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September 30, 2009

Tsunami hits America Samoa

UNITED STATES - The America Samoa is a territory of the United States in the south west Pacific ocean, population 65,000.

A massive tsunami unleashed by a powerful 8.3 earthquake flattened Samoan villages and swept cars and people out to sea, killing at least 111 and leaving dozens missing today. The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are being found.

The tsunami's four big waves were approx. 6 meters high and also hit other Samoan islands in the region. Smaller tsunami waves were seen as far away as islands belonging to Japan. The tsunami waters reached approx. a mile inland on the island of Tutuila.

In the capitol of Pago Pago the streets and fields were filled with debris, overturned cars and several boats. Cleanup is expected to last for weeks.

President Obama has declared a major disaster for American Samoa and said relief effort is on the way. Obama said in a statement early today that he and his wife, Michelle "will keep those who have lost so much in our thoughts and prayers."

Joey Cummings of local radio station 93KHJ says that he and his co-workers watched from a balcony as a 15-foot tsunami wave struck and "the air was filled with screams."

He and his colleagues shouted for people to run uphill "but they just ran down the street away from the wave rather than make a sharp left and up the steep mountain just feet away."

In the aftermath there was a combination of searching for trapped/injured survivors and looting local stores. Bodies were stacked in the back of pickup trucks.

Three Australians and one Brit are among the death toll.

Canada's New Credit Card Regulations

CANADA - New rules for credit cards in Canada will come into force January 1st 2010 and September 1st 2010. The new rules are attempt to create more transparency for consumers and make it easier for consumers to pay back their debt.

Coming January 1st 2010

Credit card issuers will be required to provide a "summary box" on credit contracts and application forms that explains key features in plain English.

Credit card issuers will be required to inform consumers how long it will take to fully repay their balance if they only make a minimum payment every month.

Banks will be required to give consumers "advance disclosure of interest rate increases prior to their taking effect, even if this information had been included in the credit contract."

Banks must get express consent from cardholders for credit-limit increases.

Banks must limit certain debt collection practices.

A complete ban on 'over-the-limit fees' solely arising from holds placed by merchants.

Coming September 1st 2010

The new rules will give consumers a minimum 21-day interest-free grace period on all new purchases when they pay their outstanding balance in full by the due date.

British Citizen? Time to apply to MI6

POLITICS - Are you a British citizen? Have you always wanted to be a secret agent like James Bond?

Well MI6 (aka Britain's Secret Intelligence Service) is looking for new recruits and has even made a test on their website (see to see if you have the memory skills to be an agent.

All you have to do is memorize the following cover story:

"You're stationed in Transeuratania. You're a vegetarian and the food isn't especially good in Metropoligrad – unlike the coffee, which costs less than a Shilling for a pot at the best hotel. Your name is Stephanie Johnson. You were born on 14th December 1974 in Skegness. At A Level, you gained an A in Geography, an A in French and a B in Economics. You have two sisters and a brother. You studied Geology at university and now work as a Management Consultant for a company called British Coal Associates."

And then answer 8 multiple choice questions in less than 2 minutes.

Even if you're not a British citizen its still fun to take the test. (I scored 8 out of 8, but unfortunately I am Canadian not British.)

After the test, and assuming you score at least a 7 or 8, you're asked if you'd be interested in applying to become an agent overseas.

If only CSIS or the CIA offered similar tests for people interested in applying.

And even if you can't be a government spy fighting Communists or terrorists there is also corporate spies.

September 28, 2009

What if the Global AC breaks?

ENVIRONMENT - Ever had your air conditioner break on a hot day? Or the power go out and you can't run a fan? Maybe you can't even open a window, but the light keeps coming in. You get all hot and sticky very quickly don't you?

Now imagine that on a global scale.

Our planet has been warming up over the last hundred years due to greenhouse gases / global warming, but thankfully the arctic and antarctic ice caps have been offsetting that increase in temperature. Its the ice box in Earth's temperature equilibrium.

Think of the ice caps as a giant air conditioning system for the whole planet, keeping us cool. If those ice caps melt completely (causing coastal flooding and rising sea levels) we will no longer have a proverbial air conditioner keeping the Earth a relatively temperate climate.

Indeed, we would see our planet go from a temperate climate to a very hot arid / humid climate in a very short period of time and it would just keep getting worse because of the build up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Over the last 100 years the global average temperature has gone up 0.8 degrees Celsius, slowed down thanks to melting ice caps. Even if we stopped producing greenhouse gases instantly scientists have determined the average temperature will still go up another 1.4 degrees Celsius by 2040. If we continue to produce greenhouse gases at an alarming rate that temperature increase will be even more dramatic.

But here's the lynch pin... when the polar ice caps melt there won't be an air conditioner any more offsetting the temperature increases elsewhere. When the ice melts it will be gone and we will see a dramatic shift towards very hot, humid weather, lots of hurricanes, extreme thunderstorms and weather so unpredictable it will make the poor weatherman's head spin.

To say nothing of the damage it will do to the farming and agricultural industries, the tourism industry, and the safety of the human race / other species suffering from climate change.

September 23, 2009

HST is not a tax increase, just a replacement

CANADA - Hello fellow Ontarians.

If you live in Ontario you may have recently received emails asking you to sign an online petition against the Harmonized Sales Tax that is due to come into effect on July 1st 2010.

I am going to point out that the HST is just an amalgamation of the 5% GST and the 8% PST. Its not a new tax. Its just a replacement of two old taxes. Its not a new tax. Its not even an increase. Its just a renaming/amalgamation of the GST and PST.

Several other provinces in Canada already have HST including New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia. British Columbia is also switching to HST in July 2010. Doubtlessly other provinces will eventually follow.

There is actually some benefits of switching to HST too. Ontario will be able to decide what things are EXEMPT from tax instead of the federal government. There is a long list of things in Ontario exempt from PST but not from GST. There are some luxury items that may see a slight increase, but overall its nothing to be worried about.

More good news is beer and liquor taxes will come down 2% in restaurants and 4% in LCBOs. There are other examples too, too many to list them all.

Its unfortunate sometimes that some politicians sometimes get a bad reputation for "taxing the people" when in reality they haven't actually increased any taxes, just rearranged it a bit.

Take Barack Obama for example. In order to pave the way for universal health care in the United States he has cut the amount Americans who make over $250,000 / year get back when making charitable donations. It used to be if a wealthy American gave $ to charity they could claim it on their income taxes and they would get 35% back from the government. Barack Obama has since cut that amount to 28%.

So its not like Obama raised taxes or anything. All he did was shave 7% off the refund, and apparently that was a substantial amount enough to pay for universal free health care in the United States.

And yet you should see the lineup of people criticizing Obama for "increasing taxes", bringing about "socialized health care" and calling him a Communist for wanting to finally make the United States join the rest of the free world that already has free health care. Prior to this change the USA was the only western country that didn't have free health care.

Sometimes people need to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, even though they are generally an untrustworthy breed.

September 21, 2009

Conservatives ignoring H1N1, spending 5 times more promoting economic plan

CANADA - The Conservative Party of Canada is ignoring the H1N1 threat (despite the coming flu season) and is instead spending FIVE times more money promoting Stephen Harper's "Economic Action Plan".

Worse, that is not Conservative Party money they are spending, that is TAXPAYER'S money. $34 million dollars worth.

H1N1 is only getting $6.5 million in promotional advertising, warning people to wash their hands, their faces, avoid sneezing in public, be careful shaking hands and wiping your face, etc.

Who is going to benefit from ads promoting Canada's "Economic Action Plan"? Nobody. It isn't going to create jobs. It just basically promotes the current minority government.

Meanwhile the ad campaign to raise awareness about H1N1 and the approaching the flu season is sorely lacking. True, the virus isn't as deadly as people once thought, but in a worse case scenario we could see thousands of Canadians die from a epidemic.

In Canada, the United States and Mexico there has been 886 deaths so far... and its not even flu season yet, the time of year when people are most vulnerable.

Actually we're not doing too bad... in comparison South America has seen 1965 deaths from H1N1, including 285 deaths in the last 7 days. The reason? Public awareness in South America is less. People aren't washing their hands enough.

Remember SARS when it struck Toronto back in 2003? It killed 43 people in Toronto. That was nothing in comparison to what H1N1 is supposed to do, especially since its spread so rapidly. H1N1 is less deadly than SARS, but its more contagious and has spread all over the globe already. As of today 4041 people have been confirmed to have died from H1N1, including 448 during the last week.

So... ask yourself, what would cause more economic chaos? A percentage of the population, especially children, dying from H1N1? Or the Conservatives pre-election jitters causing them to spend so much on advertising promoting their own government?

Talk about raping and ignoring taxpayers.

September 16, 2009

Season 9 of Smallville starts September 25th

ENTERTAINMENT - Ever heard of the Red-Blue Blur?

Well he's back. Smallville, the ever-popular TV series depicting the transformation of a young Clark Kent into the Superman we all know and love, is back for its ninth season. Thats right, 9 seasons. The new season premiers Friday September 25th.

And in this new season he's finally donning the famous S on his chest.

In previous seasons Clark Kent has gone through various stages, eventually embracing his Kryptonian heritage, creating the Fortress of Solitude, developing his powers, learning how to fly, hooking up with the characters that will form the future Justice League... and now he's very close to finally donning those blue and red tights.

But first he seems to be going through a gothic stage as Clark Kent is dressing in all black (a la Neo from The Matrix) and skulking about Metropolis like Batman... which is the one hero Clark has yet to bump into. He's already met the Supergirl, Flash, Green Arrow, the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and others.

Zod also makes a lengthy appearance in season 9 and the actor who portrays him (Callum Blue) is already signed up for season 10.

Lastly Darkseid will be appearing in season 9 also. In 2009 Darkseid was also ranked as IGN's 6th Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time. Darkseid has the ability to disintegrate objects with his eyes using something called "the Omega Effect" which causes matter to cease to exist... thus even Superman is vulnerable to him.

The beauty of the Smallville TV series is that its cinematography is breathtaking, the graphics are spectacular, the characters well thought out, the acting top-notch and it makes you feel like you're watching a movie instead of a TV show. Its no wonder the series is entering its 9th season and why they're already planning season 10.

Should Canada create a Firearms Taskforce?

CANADA - The Canadian-American border isn't very secure and every year thousands of handguns are snuck into Canada, traded for marijuana and then the smugglers take the drugs back to the United States to be sold for a sizable profit.

On the American side of the border they have the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracking the smugglers and trying to catch them in the act.

But on the Canadian side of the border the RCMP are spread too thin and don't have enough manpower to truly crackdown on gun/pot smugglers.

I think Canada should make an Firearms Enforcement Agency (or Firearms Taskforce) that specifically targets the smuggling and sale of guns across the Canadian border. Cut back on all the handguns sneaking into Canada and we will see a lot less school shootings and gun crime.

It is not that the RCMP isn't concerned about gun trafficking, its simply a problem that they are short staffed and don't have enough officers to be doing a proper job of it.

In theory they should be operating sting operations and have undercover officers to buy handguns (ie. pretending to be trading marijuana for guns). Less illegal handguns on the streets, more people who can sleep safely at night.

The FEA should also be offering rewards for information leading to the arrest of gun smugglers. People aren't always willing to risk their necks to do a good deed when there is nothing in it for them. On the other hand people short on cash and desperate might be more likely to tell on their buddy the gun smuggler... they get the cash, stay out of trouble and the police get to make an arrest that will take dangerous guns and drugs off the street.

The proposed Firearms Enforcement Agency could also administer testing to make sure people who own guns legally aren't insane, review their criminal records to make sure dangerous ex-cons aren't purchasing firearms, etc.

The FEA would also be in charge of the national firearms registry, coordinate with federal, provincial and local police, share notes with the FBI and DEA in the United States, and unlike the RCMP the FEA would be able to hire more average people to help in their investigations (the RCMP has really high physical standards for becoming an officer).

The problem is that Canada's current government, Stephen Harper's minority Conservatives, claims to be tough on violent crime, but is soft on handguns. They haven't clued in that the two are connected. Gun crime is also connected to poverty, which during the current recession has seen a dramatic rise.

If the Conservatives were to create a Canadian Firearms Taskforce they might be able to prove they are really tough on crime. But will they? I doubt it. They get quite a few endorsements from the pro-gun lobby.

On the upside a firearms taskforce would create hundreds of new jobs in Canada. Which is something we need anyway during the recession and over the long term will be well worth it.

See Also:
Gun Control in Canada
Handguns in Canada
Poverty in Canada
Creating Jobs in Canada

Climate Change Quotes

"Soon will come a day when climate change escapes all control. We are on the verge of the irreversible. Faced with this emergency, the time is not for half measures. The time is for a revolution: a revolution of our awareness, a revolution of the economy, a revolution of political actions." - Jacques Chirac, former French President.

"The new report gives us a stark warning that the potential impact will be more dramatic, faster and more drastic in terms of consequences than previously thought. This will change in some parts of the world the fundamental way in which we live." - Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environmental programme (UNEP).

"This report is a comprehensive and accurate reflection of the current state of climate change science." - Sharon Hays, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, US.

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from
observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures,
widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level3."
- IPCC, Synthesis report

"If the last IPCC report was a wake-up call, this one is a screaming siren." - Stephanie Tunmore, Greenpeace International.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." - George Orwell.

For more information about climate change and how it will effect tourism, check out the following PDF:
The Climate Change Challenge: Implications for the Tourism Industry

September 15, 2009

The Changing Face of American Capitalism

By Ai Lung Nguyen - September 2009.

ENTERTAINMENT/POLITICS - What is happening to American capitalism?

If you haven't noticed it seems to be unraveling at the seams. (Ha, pun.)

Its really a combination of personal debt, bank debt and government debt. All the debt has become unsustainable and lax government policies have refused to acknowledge the problem or try to pay back the skyrocketing debt.

Remember Bill Clinton? When he left office the American National Debt was going to be paid off in 4 years. George W. Bush got into power, gave out a bunch of tax breaks, went to war twice and more than tripled the US national debt to 11 trillion.

If he had just left it alone he could have paid it off and become the first Republican president to EVER pay off the debt. True, it was Clinton's doing, but that wouldn't have stopped him for taking credit for it.

But fiscal responsibility isn't exactly in the Republican phrasebook. They spend more than drunk liberals.

Bush also left the United States with the biggest recession since the Great Depression, leaving poor Barack Obama to clean up his mess. If Clinton's record is to be used as a benchmark it will take 12 years to pay off a debt 3 times the size. Which means since Obama will only be in power for 4-8 years he won't see the debt paid off under his administration, even in the sunniest of conditions.

After all we're still bogged down in two wars overseas. Its another Vietnam.

Times two!

On a related topic this sort of fiscal irresponsibility has really angered documentary maker Michael Moore. His latest film "Capitalism: A Love Story" discusses the bailouts George W. Bush gave to the American banking industry when the mortgage industry went bust.

"Capitalism: A Love Story" tracks the disintegration and corruption of America's banking and money systems to the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan's "trickle-down" theory of empowered bankers and businessmen leading the peasants to greener fields became known as "Reagonomics" and was entirely bull-shit. It was designed to make the rich richer and the poor just stayed poor.

The problem with Reagonomics is that rich people don't spend money that often. They save it. It sits in banks and does nothing, collecting interest. Sometimes they invest it, but overall tax cuts for the rich doesn't really do anything but fatten their bank accounts a bit more.

"We, the American people allowed this to happen. We bought into this thing of, `Jesus, we could all be rich.' And it was just a big ruse. It was part of the Ponzi scheme. What is the difference between what Bernie Madoff did and what Reaganomics was about, which was to guarantee that the very few at the top of the pyramid were going to make off like bandits, and everybody else was going to work their asses off thinking they were going to get to the top of the pyramid?" says Michael Moore.

Moore knows some people in the USA are going to call him socialist and even communist for wanting to help the poor and middle-class, but he doesn't care.

"There's nothing wrong with buying stuff. I'm not going to be a hypocrite here. I have three iPods. I've got the little one, the nano, and the one that's got the screen. What I'm against is that sort of senseless consumerism that forces people to go into debt for things they shouldn't be going into debt for. It's crazy," says Moore.

The thing about capitalism is that it needs socialism and communism for it to work properly. Its like a three-legged stool. If you take out one or two legs the stool will collapse with just a nudge.

"Capitalism: A Love Story" opens October 2nd 2009.

VW's 282 mpg car

AUTOMOTIVES - What is the difference between a regular car and a VW car that can get 282 mpg?

The VW looks like it was designed by someone who doesn't buy groceries, never dates and would never buy anything bigger than a small IKEA lamp. In other words someone who is a complete loser obsessed with mileage.

I would rather ride a bicycle than drive in this car. Its that ugly.

True, they've done something remarkable in terms of technology. Volkswagen AG revealed this new concept car today at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The "L1" can go 96 km on 1 litre (or 282 miles per gallon). It has a turbo diesel engine, a battery pack, an electric motor and only weighs 840 lbs.

No word yet on how fast it can actually go, but I am willing to bet I could beat it across the intersection on a bicycle and be half a km down the street before the L1 catches up with me.

"If the L1 were to go into production in 2013, it would debut an entirely new lightweight car concept and introduce a new era in automotive production," says VW.

Except what douche-bag would buy a car that small and ugly? Its not practical for regular usage, its just a "get-you-there" car (in which case if all you want to do is just get there, you're better off on the bicycle).

What the world needs is a mid-size car that is lightweight, practical and will get a person (and their friends) to the place they want to go at a good reasonable speed. Without breaking their wallet or hurting the environment.

September 14, 2009

Patrick Swayze dead, age 57

ENTERTAINMENT - Actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday at the age of 57 from pancreatic cancer. He died at home with his family by his side after a long battle with the disease.

Patrick Swayze is most famous for the films Dirty Dancing, Ghost and his role in the mini-series North and South.

Other noteworthy films include:
Uncommon Valor
Steel Dawn
Point Break
Donnie Darko
George and the Dragon

Steel Dawn struck us as particularly of interest. True, its low budget and the plot is lame, but that just means the actors are forced to do their best to hold it together. It should be worth a laugh to watch and see what the actor was like when he was younger.

Obama says No More Bailouts

POLITICS - President Barack Obama sternly warned Wall Street today that there will no more bailouts. The bailouts were George W. Bush's idea and there will be no bailouts under Obama's administration. Especially when Wall Street has gone back to its old tricks of paying huge pay-cheques to corrupt CEOs and executives.

Obama meanwhile stressed that it was his $787 billion stimulus package which pulled the the United States back from the brink of a second Great Depression.

Obama extends Cuba embargo for only 1 year

POLITICS - In the United States today President Barack Obama extended the U.S. trade embargo on the Communist nation of Cuba for one year.

Usually U.S. Presidents renew the trade embargo for four years, the length of their presidency, but Obama renewed it for only a single year, a symbolic gesture which gives Congress another year to solve their differences with Cuba.

There have been numerous signs of a thaw in U.S.-Cuban ties. Early last year Raul Castro took over as president from his brother, Fidel. Fidel Castro has been the Cuban head of state since leading the revolution that ousted the corrupt U.S.-backed Batista regime on January 1st 1959.

Under existing U.S. law, the Helms-Burton Act, Congress is required to take action specifically ending the trade embargo, but diplomacy is often a slow process and the easing of U.S.-Cuban animosity is bogged down in negotiations and red tape.

The last extension by former President George W. Bush ran out on September 11th 2009.

When the trade embargo does end it means the United States and Cuba will finally be able to explore options that would create cooperation between their two nations. Currently Cuba serves as a cheap vacation spot for Canadians, British and other nations.

Cuba's economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism. Its only other economic virtues is sugarcane, tobacco, nickel, citrus fruits and coffee.

September 13, 2009

An Education at the Toronto International Film Festival

By Dennis Kucherawy - September 2009.

See other reviews by Dennis: Reel Injun, Creation and The Road

ENTERTAINMENT - With two awards from this year’s Sundance Film Festival and pre-Oscar buzz, An Education received its Canadian premiere last Thursday night to a rapturous reception from the Toronto International Film Festival opening night audience.

This is a charming, coming-of-age, romantic comedy/bittersweet drama that features a stellar, break-out performance from 22-year-old British newcomer Carey Mulligan. Some of England’s finest talent including Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Rosamund Pike and American actor Peter Sarsgaard are just a few of the wonderful performers who make this movie so enjoyable.

Set in 1961 in the London suburb of Twickenham, this movie tells the story of 16-year-old Jenny (Mulligan), an intelligent, schoolgirl who loves to play the cello and all things French, including listening to Juliette Greco records. She dreams of attending Oxford University. A single child, she lives with her parents in a conservative household. One day, she meets David (Sarsgaard), a wealthy and handsome gentleman twice her age and begins to date him. He introduces her to an entirely new world of jazz nightclubs, concerts, fancy restaurants and art auctions in the company of his arty friends, the handsome Danny (Dominic Cooper) and the beautiful but dim-witted Helen (Pike).

David suggests that he and Jenny take an overnight trip to Oxford where, David claims, he studied with C.S. Lewis. Despite initial opposition from her stodgy father, Jack (Molina), and her cautious mother, Marjorie (Cara Seymour), Jenny leaves with David for their first trip together, thanks to David’s convincing charm. Soon, some of David’s questionable business dealings arise, but naive Jenny doesn’t let them cloud the great time she is having.

Back at school, her English teacher (Olivia Williams) becomes concerned with this romance and how it is affecting Jenny’s plummeting grades and behaviour. The school headmistress (Emma Thompson) also worries that this development will affect her chances to be accepted at Oxford.

As Jenny’s 17th birthday approaches, David proposes a trip to Paris where Jenny plans to celebrate by losing her virginity. Then, a sobering plot twist reveals who David really is, much to Jenny’s shock and heartbreaking disappointment. She learns there is more to life than the glamour, fun and high life to which David has exposed her.

Based on London Observer journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir, An Education is really the tale of two English eras meeting, said adapter and screenwriter Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and (About a Boy). Jenny’s life with her family in Twickenham represents post-war Britain with a generation, including Jenny, which still recalled food rationing from WW II. David represents the incoming revolution of the Swinging Sixties, Carnaby Street, the Beatles and the British invasion.

Mulligan’s performance is sweet and charming as she portrays Jenny’s progress from an insouciant naïf to a wiser but sadder young woman facing the future with a newly acquired touch of cynicism and heartbreak. She is in almost every scene, acting with an attractive aplomb. She radiates intelligence and a thirst for knowledge. Her wonderful buzz already has observers predicting an Oscar nomination for her.

Peter Sargaard’s David is a suave, funny charmer as he sweeps Jenny off her feet and also shows moments of poignancy as their romance grows. Other standouts include Alfred Molina, a simple and well-meaning man who provides welcome comic relief as he tries to do what he thinks is best for his only daughter. Also, Emma Thompson, in a minor role, delivers a firm and caring headmistress who is looking out for Jenny’s welfare. Olivia Stubbs as Jenny’s English teacher Miss Stubbs is especially moving in the final confrontation she has with her gifted student. She is an attractive woman imprisoned by her “schoolmarmish” attitude and spinster appearance with her large glasses.

Lone Scherfig fills the screen with an energy that brings the dawn of Britain’s Swinging Sixties to entertaining life. The Danish director elicits great performances from her talented cast that should give An Education a successful run at the box office.

The film opens Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, Friday October 9th which is appropriate. It’s a film that the entire family will enjoy.

Osama bin Laden's brother dies

POLITICS - The bin Laden family has announced the death of Thabet bin Laden, a brother to famed terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The family made the announcement today and the funeral was scheduled this afternoon in the holy city of Mecca. Thabet died Saturday but the family did not give the cause of death or his age.

Thabet bin Laden was just one of 54 children born to Mohammed bin Laden, a Yemeni immigrant who started the family's contracting business in the 1930s and built it into a multi-billion-dollar construction business.

The bin Laden family claims they cut all ties with Osama bin Laden in 1994, when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship after he called for the overthrow of the Saudi Royal family.

Fifteen of the September 11th hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. None of them were from Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan.

Art thieves net Andy Warhol portraits

ART HISTORY - In L.A. a group of art thieves have gained 15 minutes of fame after stealing a series of Andy Warhol portraits of famed athletes.

The series of Andy Warhol pop art portraits include Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Pele, Dorothy Hamill and other famous athletes were stolen from a collector's home. Andy Warhol was commissioned in 1977 by businessman Richard Weisman to create the portraits.

The collection of 10 silkscreen paintings of famous athletes of the 1970s was taken from Weisman's home sometime between Sept. 2nd and 3rd.

A $1 million reward has been offered for information leading to the return of the paintings.

Art recovery expert Robert Wittman, a former investigator for the FBI's national art crime team, says most rewards are offered for about 10% of a stolen collection's value. That suggests the value of the ten works is about $10 million.

"The real art in an art theft is not the stealing but the selling," he said. "People know what they are. You can't sell it to the industry, it's not going back to the market and you also can't sell it at auction," says Wittman. 95% of stolen artworks, especially famous pieces, are recovered by police.

The paintings were on display in Weisman's dining room and his house was locked. Nevertheless the thieves managed to make a clean get-away.

A neighbour saw a maroon van in the driveway of Weisman's home around the time of the robbery.

September 12, 2009

Bryant deliberately hit cyclist

CANADA - According to surveillance footage former Attorney General of Ontario Michael Bryant deliberately hit a cyclist in downtown Toronto and then later ran over the cyclist. The cyclist died from his injuries and Michael Bryant has since been charged.

See Surveillance footage shows Bryant deliberately hit cyclist.

The incident is the latest in a growing number of incidents between road raging motorists and cyclists in North American cities. During the recession cycling has become an ever popular way to commute to work. In Toronto 2.5 million people own bicycles and approx. 5% to 7% cycle daily on Toronto streets.

In related news the city of Toronto is currently considering lowering the speed limit on city streets to 30 km/h.

September 10, 2009

Hubble Space Telescope Repaired

TECHNOLOGY - The newly repaired Hubble space telescope has new images to share.

This is the fifth time time Hubble will be upgraded and its believed to be its last. The telescope now has two extra cameras and had several broken bits replaced and upgraded.

"Our view of the universe and our place within it will never be the same," says Charles Bolden, a NASA Administrator who as an astronaut piloted the space shuttle that put Hubble in orbit 19 years ago.

Bruce Nuclear fires 100 staff for improper internet usage

CANADA - Bruce Nuclear Power Development (BNPD) has fired approx. 100 employees from various sectors for improper use of internet and email. BNPD employs approx. 3000 people and is approx. a 3 hour drive north west of Toronto.

BNPD insists there was no information leak that would jeopardize the plant's safety record and that the improper usage is unrelated to plant safety.

Which leaves one possibility... a sex scandal and people sending pornographic photos or videos of co-workers to each other, resulting in some obviously improper use of work computers, office politics, dirty rumours and an atmosphere which no doubt causes problems for many.

And now in an attempt to shed some of the bad employees they've fired a bunch of their staff to teach a lesson that using computers improperly and sex scandals will not be tolerated.

And to keep the affair quiet they're not releasing any more info to the media about the nature of the sex scandal and why people were sending the emails to each other.

That sounds like a good situation where a company might want to hire a Corporate Spy.

Corporate Spies is not a new concept... they've been around for decades and they're sometimes employed to spy on other companies. However the new trend is to hire the spy to work from inside and spy on the employees and then report back with who is doing a good job, who is wasting company time or money and basically act as an undercover consultant to determine which employees the company should promote, demote or fire and whether there is any ways to increase the efficiency of the work place.

As such Corporate Spies are becoming more in demand these days from companies looking to increase efficiency during the recession.

September 9, 2009

Was the 2008 Canadian election legal?

CANADA - Apparently the 2008 Canadian election wasn't entirely legal.

You see what happened was in 2007 parliament passed a Canadian Elections Act which dictated that elections would be held every four years (like the Americans do) and elections would be held on October 19th every four years (2009, 2013, 2017, etc).

So when Stephen Harper called an early election in 2008 he broke the law, a law he himself voted on.

And the reason for calling the election early? Harper saw in the polls the potential to get a few more seats in parliament. It cost Canadian tax payers millions of dollars, cost campaign fund raisers millions more, and all Harper got was a few extra seats (19 more). Not even enough to make a majority government.

It's now up to a Canadian judge to decide whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper's snap election call a year ago was not just politically self-serving but also illegal. Yesterday lawyers squared off in the Federal Court of Canada to determine whether the Prime Minister broke the law. A law he himself helped to pass and later ignored.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day Harper forced an early campaign last September – the third election in four years.

According to the new laws the Prime Minister can no longer call a snap election whenever he feels like it. Elections must be held every four years on October 19th, unless the government fell on a confidence matter first.

The problem is that law does not clearly prohibit the prime minister from pre-empting a no-confidence vote and asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. The wording is a bit vague.

Chalk it up to Stephen Harper to pass a law that was vague in wording.

Watchdog "Democracy Watch" says Harper's move broke the spirit if not the letter of the new law. The new law was designed to prevent this kind of electoral mischief by calling elections whenever the polls were in your favour. Harper's action also breached the Canadian Charter right to a fair election, a right that has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Indeed one of Stephen Harper's 2006 campaign promises was to ban snap elections. Apparently he's completely forgotten about that promise.

If Stephen Harper is proven to have broken his own law the watchdog Democracy Watch says they will consider launching a class-action suit against Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party to the tune of the $350 million Canadian dollars wasted during the 2008 election.

Ron James, Canadian Bigot, gets his own show

CANADA - The CBC is really going downhill fast under the government of Stephen Harper... and its pretty self evident with horrible shows like "The Border", "Battle of the Blades" and other crappy shows designed to either stoke the war-fires or lull Canadians into a sense of entropy.

And now they're giving shows to bigot comedians. Ron James' forte is making fun of Inuit, Indian, & Pakistani people and a variety of ethnic stereotypes. It is borderline racist and yet the CBC is giving him his own show.

The problem is that Ron James is very popular in rural Canada, where a lot of people are less sensitive to racial issues and the telling of racist jokes are much more common amongst both adults and children.

That is not to say Ron James doesn't have other jokes, but if you cut out all the ethnic stereotypes and his voice mimicry of different accents his comedy act would be cut in half. And when I say different accents I don't mean he's doing British or Scottish accents, I am talking about his mimicry of Inuit, Native Canadian, Arabic, Pakistani, Indian and various Asian accents... and the way he does it makes them sound... dumb.

Hence for us the forthcoming CBC show featuring Ron James will be boycotted.

September 2, 2009

Is Canada still a Green Leader?

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has been calling the shots in Canada since February 2006... and during that time he has done nothing to halt or slow down global warming or climate change.

Why? Because Stephen Harper thinks global warming is a myth. He thinks climate change is a complete hoax. He's in complete denial.

However despite this I'd argue that Canada is still a leader when it comes to fighting climate change. Why? Because cities and provinces are stepping up to the plate while Harper is sitting by and doing nothing.

The United States is partially to blame. Canada's provinces and cities are seeing what is happening south of the border and copying what they are doing (and vice versa, the USA copying Canada).

Recycling programs, new technologies to cut back on greenhouse gases (and save money), more solar and wind power, more economical (and ecological) ways to build energy efficient buildings...

However while that shows that Canada is still innovative and showing green leadership, there still exists a problem... Canada's carbon footprint and CO2 levels is still going up because only the federal government has the ability to create hard caps.

So we as Canadians need to do more complaining. Email your MP, the Environment minister or the Prime Minister's office and DEMAND change. Otherwise Canada is eventually going to be left behind while other countries cash in on ecological (and profitable) green initiatives.

Prime Minister of Canada:
Jim Prentice, Environment Minister:

See Also:
Is Canada Still a Leader on Climate Change?
Canada Ranked Last in G8 on Climate Action
Canada Behind the Eight Ball on GHG Research and Policy

Brazilian Ad shows Airplanes attacking NYC

ENVIRONMENT/POLITICS - The World Wildlife Fund is condemning today an ad produced by a Brazilian ad agency which shows a swarm of airplanes attacking NYC. The environmental group is calling the ad tasteless and says they never approved the ad exploiting the September 11th attacks on New York's World Trade Center.

The caption for the online ad says: "The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it."

On Tuesday the ad won a best of 2009 award from The One Club, a non-profit group that promotes excellence in advertising. But the WWF says the ad was created by a Brazilian ad agency, was rejected and never published.

Apparently that didn't stop The One Club from getting a copy of it.

"WWF strongly condemns this offensive and tasteless ad, and did not authorize its production or publication," the group said Tuesday. "It is an unauthorized use of our logo and we are aggressively pursuing action to have it removed from websites where it is being currently featured."

HOWEVER... tasteless or not, the ad does make an interesting point. Over 275,000 people were killed or went missing in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Five years later an authorities in the region are still counting the dead / missing bodies.

Right: A photo from the 2004 Tsunami.

The message is simple and effective, even if the ad is in poor taste. The earth is way more powerful than terrorism or war.

Right: A computer simulation of what New York City would look like if the glaciers on Greenland melt and raise sea levels by 7 meters.

Note: The CIA considers global warming to be a threat to United States National Security. See Military Leaders step up to fight Global Warming. If climate change causes coastal flooding, droughts and forces many Americans into a massive exodus it will destabilize both the economy and defense plans.

September 1, 2009

Japan elects for change for the first time in 50 years

POLITICS - After 50 years of Liberal Democratic Party rule in Japan (Liberal is a misnomer, because the party itself would best be described as conservative) the party has been toppled with the election of the Democratic Party of Japan and new leader Yukio Hatoyama.

The news is bad for the United States however as the new party wants Japan to assert more independence from the USA. This means less American troops on Japanese soil, a lessening of Japan's refueling of U.S. and allied warships in the Indian Ocean.

But it is good news for environmentalists and small business owners. Yukio Hatoyama wants to put a stronger emphasis on environmental programs and protecting small businesses.

Prior to the election Japan saw its unemployment rate rise to its highest level since WWII and a storm of corruption scandals in the LDP. The election of the new party, which is actually "liberal" as opposed to just having the word liberal in the name, hopes to end corruption.

Unfortunately the DPJ also includes several members who want to abolish Japan's pacifist constitution and go to war against North Korea. Hopefully common sense and peace will prevail.

North Korea has developed missiles capable of reaching Japan, has been conducting nuclear tests and seems to be readying for a war.

Ted Kennedy dead, age 77

POLITICS - Senator Edward Moore Kennedy died last Tuesday, more than a year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Like his brothers JFK and Bobby Kennedy, Ted Kennedy was a giant in American politics, and the only one of the three brothers who wasn't killed by an assassin's bullet.

"He was given a gift of time that his brothers were not. And he used that time to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow," said President Barack Obama during the eulogy, who also described Ted Kennedy as "a veritable force of nature" and the "baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock."

Overshadowed by his brothers deaths (John F. Kennedy was the nation's 35th president when he was assassinated in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was killed five years later as he campaigned for the presidency) Ted Kennedy avoided the seat of the president (although he did attempt it in 1980 but failed in the primaries against Jimmy Carter), becoming instead a powerful figure in the United States senate, serving in the senate for 46 years (the third longest serving senator in American history).

Ted Kennedy played a major role in passing many laws, including immigration, cancer research, free health care for children, ending apartheid, disability discrimination, AIDS/HIV funding, civil rights, education and volunteering.

"My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." - Ted Kennedy during JFK's 1963 eulogy.

"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die." - Ted Kennedy conceding defeat to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

"I won’t yield to anyone about guns in our society. I know enough about it." - Ted Kennedy debating against Mitt Romney in the Senate, 1994.

Clinton pushing climate change initiatives in Canada

ENVIRONMENT - Bill Clinton was in Canada last Saturday promoting climate change initiatives and free health care.

Of course, Canada already has free health care, but the point is still made. The United States is just starting on the road to free health care, for every uninsured child, senior and adult in the United States.

Clinton tried to pass free health care during his 8 years in the White House and only managed a few meager initiatives, health care programs for uninsured children. His goal of free health care for Americans was shouted down by Republican bigots in Congress worried about the overall cost and "Communist-style health care" (which is nonsense, because the USA up until 2009 was the only western country that didn't have free health care).

When George W. Bush got into power America's public health care system took one step forward and two steps backward. Bush signed into law a Medicare drug benefit program (something even Canada doesn't have), but later vetoed State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) legislation which would have expanded free health care to ten million American children (and would have been funded by a modest increase to cigarette taxes).

Since getting into power President Obama has quickly managed to do what Clinton couldn't do because he didn't have support from Congress, and what Bush refused to do because he doesn't give a damn about poor people. Less than a month in power and riding on overwhelming support and a Democratic majority in Congress, Obama signed the United States into a new era of free health care.

The issue is still being discussed in Congress, but its essentially a done deal. Better yet Obama already found a way to pay for it by decreasing the amount wealthy people get back from the IRS when they make charitable donations. Wealthy Americans used to get back 35% of their donation, but now they only get back 28%.

And poof! Free health care in America finally became a reality. Done and paid for.

Now if only we could do the same thing for the environment?

Clinton is effectively an unofficial ambassador for the Obama administration. So whenever he visits Canada or other nations overseas to give speeches, he's not just acting as a former president who cares about the USA, he's acting as a global ambassador for the USA to the rest of the world. That is how a former American president should act... help the USA and the world by being a spokesperson. (You will note Bush in comparison avoids the spotlight as much as possible.)

The problem is that selling the environment is a much tougher sell than health care (and we can see how long it took Americans to join the rest of the civilized world).

Think of it like a car... when you buy a new car from the Ford Motor Co. you expect it to work properly. But lo and behold they bought cheap brakes from China and the next thing you know you are upside down in a ditch, the car is on fire and in order to rescue you the firemen have to amputee your leg.

Afterwards you sue the Ford Motor Co. for damages (because they imported faulty brakes from China) and are awarded millions. Ford then promises to only buy quality brakes built in North America and has to recall thousands of cars to replace the brakes on each one.

But what about the tailpipe? Try and make the argument that cars pollute, produce greenhouse gases, which locks in heat, which causes global warming, which causes climate change, which causes a host of other environmental problems like polar ice caps melting and rising sea levels.

You can't sue Ford for damages. You'd have to sue the entire automotive industry, the coal industry and any other industry producing excess amounts of greenhouses gases... and it wouldn't just be the United States. It would be a global lawsuit. Its so ridiculously huge it would just plain never happen.

Thus trying to sell green initiatives to Americans can be very tricky. We can't even do it in Canada because we currently have a corrupt Conservative government under the "do nothing" bogus Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper has no intention of setting caps on greenhouse gases. He's been bought and paid off by the Alberta oil industry and the Atlantic coal industry.

Name one thing Harper has done to help the environment since getting into the PM's chair in February 2006? He announced some new national parks. That is it. The man epitomizes the "do nothing" approach to politics.

There has been no new "climate change initiatives" in Canada since Paul Martin left power in 2006.

And thus we come full circle. Now we understand why Bill Clinton is pushing such initiatives in Canada. Its because our own government is too lazy and corrupt to do it themselves.

83% of Canadians support initiatives to combat global warming and climate change. So why can't we elect a government that will actually make good on its promises?

Its because Canada has three separate left-wing parties: The Liberals, the NDP and the Greens. The NDP and the Greens will NEVER get elected and win a majority government, but the vote splitting between the three has resulted in the Liberal party being held back from winning majority governments. Its the reason we keep getting minority Conservative governments.

Remember Stephane Dion's idea to put a tax on carbon emissions? He bet an election on it and failed, despite the fact that it was originally a Conservative idea. What happened was the Reform Party (which has since changed its name to the Canadian Alliance Party, and changed it again to the Conservative Party) held a discussion back when Jean Chretien was still in power. Chretien wanted to put a cap on carbon emissions, but the Reform Party under Stockwell Day thought it was a better idea to just tax carbon emissions instead.

Stephen Harper later replaced Stockwell Day as leader, but because Harper is a puppet of the oil industry (whereas Stockwell Day is a puppet of right wing Christians) they had to abandon the carbon tax idea... which left it to be picked up by the Liberals and touted.

The problem is there really is no other ways to combat climate change. We have to cut carbon emissions somehow, and the only ways to do that is:
  • Cap Carbon Emissions.
  • Tax Carbon Emissions (and hope companies reduce the amount they release).
  • Make cars more efficient (which we've already done).
  • Increase sales of more fuel efficient cars like hybrids, electrics, hydrogen, etc. (which we are currently doing).
  • Phase out coal powered plants by building lots of solar/wind alternatives (which we are doing already).

Which implies we will eventually start taxing/capping greenhouse gases anyway. Its just a matter of who will do it first, Canada or the United States?

Judging by the fact Obama has a majority of Democrats in Congress the USA might beat Canada to it.

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