Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday, December 19, 2014
Sony Pulls The Interview After Threats
Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled the planned Christmas Day release of The Interview on Wednesday after an unknown person or group threatened to attack theaters that played the film. Sony’s decision comes after several major theater chains backed out of showing the film in light of the threats.“We are deeply saddened by this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”The threats, which warned of 9/11-style attacks against theaters showing The Interview, may have come from the same people responsible for hacking Sony Pictures late last month. Thousands of Sony employees’ emails and personal data have been posted online as a result of the hack, and Sony is still reeling from its effects.
It isn’t yet clear who hacked Sony or threatened the theaters, though some analysts have pointed fingers at North Korea. Pyongyang is furious over The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about TV journalists asked to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But no clear link to North Korea has been established, and the government has denied responsibility for the hack. (Source: Time Magazine)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday December 18, 2014
Canada helps end half-century U.S. embargo against Cuba
The “Government of Canada” and a timely nudge from Pope Francis were crucial ingredients in ending America’s half century of isolation on Cuba, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
In a 15-minute address from the White House, Obama singled out Canada’s role as a third-party broker, hosting secret talks that led to the historic rapprochement.
Obama said U.S. policy that “aimed to isolate the island” was rooted in events that transpired before most Americans were born. But the 1961 policy “had little effect.
“We will end this outdated approach … and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”
The new chapter started with the release Wednesday morning of American contractor Alan Gross, 65, from a Cuban prison where he had been held for five years. The U.S. in exchange sent back three Cuban spies in U.S. prison since 2001.
Speaking simultaneously in Havana, Cuban President Raul Castro echoed Obama’s remarks, praising Canada and Pope Francis for their roles as key mediators in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S.
“We have profound differences on sovereignty, nationhood and democracy,” Castro cautioned in a nationally televised broadcast, the Star’s Oakland Ross reports.
“But we reaffirm our will to dialogue about all of these matters.”
Reading from a sheaf of notes and wearing his army uniform, Raul called on Washington to remove a range of obstacles to better relations, including restrictions on family visits and on direct mail between the two countries.
The Cuban leader acknowledged that his U.S. counterpart cannot unilaterally remove the economic embargo Washington has long imposed on its Cuban neighbour — this would require an act of the U.S. Congress — but he said Obama could adopt measures that would “modify” the embargo’s impact.
While exercising tight political control over Cuba’s 11 million people, Raul Castro has also instituted a wide range of liberal economic reforms since taking over as head of the Cuban government eight years ago.
These include a rapid expansion in private enterprise. By one estimate, the number of privately owned Cuban businesses — including restaurants, beauty parlours, and small taxi services — has soared from 150,000 in 2006, when Raul stepped in, to more than 460,000 today. (Source: Toronto Star)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday December 17, 2014
Denmark challenges Russia and Canada over North Pole
Denmark has presented a claim to the UN, arguing that the area surrounding the North Pole is connected to the continental shelf of Greenland, a Danish autonomous territory.
Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said it was a “historic and important milestone” for Denmark.
Canada and Russia have already asserted their own sovereignty over the energy-rich Arctic territory.
Arctic nations have agreed that a UN panel will settle the dispute.
The focus of the dispute is the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,800km-long (1,120 miles) underwater mountain range that splits the Arctic in two.
Back in 2008, a US Geological Survey report estimated that as much as 22% of the world’s undiscovered and recoverable resources lay north of the Arctic Circle, but the North Pole itself is unlikely to have much oil or gas beneath its deep waters.
The 21-member panel investigating the competing claims to the pole will have to decide whether the scientific evidence put forward is valid. If the claims overlap, the relevant states will then have to negotiate, the spokesman said.
Mr Lidegaard said data collected since 2002 backed Denmark’s claim to an approximate area of 895,000 sq km (346,000 sq miles)- roughly 20 times the size of Denmark – beyond Greenland’s nautical borders.
Denmark, along with Russia, Norway, Canada and the US said in 2008 that the territorial dispute should be settled under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
After ratifying the convention, a country has 10 years to submit a claim to extend its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from its borders. Canada expressed formal interest last year, and Denmark’s deadline is about to run out.
Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen of Denmark’s Syddansk University said the government in Copenhagen had staked its claim, partly to show the world that Denmark could not be pushed about, but also to prove a political point to the people of Greenland. (Source: BBC News)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Pan Am Games expense claims include Argos tickets, dress shirts
Officials with the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games billed Ontario taxpayers for everything from dress shirts and parking tickets to orange juice and wine before reimbursing them, documents released Friday reveal.
The Toronto Pan Am committee released five years’ worth of expense claims and credit card reports — about 5,000 pages of documents — to all media after a newspaper filed a freedom of information request.
TO2015 CEO Saad Rafi said the government had no say in the timing of the “document dump” on Friday, one day after the legislature recessed for two months.
“We of course work with the government on all these matters,” said Rafi. “In the past the expense claims for the organization garnered a lot of attention, so we wanted everybody to have that information at the same time.”
The expense reports, which often do not include the name of the executive making the claim, show Pan Am officials frequently charged taxpayers for their coffee, bottled water and snacks. Some also put cash advances on government credit cards, at very high interest rates.
The inappropriate expenses, some going as far back as 2010, only turned up after the FOI request, and the reimbursements were made in recent weeks, said Rafi.
“I didn’t know they existed,” he said. “When I saw those things, I said you know what, that’s not going to stand.”
The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberal government has clearly not been able to change the “culture of entitlement” at the Pan Am organizing committee.
“If you’re appointed to a committee by a Liberal, you can basically expense whatever you want, that’s the message that I think the public is hearing now,” said PC Pan Am critic Todd Smith. “The scandalous spending is continuing even after the new regime has been put in place.”
The New Democrats said Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals appeared to have learned nothing from a similar scandal involving inappropriate expenditures at eHealth Ontario, which forced the n-health minister David Caplan to resign. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, December 13, 2014
Councillors want to give motorists and merchants an optional bus lane for Christmas.
The city created a three-kilometre dedicated transit lane on King Street more than a year ago to test-drive rapid transit along the busy corridor.
The contentious experiment, slated to end in October, has been prolonged because council won’t get a chance to see detailed results until January — and lane markings can’t be removed until the snow disappears.
But several politicians are ready to effectively kill the unpopular bus-only lane now by ending enforcement against drivers who ignore the vehicle ban.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it appeared to be a colossal failure from the outset,” said Coun. Chad Collins, who urged colleagues Monday to give unhappy King Street merchants an “early Christmas present.”
Collins said he’ll introduce a motion Wednesday at general issues committee to make the bus-only lane “nonenforceable” until council makes a final pronouncement on the experiment in January.
Council would have to formally sign off on the idea next week, but city staff appeared resigned to the possibility.
Public works head Gerry Davis said transportation planners would work with the councillor to explore methods to “safely” allow car traffic back into a lane that will still be marked as bus-only. That could include covering overhead signs and asking police to refrain from enforcing the rules.
Joseph Chatelain, general manager at Papagayo Restaurant, said he’ll cheer any move toward ending the project, particularly if it helps salvage the holiday season.
“I’d like it gone completely, but we’ll take whatever help we can get,” said Chatelain, who ideally would like parking to return along the right-hand lane in front of the long-standing restaurant. “It’s hurt us from Day 1. Our takeout service has gone down to nothing.” (Source: Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday December 12, 2014
A national restaurant group has asked the Competition Bureau to investigate a non-compete agreement between the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the Beer Store, claiming the deal restricts competition and inflates the price of beer in restaurants, bars and pubs.
Restaurants Canada also called Wednesday on the Ontario government — owner of the LCBO — to immediately cancel the agreement, which was first reported by the Toronto Star.
The Star reported on Tuesday that it obtained a 10-page document — signed by the LCBO and the Beer Store in June 2000 — in which the LCBO agreed not to sell beer in packages of more than six containers. It also agreed not to sell to restaurants and bars any of the major brands not carried in its regular stores.
James Rilett of Restaurants Canada said the group has known of the existence of an agreement for years, but it “did not know the depth of the complicity.” He said a neutral party now needs to look into what he called a “sweetheart deal.”
The Competition Bureau confirmed Wednesday that it had received a complaint from the group and that it will review it.
Restaurants Canada, which represents 30,000 food-service businesses, said that in the past, the bureau had not been willing to wade into the issue, but the group believes the deal must be investigated now that it has been made public.
“The agreement can be terminated at any point, simply by giving six months’ notice. If the government were to cancel it today, Ontario consumers would be able to have better service and cheaper prices by the summer,” the group said.
The brewers’ association hit back, saying the allegations were false and inaccurate.
“Restaurants Canada’s claims that the Beer Store sets beer prices and that the LCBO/Beer Store framework agreement controls beer prices are both categorically false and misleading,” said Jeff Newton, president of Canada’s National Brewers. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, Hamilton Spectator – Thursday December 11, 2014
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk unleashed her microscope on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government Tuesday. Here is what she found in her annual report.
Financing 74 infrastructure projects through private-public partnerships has cost taxpayers at least $8 billion more in borrowing and other expenses than if they had been publicly funded.
Infrastructure Ontario, the government’s P3 agency (as in public-private partnerships), made a risky $224 million loan to the MaRS Discovery District to bail out the new phase two tower.
Ontario’s ballooning debt, which was at $267 billion as of March 31, will be at about $325 billion before the Liberals plan to stop running budget deficits in 2017-18.
The government is not meeting its objectives on the $1.9 billion smart meter program designed to encourage consumers to conserve energy.
There is inadequate oversight of licensed daycare with only 50 per cent of new operators having on file criminal background checks for staff.
Ontario’s $250 million annual immunization program is not as efficient as it could be with 21,000 instances last year where the Ministry of Health paid physicians and pharmacists for administering the flu shot to the same person. A new vaccination registry, Panorama, is costing $160 million, which means it is $85 million over budget. Still, the government does not know what happens to 20 per cent of the flu vaccine doses it purchases each year.
There are huge waiting lists for residential services for people with developmental disabilities. As of March 31, there were 14,300 adults on the waiting list — compared with 17,400 actually receiving services.
Fourteen years after the Walkerton tragedy that killed seven people and left 2,300 ill, some key recommendations from the judicial inquiry into the tainted-water disaster have not been acted upon. (Source: Toronto Star)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 9, 2014
OPEC’s decision to cede no ground to rival producers underscored the price war in the crude market and the challenge to U.S. shale drillers.
Terence Corcoran: Nobody can truly say what the real price of oil should be — but looking at OPEC’s blowout, the world may be getting closer to the right number. Read on
The 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries kept its output target unchanged even after the steepest slump in oil prices since the global recession, prompting speculation it has abandoned its role as a swing producer. Thursday’s decision in Vienna propelled futures to the lowest since 2010, a level that means some shale projects may lose money.
“We are entering a new era for oil prices, where the market itself will manage supply, no longer Saudi Arabia and OPEC,” said Mike Wittner, the head of oil research at Societe Generale SA in New York. “It’s huge. This is a signal that they’re throwing in the towel. The markets have changed for many years to come.”
The fracking boom has driven U.S. output to the highest in three decades, contributing to a global surplus that Venezuela Thursday estimated at 2 million barrels a day, more than the production of five OPEC members. Demand for the group’s crude will fall every year until 2017 as U.S. supply expands, eroding its share of the global market to the lowest in more than a quarter century, according to the group’s own estimates.
mand for the group’s crude will fall every year until 2017 as U.S. supply expands, eroding its share of the global market to the lowest in more than a quarter century, according to the group’s own estimates. (Source: Financial Post)
Payday loan company is exchanging gift cards for cash at half their value
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, December 6, 2014
Payday loan company Money Mart is preying on vulnerable people by exchanging gift cards for cash at half their face value, and the practice should be stopped, Ontario’s opposition parties said Thursday.
The New Democrats distributed copies of a sign posted in the window of a Money Mart in Hamilton, which promotes “a new way to get fast cash” by trading gift cards for 50 per cent of their cash value.
“Why does this government allow Grinches like Money Mart to steal Christmas from our most vulnerable people in Ontario?” asked NDP consumer critic Jagmeet Singh.
“Forcing individuals who are already under a great deal of stress during the holidays to pay this extraordinarily high rate for an exchange is simply disgusting.”
Money Mart officials and the Canadian Payday Loans Association did not respond to requests for comment, but an employee answering the phone at a central Hamilton Money Mart confirmed the 50 per cent fee.
“It’s been pretty successful,” the employee said. The practice is being tested at Money Marts in Hamilton and Niagara.
Singh said Money Mart’s “predatory” scheme takes advantage of the fact many charitable organizations give out gift cards to clients to help them buy gifts and food for the Christmas holidays.
Tom Cooper, executive director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, wrote in an email that providing gift cards is “often a much more dignified approach than requiring people to line up at food banks or for Christmas hamper programs.”
“Unfortunately, it seems that Money Mart is piloting a project locally that seems to take advantage of this very vulnerable group.”
Cooper noted that others may get a gift card from a family member and want to exchange it, but that those people “may be having greater challenges paying rent or utilities during the holidays,” and, he said, Money Mart is taking advantage of “desperation.”
From my grade 12 or 13th Geography class at Parkside High School in Dundas, Ontario, 1986 or 1987. Ms. Reid was our teacher and this was a co-production among me, Brad Lyall and Graeme McIntosh, for a map project of an imaginary government run park. The SCTV humour influence is very much apparent. We got a 19 out of 20 for this, and deservedly so.