Friday, August 12, 2005


I'm on vacation starting tomorrow, so blogging will be sparse (if it happens at all) until the 21st. Here's hoping nothing much happens in the meantime. Enjoy the week!

So obvious it's painful

The CP's headline is:
Ontarians haven't learned the need to conserve since 2003 blackout: experts

My one quibble: it took "experts"to point that out? Wouldn't "anybody who's paying attention" have sufficed given the news out of Ontario this summer?

The second way

As the softwood lumber dispute escalates, word comes out that Canada's trade surplus is higher than expected - and that it isn't the U.S. that's responsible:
Canada's trade balance with the world increased to just short of $5.0-billion in June as our exports to countries other than the United States hit an all-time high...

While exports to the United States slipped slightly, they rose to all other principal trading partners, in particular to the European Union (EU) and other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, which posted gains of 10.4% and 31.4% respectively...

Exports to the EU have increased from $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion since March. Exports to other OECD countries have been on the rise for four consecutive months, increasing from $992.7 million in February to $1.6 billion in June. Exports to Japan were also up in June (+9.8%). Rising coal exports to several European Union countries, other OECD countries and Japan have contributed to each of these increases.

Elsewhere, exports of metal ores to China contributed to a 1.2% increase in exports to all other countries combined.

Lest there be any doubt, Canada's ability to export isn't (and shouldn't be) entirely reliant on the U.S., and right now we're doing a better job than usual of diversifying. That's a trend that has to continue - both for the positive economic impact, and for the added ability to stand up to the U.S. when needed.

Hooray for spines!

Canada finally starts talking tough on softwood lumber:
Federal and provincial officials accused the United States of reneging on the 11-year-old North American free-trade agreement, with Ottawa renewing threats to slap billions of dollars of sanctions on American goods if Washington doesn't recant...

Another top-ranked federal official said Ottawa is prepared to retaliate if the United States repudiates NAFTA. "Those rules cannot be flouted and they cannot be ignored," the official said. "If [the United States] ..... can't see fit to recognize the rule of law, to honour the agreement that it, itself, established, and to work toward a deal that is fair to all, they should not expect this federal government to take that sitting down."

A group of Liberal cabinet ministers, including International Trade Minister Jim Peterson, released a statement that questioned the U.S. government's support for the North American free-trade agreement. "This raises serious and fundamental questions about the United States's commitment to the NAFTA," the ministers said of U.S. intransigence on softwood duties.

Now, the only question is whether the unusually tough words will get translated into action. And it looks like there may be enough anger on the Canadian side for that to happen for a change.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


The Globe and Mail reports on an interesting poll, but doesn't take all that close a look at the numbers. Let's fix that:
Decima asked respondents how likely they would be to subscribe to a service that charged $2,300 a year, with a $1,700 initiation fee, to screen for early signs of disease and manage chronic problems such as diabetes and pain.

“In terms of the size of the market, Decima found there are more than five million Canadians who say they would be likely to subscribe to the service,” the company said in a news release.

The firm based its calculations on the fact 5 per cent of respondents said they would be very likely and 18 per cent said they'd be somewhat likely to subscribe to the service.

The question was based on the concept of what one company has announced it will offer patients in Vancouver in October when it opens what is being called Canada's first primary care medical clinic.

I'll begin with the obvious omissions from the poll itself.

First, it doesn't ask whether people believe that the clinic in question should exist in the first place, merely whether they would subscribe given the chance. The question takes privatization as a given - and the Liberals' constant dawdling notwithstanding, there's no reason why that has to be the case.

Second, it doesn't discuss the interplay between the public system and any new private one. Would people respond differently if it was pointed out that the public system - which would presumably still including some care needed by the respondents - would lose staff to the new private clinic and thus be less able to care for patients and deal with waiting lists?

Third, there's a natural problem in posing hypothetical costs within a poll. It's easy to say one would spend money on a program when that doesn't involve any commitment, but does anybody seriously think that all the people who expressed interest in the poll would actually make the choice to subscribe when it came time to decide how to spend that $2,300 a year within the context of a personal budget?

In other words, the poll was essentially ripped out of context. But even with that being the case, the actual numbers don't show anything close to a desire for the private care.

Look at the numbers again: 77% of all respondents wouldn't even consider subscribing to the service. Some of that may be inability to pay for it, the rest presumably reflects other priorities and/or general distaste for the private system. But regardless of the reasons, this is what's known as an "overwhelming majority" - and if the media was anything less than completely biased, the story would be about how many people want nothing to do with the idea of the private clinic.

Another 18% were "somewhat likely" to subscribe - in other words, wouldn't dismiss the concept completely off hand. Can we safely say that these are exactly the people who would consider subscribing, but then ultimately put their money elsewhere?

So the real result of the poll is that 5% of all respondents are sufficiently wealthy and committed enough to privatization as to want to take advantage of the project. The public policy question is whether to let the desires of those 5% win out over the health of the 77% who want no part of the private clinic. Anybody need help in figuring out the answer? (That is, aside from Decima Research?)

(Edit: typo.)

Take a look

Rabble's Isabel Macdonald has assembled all the latest from Haiti's upcoming pseudo-elections. Give it a read.

The impressionistic art of diplomacy

The U.S.' ambassador to Canada met with the premiers today, and nobody's particularly happy with the results:
Canada's premiers gave the new U.S. ambassador a diplomatic earful today on softwood lumber and smuggled guns, but made little headway.

"I listened, I heard the concerns," said David Wilkins, who has been on the job for just six weeks and pledged only to take those concerns back to Washington...

The article cites four different premiers slamming the U.S. on trade policy. It's a plus if Wilkins is at least acknowledging the concerns, but it would be a lot more helpful if he'd shown any inclination to do more than let the issues be ignored in Washington.

Legal limbo: how low can they go?

Apparently there's a new kind of torture in the Maher Arar case, and that's the tortured argument being put forward by the Justice Department:
Mason said the U.S. government is interpreting its powers in such a way that passengers never intending to enter the U.S. connecting to international flights at U.S. airports must prove they are no threat and could be allowed to enter the country.

If passengers are deemed to be inadmissible, they have no constitutional rights even if later taken to an American prison. Mason told Judge David Trager that's because they are deemed to be still outside the U.S., from a legal point of view.

Let's consider the flip side of this: if the passenger then commits a crime while in prison (or better yet, escapes from such custody), is he or she able to avoid prosecution because the crime took place outside the U.S.' jurisdiction? Or is it simply a matter of the U.S. government redefining borders as it sees fit with no regard for logic, common sense and other such nuisances?

Fortunately, the argument is being made in open court, leaving the opportunity for both the judge and the court of public opinion to evaluate the strength of the argument. And in this case, the argument would crumble under the weight of a paperback copy of the Abridged Ethics of Karl Rove.

On choosing words carefully

Doesn't this language sound far too familiar?
Britain, France and Germany have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations' nuclear agency expressing "serious concern" about Iran's nuclear ambitions...

The three European Union nations...want Iran to suspend all its uranium enrichment activities and have asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify Iran's compliance, said Reuters, which obtained a full copy of the draft.

"Outstanding issues relating to Iran's nuclear programme have yet to be resolved and ... the [IAEA] is not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared activities in Iran," said the draft.

That's right, it's the War in Iraq special, including two features designed to allow foreign states to do pretty much whatever they please in response to uncertain activities. First, an ambiguously-used "serious" - which is only linked to "concern" this time, but which was interpreted as "justifying war" last time Bush decided to go on the warpath. Second, an impossible onus on the state in question to prove a negative to the same countries on the opposite side of the table.

We know that Britain was all too willing to go along with the Iraq charade, but there's no excuse for France and Germany to let their names be attached to this sort of process. Even American intelligence doesn't suggest that Iran's nuclear poses the slightest bit of threat at this point. Unfortunately, politics have a way of taking precedence over reality, and Europe's giants have just given Bush a lot of undeserved political cover.

Lights out

The battle against smoking isn't won just yet, but it's headed in the right direction. According to Statistics Canada:
The Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey found a slight overall decline in smoking, although 20 per cent of people 15 or older were still puffing...

Among women aged 20 to 24...the percentage of smokers dropped sharply, to 25 per cent last year compared with 30 per cent in 2003.

The smoking rate for men in the age group remained steady at about 31 per cent.

The question now is how to get the point out to the young male demographic. But I'm not entirely sure about the message that would be sent by featuring anti-smoking advertising on packages of beer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Cutting the brake lines

The Guardian points out that for all the climate change-related problems this year, the most important problems may just be beginning:
A vast expanse of western Sibera (sic) is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

So what's the effect of all this released methane?
Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.

"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

The all-too-often-forgotten lesson is that even to the extent that climate change may also be part of a natural cycle, there's inevitably a connection between natural cycles and human activity. And by ignoring those connections this long, we've caused harms which can't be undone.

There are two possible responses to this sort of news - we can throw our hands up and figure that since we're doomed now anyway, we'd might as well continue on our current path. Or we can redouble our efforts to make sure that we don't reach the next tipping point. Unfortunately, it seems all too obvious which choice will ultimately be made.

Money well spent

CBC reports that something's finally being done about money now hidden in tax havens:
The federal government plans to create 11 new "centres of expertise" to track down Canadians who hide their money in illegal tax havens abroad.

The offices will bring together auditors who specialize in international tax, special audits and tax avoidance, according to a release from the Canada Revenue Agency...

National Revenue Minister John McCallum says there's no way for Ottawa to know how much money is being hidden away so that tax scofflaws don't have to give the federal government its share.

The hope is that within a few years, we'll have a much better idea just how much money is currently hidden - and we'll have a good chunk of that rightfully back in Canada's public coffers.

Supply and demand

The AP discusses record oil and gas prices - and points out that they're not stopping anybody from consuming:
Oil prices zoomed higher today, touching a new high of $65 U.S. a barrel, with buyers focused on refinery snags and what they think are shrinking U.S. inventories of gasoline.

The latest rally — crude futures have risen 14 per cent in three weeks — highlights just how nervous the market has become about virtually any threat to output, even though analysts say the U.S. has adequate levels of fuel in inventory to offset routine supply disruptions...

Gasoline prices averaged $2.37 U.S. a gallon nationwide last week (in the range of 95 cents a litre in Canada), while demand picked up by 1.4 per cent from a year ago, according to the government data.

For all the complaints about high prices, if nobody is buying any less gas than last year, then nobody can realistically expect oil companies to reduce prices simply for the sake of making the public happier. It's by buying less fuel now that people have the opportunity to both drive prices down, and ensure that less of a scarce resource gets used up. We'll see how long prices have to stay this high before many people will decide to follow that path.

On easily-foreseen outcomes

Another day, another trade ruling which the U.S. plans to ignore:
An extraordinary challenge panel under the North American Free Trade Agreement has dismissed American claims that an earlier NAFTA ruling in favour of Canada violated trade rules...

"We are, of course, disappointed with the (panel's) decision, but it will have no impact on the antidumping and countervailing duty orders," said Neena Moorjani, press secretary for the U.S. Trade Representative, Rob Portman.

"We continue to have concerns about Canadian pricing and forestry practices. We believe that a negotiated solution is in the best interests of both the United States and Canada, and that litigation will not resolve the dispute."...

A trade official said the Americans still have some options outside NAFTA, including a formal constitutional challenge.

Depending how the U.S. proceeds, we'll see just how desperate the administration is to appease domestic lumber producers. I'll assume that accepting the loss isn't in the U.S. arsenal at the moment. Given that, the sensible (yet still protectionistic) response would be to pay back the wrongfully-collected duties, then put together a subsidy plan which would only be challenged through a new round of NAFTA litigation, buying the U.S. a few more years (and a new administration) before dealing with the fact that its softwood lumber industry isn't competitive.

The insane route would be to actually institute a "formal constitutional challenge". After all, the result of a successful one would presumably be a court ruling that the U.S. cannot constitutionally be bound to follow any provision of a treaty, or at least any provision of NAFTA. And that's the kind of statement that would give even the most ardent internationalist serious doubts about either reaching future agreements with the U.S., or complying with the ones that currently exist.

Will it stay buried?

Predictably, the U.S. administration wants to bury the facts on Maher Arar's rendition. And a judge is about to decide whether or not they'll be able to do just that:
Justice Department attorney Mary Mason said at a federal court hearing that the lawsuit filed by software engineer Maher Arar could force the government to reveal classified information, which supposedly linked Arar to al-Qaida and justified sending him to Syria instead of Canada...

The case is believed to be the first challenging the government's policy of extraordinary rendition, in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval...

Seeking to dismiss the case Tuesday, Justice Department attorneys argued that Arar was deported because the U.S. had classified evidence linking him to al-Qaida and the discretion to decide where he would be sent.

The government has submitted the classified evidence to U.S. District Judge David Trager, who is overseeing the lawsuit.

The most interesting part of this case is that the evidence is at least being made available to the judge. At the very least, the court will get the opportunity to take a look at the evidence, and perhaps to conclude that there never was any justification for the U.S.' belief.

Mind you, there would be more legitimacy to the process if Arar or his lawyer received any opportunity to answer the evidence. But any conclusion contrary to the U.S.' position will be extremely powerful when the other side isn't even being presented - and even a favourable ruling will be a powerful statement of the lengths to which Bushco has gone to try to hide its actions.


I'm surprised to see the NDP willing to back bank mergers, but it does appear to have a strategic response to the issue:
(The NDP) says its approval comes at a cost. That price entails the minority Liberal government implementing a number of "stringent" rules aimed at protecting consumers, such as a cap on credit card interest rates and regulations governing the closing of bank branches...

There are seven elements to the NDP's bank merger platform, most of which would involve new legislation or amendments to existing laws. They include requirements that banks invest in communities where they offer loans; assurances that small businesses would face fewer hurdles in accessing loans; a cap on interest rates charged by bank credit cards; and protection for communities against bank branch closings and potential job losses.

Ultimately I like the strategy. Mergers were probably going to happen anyway if the Liberals managed a majority next time out; now, if the Liberals can be forced to accept the NDP's conditions, there'll be some benefit for consumers and small businesses which any future government would have to be wary of removing.

The potential problem is that with both other opposition parties also willing to back mergers, the Liberals may need to meet only one party's terms. If that happens then consumers may be much worse off for a time, but at worst the NDP is left with a solid consumer-protection platform for the 2006 election, along with a shining example of why such a platform is needed.


Word came out today that the U.S. isn't the only country making use of Guantanamo:
A Federal Court judge has ordered Canadian intelligence to cease questioning Guantanamo Bay's youngest prisoner, in a decision criticizing counterterrorism agents for flouting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms...

Though the Americans have never clarified his legal status or charged him, agents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade have travelled to Guantanamo at least three times to speak to Mr. Khadr, with an eye to furthering their own investigations...

The U.S. government may regard Guantanamo Bay as a limbo where standard legal protections for prisoners do not apply, but Judge von Finckenstein said the Charter compels Ottawa's spies to play by the rules even when they travel abroad.

It's embarrassing that it took a court ruling to let Canadian agents know that the U.S.' wilful blind eye to fundamental rights doesn't lessen Canada's responsibility to protect them. But at least Judge von Finckenstein has set the record straight.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Pointy-haired Bush

The AP has the latest on the lack of progress in drafting an Iraqi constitution:
Violence raged as Iraqi political leaders showed little sign of compromise less than a week before a deadline for approving a new constitution. Framers conferred Tuesday night hoping to overcome their differences and produce a charter by next Monday. President Jalal Talabani's spokesman said no agreements were expected today but all sides have agreed to "get the job done."

Now, maybe I'm just a little idealistic, but shouldn't the drafting of a constitution revolve around a "vision" or an "aspiration" rather than a "job"? And doesn't the phrasing make it clear just who Talabani's actual employer is?

Speaking of which, Bushco continues to be Bushco, as the same group which imposed the timetable in the first place is now passing any blame along to Iraq:
"It's important that they stay with their timetable" on the constitution, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today. ``This will be a critical step in persuading the majority of the Iraqis that the new Iraq is worth fighting for, that they have a stake in it."
(Emphasis added.)

Leaving aside the passed buck, there's a massive disconnect between Talabani's quote and Rumsfeld's. After all, not many workers are going to be willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of a mere job. Especially when the boss is too busy building fortified executive suites to keep power running to the cubicles.

Making everyone else accountable

Good news: it looks like the premiers are endorsing a worthy project. But there's a catch:
Canada's premiers agreed Tuesday to support a 10-year plan that aims to eliminate aboriginal poverty and right historic wrongs...

Native leaders wanted the leaders of the provinces and territories to support the ambitious plan, which was presented to Ottawa in June. It will address health care, housing, economic development and forging a new relationship between Canada's aboriginal peoples and the different levels of government.

The big question now is whether the provinces are willing to be responsible and accountable for the plan. It seems to involve all levels of government, but since aboriginal issues are generally under federal jurisdiction, the premiers' support may amount mostly to their agreeing that the federal government should spend money in order to ensure progress toward important goals. And that would have a lot more meaning if the provinces were willing to do the same.


While education deserves to be a priority at the upcoming Council of the Federation meeting, the most important issue appears to have dropped to the bottom of the agenda:
For the first time in years, health won't be a top priority at the annual premiers conference and critics say it's because the politicians are trying to ignore huge unanswered questions hanging over medicare...

Last year's federal-provincial health accord provided the provinces with $5.5 billion to cut wait times, on condition that they agree on maximum acceptable wait times for key procedures by the end of this year.

But sources say there's been little progress.

"Provinces don't want to be on the hook for not being able to meet those numbers," said a former provincial health official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While the money injected into the system was undoubtedly needed, it wasn't to be forgotten about once transferred. If provinces are now unwilling even to try to agree as to standards, that's a vivid illustration of why the federal government needs to carefully monitor its contribution and ensure that the funds are actually resulting in progress. Needless to say, there's no risk of anything of the sort happening with the Liberals in power.

Instead, it's the CMA (and its pro-privatization agenda) taking the lead on wait times - and essentially putting the ball back in the premiers' court. If Calvert, Doer and company aren't willing to get health care back at the top of the agenda, then we'll miss what may be the best opportunity to reduce waiting lists within the public system.

Great idea

The Canadian Federation of Students proposes Canada Health Act-type legislation for universities:
(The CFS' statement) includes a call for an annual transfer of money from Ottawa to the provinces dedicated strictly to post-secondary education, governed by a new education act.

Such a law "will provide the framework for a national strategy for improving the quality of education and reducing tuition fees from coast to coast," said Soule.

Given the current degree of compliance with the Canada Health Act itself, this may be a case of "be careful what you wish for". But assuming the federal government is willing to enforce its own standards on education, the proposed legislation would be a sound way of providing stable funding which would be sure to help students directly.

Needless to say, the Dippers need to be all over this one.

And here I thought they'd go to war

Not surprisingly, Canada and Denmark will be negotiating over how to handle Hans Island:
The foreign ministers of Canada, Denmark and Greenland will meet in September to discuss the fate of Hans Island, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday.

It's reassuring to know that a small, uninhabited island will get at least a few more months in the headlines while the bigger Arctic issues continue to get ignored.

Monday, August 08, 2005

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

The U.S. is now testing a program to track all visitors with radio "tags":
All foreign travellers using visas will also obtain their radio tags from U.S. Customs officials when they first register to enter the United States. The tag is embedded into a document, which the traveller presents to enter or leave the United States.

The crossing points are equipped with antennas that read the tags for a secured and coded serial number linked to a database with the information provided by the traveller.

The antennas can read the tags up to 10 metres away and recognize many tags simultaneously. Ideally, travellers will be able to flash them going by at highway speeds, he said.

In principle, the idea of speeding up border crossings is a plus. But this system is utterly mind-boggling in its potential for abuse.

While the current plan may be to have antennas only at border crossing points, does anybody believe that some future administration (and maybe this one if the program gets off the ground quickly enough) won't decide to place them wherever it sees fit within the borders? Or maybe to place them outside the borders in friendly states? Or to extend the range so as to be able to track movement in neighbouring states? I try to avoid tin-foil hat theorizing, but there's just no getting around it on this one.

And there's a downside for the U.S. as well, as I have to wonder whether many people be eager to visit if they're exposing themselves to that kind of intrusion. But with all too many Americans more interested in shutting the border than in encouraging inflow, that factor seems to be lost in the shuffle.

Fighting privacy, one policy choice at a time

B.C.'s privacy commissioner released his annual report today - but the CP's focus is on the wrong part of the text. The article emphasizes the admonition that the war against terror shouldn't be used as an excuse to hurt privacy, but it pays short shrift to the fact that privacy is already being attacked through omission:
Loukidelis also noted that his office is suffering from a backlog of files since its budget was cut.

That backlog covers requests under the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"An effective access and privacy law requires effective oversight of compliance, which in turn depends on adequate funding for the oversight agency."

It should be obvious that it doesn't matter what privacy laws are (or aren't) on the books: if the agency charged with enforcing them can't afford to do its job, then privacy is at risk. It's probably easier politically to justify budget cuts than direct statutory attacks, but both are equally insidious.

The experts are speaking...

...and they're saying that the summer of 2005 isn't an aberration:
Climatologist Andrew Weaver, at the University of Victoria, says this year's heat wave is just a shadow of life in a greenhouse world.

"The thing to say is, you ain't seen nothing yet. To say this is a glimpse is probably one of the greatest understatements of all time. The projections of what is likely to happen in this century would put events like this as minor."

John Bennett of the Sierra Club says the weather across the Canada - not only the heat wave in Ontario but the droughts, downpours and floods in other regions - are consistent with what computer models predict.

"We may in fact be seeing real changes linked to climate change now but even if this is just some freak weather this is what we have to look forward to in the future."

Somehow there's a lot less joy in being right when the result is as unfortunate as this. But it should be fairly easily acknowledged by now that there's no real debate over the existence or effect of climate change - the only question is whether we're looking ahead enough to do something substantial about it.

Our own quagmire in the making

At the same time as top defense officials suggest that Afghanistan will likely be a 20-year mission, word comes out that civilian defence employees may face extended tours of duty:
The president of the Union of National Defence Employees said Monday that the chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, told him during recent talks that civilian support personnel on bases across the country could be called upon for extended overseas deployments.

Remember that the long-term international presence in Afghanistan is largely in response to the U.S.' need to withdraw troops in order to send them to Iraq. The effect is that the same problems facing the U.S. (overuse of military personnel, increased danger to troops and resulting recruitment difficulties) will now spread to Canada and other states. Meanwhile, the unstable situation in Afghanistan will get all the worse now that it'll be monitored by troops from less powerful states, supported by employees unaccustomed to being overseas.

Just a couple more ways in which the Iraq invasion has made us all less safe.


Middle Eastern leaders may be coming together after all:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received his Syrian counterpart Sunday, the first head of state to pay an official visit to the newly-inaugurated Iranian leader, and reiterated that the two countries should unite against their opponents...

"Common threats deserve the formation of a united front by Iran and Syria more than ever," Ahmadinejad said at a joint news conference with Assad. "Boosting relations could protect the region from the threats."

The Iranian leader did not identify the source of the threats but, in a commentary on the visit, Iranian state television said: "Co-operation between the two countries is important because the United States and Israel have invaded the region."

Coming on the heels of Iran's decision to restart uranium conversion, this highlights the fact that potential U.S. targets see the need to circle the wagons. And there's no particular cost to doing so, since both countries were already under sanctions in any event (though even stronger ones may be put on Iran).

The end result is that there will be little interaction between these states and the West, and thus no progress toward more open societies. So much for the great democratization project.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

No merging threat

According to the Globe and Mail, any talk of bank mergers is on hold until after the 2006 election:
After several false starts and much vacillation, Ottawa is expected to shelve plans to publish new guidelines for consolidation in the financial services sector until after the federal election next year, according to people familiar with the matter...

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale has dispatched numerous trial balloons to gauge the feelings of both opposition parties and the general public, but with the prospect of another tightly contested fight at the polls next year, Prime Minister Paul Martin is said to be unwilling to risk wading into such a contentious political issue.

While the Liberals have otherwise been careful to try to play to the NDP's voters, their strategy on this issue should offer a solid opening for the NDP.

The current situation makes it clear that mergers won't be dealt with in a minority parliament due to a lack of support from the left-leaning parties. (I'm not quite sure why the Cons would want to hold it up, but all the better if that's what they're doing.)

From here on in, the NDP gets a stronger position with voters who are leery about putting too much banking authority in too few hands. If a minority parliament is the only thing standing in the way of mergers, then a decent chunk of the centre-left (not to mention some less ideological populists) have added incentive not to permit a Liberal majority.

Granted, the issue isn't likely one that'll sway votes on its own. But it's one weak spot in the Liberals' left-wing armor, and a few of those could add up to help the Dippers.

Update: Good news. They're on it.

Lack of control

One of the supposed success stories of the U.S.' occupation of Iraq was the demolition of Fallujah. Sure, it left the civilian population in ruins as well, but at least it had apparently wiped out an insurgent stronghold.

That is, until now:
The fact that the Marines are allowing former Fallouja residents to return only adds to the concern. So far, 140,000 of the city's 250,000 residents have come back to a city littered with rubble, its skyline broken by tilting minarets.

As Marines continue to relax restrictions on Fallouja entry points, intelligence leads suggest that insurgents who have already entered the city and others who might soon return have continued to plan attacks against Americans.

The story makes clear that Fallujah isn't yet under insurgent control as it once was. But it makes equally clear that none of the supposed progress in fighting the insurgency is permanent: even as new fronts open up elsewhere, insurgents are regaining some hold in the sites of former battles. And given that Fallujah's population was decimated by the previous U.S. offensive, there will all too likely be many more locals willing to sign up to make sure that the cycle continues.

Obvious choices

It's beyond me how this is supposed to pose a difficult choice:
(Computer) models, designed by two international research teams, suggest a pandemic could be stopped if a ring of contacts around the first human cases were given antiviral drugs to keep them from becoming ill.

Success is predicated on rapid detection of initial cases, quick deployment of teams to distribute the drugs, high levels of compliance among those told to take the drugs and quarantine for cases and contacts. And, of course, the emerging pandemic virus must be susceptible to the drugs.

Naturally, there are plenty of variables involved, and no guarantee of success. But some of those variables themselves should be very much subject to change. In particular, a lack of health infrastructure in third-world states isn't a reason to avoid doing anything, it's a reason to put resources toward building infrastructure as well as toward the vaccine which could stop a pandemic. (And contrary to the implication in the article, there's no apparent conflict between producing enough vaccine to stop a known virus in its tracks, and creating enough production capacity to create new vaccines if necessary.)

Given sound data stating that a global disaster can be avoided, is there really any doubt that health organizations should be taking all reasonable measures to that effect?

Like flies to...

Not only has the "flypaper" strategy done nothing to prevent terrorism in Spain, the U.K. and elsewhere, it's also not doing anything much in the Middle East:
U.S. diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia will be closed Monday and Tuesday because of a threat against U.S. buildings, the U.S. Embassy said Sunday.

It said the embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in the Red Sea city of Jeddah would be closed August 8 and 9 "in response to a threat against U.S. government buildings in the kingdom."...

An earlier statement, posted on the U.S. Embassy Web site Saturday, warned of "ongoing security concerns in the region, including for seaborne vessels traveling in the southern Red Sea".

The article notes a series of other threats and attacks in Saudi Arabia over the past few years. Needless to say, like most people in the area (and around the world) Saudi citizens can't feel any more safe based on the invasion of Iraq.