Friday, July 29, 2011

All the "easy" oil and gas may be gone, but still ...

While most regions of Canada have imposed moratoriums on "fracking," using jackhammers and / or high pressure water injections to get out natural gas, one province -- British Columbia -- is going, pardon the expression, full steam ahead and allowing our favourite (NOT!) mining company Talisman Energy to draw water from one of the few pure water sources left in the country for the next twenty years.

Many states in the US have put either moratoriums or outright bans after complaints that the release of gas buried underground for aeons caused health problems for many, not the least of which were headaches that could not be explained otherwise.   Ontario has long had a ban on fracking in Lake Erie for the same reason (although the practice continues elsewhere), and Québec earlier this month also put a hold on the practice until more can be found out about how to do it safely.  The next thing we know we may see the rise of cancer clusters -- technically defined as when an area near a suspect source has a rate of cancer at least five percent above the national average.

In these tough times revenues are scarce and if there was indeed a way to do it safely even I would support it.   But the current methods are only "safe" because the industry tells us that it is and they pay off commercial media (with advertising) and government (via royalties) to maintain the status quo.   To the argument that over the counter medications can cause the same issues, one has to reply that if there was a proven causal link with the drug it would be either banned or put into a more restrictive class.

But there is no such recourse with water supplies that are deliberately depleted for short term profit.   One only has to look at the ongoing water wars in California which date back more than century and still continue to this day.    The Owens River is only about 5% of what it was around 1908 and that's because of the clever way Sacramento dealt with the issue of sharing the water -- it ruled that if a community in the "Southland" wanted to get the water it had to merge into Los Angeles.   This partly explains why so little of LA remains irrigated land.  This also explains the convoluted city map of the "City of Angels" and why communities such as Hollywood, Bel Air, Van Nuys, Sherman Oaks and South Central are all part of LA; whilst West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Flintridge, Marina Del Ray and the City of Industry are not.     Even now farmers are pitted against urban dwellers -- and that's not taking the interests of aboriginal Californians into account.

California is taking the step of requiring would be "frackers" to disclose just much water they are using as well as what chemicals and a realistic environmental assessment of what the worst case scenario would be.   Then that assessment would be subject to public hearings.

I think my home province of Ontario ought to do the same.   We may be the land of 250,000 lakes but water is no longer the infinite resource we once thought it was.

Going out west, the rapid decline in ice melt is going to cause headaches for the Prairies as the Athabascan and Saskatchewan Rivers flow less freely in future years, and which provinces have to ask their brethren in BC to share what's left in their lakes via pipeline.    But what if there's nothing left but water polluted with tailings from mining and harsh petrochemicals from the extraction of oil and gas?    The future is not friendly by any means.   Even the oil workers on the tar sands know their bosses are using too much water and are oddly on side with the city parents in Fort McMurray in fighting to keep what little water is left.

There's no question all the easy oil and natural gas may be gone.   But just allowing a company to take the water with no questions asked and a promise of royalties that do not account for the long term damage is just irresponsible.   On this one, I say proceed with caution.    If there are more efficient ways to extract the oil and gas while ensuring a renewable supply of potable water then I'm all for it.   Until then we should hold off.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What if what happened in Norway, happened here?

If what happened last weekend in Norway -- the murders of 70+ people -- were to happen here in Canada, what would our reaction be?   Would we retrench and abandon our decades-old open door policy on immigration and adhere instead to a "Nativist" (i.e. white supremacist) attitude?   Or would we refuse to back down, saying, "Not here, not in our country" with respect to the act alone and keep things just the way they are.

It's worth asking since we now know that the alleged attacker was not a Muslim (as many instantly presumed at first -- after all, Norway is of our NATO allies) but a self proclaimed "Christian Nationalist."   Sounds a lot like Ted Kacynski or Timothy McVeigh, doesn't it?    The acts of a serial killer and a mass killer, respectively, only served to entrench the status quo.   In other words, no matter how rational they may have seen their acts, the "rest of society" turned out to be the more rational ones.   But I do fear that now we may have several "Kingdom Now" dominionists within the corridors of power in Ottawa, whether the semi-rational PMS will cave in to the narrow interests that elected him or fight for the common good.

More on this in a future post and where I think Canada needs to go to protect our citizens while keeping our doors open -- concepts which I believe do not contradict each other.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where to build the so-called "Road to Nowhere"? There's really no where else to put it

Now this is interesting ... the "Canadian Transit Company," which sounds like a coalition of the urban public transit providers in Canada but is in fact the Canadian face of the American-owned Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario with Detroit, Michigan, is running a series of ads claiming Premier Dad wants to build a two billion dollar "road to nowhere."   In fact the road would be the long awaited expressway link connecting Highway 401 to a new bridge that on the other side would connect with the major artery linking the Midwest to the Confederacy, Interstate 75.

Some say the traffic numbers don't justify a new link.   Others say it's just an excuse for the Moroun family to try to keep control of what traffic they have -- and it's a big chunk:   25% of the border traffic between the US and Canada goes on the existing bridge.    It's not the first time they and their allies tried political stunts -- a few weeks back the so-called "Americans for Prosperity" group issued so-called "eviction notices" for homes slated to be expropriated on the US side (or not) which was really advertising for the existing bridge and its "benefits."

As the industry watchdog website Toll Roads News has pointed out, the bridge has been cited for contempt of court in Michigan numerous times for how they constructed what was supposed to be a "speedier" border plaza as well as building piers for a "twin" bridge right next to the current one..   And the argument being floated right now -- it flouts Ontario's election laws that forbid foreign lobbying on the airwaves.

Set all of that aside.   Another bridge is needed because the Ambassador, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Bluewater Bridges upstream are all potential terrorist targets.   Cut off just one of those lifelines and you can imagine there would be even more traffic chaos than there is.    But a two lane tunnel that forbids most truck traffic and a twin set of bridges way upstream forcing a huge detour back to Detroit (it's more of a direct link to Indianapolis and Chicago) isn't exactly my idea of competition.

There is simply no excuse why there should be 16 traffic lights between an expressway and a bridge even if the linking street has four lanes in each direction.    The Canadian and US governments committed funding for the project in 2004.  The National Security Committee of the Canadian Senate recommended funding a new link back in 2007, saying that this new bridge should be considered practically Priority One on the security scale.   We're in 2011.   It's still tangled up in court -- the American courts.

And this is a project that would have meaningful benefits over the long term as well as the short term jobs.   It's time we built the damn road, as long as there's also an equal amount committed for beginning the process of high speed rail (cheapest way is eliminating all level crossings along the Corridor route) and re-establishing the direct Toronto-Chicago Amtrak run.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another Catholic bishop bites the dust

Yet another RC bishop has tendered his resignation over the never-ending sex abuse scandal.   This time it's Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia.

One can only hope Joe Ratzinger doesn't take the coward's way out like his predecessor did, and reassigns Rigali to a Vatican job like Bernard Law got, thus granting Law (ironic name isn't it?) diplomatic immunity and therefore no chance he'll ever be prosecuted in the States for his almost certain part in the cover-up.   (I did say almost, whether he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is for a jury to decide should the Holy See ever get around to revoking his Vatican passport.)

How is it possible that the church that I belong to has this totally unique diplomatic status that no other church has?   I can think of only two other groups -- the Red Cross-Red Crescent Movement, and Saint John's Ambulance through the hospices of its parent that truly unique personality known as the SOMM -- that has this protection under international law.   It's ridiculous.   Child abuse is a serious allegation and it should never be an excuse to invoke diplomatic immunity.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"I invested in a company called News Corp .." "Dad, that's Fox!" "Argh! Undo, undo!"

Funny line from the 1999 Simpsons episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" but it got terribly serious today with one of the whistle blowers being found dead and PM David Cameron cutting short a visit to South Africa (presumably in part to honour Nelson Mandela on his 93rd birthday) so there can be an emergency debate in Parliament on Wednesday regarding all the scandals surrounding Murdoch, Inc.

Meanwhile, the stock in News Corporation has dropped almost 20 percent since the beginning of the month.

It's hard not to say we told you so but convergence never was going to work.    Take MySpace ... it was bought by News Corp for about $580 million in 2005 and quickly jumped in valuation to over $12 billion -- before Facebook started to catch on.   Towards the beginning of the year, Murdoch gave the money loser six months to shape up or shut down.   Just in time for the deadline, it was sold -- for a paltry $35 million.

Remember when the networks competed with each other to get the blockbusters on TV?   And all of them had "Movies of the Week" which was event television?   You can imagine the bidding war for Schindler's List which ended getting nearly 80 million viewers when it was showed on NBC without commercials (thanks to a gracious buyout of ad time from Ford).   Now it's Disney-ABC, Comcast-Universal-NBC, Viacom-CBS and -- well, Fox.    Paramount tried a TV network as did Warner, but except for a few hits most shows were duds, the networks merged into the CW which is basically CBS2 and the leftover affiliates formed MYTV which is really Fox2.

It's time to break up these oligopolies.    Maybe the EU, which the UK is a member of (albeit tepidly) can use its anti-competition legislation.   After all, it had the guts to stand up to Microsoft.

UPDATE (Tues July 19, 2011 9:16 am EDT, 1316 GMT):   Updating the double mention of Universal -- of course it was Paramount who tried its hand at a TV network and which eventually merged its ops with Warner's).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BREAKING: Rupert throws in towel

The BBC has just reported, as I am writing this, that Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation is giving up its bid for total control of BSkyB (he presently has a 39% stake in the DTH satellite company and its stable of news and sports channels).   This happened just as the House of Commons was about to vote a motion of censure condemning Mr Murdoch's business tactics and to beg him to give up (it was expected to get support from all three major parties there as well as the separatists from Wales and Scotland).   The motion, while not binding, would certainly have been a slap in the face as the people's representatives would have actually represented the views of the people for once.

Two words:  Thank God!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How low will Rupert go?

Former British PM Gordon Brown has gone on the offensive against Rupert Murdoch.    He stated today that while both PM as well as Tony Blair's Chancellor, his banking records and e-mails were hacked by the more reputable of Rupert's publications, the Sunday edition of the Times of London.    This is how it was found out, just as one example, that Brown's son has cystic fibrosis long before his family was prepared to tell the public.

For his part the incumbent PM David Cameron is standing behind his predecessor and repeating his calls that Rupert just give up his bid to totally take over the Sky direct-to-home satellite service although it has been given preliminary approval by Ofcom, the UK's FCC (Cameron yesterday referred the takeover attempt to an agency that handles anti-competitive issues).

Knowing Rupert's hardball tactics in the past, it's hard to imagine him giving up that easily.   Especially with Roger Ailes pulling a lot of the strings with the US television and print properties and wanting to make the similar services in the UK and Ireland carbon copies to their American counterparts (or vice versa, depending on your point of view) such that there is no difference whatsoever between publications and broadcasting on both sides of the pond.

But sadly, power does indeed breed arrogance, even among those who have the most honourable of intentions.    It's bad enough that electronic and voice mails were hacked for politicians and murder victims.   But then limiting people's choices to papers that feature Abi Titmuss and those that do not, with basically the same editorial content, isn't exactly my idea of choice.    (A viewpoint expressed a few years ago by a former professor of mine, journalist Alexandra Kitty.)

In part because of the BBC license (and thus the state broadcaster's TV, radio and online properties are actually accountable to the people, unlike here where the CBC is only accountable to the Cabinet although technically "independent"), television in the UK and especially news coverage is among the best in the free world, certainly superior to anything that can be found on this side of the Atlantic.    Newspapers are another matter.

If I was advising Cameron, I'd tell him that he should be giving Rupert a choice:    He can have Sky, or he can have the papers.   But not both.   And if he chooses the papers, he can only have one per major city or one nationwide daily.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Canada boycotts arms meeting

I rarely agree with the Harper Government on anything.    But on this one, I do.    We have every right, indeed the duty, to boycott a disarmament conference if the country chairing the meeting is North Korea.   I'm not making this up.

How is it possible to trust a country who claims it wants to disarm but has already several warheads in its possession?    They still haven't figured out how to successfully test a three-stage rocket but if they actually ever do then the DPRK will pose a direct threat not just to the West Coast of North America but also to the eastern fringes of the NATO alliance and otherwise neutral EU member states -- in which case it'll be everyone's business.

This country doesn't even feed its own people, to the point where Koreans from the North are several inches shorter than their Southern counterparts.   And you can be sure that for the lucky few who have made it out of the country, they will never admit to being from the North on census forms for all the obvious reasons.

On the Middle East, Harper doesn't get it.   On Asia-Pacific affairs, though, he's generally correct.   We need to continue to turn up the heat, including the maintaining of the year long suspension of direct contacts until the North starts behaving like a proper country should.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Good riddance to one Murdoch newspaper, but here comes another ...

The ever so controversial Sunday paper News of the World, which defies even the vilest of descriptions, is finally folding this weekend after 168 years after it got caught up in even more phone hacking scandals.   The paper has raised eyebrows over the years including "gotcha" conversations with at least two members of "The Firm" -- Sophie Rhys-Jones, wife of Prince Edward; and Sarah Ferguson, ex-wife of Prince Andrew; not to mention hacking the voice mail boxes of other members of the family, young and old.

But when this new round involved two notorious cases -- one involving the hacking and deletion of a missing girl from 2002 who could have been found alive but for such deletion (sadly she was in fact murdered and the killer convicted only this year), the other reaching the office of the Prime Minister's inner circle -- it was the final straw; and owner Rupert Murdoch, self-proclaimed "billionaire tyrant," said enough is enough.   And so NOTW is now toast and will be replaced by a long anticipated Sunday edition of the London Sun. Even though that paper has some hacking issues it needs to answer to as well.

At least Rupert has some scruples left after all, perhaps.    Now if only he'd apply a similar principle to his television news business and make sure Fox News Channel has the same standards for reporting as its sister channel Sky News and maybe some sanity could return to this side of the pond also.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bye Bye Schuller!

Remember the Air Farce joke a few years back about the aftermath of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002?   How several hundred thousand people decided they needed to go answer the call of nature at the same time and the sewage backed up into the furniture store kitty corner from the air force base where the Mass was held?   The late Roger Abbott said it best, "Talk about Holy Shit!"

Well, this item must be right up there because a few days ago but only reported last right, Robert Schuller Sr. was fired from the congregation he founded, the Crystal Cathedral of the Reformed Church in America.  Yup, the Hour of Power has indeed finally come of age and decided it's time to pass the torch to the next generation (that is, if there's anything left for the next generation to assume).  It's claimed that he's only become the "honourary chairman" and therefore a non-voting member of the board, and will still appear on occasion on the TV show (read:   Paid advertisement), but it's a huge rebuke for the 84 year old who made a career of putting a religious spin on the power of attraction.

What was a ministry perhaps third only to Billy Graham and Oral Roberts is facing a crisis of confidence.   Five years ago, Schuller Jr tried taking over but his more doctrinally sound sermons grated the "health and wealth" crowd and he got tossed.   Now Jr's sisters, Sheila Coleman and Gretchen Penner (both of whom apparently have no accredited divinity training whatsoever) have been doing their best to keep the faith (so to speak) but the church already filed for Chapter 11 and the once thirty member board of directors is down to just five.    Jr.'s daughter, Angie Wyatt, is further adding fuel to the fire by saying her grandfather got stabbed in the back the same way her dad was.

That's the problem with mega-churches, even the Catholic ones (and yes, there are mega Catholic churches especially in central Florida).   They get too big too fast, they don't know what to do with all the parishoners and then they get too damn greedy and that's when either a) the family breaks apart, or b) the family circles the wagons when the followers finally smarten up and the IRS has to be called in.

Truly there is no business like show business.   Especially when it comes to religion!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Another blow for DSK? (And yet another random rant about the double standard)

Just when when Dominque Strauss-Kahn thought he finally got a lucky break, now a French writer by the name of Tristane Banon has filed a complaint that he raped her in 2003.   DSK in turn has filed a counter-complaint accusing her of filing a false police report.

This is definitely a story where all those involved will have way more than fifteen minutes of fame once all the dust settles.   Let the courts determine if the man is guilty or not.   But the French reaction to date shows that the double standard there is way beyond anything in puritan America, notwithstanding women in France won equal rights way back in 1946 when the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man was re-incorporated into that country's constitution and it was made clear for the first time that it applied equally to men and women (a full eighteen years before the US guaranteed the same for its women by law -- at least in employment and housing -- in the 1964 Civil Rights Act).   While the rest of the Fourth Republic's constitution bit the dust and was replaced just twelve years later by the present constitution of the "Fifth Republic," that preamble and the Declaration were re-incorporated so both are still very valid

To this day, nearly every one in France still knows the seventeen articles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen by heart.   (Ask any American if they know the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights!)   Isn't it time that the French walked the talk when it comes to women?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Case against DSK on shaky ground

The free world was shocked when Dominique Strauss Kahn was charged with sexual assault a few weeks back.   But now, DSK's bail conditions have been significantly relaxed after the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (son of Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State) released a letter to DSK's lawyers revealing some disturbing facts about the accusing woman.
  • She has admitting lying about the facts that led her to seek asylum in the United States -- namely that she and her late husband were tortured by the military regime in Guinea.   She fabricated her story by listening to a cassette tape recording of a similar case by a male refugee asylum applicant and memorizing those facts.   Furthermore, her visa to the United States was forged.
  • She also has admitted lying to prosecutors about being gang raped in her home land.    According to her she was going to stipulate to an entirely different case of sexual assault when her asylum hearing finally came up.
  • She initially claimed to the Grand Jury that after being attacked (so she says) by DSK, she fled to a hidden corner of the hallway of the hotel, waited for DSK to leave the 28th floor, then reported the incident to her supervisor.   Now she admits that she actually proceeded to clean the adjacent room, then returned to the room DSK had vacated before telling her supervisor.
  • Finally, she has admitted to tax evasion -- by reporting another person's child as her own so as to claim the child tax credit and therefore get a bigger tax refund than to what she was entitled to.   This also allowed her to reduce her taxable income which allowed her to qualify for subsidized housing.
To top it all off, this woman was wiretapped talking to her present boyfriend, being held on an entirely unrelated  immigration charge in Arizona.   During the call, recorded the day after DSK's arrest on May 14th but only translated this past Wednesday, she is clearly heard saying in Fulani, a language of Guinea,  "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money.   I know what I'm doing."

Vance is certainly not a Robert Morgenthau (the longtime predecessor in the office and the inspiration for the character Adam Schiff, played by Steven Hill, of the original Law and Order), but some simple fact checking before hand could have brought clarity to what was already an embarrassing scandal and adding to a series of setbacks for the justice system in New York State.   Vance's letter may be a case of too little too late.

But even if DSK didn't rape the accusing woman (as is now appearing to be the case) he still has to explain having yet another extra-marital affair.    The woman's comment that he has a lot of money (of course he does!) raises the question if he paid to have sex with her.   And what does this do to a French presidential election that was already in enough turmoil as it is?    Unless DSK is vindicated and very soon, the lack of a viable front-runner for the Socialists has opened up a huge window for the National Front, France's neo-Nazi, anti-immigration, anti-EU and pro-death penalty party.   While its current leader Marine Le Pen (daughter of the justly hated Jean-Marie) has absolutely no chance of winning, even her getting just 20% of the vote would be a major victory for the group.

Sexual assault is a serious crime and must be prosecuted when the allegations are true.   But when they are false, the accuser should also face the consequences -- and in this particular case, deported.

UPDATE (1:55 pm EDT, 1755 GMT):   Minor grammar corrections.