Saturday, November 19, 2005

Brison attacks Harper as anti-Charter, anti-gay


In a harbinger of the mudslinging that could shape this winter's expected federal election, a senior Liberal cabinet minister today attacked Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as a socially conservative dinosaur opposed to gay and charter rights.

After a speech to the Rotary Club in which he signalled some of the broad themes of a Liberal campaign, Public Works Minister Scott Brison warned that Harper would turn Canada's social clock back in time.

Harper has consistently found himself at odds with such core Canadian values as multiculturalism, bilingualism, publicly funded health care and the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Brison said.

"During the great debates around those issues. . .people like Stephen Harper consistently stood four-square against the types of policies that built the Canada we love," said Brison.

"As head of the National Citizens Coalition, Mr. Harper (and) his organization, held positions that were contrary to publicly funded health care, that were contrary to bilingualism and the charter, and to multiculturalism."

In past elections, Harper's social values have been his Achilles' heel, especially in riding-rich Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals played to voter fears by portraying him and his party as intolerant.

Harper was not immediately available to comment.

A full-blown election campaign could come within weeks.

The Opposition parties have said they would try to bring down the minority Liberals at the first opportunity, even if that would spark an election campaign that would run through the holidays.

Brison told his audience that Liberals understand the importance of the charter and other policies that "have shaped one of the most progressive societies in the world."

The Conservatives, he argued, would undo the progress if elected.

Brison, who characterizes himself as a politician who happens to be gay, said it was the charter and its equality rights that had made his political career possible.

Brison took special aim at Harper's views of same-sex marriage, a key hot-button issue in the last election, saying the Conservative leader has stated he would be open to repealing the law that recognizes gay marriages.

"That would be the first time in Canada that we would see the repealing of a charter right," Brison said.

"Mr. Harper has left himself open to that possibility."

Conservative industry critic James Rajotte said Brison’s assertions are "completely wrong."

Harper has always told his caucus there will be free votes on contentious matters, Rajotte said.

"Whether it’s marriage, whether it’s euthanasia, whether it’s abortion, he ... will not impose any position on his members of Parliament," Rajotte said.

"The party actually explicitly said it would not change any of the abortion legislation at its March convention, so (Brison) is just basically saying things which are absolutely not true."

During his speech, Brison made references to the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal, emphasizing the finding that most civil servants are honest and that Canada's democratic institutions work.

Afterward, he was presented with a bottle of sparkling wine from Gomerie in France.

"Finally, something to celebrate out of Gomery," he joked.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Needs to be said over and over. President George W. Bush

Ominous Warnings Redux from Investors Business Daily

By popular demand, we are rerunning a list of quotes that first appeared in our Sept. 29, 2003, issue, showing that President Bush was not alone among U.S. leaders in being alarmed about the threat Saddam Hussein posed.

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line." President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998.

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program." Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998.

"Iraq is a long way from (here), but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face." Madeline Albright, Clinton secretary of state, Feb 18, 1998.

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has 10 times since 1983." Sandy Berger, Clinton national security adviser, Feb, 18, 1998.

"(W)e urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspected Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs." Letter to Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, John Kerry and others, Oct. 9, 1998.

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology, which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process." Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Dec. 16, 1998.

"Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies." Albright, Nov. 10, 1999.

"There is no doubt that ... Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies." Letter to President Bush, signed by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and others, Dec, 5, 2001.

"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them." Levin, Sept. 19, 2002.

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country." Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power." Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Sept. 27, 2002.

"The last U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons." Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Oct. 3, 2002.

"I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force -- if necessary -- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security." Kerry, Oct. 9, 2002.

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. ... We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction." Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Oct. 10, 2002.

"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant U.N. resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do." Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Oct. 10, 2002.

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons." Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Oct 10, 2002.

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction." Graham, Dec. 8, 2002.

"(W)ithout question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. ... He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction. ... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real." Kerry, Jan. 23. 2003.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Top Editors Don't Want to Explain Their Free Pass to Democrats for Closed Senate Session
Posted by Mark Tapscott on November 3, 2005 - 09:16.

Closing meetings of public bodies is and should be anathema to journalists and all others who care about the public's right to know and the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press, but journalists hardly uttered a peep when Democrats closed the Senate this week.

Normally, journalists are out front in battles to force politicians and bureaucrats at the local and state levels to open their meetings to reporters and members of the public.

So why the silence among the nation's journalists about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, forcing the U.S. Senate to kick reporters and spectators out, bolt the doors and dim the lights for a closed session Nov. 1 on prosecuting government officials for leaking information about war and peace to ... journalists?

Actually, silence is not quite accurate. Two professional journalist organizations took strong stands condemning the closed session. The first of those stands came within hours after the Senate's closed session when Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, condemned Senate Democrats, observing that "the best way to combat secrecy and obfuscation is not more secrecy."

You can read Dalglish's full statement here.

After reading the RCFP statement, I asked the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors and Radio and Television News Directors Association if they planned to say anything about the closed session.

Christine Tatum, President-Elect of SPJ, left no doubt about her reaction, condemning Senate Democrats and saying:

"Senate Democrats clearly want more information about government intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq. The best way to get it is by conducting inquiry and debate out in the open so that the public can make observations, demand answers and hold government officials accountable for their actions. It makes no sense to criticize or combat secrecy with more secrecy."

Tatum, who covers business for The Denver Post, added that the issue would be discussed today in SPJ's email newsletter: "We're essentially going to make clear that we believe the hearing shouldn't have been closed, and we'll remind our members that SPJ welcomes their help in its fight for open public meetings and the freedom of information."

Barbara Cochran, President of RTNDA, said she "certainly agrees the public's business should be conducted in public," but noted that her organization had not issued a statement about the closed session. She speculated that the issue "may come up" during a telephone meeting of RTNDA leadership later this week.

The responses from RCFP and SPJ contrasted vividly with those from ASNE and IRE (Full disclosure here: I am a long-time IRE member, unabashedly encourage fellow journalists to join IRE and use a textbook written by Brant Houston, IRE's Executive Director, in The Heritage Foundation's Database 101/201 Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting Boot Camps at the National Press Club).

An email to ASNE president Rick Rodriquez, Executive Editor of The Sacremento Bee generated an "out-of-office" reply that said he would not be reviewing his email while travelling.

So I emailed the other four ASNE officers, including: David Zeeck, ASNE Vice President and Executive Editor of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Washington; Gilbert Bailon, ASNE Secretary and Executive Editor of The Dallas Morning News; Charlotte Hall, ASNE Treasurer and Editor of the Orlando Sentinel, and Marty Kaiser, ASNE Treasurer-Designate and Editor of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

As of this posting, none of Rodriquez' colleagues in the ASNE's top leadership has responded to my request for a comment on the closed Senate session.

As for IRE, I posted an invitation for comment on the IRE list serv that is read religiously by hundreds of newsroom CARR practicioners and other journalists. Only two responses were received, but both are well worth mentioning.

First, Lex Alexander, a CARR journalist and blogger extraordinaire at The Greensboro (NC) News & Record, offered this observation:

"In general, closed meetings are a bad idea, and I've fought them as hard as anyone. But with specific respect to Tuesday's closed Senate meeting, there were so many issues at play - substantive, political, procedural - that I doubt there's any one-size-fits-all argument, pro OR con, to be found."

Andee Engleman, former Executive Director of the Nevada Press Association, was anything but non-committal, noting:

"Most people think Democrats are the open government party. I've found it's a mixed bunch and tends to be an individual belief. But Sen. Reid always told me he supported open government. This is not the first time he's closed a meeting to the press.
"I understand closing the meeting was legal. That doesn't make it right. The Senate should never be closed to the public."
As for the reporting of the closed session, a Lexis-Nexis search for quotes from the RCFP statement turned up nothing, while a search using the term "closed session" found only 86 entries for the period 11/1-4.

The main wire report that did show up in the search was written by AP's Liz Sidoti but she quoted no professional journalist organization official or public meetings law expert, and included no coverage on the propriety of the closed session.

So what do we make of all this?

With the notable and commendable exceptions of Dalglish and Tatum, the cream of American journalism's leadership apparently has no qualms about Senate Democrats forcing the first closed session of the Senate since 1999 to hijack for intensely partisan political purposes the extremely controversial prosecution of a senior government official for talking to journalists.

It is easy to imagine the double standard that would have instantly been evident in the newsrooms if a Republican had forced the Senate closing. The outraged protests would have exploded from the front pages, the end of the free press would be predicted at every turn and we would hear incessant demands for the resignation of the offending GOP senators.

Shouldn't journalists be the first to decry the prosecution of an official for leaking something to the media? Shouldn't journalists be the first to condemn closing the Senate to debate that prosecution and what it may or may not reveal about the reasons for America's Iraq War? Are there any issues more demanding of a public debate than war and peace?

I ask these questions as one who has spent the better part of his career as a journalist. And I continue to marvel that so many mainstream journalists can't understand why their giving Democrats a free pass on an issue so crucial to good reporting so damages journalism's credibility.
To ABC's Surprise, Katrina Victims Praise Bush and Blame Nagin
Posted by Brent Baker on September 15, 2005 - 17:50.

ABC News producers probably didn't hear what they expected when they sent Dean Reynolds to the Houston Astrodome's parking lot to get reaction to President Bush's speech from black evacuees from New Orleans. Instead of denouncing Bush and blaming him for their plight, they praised Bush and blamed local officials. Reynolds asked Connie London: "Did you harbor any anger toward the President because of the slow federal response?" She rejected the premise: "No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state government should have been there before the federal government was called in.” She pointed out: “They had RTA buses, Greyhound buses, school buses, that was just sitting there going under water when they could have been evacuating people."

Not one of the six people interviewed on camera had a bad word for Bush -- despite Reynolds' best efforts. Reynolds goaded: "Was there anything that you found hard to believe that he said, that you thought, well, that's nice rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?" Brenda Marshall answered, "No, I didn't," prompting Reynolds to marvel to anchor Ted Koppel: "Very little skepticism here.”

Reynolds pressed another woman: “Did you feel that the President was sincere tonight?" She affirmed: "Yes, he was." Reynolds soon wondered who they held culpable for the levee breaks. Unlike the national media, London did not blame supposed Bush-mandated budget cuts: "They've been allocated federal funds to fix the levee system, and it never got done. I fault the mayor of our city personally. I really do."

Full transcript follows. Video excerpt: RealPlayer or Windows Media. Plus MP3

The MRC's Rich Noyes alerted me to the reactions ABC broadcast.

Immediately after Bush finished his speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, at about 8:26pm local CDT, Ted Koppel, anchor of ABC's hour-long coverage, went to Dean Reynolds who was outside in a parking lot with a group of black people from New Orleans who are living at the Reliant Center next to the Astrodome.

(No names were provided on-screen for those interviewed, so I only have first names for two, and no name for one, of the six.)

Reynolds elicited reaction from the group sitting in chairs: “I'd like to get the reaction of Connie London who spent several horrible hours at the Superdome. You heard the President say retpeaedly that you are not alone, that the country stands beside you. Do you believe him?”

Connie London: “Yeah, I believe him, because here in Texas, they have truly been good to us. I mean-”

Reynolds: “Did you get a sense of hope that you could return to your home one day in New Orleans?”

London: “Yes, I did. I did.”

Reynolds: “Did you harbor any anger toward the President because of the slow federal response?”

London: “No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state government should have been there before the federal government was called in. They should have been on their jobs.”

Reynolds: “And they weren't?”

London: “No, no, no, no. Lord, they wasn't. I mean, they had RTA buses, Greyhound buses, school buses, that was just sitting there going under water when they could have been evacuating people.”

Reynolds: “Now, Mary, you were rescued from your house which was basically submerged in your neighborhood. Did you hear something in the President's words that you could glean some hope from?”

Mary: “Yes. He said we're coming back, and I believe we're coming back. He's going to build the city up. I believe that.”

Reynolds: “You believe you'll be able to return to your home?”

Mary: “Yes, I do.”

Reynolds: “Why?”

Mary: “Because I really believe what he said. I believe. I got faith.”

Reynolds: “Back here in the corner, we've got Brenda Marshall, right?”

Brenda Marshall: “Yes.”

Reynolds: “Now, Brenda, you were, spent, what, several days at the Superdome, correct?”

Marshall: “Yes, I did.”

Reynolds: “What did you think of what the President told you tonight?”

Marshall: “Well, I think -- I think the speech was wonderful, you know, him specifying that we will return back and that we will have like mobile homes, you know, rent or whatever. I was listening to that pretty good. But I think it was a well fine speech.”

Reynolds: “Was there any particular part of it that stood out in your mind? I mean, I saw you all nod when he said the Crescent City is going to come back one day.”

Marshall: “Well, I think I was more excited about what he said. That's probably why I nodded.”

Reynolds: “Was there anything that you found hard to believe that he said, that you thought, well, that's nice rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?”

Marshall: “No, I didn't.”

Reynolds: “Good. Well, very little skepticism here. Frederick Gould, did you hear something that you could hang on to tonight from the President?”

Frederick Gould: “Well, I just know, you know, he said good things to me, you know, what he said, you know. I was just trying to listen to everything they were saying, you know.”

Reynolds: “And Cecilia, did you feel that the President was sincere tonight?”

Cecilia: “Yes, he was.”

Reynolds: “Do you think this is a little too late, or do you think he's got a handle on the situation?”

Cecilia: “To me it was a little too late. It was too late, but he should have did something more about it.”

Reynolds: “Now do you all believe that you will one day return to your homes?”
Voices: “Yes” and “I do.”

Reynolds: “I mean, do you all want to return to your homes? We're hearing some people don't even want to go back.”

Mary: “I want to go back.”

Reynolds: “You want to go back.”

Mary: “I want to go back. That's my home. That's all I know.”

Reynolds: “Is it your home for your whole life?”

Mary: “Right. That's my home.”

Reynolds: “And do you expect to go back to the house or a brand new dwelling or what?”

Mary: “I expect to go back to something. I know it ain't my house, because it's gone.”

Reynolds: “What is the one mistake that could have been prevented that would have made your lives much better? Is it simply getting all of you out much sooner or what was it?”

Mary: “I'm going to tell you the truth. I had the opportunity to get out, but I didn't believe it. So I stayed there till it was too late.”

Reynolds: “Did you all have the same feeling? I mean, did you all have the opportunity to get out, but you were skeptical that this was the really bad one?”

Unnamed woman: “No, I got out when they said evacuate. I got out that Sunday and I left before the storm came. But I know they could have did better than what they did because like they said, buses were just sitting there, and they could have came through there and got people out, because they were saying immediate evacuation. Some people didn't believe it. But they should have brung the force of the army through to help these people and make them understand it really was coming.”

London: “And really it wasn't Hurricane Katrina that really tore up the city. It was when they opened the floodgates. It was not the hurricane itself. It was the floodgates, when they opened the floodgates, that's where all the water came.”

Reynolds: “Do you blame anybody for this?”

London: “Yes. I mean, they've been allocated federal funds to fix the levee system, and it never got done. I fault the mayor of our city personally. I really do.”

Reynolds: “All right. Well, thank you all very much. I wish you all the best of luck. I hope you don't have to spend too much more time here in the Reliant Center and you can get back to New Orleans as the President said. Ted, that is the word from the Houston Astrodome. And as I said, when the President said that the Crescent City will rise again, there were nods all around this parking lot.”

UPDATE: On Friday’s Good Morning America, Jessica Yellin avoided the pro-Bush consensus of those shown on ABC the night before and characterized the reaction of evacuees as “mixed,” a description she managed to support by running a clip from a woman in a different location.

On the September 16 GMA, Yellin reported: "Evacuees watching the speech from Baton Rouge and Houston had mixed reviews."

Woman outside at Astrodome, in clip from ABC’s Thursday night coverage: "He said we're coming back, and I believe we're coming back. He's going to build the city up. I believe that.”

Woman inside in Baton Rouge: "All they can do is tell you what they're going to do. We need something done now. Yesterday."

SECOND UPDATE: At the start of the roundtable on Sunday’s This Week, with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts and George Will, host George Stephanopoulos observed: “I was watching on ABC on Thursday night. Some of the victims we collected in Houston loved it. They loved every single word.”
Aaron Brown Goes Out Channeling Joe Wilson; Plus Lowlights from Brown's CNN Years
Posted by Brent Baker on November 3, 2005 - 02:02.

The last moments on CNN for the network's most liberal anchor, Aaron Brown, were spent channeling Joe Wilson's talking points. (As noted by Noel Sheppard, CNN on Wednesday announced the departure of Brown and the end of NewsNight. The two-hour block starting at 10pm EST will now carry the Anderson Cooper 360 title while The Situation Room gets the 7pm EST hour.) Brown was last on CNN on Friday night wrapping up headlines at 11:01pm EDT before an airing of CNN Presents narrated by David Ensor, "Dead Wrong: Inside an Intelligence Meltdown." Just before that, at 10:54pm EDT, Brown conducted his last interview on CNN, a brief live session with Ensor, in which he pushed the spin of the radical anti-war left. He told Ensor that “people who are opposed to the war say that it wasn't just that the intelligence was wrong. It's that the intelligence was cooked." Ensor inconveniently admitted that “I also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” before Brown followed up: “At some level, this is about Joe Wilson saying -- I'm not, I'm not saying he's right about this, I'm just saying what he said -- is that they took the country to war, when they knew the evidence was at least ambiguous and they never framed it in an ambiguous way."

Below are a few examples of Brown's bias from his CNN years -- he left ABC News in 2001 -- which the MRC's Rich Noyes and I quickly collected from NewsBusters and the MRC's archive. These quotes, some with video, include how Brown, after Katrina, pressed a black Congresswoman to agree that race was behind the delayed response in New Orleans; how Brown one night trumpeted a Republican who turned against the war and wondered if the administration has been “honest”; how he ridiculed the contention that John Kerry didn't earn his Purple Heart; how he insisted that while some “will see willful deception on the part of CBS” in the Memogate scandal, “smarter and more reasoned heads know better”; how he declared the “record unambiguous” that “John Kerry was a war hero”; how, without uttering a syllable about questions about Kerry's Vietnam record, on Memorial Day 2004 Brown delivered a panegyrical, event-by-event tribute to Kerry's heroic Vietnam service; how he boasted of “a permanent smirk” spurred by Rush Limbaugh's drug troubles; how he proposed that the White House “twisted or ignored” global warming science; and how Brown swooned over Jimmy Carter: “In many places, dusty and difficult places, James Earl Carter has brought hope and dispelled, as well as anyone alive these days, the vision of the ugly American."

# Brown, who since Katrina had been put into a co-anchor situation with Anderson Cooper, solo-anchored his last NewsNight on Friday, October 28, which he opened at 10pm EDT: "Good evening again, everyone. It began with 16 words uttered by the President about Iraq and nuclear weapons, only 16 words in a very long speech. It became a battle and a scandal, and now, perhaps, a crime."

About 54 minutes later, Brown introduced his last interview on CNN: "We learned today that a Marine from Ohio was killed in Iraq on Thursday. Lance Corporal Robert Eckfield Jr. was 23 years old. As the war continues, so, of course, do the questions. Today, the special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was asked if the indictment was a vindication that the Bush administration took the country to war on a false premise. This is how he answered."

Peter Fitzgerald at press conference: "This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel."

Brown: "I don't think there was a more interesting person today, by the way, than Mr. Fitzgerald. Democrats disagree with him. They believe the indictment has everything to do with the war, how we got to war, partisan, yes, but it is part of the national debate. Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, has been doing an incredible amount of work, and good work, on the intelligence that led up to the war and how it came to be. And David joins us now. David, I think the, people's perspective on this is, you know, of people who are opposed to the war, say that it wasn't just that the intelligence was wrong. It's that the intelligence was cooked. Do we know? Can we answer that for them?"

David Ensor, from Washington, DC: "Um, cooked is probably a little too strong a word. You know, people in the intelligence community -- and let's be honest, I also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They had used them on their own -- Saddam had used them on the people, he'd used them against Iran. There were chemical weapons that were unaccounted for after the war. So, there was lots of good, logical reason to think there were weapons of mass destruction there. The amazing thing is, there were not. And, you know, I have tried to find out why, how this could go so badly wrong, which is part of what, I guess, we're going to be showing people in the next hour, this, this look at how this could go so badly wrong. But I was also today at the press conference that you just mentioned, Mr. Fitzgerald's press conference. And there were -- what was so striking there was, there were lots of questions about, well, isn't this really about Iraq? Isn't this really about theWMD? And he, of course, it is in his interests to be as narrow as possible, to say, no, it is just about lying. That's about all it is about. I don't want to go there. But, for most of the people in the country, whether they're for or against the war, that's what this is really about, in political terms."

Brown: "At some level, this is about Joe Wilson saying -- I'm not, I'm not saying he's right about this, I'm just saying what he said -- is that they took the country to war, when they knew the evidence was at least ambiguous and they never framed it in an ambiguous way."

Ensor: "Right. But they did believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And, as I say, a lot of people did, myself included. Now, that turned out to be wrong. And that may not have been the real main motivation for going to Iraq in the first place, which is yet another question."

Brown: "David, as you mentioned, we'll take a deeper look at this in the hour ahead. We appreciate your spending a few minutes with us in anticipation of that to sort of set the stage."

Indeed, after a commercial break, Brown spent his last minute at CNN reading some headlines before, at 11:01pm EDT, CNN replaced the second hour of NewsNight with a CNN Presents narrated by Ensor, "Dead Wrong: Inside an Intelligence Meltdown."

# Days into Katrina, on the September 2 NewsNight as recited in this NewsBusters item, Brown prodded black Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones to blame racism for delays in rescuing hurricane victims in New Orleans: “What I'm wondering is, do you think black America's sitting there thinking, if these were middle class white people, there would be cruise ships in New Orleans?” When she wouldn’t take the bait, Brown lectured: “Now, look, here's the question, okay? And then we'll end this. Do you think the reason that they're not there or the food is not there or the cruise ships aren't there or all this stuff that you believe should be there, isn't there, is a matter of race and/or class?”

Just under two weeks later, Brown invited MRC President Brent Bozell aboard NewsNight to discuss that interview. See this September 14 NewsBusters item, “CNN's Brown Confronts MRC's Bozell on Criticism of Injecting Race into Coverage,” which features a couple of video clips.

# A June 21, 2005 CyberAlert item, “CNN's NewsNight: Downing Memo, Tribute to Jones & Bush Dishonest,” recounted: CNN's NewsNight on Friday (June 17), under Aaron Brown's guidance, delivered a trio of liberal agenda stories on Iraq. First, Brown suggested that "support for the war seems to be ebbing more so in the wake of a once-secret British government memo that was recently leaked and seems to have had a delayed reaction." John King then provided an overview on liberal claims about the so-called "Downing Street memo." Second, Brown set up an empathetic profile of Congressman Walter Jones as he stressed a potential wider trend: "What might make the White House and the war supporters the most nervous are the stirrings of a few voices, a few, on the Republican side. They're not big names, not House or Senate leaders, they're back benchers, but sometimes that's where rebellion starts." Third, Brown brought aboard liberal Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee, whom he described as part of what "used to be called the moderate wing of the Republican Party." Brown ludicrously claimed that "he may now be the entire moderate wing of the Republican Party." Brown asked him "sort of the elephant in the room question," whether "since it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, do you think the administration's been honest with the American people?"

# Brown won the “GI John Award (for Saluting John Kerry's Vietnam Record)” in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 2004: The Seventeenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting, for this from Brown on the November 10, 2004 NewsNight as he displayed a front-page photo of a line of U.S. troops in Iraq receiving their medals:

"Okay, time to do morning papers....Stars and Stripes starts it off: ‘U.S. Troops Control Most of Fallujah,' the headline. 'U.S. Officials Believe Most Insurgents Have Fled the City.' Look at this picture here, if you can. 'Troops' Bravery Honored in Iraq.' These are all Purple Heart winners. Someday, one of them will run for President and someone will say they didn't earn the Purple Heart. Welcome to America."

For the page of the awards with a RealPlayer video of that from Brown. Direct link to the RealPlayer video clip.

# Brown, in a commentary about the CBS forged documents scandal, at the start of NewsNight, September 20, 2004:

"There is not an honest reporter in the country today, not an honest news organization that hasn't in the last few days, when looking at the story of how the now CBS discredited documents on the President's National Guard service, said ‘there but for the grace of God go I,' excepting that some partisans will see it otherwise, will see willful deception on the part of CBS. Smarter and more reasoned heads know better."

# Brown on the August 23, 2004 NewsNight, just after the controversy broke over the ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth:

"What are the facts here? Not necessarily the whole gospel truth -- given that memories fade and records don't tell an entire story -- but the facts as best we know them, and nothing more. Here are a few facts that seem to matter most. The available official record is unambiguous: John Kerry was a war hero. The citation that accompanies his Bronze Star speaks of his, quote, ‘professionalism, great personal courage under fire, complete dedication to duty.' If you go by some of the witnesses to those events, like the young Special Forces soldier Kerry pulled from the river, there is no argument."

# A June 2, 2004 MRC CyberAlert item, “CNN Features Glowing Tribute to Kerry’s Heroic Vietnam Exploits,” recounted: CNN on Monday night aired a four-minute info-mercial for John Kerry, but the Kerry campaign didn’t have to pay a cent for it since it was aired in the guise of a news story by Aaron Brown, tied to Memorial Day, on NewsNight. Without uttering a syllable about questions raised about whether Kerry had really earned the first of three Purple Hearts, which allowed him to leave Vietnam early, or how his Swift boat commanders and colleagues have questioned his fitness to lead and motivations in Vietnam, Brown delivered a panegyrical, event-by-event tribute to Kerry’s heroic Vietnam service.

# Brown was a runner-up for the “Al Franken Cheap Shot Award (for Lambasting Rush Limbaugh)” in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 2003: The Sixteenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting, for this shot at Limbaugh as he introduced his guests on the October 10, 2003 NewsNight, after Limbaugh announced he was seeking treatment for an addiction to prescription pain medicine:

"Rush Limbaugh has been more than a bit unkind to me more than once. He's also been unkind to Al Franken, who in turn has been unkind to him. He's taken shots at Michael Wolff, New York magazine's media critic and Michael is hardly the retiring sort. So, here we all are, Al, Michael, and me, and the subject is Rush -- made worse, no doubt, by the permanent smirk that seems to be attached to my face."

# Brown was also a runner-up for the “Politics of Meaninglessness Award for the Silliest Analysis” in the MRC's Best Notable Quotables of 2003: The Sixteenth Annual Awards for the Year's Worst Reporting, for global warming panic and confusion, on the June 19, 2003 NewsNight, about Galileo, who was actually punished by the Catholic Church for saying the Earth revolves around the sun:

"Once upon a time, a scientist named Galileo said the Earth was round, and the political leaders of the time said, 'No, no, Galileo it's flat,' and Galileo got life under house arrest for his little theory. Today, the vast majority of scientists will tell you the Earth is getting warmer and most would agree that industry is at least in part to blame. So far nobody's gone to jail for saying that, which doesn't mean the idea isn't squarely at the center of a political dust up -- and not an insignificant one at that because, if the charges leveled against the White House are true, an important environmental question is being twisted or ignored for the sake of politics."

# Brown on the October 11, 2002 NewsNight after Jimmy Carter won the Nobel peace prize:

"There is hardly a troubled place in the world he hasn't visited, worked in, in a quest to bring peace and spread democratic values....Jimmy Carter told Larry King today he is slowing down some, cutting back. Age makes globe-trotting especially hard. But in many places, dusty and difficult places, James Earl Carter has brought hope and dispelled, as well as anyone alive these days, the vision of the ugly American."

That's but a drive-by of Brown's political advocacy in the guise of reporting, but a representative sample.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The City of Toronto whrings it's hands as crime increases, and fails to do anything about it.

Stats, zero tolerance will help curb crime: Giuliani


The man who successfully tackled crime in New York City during some of the city's darkest days offered some potentially contentious advice today to Canadian political leaders and police battling the growing scourges of gang wars and drugs.

Authorities must collect detailed crime statistics and adopt a zero tolerance policy for all criminal offences no matter how benign, Rudolph Giuliani said after addressing a conference on crisis leadership.

"You've got to be on offence against crime, not just defence," said Giuliani. "If you do those two things, you can reduce crime anywhere."

The recent rise in gang-related gun crimes in Canadian cities have officials scrambling for solutions. Toronto has expanded its guns and gangs task force to include surrounding municipalities, and Winnipeg is spending some $800,000 on a new unit to battle street thugs.

Still, a summer of headlines documenting gang warfare have raised the spectre that Canada's largest cities are assuming the "mean streets" reputation that once dogged New York City.

While that city saw dramatic reductions in crime during Giuliani's 1993 to 2002 mayoral reign — a 70 per cent drop according to statistics — his methods were not without controversy. Civil libertarians decried the use of zero-tolerance policies and compiling crime statistics to pinpoint criminal hotspots and clamp down on crime.

Modelling preventative crime-fighting strategies on those statistics, which can include the assailant's race, continues to raise concerns about racial profiling.

This summer in Toronto, a chorus of protest erupted against the idea of singling out young black men as a means of cracking down on the city's gun violence. The black city councillor behind the remarks went to pains to distance himself from suggestions of racial profiling.

For Giuliani, collecting crime statistics is the antithesis of racial profiling.

"I think if you use the statistics correctly they literally break you of stereotyping," he said.

"They give you the real numbers as opposed to what some people might have in their heads as a stereotype. They reveal to you the exact numbers of people who are committing crimes."

Toronto routinely collects data on criminal activity — and the force is no stranger to allegations of racial profiling — but Deputy Chief Tony Warr is adamant that race information is never recorded.

"We don't do racial statistics, we do crime in neighbourhoods and how it's affecting neighbourhoods."

As far as zero-tolerance policies for petty crime, Canadian officers don't have the same discretion as their counterparts in New York City, said Warr.

"In the States, you can arrest for a bylaw offence. It gives the police the power to take someone off the street, even if they're doing something like jumping a turnstyle on a subway."

As far as the civil liberties of those running afoul of the law under such policies, Giuliani was unapologetic.

"I always kept in front of my mind that the most important civil right was safety," he said of his time as mayor.

"You can't exercise the other ones unless you have safety. Government exists to provide safety and domestic tranquillity."

Although currently out of political life, Giuliani hasn't ruled out a U.S. presidential run in 2008.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Canadians about to get ripped off again by the corrupt Canada Post Corp.

Just in time for Christmas — new fuel surcharges
Most major shippers boost fuel levies

A $10 package can cost $11.55 by air


If you're sending a gift package across town or across the country this Christmas, be prepared to shell out a lot more in fuel surcharges to cover the rising cost of truck transportation or air freight.

Most major shippers, including Canada Post, Federal Express and United Parcel Service, add a fuel surcharge to the basic cost of delivery whether the package is going regular post or express service. And with gas prices soaring in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the surcharge is making a noticeable difference this fall.

"We've had a lot of calls from customers about it, just because it's so much higher this year," said Karen Cooper, a spokeswoman for Federal Express Canada.

The parcel-delivery business isn't the only industry passing on higher fuel costs to customers, but, like the airlines, is one of the few that spells out the impact on the customer's receipt in the form of a separate line item. Other industries hide the impact in the overall price of their goods and services or, for competitive reasons, have to absorb the cost internally without passing it on.

The rates are based on the price of gas at the pumps or the spot price of jet fuel and are updated monthly to reflect changes in the marketplace. As a result, rates have been rising rapidly in recent months.

At Federal Express, the surcharge for air deliveries is now 15.5 per cent, up from 13 per cent a month ago and 10.5 per cent in July; for ground transportation, 3.5 per cent, up from 3 per cent a month earlier and 2.5 per cent in July.

That means a package that costs $10 to ship based on weight and size now costs an extra $1.55 by air or 35 cents by truck to cover the fuel surcharge.

United Parcel Service follows a similar formula, though the air surcharge is currently capped at 12.5 per cent. The surcharge for ground transportation is 3.5 per cent, according to the company's website.

Canada Post uses one surcharge whether the package is going by air or ground transportation. In either case, it's currently 7.5 per cent, up from 6.75 per cent a month earlier and 5.25 per cent in July.

The charges are based on gas prices at the pumps nearly two months earlier, which means the impact of the hurricanes in the oil-rich U.S. Gulf of Mexico region are just starting to have an impact on parcel delivery.

Canada Post spokesman John Caines said most customers take the surcharge in stride.

"It's nothing new. We've had them since April 2003."

When gas prices slip, the surcharge goes back down, he added. The pump price is based on the national average reported by M.J. Ervine & Associates, an independent monitor, he said.

No surcharge is placed on basic letter mail, Caines added. You could argue that the price of a stamp is indirectly influenced by the cost of fuel, but, by law, any increase in the price of stamps must not exceed two-thirds of the rate of inflation, he explained.

Inflation is a measure of the cost of a basket of goods and services, which of course includes the cost of gas.

The cost of a Canadian stamp is scheduled to rise a penny to 51 cents next January, Caines said.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sep. 19, 2005. 01:00 AM

Why the delay on number portability?


Sometimes the best way to get out of doing something quickly is to publicly commit to doing it.

By voluntarily agreeing this past spring to implement a system that allows people to keep phone numbers when switching wireless service providers, Bell Mobility, Telus Mobility and Rogers Wireless pre-empted any attempt by government or the regulator to force the situation on them.

In April, two months after an unprecedented comment in the federal budget called for the regulator to "move expeditiously" on the issue, the wireless industry gained control of the process by reluctantly agreeing to implement wireless number portability.

But it didn't say when. Why rush to conclusions? Instead, it hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to study the issue and come back six months later with a report. It bought the industry some valuable time, and it was enough to get the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to back off.

Industry Canada also eased the pressure, though Industry Minister David Emerson hinted in his own press release that he expected the service to be implemented in a "timely fashion."

Six months later, the words "timely" — meaning "within a prescribed or reasonable time" — and "expeditiously" — meaning "done with speed and efficiency" — appear to have been abandoned.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association announced last week that, under the professional advice of hired gun PricewaterhouseCoopers, it will take exactly two years before a wireless number portability system will be available to Canadian mobile phone subscribers.

It even went so far as to call the schedule "aggressive," which for consumers amounts to an insult. By September 2007 Canada, a country that prides itself on being a world leader in telecommunications, will be four long years behind the United States in offering the service.

We are no longer a leader.

And by dragging its feet on this issue, the wireless industry is losing what goodwill it has left among consumers who are tired of being charged unjustifiably high system-access fees, denied alternative long-distance plans, locked down to their phones, smacked with high U.S. and international roaming rates, and unable to get the kind of creative and affordable service plans readily found in the U.S.

"We are perplexed, and a little bit ashamed of our telecom industry," wrote telecom consultancy The Seaboard Group in a brief released last week.

"Canada was supposed to be a world leader in communications — yet we can't manage to let a customer keep her telephone number as she changes providers? We are already competing for last place in the industrialized world. Last place in wireless penetration, last place in number portability — is that how we want to be known?"

Seaboard believes it's possible for full-out number portability between wireless and wireline carriers in Canada to rolled out by Christmas.

Truth be known, a system is already in place that handles number switches for local phone companies, and it's been there for years. When you move from Bell Canada to Sprint Canada, or a VoIP service like Vonage for that matter, you can keep your number.

There's no reason the wireless industry — which only has three players now — can't build on top of that existing technology, not to mention follow the path the America wireless operators have already blazed.

Microcell Telecommunications, now owned by Rogers, chose to begin offering portability two years ago when it launched its CityFido service, so what barriers make it so difficult for Rogers, Telus and Bell to do the same within the next six to 12 months?

Funny, Rogers can buy and fully integrate Microcell's entire national network in less than a year but it needs two years to implement a relatively simple service that Fido customers can already get. You've got to wonder about priorities.

The backlash is beginning.

Industry Canada, which rarely strays from its polite and diplomatic script, has already expressed disappointment in the wireless industry's two-year schedule. Meanwhile, Virgin Mobile Canada has been milking the outrage to its own advantage — as it should.

Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, which includes Virgin Mobile Canada, has placed ads in major newspapers trying to rile up Canadians. Accusing the industry of dragging its feet, Branson says the public needs to speak out.

He's even written personally to Prime Minister Paul Martin's office in hopes that the government will flex its muscles.

"The industry is not going to roll over and do it," Branson said on a conference call last Friday. "The prime minister needs to intervene and tell the industry that this must be done within four to six months."

In a conversation with CRTC chairman Charles Dalfen last Friday, it became clear that the wireless industry's announced timeline isn't written in stone. The regulator is beginning to accept comment on the wireless association's number portability plan, including complaints over how long it will take to introduce the service.

"It's an issue in play now," said Dalfen, who was careful not to bias the process with his own opinion.

He expects all comments to be in a month from now, and a final decision from the CRTC to be released before year's end.

"There are those who believe (portability) should be done faster," he said. "That could be a decision we come up with."

So if there was ever a time to complain ...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Portability push for cellphones
Switch phone company, not phone numbers by 2007


Fran Bennett of Chestnut Park Real Estate is annoyed her old Telus phone number can't be transferred to her new Rogers phone. She's forced to use call-forwarding -- for now. (Greg Henkenhaf, Sun)

When real estate agent Fran Bennett decided to upgrade to a state-of-the-art cellphone, she faced a common dilemma.

The package she wanted was only available through Rogers, but if she got rid of her existing Telus phone, she'd have to give up her longtime cellphone number and possibly miss valuable calls.

To solve the problem, Bennett's old "mobile" phone is now permanently stuck at her home, its sole purpose to forward calls to her new phone.

"It annoys me," says Bennett. "My new phone is expensive to perate and it doesn't thrill me to be paying $30 to $40 a month for my old phone."

IN U.S. SINCE 2003

If Bennett lived in America, she wouldn't have this problem. Since 2003, U.S. consumers have been able to switch cellphone service without having to switch numbers.

This week, a trade association for the wireless industry unveiled plans to introduce number portability by 2007.

"The implementation timeline we are announcing today is aggressive given the complexities of introducing wireless number portability," said Peter Barnes, President and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

Virgin Mobile CEO Richard Branson begs to differ.

"The 2007 timeframe is far too slow and it's completely unacceptable," said Branson yesterday. "We know the technology exists to implement portability quickly."

He points out that the federal government's February 2005 budget urged telecom regulators to move "expeditiously" to implement wireless portability.

Branson estimates that number portability could be rolled out in as little as six months, but should be available by the end of 2006 at the latest.


"Clearly, Canada's mobile carriers are dragging their heels on this issue because it isn't in their best interest --they want to lock their customers in with one carrier," said Branson.

He's lobbying Paul Martin to put pressure on mobile carriers to speed up the process.

Telecom analyst Eamon Hoey of Hoey Associates Management Consultants brands Branson's campaign as self-serving.

"This is really about him making a big issue about number portability so he can get more customers to focus on his products," said Hoey. "It's histrionics."

However, Hoey agrees that Canada should move more quickly on implementing wireless number portability.

"The wireless industry in Canada is eight years behind the Europeans," said Hoey, who chaired a committee looking into wireless portability in 1997.


"It's an industry that's been molly-coddled by both the CRTC and Industry Canada."

Industry Canada spokesman Larry Shaw said his agency was surprised by the CWTA's 2007 implementation date.

"The government expected that it would be much quicker than the timelines they've laid out," said Shaw.

Frustrated consumers may have no idea how to fight back.

"Who do you lobby?" said Bennett. "Where do you find the time to lobby? Everyone is so busy, we hardly have time for our own families."


Here are some contacts to use for comments about cellphone portability:

- Virgin Mobile's campaign (

- Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ( or 1-877-249-2782)

- Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (613-233-4888)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

From National Geographic October 2004

The Louisiana bayou, hardest working marsh in America, is in big trouble—with dire consequences for residents, the nearby city of New Orleans, and seafood lovers everywhere.

It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

"The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast. Suhayda is sitting in a lakefront restaurant on an actual August afternoon sipping lemonade and talking about the chinks in the city's hurricane armor. "I don't think people realize how precarious we are,"
Suhayda says, watching sailboats glide by. "Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much worse."

The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."

Yet just as the risks of a killer storm are rising, the city's natural defenses are quietly melting away. From the Mississippi border to the Texas state line, Louisiana is losing its protective fringe of marshes and barrier islands faster than any place in the U.S. Since the 1930s some 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of coastal wetlands—a swath nearly the size of Delaware or almost twice that of Luxembourg—have vanished beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Despite nearly half a billion dollars spent over the past decade to stem the tide, the state continues to lose about 25 square miles (65 square kilometers) of land each year, roughly one acre every 33 minutes.

A cocktail of natural and human factors is putting the coast under. Delta soils naturally compact and sink over time, eventually giving way to open water unless fresh layers of sediment offset the subsidence. The Mississippi's spring floods once maintained that balance, but the annual deluges were often disastrous. After a devastating flood in 1927, levees were raised along the river and lined with concrete, effectively funneling the marsh-building sediments to the deep waters of the Gulf. Since the 1950s engineers have also cut more than 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of canals through the marsh for petroleum exploration and ship traffic. These new ditches sliced the wetlands into a giant jigsaw puzzle, increasing erosion and allowing lethal doses of salt water to infiltrate brackish and freshwater marshes.

While such loss hits every bayou-loving Louisianan right in the heart, it also hits nearly every U.S. citizen right in the wallet. Louisiana has the hardest working wetlands in America, a watery world of bayous, marshes, and barrier islands that either produces or transports more than a third of the nation's oil and a quarter of its natural gas, and ranks second only to Alaska in commercial fish landings. As wildlife habitat, it makes Florida's Everglades look like a petting zoo by comparison.

Such high stakes compelled a host of unlikely bedfellows—scientists, environmental groups, business leaders, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—to forge a radical plan to protect what's left. Drafted by the Corps a year ago, the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) project was initially estimated to cost up to 14 billion dollars over 30 years, almost twice as much as current efforts to save the Everglades. But the Bush Administration balked at the price tag, supporting instead a plan to spend up to two billion dollars over the next ten years to fund the most promising projects. Either way, Congress must authorize the money before work can begin.

To glimpse the urgency of the problem afflicting Louisiana, one need only drive 40 minutes southeast of New Orleans to the tiny bayou village of Shell Beach. Here, for the past 70 years or so, a big, deeply tanned man with hands the size of baseball gloves has been catching fish, shooting ducks, and selling gas and bait to anyone who can find his end-of-the-road marina. Today Frank "Blackie" Campo's ramshackle place hangs off the end of new Shell Beach. The old Shell Beach, where Campo was born in 1918, sits a quarter mile away, five feet beneath the rippling waves. Once home to some 50 families and a naval air station during World War II, the little village is now "ga'an pecan," as Campo says in the local patois. Gone forever.

Life in old Shell Beach had always been a tenuous existence. Hurricanes twice razed the community, sending houses floating through the marsh. But it wasn't until the Corps of Engineers dredged a 500-foot-wide (150-meter-wide) ship channel nearby in 1968 that its fate was sealed. The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, known as "Mr. Go," was supposed to provide a shortcut for freighters bound for New Orleans, but it never caught on. Maybe two ships use the channel on a given day, but wakes from even those few vessels have carved the shoreline a half mile wide in places, consuming old Shell Beach.

Campo settles into a worn recliner, his pale blue eyes the color of a late autumn sky. Our conversation turns from Mr. Go to the bigger issue affecting the entire coast. "What really screwed up the marsh is when they put the levees on the river," Campo says, over the noise of a groaning air-conditioner. "They should take the levees out and let the water run; that's what built the land. But we know they not going to let the river run again, so there's no solution."

Denise Reed, however, proposes doing just that—letting the river run. A coastal geomorphologist at the University of New Orleans, Reed is convinced that breaching the levees with a series of gated spillways would pump new life into the dying marshes. Only three such diversions currently operate in the state. I catch up with Reed at the most controversial of the lot—a 26-million-dollar culvert just south of New Orleans named Caernarvon.

"Caernarvon is a prototype, a demonstration of a technique," says Reed as we motor down a muddy canal in a state boat. The diversion isn't filling the marsh with sediments on a grand scale, she says. But the effect of the added river water—loaded as it is with fertilizer from farm runoff—is plain to see. "It turns wetlands hanging on by the fingernails into something quite lush," says Reed.

To prove her point, she points to banks crowded with slender willows, rafts of lily pads, and a wide shallow pond that is no longer land, no longer liquid. More like chocolate pudding. But impressive as the recovering marsh is, its scale seems dwarfed by the size of the problem. "Restoration is not trying to make the coast look like a map of 1956," explains Reed. "That's not even possible. The goal is to restore healthy natural processes, then live with what you get."

Even that will be hard to do. Caernarvon, for instance, became a political land mine when releases of fresh water timed to mimic spring floods wiped out the beds of nearby oyster farmers. The oystermen sued, and last year a sympathetic judge awarded them a staggering 1.3 billion dollars. The case threw a major speed bump into restoration efforts.

Other restoration methods—such as rebuilding marshes with dredge spoil and salt-tolerant plants or trying to stabilize a shoreline that's eroding 30 feet (10 meters) a year—have had limited success. Despite the challenges, the thought of doing nothing is hard for most southern Louisianans to swallow. Computer models that project land loss for the next 50 years show the coast and interior marsh dissolving as if splattered with acid, leaving only skeletal remnants. Outlying towns such as Shell Beach, Venice, Grand Isle, and Cocodrie vanish under a sea of blue pixels.

Those who believe diversions are the key to saving Louisiana's coast often point to the granddaddy of them all: the Atchafalaya River. The major distributary of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya, if left alone, would soon be the Mississippi River, capturing most of its flow. But to prevent salt water from creeping farther up the Mississippi and spoiling the water supply of nearby towns and industries, the Corps of Engineers allows only a third of the Mississippi's water to flow down the Atchafalaya. Still, that water and sediment have produced the healthiest wetlands in Louisiana. The Atchafalaya Delta is one of the few places in the state that's actually gaining ground instead of losing it. And if you want to see the delta, you need to go crabbing with Peanut Michel.

"Peanut," it turns out, is a bit of a misnomer. At six foot six and 340 pounds, the 35-year-old commercial fisherman from Morgan City wouldn't look out of place on the offensive line of the New Orleans Saints. We launch his aluminum skiff in the predawn light, and soon we're skimming down the broad, café au lait river toward the newest land in Louisiana. Dense thickets of needlegrass, flag grass, cut grass, and a big-leafed plant Michel calls elephant ear crowd the banks, followed closely by bushy wax myrtles and shaggy willows.

Michel finds his string of crab pots a few miles out in the broad expanse of Atchafalaya Bay. Even this far from shore the water is barely five feet deep. As the sun ignites into a blowtorch on the horizon, Michel begins a well-oiled ritual: grab the bullet-shaped float, shake the wire cube of its clicking, mottled green inhabitants, bait it with a fish carcass, and toss. It's done in fluid motions as the boat circles lazily in the water.

But it's a bad day for crabbing. The wind and water are hot, and only a few crabs dribble in. And yet Michel is happy. Deliriously happy. Because this is what he wants to do. "They call 'em watermen up in Maryland," he says with a slight Cajun accent. "They call us lunatics here. You got to be crazy to be in this business."

Despite Michel's poor haul, Louisiana's wetlands are still a prolific seafood factory, sustaining a commercial fishery that most years lands more than 300 million dollars' worth of finfish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, and other delicacies. How long the stressed marshes can maintain that production is anybody's guess. In the meantime, Michel keeps at it. "My grandfather always told me, Don't live to be rich, live to be happy," he says. And so he does.

After a few hours Michel calls it a day, and we head through the braided delta, where navigation markers that once stood at the edge of the boat channel now peek out of the brush 20 feet (six meters) from shore. At every turn we flush mottled ducks, ibis, and great blue herons. Michel, who works as a hunting guide during duck season, cracks an enormous grin at the sight. "When the ducks come down in the winter," he says, "they'll cover the sun."

To folks like Peanut Michel, the birds, the fish, and the rich coastal culture are reason enough to save Louisiana's shore, whatever the cost. But there is another reason, one readily grasped by every American whose way of life is tethered not to a dock, but to a gas pump: These wetlands protect one of the most extensive petroleum infrastructures in the nation.

The state's first oil well was punched in south Louisiana in 1901, and the world's first offshore rig went into operation in the Gulf of Mexico in 1947. During the boom years in the early 1970s, fully half of the state's budget was derived from petroleum revenues. Though much of the production has moved into deeper waters, oil and gas wells remain a fixture of the coast, as ubiquitous as shrimp boats and brown pelicans.

The deep offshore wells now account for nearly a third of all domestic oil production, while Louisiana's Offshore Oil Port, a series of platforms anchored 18 miles (29 kilometers) offshore, unloads a nonstop line of supertankers that deliver up to 15 percent of the nation's foreign oil. Most of that black gold comes ashore via a maze of pipelines buried in the Louisiana muck. Numerous refineries, the nation's largest natural gas pipeline hub, even the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are all protected from hurricanes and storm surge by Louisiana's vanishing marsh.

You can smell the petrodollars burning at Port Fourchon, the offshore oil industry's sprawling home port on the central Louisiana coast. Brawny helicopters shuttle 6,000 workers to the rigs from here each week, while hundreds of supply boats deliver everything from toilet paper to drinking water to drilling lube. A thousand trucks a day keep the port humming around the clock, yet Louisiana 1, the two-lane highway that connects it to the world, seems to flood every other high tide. During storms the port becomes an island, which is why port officials like Davie Breaux are clamoring for the state to build a 17-mile-long (27-kilometer-long) elevated highway to the port. It's also why Breaux thinks spending 14 billion dollars to save the coast would be a bargain.

"We'll go to war and spend billions of dollars to protect oil and gas interests overseas,"
Breaux says as he drives his truck past platform anchors the size of two-story houses. "But here at home?" He shrugs. "Where else you gonna drill? Not California. Not Florida. Not in ANWR. In Louisiana. I'm third generation in the oil field. We're not afraid of the industry. We just want the infrastructure to handle it."

The oil industry has been good to Louisiana, providing low taxes and high-paying jobs. But such largesse hasn't come without a cost, largely exacted from coastal wetlands. The most startling impact has only recently come to light—the effect of oil and gas withdrawal on subsidence rates. For decades geologists believed that the petroleum deposits were too deep and the geology of the coast too complex for drilling to have any impact on the surface. But two years ago former petroleum geologist Bob
Morton, now with the U.S. Geological Survey, noticed that the highest rates of wetland loss occurred during or just after the period of peak oil and gas production in the 1970s and early 1980s. After much study, Morton concluded that the removal of millions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and tens of millions of barrels of saline formation water lying with the petroleum deposits caused a drop in subsurface pressure—a theory known as regional depressurization. That led nearby underground faults to slip and the land above them to slump.

"When you stick a straw in a soda and suck on it, everything goes down," Morton explains. "That's very simplified, but you get the idea." The phenomenon isn't new: It was first documented in Texas in 1926 and has been reported in other oil-producing areas such as the North Sea and Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Morton won't speculate on what percentage of wetland loss can be pinned on the oil industry. "What I can tell you is that much of the loss between Bayou Lafourche and Bayou Terrebonne was caused by induced subsidence from oil and gas withdrawal. The wetlands are still there, they're just underwater." The area Morton refers to, part of the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, has one of the highest rates of wetland loss in the state.

The oil industry and its consultants dispute Morton's theory, but they've been unable to disprove it. The implication for restoration is profound. If production continues to taper off in coastal wetlands, Morton expects subsidence to return to its natural geologic rate, making restoration feasible in places. Currently, however, the high price of natural gas has oil companies swarming over the marshes looking for deep gas reservoirs. If such fields are tapped, Morton expects regional depressurization to continue. The upshot for the coast, he explains, is that the state will have to focus whatever restoration dollars it can muster on areas that can be saved, not waste them on places that are going to sink no matter what.

A few days after talking with Morton, I'm sitting on the levee in the French Quarter, enjoying the deep-fried powdery sweetness of a beignet from the Café du Monde. Joggers lumber by in the torpid heat, while tugs wrestle their barges up and down the big brown river. For all its enticing quirkiness, for all its licentious pleasures, for all its geologic challenges, New Orleans has been luckier than the wetlands that lined its pockets and stocked its renowned tables. The question is how long Lady Luck will shine. It brings back something Joe Suhayda, the LSU engineer, had said during our lunch by Lake Pontchartrain.

"When you look at the broadest perspective, short-term advantages can be gained by exploiting the environment. But in the long term you're going to pay for it. Just like you can spend three days drinking in New Orleans and it'll be fun. But sooner or later you're going to pay."

I finish my beignet and stroll down the levee, succumbing to the hazy, lazy feel of the city that care forgot, but that nature will not.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ontario town cracks down on garage sales


LEAMINGTON - Mismatched cups and saucers, 25-cent scratched vinyl records and other people's bowling trophies may soon be harder to find in one southwestern Ontario town.

Garage sales have been kicked to the curb in Leamington, Ont., where city officials blame excessive home entrepreneurship on noise problems and traffic chaos in the town of 21,000 people.

The community has introduced a law to prohibit anyone from holding more than three garage sales a year.

"We'll shut you down and we'll charge you," Brian Sweet, Leamington's chief administrative officer, said of the unorthodox law.

Under a change to the city's garage sale bylaw, residents who put their used clothes and housewares on display more than three times in one year could be shut down by police and fined up to $5,000.

Resident Sandy Martinho, who held a garage sale at her own home this weekend to get rid of accumulating toys and clothes her children had outgrown, said there were probably better things for city officials to do.

"I don't think they should go out and spend their time looking for these," she said.

She added she doesn't know many people who would run afoul of the law. The weekend sale at her house was the first for the family in five years.

City officials made the change after complaints about weekly sales in some areas caused traffic jams on busy streets and a nuisance for neighbours.

Area businesses complained that homespun retailers siphoned off their profits.

"They really weren't real garage sales," Sweet said. "The people would go out and buy stuff from other places and be re-selling it on their front yard as opposed to getting rid of all their own junk."

Previously, area residents were allowed to apply for a permit to hold more than three sales in a year.

"If you start having more than three garage sales in a year, what you're really doing is you're running a business off your residential premises," said Sweet.

Local store owner Valentine Zarafily said the profusion of private sales was hurting her business. Some of them were selling new goods rather than items people cleaned out of their house, she said.

"All summer, three days a week ... it's not normal," Zarafily said.

Sweet insisted the change was unlikely to affect most residents, who he said aren't likely to have three garage sales in one year.

"I've lived in my house for 13 years, I think we've had one garage sale the whole time."

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Wendy's to let go of Tim Hortons

Wendy's to let go of Tim Hortons

Wendy's International on Friday said it will spin off its quickly growing Tim Hortons coffee shop chain to focus on the battle of its namesake restaurants with rivals such as McDonald's Corp., and its shares rose to an all-time high.

The move comes after a dissident shareholder pressured the No. 3 U.S. hamburger chain for months to separate Tim Hortons and allow investors to put a price on the business. The predominantly Canadian chain accounts for nearly a third of sales for Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Top court refuses to hear appeal on MP3 players

Top court refuses to hear appeal on MP3 players


The fight over a levy on IPods and other digital music players ended today when the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear any further arguments on the matter.

That means there will be no levy applied to digital audio recorders such as Apple's popular IPod and IPod Shuffle as well as other MP3 players like IRiver.

"Obviously we're disappointed. We felt it was self-evident that those products are sold for the purpose of copying music," said David Basskin, of the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC), the non-profit agency which collects tariffs on behalf of musicians and record companies.

The group had wanted the high court to overturn last year's Federal Court of Appeal decision which quashed the levy on the popular gadgets.

The non-profit agency had been collecting the tariff — $2 for non-removable memory capacity of up to one GB, $15 for one to 10 GBs, $25 for more than 10 GB — since December 2003 through a tax built into the price of the devices.

It stopped in December 2004 when the Federal Court overturned the policy at the urging of the Canadian Coalition for Fair Digital Access, a group which represents retailers and manufacturers such as Future Shop, Wal-Mart Canada, Apple Canada, Sony Canada, and Dell Computer Corporation of Canada.

The CPCC, which collects levies on blank media such as CDs, argued that since the new technology opened yet another avenue to make illegal copies of songs, a levy should be collected on behalf of music creators.

But the Digital Access group argues otherwise. It calls Canada's levy system unfair and "a longstanding problem."

"People are forced to pay whether or not they use the media for music," said spokesman Fraser Smith, from the group's Ottawa offices. "A lot of people, including small businesses, use it to back data files and photos. That's a huge problem."

He added with the growing popularity of legal downloading websites such as ITunes and Puretracks, consumers are paying twice — once for the song and a second time when they burn it to CD to listen to it.

He added that the private copying levies were introduced in an analogue era and need to be re-examined.

"It was made for blank audio cassette tapes," said Fraser.

Approximately $4 million was collected from sales of digital audio recorders between December 2003 and December 2004.

The money is sitting in an account and will be returned to the importers and manufacturers of the products. There's no word yet on whether consumers who paid the hidden tariff will be reimbursed, said Smith.

In addition to fighting against the MP3 player levy, the Canadian Coalition for Fair Digital Access asked the Supreme Court to re-examine the validity of the private copying act which permits the CPCC to collect tariffs.

The court rejected the motion meaning the law remains constitutional and the CPCC can continue collecting levies on behalf of performers, songwriters, music producers and record companies.

However, the Department of Heritage has promised to re-evaluate the validity of the controversial levy system this fall.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Test post with a picture.
Jul. 23, 2005. 01:00 AM

Cellphone rates costly: Report

Higher in Canada than U.S., Europe Situation worse for high-end users


Claims that cellphone services in Canada are amongst the cheapest in the world are more than grossly exaggerated — they're downright wrong, according to a comprehensive report on wireless pricing to be released Monday.

SeaBoard Group, a telecom consultancy based in Toronto and Montreal, has found that the average cellphone customer in Canada pays 60 per cent more than if they had the same plan in the United States, and 19 per cent more when compared to most European plans.

"Canadians pay a significant premium for the sound of Canadian wireless dial tone," according to an excerpt from the report, obtained by the Star. "Canadian carriers need to encourage their customers to use their phones — not penalize them for use."

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association would not comment directly on the report, but pointed to a 2004 New Zealand study that found Canadian cellphone prices cheaper than U.S. plans in two out of three pricing categories.

"I can't comment on something I haven't seen," said CWTA spokesperson Marc Choma.

Seaboard compared a range of different cellphone plans offered in four Canadian cities to three cities in the United States and three in Europe. Plans from at least three wireless operators were analyzed in each city. All prices were adjusted to reflect the purchasing power of relevant local currencies, and took phone features and special service fees into account.

The report found Canadian rates for pre-paid and occasional users were not much different, but high-end cellphone users were paying much more than those in the United States.

For example, the Star found one $59.99 (U.S.) plan from U.S. cellphone giant Cingular Wireless that offers free long-distance, free roaming across continental North America and 1,000 free weekend and evening minutes. No such plan is available in Canada, but to get all those features would cost more than $100 through local cellphone providers.

Additional articles by Tyler Hamilton

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Opening a cottage country e-window

Bill Hay is bridging a Great Digital Divide

First Nation firm brings high-speed to reserve


WAHTA FIRST NATION, MUSKOKA—The owner of a small First Nations company has brought high-speed Internet to cottage country to ensure that his people are no longer bypassed by broadband.

``We're bringing Wahta to the world,'' said Bill Hay.

His company Indigiinet Corp. is to begin installations of wireless broadband Internet service to homes and businesses on this tiny Muskoka reserve and to their neighbours in cottage country this week.

``We're so proud that one of our members has built that kind of business," said Sylvia Thompson, an elder among the 170 Mohawks living on the Wahta Reserve. "It's very exciting for us to be on the leading edge of the computer age like this.''

Hay, 44, and his wife, Darlene, are already successful entrepreneurs. Their is one of the leading professional digital photographic companies in Canada.

Six years ago, frustrated by the slow speed of dial-up connections when emailing large photo files to clients around the world, Hay decided to seek other options.

``Connectivity was identified as being the biggest barrier to our business here in Wahta,'' said Hay.

When he approached the broadband companies and told them he was from Wahta, the response was not encouraging.

``They told us we were too rural, so we were on our own,'' he said.

Existing telephone systems that link much of rural Ontario can't offer broadband in the form digital subscriber line technology, commonly known as DSL, and cable service doesn't reach many rural areas. As of December 2004, according to Industry Canada data, that left 53 per cent of Ontario communities dialing up to get online.

Satellite broadband service was not an option because the upload speed was too slow for sending Instapic's huge files, said Hay.

He talked to other Wahta businesses, including a water-bottling plant, a haulage company and a building contractor. All said they were suffering the pains of the digital divide doing business on dial-up with a world increasingly wired for broadband.

``I realized our First Nation needed this, so I decided to do something about it,'' said Hay.

He and his wife believed so strongly in the project they cashed in their life savings and went into personal debt to raise the $250,000 needed to launch the company.

``There were no guarantees of funding, so I took it upon myself to finance this project.'' said Hay.

His sister, Sylvia Hay, who was the band's administrator and is now a band councillor, said her band is thrilled to be getting the service because it is becoming increasingly difficult for First Nations communities to function without high-speed Internet.

In an electronic world, government documents from Health Canada and others are now such large files that they are hard to download, said Sylvia Hay.

``It's so tedious using dial-up because the old telephone lines that service our community were never designed to carry data,'' she said, estimating the average dial-up connection speed at Wahta is only 19 kilobits per second.

Sylvia, who is also a host on Hawk 98.3 FM, the local radio station, said even it is hampered by the lack of high-speed Internet. Downloading a 10-minute clip from a news service can take more than an hour.

The reserve operates the Cranberry Marsh and ships orders all over the world, so high-speed access would help speed up order processing, she added.

At least two companies already supply wireless broadband Internet to parts of cottage country, but much of Wahta is not in ``line of sight" of transmission towers.

``Up until now there has been no affordable, reliable solutions,'' Bill Hay said.

He assembled a team of industry experts, developed relationships with telecommunications carriers and launched Indigiinet with the goal of supplying broadband not only to his own people but also to First Nations communities across Canada.

``The response has been overwhelming," said Hay, who is already working to bring broadband to First Nations communities in northern Ontario, British Columbia and on the East Coast.

Sylvia Hay hopes that, one day, all First Nations in Canada will have access to high-speed Internet.

``We exchange a lot of information nation to nation, so it will help us maintain relationships and forge new ones.''

Wahta's cottage-country neighbours have also been so interested that Hay is in the process of launching a wireless broadband service under the brand name ``Cottage, Home and Business High Speed."

Fibre-optic telephone lines bring broadband Internet service to a tower in Midland that relays wireless Internet signals to an antenna on top of a communications tower on the reserve, which in turn transmits Internet to homes and businesses.

Hay's tower operates at a frequency where a ``line of sight'' connection is not as critical and unforgiving as many are, so Hay hopes to offer high-speed Internet to everyone within a 10-kilometre radius. That area includes the community of Bala and some Lake Muskoka cottages.

The eventual goal is to build a series of towers ``just above the trees, so they don't spoil the natural beauty," to supply broadband Internet to all of Muskoka, said Hay.

With the existing tower, and by acting as wholesaler as well as distributor, Hay has managed to keep the cost down to around $200 per household for installation. That compares with as much as $1,200 charged by other wireless companies.

Monthly fees for home use are in the range of $50 for unlimited high-speed access, said Hay.

``Our goal is to make it affordable.''

Shirley Hay said she sees the new service as an economic-development opportunity for her people and as a chance for young people on the reserve to stay at home while pursuing careers in technology.

``It's going to open so many doors. We're all very excited.''

For an elder such as Thompson, the most important thing is the pride she feels about Hay's success.

``There are so many negative stories about First Nations people, so it's wonderful to have something positive like this happening in our community,'' she said.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

May 7, 2005. 01:00 AM
Future of Radio Shack store name in dispute in Canada
U.S. retailers duke it out over legal right to use name

Name-use ban doesn't free up rights: InterTan


The future of the Radio Shack name in Canada and a third of the retailers that bear it is up in the air as two U.S. consumer electronics giants battle it out for a stake in the Canadian marketplace.

InterTan Inc. of Barrie shot the latest volley yesterday saying it has the exclusive right to the Radio Shack name in Canada until 2009 even though a Texas court ruled in March that InterTan can no longer use it.

The court gave InterTan until June 30 to stop using the Radio Shack name on its more than 900 stores across Canada. InterTan responded by announcing the stores would change their name to The Source by Circuit City. No sooner had InterTan abandoned the name than its former parent company, RadioShack Corp., of Fort Worth, Tex., announced it planned to open its own chain of Canadian stores under the Radio Shack banner. Radio Shack is two words on Canadian while the U.S. company and its stores spell it one word. RadioShack Corp. said it would open the first 20 to 30 corporate owned stores before the end of this year, most in the Greater Toronto Area.

Yesterday, InterTan said Radio-Shack U.S. can't do that. Even though InterTan can't use the RadioShack name after June 30, InterTan said neither can any one else until its licensing agreement with RadioShack Corp. expires in 2009.

RadioShack in the United States disagrees.

InterTan said it plans to defend its right in court, though a specific strategy has yet to be worked out.

In the meantime, RadioShack Corp. has begun courting the 360 independent retailers that use the RadioShack name under contract with InterTan hoping to persuade them to switch allegiances so they can keep the well-known name over the stores. The stores, mainly in smaller markets, would be in addition to the corporate owned stores in the larger centres, RadioShack Corp. said.

InterTan is fighting back by vowing to double its advertising budget this year to raise awareness of the Circuit City name. It opened the first of the renamed stores in downtown Toronto's Eaton Centre two weeks ago to showcase the new design and format. The stores will carry more digital products and benefit from Circuit City's greater buying power, Levy noted.

The cross-border dispute began after Circuit City Corp., America's second largest consumer electronics chain, gained a foothold in Canada last year through the purchase of InterTan. InterTan used to be owned by RadioShack Corp., America's third-largest chain, and still had a licensing agreement with the company giving it the right to use the name in Canada.
May 7, 2005. 01:00 AM
A late rebate? Here's how to get results


You have a problem with a name-brand consumer product. Your attempts to contact the manufacturer get nowhere.

Here's our advice: Put pressure on the retailer. Make your relationship work in your favour.

"Escalate it to us and we can help you," says Pete Gibel, vice-president of merchandising with Staples Business Depot, which has 240 big-box stores in Canada.

"We do have some pull with suppliers."

He was talking about mail-in rebates, a topic that has occupied us for several weeks. Readers have complained about waiting for promised discounts that never arrive — or being told to submit ever more paperwork.

Staples has taken steps to improve customers' access to manufacturers' rebate offers. We'll get to that in a moment.

But first, here's the story of Sharon Smith. She contacted us after waiting more than a year for a refund on a product that couldn't be repaired.

Once we sent her complaint to Staples' head office in Mississauga, she got her money right away — and compensation for her inconvenience.

Smith had purchased a computer printer in December 2002 at Staples in Peterborough. She also paid for an extended warranty.

When the printer broke a year later, she was told by Staples to ship it at her own expense to an independent warranty company in Quebec.

On Jan. 12, 2004, she was told the printer was permanently damaged and she would be getting a cheque for $125 shortly.

"We've been calling every six weeks or so to see where our payment is," she told us.

"This has now been 15 months of calls and we still haven't received the cheque we were promised."

Smith was under the impression she was calling the manufacturer. But the 1-800 number she gave us was for the warranty company (which didn't identify itself, except when asked).

Why didn't she call the retailer?

"Staples claimed they were not responsible for the extended warranty," she says, even though Staples' name was printed on her policy.

Gibel responded to Smith's problem in a few hours.

He apologized for the grief she'd gone through with the warranty company and said she'd get a full $149 refund, plus a $100 gift card.

Staples now handles its own extended warranties instead of dealing with an outside supplier.

"We want to control things," he said.

Smith plans to make a donation to the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund, which sends low-income children to camp.

"I can't thank you enough for being able to end this stress," she told us. "We've been excellent customers of Staples for several years and will continue to be because of their prompt attention when learning of this situation."

Retailers, such as Staples or Best Buy Canada, are caught in the middle when manufacturers or warranty companies mistreat customers. They don't want to lose a client, so they may cut a cheque first and deal with the supplier later.

Last week, we reported that Best Buy Canada (which also operates the Future Shop chain) will phase out mail-in rebates within the next two years.

This was done because of a groundswell of customer frustration with cheques that take too long to arrive or go astray.

Interestingly, mail-in rebates are often outsourced to independent companies. This often leads to confusion (as in Smith's case) about whom customers are dealing with. In 2002, Staples forced all its suppliers that offered rebates to go through the same company.

"It's still a third-party broker, but at least they listen to us," Gibel says.

A year ago, Staples started printing rebate forms on customers' receipts. This meant less paperwork to fill out and less chance of error.

In the latest innovation, called Easy Rebate, customers can submit a transaction number to Staples at its website.

"We'll wait till the return period is over and get a cheque out within about four weeks," Gibel says, adding that rebates often took 16 weeks to arrive before.

Customers without access to computers can send a transaction number in the mail to expedite their refunds.

Staples has about 100 rebate offers going at a time, mostly related to computer software and hardware. More than 50 per cent of customers redeem rebates of $50 or more — but fewer than 5 per cent bother with offers worth $5 or less, Gibel says.

If you're waiting endlessly for a cheque, he adds, call the store manager or the customer service line at 1-866-STAPLES.

In the long run, rebates will disappear. "Customers don't like them and retailers don't like them. The customer's going to win on this one."