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April 30, 2009

Swine flu spreading faster than expected

HEALTH - The H1N1 virus (aka swine flu) is spreading faster than expected and part of the problem, according to health officials, is people aren't taking it seriously enough.

The first case of swine flu was reported today in Toronto, a male in his early twenties who had recently traveled to Mexico, bringing Ontario's total to 8 patients of swine flu. 14 other carriers of the disease have been been confirmed in Canada, bringing Canada's total of confirmed cases to 33, up from 19 yesterday.

So far the 8 Ontario swine flu patients have mild cases, but 5 new cases in B.C. and 4 new cases in Nova Scotia suggests its just a matter of time before Canada sees more serious cases. The 4 new cases in Nova Scotia are unique because none of them recently visited Mexico, but instead got it from visiting friends in Windsor Ontario, making it the first Canadian-to-Canadian transfer of the disease.

Delayed testing results are also becoming an issue, as some people tested for H1N1 are going out and shopping, handling money and going on with their daily lives, not realizing they might be carrying the disease and passing it on to others.

Health experts warn that people need to be more cautious, as they could be passing the disease on to others without realizing it. People who have recently returned from Mexico (or been in contact with someone recently in Mexico) should take more precautions and avoid going out in public until they've received their test results.

There were 252 new cases reported in the United States today, bringing the U.S. total to 594. The world wide numbers have jumped almost 1,500 from yesterday, to a total of 3,972 suspected cases. Total deaths have jumped approx. 10% from yesterday's 153, to 168.

See Also:
Worldwide Influenza Pandemic Warned
Swine flu hits Mexico and western United States

Chrysler files for bankruptcy protection

CARS/POLITICSc - Today automaker Chrysler filed for bankruptcy protection.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are joining with United States President Barack Obama in a $14-billion bailout of Chrysler, which filed for U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this afternoon.

Ontario and Ottawa are jointly putting up $3.8 billion of the loan package and will take a combined 2% ownership stake in the new, restructured U.S. corporation and its Canadian subsidiary. The United States will own 8%. In exchange for financial support, Chrysler has agreed to maintain 20% of its North American production in Ontario.

"This is another step we need to take, together, that gives Chrysler the best possible opportunity for success and gives Ontario taxpayers the best possible protection as we join forces with the federal government and President Obama's administration," said McGuinty. "And it ensures, above all, that Ontario will continue to produce cars and Ontario families will continue to have jobs in that sector."

FACT: Ontario produces more cars and trucks than Michigan and approx. 20% of all vehicles made in North America.

Earlier today, Obama confirmed in a press conference that Chrysler's negotiations between Italian automaker Fiat have been fruitful and the two firms will enter into a partnership.

But the grueling efforts by Chrysler to come up with a restructuring strategy that meets with government approval in Canada and the U.S. ran into a last-minute stumbling block. A group of about 40 hedge funds owed money by the automaker opposed a plan that would cut Chrysler's $6.9 billion (U.S.) of secured debt. After talks with the lenders broke down last night, Chrysler was forced to file for bankruptcy protection today.

"This isn't fair," says one economist. "It was the greedy market speculators who caused this whole credit crisis, and now they're the ones who are refusing to lend money to Chrysler. Its ridiculous. It should be illegal."

"No one should be confused about what a bankruptcy process means," said President Obama. "This is not a sign of weakness, but rather one more step on a clearly charted path to Chrysler's revival."

Harper took the unusual step of issuing a combined written statement with the U.S. president. "Thanks to our joint efforts, there is now a road ahead to a stronger Chrysler and a stronger industry in the future on both sides of the border," it said.

Chrysler has up to 8 years to pay back the various loans and will be charged interest rates of at least 7% annually.

Part of the deal is the appointment of a new, 9-person Chrysler board of directors. There will be 3 Fiat appointees, 4 from the U.S. government, 1 from the United Auto Workers, and 1 appointed by governments in Canada.

The United States, Canada and Ontario will own their shares until at least Jan. 1, 2013 unless someone buys them out. Fiat has right of first refusal to buy the governments' shares.

Hopefully this will be the end of Chrysler's crisis.

April 29, 2009

American depression worse than expected

POLITICS - The American economy shrank at a worse-than-expected 6.1% pace at the start of this year as sharp cutbacks by businesses and the biggest drop in United States exports in 40 years overwhelmed a rebound in consumer spending.

The United States Commerce Department's report, released today, dashed hopes that the recession's grip on the country loosened in the first quarter. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a five per cent annual decline, but that number has already been surpassed.

Last year the US economy shrunk 6.3%, the biggest decline in 25 years. If the American economy continues to shrink rapidly it could reach a 14% to 18% decline by the end of 2009.

Consumer spending was up 2.2% in January to March, but job numbers and overall exports are still dropping dramatically. The problem? Consumers seem to be buying too much stuff made overseas and not made in North America.

Meanwhile Americans cut spending on home building, commercial construction, equipment and software, and inventories of goods. Sales of U.S. goods to foreign buyers plunged. Even the U.S. government trimmed spending, despite the new stimulus package.

The recession, which officially began in December 2007 has become a technical depression (a depression is any recession that lasts longer than a year) and has removed 5.1 million jobs. Some economists believe the depression started in August 2007.

President Barack Obama is counting on his $787 billion stimulus of tax cuts and increased government spending on big public works projects to help bolster economic activity later in 2009. George W. Bush's bailout of the investment banks has seemingly done nothing to prevent the current crisis.

The recent outbreak of the swine flu, which has spread to the United States, poses a new potential danger. The flu is expected to stifle consumerism, trade, tourism and the death toll will wreak financial havoc.

USA to release 30 terror detainees

POLITICS - About 30 detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay have been cleared for release, United States Attorney General Eric Holder said today as he tried to persuade European allies to take some of them. Holder also signalled the Obama administration might co-operate with a Spanish investigation of former Bush administration officials over the mistreatment of suspects.

The Guantanamo Bay military detention facility at the U.S. naval base in Cuba is set to close in January 2010 and all the detainees have to be either be put on trial, or released due to sheer lack of evidence, between now and then.

"We have about 30 or so where we've made the determination that they can be released. So we will, I think, relatively soon, be reaching out to specific countries with specific detainees and ask whether or not there might be a basis for the moving of those people from Guantanamo to those countries," says Holder.

There are 241 prisoners at Guantanamo and Holder says "Mistakes were made" when the Bush administration created the program in the wake of September 11th.

The problem is what to do with people who have now turned out to be innocent. Yet when it comes to the prospect of having former international terror suspects living free, the Obama administration is trying to overcome the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that exists both in the USA and overseas.

There is also worry if new homes cannot be found for them, they may be given new status as Americans and sue the United States over their mistreatment.

So far only Portugal and Lithuania have said they will consider taking former suspects. France has agreed to take in only one symbolic Guantanamo detainee. Others are divided on the issue.

Pressed on whether that meant the U.S. would co-operate with a foreign court prosecuting Bush administration officials, Holder said he was talking about requests, and would review any such request to see if the United States would comply. Several countries want to see George W. Bush tried for alleged war crimes.

Worldwide Influenza Pandemic Warned

HEALTH - The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the pandemic alert level for the swine flu to five out of six.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, says the world must be prepared. "All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plan," she says, and countries should remain on high alert for signs of the deadly influenza virus.

PANDEMIC THREAT LEVELS

Phase 1: No animal to human transfer of viruses.

Phase 2: An animal influenza virus causes infection in humans.

Phase 3: An animal or human-animal hybrid influenza virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks. Limited human-to-human transmission may occur.

Phase 4: Verified human-to-human transmission of an influenza virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.”

Phase 5: Wide-spread human-to-human transmission of the virus in at least two countries in one WHO region (usually a continent).

Phase 6: The pandemic spreads to at least one other country in a different continent or WHO region.

Global Pandemic: Widespread influenza outbreaks, even spreading to remote regions.

Post-Peak Period: Pandemic disease levels begin to decrease is multiple countries. There may be premature signs of it, as influenza tends to move in waves.

Post-Pandemic Period: Influenza disease activity will have returned to levels normally seen for seasonal influenza.


So far this virus (commonly known as swine flu, a misnomer since its actually a hybrid of bird, swine and human flu viruses) has effected Mexico, the United States and Canada, with most of the deaths in Mexico and 1 death in Texas.

There is also confirmed cases of swine flu (but no deaths so far) in Spain, England, Germany, Israel and New Zealand. This suggests we could see the threat level raised to 6 very soon when it starts human-to-human transfer overseas.

CANADIAN INFLUENZA PANDEMIC

In Canada the raised pandemic alert level does not alter Canadian plans, said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. “We have a Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan, we’ve been following it, and we will continue to adapt our surveillance, our infection prevention measures and communicating as our own situation dictates,” he says.

Critics however are saying it may be time to close Canada's borders and cut off plane flights in and out of Canada for all non-essential travel.

But is it too late for that? Six more cases of swine flu in Canada were confirmed today - three more in British Columbia and three more in Ontario - bringing the total of Canadian cases to 19. We're also expecting our first deaths in the coming days.

There are now 7 confirmed cases in Ontario, all cases have mild flu like symptoms and most people are between the ages of 20 and 40. Four are in Durham region, two are in York region and 1 in Peel region, but its considered just a matter of time before cases become widespread. In British Columbia all of the new cases are in the Vancouver region.

Its believed one of the cases in Vancouver, who has been hospitalized, may be the first Canadian to die.

NOTE: It would take approx. 6 months to make enough vaccines for all of Canada. In the meantime we will have to use TamiFlu shots, which helps, but is not fully effective.

AMERICAN INFLUENZA PANDEMIC

Ten states are now reporting confirmed cases of the virus, up from five states yesterday. The first American death from swine flu was this morning — a 23-month-old toddler in Texas. American officials say more deaths are expected in the near future.

American investigators believe the virus seems to cause vomiting and "diarrhea more often than normal" influenza. Symptoms so far include fever, lack of appetite, coughing and respiratory problems. Cause of death is pneumonia (respiratory failure).

Health officials across the United States are taking aggressive steps to try to minimize the impact on people's health. Some are even arguing in favour of mandatory isolation of influenza patients.

So far the United States has 91 confirmed cases, with 14 cases in California, 51 in New York, 16 in Texas, two each in Kansas, Massachusetts and Michigan, and single cases in Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, and Ohio. There is 343 suspected cases.

The United States is seeing a broader age range of cases, with the youngest confirmed case aged 2 and the oldest aged 81. Sixty-four per cent of confirmed cases are under the age of 18. So far there has been 5 hospitalizations as more deaths are expected.

MEXICAN & OVERSEAS INFLUENZA PANDEMIC

So far there has been 2500+ suspected cases in Mexico and 152 deaths. Worldwide there is 3,500 suspected cases and 153 deaths so far. Health officials have been slow at tracking confirmed cases, only 188 worldwide. Evidently more tracking needs to be done so people will know the seriousness of their illness and not pass it off as just a regular cold.

April 26, 2009

Arabs to boycott Starbucks

RELIGION - Starbucks, the Seattle-based cafe, has been active in the Middle East since 1999, but thanks Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi it is now facing a boycott.

Speaking on Egypt's Al-Nas TV in January, the grey-bearded imam issued a call for Arabs to boycott Starbucks, which operates a total of 280 coffee shops in nine Arab states, including Egypt.

"We want Starbucks to be shut down throughout the Arab world," declared Higazi.

Why? Because the Starbucks logo a long-maned naked mermaid wearing a crown vaguely resembles a Jewish Queen, revered by Jews for her cunning and reviled by Arabs for her trickery.

"The girl in the Starbucks logo is Queen Esther," insists Higazi. "This queen is Queen of the Jews." and "This is the crown of the Kingdom of Persia. This girl you see is Esther, Queen of the Jews in Persia."

The cleric's four-minute explanation is available on YouTube, summarizes the Old Testament story of Esther, a beautiful virgin who is manipulated by her cousin Mordecai to win the heart and hand of the Persian king Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I) without revealing to him that she is a Jew.

"Can you believe that in Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Damascus, Kuwait and all over the Islamic world hangs the picture of beautiful Queen Esther with a crown on her head and we buy her products?" says Higazi. "It is inconceivable."

Higazi cautions his viewers not to ransack Starbucks coffee shops or burn them down, but he exhorted everyone to boycott the offending premises.

"This is totally inaccurate," say Starbucks management. "This myth has been brought about by the similarity in looks on the cover of a children's book about Esther to the Starbucks logo." The figure in its trademark is actually taken from a 16th century Norse woodcut.

However this isn't the only ammunition against Starbucks. CEO Howard Schultz happens to be a Jew... and a 2006 hoax letter in which Schultz supposedly admits to bankrolling the Jewish state with hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Starbucks does not even operate in Israel. Starbucks closed its six Tel Aviv coffee shops in 2003 due to unfavourable market conditions.

In January 2009 demonstrators in London England trashed two Starbucks coffee shops due to a rumour that the company provided two weeks' worth of revenues to fund January's bloody invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces – another rumour the company denies.

Other companies face obstacles in the Middle East. More than 120 familiar corporate brands (including Sara Lee, Nestlé, Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola and Ralph Lauren) are also listed as targets by the international Boycott Israel campaign.

All these companies are accused of supporting Israel in one way or another.

NOTE: Frankly you'd think people could come up with a better excuse for boycotting Starbucks... ie. American imperialism, paying peanuts to third world countries who produce the coffee, paying only lip service to their workers' rights and environmental issues. Basing the boycott on a lame myth and a logo? Pfff.

April 25, 2009

Swine flu hits Mexico and western United States

HEALTH - Mexico is on high alert today as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the fast moving swine flu outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” today, giving itself powers to ask member states to beef up surveillance for the deadly virus. The virus has already spread to the western United States.

The pandemic threat level is currently Phase 3 and WHO is contemplating raising it if the situation becomes more dire. WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan says the current outbreak of the swine flu virus has "pandemic potential."

As a new disease doctors and scientists are unsure how quickly swine flu can mutate, be spread or how deadly it is, so WHO is currently gathering as much information as possible to get an idea of how to control and prevent the disease from spreading.

Many new human swine flu cases — caused by a new influenza A H1N1 swine flu virus — were reported in several locations of the United States today. In New York City health officials found 8 probable cases in a school where a 100 students were sick this week. The U.S. Center for Disease Control in Atlanta are currently testing samples and say an answer is expected Sunday.

Kansas state health officials say they have confirmed two cases as well, bringing to 11 the confirmed cases in the United States. There has also been 7 cases in California and 2 in Texas. The viruses were first discovered in California about 10 days ago.

Confirmed outbreaks of respiratory illnesses in parts of Mexico — including densely populated Mexico City — so far has 20 confirmed deaths, nearly 50 suspected deaths and more than 1,000 suspected cases. More cases are believed to be unreported and health officials say thats the dangerous thing when people ignore the warnings and just think its a regular cold.

So far Canada has been left alone, with no probable cases, but there is growing concern the disease could jump across the border and cause an outbreak in Canadian cities. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office says the prime minister “was briefed this weekend on the flu outbreak and is aware of the situation", but hasn't acted to do anything to prevent the disease from coming to Canada.

Infectious disease experts say Canada is likely to see its first cases soon.

"We now apparently have widespread swine H1N1 throughout the United States which tells us that it is highly infectious, therefore having all the makings of the next pandemic strain," says Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. "It is just a matter of time before we recognize it here."

To date only the United States and Mexico have confirmed cases.

Containment however may no longer be possible however.

"We don’t think containment is feasible," says Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s interim deputy director for science and public health. "Having found virus where we’ve found it, we are likely to find it in many other places."

So far cases have had relatively mild symptoms similar to seasonal flu, but the problem lies in the current death rate of approx. 7%. It is so far unclear how it is spreading person to person, either by touch or whether it is airborne.

Scientists so far have determined it is a hybrid of avian flu, swine flu and human flu viruses, possibly the result of farmers feeding dead birds to pigs.

Scientists at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have typed and sequenced virus samples from Mexico over the past several days.

"This is an interesting virus. It’s a brand new virus, not only to humans but to the world," said Dr. Frank Plummer on Friday, scientific director of Canada’s national lab.

So far testing has shown the viruses are resistant to two old flu drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, but is vulnerable to the flu antivirals Tamiflu and Relenza, which are in many national emergency stockpiles, including Canada’s and Mexico's.

The flu seems to be targeting people ranging from their mid 20s to mid 40s, whereas with regular flu typically young children and the elderly are at the highest risk.

Some observers have suggested that if this virus were to spark a pandemic that it might look like the disastrous Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed approx. 50 million people worldwide. Death rates among young adults were disproportionately high in that pandemic, the worst in recorded history. The Spanish Flu had a 50% illness rate (meaning half of the people were immune), it spread to 20% of the human population and had a death rate of 5% (or 2.5% if you count the people who are immune).

WHO has yet to determine the percentage of people who are immune to this new swine flu, if any.

April 23, 2009

Smoking & Breast Cancer linked

HEALTH - You probably already know smoking causes a variety of cancers, but today researchers released evidence that second-hand smoke, even small amounts of it, also causes breast cancer.

The Canadian led panel poured over more than 100 recent studies in search of the linkages, to comprehensively discover not only how widespread smoking-related breast cancer is, but determine just how deadly it is.

This comprehensive blue ribbon report puts to rest any academic uncertainty that has long troubled cancer researchers.

"Up until now the expert groups who have looked at this have shied away from making a definitive conclusion," says Dr. Anthony Miller, associate director of research at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana school of Public Health. "The evidence is consistent with a causal relationship and in our view that's sufficient to take action and let women know about this," Miller says.

In other words, its not a coincidence. It is direct cause and effect.

In 2006 a U.S. Surgeon General report had determined that research evidence was "suggestive but not sufficient" to draw a categorical connection between breast cancer and second hand smoke, because of lack of sheer numbers. This new report however is definitive.

Miller says his group gathered over a hundred previous studies, most of them written in the past eight years, deconstructed them down to the raw statistical data and comprehensively reanalyzed their data to draw conclusions.

That new analysis showed there was a definite cause and effect between the illness and active smoking in women of all ages. The statistics don't lie, over half of the women who have breast cancer smoke or have been exposed regularly to second hand smoke. The other half of the women have been exposed to other kinds of toxins, either by living in heavily polluted cities or eating toxic carcinogenic foods.

Should we really be surprised? Cancer is caused by toxins in the body and inhaling smoke of any kind contains thousands of tiny toxins.

Miller says many of the studies that had failed to find a relationship between tobacco and breast cancer — throwing ambiguity into the issue — were lacking sufficient data to draw any valid results. "If you don't collect sufficiently detailed information on exposure either to passive or active smoking...then you can get these lack of findings or low risks," he says.

The panel found evidence that smoking increases breast cancer risks by 40 to 50 per cent in some cases, and for women who are genetically more susceptible the risk is doubled.

They are still working on determining exactly how many cases of breast cancer could be traced directly back to tobacco use.

In theory the report should help to curb smoking among women, for whom breast cancer often holds a unique and particular terror, but like all smoking-related cancers, people just don't think its going to be them who gets it.

We all seem to think we're the exception to the statistics.

See Also:
Smokeless Cigarettes
Smoking in Canada
Canada's Smoking Laws

Suicide bombers kill 78 in Iraq

POLITICS - Suicide bomb blasts tore through crowds waiting for food aid in central Baghdad Iraq yesterday and inside a roadside restaurant filled with pilgrims from Iran, killing at least 78 people in Iraq's deadliest day in over a year.

The toll yesterday includes least 31 dead in Baghdad and 47 to the north in Diyala province is part of a series of high-profile attacks by Sunni insurgents.

An Iraqi government tally shows violence has killed 87,215 Iraqis since 2005.

Associated Press records show the total for the entire war, including non-civilians, exceeds 110,000 Iraqis. That figure is based on the government tally and counts of casualties from earlier years from hospital sources and media reports.

Both numbers exclude thousands of people who have gone missing and civilians who were buried in the chaos of war without official notice.

Two more suicide attacks today killed another 54 people.

Meanwhile the United States is shifting its military focus to Afghanistan, where Taliban forces have built up strongholds along the Afghan-Pakistan border, a region troops are now jokingly referring to as "Talibanistan" or simply "Talistan".

The deadliest day in Iraq was March 8th 2008, when at least 110 people were killed by suicide bombers.

April 21, 2009

Canada lowers interest rate to near zero

CANADA - Today it just got cheaper to borrow money or buy a house in Canada.

The Bank of Canada warned today the recession will be longer and deeper than expected, but refused to use the word depression, and has halved its benchmark interest rate to 0.25 per cent and said it will likely remain at that level until the middle of 2010.

The Bank says the recession in Canada "will be deeper than anticipated" and recovery will be delayed until the fourth quarter of this year, prompting the bank to slash its economic forecast. It now says Canada's GDP will shrink by 3 per cent this year, followed by an estimated growth of 2.5 per cent in 2010 and 4.7 per cent in 2011.

That 3% shrinkage is more than double the bank's more optimistic January '09 forecast for a contraction of 1.2 per cent this year.

The U.S. Federal Reserve cuts its interest rate to ZERO back in December 2008.

Canada's chartered banks, including the Toronto Dominion Bank, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia and Laurention Bank of Canada, quickly lowered their prime rates by one-quarter of a percentage point to 2.25 per cent. The prime rate influences interest rates on many consumer loans such as lines of credit and variable-rate mortgages.

In Canada there has been 357,000 net job losses since October 2008.

China doesn't need freedom, says Jackie Chan

ENTERTAINMENT/POLITICS - Jackie Chan has made some comments that freedom may not be good for China, and his spokesmen are now saying those comments were taken out of context.

The 55-year-old martial arts film star caused a huge uproar after he told a business forum for Asian entertainment on Saturday that it may not be good for authoritarian China to become a free society. He was asked to come and comment on censorship in Chinese films.

"I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan said, adding freedoms in his native Hong Kong and Taiwan made those societies "chaotic." (Taiwan, which split from China in 1949, is democratic and Hong Kong, a former British colony now ruled by China, enjoys free elections.)

"I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want," said Jackie Chan.

His main spokesman says the actor was referring to freedom in the entertainment industry and not China's authoritarian government.

However Jackie Chan discussed China as a country – not its entertainment industry specifically – immediately before making his comments about freedom, according to an AP reporter who attended Chan's panel discussion in Hainan China.

"Sure, we've got 5,000 years of history, but our new country has just been around for 60 years and the reforms for 30 years. It's hard to compare us with other countries," Chan said, referring to China's communist rule and capitalist-style reforms under the communist regime.

"But I feel that in the 10 years after Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, I can gradually see, I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan continued.

A Facebook group set up by Hong Kong users calling for Chan to be exiled to North Korea had drawn more than 2,600 members by Tuesday. The group also posted form letters urging Hong Kong's Baptist University and Academy for Performing Arts to strip Chan of honorary degrees they gave the actor.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board, for which Chan serves as an ambassador, had received 17 complaints as of Monday that his comments "hurt the image of Hong Kong and aren't reflective of Hong Kong people," a publicist said. She declined to give her name because of company policy.

The University of Hong Kong's students' union said in a statement Monday Chan's comments "cast shame on the entire Hong Kong citizenry" and "may poison the younger generation."

Opposition Taiwanese politicians on Monday demanded that the city government of Taipei strip Chan of his role as ambassador of the Deaf Olympic Games to be held in the Taiwanese capital in September.

Sooo... does Jackie Chan have a point?

I think the point to be made is that China needs to evolve slowly. With over a billion people, rapid change could be dangerous. Sure China has lots of censorship, a government which bosses around the masses, and most Chinese people still believe the Tiananmen Square Massacre is a hoax...

But how is that any different from the United States, where over 60% of the population now believes September 11th was some huge conspiracy theory planned by the Bush Administration, where the government spies on its own citizens using the Patriot Act and anyone who disagrees with the accepted story is branded un-American?

Evidently Jackie Chan forgot about the Tiananmen Square Massacre (and similar incidents) and the freedom he enjoyed in Hong Kong and Taiwan which allowed him to become such a star in the first place.

See Also:
Follow the Lilith eZine on Facebook

April 20, 2009

Tom Thomson painting fetches only $350,000

ART HISTORY/CANADA - A small Tom Thomson painting sold for much less than expected Sunday after an unusual auction that saw the buyer storm out of the room before eventually being allowed to buy the piece.

The painting, a muted portrayal of a lake at dawn near Algonquin Park in Ontario, was expected to sell for between $500,000 and $600,000.

"I hadn't really planned on showing up, I hadn't really planned on being here. I didn't think I was going to own that painting," said new owner Tom Budd, a retired Calgary investment banker who said he came on a whim after an afternoon of racing sports cars.

Despite interest from across the country, when the piece, called Dawn on Round Lake, was first raised at the front of the Calgary auction, the bids did not fly.

Only Budd raised his hand, bidding $350,000.

Doug Levis of Levis Fire Art Auctions & Appraisals tried to ramp that bid higher, but when it was revealed the painting could not sell for a price less than $400,000, Budd objected that his lower bid was accepted in the first place.

(Note: For those that don't know, auctioneers get a percentage of the sale price, so the auctioneer in this case was likely just being greedy.)

After a few minutes of arguing that several art collectors called "shocking" and "unprecedented," the painting was declared unsold and Budd marched out of the room.

"You've got to encourage the bidding somehow to get to your minimum bid or whatever you're going to sell it for," said one man after the outburst. "That's how auctions work."

A brief meeting between Budd and Levis, and a phone call to the elderly woman whose family has owned the painting for 94 years, resulted in a deal.

"I am pleased to announce the painting did sell. It sold for $350,000," said Levis. "I talked to the client and she agreed she would sell it at those kind of numbers."

Budd only had kind words for the outcome saying: "I've met a lot of people in business, and I would put the owners of this company at the forefront of ethics and morals when it come to tough situations."

The elderly woman, brought the painting to Calgary by bus, the wood panel wrapped in a towel. She's a relative of the painting's original owner, Dr. Robert McComb, who accompanied Thomson on the hunting trip in northern Ontario where it was painted in November 1915.

Thomson was one of the first painters to focus on the Canadian landscape, favouring Algonquin Park with a style that would heavily influence the work of the Group of Seven painters and Emily Carr.

In 1917, at age 39, Thomson drowned under mysterious circumstances in the area, leaving behind more than 300 sketches and only about 50 paintings.

Budd admitted he only began reading about Thomson and the Group of Seven a few weeks ago, but said he was quickly drawn in to the story. "It was the artist, not the painting," he said of his decision to buy the piece.

While he has collected some art - he bought one other piece at the auction before he realized he'd be taking the Thomson home - he said this will be the first painting of such a calibre.

"I'm probably the least knowledgeable person in this room on art. But I'm a quick learner."

Other Thomson paintings have sold for between $300,000 and $1.7 million. (Although to get millions Sotheby's would be a better choice as auctioneer.)

Some had hoped the painting would be sold to a public gallery rather back into private hands. Budd said that wish would likely come true, noting the monetary value of the piece wasn't the issue for him.

"I didn't buy the painting to make money, I don't really need to make money. I've been giving money away," he said. "This painting will end up being donated to somebody at some point."

See Also:
Canadian Art History

Coming Attractions for Summer 2009

ENTERTAINMENT

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1): Ever wonder how Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) got those wicked hangnails? These and other revelations will be sure to have us in the seats.

Star Trek (May 8): Phasers set on "lame" for this attempt to save ruin a beloved sci-fi franchise. It's about the early days of James T. Kirk, Spock and "Bones" McCoy before they went boldly where no man had gone before. Unfortunately the writers have TOTALLY RUINED it by hiring two bit actors with no acting skill, hired only for their sex appeal. Our conclusions? BOYCOTT THE CRAP OUT OF THIS FILM.

Angels & Demons (May 15): Before The Da Vinci Code, there was another dastardly religious plot for symbol sleuth Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to unravel. This prequel co-stars Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård. We're looking forward to this one... sounds like fun.

Terminator Salvation (May 21): This robotic-killer franchise has morphed more often than a T-2000 cyborg. The fourth film chapter (the first without the Governator) is charged to deliver serious jolts, with Christian Bale (of Batman fame) playing humanity's saviour John Connor.

Up (May 29): A retired balloon salesman (Edward Asner) hitches his product to his house and flies to South America for the adventure he'd always promised his late spouse. More crap from Disney/Pixar.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24): All you really need to know is that this is Transformers 2, wherein giant robots and puny humans (led by Shia LaBeouf) blow things up and try to work out their differences. Mmm... Optimus Prime smashing stuff...

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (July 1): Ice Age III, the popular prehistoric animated franchise, seems to have mixed up the timeline... this one is going to confuse the kids about which came first, dinosaurs or woolly mammoths.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 15): The sixth in the Potter film franchise, still one book behind the print revolution, and once again starring a rapidly aging Daniel Radcliffe as the wizardly Harry. Probably just as good as it usually is (about 3 stars, 5 if you're a serious fan).

The Wolfman (Nov. 6): Benicio Del Toro gets really hairy in this remake of the classic 1941 horror film. Anthony Hopkins co-stars. Sweet.

Avatar (Dec. 18): Writer/director James Cameron hopes to top Titanic, in this futuristic epic about a disabled marine who mutates with alien DNA in an adventure set 200 years in the future.

See Also:
Wolverine Film Leaked
Russell Crowe as Robin Hood???
ESCAPE FROM CITY 17

CIA tortured 2 men 266 times

POLITICS - CIA interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning torture technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al-Qaida, far more than had been previously reported, according to a series of legal memos released in the United States last Thursday.

The CIA officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum. Zubaydah is believed to be an Al-Qaida operative.

Former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew. But apparently Kiriakou lied.

The 2005 legal memo also says that the CIA used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the September 11th 2001, terrorist attacks.

No info was gained from Shaikh Mohammed, but rather the torture was simply punishment.

The New York Times reported in 2007 that Mohammed had been barraged more than 100 times with harsh interrogation methods, causing CIA officers to worry that they might have crossed legal limits and to halt his questioning. But the precise number and the exact nature of the interrogation method were not previously known.

The release of the numbers has become part of the debate about the lack of morality by the Justice Department under the Bush administration, which George W. Bush had flip-flopped over whether torture should be condoned or not.

CIA officials had opposed the release of the interrogation memo, dated May 30th 2005, which was one of four secret legal memos on interrogation that were ordered to be released last Thursday.

Congress has now made several proposals for a "truth commission" to examine the Bush administration's 'War on Terrorism' programs, including torture, wiretapping and illegal eavesdropping on Americans.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has begun a year-long, closed-door investigation of the CIA interrogation program, in part to assess claims of Bush administration officials that brutal treatment, including slamming prisoners into walls, shackling them in standing positions for days and confining them in small boxes, was necessary to get information.

Or whether they did it just for fun.

Remember Abu Ghraib prison? I don't think it would surprise Americans to learn the prisoners in Guantanamo were being tortured just to pass the time.

April 19, 2009

Obamamania at the Summit of the Americas

POLITICS - President Barack Obama was in Central America Friday at the Summit of the Americas where he offered a new beginning for United States-Cuba relations and even shook hands with Venezuela's fiery, leftist president for a quick grip and grin.

Obama shook the hand of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a leader who once likened George W. Bush to the devil. Chavez even presented Obama with a book

In an opening speech to the 34-nation gathering, the president promised a new agenda for the Americas, as well as a new style. "We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms," Obama said to loud applause. "But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations."

But perhaps the biggest applause line was his call for a fresh start in relations between Washington and Havana. Obama signaled he was ready to accept Cuban President Raul Castro's proposal of talks on issues once off-limits for Havana, including the scores of political prisoners held by the communist government. The USA has had a trade embargo against Cuba ever since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, but Obama has signaled multiple times in the past he is ready to lift the trade embargo in an effort to see Cuba improve its human rights record and shift towards democracy/capitalism.

"I know there's a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day," Obama said. "I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking. But I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction."

Last Tuesday, Obama ordered an easing of travel and remittance restrictions for Americans with relatives in Cuba. Within hours, Raul Castro – who took over from his ailing brother Fidel a year ago – responded with an offer of talks on "everything" that divides the two countries.

The White House has since welcomed the offer, but suggested Cuba start by releasing some of Havana's scores of political prisoners. Friday Obama promised a new hemispheric growth fund, an initiative to increase Caribbean security and a new regional partnership to develop alternative energy sources and fight global warming, and offered an end to old hemispheric arguments.

"I didn't come here to debate the past," Obama said. "I came here to deal with the future ... We must learn from history. But we can't be trapped by it."

America's economy built on credit pyramid scheme

POLITICS - We've been saying it for years. America's economy is unsustainable and built too much on credit. See:
  • The American Recession
  • American Economy Collapsing
  • America's Economic Meltdown

    But we are no longer alone. A lot of economists are now saying the same thing we've been saying... The United States economy is built on credit, lacks manufacturing and is dooming itself to collapse unless they create more manufacturing companies and cuts back on the rampant spending on credit.

    Many economists are now predicting how mean things are getting and how this is a wake-up call to credit lenders, manufacturers who have moved overseas and people who buy too many products made in China. Its a perfect storm of too much credit, no jobs and products not even built in North America.

    There are little signs of an economic recovery right now, but that only creates a fragile optimism and real recovery won't be in place until the USA/Canada gets their manufacturing base back to work... starting with the construction and automotive industries.

    The massive credit problems the USA has, more so than Canada, will not be a quick fix however. The first stage is getting people back to work, the second stage will be getting those debts paid off.

    The third stage will be when the debts are paid off, buying things again, but paying cash more often and not being reliant on credit.

    Imagine for example you are 50 years old and have been laid off from work. You have 2 kids now in college or university and they need money to finish school... what do you do? Get a second mortgage? Get a bank loan? What you need is to get back to work so your kids can finish college and start earning money on their own.

    Some economists are hoping for a sharp V-shaped recovery, but this is rather wishful thinking because a lot of Americans are still spending credit like crazy. We are predicting a slower U-shaped recovery because it will take a lot longer for people to change their spending habits... otherwise we could have a rocky W-shaped recovery.

    Especially when you consider the fact America now has a skyrocketing national debt... and that debt has to be paid off. If Barack Obama is prudent he will need to cutback on military spending in an effort to pay off that debt.

    The banking industry has a role to play, starting by taking away the orgy of easy credit and forcing people to pay their debts off first.

    Another problem is the derivatives and futures markets. Futures is a silly prospect, you're basically betting that the stocks will go up or down, trying to make money LITERALLY by gambling that things will go up or down. If anything futures should be eliminated so stock portfolios aren't based so much on dumb luck.

    Its bad enough that our economy has been built up on a Ponzi/Pyramid scheme of credit, but to have stock brokers gambling our money away on futures... well, maybe we deserve to have a recession or depression so we learn our lesson that this is sheer irresponsibility.

    With all the recent scandals of corporate crime you'd think we would wizen up about giving money to people who will just gamble it away.

    "The first loan you make is to the person who is most creditworthy, the second to the one that is second-most creditworthy. As you move down the chain, as we saw in the U.S. subprime debacle, you start to lend to people who really have no capacity to pay," says Australian economist Satyajit Das. "And then it becomes a true Ponzi game because you're assuming that he will then be able to con someone to buy his house for ever-higher amounts to pay back your loan. And that grew across just about everything around the world."

    Its all about instant gratification. People don't want to earn that new car or big flat screen TV, they just want easy access to credit so they can buy now and worry later. We, Americans and Canadians, need to learn the value of saving up to buy something.

    That way when we lose our job and end up unemployed for months at a time, we don't have debts hanging over us.

    The problem however is there's a lot of pension plans and retirement savings plans out there that in the interest of greed invested a lot of money in the stock market and gave money to risky stock brokers. Sure, they have nice offices, desks and a view of the harbour, but that doesn't mean they're not running a Ponzi scheme and just haven't been caught yet.

    Some countries, like Canada and Britain, won't be so bad off because they haven't invested so much in the stock market... but they will still see the pain when a lot of the pensioners lose their savings.

    So... is the U.S. government going to step in and put a stop to this business of too many credit cards? No. Thats personal responsibility, although hopefully credit card companies realize that its not profitable.

    And what about futures markets? We should just scrap that idea as fundamentally stupid.
  • India to build Wind Turbines in Ontario

    ENVIRONMENT - Asia's largest maker of wind turbines is thinking of setting up in Ontario for a new manufacturing plant, believing Ontario has the right combination of policies, infrastructure and local desire for more wind power.

    Tulsi Tanti, founder and chair of Suzlon Energy Ltd., says that the Ontario government's proposed Green Energy Act is a "very strong" initiative that helps set the province apart from other jurisdictions in North America. The decision to come to Canada could come soon. "Based on our analysis, 2010 is the right time for us to start business operations in the Canadian market."

    Tanti, also called the "wind man of India," was ranked by Forbes magazine in 2008 as the 33rd richest man in India, with a family wealth of $1.1 billion. That is billion with a B... and he sells wind turbines...?

    15 years ago Tanti was a thirty-something engineer trying to grow his textile company with a new line of polyester yarns, but the problem was India's unreliable electricity system and the high cost of power... so he decided to purchase two wind turbines in 1995. By 2000 he was so impressed he decided to sell off his textile business and start manufacturing wind turbines.

    Today his company Suzlon is the fifth-largest wind turbine supplier in the world with $3.34 billion in revenues in 2008, 13,000 employees and sells wind mill and wind turbine products in 21 countries. Tanti also owns a majority stake in German wind-turbine maker Repower AG, which has already secured contracts for developing wind-power projects in Canada.

    Because of high transportation costs of shipping wind towers and rotor blades, its cheaper to set up manufacturing close to project locations. To build them they need to determine the availability of skilled manpower, the logistical costs and local government support.

    In countries such as India, Brazil and Australia, Suzlon doesn't just sell wind turbines, it also designs, engineers and constructs the wind farms. In India Suzlon also builds the transmission lines that connect them to the country's power grid. In countries where they just build turbines, they build everything from scratch: the gearbox, rotor blades, generator, control systems, towers, etc. Everything is built locally by the company to save on shipping costs.

    Despite the American recession Suzlon is expecting 20 to 30% growth by 2010.

    New Incinerator in Ontario

    ENVIRONMENT - Ontario is contemplating building a garbage incinerator and has contacted North America's largest incinerator company to build and operate an incinerator in Clarington Ontario that will burn 140,000 tonnes of garbage every year from Durham and York regions.

    Covanta Energy Corp., based in Fairfield, New Jersey, operates 35 facilities in the United States, is waiting to be approved to construct the $236-million plant. It will be capable of generating 20 megawatts of power by burning unusable garbage (material that currently can't be recycled or turned into compost) once the facility begins operating in 2013.

    (If this feels like a step backwards, you're right. What they should be doing is building a recycling plant that can recycle ANYTHING.)

    The Durham council will receive the proposal on April 22 – Earth Day – and a final vote is expected June 24.

    The new incinerator will be the first to be built in Ontario in nearly 20 years, and if approved, Covanta would design, get the necessary permits, build and operate the new incinerator under a 20-year contract. They would also get two options for five-year extensions. The plant will also be built with the option to expand to 400,000 tonnes per year... suggesting they may decide to take in more garbage from the Greater Toronto Area.

    Covanta will also be paid $14.7 million a year to run the facility and would be paid using federal gas tax revenues.

    Covanta has guaranteed that the facility will be able to produce 767 kilowatt-hours of electricity for every tonne of waste processed, the equivalent of how much a small household uses every month. At full operation, that's enough to power nearly 12,000 households for a year. Or 34,000 homes if its expanded to 400,000-tonnes-per-year.

    In December 2008, Ontario's Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman directed the Ontario Power Authority to purchase electricity from Durham-York's proposed incinerator for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Sounds silly? The OPA is selling that electricity for less than 6.5 cents/kWh and taking a loss.

    In other words the OPA will spend $8.59 million a year... but they will save more than $15 million a year in landfill fees and the millions in transporting residual waste to a landfill.

    A future source of revenue could also come from capturing heat from the facility and selling it to surrounding businesses, industry and households as part of a district heating system.

    Critics warn the excessive emissions will cause environmental damage and the likelihood it will stifle expansion of recycling programs.

    Last year, Pennsylvania's environmental protection department fined Covanta in October for exceeding emission limits, while Michigan residents are pushing for the closing of a controversial Covanta plant in Detroit.

    Covanta says plant emissions will be well below provincial standards and the electricity it produces will offset coal-burning generation in Ontario.

    So... burning garbage is better than burning coal. So they say. That doesn't make it better overall however. What we really need is better recycling facilities that can recycle EVERYTHING.

    And as for offsetting coal-burners... whats the point of all those windmills and solar farms we're building right now unless its to eliminate the use of coal?

    April 17, 2009

    Pirate Bay founders convicted

    ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - Four men behind popular file-sharing site 'The Pirate Bay' were convicted today of breaking Sweden's copyright law by helping millions of users freely download music, movies and computer games on the Internet.

    In a landmark ruling, the Stockholm district court sentenced Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom to one year each in prison. They were also ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor (about $4.3 million) to a string of entertainment companies (Warner Bros, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI and Columbia Pictures).

    Pirate Bay has 22 million users and has become the entertainment industry's enemy No. 1 after successful court actions against file-swapping sites such as Napster, Grokster and Kazaa.

    Lundstrom helped finance the site, while the three other defendants helped administered it.

    Lawyers for the accused based their defence on the fact that The Pirate Bay doesn't host any copyright-protected material. Instead, it provides a forum for its users to download content through so-called torrent files . Torrent technology allows users to transfer parts of a large file from several different users, increasing download speeds, and is a format used by literally hundreds of other file-sharing programs.

    The court found the defendants guilty of helping users commit copyright violations "by providing a website with ... sophisticated search functions, simple download and storage capabilities, and through the tracker linked to the website."

    ... So what? YouTube does roughly the same thing, so why aren't they being sued and tossed in prison? Just because Google owns it?

    In a video clip posted on the Internet, Sunde called the ruling "bizarre" and said it would be appealed. He also dismissed the damages to the entertainment companies, saying "we can't pay and we won't pay." The Pirate Bay hasn't made any profit from their free service.

    Mockingly, Sunde held up a hand-scribbled "I owe U" note to the camera. "This is as close as you will get to having money from us," he said.

    Judge Tomas Norstrom says that the court took into account that the site was "commercially driven" when it made the ruling. The defendants have denied any commercial motives behind the site.

    The court hearings renewed debate about file-sharing in Sweden, where many defend the right to swap songs and movies freely on the Internet. Critics accuse Swedish authorities of having caved in to pressure from the United States entertainment industry when they launched the crackdown on The Pirate Bay in 2006.

    The Pirate Bay's supporters mobilized for the trial, waving black skull-and-crossbones flags outside the court and setting up a website dedicated to the proceedings.

    Last week French legislators rejected a plan to cut off the Internet connections of people who illegally download music and films, but the government plans to resurrect the bill for another vote this month. The proposed law would be useless... anyone visiting YouTube could in theory be banned.

    Opponents also said the legislation would represent a Big Brother intrusion on civil liberties, while the European Parliament last month adopted a non-binding resolution that defines Internet access as an untouchable "fundamental freedom."

    Sweden earlier this month introduced a new law that makes it easier to prosecute file-sharers because it requires Internet service providers to disclose the Internet protocol addresses of suspected violators to copyright owners.

    Critics said the new law could harm Sweden's reputation as a spawning ground for Internet technology. The country of nine million has one of Europe's highest rates of Internet penetration.

    Iran nuclear plot unfolds in Toronto

    CANADA/POLITICS - A Toronto man has been charged with attempting to ship devices to Iran to be used to make enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

    Mahmoud Yadegari, 38, of Toronto, came to Canada from Iran in 1998, and was arrested today at his north Toronto home without incident. He is charged with attempting to procure and export 10 items known as 'pressure transducers' under the Customs Act and Export Import Permits Act and under the United Nations Act, Iran Regulations. More charges are pending in this high profile arrest.

    The transducers are used in centrifuges to produce enriched uranium, have a legitimate commercial use but can also be used for military purposes. Yedegari was attempting to ship the transducers from Boston to Toronto and on to Dubai, with Iran as the final destination. Police allege he took steps to conceal the identification of the transducers so he could export them overseas without export permits.

    Iran insists it is enriching uranium to produce nuclear energy for civilian purposes, but the United States and some European countries accuse Tehran of secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons.

    In recent years Iran has also bought missile technology from both China and Russia.

    April 16, 2009

    India votes, largest election ever

    POLITICS - India, the world's most populated democracy has begun voting today, destined to set a new record for the most votes ever cast in a democratic country. The voting process will last 4 weeks.

    It is also said to be one of its messiest elections in recent years, with no reliable forecast of who would prevail in campaigns that stressed hyper-local issues rather than the overall direction of India.

    The two largest parties, the governing Indian National Congress and the opposition party Bharatiya Janata are both making deals with a host of ambitious smaller parties, who are expected to drive hard bargains for a shot at power.

    714 million people are eligible to vote in India and voting turnout is typically high (the Central Election Commission estimates turnout this year will be as high as 86%). The elections over the next four weeks will determine the selection of 543 members of Parliament and results are to be announced on May 16th.

    Pro-China Maoists disrupted the electoral process today, killing 18 people including 11 security officers in three separate attacks. More than two million election security officers have been deployed nationwide across India to protect against terrorist attacks.

    The hot button topic in Indian politics is the caste system, wherein people grow up to fulfill whatever job their parents did before them. The antiquated notion still has many supporters in India, but the idea has become controversial and there is now a push to get rid of the caste system entirely.

    When the poll results come in, at least 6 smaller parties, representing India’s many regions and castes, are likely to jockey for government portfolios. There is even a small chance that one of their leaders could vie to be India’s next prime minister.

    The political uncertainty comes as a once-booming India also reels from a growing recession that has cost millions of jobs in India. A clear win by either of the two main parties could see a rally on India's stock markets, but the emergence of a weak coalition of regional and communist parties could see stocks fall by as much as 30 per cent, market watchers say.

    Unlike American elections, the elephants in India's election process are real and are used by election officials patrolling the different polling stations.

    Six million Americans jobless

    POLITICS - Six million Americans are receiving jobless benefits in the United States, breaking all previous records according to latest data released today. Analysts expect the labour market to remain weak for most of 2009 with companies reluctant to hire new workers until an economic recovery is well under way.

    The latest housing data shows there is still in house sales and has yet to hit rock bottom. (It is however the best time to buy in decades.) Likewise the construction industry is doing poorly, the 2nd lowest level on record, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 510,000 new units. The last time it was this low it was 50 years ago.

    In other news... bicycle sales, use of mass transportation (subways, buses, etc) is up dramatically. The cycling industry is expecting their best year ever. Beer sales in North America are also up, while sales of wine and heavier alcohols are down sharply. Seems everyone is watching how they spend their free time and their money.

    You know its bad when businessmen start cycling to work and drinking beer instead of wine. Hopefully not both at the same time.

    See Also:
    The Bicycle Mechanic

    New poll, Liberals leading

    CANADA - Fortunes have shifted substantially for Stephen Harper's Conservatives since December, with Michael Ignatieff's Liberals enjoying an upsurge, says a new poll from EKOS.

    Asked which party they would support if an election were held tomorrow, 36.7 opted for the Liberals while 30.2 per cent chose the Conservatives. About 15.5 per cent supported the NDP, while the Green party was the choice of 8.1 per cent and the Bloc Québécois was backed by 9.4 per cent.

    The survey was conducted using a hybrid internet-telephone research panel between April 8 and 13, and involved a random sample of 1,587 Canadians. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

    The Liberals biggest upsurge is in Ontario and Quebec, which could win them enough seats to get a majority government and end 5 years of minority governments in Canada.

    It would also mean warmer ties with the Obama administration, as Stephen Harper gave Obama a cold reception on climate change and other issues.

    April 12, 2009

    Ex-Thai PM calls for revolution

    POLITICS - Thailand's ousted prime minister called for a revolution today after rioting erupted in the capital, with protesters commandeering public buses and swarming triumphantly over military vehicles in unchecked defiance after the government declared a state of emergency.

    Bands of red-shirted anti-government protesters roamed areas of Bangkok, with some furiously smashing cars carrying Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his aides and others beating up motorists who hurled insults at them.

    Over 10 major intersections were occupied by the 30,000 protesters, who used buses to barricade major roads, spawning massive traffic jams. Police abandoned their stations and vans/cars were looted.

    Ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, regarded by most of the protesters as their leader, called for a revolution and said he might return from exile to lead it.

    "Now that they have tanks on the streets, it is time for the people to come out in revolution. And when it is necessary, I will come back to the country," he said in a telephoned message to followers who surrounded the current prime's minister office.

    Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption and abuse of power. He remains popular in the impoverished countryside. His opponents took to the streets last year to help bring down two pro-Thaksin governments, seizing Bangkok's two airports in November 2008 for about a week.

    Abhisit's government suffered a major humiliation Saturday when it failed to stop hundreds of demonstrators from storming the venue of an Asian summit in the beach resort of Pattaya, forcing its cancellation and the evacuation of the leaders by helicopter. The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship say Abhisit's four-month-old government took power illegitimately and they want new elections. They accuse the country's elite of undermining democracy by interfering in politics.

    Today demonstrators swarmed over two of three armoured personnel carriers outside a shopping mall in downtown Bangkok, waving flags in celebration. An old lady atop one of the vehicles screamed "Democracy!" before the protesters directed the soldiers to drive the APCs back to a military camp.

    Outside the Interior Ministry, a furious mob attacked Abhisit's car with poles, a ladder and even flower pots as it slowly made its escape. The prime minister's secretary and his driver were also attacked and badly injured. Police in riot gear nearby did nothing.

    "The government can't do anything," said Lada Yingmanee, a 37-year-old protester. "We will show them what tens of thousands of unarmed civilians can do. The people will finally rule our beloved Thailand."

    Last week similar protests drew crowds of over 100,000 people in Bangkok.

    White House dog leaked, Charlie-Bo

    POLITICS - As leaks go, this one isn't so important, but it does have dog lovers in the United States and around the world talking.

    Obamas' best-kept secret, the name, face and identity of the new White House dog, was leaked this weekend on the internet site firstdogcharlie.com, including photos and a history on its pedigree, a 6-month-old Portuguese Water Dog

    A gift from Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the dog was originally named Charlie but Obama's children Malia and Sasha have started calling him Bo (Barack Obama's initials), but also in honour of a cousin's cat of the same name and because Michelle Obama's father once went by the nickname Diddley (as in blues legend Bo Diddley).

    Charlie-Bo has undergone extensive training by Kennedy's dog obedience team outside Washington. Its not yet decided where Charlie-Bo will sleep in the sprawling White House.

    The Kennedys' issued the following statement regarding the new First Dog: "We couldn't be happier to see the joy that Bo is bringing to Malia and Sasha. We love our Portuguese Water Dogs and know that the girls – and their parents – will love theirs too."

    Navy Seals kill pirates, rescue American captain

    POLITICS - Today Barack Obama approved a daring rescue operation to save an American captain who has been held hostage by pirates during a five-day standoff. The captain was freed unharmed and three of his captors were killed in bloody shootout between the world's third largest Navy (Britain's and Russia's navies are bigger) and Somali pirates in a lifeboat far off the Horn of Africa.

    Capt. Richard Phillips was in "imminent danger" of being killed, but United States Special Operations Navy Seals shot the pirates in the evening operation and was freed at approx. 7:19 PM local time. Phillips, 53, of Underhill, Vermont, was uninjured during the several minutes of gunfire and is now resting comfortably on a U.S. warship after receiving a medical exam.

    Five days ago Phillips had offered himself as a hostage so the rest of his crew could go free and had been held hostage since then. "I'm just the byline. The real heroes are the Navy, the Seals, those who have brought me home," said Phillips by phone.

    Crew members say their ordeal began Wednesday when Somali pirates hauled themselves up from a small boat bobbing on the surface of the Indian Ocean below. As the pirates shot in the air, Phillips told his crew to lock themselves in a cabin and surrendered himself to safeguard his men.

    At the time the closest U.S. warship was over 550 km away.

    Phillips was then held hostage in an enclosed lifeboat that was closely watched by three arriving U.S. warships and a helicopter in an increasingly tense standoff. The pirates were believed armed with pistols and AK-47 assault rifles.

    Two days ago on Friday, Phillips jumped out of the lifeboat and tried to swim for his freedom but was recaptured when a pirate fired an automatic weapon at him.

    "This was an incredible team effort, and I am extremely proud of the tireless efforts of all the men and women who made this rescue possible" says Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

    A spokesman for the increasingly well-organized Somali pirates, Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, said that the killing of the three pirates was "a painful experience." and "This is unfortunate action and our friends should have done more to kill the captain before they were killed. This will be a good lesson for us."

    Residents of Harardhere, a pirate stronghold, were gathering in the streets after news of the captain's release, saying they fear pirates may now retaliate against some of the 200 hostages they still hold.

    Pirates are holding about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members. Hostages are from Bulgaria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tuvalu and Ukraine, among other countries, waiting for their ransoms to be paid.

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