Interview with The Homeland Security Secretary

Posted April 22, 2009 on 2:01 pm | In the category Canada, Immigration, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

As if poor President Obama doesn’t have enough to worry about, as he considers whether it is the chaps who ordered torture in the name of homeland security or the chaps who carried out the orders – or neither or both – who should be brought to trial. And then, as a side show, his choice for protector of that same border gives an interview on Canadian national television outlining her concerns. Coming as it did upon the conclusion of a Canuck hockey game and first round sweep, the talk with an unknown woman appeared to be a perhaps somewhat heavy-handed satire about the former guardians of the US side of the Canadian border. Here was a comedienne portraying a US diplomat who was announcing that the US-Canada border must be made more impenetrable – just like the Mexican one – because the 9/11 terrorists had entered the US that way and that the currently informal border controls would have to be made much more stringent so it didn’t happen again. Well, you could walk down the street and ask almost anyone and they would know that no 9/11 terrorists entered from Canada, so this part of this routine was too nutty to really be cutting satire. The four-hour waits at the border on the last long weekend also made the second part too obvious since it was just meant to show the supposed US diplomat hadn’t crossed that border in years, if ever.

And then her name flashed on screen – Janet Napolitano, apparently a Canadian comedienne my brother and I had never heard of, though we have great connections in that field. And then her title popped up – Homeland Security Secretary of the USA. Well, that was a good one, if a bit of a cheap shot, until it turned out to be true. This birdbrain – apparently the former governor of Arizona – is in charge of US border security, and is going to cost both countries billions of dollars in lost trade, more if she builds a wall like the one on the Mexican border in the tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, and she doesn’t know what country the guys came from who attacked New York. Sometimes satire just doesn’t pay.


The Song of Leonard Cohen

Posted April 19, 2009 on 3:53 pm | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The ice has been scraped off the floor of the building, where just yesterday my brother and I witnessed (tickets from friends in high places) the relentless march of the Canucks to the inevitable series with Detroit for the real Stanley Cup (everyone picks the winner of the western division to roll over whoever wins in the anemic eastern division), and the stage is set for tonight’s performance by the most remarkable performer/author of the last half century. Fifty years ago, the young Leonard Cohen won Canada’s highest literary prize for the second of his only two novels, Beautiful Losers, which sold 3,000 copies, thus convincing Leonard to try another field, like poetry and singing.

And what a career that has been. He has also won the GG for poetry – Flowers for Hitler – and made (and lost) a fortune by setting many of his lyrics to music. The quality of his writing and his musical transcriptions is so high that a pure poet of the highest order, Germany’s greatest and most difficult contemporary writer and youngest winner of its highest literary prize, Durs Grünbein, once confided to my brother and me that Cohen was at the top of his list of colleagues worth admiring (and the only Canadian on it), a troubadour who had lived off the public performance of poetry for a lifetime. Durs wanted only one souvenir of his Canadian visit, not maple syrup or Yukon air, but Donald Brittain’s National Film Board documentary about the very young Leonard Cohen before he had even started to sing, not the easiest document to get ahold of at the time, though we managed to eventually get it delivered to Berlin. And now, at 74, Cohen is well into the most triumphant tour of his life, in March playing the 99th concert on the tour in his first performance in the United States (in New York) in 15 years. Though he’s from Montréal, he’ll be on home turf in Vancouver, just like the Canucks in the same building, and the long sold-out house is expecting a similar triumph.



Posted April 18, 2009 on 5:45 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Human Rights, Obama, Politics, Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“Thus, although the subject may experience fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. As we explained in Section 2340A Memorandum, “pain and suffering” as used in Section 2340 is best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of “pain” as distinguished from “suffering.”… Even if one were to parse the statute more finely to treat “suffering” as a distinct concept, the waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering. The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering”….Jay Bybee, former Dept. of Justice Lawyer in the Bush Administration and current 9th Circuit Judge

Judge Bybee, a graduate of the University of Obfuscation Law School, might also have noted that chopping off a prisoner’s leg is allowable since he had two of them. He did not comment on what to do when you run out of legs but perhaps there are other body parts to consider– testicles, arms, kidneys etc. Reading the memoranda makes it clear that in this and other instances our Law Schools have helped create some monsters that would make Goebbels proud.

The release of four selected torture memoranda from the Bush Justice Department have raised two firestorms, each interesting in its own way. From the right we get the old familiar argument to screw the law and do anything we wish to anyone we think might want to hurt us, regardless of evidence and American values. A deep thinker from the Heritage Foundation reminded us on TV that in the white heat of post 9/11 it seemed clear that we needed to make sure we got the information needed to protect the country regardless of our laws or international law. He conveniently forgot that some of the memoranda were written as late as 2005 and that – in fact – we HAD the information that 9/11 was around the corner, that the information was given to Bush and National Security Advisor Rice – and ignored by both, and that there is little if any evidence that the subsequent use of torture ever improved the quality of information received.

It was not a huge surprise to see an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing the release of the information by former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who were apparently upset that leaking the memos’ “…effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001.” They must have missed the part – referred to above – where Rice and Bush were warned well before 9/11 – a warning based on intelligence gathered via more traditional – and legal – means. But then Hayden and Mukasey both have metaphorical blood on their hands in this matter so it’s not so surprising they take this view.

The blast from the left is criticism of Obama for deciding not to prosecute Intelligence operatives for torturing prisoners with the approval, even urging, of lawyers from Bush’s Department of Justice. (a piece in today’s NY Times details one such case) This is a quandary since to say “they were only following orders” has a 1940s reminiscent stink about it, but this was clearly a decision intended to protect intelligence operatives from the consequences of the folly of their masters and to avoid harming those agencies that – like it or not – we depend on for a degree of security. As for bringing the likes of Judge Bybee and others in leadership positions to justice, it seems unlikely until and unless Obama gets a much larger majority in the Congress. And even then, he would more likely argue for a kind of Commission on Reconciliation and Truth but when looking at the Bush administration and his cronies in Congress it is hard to imagine anything like truth or reconciliation being of any concern to them. And to be credible, such a Commission would need to be bipartisan.

In other news: President Obama welcomed Texas Governor Rick Perry’s suggestion that Texas secede from the Union and offered his assistance in facilitating the process. There is a strong rumor that George W. Bush would emerge from retirement to fill the Office of Texas Monarch, leaving Perry with even less of a job than he has currently.

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The Sad Song of the South

Posted April 15, 2009 on 1:05 am | In the category Canada, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

On Wednesday and Friday nights, the Vancouver Canucks begin their playoff run for the Stanley Cup, and every seat has been sold out from the moment tickets went on sale, with lowest prices in the mid $100 range, no surprise since since the Canucks have sold out every game for the last 200 plus. You also are lucky to get tickets for Ottawa and Edmonton regular season games, you can’t get a ticket for the Calgary and Montreal playoff games, and Toronto tickets of any kind are passed on in wills, and the Maple Leafs only rarely even make the playoffs. Not so in many US venues, most dramatically in Detroit, home of the defending champions and one of the favourites once again (they have most of the Swedish national team, that may well win the Olympic tournament next year in Vancouver) where the crash of the auto industry has put much of the fan base out of pocket.

But Detroit, New York or Boston will survive bad times with good teams while many US expansion teams seem doomed – read all those south of St. Louis, maybe including St. Louis, the Canucks’ first round opponent. In Canada there is a sense of Schadenfreude in all this as sporting greed forced flourishing franchises out of Quebec City and Winnipeg, which were deemed to be too small for big sports money, and put in places like Phoenix, Atlanta, Columbus, Nashville and Florida, where some will certainly soon go belly-up, and kept out of places like Hamilton and London, where their success is virtually guaranteed. So up here everybody is hunkering down for the beginning of six weeks of matchless sports entertainment, knowing that the annoying phone calls from down south for the latest information will soon be pouring in from a sporting public stuck with nothing but steroid baseball to look at.


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