Posts Tagged ‘government’

The Nuclear Fusion Family

July 18, 2008

Recently, a Korean nuclear fusion research facility succeeded in creating plasma from hydrogen.  In fact, they were the second to produce plasma.  A Chinese facility also did it, in 2006.  This is a big step on the road to developing nuclear fusion as a viable source of clean, safe energy in the future.  It’s expected that there will be nuclear fusion reactors producing electricity by the 2040s.

Unlike nuclear fission, fusion does not result in radioactive waste.  It also doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.  That means it will be an integral part of a sustainable energy future.  Korea and China are partners in the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project, an international initiative to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source.  The list of ITER partners includes almost every industrialized country, except Canada.  Besides Korea and China, there is the EU, the US, Japan, India, and Russia.  Why Canada has not decided to pursue this is beyond me.

The government touts our new identity as an energy superpower, so why aren’t they investing in the energy source of the future?  The day will come when nuclear fusion and other sources replace harmful oil and gas powered plants, so why not be a major player in the new fusion industry that will emerge?  That would help maintain that energy superpower status.

The government also talks of significantly reducing greenhouse gases by the middle of the century.  Why not invest in a technology that will help make it happen?  By not being a part of this, it looks like they aren’t interested in expediting the development of a clean energy alternative because they rely on oil revenue.

Could it be that the cost is prohibitive?  No.  The KSTAR facility in Korea cost about $307 million.  Surely an energy superpower like Canada, which is doing quite well relative to other industrialized countries these days due to strong fundamentals and high commodity prices, can afford to develop a technology that will change the world for the better and secure its position as an energy superpower for probably the entire century.  Think of how much oil and gas revenue will come in over the next thirty-five to forty years until electricity from fusion becomes reality.  The costs pale by comparison.

We shouldn’t stop at fusion, either.  With energy and commodity prices as high as they are, we are in a luxurious position.  We should be investing in science and national projects that will challenge Canadian industry to develop the technologies and industries of the future, and raise our profile in the world.  The more successes we have, the more top scientists and success-oriented people we will attract, which will result in more successes.  This kind of success spiral will result in ongoing, sustainable economic growth as new technologies find applications in the consumer marketplace as well as in industry.  Think NASA.  The economic benefits from its Apollo program were enormous.

This is our opportunity.  Let’s take it.

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I Am Canada and So Can You

April 11, 2008

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.  Don’t ever allow yourself to fall into the trap of fatalistic defeatist bullshit thinking that says, “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  This one person made a difference.  In fact, I may have changed the course of a nation.

Almost three months ago I wrote about the proposed sale of MDA‘s space division to an American defence contractor and how the transfer of its Radarsat2 to American control represented a threat to Canadian sovereignty.  I also urged people to write to the Prime Minister, other relevant cabinet ministers, and their MPs.  A couple weeks later, I reported that some of you must have paid attention and spread the word because Industry Minister Jim Prentice had just announced that he would review the sale.

On March 18th, in an email to me and cc’d to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, he wrote that he was continuing his review and mentioned the criteria he takes into account.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because security considerations were pretty vaguely defined.

Well, yesterday, it paid off.  It looks like the government is going to stop the sale, as reported in this news story.  As Stephen Colbert would say, “I did it!”  You can thank me for saving the country later.  I’m considering changing the subtitle of this blog to “Saving the Nation One Post at a Time”.  And any goalkeeper, the last line of defence, will tell you that posts are his best friend.

Now, of course, I’m not the only one who was against the deal but, if I can toot my own horn for a bit, no one else seemed to notice or care about the security and sovereignty considerations until I brought it up.  I wrote emails to the media, too.  One sour note in the news yesterday was that NDP leader Jack Layton was trying to take credit for it and claiming that the government was coming around to his way of thinking.  I must have missed those speeches.  Maybe he expressed concerns about losing Canadarm, but I didn’t hear a word about Radarsat2 or security concerns from him.

The scale of this achievement shouldn’t be underestimated.  The network news reporters are saying this is unprecedented.  It’s the first time a cross-border acquisition has ever been overturned by the government for security reasons.  That it was done by a Conservative government whose priorities seem to be to guarantee and increase the flow of capital into the country and maintaining friendly relations with a security obsessed administration in Washington is even more noteworthy.  It is an indication that they are aware that there is something called Canada that is more important than any business transaction.  That is not a principle most Canadian governments could convincingly say they upheld.

I want to make it clear, I’m no commie.  I have no problem with companies making an honest profit, and I generally don’t like taxes.  But, there was a higher principle at stake, here.  It’s amazing what you can do with a blog, an email account, and knowing how to speak someone’s language.

The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away

April 8, 2008

A couple weeks ago, I received a very unwelcome letter from the government.  More specifically, it was from the Canada Revenue Agency, that branch of the government that is just one word short of a really funny acronym.  The ones formerly known as Revenue Canada.  You know, the people you pay taxes to.

Anyway, the Canada Revenue Agency people told me they had reassessed my tax return from 2006 and that I now owed them money, PLUS INTEREST, for the year or so that I hadn’t paid them, even though I had just been informed.  They said they had adjusted my Canada Pension Plan contributions downwards and that I now owe them $114.26.

I phoned the CRA and it was clear the person on the other end of the phone didn’t have a clue.  That didn’t stop him from being adamant the mighty agency employing him was right, even though he couldn’t tell me why I owed them money.  He put me on hold while he checked.  He came back and said the “system” said I had claimed more than I actually had.  He didn’t have my actual return in front of him.  If he did, he would have seen the correct amount.  Well, I did have my copy of the return in front of me – a photocopy  of the relevant page I had sent, as it happens.  He conceded that it was probably a clerical or data entry error that led to the wrong number being entered but maintained that I still owed them the $107.73.  The good news, though, was that I could probably appeal the interest of $6.53.  Yay.

I was sick with the flu at the time so my brain just wasn’t putting things together.  Fortunately, when I was in better shape to walk all the way up that hill to the mailbox to mail the bastards a cheque, I was also more mentally alert.  Something wasn’t right and I knew it.

I dug out the letter they sent and the reassessment notice.  I also dug out my tax return and supporting documents, including the original assessment that didn’t find this ‘underpayment’.  I added up the CPP contributions on the T4s.  Yep.  They added up to exactly what I claimed.  No overstatement on my part.  Then I looked at the reassessment.  Wait a minute.  This doesn’t say I claimed more than the amount on my return.  It says they adjusted it down from that number.  How can they do that?  I did actually make the contributions and I’ve got the documents to prove it.  They can’t just say I didn’t.  And, why does the “system” have a completely different number?  They can’t seem to get their facts straight and they don’t seem to be able to tell me why I owe this money.  The only thing they seem to be certain of is that I do.  Rather than sending a check, I sent a letter pointing out all of this and stating that if they still claim I owe them money they’ll have to give me a detailed explanation and justification for it.

Just a mistake?  Maybe, or maybe the government was spending money when they were swimming in it but, now that things have turned sour south of the border and there are signs of a slowdown on this side of it, there just isn’t as much money coming in as expected this year so they’re looking for ways to get some of it back.  So, maybe they’re sending out reassessments hoping people won’t question the government and just pay up.  That should help the books.

You may be thinking I’m a conspiracy theorist, but this isn’t the first time something’s gone wrong with the tax people and me.  A few years ago I decided to try their new direct deposit payment method for my refund.  After six to eight weeks, when it still hadn’t been deposited, I phoned them.  I was told it had been deposited into my account weeks earlier.  After telling the person that it hadn’t he checked my account details.  They had the right account number, but it had been deposited into a different account number entirely – one that wasn’t mine.  This happened about the time the financial scandals broke out in Ottawa, which only fuelled my suspicions further.  Either they get up to some fishy stuff with our taxes in that agency, or they make an awful lot of mistakes – with my money.

The Canada Revenue Agency People.

Go Ahead, Wreck Your Home

March 14, 2008

Do government agencies use subliminal advertising techniques?  For months now, the Lottery Corporation has been running commercials to promote their ‘play on-line’ service.  In other words, they’re promoting on-line gambling.

The commercials are ostensibly humorous.  One features a middle aged suburban man teeing up in his living room and driving a golf ball through the sliding glass patio door, shattering it.  Another has a woman rolling her bowling ball down a wood-floored corridor, which then crashes into the wall at the end and damages it.  Both end with the corporation’s web address and a voice-over telling you to “Play at home”.

The images in the ads seem to go beyond humour.  They appear to appeal to the habitual gamblers’ deep, dark desire to destroy their lives/homes.  It strikes me as unethical and very hypocritical, given that subliminal advertising is supposed to be illegal.  I guess the government will look the other way when they are benefiting from the revenue generated.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, subliminal advertising refers to using techniques or tactics in advertising that suggest something subconsciously.  There is always a grey area, of course, because much of an ad’s work is to create an image to appeal to a target market.  This is usually not achieved via directly spoken or written information.

A famous example of subliminal advertising is the image of popcorn or drinks on a single frame of film inserted into a movie in a theatre.  The audience doesn’t consciously notice it, but they suddenly feel the urge to buy some popcorn or a soft drink.  This would have been commonly done back in the days when there was an intermission.

These lottery ads remind me of the screaming faces airbrushed into ice cubes in liquor ads.  Those ads tapped into the fears and insecurities that the alcoholic feels.   Although the lottery ads don’t have hidden images, there does seem to be a subconscious message, appealing to an addict’s self-destructive tendencies.

This gives an indication of how much government depends on lottery revenues and begs the question, which is a higher priority for them – revenue or society?  Should government prey on its own people to generate revenue?

Just a thought.