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November 30, 2008

Conservatives spied on NDP meeting

CANADA - The minority Conservative government of Canada, doomed to be toppled on December 8th, has released a secret tape of a NDP meeting. The Conservatives covertly and illegally listened in, taped and distributed audio of a closed-door NDP strategy session.

The recording itself is ambiguous, but it is the fact the Tories were spying that has infuriated opposition parties. During the call Layton says he hopes a lasting coalition government can be built that will survive two or three years.

The Conservatives released the tape in an effort to dissuade the opposition parties from overthrowing the minority government next Monday, but didn't consider the legal ramifications of admitting they are spying on other political parties.

Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, is currently considering legal action for the act of political espionage.

The Conservatives deny they were spying, claiming they were invited to listen in on the call. There is no Canadian law against wiretapping, but it is a breach of parliamentary rules which prohibit inter-party espionage.

Opposition supporters say that this only proves that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are corrupt and need to be thrown out of office.

This attempt to dissuade opposition parties from acting on December 8th appears to have backfired and is the Conservative Party's second blunder in four days. The first was Harper's attempt to bully the opposition in accepting a budget plan that would do nothing for the economy and only cut back on government expenses.

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World

ENVIRONMENTAL - The U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) has published its new report "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World." The report predicts a gloomy future for the United States.

The NIC comes up with these reports every four years. This report is the fourth since 1997, and the most dismal, at least for the United States.

According to the report, by 2025 the European Union will not be able to diversify its energy imports and will still depend on Russian energy sources. By 2025, Europe's energy consumption will go up by 60%, and 57% of all gas reserves will be amassed in Russia, Iraq, and Qatar. Many of the current oil producers will lose their positions, and almost 40% of the world's oil will come from six countries: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq. For aggregate oil and gas reserves, there will be two great energy powers, Russia and Iran.

Global warming will bring trouble, like floods and draughts, to some countries.

The report predicts that the United States will continue losing its influence. It will remain a powerful state in 2025, but will be less dominant. The same fate will befall the weak US dollar. The void left from America's decline will be filled by Brazil, India, China, and the Korean Peninsular (the report optimistically predicts by that time the two Koreas will merge). The latter three are likely to form a free trade association.

The world will become multipolar, and Western models of economic liberalism and democracy will lose their appeal (which is already happening). The EU will lose its influence and become a "hobbled giant." Wars may break out because of limited resources such as food, freshwater, oil and gas... This sounds horrible.

It would sound even worse if these reports were flawless. In the previous reports for 2010, 2015, and 2020, intelligence analysts made forecasts which contradict what they are writing now. They predicted the growth of the EU's role and influence, and the steady advance of Western economies by about 2% a year through 2010.

These reports are not accurate forecasts but rather a reminder for U.S. leaders what will happen if they do not pursue this or that policy. They offer food for thought and encourage certain ideas. They're not considered accurate.

To see whether the NIC is objective in its reports, we should recall what it is. This is the number one think tank headed by the director of the U.S. National Intelligence Council, Michael McConnell, and conducts medium- and long-term strategic analysis. Its current chairman Thomas Fingar is his direct subordinate. The NIC was set up in 1979.

The NIC submits its reports to all U.S. leaders. National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) is its main commodity. Most of them are classified, but there are always inspired leaks to the press. The council makes what it calls over-the-horizon analysis. Sometimes, it goes far beyond that for political reasons. The NIC, as is often the case with intelligence organizations set up for administrations, always deviates moderately from the party line. With time it dawns on them that they are expected to say what is required of them rather than make predictions.

This makes the NIC's role is supposed to coordinate the analytical reports of all U.S. intelligence centers - the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the political intelligence of the Department of State, intelligence services of the army, air force, and navy, as well as of the border patrol, the departments of the Treasury and Energy, and finally the FBI counterintelligence.

But here is the problem. All these services and departments are trying to take advantage of the NIC, trying to push presidents, departments, or Congress to make the "right" decisions. The NIE and analysis of intelligence information always lead to heated debates for this reason.

So what this tells you is that the different security departments are suddenly worried about global warming, food and water supplies and of course the scarcity of oil. The dire gloom and doom report isn't accurate, but it shows the different US departments are becoming increasingly concerned about these issues.

110 Killed in Brazilian Flood

ENVIRONMENTAL - Rescue workers seized a window of clear skies Sunday to resume searching for victims of devastating floods that have killed 110 people and ravaged more than a dozen cities in southern Brazil.

Right: A flood victim carries donated clothes at a shelter set up in a school in Gaspar, Brazil, Nov. 29, 2008. Flooding and mudslides have ravaged southern parts of the country.

Heavy rains subsided, allowing authorities to continue looking for 19 people thought to be missing across Santa Catarina state and to boost aid to some 80,000 people whom floods have driven from their homes in the past week.

Bad weather had grounded air force helicopters on Saturday, slowing rescue efforts. Rains are forecast to resume in coming days, increasing the risk of mudslides.

The floods had killed 110 people as of Sunday morning, the state's civil defence department said. Nine bodies were pulled from beneath the mud and rubble the day before.

Nearly 80,000 people were taking shelter in churches, schools, gymnasiums and other public buildings, relying on volunteers and troops for medicine, food, water and clothes.

Officials on Sunday opened an army field hospital near the hard-hit cities of Itajai and Ilhota, where 39 people have died, mostly in mudslides.

The rains that devastated 30 towns in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina could be an early consequence of global warming, a climatologist from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said Friday.

Climatologist Carlos Nobre told Globo TV that heavy, persistent rains in southern Brazil usually coincide with the climate phenomenon known as El Nino, which warms up the Pacific Ocean. However, this was not the case this year.

“In the years when the El Nino phenomenon does not happen, like now, and there are very intense rains, their causes still remain mysterious for meteorology. It is already possible to start to identify some relationship with global warming, both in the increase of intense rain and in the drought in the south,” he said.

According to Nobre, southern Brazil is more vulnerable to climatic problems, as it is here that warm, humid air coming from the north converges with cold, dry masses from the south.

Making a Greener Christmas

Dreaming of a green Christmas?

ENVIRONMENTAL - Then why not go for the recyclable real tree this holiday season instead of the faux Tannenbaum, made of metal and PVC derivatives, that eats up boatloads of oil on its way from China to your living room?

Better yet, what about a small potted version that grows – not just glows – as you cart it in from the garden each year? Maybe even a bonsai Christmas tree?

How about sending e-cards or email updates to friends and family, instead of the tree-felling greeting-card kind that only just get tossed with the non-biodegradable tinsel, anyway?

It may seem like too much work to be eco-responsible when your to-do list is already as long as Santa's. But you could aim for "the 20 per-cent rule" – a reasonable cut in conspicuous consumption – and stuff a few stockings with a pocket-sized book that spells out pretty clearly why The Most Wonderful Time of the Year isn't all that wonderful for the environment.

There's all this extra stuff – the packing that comes in the boxes, the wrapping paper, the ribbon, not to mention the toys and everything that comes with them. Any parent knows all the garbage you have to move out of your living room on Christmas Day. Do we really need all this packaging?

Household waste increases 25 per cent at Christmastime, and since the Twelve Days of Christmas stretch into a month in the U.S.A. – where Thanksgiving signals the official start of a month of eating, drinking and splurging – that piles up into 2 billion pounds of garbage per week.

Enough holiday cards are sold in the U.S. to fill a 10-storey football stadium and kill 300,000 trees. That's on top of all those glossy catalogues that consume 8 million trees a year and produce a truly global footprint as many are delivered around the world.

Creating a Christmas to remember can translate into a lot we'd sooner forget, such as the brutal drain on electricity and even risks to your health, including the petroleum-based paraffin candles that may set the mood, but can also emit toxic chemicals from toluene to benzene and formaldehyde.

Then there are all those toys from China.

Even if they aren't tainted with lead, they are made of plastic that tends to break – often Christmas Day – but never biodegrade. Not to mention the less-than-good cheer they spread on their oil-guzzling journey from Beijing to North America.

In the midst of this recession some consumers are opting to buy less, but spend more, for locally made toys or handicrafts. Or they're clicking on websites such as buycanadianfirst.ca which has a selection of products made in Canada.

You can start out with something as simple as buying a real tree. In most cases they are locally grown, rather than crafted by distant conglomerates, and more than 90 per cent are collected curbside and turned into garden mulch by Springtime.

Instead of fake garland and mistletoe, buy the real stuff, which looks and smells authentic and can also be converted to garden cover.

But don't shut down completely. Everybody still needs a holiday.

November 29, 2008

Harper Flip Flops, Canada needs Public Works Projects

CANADA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has flip flopped on the political funding issue, but still has no economic plan for the future.

Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director, says the subsidy issue isn't worth tipping the country into an election or a constitutional crisis. HOWEVER the actual wording of the Liberal motion of non-confidence is:
"In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy and to help workers and businesses in hard-pressed sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry and forestry, this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed within the present House of Commons."
That means Harper also needs to flip flop again and come up with a new economic plan in the space of 9 days and convince the Canadian public that his economic plan is sound. Harper's method of doing nothing on the economy or laissez-faire is the issue at stake. Canada needs to be acting, not sitting on their hands which is what Harper has been doing during his almost three years in office.

So can Harper flip flop and create a solid fiscal plan in the space of 9 days that will win Liberal, NDP or BQ support? Somehow we doubt it. Anything he does will be a token and hardly a good solution to the current economic crisis.

So what should an Accord Coalition government do instead?

What Canada needs is a series of public works projects to create jobs in Canada, using Canadian steel, Canadian cement and Canadian sweat. We have no shortage of public works projects that need to be done.

We need to build and repair more roads, highways, bridges and canals.

We need to build electrical dams, solar/wind farms and windmills to provide energy to isolated regions of Canada.

We need to build/expand schools, colleges, universities, libraries, public art galleries, museums.

We need to bolster our major tourists centres with boardwalks, waterfronts.

We need to build cement blockades to halt erosion of PEI's coastline.

We need to expand Newfoundland and Labrador's network of roads.

We need to expand Montreal and Toronto's existing subway systems.

We need to recycle more of Ontario's waste instead of paying to ship it to a landfill in Michigan.

We need to build a series of permanent dykes, dams and flood gates to prevent yearly flooding of Manitoba's cities and towns.

We need to dig wells or build water recycling plants in regions with with fresh water scarcity.

We need to build storage facilities/treatment centres to manage and filter all the water pollution coming from the Alberta oil sands.

We need to build better/safer roads in the Canadian rockies, more tunnels and suspension bridges.

We need to build roads in Canada's far north, military bases/training grounds, radar/sonar towers to monitor usage of the Canadian north west passage and research facilities to monitor the effects of climate change in the Canadian tundra.

We estimate it would only cost $9.36 billion/year to employ 300,000 Canadians to do some of the projects listed above. In 2007 Canada had a budget surplus of $13.1 billion US and we might have a similar surplus this year. That is more than enough to get us started.

Canada has over 1.08 million unemployed people looking for work and a lot of public works projects that need to be done. If we do just half of the projects listed above it will keep Canadians working for years, bolster the economy, boost spending, lessen private debt and create a stronger, more efficient Canada.

How to make a Coalition Government

CANADA - The last time Canada had an Coalition Accord government was 1985 when the NDP and Liberals made an Accord government. So how do we make another?

STEP ONE
The Liberals have already completed step one by making a motion of non-confidence:
"In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy and to help workers and businesses in hard-pressed sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry and forestry, this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed within the present House of Commons."

STEP TWO
Stephen Harper's Conservatives must lose a confidence motion scheduled for December 8th that is regarded as a test of confidence in Harper's minority government. At present Harper's lack of an economic plan has united the opposition parties in saying that the Conservatives are not prepared to lead Canada.

STEP THREE
If the motion is lost, Harper would then see Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who could refuse a request for a new election. We already had one a month ago and it would be a complete waste to have another so soon.

STEP FOUR
Michaëlle Jean would then have to decide whether a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition, could form a workable government for a reasonable time. If the three parties can get their act in gear between now and December 8th it could just happen.

STEP FOUR
The three parties would then have to choose a leader. Stephane Dion has already agreed to step down as Liberal leader, so Bob Rae might become leader. Its also possible Jack Layton might challenge Bob Rae to a leadership race. Bob Rae is considered the leading contender, since he used to be the NDP Premier of Ontario during a tough recession and that experience would certainly help him.

Harper tries to delay Coalition Government

Standoff could lead to Accord government

Uniting the Canadian Left

Open Letter to the Opposition Leaders

Last Gunmen Dead in Mumbai

POLITICS - The 60-hour terror rampage that killed at least 195 people in India's financial capital of Mumbai ended today when commandos killed the last three gunmen inside luxury Oberoi hotel while it was engulfed in flames. 295+ people were wounded in the violence that started when heavily armed militants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning. At least 20 soldiers and police were among the dead.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege there in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish centre and found at least eight hostages dead. The militants killed 18 foreigners including six Americans and two Canadians. The dead also included Germans, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.

THE MILITANTS

A group called Deccan Mujahideen, which alludes to a region in southern India traditionally ruled by Muslim kings, claimed responsibility for the attack. Indian forces captured one of the gunmen, a Pakistani national called Mohammad Ajmal Qasam.

The attackers were well-prepared, carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.

The gunmen had sophisticated equipment and used "GPS, mobile and satellite phones to communicate." Some of the evidence suggests the terrorists were working in cooperation with terrorists across the border in Pakistan. The Pakistani government has promised aid in trying to track down the terrorists.

THE COMMANDOS

Adoring crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven Indian commandos, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. The commandos, dressed in black fatigues, said they had been ordered not to talk about the operation, but said they had not slept since the ordeal began. One Indian soldier sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose someone had given him.

In the southern city of Bangalore, black clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

In the United States, President Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. "These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India's great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them," he said in a statement.

Harper tries to delay Coalition Government

CANADA - The minority Conservatives in bed with the NDP? Not a chance. The Liberals won't make a deal either. Indeed Harper's minority government doesn't have any allies. Even the BQ hates him.

His days are numbered and he knows it. Stephen Harper is scrambling to try and stay in power as the Liberals, NDP and Bloc acknowledged yesterday they are seeking to form a Coalition Accord government that will help the Canadian economy in comparison to Harper's "do-nothing" approach.

Harper has delayed a non-confidence vote until December 8th, but it only gives the opposition more time to decide on their leadership and the primary goals of their combined parties. At present all of the opposition parties oppose Harper's economic update and budgetary changes which would do nothing to stimulate the economy but would only cutback on government spending.

Harper has called the Coalition Accord government "undemocratic", but this is not only wrong it is misleading. Having a coalition government is actually MORE democratic because it represents more votes from Canadians. Harper's Conservative government received only 37% of the popular vote. That means 63% voted against him.

The Liberals/Greens/NDP together (which really should unite into one party) got 51.2% of the popular vote. The BQ got 10%. Approx. 2% voted independent.

What is NOT democratic is electing a leader like Stephen Harper who bullies his way into parliament, tries to force through legislation 63% of Canadians disagree with and then has the balls to turn around and claim he's behaving in the interest of the majority of Canadians.

Plus voter turnout was only 59.1%!!! That means the percentage of Canadian voters who voted for him was technically only 21.8%. 37.2% voted against Stephen Harper and 40.9% DID NOT EVEN VOTE!

That doesn't at all spell confidence in Stephen Harper's government. In fact it says the opposite. It says roughly four out of five Canadians don't like Stephen Harper.

SPECIAL NOTE: We sent an Open Letter to Stephane Dion, Gilles Duceppe, Elizabeth May and Jack Layton back on October 5th advising them to form a coalition government. We even CC'd it to The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Evidently the leaders either read our idea and liked it, or they were thinking the same thing already.

November 28, 2008

The Poor Reputation of the Car

CARS - Say what you will about cars, they are certainly one of mankind's greatest inventions to date. As modes of transportation go the classic Car not only gets people from A to B in good time, it does it relative comfort, style, safety and security.

Sure, people have accidents and get killed regularly. Car accidents (and accidents in general) are a way of life. Every mode of transportation, horses, bicycles, trains, subways, planes, zeppelins, hot air balloons, ships has a degree of danger involved in it. True, not many people die in hot air balloon accidents per year, but that's only because not many people ride in them in the first place.

So why does the car have a poor reputation. Its not the safety standards, I assure you, although the safety standards for SUVs and trucks could be much better (they're almost non-existent).

No, the reason for the car's low reputation is its choice of fuel: gasoline, petrol or diesel. It can be rather expensive at times, to say nothing of pollution. The rise in oil prices over the past 8 years has been dramatic.
"America is addicted to oil." - George W. Bush, 2006.
When Bush took power in 2001 the average price of oil that year was $22 US/barrel. Since then the price of oil has seen a record high of $147.27 US on July 11th 2008. The current price is hovering around $55/barrel.

Oil and gasoline is so expensive now that its CHEAPER to run your car on hydrogen. See our previous article on the cost of leasing a hydrogen car for more info on this topic. Hydrogen cars won't be mainstream for years to come however, despite efforts by General Motors, Honda and others. The added benefit is that hydrogen is also clean burning and doesn't hurt the environment.

So the car could certainly have a face lift and fix its reputation. And frankly I don't think it has much choice these days. The American automotive industry is hurting so much now from competing with cheaper more fuel efficient cars that switching to hydrogen isn't just a matter of time. Its becoming a matter of survival.

Standoff could lead to Accord government

CANADA - While financial markets in India have jumped after the news a terrorist standoff has ended, meanwhile in Canada a new standoff is building.

The political standoff could spark an election has erupted as opposition politicians have rejected a Conservative fiscal package that delays help for the struggling economy, a ban on strikes by federal government workers for two years and proposes to eliminate funding for political parties, which would give the Conservatives an unfair advantage due to all the funding they get from the Alberta oil industry.

The move to kill funding of political parties is a marked change in tone from Harper who had pledged the day after the Oct. 14 election "to try and find some common ground to move the Parliament forward productively." Evidently he's decided to try and bully the opposition parties again by threatening another election.

The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Québécois united in calling the Conservative plan "mean-spirited" and are now discussing forming a coalition or Accord government. Unless a compromise with the Conservatives is reached the minority Conservatives could be toppled in a confidence vote on Monday night, opening the way to a change of government or a snap election, less than two months after the Oct. 14 vote.

In October Stephen Harper wasted $300 million on an election just so the Conservatives could get a slightly bigger caucus.

The defeat of the Conservative government wouldn't automatically mean another election however. If the three opposition parties form an accord or coalition they could replace the Conservatives in power.

In the 308-seat Commons, the Conservatives hold 143 seats, while the Liberals have 77, the Bloc Québécois 49 and the NDP, 37. There are two independent MPs.

The lack of economic movement on behalf of the Conservatives worries many Canadians who are upset about the American recession and its effect on the looming recession here in Canada. During tough economic times Canadians need leaders that ACT and right now Stephen Harper is following a laissez-faire do-nothing approach.

If it does come to an election the Liberals haven't even decided on who their new leader is. Bob Rae or Ignatieff.

NOTE: We personally would like to see an Accord government, which might be the first step towards uniting the Canadian left.

November 26, 2008

Gunmen in Mumbai kill at least 100

POLITICS - Heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, hospitals, a popular restaurant and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India’s financial capital today, killing at least 100 people (including at least 11 Indian police officers) and taking Westerners hostage. A group of militants called "Deccan Mujahideen" claimed responsibility.

An explosion at the landmark Taj motel started the chaos. Screams could be heard and enormous clouds of black smoke rose from the at the century-old edifice on Mumbai’s waterfront. Militants also targeted the hotel Oberoi. Fires burned and gunfire was heard for hours and Mumbai police/health officials say at least 300 people were wounded in the shootings.

The militants are now holding Westerners as hostages in both hotels. They kept shouting: `Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?’” said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who managed to flee the one hotel. The militants specifically targeted Britons and Americans to take as hostages.

Authorities believe between 7 to 15 foreigners are being held hostage at the Taj hotel, but its currently unknown how many hostages are being held in the hotel Oberoi.

Mumbai’s Cama Hospital, Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital ,were also attacked but its unknown how many people have been killed, injured or held hostage. Officials at Bombay Hospital said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans were admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshot wounds. All were brought from the Taj hotel.

Militants also attacked the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal. Several militants are still holed up at the station and its believed they also have hostages.

Other gunmen attacked Leopold’s restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers. The militants in the restaurant have approx. 30 hostages.

According to witnesses the terrorists let non-Brits/Americans go. “They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ’Where are you from?” and he said he’s from Italy and they said ’fine’ and they left him alone. And I thought: ’Fine, they’re going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn’t,” said one British witness who managed to escape.

Five of the militants had been killed in two of the attacks when they tried to flee in cars and nine more were captured.

The motive for the attacks is not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks by extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2007 that killed 187 people. Deccan Mujahideen, a previously unheard of terrorist group, claimed responsibility but authorities have not released any information as to the motives of the attacks.

India has been wracked by a variety of bomb attacks over the past three years which have killed nearly 700 people, which police blame on extremists intent on destabilizing India's government.

Since May 2008 a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when a series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Mumbai has been hit repeatedly by terror attacks since March 1993, when Pakistani militants carried out a series of bombings on Mumbai’s stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations. The attacks killed 257 people and wounded more than 1,100, were to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims killed in religious riots that had swept India.

Ten years later, in 2003, 52 people were killed in Mumbai bombings blamed on Muslim militants and in July 2007 a series of seven blasts on railway trains and at commuter rail stations killed at least 187.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 per cent of India’s 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 per cent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

A Brief History of Violence in Mumbai

Nov. 26, 2008: Series of shooting and grenade attacks, including two on luxury hotels, kill at least 78 people and wound 200 in Mumbai, India's main commercial city.

Sept. 13, 2008: At least five explosions in crowded shopping areas kill 21 and wound 100 in New Delhi, national capital.

July 26, 2008: Some 16 small bombs explode in Ahmedabad, killing 45.

July 25, 2008: Seven small bombs kill two in Bangalore, hub of India's technology industry.

May 13, 2008: Seven bombs hit crowded markets and streets outside Hindu temples in Jaipur, killing 80.

Nov. 24, 2007: Nearly simultaneous explosions rip courthouse complexes in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad, killing 16.

Aug. 25, 2007: 43 people killed by three explosions at park and street-side food stall in Hyderabad.

May 18, 2007: Bomb during Friday prayers at historic mosque in Hyderabad kills 11 worshippers. Police later fatally shoot five people during clashes with Muslims protesting attack.

Feb. 19, 2007: Train heading from India to Pakistan torn apart by two bombs, sparking fire that kills 68.

July 11, 2006: Seven blasts rip through rail stations and commuter trains in Mumbai, killing 187.

March 7, 2006: Three explosions rock Hindu temple and train station in Hindu holy city of Varanasi, killing 20.

Oct. 29, 2005: 62 killed by three blasts at markets in New Delhi ahead of Hindu holiday of Diwali.

Telemarketers not taking the hint.

CANADA - Don't say we didn't warn you.

Today I received an automated call saying I had won a trip to Cancun Mexico.

I hung up and put my cellphone away.

Not that I don't want to go to Mexico. I'd love too, but its just a telemarketing scam.

The stupid thing is my cellphone is registered on Canada's Do Not Call List but apparently the telemarketers either don't care, or they're DELIBERATELY calling just because I am on the list. Either way I ended up filling out a complaint against what I referred to as the "Cancun Mexico Scam".

I encourage other Canadians that if you get a telemarketing call visit the DNC website and leave a complaint. Every complaint is worth a fine of up to $15,000.

See also: Boycotting Yak Canada

November 25, 2008

10 Tonne Meteor hits Western Canada

CANADA - The meteor that lit up the skies across Alberta and Saskatchewan last week was a monster — according to scientists — with a mass of 10 tonnes and packing a punch equivalent to 300 tonnes of TNT.

And because it was so big, the burning rock may have scattered football-sized chunks of itself across 24 square kilometers near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, says researchers at the University of Calgary.

Thousands of people observed last Thursday's meteor, and in some cases obtained video recordings of it, more details are emerging every day about its trajectory and where pieces of it might have landed. Researchers are continuing to pinpoint the area where meteorite pieces are most likely to have fallen.

It first appeared about 80 kilometers above and just east of the city of Lloydminster Canada. From there, it traveled south-southeast toward the Battle River Valley before "fragmenting spectacularly" in a series of explosions, just after 6:26 p.m. CT, University of Calgary researchers said.

U of C researcher Alan Hildebrand estimates that hundreds of meteorites larger than 50 grams could have landed since the rock was large and was moving relatively slowly — roughly 14 kilometers per second when it entered the atmosphere, compared to a more typical meteor speed of 20 kilometers per second.

The meteor came down at a steep angle — about 60 degrees from the horizontal — and flared up for about five seconds.

Time is of the essence because snow and other elements could bury or contaminate the pieces. Meteorites are often black, heavier than normal rocks and magnetic and often contain platinum or other valuable metals.

Under Canadian law, meteorites belong to the owner of the property they land on.

The current/future costs of owning a Hydrogen Car

CARS - Hydrogen cars are not mainstream vehicles yet, but they are being leased by a number of companies, such as Honda, and their fuel costs are lower than most people think.

During the last 2 years Honda has been leasing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Most people think that they are incredibly expensive to buy. They are but only because these are prototypes. The truth is that they are not as expensive to run as most people think, and those costs are sure to drop quickly.

Electricity is technically the cheapest way to run a vehicle, but not very efficient or useful for long distance travel. Electric cars are best for people who travel less than 40 miles/day.

Hydrogen cars on the other hand have better driving range/speed than even gasoline cars. They are expensive right now because they're not mass produced but they are really cheap to fuel.

The Honda FCX Clarity, which is being leased for $600 US per month is remarkably similar to their next most environmentally friendly alternative, the Honda Civic Hybrid (fully loaded) will costs $551/month to lease.

To lease FCX Clarity will cost about $26,990 for three years, whereas the Honda Civic (which gets 40 MPG) will cost $21,979.

The difference however is that hydrogen is much cheaper than gasoline. They end up balancing out roughly over a three year period. If gasoline prices continue to stay up hydrogen becomes a no-brainer for anyone looking to lease. And it will just be a matter of time before Honda hydrogen cars goes into mass production.

You can currently find Hydrogen pumps in Washington DC and more cities are expected to have hydrogen pumps in the future.

Canada may lose 15,000 auto jobs

CANADA - An economist with the Conference Board of Canada believes the Canadian auto industry will lose a staggering 15,000 jobs by the end of 2009 as a "maelstrom" of change sweeps through the sector.

The latest projection from the non-profit research organization predicts Canada's automakers will lose $1.7 billion this year as new vehicle production declines by 15.3 per cent. The report said the automakers are caught in a "maelstrom of cyclical and structural industry changes" and it's a trend unlikely to improve until 2010.

Conference Board economist Sabrina Browarski said the drop is attributable primarily to reduced demand for new vehicles in the United States where production is expected to reach an eight-year low in 2009, adding up to another $1 billion in losses.

Browarski said the total damage will likely come to 15,000 lost jobs in the vehicle assembly sector alone, with even more expected at auto parts manufacturers and other spinoff industries. While the struggling industry is experiencing structural shifts, most of the negative trend in sales can be attributed to a cyclical slump in demand due to the American recession.

GM reported a $2.5-billion (U.S.) loss in the third quarter and Ford Motor Co. said it lost $129 million in the same period. Both GM and Ford have announced plans to lay off thousands of workers as they try to cope with plunging sales.

See Past Posts:

Volvo Cuts 1000 Jobs

Ford, General Motors & Chrysler running out of time

General Motors says its may go bankrupt

US Treasury rejects GM/Chrysler Merger Aid

November 24, 2008

China upset about Guns N' Roses album

ENTERTAINMENT - A newspaper published by China's ruling Communist Party is calling the latest Guns N' Roses album as an attack on the nation.

Delayed since recording began in 1994, the album Chinese Democracy hit stores in the United States on Sunday, although it is unlikely to be sold legally in China, where censors maintain tight control over films, music and publications.

In an article today headlined "American band releases album venomously attacking China," the Global Times said unidentified Chinese Internet users had described the album as part of a plot to "grasp and control the world using democracy as a pawn."

The song could be heard online today and it was not immediately possible to tell whether China's Internet monitors were seeking to block access to it. Monitors use content filters that highlight and sometimes block messages containing words such as the word "democracy". Some Internet users are combining English and Chinese characters in their postings about the album to skirt such monitoring.

US Cash to rescue Citigroup = BAD IDEA

UNITED STATES - While we should all be in favour of the United States helping out the automotive industry to change its direction and shift to hybrid cars/hydrogen cars... bailing out the Citigroup, on a very basic level, is nothing more than a scam.

The Bush Administration decided today to give Citigroup an additional $20 billion to bolster its failing sales. Regulators hope the dramatic action will bolster badly shaken confidence in the once mighty banking giant as well as the U.S. financial system.

The $20 billion cash injection by the Treasury Department will come from the $700 billion financial bailout package. The capital infusion follows an earlier one – of $25 billion – in Citigroup in which the government also received an ownership stake. Citigroup stocks however have plunged in value 60% in the last week alone.

Citigroup and its umbrella network of banks like Citibank and other organizations operate on a basis similar to a pyramid scheme. That is putting it lightly. Citigroup IS a pyramid scheme, but on a massive scale. The company should best be described as leech. It sucks money off its clients and customers, pays their executives and managers extremely well and operates on a high-pressure sales pitch. In other words they're all fluff and no substance.

We recommend people boycott anything remotely connected with Citigroup. We don't trust them. And we're not alone either. If you do a Google search for the words Citigroup and scam and you find 471,000 sites and a variety of fraud charges.

You'd think the USA would think twice about giving $20 billion to a company with a history of corporate crime.

Lawren Harris painting sells for $2,072,500

ART HISTORY - An Arctic painting of Nerke, Greenland by Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris sold today for $2,072,500.

The Canadian Art piece was originally estimated at only $300,000.

The Sotheby's sale also included works by Emily Carr, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Tom Thomson and Alex Colville.

Art market sales were down earlier this month in the United States and London were hurt by sagging demand for high-end pieces, but Canadian art sales have been doing surprisingly well despite the current economic recession.

China donates marble lions to Toronto's Chinatown

CANADA - The government of China donated a pair of marble lions to Toronto's Chinatown East that will become part of a traditional Chinese gateway at the corner of Gerrard St. and Broadview Ave.

The Zhong Hua Men gate will be 13 meters tall and is due to be completed Spring 2009.

The lions were installed this morning in a special ceremony with representatives from the Chinese consulate.

Robbers try to steal Jackson Pollock painting

CANADA - Two nights ago someone tried to break into Gallery Delisle on Toronto's Queen Street E. and steal an abstract expressionist piece by Jackson Pollock. The owner is trying to sell it for $50 million and has received offers of $9 million, but is holding out for the larger sale price.

Instead the would be thieves tripped an alarm and ran out of there before police or witnesses could arrive on the scene. According to witnesses voices were heard, but no one actually saw the thieves who tripped the infra-red sensors.

The gallery and the painting's owner have decided to put the Jackson Pollock painting in hiding for now.

November 21, 2008

Markets soar as Clinton touted as Secretary of State

POLITICS - Markets in the USA and Canada were done today, but made a sudden rebound when it was leaked to NBC that Hillary Clinton would be the new Secretary of State in Barack Obama's inner cabinet. Hours later Clinton aides have confirmed Hillary Clinton has accepted the role previously held by Bush crony Condoleezza Rice.

No formal announcement has been made, but the news was greeted on Wall Street and the Toronto Stock Exchange with excitement and a sudden burst in confidence.

President Obama is also rumoured to be considering Timothy Geithner to be Secretary of the Treasury, also good news for the credit strapped financial industry.

Bill Richardson, an energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton, is also being touted for Secretary of Commerce.

This comes as General Motors warns of bankruptcy and the United States continues to feel the pinch of the current recession, stating that 266,000 people could lose their jobs if GM can't get its finances in order. Investors and car manufacturers can scarcely wait for Obama's new administration to get in power and start making some major changes.

Our advice? Don't hold your breath. Its still another 60 days away.

November 20, 2008

China buys more US debt, passes Japan

POLITICS - While the USA is rocked by the biggest financial credit crisis since the Great Depression George W. Bush has decided to throw money at the problem in the form of a $700 billion bailout.

That money of course will raise the US National Debt over the $10 trillion mark, but where does that money come from?

Normally Japan pays for a chunk of it, but this time China is footing the bill. Every American should go outside, find the first Chinese person they can and hug them. Or should they?

As of September China passed Japan to become the U.S. government's largest foreign creditor, the Treasury Department announced yesterday. Beijing's economic influence over the American economy has now reached titanic proportions.

China's new status -- it now owns over $2 out of every $10 in U.S. public debt -- means Washington will be increasingly forced to rely largely on Beijing as it seeks to raise money to cover the cost of the $700 billion bailout.

The growing dependence on Chinese cash is granting Beijing extraordinary sway over the U.S. economy. Analysts say a decision by China to move out of U.S. government bonds, for economic or political reasons, could lead a herd of other investors to follow suit. That would drive up the cost of U.S. borrowing, jeopardizing Washington's ability to fund, among other things, a stimulus package to jump-start the economy. If China were to stop buying or, worse, start selling U.S. debt, it would also quickly raise interest rates on a variety of loans in the United States, analysts say.

Worse, the more China invests in U.S. debt, the harder it becomes for U.S. companies to sell their products overseas. That's because China's purchase of U.S. bonds makes the dollar stronger, particularly against the Chinese yuan, which has been kept artificially weak to boost Chinese exports. The relatively weak yuan remains one of the biggest obstacles to U.S. companies tapping the market in China, particularly lucrative now as Beijing embarks on $586 billion in infrastructure and other stimulus spending to keep its economy humming amid the global crisis.

In the United States, Chinese influence is reflected in terms as basic as home mortgage rates. Since the U.S. government seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September, China, which maintains the world's largest cash reserves of roughly $1.9 trillion, has shed about $50 billion in the companies' debt and mortgage bonds. With China shying away from buying more, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have had to pay more interest to borrow and have gotten less for mortgage bonds, pushing up interest rates for people seeking home loans just as the U.S. government is trying to bring them down.

In good times, U.S. companies tapped China as a bargain-basement manufacturing hub, helping lift hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty. But China's torrid growth has also caused severe environmental damage from a rapid rise in pollution and industrial waste, even as it improved American lifestyles by putting cheaper televisions and microwave ovens within easier reach for consumers. In recent years, Chinese cash also became part of a massive surge in foreign capital to the United States that brought down interest rates and eased the credit terms that American financial institutions charged.

Now, in bad times, China is effectively co-financing the $1 trillion annual U.S. budget deficit and massive government bailout of the financial system. It is doing so in part with money earned from exports to the United States, which last year imported five times as much as it exported to China. Asian imports in general are hurting the US economy's ability to compete.

China's investment in U.S. Treasury bonds surged to $585 billion in September, pulling ahead of Japan's $573.2 billion worth. Overall, China's holdings may be $800 billion or more because they also purchase U.S. debt through third countries, and thus are not immediately recorded by the Treasury as being held by China, analysts say.

In contrast to Japan, one of the United States' closest allies, China is seen as less benevolent to U.S. interests.

Many economists are concerned about U.S. reliance on China for funding. By buying Treasury bonds, which are denominated in dollars, China is able to keep the dollar strong compared with the yuan. As a result, Chinese exports are cheaper relative to U.S. exports, and ends up hurting America's manufacturing industry.

That is a friction point at a time when the United States needs manufacturing companies to be competitive in the global marketplace to combat the economic downturn. U.S. labor unions are already pushing the incoming Obama administration to urge the Chinese to take steps to strengthen the yuan, which could involve a broad sell-off by China of U.S. Treasury bonds.

But as we've explained farther above that in turn would hurt America's mortgage and banking industries, so either way America is screwed.

November 19, 2008

China Vs America: Comparing Size

"Is China really the world's biggest economy? I thought the USA was bigger."

Only if you fall into the false assumption that a bigger GDP represents a bigger economy. For the sake of American pride in the size of their, ahem, economy, lets take a look at how we measure economics, with respect to China Vs the Unites States.

1. The GDP is based in American dollars, and does not accurately portray the true strength of the Chinese economy due to the artificial weakness of the Chinese Yuan.

The Chinese Yuan is pegged to the US dollar and artificially deflated in order to keep their prices low when sending manufactured goods to the USA, Europe, etc. Right now $1 US = 6.83 Yuan, but if it wasn't pegged it would be worth a lot more. Therefore China's GDP would be worth a lot more too.

You can't trust anything measured using the US dollar because its value is inflated due to its use as a reserve currency. Banks these days are switching to the Euro as their reserve currency and you will note the US dollar lost 17% of its value in 2007. It will be interesting to see how bad its fared in 2008. The value drop however only helps China's exports, while effectively maintaining its GDP value.

2. Bigger can also mean more influential in terms of exports. China trades more than the USA does (even when measured in US dollars). Compare a list of countries by their export values and Germany is at the top of the list, followed by China, the USA and then Japan.

3. Lastly the American economy is largely based on speculation, booms and busts. Considering the current market conditions I shall use a real estate metaphor:

Imagine a house worth $250,000, but due to multiple people having too much credit and wanting to buy the house they end up bidding on the house and boosting the sale price to $375,000 instead (50% above its actual value). The couple that wins the house settles in and starts mortgage payments, but 1 year into their payments the housing market collapses and the value of their house plummets to $125,000. At this point the couple realizes they're paying 3 times the real value of the house and decide to default on their mortgage. The bank ends up owning a property that when sold will garner them a net loss of $250,000.

Do this same or similar scenario a couple million times and you get the current credit crisis the United States is in. The problem is market speculation drives up prices of houses, oil, gold, grain, etc., but when those prices collapse it creates market instability. It would be safe to say that sizable percentage of the US economy is based on nothing more than speculation and false credit.

4. A strong manufacturing base is a clearer indicator of economic strength. If you take the population of Chinese workers in factories and compare that to the United States there's no competition, China is clearly the bigger manufacturer. China may sell their products for less, but thats not a bad thing because it serves to boost their exports.

Conclusions: The USA is still very much an important player in the world economy, but are they really the biggest? Depends how you measure size. The American dollar and indeed the American economy is based on speculation so any measurement would be wholly inaccurate. China's population, exports and industrial growth are clearer indicators of an economy in the lead.

November 16, 2008

Oil prices crashing

OIL PRICES - The price of oil dropped to $57.04 on Friday and analysts (people who claim to be experts on rising/dropping prices) claim that oil prices may go as low as $10 US/barrel, mostly due to the rising recession in the United States.

OPEC and Iran are threatening to cut production, but it will be a minor cut and hardly worth mentioning.

The reality is that the oil prices were only over a hundred dollars/barrel due to speculators driving the price up far more than its really worth. Now with the recession the oil speculators are feeling the pinch and have withdrawn, the same speculators are looking for greener pastures to bid on.

The same thing happened to gold prices last year when they skyrocketed due to speculation and then fell when speculators moved to a commodity that was more stable.

So now the question is what commodity will speculators bid on in 2009?

November 13, 2008

United States jobless claims hit 25 year high

UNITED STATES - The American recession is hurting U.S. workers, and the number drawing jobless benefits hit a 25-year high this month.

The number of workers filing new claims for jobless benefits rose by an unexpected 32,000 last week to a total of 516,000, the highest since the weeks following the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States, the Labor Department said. The number of workers still on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid hit 3.9 million in the week to Nov. 1, the highest since January 1983.

The U.S. economy has been suffering from a housing market crash, a credit crisis and an automotive recession.

U.S. imports from China hit a record $33.1 billion in September, but imports from the European Union fell 3.8 percent and imports from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries slumped 27.1 percent as the cost of imported oil fell by a record $12.41 per barrel in September. Iran is currently threatening to cut oil exports.

U.S. exports also fell by a record $10.4 billion, with all major categories showing a decline. A sharp drop in exports of capital goods was led by civilian aircraft, after posting big numbers in the two prior months.

New Planets Found

TECHNOLOGY - Christian Marois, a young astrophysicist with Canada's National Research Council, was on a plane over the Pacific, poring over telescopic images of the star HR 8799 - an unremarkable pinprick in the Pegasus constellation - when he noticed two planets circling the star.

"It was the first image of another planet system orbiting another star," says Marois, who is just completing a post-doctoral stint at the council's Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria.

His find would later turn out to be three planets.

Circling HR 8799, 128 light years (128 X 9.46 trillion kilometres) from Earth, the planetary trio are between seven and 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

Some 50 per cent more massive and five times more luminous than our sun, HR 8799 is visible to the naked eye, if you just look towards Pegasus near its zenith in the northern latitudes.

Some 300 planets have been detected around distant stars over the past 10 years, but these orbiting bodies have been inferred, rather than photographed, largely by the "wobble" they create in their stars as they pull it gravitationally in different directions during their circling orbits. This is the first time planets have been photographed and proven to be there.

There has been "exoplanet" sightings reported in the literature - another is reported in this same Science edition - Marois says his images are the clearest and definitely the first to show a distant solar system.

"We had to look at a lot of stars in order to be able to see these," says Marois, whose planetary quest began eight years ago.

Because stars are often 25 times brighter than their planets -- which simply mirror the starlight - they typically drown out any of the planetary glow that might be glimpsed by earthbound lenses. Marois says 80 stars, painstakingly pared down from the billions available, were scrutinized before the HR 8799 planets appeared.

The HR 8799 solar system is only about 60 million years old, compared to the 4.6 billion years that our planetary neighbourhood has been around.

And the trio of planets are between 5.3 and 6.6 times hotter than Jupiter.

As important as meeting these stellar criteria, Marois needed a new way to observe the skies that would separate the brighness of the stars from the puny, planetary glow.

That problem was solved by a software program he himself developed as a PhD. candidate at the University of Montreal, which allowed planetary bodies to come out from their sun's bright shadow far more readily than ever before.

"The new observing strategy that I developed ...enabled us extract very well the light from the star by a factor of 10 to 100, so these were the deepest images ever obtained on any telescope," he says

Marois says these earthbound telescopes, with their 10 metre apertures, are actually better than the space based Hubble telescope at planet detection (for a variety of reasons). Indeed the Hubble already eyes HR 8799 in the 1990s and failed to reveal its planets.

As gas giants far more massive that our behemoth Jupiter, the planets have virtually no capacity to support life, but that doesn't mean we won't find a nice blue planet in the future capable of supporting life.

And if we ever develop the technology for really detailed photos, what else might we see on those planets or circling those planets? Evidently satellites would suggest a technologically advanced culture.

Someday, perhaps sooner than we think.

November 11, 2008

More greenhouses turn to coal for heat

ENVIRONMENT/CANADA - It will be a difficult winter for greenhouses. Growing vegetables in a glasshouse is much more expensive when the outdoor temperature slides below zero. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants need heat to thrive, and the cost of supplying that energy will impose a heavy toll this winter on Ontario's world-class greenhouse sector.

"Our fuel is up probably 40 per cent versus last year," says Rob Mastronardi, who for four years has operated Cedar Beach Acres in Kingsville, Ont. For him, growing greenhouse vegetables goes back four generations. It's in his blood.

But the high cost of fuel, combined with the impact a volatile Canadian dollar is having on exports, has his blood boiling. "It's just a hellish economy out there right now. We're suffering just like the auto sector is suffering, but we're not getting any attention at all," he says.

Not that it's a lightweight sector. The province's greenhouse industry is the largest in North America for vegetable production.

Including floriculture, it employs 17,300 full- and part-time workers across 1,200 operations. Sales in 2007 reached about $1.25 billion, with a 40-60 split between vegetables and flowers respectively, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

"The Ontario greenhouse sector is a major contributor to the provincial economy and is worthy of support and promotion," according to a 2006 economic impact study commissioned by the Ontario Greenhouse Alliance.

But that support is lacking, says Mastronardi, who is glum about his industry's prospects. "In these market conditions, our days are definitely numbered."

Left to their own devices, he says, many operators are being forced into survival mode. For some, that means burning the cheapest and dirtiest fuel available: Coal.

Mastronardi says his greenhouse uses about 110,000 gigajoules of heat energy a year. Based on mid-summer fuel prices, he figures he would save between $500,000 to $700,000 annually in energy costs by switching from natural gas to coal. He began burning coal earlier this year but has so far resisted making it his primary fuel.

No. 6 "Bunker C" oil, a heavier fuel oil that's often used instead of natural gas, is also falling out of favour. The price of crude oil has been highly volatile and, though it has fallen over the past four months, is still well above its 10-year average. The International Energy Agency predicted last week that oil prices will average more than hundred dollars/barrel between now and 2015.

"It's just outrageously priced," Mastronardi says. "I probably won't burn Bunker C at all this winter."

Again, that leaves coal.

Dozens of other greenhouse operators in Ontario – clustered around the flower-dominant Niagara region and vegetable-dominant Essex County – have switched or are considering a transition to coal as a way to save on fuel costs.

The impact so far appears small, but the trend is gaining momentum. As it does, it could undermine the environmental benefits of an Ontario government plan to wean the province off coal-fired power generation by 2014.

"Coal is expanding in the province, despite a policy to phase out coal," says Roger Samson, executive director of REAP-Canada, an independent group that encourages sustainable farming practices. "The Ontario government has no plan on how to mitigate this."

How much coal, potentially, are we talking about? The energy demands of a typical greenhouse are enormous. Shalin Khosla, a greenhouse specialist with the agriculture ministry, says anywhere between 35 per cent to 50 per cent of the costs of operating a modern vegetable greenhouse goes toward energy consumption. The figure is closer to 20 per cent for flower growers.

It's estimated that greenhouses in Ontario cover 2,823 acres, and that the average greenhouse requires 9,500 gigajoules of energy per acre every year. This works out to 26.8 million gigajoules annually.

Convert that energy into electricity potential and it works out to 7.44 terawatt-hours a year – more than three times the 2004 electricity output of the Lakeview coal-fired generating station in Mississauga (which has since been closed down and demolished).

That's equivalent to more than one million tonnes of coal being burned annually.

It's a mathematical exercise that raises a serious public policy question: What's preventing the entire greenhouse industry from moving to coal, and in doing so, undermining the spirit of the McGuinty government's coal phase-out strategy?

Not much, it appears. Unlike power plants and other major industrial facilities, greenhouses can burn whatever fuel they want without much scrutiny.

Cement plants and fossil-fuel power stations require a certificate of approval from the environment ministry to burn coal.

But that's not so for greenhouses.

"Greenhouses are exempt because they're considered to be agricultural operations," says John Steele, a spokesman for Ontario's Ministry of the Environment. "Under the EPA (Environmental Protection Act), those operations are exempt from the certificate of approval process."

And because they have an exemption, he adds, "we don't know what they're doing."

Keith Stewart, an energy expert with WWF-Canada and author of a book on Ontario's electricity system, calls the situation "perverse" and a reflection of inconsistent government policy.

"Outdated energy policy is giving us coal-fired tomatoes," he says.

The issue has also caused concern in British Columbia's Fraser Valley Regional District, which has a greenhouse industry ranked second in Canada behind Ontario.

Barry Penner, B.C.'s environment minister, acknowledged the problem in a March 27 letter to district chair Clint Hames. But Penner said a new carbon tax in the 2008 B.C. budget "will send a signal that less greenhouse-gas-intense fuels should be considered."

No such tax exists or has been proposed in Ontario. If it did exist, it might help Don Nott, a switchgrass grower in Clinton, about 100 kilometres west of Kitchener.

Nott decided a few years ago to start growing fast-growing switchgrass on 300 acres of land. He figured he could make a better business out of harvesting the grasses, grinding them up, and packing them into carbon-neutral "biopellets" – a renewable fuel. Burning such pellets for fuel wouldn't be penalized by a carbon tax.

Back in 2006 about 14,000 tonnes of the pellets were burned for fuel, much of it in greenhouses that were experimenting with alternatives. "We had 30 different individuals burning our product at one time, of various sizes from small up to 30 acres," says Nott.

But when oil and natural gas prices began to rise, the greenhouses couldn't afford to experiment any longer. "It's gone down to nothing. There's just one guy left who's willing to burn it. Most of those guys have switched over to burning coal."

With 400 tonnes of switchgrass sitting in storage waiting for a market, Nott has pretty much folded the business.

"When they said they were going to burn coal, I said I'm out."

Most greenhouse operators that have turned to or are considering burning more coal aren't proud of it. They know it pollutes more, but escalating costs have left those in the industry with few choices.

"In my eyes the government is moving at an absolute snail's pace regarding this energy crisis in our industry," Mastronardi says.

"If they want us to survive, we're going to need help."

Volvo Cuts 1000 Jobs

CARS - Swedish truck and bus maker Volvo AB Tuesday said it will lay off 1,000 staff at its powertrain unit in Sweden and the United States as the global financial crisis continues to weigh on the demand for heavy vehicles.

Volvo spokesman Marten Wikfors said the layoffs will affect 900 workers in the Swedish cities Skovde, Goteborg and Koping, as well as 100 staff in Hagerstown, Maryland.

He said a number of consultants in Sweden could also receive notices.

Volvo Powertrain makes engines, gear boxes and rear axles for trucks.

"When you see such an extreme slowdown in the financial markets our customers get insecure and stop buying trucks. Of course that also affects Volvo Powertrain since they make the engines for those trucks," Wikfors said. "There is still a lot of uncertainty in the market and we see no light at the end of the tunnel.''

Sweden's large motor industry has been hit hard by the automotive recession and in October the government was forced to set aside 1.5 billion kronor ($211 million) for extra unemployment support.

Volvo has previously announced layoffs of 2,000 workers at truck plants in Belgium and Sweden and 1,350 workers at its construction unit.

In October it reported a 37-per cent drop in third-quarter profits saying, the global financial crisis has sapped demand for heavy vehicles in Europe, North America and Japan.

Volvo has more than 100,000 employees worldwide, including its subsidiaries Renault Trucks, Mack Trucks and Nissan Diesel.

See Also:

Ford, General Motors & Chrysler running out of time

General Motors says its may go bankrupt

US Treasury rejects GM/Chrysler Merger Aid

European Union in Recession

New Egyptian Pyramid Found

Ancient Architecture - A 4,300-year-old pyramid has been unearthed in Saqqara, the sprawling necropolis and burial site of the rulers of ancient Memphis, Egypt's chief archaeologist announced today.

The pyramid is said to belong to Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Teti who ruled from 2323 to 2291 B.C. and was the founder of the 6th Dynasty of Egypt's Old Kingdom.

"The only queen whose pyramid is missing is Sesheshet, which is why I am sure it belonged to her," Hawass told Reuters. "This will enrich our knowledge about the Old Kingdom."

Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass made the announcement at the site in Saqqara, about 12 miles south of Cairo.

Hawass' team has been excavating the site for two years. He says the discovery was only made two months ago when it became clear that the 16-foot-tall structure uncovered from the sand was a pyramid.

"This may be the most complete subsidiary pyramid ever found at Saqqara," Hawass said.

Hawass says the new pyramid is the 118th discovered so far in Egypt.

November 10, 2008

Ford, General Motors & Chrysler running out of time

CARS - America's automotive industry is collapsing, but the end result is that it will probably just shrink and adapt.

Ford, General Motors & Chrysler are all seeking a government bailout, but frankly that would be rewarding them for bad behaviour. They were building SUVs during an oil shortage and American car buyers are now looking for small and fuel efficient cars... in other words Americans are buying more cars from Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and European cars too. Lets face it, American cars aren't known for being small or fuel efficient, thus they're just not selling.

Detroit's Big Three aren't even that big any more. Toyota passed Ford several years ago to be North America's 3rd biggest automaker (Toyota's factories in North America build more cars/trucks than Ford does). Toyota alone has 15 manufacturing plants and 32,000 people employed in the United States, Canada and Mexico, or a total of 175,000 jobs when dealers and suppliers are included.

Toyota you will notice is weathering the current economic climate just fine. They're not bogged down by unions and the public perception is that Toyota builds quality cars/trucks, and they're fuel efficient thanks to their variety of hybrid models including the Prius.

What is selling a lot right now is "eco-cars", but General Motors, Chrysler and Ford have failed to pick up the slack on that. Despite coming out with the Ford Escape Hybrid, the GM Volt and similar initiatives they are still producing a large number of regular cars, trucks and SUVs that are just not selling like they used to be.

What they need to do is to finally start mass production of hydrogen cars. General Motors has been working on designing hydrogen models for years now, but they've been dragging their feet on mass production. They are building them in small numbers and giving them to celebrities and politicians to try out...

But the distribution system for hydrogen isn't done yet... again because they've been dragging their feet on it.

If Detroit's Big Three wants to survive in the new "green" economy they need to get their act together or get left behind. Stop being wishy-washy and just start mass producing hydrogen cars already.

Other models aren't selling? Cancel production of them. Time to retool the plants and start building nothing else but hybrids and hydrogen cars.

It is that or bankruptcy. Now is the time for American innovation, not squeamishness.

Boycotting Yak Canada

CANADA - I am henceforth boycotting Yak Canada and encouraging other people to do the same.

A telemarketer from Yak Canada called me on my cellphone not 10 minutes ago and tried to sell me a home phone, thus pissing me off and wasting my cellphone minutes/money. I demanded to speak to her manager and she hung up on me.

Whats worse is my cellphone is registered on Canada's Do Not Call List, which means I ended up going to the DNC website to fill out a complaint form against Yak Canada for phoning me in the first place. (Complaints against telemarketers result in the telemarketer being fined for each complaint. If a registered household files a complaint, the maximum fine is $1,500 for individual telemarketers and $15,000 for companies.)

Canada DNC List has been up and working since September 30th, but quite a few Canadians have yet to register on it. More than 3.3 million telephone, cellular and fax numbers were registered on the do-not-call list in the first 20 days it was operational. The CRTC has projected that 60% of the 27 million residential telephone numbers in Canada would be registered on the list within the next two years.

BUT WHY WAIT? Why not register NOW?

If you haven't registered for the DNC list you should register right now. Don't wait for the telemarketers to piss you off and then register, do it now. They even have a toll-free number you can call to register or file a complaint: 1-866-580-3625

That way when they do call you can file a complaint and have them fined.

Revenge is sweet, but I'll be happier when telemarketers are put out of business.

See Also:

Dealing with Telemarketers

Telephone Marketing and SPAM

Advertising in America

Affordable Website Design & SEO

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