NDP finance critic Tom Mulcair told CTV Question Period Sunday that it was “highly unlikely” his party’s caucus would support any budget that did not reverse Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to lower the corporate tax rate from 17 per cent to 15 per cent, the final stage of a set of cuts announced in 2007.
“If Mr. Harper’s priority is to give more to the banks, he knows what to expect,” Mr. Mulcair declared, repeating earlier warnings. NDP MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that many in caucus are strongly inclined to vote against the budget because of the corporate tax cuts, even if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty bows to the party’s demands to cut taxes on home heating oil and to improve pension benefits for low-income seniors.
Both of the national opposition parties believe they have latched onto a potentially game-changing issue. In December, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who trails the Conservatives in the polls, said eliminating the tax cuts was an essential condition for Liberal support of the budget.
Since then, polls have shown huge public opposition to the tax cuts. A Leger Marketing poll commissioned by QMI News reported Sunday that only one Canadian in 10 favoured lower corporate taxes, while four in 10 wanted to see those taxes go up. About one in four thought the tax rate should stay as it is, and another quarter had no opinion.
Bringing down the government over corporate tax cuts could provide a winning narrative for the Liberals and for the NDP.
Nonetheless, the Conservatives are adamant that the planned tax cuts would go ahead.
“This is fundamental,” said Mr. Flaherty on Sunday. “We’re going to continue with our low-tax plan compared to their high-tax plan.” Mr. Flaherty is expected to announce the budget date as early as Monday. A few days after the budget is unveiled, the House will decide whether the government lives or dies.
Apart from being ideologically committed to increasing productivity and investment through lower corporate taxes, the Conservatives may be calculating that their supporters, about one in three voters, either endorse the cuts or at the least won’t vote against the party because of them, leaving the Liberals and NDP to carve up the anti-tax-cut vote, along with the Bloc Québécois in Quebec.
Nonetheless, Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Harper may still be able to survive the budget vote if they offer the NDP enough concessions that the party feels it must swallow the tax cuts in order to claim credit on other fronts.
NDP strategists said Leader Jack Layton would continue to push for a budget accord with the Conservatives, if only because it would help keep the spotlight on the party and its leader.
The Bloc’s demand that Ottawa target $5-billion in new spending for Quebec is so over the top that observers have written off the possibility of a Bloc-Conservative deal.
- NDP takes wait-and-see approach on Conservative budget (theglobeandmail.com)
- Flaherty to unveil fresh stimulus numbers (canada.com)
“Attempts to modify the weather are going on in around 40 countries now. China is the most gung-ho: the Beijing government employs around 50,000 people in various weather modification centres.”
At the height of the Vietnam War, soldiers who heard U.S. aircraft flying high over the Ho Chi Minh trail might have feared bombs were about to fall from the sky, or at least that reconnaissance pilots were taking pictures of the Viet Cong’s supply lines.
In fact, they had very little to fear. The planes were just trying to make it rain - but they weren’t very good at it.
The idea was simple: seed the heavy clouds with tiny particles of silver iodide whose electrical charge would pull together the cloud’s water droplets. Once enough droplets had gathered together, their weight would make them fall from the sky as rain.
Splash hit: Hannah Harbottle is soaked as shoppers take cover from a downpour in Cheltenham in 2004
The resulting deluge would turn the Vietnamese supply lines into a quagmire and halt the communists in their tracks.
Operation Popeye started in 1966 and ran for seven years. Pilots flew 2,600 rain-seeding sorties, but it was a dismal failure. There was a little rain but not enough to halt the supply lines. And it might well have rained anyway, even without U.S. intervention.
Fast-forward four decades and you’ll find the same idea, and the same controversial result, is back in play.
A Swiss company called Meteo Systems claims to have seeded more than 50 rainstorms over the Abu Dhabi desert last year.
Some scientists have rubbished the claims.
‘The Meteo Systems claims are really nothing more than that - it is a simple example of a chance outcome,’ says Dr Deon Terblanche, a weather modification expert at the World Meteorological Organisation.
Others say they might be true. Meteo Systems uses a technology that is new to this field: a network of towers that use electricity to electrically charge the air. The ionised air then seeds rain.
Professor Peter Wilder, of the Technical University of Munich, did not see the rain fall in the desert but he is keeping an open mind about this new idea.
‘I am convinced that the ionisation technology has the potential to work,’ he says.
Dr Terblanche is not. ‘There is no scientific basis to this technology,’ he argues.
So far, then, no one knows whether rain-seeding really does do what its supporters claim. Measuring the success of weather modification projects is like peering through a thick fog - and it always has been.
The American efforts in Vietnam were the culmination of a military project started by the mathematical genius behind the atomic bomb. John von Neumann had provided many of the essential calculations for designing the weapons that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war, he turned his attention to making a weapon out of the weather. He gathered fellow scientists at Princeton University and formed a team that would investigate how to wage ‘climatological warfare’.
The main idea was to create a drought that would ruin Soviet grain harvests or floods that would devastate cities.
Though significant amounts of money were poured into this secret programme, it never achieved reliable results. And as information began to leak, the public became angry.
Planes flying over South Dakota in a 1972 cloud-seeding experiment were even shot at by farmers. It didn’t help the government’s-cause when the South Dakota experiment was followed by a devastating flood.
The citizens of Rapid City sued the government after 238 people died when a year’s worth of rain fell in the space of a few hours.
Britain has had its own Rapid Citytype disaster. On August 15, 1952, floods struck the town of Lynmouth, Devon, eventually killing 34 people and leaving more than 400 homeless. The RAF had been trying out some cloud-seeding in the region, but as with Rapid City, the Government didn’t take responsibility. Lynmouth’s rain, the Ministry of Defence said, was coming anyway.
Attempts to modify the weather are going on in around 40 countries now. China is the most gung-ho: the Beijing government employs around 50,000 people in various weather modification centres.
Most of these are charged with making rain fall on arid, unfarmable land. But when forecasters said there was a 50-50 chance of drizzle on the National Day Parade in October 2009, Chinese scientists were told to hold back the rain. They did - they let loose 18 aircraft and seeded clouds in the surrounding area with silver iodide crystals.
It seemed to work because the parade in Tiananmen Square took place under clear blue skies. Whether that is due to the scientists, or whether it would have happened anyway is still hotly contested.
Rain is not the only weather in scientists’ sights. There are efforts to disperse fog - sometimes just heating the air seems to work for that. There are those who want to reduce the chance of a hailstorm damaging delicate crops or the structure of buildings. And then there are the truly ambitious projects that aim to untwist a tornado or halt a hurricane.
These projects actively harness the phenomenon that makes weather so unpredictable. Popularly known as the ‘butterfly effect’ because the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Wyoming could disturb the atmosphere and trigger a chain of events that results in a storm in Southport, scientists know this exquisite sensitivity to small changes as ‘chaos theory’.
When you are facing something such as Hurricane Katrina, chaos can work in your favour. The idea is that you don’t need to create a storm to fight a storm. You just need a tiny little push of just the right sort. Chaos theory can then do the rest.
If you could just work out how to blow the air in the region of a hurricane, or cool it, or heat it, you could push the storm out to sea. The same thing might work with depressions too.
The kind of weather system that brings us a spate of terrible storms often forms way out over the Atlantic Ocean. Computer models suggest that if we were able to warm a specific region of the ocean where the depression is forming, we could keep our weather pleasant for the weekend.
Of course, there are big downsides to all of this. One is that the weather belongs to everyone, and some people are nervous about their neighbours hijacking their precious rain.
In 2004, a row broke out between the Chinese cities of Pingdingshan and Zhoukou in Henan province. The province was suffering a drought, and Pingdingshan meteorologists decided they could use the city’s resources to do something about it. They commandeered anti-aircraft guns and rockets to bombard clouds with a fine spray of silver iodide.
Just a few hours later, around 4in of rain fell on the city. A little later in the day, when just an inch of rain fell over Zhoukou 75 miles to the east, Zhoukou officials accused the residents of Pingdingshan of stealing their rain.
Though this seems quaintly comical, it wouldn’t if those neighbours were India and Pakistan. It is easy to imagine the row escalating into all-out war.
That is why the World Meteorological Association suggests that weather-modification experiments that take place near national borders be given extra thought before they go ahead.
Of all our attempts to modify the weather, only one has been shown to work to the satisfaction of scientists. It was invented thousands of years ago by the enterprising builders of Sri Lanka’s royal palaces.
We adopted it only a few hundred years ago to protect our tallest buildings from the worst ravages of the British weather. A lightning conductor may not bring rain to the desert, but it might be the only weather-controlling tool we ever get.
Michael Brooks is the author of 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries Of Our Times, published by Profile.
- Is it possible to modify the weather? (independent.co.uk)
- Time for a rain dance? (eurekalert.org)
- Weaponized weather, both real and fictional [Extreme Weather] (io9.com)
- ‘Cloud seeding’ not effective at producing rain as once thought, new research shows (sciencedaily.com)
Watch at 0.50 secs and you must see 1:18 secs
The number of mobile phone subscriptions also reached the symbolic threshold of five billion, the secretary general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) told journalists.
“At the beginning of the year 2000 there were only 500 million mobile subscriptions globally and 250 million Internet users,” he said.
“By the beginning of this year 2011 those numbers have mushroomed to over five billion mobile users and two billion subscribers to the Internet,” Toure added.
An ITU statistician told AFP that the figure for mobile telephones related to subscriptions.
Fresh data posted online by the agency showed that the estimated number of Internet users had reached 2.08 billion by the end of 2010, compared to 1.86 billion a year earlier.
The estimated number of cellphone subscriptions worldwide reached 5.28 billion at the end of the last year, compared to 4.66 billion at the end of 2009.
“The very high growth in mobile (phones) is slowing and we’re reaching the end of double digit growth in mobile,” Susan Teltscher, ITU head of market information and statistics, told AFP.
With the world’s population exceeding 6.8 billion, nearly one person in three surfs online.
Fifty-seven percent of the users are in developing countries, three years after the ITU reported that Internet use there overtook developed nations.
The number of fixed broadband internet subscriptions in the world passed the half a billion mark for the first time in 2010, reaching 555 million, while the number of mobile broadband subscriptions surged to 940 million.
Meanwhile, fixed telephone landlines declined for the fourth year in a row, dropping just below 1.2 billion.
Asia and the Pacific spearheaded the shift into cyberspace, adding more than 100 million internet users to the global tally to bring the number of Internet users in the region to 857 million — largely due to China, Teltscher noted.
But the highest density of online surfers in the population is found in Europe, followed by the Americas, former Soviet states and Arab nations, according to the ITU data.
The most rapid online growth in recent years has occurred in the latter two regions.
In Arab states, the estimated number of Internet users has reached 88 million, doubling in the space of about five years.
Growth in Commonwealth of Independent States was even faster: 127 million people used the Internet there last year, compared to 51 million in 2007 according to the ITU estimates.
“They have been catching up because they had lower penetration rates before,” Teltscher explained.
- 6.1 trillion text messages to be sent in 2010 (news.cnet.com)
- Number of Internet users worldwide reaches 2 bln: UN (theprovince.com)
One resident, Cahyo Utomo, speculated that the odd piece of rice field artwork wasn’t man-made. “The circles were there since yesterday morning. I think they were left by an alien spaceship,” he said.
“It is impossible that this was made by the wind or any animal,” he added.
Whether crafted by humans or aliens, thousands of crop circles have been reported all over the world for many decades, but with a higher number recorded in England. And they’re not always circular, with some of the more intricate and complex ones looking like strange animals or even scientific symbols or DNA sequences.
The patterns are generally created by something that flattens various crops, like rice, wheat and rye, and they’re usually discovered by farmers in the early morning where they didn’t exist the night before.
In some cases, people have admitted being the architects of crop circles, by using ropes and boards to flatten the crops. But even that doesn’t explain all crop circles everywhere, which leaves many of them unexplained.
According to Moedji Raharto, the previous head of the Bosscha Observatorium, Indonesia‘s oldest observatory, “If this really is the work of a UFO or extraterrestrial beings, it is almost 100 percent certain they would have left some sort of trace behind.
“The chemical composition of the soil itself could reveal the origin of the phenomenon. For example, when a meteorite enters the atmosphere and forms a crater, it leaves traces of elements that are not common to the area,” Moedji said. He added that similar results could be expected in a soil analysis of the Yogyakarta circle.
This is the first crop circle reported in 2011. Slemen police chief Iwan Ramani wouldn’t commit either way on whether the circle in his jurisdiction was crafted by a UFO, humans or even a natural phenomenon. He’s still investigating.
Read more at The Jakarta Post.
The CRTC’s decision this week to give small Internet service providers a slight break on pricing has failed to quell a growing consumer backlash over usage-based billing.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decision upheld usage-based billing for small, independent providers that offer Internet service by leasing networks owned by large telecommunication companies.
But it ruled the larger telecoms must give a 15-per-cent discount off retail rates to those wholesale customers.
The decision could spell an end to flat-rate pricing for unlimited Internet data that smaller ISPs were able to offer as an incentive to attract customers.
Larger players have had data caps for some time, enabling them to charge users who exceed their Internet service plan allowance. However, many smaller players have been offering either flat-rate, all-you-can-use plans or very high data caps.
“If this decision goes unchecked, broadband is about to cost much more for Canadians,” OpenMedia.ca,a consumer advocacy group protesting usage-based billing, said in a release.
The move to usage-based billing runs smack up against the increasing amount of bandwidth-heavy Internet content now available to users, from movie offerings like Netflix, to music and online games.
And it has prompted a firestorm of angry response that has gone viral, says Steve Anderson, founder and national coordinator of the Vancouverbased OpenMedia.ca.
YouTube videos on usage-based billing have garnered thousands of views, a 40,000-signature-and-growing petition is circulating, and the New Democratic Party in Ottawa has added its voice to the protest.
“People are writing to their MPs, 40,000 have signed our petition, people are writing letters to editors. It is a really interesting grassroots community that has sprung up around this,” he said.
The major ISPs argue that usage-based pricing is fair, making heavier Internet users pay more than people who may only use it for email and occasional web surfing.
Shawn Hall, a representative for Telus, which wasn’t involved in the CRTC case, said providing Internet infrastructure is capital-intensive.
“It is an enormously capital-intensive industry,” he said. “Telus invested $1.7 billion on infrastructure last year and another $1.7 billion this year on broadband and wireless, primarily to offer Internet access over wireless or wired.
“It just wouldn’t be fair for a moderate user of the infrastructure we are investing in to pay as much as someone using a lot of bandwidth.”
Federal NDP digital affairs critic Charlie Angus has added his voice to the protest, warning that free and open access to the Internet in Canada is under threat. In a release, Angus said usage-based Internet billing will unfairly hit Canadian consumers and not just affect so-called ‘bandwidth hogs.’
- Opponents to usage-based billing working to appeal CRTC decision (techvibes.com)
“Natural causes appear to be the reason,” the Maryland Department of the Environment said in a news release. “Cold water stress exacerbated by a large population of the affected species (juvenile spot fish) appears to be the cause of the kill.”
The investigation comes days after the deaths of an estimated 100,000 fish in northwest Arkansas. Authorities suspect disease was to blame there, a state spokesman said.
In Maryland, preliminary tests showed water quality to be acceptable, officials said.
“The affected fish are almost exclusively juvenile spot fish, 3 to 6 inches in length,” the Maryland department said. A recent survey “showed a very strong population of spot in the bay this year. An increased juvenile population and limited deep water habitat would likely compound the effects of cold water stress.”
Large winter kills of spot fish have occurred at least twice before in the state, in 1976 and 1980, the department said.
- Mass Animal Deaths: The Mystery Deepens (lewrockwell.com)
GENEVA (AP) — A $21.7 billion development fund backed by celebrities and hailed as an alternative to the bureaucracy of the United Nations sees as much as two-thirds of some grants eaten up by corruption, The Associated Press has learned.
Much of the money is accounted for with forged documents or improper bookkeeping, indicating it was pocketed, investigators for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria say. Donated prescription drugs wind up being sold on the black market.
The fund’s newly reinforced inspector general’s office, which uncovered the corruption, can’t give an overall accounting because it has examined only a tiny fraction of the $10 billion that the fund has spent since its creation in 2002. But the levels of corruption in the grants they have audited so far are astonishing.
A full 67 percent of money spent on an anti-AIDS program in Mauritania was misspent, the investigators told the fund’s board of directors. So did 36 percent of the money spent on a program in Mali to fight tuberculosis and malaria, and 30 percent of grants to Djibouti.
In Zambia, where $3.5 million in spending was undocumented and one accountant pilfered $104,130, the fund decided the nation’s health ministry simply couldn’t manage the grants and put the United Nations in charge of them. The fund is trying to recover $7 million in “unsupported and ineligible costs” from the ministry.
The fund is pulling or suspending grants from nations where corruption is found, and demanding recipients return millions of dollars of misspent money.
“The messenger is being shot to some extent,” fund spokesman Jon Liden said. “We would contend that we do not have any corruption problems that are significantly different in scale or nature to any other international financing institution.”
To date, the United States, the European Union and other major donors have pledged $21.7 to the fund, the dominant financier of efforts to fight the three diseases. The fund has been a darling of the power set that will hold the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain village of Davos this week.
It was on the sidelines of Davos that rock star Bono launched a new global brand, (Product) Red, which donates a large share of profits to the Global Fund. Other prominent backers include former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives $150 million a year.
The fund’s inspector general, John Parsons, said donors should be reassured that the fund is serious about uncovering corruption: “It should be viewed as a comparative advantage to anyone who’s thinking about putting funds in here.”
But some donors are outraged at what the investigators are turning up. Sweden, the fund’s 11th-biggest contributor, has suspended its $85 million annual donation until the fund’s problems are fixed. It held talks with fund officials in Stockholm last week.
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Larsson said in a statement that his country is concerned about “extensive examples of irregularities and corruption that the fund has uncovered” in nations like Mali and Mauritania.
“For Sweden, the issues of greatest importance are risk management, combating corruption and ultimately ensuring that the funds managed by the Global Fund really do contribute to improved health,” he said.
The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress also has issued reports criticizing the fund’s ability to police itself and its overreliance on grant recipients to assess their own performance.
Fund officials blame the misspending on the lack of financial controls among the grants’ recipients, many of which are African health ministries whose budgets are heavily supported by the fund. Others are nations or international organizations without the resources to deal with pervasive corruption. The fund finances programs in 150 nations in all.
Among the corruption uncovered by Parsons’ task force:
—Last month, the fund announced it had halted grants to Mali worth $22.6 million, after the fund’s investigative unit found that $4 million was misappropriated. Half of Mali’s TB and malaria grant money went to supposed “training events,” and signatures were forged on receipts for per diem payments, lodging and travel expense claims. The fund says Mali has arrested 15 people suspected of committing fraud, and its health minister resigned without explanation two days before the audit was made public.
—Mauritania had “pervasive fraud,” investigators say, with $4.1 million — 67 percent of an anti-HIV grant — lost to faked documents and other fraud. Similarly, 67 percent of $3.5 million in TB and malaria grant money that investigators examined was eaten up by faked invoices and other requests for payment.
—Investigators reviewed more than four-fifths of Djibouti’s $20 million in grants, and found about 30 percent of what they examined was lost, unaccounted for or misused. About three-fifths of the almost $5.3 million in misappropriated money went to buy cars, motorcycles and other items without receipts. Almost $750,000 was transferred out of the account with no explanation.
—Investigators report that tens of thousands of dollars worth of free malaria drugs sent to Africa each year by international donors including the Global Fund are stolen and resold on commercial markets.
—The U.N. Development Program manages more than half of the fund’s spending, but U.N. officials won’t release internal audits of their programs to the fund’s investigators. Parsons said that has blocked him from investigating programs in the more than two dozen nations, including some of the most corruption-prone.
UNDP spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Sunday that the program’s policy bars it from sharing internal audit reports with the Global Fund, but that it is reassessing that policy.
“UNDP does, as a standing practice, inform the Global Fund about key audit findings and recommendations resulting from internal audits of Global Fund grants managed by UNDP,” he said.
The Global Fund was set up as a response to complaints about the cumbersome U.N. bureaucracy, and is strictly a financing mechanism to get money quickly to health programs. In just eight years it claims to have saved 6.5 million lives by providing AIDS treatment for 3 million people, TB treatment for 7.7 million people and handing out 160 million insecticide-treated malaria bed nets.
People should focus on those results, said Homi Kharas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and formerly the World Bank’s chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific.
“Without a spotlight, without investigations, and without some sort of accountability, it’s impossible to root out corruption,” he said. “But just simply withdrawing donations, I do believe, would condemn millions of people who are not involved in the corruption to terrible fates.”