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December 28, 2011

America pulls out of Iraq in the middle of the night

POLITICS - The last 500 American soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighbouring Kuwait under the cover of darkness on Sunday December 18th. The convoy was done in secret during the night for fear of attacks from the rival factions of Sunni and Shiite Iraqis who have been caught in a civil war since the fall of Saddam Hussein 9 years ago.

The five-hour drive by the American convoy marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that left Iraq shattered and struggling to recover.

“My heart goes out to the Iraqis,” says Warrant Officer John Jewell. “The innocent always pay the bill.”

It was a stark contrast to the high-octane start of the war, which began before dawn March 20th 2003 with an airstrike in southern Baghdad, the opening shot in the infamous “shock and awe” bombardment meant to terrorize the Iraqis into submission.

Saddam and his regime fell within weeks, and Saddam Hussein was later captured by the Americans and executed by his Shiite enemies in 2006. But Saddam’s death only fueled the rivalry between Shiite and Sunni factions.

The Iraqi civil war devastated the country, and its legacy includes tens of thousands of widows and orphans, a people deeply divided between loyalty to church and state and an infrastructure that remains largely in ruins.

Since Barack Obama got into power violence has dropped suddenly and Iraqi security forces have improved dramatically. The sectarian violence remains and likely will never disappear as long as religious radicals continue killing each other.

The same day, even as American troops were leaving, the Sunni political bloc said it was suspending its participation in parliament to protest the monopoly on government posts by Shiite allies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraqis celebrated the exit of what they call their American occupiers. Some said that were grateful for the USA ousting Saddam, but complain that the war went on too long. A majority of Americans would agree, according to opinion polls.

Iraq’s military chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Babaker Zebari (a Shiite) said Sunday that his troops were up to the task of uprooting Sunni militant groups. Sunni militants continue to carry out bombing and shooting against police, soldiers and civilians, and Shiite militias have been founded for the express purpose of exterminating Sunni militants.

Note: Sunni Muslims are the moderate ones, typically wearing mustaches instead of beards, and allowing women to drive, become doctors, etc. Saddam Hussein however went too far in his brutal repression of the Kurds and Shiites.

Captain Mark Askew was among the last soldiers to leave Iraq, said the future of Iraq is unknown. “It depends on what Iraq does after we leave,” he said. “I don’t expect them to turn into South Korea or Japan overnight.”

120 Sears and Kmart stores to close

UNITED STATES - Sears has announced it will close 120 Sears and Kmart stores, the largest closing of its properties after disastrous holiday sales. The closings will effect 1000s of jobs.

The retailer will be closing 120 of its worst performing ("marginal") stores and will focus its resources on its top performing stores.

“Given our performance and the difficult economic environment, especially for big-ticket items, we intend to implement a series of actions to reduce ongoing expenses, adjust our asset base, and accelerate the transformation of our business model,” says CEO Louis D’Ambrosio. “These actions will better enable us to focus our investments on serving our customers.”

Sears Holdings Corp., based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, hopes to generate $170 million in cash from inventory sales and additional proceeds from the sale or sublease of real estate.

Sears, which operates Kmart stores, Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Land’s End, has seen rival department stores like Macy’s Inc., discounters like Target and electronics stores like Best Buy and Future Shop steal loyal customers away, mostly people in the middle-income bracket.

Sears announced smaller closings earlier this year and had pinned their hopes on upbeat holiday sales. Sears Holdings has more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

12 New Years Resolutions Worth Keeping for 2012

#1. Don't answer hatemail. Just delete it and don't worry about it.

#2. Explore your sexuality. You only live once.

#3. Exercise. Just in case the religious nutjobs are right and the zombies rise up in 2012. You will live longer either way.

#4. Stop worrying about the unimportant things. "Don't sweat the small stuff."

#5. Learn to say no. You are not a slave to the whims of others.

#6. Turn off your electronics at least 1 day per month. You can answer the emails later.

#7. Stop pigging out on junk food. You know its unnecessary. Do something else that gives you comfort.

#8. Pretend to be confident and you will become confident once you realize how easy it is.

#9. Stand up for others. You won't regret it.

#10. Organize your time better. Stop multitasking so much. Multitasking actually reduces productivity.

#11. Travel. Again, you only live once.

#12. Learn a new language. The next best thing to traveling.

December 25, 2011


ENTERTAINMENT - This Christmas we recommend checking out the feline follies of "Simon's Cat" available on YouTube or Have a happy and safe Holiday Season!

December 23, 2011

Helena Guergis sues Stephen Harper

CANADA - Former cabinet minister Helena Guergis was falsely accused of cocaine use, extortion and associating with hookers in a plot to chase her from politics. Guergis, the former MP for Simcoe—Grey and minister of state for the status of women, saw her political career smashed in April 2010 in a swirl of false allegations which ultimately cost her career, her ability to make a living and her self respect.

And now its payback time.

Helena Guergis is suing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party of Canada and two former cabinet colleagues for $1.3 million, for their roles in deliberately and unfairly forcing her out of the Conservative caucus and cabinet for their own political, personal and financial benefit.

In one incident, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt spreaded “defamatory” words that she had seen Guergis in the bathroom of an Ottawa restaurant using cocaine with two other people. That rumour later turned out to be a complete fabrication.

The lies unfolded in 2010.

In April 2010, private investigator Derrick Snowdy went to Arthur Hamilton (a lawyer with the Cassels Brock law firm) and falsely claimed that Guergis was involved in fraud, extortion and prostitution.

Hamilton went to Harper’s inner circle and the Prime Minister himself, and then Stephen Harper decided (with no proof that Guergis was involved in any wrongdoing) that they would kick Guergis out of the caucus and work to distance themselves from her.

On April 9th 2010, Harper announced in a news release that he had become aware of “serious allegations” about Guergis’s conduct. The Prime Minister said Guergis had offered her resignation from cabinet and would no longer sit as a Tory MP.

But Harper never detailed what the allegations were and Guergis didn't offer her resignation. Guergis says she was pressured to step down and accuses Harper of rushing to judgment.

Much later private investigator Derrick Snowdy's claims were proved false and complete fabrication, but because Harper acted on the false information and deliberately worked to force Guergis out of politics that shows he acted with malicious intent.

However, Harper and his cronies will probably get off. Defamation laws clear state that if people act on information (even if later proved to be false information) that this NOT constitute defamation because it is "reasonable to believe".

There are several defenses against defamation:

#1. Responsible Communication, ie. warning people about a criminal.
#2. Fair Comment, ie. commenting on something that is reasonable to believe.
#3. Already Infamous, ie. the person is a known criminal.

And so forth...

So while Helena Guergis' lawsuit has validity, it will likely fail because Stephen Harper's actions fall into the realm of Fair Comment. If the PMO took other actions which stepped over the boundaries of Fair Comment however (such as the false cocaine allegation) then that crosses into defamation.

December 14, 2011

Five Economics Predictions for 2012

POLITICS - What are economists saying about 2012? Lets find out.

IHS Global Insight expects global GDP to rise 2.7% in 2012, but they have other predictions as well. In 2010 eight out of 10 of IHS’s predictions proved to be correct.

1) United States recession?

Most economists think the USA will avoid a recession in 2012 and IHS agrees. They're predicting the first half of 2012 to be slow, but to pick up steam half-way through the year. They're expecting the USA's GDP to rise 2.5% by the end of 2012.

2) Europe

Fiscal confidence is plummeting in Europe, suggesting a mild recession in 2012. If Europe's debt problems are not solved however it could be much worse. The IHS is expecting Greece's GDP to drop 6% and Portugal's to drop 3%.

The IHS is predicting Greece might drop the Euro as its currency.

3) Asia

Asia will continue to have the strongest economic growth in the world (around 5.5%). Expect a rebound in post-earthquake Japan that will drive exports. Growth in China is expected to be about 8% or better.

4) Commodity Prices

Prices should stabilize and gold prices may drop. Expect oil prices to drop 30 to 40%. Prices should drop in North America/Europe due to weaker demand, but expect growing demand in China and India.

Geopolitical tensions and oil shortages may cause oil prices to go back up during the Summer of 2012, but not to any record levels unless there is a large war in a country such as Iran.

5) Inflation

Inflation will fall, particularly in North America and Europe. Central banks are unlikely to raise interest rates. In Europe deflation in poorer regions will become a growing concern.

2011 was the 10th Hottest Year in recorded history

ENVIRONMENT - 13 of the hottest year in recorded history were in the last 15 years. This past year was no different, tying for the number 10 spot. The global warming phenomenon and its cause due to greenhouse gases will certainly continue to be a hot topic in 2012.

Our governments will continue to ignore the threat of climate change and the growing sense of environmental catastrophe will expand as we encounter longer droughts, deeper floods, record setting hurricanes and bizarre weather.

World temperatures keep rising and we are heading for irreversible changes as the Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record-low volumes in 2011, the melting of the permafrost and rising sea levels. Rising sea levels is the biggest danger since most of the world's population lives in coastal cities which would be flooded by just a 7 meter increase (scientists have determined that if both poles melted it would be an approximately 21 meter increase). Some island nations will be destroyed entirely by rising sea levels.

"The science is solid and proves unequivocally that the world is warming," says R.D.J. Lengoasa, deputy director of the International Meteorological Organization. "Climate change is real, and we are already observing its manifestations in weather and climate patterns around the world," he said on the sidelines of the UN climate conference under way in South Africa.

2011 has been a year of extreme weather. Extreme drought in East Africa has left tens of thousands dead, and there have been deadly floods in Asia, and 14 separate weather catastrophes in the United States with damage topping $1 billion each. American insurance rates are skyrocketing due to weather alone.

Climate negotiators have set a goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2 C above preindustrial levels. The global temperature average is already 0.8 C above the preindustrial average.

"Forget about it. It's too late," says Michel Jarraud, IMO's secretary-general, who also says the 2.3 F target already is out of reach because countries keep bickering over blame and doing nothing.

Scientists are now stating the record high concentrations of greenhouse gases will result in the average global temperature eventually rising another 2.4 C above 2011 levels.

2011 saw high temperatures saturated the Earth despite a La Nina event, when low surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean normally has a cooling effect on the entire globe. 2012 is expected to be one of the top 5 hottest years on record.

This means bizarre and extreme weather will increase in both frequency and intensity as the Earth continues to warm.

PREDICTION: The melting of sea ice in the poles will create channels through which ocean currents can pull ice farther into warmer waters, causing a chain reaction and sea ice melting at a faster rate than normal. Similar events happened during the collapse of ice shelves in previous years, but the ocean currents could speed up the process.

2011: Year of the Protester

POLITICS - From the protests and revolution in Egypt, the Arab Spring (protests and governments toppling across North Africa and the Middle East) to the economic frustration felt in Europe to the Occupy Wall Street Movement we've seen our share of protests in 2011.

Indeed every continent but the Antarctica saw its share of protests in 2011. Even now in December as the year comes to a close protests remain in Israel, India, Chile, China, Britain, Spain and the United States.

So much so that “The Protester” was named Time Magazine's 2011 Person of the Year today. The distinction is given to the person who, for better or for worse, influences the events of the year.

“Is there a global tipping point for frustration? Everywhere, it seems, people said they'd had enough... ... They dissented; they demanded; they did not despair, even when the answers came back in a cloud of tear gas or a hail of bullets. They literally embodied the idea that individual action can bring collective, colossal change,” says Time Editor Rick Stengel.

In China, the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was held 81 days in secret detention by Chinese authorities earlier this year. The arrest and lack of charges against him sparked an international outcry and protests in China.

December 13, 2011

Deadly Greenhouse Gas bubbling up in Russian Arctic

By Charles Moffat.

ENVIRONMENT - Dr Semiletov of Russia released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. His findings show an unprecedented release of methane that is bubbling up from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The Russian report states that methane has been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by Russian scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region. The scale of the methane release astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, states that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," says Dr Semiletov. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

American scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed. With the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire Arctic, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes per year at that time, but the latest expedition suggests that the phenomenon has increased dramatically in volume and strength.

In late Summer 2011 the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," says Dr Semiletov. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

And if its bubbling up in the Russian arctic chances are likely up it is also bubbling up in the Canadian arctic and off the coast of Greenland.

Veganism, The New Religion

By Charles Moffat.

HEALTH/RELIGION - Veganism is more than a diet to many Vegans. Its a way of life. Its a set of moral values. Why should a religion need anything more than that?

There are other non-deistic religions in the world (non-deistic means a religion with no god). Confucianism for example believes in honouring ancestors. Shamanism and various other religions believe in a spirit world, but one without a god.

For fun some Canadians and Americans put down "Jedi" when asked their religion, so much so that some Jedi people now claim it should be acknowledged as an actual religion.

However the major problem with organized religions is that they tend to be pushy, worse than credit recovery agencies and their annoying phone calls, and they try to push their beliefs unto others by ranting on and on about how their religion is superior.

And certainly there are some Vegans out there whom do that. (And we could also say the same about some meat-eaters and omnivores always trying to convert Vegans and vegetarians back to the fold of bacon.)

I have a Vegan friend who unlike a few other Vegans I've met doesn't try to ram her lifestyle down the throats of unwilling people. She doesn't try to coerce you, doesn't fuss about all the health benefits of Veganism (unless it comes up naturally as part of the conversation), doesn't show you horribly graphic documentaries showing how cattle, lambs and horses and brutally slaughtered for food... she just treats everyone equal, bends over backwards to be nice to people and is genuine about it.

Her behaviour is such that I wish more people (not just Vegans) were more like her. Genuinely nice.

Because frankly there is nothing more annoying than a friend who is constantly trying to get you to change your beliefs, doesn't respect your beliefs, and wants you to completely change your lifestyle.

Becoming a Vegan is a daunting task. People don't do it over night. It really is like changing your religion. Its a life style change, from the clothes you wear (no wool, leather or fur), no foods or drinks that contain any kind of meat, dairy or animal byproducts... and some of them may lose friends in arguments about morality and food.

I would argue therefore that there really needs to be a set of ethics for Vegans. A sort of Ten Commandments of Veganism... and these edicts should include behavioural advice too.

The Thou Shalt Commandments of Veganism

1. Thou shalt not eat meat, dairy or animal byproducts.

2. Thou shalt not wear leather, fur, wool or animal byproducts.

3. Thou shalt not use household objects containing animal byproducts.

4. Thou shalt be respectful of other people's food habits.

5. Thou shalt be courteous and kind and non-forceful when spreading your ideas.

6. Thou shalt be helpful to people expressing an interest in Vegan lifestyle.

7. Thou shalt be equally kind to people with no interest in Vegan lifestyle.

8. Thou shalt let other people, including your own children, decide for themselves.

9. Thou shalt be understanding of other people's opinions and respectful of their decisions.

10. Thou shalt be a role-model for other Vegans and people in general.

Is that too much to ask?

I know if we replaced the word Vegan with the names of various religions (especially the ones which go door to door trying to convert people) that the above 'Thou Shalts' would be too much for some people to actually do. There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who like to force their beliefs on others, and those who simply ask to be left alone to make their own decisions.

I personally prefer to make my own decisions. If I go to the fridge and pull out cheese and bread and make a grilled cheese sandwich, its my decision. If I can respect the choices of others, why should they not respect mine?

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