Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bjørn Lomborg changes stance on climate change

Better late than never:

Self-styled "sceptical environmentalist" Bjørn Lomborg's call for a $100bn a year global fund for research into climate change solutions was today given a cautious welcome by some leading green groups and thinktanks, but was dismissed by others as politically naive.

A Greenpeace spokesperson welcomed the conversion but said it had come two decades too late for Lomborg to be taken seriously. "At least it confirms the happy maxim that nobody's wrong all the time, apart from Melanie Phillips at the Daily Mail," the spokesperson added.

"It appears that the self-styled sceptical environmentalist is beginning to become less sceptical as he enters middle-age," said Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Mike Childs, adding that Lomborg's volte face would come as a "blow to some in the climate sceptics community".

The controversial Danish statistician, who has never denied man's role in global warming but who has provided an intellectual cover for hard-line climate sceptics, has previously argued that countering climate change should be a low priority for governments. But in his new book Smart Solutions to Climate Change he argues that it should now be addressed "as a priority".

From the Guardian. It suggests that Lomborg has more intellectual honesty than many of us would have given him credit for. Good for him. Childs does raise one issue, though:
"But he is still dangerously attracted to pursuing the cheapest, more risky geo-engineering solutions, is putting too much faith in future technologies and R&D, and is not giving enough support to the urgent need to reduce current emissions through rapid deployment of existing solutions and behavioural changes."
On one level, I agree with Childs' suspicion of geo-engineering; on the other hand, I think that at this stage we'd be foolish not to investigate it. It's better to be working on reducing emissions, of course (especially since many geo-engineering approaches do little or nothing to actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and thus do not solve the ocean acidification problem). Nonetheless, there's a good chance we'll need it the way things are going with everything else, so we'd better be working on that too.

The "D-word" continues to appear

This time it's the Globe and Mail:
What’s a depression anyway? Basically, a depression is a very long recession.

You know you’re in a depression when interest rates go to zero and there is no revival in credit-sensitive spending.

The economy is in a depression when the banks are sitting on $1.3-trillion (U.S.) of cash and yet there is no lending going on to the private sector. It’s called a liquidity trap.

Depressions, usually, are caused by a bursting of an asset bubble and a contraction in credit, whereas a “plain-vanilla” recession is typically caused by inflation and excessive manufacturing inventories.

You tell me which fits the bill today.

It could be a long time before this settles down. But surely this will at least prevent the hyperinflationary scenario, right? Well, maybe not:
A minority, though—and God bless ’em—actually do go ahead and go through the motions of talking to the crazies ranting about hyperinflation. These amiable souls diligently point out that in a deflationary environment—where commodity prices are more or less stable, there are downward pressures on wages, asset prices are falling, and credit markets are shrinking—inflation is impossible. Therefore, hyperinflation is even more impossible.

This outlook seems sensible—if we fall for the trap of thinking that hyperinflation is an extention of inflation. If we think that hyperinflation is simply inflation on steroids—inflation-plus—inflation with balls—then it would seem to be the case that, in our current deflationary economic environment, hyperinflation is not simply a long way off, but flat-out ridiculous.

But hyperinflation is not an extension or amplification of inflation. Inflation and hyperinflation are two very distinct animals. They look the same—because in both cases, the currency loses its purchasing power—but they are not the same.

Inflation is when the economy overheats: It’s when an economy’s consumables (labor and commodities) are so in-demand because of economic growth, coupled with an expansionist credit environment, that the consumables rise in price. This forces all goods and services to rise in price as well, so that producers can keep up with costs. It is essentially a demand-driven phenomena.

Hyperinflation is the loss of faith in the currency. Prices rise in a hyperinflationary environment just like in an inflationary environment, but they rise not because people want more money for their labor or for commodities, but because people are trying to get out of the currency. It’s not that they want more money—they want less of the currency: So they will pay anything for a good which is not the currency.
From Gonzalo Lira, via ThePythonicCow in this iTulip thread. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this; it has a ring of plausibility to it, to be sure, though hyperinflationary scenarios are a favourite bugbear of the right and should thus be taken with sizeable quantities of salt.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Australian Aboriginal in House of Representatives

Yes, the first, believe it or not:
An Aboriginal man has won a seat in Australia's House of Representatives, becoming the first indigenous person to do so in the country's history.

Ken Wyatt, 57, took the seat of Hasluck in Western Australia for the centre-right Liberal Party.
From the BBC (h/t jblaque in his Twitter account). Quite astonishing that it took till 2010 for this to happen.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The degeneration of America continues

Matt Tiabbi in Rolling Stone (h/t oddlots in this iTulip thread) has some scary things to report:
In fact if you follow Fox News and the Limbaugh/Hannity afternoon radio crew, this summer’s blowout has almost seemed like an intentional echo of the notorious Radio Rwanda broadcasts “warning” Hutus that they were about to be attacked and killed by conspiring Tutsis, broadcasts that led to massacres of Tutsis by Hutus acting in “self-defense.” A sample of some of the stuff we’ve seen and heard on the air this year:
  • On July 12, Glenn Beck implied that the Obama government was going to aid the New Black Panther Party in starting a race war, with the ultimate aim of killing white babies. "They want a race war. We must be peaceful people. They are going to poke, and poke, and poke, and our government is going to stand by and let them do it." He also said that "we must take the role of Martin Luther King, because I do not believe that Martin Luther King believed in, 'Kill all white babies.'"
  • CNN contributor and Redstate.com writer Erick Erickson, on the Panther mess: "Republican candidates nationwide should seize on this issue. The Democrats are giving a pass to radicals who advocate killing white kids in the name of racial justice and who try to block voters from the polls."
  • On July 6, the Washington Times columnist J. Christian Adams wrote an editorial insisting that "top [Obama] appointees have allowed and even encouraged race-based enforcement as either tacit or open policy," marking one of what would become many assertions by commentators that the Obama administration was no longer interested in protecting the rights of white people. "The Bush Civil Rights Division was willing to protect all Americans from racial discrimination,” Adams wrote. “During the Obama years, the Holder years, only some Americans will be protected."
  • July 12: Rush Limbaugh says Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder “protect and represent” the New Black Panther party.
  • July 28: Rush says Supreme Court decision on 1070 strips Arizonans of their rights to defend themselves against an “invasion”: "I guess the judge is saying it's not in the public interest for Arizona to try to defend itself from an invasion. I don't know how you look at this with any sort of common sense and come to the ruling this woman came to.” That same day, Rush says this: "Muslim terrorists are going to have a field day in Arizona. You cannot ask them where they're from. You cannot even act like we know where they're from. You cannot ask them for their papers. We can ask you for yours. Not them."
  • July 29: The Washington Times asks “Should Arizona Secede?” and says the Supreme Court "is unilaterally disarming the people of Arizona in the face of a dangerous enemy” with the aim of creating a “socialist superstate.” The paper writes: "The choice is becoming starkly apparent: devolution or dissolution."
  • July 29, Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy continues the Radio Rwanda theme, saying, "If the feds won't protect the people and Governor Brewer can't protect her citizens, what are the people of Arizona supposed to do?"
There’s nothing in the world more tired than a progressive blogger like me flipping out over the latest idiocies emanating from the Fox News crowd. But this summer’s media hate-fest is different than anything we’ve seen before. What we’re watching is a calculated campaign to demonize blacks, Mexicans, and gays and convince a plurality of economically-depressed white voters that they are under imminent legal and perhaps even physical attack by a conspiracy of leftist nonwhites. They’re telling these people that their government is illegitimate and criminal and unironically urging secession and revolution.
This is scary stuff, because that's exactly how fascism gets going. Whether this is as unprecedented as Tiabbi suggests isn't clear; I'm told it was pretty crazy in the early 1960s too. But this could be extremely dangerous. Stories like this are likely to become more common, for instance... and that's nothing compared to what will happen if too many of these people win political office.

City may help pay for community gardens

This is remarkably forward-thinking:

Waterloo wants more vegetables grown in community gardens, in part to help people eat healthier. And taxpayers may be willing to help.

Council is considering using city staff to build small gardens in city parks. Staff would also deliver water, remove yard waste and erect signs. In return, neighbours would agree to plant, maintain and harvest the plots.

Annual city costs are estimated at up to $4,500.

From the Record. Very interesting indeed; more cities need to do this.

A "protected area" with a problem

No doubt you've heard about the big protected area that the federal Conservatives have established in the Arctic. That's all fine and dandy, but the devil is in the details as usual:

On Thursday, the fourth day of his week-long tour of the Arctic, the prime minister announced the government will establish the Tarium Niryu­tait Marine Protected Area, located at the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Beaufort Sea. The Beaufort Sea region is home to one of the world’s largest summer populations of belugas, which go there to feed, socialize and raise their calves.

"Today we are ensuring these Arctic treasures are preserved for generations to come," Harper told reporters in the remote town of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

However, regulatory documents released by the government in April show officials plan to set aside one per cent of the conservation area for oil and gas activities, such as exploratory drilling.

From the Free Press. I don't know about you, but it seems to me like this kind of defeats the purpose of a protected area.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Independents win significant concessions in Australia

It looks like the major parties are willing to do quite a lot to get the support of the independents:

They just had to ask. The three country independents got all they wanted from the PM. Tony Abbott's response was a little more qualified but they did well out of him too. There's nothing like desperation to make leaders generous to a fault to those whose support they need.

The most fundamental concession is that both Gillard and Abbott say they would not have an election before August 2013. Gillard is even willing to ''work with'' the independents in setting the precise date.

For those used to Victoria's fixed term, this mightn't seem much. But federally, terms are flexible and the PM's ability to decide election timing is an important power. Giving it away is no small thing.

From the Sydney Morning Herald. What's interesting, though, is what Abbott is not willing to agree to:

The scrapping today, however, will be over what Abbott would not agree to - the independents want his promises officially costed.

It's not surprising he is resisting this. If Treasury/Finance found holes in them - as is very likely - this would undermine not just Abbott's credibility but his pitch to the independents.

Interesting. And the fact that Gillard has not resisted this doesn't exactly make Abbott look very good... but assuming some coalition appears, that won't matter (it will probably be forgotten by the time the next election rolls around in three years). I'm inclined to think Gillard will ultimately get the nod from the independents actually; despite being ex-Nationals, they seem to be on poor terms with their former colleagues. Also, a Labour government could accomplish much more than a Liberal-National one, because the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate and thus a Liberal-National government would have a hard time getting legislation through the upper house.

The thing is, whoever does form the government will likely have a majority of one, which will make for some interesting times. If nothing else, MPs on both sides of the house are likely to have excellent attendance in the next three years...

A side note -- those unfamiliar with the quirks of Australia's political system may find the coverage of this minority parliament particularly confusing, because the possibility exists of the independents forming a coalition with the Coalition. The existence of a long-term coalition between the urban and rural right (the Liberals and Nationals respectively) seems to be made possible by instant-runoff voting; the Liberals and Nationals simply trade preferences, whereas they'd be spoilers for each other under FPTP.

And a further tangent from that -- how would IRV play out if introduced in this country? I'm not entirely sure. At the federal level I suspect it would lead to a lot of NDP-Liberal coalitions, though at the provincial level I could see the Manitoba Liberals supporting the Tories rather than the NDP.

Another commodity we're running low on

It's helium:
It is the second-lightest element in the Universe, has the lowest boiling-point of any gas and is commonly used through the world to inflate party balloons. But helium is also a non-renewable resource and the world's reserves of the precious gas are about to run out, a shortage that is likely to have far-reaching repercussions.

Scientists have warned that the world's most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.

The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

From the Independent. The law in question, the Helium Privatization Act, is discussed here. Its purpose seems to have been largely cosmetic:
The U.S. Bureau of Mines was responsible for running a crude helium storage facility and refining helium for use by the federal government. The program was intended to pay off a loan from the Treasury Department through sales of refined helium. The federal agencies were required to purchase their helium from the Bureau of Mines, but lagging sales failed to produce the expected revenue. Instead of decreasing, the debt between the Treasury and the Department of Interior increased to $1.6 billion. The debt was a paper debt between the two federal agencies; meaning, the debt did not affect the national debt. But the public viewed the debt as an example of government waste.
My bold. So they're making a concerted effort to piss away a non-renewable resource in order to make the government's books look better. Krikey.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

RCMP backed off from endorsing safe injection site: report

Seems they were all ready to make a public statement, then were ordered not to:

It would have been quite a news conference, and it very nearly happened. Last fall, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, after months of intense, private talks, agreed to face the media together to declare their agreement that research shows the “benefits” and “positive impacts” of supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users.

For the RCMP, making such a statement would have been a turning point: the Mounties would have had to distance themselves from dubious studies, commissioned by the force itself, that were critical of Insite, Vancouver’s pioneering safe injection facility. And that would have been a politically awkward move for the federal police, since Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is firmly committed to shutting down Insite.


The proposed joint media release was never issued. Nor did the RCMP officers and the centre’s doctors appear together for their planned news conference. According to Montaner, two days before the scheduled event last December—after a venue had been booked at the University of British Columbia and “the banners were ready”—he received a telephone call from Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, the most senior RCMP officer in British Columbia. “He said, ‘Julio, can’t do it,’ ” Montaner recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean, Gary?’ He said, ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve been ordered not to go ahead with the news conference.’ ” Montaner says Bass made it clear that the order came from RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.

From Maclean's, via 6079_Smith_W in this babble thread. What I find interesting is not so much that this happened (stories of federal government institutions being ordered to suppress information are commonplace in today's Canada) but that Maclean's is reporting it. Maclean's is about as mainstream as you get in this country; if they are willing to publish such stories, it's a sign that the MSM is losing confidence in the Harper government. It seems like the census issue and/or the war has opened the floodgates, and suddenly all the negative stories that the MSM had previously ignored have become news. If so, this is very good; it's a sign that Harper's days as PM are numbered.

UK government fears peak oil

They don't want to talk about it in public, though:
Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good".

Experts say they have received a letter from David Mackay, chief scientific adviser to the DECC, asking for information and advice on peak oil amid a growing campaign from industrialists such as Sir Richard Branson for the government to put contingency plans in place to deal with any future crisis.

A spokeswoman for the department insisted the request from Mackay was "routine" and said there was no change of policy other than to keep the issue under review. The peak oil argument was effectively dismissed as alarmist by former energy minister Malcolm Wicks in a report to government last summer, while oil companies such as BP, which have major influence in Whitehall, take a similar line.

But documents obtained under the FoI Act seen by the Observer show that a "peak oil workshop" brought together staff from the DECC, the Bank of England and Ministry of Defence among others to discuss the issue.

From the Guardian. If they're so reluctant to share this information, it makes one wonder just how bad the situation is.

Canada's growing human rights gap

Amnesty International, no less, is harshly critical of the way human rights are going in this country:

"Amnesty International is more and more concerned about the serious worsening of the human rights approach of this government," Shetty said in a speech to the CIVICUS world assembly on citizen participation.

"There is a real shrinking of democratic spaces in this country. ... Many organizations have lost their funding for raising inconvenient questions," he added.

"You expect more from Canadians. ... I think there is a growing gap between the values and the track record of Canada historically and the actions of the current government, which is deeply concerning."

From the Ottawa Citizen (h/t pogge). How much longer will Canadians stand for this? Do we have no shame? The latest poll would suggest that this is the case...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Assange vows to fight remaining charges

Although the rape charge against him was dropped, the WikiLeaks founder still faces charges of the lesser offense of molestation. Assange says he will fight those charges if Sweden decides to proceed (so far they seem not to have made a decision). Assange also makes an interesting allegation:

He said that he had been forewarned by Australian intelligence on August 11 to expect a campaign against him, though it was unclear who was behind it.

"It is clearly a smear campaign ... the only question is who was involved," Assange, who is an Australian national, said.

"We can have some suspicions about who would benefit, but without direct evidence I would not be willing to make a direct allegation."

From Al Jazeera. The prosecutor says that she'll be deciding what to do later this week; my money's on the remaining charges being dropped, but we'll have to see.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Minority parliament in Australia

It appears no party will be able to command a majority in the lower house of Australia's House of Representatives:

With a single seat, Hasluck in Western Australia, still in doubt, Labor has 73 and the Coalition 72 of the 150 seats in parliament's lower house.

Brisbane was this morning called for the Liberal National Party's Teresa Gambaro, unseating incumbent Labor MP Arch Bevis.

Denison in Tasmania was also in doubt, but was this morning declared for Labor by the Australian Electoral Commission, dashing the hopes of high-profile independent Andrew Wilkie for a surprise win.

In Hasluck, the sitting Labor member Sharryn Jackson trails the Liberals Ken Wyatt.

Tony Burke, the Gillard government's minister for sustainable population, says he has faith Mr Katter, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor will reach a deal to form a stable government.

From the Sydney Morning Herald. This story raises several issues:
  • Australia has almost 2/3 the population of Canada. So why does its lower house have less than half the number of seats? That doesn't sound like good local representation to me (and I thought that was the point of single-member constituencies!)
  • The instant-runoff voting system used in Australia hasn't helped minor parties to the extent that the casual observer would expect. Sure, there are four independents, but only one Green has been elected, and nobody from the other parties. I have heard it claimed that IRV can be even more unfair than first past the post; these results seem to support that thesis. Their upper house has multi-member STV, and the Greens have the balance of power in that house, so it's not like they don't get support, but they are badly underrepresented in the lower house. Nick Clegg, take note!
  • Regarding particular results, it seems that most of the independents are former Nationals, which could mean that, on the one hand, they'd be disinclined to support Labour if they could avoid it, but on the other hand, there may be some bad blood between them and the Liberals. If they do decide to support the Liberals, they'll have a hard time getting their agenda through the Senate, while if they support Labour it may not be for very long. So whatever government forms when the smoke clears is likely to be short lived.

A curious twist in the WikiLeaks saga

As you've no doubt heard, the founder, Julian Assange, was charged with rape in Sweden, then the charge was withdrawn within hours:

The preliminary allegation, made on Friday night, and not further investigated at that stage, was apparently leaked by police to a tabloid in Stockholm, which published dramatic claims on Saturday morning that Assange was to be arrested.

The Swedish Prosecution Authority todaysaid an "on-call" prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Assange late on Friday, only to see it revoked the next day by a higher-ranked prosecutor who found no grounds to suspect him of rape.

"The prosecutor who took over the case had more information, and that is why she made a different assessment than the on-call prosecutor," said Karin Rosander, a spokeswoman for the authority.

From the Guardian. The timing of this is rather peculiar, no? After all, remember how Blake's 7 opens?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ford still working to undermine himself

The guy would be better off if he just shut up:

The man who would be Toronto mayor yesterday questioned the value of immigrants in the City of Immigrants. He said Tuesday he wants no more newcomers because we can’t manage our current population and an influx will add chaos upon existing chaos. And in case you think he’s being exclusionary, he assured us Wednesday that once he gets the city’s fiscal house in order he will reopen the doors.

Hmmm. With pronouncements like that, no wonder fiscal conservatives were begging John Tory to enter the race and give them a palatable option on the political right.

It was always anticipated that the more Ford spoke, the less voters would like him. The controversial councillor is living up to expectation.

This was no slip-up; it’s vintage Ford — direct, impolitic sand in your eye. When will it begin to wear thin on Toronto voters?

Opponent George Smitherman has spent considerable ammunition — some say, too much — attacking Ford on everything, small and great. He thinks, finally, this is the “turning point in the election.”

From the Star. One would hope this, more than an old drunk driving conviction, would be the thing to derail his campaign. However, that's really secondary; the most important thing is that his campaign gets derailed somehow...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How long can China's "economic miracle" last?

It's hard to avoid -- everywhere you look there's another story about China's tremendous economic growth. They're now the second biggest economy in the world, and seem unstoppable. But as Gwynne Dyer points out in the Georgia Straight, we've heard this story before:

Back in 1988, the last year of Japan’s 30-year boom, the land in the garden of the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo was allegedly worth more than the entire state of California, but that was just another way of saying “unsustainable property bubble”. The bubble duly burst, bringing down the entire Japanese economy with it—and it has stayed down for the past 22 years, achieving at best two-percent annual growth and usually much less.

The property bubble in China is reaching similar dimensions, with prices rising annually by 50 percent or more in dozens of cities. When property bubbles finally burst—and they always do—they tend to do a great deal of damage. (Nobody say subprime.)

As Dyer points out, China has a lot of parallels with Japan, though it would be premature to predict that they'll collapse as badly as Japan has. Still, the status quo can't go on forever.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More signs of panic in the Conservative ranks

You have to wonder. They're under fire on a couple of fronts already -- the war and the census. So what do they do? They draw our attention to the gun registry:

The senior Mountie in charge of the controversial long-gun registry is being replaced on the eve of a vote about its future, the RCMP has confirmed.

Both Liberals and New Democrats are accusing the Conservative government of trying to silence dissent as a result since the officer is strong proponent of the costly program.

CBC reported the move Tuesday night, saying that RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian Firearms Program, is being “bounced” from his post to French language training.

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin said this sends a “terrible message” about democracy. “If you in any way challenge them you’re gone,” he told The Globe on Wednesday.

The Grits agree. “I think it’s pretty clear it’s deliberate. This is a pattern,” Liberal public safety critic Mark Holland said. “Any time somebody stands up to them, any time they have a differing opinion, they are either fired or moved somewhere where they won’t make as much noise.”

Now to be fair, I'm less sure about the gun registry than I am about most other issues; I do recognize that the cost is a significant hit on rural Canada. Depending on who you listen to, the registry either has or has not been shown to save lives. But what seems clear is that most police officers like the idea. And as Antonia Zerbisias (h/t pogge) points out, the timing of Cheliak's transfer is rather convenient for the government:

As a result of the move, Supt. Cheliak will not be able to attend the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual meeting in Edmonton next week. He was to present a major report at that meeting that was expected to underline the effectiveness of the registry.

Supt. Cheliak presented part of his findings to a Commons committee in spring. The committee was examining the private members’ bill by Manitoba Tory MP Candice Hoeppner, which is aimed at scrapping the registry. But the senior officer’s remarks bolstered the opposition’s case for keeping the registry.

Can't get more blatant than that, can you? (Well, yes you can, but let's hope we don't have to go there). When you combine this with the way they've responded to criticism on other issues, you are left with a picture of a PM and cabinet who are increasingly under fire, and must by now have some suspicion that they will never get their coveted majority. So they're panicking, which hopefully will hasten their downfall. I'm sure Iggy is suddenly feeling really good, because Harper may be making him electable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Keith Olbermann on the Ground Zero "mosque"

As he points out, it isn't strictly speaking a mosque at all, just a community centre with a prayer area. Nor is it at Ground Zero, though it isn't far from there. He has a lot more to say on the subject as well:

To which I can only add, bravo.

How much damage will be done by gutting the census?

Stephen Gordon at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative thinks a great deal:

Before the decision went public, Statistics Canada estimated that the response rates for the long form would fall from about 95% to 50%, but it could be brought back up to 70% if they spent a lot of money pestering non-respondents. This result was of course deemed to be unacceptably low a few months ago, but even this level of failure seems like an unattainable dream now. Now that the census has been made a playground for partisan politics, many CPC partisans will decide that their party's cause will be best served by not filling out the voluntary forms, and many opposition supporters will boycott the long form in protest. The long form data will be a dog's breakfast.

And there will no doubt be many people who will have missed the distinction between the short and long forms and will wrongly assume that they can pitch their short forms into the recycling bin without consequence. After making such a big deal about not forcing people to fill out the census form, the government will be hard-pressed to justify using the powers of the State to force citizens to fill out the short form. There's a real risk that the short form data won't be usable, either.

These are problems that will explode in the government's face over the next few months. But it won't end there. As the months and years wear on, every single census release will be accompanied with a lengthy discussion of to what extent changes since 2006 reflect reality or the failed 2011 census. This is going to go on for years; a cursory search kicks up at least 11 discussion papers based on the 2006 census published by Statistics Canada in the past 12 months. (See here for a summary of output from the 2006 census.) And that's just Statistics Canada. It doesn't include studies done at other federal departments such as Finance or HRDC, or by other agencies at other levels of government.

Of course, non-government researchers will have to devote any number of person-years dealing with the wonky 2011 numbers. Many future studies will no doubt be obliged to use a binary indicator variable to capture the 2011 outlier; this indicator will be known as the Clement Dummy. There will be snarky variations on this notation during seminars.

And to make matters worse, Gordon points out that even if the 2016 census is conducted properly, this will seriously mess up a lot of longitudinal studies. It will be much harder to determine empirically if government programs are working properly, which of course is what the Cons probably want. After all, if they want to cancel a program for ideological reasons, it will be a lot easier to justify if there's insufficient information to determine how well it works than if there's a whole bunch of data showing that it works well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Ground Zero mosque issue

The amount of venom that is being spewed over this issue is shocking, though not surprising. Spengler at the Asia Times has some interesting comments:
Popular antipathy to a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero is so fierce that even President Barack Obama, the nation's Islamophile-in-chief, "clarified" his August 11 statement supporting the plan to say, "I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there." It is not just a mosque, of which there are two in the neighborhood, but a symbol of Islamic presence. The most recent CNN poll shows an overwhelming 70%-29% margin of opposition.
Yikes. Even setting aside some of the more hypocritical examples, that's worrisome. More worrisome is this:
What is surprising is how passionately Americans oppose the Ground Zero mosque. A revolt is brewing against America's liberal political elite.
If this continues to take hold, I have a bad feeling about what might happen in the midterms in the fall, not to mention the next presidential election. Huckabee-Palin 2012? Still not out of the question...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clement enters denial mode

Remember a couple of days back when it was reported that Tony Clement claimed to have opposed the changes to the census? Well, now he's denying he ever said that:
I did not say the words Mr. Siddiqui attributes to me. I support the decision and participated in this decision from the get-go. To assert otherwise is incorrect.
What to make of this? Hard to say; it could be that Siddiqui's article was somehow mistaken, though you'd wonder how a journalist with one of Canada's most respected dailies could make such an error. Or, it could be that Harper has ordered Clement to take back what he said about the census. Hard to say what's really going on here...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Have Torontonians lost their minds?

I'd assumed that Ford's impressive record of saying and doing dumb shit would erode his support. Not so apparently:

Rob Ford has taken a lead in the race for mayor of Toronto, according to the first new poll to be released in two months.

The Etobicoke councillor has the backing of 37.6 per cent of decided voters and a nearly nine-point lead over George Smitherman, who enjoys 28.7 per cent support.

The Pollstra Research poll puts Joe Pantalone at 15.5 per cent and Sarah Thomson at 10.3 per cent; Rocco Rossi has slipped into last place at 7.9 per cent.

Thirty-two per cent of voters remain undecided, the poll found.

From the Globe. What the devil is the matter with those people?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A spectacular development in the census drama

Tony Clement has just said something remarkable:
“That’s what the boss wanted,” Clement is telling friends about the Prime Minister killing the compulsory long census form, which a fifth of households get once every five years. The minister in charge of Statistics Canada says he opposed the change, to no avail.
From the Star; my emphasis. That sure sounds like a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of cabinet solidarity. I guess Clement would say he's still willing to accept responsibility for the decision, even if he doesn't like it; nevertheless, this is a really weird thing for a cabinet minister in a Westminster-type system to say. It also may put Harper in an awkward position. If he doesn't fire Clement he looks weak, but he needs him -- he's one of relatively few Conservative MPs who have any brains. Interesting times...

ETA: Tony's now denying that he ever opposed the change.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Springfield rejects group home for mentally challenged adults

New Directions, an agency with a long and respected history in Winnipeg, has been rejected in their bid to open a group home in the RM of Springfield:

New Directions wants to set up a group home for two developmentally and physically challenged men in a 1,580-square-foot bungalow on a six-acre property it purchased on Aspen Glen Road, near the Elmhurst Golf and Country Club.

The property is zoned rural residential and New Directions applied to rezone it to institutional.

Area residents opposed the rezoning and a petition bearing more than 200 names was delivered to the RM at Monday's meeting. Councillors unanimously rejected the rezoning application.

From the Free Press. Lindor Reynolds summarizes the locals' paranoia here:

They were not going to build a warehouse for the criminally insane. They simply wanted to use the house to give a safe, rural setting to two men. It would be well-staffed, with two employees awake at all times to supervise their charges.

Two-hundred-and-eighty-one people signed a petition against the group home.

Some residents claimed they were concerned about traffic problems. Others said they feared for their children. Someone else suggested emergency vehicles wouldn't be able to get through.

One pre-existing bungalow. Two residents. Two staff. That's it.

But under all those concerns, real or imagined, was a deeper fear. Someone spread the rumour that the home was going to be used for sex offenders. Not just sex offenders, mind you, but sex offenders with mental-health problems. Is it at all surprising the community protested the group home?

There was no truth to the rumour but, as is always the case in these sorts of conflicts, that didn't matter. The damage was done. Jennifer Frain, the executive direction of New Directions, says her agency received only one phone call after it contacted residents to tell them about the proposal. The resident was spoken to and, according to Frain, mollified.

Source. The thing is, a lot of folks in rural communities move there from the city because they're terrified of anyone who might be different from them. They are the other, and should not be seen in a decent community of rich white folks. Think about the children! Worse, think about the poor parents having to explain to their kids why such people exist!

Not surprisingly, after this happened the Native Addictions Council of Manitoba withdrew their application to place a treatment centre in Springfield. Given what the yokels did to New Directions, it was a foregone conclusion anyhow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Has Harper passed the point of no return?

I'd have been the last one to predict that the census would be the issue that destroys Harper's career as Prime Minister. But it's become a contender for the role. Look at what Jeffery Simpson has to say about the issue:
It’s been a fine summer for Canadian democracy.

No, not parliamentary democracy, since Parliament was not in session and the who’s up/who’s down of parliamentary punditry/polling is of even less relevance and interest in summer than the rest of the year. No, it’s been a fine summer because civic society overwhelmingly rose up against the assault on reason and the ephemeral triumph of ideology over fact reflected in the Harper government’s destruction of Statistics Canada’s long-form census.

The Harper government – that is, the Prime Minister and his entourage – tried to slip a fast one past Canadians. It announced the end of the long form in the dead of summer, on a Friday to boot, as a sop to their far-right core constituency.

They must have figured no one would be paying attention, so they could take out their dislike of Statistics Canada when no one was looking – a dislike grounded in their blinkered belief that the agency collects facts that are then used by pressure groups, often of the social activist variety, that want more and bigger government.

Canadian civic society immediately smelled a rat. At last count – the figures are provided by the redoubtable retired professor William Stanbury – more than 200 groups and institutions publicly oppose the Harper policy, while three support it.

The three are fringe, right-wing institutions: the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition, the little organization for which Stephen Harper himself once toiled in a Calgary office of two people (himself and a secretary). There’ve been a few supportive, far-right media shills, of course. But that’s been it.

Notably absent from that list, as noted in a previous post, are organizations like the C.D. Howe Institute (hardly a paragon of radical leftist thought, and a pretty significant opinion maker). And what about the fundamentalist churches? The new immigrants that Harper is so keen to court? Recovering from this might not be so easy. And that isn't even considering the other issues the Cons face. The polls are already turning against them, despite the fact that it's summer and people aren't as quick to follow politics right now:
Neck and neck. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and Michael Ignateiff’s Liberals are in a virtual dead heat in a new national opinion poll, confirming the narrowing lead and substantive drop of the Tories first revealed last week.

This is now provoking a debate between pollsters as to the timing of the next election. One says it’s not going to happen; the other says it could be coming soon.

First, the latest poll by Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global Television has the Conservatives with 34 per cent support compared to 31 per cent for the Liberals – within the margin of error. The NDP are polling at 15 per cent; the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois are both at 9 per cent.

Last week, EKOS pollster Frank Graves found the Tories had dropped 10 points in less than a month, narrowing the gap between themselves and the opposition Liberals – 29.7 per cent for the Tories compared to 28.5 per cent for the Grits.

While Mr. Graves suggested the controversy over the government’s decision to scrap the compulsory long-form census was the reason for the Tory slide, Ipsos pollster John Wright sees it differently.

He attributes the narrowing of the gap to the brouhaha over the G20 summit in Toronto. His numbers show that in Ontario, the Liberals and Conservatives are in a statistical tie – 35 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. The Liberals have also gained ground nationally, suggesting Mr. Ignatieff’s bus tour is helping.

From here. And that's not even mentioning the war:

Most Canadians don’t believe there will be victory in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to a new online survey.

The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll also shows that a majority of Canadians – 53 per cent – do not support the war and 43 per cent believe that Canada made a mistake sending in troops.

While the finding bolsters Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s resolve to end the mission in July 2011, there is still uncertainty as to Canada’s future role. The Owen Sound Sun Times reports that Defence Minister Peter MacKay is “strongly suggesting” his government is open to extending the mission beyond the date passed by the House of Commons.

Mr. MacKay is quoted as saying that it’s “all very interesting” that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his foreign affairs critic Bob Rae have both made “comments recently about training and extending the mission.” However, later in the article, Mr. MacKay says his government will respect the parliamentary motion.

Yeah, I'd say the Cons are in deep trouble. Regardless of when the next election happens, it's unlikely to go well for them.

I can't believe I'm about to defend this guy

A pastor has gotten himself arrested for protesting the mascot of the school's sports teams (the Demons, in case you were wondering). Now to me it sounds like a pretty darn silly thing to protest, but should it be illegal?

A minister who was arrested outside a Georgia high school for disorderly conduct says he was speaking out against the school's evil mascot.

Pastor Donald Crosby told CBS affiliate WMAZ he was "standing up for Jesus" when he was arrested Monday outside the Warner Robins school, and he'd do it again.

Now to be fair, there may be other aspects of the story that weren't reported. But they do report this:

"Officers found the group did not possess a picketing permit," the release says.

"On several occasions, offers asked Crosby to leave the premises. He refused to comply with officers and was arrested. The remaining people dispersed in an orderly fashion," police said.

Now I'm pretty sure that if he'd been harassing people that would have been mentioned in the story. But it seems the only thing they could get him on was the fact that he didn't have a licence to picket. You need a licence to do that in Georgia? What's next -- will you need to get a blogging licence? This goes well beyond the ravings of an overzealous backwoods preacher; it is a matter of putting a serious chill on free speech, and should not be allowed to stand. And if he gets good legal representation, it probably won't; it sounds as unconstitutional as hell.

Edited to add: There's more on the case here. Apparently it's the city of Warner Robins that requires a picketing permit, not the state. And that article also has a photo, which raises yet another question -- would they have bothered him if he were white?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fraser Institute goes a bit off message on the census

The Fraser Institute has been one of the few major institutions to express actual approval of the Cons' plan to gut the census. Even right-leaning organizations like the C.D. Howe Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business think it's a mistake. Alright, maybe they think the sun shines out Stephen Harper's arsehole or something. But then we find this (h/t Paul Wells and Kady O'Malley):
Toronto, Canada's longtime economic engine, may be stalling. According to recent census data, management positions within the city are declining and median income lags the national average. Is Toronto losing its status as Canada's business centre?
My bold. As O'Malley points out, the data they're using comes from the long form census. Not the best optics...

Selinger gets good marks at Council of the Federation

Manitoba's premier has impressed his guests:

So how did Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger do in hosting this week's annual premiers meeting in Winnipeg?

By most accounts, not bad.

Of course, he had a bit of help from Burton Cummings.

As host, Selinger chaired the closed-door meetings of the Canada's premiers, collectively known as the Council of the Federation.

And on Thursday night, before Cummings impressed the out-of-towners with an hour-long solo show at Kelburn Farm, Selinger was the guy almost every delegate and guest wanted to shake hands with and talk to.

Labour, business and aboriginal bigwigs all wanted a little face time with the premier of almost one year.

Selinger barely had enough time to grab a bite -- and he'd been up since 5 a.m. doing the early-morning TV and radio circuit.

He ducked out early during Cummings' show to get some much-needed shuteye, and was back at it with a vengeance early Friday.

Today will be one of his first real days off since Christmas.

What came out of the confab is Selinger chairs a crisp meeting. He doesn't waste time and the other leaders seemed to appreciate that. Each has their own agenda, their own political reality back home. And while Selinger obviously appreciated that, he still kept things on focus. The goal being to keep everyone on the same page even if some didn't agree with it.

From the Free Press. He still has to become better known among the public over the next year, but he's making a good go of it so far.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

More on the Gulf oil spill

First the good news -- the plug in the oil well in the Gulf seems to be working. And in some ways the area looks much better than you'd expect. The devil may be in the details, though, as Raj Patel points out in The Nation:

In addition to making sure the slick was under-recorded, the company worked hard to make sure there was less of it to be seen. Besides the prison laborers who mopped up the oil at a discount on shore, at sea, over 1.8 million gallons of Corexit dispersants were used to make the oil vanish from sight. Such dispersants are banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, but the Coast Guard issued exemptions some seventy-four times in forty-eight days. It worked: BP's principal problem has, literally, disappeared. "I don't think we'll see any more oil going into the beaches," BP's avuncular new CEO, Bob Dudley, announced upon taking over. "… And where there is no oil on the beaches, you probably don't need people walking up and down in hazmat suits." In other words: if the oil cannot be seen, the danger has passed.

Sadly, "if you can't see it, it's not there" isn't sound environmental science. Oil enters the food system far more rapidly as an invisible emulsion than as a rainbow slick. Scientists have already discovered the spill's signature inside crab larvae, though the consequences of mixing oil and dispersant with the gulf ecology is uncertain, and won't be fully known for generations. By introducing Corexit into the gulf, BP not only hid its mess, but sowed doubt over the full extent and effects of the damage. This ignorance is no accident—for BP, it's bliss. It makes it possible for BP to argue that it cannot be held accountable for those damages that were not directly related to the spill.

There's a great big experiment running in the Gulf right now. The thing about Corexit and similar dispersants is that they're emulsifying agents -- they bring insoluble stuff like oil into a sort-of solution. On the positive side, this means that it will break down faster than it otherwise would... but that positive is very double-edged, considering the biochemical oxygen demand that will result from all that oil. There are oil eating bacteria, and this will be a huge bonanza for them... but all those extra consumers need extra oxygen to do it. And they'll produce plenty of good ol' carbon dioxide, without even giving us useful energy in the process.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The fate of Detroit

One thing that communities do well to avoid is becoming overly dependent on a single industry. In some cases, it's hard to avoid (places like Leaf Rapids and Elliot Lake come to mind). But it's harder to explain when it happens with a large city, and the effects are much more dramatic. The Guardian's John Kossik has some ideas about how Detroit came to be the way it is:

The auto industry has always been cyclical and, from its origins when there were over 200 different manufacturers to its currently dominant "big three", the brunt of these ups and downs has fallen on the inhabitants of the Detroit area. As the US economy went through its numerous swings, when these hit the auto industry they had significant effects on Detroit. Even in the 1950s, when the rest of America was in postwar economic euphoria, auto plants were closing in Detroit – long before the effects of globalisation were felt in the US.

Where other major cities in the US had populations of varied education and skill levels, Detroit was unique in being heavily skewed towards unskilled or low-skilled workers. The assembly line required only limited technical ability to perform highly repetitive tasks. Since Detroit was dominated by the industry (albeit converted to wartime uses during the second world war), its population was chiefly a pool of labour for the auto factories. Detroit enjoyed middle-class levels of affluence, but without middle-class levels of skills and education.

Moreover, Detroit developed traditions of workplace segregation and racial prejudice not seen in most other major industrial cities. As the economic cycles moved through the general US economy, they were intensified by the Detroit area's dependence on one industry. And these economic tensions manifested themselves in enduring racial chasms. Even today, south-eastern Michigan is one of the most racially divided areas in the US, with a black population in Detroit exceeding 80% and a white population in the surrounding suburbs exceeding 90%.

And for a look at what this has done to the city, check out these videos:

What does the future hold for a place like that? Nothing good, I fear.

Friday, August 6, 2010

BP wants to drill in Gulf again

They don't have much shame, do they?

BP PLC (BP-N41.330.651.60%) said Friday it might someday drill again into the same lucrative undersea pocket of oil that spilled millions of gallons of crude, wrecked livelihoods and fouled beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

“There's lots of oil and gas here,” chief operating officer Doug Suttles said at a news briefing. “We're going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.”

The vast oil reservoir beneath the blown well is still believed to hold nearly $4 billion worth of crude, and until Friday BP had not indicated any plans to cash in on that potential windfall. With the company and its partners facing tens of billions of dollars in liabilities, the incentive to exploit the wells and the reservoir could grow.

From the Globe. So it seems they need that oil... so they can pay for the mess they made drilling for oil in the same darn place. Does that make sense?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teabaggers -- the paranoia continues

Exhibit A is Dan Maes, who hopes to be governor of Colorado. He thinks bike share programs are a UN plot:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes is warning voters that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's policies, particularly his efforts to boost bike riding, are "converting Denver into a United Nations community."

"This is all very well-disguised, but it will be exposed," Maes told about 50 supporters who showed up at a campaign rally last week in Centennial.

Maes said in a later interview that he once thought the mayor's efforts to promote cycling and other environmental initiatives were harmless and well-meaning. Now he realizes "that's exactly the attitude they want you to have."

"This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," Maes said.

He added: "These aren't just warm, fuzzy ideas from the mayor. These are very specific strategies that are dictated to us by this United Nations program that mayors have signed on to."
From the Denver Post. Happily, virtually every comment that I read on that story thought Maes' position to be ridiculous.

Exhibit B is an organization called the Family Research Council (and yes, this is one book that you can judge by its cover). Not surprisingly, they aren't at all happy to hear that their beloved Proposition 8 runs afoul of their supposedly even more beloved Constitution. As Ken at Popehat points out, the judge in the case, Vaughn Walker, is a longtime Republican, appointed by Reagan against the will of liberal Democrats. So when he doesn't do what conservatives think he should do, they have a novel explanation:
It turns out that the Judge behind Proposition 8′s undoing was just biding his time until he could unleash his ultimate agenda: decimating marriages that have defined civilization since the beginning of time.
Straight from the horse's mouth, via the above linked Popehat post. A sinister sleeper agent, presumably put there by Satan, the Communists, the Freemasons, the Elders of Zion, lizards from outer space, or some combination thereof, for the sole purpose of destroying the institution of marriage. I guess it makes sense to somebody...

Conservative lead evaporates

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have fallen to a statistical tie with the Liberals:

The latest EKOS survey shows the Conservatives virtually tied now with the Liberals, 29.7 per cent compared to 28.5 per cent. Pollster Frank Graves calls this the “revenge of propeller-heads” – the educated class in Canada, which seems to have reacted swiftly and negatively to the Tory government’s census change.

“This is really a very bad poll for the Conservatives,” Mr. Graves says. “They have slipped back into a virtual tie with the Liberals … and looked poised for a disastrous rout in Quebec.”

The two-week poll has Jack Layton’s NDP at 17.4 per cent, puts the Green Party at 11.1 per cent and shows 10.4 per cent support for the Bloc. The EKOS survey of 3,444 Canadians was conducted between July 21 and Aug. 3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

From the Globe. The NDP is doing remarkably well too; the Liberals don't seem to have gained significantly at their expense. Jane Taber, in the linked post, suggests that the census issue may be a reason for the drop in Con support; I'm not sure, but their unwillingness to back down on the issue may end up hurting them.

Some good news on the solar front

One of the problems with standard photovoltaic technology is apparently that solar panels become less efficient as they get hot. I didn't know that, and it's certainly a limiting factor. However, it seems there's a breakthrough on this front:
Stanford engineers have figured out how to simultaneously use the light and heat of the sun to generate electricity in a way that could make solar power production more than twice as efficient as existing methods and potentially cheap enough to compete with oil.

Unlike photovoltaic technology currently used in solar panels – which becomes less efficient as the temperature rises – the new process excels at higher temperatures.

Called "photon enhanced thermionic emission," or PETE, the process promises to surpass the efficiency of existing photovoltaic and thermal conversion technologies.

"This is really a conceptual breakthrough, a new energy conversion process, not just a new material or a slightly different tweak," said Nick Melosh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who led the research group. "It is actually something fundamentally different about how you can harvest energy."

And the materials needed to build a device to make the process work are cheap and easily available, meaning the power that comes from it will be affordable.

Source (h/t mfyahya in this iTulip thread). If this lives up to the promise, this will be huge.

Solar power in general is finally, belatedly, getting the respect it deserves. In the same thread we find a link to this:

It seems that economies of scale are finally paying off for solar. This can only be good news. And while Canada is rather behind a lot of countries on the alt-E front, PV units are rolling off the line at the ATS plant in Cambridge now. So maybe it's not all doom and gloom.

Rob Ford may just have saved Toronto from himself

At least I hope most people don't vote for him after this:

Rob Ford’s long-held belief in traditional marriage has exploded into a campaign issue now that he has endorsed the views of a fundamentalist Christian pastor who suggested online that same-sex marriage could “dismantle” a “healthy democratic civilization.”

“We’re together. We have the same thoughts,” Mr. Ford said at a news conference with Pastor Wendell Brereton, who abandoned his candidacy for mayor to run for council and endorse Mr. Ford.

From the Globe. This is rather interesting; Ford has come out on top in some polls (though not all apparently) but this could have a rather dramatic effect. Then again, consider what's already public about him:

In 2002, Ford called fellow Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who is also running for mayor, "a scammer" and "Gino-boy" in reference to his Italian heritage.

In 2003, he wanted Toronto declared a "refugee-free zone" and called council's decision to ban the use of pesticides a sign of "dictatorship." The following year he said the city's bylaw to protect trees "is communism, if you ask me."

In 2005, he called Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby a "waste of skin." He once suggested that "it's their own fault" if cyclists are killed in traffic accidents.

In 2006, he was ejected from the Air Canada Centre for being drunk and verbally abusing fans at a Maple Leafs game, calling them "communist bastards." Later, Ford denied he was even at the game, but subsequently admitted he lied, saying "I'm going through a few personal problems."

Also in 2006, he fought against a $1.5 million AIDs prevention program, claiming he didn't understand why more women were becoming AIDS patients, adding "Maybe they're sleeping with bisexual men."

In 2008, he claimed "Oriental people work like dogs... They're slowly taking over." He later said he meant it as a compliment, but apologized anyway. Also that year, he was arrested and charged with assault and threatening death, but the charges were later dropped.

From the Star. The fact that all this is out there and he's still popular is a bit worrisome. Linda Deibel (also in the Star) compares him to the teabaggers, and she's not far off. And in Etobicoke they seem to actually like the guy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Saudi Arabia fears reduced oil revenue, wants compensation

This takes a certain amount of chutzpah; they figure they're entitled to compensation for any possible drop in oil consumption obtained by those nasty environmentalists:

Saudi Arabia, which has the world's largest oil reserves and earned nearly $300bn in fossil fuel exports last year, will seek financial compensation for any loss it incurs if and when production declines after a new climate change agreement is reached.

The move, which was confirmed by UN officials at the UN climate talks in Bonn this week, matches demands made by the world's poorest countries for money to adapt to climate change.

Saudi Arabia and some other Opec oil-producing countries claim that they will have to adapt their economies to a world which uses less oil and say they could lose as much as $19bn a year if countries are forced to cut fossil fuel use. Their argument is that they have only oil and sand as resources and it would be unfair to penalise them. Saudi Arabia first raised the idea of compensation for lost oil revenues at climate talks in Bangkok last year, in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit.

From the Guardian. Perhaps the UN should suggest that they spend some of the wealth they've accumulated from oil on solar panels; that ought to provide them with a decent amount of revenue (they do get rather a lot of sunshine, after all). They could probably supply the entire Middle East and Central Asia with electricity if they did that. Failing that, maybe the world should just tell King Abdullah to rub salt in his arse.

US Chamber of Commerce faces schism over climate

It seems a breakaway group of chambers is much more favourably disposed towards taking action on climate than the main body would like:

A new split over climate policy is brewing within the ranks of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a breakaway group of local chambers is getting ready to publicly split with the business lobby's hardline stance against climate legislation. The new climate coalition, known as the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE), will press Congress to take stronger action on climate and energy issues. It has already signed up about a dozen chambers and will officially launch later this year.

The U.S. Chamber is already working behind the scenes to discredit the new group. After it caught wind of the effort last month, it fired off a letter to local chamber leaders, discouraging them from joining CICE, which it claimed was "established by the Natural Resources Defense Council." The letter, written by U.S. Chamber board member Winthrop Hallett, the president of Alabama's Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, states that the new group's "indirect purpose appears to be undermining the U.S. Chamber's and the business community's leadership on" climate issues.

The claim that CICE is little more than a front group for the NRDC is "outrageous" and "really just pissed me off," says Steve Falk, the president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which has been organizing the independent climate coalition. Hallett's letter, which has not been posted publicly but which Mother Jones has seen, does not explain the alleged connection between CICE and the NRDC. Hallett and a spokesman for the U.S. Chamber did not respond to requests for comment.

From the Guardian. This is a good sign; once big business has doubts about business as usual, there's a chance that change will finally start to happen.

The right doesn't want to be confused with facts

There's a couple of stories out today that support this thesis. First of all, you may have heard that Arizona's controversial immigration law is needed to stop the rampant crime that those dirty Mexicans are importing. The state's governor, Jan Brewer, alleges that they're finding headless corpses everywhere. But what's really going on?

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona's border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer's press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer's mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world's No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Source (h/t Blaque and Pensito). So in other words, it's a big lie.

My second example comes from our very own Stockwell Day, who is trying to justify his government's tough-on-crime stance using dubious claims about Canada's crime rate:

Although the official crime rate is going down, a senior Harper government minister says there is reason to disbelieve the statistics and spend billions of dollars on new prisons: an “alarming” increase in unreported crime.

Stockwell Day’s argument is based on a Statistics Canada survey, conducted like a large poll, which showed a slight rise in unreported crimes – though the increase was in property crimes and petty theft, not violent crimes. And the survey was conducted in 2004 – an ironic twist given that Mr. Day made his case only minutes after he maintained that the long-form census is not very reliable because it can be as much as five years out of date.

Mr. Day, the Treasury Board president, is not the first tough-on-crime Conservative politician to disbelieve the official statistics on reported crimes. Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu said last month that “someone, somewhere, is manipulating the numbers.” The latest Statscan figures, released last month, show the number of crimes reported to police dropped 3 per cent last year, and was 17 per cent lower than in 1999.

But Mr. Day also argued that a tough-on-crime agenda is needed to keep dangerous criminals off the streets and deter them with stiffer punishments. The Harper government has dismissed arguments that tougher sentences alone won’t dent crime rates, but now finds itself defending a multibillion-dollar prison-expansion program when crime rates are falling.

From the Globe. Trouble is, there's more crime on TV than ever, as the news outlets trip over each other trying to cover every lurid detail of every crime that happens anywhere on the planet. Now I won't deny that there's a certain fascination with some of those stories, but when the news is dominated by this stuff it can skew the public's perception of crime rates. And unfortunately, right wing politicians love this stuff.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Colin Kenny sees the writing on the wall

The Senate's Standing Committee on National Security recently issued a report (summarized in this op-ed piece in the Globe) saying how much good we're supposedly doing there. Well, Colin Kenny disagrees vehemently. And he's not afraid to say what he thinks:

The Taliban know what is going on here, and whether NATO leaves in 2011 or 2014, they are going to continue to pursue a murderous civil war.

So what are we accomplishing in Afghanistan, at the cost of so much money that could be spent wisely around the world and at home, at the cost of so many young Canadian lives?

From the Ottawa Citizen (h/t pogge). I'd feel a bit better if he said "at the cost of so many young Canadian and Afghan lives", but I fully agree with his overall conclusion, namely that we should just get the hell out of there.

As an aside, I wonder if Kenny plays chess? After all, a chess player knows that when defeat is inevitable, the reasonable thing to do is to resign. To continue with a futile struggle right down to the mate is an insult to your opponent, as well as a waste of time and effort for both sides. With war, all of the above also applies, but we're also wasting lives -- theirs as well as ours. Why continue?

Experimental MS treatment called into question

Interesting, but unfortunate:

A controversial theory about the cause of multiple sclerosis that has given new hope to thousands of patients suffered a setback as two new studies for the first time threw doubt on the findings.

Pioneered by Italian physician Paolo Zamboni, the theory suggests that MS is a vascular disorder caused by vein blockages that lead to a buildup of iron in the brain, rather than an autoimmune disease, and can be treated by a simple surgical procedure – angioplasty. While the procedure has yet to undergo clinical trials in Canada, MS patients here have shelled out thousands of dollars for the unproven and experimental treatment in countries such as India and Poland. Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall announced his province would finance clinical trials, despite caution expressed by other premiers, the MS Society of Canada and others in the medical community.

New research from Germany and Sweden that provides the first negative medical evidence on Dr. Zamboni’s theory could bolster the campaign of critics. The studies, published Monday in the Annals of Neurology, found no unusual blockages in the veins of MS patients compared with control groups.

From the Globe and Mail. Of course, the perfectly natural question to ask is "but what about the people the procedure has helped?" Quite possibly a placebo effect, according to some:
The PTA work did not use a control group. As a result, it is likely - given what we know about the placebo effect in MS patients who enter studies of novel treatments - that all of the benefits were the result of the powerful belief in the treatment, rather than anything related to improved blood flow.
From the Montreal Gazette. It should be noted that the study mentioned above may not be conclusive either, but a lot of people have been suspicious of this before (for instance, no province except Saskatchewan is funding the treatment in Canada).

One thing's clear; if it turns out that Zamboni's procedure is a placebo it would be a bummer to find out about it, because this would cause a previously effective treatment to stop working -- especially if you'd already spent a bundle of cash to get it done.