January 29, 2007
Use your own damn bank machines then...
From: The National Post
Banks asked why other nations get cash for free
Duncan Mavin in Toronto and Paul Vieira in Ottawa
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is demanding Canada's banks explain why they charge fees to customers for using automated bank machines.
Mr. Flaherty said yesterday he has raised the question of scrapping the fees with the banks, and he is awaiting their response.
Bank customers use the machines, also known as automated teller machines or ATMs, for more than a billion transactions each year. Customers are charged for some of those transactions - typically there is a fee of $1 to $2 for withdrawing cash from a machine owned by a bank at which the customer does not have an account.
The Finance Minister said he is particularly concerned to find out why Canadian banks charge the fees to their customers while banks in some other countries do not.
"The issue is that the practice by some banks in other countries is not to charge," Mr. Flaherty said. "Is there a justification or a rationale for that being particularly different in Canada than in other places?"
Banks in the United Kingdom and some in the United States do not charge similar fees.
Mr. Flaherty was speaking to reporters as Conservative MPs meet in Ottawa to discuss the government's strategy once the House of Commons reconvenes on Monday.
His comments on ATM charges echoed those of NDP leader Jack Layton, who held a news conference on a freezing corner in downtown Toronto yesterday morning to highlight what he called "these outrageous fees."
Mr. Layton pointed out that customers of Toronto-Dominion Bank's branch network in the United States do not pay fees for using ATMs while customers in Canada are charged for using the machines.
"TD Bank doesn't think its American customers should have to pay these fees - only its Canadian customers," Mr. Layton said. "Why do people in the U.S. and the U.K. get a break from their banks, but ordinary Canadians get gouged?"
The NDP estimates Canadians pay out about $420-million a year for the privilege of using ATMs. That represents about 5% of the revenue of the biggest banks in Canada, which turned in record profits of more than $19-billion in 2006.
Mr. Layton said the NDP will press for changes to the banking laws to eliminate the fees.
Given the current configuration in the House of Commons, the NDP is in the position of holding the balance of power. The recent defection of Wajid Khan from the Liberals to the Conservative ranks and the sudden resignation of Liberal Jean Lapierre means the Conservatives and NDP account for 154 MPs, compared with the 153 controlled by the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois. (One Liberal MP is the Speaker of the House, who only votes to break a tie.) There are two Independent MPs.
But at least one political analyst said he is skeptical that Mr. Flaherty would force the banks to roll back their ATM fees.
"I suspect the banks would have some tools at their disposal to fight that," said Nelson Wiseman of the University of Toronto. "What if the banks rolled up their ATMs? There would be a revolt."
"It is something that everybody would like, but it's not attainable and it's not going to happen. You are scoring points with your constituency - which is perfectly OK. That's what political parties are supposed to do."
Nevertheless, Mr. Flaherty has shocked the corporate landscape before, most memorably with his decision last Oct. 31 to slap a tax on income trusts.
The banks have already suffered a setback at the hands of the Tories. Among its first orders of business was to reject the big banks' push to be allowed to sell insurance products in their branches. This was seen as a move to appease insurance brokers, who are well-organized within the Conservative party.
The perception is that the Conservative party would be more receptive to the demands of big business. But political analysts say the party's values are more in line with small business owners, in contrast with the old Progressive Conservative party, which had the backing of the Toronto and Montreal financial establishments.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Bankers Association delivered the banking industry's response to the calls for an end to ATM fees.
The CBA, which is the main lobby group representing the banks, said the proposal is "anti-consumer and anticompetitive."
"It's like saying to clients of a gym, 'We're going to let customers of other gyms in to use the weight room. We're not going to charge them, and you'll be subsidizing their use of it,' " said CBA president Ray Protti.
"Mr. Layton said that customers in the United Kingdom are not charged these fees," Mr. Protti said. "However, he should realize that services are not delivered for free. There is a cost to providing banking services. Looking at one service in isolation does not take into account that the costs to provide it are recouped through higher costs for other products and services."
© National Post 2007
The failure of academia to protect our society and our values...
By RUTH R. WISSE
January 27, 2007; Page A9
The year was 1917. At the beginning of the spring semester, the Harvard Crimson reported that 1,000 undergraduates were ready to enlist in the Reserve Officers' Training Program (ROTC), including students from the law school, from other graduate schools, and even members of the faculty. The recent crisis in international affairs had created a need for qualified military leaders, and the editorial hailed the school's vigorous response to it: "That Harvard is the first University to adopt an intensive system of training officers should not be a matter of pride, but rather a basis for the hope that other colleges will establish the same system, and that the foundations of a great citizen army will be laid among our young men."
Ninety years later, Harvard leads in the opposite direction. John Kerry may have apologized for saying that those who make the most of their education "can do well," while the rest "get stuck in Iraq," but the same cynical message has long since been issuing from elite centers of learning. There are currently ROTC programs at hundreds of American colleges, but the faculties of Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Yale, Dartmouth and Stanford continue their ban on campus military training, a deficiency all the more striking in schools that offer a superabundance of every other type of activity.
Military service is a form of protection that the young must offer the rest of us. The age of undergraduates, 17 to 23, coincides with the universal age for military conscription. When the United States ended its draft in 1973, it turned the protection of the country and its vital interests over to a force of volunteers. At that point, the word ought to have issued from the academic community that democracy will henceforth depend on the readiness of the best and the brightest to volunteer for duty. Instead, faculties shaped by the antiwar movement drove ROTC and its recruiters from the campuses. Adding hypocrisy to injury, they later blamed the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gay enlistment for a ban that was already in effect!
Most Americans reacted to the attacks of 9/11. The president took the war to the enemy. Congress launched a commission of inquiry and began putting its recommendations into effect. Tens of thousands of families sent children and loved ones into battle. Democracies are notoriously - and commendably - reluctant to resort to military action, which means that almost every sector of society joined the debate over how best to respond to the aggression against us.
The elite universities alone kept silent. They did not undertake an inquiry into the reliability and adequacy of programs in Islamic and Middle East Studies, much less encourage those who "do well" academically to volunteer in the national defense. The only anxieties I heard expressed at faculty meetings since 9/11 were over the anthrax scare as it might affect the campus, and the potential encroachments on privacy of the Patriot Act. Not a word about new responsibilities the university might assume for a democratic way of life under attack.
This is not for lack of nerve among students. Back in 1999, following months of open debate, Harvard's Undergraduate Council voted to support bringing ROTC back to campus. A more recent Dartmouth student poll found students in favor of greater administrative support for its ROTC cadets. The University of California at Berkeley, which has Navy, Army and Air Force ROTC units, reports an increase in all three services. Even students who are themselves reluctant to join the military resent that classmates ready to make the effort should encounter roadblocks instead of encouragement.
Individual teachers have also spoken out for the return of ROTC to their schools. Harvard professor of economics Gregory Mankiw writes, "No one benefits more from the freedoms that the military defends than academics, who use the freedoms of expression more liberally than the average American. It seems particularly reprehensible for us to free ride as completely as we do." But not even Lawrence Summers, who spoke out forcefully in support of ROTC during his tenure as president of Harvard, was able to take on the faculty on this issue.
University administrations live in fear - but not of al Qaeda or the destructive capabilities of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il. They fear the tactics of disruption and violent uprising perfected by radicals of the 1960s and available to their heirs. The more prestigious the university, the more traumatized it seems to be by memories of riots it was once powerless to quell. Preying on those fears, dissident groups have learned to use the politics of intimidation to impose their agenda, as was recently demonstrated by a consortium of student groups at Columbia University that organized to prevent the speech of Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist. So far, Columbia's President Lee Bollinger has left these hooligans unpunished, making it all the more unlikely that he would risk inviting them or their peers to participate in the national defense.
Recent surveys confirm that university faculties have been tilting steadily leftward, but I think it is wrong to assume they have been tilting toward "liberalism" as is commonly assumed. Liberalism worthy of the name emphasizes freedom of the individual, democracy and the rule of law. Liberalism is prepared to fight for those freedoms through constitutional participatory government, and to protect those freedoms, in battle if necessary. What we see on the American campus is not liberalism, but a gutted and gutless "gliberalism," that leaves to others the responsibility for governance, and arrogates to itself the right to criticize. It accepts money from the public purse without assuming reciprocal duties for the public good. Instead of debating public policy in the public arena, faculty says, "I quit," but then continues to draw benefits from the system it will not protect.
The national and international crisis may eventually pull the elite universities into action, but by then, gliberalism will have done its damage.
Ms. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard.
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
Yeah, who really does?
Who Cares About The Poor?
By: ARTHUR C. BROOKS
January 24, 2007; Page A13
When control of the U.S. Congress changed hands earlier this month, it was clear that a raised minimum wage would be high on the legislative agenda. And indeed, an increase to $7.25 from $5.15 per hour raced through the House and is unlikely to face much substantive opposition in the Senate.
The Democrats have two reasons for focusing on the minimum wage. The first is poverty: $5.15 an hour is insufficient to support a family - according to the Congressional Budget Office, about 18% of workers in 2005 making between $5.15 and the new minimum wage lived below the poverty line. Democrats believe raising the legal minimum will help solve this problem.
The Democrats' second reason for a minimum wage hike is relative (not absolute) deprivation: They hope that raising the minimum will lower income inequality, which has been a concern of the political left for generations. The Democratic National Committee defended the hike by charging, "The federal minimum wage is so disgracefully low that now, during a period of extraordinary prosperity for the nation's corporations and wealthiest families, the average CEO earns as much in just a few hours on the first workday of the year as a full-time minimum wage worker earns the entire year." The economic chasm between the CEO and the minimum wage worker, in this view, is evidence of an unjust society.
While just about everybody - left and right - agrees that poverty is unacceptable (although policy makers disagree as to whether a minimum wage hike would help or hurt the working poor), conservatives do not share liberals' concern about income inequality. According to the 2005 Maxwell Poll on Civic Engagement and Inequality, self-described liberals are more than twice as likely as conservatives to say income inequality in America is a "serious problem." And while 84% of liberals think the government should do more to reduce inequality, only 25% of conservatives agree.
This is empirical substantiation for the old cliché that conservatives just don't care about the poor, right? Wrong. In fact, the data do not tell us that conservatives are uncaring; they actually tell us that conservatives are optimists. Conservatives are relatively untroubled by inequality, and unsupportive of government income redistribution, because they believe the American economy provides private opportunities to succeed. Liberals are far more pessimistic than conservatives about the possibility of a better future for Americans of modest means.
Consider the evidence. While 92% of conservatives believe that hard work and perseverance can help a person overcome disadvantage, only 65% of liberals think so. This difference of opinion, contrary to the convention, is not because conservatives earn more money. In fact, lower-income conservatives are about twice as likely as upper-income liberals to say they think there's "a lot" of upward mobility in America. If a liberal and a conservative are exactly identical in income, education, sex, family situation, and race, the conservative will be 20 percentage points more likely than the liberal to say that hard work leads to success among the disadvantaged.
Naturally, well-to-do liberals must be amazed at the gullibility of the millions of poorer conservatives who still cling to the idea of America's promise of a better future through hard work and perseverance. Sunny conservatives of all economic classes may very well prefer to see things their way about America. Are conservatives naïve, or are liberals unjustifiably dour? Reasonable people disagree on this question. One thing that is clear, however, is that conservatives' lack of anxiety about income inequality - and perhaps even their opposition to redistributive government policies - is evidence of a light heart, not a hard one.
Mr. Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Public Affairs, is the author of "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism" (Basic Books, 2006)
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
Hopefully corporations will be able to sidestep the latest socialist scam...
Support Grows for Caps On CO2 Emissions; Big Oil Battles Detroit
By: JEFFREY BALL
The global-warming debate is shifting from science to economics.
For years, the fight over the Earth's rising temperature has been mostly over what's causing it: fossil-fuel emissions or natural factors beyond man's control. Now, some of the country's biggest industrial companies are acknowledging that fossil fuels are a major culprit whose emissions should be cut significantly over time.
• What's New: With global-warming regulations looking increasingly likely, U.S. companies are gearing up to influence policy-making.
A growing number of these companies are pushing for a mandatory emissions limit, or "cap." Some see a lucrative new market in clean-energy technologies. Many figure a regulation is politically inevitable and they want to be in the room when it's negotiated, to minimize the burden that falls on them.
The broadening, if incomplete, consensus that fossil fuels are at least a big part of the global-warming problem signals real change in the environmental debate. The biggest question going forward no longer is whether fossil-fuel emissions should be curbed. It's who will foot the bill for the cleanup - and that battle is heating up.
Yesterday, 10 companies, including industrial giants that make everything from bulldozers to chemicals to electricity, joined environmental groups in calling for a federal law to "slow, stop and reverse the growth" of global-warming emissions "over the shortest period of time reasonably achievable." Tonight, President Bush, whose administration has rejected such caps as economically unacceptable, will deliver a State of the Union address in which he's expected to announce a bigger push for such things as low-emission alternative fuels.
In the center of the regulatory cross hairs are utilities. They're the world's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, the global-warming gas that's produced whenever fossil fuels are burned. Written one way, a cap would help utilities in the Southeast or the Midwest, which burn lots of coal, a particularly carbon-intensive fuel. Written another way, a rule would help utilities on the West Coast, the Northeast and the Gulf Coast. They use mainly natural gas, which produces lower CO2 emissions than coal, and nuclear energy, which produces essentially no CO2.
Auto makers and oil producers also are worried about a potential cap, and they're lashing out at each other. The Big Three auto companies are making speeches and running advertisements calling on Big Oil to crank out more low-carbon alternative fuels such as corn-based ethanol. Big Oil, in its own speeches and ads, says the auto makers should build more-efficient cars.
A U.S. Energy Information Agency study this month projected the economic effects of a cap-and-trade system to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions as proposed by senators led by Jeff Bingaman. Percentages below compare the projected level under the cap, in 2030, against the projected level without the cap.
• Change in annual GDP: -0.26%
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
Lobbying on the issue is ramping up. The American Iron and Steel Institute, which opposes any emission cap, this month assigned an executive who had been working broadly on environmental issues to focus specifically on global warming. Some companies that oppose a cap argue it would raise their costs and hurt their competitiveness against rivals in developing countries such as China, where no cap exists.
DuPont Co., the chemical giant, heartily endorses a cap in part because it figures it would help boost demand for energy-efficiency products the company makes.
Entergy Corp., a utility that's also pushing for a cap, had a lobbyist in the room last week when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, announced a carbon-cap bill. Entergy would likely benefit from her measure because the company's fuel mix includes a lot of low-carbon fuels.
"It was a hand-holding, kumbaya moment," says Brent Dorsey, Entergy's director of corporate environmental programs. "Every company is going to be playing to their own strengths and weaknesses" in the regulatory battle that's breaking out over global warming, he adds.
Among scientists, a broadening consensus has developed that fossil-fuel emissions are contributing to global warming; the debate has been over whether they're the main cause. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that periodically assesses climate science, cited "new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities." In 2005, representatives of scientific societies from 11 countries, including the U.S., called the science "sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action."
Still, uncertainties remain. Among them, the U.N. panel noted in its 2001 report, is the extent to which "natural factors" unrelated to human activity play a role in the rising temperatures. The U.N. panel is set to release its next climate-science report Feb. 2.
Fossil fuels provided 80% of global energy in 2004, and they're on track to provide 81% in 2030, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based energy watchdog for Western industrialized countries.
Significantly curbing their emissions would require sweeping technological change, from more-efficient power plants and cars to the potential injection and burial of massive amounts of CO2 underground.
Another possibility would be to reduce the rate of growth in fossil-fuel consumption by supplementing the fuel mix with alternatives, from nuclear power to crops to the wind and the sun.
Outside the U.S., many countries already have modest experience in emissions caps, thanks to the Kyoto Protocol. The treaty, which hasn't been ratified by the U.S., requires ratifying nations collectively to cut their emissions 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.
Several Northeast states and California already have announced plans to impose emission caps of their own. And a handful of proposed federal caps are under consideration in Congress. The least stringent is one from senators led by Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat. By 2030, it would raise gasoline prices 12 cents per gallon, according to a study issued this month by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and slow the rate at which U.S. coal consumption increases.
The federal proposals differ in the structural details of the "cap and trade" system they would set up to regulate CO2 emissions. Under such a system, the government would set a ceiling on how much CO2 the U.S. economy - or whichever sectors lawmakers pick - could emit each year. It would ink a corresponding number of pollution permits, each entitling the bearer to emit one ton of the gas.
Then, based on complex allocation rules it devises, the government would divide up the permits among companies. Those companies could buy and sell permits among themselves on a greenhouse-gas market like a Kyoto-related one already under way outside the U.S. Companies that decide it's too expensive to cut their own emissions enough to comply with their government cap would go to the market and buy extra emission permits from companies that ended up with more than they needed. The theory behind the market is to create an economy of scale that reduces everyone's cost.
Other regulatory structures are possible, including a straight tax on CO2 emissions. Politically, a cap-and-trade system is more popular than a tax. Environmentalists like the severity of an absolute ceiling on the amount of CO2 companies can emit. Industry likes the flexibility of a market in which permits to pollute can be bought and sold.
And cap-and-trade systems already are in use. The U.S. has had one for more than a decade to curb the pollution that causes acid rain, a regulation widely viewed as successful.
Still, Steven Rowlan, director of environmental affairs for Nucor Corp., one of the biggest U.S. steelmakers, warns U.S. industry is in for a shock if Washington follows Europe and imposes a global-warming cap. The U.S. steel industry already has gotten more energy-efficient in recent years, he says, so it would be unfair to require it to make further emission cuts while its competitors in the developing world, where emissions are rising fastest, remain free from a cap. The steelmaking process itself emits large amounts of CO2.
A smarter tactic, he says, would be for the U.S. to slap trade restrictions on developing-world steelmakers requiring them to meet minimum environmental standards as a condition for exporting their products to the U.S.
"The biggest hammer that the United States has is its market," Mr. Rowlan says. "And that, more than anything we do domestically, will have the greatest impact on greenhouse gases." Nucor, based in Charlotte, N.C., is considering running ads to drive this point home.
DuPont, on the other hand, is actively promoting an emissions cap. It thinks a cap would help its business. DuPont makes materials used in such devices as solar cells, wind turbines, fuel cells, and lightweight automobiles - all of which are likely to be in higher demand in an economy in which CO2 emissions carry a cost.
"We think there is a lot of market opportunity," says Linda Fisher, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who's now DuPont's chief sustainability officer.
But DuPont, based in Wilmington, Del., doesn't want just any cap. For one thing, it wants a cap that covers all sectors of the economy - not one that's limited to utilities, as are some proposals pending in Washington. The more industries covered by a cap, the more potential customers for DuPont's environmental products.
DuPont also wants a cap to award companies credit for past emission cuts they've made. DuPont already has invested to significantly cut its emissions.
Utilities, for their part, are split on whether they want a cap - and, if so, what kind. Where a utility stands on this issue depends largely on where in the country it sits.
Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, is the country's third-largest burner of coal, though it also has significant nuclear assets. It's pushing for permits to be distributed based on the amount of CO2 a utility has emitted in the past - a system that would protect big coal burners such as itself.
James Rogers, Duke's chairman and chief executive, notes that Duke already is assuming in its investment decisions that it will have to pay for carbon emissions. So it has begun investing in new plants that will burn coal more cleanly than today's plants do. He argues any cap should ensure adequate permits to utilities making such investments. "It's going to take several decades to bring this on," he says of the technology. "We shouldn't have an economic scheme that puts an undue economic burden on regions of the country that are reliant on coal."
Given Duke's coal reliance, it might seem strange that Mr. Rogers has emerged in recent years as perhaps the U.S. utility industry's most outspoken proponent of a global-warming constraint. His position is a bit "awkward," he notes, because he also serves as chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, the electric industry's Washington trade group, which opposes any mandatory global-warming cap. He's set to speak on three panels discussing global warming this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Rogers, wearing his Duke hat, says he's just being realistic. He has concluded a cap is coming - and that his shareholders are likely to do better if he can influence the details. "If you're not at the table when these negotiations are going on, you're going to be on the menu," he says. "This is about being at the table."
Fighting Duke and other coal-burners are utilities such as Entergy. Based in New Orleans, it uses a lot of natural gas and nuclear fuel. Unlike Duke, Entergy wants permits to be distributed based on a utility's total electricity output - a system likely to give low-carbon generators such as itself excess permits they could sell.
Duke's Mr. Rogers says that would amount to a "windfall" for low-carbon utilities. "Even though they don't need allowances, they would get them, just because," he says.
Entergy's Mr. Dorsey says his company isn't asking for a windfall. The permits Entergy would get amount to "a revenue stream that we will need to build a new nuclear plant," he says. Still, he allows, "because of our natural gas and nuclear, we will fare better than most" under a carbon cap.
Auto companies also are jockeying to shape a potential carbon constraint to their advantage. They've been playing this sort of regulatory game for years.
They already face a kind of carbon limit in the federal government's longstanding fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, because vehicles that burn less gasoline emit less CO2. Those rules give auto makers extra credit for building versions of their conventional vehicles they've modified to run on either gasoline or ethanol. Very few of those vehicles actually wind up running on anything but gasoline. But the credits let the auto makers build more thirsty sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks - the industry's bread and butter, particularly when oil was cheaper.
Auto officials who declined to be named said the industry probably will accept some toughening of the fuel-economy standards. But in return, it may seek bigger credits for selling vehicles that burn less oil, including those that can run on ethanol.
At the same time, auto makers want to ensure other industries get hit. In a speech last week in Detroit, Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said his company plans to build more ethanol-capable and electric-powered vehicles. But he also stressed "important roles for other industries, like oil and electric utilities, to name a few." He called for more tax credits and subsidies for alternative fuels.
The oil industry itself is mobilizing - including Exxon Mobil Corp., the Irving, Texas, oil giant that in the past has been outspoken in its questioning of global-warming theories. Scientific questions remain, says Kenneth Cohen, Exxon's vice president for public affairs, but "we know enough now -- or society knows enough now - that the risk is serious and action should be taken." Exxon isn't calling for an emission constraint, but it's starting to talk about how it wants one structured if one is imposed.
In November, Rex Tillerson, Exxon's chairman and chief executive, called in a speech for "steps now to reduce emissions in effective and meaningful ways." Then he listed two: boosting automotive fuel economy and cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at email@example.com
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
In Reversal, Canada's Conservatives Embrace Environmental Concerns
By: Doug Struck - Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 22, 2007; Page A13
TORONTO, Jan. 21 - Canada's Conservative Party government, faced with a strong public demand for action on climate change, is scrambling to rebuild environmental programs that it dismantled last year and offer new initiatives.
Two ministers for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government on Sunday announced the allocation of $26 million previously pledged to help preserve the giant Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia and unveiled a program to encourage homeowners and businesses to make their buildings more energy-efficient.
"The largest untapped source of energy is the energy we waste," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said in Toronto. Environment Minister John Baird, in Vancouver, announced the allocation of money for the rainforest, which will be matched by a similar amount from the province and $52 million from private sources to protect 21 million acres along the Pacific coast.
Harper's government is trying to show its resolve on global warming after the opposition Liberal Party elected a leader, Stéphane Dion, who pledged to make global warming the top issue, a stance that a majority of Canadians agree with, according to opinion polls.
Harper fired his environmental minister this month and offered plans last week to boost alternative energy sources and conservation. But many of the programs were simply different versions of those advanced by the previous Liberal government and scrapped during the elimination of many Liberal programs when Harper presented his budget last spring.
"Why did we have to wait a year until Stephen Harper has his back against the political wall, until we get old copycat versions of Liberal programs?" Dave Martin, an energy analyst with Greenpeace Canada, said in an interview. "Despite the greenwashing, it's not clear to me that Stephen Harper really intends to take strong action on climate change."
Last week, Harper promised to invest $1.3 billion over 10 years to try to harness "the mighty winds that blow across the land, the rushing waters of our rivers and the tides of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans." Other announced programs include plans to offer incentives to producers of renewable energy, promote research and try to clean up carbon released in power production.
Noting Canada's growing oil production - the country is the largest U.S. supplier - Lunn said last week that "we must not just become an energy superpower. We must become a clean energy superpower."
Despite the revival of Liberal programs, Harper and his Liberal Party rival remain apart on their approach to global warming. Dion is a strong advocate of the Kyoto protocols that set goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming; Harper contends that the Kyoto accord is unworkable. Harper is a proponent of nuclear power; Dion resists it. And Dion has embraced the idea of trading carbon emission credits similar to a scheme in Europe, while Harper's government remains skeptical.
But the Harper government's recent focus on the issue is a demonstration of the growing political clout of global warming issues in Canada and other countries.
"This is a government that didn't even use the word environment in its last fiscal update," said Parliament member David McGuinty, the Liberal Party's point man on the environment. "They finally realize that they are on the wrong side of both Kyoto and the fight against global warming."
Copyright 2007 - The Washington Post
Friedman gets a last word in...
Milton Friedman @ Rest
January 22, 2007; Page A15
In July last year, the late Milton Friedman, Nobel laureate in economics in 1976, granted an interview to The Wall Street Journal. Today we publish material from a question-and-answer exchange he had by email - shortly after their meeting - with his interviewer, Tunku Varadarajan, the Journal's editorial features editor.
Should China float the yuan?
Milton Friedman: Yes. Pegging the Chinese currency to the U.S. dollar requires that China follow a policy which over time yields an inflation rate that is compatible with, though not necessarily equal to, the U.S. inflation rate. When that is not the case, maintaining the peg will require control over foreign exchange transactions both current and capital. But China's future depends on their eliminating such exchange controls, on their opening the market as much as they can and as having essentially a free price system. Hence it is in their own interest to move to institutions which enable them to have as free a market as possible both internally and externally.
If they do insist on pegging the yuan, they will sooner or later run into a situation in which they are either accumulating an excessive amount of U.S. dollars or they are in debt for an excessive amount of U.S. dollars and they will have a foreign exchange crisis. Far better to have a floating exchange rate and let the market do the adjusting that is necessary to render developments in China economically compatible with those in the rest of the world.
Are you still a strong supporter of flexible exchange rates, even for developing countries?
Friedman: Yes. Economic forces affecting different countries are not always the same. The right exchange rate for a country in general may be one thing one time and another thing another time. A country that pegs the exchange rate is essentially committing itself to adopt the economic policies of the country whose currency it is pegged to. If it does that by pegging the exchange rate, it will always be under pressure as circumstances change to take advantage of the pegged exchange rate when they can and get into a position which is untenable.
The case of Argentina is the most dramatic and clearest case about that. Either a country should explicitly become part of the economic system of another country, as it could by dollarizing its currency as Panama has done, or else it seems to me it is best off by allowing the market to determine the value of its currency and in that way adjust to changes in the relative economic pressures on different countries. But flexible exchange rates are not a panacea for all evils. Governments can follow bad economic policies with either flexible or fixed exchange rates.
Do you still think it would be a good idea to have a computer run monetary policy?
Friedman: Yes. Of course it depends very much on how the computer is programmed. I am not saying that any computer program would do. In speaking of that, I have had in mind the idea that a computer would produce, for example, a constant rate of growth in the quantity of money as defined, let us say, by M2, something like 3% to 5% per year. There are certainly occasions in which discretionary changes in policy guided by a wise and talented manager of monetary policy would do better than the fixed rate, but they would be rare.
In any event, the computer program would certainly prevent any major disasters either way, any major inflation or any major depressions. One of the great defects of our kind of monetary system is that its performance depends so much on the quality of the people who are put in charge. We have seen that in the history of our own Federal Reserve System. Surely a computer would have produced far better results during the 1930s and during both world wars.
That raises a question about the desirability of our present monetary system. It is one in which a group of unelected people have enormous power, power which can lead to a great depression or which can lead to a great inflation. Is it wise to have that power in those hands?
An alternative would be to eliminate the Federal Reserve System; to reduce the monetary activities of the federal government to the provision of high-powered money, that is, currency and bank reserves, and to constitutionalize, as it were, what is to be done with high-powered money. My preference is simply to hold it constant and let financial developments produce the growth in the quantity of money in the form of bank deposits, a process that has been going on for many decades. But that is, of course, politically impossible.
Do tax cuts pay for themselves?
Friedman: Occasionally. But revenue loss is almost always less than static prediction.
Do you have any favorite candidates for president in 2008?
Is inflation-targeting the right medicine for monetary policy? If so, how would you do it?
Friedman: It is a good medicine with the present institutions. And recent experience suggests that it is doable. Targeting central banks have been able to hit their targets. Basic way to do it is to keep quantity of money growing at a rate equal to target plus trend rate of real growth. Full discussion beyond the scope of email.
What is the biggest risk to the world economy: America's deficits? Energy insecurity? Environment? Terrorism? None of the above?
Friedman: Islamofascism, with terrorism as its weapon.
What are your thoughts on the low U.S. savings rate?
Friedman: The right saving rate is whatever satisfies the tastes and preferences of the public in a free and unbiased capital market. Market can adjust to any rate. This is a very complicated question. Present estimates probably understate actual savings because of treatment of capital gains. In any event, the present situation does not raise any problems for the economy.
India - how do you assess its prospects?
Friedman: Fifty years ago, as a consultant to the Indian minister of finance, I wrote a memo in which I said that India had a great potential but was stagnating because of collectivist economic policies. India has finally started to disband those collectivist policies and is reaping its reward. If they can continue dismantling the collectivist policies, their prospects are very bright.
Any thoughts on a China versus India comparison?
Friedman: Yes. Note the contrast. China has maintained political and human collectivism while gradually freeing the economic market. This has so far been very successful but is heading for a clash, since economic freedom and political collectivism are not compatible. India maintained political democracy while running a collectivist economy. It is now unwinding the latter, which will strengthen freedom of all kinds, so in that respect it is in a better position than China.
Milton Friedman died on Nov. 16, 2006, age 94. There is a memorial for him today at Stanford University.
Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal
Go to hell Chavez!!!
Chavez to United States: 'Go to Hell!'
Sunday, January 21, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela - President Hugo Chavez told U.S. officials to "Go to hell, gringos!" and called U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "missy" on his weekly radio and TV show, lashing out at Washington for what he called unacceptable meddling in Venezuelan affairs.
Sunday's comments by the fiery leftist were in response to Washington's criticism of a measure to grant Chavez broad lawmaking powers. The National Assembly, which is controlled by the president's allies, is expected to give final approval this week to an "enabling law" that gives Chavez the authority to pass laws by decree for an 18-month period.
On Friday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Chavez's plans under the law "have caused us some concern."
Chavez rejected Casey's statement in his broadcast, saying: "Go to hell, gringos! Go home!"
He also attacked U.S. actions in the Middle East.
"What does the empire want? Condoleezza said it. How are you? You've forgotten me, missy ... Condoleezza said it clearly, it's about creating a new geopolitical" map in the Middle East, Chavez said.
In typical style, Chavez spoke for hours Sunday during his first appearance on the weekly program in five months. He extolled the ideals of socialist thinker Karl Marx, sent his best wishes to the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, his close ally and friend who has been sidelined since intestinal surgery last summer.
Other comments ranged from watching dancing Brazilian girls wearing string bikinis at a recent presidential summit to Washington's alleged role in the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"They took out Saddam Hussein and they hung him, for good or worse. It's not up to me to judge any government, but that gentleman was the president of that country."
Holding up a newspaper with a photograph of him gazing at a string bikini-clad Brazilian dancing samba during a summit last week in Rio de Janeiro, Chavez laughed and said: "I didn't know where to look ... It was truly a thing of beauty."
Chavez, who was re-elected by a wide margin last month, has said he will enact sweeping reforms to remake Venezuela into a socialist state. Among his plans are nationalizing the main telecommunications company, CANTV, and the electricity and natural gas sectors.
He said Sunday his government will not pay the market value for CA Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, or CANTV, but rather will take into account debts to workers, pensions and other obligations, including a "technological debt" to the state.
"I'll pay when the law dictates and in the form the government decides. I'm going to tell them that CANTV was given away, and that they shouldn't come here saying it must be paid for at the international price," he said. CANTV, partially owned by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc., was privatized in 1991.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense since Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup that he claimed the U.S. played a role in. The Bush administration has repeatedly denied being involved, although it recognized an interim government established by coup leaders.
Since then, Chavez has consistently accused the U.S. of conspiring to oust him and often asserts the CIA is working to destabilize his government. U.S. officials have denied trying to overthrow Chavez, but they have labeled him a threat to democracy.
Criticizing excessive consumption and self-indulgence, Chavez also announced plans in his broadcast to raise domestic gasoline prices and approve a new tax on luxury goods such as private yachts, second homes and extravagant automobiles.
He did not give details on the gas price hike, which he said would not affect bus drivers who provide public transportation, or the luxury tax. He said revenue from the new measures would be put toward government social programs.
Venezuela is one of the world's leading petroleum exporters and gasoline now costs as little as euro 0.03 a liter (12 cents a gallon) due to government subsidies.
Copyright 2007 - Fox News
Guess who's back... Back again...
By: Peter Rakobowchuk - Canadian Press
January 18, 2007
MONTREAL – The RCMP is taking "very seriously" a recent threatening letter signed by a group claiming to be a new cell of the FLQ, a Quebec terrorist group active in the 1960s and 1970s.
The letter, dated Jan. 15, says "strategic targets of importance" will be targeted in the western, largely English-speaking part of Montreal between Feb. 15 and March 15.
It mentions crowded shopping malls, bridges, rail lines, airport facilities, water supplies, municipal buildings and service stations.
"We will especially target traffic on main highways," it warns.
The letter says the plan of attack is designed "for maximum impact" and warns "it's possible there will be injuries and deaths."
The letter adds that "a combination of vehicles, letter bombs, remote-control explosive devices will be used and most of these devices are already in place."
RCMP Cpl. Luc Bessette said Thursday that businesses which don't conform to Quebec's French-language sign law were also threatened.
The letter, which is signed: "FLQ, Camille-Laurin Cell," is the second of its kind. The first one was received on Nov. 15, 2006.
Camille Laurin was a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister responsible for the province's language law in the 1970s.
The FLQ was a pro-sovereigntist terrorist group that carried out a campaign of bombings in the 1960s and sparked the 1970 October Crisis when a British diplomat was kidnapped and then Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte was kidnapped and later killed.
Bessette said the RCMP is not dismissing the threats.
"Anything that has to do with the integrity and security of our citizens is always taken seriously," Bessette said.
Copies of the letter were sent by the so-called FLQ cell to Quebec Premier Jean Charest and French President Jacques Chirac.
But the RCMP official stressed there's no indication those responsible for the letter can carry out their threats.
"So far we have no indication they can do what they're saying," Bessette added.
The Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, which includes Montreal police, provincial police, the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents have been investigating since mid-November.
The letter was sent to Bob Benedetti, described by the group claiming to be the FLQ as the "loudmouth" mayor of the Montreal suburb of Beaconsfield. He was "designated to distribute the message to his colleagues" in more than a dozen predominantly anglophone communities.
Benedetti said his staff were able to extract the letter from the mail and send it to police unopened.
"My staff were able to recognize it in the mail based on information the RCMP gave us regarding the first letter in November," Benedetti said.
Copyright 2007 - The Canadian Press
Happy anniversary to us...
By: Peter Schrank
A different politician might have chosen a different backdrop for this confession of failure. But as Canadians have learned from watching Mr Harper over the past year, their young prime minister is not a man to dodge realities, however unpleasant. On issues ranging from revisiting same-sex marriage to ending favourable tax treatment for business entities known as income trusts he has followed his instincts rather than the opinion polls.
It has worked. Instead of falling within months, as Canada's liberal punditocracy had predicted, Mr Harper has become an increasingly assured performer. The talk in Ottawa now is that, despite commanding just 125 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, his government may even manage to carry on until 2008.
Mr Harper took office in favourable circumstances. The Liberals, whom he ousted a year ago, bequeathed a robust economy and a large fiscal surplus. They did this despite lavishing large dollops of extra money on the health service, which has kept normally querulous provincial premiers happy. A dozen years in government left the Liberals tired, divided and discredited. They were in leaderless disarray until last month.
The prime minister has avoided making any big mistakes. Unlike his predecessor, Paul Martin, who had so many priorities he had none, Mr Harper has focused on just a few issues and concentrated on doing what he promised. He summed up his philosophy by saying, "I believe it's better to light one candle than to promise a million light bulbs."
He has carried out four of the five chief policies he set out in the election campaign: money for child care, a cut in the sales tax, tougher laws against street crime, and legislation to make politicians and the civil service more accountable. Completing the fifth—a cut in patients' waiting-times—depends on the provinces.
Mr Harper has been able to get things done partly because he centralised more power in the prime minister's office. Cabinet ministers must clear all their big speeches and news releases with prime-ministerial staff. Mr Harper makes all the key announcements himself, the relevant minister just a nodding head in the background. In this he is following a trend in Britain and other countries, notes Donald Savoie, a professor of government at the University of Moncton.
Although ministers with large egos might chafe, they have not done so publicly. There have been few leaks to the media. To help steer the ship of state, Mr Harper hired a seasoned first mate in Kevin Lynch, a senior financial official recalled from a post at the IMF to head the civil service. The result is a government that conveys unusual clarity of purpose.
Opinion polls show that Canadians approve of Mr Harper's leadership, but that has not rubbed off on his party. Recent polls have put the Conservatives neck-and-neck with the Liberals, both at between 30% and 35%. In Canada's regionalised party system, changes in allegiance take place slowly, says Roger Gibbins of the Canada West Foundation, a think-tank in Alberta. Others note that uncommitted voters may want to see more of Mr Harper before they convince themselves that he does not plan to inflict social conservatism on them, as opponents have claimed. "Conservative numbers go up when they focus on fiscal issues," says Nik Nanos, a pollster, "and down when they start freelancing on social issues like same-sex marriage, the gun registry and crime bills."
The year ahead promises to be harder. Mr Harper has now committed himself to a stronger policy on climate change, which will not be easy to achieve in such an energy-hungry country. A House of Commons committee is reviewing the issue: if it recommends stricter targets than Mr Harper wants, he could face a damaging fight.
The provincial premiers want the prime minister to act on his promise to redress "the fiscal imbalance". In other words, they want more federal money. That demand comes most vocally from Jean Charest, the premier of Quebec, who is expected to call his own election this spring. Mr Harper's best hope of winning a majority at the next federal election lies in picking up seats in Quebec. But the "fiscal imbalance" is a Pandora's box that Mr Harper opens at his peril.
Then there is foreign policy, where Mr Harper looks less assured. He has repaired relations with the United States, which frayed under the Liberals. But Canadians do not like their governments to be subservient to their more powerful neighbour. His opponents accused Mr Harper of just that when he extended Canada's military deployment in Afghanistan until 2009. That could become very unpopular if casualties mount (so far 45 Canadians have died there in the past four years).
Mr Harper's warmth towards the United States contrasts with his coldness towards China, which he has criticised for human-rights abuses. Chinese trade and investment are increasingly important for western Canada. This month he sent the finance and trade ministers to Beijing in an apparent effort to mend the breach.
The coming year will either make or break Mr Harper. He faces tougher opposition. The new Liberal leader, Stéphane Dion, is both an environmentalist and a Quebecker. Minority governments in Canada last an average of 18 months. Nobody in Ottawa is in a rush to force a new election. But sooner or later, Mr Harper's government will fall on a parliamentary vote of confidence. He is a skilful parliamentary tactician, and may be able to pick the issue on which that vote will come. The broader test of his qualities as a political leader will be whether he has chosen the right candles to hold up to the electorate.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist Magazine
Time to end the CWB...
The Canadian Wheat Board: Going with the grain
A plan to curb a venerable monopoly
Jan 11th 2007 OTTAWA
"WHY should I sell the Canadian farmers' wheat?" asked Pierre Trudeau, a Liberal prime minister, in 1968. By daring to question the existence of the Canadian Wheat Board he helped relegate his party to perennial fringe status in the prairie provinces, where the board has a legal monopoly over wheat and barley sales. Successive governments gingerly left the board alone. But Stephen Harper's Conservative minority government has no such inhibitions. It plans to remove the board's monopoly, thus possibly spelling the end of a venerable Canadian institution - and one of the world's biggest grain exporters.
The board, a government body, dates from the Depression, when farmers were going broke. It is responsible for quality control, sales and marketing. It fixes a guaranteed price, with the government covering its occasional losses. Its supporters, often smaller farmers distant from the American border, say that the board has turned Canadian wheat into a global brand that commands a premium price because of its uniform high quality. Its detractors among farmers say that they could beat the board's price by selling directly, and that decentralised sales would encourage local food industries. It is a sore point on the prairies that much of the flour on the country's supermarket shelves is milled in Ontario.
Mr Harper believes in smaller government. He is honouring a campaign commitment to allow farmers in the three prairie provinces - Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan - to sell their wheat freely. To that end, the government replaced three of the board's directors and, in December, its president. The opposition Liberals and the premiers of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (but not Alberta), want to keep the board. Chuck Strahl, the agriculture minister, has agreed to ballot farmers on the issue. But barley growers, thought to be more in favour of freeing markets than wheat farmers, will vote first.
The outcome of the votes is uncertain. Mr Strahl insists that the board can survive - albeit in diminished form - a transition to free markets, which he envisages by the summer of 2008. Environmentalists claim that a C$345m ($300m) biofuels programme, announced last month, is a subsidy designed to sway the vote.
The debate over the board has rumbled on for years. But this time change may at last happen. The Conservatives, whose heartland is in the west, won 48 of the 56 prairie seats at the most recent election. Their bet is that the farmers, however disgruntled, will not desert them for their opponents, who are seen as representing eastern Canada. With wheat prices high, some farmers see instant profits from the end of monopoly.
International pressure against the board is mounting, too. American farmers have long complained that the monopoly involves subsidy. The European Union agrees. John Howard, Australia's conservative prime minister (who is seen as a role model by some Canadian conservatives), last month stripped his country's wheat board of its monopoly following a bribery scandal. Though some prairie farmers stand to lose from free markets, Canadian consumers stand to gain from cheaper flour. Unlike Trudeau, Mr Harper has little to fear from taking on the board.
Copyright 2007 - The Economist Magazine
Why can't teachers unions ever just focus on the quality of their teaching?
Teacher's anti-Israel resolution angers Jewish group, parents, splits union
By: COLIN PERKEL
Wed Jan 17, 4:56 PM ET
TORONTO (CP) - Two Ontario high school teachers who want their union to condemn Israel's treatment of Palestinians have angered Jewish groups and raised questions about the politicization of classrooms.
The teachers' motion, to be debated Thursday, has also unleashed a torrent of abuse against beleaguered union executives, who say critics fail to understand how democratic organizations function.
"The level of discourse has been just incredibly low and vile," Doug Jolliffe, president of the Toronto district of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said Wednesday.
"But to turn and say we cannot have any kind of discussions on this... It's not Holocaust denial, where there is no argument to be made."
The motion put forward by Jason Kunin, an English teacher and Jewish activist who has frequently criticized Israeli government policies, and Hyssam Hulays, a computer science teacher, decries "Israel's continued violation of the human rights of Palestinians."
Among other things, the Toronto teachers want the union to develop classroom materials on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to support an international boycott of Israel.
Their motion also calls on the union to press Prime Minister Stephen Harper to criticize Israel's "aggression" against Gaza and Lebanon, and to end sanctions against the Palestinians' Hamas government.
Neither Kunin nor Hulays returned calls to their schools Wednesday.
The motion, similar to one passed by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees last spring, has alarmed pro-Jewish groups such as B'nai Brith.
They argue that egregious human-rights abuses in other countries are ignored, there's no condemnation of Palestinian violence, and criticism of Israeli policies can quickly bleed into anti-Semitism.
The group has urged subscribers to its e-mail alert list to speak out against what it calls "inherently, one-sided, biased propaganda."
Anita Bromberg, a lawyer for B'nai Brith, said the group is also concerned by the prospect of unbalanced and potentially damaging teaching material finding its way into class.
"If it's based on biased, one-sided rhetoric, that kind of propaganda in the classroom can be nothing short of a tool of racism in the wrong hands," Bromberg said.
"There's no doubt that one's personal beliefs can form the basis of debate in the classroom."
Jolliffe, who neither supports the motion nor believes it will pass, said B'nai Brith is trying to stifle the right of union members to put forward motions.
About 150 of the federation's Toronto activists are expected at the union's District 12 monthly council meeting Thursday where the motion will be debated.
Rhonda Kimberley-Young, provincial president of the 60,000-member teachers federation, said she was "disappointed" at the attention paid to a motion that hadn't even been discussed yet.
"This is two members in one bargaining unit in one district trying to raise an issue for local debate," Kimberley-Young said.
"I am frustrated because it is a highly sensitive issue, a highly divisive issue (and) to have an irresponsible public debate on this can be quite fractious."
The federation, which is divided into 130 bargaining units in 35 districts across the province, has neither considered nor endorsed the motion, she stressed.
Copyright 2007 - The Canadian Press