Saturday, July 16, 2005

Democracy is in retreat

An appointed council may soon dictate that widely-supported candidates will be unable to run in a supposedly-democratic election.

Think this refers to Iran? Not exactly:
An American-backed advisory council that oversees Haiti's interim government recommended Saturday that ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's political party be barred from upcoming elections, accusing the party of encouraging violence.

The effective charge against the Lavalas party is that "(p)olitical groups who identify themselves with the (party)...continue to promote and tolerate violence". It's a charge (1) that doesn't actually refer to the party itself, (2) that probably applies to most political parties worldwide (should the Republicans be disqualified from running for office because Ann Coulter identifies with them?), and (3) that can't be disproven. Needless to say, it's not a valid basis for denying Haitians the chance the vote for the candidates who they actually support.

The timing of this announcement is interesting, given that Canada just told the U.N. that it wouldn't send more troops to Haiti. This may be an opportunity for Canada to offer to send troops after all, but on the condition that elections actually involve all parties. Our help has been specifically sought out, giving us an important chance to tell the U.S. that the proposed ban on Lavalas is utterly inappropriate if the goal of the international community is truly to promote democracy.

On learning

A nice contrast from the Leader-Post's news summaries.

I'd think this would be the more important story:
A national study released in Saskatoon says teachers are facing an increased workload, longer hours and ballooning class sizes compared to four years ago...

According to the 2005 study of more than one-thousand teachers, 83 per cent reported they had a higher workload than four years ago.

If nothing else, this should be great fodder for opposition parties. But the Saskatchewan Party has different priorities:
Opposition members in Saskatchewan want Premier Lorne Calvert to speed up a review of legislature salaries.

Members are currently subjected to caps on public-sector salary hikes that were scrapped for all other government workers last month.

Leaving aside the wisdom of politicizing MLAs' salaries in the first place (which both parties were all too willing to do), how far out of touch does the opposition have to be to focus on its own salaries rather than on substantive change?

Maybe if the Sask Party MLAs get booted out of office and into, say, teaching jobs after the next election, they'll get a better idea of what's important.

More horror

From CBC:
At least 54 people died when a suicide bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body at a gas station south of Baghdad, police say...

The blast, which took place near a Shia mosque, injured at least 82 people.

Later on in the story, the U.S.' senior commander in Iraq claims that the insurgency has changed in character, from a domestic uprising to one fed mostly by foreign militants. But either way, based on the recent death tolls there's little reason to think that its strength is going to wane anytime soon.


While Tasteful Future took the bait and commented on the numbers on Harper and Martin, the bigger story here should be what Canadians had to say about Jack Layton.

Layton was the lone leader to improve his standing on the balance, with a +17 differential between "improved" and "gotten worse" (compared to 0 for Duceppe and -27 apiece for Harper and Martin). And 78% of those polled want the NDP to keep Layton as leader, again a higher total than any of the other three.

There's a lot of justified cynicism about Con and Lib politics at the moment - and right now Layton is the one who looks great in comparison. Of course there's a lot of work to be done to make sure his image stays in the same place for the next election, but this is a great starting point.

The real threat

While we should be encouraging states to secure and decommission as many WMDs as possible, the Star points out that smaller weapons have historically posed the much greater threat:
Small arms are portable, easy to use, and so lethal that, every two years, they annihilate 1 million people — the equivalent of a city the size of Ottawa. With the aid of small arms, thousands of women are raped, children are forced into murderous militias, and weak states crumble...

Ryerson professor Wendy Cukier, president of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control, says living next to the world's biggest stockpile has boosted violence among America's neighbours. "In Canada, half of the handguns used in crimes are from the U.S. In Mexico, it's 80 per cent. The fact that the U.S. has inadequate controls fuels the illicit trade in arms worldwide."

Since Canada passed gun laws in the 1990s, Cukier points out, 90 per cent of gun owners are licensed and firearms deaths have dropped by about 40 per cent. But, she says, although deaths from rifles and shotguns have dwindled, "there has been no comparable reduction in handgun violence."

The usual answer to attempts to control small arms is that there are simply too many to try to control. Of course, the operation of that view in the U.S. (along with the NRA) has a lot to do with the reason why there are so many weapons on the market in the first place.

And now the weapons looted from Iraq are driving supply up and prices down:
Some of the weapons, Napoleoni says, were handed over to Saddam's Baath Party supporters, others to militants fighting U.S. and British forces. They have also been smuggled out of Iraq and sold to other Mideastern countries.

"It's caused a big collapse in prices, and made weapons even more available. They include (shoulder-fired) missiles like Stingers, which used to cost around $200,000 and can now be bought for $5,000."

Kudos to the states that are trying to deal with the problem through a small-arms control agreement. But as long as any state (especially one as influential as the U.S.) gives effect to views on gun control as lax as those south of the border, the rest of the world is a more dangerous place for it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Freer trade at a cost

It came out today that Canada is seeking a free trade agreement with South Korea.

While I'm all for securing access to new markets and promoting trade generally, the devil is always in the details when it comes to free trade agreements. As it is, trade minister Jim Peterson is warning that it'll take a couple of years to actually reach an agreement - which leaves a two-year window in which both countries can carve out exceptions (presumably lobbied for by local corporations) which run directly contrary to the purpose of a free trade deal.

As an example of how ridiculously byzantine current trade agreements actually are, here's the actual list of items which Mexico exempted from the NAFTA clause on import restrictions:

8407.34.99 Gasoline engines of more than 1,000 cm3, except for motorcycles.

8413.11.01 Distributors fitted with a measuring device even if it includes a totalizing mechanism.

8413.40.01 Trailer type, from 36 up to 60 m3/hr capacity; without hydraulic elevator for the discharge hose.

8426.12.01 Mobile portals on tires and straddle carriers.

8426.19.01 Other (overhead travelling cranes, bridge cranes and straddle carriers).

8426.30.01 Portal cranes.

8426.41.01 Cranes with structural iron jib (lattice) with mechanical working, self-propelled, with unit weight up to 55 tons.

8426.41.02 Cranes with hydraulically actuated rigid jib, selfpropelled with maximum capacity above 9.9 tons and not exceeding 30 tons.

8426.41.99 Other (machinery and apparatus, self propelled, on tires.)

8426.49.01 Cranes with structural iron jib (lattice) with mechanical working, with unit weight up to 55 tons.

8426.49.02 Cranes with hydraulically actuated rigid jib, selfpropelled, with load capacity above 9.9 tons and not exceeding 30 tons.

8426.91.01 Cranes, other than those provided for in items 8426.91.02, 8426.91.03 and 8426.91.04.

8426.91.02 Cranes with hydraulic working, with articulated or rigid booms, with capacity up to 9.9 tons at 1 meter radius.

8426.91.03 Isolated elevating cranes, basket type, with carrying capacity equal to or less than 1 ton and up to 15 meters lift.

8426.91.99 Other (machinery and apparatus; designed for mounting on road vehicles).

8426.99.01 Cranes, other than those provided for in items 8426.91.02

8426.99.02 Swivel cranes.

8426.99.99 Other (cranes and air cables ("blondines"); overhead
travelling cranes, handling or unloading frames, bridge cranes, straddle carriers and straddle cranes).

8427.10.01 With load capacity up to 3,500 kilograms, measured at 620
millimeters from the frontal surface of the forks, without battery or loader.

8427.20.01 With explosion or internal combustion engine, with carrying capacity up to 7,000 kilograms, measured at 620 millimeters from the frontal surface of the forks.

8428.40.99 Other (escalators and moving walkways).

8428.90.99 Other (machinery and apparatus for lifting, loading, unloading or handling).

8429.11.01 Caterpillar type.

8429.19.01 Other (bulldozers and angledozers).

8429.20.01 Graders.

8429.30.01 Scrapers.

8429.40.01 Tamping machines.

8429.51.02 Frontend loader with hydraulic working, wheeltype, with
capacity equal or less than 335 HP.

8429.51.03 Mechanical shovels, other than those provided for in item


8429.51.99 Other (mechanical shovels, excavators, loaders and frontend shovel loaders).

8429.52.02 Draglines or excavators, other than those provided for in item 8429.52.01.

8429.52.99 Other (machinery with a 360 revolving superstructure).

8429.59.01 Trenchers.

8429.59.02 Draglines, with dragging load capacity up to 4,000 kilograms

8429.59.03 Draglines or excavators, other than those provided for in item 8429.59.04.

8429.59.99 Other (selfpropelled bulldozers, angledozers, graders, scrapers, mechanical shovels, excavators, loaders, shovel loaders, tamping machines and road rollers).

8430.31.01 Rotation and/or percussion perforators.

8430.31.99 Other (selfpropelled cutters, pullers or wrenchers and machines to open tunnels or galleries).

8430.39.01 Boring shields.

8430.39.99 Other (not selfpropelled cutters, pullers or wrenchers and machines to open tunnels or galleries).

8430.41.01 Boring or sinking machinery, other than those provided for in item 8430.41.02.

8430.41.99 Other (selfpropelled probing or boring machinery).

8430.49.99 Other (not selfpropelled probing or boring machinery).

8430.50.01 Excavators, frontal carriers with hydraulic mechanism, with capacity equal to or less than 335 h.p.

8430.50.02 Scrapers.

8430.50.99 Other (selfpropelled machinery and apparatus).

8430.61.01 Graders (pushers).

8430.61.02 Tamping or compacting rollers.

8430.61.99 Other (machinery and apparatus, not selfpropelled).

8430.62.01 Scarification machine (ripping machine).

8430.69.01 Scrapers, not selfpropelled.

8430.69.02 Trencher machine, other than those provided for in item

8430.69.99 Other (trenchers, other than those provided for in items
8430.69.01, 8430.69.02 and 8430.69.03).

8452.10.01 Sewing machines of the household type.

8452.21.04 Industrial machines, other than those provided for in items 8452.21.02, 8452.21.03 and 8452.21.05.

8452.21.99 Other (automatic sewing machines).

8452.29.05 Machines or heads for industrial use, with straight seams, straight needle and a rotating and oscillating thread linking device, double backstitching, flat bed and transportation only.

8452.29.06 Industrial machines, other than those provided for in items 8452.29.01, 8452.29.03 and 8452.29.05.

8452.29.99 Other (non-automatic sewing machines).

8452.90.99 Other (parts of sewing machines).

8471.10.01 Analogue or hybrid automatic data processing machines.

8471.20.01 Digital or numerical automatic data processing machines,
containing in the same housing at least a central processing unit and an input and output unit.

8471.91.01 Numerical or digital processing units, even if presented with the rest of the system, including one or two of the following types of units contained in the same housing: storage units, input units, output unit.

8471.92.99 Other (input or output units whether or not entered with the rest of a system and whether or not containing storage units in the same housing).

8471.93.01 Storage units, including the rest of the system.

8471.99.01 Other (automatic data processing machines and units thereof).

8474.20.01 Crushing and grinding with two or more cylinders.

8474.20.02 Crushing jawbone and grinding millstone.

8474.20.03 Blade crushing machines.

8474.20.04 Crushing machines of balls or bars.

8474.20.05 Drawer cone crushing, with diameter no more than 1200

8474.20.06 Grinding hammer percussion.

8474.20.99 Other (machines and apparatus to break, crush or grind
or pulverize dirt, stones and other solid mineral materials).

8474.39.99 Other (mixing machines).

8474.80.99 Other (machines and apparatus to classify, sieve, separate, break, crush, grind, mix, or knead dirt, stones and other mineral materials).

8475.10.01 Machines for assembling lamps.

8477.10.01 Injectionmolding machines for thermoplastic materials,
up to 5 kg capacity for one molding model.

8701.30.01 Caterpillar tractors with an engine power at the flywheel
equal to or above 105 h.p., but less than 380 h.p. measured at 1,900 rpm, including pushing blade.

8701.90.02 Railroad tractors, on tires with mechanical mechanism
for pavement.

8711.10.01 Motorcycles fitted with an auxiliary motor with reciprocating piston engine not exceeding 50 cm3.

8711.20.01 Motorcycles fitted with an auxiliary motor with reciprocating piston engine over 50 cm3 but not over 250 cm3.

8711.30.01 Motorcycles fitted with an auxiliary motor with reciprocating piston engine over 250 cm3 but not over 500 cm3.

8711.40.01 Motorcycles fitted with an auxiliary motor with reciprocating piston engine over 500 cm3 but less than 550 cm3.

8711.90.99 Other (motorcycles, cycles fitted with an auxiliary motor
and sidecars without a reciprocating piston engine, and that are not
sidecars for motorcycles and velocipedes of any kind presented

8712.00.02 Bicycles, other than of the type for racing.

8712.00.99 Other (cycles, not motorized, except bicycles, and
tricycles for the transport of merchandise).

8716.10.01 Trailers and semitrailers for housing and camping,
of the caravan type.

8716.31.02 Steeltank type tankers, including cryogenic or hoppers.

8716.31.99 Other (tankers except of the steeltank type, and of the
thermal type for the transportation of milk).

8716.39.01 Trailers or semitrailers of the platform type, with or without stakes, including those accepted for the transport of boxes or metal baskets for cans and bottles or container carriers, or low beds, except those with hydraulic or pneumatic suspension and collapsible gooseneck.

8716.39.02 Trailers or semitrailers for the transport of vehicles.

8716.39.04 Trailers of the modularplatform type with directional axis, including transporter bridge section, hydraulic couplings or gooseneck or motor for hydraulic conditioning of the equipment.

8716.39.05 Semitrailers of the lowbed type, with pneumatic or hydraulic suspension and collapsible gooseneck.

8716.39.06 Trailers and semitrailers of the closedbox type, including refrigerated.

8716.39.07 Trailers and semitrailers of the steeltank type, including cryogenic and hoppers.

8716.39.99 Other (trailers and semitrailers for the transportation of goods, other than those provided for in items 8716.39.01, 8716.39.02, 8716.39.04, 8716.39.05, 8716.39.06 and 8716.39.07, and that are not vehicles for the transport of goods, with solid rubber wheels, nor doubledecker trailers or semitrailers of the type recognized as used exclusively for hauling cattle.

8716.40.01 Other trailers and semitrailers not used for transporting goods.

8716.80.99 Other (non-automotive vehicles except trailers or semitrailers, wheel barrows and handcarts, or wheel barrows of hydraulic operation).

Recognizing that there are prisoner's dilemma-type issues at play, wouldn't we still be better off generally trying to remove trade barriers to Canada now and agreeing with other states to do the same, rather than spending years haggling over whether separate clauses are necessary for "scrapers" and "scrapers, not self-propelled"?

Just asking.

Picking on failing states

I've been holding off on posting about Haiti waiting for the right comment to make.

Naomi Klein makes it:
But when Aristide began to implement the plan, it turned out that the financiers in Washington thought his democratization talk was just public relations. When Aristide announced that no sales could take place until Parliament had approved the new laws, Washington cried foul. Aristide says he realized then that what was being attempted was an “economic coup.” “The hidden agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all the state public enterprises.” He threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatizations. “Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn't respect my word, when they were the ones who didn't respect our common economic policy.”

Aristide's relationship with Washington has been deteriorating ever since: While more than $500 million in promised loans and aid were cut off, starving his government, USAID poured millions into the coffers of opposition groups, culminating ultimately in the February 2004 armed coup.

Anybody wanting to claim that the U.S. has made any real effort to spread freedom and/or democracy in the past few years has a lot of explaining to do on this one. And of course the effect of the U.S.' choice is to have a state not far away from the U.S. deteriorating into chaos - just the kind of chaos that'll turn at least some of the worst-off locals into rabid anti-Americans with nothing to lose.

If I was charged with winning a war on terror, I'd be looking to avoid that kind of situation at all costs. That probably makes me too sane to be in charge of the real thing.

A poor start

The Liberals' Friday news dump is a doozy:
The government published a proposal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the companies – in mining and manufacturing, oil and gas, and thermal electricity generation – as big business's obligation to cut 45 megatonnes (45 million tonnes) of emissions by 2008 to 2012...

The 700 companies represent nearly half of total Canadian greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada's target is to cut emissions by 270 megatonnes.

Now it's a plus to finally have some corporate accountability on emissions, and a more strict trading system wouldn't have been the worst result possible.

But this makes official that businesses responsible for 1/2 of Canada's emissions will be responsible for only 1/6 of the reduction in greenhouse gases - and that's only the reduction required to barely meet the Kyoto target.

I'm also curious about the compliance costs involved. If the implication of the proposed cap is that it'll cost no more than $15 to reduce emissions by a tonne per year, then it's all the more scandalous that more action hasn't been taken yet, and that so little of the target is based on business reductions. Compare to the cost of an individual, for example, buying a new car so as to be able to reduce gas use by half, which would be a similar emissions reduction.

It's a small start. But after a dozen years of inaction, we need to be moving much further in the right direction now.

Maybe they are serious

Ontario hires a top environmental lawyer for a planned lawsuit against American pollution.

I'm still skeptical about how well this can work given Ontario's own mediocre pollution record. But good to see that the big guns are involved, even if they could end up shooting McGuinty in the foot.

Media bias

Jack Layton was in Regina last night for a barbecue. You'd think the most prominent media coverage would focus on, say, Jack Layton's presence. You'd be wrong.

From the Leader-Post's news summaries, the sole coverage of the visit from the paper's front page:
Conservatives slam Layton over agriculture funding

The federal Conservatives say that if NDP Leader Jack Layton was really concerned about farmers he would have included agriculture in his budget deal with Paul Martin.

Layton admits the deal is not perfect, but says Saskatchewan will get money from the budget.

He was in Regina yesterday where he met with Premier Lorne Calvert to talk about agriculture.

Let's leave aside two obvious facts: first, that any of the opposition parties, the Conservatives included, could easily have held out for agricultural support in the budget; second, that unlike the Conservatives in question, Layton was in fact in town to talk about agriculture.

Even ignoring those facts, why would the NDP leader's visit be subject to such entirely Conservative framing?

The Leader-Post doesn't seem to keep much by way of online archives, so I can't compare to the last visit by another leader. But I'd be shocked if the story last time Harper came to town was "NDP criticizes Harper's obstructionism".

And it's not as if the Leader-Post lacked a slightly better summary; if you dig far enough around their site, you'll find this longer story which at least covers the visit relatively normally (i.e. details of visit first, partisan criticism of visit second).

Just a friendly reminder that this is what we're up against.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Getting moving quickly

So maybe it won't take long for the border to re-open:
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns opened the border to Canadian cattle today hours after a federal appeals court dismissed arguments that imports could spread mad cow disease.
American officials have already been in contact with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to prepare to certify cattle for shipment, said Johanns.

The CP's article expresses concern about the upcoming hearing on the 27th. In light of today's ruling, though, there shouldn't be much at all to worry about there.

The court ruling today was at the level above Cebull, and it ruled that there was insufficent evidence to meet the criteria for a temporary injunction. Given this direct precedent on what was presumably the best evidence R-CALF could muster, it would take a bad joke of a ruling for Cebull to somehow conclude that a higher standard of evidence is met on the 27th to justify a permanent injunction.

So, it's good news all around for the Canadian cattle industry. And about time.

On doing one's job

That didn't take long: a Saskatchewan marriage commissioner is whining to the press about same-sex marriage, with support from a Con MP:
After receiving a letter last November from Justice Minister Frank Quennell notifying all provincial marriage commissioners they were obligated to follow the law and perform same sex marriages, Nichols stated publicly in a January Leader-Post story that he would neither perform same-sex marriages nor give up his licence for not performing the ceremonies.

"It's my personal and religious belief that it is not right," Nichols said last January. "My definition of marriage is opposite -- male and female -- not two males and females. That's why I oppose it."...

Obviously, Nichols' stance is completely untenable. As a provincially-licensed marriage commissioner, he has to follow provincial requirements, and can't redefine marriage just to suit his own prejudices.

But I'm not sure Nichols' position is anywhere near as contemptible as Vellacott's:
In the first release Tuesday, Vellacott said Quennell's insistence that marriage commissioners have to resign for refusing to perform same-sex marriages "violates the spirit and letter of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." The MP added that, like bilingual services, the province should find marriage commissioners "willing to perform this function" instead of firing them.

In a second press release Wednesday, Vellacott named the "two homosexuals that issued the complaint," but the MP said he did not see anything wrong with doing this. This is a public issue and marriage should be viewed as a public event, Vellacott said.

On a general level, this sort of stand leaves Vellacott personally open to blame if (as may be all too predictable) the complainants end up being targeted by anti-gay activists. See Klein, Ralph.

More particularly, Vellacott's position is so obviously flawed I have difficulty believing that a sitting MP would willingly take credit for the argument.

First, the bilingualism analogy is comically off base - even leaving aside the obvious differences between learned languages and innate sexual orientation. Show me a civil servant capable of speaking both English and French, but who refuses to provide services in one language based solely on personal preference, and I'll show you a person who isn't employed by the government for long.

Second, Vellacott oddly redefines marriage as a "public event". Whatever happened to the sanctity of the family? Or is that only for families that Vellacott approves of? And in any event, if marriage is a public event, doesn't the public have all the stronger interest in making sure that its commissioners operate under the public definition of marriage?

In sum: Any person who wants to be a marriage commissioner should accept that that means commissioning marriages. And any person wanting to be the next MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin can safely count on being able to reason circles around the incumbent.

A good decision

On the plus side, the U.S. ban on Canadian beef has been overturned.

On the minus side, the USDA apparently hasn't bothered to figure out when the border can actually open.

Maybe Canada should have planned for a win as well as a loss.

Well put

Billmon writes the definitive comment on Rove:
I don't think the gang has ever used the technique on this massive a scale before. On his most megalomaniacal day ever, Dick Nixon would never have dreamed of trying to spin his squalid dirty tricks operation into a heroic blow for truth, justice and the American way. It has a kind of totalitarian grandeur to it -- like Stalin turning himself into the leader of the Russian Revolution and Trotsky, creator of the Red Army, into a filthy capitalist spy.

Read it.

Among other sources...

I'm impressed by Toronto's bylaw against leaving vehicles idling too long.

But why wouldn't the bylaw be enforceable when it's over 27 degrees out? Isn't that the absolute worst time to be adding needless pollution to the air?

Weather of mass destruction

From the CP:
"It's almost a Guinness book of weather records," David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, said of the heat wave. "It takes a lot to make me shake my head, but this one has really surprised me over the last few weeks."...

"We're seeing twice as many (days that exceed 30 C) as in a normal year, and we're not even into the dog days of summer yet."

It shouldn't be news, but here's the effect on Ontarians:
A study released by Toronto's medical officer of health last month found an average of 120 people die prematurely of heat-related causes each year, while 822 die from smog. This year, those numbers could be even higher, officials warned.

A similar study by public health officials in Montreal two years ago showed that fatalities start to mount when temperatures exceed 33 C for 3 consecutive days, said spokeswoman Deborah Bonney.

"During these periods, we found that deaths more than doubled from a normal average of 40 deaths recorded a day to an average of 100 deaths a day," Bonney said.

The numbers were terrible enough based on an average year. But now we're seeing just how bad the combination of climate change and pollution can be.

Of course it's tougher to trace the deaths directly, but Ontario could well lose more people to smog this year alone than the U.S. has lost in Iraq. And nobody's incessantly ranting about "supporting the smog victims".

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

And it gets worse

The latest from Iraq:
In response to questions from The New York Times, the (Iraqi Interior Ministry) said that 8,175 Iraqis were killed by insurgents in the 10 months that ended May 31. The ministry did not give detailed figures for the months before August 2004, nor did it provide a breakdown of the figures, which do not include either Iraqi soldiers or civilians killed during American military operations.

While the figures were not broken down month by month, it has been clear since the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari took over after the Jan. 30 election that the insurgency is taking an increasing toll, killing Iraqi civilians and security workers at a faster rate.

In June the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, told reporters that insurgents had killed about 12,000 Iraqis since the start of the American occupation - a figure officials have emphasized is approximate - an average monthly toll of about 500.

Last throes. Gaining momentum. There isn't really a difference, right?

To oblivion and beyond

The planned launch of Discovery runs into just a tiny problem:
NASA scrapped today's launch of the first shuttle flight in 2 1/2 years because of a fuel gauge that mistakenly read full instead of empty, a frustrating setback to the agency's bid to get back into space after the Columbia tragedy...

Similar fuel-gauge problems cropped up intermittently during a test of Discovery back in April. The external fuel tank, cables and other electronics were replaced, and even though NASA could not explain the failure, officials thought the problem was resolved and pressed ahead with launch.

I'm amazed that after two setbacks this week, including one based on an unexplained but known problem, they're still planning to go ahead with a launch on Saturday. Assuming of course that the tires haven't fallen off by then.

Sometimes, you just have to admit that your old beater is past its prime - no matter how much you wish it was roadworthy.

The deal is done

As already noted elsewhere, the NHL and NHLPA have reached a deal. And the Star's Jim Byers doesn't seem to be paying attention to the terms:
The deal as proposed is a huge victory for Bettman, who promised “cost certainty” in the form of a hard salary cap to the owners. But it’s a huge loss for high-spending clubs such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. Because of the salary cap, many players with big contracts could get turfed in favour of younger, cheaper players.

Let's be clear: on the ice, this will make things difficult for the big-market teams. But off the ice, it's basically a license to print money.

According to Forbes, the Rangers made $118 million in 2003-2004 as a non-playoff team paying $72 million in salaries. They're not going to be tons worse on the ice, and they're sure to reduce their salary costs by something in the range of $20 million (even assuming they pay the full luxury tax).

The Leafs made $117 million while spending $69 million in salaries, and the Wings made $97 million while spending $80 million. Again, the salary numbers are headed into such a precipitous decline that (particularly with relatively loyal fan bases) these teams will almost certainly make significantly more money for at least a season or two even if their quality does drop as well.

If this is a "huge loss", I'd love to take huge losses more often.

Waiting to inhale

Just three more years until some action actually gets taken on greenhouse gas emissions:
Canada's plan for controlling greenhouse emissions from large polluters...won't be in place until the beginning of the 2008-2012 compliance period in the Kyoto protocol, when Canada is supposed to be actually achieving cuts of roughly 30 per cent from present emissions levels...

Big emitters such as smelters, refineries and power plants account for about half of Canada's emissions. Efforts to cut those emissions through voluntary action have failed, and Canada's total emissions are now 24 per cent above 1990 levels.

Needless to say, this plan stands very little chance of actually succeeding.

Had the Libs actually taken meaningful action within 7 years of the Protocol being agreed to, we'd not only be in much better shape to meet the immediate target, but also be much further along technologically to keep emissions all the lower in the future. By delaying concrete action (and by naively falling for the idea that voluntary action would solve anything), they've made the problem one that we probably can't solve in time, and then only at more cost than should have been required.

And now they're delaying even more. Since that's worked so well so far.


It may not be a top headline, but this is an important story nonetheless:
Ottawa is launching a fresh, concerted effort to create a single securities regulator in Canada, with Finance Minister Ralph Goodale inviting provinces to a meeting as early as September to try and bridge differences.

Mr. Goodale said a single regulator based on collaboration would be superior to the so-called "passport" system that some provinces are backing.

Under a passport system, companies and brokerage firms would deal with one primary provincial regulator when accessing capital markets, and the other regulators would accept its decisions.

Giving credit where due, Goodale's proposal sounds like the most reasonable way of modifying the system.

I'll take as a given that change is a plus - while I'm all for meaningful regulation, there isn't much benefit in forcing a business to go through similar registration processes in multiple provinces. At the same time, a national standard would ensure better regulation than the "passport" idea, which sounds like a sure recipe for forum shopping (i.e. businesses registering only in whichever province has the most lax standards).

Of course, it'll presumably be the provinces who want to encourage forum shopping that will refuse to sign on. But if enough provinces go with an agreed system, then portability between those provinces will provide some incentive for businesses to move toward the uniform standard.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Culture of Death

While the rest of the civilized world long since eliminated capital punishment, Congressional Republicans want to eliminate several levels of appeals from U.S. capital cases:
For a great many capital cases, the bill would eliminate federal review entirely. Federal courts would be unable to review almost all capital convictions from states certified by the Justice Department as providing competent counsel to convicts to challenge their convictions under state procedures...

The bill...would impose onerous new procedural hurdles on inmates seeking federal review -- those, that is, whom it doesn't bar from court altogether. It would bar the courts from considering key issues raised by those cases and insulate most capital sentencing from federal scrutiny. It also would dictate arbitrary timetables for federal appeals courts to resolve habeas cases.

Fortunately, as if it wasn't obvious enough, two new stories are showing just how insane it is to cut short the appeal process.

Meet Bruce Lisker. And remember Larry Griffin.

As pointed out by the Post's editorial linked to above:
It is no exaggeration to say that if this bill becomes law, it will consign innocent people to long-term incarceration or death.

Lisker is lucky enough to still be alive in order to clear his name. Griffin's chance of that was taken away a decade ago. And the current push is to make sure more people end up with Griffin's fate. For shame.

On anti-Americanism

I wouldn't have expected the best comment on this to come from the National Post, but here's John Moore:
Gibson wondered why, if we hate Americans so much, millions of us live in the U.S. Good question. Maybe it's because we don't hate Americans.

A recent poll on international attitudes toward the United States, conducted by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes Project, revealed that 59% of Canadians have a favourable opinion of their neighbor. While that may seem low, consider this: Of the 15 countries polled, Canada held the United States in higher esteem than all but two others. Even England, America's current best buddy, placed lower than we did.

In a world in which the United States is broadly disliked, Canadians have retained a tempered affection. When the poll asked about specific character traits, much was made of the fact that 62% of Canadians said they viewed Americans as greedy and 34% as immoral. Damning evidence of our sanctimoniousness, to be sure -- until you consider that the percentage of Americans who self-identified as greedy and immoral was actually higher...

To Gibson and his followers, my assertion that Canada is the best country in the world is churlish and smug. In other countries, the sentiment is called patriotism. In Canada, it's apparently just one more thing we have to apologize for.

Damn right. Of course we know better than to expect apologies from Gibson and his ilk - even when someone like Moore sets out the facts for easy consumption. We'll have to settle for being the ones living in reality instead.

Inspiring confidence

It's a third way toward privatization. Brought to you by the province whose first way is having just a few problems:
The Calgary Health Region has been scrambling to reach the 378 health-care providers that accessed its database since it underwent software upgrades in May. A glitch in the new program has mixed up 2,000 lab results, according to officials.

Lab results accessed on-line..., and there remains a possibility that medication was prescribed and diagnoses were made from the erroneous database.

I wonder what the added fee will be for correct lab results.

Acknowledging reality

From the Kos diaries, Jerome a Paris points out a noteworthy development:
The world consumes two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered. So is this something you should be worried about?

The fact is, the world's been finding less oil than it has been using for twenty years now. Not only has demand been soaring, but the oil we've bben finding comes from places that are tough to reach.

Inaction is not an option.

The above content isn't news. But amazingly, the source is Chevron, the second-largest US oil company.

Jerome speculates that this may be a tipping point on oil consumption - when even oil producers are spreading this message, how can it not be acted upon? I'd hope it's that as well, though I worry it's more a cynical means of justifying higher prices in the meantime (or maybe a new round of attack on ANWR).

And the verdict is... rate change from the Bank of Canada:
Central bankers suggested the growing economy is finally coping with upsets like the strong currency and is fast approaching its optimum speed -- anything faster could fuel inflation.

"In Canada, further progress has been made in adjusting to global developments and the economy is operating close to its production capacity,'' central bankers said in their statement.

"Some reduction in the amount of monetary stimulus will be required in the near term to keep aggregate demand and supply in balance and inflation on target.''

Let's just highlight what this means for the CCCE's benefit. The economy is doing well, with the largest risk being an excess of stimulus toward growth. That makes this an utterly stupid time to demand added stimulus in the form of tax cuts - even if they were provided, they'd have more potential to do harm than to do good.

Will Tommy Boy listen? Colour me skeptical.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Is this an economy in decline?

New economic projections for the next couple of years:
(W)ith GDP growth poised to speed up, the Bank of Canada won't want to wait much longer and will likely begin a series of rate hikes in October, says the Conference Board of Canada.

In a new study, the board boosted its forecast for economic growth to 2.5 per cent this year, up from its previous call of 2.3 per cent, and rising to 2.9 per cent next year...

(The Bank of Montreal) optimistically foresees growth hitting 2.9 per cent this year and rising to a robust 3.4 per cent expansion in 2006, driven mainly by the western provinces.

In the Conservatives' world, this is time to hit the panic button. Fortunately they don't run our world just yet.

Delay tactics and misinformation

Good news: the federal government is willing to take a strong stand on something. Namely, more time in which to dither:
The federal government has joined Quebec to ask for an 18-month stay in a Supreme Court of Canada judgment striking down a ban on private health insurance in the province...

A Justice Department brief filed Monday notes the complexity of the ruling and says Quebec should have time "to develop . . . the appropriate solution to the quasi-constitutional flaws in its health care plan."

Of course, the federal government is right to ask for more time. But shouldn't it also be taking some public steps to look for a solution in the meantime?

Another hilarious note from the article:
The Cambie brief, supported by seven other for-profit clinics, says there has been a 75 per cent increase in public-health spending over the past decade, and a 90 per cent increase in waiting periods.

The brief does not state a source for the alleged increase in waiting periods. Currently Canada does not have a national system for measuring waiting lists...

The brief says that lack of access to hospital operating rooms now forces 50 per cent of newly trained orthopedic surgeons to leave Canada each year, but again does not give a source for that statistic.

Sounds like a good summary of the privatization movement: absolutely certain that it's right, but with no actual evidence in support of its claims.

Senate Strategy

Once again, The Hive has an interesting discussion on NDP policy - this time on the question of how the NDP should handle the appointment of Lillian Dyck to the Senate.

Stephen offers the principled reason for the NDP to allow Dyck to join the caucus and integrate her into the party's activites. I agree with his point, and have mentioned earlier that it's a plus to get an NDP voice into the upper chamber. That said, on further reflection I see practical considerations as the more important reasons for the NDP to accept her as part of the party.

First, as much as I'd like to see the Senate abolished, that's just not a realistic possibility. The Senate is entrenched by the Constitution Act, 1867:
The Senate shall, subject to the Provisions of this Act, consist of One Hundred and five Members, who shall be styled Senators.

The Conservative/American model for Senate reform, while in my view fundamentally flawed, is at least possible without constitutional change. The NDP's model isn't - and I don't see the necessary federal/provincial agreement to change the Constitution happening on any issue, let alone the Senate. (In that vein, might the NDP be better off to propose an alternative elected Senate, with PR applied to the constitutionally-mandated regions rather the first-past-the-post model of the Cons? Something to think about at least.)

Second, if the NDP ever wants to form government, it'll have to be on good enough terms with the Senate to be able to pass bills there. It's far from clear how legislation would be able to pass if the NDP were to take power now. But by building ties as a Dipper within the Senate, maybe Dyck can put together a coalition that at least wouldn't obstruct legislation that had the backing of the majority of the Commons. If, on the other hand, the NDP completely shuts out even a person appointed on its behalf, then the existing Senate will have much less reason to extend any courtesy to a future NDP government.

That might precipitate the constitutional showdown necessary to bring about a change...or it could torpedo any effort at governing. In either event, I'd rather see a future NDP government focussing more on policy than on what's ultimately more an issue of process.

While the Senate is an archaic institution, it's one that we're stuck with, and one that we'll have to work with in order to ever take power. The NDP should accept its chance to have somebody on the inside.

What's your media telling you?

Bob Harris on an interesting contrast:
Right this minute, on the BBC World service: a lengthy report on humanitarian efforts in Africa. No news crawl. If you didn't know the London bombings had happened already, you wouldn't even know.

Right this minute, on CNN International: a lengthy report on anti-terrorism efforts in other countries, so far specifically framed as a series of successful trades: decreasing freedom for increasing surveillance, with greater security supposedly as the net result. Along the bottom, a news crawl repeats bombing-related headlines constantly.

One of these things is not like the other. One is constant, constant fear-pandering. The other -- from the country that actually suffered the bombings, no less -- is still reporting something resembling actual news, with something resembling a dose of actual perspective.

And so far, nobody on the CNN show seems to have realized that a London crammed with security cameras seemingly every few feet... didn't keep the bombing victims safe at all.

(Via the Suburban Guerrilla)

All too true

Peter Mansbridge points out another absurd contrast from the Iraq invasion:
Apparently, the former Iraqi dictator has it pretty good -- he gets the food he wants, the books he likes and a seemingly endless supply of cigars. Mind you, he does have to do his own laundry, but at least he's got water for that -- millions of his former citizens, "liberated" from his ruthless rule for two years now, still don't have fresh water, or the peace required for normal lives. Central Iraq, where more than half the population lives, continues in a slide toward hell.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Autonomy and Accountability

The Guardian's Larry Elliott comments on the G8 aid deal:
In a sense, the most encouraging part of the Gleneagles deal was not the debt relief package (which will be worth around $1.5bn) or the new aid money (worth perhaps an extra $20bn over and above what was already in the pipeline) but the tacit acceptance that the conditions imposed on African countries in the past have been both onerous and counterproductive.

"It is up to developing countries themselves and their governments to take the lead on development. They need to decide, plan and sequence their economic policies to fit with their own development strategies, for which they should be accountable to all their people." This was an important concession by the G8 and they should use their voting power at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to ensure that it translates into action on the ground in individual African countries. The one condition that should be put on aid and debt relief is that national governments should report to their own populations each year on exactly how the money has been spent.

Amen to that - and this is why debt relief was such an important piece of the deal.

Aid itself is difficult to justify domestically without some strings being attached - as important as the goals seem now, they're inevitably subject to competing domestic pressures which make it impossible to guarantee the future terms of aid. But once the debt is gone, it's gone, and the added financial capacity will allow African states to better borrow to meet their own needs in the future.

And that means both more power in local decision-making, and better accountability for those decisions.


When 50 people die in terrorist attacks in London, it's a shock which causes most of the English-speaking world to reevaluate its current stance on terror.

When 50 people die in terrorist attacks in Iraq, that's called "Sunday".
A man strapped with explosives blew himself up Sunday at an Iraqi military recruiting centre, one of a series of suicide attacks that killed nearly 50 people.

But Iraq is grateful for the U.S.' presence, right? Not exactly:
Separately, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari criticized U.S. and multinational forces for shooting at Iraqi civilians who act suspiciously near patrols or military areas, saying such cases should be handled in a "civilized" way, such as shooting at tires instead of passengers.

No wonder an exit strategy is in the works.

For all the talk of trying to bring freedom to the Middle East, the reality (as so well pointed out all around the reality-based blogosphere) is that the invasion produced nothing remotely resembling a free way of life. Instead, today's Iraq is marked by corruption, violence and hatred - and that'll continue to be the case regardless of when the U.S. and U.K. decide to withdraw.


Heather Mallick has a great column on America's current "win at all costs" mentality. Naturally, her discussion of the Supreme Court of Canada sticks out in my mind:
I used to want to know more about Canadian judges, especially why Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin has turned into an accountant. She now rules on whether the government can afford to apply the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to Canadians.

But I don't want to destroy her. I want the logic of her fellow judges to persuade her that her approach is the wrong one. I don't want to put new judges through a hell hearing and $123-million worth of abuse. You'll get the judge you wanted, but you have not won. These are Cosa Nostra tactics.

Agreed entirely. I've mentioned before the ultimate problem with putting judges through a PR wringer: even if you end up with exactly the same person on the bench, that judge is seen as more partisan and less worthy of public respect. The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court battle should be the ultimate example of the problem; hopefully we'll pay attention and avoid choosing the same disastrous system for ourselves.

What we take for granted...

...Canada's aboriginal population still lacks:
Officials on Saskatchewan reserves say they don't have enough money to fight fires...

Former Keeseekoose First Nation fire chief Shylo Stevenson says his band didn't fix a broken fire truck, hampering his efforts to fight fires.

An Indian and Northern Affairs spokesperson says it's the bands' responsibility to maintain equipment for firefighting, but starting next year reserve fire trucks will need certification.

What's less clear is the source of the mandate for certification, and whether there's any concurrent funding to provide it. Obviously the failure to fix fire equipment is the result of a lack of action somewhere between the band and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. But it'll be the band as a whole that loses out if the broken equipment is needed.