr" for al-Qaeda - as a translator for insurgents. In 2002, the teen survived a 500-pound bomb blast and three bullet wounds when he was captured during the deadly battle in which he is alleged to have killed a U.S. soldier.
After Mr. Khadr was sent to Guantanamo, the Pentagon invited Canadian agents to come down to further their own investigations.
Court documents show that a CSIS official and a Department of Foreign Affairs official involved in the interviews brought gifts of Big Macs and chocolate bars to try to induce Mr. Khadr to talk. It is unclear what intelligence was garnered, but the agents did carry back some sympathy. An internal DFAIT memo described Mr. Khadr as a "thoroughly 'screwed up' young man," whose trust had been abused by just about everyone, including "his parents and grandparents, his associates in Afghanistan, and fellow detainees."
And now, Canada's top court has ruled that the agents themselves abused the trust Mr. Khadr was entitled to place in his country of citizenship, meaning the recordings of these conversations could emerge depending on what the Federal Court decides.
Images matter profoundly in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Footage casting Mr. Khadr in a negative light has been aired on CBS's 60 Minutes. A video first recovered by the U.S. military in Afghanistan showed al-Qaeda fighters filming themselves in anticipation of a U.S. assault - and a pre-battle Mr. Khadr apparently helping to build bombs.
Meanwhile, officials at the Central Intelligence Agency are under criminal investigation for destroying videos showing how the CIA "waterboarded" three top al-Qaeda detainees to get information.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cluster bomb ban does not include US, China, Russia or Israel.

Nothing is said in the artcile about Canada.
This is from CBC (via AP)
Apparently the US and NATO got their way in that joint exercises between signatories and non-signatories can use the bombs. We can still participate with the US in Afghanistan or elsewhere even though the US might use cluster bombs. There is a new axis of evil: U.S., China, Russia, Israel et al.

111 countries adopt landmark treaty banning cluster bombs
Last Updated: Friday, May 30, 2008 1:13 PM ET
The Associated Press
A member of the mines advisory group inspects a cluster bomb unit in the southern village of Ouazaiyeh, Lebanon, in November 2006. (Mohammed Zaatari/Associated Press)
Diplomats from 111 countries have formally adopted a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs, but some of the biggest makers and users of them including the United States, Russia and China didn't participate.
The 12 days of negotiations in Dublin that culminated in the treaty ended after diplomats from scores of countries delivered speeches embracing the landmark accord.
It requires signatories not to use cluster bombs, to destroy existing stockpiles within eight years and to fund programs that clear old battlefields of unexploded cluster-bombs.
Many speakers appealed to the cluster-bomb-making countries that boycotted the talks, particularly the United States, to accept its conclusions.
Despite the U.S. boycott, the treaty adopted Friday contains several concessions sought by Washington, including one that allows treaty signatories to co-operate militarily with states that do not sign the document.
Earlier drafts sought to prohibit such co-operation, an idea fought by the U.S. and its NATO allies on grounds it would make joint alliance work difficult if not impossible.
On Monday, U.S. activists and global victims of cluster bombs issued a joint appeal for a ban on the munitions, saying they kill and maim too many civilians.
The talks, which moved to Dublin this month, were hampered by the fact that the biggest makers and users of cluster bombs — the U.S., Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — didn't participate.
The pact will be formally signed in December in Norway, where treaty talks began in February 2007.
© The Canadian Press,

Khadr trial judge relieved of duties.

This is from the Globe and Mail.
I hear that Peter Brownback is to be replaced by Faithful Brownnoser. It seems that even the least move towards any fairness on the part of a judge is not to be tolerated. Harper still is completely mum as far as any criticism of this transparently unjust process is concerned.

Khadr trial judge relieved of duties
May 30, 2008
OTTAWA -- The military judge in the Omar Khadr trial in Guantanamo Bay has been relieved of his duties, a move that Mr. Khadr's defence counsel implied is a result of the judge siding with the defence on a number of evidence-disclosure issues in the controversial military tribunal case.
In a brief e-mail message circulated yesterday afternoon, Military Commissions chief judge, Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, announced that Colonel Peter Brownback, who has served until now as the judge in the Khadr case, is to be replaced by another colonel, Patrick Parrish.
Defence officials in Washington told The Globe and Mail that Col. Brownback had been planning to retire. However, it was not clear why the judge would retire in the middle of an ongoing military tribunal case.
Col. Brownback initially came out of retirement in 2004 to oversee some of the military tribunal proceedings in Guantanamo Bay. Recently, he had shown considerable frustration at the prosecution in the Khadr case, headed by Major Jeff Groharing, for delays in disclosing evidence to the defence.

Mr. Khadr's U.S. military defence lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, said the sudden change of judge comes after a recent commission hearing in which Col. Brownback "threatened to suspend proceedings in the case of Omar Khadr if prosecutors continued to withhold key evidence from Omar's lawyers."
LCdr. Kuebler added that Col. Brownback said at the time that he had been "badgered and beaten and bruised by Major Groharing since the seventh of November, to set a trial date."
Col. Brownback had often sided with the defence on issues of what evidence should be disclosed to Mr. Khadr's lawyers. But he has also sided with the prosecution on several issues, including most recently denying a defence motion to dismiss charges against Mr. Khadr because of his age at the time of his alleged offences, a ruling that went a long way toward clearing the way for Mr. Khadr's trial to finally begin.
Mr. Khadr was 15 when he was captured after a gun battle in Afghanistan in 2002. His Canadian and U.S. defence lawyers, along with myriad human-rights and legal groups and Canadian opposition politicians, have said he should be treated as a child soldier and not be subjected to the U.S. military commissions system in Guantanamo Bay.
Mr. Khadr faces several charges stemming from the Afghanistan battle, including murder. Now 21, he faces the prospect of life in prison if convicted.
Both the prosecution and defence won't have to wait long to find out if Col. Parrish will run things differently; Mr. Khadr is expected back in a Guantanamo courtroom in mid-June, at which point both sides will continue arguing discovery issues.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Canada on cluster bombs

There seems to be little publicity about Canada's role at the Dublin conference. A large number of nations are going to sign on to banning the bombs but instead of playing a leading role as we did in banning landmines Canada is dragging its feet and trying to weaken the declaration. Presumably this reflects Harper's friendly feelings towards US imperialism rather than his love for China or Russia who also oppose the ban. This is from newswire.
The final declaration is due out tomorrow. We will see what Canada does and if the Harper govt. says anything.

Campaigners call on Harper to support a ban on cluster bombs - Survivors and Canadian campaigners protest at embassy in Dublin DUBLIN, Ireland, May 27 /CNW Telbec/ - Canadian campaigners at the
diplomatic negotiations today called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to
support a strong treaty to ban cluster bombs. In the first week of
negotiations the Canadian position has been dominated by its insistence to
weaken the treaty especially around joint military operations. Canadian
campaigners today handed over a letter of protest to the embassy in Dublin.
"It is vital that we protect Canadian servicemen and women from
prosecution in joint military operations and as with landmines there are legal
solutions to this, but there is no way that this should allow countries
signing up to the treaty to actively assist others who have not signed to use
these indiscriminate weapons." Said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines
Action Canada/Action Mines Canada.
As a participant in the negotiations, Canada has been applying pressure
to change language in the dratft tretay which could allow signatory countries
to intentionally assist others with the use of cluster munitions in joint
military operations. Other countries also pushing hard for this
"interoperability" provision, which would clearly undercut the integrity of
the treaty, include the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands.
Sixteen year old cluster bomb survivor Soraj Ghulam Habib from
Afghanistan, who handed over the letter to the Canadian embassy official said:
"I was at a picnic in the park with my family when a cluster bomb blew off
both my legs - these weapons destroy lives and communities and should be
banned by all countries, including Canada."
To protest about their government's questionable position, Canadian
campaigners along with cluster bomb survivors today went to the embassy in
Dublin to deliver a letter calling for Canadian support for a strong treaty.
Amelie Chayer a campaigner from Montreal, who helped deliver the letter
to embassy said: "Countries around the world have made exceptional progress
toward a strong treaty to ban these deadly indiscriminate weapons and there is
no excuse for Canada to not do the same."
Both landmines and cluster bombs remain active and armed after the
conflict and continue to maim and kill civilians for decades. Ten years ago,
Canada played a leading role in the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, which
resulted in the Ottawa convention to ban landmines and the 1997 Nobel Peace
Prize. A decade on, Canada has been one of the leading countries trying to
weaken the new treaty to ban cluster bombs. Campaigners are concerned about
the change in the Canadian position as historically Canada has been known and
respected around the world for its peacekeeping and post-conflict assistance.
"We are naturally concerned that the Canadian government appears to be
prioritizing hypothetcical military situations over real humanitarian
concerns." said Allan Shiff, Chairman of the Cluster Munitions Committee,
Human Rights Watch.
The treaty process was launched in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 when 46
nations agreed to conclude a treaty prohibiting cluster munitions "that cause
unacceptable harm to civilians" in 2008. The treaty text was developed during
international meetings in Peru, Austria, and New Zealand.
Banning an entire class of weapon will have an effect well beyond the
signatories of the treaty. The stigmatisation of this weapon in practice will
extend to all countries stockpiling and using them. Despite the fact that the
US, Russia and China did not sign the Ottawa Treaty banning antipersonnel
landmines in 1997, there has since been virtually no production, trade or use
of the weapon anywhere in the world by governments.
The negotiations are scheduled to conclude on Friday, May 30, when the
participating states will adopt the final text of the treaty; no further
changes can be made after that point. The treaty will then be opened for
signature to all countries-even those not present during the negotiations-in
Oslo, Norway on December 2-3, 2008. After signing the treaty, countries still
need to ratify it, usually through legislative approval, before it becomes
fully legally binding.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saskatchewan nurses union readies counter offer.

Both sides seem to be negotiating in a civil and professional manner! The SAHO is even defending the nurses against public attacks on them by some people. By the way negotiations are going it would seem as if a work stoppage will not be necessary. This is from

Wednesday » May 28 » 2008

SUN readies counter-off
SAHO head defends nurses

Saskatchewan News Network; Regina Leader-Post
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
REGINA (SNN) -- Union representatives for Saskatchewan's 7,200 nurses hope the updated package they presented Tuesday night will bring a successful conclusion to negotiations.
"We're feeling pretty confident that this is the basis of a collective agreement and we're really hopeful the employer will see it as that and accept it," said Rosalee Longmoore, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN).
Around 8 p.m., SUN delivered a package to conciliator Doug Forseth to take to the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO), the group representing health-care employers.
"We have agreed to the employer's proposal in one of the areas that was very important to us and are hopeful they will agree to the other one as we have proposed," said Longmoore.
At press time on Tuesday night, SAHO was reviewing SUN's latest package and had yet to respond.
SUN agreed to SAHO's position on the professional practice article, while the union wants agreement with their minimum staffing proposal -- both issues that Longmoore called "very technical."
"We have both come a long ways -- us from our original position and them from just saying 'no.' They have come a fair ways in both of those. We were trying to finalize language that would meet our needs on those articles," she said.
On Monday evening, SAHO's proposal was rejected by SUN. SAHO had dubbed it "the most positive contract proposal ever offered to Saskatchewan nurses," and said the total wage increase from 2007 rates over four years would be the equivalent of a 34.9 per cent increase for general duty nurses.
Earlier on Tuesday, SAHO President and CEO Susan Antosh came to the defence of nurses who have been publicly criticized as the dispute drags on.
Antosh said the association does not support some "really negative" comments about the nursing profession that she has seen written in online forums.
"A lot of that seems to be bubbling lately," she said.
Antosh said she was referring to negative comments about individual nurses or the nursing profession that members of the public have posted in web discussions and on blogs.
"I'm just a little concerned that people don't seem to be making that differentiation between this is a set of union negotiations where we're dealing with terms and conditions of employment but that shouldn't be carrying over into criticisms about nurses or about the nursing profession," Antosh said.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Don McMorris told reporters Tuesday that he remained confident a deal could be reached in the near future.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

Copyright © 2008 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

No Global warming on Mars

Maybe we can export some of our pollution and warming gases to Mars.
This is from CBC.

Long-range weather: it's a balmy -30 C on Mars
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 6:42 AM ET Comments14Recommend37
CBC News
The first weather reports are in from Canada's $37-million weather station on Mars, showing temperatures hitting a high of –30 Celsius and a low of –80.
These temperatures are likely "milder" than temperatures could be on other parts of the planet, said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, the principal researcher for NASA's Mars mission.
Meanwhile, pressure was 8.5 millibars, less than 1/100 of the pressure at sea-level on Earth, while wind speed was estimated at 20 kilometres per hour, from the northeast.
The Canadian pressure and temperature instruments were turned on shortly after NASA's Phoenix-Mars lander touched down on Sunday, said Jim Whiteway, York University professor and lead investigator for the Canadian mission.
The weather station is the first Canadian science instrument to land on the surface of an alien world. The station, which is the size of a shoebox and is wrapped in a blanket bearing a tiny Maple Leaf flag, is a key part of the Phoenix, which was launched from the United States in August 2007.
The Canadian team plans to spend 90 days studying data from the station to help in the search for water on Mars. The daily weather reports will include temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud height, humidity and wind speeds.
Whiteway says the laser-based instrument will allow scientists to study dust and clouds in the atmosphere all the way up to 20 kilometres and measure the amount of ice water in the clouds.With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Five Arctic powers to meet in Greenland

This is from smh. Note that Canada not only has a dispute with Denmark over a tiny uninhabited island but a much larger issue with the U.S. over whether the northwest passage is international waters.

Five Arctic powers to meet in Greenland

May 25, 2008 - 11:47AM
Representatives of the five countries bordering the Arctic will meet in Greenland on Wednesday to discuss the impact of climate change on the icy region - and how to divide up its as-yet untapped rich resources.
"We must solve our problems peacefully and through accords in line with international law," said Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, who with the head of the local Greenland government Hans Enoksen, will host the meeting.
Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are at odds over 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic seabed.
According to the US Geological Survey, it could hold 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.
The United States will be represented at the meeting in Ilulissat in western Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, by its deputy foreign policy chief John Negroponte.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in Stockholm participating in a conference on Iraq.
The meeting will also be attended by Moeller, Enoksen, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Stoere.
The rivalry between the five Arctic neighbours has heated up as melting polar ice makes the region more accessible. Scientists saying the Northwest Passage could open up to year-round shipping by 2050.
Denmark and Canada have a longstanding disagreement over who owns the tiny, uninhabited, ice-covered Hans island, which straddles Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada's Ellesmere Island.
Canada and the United States are at odds over the sovereignty of the Northwest Passage that links the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
Last year, Russian explorers claimed to have planted their national flag at the bottom of the ocean, at a depth of more than 4,000 metres, after an expedition aimed at underlining Moscow's aspirations to Arctic territory.
"South Africa can also plant its flag there if it wants," said Moeller. But it did not mean anything when it came to Arctic territorial claims, he added.
Moeller insisted on the necessity of respecting existing international accords.
According to international law, each of the countries bordering the Arctic hold sovereignty over a zone measuring 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres).
That leaves 1.2 million square kilometres of unclaimed territory in an area believed to hold vast petroleum riches.
The UN convention on the Law of the Sea gives countries that are signatories to the treaty the possibility of challenging claims of seabed sovereignty if they want to assert their claims beyond the 200-nautical-mile zone. They have 10 years to do so after ratifying the convention.
All the countries bordering the Arctic have ratified the convention except the United States, but Moeller said he did not expect the final status of the icy region to be determined until 2020.
Climate change meanwhile, which is rendering the region increasingly accessible, has increased the stakes, making the need for an international resolution of the conflicting claims in the area more pressing.
Maritime security and protection of the fragile Arctic ecosystem will also be hot items on the agenda at the May 28 meeting.
The Arctic ice caps are in fact melting at "rates significantly faster than predicted", according to a study published last month by conservation group the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet, currently at their lowest levels ever recorded, was happening so fast experts were now questioning whether the situation was close to the "tipping point", it added.
The tipping point is the point at which sudden and possibly irreversible change takes place.
© 2008 AFP

Internet protesters to descend on Ottawa

This is from the CBC.

This is a classic case of the big boys trying to squeeze out the smaller players who must depend upon the big providers. Do not some clients of the big boys also abuse the system?

Anyway if that is the problem surely the solution is to go after the abusers.

Internet protesters to descend on Ottawa
Hundreds expected to call for end to traffic interference by major ISPs
Last Updated: Monday, May 26, 2008 5:03 PM ET Comments29Recommend84
By Peter Nowak CBC News
Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger will be one of the speakers at the net neutrality rally at Parliament Hill on Tuesday.
Hundreds of protesters are expected to descend on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to urge government action on keeping the internet free from interference by service providers.
The net neutrality rally will draw together politicians, labour unions, consumer groups and internet activitists, with protesters being bused in from Toronto, Montreal and Chatham, Ont., the home base of its organizer, TekSavvy Solutions Inc.
"We're expecting between 300 and 500 [protesters], and if it's any more than that, we'll consider it an amazing success," said Rocky Gaudrault, chief executive officer of TekSavvy, an ISP with about 35,000 customers.
At issue are the actions of big ISPs such as Bell Canada Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., who have been slowing down the internet speeds of customers using certain applications, such as peer-to-peer software used for file sharing.
Bell and Rogers, Canada's two largest ISPs, as well as others including Videotron Ltee and Cogeco Inc., say they need to slow such traffic down — or "throttle" it — because a small percentage of customers are abusing these peer-to-peer applications and causing network congestion, thus affecting the speeds of the majority.
Protesters want ISPs to discontinue throttling
Protesters will urge Industry Minister Jim Prentice and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to enact rules that prevent ISPs from discriminating between different types of traffic, and to force more transparency from the providers. They will also ask that ISPs be forced to provide the speeds they are offering and discontinue their throttling practices.
Groups scheduled to take part in the rally include:
The National Union of Public and General Employees.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The Campaign for Democratic Media.
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.
The Council of Canadians.
The NDP's digital spokesman Charlie Angus and Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger are also scheduled to speak.
Smaller ISPs, including TekSavvy, which rents portions of Bell's network in order to provide customers with access, will be represented by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers.
CAIP recently complained to the CRTC that Bell is being anti-competitive by expanding its throttling practices to its members, and asked for an emergency cease-and-desist order.
The regulator on May 14 declined to issue the order, but the next day opened up the larger issue for debate and expects to make a ruling on ISP throttling practices by the fall.
The rally begins at 11:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. will be covering the protest, beginning with bus departures in Toronto at 4 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Taliban vow to fight on, offer talks with Afghans

This is form wiredispatch.
Interesting that recent Taliban statements about talks do not explicitly state that the Karzai government must go. Many opposition parties seem to be quite favorable to negotiations. Karzai too has even offered positions in the government but as long as Karzai insists on keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan there is no chance of an agreement. If at some point Karzai should decide that he can survive without his western backers then he could actually ask troops to leave. That is unlikely to happen in the near future though. It seems the only way that Canadian troops could return home! However if more opposition parties decide that the Taliban jihad against the occupiers is justified NATO could be in for more troubles.

Taliban vow to fight on, offer talks with Afghans
Mon May 26, 2008 8:46am EDT
By Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban will fight on till the last foreign soldier is driven out of Afghanistan, but their door is always open to talks with other Afghan opposition groups, the Islamist movement said on Monday.
The offer comes days after Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president and mujahideen chief, now opposition leader, said the Taliban had shown a desire for political dialogue and called for serious efforts to establish talks with the Islamist rebels.
The Taliban "will fight till the withdrawal of the last crusading-invader, but the door for talks, understanding and negotiations will always be open for the all the mujahideen," the Taliban said in a statement on its website.
But, the Taliban said, the mujahideen should join the insurgency and help fight to drive out foreign forces.
Rabbani and other former leaders of the mujahideen forces which fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, then each other in the 1990s, now dominate the opposition in parliament.
The Taliban have previously said they would also fight on to depose President Hamid Karzai, but there was no mention of the Western-backed Afghan government in Monday's statement.
The Taliban cited "sacrilege" against Islam since U.S. President George W. Bush spoke of a crusade against terrorism in 2001, up until the recent shooting of a Koran by a U.S. soldier in Iraq. All proof of the "crusaders' hostility towards Islam".
"Now, the Muslims of the world and Afghanistan, and in particular, the leaders of the groups who consider themselves Muslims and mujahideen are under the service of the invaders and crusaders," the Taliban statement said.
The mujahideen, the Taliban said, "may have realized the time has come to begin an armed jihad against the crusading-invaders. This is the only way for rescuing the Islamic nation and dear Afghanistan."
Rabbani, who now leads the opposition block in parliament, said he had established contact with the Taliban several months ago and had received a letter in recent days containing "some encouraging messages" from the Taliban addressed to the alliance of parties he leads.
The Taliban statement did not directly refer to Rabbani's comments.
U.S.-led troops, helped by Afghan mujahideen groups, toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the hardline Islamist movement refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.
But many of the factions that helped topple the Taliban now feel sidelined and some have privately shown dissatisfaction with the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
More than 12,000 people have been killed by violence in Afghanistan in the past two years, the bloodiest period since the overthrow of the Taliban government.
More than 62,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military are stationed in Afghanistan. Foreign commanders say the troops will leave the country when Afghan security forces are able to stand on their feet.
(Editing by Valerie Lee)
© Thomson Reuters 2008. All rights reserved.

Pakistan peace talks lead to more Afghan attacks: NATO

This is from wiredispatch.
Karzai and his western backers must face the fact that Pakistan is more concerned with achieving some kind of peace with the tribal areas and Al Qaeda rather than losing more and more troops and civilians from terror attacks and facing more civil strife. If this means that the Taliban mount more attacks in Afghanistan Pakistan will probably not be that concerned! Now that Musharraf is out of the picture U.S. policy of a gung-ho attacks in the tribal areas is being frustrated.

Pakistan talks lead to more Afghan attacks-NATO
Jon HemmingReuters North American News Service
May 25, 2008 08:22 EST
KABUL, May 25 (Reuters) - Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban militants have already led to an increase in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, NATO said on Sunday.

Faced with a wave of suicide attacks, Pakistan has begun negotiations with Taliban militants who control much of the mountainous region on its side of the border with Afghanistan and thinned out the number of its troops in the area.
Whatever the results of the talks, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday vowed to carry on fighting Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan.
"We have seen increased activity in the eastern part of the country especially, which we believe can only be attributed to the de facto ceasefires and a reduction of Pakistani military activity," NATO's civilian spokesman in Afghanistan Mark Laity told a news conference.
"We respect the sovereignty of Pakistan absolutely but it's important they take into account the need to ensure that any agreements they make do not lead to an increase in violence in Afghanistan," he said.
British Defence Minister Des Browne, on a visit to Afghanistan, said he understood the agreement between Pakistan and the Taliban included an undertaking that the militants would not export violence to Afghanistan.
"Now it's the Pakistan government's responsibility to ensure that that aspect of the agreement is enforced," he told reporters. "It might be very difficult on that part of the border to enforce it, but it is their responsibility."
Afghanistan was sending a high-level delegation to Pakistan in the coming days to voice their concerns over peace deals, said Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi.
"The people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan are concerned regarding the announcement of Baitullah Mehsud and we hope Pakistan territory is not used against the people of Afghanistan, isn't used to kill our innocent people," Azimi said.
Previous peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Taliban all broke down in violence and merely gave the militants time to regroup, he said.
"The previous peace accords between the Pakistan government with insurgents were a golden age for the insurgents; they re-equipped, prepared and launched operations against both the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan."
Afghan forces, backed by more than 60,000 foreign troops, are engaged in daily battles with Taliban militants, mostly in the south and east, the areas closest to the border with Pakistan.
Afghan officials have often accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven from which to direct and launch attacks and also rest and regroup.
Forty-four troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, a spokesman said, compared to 42 in the first five months of last year.
The number of ISAF troops in Afghanistan has risen from 33,400 in January 2007 to 50,838 now, the spokesman said.
More than 12,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago. (Editing by Myra MacDonald) (For a Reuters blog about Pakistan please see
Source: Reuters North American News Service

Green Leader blasts NDP on carbon tax stance.

This is from CTV.
I am not all that knowledgable about the details of this issue. However it seems reasonable that Layton should be concerned about the effects on the less well off of a carbon tax. Although the Liberals say the policy will be revenue neutral that does not settle the issue of what effects the tax may have on different income strata. I don't see why Layton does not demand that any carbon tax should also be coupled with a policy that offsets any negative effects the tax may have on lower income groups. Layton talks as if the cap and trade policy is an alternative to a carbon tax rather than a complementary policy that is also justified.
It sounds as if Elizabeth May is very supportive of the Liberals. Maybe if she gets elected she can sit on her hands and support the Conservatives too while screaming about how bad their environmental policies are.
Suzuki is a good propagandist and showperson for environmental issues but he is also a prima donna who does not like criticism of his views on the environment to put it mildly.

Green leader blasts NDP on carbon tax stance
Updated Sun. May. 25 2008 9:49 PM ET News Staff
NDP Leader Jack Layton's opposition to a carbon tax shows he's more interested in hurting the Liberals than helping the environment, says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
"We need to act on the climate crisis, and a carbon tax is a litmus test of whether a party is serious about it or not," May told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.
Layton's opposition to a carbon tax "is not part of the global social democratic approach," she said, adding his political rivalry with the Liberals may be driving policy.
The Green Party also advocates a carbon tax. The Liberals will soon unveil a proposal that would shift taxes off income and onto carbon, with the overall tax burden remaining unchanged. By putting a price on carbon, people will theoretically use less, thus helping reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.
Layton has taken some blows from environmentalists for his party's stance, including David Suzuki, perhaps the most prominent environmentalist in Canada.
"I'm really shocked with the NDP with this. I thought that they had a very progressive environmental outlook," Suzuki told Question Period on May 18.
Layton told Question Period that his party supports the pricing of carbon and that his party's policies are in line with many of those promoted by the David Suzuki Foundation.
The solution promoted by Layton involves "cap and trade" -- putting a strict limit on greenhouse gas emissions by what he called the "big polluters." Those polluters would pay if they exceed, and the revenues would be directed by the government to climate-friendly initiatives, he said.
"Things like helping weatherize homes right across the country, creating thousands and thousands of jobs for Canadians and reducing their bills and greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
The NDP would see more green cars built in Canada and invest in public transit and renewable energy, Layton said.
A cap-and-trade system would move more quickly than a carbon tax. Big oil and gas supports a carbon tax, while U.S. Democrat Barack Obama supports cap-and-trade, he said.
But environmentalist Stephen Hazell of the Sierra Club has said cap-and-trade systems take a long time to develop.
Tories oppose carbon tax
Conservative Environment Minister John Baird told Question Period on May 18 that his government will "force the big polluters, big corporate polluters" to pay for their emissions.
"(Liberal Leader Stephane) Dion wants to give some sort of unlimited licence to pollute and just simply allow big business to buy their way out of this problem," he said.
Layton said his party's policies were nothing like those of the Harper government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper "has his head stuck in the tar sands," he said.
May called cap-and-trade a "right-wing, free-market approach" -- although she conceded her party supported it on a sectoral basis.
Some have said a carbon tax could drive up home heating costs and adversely affect those least able to bear the additional cost.
Properly implemented, a carbon tax would protect the vulnerable by shifting taxes and providing income supplements to low-income households, May said.
High taxes on income and payroll don't give Canadians the financial flexibility to do things like increase the energy efficiency of their homes, she said.
"It needs to be explained, but I think Canadians are smart enough to understand the idea that we need to ensure that we reduce our use of fossil fuels, that the climate crisis is upon us, and this is not the only thing we need to do, but it is the foundation for a successful climate policy," May said.
Oil prices are high and likely to stay there in the near term. Some analysts think introducing a carbon tax now would be a politically risky move.
"Canadians are sick of politicians who don't tell them the truth," May said.
Some politicians "want to pander to prices at the pump while ignoring disappearing glaciers, persistent droughts and increased storm events," she said.
"We need to act on the climate crisis, and I'm disappointed that Mr. Layton is on the wrong side of this one."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Layton: Carbon tax would hurt poor.

Layton is probably correct but then the solution could be to have policies that neutralise any effects on the less well, off not dumping the carbon tax. Many environmentally friendly policies will hurt the poor. Environmentalists are not always very sensitive to this so it is good that Layton should point out the effects on the poor. However, the cap and trade policy could also increase prices for products manufactured by companies involved and also hurt the poor who must use them. This is from the Star.

Carbon tax would hurt poor, NDP says - Canada - Carbon tax would hurt poor, NDP says
Layton criticizes Liberal plan for levy on fossil fuel, saying heating a house in Canada is a necessity
May 23, 2008 Joanna SmithOttawa Bureau
Ottawa–A carbon tax would place an unfair burden on low-income Canadians, Jack Layton said yesterday.
"Those advocating a carbon tax suggest that by making the costs for certain things more expensive, people will make different choices," Layton said.
"But Canada is a cold place and heating your home really isn't a choice."
The New Democratic Party leader was at a fundraiser for an Ottawa homeless shelter to talk about poverty but used the platform to criticize a Liberal climate change plan that has not even been introduced.
He also plugged his own global warming solution.
Layton said the most effective way to combat climate change would be a cap-and-trade system that penalizes industrial polluters whose emissions surpass a certain level.
He also supports a national program that would retrofit homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient.
"Instead of making it more expensive to heat your home while consuming the same amount of energy and emitting the same amount of pollution, I want to help make it more affordable to heat your home – by helping to make it more energy efficient and pollute less," he said.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion is expected to announce a climate change plan that would penalize activities that contribute to global warming. Dion maintains his scheme would be revenue neutral, with taxes it raises returned to Canadians in the form of lower personal and corporate income taxes. As well, the tax code would be tweaked to help low-income earners, Liberals say.
Layton told reporters after his speech that he recognizes that getting serious about fighting climate change might mean economic hardship, but he said any hard times should fall first to the biggest polluters.

Guy Giorno: 'Wicked smart'' man going to Toronto

This is from the Globe and Mail.
It seems that the Common Sense revolution is now being revitalized as the Harper revolution. Harper is surrounding himself with a gang of conservative ideologues with lots of experience in managing and massaging the people. They are much more than a 'gang of four'.

'Wicked smart' man going to Ottawa
From Friday's Globe and Mail
May 23, 2008 at 5:12 AM EDT
An introverted, hard-core Conservative with a strategic mind and a deep religious faith is set to take over as Stephen Harper's top adviser.
Guy Giorno, 43, a Toronto lawyer and former chief of staff to Mike Harris, then the Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario - he once wrote that Mr. Harris "changed Canadians politics, permanently, and for the better" - begins his new job as Mr. Harper's chief of staff on July 1, according to Conservative sources.
Mr. Giorno was handpicked for the position by Ian Brodie, the man he is succeeding, a senior Conservative said. The two worked together on campaign strategy over the past few years. Mr. Brodie, who has been the Prime Minister's chief of staff since the Tories took power in January of 2006, informed his staff of his departure Wednesday morning, the source said.
Mr. Giorno, who grew up in Toronto, went to university in Toronto and still lives there with his wife and their three-year-old son, would not be interviewed. A number of his friends and acquaintances, however, agreed to speak about him, some on the condition of anonymity.
His friends say that Mr. Giorno is intelligent and cerebral but his aggressive style can sometimes rub people the wrong way.
Greg Lyle, the managing director of Innovative Research Group, who knows Mr. Giorno well, characterizes him as "wicked smart." Mr. Lyle said he's a good fit with the Harper Tories: "He's on the same wavelength as Harper and that team. He's got great relationships with a number of the senior ministers. He does get Ontario and certainly Ontario is basically one of two roads to get them to majority. And he has real experience running government."
The downsides, Mr. Lyle said, are that Mr. Giorno doesn't speak French and doesn't have experience in Ottawa.
Although he is not close to the Prime Minister, Mr. Giorno is close to senior Harper ministers, including Environment Minister John Baird and Health Minister Tony Clement. And though he has been characterized as the "author" of the Harris Common Sense Revolution, Mr. Giorno plays down his role in the controversial strategy.
Yesterday, however, the Liberals were quick to emphasize his political relationships.
"If he, in fact, becomes chief of staff, they're running this government and they are the same five-man wrecking crew whose lingering effects we're still feeling in the province of Ontario," Liberal MP David McGuinty said.
Mr. McGuinty, along with his brother, Dalton, the Liberal Premier of Ontario, share a strong animosity for the Harris Conservatives who are now in the Harper cabinet.
Mr. Giorno is also a friend of Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney and senior Harper advisers Patrick Muttart and Mark Cameron.
"He's a very focused guy," a veteran Tory said. "He's a little bit introverted but so, too, is Ian Brodie ... If you think about it, a lot of successful chiefs of staff are ... it's not a job where you want necessarily a hugely gregarious extrovert out there trying to get as much attention as their boss."
In the 2005-2006 federal election campaign, Mr. Giorno worked in the Tory war room as part of the "scripting unit," which provided messaging, lines and drafts for the Prime Minister's remarks.
And like some of Mr. Harper's other top advisers, Mr. Giorno is a practising Catholic with deep convictions. Although his faith was the source of some conflict during his years at Queen's Park - there were articles questioning whether as a Catholic he should bring a "wider sense of social justice" to his job - his friend says that he is professional in his work and private in his faith.
With a report from Bill Curry

Friday, May 23, 2008

Harper's chief of staff to resign within weeks.

This is from CTV.
There is no explanation as to why Brodie is resigning but the context makes it look as if it might have something to do with the leak re NAFTA-gate. Brodie's replacement seems to be made of the same type of material manufactured by the former Harris government. We can look forward to more common sense garbage.

Harper's chief of staff to resign within weeks
Updated Thu. May. 22 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff is expected to step down from his post within weeks, CTV News has learned.
Sources told CTV News Wednesday night that Ian Brodie is set to leave his position -- most likely in July.
Earlier this year, the Tories were hounded by the opposition over reports of Brodie's alleged involvement in the so-called NAFTA-gate affair.
The affair dates back to the March leak of a Canadian consular document involving U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
The memo claimed that a senior adviser to Obama told Canadian diplomats that the presidential candidate isn't serious about renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal -- and suggested comments Obama would make on NAFTA are more about political posturing than a real policy plan.
In response, Harper launched a probe into the leak involving the Foreign Affairs Department. He also conducted an internal investigation. According to The Globe and Mail, a report has been completed, although it hasn't yet been released.
Pressure on Harper
Brodie is expected to leave his post just ahead of the release of the report in July.
But, in a press release Thursday, Liberal International Trade Critic Navdeep Bains called on Harper to release the Privy Council report on the NAFTA-gate leaks immediately.
"The government committed to releasing the report in the House of Commons, yet we now hear that the report is finished and sitting on Prime Minister's desk," said Bains.
"This report deals with leaks from the highest levels of the Conservative government and it is grossly inappropriate for the Prime Minister to delay its release."
Bains said if the report indicates that Brodie was the source of the leak then Harper needs to fire him immediately.
"This kind of blatant interference in the democratic process of another country, particularly a country like the United States, with whom we share such a vital relationship, cannot be swept under the rug," he said. "It is time Prime Minister Stephen Harper stops talking about accountability and starts showing some."
The Prime Minister's Office has not commented on reports of Brodie's departure.
Guy Giorno, who was chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris, is the rumoured replacement for Brodie.
Giorno knows Ontario well and he could help attract votes for Harper in an upcoming election, CTV's Graham Richardson said Thursday from Ottawa.
Giorno is currently with Fasken Martineau, a corporate law firm.
With files from The Canadian Press

The race to be more Quebecois than vous.

I guess a report by a sociologist (historian) and philosopher cannot trump political posturing and appeal to Quebec nationalism based on a type of French culture that for many is often conservative in social terms and not welcoming of immigrants--not that the situation is that different outside of Quebec. Taylor and Bouchard wanted to remove religious symbols from the main institutions to indicate neutrality and not offend minorities of differing faiths. At the same time unlike France they would be willing to have people as individuals wear symbols such as the burqa, crucifixes, turbans etc. The direction of the report seemed to be reasonable accomodation to me but obviously it does not fit with the political atmosphere in Quebec. The whole process seems to have been mainly designed to eliminate the issue from the last provincial election. No doubt it did that!

Diversity report receives cool reception - Canada - Diversity report receives cool reception

MONTREAL–The political temperature over Quebec's identity is so scalding, the provincial government didn't bother waiting for the official unveiling of a report on religion and minorities before trashing its most symbolic recommendation – that the crucifix be removed from the National Assembly.
The reaction in Quebec City belied the main conclusion of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on the debate over "reasonable accommodations" of minorities – that the identity crisis in Quebec is a matter of perception, not reality.
The commissioners, McGill University philosopher Charles Taylor and Université du Québec sociologist Gérard Bouchard, conducted a study of subjects from secularism in public places, to racial discrimination, to the insecurities of Quebec's French-Canadian population.
"There is no crisis ... one could even say we are far from it, despite the impressions people might have," said Bouchard, adding "the only crisis is one of perception ... we came close to skidding out of control, I think all Quebecers should draw a lesson from it."
But in politics, perception is reality, so angst over questions of identity was evident yesterday.
Premier Jean Charest tabled a motion to preserve the National Assembly's crucifix before Bouchard and Taylor had even presented their report at a news conference; it was unanimously adopted.
"We won't rewrite history ... The church has played a major role in who we are today as a society, the crucifix is more than a religious symbol," Charest told a news conference in Quebec City.
The minority Liberals proposed having new arrivals sign undertakings to "adhere to our society's common values," summarized as gender equality, Charter rights and the defence of the French language.
Meanwhile, Quebec's opposition parties, which have been trying to one-up each other to appropriate the high ground as defenders of the Quebec identity, piled on.
Action démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont, whose 2006 political revival was rooted in exploiting public discontent over minority accommodations, said Quebec should adopt its own "founding document" that spells out "Quebec's cultural heritage."
"Interculturalism is not a synonym for getting down on our knees," he said.
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois said the report misses the point that "there exists a malaise over Quebec's identity that we have to deal with."
The politicking and the fragile state of Quebec's minority government mean the report's recommendations are likely destined for the scrap heap, said Jack Jedwab, of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies.
"I wonder, quite frankly, if the political will exists to turn any of this into meaningful policies. It's a hard sell to try and de-politicize this, especially when you consider Mr. Dumont sees it as his political advantage to make it as political as possible," Jedwab said.
The political reaction was in contrast to those of minority groups.
"I think this could be an important step forward, it sends a signal not just to Quebec and Canada but to the world that we are serious about achieving social peace," said Salam Elmenyawi, an imam who runs the Muslim Council of Montreal.
The 300-page report was the culmination of a year-long exercise that featured public hearings where participants' contributions ranged from the contemplative to the outright racist.
"Some things were said that I didn't terribly like ... but there are few societies in the world where people can say some very hard things and then listen to other people say even harder things in return," Taylor said.
"People genuinely listened to one another, and I think we've evolved as a society."
The report calls for the establishment of "open secularism" in provincial institutions, a more robust "intercultural" dialogue, and a campaign to promote cultural diversity.
The authors propose that public officials like judges and police officers be forbidden from wearing religious symbols, and recommend that municipal councils shelve the traditional pre-session prayer.
Other state employees, like teachers, shouldn't be prevented from wearing hijabs, or kipas, or crucifixes, the authors say.
The report also makes "urgent" recommendations to address immediate concerns like easing unemployment among immigrants.
But even if the crisis has been overblown, there is work to be done to improve relations.
The report calls on Quebecers of French-Canadian origin to demonstrate more openness, and suggests that immigrants also must shoulder their responsibilities when it comes to integration in a French-speaking, secular society.
The commission carefully examined 21 headline-grabbing incidents, including a YWCA's decision to frost its windows so as not to offend a neighbouring Jewish school, a clinic's willingness to offer women-only pre-natal courses to accommodate Muslim women, and a directive from the vehicle licensing board to provide female examiners for Muslim women. The report says only six of the cases were faithfully reported in the press accounts.
Perhaps the most infamous event, involving a sugar shack where patrons were allegedly booted out to make room for a group of praying Muslims, was revealed to be fiction.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pork Industry's loss, food banks' gain

This is from the CBC. It seems odd that there should only be ground pork processed. There are surely plenty of roasts, pork chops, bacon, etc. that could be processed as well or shipped frozen as food aid.
While grain farmers are doing very well cattle and hog producers certainly are not. Increasing costs are reflected in grain prices but not beef or pork prices.

Food Bytes
Pork industry's loss, food banks' gain
Wednesday, May 21, 2008 05:41 AM ET
by Andree Lau,
It's been a dismal last few years for Canada's pork producers, culminating last month in the beginning of an unprecedented cull. But the industry's collapse is giving Prairie food banks a helping hand.
With feed and fuel costs rising, Canada's 10,000 pork producers were hit by prices that plummeted to pennies per pound. The federal cull is designed to balance out supply.

More than 150,000 pigs, or 10 per cent of the country's breeding herd, will be killed off by this fall under a $50-million federal program.
The governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are covering the cost of processing the pigs so that some ground pork can be diverted to food banks.
Meat costs the Red Deer Food Bank, for example, $400 to $500 a week, so the shipments will be welcome. The first deliveries are expected this month. As much as 272,000 kilograms (about 600,000 pounds) of ground pork could go through Alberta's food bank shelves by the time the cull is over.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heart surgeon: Taser could trigger a heart attack.

At least some counter testimony to Taser experts is finally emerging. Taser has been overly confident in maintaining that Taser's could never cause a heart attack. It is highly unlikely if used properly but then a recent case involved an 82 year old heart patient and the Taser was used because the police were in a hurry it would seem.

Wednesday » May 21 » 2008

Taser could trigger a heart attack
Heart surgeon tells inquiry the stun gun's consequences are not trivial

Neal Hall
Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The electrical shock from a police Taser stun gun could cause cardiac arrest, a Vancouver heart surgeon told a Taser inquiry Tuesday.
"One can conclude the risk of death from a Taser is small but not insignificant," said Dr. Michael Janusz, a heart surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital.
"Tasers must be regarded as being capable of causing cardiac arrest," he said. "The device appears to be safer for all concerned, including bystanders, than guns and clubs, but its consequences are not trivial."
He told inquiry commissioner Thomas Braidwood that hearts don't simply stop.
There has to be underlying heart disease or other contributing factors, such as lack of oxygen due to asphyxia or massive blood loss or severe metabolic abnormalities such as acidosis or abnormal potassium levels, Janusz said.
Tasers almost certainly can cause cardiac arrest, particularly in people with underlying heart disease, he said.
He also questioned the credibility of Taser International, the manufacturer of the gun, which delivers a five-second jolt that incapacitates the muscles. The company maintains Tasers do not cause cardiac arrest.
"This creates a problem with credibility of the company and could lead to difficulty in dealing with the company in matters of safety standards and training requirements," Janusz said.
The inquiry also heard from cardiologist Dr. Charles Kerr, a specialist in electrophysiology and head of the arrhythmia management program at St. Paul's Hospital and University of B.C.
He told the inquiry that a heart beats as the result of an electrical impulse. He was most concerned about how Taser use might affect the electrical function of the heart ventricles, the main pumping chambers of the heart.
There is a potential for Tasers to cause harm and cardiac arrest, Kerr said.
"It is my opinion that there is a small possibility that an electrical discharge from a Taser dart could directly induce ventricular fibrillation," he said.
Ventricular fibrillation is an extremely rapid rhythm in the lower chambers of the heart, which simply quivers and cannot pump blood. Unless it is interrupted, cardiac death follows, he said.
Kerr said the pain inflicted by a Taser causes intense muscle contraction, an increase in heart rate and adrenalin-like chemicals and sympathetic nerve discharge.
"This coupled with subsequent physical restraint of the individual could also result in the inability to breathe adequately and possibly a drop in oxygen levels and changes in the acid balance in the blood, which would make the patient more prone to ventricular arrhythmias."
While the Taser appears to be a much safer weapon than guns for both victims and police, police do not seem to recognize that Taser use could lead to death, Kerr said.
In such situations, he said, people should be ready to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use automatic external defibrillators.
Outside the inquiry, Kerr was asked by a reporter if he had an opinion about multiple shocks from a Taser. He said it would probably cause more muscle contraction and more acidosis of the blood.
"I think we need to know a lot more about them [Tasers]," he said. "My opinion is it's probably better than a bullet. There may be circumstances where there are no good alternatives."
The Taser inquiry was called by B.C.'s attorney-general after the death last Oct. 14 of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, was Tasered and killed at the airport.
What's next at the inquiry
- Dr. John Butt, a pathologist, and Dr. Maelor Vallance, a psychiatrist, will make presentations at the inquiry at Federal Court, 701 West Georgia.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008

Copyright © 2008 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

Saskatchewan prepares to elect senators.

This is from the CBC. While personally I do not see the need of a Senate at all and think it should be abolished at least an elected Senate is preferable to the status quo in which it is an old folks home for party hacks. The Liberal senator's comment is risible. Apparently these provisions are meant to mesh with any Federal inititiatives.

Saskatchewan prepares to elect senators
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 11:56 AM CT Comments35Recommend16CBC News
Saskatchewan is poised to become the second province, after Alberta, to start holding elections for federal senators.

The Saskatchewan Party government has drafted legislation to make elections for Saskatchewan's senators possible and will likely introduce it in the fall, Justice Minister Don Morgan said earlier this week.

"If we can assist in the transition to an elected Senate, I think we're going a long way in the name of democracy," he said.

The Saskatchewan Party plans to have an election to replace Senator Len Gustafson, one of six from Saskatchewan, who's expected to retire soon upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

"Most of the people in our caucus are pro-Senate-reform, and we felt this was a worthwhile initiative to look at," Morgan said.

The move follows last year's appointment of Albertan Bert Brown to the senate —10 years after people in that province voted him in.

Senators are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister.

The Liberal government didn't move to appoint Brown, but the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper did.

However, there are many who believe Senate elections are a bad idea. Liberal Senator Pana Merchant says elections will politicize an institution that's supposed to be above that.

"The Senate now is a house of conversation, of serious second look at legislation that comes to us unencumbered by political restraints," she said. "Not quite as political, I would say, as the House of Commons."

The Saskatchewan NDP's Kevin Yates said his party wants a so-called Triple-E Senate — one that's elected, equal for all the provinces and effective.

However, getting rid of the Senate altogether is another option, Yates said.

"If we're not going to have Senate reform that's meaningful, then it doesn't play a key role in public policy in Canada, and therefore it probably should be abolished," he said.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

NATO rejects UN report on Afghan civilian killings

So they reject the report but none of the countries involved in the mission provides numbers of civilians killed, results of investigations, or whether anyone was punished. This is certainly not a great record of accountability from which to criticise the UN report. Maybe NATO learned about accountability from the Canadian Conservative government.

NATO rejects UN report on Afghan civilian killings
REUTERSReuters North American News Service
May 18, 2008 09:12 EST
KABUL, May 18 (Reuters) - NATO rejected on Sunday a report by a UN rapporteur about the number of civilian killings at the hands of the alliance-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston said on Thursday some 200 Afghan civilians had been killed by foreign and Afghan troops and around 300 by Taliban insurgents since the beginning of 2008.
"In summary, we find much of the substance and the overall tone of his statement inaccurate and unsubstantiated," Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO, told a news conference.
He did concede that civilians were mistakenly killed by foreign forces while hunting the Taliban militants, but put the number much lower than reported by Alston.
"We would say it is in low double figures," he said.
Alston said international troops and Taliban insurgents needed to do more to avoid civilian casualties or many more innocents would be killed in the ongoing conflict.
The U.N. rapporteur called for more accountability from the more than 55,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military in Afghanistan, who together with Afghan government troops are engaged in daily battles with a resurgent Taliban mainly in the south and east of the country.
Alston said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated to considerable lengths. But he said no international force was able or willing to provide numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished.
"We ... acknowledge the accountability issue is complex," Laity said, adding NATO-led nations were accountable to the law of armed conflict and to individual contributing nations and members were investigating alleged or mistaken civilian deaths. (Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Charles Dick)
Source: Reuters North American News Service

Pope calls for ban on cluster bombs ahead of conference

This is from AFP So what does our fearless leader and great presence on the World Stage have to say about this? So far I have not seen any reports on Canada's position. Of course our great beacon of human rights and spreader of democratic light the US won't even appear along with China, Russia and that beacon of mid-east democracy Israel. As Stalin once pointed out the Vatican doesn't have a large military to bring to the bargaining table but at least the Pope provides some welcome moral guidance to his flock.

Pope calls for ban on cluster bombs ahead of conference

Sun May 18, 6:50 AM

GENOA, Italy (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday called on governments to adopt an international convention banning the use of cluster munitions, on the eve of a conference on the issue in Dublin.
The pope spoke during a visit to the northern Italian city of Genoa, ahead of Monday's opening of a 12-day conference aimed at sealing an international treaty banning their use.
"I hope that thanks to the responsibility of all participants we will get a strong and credible international instrument" to ban the weapons, he said during Angelus prayers in one of the city's square.
"We have to remedy the errors of the past and avoid their repetition in the future," he added.
The pope prayed for the victims of cluster munitions and for their families, pointing out that some of those directly affected by the weapons would attend the Dublin conference.
Though the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, which concludes on May 30, hopes to achieve an unambiguous accord, notable absentees include China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States: all major producers and stockpilers.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Alberta: Health Care Ads Criticized.

This is from the Edmonton Sun.
There is not much information about the content of the ads. The remark by the representative of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation is interesting. He is a bit coy about criticising the ads, no doubt because he is probably sympathetic to the government on the issue. It is good right-wing policy. There should be a grassroots campaign fighting back at this ridiculous centralisation of power in one board with advisory groups as window dressing rather than having any real power. Actually I imagine even a lot of right-wingers would oppose the policy since even many on the right are in favor or local control and democratic input.

May 19, 2008

Health care ads criticized


CALGARY -- Taking full-page ads out in several newspapers to better explain recent changes to the way health care will be administered raises concerns with one medical advocacy group.

The provincial government should be using taxpayers dollars to better deliver health care rather than spending it on advertising, said Ted Woynillowicz, president of the Calgary chapter of Friends of Medicare.

"Judging from media critiques, people aren't happy," he said of the recently announced changes. "This may be damage control or trying to settle things down so people won't be concerned."

Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert announced last week he had dissolved the province's nine regional health boards and replaced them with one Alberta Health Services Board, effective May 15.

In the full page ad, which appeared in yesterday's Edmonton and Calgary Suns, Liepert explains that three advisory councils will also be created to report to that board on cancer research, addictions services and mental health services.

"All health care services will continue being there when and where you need them," the ad reads in part.

Woynillowicz worries the government isn't being completely forthright with regard to future changes to health care.

"I think (the ads) were made to appease people and assure people everything is as is, and to a certain extent it will be for a while, but I think they've got other plans," he said.

"If they didn't, they would be assuring the public, saying 'hey, we're not privatizing or anything like that,' but they're not."

While not exactly happy to see the ads, Scott Hennig, the Alberta chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the ads weren't out of line, considering the massive changes being made.

"The government does a lot of advertising that is questionable, but if this is one of them, I don't know," he said.

"I wasn't completely outraged when I saw (the ad)."

Liepert could not be reached for comment.

Magdoff: The World Food Crisis: Sources and Solutions

This is a long analytical article about crisis in world food production particularly the recent situation in 2008. The article shows how many of the neo-liberal policies often demanded by the IMF and the World Bank contribute to the problem. The increasing use of biofuels such as ethanol also contributes.
The World Food CrisisSources and Solutionsby Fred Magdoff
An acute food crisis has struck the world in 2008. This is on top of a longer-term crisis of agriculture and food that has already left billions hungry and malnourished. In order to understand the full, dire implications of what is happening today it is necessary to look at the interaction between these short-term and long-term crises. Both crises arise primarily from the for-profit production of food, fiber, and now biofuels, and the rift between food and people that this inevitably generates.
‘Routine’ Hunger before the Current Crisis
Of the more than 6 billion people living in the world today, the United Nations estimates that close to 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. But this number, which is only a crude estimate, leaves out those suffering from vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition. The total number of food insecure people who are malnourished or lacking critical nutrients is probably closer to 3 billion—about half of humanity. The severity of this situation is made clear by the United Nations estimate of over a year ago that approximately 18,000 children die daily as a direct or indirect consequence of malnutrition (Associated Press, February 18, 2007).
Lack of production is rarely the reason that people are hungry. This can be seen most clearly in the United States, where despite the production of more food than the population needs, hunger remains a significant problem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2006 over 35 million people lived in food-insecure households, including 13 million children. Due to a lack of food adults living in over 12 million households could not eat balanced meals and in over 7 million families someone had smaller portions or skipped meals. In close to 5 million families, children did not get enough to eat at some point during the year.
In poor countries too, it is not unusual for large supplies of wasted and misallocated food to exist in the midst of widespread and persistent hunger. A few years ago a New York Times article had a story with the following headline “Poor in India Starve as Surplus Wheat Rots” (December 2, 2002). As a Wall Street Journal headline put it in 2004 “Want Amid Plenty, An Indian Paradox: Bumper Harvests and Rising Hunger” (June 25, 2004).
No ‘Right to Food’
Hunger and malnutrition generally are symptoms of a larger underlying problem—poverty in an economic system that recognizes, as Rachel Carson put it, no other gods but those of profit and production. Food is treated in almost all of the world’s countries as just another commodity, like clothes, automobiles, pencils, books, diamond jewelry, and so on. People are not considered to have a right to purchase any particular commodity, and no distinction is made in this respect between necessities and luxuries. Those who are rich can afford to purchase anything they want while the poor are often not able to procure even their basic needs. Under capitalist relations people have no right to an adequate diet, shelter, and medical attention. As with other commodities, people without what economists call “effective demand” cannot buy sufficient nutritious food. Of course, lack of “effective demand” in this case means that the poor don’t have enough money to buy the food they need.
Humans have a “biological demand” for food—we all need food, just as we need water and air, to continue to live. It is a systematic fact of capitalist society that many are excluded from fully meeting this biological need. It’s true that some wealthy countries, especially those in Europe, do help feed the poor, but the very way capitalism functions inherently creates a lower strata of society that frequently lacks the basics for human existence. In the United States there are a variety of government initiatives—such as food stamps and school lunch programs—aimed at feeding the poor. Yet, the funding for these programs does not come close to meeting the needs of the poor, and various charities fight an uphill battle trying to make up the difference.In this era relatively few people actually die from starvation, aside from the severe hunger induced by wars and dislocations. Most instead become chronically malnourished and then are plagued by a variety of diseases that shorten their lives or make them more miserable. The scourge of malnutrition impedes children’s mental and physical development, harming them for the rest of their lives.
The Acute and Growing Crisis: The Great Hunger of 2008
At this moment in history there are, in addition to the “routine” hunger discussed above, two separate global food crises occurring simultaneously. The severe and acute crisis, about two years old, is becoming worse day by day and it is this one that we’ll discuss first. The severity of the current crisis cannot be overstated. It has rapidly increased the number of people around the globe that are malnourished. Although statistics of increased hunger during the past year are not yet available, it is clear that many will die prematurely or be harmed in other ways. As usual, it will be the young, the old, and the infirm that will suffer the worst effects of the Great Hunger of 2008. The rapid and simultaneous rise in the world prices for all the basic food crops—corn (maize), wheat, soybeans, rice, and cooking oils—along with many other crops is having a devastating effect on an increasing portion of humanity.
The increases in the world market prices over the past few years have been nothing short of astounding. The prices of the sixty agricultural commodities traded on the world market increased 37 percent last year and 14 percent in 2006 (New York Times, January 19, 2008). Corn prices began their rise in the early fall of 2006 and within months had soared by some 70 percent. Wheat and soybean prices also skyrocketed during this time and are now at record levels. The prices for cooking oils (mainly made from soybeans and oil palm)—an essential foodstuff in many poor countries—have rocketed up as well. Rice prices have also risen over 100 percent in the last year (“High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest,” New York Times, March 29, 2008).
The reasons for these soaring food prices are fairly clear. First, there are a number of issues related directly or indirectly to the increase in petroleum prices. In the United States, Europe, and many other countries this has brought a new emphasis on growing crops that can be used for fuel—called biofuels (or agrofuels). Thus, producing corn to make ethanol or soybean and palm oil to make diesel fuel is in direct competition with the use of these crops for food. Last year over 20 percent of the entire corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol—a process that does not yield much additional energy over that which goes into producing it. (It is estimated that over the next decade about one-third of the U.S. corn crop will be devoted to ethanol production [Bloomberg, February 21, 2008].) Additionally, many of the inputs for large-scale commercial agricultural production are based on petroleum and natural gas—from building and running tractors and harvesting equipment to producing fertilizers and pesticides and drying crops for storage. The price of nitrogen fertilizer, the most commonly used fertilizer worldwide, is directly tied to the price of energy because it takes so much energy to produce.
A second cause of the increase in prices of corn and soybeans and soy cooking oil is that the increasing demand for meat among the middle class in Latin America and Asia, especially China. The use of maize and soy to feed cattle, pigs, and poultry has risen sharply to satisfy this demand. The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last twenty years alone. (New York Times, January 27, 2008.) Feeding grain to more and more animals is putting growing pressure on grain stores. Feeding grain to produce meat is a very inefficient way of providing people with either calories or protein. It is especially wasteful for animals such as cows—with digestive systems that can derive energy from cellulose—because they can obtain all of their nutrition from pastures and will grow well without grain, although more slowly. Cows are not efficient converters of corn or soy to meat—to yield a pound of meat, cows require eight pounds of corn; pigs, five; and chickens, three (Baron’s, March 4, 2008).
A third reason for the big jump in world food prices is that a few key countries that were self-sufficient—that is, did not import foods, although plenty of people suffered from hunger—are now importing large quantities of food. As a farm analyst in New Delhi says “When countries like India start importing food, then the world prices zoom....If India and China are both turning into bigger importers, shifting from food self-sufficiency as recently we have seen in India, then the global prices are definitely going to rise still further, which will mean the era of cheaper food has now definitely gone away” (VOA News, February 21, 2008). Part of the reason for the pressure on rice prices is the loss of farmland to other uses such as various development projects—some 7 million acres in China and 700,000 acres in Vietnam. In addition, rice yields per acre in Asia have reached a plateau. There has been no per acre increase for ten years and yield increases are not expected in the near future (Rice Today, January–March 2008).
Some of the reasons for the recent price increases for wheat and rice are related to weather. The drought in Australia, a major wheat exporting country, and low yields in a few other exporters has greatly affected wheat prices. A 2007 cyclone in Bangladesh destroyed approximately 600 million dollars worth of its rice crop, leading to rice price increases of about 70 percent (The Daily Star [Bangladesh], February 11, 2008). The drought last year in northcentral China combined with the unusual cold and snow during the winter will probably lead the government to greater food purchases on the international markets, keeping the pressure on prices.
Speculation in the futures market and hoarding at the local level are certainly playing a part in this crisis situation to make food more expensive. As the U.S. financial crisis deepened and spread in the winter of 2008, speculators started putting more money into food and metals to take advantage of what is being called the “commodities super cycle.” (The dollar’s decline relative to other currencies stimulates “investment” in tangible commodities.) While it would be a mistake to see these aspects, however despicable and inhumane, as the cause of the crisis, they certainly add to the misery by taking advantage of tight markets. It is certainly possible that the commodity bubble will burst, bringing down food prices a bit. However, speculation and local hoarding will continue to put an upward pressure on food prices. Transnational corporations that process agricultural products, manufacture various foods, and sell food to the public are, of course, all doing exceptionally well. Corporate profits usually do well in a time of shortages and price increases.
Although not a cause for the increase in prices of other foods, the higher prices for ocean fish have created an added burden for the poor and near poor. Overfishing of many ocean species is removing this important protein source from the diet of a large percentage of the world’s population.
The response to the crisis has come in the form of demonstrations and riots as well as changes in government policies. Over the past few months there have been protests and riots over the increasing cost of food in many countries, including Pakistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Morocco, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. China has instituted price controls for basic foods and Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs, and cooking oil for six months. Egypt, India, and Vietnam have banned or placed strict control on the export of rice so that their own people will have sufficient food. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, has expanded the number of people eligible to receive food aid by over 10 million. Many countries have lowered protectionist tariffs to try to lessen the blow of dramatically higher prices of imported foods. Countries heavily dependent on food imports such as the Philippines, the world’s largest importer of rice, are scrambling to make deals to obtain the needed imports. But these various stop-gap efforts have mainly marginal effects on the problem. Almost all people are forced into a lower standard of living as those in the middle class become increasingly careful about the foods they purchase, the near poor drop into poverty, and the formerly poor become truly destitute and suffer greatly. The effects have been felt around the world in all classes of society except the truly wealthy. As Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Program, said in February, “This is the new face of hunger....There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before” (The Guardian, Feb. 26, 2008).
Although Haiti has been a very poor country for years—80 percent of the people try to subsist on less than what two dollars a day can purchase in the United States—the recent situation has brought it to new depths of desperation. Two cups of rice, which cost thirty cents a year ago, now cost sixty cents. The description of an Associated Press article from earlier this year (January 29, 2008) is most poignant in its details:
It was lunchtime in one of Haiti’s worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.
The “cookies” also contain some vegetable shortening and salt. Toward the end of the article is the following:
Marie Noel, 40, sells the cookies in a market to provide for her seven children. Her family also eats them.
“I’m hoping one day I’ll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these,” she said. “I know it’s not good for me.”
Many countries in Africa and Asia have been severely impacted by the crisis with hunger spreading widely—but all nations are affected to one extent or another. In the United States—where over the past year the price of eggs increased 38 percent, milk by 30 percent, lettuce by 16 percent, and whole wheat bread by 12 percent—many people are starting to purchase less costly products. “Higher Food Prices Start to Pinch Consumers” is the way the Wall Street Journal put it in a headline (January 3, 2008).
It should be noted here that while wheat prices are at record levels and prices of wheat products in the United States will certainly go higher, the cost of the wheat in a loaf of bread is only small part of the retail price. When wheat prices double, as they have, the price of a loaf of bread may increase by 10 percent, perhaps from $3 to $3.30. However, the effect of a doubling of prices for corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice is devastating for poor people in the third world who primarily purchase raw commodities.
With food pantries and soup kitchens stretched to the breaking point, the U.S. poor are experiencing deepening suffering. In general, the poor in the United States tend to first pay their rent, heat, gas (for a car to get to work), and electricity bills. That leaves food as one of the few “flexible” items in their budgets. In the central part of my home state of Vermont, over the last year the use of food shelves (i.e., aid from local, charitable food assistance programs that give groceries directly to the needy) has increased 133 percent among all users and 180 percent among the working poor! (Hal Cohen, with the Central Vermont Community Action Council, personal communication February 20, 2008.)
The economic recession is beginning to be felt in many parts of the United States, adding to the rise in requests for help from the various government food assistance programs (“As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record,” New York Times, March 31, 2008). But, frequently people using the inadequately funded government programs tend to run out of food toward the end of the month, resulting in a huge increase in demand at food shelves and soup kitchens at that time. And as the need for food has increased, food donations have actually declined—with a large drop in federal donations (with high prices there are fewer “surplus” commodities from farm programs, so $58 million in food was given to food shelves last year versus $242 million five years before).
Supermarkets have found ways to make money from damaged or dated goods they previously donated to charities. In Connecticut, there has been a surge in demand for food while supply is not keeping up. A food pantry in Stamford is supplying food to four hundred families, double the number of a year ago. According to the food pantry’s director, “I have had to turn people away....There were times I went home and wanted to cry” (New York Times, December 23, 2007). A professor at Cornell University who studies food-assistance programs in the United States has summarized the situation: “There is a nascent crisis building....Demand for food-bank assistance is climbing rapidly when the resources are falling in dramatic terms because the dollars just don’t go as far” (Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2008).
The Long-Term Food Crisis
As critical as the short-term food crisis is—demanding immediate world notice as well as attention within every country—the long-term, structural crisis is even more important. The latter has existed for decades and contributes to, and is reinforced by, today’s acute food crisis. Indeed, it is this underlying structural crisis of agriculture and food in third world societies which constitutes the real reason that the immediate food crisis is so severe and so difficult to surmount within the system.
There has been a huge migration of people out of the countryside to the cities of the third world. They leave the countryside because they lack access to land. Often their land has been stolen as a result of the inroads of agribusiness, while they are also forced from the land by low prices they have historically received for their products and threats against campesino lives. They move to cities seeking a better life but what they find is a very hard existence—life in slums with extremely high unemployment and underemployment. Most will try to scrape by in the “informal” economy by buying things and then selling them in small quantities. Of the half of humanity that lives in cities (3 billion), some 1 billion, or one-third of city dwellers, live in slums. The chairman of a district in Lagos, Nigeria described it as follows: “We have a massive growth in population with a stagnant or shrinking economy. Picture this city ten, twenty years from now. This is not the urban poor—this is the new urban destitute.” A long New Yorker article on Lagos ended on a note of extreme pessimism: “The really disturbing thing about Lagos’ pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics. They are, in the harsh terms of globalization, superfluous” (November 13, 2006).
One of the major factors pushing this mass and continuing migration to the cities—in addition to being landless or forced off land—is the difficulty to make a living as a small farmer. This has been made especially difficult, as countries have implemented the “neoliberal” policies recommended or mandated by the IMF, the World Bank, and even some of the western NGOs working in the poor countries of the third world. The neoliberal ideology holds that the so-called free market should be allowed to work its magic. Through the benign sanctions of the “invisible hand,” it is said, the economy will function most efficiently and will be highly productive. But in order for the market to be “free” governments must stop interfering.
With regard to agriculture, governments should stop subsidizing farmers to purchase fertilizers, stop being involved in the storage and transportation of food, and just let farmers and food alone. This approach also holds that governments should stop subsidizing food for poor people and then the newly unbridled market will take care of it all. This mentality was evident as the Haitian food crisis started to develop late in 2007. According to the Haitian Minister of Commerce and Industry, “We cannot intervene and fix prices because we have to comply with free market regulations” (Reuters, December 9, 2007). This was the same response that colonial Britain adopted in response to the Irish potato famine as well as to the famines in India in the late 1800s. But to a certain extent this way of thinking is now internalized in the thinking of many leaders in the “independent” countries of the periphery.
This ideology, of course, has no basis in reality—the so-called free market is not necessarily efficient at all. It is also absolutely unable to act as a mechanism to end poverty and hunger. We should always keep in mind that this ideology represents the exact opposite of what the core capitalist countries have historically done and what they are actually doing today. For example, the U.S. national government has supported farmers in many ways for over a century. This has occurred through government programs for research and extension, taking land from Indians and giving it to farmers of European origin, subsidizing farmers directly through a variety of programs including low-cost loans, and stimulating the export of crops. It should also be noted that the United States, Europe, and Japan all developed their industrial economies under protectionist policies plus a variety of programs of direct assistance to industry.
The effects of the governments of the third world stopping their support of small farmers and consumers has meant that the life for the poor in those countries has become more difficult. As an independent report commissioned by World Bank put it: “In most reforming countries, the private sector did not step in to fill the vacuum when the public sector withdrew” (New York Times, October 15, 2007). For example, many African governments under pressure from the neoliberal economic policies promoted by the World Bank, the IMF, and the rich countries of the center of the system stopped subsidizing the use of fertilizers on crops. Although it is true that imported fertilizers are very expensive, African soils are generally of very low fertility and crop yields are low when you use neither synthetic nor organic fertilizers. As yields fell after governments were no longer assisting the purchase of fertilizers and helping in other ways, more farmers found that they could not survive and migrated to the city slums. Jeffrey Sachs—a partially recovered free-trade shock doctor—has had some second thoughts. According to Sachs, “The whole thing was based on the idea that if you take away the government for the poorest of the poor that somehow these markets will solve the problems....But markets can’t step in and won’t step in when people have nothing. And if you take away help, you leave them to die” (New York Times, October 15, 2007).
Last year one country in Africa, Malawi, decided to reverse course and go against all the recommendations they had received. The government reintroduced subsidies for fertilizers and seeds. Farmers used more fertilizers, the yields increased, and the country’s food situation improved greatly (New York Times, December 2, 2007). In fact, they were able to export some food to Zimbabwe—although there are those in Malawi, who consider that to have lowered their own supplies too far.
Another problem occurs as capitalist farmers in some of the poor countries of the periphery enter into world markets. While subsistence farmers usually sell only a small portion of their crops, using most for family consumption, capitalist farmers are those that market all or a large portion of what they produce. They frequently expand production and take over the land of small farmers, with or without compensation, and use fewer people than previously to work a given piece of land because of mechanized production techniques. In Brazil, the “Soybean King” controls well over a quarter of a million acres (100,000 hectares) and uses huge tractors and harvesting equipment for working the land. In China corrupt village and city officials frequently sell “common land” to developers without adequate compensation to the farmers—sometimes there is no compensation at all.
Thus, the harsh conditions for farmers caused by a number of factors, made worse by the implementing of free-market ideology, have created a continuing stream of people leaving the countryside and going to live in cities that do not have jobs for them. And those now living in slums and without access to land to grow their own food are at the mercy of the world price for food.
One of the reasons for the growing consolidation of land holdings and forcing out of subsistence farmers is the penetration of multinational agricultural corporations into the countries of the periphery. From selling seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides to processing raw agricultural products to exporting or selling them through new, large supermarkets, agribusiness multinationals are having a devastating effect on small farmers. With the collapse of extension systems for helping farmers save seeds and with the disbanding of government seed companies the way was paved for multinational seed companies to make major inroads.
The giant transnational corporations such as Cargill and Monsanto now reach into most of the third world—selling seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and feeds while buying and processing raw agricultural products. In the process they assist larger farms to become “more efficient” —to grow over larger land areas. The main advantage of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds is that they help to simplify the process of farming and allow large acreages to be under the management of a single entity—a large farmer or corporation—squeezing out small farmers.
The negative effects of the penetration of large supermarket chains are being felt as well. As a 2004 headline in the New York Times put it “Supermarket Giants Crush Central American Farmers” (December 28, 2004). Large supermarkets would rather deal with a few farmers growing on a large scale than with many small farmers. And the opening of large supermarkets does away with the traditional markets used by small farmers.
The Prolonged Crisis Is Intensifying
It seems logical that with higher food prices, farmers should be better off and produce more to satisfy the “demand” indicated by the market. To a certain extent that is true—especially for farmers that can take advantage of all the physical and monetary advantages of large-scale production. Yet, the input costs for just about everything used in agricultural production have also increased, thus profit gains for farmers are not as large as might be expected. This is a particularly difficult problem for farmers raising animals fed on increasingly expensive grains.
In addition, things are not necessarily going well for small and subsistence farmers. Many are stuck in debt so deep that it’s hard for them to get back on their feet. An estimated 25,000 Indian farmers committed suicide last year because they could see no other way out of their predicament. (The Indian government has proposed a budget that includes loan wavers for small farmers that have borrowed through banks. However, if it actually goes into effect, the millions that have borrowed from local usurers will not benefit.) The consolidation of land holdings and the removal of small farmers and landless workers from the land has been exacerbated by the exceptional crop price increases over the last few years.
Rising crop prices cause the price of farmland to increase—especially of large fields that can be worked by large-scale machinery. This is happening in the United States and in certain countries of the periphery. For example, Global Ag Investments, a company based in Texas, owns and operates 34,000 acres of Brazilian farmland. At one of its farms, a single field of soybeans covers 1,600 acres—that’s two and a half square miles! A New Zealand company has purchased approximately 100,000 acres in Uruguay and has hired managers to operate dairy farms established on their land.
Private equity firms are purchasing farmland in the United States (Associated Press, May 7, 2007) as well as abroad. A U.S. company is cooperating with Brazilian and Japanese partners to purchase 385 square miles in Brazil, approximately a quarter of a million acres! This is also happening with South American capital taking the lead—a Brazilian investment fund, Investimento em Participacoe, is buying a minority stake in a an Argentine soybean producer that owns close to 400,000 acres in Uruguay and Argentina.
Rising crop prices have also led to an acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon basin—1,250 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island) in the last five months of 2007—as capitalist farmers hunger for more land (BBC, January 24, 2008). In addition, huge areas of farmland have been taken for development—some of dubious use, such as building suburban style housing and golf courses for the wealthy.
In China during 2000 to 2005, there was an average annual loss of 2.6 million acres as farmland is used for development. The country is fast approaching the self-defined minimum amount of arable farmland that it should have—approximately 290 million acres (120 million hectares)—and the amount of farmland will most likely continue to fall. As part of an effort to gain access to foreign agricultural production, a Chinese company has made an agreement to lease close to 2.5 million acres of land in the Philippines to grow rice, corn, and sugar—setting off a huge protest in the Philippines that has temporarily stalled the project (Bloomberg, February 21, 2008). As one farmer put it: “The [Philippine] government and the Chinese call it a partnership, but it only means the Chinese will be our landlords and we will be the slaves.’’
Ending World Hunger
Ending world hunger is conceptually quite simple. However, actually putting it into practice is far from simple. First, the access to a healthy and varied diet needs to be recognized for the basic human right that it clearly is. Governments must commit to ending hunger among their people and they must take forceful action to carry out this commitment. In many countries, even at this time, there is sufficient food produced to feed the entire population at a high level of nutrition. This is, of course, most evident in the United States, where so much food is produced. It is nothing less than a crime that so many of the poor in the United States are hungry, malnourished, or don’t know where their next meal will come from (which itself takes a psychological toll) when there is actually plenty of food.
In the short run, the emergency situation of increasingly severe hunger and malnutrition needs be addressed with all resources at a country’s disposal. Although mass bulk distribution of grains or powdered milk can play a role, countries might consider the Venezuelan innovation of setting up feeding houses in all poor neighborhoods. When the people believe that the government is really trying to help them, and they are empowered to find or assist in a solution to their own problems, a burst of enthusiasm and volunteerism results. For example, although the food in Venezuela’s feeding program is supplied by the government, the meals for poor children, the elderly, and the infirm are prepared in, and distributed from, peoples’ homes using considerable amounts of volunteer labor. In addition, Venezuela has developed a network of stores that sell basic foodstuffs at significant discounts over prices charged in private markets.
Brazil started a program in 2003 that is aimed at alleviating the conditions of the poorest people. Approximately one-quarter of Brazil’s population receive direct payments from the national government under the Bolsa Família (Family Fund) antipoverty program. Under this program a family with a per capita daily income below approximately $2 per person per day receives a benefit of up to $53 per month per person (The Economist, February 7, 2008). This infusion of cash is dependent on the family’s children attending school and participating in the national vaccination program. This program is certainly having a positive effect on peoples’ lives and nutrition. It is, however, a system that does not have the same effect as Venezuela’s programs, which mobilize people to work together for their own and their community’s benefit.
Urban gardens have been used successfully in Cuba as well as other countries to supply city dwellers with food as well as sources of income. These should be strongly promoted—with creative use of available space in urban settings.
Agriculture must become one of the top priorities for the third world. Even the World Bank is beginning to stress the importance of governments assisting agriculture in their countries. As Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, has stated,
Today the attention of the world’s policy makers is focused on the sub-prime woes, and the financial crises. But the real crisis is that of hunger and malnutrition...this is the real problem that should grab the world’s attention. We know that 75 percent of the world’s poor people are rural and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is today, more than ever, a fundamental instrument for fighting hunger, malnutrition, and for supporting sustainable development and poverty reduction. (All-Africa Global Media, February 19, 2008)
Almost every country in the world has the soil, water, and climate resources to grow enough food so that all their people can eat a healthy diet. In addition, the knowledge and crop varieties already exist in most countries so that if farmers are given adequate assistance they will be able to grow reasonably high yields of crops.
Although enhanced agricultural production is essential, much of the emphasis in the past has been on production of export crops. While this may help a country’s balance of payments, export oriented agriculture does not ensure sufficient food for everyone nor does it promote a healthy rural environment. In addition to basic commodities such as soybeans, export-oriented agriculture also leads naturally to the production of high-value luxury crops demanded by export markets (luxuries from the standpoint of the basic food needs of a poor third world country), rather than the low-value subsistence crops needed to meet the needs of the domestic population. Production of sufficient amounts of the right kinds of food within each country’s borders—by small farmers working in cooperatives or on their own and using sustainable techniques—is the best way to achieve the goal of “food security.” In this way the population may be insulated, at least partially, from the price fluctuations on the world market. This, of course, also means not taking land out of food production to produce crops for the biofuel markets.
One of the ways to do this and at the same time help with the problem of so many people crowded into urban slums—the people most susceptible to food price increases—is to provide land through meaningful agrarian reforms. But land itself is not enough. Beginning or returning farmers need technical and financial support in order to produce food. Additionally, social support systems, such as cooperatives and community councils, need to be developed to help promote camaraderie and to solidify the new communities that are developed. Perhaps each community needs to be “seeded” with a sprinkling of devoted activists. Also, housing, electricity, water, and wastewater need to be available to make it attractive for people living in the cities to move to the countryside. Another way to encourage people to move to the country to become farmers is to appeal to patriotism and instill the idea that they are real pioneers, establishing a new food system to help their countries gain food self-sufficiency, i.e., independence from transnational agribusiness corporations and provision of healthy food for all the nation’s people. These pioneering farmers need to be viewed by themselves, the rest of the society, and their government as critical to the future of their countries and the well-being of the population. They must be treated with the great respect that they deserve.
Food is a human right and governments have a responsibility to see that their people are well fed. In addition, there are known ways to end hunger—including emergency measures to combat the current critical situation, urban gardens, agrarian reforms that include a whole support system for farmers, and sustainable agriculture techniques that enhance the environment. The present availability of food to people reflects very unequal economic and political power relationships within and between countries. A sustainable and secure food system requires a different and much more equitable relationship among people. The more the poor and farmers themselves are included in all aspects of the effort to gain food security, and the more they are energized in the process, the greater will be the chance of attaining lasting food security. As President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a country that has done so much to deal with poverty and hunger, has put it,
Yes, it is important to end poverty, to end misery, but the most important thing is to offer power to the poor so that they can fight for themselves.