Monday, May 31, 2010

Coalition would do well with right leadership - poll

The latest Angus Reid poll suggests that an NDP-Liberal coalition could gain substantial support from the public, depending on who led it:

In one respect, the results of an Angus Reid poll to be released on Monday are not surprising — the Conservatives are at 35 per cent, the Liberals at 27 and the NDP are at 19 per cent; in Quebec, the Bloc leads with 37 per cent.

However, the poll also asked Canadians how they would vote if the Liberals and NDP went to the polls offering Canadians a coalition government, and here things get interesting.

According to the results published in Monday’s edition of La Presse, the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper would defeat a coalition led by Michael Ignatieff 40-34 per cent.

With Bob Rae as Liberal leader, the coalition and Conservatives would be tied.

However, if the coalition were to propose Jack Layton as prime minister, according to the Reid poll, it could defeat the Conservatives by 43-37 per cent.

From the Globe. I don't expect this to happen, but it's an interesting result. If nothing else, it sends a message to the Liberals about their leadership...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Top kill" fails to stop gusher

The situation isn't getting any better:

With BP declaring failure in its latest attempt to stop the uncontrolled gusher feeding the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the company is turning to yet another mix of risky undersea robot maneuvers and longshot odds to plug the blown-out well.

Six weeks after the catastrophe began, oil giant BP PLC is still casting about for at least a temporary fix to the spewing well underneath the Gulf of Mexico that's fouling beaches, wildlife and marshland.

A relief well that's currently being drilled — which is supposed to be a better long-term solution — won't be done for at least two months. That would be in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Tuesday.

President Barack Obama said it is “as enraging as it is heartbreaking” that the most ambitious bid yet for a temporary solution failed.

BP said Saturday that the procedure known as the “top kill” failed after engineers tried for three days to overwhelm the crippled well with heavy drilling mud and junk 5,000 feet underwater.

From the Globe. Of course, it will stop eventually, but what will be left of the Gulf's rich biota by that time?

House seized over $363 water bill

In the US it's common for municipalities to sell the rights to collect on utility bills, much as they do with property taxes. Sometimes the results are horrible:

Via LargoWinch in this iTulip thread. Possibly the most perverse aspect of this is that the house this unfortunate woman was evicted from was still vacant months after the fact. Lovely, eh?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Municipality bans recording of council meetings

I guess this is what passes for democracy in Lac du Bonnet:

Lac du Bonnet RM council has decided to forbid its public meetings from being recorded.

At its May 25 meeting, council passed an official resolution stating that any recording of public meetings is no longer authorized.

The move will affect one ratepayer in particular — Lac du Bonnet's Dave Fournier, who for two years has regularly used his hand-held digital voice recorder to record council meetings.

Fournier, a cattle farmer, said he's shocked the RM would bar him from taping their meetings.

"It's just not fair," he said. "I don't understand why they're so scared."

He said he has an interest in municipal politics and records the meetings simply for his own reference. He also has some reading difficulties and can't write very well, so taping the meetings ensures he can always go back and listen to them, rather than trying to read transcripts or take notes.

Reeve Rick Lussier said council is not comfortable with being recorded.

From the Lac du Bonnet Leader.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jason Kenney on political staff testifying

The federal government has, as you may know, seen fit to prohibit their political staff from testifying before parliamentary committees. The good folks at Stageleft have found something rather interesting, though. Jason Kenney just went on TV in defense of this policy, but back in his opposition days he was singing a different tune. Check him out, now and then:

It's worth noting that some Liberals might be a bit reluctant to promote this, given that it might remind people of just what Kenney wanted to question political staff about back in 2004. I guess it falls to us lefties to circulate the story...

Stem rust update

Remember this post last year about stem rust? Well, the problem has not gone away, and may in fact be getting worse:

Four new mutations of Ug99, a strain of a deadly wheat pathogen known as stem rust, have overcome existing sources of genetic resistance developed to safeguard the world's wheat crop. Leading wheat experts from Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, who are in St. Petersburg, Russia for a global wheat event organized by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, said the evolving pathogen may pose an even greater threat to global wheat production than the original Ug99.

The new "races" have acquired the ability to defeat two of the most important stem rust-resistant genes, which are widely used in most of the world's wheat breeding programs.

"With the new mutations we are seeing, countries cannot afford to wait until rust 'bites' them," said Dr. Ravi Singh, distinguished senior scientist in plant genetics and pathology with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). "The variant of Ug99 identified in Kenya, for example, went from first detection in trace amounts in one year to epidemic proportions the next year."

From here (h/t Zarkov in this Kitco thread).

Senate may be about to justify its existence

The Senate is, not unreasonably, the target of a lot of criticism, but every so often it does something worthwhile. It may be about to do something of this sort with the rather perverse budget bill that the Conservatives have put forward:
Rebellious Liberal senators are threatening to carve large swaths out of an omnibus Conservative budget bill, excising everything from plans to sell off Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to breaking Canada Post’s monopoly on overseas mail.

“The Senate has very strong views because that’s where sober second thought comes in,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Wednesday. “I can tell you, Liberal senators are steaming for very good reason. This is a terrible way to do legislation and we said so last year, we said so this year.”

Bill C-9 is a confidence matter that could bring down the government if it is defeated. For that reason, the Conservative government has stacked it with measures that the opposition is unlikely to support – none of the political parties wants to go to the polls at this juncture.

The decision to lump all of these policies is an “abuse of power” on the part of the government, Mr. Ignatieff said. “But the issue is whether you trigger an election,” he said.

The Senate, however, could hive off the items that are not budget matters without risking an election. While the decision to do that has not been taken, there is strong sentiment running in that direction.

“We’ve done it before in my time with animal cruelty legislation,” said Joseph Day of New Brunswick when asked if the Senate could split up the 900-page bill. “The Senate will do what we are constitutionally required to do.”

From the Globe. Of course, in an ideal world the elected House of Commons would be the venue for this, but this is not an ideal world.

This does raise the question of what should be done with the Senate. The idea of an unelected body with legislative powers makes many Canadians uneasy, and with good reason, but there's another way to look at it. The House of Commons represents a snapshot of the will of the people at the time of the general election; the Senate could be seen as representing the cumulative will of the people over the course of several decades. Of course, if the House were elected by proportional representation the need for an upper house would be greatly diminished. In any case, this is academic, since it's highly unlikely that any government is going to open up the Constitution in this country any time soon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A war over water?

We're seeing some sabre-rattling on the part of Egypt about upstream uses of the Nile:

After he signed the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat said: “The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.” Well, the world kept turning, and now a potential war over water is creeping onto Egypt’s agenda.

Egypt is the economic and cultural superpower of the Arab world. Its 78-million people account for almost a third of the world’s Arabic-speaking population. But 99 percent of it is open desert, and if it were not for the Nile river running through that desert, Egypt’s population would not be any bigger than Libya’s (5 million). So Cairo takes a dim view of anything that might diminish the flow of that river.

Back in 1929, when the British empire controlled Egypt, Sudan, and most of the countries farther upstream in East Africa, it sponsored an agreement giving Cairo the right to veto any developments upstream that would decrease the amount of water in Nile. The rationale at the time was that the upstream countries had ample rainfall, whereas Egypt and Sudan (at the time ruled as one country) depended totally on the Nile’s waters.

Thirty years later, in 1959, when Egypt and Sudan were already independent but all of the upstream states except Ethiopia were still colonies, Egypt and Sudan signed another agreement that left only 10 percent of the Nile’s water to the seven upstream countries while giving Egypt almost 80 percent and Sudan the rest. The argument was still the same: the countries further upstream had rainfall, while it hardly ever rains in Egypt or Sudan.

Now the upstream countries that got almost no water in that deal are rejecting it. Thirteen years ago, they persuaded Egypt and Sudan to start talks on the river, but they have now concluded that the two Arab countries really only joined the talks to prevent any new deal. So they are now going ahead without them.

From the Georgia Straight. Will war actually break out? Too soon to tell, but in the long run it's almost inevitable that nations will come to blows over water.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Did BP have advance warning of trouble?

There are reports (h/t oddlots at iTulip) to the effect that Schlumberger Ltd, a respected international consulting firm, warned BP about incorrect procedures shortly before the accident, only to have them ignored. How much of this is accurate is unclear. It is known that Schlumberger staff left the rig only a few hours before the explosion, but there are inconsistencies -- the Reuters story states that they left on a BP helicopter, while the stories making the stronger claims say that the Schlumberger folks, after their advice was allegedly ignored by BP, ordered in one of their helicopters after BP told them to wait for the next scheduled flight. Whatever the case, it's being taken seriously by some, as evidenced by the relative performance of BP's and Schlumberger's stocks:

No surprise here; the possible implications of this could be very unpleasant for BP. It's worth noting, of course, that stories aren't always true, even if you do see them on the Internet; we'll have to see where this goes.

Water export legislation exempts bottled water

The federal government recently surprised skeptics like me with legislation to restrict bulk water exports. However, there's a problem here:

A federal government plan to strengthen a ban on bulk water exports is undermined by a loophole allowing significant water removal for exports of bottled water, critics said yesterday.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, the New Democratic Party's environment critic, signalled amendments will be sought to a proposed bill to strengthen the existing ban against bulk water exports by extending it to more than 80 rivers and streams that cross the U.S.-Canada border. "Canada will continue to export water in bulk, just in small individual containers instead of giant containers," said Joe Cressy of the Polaris Institute, a research and advocacy organization that is campaigning against bottled water. "The bill is a first step but it doesn't go far enough."

The new legislation is intended to thwart the diversion of river water south to the U.S. through such means as dams, aqueducts, canals and pipelines.

From the Montreal Gazette (h/t pogge). There may be other issues too -- the Council of Canadians is concerned about what else might not be covered:
Council of Canadians national water campaigner Meera Karunananthan says, “We don’t see Bill C-26 as a ban on bulk water exports. It does not appear to cover waters that are not boundary or transboundary waters.”
In other words, if someone were to draw water from the Churchill River and haul it away in supertankers, that would be just dandy under this legislation. Is this likely? Hard to say. The CoC's Maude Barlow notes here that the right wing think tanks have had their eyes on Arctic water for some time, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Council buys a pig in a poke

The Veolia contract passed today by a 9-4 vote. No word on whether the councillors finally got to look at the fine print on the contract before voting. Also no word on who the four dissenters were; I'm going to hazard a guess and assume Jenny Gerbasi, Dan Vandal, Russ Wyatt, and Harvey Smith, though I'd like to think John Orlikow would have voted against this too. Or did one of those five miss the vote for some reason?

Incidentally, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation is now softening their criticism of the deal:

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling the approval of the contract a mixed blessing because the plants are in major need of an overhaul.

"It looks like a good proposal — what they're offering — but we're just asking for a little bit more in the way of details," Colin Craig said.

A condition of the deal is that Veolia must save the city money.

I guess Colin and company would prefer not to be remembered as having been on the losing side...

Edited to add: Turns out Orlikow did vote against it... but Wyatt, of all people, voted for it. And Lillian Thomas missed the vote.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking government secrecy to a new level

As you probably know, Winnipeg's esteemed mayor and his buddies on EPC are trying to get city council to agree to a wastewater treatment contract with Veolia Canada. Now it's pretty common for a government to keep the fine print of such contracts a secret from the public. This isn't good enough for Katz and his cronies, though; they're keeping it secret from themselves:

It's a deal so secret not even the mayor has seen the financial fine print.

It locks city hall into a 30-year contract with a multinational mega-firm and marks a big shift in policy.

Now critics from the left and the right are calling on councillors to step back from the brink of a $1.2-billion deal with Veolia Canada to privatize the renovation and parts of the operation of two city sewage treatment plants.

Council votes on the deal Wednesday.

"The partnership proposes to reduce rates and improve results for taxpayers so that's a good thing," said Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "However, councillors should ask to see the final contract before it's approved. Like they say, the devil is in the details."

Craig said as much of the deal should also be made public as possible without violating Veolia's business interests.

Several left-leaning groups -- the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the union representing city workers -- agree, saying Veolia's reputation is "less than stellar" and serious questions about the contract remain unanswered.

From the Free Press. When the CTF agrees with the Council of Canadians and the CCPA, you know there must be something badly wrong somewhere...

An interesting take on securities traders

Mark Cuban compares them to hackers:
My last two posts were designed to stimulate discussion. But lets talk the real problem that regulators, public companies, investor/shareholders and traders face. The problem is that Wall Street doesn’t know what business it is in. Regulators don’t know what the business of Wall Street is. Investor/shareholders don’t know what business Wall Street is in.

The only people who know what business Wall Street is in are the traders. They know what business Wall Street is in better than everyone else. To traders, whether day traders or high frequency or somewhere in between, Wall Street has nothing to do with creating capital for businesses, its original goal. Wall Street is a platform. It’s a platform to be exploited by every technological and intellectual means possible.

The best analogy for traders ? They are hackers. Just as hackers search for and exploit operating system and application shortcomings, traders do the same thing. A hacker wants to jump in front of your shopping cart and grab your credit card and then sell it. A high frequency trader wants to jump in front of your trade and then sell that stock to you. A hacker will tell you that they are serving a purpose by identifying the weak links in your system. A trader will tell you they deserve the pennies they are making on the trade because they provide liquidity to the market.

I recognize that one is illegal, the other is not. That isn’t the important issue.

The important issue is recognizing that Wall Street is no longer what it was designed to be. Wall Street was designed to be a market to which companies provide securities (stocks/bonds), from which they received capital that would help them start/grow/sell businesses. Investors made their money by recognizing value where others did not, or by simply committing to a company and growing with it as a shareholder, receiving dividends or appreciation in their holdings. What percentage of the market is driven by investors these days ?

Source (h/t Chomsky in this iTulip thread).

Monday, May 17, 2010

The latest effort to destroy the Wheat Board

The fact that the Canadian Wheat Board is democratically run is a source of annoyance to the federal Conservatives, who would rather the whole thing just went away. So when prairie farmers kept voting to retain the Wheat Board's monopoly, the government has decided to try to limit who's allowed to vote on such matters:

OTTAWA — Wheat and barley growers who don’t produce more than 40 tonnes of grain a year would no longer be eligible to vote in Canadian Wheat Board elections under federal legislation introduced Friday.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said hobby farmers and former producers shouldn’t get a say in elections which send farmer representatives to the board.

"Everyone agrees these important votes must be cast by real farmers, not producers who have left the business," said Ritz.

The legislation would mean any producer who didn’t deliver 40 tonnes of wheat or barley to the board in either the year of the election or the previous two years would not be eligible to vote.

From the Montreal Gazette (h/t pogge). The fact that it's small farmers who need the Wheat Board the most is probably not a coincidence...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More on that "recovery" thing

It's become a mantra in the mainstream business press to say that we're in a recovery. But what does that mean? David Rosenberg has this to say (h/t pogge):
There are classic signs indeed that the recession in the U.S. ended last summer — output, sales, etc. But the depression is ongoing and the reason we say that is because real personal income, excluding handouts from the government, has barely budged. In fact, real organic personal income is nearly $500 billion lower now than it was at the peak 16 months ago and this has never occurred before coming out of any technical recession. It is a depression, as the chart below attests — that is the trendline for real household incomes, until the government comes in to top them off with handouts, subsidies and extended jobless benefits. The share of U.S. personal income being derived from Uncle Sam’s generosity has risen above 18% for the first time ever.
What's going on here? Simply put, a recession is defined solely in terms of overall GDP. If the GDP declines for two consecutive quarters, the economy is considered to be in recession; once it gets back on a solid growth track the recession is considered to be over. We normally think of a "depression" as simply a large recession, but I think Rosenberg is suggesting that it should be seen as a measure of how people are actually faring (what a radical idea!) So a "jobless recovery", or a recovery in which people are going back to work but at lower wages, would be a continued depression, because people's actual wages are depressed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

City enacts "living wage" policy


On Tuesday, New Westminster city council made history of sorts:

It passed a motion that would make New Westminster council the first municipal government in Canada to enact a "living wage policy."

Notice the terminology -- "living wage" not "minimum wage." The practical, and philosophical, gap between the two is huge.

Once the details have been worked out and the policy takes effect, all full-and part-time employees doing work on city-owned property, including those working for independent contractors, must be paid a "living wage" -- defined as enough to keep a family of two working adults and two children above the poverty line.

That figure for New Westminster, according to the motion, works out to $16.74 an hour -- a figure that includes benefits factored into it. That is more than twice B.C.'s minimum wage of $8 an hour, now the lowest in Canada.

"In an area like Metro Vancouver," said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy, who introduced the motion, "where housing costs are among the most expensive in the country, the minimum wage doesn't cover the cost of living. A living wage does, and maybe even allows people to save a little."

From the Vancouver Sun. The issue was debated today on The Current; unfortunately the proponent and opponent never really addressed each others' arguments.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Even Brown's resignation couldn't save Labour

It's now official; David Cameron is the UK's new prime minister. What went wrong is unclear; as George Eaton points out, in settling for Cameron and the "alternative vote" the Liberal Democrats have retreated considerably from their previous position on electoral reform. But maybe it was seen as political suicide to side with Labour; alternatively, perhaps Labour figures that they're better off not being in power right now (some have suggested that the new PM is going to be extremely unpopular very soon, owing to the austerity measures that will be necessary). Also, Clegg and company might believe that AV is a foot in the door that could eventually lead to the adoption of multi-member STV at a later date (it would at least get the public accustomed to preferential balloting).

Incidentally, for some suggestions as to how the past election would have gone under AV and under multi-member STV, check this out (this is of necessity rather speculative, as in the real world many voters would have given their first preferences to a different party if they had confidence that their vote would count).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Interesting developments in European politics

Firstly, Gordon Brown has decided to take one for the team:
The British political landscape was transformed last night as an unbridled bidding war for power led to Gordon Brown proffering his resignation as prime minister in a dramatic attempt to secure Labour a power-sharing government with the Liberal Democrats.

Brown's surprise announcement on the steps of No 10 prompted an extraordinary Tory counter-offer to the Lib Dems: a referendum on the alternative vote electoral system, and a coalition government with seats for Nick Clegg's party in the cabinet. The proposed Tory coalition deal would last at least two parliamentary sessions.

The hurried Tory offer, previously seen as completely beyond the ideological pale for the party, was swallowed by shell-shocked Tory MPs.

Cameron said he would whip a vote in parliament to ensure there was a referendum on the alternative vote, but the Tories would then be free to campaign to keep first past the post in the referendum itself.

From the Guardian. If Clegg is as smart as I think he is, he won't bite on the "alternative vote" system, which is another term for instant-runoff voting. While it can be viewed as a special case of the single transferable vote system preferred by the Lib Dems, it is one in which proportionality is sacrificed for more local representation. To my mind this system is at best only marginally better than FPTP and under some circumstances can be worse (if introduced in Canada, for instance, it would likely lead to a never-ending string of Liberal majorities). I suspect that Clegg would probably rather work with Labour than the Conservatives anyhow, and with Brown out of the way he'll have more credibility making such a deal.

This isn't the only big thing to happen across the pond either. Angela Merkel just suffered a significant setback in Germany:

Results from Sunday's poll show Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won 34.6 percent of the vote, down a full 10 percentage points from the last election in 2005 and their worst showing ever in the state. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD) were only marginally behind, winning 34.5 percent of the vote.

The business-friendly Free Democrats, the CDU's current coalition partner in North Rhine-Westphalia and at the national level, gained half a percentage point, winning 6.7 percent of the vote. The environmentalist Greens did the best, almost doubling their showing from the last state election, securing 12.1 percent. The Left Party won 5.6 percent, and is now poised to enter the NRW state parliament for the first time.

The election outcome means that the opposition Social Democrats and the Green party could narrowly form a governing coalition in Germany's most populous state with a slim one-vote majority, but would likely require support from the Left Party.

From Deutsche Welle. What's critical to this is that state governments appoint members of the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament, and as a result of this Merkel is expected to lose control of that house. And a big reason for this is Germany's reluctant approval of the bailout of Greece, which pleased the markets but had a rather different effect on the electorate. We'll have to see how this goes; Merkel is not up for reelection until 2013, unless her coalition somehow collapses, so she could find herself stymied for quite some time by an uncooperative Bundesrat.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The UK election

Well, as we know the British election resulted in what the Brits call a "hung parliament". Myself, I prefer the more value-neutral term "minority parliament", but that's just me. (Interestingly, the British expression is not known to have been used before 1974, according to this article). Now Nick Clegg has said that he'll give the Conservatives the first opportunity to make a deal with him, given that they won the most votes as well as seats. However, one of Clegg's demands is electoral reform, something that the Conservatives are very leery of, so Brown may yet get the chance to hold onto power. Gwynne Dyer has a pretty good summary, but there is something in his article that I take issue with:

Clegg is talking to Conservative leader David Cameron first, since his party got the largest number of seats and votes, but Cameron’s best offer is "an all-party committee of inquiry on political and electoral reform". He cannot offer more, because his own party won’t let him.

This does not make a lot of sense politically, since Labour, not the Conservatives, is the greatest beneficiary of the current voting system. But there I go again, expecting rational self-interest to determine political choices. The real reason that the rank and file of the Conservative Party hate the idea of change—any kind of change—is because they are conservative.

While I agree with Dyer that Cameron won't be able to offer more, I don't agree that Labour is the biggest beneficiary of first past the post. In terms of seat count alone, Labour does indeed benefit more than the Tories do, but in order to successfully govern under PR a party has to have potential coalition partners. Both might have a shot at the support of the Lib Dems, but under PR there'd be other parties represented in the House as well. And I suspect that Labour's base would be a lot less uncomfortable with them forming a coalition with, say, the Greens than rank and file Tories would be about a coalition with the BNP or UKIP.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Credit union offers Islamic mortgages

This is interesting:

Wednesday May 5, 2010 - Winnipeg, Manitoba – Assiniboine Credit Union, in partnership with leaders from Winnipeg’s Muslim community has developed the first Islamic Mortgage of its kind in Canada, answering a need that no other financial institution has been able to, according to Winnipeg’s Imam and respected Scholar of Islam, Shaikh Hosni Azzabi.

After four years of research and development, Assiniboine Credit Union launched its ACU Islamic Mortgage today. Approved by a board of Islamic scholars, the special financing arrangement was designed to address Islamic law that says paying interest on money is not acceptable and is considered usury by the Qur’an. While there are a few small Islamic financing institutions in Canada that obtain funding from a third party and make it available to Muslim homeowners, this is the first mainstream financial institution in Canada to offer an Islamic mortgage directly to members, allowing them to have a personal relationship with the financial institution.

“We call this financing arrangement a ‘Declining Partnership Agreement’ and it is based on the Islamic shared ownership concept called ‘musharaka’”, says ACU’s Vice-President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Priscilla Boucher. In the context of musharaka, the Muslim family and ACU will each contribute to the purchase of a home and each has an ownership share in the property. The family enters into a contract with ACU to purchase ACU’s ownership share over an agreed-upon period of time. During this time, the family has exclusive rights to live in the home and in exchange they agree to pay ACU a profit. At the end of the contract the Muslim family is the sole owner of the home.

Despite its name, the credit union told CJOB that this mortgage is available to anyone, which should come as no surprise (ever heard of someone being turned away from a kosher butcher for not being Jewish?) It will be interesting to see how these mortgages compare with conventional ones. ACU does require 20% down, so it's a bit harder to qualify for than many mortgages; still, it's an interesting idea.

One of those nasty things they like to slip into trade agreements

You may or may not have heard proposals for free trade with the European Union. On the surface this sounds like it could be okay; at least it would provide another market to lessen our dependence on the US. However, the devil is always in the details with these things. The Star article linked there points out some concerns, including the fact that provisions of Ontario's Green Energy Act that require domestic sourcing may run afoul of this agreement. However, the article fails to mention some of the more unsettling aspects:

Eliminate the Right to Save Seed?

The trade deal would almost entirely eliminate the rights of farmers to save, reuse and sell seed.

Plant varieties can be protected as intellectual property through Plant Breeders Rights as well as patents on genes. The trade deal would give rights holders an unprecedented degree of control over seeds and farming by committing Canada to adopt UPOV'91, the draconian 1991 version of The International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties. The inclusion of UPOV'91 in the deal is completely unnecessary and is excessively harmful to Canadian farmers. Seed breeders would have the right to collect royalties on seed at any point in the food chain!

The draft of the trade deal also says that biotech corporations could seize the crops, equipment, and farms, and freeze the bank accounts of farmers who are deemed patent infringers, like farmers who find unwanted contamination in their fields.

End Supply Management?

The deal would commit Canada to reducing or eliminating agricultural subsidies and other government supports to farmers over time. Supply management systems that have allowed farmers in the dairy, poultry, and egg sectors to earn a decent living are under attack. The Canadian Wheat Board (a farmer controlled grain marketer) is also very likely under threat.

Source (h/t pogge). They've been trying to do this for some time, of course; we'd best be vigilant to ensure they don't succeed. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if the EU is more leery of it than our own government, but we shouldn't count on that to scuttle the deal.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

US bans journalists for reporting publicly available information


What appears to have happened is that DOD has banned Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, Toronto Star’s Michelle Shepherd, Globe and Mail’s Paul Koring, and Canwest’s Steven Edwards from future trials because they used the name of Joshua Klaus–Omar Khadr’s first interrogator–in their reports this week.

Yet, as skdadl explained today, Klaus’ name is widely known in Canada.

Interrogator #1’s name is well known in Canada, and in fact it’s in Wikipedia.


Joshua Claus is the guy. Omar apparently calls him “the skinny blond.” Interesting, given that one of the other interrogators we’ve heard from, a great hulking guy who has “Monster” tattooed on his chest (or somewhere — need to look that up), turns out to be a sensitive fellow (now has PTSD) whose testimony should work to help Omar. (I do have sources for all this stuff, but I’m a bit cross-eyed at the moment.)

Basically, the government is banning journalists for using a name they’ve used in reports in the past, a name that is publicly known.

Is this an attempt to prevent the public from making the connection between two Afghans who died in 2002–Dilawar and Habibullah–and Khadr’s treatment? And/or just an attempt to intimidate the press so the people who know the most about the Gitmo show trials (and particularly Khadr) don’t bring that knowledge to bear on their reporting?

From here, via skdadl at pogge.

Chronic unemployment in the US

The situation is really bad:

Just one in five people who were out of work last summer have found jobs since then.

Of more than a thousand unemployed people surveyed by Rutgers University researchers last August, just 21 percent had landed a job by March, a followup survey reveals. Two-thirds remained "unemployed" according to the government's definition -- the rest gave up looking for work altogether, either going to school or retiring early.

From the Huffington Post, via Rajiv in this iTulip thread. I wonder what this is going to mean for the future? If there are a lot of chronically unemployed people, the social effects of this could be far-reaching.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Winnipeg's worst kept secret is out

Well, any pretense of secrecy evaporated when she filed her papers yesterday, but the big announcement was today. Wasylycia-Leis was introduced by Sharon Carstairs, and gave a fiery campaign speech, pulling no punches in criticizing Sam Katz. There were an awful lot of people there, among them former mayor Bill Norrie, onetime mayoral candidate Kaj Hasselriis, councillors Jenny Gerbasi and Harvey Smith, and Family Services minister Gord Mackintosh. She's got a wide base, and hopefully will be able to have a solid campaign. The thing that could win this for her, though, is that there are likely to be a lot of people willing to volunteer on her campaign. Given the typically low turnouts in municipal elections, getting the vote out will be crucial, and volunteers make all the difference.

I guess it's OK to call it terrorism now

You recall that Rupert Murdoch's Melbourne tentacle published a headline the other day that suggested that the attempted car bombing in New York City was not a terrorist act, presumably because a suspicious-looking white guy was seen on a security video. Of course, they didn't say that was the reason; the article focused on the amateurish nature of the bomb's design, but we all know the real reason. Well, the white guy turned out to be a red herring, and now they've got a brown guy in custody, so you can be sure they'll be back on the "terrorism" script now (and let's forget about the fact that the bomb is no more sophisticated now than when it was found, shall we?)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Judy's in the race

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, as expected, has filed her papers to run for Mayor. Interestingly, none other than Sharon Carstairs is going to serve as her campaign co-chair. It's going to be a heck of a campaign for sure. It will also be interesting to see who else shows up at her official campaign launch (tomorrow at 11:30 AM at the Tower Atrium at the Forks, in case anyone's wondering).

What's the deal with this "New West Partnership"?

If you've been following the proceedings of the Manitoba legislature you'll no doubt have noticed this question that Hugh McFadyen asked of Premier Greg Selinger (scroll down to "Western Provinces Partnership Agreement"):

Mr. Hugh McFadyen (Leader of the Official Opposition): Western Canadian provinces are working together to build the economy of the future, and the focus in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. is to work together in order to create more jobs and more income for their people to support health care and other initiatives going forward.

I want to ask the Premier if he can confirm that he'll be in Regina tomorrow for this exciting announcement regarding co-operation among western provinces.

Well, of course he wasn't (if he was going to be, Hugh wouldn't have asked the question). But is this the horrible thing that Hugh thinks it is? Erin Weir at Progressive Economics doesn't seem to think this agreement is such a good thing:

Saskatchewan had rejected TILMA because it empowers business to directly challenge a broad range of public policy, without identifying or solving actual problems. In addition to implementing that flawed model, the New West Partnership also hoses Saskatchewan in several specific respects.


The New West Partnership’s core is the “New West Partnership Trade Agreement” (NWPTA). If you do not want to read the whole thing, check out the five-page backgrounder.

The first page describes it as “a comprehensive agreement to remove barriers to trade, investment and labour mobility [that] covers all public sector entities, including government ministries and their agencies, boards and commissions, Crown corporations, municipalities, school boards, and publicly-funded academic, health and social service organizations.”

The second page provides for “financial penalties of up to $5 million if a government is found to be non-compliant with its obligations.” In case the reader still doubts that NWPTA replicates TILMA, page four helpfully notes that “British Columbia and Alberta fully comply with the agreement” already and then lists a series of “Saskatchewan-Specific Transition Measures.”

There is no quid pro quo: only Saskatchewan has to change its tendering system, regulations and standards. There is no compromise: Saskatchewan must harmonize to the existing Alberta-BC model.


Third, since Saskatchewan has a much wider array of Crown corporations than Alberta and BC, it is committing much more. For example, Alberta and BC businesses will gain a legally-enforceable right to access SaskTel’s procurement. But Saskatchewan businesses will have no parallel right to access procurement by Telus, the main telephone company in Alberta and BC.

Sounds like a neocon's wet dream to me. Selinger does well to stay the heck away from this.

Push poll?

A blogger known as CathiefromCanada reports (h/t pogge) that Harris-Decima called her with some interesting poll questions:
Along with questions about whether I buy store-brand vegetables, there were two questions about the Afghan prisoner/Parliamentary privledge issue.

The first was a scenario I have already heard about, whether I would support MPs signing a confidentiality oath to see the prisoner documents. (And actually, no I wouldn't.)

But the second was interesting -- whether I would support an election being called because the Bloc Quebecois should not be permitted to sign a confidentiality oath and therefore should not be permitted to see the documents.
I wonder who commissioned this?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Interesting development in the attempted terrorist attack in NYC

Apparently this wasn't done by a terrorist. The esteemed Herald Sun of Melbourne says so:
Crude New York Time Square car bomb no signature of a terrorist

THE failed car bomb used in New York's Times Square does not match records of those used by professional terrorists and contained 50kg of fertiliser that was incapable of exploding, police said today. quoted investigators as saying that professional terrorists tend to use the same "bomb signature" over and over again but the Times Square bomb did not match any on their database.

This has led investigators to believe that although the bomb was dangerous, it was probably not made by an expert or trained terrorist.

Uh-huh. To be fair, the actual text of the article isn't quite as egregious as the headline, but it's interesting to note this:
"There is no evidence that this is tied in with al-Qaeda or any other big terrorist organisation," Mayor Bloomberg said.
I wonder if what they'll say if this guy is tied in with a militia? Will anyone in a position of authority be prepared to investigate whether some of these organizations are terrorist organizations? They tend to avoid the term in this context for some strange reason, and that goes doubly so for any media outlet owned by News Corporation (like, say, the Herald Sun)...

The oil spill could be about to worsten dramatically

As bad as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is already, US authorities are looking at the possibility that it could become far worse:
A confidential government report on the unfolding spill disaster in the Gulf makes clear the Coast Guard now fears the well could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

"The following is not public," reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Emergency Response document dated April 28. "Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought."


The worst-case scenario for the broken and leaking well pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico would be the loss of the wellhead and kinked piping currently restricting the flow to 5,000 barrels -- or 210,000 gallons -- per day.

If the wellhead is lost, oil could leave the well at a much greater rate.
Source (h/t Rajiv in this iTulip thread). If that happens, this could have effects that reach far from the source of the problem. For instance, further down in the same thread, we_are_toast posted the following:
You people across the pond better get your paper towels ready. If the riser pipe fails and it takes 90 days to drill a relief well, you're in for a big surprise.

Yikes. And for further emphasis, a couple of posts down we have this:
As others in the thread have pointed out, this could be the oil industry's Chernobyl.