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Daily Archives: October 23, 2013

Right to strike by civil servants curtailed by budget bill – Politics – CBC News

Right to strike by civil servants curtailed by budget bill – Politics – CBC News. (source/link)

The federal government is moving ahead with plans to strip certain public servants of the right to strike.

The second budget implementation act, which was introduced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Tuesday, will make it illegal for any bargaining unit declared to provide an essential service to strike.

Instead, such workers will be forced into arbitration in cases of a contract dispute. The rule will apply to any union where 80 per cent or more of the positions are considered to be necessary for providing an essential service.

The proposed legislation goes onto say that “the employer has the exclusive right to determine that a service is essential and the number of positions required to provide that service.”

In other words, the government decides when the rule applies. “A democratically elected government should have the right to identify what Canadians consider ‘essential services,'” read an email sent to CBC News from Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s office.

The Harper government also defended its intent to set public service pay and benefit levels. “The proposed amendments will bring savings, streamline practices and bring them in line with other jurisdictions,” said the government’s emailed comments. “Our government will sit at a bargaining table on behalf of the taxpayer where the rules are fair and balanced.”

Canada’s largest union representing public-sector workers says it was caught by surprise by these changes.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says it is too early to say exactly what the impact will be — but they know they don’t like it.

“This bill represents a far-reaching attack on public service workers and the unions that represent them,” said PSAC President Robyn Benson.

“The government is upsetting the balance of labour relations, and is showing a callous disregard for due process, health and safety and the collective bargaining rights of every single public service employee,” Benson said.

“The collective bargaining rights and the protections of workers who face discrimination, who do dangerous work, or who are treated unfairly will be undermined by the proposals in this bill.”

Other changes

The union measure was just one of several provisions in the 300-plus page document, including several measures that do not appear to relate to anything in last March’s budget, including such housekeeping matters as:

  • Changing the definition of “passport” in the Criminal Code to match the one used in other legislation.
  • Implementing the freeze in Employment Insurance premiumsannounced by Flaherty a few weeks ago.
  • Enacting the MacKenzie Gas Projects Impacts Act, which was announced in 2006.

There are also more substantive changes that were not announced or even foreshadowed in the March budget, including:

  • Making declaratory provisions to amend the Supreme Court Act, to make it clear judges with 10 years at the bar of a province are eligible to represent that province on the court, a direct attempt to resolve a legal challenge to the recent appointment of Justice Marc Nadon.
  • Getting rid of health and safety officers and handing their powers to the federal Minister of Labour.
  • Changes to the Immigration and Refugee Act that give the minister more power to pick and choose from economic and professional immigrants who may or may not apply for permanent residency status.

Deficit shrinking more quickly than predicted

Flaherty said Tuesday the government is $7 billion ahead of pace toward balancing the budget in 2015.

He said spending controls the government put in place that have worked better than expected are responsible for the bulk of the improvement in Ottawa’s fiscal position.

Flaherty said last year’s final deficit will come in at $18.9 billion, better than the $25.9 billion predicted in his budget.

This year’s anticipated $18.7 billion deficit will likely be revised lower when the minister recalculates the books in the fall economic update, expected in about a month.

Free our reporter, begs newspaper as China cracks down on journalists | Reuters

Free our reporter, begs newspaper as China cracks down on journalists | Reuters. (source)

(Reuters) – A Chinese newspaper pleaded with police on Wednesday to release an investigative reporter accused of defamation in an unusual public rebuke amid a wider government crackdown on freedom of expression.

The state-run New Express tabloid printed a front-page commentary begging police in the south-central city of Changsha to set reporter Chen Yongzhou free under the headline: “Please release him.”

Chen was detained after writing more than a dozen stories criticizing the finances of a major state-owned construction equipment maker.

Chen’s arrest, which coincides with new curbs on journalists, lawyers and internet users in China, throws into question the role of whistleblowers as the country’s leadership moves to eradicate graft.

“When the government is cracking down on freedom of expression and arresting journalists … it seems to cast serious doubt on how serious this anti-corruption drive is,” said Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch.

Chen reported that Changsha-based Zoomlion Heavy Industry Science and Technology Co. Ltd. engaged in sales fraud, exaggerated its profits and used public relations to defame its competitors, accusations strongly denied by the company.

The commentary went viral on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service, on Wednesday, and was republished by Chinese media with no obvious antagonism from censorship authorities.

Zoomlion said it had complained to the Changsha police about Chen following his stories.

“The reason we did it was to safeguard the legitimate rights of the company,” Zoomlion vice president Sun Changjun told Reuters, declining further comment.

Media experts said the commentary was unusual but not highly controversial because the paper, published in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, was criticizing Changsha authorities as opposed to the central government.

Changsha police did not specifically name Zoomlion, but said Chen was detained on defamation charges.

“New Express journalist Chen is suspected of the crime of damaging business reputation, and so on October 19 was detained by police according to the law,” the city’s public security bureau said in a posting on its microblog.

In the acerbic commentary, New Express alluded to state-owned Zoomlion’s influence in Changsha.

“Even though Zoomlion is very strong and pays a lot of taxes in Changsha, we are still of the same class,” the commentary said. “Uncle police, big brother Zoomlion, we beg you, please let Chen Yongzhou go.”

A Chinese cartoonist was detained last week for criticizing the government of the flood-stricken city of Yuyao using Weibo.

“BLACK HAND AT WORK”

New Express had become embroiled in an ongoing feud with Zoomlion over Chen’s reporting, with a company employee publicly speculating that its hometown competitor Sany Group Co. Ltd. had planted Chen’s stories. Sany has denied any wrongdoing.

“This is nothing but paid journalism, an alignment of interests – there is definitely a black hand at work behind the scenes,” Gao Hui, an assistant to the chairman of Zoomlion, wrote on his microblog on July 16, leading the New Express to sue him for libel for repeatedly criticizing Chen’s reporting.

While state-run, the newspaper is one of many regional publications which generally have a more local focus than, for instance, the official Xinhua news agency that is more of a government mouthpiece with national reach.

In one article, published in May, Chen detailed what he called sales fraud by Zoomlion, based on information found in an anonymous USB drive delivered to the New Express. That caused the company’s stock price to fall more than 5 percent, even though the company rejected the charge.

In a July statement on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Zoomlion said it had been under an “all-round malicious attack by its competitor” since the fourth quarter of 2012. It insisted there was nothing wrong with its books.

Analysts said the decision to detain a journalist, though not uncommon, is not made lightly.

“Zoomlion is a company that must have a strong and close relationship with authorities in Hunan,” said Jin Zhong, publisher of Hong Kong-based Open Magazine.

The fierce competition between Sany and Zoomlion amid a slowdown in the construction equipment market has sometimes turned ugly, with each company saying the other engaged in corporate spying. Sany’s chairman told a local reporter this year that Zoomlion was involved in kidnapping his son, a charge Zoomlion denied.

 

A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized | Washington’s Blog

A New Kind of War Is Being Legalized | Washington’s Blog. (source)

There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways.  When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law.  On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.

Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you.  Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal.  The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself.  Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.

Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal.  Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.”  However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal.  Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.

The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information.  The UN will debate drones on Friday.  Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come).  Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good.  The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life.  However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.

The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal.  We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism.  Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending.  Remember the liberal applause for that?  Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.

(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)

We don’t need the memos.  We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder.  That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be.  But let’s stop for a minute and consider.  The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it.  We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning.  Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria.  And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.

What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning?  Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)?  Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else?  Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”?  If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue?  The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?

For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill?  Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org  Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.

It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder.  Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder.  But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?

It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway.  Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen.  Drones make everyone less safe.  As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism.  Drones also kill with friendly fire.  Drones, with or without weapons, crash.  A lot.  And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated.  When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no.  But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.

We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.

 

Candu looks overseas after Ontario nixes new nuclear plants – Business – CBC News

Candu looks overseas after Ontario nixes new nuclear plants – Business – CBC News. (source)

Though Ontario has announced it will build no more nuclear plants, Canada’s nuclear industry is still hopeful it will sell a new reactor overseas within the next year or two

Candu Energy, the former AECL, said the Harper government has been supporting its sales pitch in overseas markets.

“We very much appreciate, I would call it, the government’s political support,” Ala Alizadeh, vice-president of marketing for Candu Energy, told CBC News.

“We’re not expecting financial support other than perhaps the engagement of export credit.”

Many countries put their plans for nuclear projects on hold, after the tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.

Markets reopen after Fukushima

But key markets are opening up again, from China and India, to Romania, Argentina and the U.K., where Candu Energy is on a short list for an upcoming project.

The big hurdle for many countries is financing as a new reactor costs billions of dollars.

Canada used export credits the last time it sold Candu reactors overseas — in Romania beginning in 1996 and in China, beginning in 2003.

To finance export credits, taxpayer dollars are put into an account at Export Development Canada, then used as loans to help pay the costs of building a new reactor.

That kind of incentive helps the industry, said Ron Oberth, head of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries, representing the supply chain that makes many of the reactor parts from pipes and valves to seals.

Oberth said Canada eventually makes a profit with export credits, through interest on the loans and royalty payments from the sale of Candu.

Minister of International Trade Ed Fast said there currently are no formal requests from the nuclear industry for money, but didn’t shut the door on the possibility of using them in the future.

“If Candu has a proposal to make, they’re welcome to make that proposal. It will be evaluated on its merits on a case by case basis,” he told CBC News.

NDP critic Peter Julian said the federal government sold the Candu division to SNC-Lavalin for $15 million in order to get out of the business of subsidizing the nuclear sector and he thinks it should not underwrite its costs.

“Why are they thinking about possibly putting more taxpayers’ money into investments that may end up triggering taxpayers’ liability,” he said.

 

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Thousands of Australians were told to leave their homes as dry winds created the conditions for a firestorm in mountainous bushland outside Sydney, where firefighters have battled for days to bring dozens of wildfires under control.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales state since last Thursday, when bushfires tore through scattered communities to Sydney’s south and west, razing entire streets.

One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.

Wednesday’s fire conditions were shaping up to be the worst so far in the state’s bushfire crisis, said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the rural fire service.

“If you don’t have a plan, let me give you one,” said Michael Gallacher, the state’s emergency minister. “Get into the car, drive down to the city metropolitan area and let the firefighters do what they can do to protect the community, should this turn for the worse.”

Temperatures in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are expected to reach up to 30C, while in Sydney itself they could hit 35C. Hot, dry winds gusting up to 100km/h are also expected, posing the greatest challenge to firefighters.

“This is the day where we’ve been receiving forecasts of the worst of weather for this week and that forecast is still staying with those predictions,” Fitzsimmons told reporters, warning of extreme fire conditions.

Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Gravenor, reporting from Katoomba’s Rural Fire Service, in the Blue Mountains, said there were more than 3,500 firefighters still battling fires in the region.

There were still 60 fires burning across the state on Wednesday, with 18 out of control, our correspondent said.

Authorities ordered schools in the Blue Mountains to be closed, evacuated nursing homes and advised people living in the area to leave before conditions deteriorated.

The Blue Mountains, whose foothills extend down to western Sydney suburbs such as Penrith, are populated with a mix of farmers, small business owners and white-collar commuters who make the trip into the city every day.

Known for their spectacular escarpments, eucalyptus forests and scattered small communities, they are a popular tourist spot for Sydney residents on weekends.

 

TEPCO Admits To Finding Radioactive Cesium 1Km Off Coast Of Fukushima | Zero Hedge

TEPCO Admits To Finding Radioactive Cesium 1Km Off Coast Of Fukushima | Zero Hedge. (source)

The dismal news keeps coming for the Fukushima nuclear power facility. According to NHK World, TEPCO is admitting to detecting radioactive cesium about one kilometer off shore. While the level is low, it is the secoond time radioactive substances have been found that far offshore and it is believed to be from wastewater leaking out with the groundwater. The company, reassuringly, says the leak poses no environmental risk… As if that was not enough, Bloomberg reports TEPCO also found high levels of radiation in the drainage ditches and wells at the site. Of course, this will likely be met with cries of delight by Abe who will “need to build a bigger wall” to contain the leaks and thus create a Keynesian utopia from the ‘broken nuclear plant fallacy’ that is ongoing.

Via NHK World,

Tokyo Electric Power Company says a very small amount of radioactive cesium has been detected about one kilometer off the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant it operates.

TEPCO has been analyzing seawater taken at 5 locations outside the plant’s harbor. This is to monitor the spread of radioactive substances in wastewater that’s believed to be seeping out with groundwater.

A sample taken last Friday about one kilometer offshore was found to contain 1.6 becquerels of cesium-137 per liter.

The level is far below the 90 becquerels-per-liter limit for releasing cesium-137 into the sea. But it is the second time the substance has been detected at this location since monitoring began in August. The previous finding was on October 8th.

TEPCO says it does not know why cesium has been found at that specific spot. But the company says it poses no environmental risk as the level is near the minimum detection threshold. It adds that hardly any cesium is being found elsewhere in the sea outside of the port.

Via Bloomberg,

Co. found 59,000 Bq/L of beta radiation levels from water taken yesterday at B-2 drainage ditch at Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, higher than previous record of 34,000 Bq/L in Oct. 17 sample, according to an e-mailed statement from the utility.

Co. detects 350,000 Bq/L of tritium radiation at monitoring well “No. 1-12” near turbine buildings, according to a separate statement

First time to take sample from monitoring well “No.  1-12, Co. found record 790,000 Bq/L of tritium radiation    near H4 storage tank area on Oct. 17

We just can’t wait to see the Olympic sailing events with boats whose hulls are lead-shielded…

 

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