Tar vs. Blood – Fools, PR and the shifting sands of corporate social responsibility

The trendy thing to do these days for trendy companies that sell trendy products is to show their trendy customers that these companies care about more than just their bottom line, they also care about how showing that they care can affect the same.

Take climate change. An issue that is all the rage (at least is was before the global economic downturn) among consumers who have been inundated with a large and wasteful awareness campaign about it. Yes, we’ve all learned about the perils of out-of-control consumption, have been directed to consume more, but to consume products that are allegedly less harmful to humanity. So how are multinational corporations serving humanity these days?

Take the Gap, Timberland and Levi’s.

These three companies are the latest to boycott the Alberta “tarsands” because of the CO2 emissions that come from the extraction process. Here’s CP’s writeup:

Another four major U.S. companies are joining the move to either avoid or completely boycott fuel produced from Alberta’s oilsands.

The Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss have all told their transportation contractors that they will either give preference to those who avoid the oilsands or have asked them what they’re doing to eliminate those fuels.

The move adds to growing international economic pressure on the oilsands industry and the Alberta government to reduce its environmental impact.

Indeed, the Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss are shifting away from the Alberta oilsands. But is it a focus on the elimination of oil? No, we can see that the order put out has been to only avoid oil from Alberta’s oilsands projects.

In a market system, when you pull one source you must supplant with another. And indeed, that’s what’s happened here. If these companies don’t get their oil from Alberta, the supply will be increased from other sources, namely countries that breed terror and radicalized citizens that wish to see people in Western countries suffer.

It is unclear whether the Gap, Timberland and Levis have told their stores in Riyadh Saudi Arabia to boycott Alberta’s oilsands oil, but this poses an important question: does the socially conscious Saudi shopper care enough about how those Albertan oil tycoons are murdering the Earth? And if so, when will we see a boycott?

CBC and Terror

I watched an interesting interview on CBC yesterday with Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean author and left-wing activist that documented Pinochet’s rise to power. This post, however, is not an analysis of that history or an opinion on that period. Rather, I wanted to point out an inconsistency of the CBC and its use of the word “terror”.

Here is a clip of CBC journalist Brian Stewart describing the rise of Pinochet:

Stewart describes the “Pinochet terror” as a “homicidal terror”.

Of course, CBC has struggled with its designation of events as “terror” (here the root of the word “terrorism”), most notably with its labeling of “militancy” or “insurgence” when referring to jihadism either against the American forces in Iraq, cafe patrons in Jaffa or club patrons in Bali, or the innocents in the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on 9/11/2001.

CBC has published an internal memo on this topic which is reproduced here:

‘Terrorist’ and ‘terrorism': Exercise extreme caution before using either word. Avoid labelling any specific bombing or other assault as a “terrorist act” unless it’s attributed (in a TV or Radio clip, or in a direct quote on the Web). For instance, we should refer to the deadly blast at that nightclub in Bali in October 2002 as an “attack,” not as a “terrorist attack.” The same applies to the Madrid train attacks in March 2004, the London bombings in July 2005 and the attacks against the United States in 2001, which the CBC prefers to call “the Sept. 11 attacks” or some similar expression. (The BBC, Reuters and many others follow similar policies.)

Terrorism generally implies attacks against unarmed civilians for political, religious or some other ideological reason. But it’s a highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.

[…]

The guiding principle should be that we don’t judge specific acts as “terrorism” or people as “terrorists.” Such labels must be attributed.

As CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman has pointed out: “Our preference is to describe the act or individual, and let the viewer or listener or political representatives make their own judgment.”

As a dispassionate observer and journalist following CBC’s policy, maybe Stewart should have refrained from labeling Pinochet’s regime, or the CBC should not be so selective in its application of the word terror to events or viewers may see a subjective policy at the state-run broadcaster.

Ariel Dorfman, who did make for an interesting interview, did draw a direct parallel between the “terror” of Pinochet’s coup on 9/11/1973 and the WTC and Pentagon attacks on 9/11/2001. However, he is the invited guest and not subject to the editorial direction of the CBC.

Perhaps it is a distrust of the United States that causes this inconsistency of the use of the word terror by journalists and editors at the CBC. After all, it was the United States who helped in Pinochet’s rise to power (according to Kissinger). Yet, when Islamic terror strikes the US or Israel, the CBC is “careful” to label it an “attack”. Is it caution in not using a politically loaded word with respect to current events or is it a form of Western guilt that stems from a view held on the left that the current perpetrators of “terror” militancy are acting out as victims of American “imperialism”? So now, why use “terror” to describe Pinochet instead of “militancy”? There ought to be a consistency in describing both. However, America was on different sides of both events. Could this explain the inconsistency in labeling “terror”?

Consider this clip which describes optimism regarding the evolution of the left and the quick correction by Stewart on the word neo-liberal, which is called “neo-conservative up here”.

What are CBC’s views with respect to neo-liberalism “neo-conservatism” (for our viewers at home keeping score)? The word neo-conservatism is thrown around a lot these days to describe “privatization” agendas, “imperialism” and nation-building, or even to describe a program where the government hands out $100 monthly cheques to parents to raise their children! Language can affect our perceptions of people, political platforms and events, especially when it comes filtered through the media, especially when the words used are both subjective and selective. Therefore I ask, is the word “terror” similarly applied selectively depending on world view?

Thoughts about Live Earth

Yesterday, on seven stages around the world over 1 million people attended a mega-concert event geared to raise awareness on the issue of climate change or the “climate crisis” as billed by event organizers.

News reports claim that the event had a reach to about 2 billion television watchers around the world.

Despite the disputed logic of the cause by some, it was heartening to see so many people interested in attending a rally for what they truly believe to be a good cause. It is good to know that there is a lot of positive energy out there ready to be channeled to fight for good causes whatever they may be.

However, it is unfortunate that these concerts do not do much to raise “awareness”; often participants of such mega-concerts are the most aware of these issues. I’m not sure how many people tuned in and said “Global… warming? Really? Thank goodness for John Mayer or else I would have never known”. On a more useful note, Billy Corgan made me aware that his new Smashing Pumpkins CD is about to be released. Thanks Billy.

Despite the good intentions of these mega-concerts, the problems that they purport to address still exist and for the most part, have not really advanced along a good track. Live Aid, and most recently, Live 8 meant to raise “awareness” of poverty in Africa. Despite the collective efforts of our mothers (“eat your vegetables, there are children starving in Africa”) and the calling upon the power of rock to solve the world’s ills, poverty still exists in Africa.

Often, the logic behind such efforts is paradoxical. Dumping money and aid on Africa, according to some economists, is exacerbating the problem there. Further, the music industry is the vanguard of consumerism. How does flying Madonna’s 100 member entourage from New York to London on her private jet to express a message of conservation ring true to anyone? Media is to be consumed and the music industry cranks out a lot of plastic, puts a lot of rubber on the road (and CO2 in the air) while musicians tour, and demands terawatts of electricity to power countless speakers and to illuminate hundreds of millions of TV screens.

As for the Live Earth mega-concert, the worst moment was at Giants stadium in New Jersey (billed as New York), when Petra Nemcova, the supermodel that survived the Asian tsunami took the stage to help raise awareness about our “climate in crisis”. I would never shrug aside Ms. Nemcova’s harrowing ordeal, however, no serious scientist would ever link that particular tsunami with climate change as the 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake, not by CO2. It is unfortunate that the tragedy of that event would be used erroneously to advance such a debatable call to action on a debatable cause.

There were a few ironic moments including rap superstar Ludacris telling the audience (in song) that “if you ain’t got no money [sic], take your broke ass home”. Of course, this lyric is a part of a song that he sings on with Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas fame) which also includes the songstress singing “We [sic] flyin’ first class / Up in the sky / Poppin’ champagne / Livin’ my life / In the fast lane / And I wont change / By the Glamorous, oh the flossy flossy”. The video pictures Fergie flying in a private jet, ironically the vehicle of choice of some of the Live Earth performers. Irony is being told by some of this world’s greatest CO2 producers to cut our consumption. Ludacris’ other credits include a starring role in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Was it a movie about plug-in hybrid cars? Not likely. The film has inspired a generation of nitrous-infused street racers. Oh well, I’m sure he got some carbon credits in his gift basket to help offset the guilt. Ludacris! [sic]

Finally, if the intent of the mega-concert was to be a massive information campaign to finally bring everyone, united, onside to fight climate change, why the divisive elements? Melissa Ethridge chastised Bush’s ‘with us or the terrorists’ refrain by saying that in addressing the world’s problems that there is no “us and them”. She proceeded to drive a wedge between left and right by calling both Nixon and the current Republican president “criminals”. In fact, Ethridge’s performance was more of an anti-war screed than a call to unite against climate change. Macy Gray’s appearance also sought to alienate a significant proportion of the American population by having her stage performers wear anti-Bush and anti-Cheney t-shirts. The concert became an appeal to the left and had the effect of preaching to the choir while it did little to reach out to what should have been its intended targets: the skeptics on the right.

Were you one of the “2 billion” that tuned into the Live Earth concerts? What are your thoughts? If Al Gore runs for president (and wins) will we be fighting a costly war on warming AND a war of terror? Will Gore have any better luck bringing China and India into the Coalition of the Cooling? Will you be buying the new Smashing Pumpkins album when it comes out on July 10th? Consume, but don’t consume!

ABC News: Suicide bombers being sent to Canada

ABC News is reporting that a “graduation ceremony” for suicide bombers was held along the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan on June 9th. Some of the bombers are intended for striking within Canada.

Large teams of newly trained suicide bombers are being sent to the United States and Europe, according to evidence contained on a new videotape obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com.

Teams assigned to carry out attacks in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Germany were introduced at an al Qaeda/Taliban training camp graduation ceremony held June 9.

A Pakistani journalist was invited to attend and take pictures as some 300 recruits, including boys as young as 12, were supposedly sent off on their suicide missions.

abc_canadian_070618_ssh.jpg
ABCNews.com photo caption: “These recruits stand ready to target Canada.”

Of course, this may simply be a propaganda campaign by al Queda and the Taliban. It is not certain if the Taliban has the means to strike within Canada and individual suicide bombing has not been common in North America (I cannot think of one incident). Further, a suicide bomb strike within Canada would only strengthen the relatively shaky resolve that Canadians have in the Kandahar mission, an outcome that wouldn’t seem to be consistent with Taliban objectives. Of course, this quote from a Taliban commander indicates that their objective may simply be revenge:

“These Americans, Canadians, British and Germans come here to Afghanistan from faraway places,” Dadullah says on the tape. “Why shouldn’t we go after them?”

The War on Warming

If the left argues that the War on Terror is simply a slogan to exaggerate a real but smaller problem in order for their right-wing counterparts to advance bad and expensive policy, then what of their War on Warming?

If we don’t do it for the polar bears, then what about the kittens? Won’t somebody think of the kittens?

Droves of cats and kittens are swarming into animal shelters nationwide, and global warming is to blame, according to one pet adoption group.

Several shelters operated by a national adoption organization called Pets Across America reported a 30 percent increase in intakes of cats and kittens from 2005 to 2006, and other shelters across the nation have reported similar spikes of stray, owned and feral cats.

The cause of this feline flood is an extended cat breeding season thanks to the world’s warming temperatures, according to the group, which is one of the country’s oldest and largest animal welfare organizations.

If Al Gore announces that he’s running for president, many observers predict that he’ll have a good shot at the White House. If so, are we about to see an escalation of The War on Warming on a full scale, spending billions upon billions to fight an invisible but determined enemy?

Taliban tortured? Some context.

From the second last page of an Al Qaeda training manual found in Manchester England from a terrorist safe-house:

Lesson Eighteen

PRISONS AND DETENTION CENTERS

IF AN INDICTMENT IS ISSUED AND THE TRIAL BEGINS, THE BROTHER HAS TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING:

  1. At the beginning of the trial, once more the brothers must insist on proving that torture was inflicted on them by State Security [investigators] before the judge.
  2. Complain [to the court] of mistreatment while in prison.
  3. Make arrangements for the brother’s defense with the attorney, whether he was retained by the brother ‘s family or court-appointed.
  4. The brother has to do his best to know the names of the state security officers, who participated in his torture and mention their names to the judge. [These names may be obtained from brothers who had to deal with those officers in previous cases.]
  5. Some brothers may tell and may be lured by the state security investigators to testify against the brothers [i.e. affirmation witness], either by not keeping them together in the same prison during the trials, or by letting them talk to the media. In this case, they have to be treated gently, and should be offered good advice, good treatment, and pray that God may guide them.
  6. During the trial, the court has to be notified of any mistreatment of the brothers inside the prison.
  7. It is possible to resort to a hunger strike, but it is a tactic that can either succeed or fail.
  8. Take advantage of visits to communicate with brothers outside prison and exchange information that may be helpful to them in their work outside prison [according to what occurred during the investigations]. The importance of mastering the art of hiding messages is self evident here.
  9. - When the brothers are transported from and to the prison [on their way to the court] they should shout Islamic slogans out loud from inside the prison cars to impress upon the people and their family the need to support Islam.
  10. - Inside the prison, the brother should not accept any work that may belittle or demean him or his brothers, such as the cleaning of the prison bathrooms or hallways.
  11. - The brothers should create an Islamic program for themselves inside the prison, as well as recreational and educational ones, etc.
  12. - The brother in prison should be a role model in selflessness. Brothers should also pay attention to each others needs and should help each other and unite vis a vis the prison officers.
  13. - The brothers must take advantage of their presence in prison for obeying and worshiping [God] and memorizing the Qora’an, etc. This is in addition to all guidelines and procedures that were contained in the lesson on interrogation and investigation. Lastly, each of us has to understand that we don’t achieve victory against our enemies through these actions and security procedures. Rather, victory is achieved by obeying Almighty and Glorious God and because of their many sins. Every brother has to be careful so as not to commit sins and everyone of us has to do his best in obeying Almighty God, Who said in his Holy Book: “We will, without doubt. help Our messengers and those who believe (both) in this world’s life and the one Day when the Witnesses will stand forth.” May God guide us.

When taken into Afghani custody, did the al Qaeda training take over? Curiously, detainees did not claim torture at the hands of Canadians, but only by Afghani jailers. Detainees are only held by Canadian Forces for at most 96 hours before being handed over to Afghan authorities.

Of course, this does not absolve Canada from their duty to protect the human rights of even the most despicable human beings. However, we should be aware that claiming torture is standard operating procedure for those trained by, or in association with al Qaeda.

The Globe and Mail’s Graeme Smith has been covering this story all week from Kandahar and details horrible accounts of abuse in this article.

I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: I suspect the claims because the Taliban have been trained to claim such mistreatment while imprisoned. However, the Afghan prison system is one of the last places where I’d want to be incarcerated.

The Canadian government is also trying to balance a couple of important objectives here. They must help the Afghani state to stand on its own two feet, and this includes the establishment of a prisons/corrections department of the government. But, they must balance this with being cognizant of human rights.

Consider this from an interview with Afghani ambassador Omar Samad from CTV NewsNet:

“We don’t kiss murderers, and I’m not saying that anyone who is detained is a murderer, but we are dealing with very vicious dangerous people. Every day we are facing normal citizens being beheaded, normal citizens being blown up, your soldiers being attacked, other soldiers that are being attacked. We’ll not tolerate that. At the same time we are trying to bring rule of law to Afghanistan. Justice system that works in Afghanistan. And so we are working on those things. If there are problems we’ll try to correct them as soon as possible.” — Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad

This point brings me back to an earlier thought. While the opposition is coming down on the mission in Afghanistan, showing concern for Taliban detainees, they are driving a wedge through the support of the Canadian electorate for a effort to establish and maintain human rights for millions of Afghanis, including women and children who for many are only experiencing their rights for the first time. We know that the opposition opposes the mission in Afghanistan. However, on the issue of rights I feel that Dion and Layton are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by trying to sink the Conservatives on the issue of detainees.

The news is inherently foggy as it deals with accounts from some unsavoury characters. One example has emerged from Smith’s story that I link above. Smith quotes Sadullah Khan, the Kandahar NDS chief and senior administrator of the system where most of the torture is alleged to have taken place.

However, in a release today, the Afghani embassy in Ottawa issued a release questioning that particular detail of Smith’s report:

“NDS officials also confirm that their employee rosters for Kandahar do not show any person named Sadullah Khan as having been employed by the agency in the past year. They also clarify that the person in-charge of NDS in the province is a person by a different name.”

One thing is certain, we do not have all of the details and those that we have are questionable, at best. The Canadian government has its own capacity to investigate and I’m hopeful that they are doing what they can to clarify, and if necessary, remedy the situation.

Held without charge? Some context.

The House of Commons is set to vote today on the extension of two provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The ATA was brought in under the Liberals after 9/11 and two specific provisions of the act are being challenged today in the House of Commons by that same party.

They are:

  • investigative hearings of material witnesses

  • the ability to hold terror suspects without charge for 72 hours

I wanted to know how other countries handle the second issue in particular so I did a bit of research. Here’s how other countries deal with the detention of terror suspects:

Europe
France can hold terror suspects for 72 hours without access to a lawyer. Terror suspects can be held for up to four years (!) before being tried by a court.

Germany can hold terror suspects for 48 hours without seeing a judge.

In Greece, terror suspects can be held without charge for up to 12-18 months.

Italy can legally hold suspects for 24 hours without access to a lawyer.

Norway can hold terror suspects for 48 hours.

Spain can hold a terror suspect and prevent access to a lawyer for 72 hours in standard cases and up to 13 days for non-standard ones.

In the UK, terror suspects can be held without charge for up to twenty eight days but judicial knowledge of detention must occur within 48 hours.

North America
In Canada, terror suspects can be held without charge for 72 hours. Judicial knowledge of detention must also occur within 72 hours.

In the US, terror suspects can be held without charge for 6 months.

Australia
In Australia, the secret service can detain terror suspects for one week without charge.

I called Amnesty International to get their take on the situation. They told me:

“It’s important to see this within the context of our own procedures. The measures aren’t needed. There must be a balance between security and human rights. Existing criminal code provisions are already in place, so the ATA provisions are unnecessary. The government hasn’t demonstrated a need for these provisions.” — John Tackaberry, Amnesty International

Despite this, Canada is, comparatively, on the softer end of the spectrum when it comes to the detention of terror suspects without charge. Suspects are held without charge in order to further investigations in progress; once a suspect is charged, investigators lose access to the suspect as a resource.

CTV’s Canada AM makes a poor edit

Last week, I was watching Canada AM and would have spit out my coffee if I had been drinking some at the time.

I had just seen the program’s Seamus O’Regan interview Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion about climate change, the oil sands, the terror threat against the oil sands and then finally a potential election. It was a standard four minute interview which ended with some rhetoric from Stephane Dion, saying that Harper wants to make the country right-wing, Republican, far right, evil, etc… par for the course and standard fare for Dion. The Liberals have recently been pushing that very message in every QP breath they take.

At the top of the hour, they replayed a clip of the Dion interview which described the Liberals as a moderate alternative to Harper’s “far right” party. Again, inaccurate, but expected. Immediately following this clip, the anchor goes to the next news story to describe “far right” nutjob Ernst Zundel being convicted in Germany. It’s almost as if Dion teed up the ball and CTV drove it 350 yards.

Take a look (Youtube video):

In CTV’s defense, the same “far right” descriptor was used to describe Zundel in the previous top-of-the-hour news update (before Dion had given his interview – Dion went live at 7:40am EST). However, who cuts a clip of Dion describing Harper as “far right” and then gives the anchor text on Zundel describing the Holocaust denier as “far right”?

Also, what’s with the kid gloves Seamus? If Dion uses language to describe Canadian conservatives that CTV reserves for Holocaust denial, aren’t you supposed to call him on that? The proper response would have been “now wait one second there, Mr. Dion…”

For the record, this is editing on live television. I don’t think that there was any malice intended on the part of CTV… the result was just unfortunate. If this had been a pre-packaged broadcast, I’d be quite upset. With that said, I do believe that lessons above (and in the video) regarding language and kid gloves should be considered by CTV.

UPDATE: Should we instead be disappointed with Dion for twisting the misnomer (on all fronts) for his own agenda? Haven’t we heard Dion describe Harper as a ‘far right climate change denier‘?