Saturday, March 29, 2008

British Columbia: Solicitor Generalissimo John Les Steps Down amid Corruption Investigation

B.C. premier says solicitor general right to step down pending investigation
5 hours ago

VANCOUVER — British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell says his solicitor general did the right thing by resigning his cabinet post while he is the subject of an investigation.

John Les stepped down after it was revealed a special prosecutor had been looking into allegations that he may have improperly benefited from a land deal.

"(Les) phoned me and he told me what had taken place and he said that he felt it was best for him to step down as the chief law enforcement officer," Campbell told a Saturday news conference.

Attorney General Wally Oppal will take on the solicitor general role as the probe runs its course.

A statement from the province's Criminal Justice Branch says the investigation includes examining "potential misconduct on the part of former officials with the City of Chilliwack" and the allegations date back a decade, when Les was mayor.

The premier said he did not know of the investigation until Friday.

Campbell pledged that the investigation into the allegations against Les will be free of political interference.

"It's in the public interest to make sure those investigations and those decisions are totally free of any kind of political interference," Campbell said. "I don't know who's being investigated, or when it's being investigated, or when a special prosecutor's appointed and that's the way it should be."

Les said he, too, only found out about the investigation Friday and has no doubt he'll be cleared of any wrongdoing.

He said he knew there was some kind of investigation underway involving the city, but he didn't pay much attention to it because he believed it had nothing to do with him.

But when he found out Friday he was part of the investigation, Les said he knew he must step aside.

The criminal justice branch of the Ministry of the Attorney General issued a statement that it had appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter last June.

In a prepared statement, Les said he would not comment further on the investigation until the special prosecutor has concluded his work.

Les, who said he will keep his Chilliwack seat on the Liberal backbench, was adamant about his innocence.

"On a personal level, I hope this matter can be concluded as expeditiously as possible," he said in the statement.

Les, known for his tough stance on crime, said he doesn't know what the investigation is about and has never been questioned by anyone.

News about the special prosecutor was released after business hours on Friday.

Neil MacKenzie, spokesman for the branch, said the information was released in response to an inquiry from the media.

Last month, the City of Chilliwack confirmed in a news release the RCMP was investigating possible criminal activity dating back 10 years.

Chilliwack Coun. Mel Folkman said councillors have been advised not to discuss the issue.

"It's an investigation, so we can't make any comment during that process," he said.

MacKenzie said the special prosecutor, Vancouver lawyer Robin McFee, was appointed at the behest of the RCMP.

On Saturday, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Robert Gillen released a statement outlining the guidelines of the circumstances involved when a special prosecutor is appointed to an investigation.

"A decision to appoint a special prosecutor is made when there is significant potential for real or perceived improper influence in the independent exercise of prosecutorial responsibilities," the statement read.

It went on to say that a special prosecutor is appointed in cases involving cabinet ministers, members of the legislature, other senior or ministry officials, high-ranking police officers, other senior positions in the justice system or people in close proximity to them.

Gillen said an announcement would be made if the special prosecutor approves a charge and it is laid.

NDP Leader Carole James has called the development disturbing and said Les had no choice but to step down.

Further, she said in a news release that the premier's comments left many questions unanswered about the investigation.

"We still need to know how it could possibly be that John Les served as B.C.'s top law enforcement officer for almost a year after he came under criminal investigation," said James.

She called for disclosure of who in government knew about the probe and when they knew it.

"We need to know how John Les could possibly have not have known he was under investigation, and we need to know why it took a media inquiry to make this mess public."

Les was mayor of Chilliwack between 1987 and 1999 and was elected to the legislature in 2001.

Les is the third minister in Campbell's cabinet to step down after news they were being investigated by a special prosecutor.

In 2004, Gordon Hogg resigned as children's minister over financial irregularities connected to government contracts doled out to a non-profit society run by a former Prince George car dealer.

An audit later cleared Hogg of any personal wrongdoing and he was returned to cabinet in a junior portfolio in a shuffle in 2006.

John van Dongen resigned as fisheries minister in 2003 over allegations he improperly disclosed an investigative report to a fish farming company.

A special prosecutor concluded there was no evidence van Dongen had criminal intent when he disclosed the information and van Dongen was reinstated to cabinet.

Les was appointed minister of public safety and solicitor general on June 16, 2005.

His tenure as the dual portfolio minister was not without controversy.

Les was the first government minister to admit the Liberal government mismanaged child death files after boxes containing more than 700 incomplete children's death files were found in a government warehouse.

He originally denied fraud problems at the Crown-owned lottery corporation, but then tabled an audit that found some lottery retailers were winning multiple payouts.

Les also criticized a Vancouver area police chief for calling for the formation of a metro police force to tackle the Vancouver area's rising gang killings. Les later agreed to hold joint meetings with Vancouver area officials to discuss improving regional policing.

He previously was minister of small business and economic development and has served on several government caucuses, including the standing committee on parliamentary reform, ethical conduct, standing orders and private bills.


Understand the Latest Violence in Iraq

Five Things You Need to Know to Understand the Latest Violence in Iraq

By Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar, AlterNet. Posted March 27, 2008.

The traditional media is incapable of reporting what's going on in Southern Iraq.

Heavy fighting has spread across Shia-dominated enclaves in Iraq over the past two days. The U.S.-backed regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered 50,000 Iraqi troops to "crack down" -- with coalition air support -- on Shiite militias in the oil-rich and strategically important city of Basra, U.S. forces have surrounded Baghdad's Sadr City and fighting has been reported in the southern cities of Kut, Diwaniya, Karbala and Hilla. Basra's main bridge and an oil pipeline connecting it to Amara were destroyed Wednesday. Six cities are under curfew, and acts of civil disobedience have shut down dozens of neighborhoods across the country. Civilian casualties have reportedly overwhelmed poorly equipped medical centers in Baghdad and Basra.

There are indications that the unilateral ceasefire declared last year by the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is collapsing. "The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," one militiaman loyal to al-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher by telephone from Sadr City. Dagher added that the "same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store."

A political track is also in play: Sadr has called on his followers to take to the streets to demand Maliki's resignation, and nationalist lawmakers in the Iraqi Parliament, led by al-Sadr's block, are trying to push a no-confidence vote challenging the prime minister's regime.

The conflict is one that the U.S. media appears incapable of describing in a coherent way. The prevailing narrative is that Basra has been ruled by mafialike militias -- which is true -- and that Iraqi government forces are now cracking down on the lawlessness in preparation for regional elections, which is not. As independent analyst Reider Visser noted:

On closer inspection, there are problems in these accounts. Perhaps most importantly, there is a discrepancy between the description of Basra as a city ruled by militias (in the plural) ... [and the] facts of the ongoing operations, which seem to target only one of these militia groups, the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Surely, if the aim was to make Basra a safer place, it would have been logical to do something to also stem the influence of the other militias loyal to the local competitors of the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [SIIC], as well as the armed groups allied to the Fadila party (sic) (which have dominated the oil protection services for a long time). But so far, only Sadrists have complained about attacks by government forces.

The conflict doesn't conform to the analysis of the roots of Iraqi instability as briefed by U.S. officials in the heavily-fortified Green Zone. It also doesn't fit into the simplistic but popular narrative of a country wrought by sectarian violence, and its nature is obscured by the labels that the commercial media uncritically apply to the disparate centers of Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

The "crackdown" comes on the heels of the approval of a new "provincial law," which will ultimately determine whether Iraq remains a unified state with a strong central government or is divided into sectarian-based regional governates. The measure calls for provincial elections in October, and the winners of those elections will determine the future of the Iraqi state. Control of the country's oil wealth, and how its treasure will be developed, will also be significantly influenced by the outcome of the elections.

It's a relatively straightforward story: Iraq is ablaze today as a result of an attempt to impose Colombian-style democracy on the unstable country: Maliki's goal, shared by the like-minded allies among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that dominate his administration, and with at least tacit U.S. approval, is to kill off the opposition and then hold a vote.

To better understand the nature of this latest round of conflict, here are five things one needs to know about what's taking place across Iraq.

1. A visible manifestation of Iraq's central-but-under-teported political conflict (not "sectarian violence")

Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the U.S. invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq's formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and "sectarian violence" has become Americans' primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.

But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq -- and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult -- is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists -- with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice -- who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country's vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq's political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.

The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq's parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least four semiautonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.

We've written about this long-standing conflict extensively in the past, and now we're seeing it come to a head, as we believed it would at some point.

2. U.S. is propping up unpopular regime; Sadr has support because of his platform

One of the ironies of the reporting out of Iraq is the ubiquitous characterization of Muqtada al-Sadr as a "renegade," "radical" or "militant" cleric, despite the fact that he is the only leader of significance in the country who has ordered his followers to stand down. His ostensible militancy appears to arise primarily from his opposition to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

He has certainly been willing to use violence in the past, but the "firebrand" label belies the fact that Sadr is arguably the most popular leader among a large section of the Iraqi population and that he has forcefully rejected sectarian conflict and sought to bring together representatives of Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups in an effort to create real national reconciliation -- a process that the highly sectarian Maliki regime has failed to accomplish.

It's vitally important to understand that Sadr's popularity and legitimacy is a result of his having a platform that's favored by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis.

Most Iraqis:

* Favor a strong central government free of the influence of militias.
* Oppose, by a 2-1 margin, the privatization of Iraq's energy sector -- a "benchmark towards progress according to the Bush administration.
* Favor a U.S. withdrawal on a short timeline (PDF) (most believe the United States plans to build permanent bases -- both are issues about which the Sadrists have been vocal.
* Oppose al Qaeda and the ideology of Osama Bin Laden and, to a lesser degree, Iranian influence on Iraq's internal affairs.

With the exception of their opposition to Al Qaeda, the five major separatist parties -- Sunni, Shia and Kurdish -- that make up Maliki's governing coalition are on the deeply unpopular side of these issues. A poll conducted last year found that 65 percent of Iraqis think the Iraqi government is doing a poor job, and Maliki himself has a Bush-like 66 percent disapproval rate.

As in Vietnam, the United States is backing an unpopular and decidedly undemocratic government in Iraq, and that simple fact explains much of the violent resistance that's going on in Iraq today.

3. "Iraqi forces" are, in fact, "Iranian- (and U.S.-) backed Shiite militias"

Every headline this week has featured some variation of the storyline of "Iraqi security forces" battling "Shiite militias." But the reality is that it is a battle between Shite militias -- separatists and nationalists -- with one militia garbed in Iraqi army uniforms and supported by U.S. airpower, and the other in civilian clothes.

It has always been the great irony of the occupation of Iraq that "our" man in Baghdad is also Tehran's. Maliki heads the Dawa Party, which has long enjoyed close ties to Iran, and relies on support from SIIC, a staunchly pro-Iranian party, and its powerful Badr militia. The "government crackdown" is an escalation of a long-simmering conflict in the south between the Badr Brigade, the Sadrists and members of the Fadhila Party, which favors greater autonomy for Basra but rejects SIIC's vision of a larger Shiite-dominated regional entity in Southern Iraq.

4. Colombia-style democracy

Basra has been engulfed in a simmering conflict since before the British pulled their troops back to a remote base near the airport and turned over the city to Iraqi authorities. But the timing of this crackdown is not coincidental; Iraqi separatists -- Dawa, SIIC and others -- are expected to do poorly in the regional elections, while the Sadrists are widely anticipated to make significant gains. It is widely perceived by those loyal to Sadr that this is an attempt to wipe out the movement he leads prior to the elections and minimize the influence that Iraqi nationalists are poised to gain.

The United States, for its part, continues to take sides in this conflict -- in addition to providing airpower, U.S. forces are enforcing the curfew in Sadr City -- rather than playing the role of neutral mediator. That's because the interests of the Bush administration and its allies are aligned with Maliki and his coalition. That they are not aligned with the interests of most Iraqis is never mentioned in the Western press, but is a key reason why Bush's definition of "victory" -- the emergence of a legitimate and Democratic state that supports U.S. policy in the region -- has always been an impossible pipedream.

5. Chip off the old block: Maliki's attempt to criminalize dissent

It's unclear whether Sadr has lifted the cease-fire entirely, or simply freed his fighters to defend themselves. He continues to call for peaceful resistance.

Whatever the case may be, it's not entirely accurate to say that he "chose" this conflict. The reality is that while his army was holding the cease-fire, attacks on and detentions of Sadrists have continued unabated. Sadr renewed the cease-fire last month, but he did so over the urging of his top aides, who argued that their movement was threatened with annihilation. He later authorized his followers to carry weapons "for self-defense" to head off a mutiny within his ranks.

Ahmed al-Massoudi, a Sadrist member of Parliament, last week "accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) of planning a military campaign to liquidate the Sadrists."

The lawmaker told Voices of Iraq that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's "SIIC and the Dawa Party have held meetings with officers of the militias merged recently into security agencies to launch a military campaign outwardly to impose order and law, but the real objective is to liquidate the Sadrist bloc." "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is directly supervising this scheme with officers from the Dawa Party and the SIIC," he added. Despite his close ties with Tehran and deep involvement in Shiite militia activity, Hakim has been invited to the White House, where he was feted by Bush himself.

Sadr called for nationwide civil disobedience that would have allowed his followers to flex some political muscle in a nonviolent way. His orders, according to Iraqi reports were to distribute olive branches and copies of the Koran to soldiers at checkpoints.

The Maliki regime responded by saying that individuals joining the nationwide strike would be punished and that those organizing it are in violation of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Act issued in 2005. A spokesman for the prime minister promised to punish any government employees who failed to show up for work.

This is consistent with a long-term trend: the U.S.-backed government's obstruction of Iraqi efforts to foster political reconciliation among diverse groups of Iraq nationalists. (Read more about this here.)

Propaganda and the surge

The Maliki regime has set an ultimatum demanding that the militias -- the nationalist militias -- lay down their arms within the next two days or face "more serious consequences." Al-Sadr has also issued an ultimatum: The government must cease its attacks on his followers, or his followers will escalate. It is an extremely dangerous situation, especially given the fact that the main U.S. resupply routes stretch from Baghdad through the Shia-dominated southern provinces.

But the precariousness of the situation appears to be of little concern to the military command, which issued a statement saying that the violence was a result of the success of the U.S. troop "surge" (Bush called the "crackdown" a "bold decision'' that shows the country's security forces are capable of combating terrorists). It's yet another example of the administration putting U.S. geostrategic (and economic) interests ahead of Iraqi reconciliation and democratic governance.

The much-touted troop "surge" had little to do with the drop in violence in recent months -- it didn't even correlate with the lull chronologically and was certainly a minor causal factor at best. A number of factors led to the reduced violence, but Sadr's cease-fire had the greatest impact. Nonetheless, the Maliki regime, backed by the United States, continued a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Sadr's followers, denied them space to peacefully resist the occupation and forced his hand.

Given the degree to which the coalition has continued to stir a hornets' nest, we may be seeing a perfect illustration of the dangers of believing one's own propaganda play out as Iraq is once again set aflame.

See more stories tagged with: iraq, sadr, siic, al fadhila, maliki, hakim, basra, sadr city

Joshua Holland
is an AlterNet staff writer. Raed Jarrar is Iraq Consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs at Raed in the Middle.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Changing Tack on Anti-War Tactics

Anti-war Campaigners Have To Change Electoral Tactics

Neither Clinton nor Obama has a real plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but they could be forced to change position

By Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill

25/03/08 "The Guardian" -- -- 'So?" So said Dick Cheney when asked last week about public opinion being overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq. "You can't be blown off course by polls." A few days later, his attitude, about the fact that the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 4,000, displayed similar levels of sympathy. They "voluntarily put on the uniform," the vice-president told ABC news.

This brick wall of indifference helps explain the paradox in which we in the US anti-war camp find ourselves five years into the occupation of Iraq: anti-war sentiment is as strong as ever, but our movement seems to be dwindling. Sixty-four per cent of Americans tell pollsters they oppose the war, but you'd never know it from the thin turnout at recent rallies and vigils.

When asked why they aren't expressing their anti-war opinions through the anti-war movement, many say they have simply lost faith in the power of protest. They marched against the war before it began, marched on the first, second and third anniversaries. And yet, five years on, US leaders are still shrugging: "So?"

That's why it's time for the anti-war movement to change tactics. We should direct our energy where it can still have an impact: the leading Democratic contenders.

Many argue otherwise. They say that if we want to end the war, we should simply pick a candidate who is not John McCain and help them win: we'll sort out the details after the Republicans are evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some of the most prominent anti-war voices - from to the Nation, the magazine we both write for - have gone down this route, throwing their weight behind the Obama campaign.

This is a serious strategic mistake. It is during a hotly contested campaign that anti-war forces have the power to actually sway US policy. As soon as we pick sides, we relegate ourselves to mere cheerleaders.

And when it comes to Iraq, there is little to cheer. Look past the rhetoric and it becomes clear that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has a real plan to end the occupation. They could, however, be forced to change their positions, thanks to the unique dynamics of the prolonged primary battle.

Despite the calls for Clinton to withdraw in the name of "unity", it is the very fact that Clinton and Obama are still fighting it out, fiercely vying for votes, that presents the anti-war movement with its best pressure point. And our pressure is badly needed.

For the first time in 14 years, weapons manufacturers are donating more to Democrats than to Republicans. The Democrats have received 52% of the defence industry's political donations in this election cycle - up from a low of 32% in 1996. That money is about shaping foreign policy and, so far, it appears to be well spent.

While Clinton and Obama denounce the war with great passion, they both have detailed plans to continue it. Both say they intend to maintain the massive green zone, including the monstrous US embassy, and to retain US control of Baghdad airport.

They will have a "strike force" to engage in counter-terrorism, as well as trainers for the Iraqi military. Beyond these US forces, the army of green zone diplomats will require heavily armed security details, which are currently provided by Blackwater and other private security companies. At present there are as many private contractors supporting the occupation as there are soldiers, so these plans could mean tens of thousands of US personnel entrenched for the future.

In sharp contrast to this downsized occupation is the unequivocal message coming from hundreds of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq Veterans Against the War which, earlier this month, held the Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Spring, Maryland - modelled on the 1971 Winter Soldier investigation, in which veterans testified about US atrocities in Vietnam - are not supporting any candidate or party. Instead they are calling for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all US soldiers and contractors. Coming from peace activists, the "out now" position has been dismissed as naive. It is harder to ignore coming from the hundreds who have served - and continue to serve - on the frontlines.

The candidates know that much of the passion fuelling their campaigns flows from the desire among so many rank-and-file Democrats to end this disastrous war. Crucially, the candidates have already shown that they are vulnerable to pressure from the peace camp. When the Nation revealed that neither candidate was supporting legislation that would ban the use of Blackwater and other private security companies in Iraq, Clinton changed course. She became the most important US political leader to endorse the ban - scoring a point on Obama, who opposed the invasion from the start.

This is exactly where we want the candidates: outdoing each other to prove how serious they are about ending the war. That kind of battle has the power to energise voters and break the cynicism that is threatening both campaigns.

Let's remember, unlike the outgoing Bush administration, these candidates need the support of the two-thirds of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq. If opinion transforms into action, they won't be able to afford to say, "So?"

Copyright New York Times syndication

Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine; Jeremy Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army -

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Only Fitting Tribute

The Only Fitting Tribute
by Frances Moore Lappé

I feel a bit silly. For decades I called myself a child of the '60s, only to realize on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New Deal that I'm really its child. Coming to maturity as its beneficiary, I had a debt-free college education and, thanks to New Deal advances that doubled the real family income of the poor and middle class, my husband and I were able to live for a time on his salary alone.

It was thus, very practically, the New Deal that freed me to explore the "big questions." Food, the basis of life, seemed like a smart place to start, so I asked, Why hunger in a world of plenty?

Soon it began to dawn on me: As long as food is merely a commodity in societies that don't protect people's right to participate in the market, and as long as farming is left vulnerable to consolidated power off the farm, many will go hungry, farmers among them -- no matter how big the harvests.

I might have gotten there quicker if I'd studied Roosevelt's insight that, to serve life, markets need help from accountable, democratic government. Against those who saw "economic laws" as "sacred," he argued that "economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings." So in 1944 (my birth year), Roosevelt called on Americans to implement what was already "accepted" -- "a second Bill of Rights" centered on economic opportunity and security. It would, in effect, put values-boundaries around the market. His goal wasn't a legal document, observes University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, but the generation of a "set of public commitments by and for the citizenry, very much like the Declaration of Independence."

The first two economic rights assured a "useful" job that paid enough to provide "adequate food and clothing." The third guaranteed farmers a high enough return for their crops to provide their families with a "decent living." To begin, he asked Congress to pass a "cost of food law," putting a price floor under farmers and a price ceiling on the cost of food necessities for all.

In emphasizing rights, Roosevelt clearly did not view the New Deal as a giant safety net; rather, he saw it as a way to advance freedom. Freedom rests as much on economic as political rights, he argued, because both are necessary to security and peace, which in turn are the basis of citizens' freedom from fear and to the liberation of our talents. "Necessitous men are not free men," he said.

What if Americans were now to demand that presidential contenders further Roosevelt's definition of freedom? Imagine calling on our next President to focus, laser-like, on FDR's core insight that concentrated economic power is anathema to democracy and freedom. By April 1938, even after basic economic protections for citizens were law, Roosevelt still warned that "the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism." (Roosevelt could hardly have imagined such "growth in private power" that more than sixty lobbyists now ply their trade in Washington for every person elected to represent us.)

Given the New Deal's powerful grounding in freedom and the striking advances it ushered in for most Americans, why was the right able to reverse the New Deal in just one generation? Perhaps the answer is that the New Deal failed to instill an understanding of democracy as more than a particular structure of government, more than a set of laws protecting our freedoms.

Enduring, effective democracy isn't something we have that's finished; it's what we do that's always unfolding. Democracy is a particular culture, a system of values -- fairness, inclusion and mutual accountability -- that empowered citizens learn to infuse in all dimensions of our common life.

In other words, to save the democracy we thought we had, we must now take democracy to where it's never been. Might we start by demanding that the 2008 presidential contenders commit to engaging us in living democracy -- in community-based deliberation, policy shaping and action, on matters from climate change to ending hunger to reinventing farming so that it sustains both farmers and the land?

There could be no more fitting tribute to the New Deal in its seventy-fifth year -- at least in the eyes of one of its children.

Frances Moore Lappé is the author of fifteen books, including, most recently, Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Our Democracy to Life (Wiley), and Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad (Small Planet Media).

Copyright ©2008 The Nation

Monday, March 24, 2008

Undermining Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain Road Foe Grabs Mineral Rights
'Bare Mountain' claim could test mining law nuisance provisions.

By Andrew MacLeod
Published: March 24, 2008

Tree sitters opposed to the expansion of the Bear Mountain development outside Victoria could soon be trading their ropes and climbing gear for pick axes and hard hats.

Just weeks ago, RCMP arrested protester Ingmar Lee for attempting to block construction of a highway interchange to serve Bear Mountain. A court order bars him from the site. Now, thanks to changes the provincial government made to how miners stake claims in the province, Lee owns the mineral rights under the interchange construction site as well as below the entire development.

"I intend to go up to Bear Mountain and tap into the money gusher," said Lee. "I intend to take advantage of this opportunity in the spirit of how the opportunity has been designed by the Gordon Campbell government. That's to extract as much money as possible from the landscape."

As part of a cross-government effort to reduce red tape and cut regulations, the Campbell government made some major changes to the rules governing mining. In the past, a section of the Mineral Tenure Act prohibited miners from interfering with private landowners. The Liberals repealed that section in 2002. Then, in 2005, the government introduced an Internet staking system that allows miners to stake a claim without ever even visiting the area they're claiming.

While the system quickly led to confrontations between owners of surface and subsurface rights, Lee's claim is the rare case where an owner of mineral rights is a declared opponent of development happening on the surface.

Sincerity an issue

The developers of Bear Mountain once held the mineral rights to the property, but let them lapse, said one of those developers, Len Barrie. When told who now holds the rights, Barrie said, "With him it would be more than a nuisance. Let him do what he does, eh."

"I'm not really concerned about it," he said. "With our zoning now, it's no longer applicable, now that it's a residential community."

"As I understand it, the gold commissioner has the right to get rid of vexatious claims, claims that are not sincere," said Byng Giraud, the vice-president of policy and communications for the Mining Association of B.C. "It will probably take a complaint by somebody asking the civil service to look into it."

Representatives of the gold commissioner in the Victoria region did not return calls by deadline.

A spokesperson for the Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Ministry e-mailed background information. Under the Mineral Tenure Act, he said, there are "legal remedies" so someone like Barrie can "challenge a claim that appears to be held for non-mining purposes."

The act also sets out how conflicts between surface and subsurface rights will be dealt with, the e-mail said. "[The act] contains prohibitions against exploration in certain areas, including curtilage of a dwelling, which would effectively make most, if not all, of the Bear Mountain development off limits."

While the act does not define "curtilage," a dictionary definition says it is "a small court, yard, or piece of ground surrounding a house and forming one unit with it." It is not clear how it would apply to Bear Mountain, where many of the proposed units still only exist on paper, and the spokesperson did not respond by deadline to a request for further information.

'Bare Mountain Bonanza Corp.'

For his part, Lee said he is sincere and will exploit the claim.

Lee acquired the rights from a Victoria-area prospector who recently noticed while searching the province's online tenure registry that they were available. For a few hundred dollars he snapped them up, then within days signed them over to Lee. According to the province's mineral titles online system, Ingmar Christopher Alan Lee is owner number 214450. He holds a 100 per cent share in tenures 578201, 578235 and 578257, covering a total of almost 950 hectares under and around the Bear Mountain development.

Lee has formed a company, Bare Mountain Bonanza Corp., to exploit the claim, and has been to a lawyer to find out what his rights and responsibilities are.

'An enormous opportunity'

His rights will give him access to the property, and he can bring in heavy machinery to do the work. He's even entitled to stop any dump trucks leaving the property with rock from excavations so he can inspect the loads for any potentially valuable minerals.

"I certainly have an interest in everything that's set for blasting," he said. "There's an enormous opportunity here."

Also, as Lee understands it, the law doesn't just allow him to exploit the claim, it requires him to. "I'm obliged to or that proprietary right will be confiscated," he said. To avoid the mining minister stepping in, he added, "I intend to exploit this in the spirit in which it was designed."

Selling Wrangellia rocks

The area has potential, he said. The Goldstream, which runs through a nearby provincial park, was once the site of gold prospecting, and people still sometimes pan for the metal in it. The bulk of his claim consists of what's known as Wrangellia terrane, made of igneous rock not normally of high value.

That, however, is a matter of marketing, said Lee. "We think we can sell the Wrangellia," he said. "I know a lot of people who wouldn't mind spending a couple bucks for a piece of Bear Mountain Wrangellia."

There are a few things he'll do differently from mining industry standards. For one thing, any profits will be invested in developing better ways to tree sit, he said. The company will also tread relatively lightly on the land.

"My corporation will not destroy anything that isn't already destroyed," Lee said. A lot of work has already been done in the area over the last seven years, Lee notes. "There's less biodiversity on the Bear Mountain golf course than there is on a parking lot."

And the golf course is where he figures he'll start. Right around the ninth hole, which just happens to be next to developer Len Barrie's house.

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook - Roger Annis Mon. Mar. 24, 2008

This Week on GR

Over the past year, Gorilla Radio has featured the overblown, overbearing development at Bear Mountain, the clear-cut greeting your westward gaze at the Sooke Hills. Over the weekend, I had the chance to accompany British Columbia's newest mining magnate, Ingmar Lee to examine and assay his mineral claim to the entire reaches of Spaet Mountain, also known as Skirt Mountain, and in its desecrated form, Bear Mountain. Heading for them thar hills with Ingmar Lee and crew in the first half.

And; last month, to much fanfare, the Campbell government announced their 2008 budget. Remarkably, that budget contains North America's first carbon tax. The tax has been well received in some environmental quarters, but is this carbon tax all it pretends to be? Roger Annis is a trade unionist and social activist and member of Vancouver's coalition. He's looked into the details behind the Liberal's newly turned green leaf. Roger Annis in the second segment.

And; Janine Bandcroft will not join us this week to bring us up to speed with good goings on in and around Victoria, but may join us next week.
5:02:00 26:00 A walk on the bare mountain (podcast)
5:28:00 2:00 Cart(s)
5:30:00 4:00 Music
5:34:00 25:00 Discussion w/ Roger Annis

Welcome back to GR, etc. Last month, to much fanfare, the Campbell government announced their 2008 budget. Remarkably, that budget contains North America's first carbon tax. The tax has been well received in some environmental quarters, but is this carbon tax all it pretends to be? Roger Annis is a trade unionist and social activist and member of Vancouver's coalition. He's looked into the details behind the Liberal's newly turned green leaf.

"Welcome back to the show, Roger. Some prominent "green" voices have joined the choir, praising the Campbell government's devotion to the environment, late won perhaps, but are the Liberals the green prodigals some would colour them?"

If I Can’t Dance…

An Open Letter to the US Left on the Relevance of Culture

Being an activist is a hard, relatively thankless, generally unpaid job. There are some really wonderful people who are going to be offended by this essay, and I apologize in advance if you’re one of them, but what I say here had to be said. We’re all hopefully trying to make the world a better place, and sometimes that means having open disagreements. I welcome any and all feedback, public or private, and of course feel free to post and distribute this essay wherever you see fit.

Last weekend I sang at an antiwar protest in downtown Portland, Oregon, on the fifth anniversary of the ongoing slaughter in Iraq. In both its good and bad aspects, the event downtown was not unusual. Hard-working, unpaid activists from various organizations and networks put in long hours organizing, doing publicity, and sitting through lots of contentious meetings in the weeks and months leading up to the event. On the day of the event, different groups set up tents to network with the public and talk about matters of life and death. There was a stage with talented musicians of various musical genres performing throughout the day, and a rally with speakers in the afternoon, followed by a march. Attendance was pathetically low. In large part I’m sure this was due to the general sense of discouragement most people in the US seem to feel about our ability to effect change under the Bush regime. It was raining especially hard by west coast standards, and that also didn’t help.

The crowd grew to it’s peak size during the rally and march, but was almost nonexistent before the 2 pm rally. There was only a trickle of people visiting the various tents prior to the rally, and the musicians on the stage were playing to a largely nonexistent audience. The musical program, scheduled to happen from 10 am to 6 pm, was being billed as the World War None Festival. The term “festival” was contentious, however, and Pdx Peace, the local peace coalition responsible for the rally, couldn’t come to consensus on using the term “festival.” In their publicity they referred to the festival as an “action camp.” The vast majority of people have no idea what an “action camp” is, including me, and I’ve been actively involved in the progressive movement for my entire adult life. The local media, of course, also had no idea what an “action camp” was, and any publicity that could have been hoped for from them did not happen. Word did not spread about the event to any significant degree, at least in part because people didn’t know what they were supposed to be spreading the word about. Everybody from all political, social, class and ethnic backgrounds knows what a festival is, but certain elements within Pdx Peace didn’t want to use the term to describe what was quite obviously meant to be a festival (as well as a rally and march). Anybody above the age of three can tell you that when you have live music on a stage outdoors all day, that’s called a festival. But not Pdx Peace.

Why? I wasn’t at the meetings -- thankfully, I’m just a professional performer, not an organizer of anything other than my own concert tours, so I only know second-hand about what was said. There’s no need to name the names of individuals or the smaller groups involved with the coalition in this case -- the patterns are so common and so well-established that the names just don’t matter. Some people within the peace coalition were of the opinion that the war in Iraq was too serious a matter to have a festival connected to it. Because, I imagine, of some combination of factors including the nature of consensus decision-making, sectarianism on the part of a few, and muddled thinking on the part of some others, those who thought that a festival should happen -- and should be called a festival -- were overruled. My hat goes off to the World War None Festival organizers (a largely separate entity from Pdx Peace), and to those within Pdx Peace who tried and failed to call the festival what it was, and to organize a well-attended event.

As to those who succeeded in sabotaging the event, I ask, why is so much of the left in the US so attached to being so dreadfully boring? Why do so many people on the left apparently have no appreciation for the power and importance of culture? And when organizers, progressive media and others on the left do acknowledge culture, why is it usually kept on the sidelines? What are we trying to accomplish here?

It wasn’t always this way. Going back a hundred years, before we had a significant middle class in this country, before we had a Social Security system, Worker’s Compensation, Medicare, or anything approximating the actual (not just on paper) right to free speech, when most of the working class majority in this country were living in utter destitution and generally working (when they could find work) in extremely dangerous conditions for extremely long hours, often in jobs that required them to be itinerant, required them to forego the pleasure of having families that they might have a chance to see now and then, out of these conditions the Industrial Workers of the World was born.

The IWW at that time was a huge, militant union that could bring industrial production in the US to a halt, and on various regional levels, quite regularly did. It was a multi-ethnic union led by women and men of a wide variety of backgrounds, from all over the world. It’s most well-known member to this day was a singer-songwriter named Joe Hill, and he was only one of many of the musician-organizers that constituted both the leadership and membership of the IWW. While starving, striking, or being attacked by police on the streets of Seattle, Boston and everywhere in between, the IWW sang. Their publications were filled with poems, lyrics and cartoons. Everybody knew the songs and sung them daily. Some of the songs were instructive, meant to educate workers in effective organizing techniques. Others were battle cries of resistance, and still others celebrated victories or lamented defeats. Their cause was nothing short of the physical survival and spiritual dignity of the working class. They put their bodies on the line and were often killed and maimed for it, but they transformed this society profoundly, and they sang the whole way through. Was their cause serious? As serious as serious can get. And to this day, multitudes around the world remember the songs of Joe Hill, Ralph Chaplin, and T-Bone Slim, long after their speeches and pamphlets have been forgotten. Like many other singer-songwriters throughout the history of the class war, Joe Hill was executed by a firing squad in 1916. Why? Exactly because he was so serious -- a serious threat to the robber barons who ruled this country.

A very different, much more rigidly ideological organization that rose to prominence during the declining years of the IWW was the Communist Party. This is an organization whose early years are within the living memory of close friends of mine, such as my dear friend Bob Steck, who died last year at the age of 95, and spent most of his life fighting for humanity. I spent hundreds of hours over the course of many years interrogating Bob about his life and times (at least ten hours of which are recorded for posterity on cassettes somewhere). The Communist Party was very different from the IWW in many ways, but in it’s heyday it was also a huge, grassroots movement, whose leadership and membership took many cards from the IWW’s deck, including their emphasis on the vital importance of culture.

When Bob talked about the CP’s orientation with regards to organizing the revolution in the USA, he said there were three primary components: the unions, the streets, and the theater. Fighting for the welfare of the working class by organizing for the eight-hour day and decent wages (largely through the communist-led Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO), organizing the starving millions in the streets into the unions of the unemployed, and -- just as importantly -- fighting for the hearts and minds of the people through music, theater, and art. Among the musical vanguard of the communist movement of the 1930’s were people who are still household names today for millions of people in the US and around the world -- Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, to name a few. Traveling theater companies brought the work of Clifford Odetts and Bertoldt Brecht to the people, educating and inspiring militant action throughout the US. I remember Bob describing the audience reaction to one of the early performances of Waiting for Lefty in New York City, the gasps of excitement and possibility in the packed theater when the actors on stage shouted those last lines of the play -- “Strike! Strike! Strike!” Ten curtain calls later, everyone in the theater was ready to take to the streets, and did.

Bob and his comrades organized and sang in New York, just as they sang going into battle in Spain in the first fight against fascism, the one in which the US was on the side of the fascists. Nothing unusual about that -- soldiers on every side in every war sing as they go into battle, whether the cause is just or unjust. They and their leadership, whether fascist or democrat, socialist or anarchist, know that the songs are just as powerful as the guns (regardless of what Tom Lehrer said). You can’t fire if you’re running away, and if you want to stand and fight you have to sing. Talk to anybody involved with the Civil Rights movement and they’ll tell you, if we weren’t singing, we surely would have lost heart and ran in the face of those hate-filled, racist police and their dogs, guns, and water cannon. Talk to anyone who lived through the 60’s -- who remembers any but the most eloquent of the speeches by the likes of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, or Mario Savio? But millions remember the songs. Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, James Brown, Aretha Franklin were the soundtrack to the struggle. Open any magazine or newspaper in this country to this day and you will find somewhere in the pages an unaccredited reference to a line in a Bob Dylan song. (Try it, it’s fun.)

Around the world it’s the same. Dedicated leftists may sit through the speeches of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, but transcendent poetry of Pablo Neruda and the enchanting melodies of Silvio Rodriguez cross all political and class lines. You will have to try hard to find a Spanish-speaking person anywhere in the Americas who does not love the work of that Cuban communist, Silvio. You'll have to search hard to find a Latino who does not have a warm place in their heart for that murdered Chilean singer-songwriter, Victor Jara.

Talk to any Arab of any background, no matter how despondent they may be about the state of the Arab world, try to find one whose eyes do not light up when you merely mention the names Mahmoud Darwish, Marcel Khalife, Feyrouz, Um Khultum. Try to find anyone in Ireland but the most die-hard Loyalist who doesn’t tear up when listening to the music of Christy Moore, whatever they think of the IRA. And ask progressives on the streets of the US today how they came to hold their political views that led them to take the actions they are now taking, and as often as not you will hear answers like, “I discovered punk rock, the Clash changed my life,” or “I went to a concert of Public Enemy, and that was it.”

Music -- and art, poetry, theater -- is powerful (if it’s good). The powers that be know this well. Joe Hill and Victor Jara are only a small fraction of the musicians killed by the ruling classes for doing what they do. By the same token, those who run this country (and so many other countries) know the power of music and art to serve their purposes -- virtually every product on the shelf in every store in the US has a jingle to go along with it, and often brilliant artistic imagery to go along with the jingle, shouting at us from every billboard and TV commercial. (The ranks of Madison Avenue are filled with brilliant minds who would rather be doing something more fulfilling with their creative energy.)

Enter 2008. Knowing the essential power of music, the very industry that sells us music mass-produced in Nashville and LA has done their best to kill music. For decades, the few multi-billion-dollar corporations that control the music business and the commercial airwaves have done their best to teach us all that music is something to have in the background to comfort you as you try to get through another mind-numbing day of meaningless labor in some office building or department store. It’s something to help you seduce someone perhaps, or to help you get over a breakup. It is not something to inspire thought, action, or feelings of compassion for humanity (other than for your girlfriend or boyfriend).

There are always exceptions to prove the rule, but by and large, the writers and performers in Nashville and LA know what they’re being paid to do, and what they’re being paid not to do -- if it ever occurred to them to do anything else in the first place. But even more potently, all those millions of musicians aspiring to become stars, or at least to make a living at their craft, know either consciously or implicitly that any hope of success rides on imitating the garbage that comes out of these music factories. Of course, there are the many others who write and sing songs (and create art, plays, screenplays, etc.) out of a need to express themselves or even out of a desire to make a difference in the world, but they are systematically kept off of the airwaves, out of the record deals, relegated largely to the internet, very lucky if they might manage to make a living at their craft. Fundamentally, though, they are made to feel marginal, and are looked at by much of society as marginal, novelties, exotic. Although they are actually the mainstream of the (non-classical) musical tradition in the US and around the world, although the kind of music they create has been and is still loved by billions around the world for centuries, in the current climate, especially in present-day US society, they are a marginal few.

And no matter how enlightened we would like to think we are, the progressive movement is part of this society, for good and for ill. Most of us have swallowed this shallow understanding of what music is. The evidence is overwhelming. There are, of course, exceptions. Folks like the organizers of the annual protests outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia -- School of the Americas Watch -- are well aware of the potency of culture, and use music and art to great effect, inspiring and educating tens of thousands of participants every November.

On the other end of the spectrum are the ideologically-driven people who have turned hatred of culture into a sort of art. I have to smile when I think of the small minority of Islamist wackos who tried to storm the stage at one rally I sang at in DC in 2002, shouting, “No music! No music!” Security for the stage was being provided by the Nation of Islam, who faced off with this group of Islamists, who ultimately decided that throwing down with the Jewels of Islam behind the stage that day wasn’t in their best interests, apparently.

But much more prevalent, and therefore much scarier, are groups like the ANSWER “Coalition.” (I put “coalition” in quotes because I have yet to meet a member of a group that theoretically makes up the “coalition” that has had any say in what goes on at their rallies, although the leadership of ANSWER is of course happy to receive the bus-loads of people that their “coalition” members bring to their rallies, which seems to be the only thing that makes ANSWER a “coalition.”) ANSWER, last I heard, is run by the ultra-left sectarian group known as the Worker’s World Party, which I strongly suspect is working for the FBI. (Although as Ward Churchill says, you don’t need to be a cop to do a cop’s job.)

Millions of people in the US who regularly go to antiwar protests are unaware of who is organizing them. They just want to go to an antiwar protest. ANSWER has become almost synonymous with “antiwar protest,” to the extent that many people on the periphery of the left (such as most people who go to their protests) refer to antiwar protests as “ANSWER protests,” as in “I went to an ANSWER protest,” whether or not the protest was actually organized by ANSWER. (Just as many people say “I was listening to NPR” when they were actually listening to a community radio station that has nothing to do with NPR, broadcasting programs such as Democracy Now!, which the vast majority of NPR stations still will not touch with a ten foot pole.)

I always find it unnerving and intriguing that ANSWER protests always seem to be mentioned on NPR and broadcast on CSPAN, whereas rallies organized by the bigger and actual coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), almost never manage to make it onto CSPAN or get covered by the corporate media. ANSWER always seems to get the permits, whereas UFPJ seems to be systematically denied them. Anyway, I digress (a little). I tend to avoid anything having to do with ANSWER or the little-known, shadowy Worker’s World Party, but a few years ago I was driving across Tennessee listening to CSPAN on my satellite radio, and they broadcast the full four hours of an ANSWER protest in DC. I sat through it because I wanted to hear it from beginning to end, for research purposes, and Tennessee is a long state to drive through from west to east, had to do something during that drive. There was one song in the four-hour rally. Although I’ve been an active member of the left for twenty years, I recognized almost none of the names of the people who spoke at the rally. Every speech was full of boring, tired rhetoric, as if they were out of a screenplay written by a rightwing screenwriter who was trying to make a mockery out of leftwing political rallies. Judging from the names of the organizations involved, very few of which I recognized either, they were mostly tiny little Worker’s World Party front groups. And since the Worker’s World Party apparently doesn’t have any musicians in their pocket, there was no music to speak of. (Or, quite probably I suspect, they don't want music at their rallies because they don't want their rallies to be interesting.)

ANSWER is an extreme example, but a big one that most progressives are unfortunately familiar with, whether they know who ANSWER (or Worker’s World) is or not. Inevitably, most people leave ANSWER protests feeling vaguely used and demoralized -- aside from those who manage to stay far enough away from the towers of speakers so they can avoid hearing all the mindless rhetoric pouring out of them. Contrast the mood with the protests at the gates of Fort Benning, where most people leave feeling hopeful and inspired.

I know I have no more hope of influencing the leadership of Worker’s World with this essay than I have of influencing the behavior of the New York City police department with it. But neither of these organizations are my target audience. Those who I hope to reach are those who are genuinely trying to create rallies and other events in the hopes of influencing and inspiring public opinion, in the hopes of inspiring people to action, in the hopes of winning allies among the apolitical or even among conservatives. The people I hope to reach are those who have been unwittingly influenced by the corporate music industry’s implicit definition of what music and culture is and is not.

And, here we go, I would count among this group most of the hard-working, loving and compassionate people who are organizing rallies, who are organizing actions, who are organizing unions, and who are creating progressive media on the radio, on community television and on the internet in the US today.

I’d like to pause for a moment to make a disclosure. I am a professional politically-oriented musician, what the corporate media (and many progressives) would call a “protest singer,” though I reject the term. I’m not sure what, if anything, I have to gain personally by publishing these thoughts, but I think it behooves me to point out that I am one of the lucky ones who has performed at rallies and in progressive and mainstream media for hundreds of thousands of people on a fairly regular basis throughout the world, and I would like to hope that my words here will not be understood as Rovics whining that he’s not famous enough. I speak here for culture generally, not for myself as an individual singer-songwriter.

My desire is to reach groups like Pdx Peace and their sister organizations throughout the country. These are genuinely democratic groups, real coalitions made up of real people, not sectarian, unaccountable groups like ANSWER. These are groups, in short, made up of my friends and comrades, but these are groups also made up of people who grew up in this society and therefore generally have a lot to learn about the power of culture to educate and inspire people. It is not good enough to have music on the stage as people are gathering to rally and as they are leaving to march. It’s not good enough to have a song or two sandwiched in between another half hour of speeches -- no matter how many organizations want to have speakers representing them on stage, or whatever other very legitimate excuses organizers have for making their events, once again, long and boring (even if they’re not as long or as boring as an ANSWER rally). It is not good enough for wonderful, influential radio/TV shows like Democracy Now! to have snippets of songs in between their interviews, when only two or three of those interviews each year are related to culture. It is a sorry state of affairs that NPR news shows do a better job of covering pop culture than Pacifica shows do in terms of covering leftwing culture.

The vast majority of the contemporary, very talented, dedicated musicians represented by, say, the "links" page on, have rarely or never been invited to sing at a local or national protest rally (even if some few of us have, many times). The vast majority of progressive conferences do not even include a concert, or if they do, it's background music during dinner on Saturday night. I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard Democracy Now! or Free Speech Radio News mention that a great leftwing artist is doing a tour of the US. The number of fantastic musicians out there who have even been played during the station breaks on Democracy Now! is a tiny fraction of those that are out there -- of the dozens of musicians featured on my "links" page for example, only a small handful have even been played once. It is shameful that it's easier to get a national, mainstream radio show in the UK or Canada to plug a tour of such a musician than it is to get any national Pacifica program to do this.

Radical culture needs to be fostered and promoted, front and center, not sidelined as people are gathering, or when the radio stations are doing station ID's. Because if the point is to inspire people to action, a song is worth a hundred speeches. If the point is to educate people, a three-minute ballad is easily equal to any book. (They'll read the book after they hear the song, not the other way around.)

It is often said that we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of this country. It is us versus CNN, NPR, Bush, Clinton, etc. In this battle, style matters, not just content. In this battle, it is absolutely imperative that we remember that it is not only the minds we need to win, but the hearts. At least in terms of the various forms of human communication, there is nothing on Earth more effective in winning hearts than music and art. We ignore or sideline music and art at our peril. It's time to listen to the music.