Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Quebeckers Not A Nation

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We Quebeckers do not constitute a nation, and the sooner the separatists here understand that, the better.

French Canadians are one of Canada's two founding peoples, it's true. But so are the British Canadians, and they're not a nation either! If the the "ethnic" argument for Quebeckers being a nation were true, then British Canadian Anglos would also be a nation. They're not, however, and this prove that the ethnic origin argument is nonsense.

Quebec is part of Canada, and Quebeckers are part of the Canadian nation.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Interview: Green Party Leadership Candidate May - Conclusion Segment

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Here's the final part of my interview with Elizabeth May, a candidate in the Green Party of Canada's leadership race. If this appeals to you, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month.

This is part 7 of my interview with Elizabeth May, the interview's concluding segment, which covers the Green leadership candidate's views on Health (in addition to what was published yesterday), and various miscellaneous questions.


d) Much of our current health care focuses on treating illness. How do we shift emphasis to prevention?

Improve the quality of food eaten by Canadians by supporting local organic agriculture. Label food to warn of GMO contamination. Educate Canadians to avoid pre-packaged foods and restaurant meals. Emphasize the ecological, spiritual, educational and community values embedded in a home cooked meal.

Ban or severely restrict any chemicals shown to promote or cause cancer, birth defects, immune-suppression, neurotoxicity.

e) A think tank recently published an article suggesting that if we better managed waiting lines, we could solve our wait-times problem. Health care traffic lights and turnstiles, as it were. What is causing the wait-time crisis? How would you solve the problem?

It is a management issue. Get the back-log dealt with, increase the number of hospital beds (noting that 20% of all hospital beds in Canada were shut down in 1994-5), and stay on top of the issue to avoid backlog.

f)To what extent do you consider over-consumption responsible for obesity? Will the Green Party, under your leadership, make this a priority? (why)

As above in d. It is not just that Canadians eat too much food; it is that we eat the wrong kinds of food -- over-packaged, cheap calories, impoverished of nutritional value. We do not eat enough fruit and vegetables in our diet. We also need to walk and bike more, and drive less, watch less television and spend less time on video games and other sedentary activities...

g) GMOs (Genetically modified organisms) have been touted as being the way to feed the starving people in many countries, since GMOs can produce more crops than non-GMOs. What do you think of that? What are the bioethical implications? Now, what are the policy implications?

Oxfam, Christian Aid and many other groups devoted to alleviating poverty have thoroughly debunked the notion that GMOs "help" the poor. GMOs are produced at huge research costs by companies like Monsanto without a single altruistic motivation. The GMO industry requires full control of seeds, and would ban traditional practices of seed saving. GMOS are about as much to do with helping the poor as a gambling casino does with low income housing.
[Editor's note: Monsanto is a company that sells seeds for crops that don't regenerate or generate seeds, so that farmers need to buy seeds year after year. This is what may is referring to in regards to seed saving. My question was more interested in the massive fruits that were the next big thing to feed more people, but I suppose that isn't where development is going.]

h) (Contest participant question) Do you believe a product should have to be proven safe before being introduced, even if it has met all other government regulations on that product?

No government regulations in any area require proof of safety. The burden of proof to demonstrate a reasonable level of confidence that a new product does not carry unacceptable risks must shift to the proponent/manufacturer, with regulators applying the precautionary principle prior to regulating for use.


How is it you see such big differrences between the CPC and the old PC party?
I've read that Harper's being mentored by Mulroney as it happens.

The differences are enormous. Ask Flora MacDonald or Joe Clark why they are not members of the Harper Conservatives. Mulroney is clearly attempting to help Harper. Nevertheless, Harper completely ignored Mulroney’s clear message to Harper in his Earth Day Gala speech (April 20,2006) that climate change is a real and current threat, "second only to global nuclear war."

[Editor's note: Global nuclear war with who? Al-Qaeda's destroyed camps? The URSS?]

The old Progressive Conservative Party shared key values with Canadians that the Alliance take-over version does not.

Kyoto question (not originally in interview, but correspondence May thought was important):
Since our emissions are up over 25% since Kyoto's ratification, what difference does it make if we stick to it or not? The Americans dropped it and have reduced their emissions!

Actually US emissions have risen by more than one billion tonnes since 1990. Contrary to Harper myth-making, they have not reduced at all. The myth is based on distorting the fact that emissions in the US are up by 16% (which is enormous when one considers that the US is the world's largest polluter, producing 25% of global greenhouse gases), while Canada (with three per cent of world emissions in 1990) has increased by about 24.9%. The escalation in emissions in Canada is primarily due to the boom in the Athabasca tar sands.

Canada can still reach its Kyoto target. Nearly every other Annex 1 country under Kyoto is confident of reaching targets and many have already well over-shot that goal.
Kyoto matters (even if we try to reach our target and fall short) because it is the world's only hope of finding a global solution to a global problem. Negotiations are underway now, having been launched in December 2005 at the UN Climate Conference in Montreal for a second commitment period to begin as soon as the first one (2008-2012) is concluded. Without global action to bring down emissions sharply, on the order of 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, humanity could face unmanageable levels of climate chaos through increasing storms, sea level rise and weather of mass destruction. This is the real global security threat.

[Editor's note: I made a mistake here; as May notes, the US increased emissions. However, they increased less than we did, which was the result of specific efforts. Oh, and it isn't Harper or the CPC that convinced me of that, it's the mediocre mainstream media (when will I ever learn?).]

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Interview with Green Leadership Candidate May - 6

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Here is the 6th part of my interview with Green Party of Canada leadership candidate Elizabeth May. This segment of the interview with the media-darling Green includes the end of our foreign affairs discussion, as well as the first part of May's views on health.

Foreign Affairs

i) Is there an environmental aspect to giving aid to poor countries? Is there an interest for Canada to, as Bono suggested to Paul Martin, devote 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid?

Clearly, yes. As determined by the Rio Earth Summit, based on the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (The Brundtland Commission, 1987) there can be no sustainability in situations of massive inequity. Twenty per cent of the world's population (those of us in industrialized countries) consume 80% of the world's resources.

The target of 0.7% of GDP to ODA is not Bono's idea. It was former Prime Minister Lester Pearson's idea, and every Prime Minister since, up to Paul Martin, has endorsed it. In fact, the last Progressive Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, recommitted Canada to it very publicly at the Earth Summit in June 1992. At the time of the Earth Summit, Canadian aid was 0.45% of GDP. With Chretien's cuts to ODA it dropped to 0.25% and has since been inching up to recover ground. It is not yet back to the 1992 levels.

Many other donor nations are committed to it and refer to it as the Pearson target.

j) Can you share your views on economic globalization?

No global green world view could insist any country is an island, so an international perspective is critical. However, economic globalization is different from internationalism. If by economic globalization, the question assumes the following general characteristic of the now-discredited model of globalization – privatization, de-regulation and increased corporate rule – I would be sharply critical. If one means by economic globalization continuing trade, then the question shifts to how can one ensure the sustainability of trade? Can all trade be made fair? How can the local be favoured, for sound environmental reasons, without standing accused of protectionism?

The European Union model provides a very different model than that of NAFTA. It is worth examining and studying these issues so that Canadians know that not all trade agreements are created equal. [Editor's note: An analysis I wrote with partners for a recent economic class found that the EU's central bank was the source of many problems for Germany's economy. Nevertheless, I agree with May's point about continuing to trade, while ensuring that trade is fair.]

10) Health

a) What is the relationship between health and the environment? What factors influence that relationship?

I have taught at the undergraduate and masters level at Dalhousie University in the subject of Health and the Environment, as the first Chairholder of the Chair in my name at Dalhousie. This is (I apologize) a very long answer for which I only have room for a brief reply. [Ed's note: I don't know what a long answer with only room for a brief reply means, either. My guess is that May meant it's a complex issue that she couldn't answer fully, given time constraints.]

The relationship between human health and the environment is an intimate one. The current epidemic levels in Canada of childhood asthma, childhood cancers, adult cancers, immunological deficiencies and neurological deficits (premature aging of adults in early dementia in adults and increased levels of ADD, retardation and autism in children) are all very likely impacts of our toxicified world.

In developing countries, over 55,000 children under 5 years old die every day from water pollution related illness.
[Ed's note: I told you she has a wealth of knowledge! How many of you knew that? I certainly didn't.]

b) What are the Green Party's priorities in the health portfolio? What can be legislated (that would be enforceable) to pursue these priorities?

The 2006 Green Party Platform was very strong on identifying the need for prevention of illness by removing dangerous chemicals from our environment. In my view, the platform needed work to ensure a clear Green commitment to protect the legacy of Tommy Douglas in maintaining a public universal health care system. We must push back against the creeping threat of privatization.

c) Specifically, describe your opinions on the environmental causes for disease, and cancer in particular?

Cancer rates continue to climb, even though for many forms of cancer treatment and early detection improve. As Dave Renauld of CAW in Oshawa puts it, "the war against cancer is the only war where we have never engaged the enemy, and the enemy is carcinogens."

And that's part 6 of our interview with Green Party leadership candidate Elizabeth May. Tomorrow: Health and miscellanea conclude our interview. Questions partly came from a contest we held. Previously, we published interview segments on leadership, the economy, and foreign affairs.

If you want to follow our coverage of the Green Party's leadership race, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month.
Here are some related articles:

Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment
The Tangled Bank Science Carnival
Foreign-Affairs-Media Criticism and Interview

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Elizabeth May On Foreign Affairs - Interview with a Green Leadership Candidate Continued

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Fellow Centrerion Ilya and I were discussing the foreign affairs section of my interview with Green Party of Canada leadership candidate Elizabeth May. In it, the otherwise knowledgeable, articulate Green offered some naive, simplistic and on the whole dissapointing comments that betrayed a poor vision of foreign affairs.

Besides having nothing practical to say about what could be done with regards to Iran's nuclear development program, May made a pretty uninformed comment on the foundation of the state of Israel. "The State of Israel was created following a Zionist terror campaign," said May. The statement really bothered me, for a number of reasons, and so I've decided to give it its proper context. That is what Ilya and I discussed (some of what follows are my comments/ideas, some are his).

First, a distinction needs to be drawn between terorrism and guerilla fighting, and Israel's founders definitely are part of the second classification. To begin with, they did not intentionally target civilians for murder. The example that is always cited to "prove" that there was a terror campaign is the bombing of the King David hotel. The King David was British Military HQ! Furthermore, British military officials were warned ahead of time that the guerrillas intended to bomb the building so that they could evacuate. By comparison, surrounding buildings were empty of people when the bomb went off because they were warned too. (I'm citing from my Jewish History class in high school, and will supply proof upon request.)

But my problem with May's statement (not with May herself, whom I respect) is more than just that. Her use of the phrase "terror campaign" is disingenuous because it is a vast oversimplification. It suggests something comparable to the terrorism we are aware of in modern times, which is not at all the case (and, as noted above, it wasn't terrorism at any rate).

Furthermore, May's simplistic, contextless statement insults the intelligence of Green Party members, in the same was as her comments during the debate equated Harper to Bush and the Republicans with the Conservative Party of Canada. Using juvenile crowd pleasing slogans is no way to convince people that one is ready to become a party leader. Rather, such slogans are more appropriate for someone looking to lead a mob!

The contrast between the statement and what I perceive as May's intelligent nature is a big part of what bothered me. I suggest to you, dear readers, that you also go see part one of this interview, for further commentary on May, her character and on the interview itself. Now, with that off my chest, I present to you part 5 of my interview with Green Party leadership candidate Elizabeth May.

d) The Parliamentary Alliance to Save Darfur has stated that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in that province of Sudan. Experts have said that what's going on is genocide. Do you support a Canadian military intervention there? If so, what should our military be doing there? If not, how do you propose Canada's government act to fulfill its moral duty there?

Darfur is a case of genocide in the making with horse riding warriors descending on innocent civilians. Canadian peace keepers should be there to protect the "displaced persons," essentially refugees within their own nation. We should participate under the flag of the United Nations. [Editor's note: We're in definite agreement on Darfur, at least. However, I think we need to go in regardless of whether the dithering UN wants to; Arab and Muslim dictators control so many votes there it's unlikely the UN will ever send troops.]

e) Should Canadian troops stay in Afghanistan until the country is at peace and not at risk from the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda? How else can we contribute?

Our peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan has morphed into a "war against terrorism" under Stephen Harper. We should not have become engaged in a NATO action in the first place, but should have insisted on a UN led effort. Now, we have placed young, brave and idealistic Canadians at risk. We have left them as "peacekeepers" in a territory under US military command and during which shelling has killed civilians with whom Canadian troops were trying to build trust. Now, the Harper government has committed Canada to another two years with no assurance that the mission is not a war.

Peace keeping forces should be in Afghanistan to disarm both the Taliban and the non-Taliban war lords. The opium trade should be shut down with adequate funding and programmes to ensure a transition to non-illegal harvests. [Editor's note: One of the rare things I agreed with in this section of the interview. I.e. Disarming and ending the opium trade. Our soldiers train to be put in harm's way, it's part of the job. This also avoided answering whether or not we stay until the country is stable.]

f) Osama bin-Laden is quite popular in the Muslim world. 'Osama' was in fact one of the most popular names for Muslim baby boys born soon after 9/11. Hypothetically speaking, should the West intervene if fair and open elections brought al-Qaeda to power in some Muslim nation?

Foreign policy must not be a history-free zone. Canadian foreign policy should be cognizant of the fact that it was a deliberate policy of the Cold War era thinking that the US created, funded and armed the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This was done to create a ruthless band of killers with a fundamentalist zeal to over-turn Soviet rule in Afghanistan. Somehow the Pentagon never thought through that zealots who hated "godless Communists" might also hate "godless Capitalists."

[Editor's note: A fair point, but it's a little late to change that, don't you think?]

Blundering now on the side of Bush with his simplistic and dangerous "with us or against us" rhetoric is not going to bring anything but greater conflict to the world.

The "organization" know as al-Qaeda is not really organized and therefore, there is virtually no possibility that it could be elected anywhere. [Ed. note: Missing the point; Plenty of Islamist extremist parties are winning seats in Parliaments across the Muslim world...]

(As I understand it, "Osama" was always a popular Muslim name.)

[Ed. note: Not so, says the Guardian: "The name Osama has always been rare in northern Pakistan. Now, though, it is growing fast in popularity among parents choosing names for their children. In Pakistani cities, firms are named after him, too: Osama Medical Stores; Osama Property Services." Ditto on the name Osama's popularity in Nigeria's Muslim north... ]

g) Hamas, who is on Canada's list of banned terrorist groups, recently won the Palestinian Authority’s elections. Why is the West acknowledging/recognizing that electoral decision rather than invading to overthrow Hamas?

Hamas was democratically elected. The Middle East is a tinder box and no responsible nation would imagine invasion. Hamas also has non-military functions and faces a humanitarian crisis. Our help in humanitarian aid while condemning its history of terrorism (which we long ago did once the State of Israel was created following a Zionist terror campaign) is one way to help diffuse tensions in the Mid-East.

h) What can justify military intervention abroad?

Only the United Nations.

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Here are some related articles:

Elizabeth May Interview Part One
The first part of the foreign affairs section of the interview.
Foreign Affairs: The NSA, the IRS, DC and I-R-A-Q

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Comment On Imposition of Morality

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The role of government was written about here yesterday by my co-blogger Ryan. I have a comment/response to make on his editorial, "On the Imposition of Morality."

Loyal readers will know that I think highly of Ryan "Blue Grit" and his political commentary. We often disagree, but he makes intelligent arguments, so I respect him. Yesterday's argument was founded on false premises however, and I think it requires rebuttal so that nobody should be confused as to the role of government.

Ryan argued that it is not government's role to legislate morality. On the surface, the argument sounds reasonable, as we associate "morality" legislation with things like gay rights, abortion, etc. However, morality means much more than what Pat Robertson and the US' Christian Conservative movement would have us (and Ryan, obviously) believe. Ryan recognized this, and went so far as to say that regulating speech is not something government ought to do. However, I think morality encompasses even more than that.

The core of morality, or ethics, is about judging what is good or bad. Whether one asks what are the qualities of an ethical person, or whether one asks what is the ethical/moral thing to do in a particular situation, there is always judgement being passed.

In order for government to function, it must exercise its judgement to determine what is good or bad for its constituency. In other words, government makes a moral/ethical judgement. Therefore, it is obvious that government's very nature is to impose morality of some sort.

To argue that government ought not to impose morality is to misunderstand government's role. Ryan wrote that government is here to protect people. While that may be one of the things it does, government's true role is to pass legislation with the aim of providing "peace, order and good government," as per the Canadian Constitution. This will ensure our rights to "life, liberty and security of the person," as per the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ("life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the US equivalent).

I want to cite an example from Ryan's text to demonstrate how his argument self-contradicts, and can therefore not be accepted. We already noted that government is here to provide peace and order, and to ensure our rights to life and security. If we don't outlaw hate speech, which is inevitably an incitement to violence, it will be impossible to protect people's right to life and security, let alone peace and order.

Indeed, Ryan recognizes this and says it is a moral imperative to be intolerant of intolerance; that is, we cannot be tolerant of racism, anti-semitism and so on. However, his argument that it is not up to government to oppose intolerance with legislation is entirely implausible. Even if we were to accept his skewed definitions of ethics and government's role, government would still need to legislate against these things. It is not enough to outlaw murder - we need to make efforts to prevent it.

To conclude, government's role is inherently tied to ethics. It makes judgement calls on various issues based on an ethical-moral code and then legislates in accordance to this judgement. In Canada, government's role is specifically to provide for peace, order and good government, which involves protecting our fundamental rights to life, liberty and personal security. In fact, in a rare instance of me agreeing with the United Nations, life liberty and personal security are univeral rights! Allowing hate speech to thrive would be counter to government's essential duty. Evidently, it is up to government to impose morality.
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Challenging the Religious Right on Pollution

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I want to challenge the religious right on pollution. Bare with me, here, as I play devil's advocate; I had an interesting thought/question/argument about the topic where I've seen the scientific community defend its ideas and explain them, but the right hasn't risen to my challenge.

A little while ago, I asked why it appeared that scientists and the left were standing up for conservationism when this seemed to go contrary to Darwin, whom they endorse so strongly. On the other hand, I also challenged the religious right as to how they can support hugely polluting corporations which contribute to evolution and disproving their support for intelligent design. Not to mention it isn't exactly loving your neighbour when you dump toxic chemcicals in his back yard.

Anybody on the religious right care to explain this to me?

If you want to follow the answers to this question, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month.

Here are some related articles:

Interview with Green Leadership Candidate Elizabeth May - Part 6
Canada's "provocation" of Islamist terrorists
Tangled Bank Science Carnival

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the imposition of morality

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(Cross-posted at BlueGrit)

One of the favourite tactics of the reactionary right is to charge their opponents with engaging in the very same behaviour in which they themselves are engaging.

For example, they will often say, "the left demands tolerance, but they are intolerant of our beliefs." But the thing is, being tolerant demands being intolerant of intolerance. A proper analogy is that the use of force is wrong, but one must oppose the use of force with the use of force. The charges fall flat on their face; if your "beliefs" are intolerant; if your "beliefs" hold that I should be a second-class citizen (or worse); if your "beliefs" are that others should be oppressed using the civil law, I have no duty as a tolerant individual to tolerate them. In fact, it is completely the opposite - to be morally consistent in my demand for tolerance, I have a duty to oppose intolerance, even if that requires being "intolerant". To say that one should tolerate intolerance is as morally bereft as the cries of the pacifist who demands that violence be met with passivity. There is nothing wrong with being intolerant of intolerance - racists, sexists, anti-semitists, and homophobes should be relegated to the fringes of society where they belong.

Another example is claiming, in defence against the charge that they are attempting to legislate morality, that their opponents are also trying to legislate morality by, say, changing the definition of marriage to include same sex couples. (Their counterparts a couple of generations ago fumed equally about changing the definition of marriage to allow divorce; their counterparts in the United States did so when the definition was changed to include interracial marriage.) But this flaim is absolutly faulty on its surface, and here's why:

The belief that the government should not impose morality, is not imposing morality, no more than refusing to tolerate intolerance is wrong. It is completely inconsistent to claim that a belief in the moral neutrality of government is itself a moral judgment, just as it is inconsistent to claim that atheism is a religion. As atheism is, by definition, the absence of religion, so to is the moral neutrality of government a committment to amorality.

This does not mean that the citizen of a country are amoral, or that the members of the government are amoral. What is means it that the government itself, as a body, will not make moral judgments.

Some will say that protecting people against murder or theft is a moral judgment. I could not disagree more - that is simply the government performing its duty, and its duty is the safety of its citizens. That is why it exists - not to enforce moral rules, but to protect people.

Remaining morally neutral on questions of conscience is the best way to ensure social harmony. This is why the government should not legislate against abortion, nor should it make moral decisions about sexuality, nor should it decide who can and cannot get married, nor should it criminalize those who choose to speak virulently against gay people, or even black people or Jews. The cultural left must concede that last point, because again, the government should not side with their point or view no more than it should side with the cultural right's.

So no, allowing gay people to get married along with straight people is not "imposing" morality; nor is allowing abortion; nor is allowing responsible drug use; nor is allowing any form of consensual sex (even if paid for). The government in all of the above cases is quite explicitly leaving the question of morality to its citizens to decide without its interference and meddling - and that is exactly the way it should be.

Green Party's Elizabeth May Interview - 4

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The following is the fourth part of Centrerion Canadian Politics' interview with the Green Party of Canada's leadership candidate, Elizabeth May. It finishes the economics section of the interview displaying May's reasonable grasp of the country's economic affairs, and moves on to May's oft-dissapointing, impractical views on foreign policy. (Paraphrase: "All we need to do to stop Iran is condemn Indian-US nuclear proliferation, and then everything will work out...")

To follow our coverage of the Green Party's leadership race and of environmental affairs, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month.

Green Party of Canada leadership candidate Elizabeth May speaks to Centrerion Canadian Politics on economics, the environment and foreign affairs.

i) How are environmental treaties such as Kyoto, Rio, and others affecting Canada's economy in terms of GDP, the unemployment rate and other standard measures of economic performance?

Not at all. We could, of course, be enhancing our economy by moving faster to meet the targets of various treaties, particularly Kyoto.

j) Have Canada's free trade agreements had an impact on the environment? How can such impacts be proven/disproven?

Yes there have been significant impacts. Some, such as air pollution causing deaths of Mexican children at the US border have been documented by the NAFTA side agreement's North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Others, such as the chilling effect of investor–state challenges under Chapter 11 of NAFTA have been documented. I wrote this chapter, "Fighting the MAI," in Dismantling Democracy: The Multilateral Agreement on Investment and its Impact. Edited by Andrew Jackson and Matthew Sanger, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, (James Lorimer and Co, Ltd. 1998). The MMT-Ethyl challenge under Chapter 11 did serious damage to Canada's willingness/ability to regulate. I have recently written a chapter in a McGill Queens University Press analysis of ten years of NAFTA, documenting environmental impacts. (Breaking the Free Trade Addiction: An Intervention on Environmental Grounds, co-authored with Sarah Dover, in press)

i) One of the readers who participated in our contest heard that ethanol actually requires just as much energy to create as it produces. What do you know/ think of this theory?

What is your opinion on the Conservatives' support for ethanol?

Not all ethanol is the same. The George W. Bush approach is to turn corn into ethanol as a prop up to farmers, using coal fired plants to run the ethanol plants. No gains for the environment at all.

Even without the coal factor, the energy intensity of modern agricultural practices to grow corn makes the benefit from ethanol very marginal.

On the other hand, cellulose ethanol is brilliant in truly reducing carbon emissions. Canadian technology (Iogen and a few others) has determined ways to convert wood chips, straw and switch grass into ethanol. In Brazil, the use of sugar cane to make ethanol, now replacing gasoline in much of the country is another clear winner.

9) Foreign Affairs

a) What is your vision for Canada in international politics?

As above, answer 1. Lloyd Axworthy's vision of our use of "soft power," in conflict, poverty and environmental issues.

b) With you as leader, what would the Green Party's goals be for Canada's foreign policy?

Peace-maker, global leader in the transfer of environmentally advanced technologies to reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency, renewables etc.

c) President Ahmadinejad of Iran is developing his country's nuclear energy resources with the help of Russia, China and until recently, France. What is your opinion on this development in foreign affairs?

This is a dangerous development. The potential for nuclear proliferation runs high. The community of nations is undermined in confronting this by Bush's decision to trade in nuclear technology with India in contravention of the treaty. The lifting of trade restrictions on nuclear activity with India was tied to India joining Bush's "alternative" to Kyoto, the fraud known as the Asia Pacific Partnership on Climate Technology...

c) What should Canada do in that respect? Do you think the Francophonie can pressure France, or play a role in some other way? If so, how? If not, why not?

Canada must condemn the failure to abide by the NPT in the case of the US/India deal in order to have any credibility in condemning Iran.

Here are some related articles:

Tangled Bank Science carnival
Elizabeth May Interview Part 3
Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment
Green Debate Video

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tangled Bank Carnival

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This week, we get the honour of hosting the Tangled Bank science carnival. I'd like to thank the Tangled Bank's founder and organizer, Professor Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, for letting me host this gathering of science knowledge, trivia, and blogging. I came to it after submitting my Time-published letter to the editor on obesity and portion sizes.

Note: Centrerion Canadian politics hosts the Mediocre Media carnival and the Moderate Circus, highlighting moderate politics around the globe. Here's more information on the carnivals we host.

Since this is a science carnival, I want to take the opportunity to encourage all of you readers to consider Centrerion Canadian Politics environmental/political coverage of the past little while, including our
interview with Green Party Leadership candidate Elizabeth May (who used to direct the Sierra Club of Canada),
notes on the Green Party's leadership debate here in Montreal, and
an editorial entitled Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment.

Most of all, though, I'd like some answers to my question about scientific opposition to evolution and Christian support for Darwin. I may be confusing things, but some positions each of the two groups have are hard to understand.

Without further ado, I present the Tangled Bank, June 21st edition, aka Tangled Bank #56! While I normally like to give editorial comments, given the huge volume of submissions, and my unfortunate ignorance in many of these fields, I will simply present the carnival's posts in the chronological order I got them from Mr. Myers. I apologize in advance for any sarcastic/snide remarks, they're just there to mask my own insecurity at being so ignorant.

I'm correcting some mistakes. I've attributed the good professor's actual place of teaching (yes, I know the expression is place of learning) properly, and I'm adding two posts I missed. To help them gain some of the residual traffic, I'll be putting it here at the top. Again, my apologies for the mistakes, but error is human, right?

Added posts worthy of your attention to make up for my error:

Isisfordia and the Origins of Modern Crocs: A newly described Cretaceous crocodile is helping scientists determine how modern crocodiles got their start. We learn this from the Hairy Museum of Natural History

James Hrynyshyn gives us: "How not to save the whales" from Island of Doubt. He says the Whaling Commission is an affront to science, because both sides of the whaling debate, who argue back and forth at the commission, abuse science and make junk arguments. A fasinating read!

GrrlScientist presents Europasaurus holgeri: the Smallest Giant posted at Living the Scientific Life. Grrl Scientists notes: this is a review of Douglas Erwin's new book, Extinction. It is a paleontological "whodunit" and it does a great job presenting the data that support various hypotheses as to why all life was nearly extinguished 252 million years ago.

Mediocre Media participant Josh Cohen at Multiple Mentality presents Rage... Taking Over... Josh mysteriously asks: "Do you feel like you're going crazy? Maybe you have a disease."

GrrlScientist presents another post, the, wait for it, The Rise of The Feathered Dragons posted at Living the Scientific Life.

Hsien-Hsien Lei, PhD, Science and Health Editor for Darren Rowse's heavyweight blog network, b5media, presents a post about "tissue engineering a beating heart." Now if only I knew what the meant... Anyways, it's at A Hearty Life and entitled, Growing a Heart.

Still in the lovely field of incomprehensible jargon, we have "A." suggesting we read
"Why You Weigh So Much: Dynamical Breaking of Chiral Symmetry" at his blog, Science is Potential (at least, that's what I think the latin means).
A explains: It's an introduction to the concept of "chiral symmetry breaking" for normal people. He adds, "let me know if you have any questions or need clarifications." How about explaining in the submission what chiral symmetry breaking is?

Chris McCullough, another regular contributor to Mediocre Media via his "blog for salty Christians" (is that how they described them before throwing them to the lions in Rome?), shares Al Gore and some inconvenient truths about global warming. For those of you who don't know, the former Vice-President of the US has made a movie about global warming that is now out in cinemas. Entitled An Inconvenient Truth, it is absolutely fantastic. Of course, Michae doesn't quite agree and he wants us to know that Gore himself ignored some inconvenient truths which suggest we humans are not causing global warming (to which I answer, who cares? We still need to do something about it!).

Joe Kissell shares an interesting things of the day with us. Robots that see and hear are nothing new, but researchers are now developing machines that can distinguish and identify odors. Applications include health care, public safety, and rescue work. Ah! Popular science! Hurray for Robots That Smell (so long as they don't smell too bad...) !!

Most mysteriously, we have some submitter named "Reason" asking us to take our pic.

Anyone know the winning lotto numbers?

From the more humanly named John Wheaton, we have two submissions, as John missed the previous carnival. The first considers science superstar, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. John's second post is about the "Voyager Probe, 30 years later." (I'm holding back the comments on this one, but it's soooo tempting!) For those who don't know about Voyager, if I recall correctly, the Voyager Probe was a NASA project sending some shuttle (or other spacecraft) around space. Anyways, the lot of it is courtesy of John's Computer Newbie site.

Nick Anthis's submission to The Tangled Bank from The Scientific Activist: concerns anthropomorphic molecules. Though I can't remember right now what anthropomorphic means, I actually do know it. Dont' ask me how, but I do. Ok, no really. It means my girlfriend's grown two sizes, err molecules, rather. Anyways, my lame attempts at comedy aside, Organic People Chemistry is this week's special on anthropomorphs.

Josh Rosenau brings us information on writing poll questions and desert locusts' behaviour. Now there's someone with an open mind and a wide range of interests!

Jane Shevtsov at Perceiving Wholes (no, it's not a voyeur porn blog - it's a regular porn blog - just kidding, of course) fills us in on the "nitrogen cycle and nitrogen fixation by humans."

With no description, we have Jennifer Forman Orth's submission, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Something to do with an invasive species. Do you know one? I sure don't.

Mo Man the Neurophilosopher (who's a little neurotic with his naming, by the looks of it) gives us: Religiosity is a Purely Human Thing. Reminds me of psychology class, which I liked. Interestingly, the psych prof was a former Christian who is now an atheist - but supports Bush nonetheless (he was an atheist before Bush was in the national political picture). Then again, it also reminds of the local French accent here in Montreal where French Canadians will pronounce "maman" (mother) mo-mahn.

Mike Bergin
shares with us some birding questions, namely a look at the Vireos of the American Northeast. Now there's a man who knows how to work the carnival blogosphere right, as I know of at least one other carnival which would be interested in that. More links for the same post! Smart guy.

Andre at BioCurious tells us that he loves taking a break from the lab and just staring at leaves. I find nature is restful for me too :).

Dave Munger presents Language and time: More on whether the future is literally in front of us. That sounds like a really interesting post! Questions of time have fascinated me ever since I learned that a) I can't manage my own and b) Someone on a train and someone off it will see a clock differently and yet both be right! At least, that's what I understood from Time magazine...

Back in the field of popular science, we have Jeremy Bruno at the Voltage Gate asking why it is we use so much harvested grass? He's talking about those roll-on lawns, of course, not the drug cartels. "At the cost of the eutrophication of lakes and bays and the dessimation [sic] of biodiversity, do Americans need giant tracks of short-cropped imported grasses in their yards? Why is this tradition so strong in our culture and so well-accepted?" Good question!

Phamous ole' Pharyngula (plural pharyngulae?) gives us "Polar lobes and trefoil embryos in the Precambrian." Who puts Brie Cheese in foil? Ok, maybe I stop making fun of the organizer of this carnival, who could probably display my pathetically tiny scientific knowledge in no more than a moment's time.

Josh Rosenau has more for us: Polar Bear Cannibalism, and how to grow big breasts. I'm not sure that this isn't actually a voyeur porn blog. Clicker beware.

Well, that's it. If I left something out, please send me an email (click Guided Tour, above, and go to the contact page). If you want to read more carnivals, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month.

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Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment

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My economics prof, Mr. Philippe Ghayad, whom attentive readers will recognize for his contributions to correcting me here on purchasing power, trade imbalances and other posts on economics, has sent along an editorial entitled Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment. While I agree with the basic argument that fiscal policy can work to protect the environment, I just want to slip in a note about some things my economics prof wrote in the introduction concerning the science of global warming.

Mr. Ghayad writes in his introduction to challenge the reality of global warming.
He says that not all scientists agree on global warming. While that may be true, the overwhelming majority do. As can be seen in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, which Mr. Ghayad conveniently mentions, 100% of peer-reviewed articles on global warming published in scientific journals (928 of them) recognize its existence.

My prof also suggests global warming can be explained by cyclical factors. Gore's movie refutes the notion of global warming being explained by cyclical trends. If I recall correctly, this was done by showing recent warming is multiple times beyond what's been seen in the past.

The editorial refers to the ozone recovering as a sign that global warming isn't really such a big deal. The ozone is another environmental issue; it keeps sunlight out, while greenhouses gases keep it in. Therefore, if the ozone is recovering and the planet is still getting hotter, this is in fact proof of how dire the situation is.

Finally, Mr. Ghayad asks how, if we can't predict the weather three days from now, we can tell that global warming is happening. Compare apples with apples, that's how; we can't predict anything in the future, it's true, but we can evaluate past events to determine what the trend is, and such historical data mining shows global warming.

That having been said, Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment is nonetheless a great editorial. It highlights a number of ways that fiscal policy can help reduce pollution and sanitize our living conditions, and gives examples that help make the topic easier to understand. As to the criticisms I made above, they don't take away from the quality of the article in any significant measure. I'm publishing this for its economic insight after all, not because of the ideas on global warming. I encourage you all to read the following attentively.

Creative Taxing Can Save the Environment

by Philippe Ghayad, Concordia University and Dawson College Economics Professor

Even with the opening of Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, about the increase in global warming, it might still be hazardous to confidently claim that humans are destroying the environment at an unprecedented rate. The reason being is that it is a difficult variable to calculate and not all scientists agree on the issues at hand.

In one corner, a group of scientists believe that human activity is destroying our forests, water sources, glaciers and the natural habitats of animals. In the opposite corner, another group claims that the environment is cyclical and it is very hard to extract a global trend since the data is limited or unreliable. If we cannot even predict with precision what the temperature will be like in three days, how can we claim to know what is happening on a global scheme? Furthermore, a recent study done by Betsy Weatherhead , University of Colorado, shows that the ozone layer seems to have stabilized and might actually be on the recovery. Is this due to the Kyoto protocol or due to some natural downturn in the environmental cycle?

Regardless of which group of scientists is correct, human beings should not squander environmental resources. The problem is that the very act of staying alive requires that we use energy and that we produce waste (even in the act of breathing we create CO2 which is an emission that causes global warming!). Given this truism, how can we punish people for being wasteful? One way is to hurt them where it counts: their wallet.

Why does my neighbor wash his car every weekend even though his car has barely accumulated any dirt in a week? Because the cost that he bears in doing this activity is minimal. There is no water tax in my area and so he can wash his car several times in one day without having to pay for his main input: water. A "green tax" would alleviate this problem. A tax on water usage or a water counter (like Hydro-Quebec does with electricity) would create a deterrent to waste our most precious resource. This practice is used in Europe. "Green taxes" would force people to think twice about participating in activity that is detrimental to the environment.

Another example? How can we get people to purchase less SUVs that are less fuel-efficient than smaller cars? Simply tax the purchasers of these cars more. We could even go one-step further: tax gasoline consumers even more (note: in Quebec about 40% of the gas price paid at the pump is the sum of different taxes). We should not only pick on drivers though. Households that have inefficient chimneys pollute more and create more smog than cars do. A fiery chimney on a cold winter night is so cozy and snug... but so damaging to air quality! Make them [polluters] pay for the inconvenience that they impose on others.

Moreover, the money collected from these "green taxes" can be invested in activity that is beneficial to the environment, such as more efficient or more comfortable public transportation. This would hopefully convert even more drivers into users of public transportation. The objective here is not to get everyone off the road. This is an impossible task since some citizens need their car to work such as sales people or delivery workers and others probably save a lot of their time by using their car compared to public transportation. However, everybody has a price that they are willing to pay in order to use their car versus public transportation. Governments need to find ways to sway those drivers whose price is relatively low.

The money generated from these taxes can also be used to create incentives such as direct tax reductions. These incentives can rage from tax reductions on the purchase of hybrid cars to the purchase of electronic and energy saving thermostats by households.

The government has the power to directly turn its citizens into environmentalists without them even being aware of it. The problem is that politics and votes get in the way... and that's a whole different ball game.

If you want to keep current with issues in economics, the environment and with Professor Ghayad's insights on fiscal policy and the environment, which I hope he'll continue to share with us, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month. Here are some related articles:

Elizabeth May on the Canadian economy and the environment
May's economic and environmental thoughts, part 2
Interview with Elizabeth May, Green Party leadership candidate Part 1 of our interview with the famous environmentalist

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Anti Racism Carnival

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The erase racism carnival is up at Jay Sennet's.

We've submitted our post on Canadian "provocation" of Islamist terrorists.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Middle East Analysts' Impressive Foresight

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Two people with significant knowledge of the Middle East whom I've read in the past and have the highest respect for have proven incredible foresight. The first is brilliant political analyst Elliot Chodoff who writes and speaks in many public forums, and the second is world-renowned scholar Bernard Lewis, whose books on Islam are standard reading in colleges and university.

Consider this, from the Middle East on Target website.

"Gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades Tuesday at a pro-Fatah Palestinian Authority security compound in the Gaza Strip, moderately wounding three maintenance workers, security and hospital officials said. - Ha'aretz - June 2006

With Israel out of the immediate picture, the terrorist organizations are likely to turn their guns on each other as they vie for power over the overcrowded cities and refugee camps, allowing order to rule only when it is their own... The battle for the control of Gaza has just begun; we don't expect to see a conclusion any time soon. - Elliot Chodoff - July 2004"

The other is something I recall hearing at a speech given here in Montreal by Bernard Lewis in the fall/winter of 2004: Iran is the world's biggest threat. At the time I had trouble giving credence to what he was saying, but it is obvious now with hindsight that he was right.

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Elizabeth May Interview - Part 3

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Green Party leadership candidate Elizabeth May has granted us an interview, of which this is the third part. We are presenting the interview, broken into pieces, throughout the week. Today we present the second part of the economics section of our interview with May.

Parts one and two of the interview covered issues of leadership and economics. This is part of our ongoing coverage of the Green Party's leadership race.

f) Most of the West as well as many emerging economies are dependent on oil. How important an issue is that, and why (not)?

Dependent is one word for it. "Addicted" is another. It is urgent that we break the addiction and dramatically reduce oil dependency. Sweden's recent pledge to go off oil is enormously encouraging.

g) If it is important, how would the Green Party act in regards to that? If not, what is the priority in alternative energy development?

We need to set clear goals and targets, and align economic and fiscal signals with those goals. (as described above).

The hierarchy of effectiveness in terms of costs and environmental benefits is as follows. Pursuing all aggressively can reduce our emissions and oil dependency dramatically -- without new large scale hydro or nuclear energy.

  • Demand-side management
  • Energy conservation (the two terms are often used synonymously but embody very different, although complimentary approaches.)
  • Co-generation, combined heat and storage and seasonal storage.
  • Expanded renewables from passive solar water heating to photovoltaics, wind power (especially off the shores of Lake Ontario, and our coasts, and in farmer's fields (hedgerows), run of the river hydro, tidal and geo-thermal.

h) Both Canada and the US have significant nuclear energy resources. Is it legitimate to expand their use to rid us of oil dependency? What about expanding use of hydro power? Note that one of our readers said: "Don't let them off saying we can conserve energy or solar/wind to meet all our energy needs. The sun doesn't shine all the time, and sometimes the wind doesn't blow..."

See above for the suite of measures. According to energy analyst Ralph Torrie, just demand side management and energy efficiency could cut our demand for energy in half, without any new large scale hydro, AND while shutting down existing nuclear and coal-fired plants. (see the study: Kyoto and Beyond, David Suzuki Foundation website, Climate Action Network site.)

Premier McGuinty should take note: not every unpopular decision is brave and far-sighted. Some are just plain stupid.

McGuinty has made an irresponsible and reckless decision, without having insisted on a clear analysis of all elements of Ontario's energy future. The advice of the Ontario Power Authority was manifestly inadequate as a basis for decision-making. It failed to even address the potential for conservation, and, as exposed in the Sierra Club of Canada research, only concluded that nuclear power was environmentally acceptable by rushing a private consultant to complete a hasty and incomplete report without including key impacts of nuclear including the mining of uranium. The pro-nuclear "cult," as identified by former Ontario Hydro chair, William Farlinger, is still in existence.

The OPA report did not make any case for ordering reactors in 2006 or anticipating any shortfalls before 2014. Yet, Premier McGuinty is using the pretence of imminent shortfalls to buttress a dangerous decision. At the same time, the Premier is backing away from the scheduled closing of dirty coal plants that drive up greenhouse gases and smog.

Ontario taxpayers and electrical users (and the environment) have already suffered from the enormous cost over-runs and unreliability of the nuclear industry. Cost overruns on the last nuclear station built in Ontario at Darlington were in the billions of dollars. Debt incurred by Ontario Hydro (the predecessor to OPG) in the operations of its power reactors amounted to over $35 billion dollars. Meanwhile, federal taxpayers have already sunk over $17 billion into the Crown Corporation pushing nukes, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Energy efficiency expert, Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, reaffirms the advantages of energy efficiency over nuclear and adds "... nuclear power saves as little as half as much carbon per dollar as wind power and traditional cogeneration, half to a ninth as much as innovative cogeneration, and as little as a tenth as much carbon per dollar as end-use efficiency. ... Empirically, on the criteria of both cost and speed, nuclear power seems about the least effective climate-stabilizing option on offer. "

What is urgently needed is a plan to reduce air-conditioning demand in summer, to sub-meter apartment buildings and condos in the downtown of Toronto and to build green energy options within Toronto to reduce the stresses at the two pinch-points where all electricity for the metro area must pass. A promise to build reactors now does nothing about power problems, not through shortages but due to mismanagement, in the short-term. The federal taxpayers having sunk billions in to AECL already should stay light years away from assuring McGuinty of covering cost over-runs for an unwarranted, unjustified, wrong-headed political cop-out.

If you want to keep up to date with the Green Party's leadership race, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month and keeps you informed on important issues in Canadian politics. Here are some related articles:

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Green Leadership Candidate May Interview Part 2

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Here is the second part of our interview with Green Party leadership candidate Elizabeth May. (Part one of the interview was posted yesterday.)

5) How would you balance the leadership you would have to provide with the living platform? Since grassroots opinion can shift from one day to the next, how do you avoid becoming the next Mr(s). Dithers?

I have never been indecisive, but the Green Party policies come from the membership, not the leader. I disagree with the premise of the question. There is nothing more changeable about grassroots opinion than about centralized elitist opinion. Policies need to be driven by issues and the best possible available solutions. Not mere opinions.

6a) What is your conception of the Green Party leadership? b) Having considered that, what should the leader's priorities be?

a) My concept of leadership is service. A leader is not a dictator, not a parent, not a boss. A really great leader serves the needs of the party as it evolves. In Green Party terms, a leader must be charismatic, media-savvy and effective as a spokesperson. A leader should also be inclusive, friendly, helpful and supportive, a problem-solver and gifted in dispute resolution.

b) Answered above.

7) How would your leadership distinguish itself from that of the other candidates?

I come to the party leadership with significant public credibility and experience. I am well known to the national media, and well respected. My work has been honoured with two honourary doctorates (Mount Saint Vincent and University of New Brunswick), a permanent chair in my name at Dalhousie University, an award from the United Nations Environment Programme, and the Order of Canada at the Officer level. I am the author of five books and a commentator on radio and television as well as a university associate professor at Dalhousie and Queens University. The other candidates are excellent, however, on any objective assessment of relative strengths my national profile and reputation are of benefit to the party in a way that the others cannot claim (20 years from now, let's hope they will!). A woman leader in federal politics is also a benefit in distinguishing ourselves from the other parties. (Even with 20 years the other candidates will not switch genders, but let's hope in 20 years all the other parties are led by women and the Greens will need a male leader to distinguish themselves from the "old girls' club"!)



a) How do you assess the Canadian economy's current "greenness"?

Not at all "green."

b) What's the relation like between the economy and the environment?

Quoting Herman Daly, former senior economist to the World Bank "The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment."

c) What trends do you see in the relationship? Where are we heading in the next three to 5 years?

What Green initiatives could have the greatest impact on the economy? If an election were called the day after you became Green Party Leader, what platform planks would you offer Canadians?

As above.

d) What will the Green Party's fiscal policy be like, under your leadership? Conservative? Socialist? Something else? (Examples…)

Not left or right, but ahead. We are in an era of transformative political change. Clinging to anachronistic old labels will increasingly be seen as a measure of irrelevance. As Bill Good of CKNW in Vancouver puts it, "It is not a question of left or right, but of right and wrong."

Fiscal policies will avoid debt, paying off whatever we owe the IMF on an urgent basis. Policies will be revenue neutral with fairly distributed benefits throughout society.

e) People have argued that being ecologically sensitive is a privilege of rich societies that developing nations can't afford. What do you say to that?

Nonsense. The environmental abuses of industrialized societies contribute to impoverishment of poorer countries. Some of the most effective practices in environmental stewardship come from the global South (The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya, the Chipko Movement in India, Curitiba, Brazil's land use planning and transit, etc.)

If you want to follow our coverage of the Green Party and its leadership race, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month. Related articles are archived in the topical categories , , , , .

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A New Carnival of the Insanities

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The Carnival of the Insanities has been posted! Doc Sanity has discriminating taste and doesn't accept just every submission to her carnival, and the result is one of the best political carnivals on the web. Common-sense writers explaining and exploring topics that need to be covered, but often aren't. If you like Centrerion Canadian Politics' content, know that the good doctor's carnival features our articles and many more of a similar bent.

(For those who don't know, a "carnival" is a post on a particular theme that links to other blogs' posts on that theme. In this case, the theme is politics. You can participate and get links to your blog/site too.)

I only wish I could say our submissions are the best in the carnival, because that would be a huge achievement. You'll note that many people linked from the Doc's carnival are also participants in the Mediocre Media carnival we host, and/or members of our blogroll... If I could equal the Doc's writing (read in particular her posts on Denial), that would be even more incredible.

All this to say: go see the Carnival of the Insanities now!!

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Background of internal PA violence

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Hi all,
I just posted an analysis of the heated situation in the palestine on my blog. A reprint of the article follows:

Things are getting very heated in the palestine (I use 'the' because here 'palestine' is a geographic reference, i.e. from the River to the Sea), and particularly in territories controlled by the PA. Within the past few weeks, almost two dozen people have been killed due to violence between Arab Palestinians. The conflict is extremely complex but boils down to politics and power-struggle.

Ever since a group of influential jailed Palestinians (ALL of whom, by the way, have been linked to terrorism) proposed a document that called for a coalition "government" of the PA, things have been steadily getting more sectarian.

To provide some context to MSM news reports, I'd like to provide the following background info I have gleaned from years of following the conflict. (Upon request, I should be able to find reliable sources, almost always MSM articles, for the facts presented below)

The PA has a (very large, bigger than the entirety of the standing Canadian army in fact) number of security forces on it's official payroll. These forces are also armed by the PA, something set out in the Oslo accords agreed upon by Israel and Arafat's PLO. One of the problems is that the PA forces are divided into numerous subgroups with varying loyalties. The MSM has recently started to group all PA forces by pro-Hamas or pro-Fatah loyalties, but the reality is much more nuanced. Amongst the MSM denoted 'pro-Fatah' forces, many are de facto loyal to PA president Abbas, while others who were loyal to Arafat before his death tend to pursue independent agendas that are sometimes sharply different from Abbas'. This includes splinter groups of Al Aqsa Brigades (known for their terrorism against Israelis) and Tanzim (also known for terrorism against Israelis). As such, we have recently seen a resurgence of violent conflict between pro-Abbas pro-Fatah forces and anti-Abbas pro-Fatah forces, something the MSM has for the large part completely ignored.
There are also sometimes violent divisions amongst pro-Hamas forces, not all of whom are on the official PA payroll (more on this later). The Economist recently identified six (!) different Hamas leadership blocs, with varying agendas, sources of funding, freedoms/powers (two of the leadership blocs are in jail), loyal bases etc... The six identified blocs are
1- notional chief Khaled Meshal in Damascus, with links to Syria and Iran
2- the PA Hamas party's heavyweights, led by Haniyeh, in Gaza
3- the rest of the PA Hamas party in PA-controleld territories in Yesha
4- "convicted prisoners in Israeli civilian jails"
5- those Hamas leaders in "administrative detention" in Israeli military jails
6- the on-the-ground leaders of the supra-PA Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades

Yet another issue is that since the election of Hamas into the PA parliament, the PA has been unable to pay most owed wages to the forces on its payrolls. Certain subgroups of the forces with certain loyalties however have been getting paid steadily. This fact has contributed to the sectarianism between various groups of armed forces (read: jealousy).

In addition to the conflict internal to the armed forces on the payroll of the PA, there are also numerous Palestinian heavily-armed groups that are not on the PA payroll, including numerous small groups or militias... Prior to Hamas's election victory, practically all armed forces openly loyal to Hamas (they went and many still go by the name of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and their numbers were big... not to mention that they were repsonsible for dozens of successful terrorist attacks on Israelis) were not on the PA payroll.

As complicated as the de facto reality is, the de jure situation is very complicated as well and is consequential on the above-described reality on the ground. Legally, by PA by-laws, the official PA forces are heavily subgrouped with incoherent and cumbersome chains of command. This is due to the legal origin of the PA Prime Minister position. This position was created by PA president Arafat's orders in order to appease international pressure that he was controlling the PA dictatorially and was imposing his condemnable approach (encouraging and facilitating violence and terrorism, blatantly lying to international media, as per Forbes and others stealing BILLIONS of dollars from Palestinians, etc...) on the PA. PA president Arafat created the position grudgingly and tried as hard as he could, through sometimes blatant (giving certain powers to the PM but legally enshrining veto power for the PA president) and sometimes complex bureaucratic schemes (new commitees within the PA, that he the PA president would chair, would get certain powers) to keep as much control over the PA armed forces in the hands of the PA president (himself at the time) as possible. After intense pressure internally and externally, a bureaucratically complex compromise was reached where certain subgroups of the forces would be under his direct or (through the committess) indirect control and others under the control of the PA parliament. Wikipedia sums it up as follows: " Arafat established over ten distinct security organizations through various mechanisms in an alleged divide et impera scheme, which is claimed to have guaranteed an atmosphere of power-struggle in the Authority which enabled him to preserve overall control." Currently, Abbas is the PA president while the PA parliament is controleld by Haniyeh-led Hamas. As a result, de jure, the conflicting Haniyeh-led Hamas and Abbas-led Fatah legally control varying sub-groups of the official PA forces.

As mentionned, the sectarianism is becoming very evident due to the proposed document that Abbas wants to have a referendum on. Hamas-loyals are worried it could lead to them losing some or all power, whereas moderate Fatah supporters hope it'll be enough to appease the internationla boycott on giving financial aid to a Hamas-led PA and radical Fatah-loyals hope it'll completly topple Hamas from power.

Clearly, the situation is delicate and complex, with some loyalties spanning regionnal or family ties, and religious convictions (Fatah believes in separating Mosque from eventual State, Hamas is very much opposed).

Recently, the Israeli government has done something that I feel it should have been very careful about. Olmert had the IDF patrol convoys of weapons (several hundred all together) going from Jordan to certain PA forces loyal to Fatah. This was seen by some as aiding the sectarianism. I suspect this act will be oft-quoted by future Chomskyist historical revisionists (I mean that in the worst sense of the word) who will attempt to blame Israel for all the palestinian violence.