Sunday, 31 July 2011

What happens if the US fails to raise the debt ceiling?

Konrad Yakabuski, in the Globe and Mail: Debt-ceiling deniers court economic disaster.
An analysis by [Jay] Powell, a visiting scholar at the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, shows that the U.S. government is projected to take in $172-billion in revenues between Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, but face bills totalling $306-billion.

The shortfall of $134-billion would not only force the government to choose whom to pay among its millions of debt holders, pension recipients and employees. The sudden plunge in federal spending – equivalent to a staggering 10 per cent of U.S. gross domestic product in August – would by all accounts pull the rug out from under the economy.
What's going on?

I think the source of the deadlock is that the Republicans and the Democrats represent two views which may be irreconcilable.

One view is that government is a huge waste, and government spending should be as close to zero as possible. Let’s call it the anti-government faction.

The other view (the status quo faction) is that government is a critical part of society as it exists today, providing the traditional functions of war, diplomacy, and justice; dampening the wild swings of the business cycle; and helping to close the gap between rich and poor, by funding services like public education and health care through a tax system which falls more heavily on the rich than the poor. It’s not difficult to have a society where the rich live in extravagant luxury and the poor struggle to keep from starving; see any ancient empire or modern Third World country. It’s far more difficult to maintain a middle-class society of broadly shared prosperity.

The only common ground here is that the status quo faction is willing to look for spending cuts, to make the government more efficient. I don’t think it’s going to be enough for the anti-government faction. And it’s going to make the recession worse.

Update: the Republicans have agreed to a deal, avoiding default.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Feds silence scientist over salmon study

Ottawa Citizen:
Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada's West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister's Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

... The Harper government has tightened the leash on federal scientists, whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, air pollution or food safety.

... Researchers, who used to be free to discuss their science, are now required to follow a process that includes "media lines" approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa. They vet media requests, demand reporters' questions in advance and decide when and if researchers can give interviews.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Toxins locked in Arctic deep freeze released by melting ice

Vancouver Sun:
Environment Canada sleuths have found that toxins such as PCBs that have been locked in an Arctic deep freeze are being "remobilized" as the climate warms.

In a report published Sunday, they say that persistent organic pollutants, known as POPs, which were banned decades ago, are being released in the Arctic as sea ice retreats and temperatures rise.

"Our results indicate that a wide range of POPs have been remobilized into the Arctic atmosphere over the past two decades as a result of climate change, confirming that Arctic warming could undermine global efforts to reduce environmental and human exposure to these toxic chemicals," Hayley Hung, an Environment Canada research scientist, and her colleagues reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Large amounts of the toxic chemicals were transported to the North from factories and farmers' fields on air currents and ended up trapped in Arctic ice, and frigid northern soils and sea water.

Until recently scientists and regulators thought the Arctic toxins would stay out of circulation permanently, but Hung says that view changed with some "very abnormal' readings in recent years.

Scientists have measured the old pesticide hexachlorocyclohexane, which was banned years ago, coming out of open water in Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

And polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, widely used as coolants and lubricants until they were banned in many countries more than two decades ago, have been picked up at the edge of the ice in the Atlantic Arctic.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Coal power plant races against regulation

Globe and Mail, earlier this month:
Maxim Power Corp. is racing to beat proposed federal emission regulations that could derail its plan to build a 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the mountains of western Alberta.

The Calgary-based, TSX-listed company won approval to build the $1.7-billion plant from the Alberta Utilities Commission last week, after arguing it needed an immediate decision to meet an ambitious time line that would allow it to avoid the tough new federal regime.

Environment Minister Peter Kent is expected to release the government’s electricity regulations later this month, but Maxim says the company received assurances from Mr. Kent that it would not be subject to the regulations so long as it began operations before July 1, 2015.
Andrew Leach, an environmental economist at the University of Alberta, has further comments.
So when you add it all together, the AUC provided an expeditious approval to a coal-fired power plant so that it could sneak under the wire and not be covered by new federal regulations. Approval was granted without any of the conditions attached to the approval of a similar plant 10 years ago – conditions recently upheld by the same AUC. Perhaps most importantly, despite the world’s eyes being focused on Alberta’s actions on environmental issues, the AUC found a new coal-fired power plant to be clearly in the public interest despite the fact that it will likely make our environmental commitments billions of dollars more expensive to achieve, not to mention that it will harm our health, air quality, and waterways in the process.

Someone has to fill in the blanks for me on this one, because I don’t get it.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Canada's crime rate at lowest level in almost 40 years

From the Globe and Mail:
New statistics show the national crime rate is continuing its 20-year decline – reaching levels not seen since 1973 even as the federal Conservative government prepares legislation that would put more Canadians behind bars for longer periods of time.

It is a juxtaposition of politics and reality that has prompted critics to accuse the government of ignoring facts at taxpayers’ expense as it pursues a criminal-justice agenda focused on punishment rather than prevention.

Statistics Canada released its annual survey of police-reported crime on Tuesday. It shows the overall volume of criminal incidents fell by 5 per cent between 2009 and 2010, and the relative severity of the crimes took a similar dive.

Homicides, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies were all down last year from the year before. Young people were accused of committing fewer offences. Even property crime was reported less frequently with reductions in both break-ins and car thefts.

... Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to introduce an omnibus crime bill early in the fall that will incorporate a number of former justice bills that died when his minority government was defeated in March. It will include measures to put more young offenders in jail, end house arrest for a wide variety of offences, and impose mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences against children and a range of drug crimes.

“Unlike the Opposition, we do not use statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals. As far as our Government is concerned, one victim of crime is still one too many,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in an e-mail Thursday evening.

... If the legislation becomes law, the prison population is expected to increase substantially. The government is preparing for the influx by retrofitting and expanding its correctional facilities at a cost it has estimated at about $2.1-billion. Other projections have suggested the costs will be much higher.

The budget for the Correctional Service of Canada has already increased 86.7 per cent, from $1.597-billion annually since 2006 when the Conservatives took office, and is expected to climb to $3.147-billion by 2013-14.

Meanwhile, some critics say the government’s crime bills will actually increase the number of crimes committed by people who have been hardened by the prison system.

“The government doesn’t even try to pretend to present research anymore to suggest that their measures will actually reduce crime,” said [Steve Sullivan, former federal ombudsman for victims of crime]. “If you just have longer sentences and you keep people there [in prison] until the end of their sentences, you actually increase the chances that they will reoffend. Even the Republicans in the U.S. now are saying we need to move away from that kind of approach.”