Friday, February 20, 2009

Saving the Dolphins

"We didn't get any response from [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans]. It takes so long to get things done when you go through government departments," said Mayor Winston May. "So, some local guys decided to put out their small speedboat and put on their survival suits, and didn't they put a channel through the water to where the dolphins was at."

'Local boys' free dolphins trapped by ice: N.L. mayor 16-year-old wades into frigid waters to help animal

Becky Rynor,
Canwest News Service

Norma Miller for Canwest News Service

Here is some video on You Tube:

A group of local men braved dangerous broken ice and frigid waters in a fibreglass speedboat to rescue a pod of dolphins and help them back to open water, the mayor of Seal Cove, N.L., said Thursday.

"We didn't get any response from [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans]. It takes so long to get things done when you go through government departments," said Mayor Winston May. "So, some local guys decided to put out their small speedboat and put on their survival suits, and didn't they put a channel through the water to where the dolphins was at."

The dolphins had been stranded by a slab of ice since Sunday in White Bay off the coast of Seal Cove, a village of about 400 people. A chunk of ice was rapidly closing in around the mammals and threatening to suffocate them.

"You'd hear them crying, every night," said one of the men in the boat, Rodney Rice, 39. "I went down there last night and you could hear them trying to break up more ice. . . . They wouldn't have lasted another day."

Mr. May said it took the four men about three hours to break a channel in the ice with their boat, and one - Brandon Banks, 16 - got into the water and helped calm one of the dolphins weakened by the ordeal so they could tow it to open water.

"I had a floater suit on," said Mr. Banks, "And they would come up and rest their head on me and I would keep their head out of the water so they can breathe through their blowhole."

Mr. May said the men carved a channel by ramming the five-metre fibreglass-hulled boat up onto the ice, then jumping out and onto the ice to hack away at it. He said it took them three hours before they had a path from the main body of water to the pool of slush and water where the dolphins were trapped, a distance of about 250 metres, he said.

"One of the dolphins was really weak, and one of the young guys who had a survival suit on got into the water with it and stayed with it, and the dolphin just kind of wrapped his fins around him. . . . It was amazing."

He said two of the dolphins made for the open water, while the third, weaker one "they had to give some help," Mr. May said. "They put a harness around it and gradually took it out to the main body of water. . . . And local boys done it."

Mr. May said they were at the point where something had to be done to save the dolphins.

"The mammals were getting so weak, if somebody didn't do something in the next 12 to 48 hours, they would have died."

Mr. May acknowledges what the men did was "pretty dangerous. It was pretty scary... but I guess they felt that somebody had to help."

Lydia Banks is the mother of 16-year-old Brandon, the youth who went into the water in a survival suit to help the weakest of the pod.

"I'm proud of him. It was good what he done," she said. "Before, everybody was saying somebody's got to get out there and help them. So they took action."

She said her son told her the dolphins "had cuts on them everywhere where they were beating themselves up on the ice."

The dolphins were initially frightened by the boat and the men, but after a few minutes, "the mammals were so friendly once they got to know the boat. The two just followed the boat right out to open water," May said.

"It's a beautiful ending. It's been an emotional last few days," he said. "The one was really weak, but even he swimmed away. Once they get out to open water, they'll get food and we'll just pray and hope that nature will look after them."

Seal Cove is about 600 kilometres northwest of St. John's.

with files from Tiffany Crawford

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Privacy Commissioner Quashes B.C.-Washington State Data Sharing

Canada recalls personal database in border project The Canadian government is repatriating a database of personal information about British Columbia citizens after warnings the U.S. government might misuse it.

OTTAWA - The Canadian government is repatriating a database of personal information about British Columbia citizens after warnings the U.S. government might misuse it.

The information on several hundred Canadians was provided to U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year as part of a project to issue "enhanced driver's licenses" instead of passports to streamline land border crossings.

The pilot project is the first step in a Canada-wide program in which personal information on hundreds of thousands of Canadians could have been handed over to the U.S. agency.

Instead, the Canada Border Services Agency has bowed to pressure from privacy advocates and is recalling the database, and Canadian officials say the U.S. border agency has promised to erase its records.

As the project expands, the personal databanks will be kept in Canada, but will be accessible electronically - within strict limits - by U.S. border officials.

"The data will remain in Canada, and it will be accessed remotely," said David Loukidelis, British Columbia's privacy commissioner and a critic of the original plan.

Washington has been toughening rules for people entering the United States from Canada, requiring passports for air passengers in 2007 and for those arriving by land and water since June 1.

U.S. officials also accept so-called "enhanced driver's licenses" at land and marine border points in lieu of a passport, through a joint program developed with Ottawa.

In the British Columbia pilot project, 521 citizens enrolled as volunteers and were each issued a special driver's license with an embedded chip known as a radio-frequency identification device or RFID.

The chip, which can be read by electronic scanners as far as about 15 feet away, contains a unique identifying number for each cardholder.

In the pilot phase, U.S. border officials scanned the RFID and used the unique number to locate the personal information of the bearer in the database supplied by Canada - full name, birth date, gender, citizenship and other information that is ordinarily contained in a passport, as well as a digital image of the bearer.

The Canada agency signed an agreement with its U.S. counterpart that the information would be accessed only by U.S. officers at the time of crossing and for only border purposes, but the USA Patriot Act could trump that clause, forcing the border officers to turn over information to U.S. security agencies.

"It is clear that there is potential for secondary use," says a Canada-British Columbia review of the project dated Aug. 14 and obtained by Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"Further, it is possible that if there was disclosure pursuant to the USA Patriot Act that CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) may not be legally able to advise CBSA."

Joanne Ferreira, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C., confirmed that the agency plans to return the pilot database to Canada.

"Phase 1 data currently resides in a secure CBP database and will be transitioned to a CBSA database," Ferreira said. "CBP will delete Phase 1 records from the CBP database - coordinated with CBSA - so there will be no overlap."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Obama Batting for Rove: Delay, Delay, Delay

Obama, not Bush, now seeking delay of Rove deposition
by John Byrne

Former Bush Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove has a new president urging Congress not to force him to testify next week.

President Barack Obama.

In a court brief quietly filed Monday, Michael Hertz, Obama's acting assistant attorney general, said it was necessary to delay an effort to force Rove to be deposed in a congressional investigation into the firing of nine US Attorneys and the alleged political prosecution of a former Alabama governor.

Hertz said an effort was underway to find a "compromise" for Rove, and requested two weeks to broker a deal before proceeding in court.

"The inauguration of a new president has altered the dynamics of this case and created new opportunities for compromise rather than litigation," Hertz wrote in the brief released late Monday by McClatchy's Washington, D.C. bureau. "At the same time, there is now an additional interested party — the former president — whose views should be considered."

The House Judiciary Committee sued the Bush Administration to force Rove to testify last year, saying that Rove shouldn't be covered by executive privilege. They won. But their case has been held up by an appeal, and Hertz's filing was the Obama administration's first legal weighing-in on the matter. Obama's Justice Department has supplanted the role of Bush's Justice Department in the case, and their position will likely inform the terms under which Rove is questioned by Congress.

Hertz's statement mirrors a statement from Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig published Saturday.

"The president is very sympathetic to those who want to find out what happened," Craig told The Washington Post. "But he is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency. So, for that reason, he is urging both sides of this to settle."

Both Hertz's and Craig's statement point to an underlying challenge Obama faces with regard to Rove. Since former President Bush still claims that Rove is protected from testifying to Congress by executive privilege, even after departing office, Obama must decide whether he wants to risk diluting his own executive privilege in the future.

These statements, however, stand in contrast to Obama's previous rhetoric.

In 2007, while in the Senate, Obama rebuked Bush's White House as "the most secretive in modern history," which aimed "to hide its abuse of our justice system."

Responding to a Bush claim of executive privilege, he said, "By continuing to act as the most secretive White House in modern history, the Bush Administration has once again placed itself above the law in order to hide its abuse of our justice system from the American people. On the first day of an Obama Administration, we will launch the most sweeping ethics reform in history to shed sunlight on the decisions made by government and put the interests of the American people at the center of every decision that's made."

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), who subpoenaed Rove as recently as last week and demanded that he come before Congress Feb. 23, refused a request from Rove's attorney seeking a delay. Rove didn't show up on two previous occasions he was subpoenaed, once in 2008 and again in January. He didn't honor a 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena either.

The White House indicated in their latest filing that negotiations are ongoing between representatives of the Bush White House and the Obama team.

Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, told Raw Story last week that no agreement had been reached.

A special prosecutor continues to probe what role White House officials may have had in the firings of the US Attorneys -- which Democrats say were politically motivated.

Rove also has been called to testify about his knowledge of an alleged political prosecution in Alabama, where a Democratic governor was jailed on corruption charges that may have been politically motivated. A whistleblower fingered Rove as pushing for the prosecution behind the scenes, which Rove vehemently and categorically denies.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fair Game in Gaza

Israel’s Rationale for Murder: No One is Innocent

by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam
February 14th, 2009

When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.

– Israeli Army Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan, 1983

Before [the Palestinians] very eyes we are possessing the land and the villages where they, and their ancestors, have lived… We are the generation of colonizers, and without the steel helmet and the gun barrel we cannot plant a tree and build a home.

– Famous Israeli Army Commander Moshe Dayan

Israel’s official excuses for extinguishing over 1,300 Palestinian lives—half of them civilian and one-third of them children— are oft-repeated by its apologists: Hamas’ rocket fire made the invasion unavoidable, and its tactics made civilian casualties inevitable.

Do these positions dovetail with—or decapitate—history? Are they logical? Are they moral? Or are they smokescreens, designed to disguise troublesome facts about both Israel’s strategy and its very origins?

The reality behind the rockets

Israel’s first argument about Hamas’ rockets fails on several levels.

It neatly—and falsely—posits Hamas as the attacker and Israel as the defender. The only problem with this pleasant fiction is that Israel has been expelling, occupying, and imprisoning Palestinians long before Hamas even came into existence.

As Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote in January, “Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.”

But how did it “lose” its homeland? After unearthing their country’s declassified archives, honest Israeli scholars have pointed to an Israeli campaign of rape, murder, and ethnic cleansing that entered full swing in 1947. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said to a colleague shortly after Israel’s expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians, “They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”

Why indeed? For one country to rain down rockets on another is an unprovoked crime. But for a people without a country to fire rockets on those who forcibly took their country—and who then corralled them into camps, isolated them from the world, and regularly slaughter them with weapons far deadlier than unguided projectiles—is a rather different matter.

Just as we would not begin a 10-minute tape of a batterer abusing his wife at the nine-minute mark where she may have struck back, we cannot skip through decades of Israeli ethnic cleansing, occupation, and bombardment and finger Hamas rocket fire as the starting point.

Quite apart from historical considerations, the invasion cannot be justified by rocket fire because scarcely any rockets were being fired before Israel’s own escalation. According to the Israeli military, in the ceasefire months of July, August, September, and October, the numbers of rockets fired from Gaza were one, eight, one, and two, respectively. Even those few rockets were likely fired by smaller militant groups not under Hamas’ control. In short, Hamas abided by the truce—a fact Israel recognized during those months. On November 5th, Israel itself broke the truce by launching a military operation that killed six Hamas gunmen.

On the moral level, too, the terror Israel unleashed on the Palestinian population is indefensible. A total of 23 Israelis were killed by Palestinian rockets from November 2001 to June 2008, according to a pro-Israel website. During the Gaza “war,” a total of three Israeli civilians were killed by rockets. If Israel’s recent rapid-fire slaughter of 600 civilians is “justified” by rockets that caused the death of a small number of Israeli civilians, then—applying Israel’s own logic—is Hamas not now more “justified” in continuing to launch those rockets than ever before?

How can the Israeli establishment claim the moral high ground if it borrows from the Hamas formula but ups its application of the deadly dosage one-hundred fold?

Blaming the victim

Israel’s apologists would respond here with their second argument: it is not Israel, but Hamas, that is responsible for Israel’s killing.

This, too, is specious.

Perhaps it is quaint to insist on ideas that slip out of fashion at convenient intervals, but it should be an accepted principle that those who do the killing should be held responsible for it. Israel’s partisans insist Israel is an exception (is Israel ever not an exception?) because Hamas “hides among civilians” or “uses civilians as shields” or “fires from civilian areas,” thus absolving the attacker of culpability for civilian deaths.

The force of historical truth again intercedes. The people living in Gaza’s squalid refugee camps are not there by choice or because of Hamas: they are trapped by Israel. Ethnically cleansed when Israel stole their lands in 1948, they fled to the tiny strip, which borders the sea. Then Gaza, too, was captured by Israel in 1967, leaving the people occupied by the Israeli military and surrounded by radical Jewish settlers who took the stolen land.

When this occupation “ended” in 2005 after decades of humiliation, the jailer simply moved from inside to outside the cell to better manage the inmates. Most of the Jewish settlers relocated to more stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank and Israel imposed a full-scale siege on Gaza itself as a form of collective punishment when Gazans elected Hamas, as the alternative choice, Fatah, was hopelessly venal.

The siege destroyed the economy and was never lifted even during the ceasefire. Israel barred Palestinians entry into Israel for employment, closed the sea route, and shut off fuel and food aid at will, inducing widespread suffering in one of the most densely-populated spaces on earth. One Israeli official boasted of the devastating effect in 2006, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” Let them suffer, the Israelis said at the time, but do not let them die. That would come later.

Even the Vatican, not often inclined to pro-Muslim utterances, was recently moved to describe Gaza as a “concentration camp.”

Thus while Israel’s apologists argue that Israel should be cleared of responsibility for civilian deaths because Hamas “chose” to engage in “civilian areas”, the truth is that the Palestinians had no choice of any areas—they are trapped within the confines of the cage Israel kicked them into by dint of ethnic cleansing, occupation, and the siege.

Even on the street level, Israel has herded Palestinian civilians for easy killing. Several extended families in one part of Gaza, Zeitoun, tell the same story: soldiers forced family members to congregate in one building, fired at it, and massacred the fleeing inhabitants even as they emerged with white flags in hand. Breaking army orders, one Israeli soldier who was in Zeitoun confessed to a British newspaper that his unit had been instructed to “fire on anything that moves.” The unit was told to “shoot first and ask questions later,” he said.

Israel did not provide Hamas with an empty meadow in Switzerland on which to duel. It did not bestow Hamas with its state-of the-art American weaponry to even the odds. It did not give civilians any exit avenues before, during, or after the “fighting.” It even began its bombardment mid-day when children were out in the open switching classes. Israel, far from concerning itself with the fate of civilians, created a dense killing corridor over a period of decades and took advantage of it.

One can argue that even in the most difficult circumstances, militant groups should do their best to avoid mingling with the civilian population during active fighting. If the majority of Palestinian civilian casualties had occurred because Hamas was grabbing civilians left and right to use as shields, there should be abundant evidence.

But where is this evidence? For all its sophisticated spying equipment, satellites, reconnaissance drones, and cameras, the Israeli government has never produced any compelling proof of such a pattern. In fact, Israel officially banned reporters from even entering Gaza during its operation. Why hide the horrific practices of Hamas from the world’s eyes?

The answer, of course, is that Israel was hiding its own horrors instead. In the few cases where this was not possible—where international institutions, such as the UN, independent relief agencies, and Reuters reporters, were involved—a pattern of a different kind emerged: Israel blew up civilians and civilian supplies, agency officials decried the attack, and Israel accused Hamas of having fired from nearby. Each time, agency representatives emphatically stated that Hamas was not operating in the area and demanded proof of Israel’s claims. None was ever forthcoming.

Only in one case—the killing of 40 civilians taking shelter at a UN building—did Israel confidently claim that it had proof of Hamas fighters firing rockets nearby. But the Israeli military soon changed its story and was forced to invent a new excuse.

As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that Israel itself repeatedly used Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Even in these specific cases where Israel should have exercised restraint for sheer public-relations purposes, it displayed absolutely none. Such is the arrogance afforded overwhelming power. We can only imagine under what cruel circumstances most Palestinians, far removed from international institutions or Western journalists, were ground to dust.

This combination of history and ground reality demolishes the credibility of Israel’s excuse. For a bully to blame the victim is one thing—commonplace, even, among colonizers. But for Israel to expel its victims from their homes, force them into inhuman camps, and then fault them for dying en masse when Israel decided to kill them in a cramped cage of its own design—this is a truly novel achievement in the sphere of cruelty.

Israel is therefore no less responsible for killing civilians than slaughterhouse machinery is responsible for processing cattle.

Killing civilians as a strategy

The mountain of excuses offered by Israel strikes the honest observer as too tortuous to trek and too steep to scale. Puzzling and poring over its rationalizations is an endeavor that yields diminishing returns.

It is time to consider an obvious alternative to the official line: Israel did not “accidentally” kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians while “targeting” Hamas for launching aimless rockets. Rather, Israel purposely targeted all Palestinians because it wanted to teach them a severe lesson for not being defeated after 60 years of ongoing brutalization. The pile of civilian corpses produced by the invasion was not accidental—it was integral—to the administration of this lesson.

Advocating and applauding this approach last month was Thomas Friedman, who occasionally comments on Middle East affairs to puff and pout on Israel’s behalf from his privileged perch.

Responding to the growing perception that Israel’s stated aim of destroying Hamas outright was not feasible, Friedman defended Israel’s Gaza strategy in a January 14th New York Times column by approvingly pointing to the example of Lebanon.

In Friedman’s view, the 2006 Lebanon campaign, during which Israel killed about 1,000 Lebanese civilians and 250 Hezbollah fighters, convinced Hezbollah that trading blows with Israel was a bad idea.

To dismantle Friedman’s fantasies about Lebanon—what he smugly calls “the education of Hezbollah”—would require another article. What is important for our purposes is to see how this “education” was carried out.

Hezbollah, Friedman asserts, “challenged Israel to inflict massive civilian casualties in order to hit Hezbollah fighters.” These civilians, he continues, were “intertwined” with Hezbollah, and were also, by the way, “the families and employers of the militants.”

Translation: the guilty mingled with the innocent and the innocent were practically guilty.

Therefore, concludes Friedman, “the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians…” Israel was forced to inflict “substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” in order to faze Hezbollah.

Translation: the only thing Israel could do—“it was not pretty, but it was logical”, Friedman avers—was to strike at civilian populations and buildings in order to teach those Arabs a lesson (“educate”) about the consequences of raising their heads.

This refreshing way of thinking neatly solves any moral problems Israel’s actions might pose.

The innocent, as we have seen, were not really innocent: they were somehow related to the militants or related to someone who might have employed militants at the local bakery. Therefore, it was permissible to kill women and children as part of a careful calculation to inflict “enough pain” and make militants think twice about future resistance.

Yes, the “education” of the Arabs is not “pretty”—but who said tuition was free?

That Israel intentionally terrorizes and kills civilians should not surprise honest observers. Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, bluntly stated what Friedman, with his penchant for unctuous prose, could not bring himself to openly say about the 2006 war:

“The only good thing that happened in the last war was the relative damage caused to Lebanon’s population…The destruction of thousands of homes of ‘innocents’ preserved some of Israel’s deterrent power. The only way to prevent another war is to make it clear that should one break out, Lebanon may be razed to the ground.”

Can any honest person describe Eiland’s logic of mass terror as “self-defense?”

That this logic was also applied in Gaza was confirmed by the news side of the New York Times. In an elliptical January 18th analysis, Times’ correspondent Ethan Bronner, a pro-Israel journalist, writes about Hamas’ tactical caution during the fighting:

“The caution is at least in part because Hamas wants to keep ruling in Gaza, not return to its previous role as a pure resistance movement. Therefore, Israeli officials say, an offensive that caused average people to suffer put pressure on Hamas in real and specific ways.”

This can easily be rephrased as, “Israeli officials launched an offensive that caused average people to suffer in order to put pressure on Hamas in real and specific ways.” Friedman’s prayers were answered—and Eiland’s ideology, implemented.

The Times also quotes an anonymous top Israeli military official as saying, “Hamas is the dominant organization in Gaza. They are the regime and feel very connected to the people. They do not want to lose that connection to the people.”

How does one make Hamas lose “that connection to the people” in an offensive that “caused average people to suffer?” The question answers itself: kill the people.

Bronner writes that the logic behind the punishing offensive is popularly referred to within Israel as the Hebrew equivalent of “the boss has lost it”—a kind of “calculated rage” that “evokes the image of a madman who cannot be controlled.”

It is an “image” that long ago consumed Israel proper.

A madman is by definition someone who has gone insane. Israel is a state founded on ethnic cleansing—a massive attack on civilians. Instead of confronting its original sin, it has simply repeated the same crime in various ways, each time believing that it will crush the Palestinians once and for all. Repeating the same action over and over again while expecting a different result is the very definition of insanity.

The reality of a “madman who cannot be controlled” is a traumatic one. The madman declares civilians and combatants alike guilty and subjects them all to “education” through indiscriminate killing. Though the madman arrogates the right to determine the guilt of others for acts that are both in response to and dwarfed by his own far greater atrocities, the madman himself goes unquestioned. Like a convicted batterer presiding over the trial and sentencing of his victims, the Israeli “madman” judges and punishes the very people it has brutalized and dispossessed.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude of allowing Israel to rain down its “calculated rage” on Palestinians is applauded not only by the Israeli military and Times newspaper columnists, but also by many American liberals, whose moral senses are conveniently swallowed up by the same serpent that slips away with their spines whenever the subject of the Israeli settler-state presents itself.

Who, then, will stand up for the Palestinians? Who will control the madman?

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam blogs about America and Islam at Crossing the Crescent and writes about American Muslim identity for WireTap magazine. Co-founder of Left Hook, a youth journal that ran from Nov. 2003 to March 2006, he works as a communications coordinator for an anti-domestic violence agency in the NYC area. He can be reached at: junaidalam1 AT Read other articles by M. Junaid.