Monday, March 30, 2009

Canadian Disgrace: Migrant Nannies & Caregivers.

Migrant nannies and caregivers in Canada are falling through the cracks of numerous federal and provincial government departments. In a recent series of stories the Toronto Star exposes unscrupulous and unregulated recruiters who exploit nannies and other domestic caregivers by luring them to Canada with false promises of nonexistent jobs, charging extortionary fees and confiscating their passports.

A recent editorial asks:

You have to wonder: If there were fly-by-night recruiters scamming prospective construction workers or oil rig roughnecks from overseas, would the government be ignoring these rogue agencies while merely punishing the illegal labourers?

I'd bet no.

But what if those foreign workers were women, whether from the West Indies or the Philippines, who disappear into middle-to- upper class homes for minimum wages and maximum hours as nannies and domestic workers?

Today, according to documents obtained by Brazao and Cribb, Canada Border Services Agency officials actually acknowledge that there is "ongoing fraud and misrepresentation," but the federal government is doing nothing.


So vulnerable women, isolated and frightened, are forced to give up their passports and their pitiful wages to some 20 Toronto-area agencies and individuals suspected of abuse and fraud until those illegal fees are paid off.

Meanwhile, their families back home starve.

That's if the victims aren't deported, burdened by crushing debt.

And yet the practice continues, right under our noses.

Is this the government's solution to the daycare crisis in this country?

To date, most of the foreign caregivers in Canada are from the Philippines. While the Filipino consulates try to help abused workers, they are powerless to enforce Canadian labour laws and standards.

Tears flowed down her cheeks, but Maribel Beato didn't let go of the microphone. "My employer cared more about the dog than me," said Beato, a nanny who had a horrific experience with a North York family last year.

The family dog bit her three times but she wasn't allowed to seek medical help, she said.

When she decided to quit eight months later, the employer wanted her to sign a paper that said the family wasn't responsible for the dog attacks. "I was told I won't get the record of employment or T4 if I didn't."

She didn't get the papers.

Ontario's lack of regulation of nanny recruiters contrasts dramatically with Manitoba's tough stance against fraudulent agencies. Legislation set to take effect April 1 in Manitoba bans agencies from charging placement fees to foreign nannies, beefs up enforcement and requires every agency to be licensed by the province.

Further, the Manitoba legislation portends that nanny recruiters must be members in good standing of a Canadian law society, the Chambre des notaires du Québec or the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants. Names of all licensed recruiters and agencies will be posted on a provincial website so families can be sure they're dealing with a legitimate operator.

Provincial Labour Minister Peter Fonseca has repeatedly avoided this issue however. Confronted by opposition MPPs in the Legislature, he passed the buck onto the federal government. When reminded by reporters that other provinces have begun to ban recruitment fees for foreign workers, Fonseca grudgingly agreed to contact Manitoba's labour ministry to learn more about its planned April 1 crackdown.

A member of Fonesca's own Liberal caucus, Mike Colle, has upstaged him by introducing a private member's bill that, like Manitoba, bans fees paid by workers (which are also illegal in the Philippines).

"The exploitation of vulnerable foreign workers by unscrupulous recruiters cries out for government intervention," said Colle when introducing the bill this week. It's a cry that Fonseca and his labour ministry, set up 90 years ago to protect workers, have shut out for too long.

Meanwhile Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently acknowledged the problem and is looking to "blacklist" unscrupulous nanny recruitment agencies that exploit foreign caregivers in an attempt to put them out of business. Kenney added that the move is among a series of reforms he is considering to the federal Live-in Caregiver program.

It is an outrage that these injustices continue to take place and that both the federal and provincial governments have turned a blind eye to exploitation and abuse.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Arab Summit: Mass Murderers Shouldn't Be Celebrated.

The Arab League Summit planned for Qatar this weekend seems fated to go down in the history books, but for the worst possible reason. Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, embraced Sudan's resident Omar al-Bashir as an honoured guest today as he arrived to attend the Summit in a brazen act of defiance against an international arrest warrant on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

On March 4, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for al-Bashir's arrest on for "directing attacks against an important part of the civilian population of Darfur, Sudan, murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians and pillaging their property."

Given a red-carpet welcome:

Wearing a traditional Sudanese robe and white turban, a smiling al-Bashir was greeted at the airport with an embrace and kiss by Qatar's emir. They later had coffee with the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

It was a low-risk trip for al-Bashir with high symbolic value for his Arab backers, who argue that carrying out the ICC's arrest would further destabilize Sudan as the Darfur conflict between the Arab-led government and ethnic African rebels enters its seventh year.

Only Jordan and two other tiny Arab League members, the Comoros and Djibouti, are party to the ICC charter, but can take no action on Qatari soil. Arab foreign ministers have endorsed a draft resolution for the summit rejecting the ICC's arrest warrant.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that al-Bashir should be arrested once he leaves Sudanese airspace, but it was unclear whether any military forces were monitoring his flight. The United States does not recognize the ICC's jurisdiction, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons. But President Barack Obama earlier this month denounced the "genocide" in Darfur.

The Sudanese government's battle against rebels in the western Darfur region has killed up to 300,000 people and driven 2.7 million from their homes since 2003, according to the United Nations.

Clearly, no Arab leader is keen to accept the precedent the ICC set when it issued its warrant. But even a club of kings, strongmen and despots shames itself by breaking bread with a man accused of murder, transfer, torture and rape.

Al-Bashir has no business being in Qatar, especially considering that planned peace talks with Khalil Ibrahim, the head of Darfur's strongest rebel group, have fallen through. Ibrahim cancelled on Friday after al-Bashir expelled aid groups such as Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE and Médecins Sans Frontières that care for people in Darfur, where 4.7 million rely on aid for food, shelter, water and protection.

Expelling these aid groups marks a new low in the war al-Bashir's Arab-led regime in Khartoum has been waging against ethnic African insurgents since 2003. As many as 300,000 people have been killed and nearly 3 million have been driven from their homes.

These dismal developments should galvanize U.S. President Barack Obama to step up pressure on the Khartoum regime, even though George Bush's, Obama's predecessor refused to back the ICC.

Al-Bashir should be arrested when he ventured outside the Arab League zone. China, his powerful patron, should withdraw its support. The United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan should be reinforced with troops and equipment, so that it can protect civilians. Sanctions should be tightened on al-Bashir and his cronies. Donors should carefully re-evaluate the $1 billion aid operation in Darfur, as relief agencies are expelled. The arms embargo on Sudan should be expanded. And the U.S. and its allies should impose a no-fly zone in Darfur, to prevent al-Bashir's air force from bombing civilians.

Al-Bashir said contemptuously that the ICC "can eat" its warrant. For Darfur's sake, he must be made to swallow those words.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Who did Israel(?)/US(?) attack? Sudan(?)/Iran(?)/Hamas(?)

Several outlets are reporting that Sudanese officials said foreign warplanes launched two separate airstrikes in January on Sudan near its border with Egypt, targeting convoys packed with light weapons and African migrants trying to sneak across the frontier. However who was behind the strikes remains a mystery, since conflicting reports are suggesting that it was both Israel and the US.

Mubarak Mabrook Saleem, Sudan's State Minister for Transportation, said he believed American planes were behind the bombings about a week apart in early February and claimed hundreds were killed. A Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed his account but said there were discrepancies on casualties. The U.S. denied any airstrike on Sudan.

But even stranger following the highways minister's statements, even further conflicting reports have emerged from within Sudan. Namely, according to Al Jazeera English, the Sudanese foreign minister Deng Alor said Wednesday, "we have no information about such an attack."

Moreoever, the Al Jazeera report mentions claims of two bombings -- the original January incident plus one in February as well. From Al Jazeera English:

Mabrouk Mubarak Salim, the state minister for highways, said on Thursday that Sudanese, Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans were killed in the attacks in January and February.

CBS said that the jets were targeting weapons convoys heading through Sudan on their way to Egypt, where they would have been taken across the Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

"Sudan used to provide Hamas with weapons but that is not the case any more," Alor said.

Salim said that the air raids hit human traffickers travelling through the desert area and the only weapons in the convoys were small arms being carried by guards.

But it gets even more bizarre - who was the intended target of the air strikes?

As CBS reports:

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has been told that Israeli aircraft carried out the attack. Israeli intelligence is said to have discovered that weapons were being trucked through Sudan, heading north toward Egypt, whereupon they would cross the Sinai Desert and be smuggled into Hamas-held territory in Gaza.

In January, the U.S. signed an agreement with Israel that calls for an international effort to stop arms smuggling into Gaza. Hamas was showering rockets on Israeli towns, and Israel had responded by invading Gaza. More than 1,000 Palestinians were reportedly killed in the December-January war, and 13 Israelis lost their lives.

Sudan is known to be a way station for weapons smuggled into Gaza via a vast network of tunnels under the strip's border with Egypt. The route begins in Iran, which supports the Hamas in Gaza. It is said to pass through Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Egypt - going from the Persian Gulf around the Arabian Peninsula to the city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, some 400 kilometres south of Egypt.

So he intended target was Hamas right? Not so fast.

However, the involvement of Sudan in the Iranian-Hamas war effort would fit with the larger pattern of Sudan's regional alliances and activity. The close connections between Teheran, Khartoum and Hamas are a matter of public record.

The regime of Brigadier Omar al-Bashir in Sudan is, with the exception of the Hamas enclave in Gaza, the only overtly Islamist and pro-Iranian government in the Arabic-speaking world. Sudan is an acknowledged member of the Iran-led regional alliance, which includes Syria, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Sudan has maintained close relations with Iran since the 1989 coup which brought Omar al-Bashir to power. Bashir's coup was carried out in co-operation with the Islamist National Islamic Front. Members of the front went on to hold key positions in the new regime. Iranian supplies of weapons and oil began soon after. Hassan al-Turabi, a Muslim Brotherhood associated Sudanese Islamist activist, was the key figure in building the Iran-Sudan link in the early days of the regime.

The last time Israel took responsibility for carrying out a secret activity on Sudanese soil was when it airlifted Ethiopian Jews from Sudan in Operations Moses and Joshua in 1984 and 1985.

With such a completely convoluted and confusing geopolitical saga - is it any wonder that there is so much difficulty starting something as simple as peace talks?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Global Banking - Regulator Envy.

Amid a global economic meltdown - Canada - with its highly regulated banking system has become the envy of the world. In a survey by the World Economic Forum in October, with the financial crisis and bank failures that have shaken world markets - Canada was voted to have to world's soundest banking system followed by Sweden, Luxembourg and Australia.

Britain, which once ranked in the top five, has slipped to 44th place behind El Salvador and Peru, after a 50 billion pound ($86.5 billion) pledge this week by the government to bolster bank balance sheets. The United States, where some of Wall Street's biggest financial names have collapsed in the fall, rated only 40, just behind Germany at 39, and smaller states such as Barbados, Estonia and even Namibia, in southern Africa.

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report based its findings on opinions of executives, and handed banks a score between 1.0 (insolvent and possibly requiring a government bailout) and 7.0 (healthy, with sound balance sheets). Canadian banks received 6.8, just ahead of Sweden (6.7), Luxembourg (6.7), Australia (6.7) and Denmark (6.7). UK banks collectively scored 6.0, narrowly behind the United States, Germany and Botswana, all with 6.1. France, in 19th place, scored 6.5 for soundness, while Switzerland's banking system scored the same in 16th place, as did Singapore (13th).

The Globe and Mail's Report on Business created a neat little chart that summarizes how some banks around the world are doing:

Ranked tops in the world by the World Economic Forum for soundness of banks. Canada’s big five lenders all reported healthy profits in their most recent quarter, generally beating analysts’ expectations. Tightly regulated, with cash-spewing retail banks that can offset losses in other areas of the business.

United States
There are 252 problem banks being tracked by the government’s bank insurance program. In 2008, 25 banks failed, including household names like Washington Mutual. The government has rolled out numerous programs and spent at least $1-trillion (U.S.) in a bid to prop up the financial system, but there are no sure signs that the bailouts are working. The Federal Deposit Insurance Co. is now on track to seize 100 failed banks in 2009.

The big economies in South America have had little trouble with bank failures resulting from stumbles on risky assets such as subprime mortgages. Still, they won’t be immune to rising defaults from slowing economies, which will be a test of how far financial regulation and bank management have come in recent years.

The banking system of this tiny island nation -- which boasts a population half the size of Winnipeg -- represents probably the most spectacular rise and fall of the global financial meltdown. In 2003, Iceland’s three main banks had just a few billion dollars of assets, but by 2006 this hit $140-billion (U.S.). Today, all three have failed and been nationalized in a bailout that’s cost about $330,000 per citizen, leading to the collapse of the country’s currency and economy.

Sweden faced a banking crisis in the 1990s, and was forced to remake its financial sector. This time around, while one bank has failed because of toxic assets, the country has mostly dodged the problems and Sweden’s banking sector was ranked second only to Canada’s for stability by the World Economic Forum. Exposure at some big banks to Eastern Europe could lead to loan losses.

The British government has been forced to bail out big lenders such as Lloyds Banking Group, Northern Rock Plc and Royal Bank of Scotland, which have been crippled by forays into risky mortgage products before the property market in the UK and in the U.S. fell apart.

The country’s reputation as the home of the quiet, prudent banker is in shambles after gambles by Swiss giants UBS AG and Credit Suisse led to massive losses totalling more than $65-billion (U.S.). The government is now looking to write new rules to keep the financial sector out of trouble.

Austria has historically been the bridge between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. In recent years some of its largest lenders focused on expansion in such countries as Czech Republic, Romania and the Ukraine. Lending to the Central and Eastern European region amounts to almost 70 per cent of Austria’s gross domestic product, according to Moody’s. That was great when those countries were booming, but Eastern Europe is hurting badly and now many loans are likely to go bad.

Spain’s banking system has held up better than most with banks reporting gains in profit in large part because of strict regulatation when it comes to high risk assets, a legacy of a banking crisis in the 1970s. As a result, big Spanish banks like Banco Santander focus mostly on low-risk retail banking. Still, there are signs it may not last. The country’s swooning property market could lead to loan defaults, and the government and some bank executives warn that the domestic banking sector may have to be restructured should the global financial crisis deepen.

Namibia has the highest-ranked banking system in Africa for stability, well ahead of Spain, the U.S. and Britain. According to the International Monetary Fund, the country’s banks entered the financial crisis very profitable and well capitalized. And while the country is being buffeted by the global troubles, the resource-based economy is still expected to grow 1 per cent this year, according to Namibia’s central bank.

The Russian government has already invested about $11-billion to try to aid banks, and is looking at another $55-billion stimulus package to restart the economy and support the country’s ailing banking system. Lenders are suffering from a fast downturn in the oil-powered economy of Russia.

China’s big banks have avoided troubles with subprime and other toxic assets, and may benefit as the government unveils a big stimulus package designed to keep the country’s economy growing quickly. If that doesn’t work, though, expect the banks to face bigger loan losses.

Japan’s response to the banking bust of the 1990s was a ‘What not to do’ lesson. The country put off dealing with bad loans and propped up bad banks for too long. Just as the country finally started to take big steps to fix the problem, this financial crisis cropped up. So far, Japanese banks have avoided the worst of it, signalling perhaps they’ve learned from experience.

Ranked fourth by the World Economic Forum for soundness of banks, Australia’s system shares many attributes with Canada’s. It’s centralized, with a few big players that are making money. The big problem for Australia is an economic one: its banks may not be big enough to take up the slack as global lenders cut back on lending, leaving the country’s borrowers in the lurch.

Maybe government regulation is the way to go - don't you think?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is Canada's Minister of Science and Technology a Creationist?

In a newspaper article published on Tuesday day, Canadian Conservative MP and Federal Minister of Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear refused to say whether he believes in the evolution, adding that he was a Christian and questions about his religion were inappropriate.

But, when pressed on the question during an interview on CTV's Power Play late that afternoon, he responded: "Well, of course, I do, but it's an irrelevant question … We are evolving every year, every decade." Goodyear went on to give some examples from his experience as a chiropractor.

"That's a fact, whether it's to the intensity of the sun, whether it's to … walking on cement versus anything else, whether it's running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment, but that's not relevant and that's why I refused to answer the question."

On Wednesday, following a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto outlining the government's incentives and funding for science and technology, Goodyear refused to clarify further, insisting his personal views aren't important. When asked whether there was a conflict with someone with his portfolio being a creationist, he responded: "Absolutely not. How ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. That's why I didn't answer the question — because it has no relevance."

Canadian scientists say they are somewhat comforted that Goodyear clarified that he believes in evolution, but his recent comments still raised some concerns and questions.

Steven Carr, a biologist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, said Goodyear's approach the question has bigger implications. "If the minister were asked if he accepts the theory of global warming — an evolutionary phenomenon that will have massive impact on plant and animal species in the coming decades — I hope he would not say that environmental change is irrelevant to his portfolio," Carr remarked in an email.

Elizabeth Elle, a biology professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., said it's good to hear the minister accepts the theory of evolution, but she was concerned about the example he provided.

"I think it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution by natural selection works," she added.

The fundamental premise is that genetic variation among organisms results in differences in their "fitness" — a biological term referring to the number of offspring they have. That ultimately leads certain characteristics to become prevalent among their descendents. However, the types of characteristics that result in more offspring change over time as the environment changes. Elle acknowledged that humans are evolving every day, being naturally selected for characteristics such as resistance to certain diseases, but not likely for the type of footwear they use.

Carr said Goodyear is confusing evolution with ordinary, day-to-day change. "A suntan is not evolution, tired feet at the end of the day are not evolution," he said, adding that the misunderstanding suggests that scientists need to do a better job of communicating the importance of biological evolution. Elle said if Goodyear really doesn't understand evolution, that's a problem because the concept underpins scientists' understanding of biology, from wildlife conservation to medicine. "To the extent that his portfolio includes anything biological, he should understand it," Elle said.

Which begs the question, how will Goodyear cast his vote in Parliament on issues such as stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, gun control, capital punishment, climate change, etc.? Will he consider the empirical evidence, or will he simply vote according to his faith?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fox News Belittles and Mocks the Canadian Military.

Sure some US TV shows make fun of Canada sometimes, but it’s usually in a fun lighthearted manner. This segment by Fox News however was not even close to being funny, and lacks any respect for the Canadian Military and Canadians in general.

This utter and complete failure came on the heels of a report that 4 Canadian soldiers died today in Afghanistan.

By a high proportion, Canada has suffered more in losses in Afghanistan than any NATO ally. (The US population, at nearly 300 million, is ten times larger than Canada; the UK population is double the size).

Coalition deaths in Afghanistan by country
USA: 594
UK: 152
Canada: 116
Germany: 31
France: 27
Spain: 25
Denmark: 23
Netherlands: 18
Italy: 13
Australia: 10
Poland: 9
Romania: 9
Czech Republic: 3
Estonia: 3
Norway: 3
Hungary: 2
Portugal: 2
South Korea: 2
Sweden: 2
Finland: 1
Latvia: 1
Lithuania: 1
TOTAL: 1,045

I honestly cannot believe that people watch this network and think that it is good. The segment above is part of the Fox News Red Eye Report and they can be reached at

Scary Times for Bloggers in Iran.

Bloggers encompass a wide spectrum of views and perspectives, and they play a vital role in open discussions of social, cultural and political affairs. But in recent months, bloggers in Iran have been 'detained' and perhaps more frightening, several media outlets are reporting that, Omidreza Mirsayafi, who had been sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country's leaders, died in Tehran's Evin Prison this week.

According to Radio Farda, a Farsi-language station that is part of the American-government-financed network of radio stations Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Mirsayaf's family is not certain that authorities told them the truth about how the blogger died:

Prison authorities have notified Mirsayafi's family that he committed suicide on March 18 by overdosing on sedative tablets. But while Mirsayafi was known to have taken such medication to treat depression, his sister says he would not have possessed enough to kill himself.

Radio Farda adds that Mirsayafi's lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah;claims that a doctor imprisoned at Evin named Hesem Firozi told him the death could be attributed entirely to the prison's failure to provide Mirsayafi with proper medical assistance. Dadkhah told the radio station that the imprisoned doctor told him that Mirsayafi, 29, had an irregular heartbeat, possibly as the result of taking an overdose, but that his life could been saved if the prison hospital had responded appropriately. According to Dadkhah's account:

The doctor told them how to treat him, asked them to send him to a city hospital. But they ignored the doctor and said [Mirsayafi] was faking his illness. The doctor said, his heartbeat is 40 per minute, you can't fake that. But they sent the doctor out of the room.

According to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders Most of the articles on Mirsayafi’s blog were about traditional Persian music and about culture. The rights group, explained that Mirsayafi was sentenced last month to two years in prison for insulting the Islamic Republic’s leaders and six months in prison for publicity criticizing the government.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that:

In a December interview, Mirsayafi said his blog was completely private and was read only by a few of his friends. He also said that expert testimony by an Intelligence Ministry official during his trial emphasized this point and that he should not receive such a heavy sentence.

After Mirsayafi was convicted he told Reporters Without Borders: I am a cultural and not a political blogger. Of all the articles I have posted online, only two or three were satirical. I did not mean to insult anyone. The rights group adds that it recently received an e-mail from Mr. Mirsayafi in which he wrote:

I am worried. The problem is not my sentence of two years in prison. But I am a sensitive person. I will not have the energy to live in prison. I want everything to be like it was before. I want to resume my normal life and continue my studies.

In November Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger known as Hoder was arrested in Tehran on charges of spying for Israel and could face the death penalty. Derakhshan known as the 'Iranian Blogfather' is believed to be still detained at an unknown location.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression have published a letter of support, sent to Iran's Embassy and the Canadian government.

Earlier this week, the father of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, told Lindsey Hilsum of Britain's Channel 4 News that he had spoken to his daughter, who is still being held in Evin Prison. He added that waiting for her release is a nightmare. Hilsum reported on Channel 4's World News blog that Reza Saberi said his daughter didn’t sound terribly good, when he spoke to her on a telephone in Evin Prison on Monday. She said life in prison is psychologically challenging. That is, as Hilsium says, obviously an understatement. Saberi added: We told her to hang on, and not give in. The whole world is with her.

Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. State Department had been working through intermediaries to win Saberi's release, and an Iranian official said that Ms. Saberi would be released within days. Her father told Hilsum that if his daughter was not released by the start of the Iranian New Year celebrations this Friday evening, she is unlikely to leave Evin Prison before the end of the two-week holiday.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Greening the Olympics.

The greatest living Canadian, David Suzuki was asked by the Vancouver Olympic Committee to estimate the impact of the upcoming 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The answer: about 328,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, or the equivalent of 65,600 cars on the road for one year will be emitted during the 16-day event. The world's biggest winter event will run from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28, and the huge carbon footprint created will largely be produced by energy use at venues, snow and ice-making, the torch relay, and the air travel of thousands of people.

Recently though more than 70 of Canada's top athletes have written to the organizers of the 2010 Olympics, through the David Suzuki Foundation asking them to make the Games carbon neutral.

Canadian snowboarder Justin Lamoureux is doing what he can to save winter.

The 32-year-old from Squamish, B.C., sold his gas-guzzling truck to buy a small car. He bought $400 worth of carbon offsets last year to compensate for the carbon-producing flights he took competing around the world.

Written on the nose of his snowboard are the words "Ride Carbon Neutral."

And Mr. Lamoureux was one of 74 Canadian athletes who co-signed a letter yesterday to the 2010 Olympic Games organizing committee in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., urging chief executive officer John Furlong to do more to make the Winter Games green.

"Being in the mountains most days of my life and seeing glaciers retreat over the years and things like that, I want it to stop," Mr. Lamoureux said in Calgary yesterday. "I want future generations to be able to play in the snow."

The athletes are asking the public to endorse their letter via the David Suzuki Foundation.

One of Mr. Furlong's stated goals is to stage a carbon-neutral Games, which means zero net greenhouse-gas emissions.

Carbon neutrality is achieved by reducing emissions and buying carbon offsets to compensate for emissions that can't be avoided. Carbon offsets are projects such as wind farms or solar-panel installations.

When the Vancouver Olympic Committee asked the David Suzuki Foundation to estimate the impact of the 2010 Olympics, which run from Feb. 12 through Feb. 28, the answer was about 328,000 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, or the equivalent of 65,600 cars on the road for one year.

Mr. Lamoureux, cross-country skiers Chandra Crawford and Sara Renner, Boston Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference, speedskater Kristina Groves, Paralympian Chantal Petitclerc and kayaker Adam van Koeverden are among the athletes who asked Mr. Furlong to adhere to his commitment of a carbon-neutral Games.

While VANOC has reduced its carbon footprint by making venues energy efficient, the athletes want to know how the organizing committee will address energy use at venues, local transportation and travel to the Olympics by athletes, officials and spectators.

"VANOC is on the right track in terms of its vision with respect to a carbon neutral goal," said Deborah Carlson, a climate-change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. "We need more specific, concrete action."

The athletes find the biggest part of their carbon footprint comes from air travel and the Olympic Games are no different.

The foundation estimates 69 per cent of the 2010 Olympics' carbon footprint will come from air travel by participants, officials, sponsors, employees, media and spectators. The foundation says VANOC could buy carbon credits for less than $5-million to compensate for those flights.

By taking responsibility for its carbon footprint, the 2010 Olympics can demonstrate that there are solutions to climate change, and inspire millions of people in Canada and around the world to take action.

But so far, despite public commitments to make the Games carbon neutral, Olympic organizers haven't provided concrete plans.

Join leading Canadian athletes, and sign this petition urging Olympic CEO John Furlong to ensure that the Winter Olympics clean up their climate impact. Your voice will make a difference!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Walking Stereotype Of Self-Indulgence.

If you are a Republican its been a busy week. First, David Frum weighed in on everyone's favourite political analyst Rush Limbaugh and basically... tore him a new one...

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Oh snap.

Some conservatives felt Frum's piece didn't go far enough.

"He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise..."

Respect your closet cases, if you want to. As long as you need the yahoos, you won't be able to hide them.

David, you are capable of better political strategy than this. How about open disavowal of the yahoos and an attempt to make the GOP into something relevant to America's future, rather than a refuge for plutocrats and snake-handling fundamentalists.

The GOP, like the Liberals, have tarnished their brand for at least a decade. You need to write off the true believers who think you lost because you were betrayed, or that the last election was a vast con job, and try to reestablish contact with the American people.


Then if that weren't enough RNC Chairman Michael Steele declared that abortion is an "individual choice."

L: How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your catholic faith, but by the fact that you were adopted?

M: Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that. I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it, uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

L: Explain that.

M: The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

L: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

M: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice.

L: You do?

M: Yeah. Absolutely.

L: Are you saying you don't want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

M: I think Roe v. Wade--as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

L: Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

M: The states should make that choice: that's what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.


If you missed SNL this past weekend - here's a bit of awesomeness that you should be sure to check out (not sure if the clip works - damn Canadian IP)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Science is Back!

President Obama plans to sign an executive order on Monday overturning the Bush administration restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research. The White House sent out an e-mail yesterday saying it was planning a ceremony "on stem cells and restoring scientific integrity to the government process. At the event the president will sign an executive order related to stem cells."

The move will spark delight among scientists who have long campaigned for the Bush policy to be overturned, but will likely be condemned by conservative right-to-life groups. Obama spelled out his campaign policy on stem-cell research last August in a list of answers to the Science Debate 2008 scientific lobby group.

"I strongly support expanding research on stem cells," Obama wrote. "I believe that the restrictions that president Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem-cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations."

Reports about Obama's plans were immediately condemned by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "Today's news that President Obama will open the door to direct taxpayer funds for embryonic stem-cell research that encourages the destruction of human embryos is a slap in the face to Americans who believe in the dignity of all human life," Perkins said.

Bush barred federal funding from supporting work on new lines of stem cells derived from human embryos in 2001, allowing research only on a small number of embryonic stem-cell lines which existed at that time. He also several times vetoed legislation passed by Congress backing the research, which advocates say could help find a cure to diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's. Bush argued that using human embryos for scientific research-- which often involves their destruction -- crossed a moral barrier and urged scientists to consider other alternatives. Embryonic stem cells are primitive cells from early-stage embryos capable of developing into almost every tissue of the body.

Yesterday, the Health and Human Services Department moved to rescind a controversial rule, made final just before Obama took office, that would allow health care workers to invoke their consciences in refusing to provide health services or information to patients. This was strongly opposed by abortion rights activists. Critics and HHS staff have said the wording of the Bush "conscience" rule was vague enough to let health professionals invoke the conscience clause to deny patients contraceptives, family planning advice, and even vaccines and blood transfusions.

The Right is always citing the decline of American society as it pushes for backward-thinking legislation like that which Obama is now undoing. But history shows that wars against science and reason are symptomatic of societies in decline, not remedies against societies ills.

All I have to say... Hallelujah- science is back!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Woman Arrested in Saudi Arabia for... Driving.

A woman has been arrested in Mecca in Saudi Arabia for driving a car.

Arab News reported that the woman was arrested after her four-wheel-drive Lexus crashed into another vehicle. Investigators are looking into the incident, and the woman has been handed over to the Prosecution and Investigation Commission.

Women are prohibited from driving on all public roads in Saudi Arabia, a ban that has triggered several high-profile protests by women's rights activists.

CNN notes that more than 125 women last year signed a petition sent to Saudi Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, asking that the ban be overturned. That ban has even, in some cases, been extended to golf carts — a vehicle some women used to get around their transportation limitations.

Back in late January, it was reported that Saudi Arabia was to lift its ban on women drivers later this year - however apparently this has not come into affect yet.

The woman's name and nationality have not been announced.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

'Back Off and Stay Out Of Our Airspace.'

Four Canadian and U.S. fighter jets were scrambled to meet two Russian bomber planes found flying on the edge of Canada's Arctic airspace hours before President Barack Obama arrived in Ottawa for his first foreign visit, Canada's Defence Minister, Peter MacKay said yesterday.

The incident occurred Feb. 18, about 24 hours before Obama travelled to Canada for his first foreign visit. Canadian CF-18 fighter jets were scrambled from Cold Lake, Alta., to intercept the long-range Tupolev TU-95s and signal them to back off, MacKay told reporters in Ottawa. While he noted that the Russian flight took place when Canada's security focus was on Ottawa, in preparation for the Obama visit. "I am not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of having deliberately done this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence which we met with the presence ... of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace," he told reporters.

In Moscow, an unnamed government official called MacKay's statement a "farce" and said the Russian government was reacting to Canada's objections with "astonishment," news agency RIA-Novosti reported.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the incident was a real cause for concern that will not intimidate Canada. "This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond. We will defend our airspace." The Russian planes broke no international laws when they encroached on the 200-mile (320-kilometre) Canadian perimeter, 190 kilometres northeast of Tuktoyaktuk, but experts say it is a clear attempt to test defence systems in the disputed Arctic territories.

NORAD spokesperson Michael Kucharek said Canadian and U.S. fighter jets have been scrambled more than 20 times since early 2007 to perform visual identification of Russian bombers and to direct them away from North American airspace. "Russia has become more active than in the past," said Ray Henault, formerly Canada's chief of defence staff. Henault, who served as chair of NATO's military council until last year, said the bomber flights are a "legitimate activity" that have nonetheless complicated relations with other Arctic nations in recent years.

It's not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence. In addition, it's a diplomatic rebuff to Russian officials who have complained in the last week about nations "militarizing" the Arctic to bolster claims to valuable energy and mineral resources beneath the thawing tundra and the seabed.

"We know that the waters are opening up, we know that other countries have expressed interest in the Arctic and that we intend to have a very real and current activity and presence in the Arctic," MacKay said yesterday. The Defence Minister added that he has asked Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Russia's ambassador to Canada to give Ottawa notice when such flights are planned.

"To date, we have not received this type of notice," he said.

Renuart has also asked Russian officials to file formal international notice of the flights, but to no avail, said Kucharek. The RIA-Novosti agency quoted Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky, a defence ministry spokesperson, saying that neighbouring states had been previously notified of the bomber flight.

Opposition parties accused the Tories of using tough talk on Russia to shift the political debate away from mounting deficits and economic woes. "Everything the government does in these circumstances is an effort to change the channel," Liberal MP Bob Rae said.

U.S. General Gene Renuart, commander of North American Aerospace Defence Command, said Canadian and U.S. jets have visually identified more than 20 Russian aircraft in recent years that were conducting exercises near North American airspace.

Mr. MacKay said the Russians have turned a deaf ear to his request for advance notice of such near incursions.

"It's not a game at all ... I have personally asked both the Russian ambassador and my counterpart [in Russia] that we are given a heads up when this type of air traffic is to occur, and to date we have not received that kind of notice."

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989 crippled Russia's economy and brought such long-range flights, a staple of the Cold War, to an end. But the flights have resumed in recent years.