Thursday, June 30, 2005

Hiring airport screeners? Buy a half-barrel of Starbucks Coffee first

Check this out.

WaPo reports today that money that was supposed to be appropriated to boosting America's national security at airports was instead spent on some rather curious items. Among them:

* $526.95 on ONE phone from Chicago to Iowa City.
* $1,180 for 20 GALLONS of Starbucks coffee -- nearly half a barrel.
* $8,100 to hire elevator operators for three weeks at one hotel.

Laugh you might -- I certainly did when I first saw the headline on my screen this morning. Once you stop chuckling, you might ask, "Am I the only one who thinks there's something wrong with this picture?"

Apparently not: the story reports that an internal government audit shows that as much as $303 million of the $741 million allocated to hire more airport security in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities may have been misappropriated. Remember Bob Dole's line from 1996: "Where's the outrage?"

Amazingly, the White House has blocked repeated attempts from reporters to get to the bottom of this story. WaPo says they got access to the audit only from a third party -- who presumably filed his or her Freedom of Information request.

Question: When did the procedures used to hire airport screeners and the money spent doing so suddenly become a state secret?

Thanks to Arianna Huffington.

Confidential sources, my foot!

VERY unsettling news today.

In the wake of SCOTUS declining to hear an appeal from two reporters in the Valerie Plame affair, Matt Cooper of TIME Magazine and Judith Miller of the NYT, TIME Magazine has announced that it will turn over Cooper's notes to federal investigators in a bid to keep him out of jail for contempt of court -- namely, his refusal to name names to the Grand Jury.

What about Robert Novak, who named Plame as a CIA agent nearly two years ago? We know he got his info from someone very, very deep inside the White House. Who's the real traitor here? Cooper and Miller, or the creep inside WH?

And if it's someone very close to Bush, what will he do when the truth comes out? And moreover, what about the idea of confidential sources? Is that what Dubya wants -- close whatever leaks there may be left, so he can run his Administration totally in secret? That's how Kim Jong Il runs North Korea.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

DNA tests proved Harry is Charles' son

I read this morning that the late Princess Diana was forced to subject her son Prince Harry to a DNA test so she could prove that Prince Charles was, in fact, Harry's father.

Given the trouble Harry has gotten into over the last few years, it proves the obvious: of course he's his father's son. He's just as eccentric and irresponsible as Chuckles is. If this is the "spare" that'll step in if something God forbid happened to William ... well, all I can say is this: Thank God the King of the United Kingdom during World War II was George VI and not Edward VIII.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Santorum blames liberalism for priest pedophile scandal -- really

You gotta hand it to politicians. Right or left, they can't keep their mouths shut. First Dick Durbin has the nerve to use the word "Nazi" in an otherwise legitimate point he was trying to make. Then Karl Rove essentially says that anyone who's a liberal cannot call themselves a patriotic American.

And now, today's candidate for dumb politician ... Rick Santorum. I couldn't believe it until I read it for myself. And it proves the old axiom of being careful to watch what you say, it could come back to haunt you, or others.

Sen. Santorum, writing an op-ed called "Fishers of Men" said the following in 2002 -- three years ago:

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes affected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

If I am reading this correctly, what the Honourable Senator is saying is that Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston MA had no choice but to play the musical chairs game to make sure his priests would evade prosecution, because the political climate in Massachusetts allowed it to happen. Does Santorum really think we're that stupid?

It was the priests and bishops who were responsible for this, not because Boston and area just happens to be home to Harvard, MIT, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor.
Roman Catholics like myself have every right to feel outrage at what happened and what still may be happening. It's so disgusting that it's finally given us a voice, the voice that says we're tired of praying, paying and obeying. What Santorum is suggesting is that we just fall back in line. Message to Dick: Until the Vatican accepts a "one strike and you're out" rule regarding sexual misconduct, it won't happen ... at least not from me.

Thanks to Capitol Buzz for this one.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Johannson doesn't fall for it but Holmes does

How desperate is Tom Cruise to diss psychiatry and join the Church of Scientology? Well, it now turns out Katie Holmes wasn't Cruise's first mark.

Scarlett Johannson was widely considered having the inside track to get the female lead in Mission Impossible 3. She backed out, citing "scheduling conflicts." It now appears it's a lot more complicated than that.

Earlier this week, MSNBC reported that Cruise was trying to recruit Scarlett Johannson to join the controversial New Age religion. It's not entirely clear if it was intended to be a quid pro quo to get the female lead in Mission Impossible 3.

But it does seem that Cruise invited her over to the Church's "Celebrity Centre" in Los Angeles. Ostensibly a meeting to talk shop, Johannson was instead subjected to two straight hours of proselytizing before the main event -- a private dinner with Cruise and some of the church's leaders, hoping to get her to convert.

Johannson refused to take the bait. She excused herself and ran out of the compound. Good for her.

Cruise can claim that Christianity and Scientology are compatible, but they're not. Run your search engine and you'll find any of a list of articles from Catholics, apologetics and mainline Protestants that state this plain fact.

(I found this story by accident, by the way, but I'm posting it now because there's a lot at stake here, and not just the reputations of the principals involved.)

So what does Cruise do? He reverts to Plans B and C. He cast Keri Russell (Felicity) in the movie, but she's a devout Mormon. Still needing a high profile recruit, he finds Katie Holmes.

My only comment to Miss Holmes: From one Catholic to another, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Friday, June 24, 2005

NHL Lockout: Who cares anymore?

As the National Hockey League lockout drags on and on, word today is that "Super" Mario Lemieux, the player/owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, stated that the NHL Player's Association should have bitten the bullet and accept the final contract offer given to them in February before Gary Bettman shut down the season.

While negotiations are ongoing, Bob Goodenow and the players finally agreed to the principle of a floor-to-ceiling salary cap -- expected to be around $42.5 million US for each of the 30 teams (24 in the US, 6 in Canada) in the NHL.

But as Lemieux (who's now sold most of his stake in his team and is left with just 5% of the ownership) points out, the players will now be worse off than they would have been under the February offer.

Four words: What a bloody surprise. And guess who suffered? Not just the fans, but the front-office staff and the crews at the arenas who have been laid off during the duration of the dispute.

I don't know who said that greed is good. But he or she was wrong. Greed, like the other seven deadly sins, results in Newton's Third Law: Every action has a positive and negative interaction. I've got better things to do with how to spend $200 in a night. Like, maybe dinner and a night of Shakespeare?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Karl Rove: A mouth too far

Blast Furnace has always been just a tad concerned about the influence Karl Rove and whether he, and not George W Bush, is the real President of the United States. Today, however, I wonder if he may have crossed the line ... indeed, has he jumped the shark?

One of my favourite books is "The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said by Politicians," by sibings Ross and Kathryn Petras. Just one of an installment of a series that includes such titles as "The 176 Stupidest Things Ever Done" and "Here Speeching English: A Very Strange Guide to English as it is Garbled Aroung the World," Petras and Petras have done for America what John Robert Colombo has done for Canada -- find the way we speak and use it for serious or comic effect. In their case, though, they have a broad international look -- they don't just limit their views to America.

Two of the gems the Petrases found were the Irish politician who said "I believe that suicide should be a capital offense, punishable by death." Or the Canadian Prime Minister who said "The specificity of totality."

I am wondering if we can add Karl Rove's statement from last night to that panalopy. Last night, at a meeting of the New York State Conservative Party, Rove said the following:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and offered indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." He went on to say, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble."

Now wait just a minute. Among liberals and conservatives, and progressives like me who try to bridge the divide, there is no quarrel on the REAL War Against Terrorism. Not the Distraction in Iraq, but the search for Osama Bin Laden and his group of thugs. We may disagree on the finer details and how the war is going, and we certainly may have a dispute about Guantanamo Bay, but about the end goal -- tracking down and murdering OBL and his cronies without the benefit of a fair trial -- there is NO dispute. We must find him, and do to him what he did to us. I am absolutely 100% opposed to the death penalty, but he declared war on us and the only way to deal with a thug like him is to return the favour in kind extrajudicially.

Because whatever cause or quarrel OBL and others who think like him may have with the West, and many of the grievances are quite legimitate (including the once low price of oil which we still believe we have a "right" to, and our support for the corrupt regimes of the Middle East), nothing -- absolutely nothing -- can or will ever justify what he did on 9/11. It may take many more weeks, months or years, but we will find him. He can run, he can hide, but he sealed his fate on that Day of Infamy and he'll run out of places of safety real soon.

And Karl, Karl, Karl ... the 3,000 who were murdered were not ALL Americans. People from more than 80 countries perished, including 24 of my fellow Canadians. The attacks on NYC and the Pentagon activated Article Five of the Atlantic Charter, so when OBL made the States his business, he made NATO his business. And the whole alliance, and many other countries who lost souls that day are on the hunt in Afghanistan, where we know he most certainly was last and probably still is. It's an almost futile hunt, but make no mistake about it, Mr Rove, on this one we stand shoulder to shoulder.

Some, including Ed Morrissey have praised Rove for calling the Democrats' supposed bluff. Most others, including Joshua Micah Marshall have quite rightly called for his resignation. This one is way beyond the pale and to accuse his opponents of lack of commitment in this cause is nothing short of breathtaking. I will always defend to the death the right of a person to say his or her peace. But he or she had better back it up with the facts lest one gets the proverbial foot in the mouth.

Update: I'm trying again with the trackbacks. Sorry folks for any inconvience, but I'm new at this!

Air India: 20 years later, still no answers

It's been twenty years since the second-worst single act of terror in modern history after the 9/11 atrocities. On June 23, 1985, Air India 182 was bombed out of the skies off the coast of Ireland. All 329 passengers and crew, most of them Canadians, were murdered. A related bombing, which happened at around the same time in Narita, Japan, killed two ground crew.

It's incredible that after 20 years, we still don't have answers in this case. An extremely high profile trial ended earlier this year, when two of the main suspects in the case, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted on all 331 counts of first degree murder. The judge in Vancouver -- where the two bombs were apparently made and loaded onto the two planes -- said that while the government had proven there was a conspiracy, they had gone after the wrong people. (A third, Inderjit Singh Reyat, had copped a plea and got just five years in prison for manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against Malik and Bagri). I won't bother going into all the politics that prompted the bombings (namely, the conflict between those of Sikh and Hindu origin). Others have done a better job explaining that.

What I will say is that this case was a classic one of Keystone Kops. Around the time of the bombings, most of the intelligence operations that were once handled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were spun off into a new spy agency, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

CSIS had been keeping a close eye on Sikh militants based in Canada after the raid of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. It's no secret that Indira Gandhi was assassinated in revenge, but many Sikhs thought even her murder wasn't enough. In fact, at a rally at Madison Square Garden shortly after Amritsar, Bagri defiantly declared the murder of 50,000 Hindus wasn't enough.

Just three weeks before Air India, CSIS, who was wiretapping some militants, said they overheard an explosion. They didn't think much of it at the time. In fact, they actually erased the tape. It turns out it may have been a practice bomb, preparing for the real thing.

Two things infuriate me about the whole affair.

One: it wasn't just that one tape that was erased. Over 150 hours of key evidence that could have shed more light on the affair were demagnetized. Why? It seems that CSIS was trying to assert its independence and was worried the Mounties wanted oversight on what was intended to be a civilian agency.

Second: no one seems to have learned anything from the affair. Someone who loads a bag onto a plane but then doesn't show up for that plane -- or takes another flight to the same destination -- should raise an alarm bell. It didn't in this case, until it was too late. Three years later, someone made the same mistake at Heathrow. Does Pan Am 103 ring a bell?

And all that "chatter": seems that CSIS didn't have enough people on staff who spoke either Punjabi or Hindi, the languages of the Sikhs and Hindus respectively. They couldn't figure it out until it was too late. Sixteen years later, there was also a significant amount of buzz being picked up by most of the intelligence agencies around the world, but not enough people who spoke Arabic. The key message -- "Tomorrow is Zero Hour" -- was only translated two days later. On September 12, 2001.

Simple point is, there are too many people out there who are willing to do things. We have to stay one step ahead of them -- and be serious when we say we're going to crush terror in all its forms. At the very least, there has to be a public inquiry about the events of twenty years ago. It may not shed light on who did it, but it may (as did the 9/11 Commission) answer how the government dropped the ball.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cannabis now available in Canada -- in spray form

Here's something that's sure to ruffle a few feathers.

The Canadian government has given its approval to a new drug (a spray taken orally) aimed at relieving the pain of sufferers of multiple sclerosis (MS). The catch: it's made from cannabis. Medicinal marijuana finally getting government sanction. Who would have thunk it just a few years ago?

If this drug actually helps relieve the pain, I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. What's worrisome is the same problem that has turned Oxy-Contin (TM) from a Godsend for backpain to a scourge. In that case, someone figured out that the drug, when ground up, has the same kick as pure heroin. Drug stores across Canada and the United States have reported break-ins from drug pushers as well as abusers who need their kick, desperately.

Could the same thing happen here? People looking for their kick from cannabol even though Vitamin THC has been removed (to ensure compliance with the States' zero-tolerance drug policy)? I'm not entirely sure the powers-that-be in Ottawa completely thought this one out. There needs to be strict controls on who can use it and stiff penalties for those who are caught with it but do not have the necessary prescription.

The reported price of the drug in Canada is about $120 (about $100 US) for 50 doses. The recommended daily allowance is about five a day. Quite a hefty price by Canadian standards. I can't wait to see what the price will be in the States. Probably triple that -- but that wouldn't surprise me for a nation that believes that breast cancer and AIDS medication should be more expensive than crack cocaine or heroin. As Chris Rock would say, "That ain't right."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Killen convicted -- justice delayed but not denied

It's taken 41 years and one day too long, but better late than never. Former KKK leader Edgar Ray Killen has been convicted of manslaughter in the infamous "Mississippi Burning" assassinations in 1964 of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

This case ranks right up there with the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers. State interference prevented justice in the first two trials (i.e. hung juries), and the only reason Byron de la Beckwith, once a KKK leader, was finally convicted in 1994 was because a fellow Klansman, the Rev. Delmar Dennis, testified he heard Beckwith boast of murdering Evers.

In fact, Beckwith's claim was made as early as 1965. But the government never acted on that. Strange because even though Dennis had second thoughts about the Klan after the "Burning" killings and even after Dennis told the FBI about Beckwith, they were saving him instead for the federal trial in 1967 of Killen and his co-conspirators because Goodman and Schwerner were white -- and because Dennis had inside knowledge of the infamous ambush.

(Killen got off on a hung jury, while the other defendants were convicted of various civil rights violations).

Dennis repeated his assertions about Beckwith in the 1970s in an obsure book called Klandestine (yeah, I know, it's an awful pun) but no mainstream book publisher in those days would touch it; because while Dennis' conversion was genuine, he remained a member of a right wing think-tank called the John Birch Society. Even though John Birchers were and still are 100 % oppossed to the KKK, people still get some ideas when one says he or she is a member of the conservative organization.

Draw your own conclusions, but the fact it took another 15 years the book to be rediscovered when a defamation lawsuit was filed against the film Mississippi Burning tells you something about our world. To uncover the past, we have to reawaken ghosts. That's something we may not always want to do.

Rev. Dennis died in 1996, two years after Beckwith's conviction. He remains today one of the stranger characters in the American story. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that his assistance in nailing Beckwith set the stage for today's verdict. Had Beckwith been acquitted (or even worse handed another hung jury) there is no way Mississippi would have had the guts to go after Killen.

Justice may be delayed, but it is never denied.

Live 8

So the Canadian Live 8 concert will be held in Barrie, not Toronto. I wouldn't go even if it was in the Meeting Place. The fans going want to hear the music, not the urgent message of forgiving Third World Debt. For shame.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Karla Homolka's pending release

There's always a place where, I suppose, one has to begin. This is definitely not a subject I relish talking about, but here goes ...

Next month, on or before July 5th, a 35 year old woman will emerge from a Québec jail after serving a 12 year sentence for two counts of manslaughter. The only problem is, of course, her crimes could hardly be described as crimes of passion gone wrong. The conviction was a plea bargain cut by desperate prosecutors who needed her testimony against her soon-to-be ex-husband in a horrific series of sex slayings.

And far from being an accessory after the fact or an innocent bystander, she was fully involved in the rape, torture and deaths of her and her husband's victims, Kristen Dawn French and Leslie Erin Mahaffy. She was also thoughtful enough to drug her own sister, Tammy, so she and he could rape her -- only to have the sister die when she choked on her own vomit.

I am, of course, speaking of one Karla Leanne Homolka. She and Paul Bernardo (the latter of whom is serving life without parole for those crimes as well as a series of rapes in Toronto) really brought Southern Ontario into a state of panic, especially after the murders were determined as being committed by the same killers.

I really can't blame the police for cutting a deal with Homolka. After all, they totally bungled the investigation. The murders took place in two different counties, so natural police rivalries kicked in. An eyewitness mistakenly thought the getaway car was a cream-coloured Chevy Camaro, and there was the pathetic scene of over 25,000 Camaros being checked out over the ensuing summer and fall, when in fact the car they really wanted was a gold Nissan 240 SX. (One anonymous caller corrected pointed that out, but the police called a press conference to say that was just plain wrong -- what idiots! They could have caught both of them months before Karla finally turned herself in.)

And no one bothered to check to see whether there could have been a connection to the Toronto rapes because the government lab that was supposed to check DNA samples was swamped, and already under fire for screwing up a fibre analysis in one of the great miscarriages of justice of the 90s -- Guy Paul Morin's wrongful conviction in another sex slaying. (I'll discuss THAT one another time).

Twelve years, however, does seem like an awfully short sentence. While the courts have slapped a section 810.2 order on her (in reference to the federal Criminal Code law that allows prosecutors to see a recognizance of "good behaviour" against someone who has served their sentence), it does look like backtracking for a huge mistake they made. Their mistake, quite simply was this: Karla didn't exactly bother to mention that the crimes -- except the snuff films showing the murders themselves -- were videotaped. The tapes were discovered, in a bathroom ceiling panel, one month AFTER Karla pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. However, since the 30 day statute of limitations to appeal a sentence had passed, they were stuck with the deal they made her.

The state also is red-faced over the fact they bought her story she was a battered woman who was forced to commit the crimes. A battered woman she may have been, I agree, but she clearly knew right from wrong and she made her choice.

Now, and this is where it gets tricky, I can understand the calls for vigilantism. I've even heard some people are taking bets as to how long it'll take for Karla to get murdered once she gets out.

If anyone is within the sound of my voice -- or in viewing range of this post -- I would strongly advise caution. Two wrongs do not make a right. She has to live with what she did. Let a Higher Power deal with her. In the meantime, if she can prove she has learned her lesson and will not do this again, then let her be. She does, however, have to apologize to the nation and especially the families for putting us through this hell in the first place.

I pray she stays out of trouble -- and makes better mind of the company she keeps.


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