Monday, February 28, 2005

CBC: Katrina Onstad's play-by-play Live Oscar Blog

This is CBC's excellent Oscar blog. Some of the comments are right on the money. Note that it's in reverse chronological order.

By Katrina Onstad,
February 27, 2005

Sunday night was Oscar night - that annual orgy of Hollywood self-congratulations. arts writer Katrina Onstad weighed in with her live perspective on the Academy Awards telecast. All night long, she analyzed the speeches, Chris Rock's performance as host, the dresses, , the syrupy songs, the winners and (more amusingly) the losers. Here's her online Oscar journal.

February 27, 2004 - 12:18 p.m. EST
People will complain about the general flatness of this year's Oscars: Whither the high drama? Whither the Benigni lunacy? The Berry-Brody kiss? Sure, the Where's Waldo placement of the presenters did get a little strange, but to all the naysayers, let me remind you: Last year's evening stretched into THE NEXT DAY. And it was just hobbit after hobbit toddling up to the stage, running down the names on the New Zealand voters list. Tonight's ceremony was only a little over three hours (just like The Aviator, no?), and enlivened by Chris Rock, proving that what makes him funny isn't foul language but a fearless kind of outsider eye. He nailed the opening monologue and brought the Oscars out of the Kodak Pavillion and to the moviegoers, but then he nearly vanished. Next time, more Rock, less talk.
Still, some drama occurred. The clearest winners weren't that clear after all: Swank over Bening, Baby over Aviator, Clint over Marty. Since most people haven't seen many of the nominated films -- the combined box office of the five best picture nominees is abysmal -- it doesn't feel like the public had the same level of investment as last year (people love Frodo very deeply), and I would bet that audience numbers will be down significantly. One person who probably won't tune in next year: Martin Scorsese. He didn't get the award for best body of work, which is what a best director award for The Aviator would have been; Clint took it - deservedly -- for best directing. But don't cry for Marty, unless he follows through and makes Taxi Driver 2. Then you can cry, for a full three-plus hours.

February 27, 2004 - 11:50 p.m. EST
Million Dollar Baby wins Best Picture. Poor Martin Scorsese. The guy finally made a movie that wasn't too violent or too weird, a movie about loving Hollywood, a movie about a dreamer and a doer, a historical legend and still, still...nada. It wasn't his best film, not even close but surely he's locked in a bathroom stall right now going: What do you people want from me??? (Paul Giamatti may be passing him Kleenex under the door.) If we were to pretend that the Oscars are just, then Baby's win makes sense; it was an old-school melodrama, a movie-movie by a director on a roll, and The Aviator just didn't (okay, I'm saying it) -- didn't fly. Eastwood's cucumber cool at the podium confirmed it: this was his moment, and he didn't mind the bask one bit.

February 27, 2004 - 11:40 p.m. EST
My God, Clint Eastwood is trim. The vibrations in the house when he wins Best Director are positively palpable. People love this guy. The official Oscar carver should get out his knife for Scorsese's Honorary Award, to be ready in about ten years.

February 27, 2004 - 11:35 p.m. EST
Okay, so Jamie Foxx wakes up the whole snoozy occasion with a wicked, all-notes-hit speech for Best Actor. Starts with a genuine shout-out to the man he played, Ray Charles (note to Julia Roberts: it's nice to mention the person whose life you appropriate for your own gain), then goes on to name-check Sidney Poitier, Oprah, Halle Berry: "I'm taking that responsibility tonight." Then brings the mood down with the grandma speech. Sniff, sniff. He delivered.

February 27, 2004 - 11:21 p.m. EST
Spain is in the house! Alejandro Amenabar jogs down from the bleachers to take Best Foreign Film for The Sea Inside.
The Vanna White women are there after all. I feel oddly relieved. But where's Jack Nicholson?

February 27, 2004 - 11:15 p.m. EST
Sean Penn opens the Best Actress nominees with a mysterious defense of Jude Law.
Hilary Swank snatches it again from Annette Bening, who looks a little...taut. Quoth Swank: "I don't know what I did in this life to achieve all this..." Well, it wasn't appearing in The Core. Really, did we think we'd ever hear from her again with all the crap she's done since Boys Don't Cry?
But good for her; Swank was killer in Million Dollar Baby. Her speech was somewhat less dynamic than her performance, however, though I suppose I'm glad she didn't get all hysterical, as best actresses have done of late. Still, I hate it when actors thank their lawyers and publicists, reminding us that we're all complicit in a big greedy cash grab. This leaves it up to Jamie Foxx to breathe a little life into this thing...

February 27, 2004 - 11:03 p.m. EST
Did P Diddy just call the film Polar Express "hip" and make a little plea for world peace?
For God's sake, Beyonce, sit down. Spread the work, sister!
This is truly the most appalling, saccharine kind of Oscar nominated song: "Give your dreams the wings to fly..." Must go rub face in snow on porch to stop gagging.
Gotta love a sung speech. Best song winner gets the first original moment of the year.

February 27, 2004 - 10:56 p.m. EST
Yo-Yo Ma? It's a far cry from Rob Lowe do-si-do-ing Snow White. This year's Oscars is such a subdued affair.
The deceased montage is always a painful exercise. Popularity rules the Academy Awards, even in death. The dead toilers and backgrounders start the reel (they threw in Reagan at the beginning to keep people on their toes), eliciting a smattering of applause which grows to a great crescendo by the time they get to Brando. Why don't they just put up a big No Clapping Until the End sign, for God's sake? Weep for the gaffers, you thankless tier-one celebrities!

February 27, 2004 - 10:44 p.m. EST
Aw, Vancouver-born Hubert Davis lost best short doc for Hardwood, but it's still such a charming film. And he was about a head taller and ten times better looking than any other nominee. And the guys who did win got cut off mid-speech; nasty.
Rock retrieved the moment with a killer joke about how soon they'll be giving out the awards "in the parking lot." He's right; the new staging has made the night a little perkier, but it was weird to see Scarlett Johansson giving out the tech awards from way up in a box like one of the grumpy Muppets, either Statler or Waldorf.

February 27, 2004 - 10:32 p.m. EST
Cruz is gone. Hayek ate her so she could double her potential workload.
I never know how to feel about the "ethnic matching" at the Oscars -- Hayek introduces the first Spanish song to be nominated at the Oscars; black actors introducing black actors.
Wait -- distracted from cultural commentary by sight of Antonio Banderas singing and grooving on his barstool to Carlos Santana's mean licks. I don't speak Spanish, but ears are universal and they hurt.

February 27, 2004 - 10:25 p.m. EST
Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz are finally seen in the same place at the same time.

February 27, 2004 - 10:16 p.m. EST
Score one for Canada's own Chris Landreth and Ryan, his ridiculously innovative movie about former animator Ryan Larkin. Landreth is an intense dude, which is fair enough. I mean, he pretty much invented something completely new.
I'm digging the chattin' from the aisles thing. Keep it goin, keep it goin'...

February 27, 2004 - 10:12 p.m. EST
Someone just tried to assassinate Jeremy Irons. Ralph Fiennes ("There's only room for one of us!")? The blonde guy from Brideshead Revisted whose career never took off?

February 27, 2004 - 10:10 p.m. EST
Beyonce's busy tonight. I guess she wasn't allowed to touch The Counting Crows song; only the truly gifted can interpret genius.

February 27, 2004 - 10:04 p.m. EST
What movie DIDN'T Sidney Lumet direct? A filmmaker of heart and unabashed political intent. Four-time Oscar shut-out. America's Norman Jewison! Forget The Wiz; he made Twelve Angry Men, Serpico, Network. He's a hang-back director, not shy to let a good script do the talking. Burped them out in the last decade, but the fabulous Running on Empty with River Phoenix as the son of 60s radicals on the lam makes up for the fact that he's now directing Vin Diesel.

A generous speech. Love it when the veterans wax nostalgic.

February 27, 2004 - 9:54 p.m. EST
Introducing honorary Oscar winner, Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino says "The Porn Breaker" instead of "The Pawnbreaker." It's hard to speak clearly with so much hair weighing down on your brain. (P.S. -- Why wasn't Pacino nominated for his fantastic Shylock in The Merchant of Venice?)

February 27, 2004 - 9:50 p.m. EST
Alexander Payne and Jim Alexander take best adapted screenplay for the beautiful Sideways, probably the film's only award tonight. Payne looks like he wants to get out of there, then comes back and makes a plea for artistic freedom that gets a little nod from Paul Giamatti, who showed up after being cruelly snubbed. He even wore a defiant little scrubby sponge thing on his chin, surely a screw-you to the Academy.
I heard Payne and wife Sandra Oh just bought a house in my neighborhood in Toronto. I look forward to increased property values. And borrowing a cup of sugar, some milk and the Oscar.

February 27, 2004 - 9:37 p.m. EST
The Counting Crows are still together? And now they're fronted by Malcolm Gladwell?

February 27, 2004 - 9:35 p.m. EST
An understated moment for Johnny Carson then a win for Born Into Brothels, the doc about kids raised in the red light district of Calcutta. The Oscars are constantly a strange juxtaposition of excess and human tragedy -- Nice dress! Down with child poverty! -- but the filmmakers are radiant, and the film touching. Aww. I'm moved! Moved by the Oscars! It got to my Grinchy heart.

February 27, 2004 - 9:27 p.m. EST
Best supporting actress clips: Virginia Madsen acting opposite Paul Giamatti, which reminds me of Thomas Haden Church opposite Paul Giamatti. Truly performers bettering each other.
Alas, Cate Blanchett played Oscar royalty, and takes it. She's eloquent and deserving and fast on the podium. God bless her. Get The Aviator a broom -- it's a sweeper!

February 27, 2004 - 9:20 p.m. EST
Miss Piggy and Johnny Carson. Shrek. Didn't Jar Jar Binks show up one year? It's bad enough when these cheese-between-two-blocks-of-wood lines are delivered by human mouths but animated creatures call even more attention to the true suckage of Oscar night writing. Chalk up the increased audience laughter at the sight of Pierce Brosnan bantering with the Edith Head character from The Incredibles to deep, deep shame.
The Aviator wins Best Costume Design. Old and fussy takes it again.

February 27, 2004 - 9:15 p.m. EST
Love Rock's White Chicks jokes, but is there something weird about diamond encrusted Hollywood whities laughing at the movie-going habits of the inner city?

February 27, 2004 - 9:11 p.m. EST
Hey, they did away with the Oscar hander-outer Vanna White types. Shave off another two minutes!
Weird how Drew Barrymore over-enunciated the word "Beyonce" in some strange burst of Euro-appreciation.
Beyonce looks flowery singing this year's Triplets of Belleville-not-going-to-win song.

February 27, 2004 - 8:58 p.m. EST
Robin Williams using punch-lines like: "Hello!" and "You go, girl!" might (MIGHT) not be as excruciating if Chris Rock weren't also on this planet.

February 27, 2004 - 8:50 p.m. EST
Morgan Freeman takes best supporting actor. Okay, he's good, the proud owner of a career and-a-half, and he makes it look easy -- what a comfortable presence -- but that 20 second clip of Clive Owen is thrilling. Repeat to self: Oscars are not about rewarding the best performance. Greatness in art is immeasurable anyway. Clive Owen loves you.

February 27, 2004 - 8:47 p.m. EST
Renee Zellwegger has not eaten since Dec 13.

February 27, 2004 - 8:45 p.m. EST
Gil Cates is shakin' it up. Doesn't open with best supporting actress but instead has all the art directors line up in a row like they've just given a piano recital, then the winner struts past the losers with a spit and a feh.
Cruel, but we just saved four minutes.

February 27, 2004 - 8:38 p.m. EST
Prediction: More shots of "lefties" whenever Michael Moore is mentioned. So far, Spike Lee and Johnny Depp nodding earnestly during Rock's hiliarious anti-Bush spiel.
Love how he then sends props to the troops; no correlation. Ah, Hollywood. "Good luck, limbless troops! Give it up for Halle Berry!"

February 27, 2004 - 8:35 p.m. EST
Oh my God. He's funny! Chris Rock is funny! Relief. Relief. "There are only four stars, the rest are popular people." Zekactly. The tie is off, and now the gloves...

February 27, 2004 - 8:34 p.m. EST
I love how there are always one or two wildly inappropriate inclusions in the "Movies are great!" montage. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Charlie Chaplin together at last.

February 27, 2004 - 8:20 p.m. EST
Cate Blanchett using words like "approximate" and "revelation" gets a big blank stare from the interviewer. Smarty Pants are not in fashion this year, Ms. Cate!
Kirsten Dunst brought her brother; Jake Gyllenhaal brought his sister, Maggie. Guess they're actually broken up. Let's hope for some Jolie-style sibling tongue-on-tongue action.
Could Clive Owen be better looking?

February 27, 2004 - 8:11 p.m. EST
Red carpet madness: Annette Bening has been media-coached. The unknown ABC dude got her on the podium, asked her about pregnancy and she answered: “It’s a complete joy and honour to be here…”One of us, one of us!
Long hair is the theme, according to Halle and Gwyneth. Free and easy. Casual. Summery. Except Laura Linney, who decided not to wash her hair for several weeks in anticipation. Radical choice.

February 27, 2004 - 7:53 pm EST
It’s good to have an Oscar survival kit, so some of us, no names mentioned, are sitting knee-deep in bottles (okay, boxes) of wine, blister packs of Wake-Ups, beef jerky, whatever it takes; fewer “helpers” than found in the trunk of Hunter S. Thompson’s car, a little more than at a family picnic. This thing could go on for five or six hours, but after a mere twenty minutes of Star Jones on the E! Network, waving her be-jeweled microphone in the face of every celebrity of colour who scraped up a ticket (“We’re gonna open some doors tonight, Spike!”) I’m already sleepy. Must…adjust…attitude.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The 2005 Oscar winners

The 2005 Oscar winners (not all of them.) I had 8 correct predictions out of the 19 categories below.

* = my personal pick to win
+ = who I thought would actually win
! = who actually won

+The Aviator
!Million Dollar Baby

!*+Jamie Foxx (Ray)

*+Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways)
!Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)

!Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
+*Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)

Annette Bening (Being Julia)
*Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
!+Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)

!*Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
+Natalie Portman (Closer)

!*Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
+John Logan (The Aviator)

!+*Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor (Sideways)

!Born in Brothels
*Super Size Me
+Tupac: Resurrection

!*+The Aviator

!+*The Aviator

!+The Aviator

!+The Aviator

!Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
+*The Passion of the Christ

!Finding Neverland
+*The Passion of the Christ

!*The Incredibles
+Shrek 2

!The Incredibles
+The Polar Express
*Spider-Man 2

+*The Aviator

!*+Spider-Man 2

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Michael Kaeshammer Trio, Feb. 25, Winnipeg, Canada

Last night, German-born, Vancouver-based jazz pianist sensation Michael Kaeshammer played what looked like a packed house at the West End Cultural Centre with bassist Marc Rogers and drummer Ben Riley. This was his first Winnipeg appearance since playing a small club show (the Liberty Grill) and opening for the Neville Brothers at Pantages Playhouse Theatre, last June at the Jazz Winnipeg Festival.

I had not heard about Kaeshammer until a co-worker raved about his astonishing performance at the Liberty Grill. A few months later, I heard this brilliant, rollicking, piano medly on CBC’s Vinyl Café and was absolutely floored. The audience in the live recording erupted with applause, as if they were hearing and seeing something truly extraordinary.

I arrived around 6:45 pm at the venue and was the fourth person in line. I made a bee-line for the front row and ended up saving two seats for a co-worker and his wife. My seat gave me a straight-ahead view of Kaeshammer and his furious hands. Thankfully, the sound was at a perfect volume level.

Early on in the show, Kaeshammer announced that they love playing encores and will play their encore now rather than later on in the show. Cue the audience laughter. At this point, I knew that this would be an evening of playfulness like I have not seen before in a jazz show. I can see some jazz purists not appreciating his humour, the multitude of false endings with long, meandering, esoteric soloing. At one point, just when it seemed he had finished yet another burst of soloing and brought a song to an end, an audience member began to clap. Still soloing, Kasehammer, raised one hand and pointed it towards that person as if to say, “I’m not done yet.” It was a comical moment that brought measured laughter from the audience.

Early on, he played Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies. He also played Fats Waller, one of his early influences. He told a story about how in the old days, piano players would take turns playing during intermissions in the clubs and if a newcomer was better than the featured player, the featured player would get fired on the spot in favour of the newcomer.

While playing, he typically kept a beat with one foot, while the other one sat still. It’s like he was his own rhythm section. It’s quite something to see. He also sang a few times, evoking the style of Harry Connick, Jr.

The trio swung with a very satisfying groove. Drummer Ben Riley and bassist Marc Rogers were acknowledged several times after their solos by the pianist. The bassist also plucked out the opening notes to Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, among other vignettes. There were several times in the show when the individual members of the band tried to throw each other of. Kaeshammer commented on this last year in The Manitoban,

“It’s like doing a practical joke on a friend or something. It’s a joy for us to try and throw each other off — if you can throw the other guy off it becomes a train wreck and he has to find his way back,” says Kaeshammer, describing the band’s impromptu competitions.”

Always ready for a joke, Kaeshammer introduced a funeral march for the “2004-2005 NHL season” to considerable laughter.

Not to belittle his band mates, Kaeshammer was spellbinding playing all by himself. Just the sound of the keys, his constantly moving foot and the occasional pluck of the piano wires from inside the grand piano focused our attention.

While best known as a boogie-woogie player (a blues-structured style), Kaeshammer played ballads, stride, ragtime, snippets of classical and straight-ahead jazz. Given his mastery of so many styles, it’s not possible to really pigeonhole him anymore. What can’t he play well is the question to ask.

I would describe Kaeshammer as being mischievously clever, charismatic, and at times, esoteric (I mean, who else plucks grand piano wires?) He strives to be, and succeeds wildly in being, entertaining.

At the end of the encore, I was exhausted, if that’s possible from sitting down. The band gave us a night to remember and rave about and we were content to have them call it an evening.

At the end of the show, Kaeshammer showed up at the hall’s entrance by the merchandise booth to sign autographs, which was no doubt a treat for the fans, old and new. Look out America. I won’t be surprised if Kaeshammer becomes the next jazz superstar.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Former UN weapons inspector claims June attack on Iran by US

If you know who former UN weapons Scott Ritter is, you either like him or you despise him. Back in the first Gulf War, Ritter was a US Marine. He then become a UN weapons inspector and in the months preceding the recent Iraq war, he was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and their plan to attack Iraq. At one point, he received $400,000 to make an anti-sanctions documentry by Detroit-area businessman named Shakir al-Khafaji. Now, he claims that President Bush has plans to bomb Iran in June of this year. Ritter's claims must be taken with a grain of salt. How would he have access to such secret information? Why would the US attack Iran when Bush is repeatedly saying that no attack is in the works? Scott Ritter is truly a curiosity.

Here's a profile on him from the BBC, Monday, 9 September, 2002.

Scott Ritter was born in 1960 to a military family. He joined the armed forces after university and worked as a military intelligence officer in the 1980s.

The truth of the matter is that Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbours and is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside of its own borders

Scott Ritter, 2002
During the Gulf War he served as a ballistic missile expert under General Norman Schwarzkopf, and joined Unscom in late 1991.

He took part in more than 30 inspection missions and 14 as team leader.

Initially, his relationship with Iraq was bad. His unannounced visits were said to have surprised Iraqi officials, who in 1997 accused him of being a US spy.

In early 1998 an inspection by Mr Ritter's team led to the most serious confrontation between Baghdad and the UN since the Gulf War, and eventually to Unscom leaving Iraq.

In August 1998, Mr Ritter resigned from his job, accusing the Security Council and the United States of caving in to the Iraqis.

To compel Iraq into compliance, he told the BBC that year: "Iraq should be subjected to a major campaign that seeks to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein."


Soon after his high-profile resignation, Mr Ritter was back in the headlines with further criticism of Washington and the UN.

Inspectors leave Iraq in 1998
UN inspectors in Iraq packed their bags in 1998
Only this time he accused Western powers of being too tough, rather than too soft, on the Iraqis.

In late 1998, Mr Ritter called US and British military strikes against Iraq a "horrible mistake".

He forced UN chief inspector Richard Butler to apologise to him after Mr Butler accused Mr Ritter of breaking the law by speaking publicly about his work in Iraq.

In 1999 he published a book, Endgame, where he argued that Unscom's mission had been compromised by Washington's use of inspections to spy on the Iraqis.

Last year he produced a documentary entitled Shifting Sands: The Truth about Unscom and the Disarming of Iraq.

He said that his team was satisfied that Iraq had destroyed 98% of its weapons by 1995.

'No threat'

Mr Ritter accused the US Government of deliberately setting new standards of disarmament criteria to maintain UN sanctions and justify continued bombing raids.

He also said Iraq "did co-operate to a very significant degree with the UN inspection process" and blamed the US and the UK for the breakdown.

Mr Ritter essentially repeated those views during his trip to Baghdad last year.

He said the US seemed "on the verge of an historic mistake".

"My government is making a case for war against Iraq that is built upon fear and ignorance," he added.

"The truth of the matter is that Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbours and is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside of its own borders."

By Mark Jensen

United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
February 19, 2005

Scott Ritter, appearing with journalist Dahr Jamail yesterday in Washington State, dropped two shocking bombshells in a talk delivered to a packed house in Olympia’s Capitol Theater. The ex-Marine turned UNSCOM weapons inspector said that George W. Bush has "signed off" on plans to bomb Iran in June 2005, and claimed the U.S. manipulated the results of the recent Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

Olympians like to call the Capitol Theater "historic," but it's doubtful whether the eighty-year-old edifice has ever been the scene of more portentous revelations.

The principal theme of Scott Ritter's talk was Americans’ duty to protect the U.S. Constitution by taking action to bring an end to the illegal war in Iraq. But in passing, the former UNSCOM weapons inspector stunned his listeners with two pronouncements. Ritter said plans for a June attack on Iran have been submitted to President George W. Bush, and that the president has approved them. He also asserted that knowledgeable sources say U.S. officials "cooked" the results of the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.

On Iran, Ritter said that President George W. Bush has received and signed off on orders for an aerial attack on Iran planned for June 2005. Its purported goal is the destruction of Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, but Ritter said neoconservatives in the administration also expected that the attack would set in motion a chain of events leading to regime change in the oil-rich nation of 70 million -- a possibility Ritter regards with the greatest skepticism.

The former Marine also said that the Jan. 30 elections, which George W. Bush has called "a turning point in the history of Iraq, a milestone in the advance of freedom," were not so free after all. Ritter said that U.S. authorities in Iraq had manipulated the results in order to reduce the percentage of the vote received by the United Iraqi Alliance from 56% to 48%.

Asked by UFPPC's Ted Nation about this shocker, Ritter said an official involved in the manipulation was the source, and that this would soon be reported by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in a major metropolitan magazine -- an obvious allusion to New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh.

On Jan. 17, the New Yorker posted an article by Hersh entitled The Coming Wars (New Yorker, January 24-31, 2005). In it, the well-known investigative journalist claimed that for the Bush administration, "The next strategic target [is] Iran." Hersh also reported that "The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer." According to Hersh, "Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran. . . . Strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, in Tampa, Florida, have been asked to revise the military’s war plan, providing for a maximum ground and air invasion of Iran. . . . The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans’ negotiated approach [to Iran] cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act."

Scott Ritter said that although the peace movement failed to stop the war in Iraq, it had a chance to stop the expansion of the war to other nations like Iran and Syria. He held up the specter of a day when the Iraq war might be remembered as a relatively minor event that preceded an even greater conflagration.

Scott Ritter's talk was the culmination of a long evening devoted to discussion of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy. Before Ritter spoke, Dahr Jamail narrated a slide show on Iraq focusing on Fallujah. He showed more than a hundred vivid photographs taken in Iraq, mostly by himself. Many of them showed the horrific slaughter of civilians.

Dahr Jamail argued that U.S. mainstream media sources are complicit in the war and help sustain support for it by deliberately downplaying the truth about the devastation and death it is causing.

Jamail was, until recently, one of the few unembedded journalists in Iraq and one of the only independent ones. His reports have gained a substantial following and are available online at

The Wallstreet Journal's article, Saddam's U.N. Payroll, from October 28, 2004, is quite interesting and shows why John Ritter credibility is called into question.

Out on the campaign trail, John Kerry continues to diminish our allies
in Iraq and decry President Bush for "rushing" to war without U.N.
Security Council approval. But we hope his would-be Secretaries of
State, Biden or Holbrooke, are paying attention in private to
revelations about the crumbling sanctions regime they would have had
us continue and the related corruption in the U.N.'s Oil for Food

These folks are in for a rude awakening if they really think Old
Europe will be rushing to help a President Kerry in Iraq, or that the
United Nations is competent and trustworthy enough to manage their
foreign policy projects.

* * *

The latest pieces of news are last week's data dump from Paul
Volcker's U.N.-blessed investigation of Oil for Food, and U.S. weapons
inspector Charles Duelfer's report to Congress earlier this month.
Everybody is still digesting these massive documents. But the most
important conclusion is already clear: Saddam Hussein exploited the
program to run the largest bribery scheme in the history of the world.

Yes, we mean that literally. Total turnover between 1996 and 2003 was
about $97 billion, or $64.2 billion in oil sales and $32.9 billion
worth of food and other "humanitarian" goods. Crucially, Saddam was
able to manipulate the program largely because U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan -- who was given more or less complete discretion to design
Oil for Food by the Security Council resolution that created it --
allowed him to pick and choose the buyers of his oil and the sellers
of the humanitarian goods.

This meant the Iraq dictator could reward his friends and political
allies with oil at below market prices and goods contracts at inflated
ones. In the middle of the program, he also started demanding
kickbacks on the contracts to add to the stream of unmonitored revenue
he was already getting from oil smuggling.

It can't be stressed enough that both the Duelfer and Volcker
investigations confirm that this global web of corruption is no mere
allegation trumped up by Ahmed Chalabi and "neoconservatives," as U.N.
officials tried to pretend in January when Iraq's al Mada newspaper
published a list of the oil voucher recipients.

Mr. Duelfer's list of recipients -- which more or less confirms al
Mada's -- was compiled based on information from current and former
Iraqi officials and lists maintained by former Iraqi Vice President
Taha Yasin Ramadan (now in U.S. custody) and the former Iraqi Oil
Minister. Mr. Volcker's lists -- which include the 248 companies that
bought Iraqi oil under the program and the 3,545 companies supplying
humanitarian goods -- are compiled from the U.N.'s own records and
cross-checked against Iraqi and other sources, including the French
bank BNP Paribas that administered program revenues.

High-level officials of Saddam's regime have told investigators that
oil and goods contracts were always awarded with an eye to helping
Saddam politically, particularly to promote the lifting of the
sanctions. The Volcker data bears this out. Iraq's top customer was
Russia, whose firms bought $19.2 billion worth of Iraq oil and
exported $3.3 billion in humanitarian goods. Fellow Security Council
member France was a distant but significant second, at $4.4 billion
and $2.9 billion respectively. China is also high on the list.

Oil voucher recipients are alleged to include the Russian presidential
office, former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, and even
former Oil for Food program director Benon Sevan of the U.N. Just this
week our news side colleagues reported that French authorities have
placed under formal investigation a top official of French oil giant
Total, for possible misuse of funds including payment of the Iraqi
kickbacks. Before the war Total was also openly courting Baghdad for
the rights to develop two large Iraqi oil fields.

Against this backdrop, it is impossible to take Secretary-General
Annan seriously when he calls it "inconceivable" that this could have
affected the Security Council's handling of Iraq. "I don't think the
Russian or the French or the Chinese government would allow
[themselves] to be bought," he said recently. But even in the unlikely
event that they weren't too worried about the possible financial
losses, they surely never wanted this information to see the light of

Mr. Annan would be on stronger ground pointing out that Saddam was
seeking agents of influence within the U.S. as well. The very first
oil voucher recipient under Oil for Food appears to have been Texas
tycoon Oscar Wyatt, who had tried to save Saddam from U.S. force
before the first Gulf War. The records allege that Mr. Wyatt and his
company took 71.8 million barrels of oil under Oil for Food for a
profit of $22.8 million. According to a weekend story in the Los
Angeles Times, since 1991 he and his wife have given more than
$700,000 to federal candidates and PACs (about 75% to Democrats) and
Saddam may have regarded him as a way to get to the Clinton

Another name appearing on the Duelfer and Volcker lists is a
politically connected Detroit-area businessman named Shakir
al-Khafaji. Our Robert L. Pollock reported on Mr. al-Khafaji's oil
vouchers back in March, based on the al Mada list and information from
an Iraqi intelligence source. Mr. al-Khafaji later conceded taking
such vouchers, so his appearance on the Duelfer list is not

More interesting is the appearance of his South African-based Falcon
Trading Group on the Volcker list of humanitarian goods suppliers. At
about $50 million, he did a serious amount of business. What's more, a
source on Representative Henry Hyde's House International Relations
Committee tells us Falcon was on the so-called "exempt" list, which
was meant for highly valued individuals and companies that were
allowed to circumvent normal Iraqi contract procedures.

Why might Mr. al-Khafaji have been highly valued? Could it be because
he financed an anti-sanctions documentary by former U.N. weapons
inspector Scott Ritter to the tune of $400,000? Or brought Mr. Ritter
to Baghdad to address Saddam's rubberstamp parliament? Or brought a
U.S. Congressional delegation including former House Minority Whip
David Bonior, and Democratic Representatives Jim McDermott and Mike
Thompson to Baghdad in late 2002 to denounce President Bush's Iraq
policy? Or because he did the same with South African politicians,
possibly influencing that country's pro-Saddam stance? Mr. al-Khafaji
did not return a call this week seeking comment.

Trading with Iraq under Oil for Food wasn't necessarily illegal (at
least if you weren't paying the kickbacks). And we're not suggesting
Mr. Ritter and the Congressmen were anything other than useful idiots.
But it is surely a matter of concern that Saddam may have been able to
use the Oil for Food scheme to advance his interests even within the
United States. We hope federal authorities have been looking into this
activity, as well as the other Iraqi-American (Samir Vincent) on these

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

breaking news...Canada Says No to Missile Defence

At first this semed like a big surprise to me. On second thought, we know that the Prime Minister has some strong opposition from his own cabinet, as well as from members of the Opposition. Frankly, I don't think most Canadians know enough about it to have a opinion one way or another. It's going to be very interesting to see how President Bush reacts to the news...privately.

Prime Minister Paul Martin will say "no" to missile defence.

Martin will announce on Thursday that Canada will not participate in the U-S missile-defence program.

An official in the Prime Minister's Office says Canada has delivered a firm "no" to U-S officials, but he's not sure it was an indefinite "no."

The decision comes the same day comments over missile defence by Frank McKenna sparked outrage in the House of Commons.

Canada’s next Ambassador to the U-S said Canada is already taking part in the U-S missile defence plan. McKenna told reporters that Canada is “part of it now.”

McKenna pointed out that Canada agreed last summer to allow Norad to monitor for incoming missiles -- a key element of the program.

The U.S. was informed of Canada's plans to reject participation in missile defence at a NATO summit in Brussels on Tuesday, where Martin and U-S President George W. Bush met with 24 other members.

Patti Bouvier and Shrek - morally repugnant!

Patti Bouvier comes out of the closet.

Last Sunday, the Simpson's had one of their funniest and most controversial episodes. Marge's sister Patti came out of the closet and announced that she was getting married. Marge, until then, a champion of gay marriage, was taken aback big time and made out to be a liberal hypocrite. Beautiful stuff! I won't ruin the surprise for those of you haven't heard about this episode.

The Simpsons are still going strong, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Marge Simpson, left, sits on the couch with her sister Patti, far right,
and Patti's "girlfriend" in this scene from The Simpsons animated episode
There is Something About Marrying.

I haven't actually seen Shrek 2, but it is getting some bad press lately. Thank goodness for the morality police for pointing out the failings of this popular film.

"Shrek" is part of an evil transgender plot, religious right says
by John in DC - 2/22/2005 10:35:00 AM

And the gifts just keep on coming.


That other jolly green giant could be in trouble.

Shrek 2 is the latest animated film title to be "outed" by Christian fundamentalists in the U.S.

On its website the Traditional Values Coalition (news - web sites) is warning parents about the cross-dressing and transgender themes contained in the hit DreamWorks feature, now on DVD.

"Shrek 2 is billed as harmless entertainment but contains subtle sexual messages," says the coalition, which describes itself as a grassroots inter-denominational lobby with more than 43,000 member churches.

"Parents who are thinking about taking their children to see Shrek 2 may wish to consider the following."

The article then proceeds to describe one of the characters, an "evil" bartender (voiced by Larry King) who is a male-to-female transgender in transition and who expresses a sexual desire for Prince Charming.

In another identified scene, Shrek and Donkey need rescuing from a dungeon by Pinocchio and his nose, which is made to extend as an escape bridge by getting the wooden boy to lie about not wearing women's underwear.

The TVC report, A Gender Identity Disorder Goes Mainstream', raps DreamWorks for helping to promote crossdressing and transgenderism.

Stranger Than Fiction

This article is taken from The story about the suspected GOP plant would make for a far fetched work of fiction, however, it may end up being a true story.

Weekend Edition
February 19 / 20, 2005
Stranger Than Fiction
Self-Hating Gays: Welcome to the White House and Welcome to Commit Suicide


In 1999, an ex-Marine in his late 30s pays a web designer to build him a web site advertising his services as a male prostitute, emphasizing the military-fetish aspect, replete with lots of explicit body shots. Already owing the state of Delaware $20,700 in back taxes from 1991 to 1994, he perhaps needs the money. He flourishes in his trade, servicing in particular a military officer clientele, who grace his websites with such testimonials as the following, posted in 2002:

"I hired Jeff last winter when I was in Philadelphia on business. I was so pleased with the experience that I recently had him travel with me on a weekend trip to North Carolina. I am an active duty senior officer in the US Army. Discretion is of utmost importance to me. Jeff understands that because of his Marine background. He has so many talents besides the bedroom, it was a great experience for me. He is all-man, athletic and self-assured. Great body, he helped me work out twice, one time on base. The sex was great, he's a hard core top, verbal and strong, never romantic, but not mean."

"Jeff," whose real name is Jim Guckert, terminates the sites just a month after he acquires a new job in 2003. Using the pseudonym Jeff Gannon, he acquires credentials as a journalist by taking a $ 50 two-day course and joining "Talon News," a website without an office or staff whose material is circulated by an organization called GOPUSA, whose motto is "Bringing the conservative message to America." "Gannon" is profiled on the Talon site as a gun-toting, SUV-driving, born-again Christian conservative Republican. As such, he applies for access to White House press briefings, and after the requisite background check becomes a staple in the question and answer sessions with presidential press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan. He becomes known for his vapid, tendentious questions designed to denigrate Democrats and others questioning Bush policy. His fluff becomes the welcome foil to the irritating, meatier questions posed by real people.

Meanwhile "Jeff" hosts a right-wing radio show, "Jeff Gannon's Washington," and authors homophobic articles, focusing on Democrats' gay-friendly positions, including one on October 12, 2004 warning that John Kerry "could become the first gay president." Then, alas, his ass-kissing questions raise suspicions that he might be a GOP plant. Web sleuths discover his play-for-pay past, feel indignant not so much about his business ventures as his abject hypocrisy, and they expose his sorry ass to a broader audience than he'd ever intended. Their exposé generates a host of questions. How was this lightweight able to join the White House press corps in the first place, alongside John King, Ron Hutcheson, etc.? Did the necessary background check reveal his fraudulence? It appears he attended using daily passes, rather than a "hard" pass, although there is some debate about that. McClellan says he knew the man was using a pseudonym. Did he know all the other stuff?

Personally, I have no problem with this dude's sexuality. Or even his marketing of it, which I suppose fits this exemplary free market economy as well as his boasted 8" fits the random client's freely offered orifice. This is not our business. It entertains me to read his conservative defenders obliged to indignantly insist that his private life shouldn't be an issue. By all means, may they continue to work with that concept, and maybe despite themselves work their way out of their homophobia. And may Jim/Jeff get some therapy to resolve the self-hatred so apparent in his dual career. Meanwhile, the blogs are abuzz with speculation. Did the guy sleep his way into the White House? That's a merely amusing issue. More seriously: Why was he so involved in the effort to discredit South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle? How'd the "journalist" know hours in advance about the attack on Iraq? How did he get access to the Plame memo?

Perhaps we are on the edge of a major scandal here. We know that the White House has used taxpayers' money to pay at least six journalists, most notably Armstrong Williams, to promote its agenda. We know that soon after 9-11 government officials openly declared their intention to seed the news with content promoting "America's interests," and although public indignation quieted such talk, the government-press relationship has never been so intimate. The "Gannon" episode is the appropriate metaphor for the whole illicit relationship.

But (to continue on the theme of hypocrisy): the administration which boasts that it wants to "leave no child behind," and which pays whorish "journalists" to write that it wants to leave no child behind, announced last week that Charles Curie, the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) would not be allowed to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) unless some changes were made in the program. At issue? The title of a workshop on "Suicide Prevention Among Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and
Transgender Individuals." In the workshop, focus would be on gay kids who are often driven to suicide due to homophobic environments. The Bush administration demanded that, as a condition for Curie's participation, the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," and "transgender" be struck from the title. The regime, in deference to its Christian-fundamentalist homophobe-fascist supporters, can't be smeared by such contact, you see. Intimidated, the SPRC changed the title to "Suicide Prevention in Vulnerable Populations."

Such are the times we live in. Self-hating gays are welcome in the White House, and equally welcome to commit suicide. But discussion of gayness itself is highly unwelcome. If you'd like to protest this particular stupidity, try:

Charles Curie
Office of the Administrator, SAMHSA
Rockville, MD 20850
Tel: 240-276-2000

Mike Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, D.D. 20201
Tel: 202-690-7000
Fax: 202-690-7203

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at:

From The Peking Duck -, February 15, 2005.

Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert -- Gay male prostitute, White House lackey

I have avoided blogging on this sensational topic simply because the fulltime liberal blogs are doing such an incredible job exposing a story that would have brought down any president except George Bush. The implications on numerous levels are simply staggering.

First there's the fact that a non-reporter is not only given a daily pass into the White House press briefings, but is constantly called upon by Scottie Boy whenever he gets into a jam. This alone is dumbfounding, an blatant example of choreographing the news, an act of fraud, deception and boundless deceit. Then there's the fact that he "writes" for a site owned by GOPUSA. Then there's the fact that real journalists are ignored as Scotty fields JimJeff's softballs, designed to attack and embarrass Democrats. And how did he ever clear his background check? What's going on??

Oh, and did I mention that JimJeff was the man to whom our great leaders leaked information (false, almost surely) about the Valerie Plame affair? Information that smeared her husband Joe Wilson. (That smear generated one of the ugliest clusterfucks ever among the right-wing bloggers like Tom Maguire and Glenn, who came down on Wilson with a savage and unapologetic ferocity. Was any of it true? Does anybody care?)

And this is all a prelude before we get to the more lurid angle. I felt the liberal bloggers were jumping the gun, seizing on what last week seemed to be JimJeff's possible association with a gay male escort service. I steered clear because it was too tenuous, too weak, too unsubstantiated -- or so I thought.

Not any more. In a post of staggering importance, Americablog does the detective work and presents us with the hard evidence. It is shocking. It is unbelievable. It take blog sleuthing to a new level.

Imagine for one moment if the JimJeff scandal occured around Kerry. Or Clinton. Or Barbara Boxer. Imagine what Michelle Malkin and Charles Johnson and Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus and Jeff Jarvis and Jonah Goldberg and Matt Drudge and Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity would be doing. The inimitable Digby lays it out for us:

I do know that if this were 1998, we'd be knee deep in congressional investigations into the gay hooker ring in the White House. Every news crew in the DC area would be camped out on JimJeff's front lawn. A wild-eyed Victoria Toensing and panting Kelly Ann Fitzpatrick would be crawling up on the Hardball desk rending their silk teddies and speaking in tongues while Matthews' exploding head spun around on his shoulders.

But, it isn't 1998 and it will probably not even be mentioned. And I'm not a Republican so I don't think, as they would, that it's necessary to dig into every single White House staffer's sex life to find out who leaked a confidential memo to a gay hooker.

Well, if that famously liberal media won't investigate it, we bloggers will have to pick up the slack: Shout it from the tallest rooftops. Link to it everywhere. Make it clear, we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. This double standard simply must stop. Once our news media fail us, once they become a mouthpiece for the government, none of us is safe. This is why always, absolutely always, the first thing tyrants do to ensure their stranglehold is seize and control the media, without exception. If our media are emasculated and helpless, the door is wide open for authoritarianism.

James Wolcott brilliantly refers to today's press corps as "attack poodles." If they let this go, if they acquiece to the right-wingers who will shriek that this is all about "personal stuff" that is none of our business, then we will know for certain that all is lost. For this is in no way a matter of "personal stuff." As America blog says:

So in the end, why does this matter? Why does it matter that Jeff Gannon may have been a gay hooker named James Guckert with a $20,000 defaulted court judgment against him? So he somehow got a job lobbing softball questions to the White House. Big deal. If he was already a prostitute, why not be one in the White House briefing room as well?

This is the Conservative Republican Bush White House we're talking about. It's looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the President of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a "daily basis." They reportedly made a decision to give him - one of only six - access to documents, or information in those documents, that exposed a clandestine CIA operative. Say what you will about Monika Lewinsky - a tasteless episode, "inappropriate," whatever. Monika wasn't a gay prostitute running around the West Wing. What kind of leadership would let prostitutes roam the halls of the West Wing? What kind of war-time leadership can't find the same information that took bloggers only days to find?

None of this is by accident.

Someone had to make a decision to let all this happen. Who? Someone committed a crime in exposing Valerie Plame and now it appears a gay hooker may be right in the middle of all of it? Who?

Ultimately, it is the hypocrisy that is such a challenge to grasp in this story. This is the same White House that ran for office on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. While they are surrounded by gay hookers? While they use a gay hooker to write articles for their gay hating political base? While they use a gay hooker to destroy a political enemy? Not to mention the hypocrisy of a "reporter" who chooses to publish article after article defending the ant-gay religious-right point of view on gay civil rights issue.

We are owed answers, which can only be forthcoming with the weight of a massive investigation. This is not about a guy with a willing and eager intern of legal age behind a closed door harming no one (stupid though that guy's actions may have been). It's about deception of the American people on a massive scale, originating at the very top.

My predictions: The issue will soon be dead in the water from lack of diligent follow-up (I sure hope I'm wrong), and fat Scotty will have to resign no matter what -- he's lost whatever microscopic speck of credibility he may have had left.

My thanks to the commenter, Dodo, who drew my attention to these excellent links. Don't delay -- just go there now.

Update: The story is picking up traction with that evil liberal media, which has until now been treating it with kid gloves. Now that the porn pictures are out, that's gonna have to change.

Upsetting news from the Canadian sports world...

Our Governor General is suggesting that we hold a hockey tournament between the Canadian and American US Women's Olypic teams, with the Stanley Cup as the prize.

What on earth was she thinking?!!!!!!! This has got to be the stupidiest, most patronizing idea I have heard of in a long time. She claims that the women don't have a cup. Well, why not donate one that they can call their own rather than suck up to them by using the Stanley Cup? Can we have a new GG, please?

The CBC has let go sportscaster Chris Cuthbert!!! Their excuse? There's not enough work. I cannot believe that they would let go this talented and popular veteran commentator. Has it occured to them that the hockey season is only half a year away? They also claim that he was mostly involved with CFL broadcasts. So why fire him? The CFL is not on strike. What makes me most annoyed about this firing is that there likely won't be the enormas public outcry to keep him like there was for Ron McLean of Hockey Night In Canada fame.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Economist mag dubs PM 'Mr. Dithers'

The Economist, a well-known international magazine that I enjoy reading, has decided to paint Prime Minister Martin in a rather poor light. They claim he no longer the strong, decisive person who, as Finance Minister, made great strides with our economy. The cite examples of agendas being satisfied, but little progress being made with the Federal Gov't own agenda. For example, they make mention of the agreement signed with the Maritime provinces, allowing them to keep their oil and gas revenue while not losting equilization payments. They also mentioned how the Feds agreed to give the Provinces $41 billion over ten years for health care, without extracting any significant reforms.

They are suggesting that he is being too financially generous and is creating unrealistic expectations for other provinces who will want a bigger slice of the pie. His term as a minority PM could also be spun in a more positive light. No doubt, there's going to be a lot more discussion about the Gov't agenda and their ability to maintain their popularity as they release the budget this coming Wednesday. Chances are, we'll see an election in a year or two, with the Liberals returning to power with a majority. The Opposition Conservatives are making sense with their views on same-sex marriage, but the PM and former PM haven't lost credibility after testifying at the Gomery Commission into the the sponsorship scandal.

From the National Post
Economist mag dubs PM 'Mr. Dithers'

Alexander Panetta
Canadian Press

February 17, 2005

OTTAWA (CP) -- To hundreds of thousands of influential readers around the world, Canada's prime minister will now be known as an indecisive leader dubbed "Mr. Dithers."

The Economist magazine pronounced its dismay with Paul Martin's first 14 months in office under an article headlined, 'Mr. Dithers' and his Distracting Fiscal Cafeteria.

The prestigious British-based magazine said Martin has been a pale shadow of the deficit-slaying finance minister long respected by the economic community.

"Mr. Martin, a successful finance minister for almost a decade until 2002, cannot quite shake off the impression that Canada's top job is too big for him," says the Economist in its Feb. 17 edition.

"His faltering leadership has earned him the sobriquet of 'Mr Dithers.' "

Canadian leaders were snapping up copies of the magazine -- which has a circulation of about 900,000 and is sold in dozens of countries -- over a year ago when it carried a front-page graphic of a moose wearing sunglasses to accompany an article calling Canada "cool."

Then-prime minister Jean Chretien couldn't stop referring to the story, which cited new laws on marijuana decriminalization and same-sex marriage as proof of Canada's 'coolness.'

The current prime minister is now taking exception to the Economist's view of Canadian politics.

"Only (Economist) readers who live in Canada can say theirs is a government that is delivering an eighth consecutive balanced budget," said Martin spokesman Scott Reid.

"(It's making) record investments in health care, child care, cities and the environment while also retiring billions in debt.

"No doubt readers from all other nations will feel a good measure of envy for what Canada has -- and is accomplishing under the leadership of Paul Martin."

But the magazine's writers say Martin has made little progress on federal initiatives while offering up billions in cash for provincial programs.

"The federal government has seemed slow and hesitant in pushing ahead with its own agenda," says the article.

And in an apparently unintended twist on Pierre Trudeau's famous line about Joe Clark -- "headwaiter to the provinces" -- the accompanying cartoon depicts Martin as an apron-clad chef shovelling tax dollars onto the plates of hungry customers.

While top federal priorities like the long-awaited foreign policy review remain under construction, the government has kept itself active mainly by acquiescing to provincial cash demands, the article says.

It cites the $41 billion health agreement, where Martin agreed to a special side deal with Quebec last fall.

More recently a multibillion-dollar offshore promise to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia led to an avalanche of demands from other provinces, the Economist article adds.

And there are already musings of a side deal with Quebec in the creation of a $5 billion national child-care program.

Events of the last few months have made the Feb. 23 budget even more important than most -- and perhaps crucial in deciding the next election, says the Economist.

"It should allow Mr. Martin to set some priorities, rather than responding to those of others," it says.

"But if Mr. Martin is to win that election when it comes, perhaps next spring, he will have to show more of his decisive leadership of old."
© Canadian Press 2005

Canada's Internet Pharmacies in Jeopardy

The future of Canada’s Internet pharmacy industry is still unclear, with senior ministers talking about the pros and cons of restricting the industry and potentially killing off jobs. Half of the billion dollar industry is situated in Manitoba, employing approximately 2500 people, many in high-paying jobs. Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh has suggested he will come to a decision soon about cracking down.

The Health Minister is concerned about the way prescriptions are signed off by Canadian doctors, without them actually seeing the American patients. He considers co-signing prescriptions to be unethical.

After speaking with Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, Manitoba’s senior MP and the Treasury Board Minister, Reg Alcock, has suggested that Internet pharmacy sales to Americans may put into jeopardy the low-price regime – Canada’s tradition of controlling drug prices - enjoyed by all Canadians. Dosanjh believes that the low Canadian pricing system is under threat from a US bill before Congress that would allow Americans to buy prescriptions from Internet pharmacies from Canada and no other foreign countries. If the bill went through, Dosanjh is worried that Canada’s pharmacies would be overwhelmed with orders and our pricing system may get scrapped since it was never designed for exports. The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board regulates drug prices to ensure they don’t rise faster than inflation. Without price protection, Canadians will end up paying hundreds of millions dollars more.

Premier Doer doesn’t see the connection and believes that Canada risks losing the industry to other countries. Minister Alcock has also suggested that a possible solution that makes political, economic and medical sense can be found.

In the meantime, pharmaceutical giant Merck Frosst recently announced that it would stop selling drugs to Canadian Internet pharmacies, the seventh manufacturer to do so. They took action about a year after other suppliers and have done so after repeatedly warning pharmacies to respect sales agreements that call forbid the exportation of drugs.

Minister Dosanjh said he's considering three options for restricting Internet sales:

*amending the Food and Drugs Act to forbid doctors from co-signing prescriptions
*preventing doctors from prescribing drugs for foreigners
*placing certain drugs on a protected list.

"Under the circumstances we may need all three (or the proposed options,'' he said. "I am very, very concerned as the Minister of Health.''

Clearly, the first two items on the list would kill off an industry that quickly grew without government funding. Such a sacrifice may be worth it, though, it the alternative is considerably higher priced prescription drugs for all Canadians.

Maybe a compromise can be found.

Monday, February 14, 2005

US drones in Iran trigger UFO scare

excerpt from...
U.S. Uses Drones to Probe Iran For Arms
Surveillance Flights Are Sent From Iraq

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page A01

The Bush administration has been flying surveillance drones over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs and detect weaknesses in air defenses, according to three U.S. officials with detailed knowledge of the secret effort.

The Hermes, a recent addition to patrols on the U.S.-Mexican border.

The small, pilotless planes, penetrating Iranian airspace from U.S. military facilities in Iraq, use radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity to gather information that is not accessible by satellites, the officials said. The aerial espionage is standard in military preparations for an eventual air attack and is also employed as a tool for intimidation.

The Iranian government, using Swiss channels in the absence of diplomatic relations with Washington, formally protested the incursions as illegal, according to Iranian, European and U.S. officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

A U.S. official acknowledged that drones were being used but said the Iranian complaint focused on aircraft overflights by the Pentagon. The United States, the official said, replied with a denial that manned U.S. aircraft had crossed Iran's borders. The drones were first spotted by dozens of Iranian civilians and set off a national newspaper frenzy in late December over whether the country was being visited by UFOs.

The Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

The surveillance has been conducted as the Bush administration sharpens its anti-Iran rhetoric and the U.S. intelligence community searches for information to support President Bush's assertion that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons.

In late December, Iranians living along the Caspian Sea and on the Iraq border began reporting sightings of red flashes in the sky, streaks of green and blue, and low, racing lights that disappeared moments after being spotted. The Iranian space agency was called in to investigate, astronomy experts were consulted, and an agreement was quickly signed with Russian officials eager to learn more about the phenomena.

But the mystery was laid to rest by Iranian air force commanders, some of whom were trained more than 25 years ago in the United States and are familiar with U.S. tactics. They identified the drones early last month, a senior Iranian official said, and Iran's National Security Council decided not to engage the pilotless aircraft.

That action is considered a major policy decision and reflects Iran's belief that an attack is unlikely anytime soon.

The U.S. National Security Agency, which conducts and manages overseas eavesdropping operations, said it has no information to provide on the reconnaissance missions over Iran.

The drones are among several tools being used to gather information on Iran's nuclear programs and its military capabilities, U.S. officials said. The United States believes Iran is using its nuclear energy program to conceal an effort to manufacture nuclear weapons, but no one has found definitive evidence to substantiate that.

U.S. officials confirmed that the drones were deployed along Iran's northern and western borders, first in April 2004, and again in December and January. A former U.S. official with direct knowledge of earlier phases of the operation said the U.S. intelligence community began using Iraq as a base to spy on Iran shortly after taking Baghdad in early April 2003. Drones have been flown over Iran since then, the former official said, but the missions became more frequent last year.

The spring 2004 flyovers led Iran's military to step up its defenses around nuclear facilities in the southern cities of Isfahan and Bushehr, where locals first reported the UFO sighting. Defenses were added around those sites and others last month, Iranian officials said, after it became clear they were being observed by the drones.

USAF SensorCraft

A Dec. 25 article in the Etemaad newspaper, translated from Farsi by the CIA, reported on "the presence of unidentified flying objects in the Bushehr sky on a number of occasions, particularly in recent weeks." After Moscow experts were called in, the Russian daily Pravda reported on "UFO mania" sweeping Iran.

One U.S. intelligence official said different types of drones with varying capabilities have been deployed over Iran. Some fly several hundred feet above the earth, getting a closer view of ground activities than satellites, and are equipped with air filter technology that captures particles and delivers them back to base for analysis. Any presence of plutonium, uranium or tritium could indicate nuclear work in the area where the samples were collected.

The last drone sightings were in mid-January, about the same time that Iran's National Security Council met in Tehran to discuss them, according to an Iranian official.

"It was clear to our air force that the entire intention here was to get us to turn on our radar," the official said.

That tactic, designed to contribute information to what the military calls an "enemy order of battle," was used by the U.S. military in the Korean and Vietnam wars, against the Soviets and the Chinese, and in both Iraq wars.

"By coaxing the Iranians to turn on their radar, we can learn all about their defense systems, including the frequencies they are operating on, the range of their radar and, of course, where their weaknesses lie," said Thomas Keaney, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and executive director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

But it did not work. "The United States must have forgotten that they trained half our guys," the Iranian official said. After a briefing by their air force three weeks ago, Iran's national security officials ordered their forces not to turn on the radar or come into contact with the drones in any way.

"Our decision was: Don't engage," the Iranian official said. Leaving the radar off deprives U.S. forces of vital information about the country's air defense system, but it also makes it harder for Iran to tell if an attack is underway.

The Iranian government lodged a formal protest through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which passed it on to the State Department, a Bush administration official said. The complaint was then forwarded to the Pentagon and to senior Bush administration officials, the official said.

Asked last Sunday about Iran, Rumsfeld told ABC's "This Week" that he had no knowledge of U.S. military activities in Iran. Rice, who helped plan the Iraq war, said during her European trip last week that an assault on Iran was not on the agenda "at this time."

So far, the drones have added little information to Iran's nuclear file, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the mission.

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