Wednesday 22 July 2009

not a blog I

Up, Down.

Nothing has been broken
        though one of the links of the chain
is a blue butterfly

Here he was attacked
        They smiled as they came and retired
baffled with blue dust

The banks so familiar with metal
        they made for the wings
The thick vaults fluttered

The pretty girls advanced
        their fingers cupped
They bled from the mouth as though struck

The jury asked for pity
        and touched and were electrocuted
by the blue antennae

A thrust at any link
        might have brought him down
but each of you aimed at the blue butterfly
 Nada se partiu
        ainda que um dos elos da corrente
fosse uma borboleta azul

Aqui o cercaram
        Sorriam ao chegar ou quando em retirada
confundidos pela poeira azul

Mesmo os bancos tão íntimos do metal
        que usaram nas asas
suas espessas arcadas estremeceram

Lindas jovens avançavam
        seus dedos como ventosas
Suas bocas sangravam como se estivessem feridas

O júri pedia clemencia
        tocava e era eletrocutado
pelas antenas azuis

Um ataque em qualquer elo
        poderia tê-lo abatido
mas cada um de vocês mirava a borboleta azul

1. Climate Loopholes, Editorial, July 21 2009.
2. Stepping on the gas, in record amounts, Heather Scoffield & Jennifer MacMillan, Wednesday July 22 2009.
3. RCMP has work to do to restore reputation after court setbacks, Vancouver Sun, Thursday July 23 2009.
Climate Loopholes, Editorial, July 21 2009.

The House’s approval of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill earlier this month was a remarkable political achievement and an important beginning to the task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But in all the last-minute wheeling and dealing, the House bill acquired two big loopholes that the Senate must close.

The first loophole involves coal-fired power plants. Coal is the world’s most abundant fossil fuel — producing more than half the electricity in the United States — and also its dirtiest, with twice the carbon content of natural gas.

The House bill would limit emissions from coal-fired power plants in two ways. It imposes a cap on emissions from all industrial facilities that tightens slowly over time. It also sets tough performance standards on new power plants permitted after 2009, requiring emissions reductions of 50 percent or more. The bill would help underwrite advanced technologies capable of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground.

The bill does not, however, impose any performance standards on existing power plants. And it explicitly removes these plants from the reach of the Clean Air Act. This is a mistake. The overall cap on industrial emissions will not be fully effective for a long time, and, meanwhile, the government should be able to impose lower-emissions requirements on the older, dirtiest plants.

There is little doubt that the Clean Air Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to require existing plants to reduce emissions by, say, using cleaner fuels or increasing efficiency. But the House bill says otherwise, at least when it comes to carbon dioxide. The Senate must fix this problem by writing standards for existing plants into its bill or restoring the E.P.A.’s authority to do so. The old plants simply cannot be let off the hook.

The second loophole involves the tricky matter of offsets. Offsets allow polluters who cannot immediately reduce their own emissions to get credit for reducing emissions elsewhere. A rich country can earn credits by helping a poor country save its rain forests. Domestically, a power company can earn credits by, say, helping farmers capture methane emitted by animal waste ponds or cultivate land in ways that help absorb carbon.

Offsets are an important cost containment mechanism since it is usually cheaper for a company to buy offsets in the near term and gain time to install the new technology necessary to eventually meet its targets. But they can be easily manipulated. Academic studies have found that many of the offsets purchased by industrialized countries under the Kyoto treaty turned out to be bogus or produced far less reductions than advertised.

This is a very real danger with some of the offsets in the House bill. For instance, the bill would allow polluters to meet their requirements not by paying farmers to put new conservation techniques in place but by paying them to keep doing things they were already doing. The result is that money changes hands, but the atmosphere is no better off. Offsets must be real and verifiable, or the integrity of the entire scheme is at risk.

There are risks here. The Senate has already rejected much weaker bills. But the political climate is more favorable now than it has ever been, and Senate Democrats should not settle for half-measures.

Stepping on the gas, in record amounts, Heather Scoffield & Jennifer MacMillan, Wednesday July 22 2009.

While U.S. gasoline sales have slumped, Canadian consumption has soared to a new high

Thanks to his Ford Ranger, house painter Richard Gouveia has kept on trucking through the recession, relying on his pickup to get to work from his Toronto-area home and to haul gear from one job to another.

After a slump in business last year, Mr. Gouveia said he's now driving as much as he ever has.

Like many other Canadians, he hasn't cut back on the gas he uses, despite the recession, and in stark contrast to Americans who have changed their driving habits.

Gasoline consumption in Canada hit a record in April as consumers spent $1.839-billion, Statistics Canada said yesterday, using data adjusted to eliminate price changes and seasonal factors.

In the United States, in contrast, gasoline consumption dropped sharply late last year, and has since stabilized at a lower level, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Mileage has also dropped sharply for American drivers.

The Statscan numbers show consumption rose 3.6 per cent in April from a year earlier, although there's no specific data for 2009 to suggest Canadians are driving more or are returning to gas guzzlers.

But the fact that Canadians are doing better than Americans means they're not facing the same pressure to drive less, said Michael Ervin, president of refining and marketing consultancy MJ Ervin & Associates.

“People still have to get to work and pick up groceries,” he said from his Calgary office. “We haven't seen any discernible decline in demand.”

Mr. Ervin also pointed out that gas prices in April were lower than they were last year, despite being on the rise since the beginning of this year. But Canadians haven't been immune to the effects of the global recession and high gas prices.

Last summer, drivers cut back as the slump took hold in Canada and gasoline prices soared.

But consumption climbed again last fall and stabilized during the darkest days of the downturn. And when the labour market slowed its freefall this spring, gasoline consumption resumed its upward track.

Canadian gas use isn't higher across the board – sales of low-sulphur diesel, used by transport trucks, fell 7 per cent in the first four months of 2009 from last year. The drop was steeper in Ontario, which saw a 15-per-cent decline as manufacturers shuttered operations over the past year.

However, Philip Cross, chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada, said the latest gas use numbers are another sign that employment and incomes are not declining as much in Canada as in the U.S.

In Canada, auto sales have also picked up – in May, sales of new motor vehicles rose 1 per cent from April, mainly because of a 2.2-per-cent increase in sales of trucks, vans and buses. Over the past year, car sales have plunged 24 per cent, but truck sales have only fallen 4.6 per cent, Statscan said.

Many Canadians are still driving the compact cars they bought last year and earlier, when gasoline prices were rising, said Benjamin Tal, an economist at CIBC World Markets. However, with their more efficient cars, Canadians are also showing a tendency to drive more as they take advantage of their savings – a paradox of efficiency, he said.

“What you're seeing now is the ‘efficiency paradox' working beautifully,” he said. “You drive more miles because you think you're saving money.”

Fuel efficiency has improved so much that vehicles in Canada use 9.8 litres to travel 100 kilometres on average, the first time that number has fallen below 10 litres.

Auto industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers said he's skeptical that Canadians are spending more time on the road.

“Two-thirds to three-quarters of driving is related to work,” said Mr. DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont. “With these unemployment rates, the total amount of driving is down, absolutely down.”

Bob Bentley of the Freedom Ford dealership in Edmonton said he has seen a growing interest in fuel-efficient cars, but not from his truck-driving customers.

“In rural areas, people have always favoured trucks over cars and that trend hasn't changed,” Mr. Bentley said.

He added that trucks have also been insulated from big fluctuations in sales because of the built-in demand from people who need them for work, such as Mr. Gouveia back in Ontario.

RCMP has work to do to restore reputation after court setbacks, Vancouver Sun, Thursday July 23 2009.

When police obtain evidence by violating the rights of an accused person, judges sometimes exclude the evidence so obtained.

This is a serious matter, because it often derails cases against people accused of serious crimes. But equally, it is a serious matter for courts to admit the evidence, since it sends the message that police are free to violate the Constitution -- the highest law of the land -- in the course of their duties.

Consequently, when deciding whether to admit or exclude the evidence, judges must perform a balancing act, and consider the seriousness of the alleged crimes and the seriousness of the police misbehaviour. This is not an easy task, and last week, the Supreme Court of Canada issued four judgements aimed at helping judges to resolve the issue.

The court noted that evidence shouldn't always be excluded, particularly if the accused is charged with a serious offence, and if the police officers' inappropriate conduct is minor and unintentional. But if the police misconduct is serious, then it's likely the court will have to dissociate itself from that conduct by excluding the evidence.

And there are not many forms of misconduct more serious than lying under oath, since it is an affront, not only to the Constitutional rights of the accused, but to the court and the justice system, of which the police form an important part.

Despite this, we have witnessed several recent cases of police lying under oath. In one case, a recently released e-mail suggested that RCMP officers had discussed using a Taser on Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski prior to arriving at the airport, despite their testimony to the contrary at the Braidwood inquiry. The RCMP says it was the e-mail and the not the officers' testimony that was mistaken. That may or may not be so, but the public's faith in the veracity of the RCMP is understandably shaky given the comments made last Thursday by a judge in a separate case.

The judge, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Leask, concluded that two RCMP officers -- Cpl. Martin Stoner and Staff-Sgt. Peter Lea -- lied about the existence of informants when seeking a wiretap authorization from one judge, and then lied again in court when they tried to explain the false statements they made in seeking the authorization.

Aside from the violation of the Constitution and the court, this is a serious matter for other reasons. First Leask had no alternative but to exclude the evidence, which ended the Crown's case against the accused, who therefore walked away from serious charges without a trial. Secondly, the officers' behaviour reflects badly not only on themselves, but on the RCMP and the justice system as a whole. While most members of the RCMP likely perform their jobs with honesty and integrity, the behaviour of Stoner and Lea bring all RCMP officers under suspicion.

It would not be surprising, for example, if jurors in future cases consider RCMP officers' -- or all police officers' -- testimony as suspect. Such behaviour in fact affects the credibility of all police officers among all members of the public, whether they're acting as jurors or not. And we simply can't have a functioning justice system with such a level of distrust in the police.

Unfortunately, the RCMP have responded to Leask's comments in much the same they responded to other accusations of wrongdoing -- through denial and defensiveness. While admitting that the RCMP were concerned with Leask's comments, RCMP media relations Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said simply that they're looking to appeal the case. Yet it is highly unlikely that an appellate court will do anything about a trial judge's finding of fact that the officers lied.

Instead, if the RCMP is to restore its reputation, it needs to accept and acknowledge that some of its officers misbehave, and to take the necessary action to ensure it doesn't continue. The courts have done their part in excluding the evidence, but this won't deter police officers from misbehaving -- and thereby derailing criminal trials -- as long as their employer continues to support them. This means that in addition to taking internal action against officers who lie under oath -- that is, officers who commit perjury -- the RCMP ought to refer the matter to another force to investigate whether to lay charges against members who commit this serious criminal offence.

Ultimately, though, the recent actions of the RCMP in enabling members who act inappropriately reveals that the problem is not with rank-and-file officers but with those at the top of the organization. And this means that those at the top must be dealt with -- that is, it means that a thorough reorganization and restructuring of the RCMP is in order if members of the public are ever to regain trust in the people sworn to serve and protect them.


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