title bar
                             home   news   views   family   info  
later Current affairs items

Current affairs items for 2013 and earlier:

Energiewende    Rosenberg Forum   GM questions are not scientific  The EU peace prize    L'Aquila verdict   French bashing   Violence is decreasing     Fictitious money   Idle No More  The horse meat scandal   Aaron Swartz   How to serve olive oil   Why we pay taxes    Copyright may be counterproductive   Growth in Europe    You have been warned    No Scientific Consensus on GMO safety    Ocean Warnings    A New Common Market   How to damage a company and a whole school system     

Energiewende
german energy When we visited Austria a couple of years ago, I was impressed by the number of wind turbines along the edge of the Rhine valley and on the high points of the Black Forest. It was really impressive. But than Germany is really committed to getting away from coal and nuclear power and decreasing their dependency to Russian gas. It seems to be a national goal with all the important political parties, public opinion and industry favouring it. Clean power is seen as a way to give German industry a head start in manufacturing the infrastructure for wind, solar and bio-power. It is helping with employment and exports. The German people do not see nuclear power as an alternative even in the short term. (The seven oldest reactors were permanently closed after the Fukushima accident because of public pressure) Germany is also working on lowering the consumption of energy – instead of rising as in most countries, it fell almost 1% between 2004-09, a period of economic growth in Germany. Here is an article from the Technology Review by David Talbot. On the pros and cons of the great German experiment:

Along a rural road in the western German state of North Rhine–Westphalia lives a farmer named Norbert Leurs. An affable 36-year-old with callused hands, he has two young children and until recently pursued an unremarkable line of work: raising potatoes and pigs. But his newest businesses point to an extraordinary shift in the energy policies of Europe's largest economy. In 2003, a small wind company erected a 70-meter turbine, one of some 22,000 in hundreds of wind farms dotting the German countryside, on a piece of Leurs's potato patch. Leurs gets a 6 percent cut of the electricity sales, which comes to about $9,500 a year. He's considering adding two or three more turbines, each twice as tall as the first.
The profits from those turbines are modest next to what he stands to make on solar panels. In 2005 Leurs learned that the government was requiring the local utility to pay high prices for rooftop solar power. He took out loans, and in stages over the next seven years, he covered his piggery, barn, and house with solar panels—never mind that the skies are often gray and his roofs aren't all optimally oriented. From the resulting 690-kilowatt installation he now collects $280,000 a year, and he expects over $2 million in profits after he pays off his loans.
Stories like Leurs's help explain how Germany was able to produce 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011, up from 6 percent in 2000. Germany has guaranteed high prices for wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric power, tacking the costs onto electric bills. And players like Leurs and the small power company that built his turbine have installed off-the-shelf technology and locked in profits. For them, it has been remarkably easy being green.
What's coming next won't be so easy. In 2010, the German government declared that it would undertake what has popularly come to be called an Energiewende—an energy turn, or energy revolution. This switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the most ambitious ever attempted by a heavily industrialized country: it aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by midcentury. The goal was challenging, but it was made somewhat easier by the fact that Germany already generated more than 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, which produces almost no greenhouse gases. Then last year, responding to public concern over the post-tsunami nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the eight oldest German nuclear plants shut down right away. A few months later, the government finalized a plan to shut the remaining nine by 2022. Now the Energiewende includes a turn away from Germany's biggest source of low-­carbon electricity.
Germany has set itself up for a grand experiment that could have repercussions for all of Europe, which depends heavily on German economic strength. The country must build and use renewable energy technologies at unprecedented scales, at enormous but uncertain cost, while reducing energy use. And it must pull it all off without undercutting industry, which relies on reasonably priced, reliable power. "In a sense, the Energiewende is a political statement without a technical solution," says Stephan Reimelt, CEO of GE Energy Germany. "Germany is forcing itself toward innovation. What this generates is a large industrial laboratory at a size which has never been done before. We will have to try a lot of different technologies to get there."

RandD The major players in the German energy industry are pursuing several strategies at once. To help replace nuclear power, they are racing to install huge wind farms far off the German coast in the North Sea; new transmission infrastructure is being planned to get the power to Germany's industrial regions. At the same time, companies such as Siemens, GE, and RWE, Germany's biggest power producer, are looking for ways to keep factories humming during lulls in wind and solar power. They are searching for cheap, large-scale forms of power storage and hoping that computers can intelligently coördinate what could be millions of distributed power sources.
Estimates of what the transition will cost vary widely, depending in part on how fast new technology can be introduced and its price lowered. Various economic think tanks predict that the country will spend somewhere between $125 billion and $250 billion on infrastructure expansion and subsidies in the next eight years—between 3.5 and 7 percent of Germany's 2011 GDP. The long-term costs, including the expense of decommissioning nuclear power plants, will be far higher.

Germany has already incurred significant costs. Each monthly electric bill carries a renewable-energy surcharge of about 15 percent (heavy industry is exempt). Wholesale electricity prices have jumped approximately 10 percent since the eight nuclear plants were shut. The German grid is strained as never before. And—ironically, given the Energiewende's goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions—the decision to close the nuclear plants has increased reliance on coal-fired power plants.
"This Energiewende is being watched very closely. If it works in Germany, it will be a template for other countries. If it doesn't, it will be very damaging to the German economy."
Despite the costs, Germany could greatly benefit from its grand experiment. In the past decade, the country has nurtured not only wind and solar power but less-­heralded energy technologies such as management software and efficient industrial processes. Taken together, these "green" technologies have created an export industry that's worth $12 billion—and is poised for still more growth, according to Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Berlin Free University. Government policies could provide further incentives to develop and deploy new technologies. "That is know-how that you can sell," Schreurs says. "The way for Germany to compete in the long run is to become the most energy-efficient and resource-efficient market, and to expand on an export market in the process."

progress If Germany succeeds in making the transition, it could provide a workable blueprint for other industrial nations, many of which are also likely to face pressures to transform their energy consumption. "This Energiewende is being watched very closely. If it works in Germany, it will be a template for other countries," says Graham Weale, chief economist at RWE, which is grappling with how to shut its nuclear power plants while keeping the lights on. "If it doesn't, it will be very damaging to the German economy and that of Europe."

Choke Points
In the city of Erlangen, 20 kilometers north of Nuremberg, tight security greets visitors to the complex of industrial buildings that house the labs and factories of the energy giant Siemens, one of several contractors contributing to the Energiewende. One of these buildings literally hums with power—30 megawatts' worth. Inside is a giant steel and copper machine that converts AC power to DC at a massive scale; it's destined for installation on offshore platforms that must withstand harsh North Sea storms for decades.
Germany needs this technology because it's looking for the steadiest source of wind it can find, and that's found far offshore—so far that the standard AC lines for transmitting power won't work. To date, Germany has installed only about 500 megawatts of offshore wind power, all within 90 kilometers of land, in water less than 40 meters deep. Now energy companies are planning to install 10,000 megawatts of wind power as far offshore as 160 kilometers, at depths of up to 70 meters. Several 10,000- to 20,000-ton offshore substations will convert gigawatts of AC output to DC, which can span such distances without large energy losses. "There is nowhere in the world where this has been done—building offshore grids and offshore connections in this way and in this amount," says Lex Hartman, director of corporate development at Tennet, the Dutch grid company in charge of parts of Germany's megascale North Sea effort.

Of course, all this just gets the power to the beach. The electricity needs to traverse Germany to reach the major industrial centers in the country's south. Some 3,800 kilometers of new power lines are needed, but only around 200 have been built, with reluctant landowners and regional politicians stalling progress and creating choke points. The delays and the novel technologies make the German offshore wind program a huge gamble all by itself. "Nobody really knows what the Energiewende will cost," says Karen Pittel, an energy economist at the University of Munich. "But especially those wind farms—they are more or less pilot projects."
The uncertainties don't stop there. Even with current levels of wind power, on windy days grid operators must shut turbines down because there's nowhere to put the power. When a cloud bank rolls over southern Germany on an otherwise sunny day, the output of the region's many photovoltaic panels can drop by hundreds of megawatts; the effect is like hitting the off switch on a moderate-size coal-fired power plant, increasing the threat of blackouts.
Without enough cheap, reliable power to support the high-technology industry and the transportation system, Germany's economy—and that of Europe as a whole—could be in trouble. Already some German firms are building new manufacturing facilities elsewhere; for example, last year the chemical producer Wacker ­Chemie decided to build a polysilicon plant in Tennessee, partly because energy costs in Germany were so high. Weale says, "The quality of the supply would only have to deteriorate a little bit and it would be quite serious for this high-­technology industry. We've already seen, even without the lights going out, that industry is getting nervous."

To avoid catastrophe, Germany will have to start deploying storage technologies and load-­balancing strategies at far larger scales. The country today has 31 pumped-storage power plants, which force water into uphill reservoirs at night and then use the downhill flow to spin turbines to generate power. Altogether, they can store 38 gigawatt-hours' worth of electricity. That might sound like a lot, but it's less than 90 minutes of peak output from Germany's wind farms.
Batteries might help, but so far costs are too high for them to play more than a niche role. In another building in Erlangen, Siemens is building tractor-trailer-size batteries based on three different lithium-ion technologies. Each could power 40 German houses for a day, but the batteries are too expensive to use for backup power. Instead, high-tech manufacturers are likely to use them to ride out brownouts with, say, a 15-minute, eight-megawatt jolt so that specialized equipment won't need costly restart procedures. Prices would need to fall by at least half before lithium-ion batteries could provide an economical way to store hours of excess power from wind turbines.
Other storage technologies are being developed but are still probably years from being practical, if they ever will be. One new technology at Siemens, for example, produces hydrogen by using surplus electricity to split water molecules. But it is experimental and, at this stage, expensive.
Inevitably, some hot July week will come when a high-pressure system stalls over Europe, stilling turbines just when sunburned Germans reach for their air conditioners. Until large-scale, cheap storage is available, gas power plants, which can start up quickly and efficiently, will be the most practical way to cope with these situations. But there's little incentive to build such plants. Owners of gas plants meant to meet peak power needs can no longer count on running for a certain number of hours, since the need will no longer fall on predictable workday afternoons but come and go with the sun and wind.
The goal is to use software to transform thousands of renewable energy sources, each of which alone is unreliable, into a vast network that utilities can depend on.

Says ­Ottmar ­Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "The design of the electricity market will change fundamentally. You have fluctuating demand, and at the same time a fluctuating supply. The linkage and the interplay in these two dimensions has become the subject of intense research. There could be new and emerging market failures."

Virtual Power
Duisburg is a gritty town just west of Essen, a major World War II munitions manufacturing center that was reduced to rubble by Allied bombing. This is where RWE, one of Germany's four major utilities, is working at the frontier of another crucial technology: virtual power plants, in which software intelligently controls vast numbers of small power sources (and, eventually, distributed storage sites) to coördinate their output for sale on energy markets. The goal is to transform thousands of renewable energy sources, each of which alone is unreliable, into a vast network that utilities can depend on. It's a dazzling concept, but one in its infancy.
Inside a lab that sits in front of a Nazi-built bomb shelter shaped like a pointed witch's hat, RWE researchers are testing a dozen gas-fired boilers and fuel cells designed to generate both heat and electricity. In theory, utilities could call on hundreds of thousands of home units—and larger ones powering apartment or office buildings—to generate extra electricity for the grid in a pinch. As much as 5 percent of Germany's electricity could be produced this way—about the amount utilities expect to draw from the new offshore wind farms.

Reaching that point could take decades as homeowners and businesses gradually replace their existing boilers and the infrastructure is put in place to synchronize hundreds of thousands of power sources. But an hour east of Duisburg, in a 1960s-era office building on the edge of Dortmund, engineers are testing a more modest network as a starting point. A basement server room functions as a communications hub for 120 small generating stations that together produce 160 megawatts of electricity from renewable sources—mostly wind but also biomass and solar. Software takes weather predictions into account and assembles a block of renewable electricity from wind and solar, switching the biogas plants on and off as needed to balance the fluctuating output and create a block of stable power.
Early projects like this one are stepping-stones toward more sophisticated systems that include demand management: utilities would compensate customers for agreeing to have their power consumption automatically curtailed during times of peak demand. Someday the systems could also draw power from the batteries of parked electric cars, or store excess power in them, to compensate for shifts in the wind.
GE and other companies are pursuing such concepts, too. "Today what we know is that the energy market will be decentralized; it will be a fragmented market," says Reimelt, of GE. "Before, we had four utility companies. Today we have 350 companies generating power, going up to a thousand, and going up to a million if you count everyone with a solar panel on the roof. So one of the trends that we see is that there must be less emphasis on power generation and more on power management."

Baffled in Bavaria
goal The floor-to-ceiling windows behind the desk of Wolfgang Mayer, the burgermeister of the small Bavarian town of Gundremmingen, provide a commanding view. A mile away stand the twin cooling towers of the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Station Units B and C, which together are the largest source of nuclear power in Germany. Nicely situated halfway between the industrial centers of Stuttgart and Munich, the plant has the capacity to produce 2.6 gigawatts of power. Mayer is confounded by the Energiewende, which threatens hundreds of jobs in town and could hurt tax revenues. "They say 2017 to shut down Unit B, and 2021 for Unit C," he says, motioning toward the plant. "But they were the same time starting up in 1989! A normal person cannot understand. What is the logic?"
Mayer is not alone in his bafflement. There is much about the current policy that arguably isn't logical. In the short term at least, the decision to close the nuclear plants means that the Energiewende will actually push utilities to rely more heavily on coal. Last year, for example, RWE fired up two long-planned new boilers at an existing facility near the Belgian border that burns the dirtiest fossil fuel of them all: brown lignite coal. Though these boilers are cleaner than the ones they're replacing, the coal plant is the largest of its kind in the world, and it's going full blast these days to keep up with
power demand.
"If you close eight nuclear plants, which were carbon-free, overnight, you will increase carbon emissions," Weale says. "One will have to be more reliant on coal than was previously expected. It may be hard to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as one would like." Decisions made now about what kinds of power plants to install will have repercussions for decades, he says: "You can't make sudden changes from one asset to another."
A second problem is that even when it comes to alternative energy sources, Germany doesn't reward carbon dioxide reduction. Rather, its policy establishes well-defined subsidies for specific technologies: a kilowatt-hour of solar power is rewarded more than power from offshore wind, which in turn earns more than power from onshore wind. Even though solar subsidies have been reduced to rates far lower than the ones Leurs locked in, solar power still pays the highest rates. If reducing emissions were the focus, however, more money would be directed toward reducing energy use. "If you could choose the optimal instruments, focusing on those areas first where you can achieve your goals most inexpensively, you would focus not so much on renewables but much more on efficiency," says Pittel, the energy economist from Munich.
The current subsidies also don't encourage innovation as much as they make existing technologies profitable. There's little incentive to, say, develop radically new photovoltaic technologies, even though these might ultimately be the only way to make unsubsidized solar power cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.

To some German economists, the country's energy policy is simply wrong-headed. Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research at the University of Munich, is especially scathing. "The Energiewende is a turn into nowhere-land, because the green technologies are just not sufficient to provide a replacement for modern society's energy needs," he says. "It is wrong to shut down the atomic power plants, because this is a cheap source of energy, and wind and solar power are by no means able to provide a replacement. They are much more expensive, and the energy that comes out is of inferior quality. Energy-intensive industries will move out, and the competitiveness of the German manufacturing sector will be reduced or wages will be depressed."
German politicians, of course, are betting that Sinn is wrong. And plenty of encouraging signs argue against his pessimism. The cost of solar panels has dropped sharply, which means that solar power may become more competitive. Battery costs may follow suit. If fossil fuels continue to become more expensive, renewable power sources will look more attractive. "Forty years is a long time, and one is continuously being surprised by favorable technological developments—for example, the way in which the price of solar cells is coming down," Weale says. "From my point of view, I want to emphasize how challenging the Energiewende is. At the moment, it's looking difficult. But with the right incentives, one can have good reason to believe that technological progress will be a lot faster than we currently expect."


 

Rosenberg Forum
mackenzieMost people have no idea how large and important is the MacKenzie River Basin. Here are some 'facts and figures':

There is going to be a group, the Rosenberg Forum, to study the future of this area, chaired by Henry Vaux, bringing together the governments and other interested parties. It has the goals of identifying legal and scientific principles relevant to the processes leading ultimately to a coordinated basin-wide approach to management, as well as prioritizing the filling of knowledge gaps. The forum's first meeting is in September in Vancouver.


GM questions are not scientific
Lately I have noticed that some science journalists are tut-tutting at other science journalists, bloggers and even scientists for being anti-science in not supporting the use genetic modified crops. To these people there is no difference between anti-climate change, anti-vaccination and anti-GMO; if the science is good then it should be supported. But what if the economics, the legal problems, the agricultural practices and the politics are all wrong. Why are genes (not modified organism seed) but the actual genes being given patents? Why are Indian farmers being driven to suicide by being trapped in a debt spiral? Why is the heavy use of pesticides being encouraged rather than discouraged? Why is Monsanto allowed to wield such enormous monopoly power?
There has just been a little bomb shell in this debate, a French study and its publication. On the face of it, the research was not great and it was publicized in an unusual way. The paper has its supporters and detractors.
Here is part of a Guardian article giving the researchers answers to their critics:
“Here are the criticisms in a nutshell and Séralini's responses:
1. The French researchers were accused of using the Sprague Dawley rat strain which is said to be prone to developing cancers. In response Séralini and his team say these are the same rats as used by Monsanto in the 90-day trials which it used to get authorisation for its maize. This strain of rat has been used in most animal feeding trials to evaluate the safety of GM foods, and their results have long been used by the biotech industry to secure approval to market GM products.
2. The sample size of rats was said to be too small. Séralini responded that six is the OECD recommended protocol for GM food safety toxicology studies and he had based his study on the toxicity part of OECD protocol no. 453. This states that for a cancer trial you need a minimum of 50 animals of each sex per test group but for a toxicity trial a minimum of 10 per sex suffices. Monsanto used 20 rats of each sex per group in its feeding trials but only analysed 10, the same number as Séralini.
3. No data was given about the rats' food intake. Seralini says the rats were allowed to eat as much food as they liked.
4. Séralini has not released the raw data from the trial. In response he says he won't release it until the data underpinning Monsanto's authorisation of NK603 in Europe is also made public.
5. His funding was provided by an anti-biotechnology organisation whose scientific board Séralini heads. But he counters that almost all GM research is funded by corporates or by pro-biotech institutions.”
Then there is the question of how the paper was released. Often journalists are given copies of papers ahead of publication so that they can study them in order to write knowledgeable reviews when the paper is published. This is done with an embargo on the journalists publishing before the paper appears. In the case of this particular paper, journalist had to sign an extra clause for an embargoed copy. They had to promise not to show or discuss the paper with any other people. Many journalists were unwilling to sign and complained the embargo was unfair. They use the time before papers appear precisely to discuss the paper with scientists in order to understand paper better and to have quotes to justify their opinions. On the face of it, the journalist's complaint was reasonable. However, the researchers saw it differently. Some think they were frightened of Monsanto's power. Things have happened before with papers like this. “But it was a triumph for the scientific and corporate establishment which has used similar tactics to crush other scientists like Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett Institute in Scotland, who was sacked after his research suggested GM potatoes damaged the stomach lining and immune system of rats, and David Quist and Ignacio Chapela, who studied the flow of genes from illegally planted GM maize to Mexican wild maize.”
Probably the most telling part of this sad paper's story is that the study was not principally about GM maize but the effects of Roundup herbicide.
Because this research was done by a French group and taken seriously by the French government, France has been called "the most anti-science country in anti-science Europe" by a Monsanto supporter. (France does not allow GM maize and is lobbying the rest of Europe to do the same.) Neither France nor Europe is anti-science but very supportive of much good science. Europe's farmers and consumers are not asking for GM crops. Environmentalist are against GM and government policy/legal groups are suspicious. It has nothing to do with science as such.
monsantoEurope is not alone. Five million Indian farmers are suing Monstanto for its responsibility for a farmer suicide every 30 minutes in the 'suicide belt' where Monsanto's GM Bt cotton has captured the market. The reason for the suicides are terrible debts. One reason is the groundbreaking 'bio-piracy' charges. Monsanto gets paid when it sells its seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay to use self-saved seed. But with the bio-piracy charges, producers are in effect paying Monsanto a private tax on production, every year, forever. This is only one of the practices that Monsanto is accused of.
Starting a decade ago, 90% of the country's cotton growers had adopted the GM cotton. This year the Minister of Agriculture told cotton growing States in India. “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers." In the 5 years since GM cotton was accepted, cotton yields have fallen year on year and pest attacks have increased. The use of expensive pesticides has had to increase and now the cost of growing cotton is greater than the return. The farmers are deep in debt and are having crop failures with the Bt cotton (it is not suitable for this particular climate), but the only credit available from seed agents is for the Monsanto seed because there are much higher commissions for the seed agents compared to traditional seed. Monsanto is accused of giving bad advice, advice that farmers could not understand, selling seed in areas where it was unsuitable to the climate and other sharp practices.
It is not just peasant farming (like India) that is suffering according to some. The herbicide-tolerant GM crops (cotton, soybean and corn) are losing their power because of super weeds and super pests that require higher and higher amounts of pesticide. Resistant weeds have become a major problem for many farmers reliant on GE crops. They must use more and more chemicals. The heavy use of pesticides has an environmental cost. Of course, this news is attacked as 'anti-science' by the main stream and is not to be believed.
This has nothing to do with science – it is about laws, business practices, farming practices and probably corruption.


The EU peace prize
The European Union won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and there has been a storm of disapproval from observers outside the EU. This is not too surprizing; there is always some complaints and this year there were 231 candidates so many disappointed supporters.
We have heard people say the EU is in a mess, that it has not been 'at peace', and that its existence has not stopped conflicts. I think these ideas are crazy.
From the end of the Roman Empire to recently, large parts of Europe were almost continuously at war. Take France and Germany: parts of the 30 Years War and the Wars of Religion; War of the Spanish Succession; Wars of the France Revolution; Napoleonic Wars; Franco-Prussian War, World War 1; World War 2, to mention only the big ones that stick in my head. France and England only stopped their on-off wars with the start of the 20th century, all most a thousand years of little and big wars. Everywhere you look there were long traditions of conflict. Each war left the seeds of the next one.
A number of people were determined to stop the tradition of war. In France, Germany and the low countries there was the feeling that only economic integration could stop the possibility of war. The EU was slowly born and has grown from 6 to 27 nations. There has not been a war inside the EU during the 60 odd years of its existence – not a one. And this is not because there were not a lot of scores to settle.
Besides stopping the cycles of war, the EU set high standards for justice, democracy and protection of citizens in its members and these standards were used to rise the standards of states wanting to join the EU. Finally it eased the ending of the iron curtain. There was a strong home for the new east European countries to enter. The problems of the breakup of Yugoslavia was the only violent conflict and the EU rose to the role of the policeman and finally brought peace to the area and now many of the Balkan states are joining the union.
Just because the EU is not perfect does not mean that it is not responsible for peace in Europe and rising the standards of justice, democracy and human rights in the continent. That is what it got the prize for.
So what is wrong with the EU? Well, quite a bit is wrong, but not its lack of war in Europe. Although the member states are democratic, the EU itself is not. It is a huge bureaucracy that is only responsible to the governments (not the people) of the member states. The European parliament has very little power. This is how the countries seem to want it. There is poor control of the money and parliamentary democracy to a certain extent depends on the elected politicians holding the purse strings. This will change slowly over time as it has been doing. It has been handling the Euro problem badly with hardship in continuous demonstrations/strikes/riots in southern Europe. There is a big difference between riot and war.
But without this top-down control, the EU would not have survived its early years. My personal hope is that the EU becomes a union of the regions of Europe rather than the larger present sovereign states. It should be a union of places like Wales, Basque, Bavaria, etc. - the natural divisions of the continent and the level where democratic government should work best. The umbrella of the EU is still needed. It is not perfect because it is still very experimental. Humanity has not tried to do something like the EU before, so far it is not a centralized state, a federation or an empire, but an attempt of equals to cooperate.

On a lighter note: You may think that I exaggerate how warlike Europeans are/were. Stuart Leycock has written a book, All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To which looks at all the invasions, big or small, official or unofficial, by the British. The countries that have not had British invasions within their current borders are only 22 out of 194: Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Republic of, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Vatican City. It seems the French and Americans have pretty long lists of invasions as well.

invasions

L'Aquila verdict
Now, everyone knows that earthquakes have never been, and still aren't, accurately predictable. And in a place like Italy, earthquakes are not unusual. In 1349, 1461 and 1703 there were earthquakes that destroyed the region of L'Aquila. In 2009 there was another quake, magnitude 6.3. It killed 309 people, injured about a 1000 and made many thousand homeless. Six scientists and a government official were convicted of multiple manslaughter for giving a falsely reassuring statement a week before the quake and given 6 year sentences plus heavy fines. The world's scientists immediate voiced their fury at the verdict and the local population voiced satisfaction.
What happened?
  1. There were tremors in the L'Aquila region and the local people did as they usually did – they slept in the open rather than in their houses. This situation lasted long enough that the population was near to panic.
  2. A local man, Giampaolo Guiliani, not a scientist but a technician who monitored radon levels, predicted a large quake. This caused more panic and uncertainty in the population, announcing a quake with his loudhailer. He had done this on two previous occasions when there was no quake and had been forced to stop tell people to evacuate and causing panic but he was not stopped this time. (As it happens he was wrong about the site of the damage and his advice would have made matters worst.)
  3. To deal with this situation, the government convened the commission that gives advice on such risks. They met and discussed the situation, gave advice to a government official and left. There were no minutes made of this meeting until after the quake happened and there is a big difference between what the scientists say they said and appears in the minutes, against what the official announced to the press. The official also feels he was misquoted. The scientists claim that what they advised was that the tremors did not mean there was going to be a big quake but it was a possibility. This is not what appeared in the press. Between the scientists, the official, the reporters and what people read into reports, the wrong message was taken. May thought we had been given an 'all clear'.
  4. The local population took the message (whether it was actually given or not) that a big quake was unlikely and many of them resumed sleeping in their homes.
  5. A week later, the quake happened and many who were sleeping in their houses died or were injured. They were very angry because they thought they had been encouraged to return to their homes. Guiliani spoke up again saying he was vindicated and the scientists were guilty. He and grieving relatives agitated for a trial.
  6. The commission members and the government official were charged with manslaughter and the official was fired. The head of the commission resigned as did his deputy and a number of members. Some of possible replacements said they would not serve.
  7. The exact details of the charge were not clear and the scientific community assumed that they were being charged with not having correctly predicted the quake. This caused many individuals and organizations to loudly condemn the court action. The phrase, “having carried out a superficial analysis of seismic risk and of having provided false reassurances to the public.” was interpreted to mean not correctly predicting and so was the notion of manslaughter interpreted this way.
  8. The group was not expecting to be found guilty as they were the cream of Italy's siesmic authorities: the head of the Serious Risks Commission, the former President of the National Institute of Geophysics, the Director of the National Earthquake Centre, the Director of the European Engineering, a physicist, the Director of the Civil Protection Agency's earthquake risk office, along with the official, now former, Vice-President of the Civil Protection Agency's technical department. Again it was not immediately clear why they were found guilty as the full judgement was not released until later. Condemnation from scientists became fury. The local population approved of the verdict. The judge gave a longer sentence than the prosecution asked for.
  9. It is now clear that the judgment was not about prediction but about communication. The population were not told so that they could understand what the risk was. Prosecutors claimed locals were given "incomplete, imprecise and contradictory" information on the dangers they faced. It is also clear that there will be an appeal and a good probability that the verdict will not stand and almost certainty that the sentences will not be served even if the verdict does not completely disappear.
  10. There are still many people in the region who believe that the accused criminally mislead the public, and many people in the science community that believe that scientists could refuse to work for the Italy government because of the way these commissioners were treated.
So what should happen:
  1. People need to be educated on the subject and told “prediction is not possible”, “there is danger in quakes but there is also danger in false alarms”, “you cannot take revenge on someone for their advice and then expect to have good advice in the future”, “people have some responsibility to use their common sense”.
  2. The Italian Government needs to take responsibility for the plans, facilities, building standards, communication with the public and so on. Whenever there is a quake (whether people are warned or not) what is needed from government is good preparation and good services in the aftermath. Why was it impossible to evacuate people, as people say? The government should also publicly back their Commissions.
  3. The Commission needs to concern themselves with who is relaying their advice and how. They probably should have their own spokesperson, a communications expert. Someone that does not mislead people. At the time of their meeting and leaving, they appeared arrogant. A simple apology in time might have helped – not for an error in prediction but an error in communication.
  4. The judiciary should resist what will appear to the world to be a kangeroo court reaching a bad verdict and a gross sentence, because of unreasonable public feeling. They might also have done something about a charlatan pretending that he could predict a quake.
  5. Something should be done about people living in stone houses in earthquake zones but given the historic nature of the Italian towns, it is doubtful that anything will change. This sort of earthquake would not have killed people in places that make quake proof building a requirement.
France bashing
Differing economic models are at the root of the sparring between the UK and Europe especially France. France does not want what they call Anglo-Saxon economics and the UK does not want the Rhine model.
The Anglo-Saxon model came into being in the 70s lead by the Chicago school (Friedman and Hayek) and was the policy of Reagan, Thatcher and their countries' later leaders. The aim is less regulation, less taxes and smaller government. Its is libertarian and free market oriented with the aim of greater overall prosperity. Of course, the UK and USA do not think of their model is one of many but as simply mainstream economics.
The Rhine capitalism is a name coined by Michel Albert in his book "Capitalisme contre Capitalisme" where he contrasted the ideas of Reagan and Thatcher with the mainstream thought in France, Germany and Scandinavian countries. The aim of this economics is to be more equitable, efficient and kinder - strong banks with close relationships with companies along with a loss of power of stock exchanges through more regulation. The system relies on a social partnership between employers and unions. The economy should shared the values of most of the citizens, especially equality and solidarity. 
Some people talk of the German model and the Nordic model being somewhat different from the Rhine model but they all have in common: social security in illness, unemployment etc., reducing economic inequality, strong banking system but weak equity market, solidarity based insurances, a large public sector, and far reaching labor laws. The Nordic model is known for its mixed economy, universal welfare, and individual autonomy. This Nordic model has led in gender equality, wealth redistribution and expansive fiscal policy with high public spending and taxation.
So it is not surprising that there is friction between the UK and the majority of the EU centered on France and Germany. They simply see things differently. Times are hard so the UK is in favour of reducing the Brussel's budget; but, times are hard and so much of Europe is in favour of increasing the Brussel's budget so that it can support European jobs and companies.
This time last year when S&P slightly lowered France's credit rating, the French pointed out very strongly that they were doing better than the UK but the UK's rating had not been lowered. Therefore S&P was using criteria that were unfair (S&P did not like the French government's involvement in industry). As far as Moody and Fitch ratings are concerned the USA, UK, French and German ratings were identical Aaa/AAA. But S&P gives AAA to the UK and Germany while the USA has AA+ and France AA. S&P has said that it takes into account governance as well as economic stats in making its ratings while the other two don't. The UK took the France complaint to be suggesting that the UK rate should be lowered and were annoyed but the French were actually saying that their own rate should not have been lowered. It took Cregg to calm things.
Now there is a fuss about another article in The Economist magazine. This is the third articles critical of France. The magazine said that Hollande and Ayrault were not brave enough to impose reforms against public opinion. Therefore France was not going to be competitive and would become a danger to the euro. The greatest crime that France was accused of is raising taxes.
Of course the French are vivid. They point out that The Economist is not even-handed. It is accused of sensationalism to sell papers, of France bashing, of being absurd and making groundless predictions. It has been called the “Pravda of finance” and “little Taliban of liberalism”.
It seems that The Economist is not happy with anything but the Anglo-Saxon model and the French really dislike any suggestion that they should be following that model. The irony is that it was the Anglo-Saxon model, in full flight, that caused the financial melt down, and this does not seem to have had any effect on the insistence by some in the UK and USA that Europe must adopt that model. The French certainly see the irony.

Violence is decreasing
Iowa State's Matt DeLisi has studied the cost of crime. 654 murders from 8 states averaged a cost per murder of a little over $17,000 (victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates for both the victim and the criminal, but not prison costs). The costs per murderer are often higher because murder is often multiple and so costs are divided by the number of murders. The other per crime costs are: rape $455,000, armed robbery $336,000, aggravated assault $145,000, burglary $41,000. Compared to the cost of prevention from prevention researchers, even expensive prevention programs are cost effective and most programs are very inexpensive. It seems that when ordinary people are aware of the cost effectiveness of prevention programs they prefer them – politicians of both parties seem to prefer harsh treatment as they believe it is what people want.
Politicians also believe that people are convinced that crime rates are raising. Surprising for a deep recession, the crime rate has continued its 20 year drop in the States. This is very noticeable as the crime rate rose sharply and then peaked in 1990 after which it has fallen sharply. Stats for Europe are not comparable. However property crime rates seems to have soared from very low rates to a peak in about 1995 at about the same level as the earlier US peak and have fallen steadily since. They are slightly higher now then American rates but falling at the same rate. Violent crime also peaked in the US in the early 90s but has not peaked in Europe and continues to rise. Despite this the rate of violent crime is still lower in most European countries than in the US.  The French are in the lowish group of European countries in both types of crime but has the common trend.

crime rates
What causes crime rates to change? The BBC did a show – the graph is from them. And the 10 reasons they found for which there was at least some evidence are:
The Obama effect could explain the increased pace of the reduction of the last few years. Black youth may be responding to a new role model.
The fall in demand for crack may be a factor as word got round of the dangers of crack use and dealers were aggressively targets by police. 
Smarter policing  with innovative schemes, community education, prevention programs, promotion of anti-theft devices and the like have had results in many places.
Number crunching by police with computer systems to identify hot spots led to more effective use of police resources.
Increased availability of legal abortion after 1973 mean fewer unwanted children raised in difficult circumstances. Those 'missing' children would be coming to 20 in 1993.
More criminals were behind bars and therefore unable to offend.
Lead in petrol decrease between '75 and '85 so that today's 20 year olds were not exposed to dangerous levels.
The baby boomers grew up and so there are less late teen and early 20s (the criminal age) as a proportion of the population.
Video games are keeping young people off the streets and this more than offsets any encouraging of violent behaviour from playing the games.
The proliferation of camera phones has increased the risk of identification and so is a deterrent.
New York is the star of the drop in crime – no other city in the developed world has had a bigger or more sustained drop in crime. It has not managed to deal with poverty, unemployment, drugs. It has not increased incarceration or decreased minorities. Schools, inequalities, living conditions have not been noticeably improved. There was a clean up but it does not appear to be the reason for crime falling faster in NY than in the rest of the country. The only reason that seems to hold water is that the police force was strengthened, got out of the stations and on to the streets, and concentrated on high crime areas. They were seen where crime happens and were aggressive against it; the additional costs of these officers was more than paid for by the drop in cost of crimes and incarceration.
But perhaps people are just less violent. Steven Pinker has a new book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes". This goes against the feeling that most people have that the world is an increasingly violent place. But Pinker has the numbers of his side. Murder and warfare have declined from prehistory to today and we are safer than we have ever been. Here are his reasons: the slow emergence of states capable of playing the role of controlling violence; the pacifying impact of commerce and trade on behaviour; the impact of the Enlightenment on the way people thought about others; the evolution of notions of etiquette over the centuries; the way print and literacy expanded the "circle of empathy" beyond people's immediate family; the importance of women in civilising men; and the "long peace" that followed the second world war.
“Believe it or not, violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species' existence. The decline has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from world wars and genocides to the spanking of children and the treatment of animals.
The fact that violence is so pervasive in history, but nonetheless can be brought down, tells us that human nature includes both inclinations toward violence and inclinations toward peace – what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" – and that historical changes have increasingly favoured our better angels. These changes include the development of government, commerce, literacy, and the mixing of ideas and peoples, all of which encourage people to inhibit their impulses, expand their empathy, extricate themselves from their parochial vantage points, and treat violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.”
Are we just domesticating ourselves?


Fictitious money
debt gdpHere is a surprising figure. The global debt of the whole world is 3 times the global gross domestic product. In other words it would take every single bit of the goods and services of the whole world for three years to pay the world's debts. The non-industrial world almost do not figure in this – small debts and small GDP.
No one wants to pay all the debts – that is not the point and not a good thing. It is just a way to imagine how big the world's debts are. In fact debt is the only way the current economic system has to create money so as to expand the money supply.
If you are wondering how this debt-making-money thing works, here is the simplest example. I have a bank account and I put 100 in it. The bank now can lend that 100 to Jo, and he too has an account with 100 in it. Now there is 200 in existence - simple. Banks are allowed to loan some multiple of money on account (say 5 or 8 depending on the country). So 100 whatnots can become 900 if the multiplier is 8.
debt money

The National Bank Act was passed in 1863
"From this point on the entire US money supply would be created out of debt by bankers buying US government bonds and issuing them from reserves for bank notes...In numerous years following the [Civil] war, the Federal Government ran a heavy surplus. It could not (however) pay off its debt, retire its securities, because to do so meant there would be no bonds to back the national bank notes. To pay off the debt was to destroy the money supply.". - John Kenneth Galbraith
In 1913 the banks monopoly was consolidated formalized into the private hands of a small and secretive group under the Federal Reserve Act. "Loans alone cannot sustain the money supply because they zero out when they get paid back. In order to keep money in the system, some major player has to incur substantial debt that never gets paid back; and this role is played by the federal government." - Ellen Brown
As long as everyone is careful and honest and transparent, this system sort of works. But it is totally in the control of banks and so it is bankers that must be careful, honest and transparent. But what happens when people take huge risks, are dishonest and hide what is happening? Deregulation allowed this to happen on a large scale and we are living with the result.
Interesting news: The Basel Committee which is a group of banking regulators from 27 nations has published new rules of the ratio of assets to loans. It will allow a wider range of assets to be used in the ratio. It now includes some shares, corporate bonds, and (believe it or not) high-quality residential mortgage-backed securities. These assets are supposed to be real and easily converted into cash. It was the imaginary worth of mortgage-backed securities and the inability to convert them quickly that caused the credit crunch that started the banking crisis. The ratio is more stringent then it was in 2007 but is lenient compared to the current bank holdings of these sorts of assets – currently banks are hold large quantities of shares, corporate bonds and mortgage backed securities. The change with take a couple of years.
Every once it a while, someone says that the banks (or some of group) will have a 'take a hair cut'. In other words, they will have a accept that a particular debt will never by repaid and so write it off. But so far it is only the tax payers that have been forced to pay.
Now I sometimes think that bankers etc. have created a load of fictitious money (out of for instance fictitious morgages – fictitious because they could not possibly be paid off). They bought and sold this fictitious money to one another. Now it is seen to be worthless, they insist the governments buy it. We will pay until that fictitious money is all made real and in the hands of bankers and large investors. Oh, how I hope I am wrong because the amount will reduce us all to poverty given that it is a largish part of a debt that is 3 times the global GDP.


Idle No More
When I returned to Canada at the beginning of the '80s, I was shocked by the position of the natives. I had been to a number of countries and seen a lot of different situations of discrimination, and as an impartial outsider I learned a lot about how discrimination works. Returning I saw there was definitely discrimination against the natives in Canada, but a number of people I knew and whose views I usually liked just couldn't see it. They thought that they didn't discriminate personally (which may have been true) and that was all that mattered. They could not see the whole situation that the Canadian institutions and governments had produced over the history of the country was gross discrimination. They did not see that among the various discriminations that various nations practice, Canada's stands out with a dozen of so others that are discriminating in an especially deep, wide and systematic way. Not a 'nice' Canada.
The archetype of systematic discrimination was the old South Africa, and when they were setting up apartheid, the white South Africans used Canada's way of dealing with the natives as a model!! Eventually the whole world (including Canada) disapproved of apartheid, but Canada saw no irony. It is always harder to see that a small population is being mistreated by a much larger one than the obviousness of a small privileged group oppressing the majority.
When I grew up, I knew there was an Indian Act, and reservations, and band chiefs. But I thought this was normal. I didn't realized the import of such things. I knew about the Riel Rebellion, Metis script, the loss of the buffalo. But the real causes and effects of that history was not part of the story. But when I returned to Canada, the system was obvious.

The Indian Act dates from 1876, many years before apartheid was created. It is part of the founding of Canada.
Just taking the registered band-members on reserves, we have hundreds of thousands of people who have no democratic rights and no recourse to the laws that govern and protect all Canadians. They must live on reserves with many, many rules separating them from the rest of the population. Until recently, they were educated in residential schools which separated children from their parents with terrible consequences for their language and culture, not to mention the widespread abuse suffered by the individual children. Trade is regulated so that there is little conducted across the reserve boundaries.
I knew when I was a child that the reservation 'Indians' had free education and health care as well as other services and sort of 'municipal' budget money for roads etc. They paid no taxes. But if they wanted to give these privileges up they could become ordinary citizens and they were said to have sold their Indian status (for $200 if my memory serves me right).
The result of all this was ill health, bad education, abuse of children, unemployment, destruction of native culture without assimilation into the major culture, inadequate housing and utilities, many local petty dictators. Only a handful of bands lived acceptably comfortable and fullfilling lives.
The First Nation individuals that escaped the reserve, formed a poor underclass, living in poverty, underemployment and crime in city 'slums'. Many were alcoholics.
This all comes about because of the Treaties. As each tribe was in effect (rarely 'in fact') conquered, there would be a treaty, an agreement between the crown and a sovereign tribal nation. These agreements were by and large honoured by the tribe and not by the crown/government.
When I was young the received knowledge was that the reservation Indians were dieing of TB and would all be gone someday, while the non-treaty Indians would be assimilated into main stream society. This would take a long time, but it was inevitable and so there was no Indian Problem (as it was called then) to worry about.
No one was talking like that when I came back. The First Nations are about 2% of the population but that percentage continually rose. They are a young group compared with the rest of the population; they were having children and not dieing of TB in large numbers.
That was what I knew before leaving Canada – I didn't think it was a good or fair situation. But it was only when I came back that I saw it as diabolical and systematic.
posterNow there is Idle No More in the news and I feel that I should tell my non-Canadian readers why the 'natives are revolting'. There are several reasons: protection of the environment and First Nations land, the living conditions on the reservations, unilateral actions and lack of proper consultation or respect. All sorts of grievances come together under the banner of Idle No More. The most prominent were the oil sand and pipelines, the Canadian budget, and housing on the Attawapiskat reserve. In the background was the position of the Metis and non-status natives, the police response (non-response?) to disappearing and murdered aboriginal women, the aftermath of the examination of residential school abuse, the division of tribes by the Canada/US border and no doubt many, many more questions.
Idle No More was started by 4 women and a website. When asked to identify their leaders and objectives, Idle No More answered:
This movement has been guided by Spiritual Elders, dreams, visions, and from peoples’ core values. We are here to ensure the land, the waters, the air, and the creatures and indeed each of us, return to balance and discontinue harming each other and the earth.
The rest of this item is details of the strands that have come together under this umbrella.

The Budget
harperGreenpeace obtained (under Access to Information) a letter to Ministers of the Canadian Government from 4 major oil and gas lobby groups. The industry had a problem with environmental laws focusing on protecting the environment.
“[W]e believe that the basic approach embodied in existing legislation is out-dated. At the heart of most existing legislation is a philosophy of prohibiting harm; 'environmental' legislation is almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes. This results in a position of adversarial prohibition, rather than enabling collaborative conservation to achieve agreed common goals.”
The oil industry associations explicitly identified the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act as part of this “out-dated” approach.
This of course fitted with the Government's Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy. The government identified the opposition to the strategy as environmental and aboriginal groups and organizations among others. The Government was concerned with the reputation of tar sands oil as 'dirty' and wanted to dispel that image around the world and especially in Europe. The idea was to change the laws that obstructed the ten fold expansion of the tar sands production and to discredit the organizations and individuals that opposed this.
The Harper government fashioned omnibus budget bills to do this:
Omnibus budgets bills are not usually important changes of policy but rather administrative business associated with a budget. This one was passed in a hurry with minimum discussion. The Navigable Water Act did spark the beginning of Idle No More and chief Spence's hunger strike and they were joined with others in opposition. When the government faced opposition to the bills, it committed $9 million to an ad campaign on “responsible resource development”. The more the Government pushes its tar sand and pipeline agenda, the more the opposition is strengthened. Trying to discredit scientists, reporters, environmentalists, first nations does not seem to be working.

Attawapiskat housing
So why did Chief Spence go to Ottawa to live in a teepee on hunger strike? One answer is the history of the Attawapiskat First Nation. The band live in northern Ontario along the Attawapiskat river and its entry into James Bay. The group ranges for a few hundred kilometers up the river system and along the coast of the Bay; but their reserve is half a square mile. The total population is 2800 but only about 1500 live in the little settlement. They speak a variety of Cree; some older people do not understand English.
The Attawapiskat location was a gathering place for Cree in spring and summer for fishing. In the winter they dispersed to hunt and trap over a large area. There are some that still live in the traditional way, many more do for part of the year, and it is a way of life understood by everyone in the group – it is their identity. They still have a living culture connected to the land: hunting, fishing, gathering, trapping. Because of their isolation they came under the Treaties late. The reservation community formed between 1930 and the '60s. Until the '60s it was a settlement of traditional teepees. In the '60s and '70s permanent buildings were constructed.
The Governance of the band is supposed to be an elected Chief, Deputy Chief and a 12 member council. They have 3 year terms of office. There has been a dispute over the finances of the band. The band is policed by the Nihnawbe-Aski Police Service which serves northern Ontario. The band uses the 16 bed hospital in Mossonee which is part of the James Bay group of hospital services. There is a nursing service and a doctor visits the community about monthly. Emergencies are moved by air ambulance to more southerly centers in north Ontario. There is a band fire service and some recreational facilities.
The Attawapishat school was opened in '53 and closed in 2000 because it was contamination by a diesel leak in '79 (the largest spill to have occured in northern Ontario}. The classes have been in portable buildings (8 double and 3 single portables) since then. Normal teaching is not possible in this situation and this has lead to parents holding their children back from school or finding education in other communities. The total class room area is only half of Indian Affair's meager standards. A new school was promised by the Minister in 2000, negotiations went on for years and in 2008 the Government decided it would not build the school. It was finally started started in the summer of 2012.
In 2011 the Attawapiskat Council and Chief declared a state of emergency because of a cold snap. The residents had been evacuated from thier homes in 2009 due to flooding and were still living in makeshift conditions. Many were in tents and temporary shelters which were not protecting them from the cold. Public buildings and many houses were without heating, water and electricity. There was a raw sewage spill that had not been cleaned up. This crisis became a national scandal with arguments about who knew what when. The Govenment announced figures for all the money that had been transferred to the band with the implied question of what happened to that money. It turned out that the Government figures were misleading.
The Government claimed ignorance. The Government should have known the state of Attawapiskat as UNESCO had reported in 2004 on substandard and deteriorating housing units, lack of heating and insulation, leaking pipes, diesel fumes and toxic mould. In 2007 UNHCR reported major problems for Canada's aboriginal peoples in housing, water, sanitation, and basic services; they called for changes in governence, legislations, polices and budgets. (Lately it has been difficult for UNESCO and UNHCR officials to get visas to enter Canada. Treaty 6 Chiefs wrote to Harper because UN's James Anaya was denied a visa 3 times – 'blame the messager'.) Chief Spence raised concerns about the housing and sewage back-up with the Federal Government in 2009. In the state of emergency, the Canadian Red Cross began a program to help Attawapiskat in 2011.
In exasperation at the bands conditions and angry at the Budget bills, Chief Spence started her fast. The reaction of the Canadian Government was to plead ignorance and innocence, claim that the band & chief were to blame, and insisting that they would not be forced to discuss and do something about the situation. It was a case of lies, intimidation, and stonewalling.
The lies about Attawapiskat
The normal situation is that when the Ministry is not satisfied with band finances they intervene, first demanding a plan to get the budget on track. If that fails, they appoint a co-manager agreed with the band. And finally the Ministry can appoint a third-party management without band agreement. It has been over 10 years since Attawapiskat had any real control over finances. Also they had to pay the costs of these measures out of their budget. (There are 630 such bands in Canada with 157 being overseen, 63 co-managed and 14 under third-party management. The average cost to the band of third-party managers is $149,000.) These interventions are often complete failures.
After Spence declared a state of emergency, a third-party manager was appointed and 240 modular homes were trucked to the community. The band returned to co-management a few months later – this imposition of a third-party manager was later found to be unreasonable by a Federal Court. This was considered an attempt to smear Chief Spence.
An audit was ordered and showed that $104 million was transferred to the band 2005-2011 and that significant documentation was lacking on its spending. Spence says the leaked audit is misleading and an attempt to distract from the issues and smear her. She has only been chief since 2010 and the audit goes back to 2005. Most of the documentation that was missing was before her time. There seemed no reason for an audit because the bands accounts were audited each year by an independent firm, signed off by the Ministry and posted on the band website. As it happens, Chief Spence and the co-manager were in a romantic relationship. He denied any conflict of interest. There were a number of lies or misleading statements about the amounts of money going to the band and what they were for. For example Harper said that the band received $90 million for housing. But this money was the budget for all services from 2006 onward. It covered health, education, utilities, maintenance as well as new housing. Then it was said that the Federal Government gave the band $34 million in the then current year. But that was not true. There is $17.6 million from the federal funding, $4.4 million from provincial funding and $12million of its own revenue that the community brings in. There was not much left for new housing after all the other bills were paid. Again Harper appears to have attempted to turn public opinion against the band.
The Auditor General of Canada has reported on the Government's programs for First Nations reserves. Since the last report conditions have worsened, the education gap has widened, the shortage of adequate housing on reserves has become more acute, and administrative reporting requirements have become more onerous. Services are not comparable to those provided off reserves by provinces and municipalities. There is a significant reporting burden on small First Nations who have limited administrative capacity and resources. "The government needs to go back and come up with a new approach if we are going to seriously improve the conditions on those First Nations reserves." When Sheila Fraser was Auditor General she reported on aboriginal issues 31 times. There was practically no press reporting of her repeated condemnation of the Government, but the leaked financial audit was covered by everyone with a lot of misleading spin.
In August 2012, the Federal Court released its judicial review of the appointment of a Third Party Manager in Attawapiskat. For those not familiar with the different kinds of cases that come before the various courts in Canada, a judicial review is a review of the legality of an action or decision made by legislative and executive branches.
p. 78 "...the [Assistant Deputy Minister] misunderstood the nature of the problem...what was really an operational problem. While the [Attawapiskat First Nation] were having trouble addressing the housing crisis, what they lacked was not the ability to manage their finances...but the material means to do so."
p.24,"Despite the [Prime Minister's] comments about management, the Respondent has not produced evidence of incorrect spending or mismanagement. In fact, the reference by the Prime Minister as to the $90 million could not have related exclusively to the funds made available for housing repair or reconstruction."
p.21, "At no point prior to the appointment of the [Third Party Manager] did department officials indicate there was any problem with Band management. The Band was already under a co-management regime and no issue of Band management or financial administration was raised."
Again Auditor Genral Frazer's reports explain some of the problems:
Frazer had an issue with the reporting burden for small First Nations. "Contribution agreements involve a significant reporting burden, especially for small First Nations with limited administrative capacity. Communities often have to use scarce administrative resources to respond to numerous reporting requirements stipulated in their agreements. We followed up on Aboriginal Affairs efforts to reduce the reporting requirements of First Nations and found progress to date to be unsatisfactory..."
"The use of contribution agreements to fund services for First Nations communities has also led to uncertainty about funding levels. Statutory programs such as land claim agreements must be fully funded, but this is not the case for services provided through contribution agreements. Accordingly, it is not certain whether funding levels provided to First Nations in one year will be available the following year. This situation creates a level of uncertainty for First Nations and makes long-term planning difficult..."
Frazer pointed out the burden of lack of expertise. "The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and provides separate program funding to each. Many of these First Nations are small, consisting of communities that often have fewer than 500 residents. There are more than 600 First Nations across Canada. Many of them are hampered by the lack of expertise to meet the administrative requirements for delivering key programs within their reserves. They often do not have the benefit of school boards, health boards, or other regional bodies to support the First Nations as they provide services to community members." In other words, the bands must provide services that would be provided by provinces to most small communities using province's tax revenues. Not only do small bands have to provide these services out of their budgets but the Federal Ministries do not have the expertise that the provinces have to help the bands organize these services.
The bands cannot make their own decisions either. There is no use blaming the band when they cannot set priorities. Many Canadians seem to think that First Nations have self-governance and run themselves freely. Not true. Ministerial approval is actually a requirement before any capital expenditures can occur on reserve. That is the opposite of 'doing whatever they want' with the money. Bands are micromanaged like a child or a mentally incompetent person.
A new Auditor General of Canada also reported on First Nations in 2011. This report identifies deficiencies in program planning and delivery by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Health Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. It gives the Federal Government a failing grade.
In our view, many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs' lack of efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves. We have identified four such impediments: lack of clarity about service levels, lack of a legislative base, lack of an appropriate funding mechanism, and lack of organizations to support local service delivery. I know this is going to look like mumbo jumbo at first, so let me break it down a little for you. This will help explain why millions of dollars of funding is not enough to actually improve the living conditions of First Nations people, particularly those on reserve.” In effect the Government was accused of not keeping track of what it does, how it does it, or whether what it is doing works. The provinces all have some sort of Education Act that clearly lays out the roles and responsibilities of education authorities, as well as mechanisms of evaluation. There is generally no comparable federal legislation for the provision of First Nations education, health-care, housing and so on. Provincial building codes and inspection do not apply on reservations. There is a federal National Building Code, but enforcement and inspection has been a major problem. This has been listed as one of the factors in why homes built on reserve do not have a similar ‘life' to those built off reserve. Late and poor timing for provision of funds is another key issue. First Nations often cite a lack of federal funding as the main reason for inadequate services. There is endless paperwork required from the bands and then it is completely ignored by the federal agencies. There is no learning from this information.
The funding for many supplies and materials is increased by the cost of transport in the north. The cost of milk in Attawapiskat is over $9 per litre. This sort of transport cost applies to everything brought in from the south. It is not reasonable to compare budgets between northern and southern communities.
The plain situation is that the band was not given the funds to repair and replace the bulk of damage to housing caused by a flood, or build a replacement school after a diesel leak, or repair the failure of their sewage system. Very cold weather left them in a life threatening situation. The crisis was not their doing but the federal government's. They were smeared with untrue stories and not helped by the government but by the Red Cross, other charities and DeBeers in their time of need. Why DeBeers? The De Beers Canada diamond mine that can dig up 600,000 karats a year is on nearby Attawapiskat land.
Why is there no money? Is this austerity? No it is theft. The Federal Government may complain about the amount they spend on First Nations and how much they might save but there are companies exploiting native lands and paying royalities to the Federal Government. The First Nations do not see this money. It would be enough to pay a large part of the $11 billion that the Feds say they spend on all the First Nations. The north is very rich in minerals, gold and diamonds, oil and gas, lumber, hydroelectric opportunities. The Federal Government gets the money and keeps the land owners, the First Nations, in poverty. Examples: An estimated $100 million per year is extracted from the traditional territories of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake. DeBeers is constructing a $1 billion mine on the traditional territory of the Ahtawapiskatowi ininiwak, with an anticipated revenue of $6.7 billion. Over $14 billion in oil and gas has been removed from the traditional territory of the Lubicon Cree.

Criticism of Harper
Ralph Goodale MP from Wascana Saskatchewan is a Liberal, in the center with parties to both left and right. This was written in the early days of the Spence fast. He says:
That was clearly demonstrated in 2006, the moment he (Harper) took office, when he cancelled the Kelowna Accord. That fully-funded, five-year Accord dealt with Aboriginal housing and water, healthcare, education, economic development and stronger governance (including the concept of a First Nations Auditor-General to ensure transparency and accountability).
It took nearly 24 months of careful dialogue to build the trusting relationship in which Kelowna was rooted. The Accord had the support of the federal government, all 10 provinces and three territories, and the five national Aboriginal organizations – until Mr. Harper killed it.
Much goodwill was lost, but some hope was rekindled in 2008 when the government apologized for Canada’s sorry role in Indian Residential Schools. Sadly, there was little follow-up. The same happened in 2011 after out-going Auditor-General, Sheila Fraser, described Aboriginals as the most impoverished people in the country – nothing changed.

Then, a year ago, in response to the widely reported misery at Attawapiskat, Mr. Harper agreed to a Crown-First Nations Summit. But again, a year has passed with no progress, which brings us to the Idle-No-More movement, a hunger strike by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, and the tumult last week in Ottawa.
First, Mr. Harper needs to give Chief Spence the private but sincere assurance that the neglect of past years will be truly rectified. She must be persuaded to live, not starve. Secondly, it will take time to restore the respect and trust that made Kelowna possible, especially in the complicated fields of treaty rights and land claims, but a credible beginning must be made very quickly. On the federal side, the government needs to be consultative, not unilateral. They must be prepared to serve the greater public
good, not merely a narrow ideological base. Third, immediate progress can be made in several areas. For example, a Royal Commission could get to work on what happened to hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The budget this spring could bring federal funding for the K-12 education of First Nations children up to the higher amounts-per-child that provinces invest in non-Aboriginal kids. And the feds could get rid of their “cap” on funding for post-secondary education and child welfare. These things would be a start.”
Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians, Food and Water Watch, Blue Planet Project) and Ken Georgetti (Canadian Labour Congress) say:

Imagine a country where the national government introduces and passes legislation that detrimentally affects all of its First Nations communities but it doesn't bother to consult with them. Then a chief of an impoverished northern First Nation community goes on a hunger strike to get a meeting between the First Nations leadership and the government several months after this legislation was passed. Does this have implications for all Canadians? You bet it does. This will not be the last time that individuals or groups will take such extreme measures in response to the federal government's public policy process or lack thereof.
All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Theresa Spence's and Elder Raymond Robinson's hunger strikes. These individuals are calling attention to an intolerable situation among First Nations communities. They are also highlighting concerns common to many Canadians about dangers posed by unilateral government actions to the natural environment and the state of our democracy.
Of major concern to First Nations and many other Canadians are two omnibus budget bills (C-38 and C-45) that were imposed upon the country during the past year. These bills each comprised hundreds of pages and contained legislative changes that went far beyond what was contained in the budget.
The omnibus bills will have an especially damaging impact on First Nations communities. Bill C-45 amends the Navigable Waters Protection Act to ensure that future resource projects will no longer trigger a federal environmental assessment or force corporations to notify the federal government of their plans. Certain key rivers in British Columbia, along the path of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, for example, will now be excluded from federal government environmental oversight.
This same bill also changed the Fisheries Act in ways that First Nations believe will adversely affect their traditional fishing rights. The omnibus bills also replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with new laws that will limit First Nations involvement in environmental assessments on their own lands, as well as doing away with assessments entirely for some projects. All of this will limit the ability of First Nations, and the public at large, to present views and concerns on the environmental impact of various resource development projects.
Bill C-45 also makes changes to the Indian Act that will make it easier to lease out land for economic development without adequately consulting band residents. The Assembly of First Nations believes this means resource exploitation on reserve land can occur without the solid consent of their community.
The government acted in a similarly high-handed way when, without any consultation, it used Bill C-38 to raise the age from 65 to 67 at which Canadians are eligible for the Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. When this change is implemented, its greatest negative effects will be felt by the most vulnerable workers. Those who have toiled for low wages, often in the most physically demanding jobs, will be forced to work for two extra years before receiving old age security benefits. This happened despite overwhelming evidence from experts across the political spectrum that this change was unnecessary.
Here is the problem. This government drafts public policy and passes laws without facts or evidence to support its positions. Ottawa allows only limited and perfunctory consultation for stakeholders. If you stand up and speak out, you are criticized and attacked in the House of Commons and the Conservative public relations machine goes into overdrive to discredit your position or organization. If you are a recipient of federal government funding, you lose it by the next budget cycle. It's bully American-style politics at its worst.”
Many Canadians are deeply ashamed of the persistence of poverty and deplorable living conditions in First Nations communities, and that we still have not settled land claims with them. Many also share First Nations' concerns about the environmental implications of changes to fisheries, environmental assessments, and water protection.”
The independent UN expert, Mr Anaya, stressed that the dialogue between the Government and First Nations should proceed in accordance with standards expressed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration states that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their distinct identities and cultures as a basis of their development and place in the world, to pursue their own destinies under conditions of equality, and to have secure rights over lands and resources, with due regard for their traditional patterns of use and occupancy. The Government affirmed a “commitment to continue working in partnership with Aboriginal peoples and in accordance with a relationship based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect,” when it released a statement supporting the Declaration on 12 November 2010, said Mr. Anaya, who has asked the Canadian authorities to provide relevant information on this matter, in accordance with the terms of his mandate from the UN Human Rights Council.
Merrilee Rasmussen is a QC prominent in Constitutional, First Nations and Territorial legal matters. She is also a friend of mine. “... it certainly is a complex issue, but the major point is treaty implementation. The Government of Canada entered into these agreements, but they almost immediately failed to honour them. For example, it took til 1992 to arrive at a framework agreement for providing First Nations in Saskatchewan with the land they were promised in the numbered treaties, starting with Treaty 4 in the Regina area in 1874. And that was the easy issue! The medicine chest clause, education, taxation and resource sharing (among others) are outstanding issues of treaty implementation business that have not been addressed. My experience is Canada either won't talk to First Nations about any of these issues (generally, because they will claim they are provincial responsibilities) or if they do talk, the talking goes on for generations. It's time to DO something, because the status quo, where a large segment of society is shut out of the benefits of the land that was stolen from them, is not sustainable. The reason why Harper needs to meet with Chief Spence is because he has all his ministers on a tight leash (the way he has muzzled the scientists) and no one is allowed to say anything - let alone do anything. I see he has now actually agreed to meet, so he has finally realized that politically he can't afford to have her health/death on his hands. Rick Mercer has better rants on this topic than I!” (Rick Mercer is a comedian who does a piece on how the Canadian Constitution works – very true and very funny)

The end of the fasts
After a good deal of maneuvering, there was a meeting arranged with the Prime Minister. It is not to the liking of Chief Spence because the Crown (in the person of the Governer General of Canada) was not included in the meeting. The big national Chief and some other leaders went to the meeting, Spence and a number of other leaders did not. This almost split the First Nations: there were leaders who supported the young, often female Idle No More attitudes and there were leaders who were happy with the older, male, status quo. Chief Atleo was looking at a revolt in the national organizations. Fences were mended in the end, a concession was obtained from the everyone but Harper, there was a little ceremony and the fasts were ended. Spence was taken to hospital to recover. What did she get?
She got quite a bit. Representatives from the Association of First Nations including Atleo, the NDP caucus and the Liberal caucus all signed a declaration of specific commitments they will work for as asked for by Spence.
A copy of the declaration, obtained by CBC News, lists 13 commitments:
One important point is the requirement for consent for federal legislation that affects inherent or treaty rights. The constitutional requirement has been for the government to meaningfully consult with aboriginals over legislation that affects them. The notion of consent seems to take the obligation much further.
Idle No More has praised Chief Spense's achievement. But it was also their achievement. It is unlikely that Chief Spense would have had the effect she had without the protests of Idle No More. There are protests and there are protests – blocking roads, bridges, railways means days outside in a cold Canadian winter. That shows determination.

The environmentists and the First Nations
Environmentists and First Nations have been working together to fight the destruction of the land and water in the north long before Idle No More. They are now part of the larger movement. The First Nations have a cultural attachment to nature and its protection that is often underestimated. It is their duty, as they see it, to protect Mother Earth. It is also their source of food in their traditional ways of life. And it is their land and they have never surrendered it. They will resist it being taken away from them, or being exploited in harmful ways. Much concern is centered on the tar sands project (the largest industrial project in the world) and its ruin of the lakes, streams and forest.
Two Alberta bands with land in the tar sands project area are suing the government over the omnibus bills. They started this case before Idle No More started but it will be some time before the case is heard.
How can the Harper government pry the land from First Nations? They say they intend to do something like the Dawes Act in the US. They promise to “give” First Nations the right to use reserve land, that is communal land, as collateral. It means placing First Nations lands at risk of purchase or foreclosure by non-band members. That leads to the destruction of communities as the land disappears, just as it did in the U.S.
The tar sands development can pollute in an unprecedented way a huge swath of land, river systems and air, changing it from healthy productive wilderness to a black moonscape. There is an enormous amount of tar to be mined (the second largest source of fossil fuel in the world). So the implications for global warming are terrifying. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." The fight over tar sands must be won by the First Nations and the environmentists.
The Idle No More movement arose as a response to what organizers call the most recent assault on indigenous rights in Canada: Bill C-45, which passed on December 14. Bill C-45 makes changes to the Indian Act, removes environmental protections, and further erodes the treaties with native peoples through which Canada was created. If Harper was going to continue development of the tar sands, he had no choice but to remove protection from Canada's rivers and lakes, because there's no possible way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers.
(The bill produces) “weakening of environmental assessment and the removal of lakes and rivers from protection,” says Eriel Deranger, Communication Coordinator of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is directly downstream from toxic tar sands mining. She knows firsthand the importance of protecting waterways from industrial pollutants. “Indigenous people’s rights,” she says, “are intrinsically linked to the environment.” She adds that the removal of such protections paves the way for resource extraction, bringing Canada closer to its self-stated goal of becoming a global energy superpower. This isn’t just a native thing, Deranger says; this is something that affects everyone.
There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tar sands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied. It is a matter of life and death for the First Nations and they are not ready to back down.
This is old fashioned colonialism – appropriate wealth from indigenous communities to their detriment and the colonial powers benefit. It can happen within a country as well as some far-flung empire. A powerful government cooperating with powerful business interests is trying to force resource extraction from native, unceded lands to benefit the (southern) Canadian economy without a care about destroying the ecosystems that support the indigenous peoples.
The government also is trying to build pipelines to the BC coast and through the US to the Gulf of Mexico. Both pipelines are resisted by environmentalists, First Nations and local residents along the routes. They are also trying to change the use of a pipeline in the east to get tar from northern Canada to New England ports and this is being resisted.
The Government have let Enbridge do much of the environment impact assessment that the government is supposed to do. (the fox in charge of the hen house). By all accounts, Enbridge is failing to properly assess the impact of the Northern Gateway Pipeline in British Columbia especially its mandate to assess the impact on First Nations in BC. Lawyers for coastal First Nations questioned the Enbridge panel of marine experts on their knowledge of traditional Aboriginal land use. The responses showed gaps in the consideration of impact on the First Nations. Jennifer Griffith, legal counsel for the Haisla First Nation asked the panel whether Aboriginal title rights factored into the determination of significance of the land at the terminal site in Kitimat, and Enbridge representative Jeffrey Green said they were not. After pointed and specific questions showed great ignorance of the problems for First Nations, Dr. Tom Watson of Soleil Environmental Consultants, Ltd., told those in attendance that, while the baseline data regarding First Nations’ land use was incomplete, the assessment’s conclusions were still applicable. Enbridge experts defended the process, saying that if the assessment has determined that there will be no significant damage to marine systems, it stands to reason that there will be no adverse effects for the Aboriginal groups who use them. The First Nations disagree and feel that the process is flawed because their views were not incorporated into the design of the assessment. Griffith said the latest round of hearings has shown that the question of Aboriginal rights and title is beyond the scope of the Joint Review Panel. “That was confirmed in the testimony given by Northern Gateway that Aboriginal title hasn’t been considered for the project.” The Haisla First Nation is concerned that Enbridge is deferring parts of its assessment until after the application to build is approved. “You’ll see that Northern Gateway is relying on some future programs to address issue that have clearly arisen in the context of the assessment.” For example, Enbridge has suggested a committee made up of all interested parties, including commercial and recreational fishers, to convene regularly and address issues arising from the project. “It doesn’t say how anything is going to get resolved, who has to get out of the way if there is a problem,” Robert Janes, lawyer for the Gitxaala nation said. “Maybe the tankers will be adjusted or maybe the Aboriginal people are just going to be going to a committee and told, here is our schedule. Adjust your fishing accordingly.” So there is an environmental assessment that will OK a project without completing the assessment until after the permission is given. Does that make sense? And the government says that the assessment covers First Nations rights and title but the assessment panel has not concerned itself with them and is not going to. Who is going to consider these areas before permission is given? The general public's trust in Enbridge's methods took a hit when it was shown that they even doctored an important map – did they think that the people who lived there would not notice?

fake map

The panel's hearings are 'public hearings'. But the panel limited access to the hearings room so it could listen to statements without distractions. “Given the large urban nature of Victoria and Vancouver and previous protests held in both locations regarding the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project, the panel has decided that it will limit access to the hearing room,” stated the directive. So in order to not have to hear the disapproval of the public, the presenters were in one room and the public listened to the proceedings in another.
There are also hearings on a proposed expansion to double the capacity of the existing kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline from the oil sands to the port of Vancouver.
The Keystone XL pipeline (Alberia in Canada is the US Gulf of Mexico) has strong opposition in both Canada and the US. This opposition includes many Indian tribes in the path of the pipeline. They have joined with Idle No More. Some American environmentalist who had not worked closely before with Canadian First Nations were somewhat awed by the knowledge and commitment of Idle No More.
You might think that oil pipelines are found all over the world so what is so especially bad about these? They are not pumping oil but are pumping diluted tar sand bitumen, called 'dilbit'. Bitumen in its undiluted state is too viscous and dense to be transported by pipeline. To create a fluid capable of transportation by pipeline, bitumen must be mixed with a fluid that has much lower viscosity and will keep bitumen from precipitating out of the mixture. The most common diluent used to dilute bitumen is natural gas condensate (NGC), especially the naptha component. Due to insufficient quantity of natural gas condensate in Alberta, bitumen shippers also use refined naptha and synthetic crude oil (SCO) as diluent, and import a considerable amount from the U.S.
pipelinesThe Line9 resistance is about the pumping of dilbit through a pipeline built to carry normal oil across the most populated part of Canada and to the New England coast. The pipeline is currently used to pump light crude oil from the South Portland tanker facility to refineries in Canada. The tar-sands proposal would reverse the flow in one of the pipeline's two underground pipes, sending tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to Maine. Dilbit requires higher pressures, higher temperatures, wears pipelines lines with corrosive chemicals and included sand. Spills of dilbit are more toxic than normal oil and the sludgy consistancy is difficult to clear up. Pumping this stuff around North America is asking for a big disaster – this would end in tears. Big money is involved. Engridge says, "Over the next three years we’re investing $15 billion in three initiatives that can provide additional markets for about one million barrels of Alberta production. And that is in addition to all the regional pipeline development we’re undertaking in the oilsands and elsewhere." (click on map to enlarge)
So there are three environmental problems and they are all enormous threats – the tar sands mining and its effect on a large wilderness area, the movement of the bitumen and the danger of spills, and the global warming effect of the mining and the use of the fuel. It is not surprising that the Harper government left the Kyoto accord, the only country to do so (although some never signed up). This is not just a Canadian or even North American problem; it is a global problem and it drives a train through any attempts to reduce climate change. The Sierra Club who for a long time has restricted itself to lobbying, litigation and education is so alarmed by this tar sand project that for the first time they are endorsing civil disobedience. Environmentalist know that the Harper government must be stopped.

The other Indians
During the events around Idle No More, there has been another big event. There are up to a million more Indians today than there were a while ago because of a court ruling. It may be overturned in the future. No doubt the government will appeal and it will climb to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. A federal court ruled that up to a million Metis and non-status Indians qualify as Indians under Section 91(24) of the British North America Act.
The federal government itself acknowledged in a once-secret cabinet memorandum from 1972.
The Metis and non-status Indian people, lacking even the protection of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, are far more exposed to discrimination and other social disabilities. It is fair to say that in the absence of Federal initiative in this field they are the most disadvantaged of all Canadians.”
The federal government insists that it is only responsible for the welfare of the Status Indians and of Inuit. But provincial governments insist that Ottawa is also responsible for meeting the special needs of Metis citizens – originally people of French or Scottish and Indian heritage – and of people who, by marriage or by moving, have lost their status as Indians under the Indian Act. (Many of these losses of status were scandalous misogyny.)
The historical documentation on “half-breeds” is sickening. Judge Phelan concluded the group of Metis and non-status Indians “has been able to maintain its identity and form national, provincial and regional associations claiming a potential membership of approximately 1,000,000 people.” Metis and non-status Indians, he believes, qualify as Indians under Section 91 of the BNA Act, provided they self-identify as such, and are recognized as such by a Metis or Indian groups or organizations.
There is a problem here. The Federal Government are not going to want to pay more. The Provincal Government are going to want Federal money for what they pay for Metis and non-status services. The new offical Indians are going to want an improvement in their situation. And the Treaty Indians do not want a cut to their support to cover the others. Even though this has nothing to do with Chief Spence, it is sure to colour the debates that Idle No More is creating. The 'other Indians' are active in Idle No More.
It would not even be surprising if the debate started to include the question of why the areas with high aboriginal populations are still territories rather than provinces. Are the Dene and the Inuit incapable of running a province? The Federal Government can pick and choose when to include or exclude the Territories when consulting with the Provinces (as they do in including or excluding Metis and non-status Indians from consultations with the First Nations).
Governments have done what they can get away with for over a hundred years and have left Canada with this mess.
The Department of Justice fights every fight with the First Nations but they often lose. “The government’s method is always the same, fight as hard as possible at every step, lose, interpret the decision as narrowly as possible, and fight the next case on the same issues in the same way. The purpose is to exhaust the funding and energy of the opponent while continuing to exploit the resources.”

What can I say that is good about Canada's treatment of First Nations?
There is a big answer, if a bit sarcastic – the Canadian aboriginals are alive, which is more than can be said for the natives of Newfoundland and the Caribbean who were victims of complete genocide. There was no Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee as in the US. In fact, many American natives took refuge in Canada, preferring the RCMP to the US Cavalry. That does not count for much in this day and age.
And on a lighter note, there was a running joke on Twitter. Take a statement that smears First Nations and put it in the context of the government in Ottawa. “You can become the majority leader of #Ottawapiskat with only 33% of band members voting for you”, “#Ottawapiskat debt hovering around $600,000,000,000. Might be time for a third-party manager”
nishiyuu
nishiyuu  

'The Journey of Nishiyuu' (The Quest for Unity)as it sets off  and 17 days out on the journey in support of Idle No More. They are going from Northern Quebec on a 1100 kilometer walk to Ottawa and intend to get there in March.


The horse meat scandal
We have horse meat in our beef – that is the growing scandal in Europe. Starting with one discovery in Ireland it has grown to involve the UK, than Luxembourg, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden and on and on. It slowly rumbles along.
First the source of horse meat was supposed to be in the UK but no – there are companies dealing with horse meat but it was all properly labeled as horse meat and ship to the continent not Ireland. Next it was done by the mafia in Italy accused of bring horse meat from Bulgaria. But Bulgaria showed that their horse meat was properly labeled. And Italy too showed that it passed through Italy to Holland properly labeled as horse. Then it was traced to France where it entered as horse and then by miracle became beef before it passed to Luxembourg. The French company was charged and shut down. All was well again.
But then people started doing DNA tests on everything. And horse was turning up everywhere in processed and frozen meat (patties, shepherd's pie, lasagna, meat balls, anything made with mince and the like). What is more pork was turning up in beef products as well as horse, even in kosher and halal. The whole supply system and every maker of processed meat was finding that they were in a mess.
This was not particularly a health matter. There is nothing unhealthy about horse meat or pork as compared to beef – in fact many would say it was healthier. The problem was that if you could not trust the label then anything was possible and given time, would probably happen. Using 'pink slime' in prepared food is not legal in Europe but how could people know if it was included. The situation was that horse meat cost 1/12th the cost of beef. Pink slime and the like are even less costly. The products are the sort that are sold in supermarkets rather then butcher shops as frozen prepared products. Supermarkets were under pressure from their consumers in the financial squeeze, and they put pressure on suppliers for cheaper products. The suppliers could only lower their costs by using less ingredients or less costly ones. There were these sources of somewhat cheaper beef and so the factories did not look to closely at what they were buying.
Who was to blame? The hot potato was passed around for a while and ended up in the supermarkets lap. They were told that they were responsible for what they sold, for it being honestly labeled. They would have to test their products and inspect the factories that made them. A number of 'high quality brands' have taken a black eye. At the other end of the scale, beef for schools, hospitals and prisons is tendered for in large quantities and not surprisingly had a lot of horse in it. Again they were told to find some way to check what they bought.
The government labs said they were only responsible for the health and safely of food. They could not test everything for different DNAs within their budgets and would only test if there was reason to think that there was a health problem.
The EU and individual governments say they are going to tighten the labeling/paper work/inspections in the supply chain. The nature of the supply chain has been criticized but those in the know say it will take time to reform it.
Some have been asking why processed fowl and fish are not being DNA tested and the results are starting to show that beef is not the only problem. However there is still no health dangers.
It seems that countries vary in their laws about horse meat. In some it is illegal to sell as human food, in some it is not illegal but no one sells it, in some it is legal and available. France is it the last group. There are shops that sell horse meat and people eat it, although in smaller quantities than other meats.
JeanRoze
Of course we are feeling a bit smug. We do not buy the sort of products that were found contaminated. What we used to do for ground beef was the usual French thing. At a butchers we asked for ground beef and were shown a few lots of various stewing type chunks of beef. What we wanted was cut and weighed and them put through a grinder and wrapped up. I like the idea that the mince came from a single cow; I like that it is freshly ground. Now they have our own grinder at home so we just buy a piece the right size from a cheapish cut. That way it is not ground until it is going to go into the frying pan. Finally I like the way the butchers we use work. They have their counter at the back of each of the two local little supermarkets (if fact in most of the little supermarket chains). There are windows into the cutting room so you can see the carcasses and the cutting. They can trace every carcass to a slaughter house (which is owned by the same company) and from there to the farm it came from. Although it is a very large meat company, it works largely as many more regional companies each with a slaughter house.


Aaron Swartz
As someone who comes up against paywalls continually in gathering material for my blog (Thoughts on Thought) and occasionally in look up things for this website, I was affected by Swartz' suicide. The big publishing houses do not pay for the research, they do not pay for the written papers (if fact they sometimes have charges for extras), and they do not pay for the peer reviews. Their only cost is printing and distributing. Their main customers are university libraries and so they actually print very few copies of a paper. The very high cost of periodical subscriptions is a large part of university budgets. We pay for everything and they charge us for it when we try and see it. If I want to see a paper, one little paper, it would cost me over $30 and it would just be a link and not a printed mailed copy. That is highway robbery.
Here is what Anita Bandrowski had to say about the event of Swartz' death.

A martyr for open access scientific publishing
This is not a blog post that I ever imagined writing.
Likely many of you have heard that there has been a tragedy in that on January 11, 2013 a very talented young computer programmer and activist, Aaron Swartz, took his own life in New York city. The young man, was one of the bright starts of the computer generation, added significantly to Reddit and the RSS specification among other work (started contributing at age 14!).
His later life, by this I mean his early 20′s, was spent in fighting the closed world of science. He was the founder of Demand Progress, an online activist group that was able to mobilize enough like minded thinkers and used this influence to black out wikipedia and google (partially) culminating in the defeat of the SOPA/PIPA bills last year.
He was very opposed to the current system for publishing science, in fact he broke the law in protest. He did not intend to make money from his criminal activities, but he certainly broke the law. He did not hurt anyone, his crime consisted of putting a laptop into a small closet in the MIT library and downloading millions of articles from the JSTOR archive. He believed, as many including the former head of the National Institutes of Health do, that information, especially information generated as a result of billions of dollars of tax-payer money should not be the exclusive right of a corporation. He believed that scientific knowledge was the legacy of human endeavor and as such it should be open to all humans. In this, he was not alone, but he was braver or at least more industrious than most. He infringed the copyright agreement of a group of for profit cooperations and told people about it.
For this crime, he was being sued in criminal court and was facing 35 years in prison as well as a million dollar fine.
He took his own life and the case was dropped by the prosecution.
Is this what it takes to reform a broken system of scientific publishing?
In my opinion, he is a martyr for a cause, I just never imagined that reforming scientific publishing practices would require a martyr. In the many thousands of years that scholars thought interesting things and put them on paper for others to read, there have been many cases where some brave soul had to protect that knowledge. Perhaps, Aaron is a modern Hypatia?
Regardless of his place in history, his life and death should give us pause on what the President termed a “national day of service.” For my part, I think that I will add my currently unrepresented publications to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central and consider publishing in only the open access subset of PMC from now on. It is certainly not a big gesture, but possibly no less relevant than expressing outrage at the prosecutors of Aaron’s case.
http://blog.neuinfo.org/index.php/news-events/a-martyr-for-open-access-scientific-publishing


How to serve olive oil?
The EU made a regulation about how olive oil would be served in restaurants and then quickly overturned it. What was going on?
Through much of Europe, olive oil is served in jugs or bowls so that customers can oil their food and dip their bread. Without much forewarning the EU decided to change the containers in which olive oil could be served. Oil would have to be in containers that were impossible to refill and had labels showing the brand and standard of the oil. There was an outcry: it was wasteful, it was not ecological, it was expensive, it was unnecessarily, it made dipping difficult. The EU backed down – both the regulation and the removal of the regulation made the EU look silly.
Those who put forward the idea said that it was needed to stop restaurants using cheap olive oil and saying it was extra virgin. The people against the idea said that there was no proof that this fraud was happening. The decision had been taken in secret by an obscure committee, without public discussion. The huge volume of criticism and satire prompted its reversal.
It all started in Portugal almost a decade ago when restaurateurs were accused of the fraud and disputed the accusations. A law similar to the later EU regulation was passed in Portugal with fines set at between about 500 and 30,000 euros. The olive oil producers were behind the law and had the clout to get it passed despite no proof of widespread fraud. The law was great for the producers as consumption went from 6 to 8 kg/person/year. Italy passed a similar law with similar effects.
When the financial crisis hit, the olive oil producers felt the pinch. Consumption and prices had been rising for a long time in Euope but now they stopped rising. Later prices even fell. The more expensive extra virgin was not being used as much and replaced by lower grades. Cheap oil was being imported from North Africa and Turkey. Farmers were going under.
In June 2009, the EU’s Advisory Group on Olives and Derived Products was working on a way to protect olive oil producers. This advisory group meets twice a year in secret. Most of the advisers in this group come from Copa-Cogeca which represents the interests of 70 odd farming groups or about 26 million farmers. It is powerful. Dacian Ciolos was a friend of Copa-Cogeca, the EU's Agricultural Commissioner at the time, and sympathetic to southern Europe's farmers.
Each of the 27 Commissioners in the EU oversees some of the 270 “comitology” committees. These committees pass about 2500 regulations a year (compared to the 50 or so passed by the European Parliament).
As drought as well as financial problems in southern Europe made matters worse for the olive oil producers, Ciolos, Copa-Cogeca, the Spanish government and the advisory group put together a plan to save the industry. The plan was: that the EU's subsidy for olive oil be maintained in the face of all pressure to reform it, that more storage be created for the olive oil 'lake', that quality tests be introduced to wreck imports from outside the EU and that hotel and catering industries be forced to use non-refillable, labeled containers.
The last item of the plan was put to the Management Committee for the Common Organisation of Agricultural Markets, a comitology committee. 15 of the 27 member states voted for the measure. This was not a “qualified majority” and so the item was neither passed nor rejected. When it came back, the Commissioner was able to push it through. He did not notify some governments in a manner that would have alerted them to change abstentions to opposing votes.
The reaction against the Commissioner was swift and angry. He had to back down – he was being vilified and laughed at. And some governments wanted his head. Of course the climb down made Copa-Cogeca furious. The national laws are still in place and more will probably be passed in other southern European countries such as Spain and Greece under Copa-Cogeca's advice.
The nature of the inner workings of Brussels has had a bright light shone on it.


Why we pay taxes
Article from Huffington Post: Prehistoric Politics & Today's Teams & Taxes - Jag Bhalla
Prehistoric politics can teach us how to prevent present-day errors. Human survival has been a team sport for 10,000 generations. It still is. But too many political ideas now hide that once self-evident truth.
A chain of team logic is anchored deep in our pre-history and runs through the historic writings of America's Founders, Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. They all understood two now under-appreciated principles. Firstly some redistribution is a rational response to needing your team to be in good shape. Secondly self-interest should never be allowed to damage the team you depend on.
Missing links in that chain are provided by Chris Boehm, a leading anthropologist. In his book Moral Origins he writes that our ancestors went through a "major political transition" about 250,000 years ago, developing from an "ape-like 'might is right'" species that "lived hierarchically" into one that was much more "devoutly egalitarian." Around then collaborative hunting became a more successful strategy than going solo. Teams that chased big game toward hunters could be much more productive -- but only if the required division of labor, went hand in hand, with a fair division of profits. However hunting success often depended on luck as well as skill. Both problems were solved, then as they should be now, by the logic of social insurance, which requires shared risks and some pooled profits.
This collective carnivores' dilemma was a game changer. All hunters needed their teammates to be fed well enough to be good chasers. And even the best hunters, when unlucky, benefited from rules that required redistribution of meat. Team players became more successful, as did those teams with the smartest sharing rules. These rules became tools as important as spears or big brains to our survival. And rules that tended to balance immediate selfish gain with longer-term or group interests made for fitter teams.
At this point you're likely wondering how on earth Boehm can justify such detailed and sweeping claims. He's spent 40 years studying present-day hunter-gatherers, who live as closely as possible to the way those team-hunting ancestors did. His deep data on their social practices shows for example that typically meat sharing isn't done by the hunter who made the kill. Instead it's redistributed by another stakeholder.
A crucial new insight Boehm provides is that humans are predisposed to use "counter-dominant coalitions" to "punish resented alpha-male behavior." For example, when powerful individuals hog more than a fair share of meat, they're punished by using ridicule, shaming, shunning, ostracism, and, ultimately, the death penalty. The result is a sort of inverted eugenics: the elimination of the strongest, if they abuse their power. Astonishingly, such solutions aren't rare, they're the norm. Our ancestors learned long ago, what Lincoln later would write, that all good government must be "of the people, by the people, for the people." Or the people will rebel.
The same team logic is built deep into America's founding documents. The Constitution defines the duty to "promote the general Welfare" as on a par with ensuring the common defense. And the Declaration of Independence's first justification for the American Revolution was to overcome barriers preventing passage of "Laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good."
Americans in the 1830s, according to Alexis de Tocqueville, readily accepted the Founders' team logic. In a chapter of his book Democracy in America, that's called "How the Americans Combat Individualism by the Principle of Self-Interest Rightly Understood," he says "an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state." Sadly some loss of reason has made us less willing.
Just as they were in our prehistory, taxes are where the rubber meets the road on national team loyalty, on paying for the Founders' "public good." The much misrepresented Adam Smith usefully said, "Every tax... is, to the person who pays it, a badge... of liberty. It denotes he is subject to government."
The Founders, Tocqueville, Lincoln and Smith all knew that liberty and the pursuit of happiness are in effect government-enabled programs. No taxes mean no government, no public good, no live-able liberty, and no practical platform on which to build a private pursuit of happiness. Taxes are not a punishment. And they aren't a transactional payment for what you directly get back. They are the price of your liberty and of keeping your team in good shape. What can look like a sacrifice is actually a sacred and immeasurable gain. Logically this price of freedom must include eternal vigilance against those that would harm the "public good" or "general welfare."
A politics of individual interest, or a narrow politics of parts, that seeks only its own advantage, while weakening the whole, is a distorted form of self-interest that is ultimately self-undermining. To damage what you depend on cannot continue to be deemed rational. It's easy to see this with team-hunting. But it's no less true in the economic transactions we depend on. We all need our nation and economy to be healthy, which means it's in our rational interests to pay the necessary price.
Human life is a team sport and not a struggle of "social Darwinism." In fact that's a misnomer, Charles Darwin himself wrote in The Descent of Man (1871), "Social instincts... have given to [each human] some wish to aid his fellows." He calls anyone without such team and social instincts an "unnatural monster." Too many ideas in our politics are monstrously opposed to our inalienable social and team natures. Proudly pay your redistributive taxes. And don't let anyone succeed by damaging your team.



Copyright may be counterproductive
Copyright is keeping books out of print. Research by Paul Heald using Amazon's selections has shown this clearly. The copyright law of 1923 has meant that books are not reprinted as much as they
used to be. A book first printed in 1850 is more likely to be available today than one first published in 1950. Heald says, "Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availacopyrightbility. Shortly after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners." Publishers are simply not publishing copyrighted titles unless they are very recent. Copyright makes a book disappear and it reappears after copyright expires.
After correcting for the number of editions of books and the number of titles published each year, Heald got the graph shown. So the generally accepted reason for copyright, that it assures owner will profit from intellectual property and this will result in availability and distribution of the property, is not true. The copyrighted intellectual property is more likely to be unavailable and not distributed.


growthGrowth in Europe
Talk of the Euro's death have been exagerated. The recession is easing. The two biggest Euro zone economies, Germany and France, plus the largest EU non-Euro economy, Britain, have all returned to growth. The growth is thought to be fueled by a recovery in consumption. This was unexpected and so the strength is a surprise.
Unfortunately employment has not started to improve and Brussels officials are warning governments to not be complacent. They point to the large differences between states. The third and fourth largest economies, Italy and Spain, are still in mild recession. Portugal has improved greatly but Greece is falling deep into trouble.
The average for the 17 countries in the Euro zone and for the 27 countries in the EU is the same 0.3% growth. In the 27: most of the eastern European countries had respectable growth. Bulgaria was down. There was no figure for Denmark and Sweden was down.
The graph is of the Euro zone place the UK.
(I still think that austerity is not the best way to deal with recession.)


You have been warned
The IPCC Working Group 1 has given its report. (259 authors from 39 countries and with 54677 comments received and noted). Here are the highlighted parts of the policymakers summary with some of the illustrations. An RPC is the new Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios and are used to predict the future under various policies to limit CO2 emissions . There are four RPCs ranging from optimistic to pessimistic views of what policies will emerge:
climate
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).







climate2Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.

Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.










climate 3









climate4The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.












Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.


Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of t
he climate system.

climate5
Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).

Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
climate6
Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.

Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.

The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.

It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.

Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.

Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.

Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.


No scientific consensus on GMO safety
ensser logoHere is the ENSSER Statement issued 21 October 2012 by the European Network of Scientist for Social and Environmental Responsibility. The original with the 57 references cited is at http://www.ensser.org

The statement
As scientists, physicians, academics, and experts from disciplines relevant to the scientific, legal, social and safety assessment aspects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we strongly reject claims by GM seed developers and some scientists, commentators, and journalists that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”.
We feel compelled to issue this statement because the claimed consensus on GMO safety does not exist. The claim that it does exist is misleading and misrepresents the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of opinion among scientists on this issue. Moreover, the claim encourages a climate of complacency that could lead to a lack of regulatory and scientific rigour  and appropriate caution, potentially endangering the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
Science and society do not proceed on the basis of a constructed consensus, as current knowledge is always open to well-founded challenge and disagreement. We endorse the need for further independent scientific inquiry and informed public discussion on GM product safety and urge GM proponents to do the same.
Some of our objections to the claim of scientific consensus are listed below.
1. There is no consensus on GM food safety
Regarding the safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health, a comprehensive review of animal feeding studies of GM crops found “An equilibrium in the number [of] research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns”. The review also found that most studies concluding that GM foods were as safe and nutritious as those obtained by conventional breeding were “performed by biotechnology companies or
associates, which are also responsible [for] commercializing these GM plants”. A separate review of animal feeding studies that is often cited as showing that GM foods are safe included studies that found significant differences in the GM- fed animals. While the review authors dismissed these findings as not biologically significant, the interpretation of these differences is the subject of continuing scientific debate and no consensus exists on the topic.
Rigorous studies investigating the safety of GM crops and foods would normally involve animal feeding studies in which one group of animals is fed GM food and another group is fed an equivalent non-GM diet. Independent studies of this type are rare, but when such studies have been performed, some have revealed toxic effects or signs of toxicity in the GM-fed animals. The concerns raised by these studies have not been followed up by targeted research that could confirm or refute the initial findings.
The lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods and crops is underlined by the recent research calls of the European Union and the French government to investigate the long-term health impacts of GM food consumption in the light of uncertainties raised by animal feeding studies. These official calls imply recognition of the inadequacy of the relevant existing scientific research protocols. They call into question the claim that existing research can be deemed conclusive and the scientific debate on biosafety closed.
2. There are no epidemiological studies investigating potential effects of GM food consumption on human health
It is often claimed that “trillions of GM meals” have been eaten in the US with no ill effects. However, no epidemiological studies in human populations have been carried out to establish whether there are any health effects associated with GM food consumption. As GM foods are not labelled in North America, a major producer and consumer of GM crops, it is scientifically impossible to trace, let
alone study, patterns of consumption and their impacts. Therefore, claims that GM foods are safe for human health based on the experience of North American populations have no scientific basis.
3. Claims that scientific and governmental bodies endorse GMO safety are exaggerated or inaccurate
Claims that there is a consensus among scientific and governmental bodies that GM foods are safe, or that they are no more risky than non-GM foods, are false.
For instance, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada issued a report that was highly critical of the regulatory system for GM foods and crops in that country. The report declared that it is “scientifically unjustifiable” to presume that GM foods are safe without rigorous scientific testing and that the “default prediction” for every GM food should be that the introduction of a new gene will cause “unanticipated changes” in the expression of other genes, the pattern of proteins produced, and/or metabolic activities. Possible outcomes of these changes identified in the report included the presence of new or unexpected allergens.
A report by the British Medical Association concluded that with regard to the long-term effects of GM foods on human health and the environment, “many unanswered questions remain” and that “safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available”. The report called for more research, especially on potential impacts on human health and the environment.
Moreover, the positions taken by other organizations have frequently been highly qualified, acknowledging data gaps and potential risks, as well as potential benefits, of GM technology. For example, a statement by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health acknowledged “a small potential for adverse events ... due mainly to horizontal gene transfer,
allergenicity, and toxicity” and recommended that the current voluntary notification procedure practised in the US prior to market release of GM crops be made mandatory. It should be noted that even a “small potential for adverse events” may turn out to be significant, given the widespread exposure of human and animal populations to GM crops.
A statement by the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) affirming the safety of GM crops and opposing labelling cannot be assumed to represent the view of AAAS members as a whole and was challenged in an open letter by a group of 21 scientists, including many long-standing members of the AAAS. This episode underlined the lack of consensus among scientists about GMO safety.
4. EU research project does not provide reliable evidence of GM food safety
An EU research project has been cited internationally as providing evidence for GM crop and food safety. However, the report based on this project, “A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research”, presents no data that could provide such evidence, from long-term feeding studies in animals. Indeed, the project was not designed to test the safety of any single GM food, but to focus on “the development of safety assessment approaches”. Only five published animal feeding studies are referenced in the SAFOTEST section of the report, which is dedicated to GM food safety. None of these studies tested a
commercialised GM food; none tested the GM food for long-term effects beyond the subchronic period of 90 days; all found differences in the GM-fed animals, which in some cases were statistically significant; and none concluded on the safety of the GM food tested, let alone on the safety of GM foods in general. Therefore the EU research project provides no evidence for sweeping claims about the safety of any single GM food or of GM crops in general.
5. List of several hundred studies does not show GM food safety
A frequently cited claim published on an Internet website that several hundred studies “document the general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM foods and feeds” is misleading. Examination of the studies listed reveals that many do not provide evidence of GM food safety and, in fact, some provide evidence of a lack of safety. For example:
Many of the studies are not toxicological animal feeding studies of the type that can provide useful information about health effects of GM food consumption. The list includes animal production studies that examine parameters of interest to the food and agriculture industry, such as milk yield and weight gain; studies on environmental effects of GM crops; and analytical studies of the composition or genetic makeup of the crop.
Among the animal feeding studies and reviews of such studies in the list, a substantial number found toxic effects and signs of toxicity in GM-fed animals compared with controls. Concerns raised by these
studies have not been satisfactorily addressed and the claim that the body of research shows a consensus over the safety of GM crops and foods is false and irresponsible. Many of the studies were conducted over short periods compared with the animal’s total lifespan and cannot detect long-term health effects.
We conclude that these studies, taken as a whole, are misrepresented on the Internet website as they do not “document the general safety and nutritional wholesomeness of GM foods and feeds”. Rather, some of the studies give serious cause for concern and should be followed up by more detailed investigations over an extended period of time.
6. There is no consensus on the environmental risks of GM crops
Environmental risks posed by GM crops include the effects of Bt insecticidal crops on non-target organisms and effects of the herbicides used in tandem with herbicide-tolerant GM crops.
As with GM food safety, no scientific consensus exists regarding the environmental risks of GM crops. A review of environmental risk assessment approaches for GM crops identified shortcomings in the procedures used and found “no consensus” globally on the methodologies that should be applied, let
alone on standardized testing procedures. Some reviews of the published data on Bt crops have found that they can have adverse effects on non-target and beneficial organisms – effects that are widely neglected in regulatory assessments and by some scientific commentators. Resistance to Bt toxins has emerged in target pests, and problems with secondary (non-target) pests have been noted, for example, in Bt cotton in China.
Herbicide-tolerant GM crops have proved equally controversial. Some reviews and individual studies have associated them with increased herbicide use, the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds, and adverse health effects in human and animal populations exposed to Roundup, the herbicide used on the
majority of GM crops.
As with GM food safety, disagreement among scientists on the environmental risks of GM crops may be correlated with funding sources. A peer-reviewed survey of the views of 62 life scientists on the environmental risks of GM crops found that funding and disciplinary training had a significant effect on attitudes. Scientists with industry funding and/or those trained in molecular biology were very likely to have a positive attitude to GM crops and to hold that they do not represent any unique risks, while publicly-funded scientists working independently of GM crop developer companies and/or those trained in ecology were more likely to hold a “moderately negative” attitude to GM crop safety and
to emphasize the uncertainty and ignorance involved. The review authors concluded, “The strong effects of training and funding might justify certain institutional changes concerning how we organize science and how we make public decisions when new technologies are to be evaluated.”
7. International agreements show widespread recognition of risks posed by GM foods and crops
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was negotiated over many years and implemented in 2003. The Cartagena Protocol is an international agreement ratified by 166 governments worldwide that seeks to protect biological diversity from the risks posed by GM technology. It embodies the Precautionary Principle in that it allows signatory states to take precautionary measures to protect themselves against threats of damage from GM crops and foods, even in case of a lack of scientific certainty.
Another international body, the UN's Codex Alimentarius, worked with scientific experts for seven years to develop international guidelines for the assessment of GM foods and crops, because of concerns about the risks they pose. These guidelines were adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, of which over 160 nations are members, including major GM crop producers such as the United States.
The Cartagena Protocol and Codex share a precautionary approach to GM crops and foods, in that they agree that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GM organisms are used in food or released into the environment.
These agreements would never have been negotiated, and the implementation processes elaborating how such safety assessments should be conducted would not currently be happening, without widespread international recognition of the risks posed by GM crops and foods and the unresolved state of existing scientific understanding.
Concerns about risks are well-founded, as has been demonstrated by studies on some GM crops and foods that have shown adverse effects on animal health and non-target organisms, indicated above. Many of these studies have, in fact, fed into the negotiation and/or implementation processes of the Cartagena Protocol and Codex. We support the application of the Precautionary Principle with regard to the release and transboundary movement of GM crops and foods.
Conclusion
In the scope of this document, we can only highlight a few examples to illustrate that the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced, complex, often contradictory or inconclusive, confounded by researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources, and in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.
Whether to continue and expand the introduction of GM crops and foods into the human food and animal feed supply, and whether the identified risks are acceptable or not, are decisions that involve socioeconomic considerations beyond the scope of a narrow scientific debate and the currently unresolved biosafety research agendas. These decisions must therefore involve the broader society. They should, however, be supported by strong scientific evidence on the long-term safety of GM crops and foods for human and animal health and the environment, obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent, transparent, and sufficiently diversified to compensate for bias.

Decisions on the future of our food and agriculture should not be based on misleading and misrepresentative claims that a “scientific consensus” exists on GMO safety.

The document was signed by 230 relevant scientists as of Oct 30 2013.


Ocean warnings
We have not been doing much measurement of the oceans compared to land and air; we are fairly ignorant of their systems and do not know their weaknesses and strengths. So it may be that the real climate crunch will sneak up on us and come out of the oceans. We do know that the rate of change in the oceans is unprecedented in at least most of the earth's history. We must go back 300 million years to see similar conditions of warmth and acidification.
There is talk of the 'deadly trio': warming, decline in oxygen, acidification. But I am not sure that there are not other factors to watch, circulation changes, for example, release of methane from the deep ocean or the loss of buffering that the oceans do for the whole planet. Certainly pollution and over-fishing are not helping.
Warming has been moving species towards the poles or to lower depths. This is a problem if the warming is faster than the ability of organisms to move and adapt. Many are sort of 'glued' in place and may risk extinction. Warming along with fertilizer and sewage runoff results in algae blooms that use up all the oxygen in the water. This causes dead zones where very little can thrive. When carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed by the oceans, it reacts with water to produce an weak acid. This damages many organisms. The combination makes the oceans less productive and the organisms in the oceans more vulnerable. We are over-harvesting the oceans and polluting them as well.
“Current conditions in the oceans were similar to those 55 million years ago, known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, that led to wide extinctions. And the current pace of change was much faster and meant greater stresses.” It does appear that we are in a beginnings of a mass extinction. Acidification has reached a level where it is harming coral reefs, crabs, oysters, other shelled animals, and some types of plankton at the base of large marine food chains. Enough acid would even dissolve the calcium carbonate structures surrounding many ocean organisms.
The latest audit by an international team of marine scientists at the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) in their report, The State of the Ocean 2013: Perils, Prognoses and Proposals, found that the world's oceans and marine life are facing an unprecedented threat by combination of industrial pollution, human-driven global warming and climate change, and continued and rampant overfishing. “The health of the ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”
Governments, all of them, know this. Why is it that they cannot agree to cooperate on stopping the slide to destruction? Why is money and growth more important then the future of life? What happened in the Poland conference is enough to make one cry.


A new common market
We once had a car with the country badge of EAK. People would ask we where or what EAK was. It was East Africa Kenya and at that time was one of the only signs left of the East African Union that the Brits set up when they gave Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania independence. Now 40 years later there is coming into being the East African Community. It is modeled on the European Union: single market, customs union, free movement of labor/goods/services/capital, single currency, a central bank/fiscal planning and shared infrastructure projects. They have been working on it for a number of years and are now signing protocols. The new community will have a population of 135 million and five countries: Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. There are a couple of interesting aspects of this. These country are still having tribal tensions and many citizens have much more identification with their tribe than their country. It looks like they will skip the nation state and go from tribe to regional community identity. It would be like the way they skipped into the digital age and left out the stage of laying copper wire all over the place. Mobile phones with computing power is their answer. Another interesting aspect is the inclusion of Burundi and Rwanda. These are two former French colonies that have asked to join the British Commonwealth. They have closer ties with Tanzania and Uganda then to other former French colonies. Tanzania and Burundi and Rwanda were together as a German colony before WW1. So it looks like the 5 are overcoming some of the legacy of colonialism while using some of it to their advantage. Finally, as a group they may be able to withstand some of the pressures that large European, North American and Asian nations (no names needed) seem to push on them. Good luck to them.

 
How to damage a company and a whole school system
If people want better schools they can look at Finland and some other countries but if they want to save money and win elections, they can follow what America did. Good education means good teachers and good teachers happens when there is a healthy teaching profession that is respected, proud and well paid. Here is part of an article by David Morris on the mistreatment of teachers in the States.
What’s Good For Bill Gates Turns Out To Be Bad For Public Schools
Schools have a lot to learn from business about how to improve performance, declared Bill Gates in an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. He pointed to his own company as a worthy model for public schools. Bill Gates foisted a big business model of employee evaluation onto public school, which his own company has since abandoned.“At Microsoft, we believed in giving our employees the best chance to succeed, and then we insisted on success. We measured excellence, rewarded those who achieved it and were candid with those who did not.”
… The Microsoft model, called “stacked ranking” forced every work unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, a certain groups as good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.
Using hundred of millions of dollars in philanthropic largesse Bill Gates persuaded state and federal policymakers that what was good for Microsoft would be good for public schools (to be sure, he was pushing against an open door). To be eligible for large grants from President Obama’s Race to the Top program, for example, states had to adopt Gates’ Darwinian approach to improving public education. Today more than 36 states have altered their teacher evaluations systems with the aim of weeding out the worst and rewarding the best.
… Needless to say, the whole process of what has come to be called “high stakes testing” of both students and teachers has proven devastatingly dispiriting. According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, over half of public school teachers say they experience great stress several days a week and are so demoralized that their level of satisfaction has plummeted from 62 percent in 2008 to 39 percent last year.
And now, just as public school systems have widely adopted the Microsoft model in order to win the Race to the Top, it turns out that Microsoft now realizes that this model has pushed Microsoft itself into a Race to the Bottom. In a widely circulated 2012 article in Vanity award-winning reporter Fair Kurt Eichenwald concluded that stacked ranking “effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”
This month Microsoft abandoned the hated system.
… Ms. Brummel listed four key elements in the company’s new policy.
•More emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
•More emphasis on employee growth and development.
•No more use of a Bell curve for evaluating employees.
•No more ratings of employees.
Sue Altman at EduShyster vividly sums up the frustration of a nation of educators at this new development. “So let me get this straight. The big business method of evaluation that now rules our schools is no longer the big business method of evaluation? And collaboration and teamwork, which have been abandoned by our schools in favor of the big business method of evaluation, is in?”
Big business can turn on a dime when the CEO orders it to do so. But changing policies embraced and internalized by dozens of states and thousands of public school districts will take far, far longer. Which means the legacy of Bill Gates will continue to handicap millions of students and hundreds of thousands of teachers even as the company Gates founded along with many other businesses, have thrown his pernicious performance model in the dustbin of history.