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February 26, 2009

General Motors loses another $9.6 billion

CARS - Today General Motors Corp. posted a $9.6 billion USD fourth-quarter loss and said the company used up $6.2 billion of cash in the last three months of 2008 as it fought the worst U.S. auto sales climate since 1982 and sought government loans to keep the century-old company running.

GM says it lost $30.9 billion during 2008 and continues to hint at bankruptcy if it doesn't get a government bailout.

Chief financial officer Ray Young said said that government auditors are studying the future of the company because "there's uncertainty with how the Treasury will view our viability plan," and "uncertainty on whether we're going to be able to execute the terms of our loan agreement."

The company has received $13.4 billion in federal loans since Dec. 31 2008 and says it needs another $30 billion to stay out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States. Top GM executives were in Washington, D.C. today to meet with the Obama administration's auto task force to talk about restructuring and additional loans.

Young said GM would reduce its costs by another $4.5 billion in 2009, but its not enough to become viable. The company plans to cut 47,000 jobs around the world as it restructures with government loans in the United States and Canada.

GM's quarterly revenue fell 39% to $30.8 billion from $46.8 billion, as credit availability froze across the globe, and a lack of consumer confidence and fears of job losses kept people from buying new vehicles.

Since 2000, GM's American salaried workforce has shrunk by 33% from its 2000 high of 44,000 people. At the same time, the number of hourly workers has plunged by more than half – to about 63,700 people at the end of last year from 133,000 in 2000.

The credit crisis and American recession has spread globally like a virus paralyzing many industries with debt and luxury items like new cars have been the hardest hit.

Obama Budget Outlined, Universal Health Care coming

HEALTH/POLITICS - Today U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a multi-trillion-dollar spending plan that would boost taxes on the wealthy, curtail Medicare and lay the groundwork for universal health care.

In addition to sending Congress his $3.55 trillion budget plan for 2010, Obama proposed more immediate changes that would push spending to $3.94 trillion (all figures USD) in 2009. That would result in a record budget deficit Obama projects will hit $1.75 trillion, reflecting the massive spending being undertaken to battle a severe American recession and the worst financial crisis in the United States since the Great Depression.

Obama, in a morning briefing, spoke of "hard choices that lie ahead." He called his budget "an honest accounting of where we are and where we intend to go."

The plan balances Obama's campaign pledges to deliver tax cuts to the middle class, expand health care coverage and combat the economic crisis with an effort to avoid a soaring deficit by increasing taxes on the wealthy (who frankly can afford a tax increase when you consider all the tax cuts George W. Bush gave them during his 8 years as president).

The $634 billion down payment on expanding health care coverage would come from a $318 billion increase over 10 years in income taxes on the wealthy, defined as couples making more than $250,000 per year and individuals making more than $200,000. The tax increase would occur by reducing the benefit the wealthy get on tax deductions for charities. Normally for every $1 given to charity the wealthy gets 35 cents back the government, now that amount drops to 28 cents.

The other half of the money for expanding health care will come from scrapping Medicare and drug payments under Medicaid, and replace it with UNIVERSAL FREE HEALTH CARE. 48 million Americans currently don't have access to health care and this plan will insure everyone has health care.

In one move, Barack Obama has taken the United States back 40 years, back when the USA had free health care and before greedy health insurance companies started refusing patients health care.

The United States is the only western country that does not currently have free health care. Canada, Britain, France, all of Europe, South America, Mexico and heck, even Cuba, has free health care. Its about time the USA joined the rest of the civilized world.

See Also:
Greedy Obsolete Doctors
How America Aids and Abets AIDS/HIV Worldwide
American Obesity Rates

TAX CUTS FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS

To meet his pledge of tax cuts for the middle class, Obama wants to make permanent the $400 annual tax cut due to start showing up in workers' paycheques in April as part of the $787 billion stimulus package just passed by Congress. Obama's budget also extends the middle class tax cuts passed by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003. Those cuts were due to expire at the end of 2010.

IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN

Obama also asked for an additional $75 billion to cover the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009 and another $130 billion for 2010 and will cut back on wasteful expenditures and focus on finally rooting out the Taliban/Al-Qaeda in southern Afghanistan.

CARBON EMISSION CAPS

Obama's plan also contains a proposal to raise hundreds of billions of dollars by auctioning off permits to exceed carbon emissions caps, which Obama wants to impose on users of fossil fuels to address global warming.

Some of the permits revenues will be used for a "Making Work Pay" tax credit of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples beyond 2010, which will help to cushion lower-income Americans from the higher electricity bills they will face because of the stiffer pollution controls.

February 23, 2009

Billions earmarked for Home Energy Tax Credits

ENVIRONMENT/POLITICS - When Congress passed the financial bailout bill late in 2008 it included a range of federal tax credits and cash gifts for businesses -- but also a suite of new and renewed tax credits for individuals in the United States who want to make energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to their home or cars. When President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill in February, the federal government expanded and extended some of those credits.

So what's in it for homeowners and other American taxpayers? There are several important provisions anyone can take advantage of (changes made by the economic stimulus bill are in bold). This list includes:

$1,500 Home Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency

You can claim a home tax credit for energy efficiency improvements made in 2009 (but not for improvements made in 2008) if you installed new insulation, energy-efficient windows or an energy-efficient furnace, boiler or air conditioner.

A tax credit of up to $500 that expired in 2007 has been renewed for 2009 by the bailout bill, and expanded to $1,500 by the economic stimulus bill. It covers up to 30% (expanded from 10% by the economic stimulus bill) of the cost of a range of projects that meet certain specifications. Do $5,000 worth of qualifying work, and you not only get a $1,500 rebate, but also savings on energy bills for years to come. (Get more ideas for money-saving home energy efficiency improvements with The Daily Green's 19 Tips to Winterize Your Home feature.)

The economic stimulus bill also stripped out most caps on individual home improvements, which had applied to windows, heating equipment and other energy efficiency improvements.

Note that the tax credit applies only to equipment, not labor.

Find more information about these home energy efficiency tax credits at the Alliance to Save Energy or Energy Star or Department of Energy Websites. Note that much of this information reflects the tax incentives in place in 2006 and 2007; for the most part, the 2009 tax credits are identical, but check updated criteria for which products qualify, for instance.

$2,000 or More In Home Energy Tax Credits for Geothermal, Solar, Wind Turbines or Fuel Cells

The economic stimulus bill removed the $2,000 cap that had applied to geothermal heat pumps, leaving in place the 30% tax rebate on qualified solar energy systems, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines, and fuel cell systems.

Ground-source heat pumps are installed underground and use the constant 50-degree subsurface temperature to cool air or water in the summer, and heat it in the winter — both of which reduce the cost of heating or cooling year round.

The solar energy tax credit is now good through 2016. (See The Daily Green's Home Solar Panel Reviews: The Most Efficient and Best Value Home Solar Panels.)

$500 Home Energy Tax Credits for Fuel Cells or Microturbines

The tax incentive that had covered 30% of the cost of fuel cell or microturbine systems in homes, which lapsed in 2008, has been restored for 2009 and through 2016. It covers up to $500 per 0.5 kw of capacity.

$7,500 Energy Tax Credits for Plug-in Hybrid Cars

The first 200,000 buyers of plug-in hybrid vehicles from each manufacturer now qualify for a $7,500 tax rebate.

A similar tax credit for hybrid vehicles had been capped at $3,500 before the bailout bill.

$2,500 for Plug-in Electric Motorcycles or Low-Speed or Three-Wheeled Vehicles

The economic stimulus bill established a 10% tax credit through 2011 with a cap of $2,500 for new electric plug-in motorcycles, low-speed and three-wheeled vehicles. There's also a 10% tax rebate and a $4,000 cap for converting an existing vehicle to a plug-in.

$50,000 for Installing a Clean Fuel Refueling System

While few homeowners may be ready to take advantage, those who want to install a clean fuel refueling system, like a natural gas refueler or a recharging system for a plug-in electric vehicle, can now qualify for up to $50,000 -- up from $30,000 -- if the system is installed in 2009 or 2010, thanks to the stimulus bill. Go with hydrogen and the credit increases to $200,000, and you have until 2014 to take advantage of it.

Wildcard: State Energy Tax Credits

Keep your eyes out for new incentives from your state, since the bill also authorizes an $800 million government bond program that encourages states to create incentives for new and existing energy conservation and related programs. Some of that money is likely to be used toward state tax breaks and other incentives that will vary by location. Among the incentives to watch for is up to $6,500 per qualifying home in the Weatherization Assistance Program. The Department of Energy's Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, which provides grants to states and local governments that trickle down to individuals, had its budget increased nearly 10-fold.

Conservative Cowardice

By thwap

CANADA - This weekend I was checking out Canadian Cynic and blogging contributor "LuLu" had posted about Stephen Harper's government's saying "fuck you!" to accountability in Canada. According to the Globe & Mail:

OTTAWA — The Harper government has delayed for months the release of notes on
conference calls held at the height of last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak
— a lag some experts say breaks Ottawa's own information laws. ... Privy Council
officials at first said they had records as requested, but needed four months
“to consult other government institutions” about them. Then Ann Wesch, the
access to information director for PCO, wrote a letter dated Feb. 10 stating
that in fact “the records retrieved do not fall under the scope of this request.
Therefore we have no records relevant to your request.” The explanation for the
flip-flop? Records retrieved were handwritten notes — not minutes or
transcripts, said the PCO analyst questioned about the response.This, despite
the fact that the word transcribe is in part defined in the Canadian Oxford
Dictionary as “make a copy of, esp. in writing .. . write out (shorthand, notes,
etc.) . . . .”
As Univeristy of Ottawa expert on federal information law put it:
“It is silly,” he said. “I would even say it's infantile to be making this sort
of distinction. “This goes against the spirit of the act and the letter of the
[Access to Information] act.”
As was stated earlier in the article, twenty people died because of this failure of oversight. We all remember at the time that Harper was lamely arguing that these deaths were the fault of the Liberals, as if his own sweeping changes to the regulatory regime never existed. (We also remember Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz making jokes about poisoned food and deaths during press conferences at the time.)

Now, despite the fact that Harper is blaming the Liberals he lacks the confidence to provide us with the information about what his government was doing in response to these deaths. We have a right to this information. This is OUR government. There is no "national security" issue at stake here (which Harper loves to use to hide information about his torture policies).

This contempt for democracy, this contempt for accountability, this callous disregard for human life, this craven toadying to corporate interests, this is all an excellent example of the sort of long-standing behaviour that should have written off this party of morons, losers, murderers and thieves long ago. This is the party that pompous idiot Charles Adler had the gall to describe as "mature." This is not maturity. This is a bunch of brazen vandals spitting in our faces, confident that there is nothing that can be done about it. And you know what? Thanks to the cowardly, useless AND COMPLICIT Liberal Party, combined with the ignorance and confusion of almost half the electorate (this includes the full-time stupid 30% of the population that will stick with "conservatism" through thick and thin), there really isn't anything we can do about this.

In the face of murderous negligence and subsequent callous contempt for the law, for the principles of open government, the decent portion of Canadian society is powerless. This has to change.

February 22, 2009

Afghan men sentenced for 'blasphemous' Quran

RELIGION - Last week an appeals court in Afghanistan upheld 20-year prison sentences for two men who published a translation of the Quran that drove religious leaders to call for their execution.

The controversial text is a translation of Islam's holy book into an Afghan language without the original Arabic verses alongside. Many Muslims regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and it is believed a mistranslation could warp God's word.

A host of Muslim clerics in Afghanistan have condemned the translation – which was published in 2007 and handed out for free – as blasphemous and accused its publishers of setting themselves up as false prophets, and organized protests against the book.

Critics have said the trial illustrates the undue influence of hardline clerics in Afghanistan's fledgling legal system.

The appeals court found the men guilty of modifying the Quran – a crime punishable by death. However, the three-judge panel reiterated a lower court ruling giving the men 20 years each.

The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty for the two men – Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for Afghanistan's attorney general, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who signed a letter endorsing the translation.

Both men plan to appeal again.

The appeals court reduced the sentence of a third man, the owner of the print shop that published the book to 15 months, which he has already served, from five years. Three other men charged with trying to help Zalmai flee the country were sentenced to approx. seven months, also time already served.

Ontario to fast-track wind turbine projects

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Ontario municipalities will lose the power to decide how close wind turbines can be to residential properties and environmentally sensitive areas under proposed green-energy legislation being tabled Monday.

The new rules, a blow to NIMBYism (NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard), will also ensure that developers of wind and other renewable-energy projects get construction permits within six months.

It's all part of Ontario's plan to streamline approvals for such projects, create certainty for developers and attract more investments that will create green-collar jobs in the province – more than 50,000 jobs over three years.

Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman, speaking yesterday at the Toronto Board of Trade, said the patchwork of municipal guidelines that has evolved over the years has created a cumbersome process for energy developers. He compared it to the patchwork of municipal rules regarding public smoking before the province created an Ontario-wide standard. Similarly, the proposed Green Energy Act will create a provincial standard for wind turbine sites and a "one-window, one-permit" approach to approvals.

"I see municipalities grappling, struggling, with how to balance the desire of local wind proponents against the desire of some local residents," Smitherman said in an interview. "A patchwork quilt is not the best way forward."

The setback distance for turbines – how far they must be from a home – will be determined through consultation with the public and the environment ministry. Possible distances will be discussed next week.

Other items expected to be in the proposed legislation:

The province's Standard Offer Program, which sets standard pricing for electricity from small renewable energy projects, has been scrapped. It will be replaced by a more ambitious program that accommodates wind, biomass, hydroelectric and solar projects.

Homeowners will soon have access to direct grants and low-interest loans to help pay for technology and appliances that make their homes more energy efficient.

New policies will support co-operatives of farmers, homeowners and businesses that want to invest in renewable-energy projects.

The province will also stimulate development of offshore wind farms on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes with the aim of pursuing power-purchase contracts with developers.

25 Recession Tips

POLITICS - Want to save money during the American recession?

1. Switch to a credit card with a lower interest rate, make them "emergency only" cards or get rid of your credit cards altogether.

2. Go retro and clip coupons.

3. Be sure to pick up the sales flyer at your local grocer whenever you shop.

4. Do your food shopping at discount grocery stores.

5. Give the office cafeteria a wide berth and get into the habit of packing your own lunch.

6. Avoid using your bank card and leave your credit card at home.

7. Join your local Freecycle network, where people pass on baby gear, furniture, electronics, clothing and craft supplies, among other stuff, for free.

8. Cancel your gym membership. Go for a walk or run around your neighbourhood instead or do push ups/sit ups/etc to get great abs.

9. Ask around for hand-me-downs, especially if you have kids.

10. Buy children's clothes at discount retailers or department stores.

11. Find free or low-cost activities for your kids.

12. If you're getting $100 a month from the government for child care, try your best to keep banking it in a high interest savings account for your child's future.

13. Switch to Skype or VOIP for long-distance calls.

14. Itemize your monthly expenses and allocate money for each by placing it in marked envelopes. If you only want to spend $50 this month on entertainment, then put $50 in an envelope marked "Entertainment" and use it to entertain yourself. Once the money's spent, that's it.

15. Don't ignore inflation. If, for example, inflation hits 5% and you're still only getting 3% in your savings account you're going to come out the loser.

16. Why not try a "staycation" instead of a vacation? Go local.

17. Make an appointment with your financial adviser to review your portfolio.

18. Consider setting up a babysitting co-operative with another family.

19. Bring a coffee maker or kettle to work. If you're buying coffee regularly the cost adds up.

20. Avoiding eating out in fast food restaurants.

21. Review your monthly plans for phone, wireless, Internet and television services and look for ways to save money and cut back.

22. When purchasing household items that are only used occasionally – gardening equipment, ladders, snowblowers, for example – consider sharing with a neighbour.

23. Start an entertainment-sharing club with like-minded friends. Meet monthly to pass around books, magazines, movies and music. Libraries are great too.

24. Try your best to keep yourself employed. With layoffs adding up and unemployment on the rise, there's no way for everyone to come out of this with their careers still intact. Make yourself indispensable at work and take on extra projects that won't burn yourself out.

25. Keep networking, just in case you do join the growing ranks of the unemployed.

Bonus Tip: If you had an economics degree or a Masters in Business Administration you would probably understand the fundamentals of both saving money and balancing your budget.

Iran's 1st nuclear plant in operation

POLITICS - Iran's first nuclear power plant will begin preliminary phase operation this coming Wednesday after a series of delays. The power plant will start operating during a visit by the head of Russia's state Rosatom Atomic Corporation, Sergey Kiriyenko.

The long-awaited 1,000-megawatt power plant, which was built in the city of Bushehr with the help from Russia under a $1 billion (US) contract, was expected to become operational in the Fall of 2008.

Approx. 700 Iranian engineers were trained in Russia to operate the plant. Tehran also plans to build a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in Darkhovin, in the southwestern Khuzestan province.

Iranian environmentalists say the nuclear plant is a victory for Iran's environmental movement. Iran currently powers its energy grid by burning oil and is the biggest source of pollution and greenhouse gases in Iran.

The nuclear plant worries some Americans and Israelis, who fear Iran developing nuclear weapons.

February 17, 2009

Do Over Day, February 26th

ENTERTAINMENT - February 26th is Do Over Day and it is a mere 9 days away. It is a day to reflect on past incidents and what you would have done differently and a day to go back and do those things over again (and perhaps change them).

For example if your first date with your current lover was burgers at Wendy's and a crappy movie you could either: A. Go to Wendy's and rent the same crappy movie. Or B. Go to a good restaurant and go see a fabulous movie.

It is a bit like the CBC show "Being Erica", which is a show about a woman who goes back in time to re-live events in her life and try to change their outcome. The show feels a bit like "Quantum Leap" and "Back to the Future".

And lets not forget the film Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray repeats the same day again and again until he gets it right. Another good movie to watch on Do Over Day would be "City Slickers" in which the main character's childhood nickname is "Do Over", and the movie itself is about self-reflection.

Of course, in reality we don't have time travel, but the people who first thought of "Do Over Day" were actually scientists in Switzerland during the 1980s who while building the CERN particle accelerator paused and discussed the subject of time travel and going back to do over certain events of one’s life, should time travel ever bear fruit. The idea of "Do Over Day" is now being revisited and promoted as a day of reflection and doing over the things you liked or regret.

This of course is not to be confused with Déjà Vu Day. It is also a good day for George W. Bush to remember all the mistakes he made between 2001 and 2008 and reflect on what he should have done differently with respect to the American economy and the Iraq War.

February 13, 2009

Arsonist charged in Australia, 200 dead

ENVIRONMENT - Authorities charged a man today with lighting one of Australia's deadly wildfires. He was whisked into protective custody amid national fury that arsonists may be to blame in the blazes that left more than 200 people dead.

The man was charged with one count of arson causing death and lighting a wildfire near the town of Churchill, one of hundreds that raged through southeastern Victoria state last weekend. 21 people died in the Churchill fire. Police believe there may be many more arsonists involved.

The suspect's identity was being kept secret for his own safety, should the accusation prove false. The suspect faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison for the deadly arson charge, and a maximum of 15 years on the second arson charge.

Police won't say whether the man may have had political motivation for the arson, possibly pyroterrorism.

More than 200 people died and more than 2,000 homes were destroyed in the wildfires.

See Also:
Record Bushfire in Australia kills 84
Australian Drought
Pyroterrorism in California
Climate Change will Effect Economy

Judges receiving kickbacks

POLITICS - Yesterday judges Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and colleague Michael T. Conahan appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send children and teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

With Conahan serving as president judge in control of the budget and Ciavarella overseeing the juvenile courts, they set the kickback scheme in motion in December 2002, the authorities said. Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled. Detention centers and prisons in the United States is big business and the industry makes billions of dollars per year.

The case has shocked the United States law community and opened up questions as to whether other judges are involved in prison kickbacks.

More than 80 angry parents who had their children sentenced unnecessarily due to minor crimes like spoofing their principal on MySpace, sharing mp3s or schoolboy fighting now want a class-action lawsuit and a public inquiry into prison kickbacks.

Sri Lanka war kills 40 civilians daily

POLITICS - Health officials in Sri Lanka's northern war zone says 40 civilians are killed every day and more than 100 others wounded in the fight between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels. Civilians in the area have been suffering heavy casualties for three to four weeks and there is even whispers of genocide in isolated villages.

Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah says the makeshift hospital he is running out of a school in the coastal town of Putumattalan is overwhelmed by the casualties. Most of his doctors and nurses have fled the war zone and the facility is running out of some essential medicines.

Aid groups have estimated more than 200,000 civilians are trapped in a tiny strip of land still controlled by the rebels along the northeastern coast. The Sri Lankan military and the rebels deny attacking civilians, but reports from aid workers, health officials and evacuees implicate both sides.

February 12, 2009

Climate Change forcing Fish farther north

By Ai Lung Nguyen - February 2009.

ENVIRONMENT - Climate change will cause a major redistribution of fish and other marine species as they leave their native habitats in search of cooler waters, a new UBC study says.

The migration is expected to see certain cod stocks off the eastern United States cut by 50% over several decades, with most moving north into Canadian waters.

The study paints a distressing picture of oceans that are dramatically reshaped as hundreds of commercially harvested fish species migrate toward the cooler polar regions while others are simply wiped out by invading predators.

For example exotic species like the Mexican jumbo squid may end up being mainstays in Canadian waters. The giant Mexican squid has already been found off the coast of Oregon and fishermen in the area have reported having to travel farther north to find catches of certain species of cod and stable fish.

Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, co-wrote the study and used computers models to predict the redistribution of over 1,000 different fish stocks and invertebrates as temperatures rise due to climate change.

The researchers used predictions endorsed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that are related to temperature increase, water salinity and ocean current patterns to project where fish will be over the next several decades.

Co-author William Cheung said they discovered that on average, fish will likely travel more than 40 kilometres farther north per decade as they seek colder/better habitats.

That means the United States cod population could drop by half by 2050 and the fish will end up clogging Canadian waters. US coasts would see a boost in tropical fish and other species, including alligators, as a variety of species head farther north.

This phenomenon is not limited to water. Land animals have also being heading farther north, with coyotes, wolves and bears leaving the normal habitats and moving farther north.

The native fish of the northern waters will suffer the most, having more competition and more predators that they are unfamiliar with. Some will lose their habitats entirely.

For example, krill feeds on algae that grows on ice, but it will see its food source disappear if waters warm to a certain point. Blue whales eat krill almost exclusively and would face extinction if their food source disappears entirely.

Scientists predict the arctic will see staggering amounts of extinctions in the coming decades.

Eight beheaded in India

RELIGION/SEX - Eight members of a man's poverty-ridden family were shot and beheaded and their bodies were thrown into a river in eastern India after he secretly married a wealthy girl, Indian police said yesterday.

Police in the eastern state of Bihar found the eight bodies floating in a river and have charged 15 people, mostly from the girl's family, with the killings.

The weekend killings took place after 21-year-old Ratan Mandal and 18-year-old Kanchan Kumari got married in secret, afraid their families would not approve because of an old social rivalry.

"The girl's family invited the boy's family for a meeting on the pretext of settling the dispute, but killed all eight and beheaded them," says a senior police officer from Bhagalpur, where the incident took place.

Bhagalpur, one of India's most lawless regions, has been notorious for revenge killings. Men and women have been killed in the villages of eastern and northern India for marrying outside their caste or against their families' wishes.

Last May, a young couple was killed by the girl's family in northern India for marrying within the same village.


February 11, 2009

Brief List of USA's Economic Woes

POLITICS - This week's economic news:

General Motors is planning to slash another 10,000 salaried jobs by May, saying the cuts are unavoidable with a government restructuring deadline looming and industrywide sales in one of the worst downturns in history.

Bankruptcy rates in the United States are up 56% compared to last year. (In Canada they are up 50%.)

The Federal Reserve announced it was expanding a key lending program (aka the Big Bailout) for mortgage lenders and banks to up to $1 trillion.

China is threatening a trade war if the United States economy continues to collapse and head towards protectionism.

Senate passes Obama's recovery plan

POLITICS - On Tuesday President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan was passed in the Senate and is on its way despite difficult House-of-Representatives/Senate negotiations.

Obama wants to restore cuts in funds for school construction jobs and help for cash-starved states. Those cuts are among the major differences between the $819 billion House version of Obama's plan and a Senate bill costing $838 billion.

Obama has warned of a deepening economic crisis in the United States if the government fails to act quickly. He wants the bill completed and passed by the weekend.

February 9, 2009

30-somethings attack Goth

GOTHIC - A 21-year-old goth girl in Australia was attacked last week in Australia by a 30-something couple who didn't like her clothes.

Gregory Paul Gallagher, 37, and Stacey Louise Hober, 34, both from Parrearra pleaded guilty in Caloundra Magistrates Court last Monday to common assault.

Kelly Owen was out on the town with a younger friend celebrating her 21st birthday with a quiet dinner when she insulted and accosted by the older couple who approached Owen, insulted her choice of clothing and then proceeded to threaten and attack her.

Owen tried to defend herself and fight back but Gregory Gallagher punched her repeatedly in the temple and jaw. Owen suffered bruises and several cuts to her eye.

The attackers were fined a sum of $450 Australian dollars.

Gothic Kittens

In other news... a different couple in Pennsylvania has been charged with six counts of cruelty to animals and three counts of criminal conspiracy for trying to sell pierced "gothic" kittens on eBay.

The black kittens that were mutilated and then auctioned for hundreds of dollars online as “gothic” cried in pain each time they were pierced with 14-gauge jewelry, yet their marketers were eager “to get this aspect of their business up and running,” according to charges filed this week.

Holly Crawford, 34, and William Blansett, 37, operators of a grooming business known as Pawside Parlor in Pennsylvania bragged they would put "a rubber band tightly around the base of the tail to stop circulation to the tail, which eventually falls off" and said "the kittens cried when she pierced them, but seemed fine afterward."

Evidently people need to learn restraint when it comes to hurting both people and animals. Cruelty to animals is one of the first signs of mental instability.

Alberta Oil kills 500 Ducks

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - The slow death of 500 ducks on a toxic oilsands pond in northern Alberta last April has resulted in federal and provincial charges against Syncrude Canada Ltd.

Syncrude has been charged under the Alberta Environmental Enhancement and Protection Act and the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. The charge specifies that "any person who keeps, stores or transports a hazardous substance or pesticide shall do so in a manner that ensures the hazardous substance does not directly or indirectly come in contact with or contaminate any animals."

Images of the dead and dying birds flashed around the world and has harmed Canada's reputation as an environmental leader.

Syncrude failed to take action to keep the ducks from landing on the pond, knowing full well that the ducks and geese would get caught in the oil and drown.

The provincial charge carries a maximum fine of $500,000. The federal charge carries a maximum penalty of $300,000 and six months in prison and is for "allegedly depositing or permitting the deposit of a substance harmful to migratory birds in waters or an area frequented by birds."

Syncrude claims they bought noise-makers used to scare waterfowl away but never installed them near the pond.

Syncrude earns more than $1 million a day off its oil operations. Toxic runoff/overflow from their operations also kills fish in neighbouring rivers and has contaminated local drinking water.

The penalty seem pretty paltry for a company that flagrantly ignores environmental policies and makes so much profit it can shrug off fines easily.

Maybe they should be charged $800,000 per duck? $400 million would send a stronger message to the Alberta oil industry to clean up their act. And if someone goes to jail, who will it be? We think it should be the CEO for failing to make sure his company complies with environmental policies.

Canada's arts industry hurting

CANADA - It is hard enough for artists in Canada to make a decent living and it's not getting any better no thanks to Stephen Harper's cuts to arts funding.

Hill Strategies Research, a statistical company, says artists' income declined from 2001 to 2006, using the latest data period provided by Census Canada.

The 2001 census showed artists (from a variety of fields including dancers, photographers, etc) earned an average of $26,300, but that figure dropped to $22,700 by 2006, a 14% decrease in earnings when adjusted for inflation. By contrast, the overall Canadian labour force saw a modest 2% increase in the same period.

In 2006, working artists – 140,000 across Canada – actually outnumber the 135,000 Canadians directly employed in the automotives sector. Furthermore there are 609,000 cultural workers in Canada, approx. 3.3% of Canada's total workforce, which is double the 300,000 workers in the forestry sector and more than double the banking sector at 257,000.

So evidently the art and culture industry in Canada is huge and should not be ignored. They play an important role in Canada's tourism, entertainment and film industries.

Lastly artists, many of whom are self-employed, rarely qualify for employment insurance, and their ability to contribute to pension plans for a secure retirement is also limited. So when the North American economy goes sour like it has been under the Bush administration its the artists who feel the pinch the most.

30 Mummies found in Egypt

RELIGION - Egyptian archaeologists have discovered 30 mummies inside a 4,600-year-old tomb, in the latest round of excavations at the vast necropolis of Saqqara 20 kilometres south of Cairo.

Egypt's chief archeologist, Zahi Hawas, says the new tomb was found Sunday at the bottom of an 11 metre deep well. Eight of the mummies were in sarcophagi and the rest had been placed in niches in the wall. Hawas described it as a "storeroom for mummies."

Assistant Abdel Hakim Karar says the use of such niches was rare during that period of time.

Excavations have been ongoing at Saqqara for 150 years, uncovering a vast cemetery dating mostly from the Old Kingdom, but including sites as recent as the Roman era.

CHE

ENTERTAINMENT - The new CHE film directed by Steven Soderbergh stars Benicio Del Toro and is currently in theatres. The film documents the life and death of revolutionary hero Che Guevara.



See Also:
Alberto Korda
Andy Warhol
Iconic Images of War
Cuba's Cash Woes

February 8, 2009

Hydrogen Cars not all hype

CARS - Honda has unveiled a new hydrogen powered concept car, a supercar called the Honda FC Sport (the FC stands for fuel cell). Honda says the FC Sport will offer "speed, handling and sleek looks of today's fastest sports cars, yet without the noise, heat, vibration, and emissions of the internal-combustion engine."

So far its just hype. The three-seat coupe concept car isn't headed to the production line anytime soon, but they are testing the waters for building the new cars.

And they're not the only ones.

While Ford and General Motors are touting their new hybrids, they and other car makers are thinking ahead of the curve and unveiling new hydrogen powered cars.

General Motors for example is coming out with its new HydroGen4 engine, which it hopes will be the basis for a whole new line of hydrogen vehicles.

Lars-Peter Thiesen, head of GM’s hydrogen and fuel-cell deployment strategy, insists that hydrogen cars will be here faster than we think. “There is now a consensus that the first fuel-cell cars for normal commercial sale could arrive about 2015,” he says.

See Also:
Hydrogen Power
The Eco-Car Battleground

Record bushfire in Australia kills 84+

ENVIRONMENT - Record temperatures and bushfires so large it can be seen by astronauts in outerspace, the state of Victoria in Australia is reeling from the disaster that has killed over 84 people and destroyed over 750 homes with no end in sight.

"Hell in all its fury has visited the good people of Victoria," said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. "It's an appalling tragedy for the nation."

Thousands of firefighters and volunteers are struggling to fight the 30 fires amidst trees exploding and skies raining ash. Burned out cars dot the roads and even helicopters flying above the devastation nothing can be seen but charred earth as far as the eye can see. Entire forests were reduced to leafless, charred trunks, farmland to ashes.

The Victoria Country Fire Service says over 2,200 square kilometres were burned out.

According to witnesses, the radiating heat from the weather and the fires is so intense its causing car gasoline tanks and house propane tanks to explode.

Australia's previous worst fires were in 1983, when blazes killed 75 people and razed more than 3,000 homes in Victoria and South Australia state. Seventy-one died and 650 buildings were destroyed in 1939.

Police believe arsonists or pyroterrorists are deliberately setting the fires.

See Also:
Australian Drought
Pyroterrorism in California
Climate Change will Effect Economy

February 7, 2009

Depression and Crime

POLITICS - People are becoming so strapped for cash in the Post Bush Depression they are turning to illegal activities.

Its not just lying on their income taxes. People are also bartering with drugs, sex and stolen property.

“You know, it looks like this recession’s gonna kill more folks than Al Queda ever did,” says a woodcutter in Oregon (where the unemployment rate is 12.8% and rising) who was recently offered sex and drugs in exchange for firewood. See Hard Times are Fatal Times.

According to Statistics Canada its also a workforce in which women may surpass men as the breadwinners, something which hasn't happened since the 1940s during the height of WWII. Women typically are willing to work for less money and the majority (two thirds) of layoffs right now are jobs filled by men.

Manufacturing is always the worst hit in every recession, says Walid Hejazi, professor of International Business at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "And men are taking a hit. It's terrible," he said. "It happened in the past (1982 and 1992) and it is happening again."

The jobless rate in Canada is now 7.2%. In Ontario, it's 8%. In Toronto (where one out of every 6 Canadians lives), it is hit a whopping 8.5%.

Yesterday a group of smart thieves in Toronto robbed an armoured truck while the guards were inside a bank refilling the ATM. By the time the guards came back outside a short while later, the truck's back door was open and millions were missing. Its believed the thieves hacked the security keypad on the back of the truck.

Conservative Party drops libel suit

CANADA - The Conservative Party of Canada has dropped its $3.5 million libel and defamation suit against the Liberal Party concerning the Chuck Cadman Affair.

In 2005 the Conservative Party tried to bribe Independent MP Chuck Cadman, who was dying from terminal cancer, with a $1 million life insurance policy which would have seen his wife Dona Cadman left with a lump sum payment.

According to recorded conversations Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew about the attempt to bribe Chuck Cadman (who is now dead) and sued the Liberal Party for defamation in an attempt to muzzle the controversy after the Liberal party accused the Prime Minister having knowledge of alleged unethical and even illegal behaviour by the Conservatives

Today the suit has ended and lawyers for both sides declined to discuss the reasons for the abrupt ending to the lawsuit launched March 2008.

So apparently the muzzle has worked.

See Also:
Stephen Harper wants to Stifle Democracy in Canada
Censoring Sex and Violence in Canadian Film
Stephen Harper flip flops on arts cuts

Wildfires kill 14 in Australia

ENVIRONMENT - Wildfires roared across southeastern Australia today, razing scores of homes, forests and farmland and killing at least 14 people died in the worst wildfire in 25 years. Police say the death toll could rise to more than 40.

Witness describe seeing trees explode from the sheer intensity of the heat and skies raining ash as some of the hottest temperatures on record (117 degrees Fahrenheit or 47 Celsius) combined with raging winds to create perfect conditions for uncontrollable blazes.

More than 30,000 firefighters are struggling tonight to make headway against the largest of about a dozen fires in Victoria state that earlier in the day ripped unchecked across at least 115 square miles (30,000 hectares) of forests, farmland and towns.

Police said they believed some of the fires were deliberately lit and may be the result of arsonists or pyroterrorists. In New South Wales state, police detained and questioned a man in connection with a blaze but released him without charge. Australia has some 60,000 fires occur each year, and about half are deliberately lit or suspicious, government research says.

Australia's deadliest fires were in 1983, when blazes killed 75 people and razed more than 3,000 homes in Victoria and South Australia. In 2003, hundreds of houses were destroyed and four people died when a huge blaze tore into the national capital, Canberra. In 2006, nine people died in fires on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

See Also:
Australian Drought
Pyroterrorism in California
Climate Change will Effect Economy

Climate Change in Toronto

CANADA - Two days ago the temperature in Toronto was -17 Celsius. Today at noon Toronto's Pearson International Airport set a warm record of 8C, compared to the previous warm record for today of 5.7C set in 1990. The normal temperature for today is -2C.

Indeed lately its beginning to feel like an early spring. The wild swings in temperature is due to the cold Arctic air and hot air coming from the United States taking turns. Normally Toronto has constant cold winds from the north, but in recent years Toronto has been getting unseasonably warmer because due to global warming and climate change.

Toronto has set quite a few heat records in recent years and its expected to continue for many years to come. So far this winter has been one of the warmest on record. If March is unseasonably warm Toronto may set a new record for the warmest winter.

Suicide Rate Up, is it a depression?

POLITICS - I just spoke to a relative in Prince Edward Island who told me a local farmer had hung himself in his barn. His wife had lost her job and his farm was doing really poorly.

Sadly its part of a very real economic problem. A lot of people are losing their jobs. Since October, Canada's economy has shed 213,000 positions, nearly all of them full-time. In the United States its even worse, where 598,000 jobs were lost in January alone, perhaps a sign that the USA is in a depression, not a recession.

And for those people who are unemployed there is now a hiring freeze at a lot of companies, which means the economy is going to get worse, not better.

What we need is for Ottawa and Washington to start delivering on those stimulus packages they've been promising. The situation is getting desperate and we're seeing two things: Rising suicide rates and crime rates.

Between 2000 and 2005 the suicide rate in the United States went up 25% during the Bush economy. Thanks to the economic mess George W. Bush has left the USA in the suicide rate is expected to rise much higher.

Note: A depression is any recession that lasts longer than a year. The current recession started in July 2007.

During the Great Depression the unemployment rate (25%) coincided with a 20% increase in the suicide rate. As joblessness spread, 17 persons for every 100,000 in the population took their own lives, up from 14 before the Depression. (According to the Center for Disease Control, the USA suicide rate for 2005 (the latest year this information is available) was 11 persons for every 100,000, or a total of 32,637 deaths.)

See Also:
Military Suicides in Canada
Suicide Entertainment

February 5, 2009

88% of all telemarketing calls are scams

CANADA - According to a new CBC report 88% of all telemarketing calls are scams.

In Canada it is a billion dollar industry and involves organized crime, pyramid schemes, identity theft, credit card fraud and a myriad other illegal activities.

Yet because telemarketers operate as legal businesses many Canadians are easily duped into giving their credit card and personal information over the phone. People assume that because the company has employees, that they speak fluent English and are friendly on the phone that they must be legitimate.

But not so says the RCMP. Ask more questions and you'll determine its a scam.

That's the advice RCMP in New Brunswick are giving out when it comes to dealing with an ever-increasing number of scams and frauds.

Sgt. Claude Tremblay says Canadians need to be more inquisitive. "I don't know why people don't ask more questions," Tremblay said. "The old adage we have is that if it sounds too good, it's probably not true."

In November, RCMP in Nova Scotia also issued a warning involving phone hijacking.

Several people received a call from someone identifying himself or herself as a police officer telling them about a relative who had been in a car accident. The caller tells the recipient to hit *72 for more information.

Tremblay said such calls are rerouted to a server and the scam artists is able to use that number to place calls worldwide.

Some people have been hit with bills as high as $6,000 per month and have never made a phone call outside the province, he said.

In Alberta the problem has reached an extreme and the province has made a program called the Wise Owls Fraud Prevention Program. The program, supported by the RCMP and the Alberta Rural Crime Watch Association, encourages seniors to recognize, report and stop fraudulent crimes including telemarketing scams, Internet and email fraud, credit card and debit card scams and identity theft. Each year in Alberta, over 6,000 seniors become victims of fraud and quite a few lose their life's savings and end up on welfare.

Phone Busters, the Canadian anti-fraud call centre, lists more than 20 scams making the rounds. They range from 900-numbers to those involving vehicle warranties to unsolicited vacation opportunities.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, Phone Busters reported 5,827 cases of mass-marketing fraud, totaling more than $23 million in lost money.

But there is a lot more out there. Most people have never heard of Phone Busters or report that they've been ripped off. The RCMP estimate telemarketing scams stole $4.6 billion from Canadians in 2008 alone, and the industry is getting worse every year.

Julia Forte, who speaks for the U.S.-based website 800notes.com, said her operation can help identify where these calls are coming from.

The website collects phone numbers used by telemarketers, con artists, collection agencies and other businesses that call from unknown numbers. Users share what they know about the callers, including opt-out phone numbers, business addresses, and other information - all of which are designed to identify the number owner and stop the calls.

"The site has proven itself to be a valuable tool in the fight against junk calls, illegal telemarketing and phone scams," Forte says. She says people have the right to know who's trying to scam them.

"We don't pursue the offenders; we don't have that ability," Forte said. "What we can do is provide a way for people to exchange information fast so more people are aware and more careful on the phone."

So why doesn't our government just ban telemarketing outright? Just make telemarketing illegal. Its because the telemarketing industry has grown so large, and corrupt, that it now has significant power and can make outrageous claims like "shutting down the telemarketing industry will hurt the Canadian economy".

Wrong. It will only hurt the economy of people operating outside of the law. Legitimate polling companies and charities will continue to exist, but illegal telemarketing scams needs to be stamped out.

Our government just isn't taking the issue seriously because they think its just an annoying fact of modern life. They haven't clued in that there is a very illegal element to the vast majority of telemarketing calls.

Israel attacks Lebanon supplies ship

POLITICS - A Lebanese ship carrying 60 tonnes of medicine, food, toys and basic humanitarian supplies such as mattresses and blankets for the people of the Gaza Strip was attacked and "kidnapped" by the Israeli navy earlier today.

Israel says they are just impounding the ship for trying to go to the Gaza Strip and is trying to "starve out the [Hamas] militants" in the Gaza Strip. Lebanon's prime minister condemned the "blatant attack" and one of the ship's organizers called it a kidnapping. The ship is currently being towed to a dock in Israel and its crew will be handed over to Israeli immigration.

The Lebanese ship was the latest in a string of vessels that tried to break the Israeli blockade. Israel has permitted very few ships to reach Gaza but blocked all others, including a Libyan freighter that was forced to turn around last December.

Liberal "tainted" budget passes

CANADA - The minority Conservative government's $35 billion stimulus package and budget was passed Tuesday night in a key 211-91 vote, thanks to the grudging support of the Liberals who backed the Conservatives against the opposition of New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois.

The budget was full of Liberal endorsed ideas to boost the economy and get Canadians working again. Without those Liberal initiatives the budget wouldn't have been passed and Canadians would have been given either another election or a coalition government.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff warned the Conservatives they are on "probation" and is demanding regular progress reports on the status of the stimulus package as a condition of his continuing support.

Six Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador broke ranks with their party and opposed the budget, charging it shortchanges their province by more than $1 billion. Ignatieff twice asked Stephen Harper to reconsider the move in Newfoundland but Harper ignored the issue both times.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is at odds with the Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams over oil revenues in the region, so shortchanging Newfoundland in the budget was Stephen Harper's way of pissing off the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and giving Danny Williams a political slap in the face.

Newfoundland, which joined the Dominion of Canada in 1949, has sometimes thought about separating from the rest of Canada and becoming their own country. Arguably they have more cause to do so than Quebec Separatists do.

Shoe Throwing All the Rage

POLITICS - There's a new fashion statement in the world of politics. Throwing shoes at world leaders is apparently now in vogue, and getting detained by the police is a price many people would be willing to pay.

Last night someone hurled a shoe at the Israeli ambassador to Sweden during a discussion about Israel's upcoming elections. It was not immediately clear if Ambassador Benjamin Dagan was hit in the attack at Stockholm University. A second person threw a book at the ambassador and that both attackers were detained by police.

"The shoe only brushed his leg, and the books didn't hit him," says police spokeswoman Petra Sjolander. A dozen or so protesters in the crowd also shouted insults at the Israeli ambassador concerning the invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The incident echoed similar shoe-throwing attacks against former United States president George W. Bush in December and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday.

Would someone please throw some shoes at Stephen Harper?

See Also: Iraqi Man Throws Shoes at George W. Bush.

February 4, 2009

Car sales crash in Canada

CARS - In Canada last month General Motors Canada had a 46.6% drop in sales, their lowest level in 20 years. Sales at Chrysler slid 33.7% and Ford sales also dropped 14.2%. Overall car sales in Canada dropped 25.3% in January compared to last year, the worst January sales in Canada since 1988.

Gloomy sales numbers came as a CAW union official suggested GM could close its operations in Oshawa Canada if workers don't accept concessions soon. GM declined to comment. GM is already closing a nearby truck plant in May because of the sharp downturn in demand for pickups in the United States.

Even Honda (down 37.1%), Nissan (down 16.1%), Mazda (down 12.3%) and Toyota (down 2.7%) are feeling the pinch as car sales plummet across the board.

Only Hyundai had a 1% increase.

In the United States, Chrysler's sales plunged 55%; General Motor's 49%; Ford's 40% and Toyota's 32%. American car sales have hit a 27 year low, at 1982 levels.

The problem is that consumers can't get bank financing to buy a car and dealers are turning potential buyers away. The same is happening for leases as companies refuse to lease cars out because they can't get the financing.

In other news the mechanic business is doing well as people are keeping their older cars on the road longer.

China's Leader gets shoes thrown at him

POLITICS - We all laughed when the reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi in Iraq threw his shoes at George W. Bush. Bush deserved it and yet made light of the incident.

Yesterday Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had his speech interrupted when a 27-year-old European man at England's Cambridge University hurled a shoe at him. Unfortunately the footwear sailed past Wen Jiabao with neither the force nor the accuracy of the Iraqi shoe, thumping on the stage metres away.

So are Iraqis better at throwing shoes than the Europeans? Evidently.

Back in Beijing, China is awfully upset about the incident. Britain has assured China the young man will be punished "according to the law."

So what exactly is Britain's laws against throwing shoes or insulting foreign leaders?

The European man's identity has not been released. He will appear in court in Cambridge Tuesday on charges of committing a public order offense.

In China the ever-vigilant Central Propaganda Department (not a joke, that is really what it is called) is keen to suppress any news in which Wen Jiabao might be shown in an unfavourable light, state-controlled newspapers avoided the shoe-throwing incident yesterday altogether.

Chinese state-broadcaster CCTV originally featured a truncated report of "the disturbance," as it was called and later was allowed to run film footage showing security men dragging the shouting man, while Wen Jiabao recommenced his speech, dismissing the protester and receiving applause.

Unfortunately none of the cameras in the room caught the thrown shoe on film in mid-air. Evidently when you throw a shoe at a foreign leader you should always make sure the cameras are on a good angle to catch the attempt.

Salary caps for bailout CEOs

POLITICS - At the White House today President Barack Obama has imposed salary caps of $500,000 USD caps on senior executives at distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with "executives being rewarded for failure."

For the United States it makes good economic and political sense too, since those companies are getting bailed out by the government its about time they cut their multi-million dollar salaries. They certainly can't expect the public tax payers to pay for corporate CEOs spending like there's no tomorrow.

Other governments considering bailouts would be wise to follow this move.

In 2008 Wall Street firms paid more than $18 billion in salary bonuses even amid the American recession and the massive taxpayer-dollar infusion into their industry.

Next week the White House will unveil a sweeping new framework for spending what remains in the $700 billion USD financial industry bailout program that Congress created in 2008.

The pay cap will effect all banks receiving bailout money include AIG, Bank of America and CitiBank. They will not be allowed to pay above that amount until after they have paid back their government loans.

"We all need to take responsibility," Obama said. "And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves their customary lavish bonuses. As I said last week, that's the height of irresponsibility. That's shameful."

"This is America. We don't disparage wealth," Obama said. "But what gets people upset and rightfully so are executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers."

Recessions impact Divorces

POLITICS - The number of people getting a divorce typically go down during a recession because people are more likely to be forced to stay together because of economic reasons.

A new ruling in Ontario's Court of Appeal today has also decreed that divorced people can pay less money to their ex-spouses if a recession has effected their business profits or even forced their business heavily into debt.

In a complex 3-0 ruling, the court set aside a trial judge's decision from 2007 that required businessman Harold Serra to make an "equalization payment" of $4.1 million to his ex-wife, Barbara.

Harold Serra explained that between the time the couple separated and the time their case got to trial, the value of his textile business had diminished in value due to the recession from $11.25 million to between $1.8 and $2.6 million. In other words he doesn't have the money to pay his ex-wife.

The judges reduced the equalization payment to $900,000.

The new ruling will effect a lot of families as it will make it easier for couples to get divorced and get a more equal share when the judges take into account the economic conditions.

February 2, 2009

Canada At War

CANADA/POLITICS - Ever wanted to see what is going on behind the scenes with Canadian forces in Afghanistan?

Now you can. Check out the documentary "At War" by Scott Kesterson, a soldier/photo-journalist who was embedded a group of Canadian soldiers known as the "Red Devils" near Kandahar.

What is strange about this film is that the Canadian military wants to censor this film because it shows what is really going on in Afghanistan, with all its brutal qualities.

Do-not-call-list a disaster

CANADA/TECHNOLOGY - The Canadian Do-Not-Call-List has proved to be a technological nightmare and a public relations disaster.

The problems with the do-not-call list fall into three categories:

1. There are far too many exceptions that allow for the majority of telemarketing calls to continue unhindered. With exceptions for survey companies, political parties, charities, newspapers, and businesses with a prior relationship quite a few telemarketing calls are not covered by the do-not-call legislation.

2. The list – all six million numbers – is available to any telemarketer, including those outside of Canada. With numerous reports of abuse, the danger of making the numbers available to the very organizations precluded from calling those same numbers is now readily apparent. Although frankly I don't see how they plan to make a profit when these people have made it abundantly clear they will just get angry and hang up.

3. The third problem is tied to enforcement. The do-not-call legislation includes provisions for significant penalties, but it falls to the CRTC to investigate complaints and pursue penalties. So far there have been thousands upon thousands of complaints filed, but to date, no penalties.

What we need to do is a software system that can automatically block calls from telemarketing companies, both within Canada and outside of Canada. The software system would screen calls for known telemarketers.

But to create such a software the Canadian government, not the CRTC, would first have to declare telemarketing illegal and an invasion of privacy.

How can you help? You can start by emailing Prime Minister Stephen Harper at pm@pm.gc.ca and Industry Minister Tony Clement at Clement.T@parl.gc.ca and tell them you support making telemarketing illegal and a class action suit against the telemarketing industry for abusing the system/invading the privacy of Canadians.

See Also:
Telemarketing Should Be Illegal
Telemarketers not taking the hint
Boycotting Yak Canada
Dealing with Telemarketers and their Economics
Advertising in America

HMS Victory shipwreck found

ENTERTAINMENT - Deep-sea explorers have found a legendary British man-of-war that sank in the English Channel 264 years ago during a storm. The ship was found more than 80 KM from where it was expected to have sank. Pieces of the ship had washed up in various places after the storm, but its final resting place had remained a mystery until now.

The wreckage of HMS Victory, found in about 100 metres of water, is believed to have been carrying almost 4 tonnes of Portuguese gold coins. The ship was returning from Lisbon, Portugal and was probably transporting approx. 100,000 gold Portuguese coins for merchants, according to research.

So far, two brass cannons have been recovered from the wreck.

Thirty-one brass cannons and other evidence on the wreck allowed definitive identification of the Victory, a 53-metre sailing ship that was separated from its fleet and sank in the English Channel on October 4th 1744, with at least 900 men aboard. The ship was the largest and one of the most heavily armed vessel of its day, carrying 110 brass cannons. The cannons alone will be worth a fortune to British museums and collectors.

The famed ship was the inspiration for the other HMS Victory, the ship famously commanded by admiral Horatio Nelson decades later.

Two years ago the same exploration company, Odyssey, announced in May 2007 that it had raised 15 tonnes of silver coins from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck. The company later said it believed the wreck to be the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, which sank off Portugal in 1804.

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