Saturday, November 26, 2022

Biden says his administration is engaged in talks to avert railroad strike


U.S. President Joe Biden visits a fire station on Thanksgiving in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Thu, November 24, 2022 
By Nandita Bose

NANTUCKET, Mass. (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Thursday that his administration was involved in negotiations to avert a looming U.S. railroad strike that could shut down supply chains across the country but added that he has not directly engaged on the matter yet.

Speaking to reporters outside a fire station on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, during a Thanksgiving holiday visit, Biden declined to provide details on how the talks were going because it was "the middle of negotiations."

"My team has been in touch with all the parties, and in (a) room with the parties and I have not directly engaged yet because they're still talking," Biden said.

More than 300 groups, including the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, urged Biden last month to get involved to help avoid a strike that could idle shipments of food and fuel while inflicting billions of dollars of damage to an already struggling national economy.

Earlier this week, several of these groups renewed calls for Biden and Congress to swiftly intervene to prevent a strike or employer lockout ahead of the holiday season.

A rail traffic stoppage could freeze almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoke inflation and cost the American economy as much as $2 billion per day by unleashing a cascade of transport woes affecting U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.

On Monday, workers at the largest U.S. rail union voted against a tentative contract deal reached in September, raising the possibility of a year-end strike.

Labor unions have criticized the railroads' sick leave and attendance policies and the lack of paid sick days for short-term illness. There are no paid sick days under the tentative deal. Unions asked for 15 paid sick days and the railroads settled on one personal day.

The Biden administration helped avert a service cutoff by hosting last-minute contract talks in September that led to the tentative contract deal.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Friday, November 25, 2022

Ontario man captures 'unreal' wave resembling human face

Cody Evans, who reveres the art of coastal photography, said the wave bears a likeness to Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea

Author of the article:National Post Staff
Publishing date:Nov 25, 2022 
A Lake Erie wave resembling a face taken on Nov. 19, 2022.
Strong winds and high waves whipped up a surge of water that looked a lot like a human face in Lake Erie on Saturday.

Cody Evans, of Ingersoll, Ont., braved the storm and was there at just the right time to capture the leaping visage.

“I was kind of blown away,” he told CBC. “You see a lot of stuff like that in waves and in clouds, but to have it clear like that was just unreal. That photo sure stood out of all the rest.”

Evans said he waited out the worst of the snowstorm before heading to a beach in Port Stanley and knew that day was special.

“It was just crazy, it was like the perfect day. I’ve been going there for three years, trying to get good shots and that was by far the best day I had there,” he said.

Evans, who reveres the art of coastal photography, said the wave bears a likeness to Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea.

He captured 10,000 photographs that day, but the task wasn’t simple. The weather was well below freezing, and the 30 km/h winds stirred up sand and snow, which interfere with the shot, Evans noted.

“When it’s snowing, it’s difficult because your focus will bounce off what you’re trying to focus on,” he explained to CTV.

Evans uses a camera that can capture 20 shots a second, which lets him “get the whole sequence of what’s happening.”

The effect was created by the strong winds, which also causes lake-effect snow. When cold gusts sweep over the Great Lakes during fall and winter, it forms clouds that can produce heavy snow.

“We usually have an active storm track that runs through the lake this time of year especially in the wake of these stronger systems that bring in cold air masses,” Environment Canada meteorologist, Daniel Liota told CBC.

The well-timed shot also owes to the breakwater.

“The waves were crashing pretty good because the pier pushes the water back out into the lake so when the water is pushed back out, the waves collide and they cause those peaks,” Evans noted.

Evans said pursuit for the picture perfect shot is far from complete.

“I’ll have a camera in my hands till I can’t hold one anymore honestly, I love it,’ he said.
Braid: Albertans won't forget Smith's talk show years – because she meant what she said

Everyone who comes into public life carries baggage; Smith arrives with enough to fill the belly of a Westjet Dreamliner

Author of the article: Don Braid • Calgary Herald
Publishing date: Nov 24, 2022 • 
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks during the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors 2023 drilling forecast luncheon at the Westin Calgary on Wednesday, November 23, 2022. 
Article content

Even Premier Danielle Smith might get a laugh out of this. Or these days, maybe not.

The comic genius Buck Henry did a Saturday Night Live skit as a radio “shock jock” way back in 1976.

Frank Noland, the host, sits before a bank of phones that aren’t ringing. Increasingly desperate, he throws out one outrageous subject after another.

When the phones stay silent, he wraps all his bait into one final frantic try: “Killing puppies — it doesn’t bother me. That’s me, Frank Noland, and I LIKE dead puppies!

“I’m totally in favour of using federally supported municipal bonds to pay for forced busing of Soviet communists to come into your homes to kill your puppies!

“Give me a call, won’t you? The lines are open.”

Nobody calls.

Smith, of course, had no trouble getting calls as a host of her radio talk show for six years.

That’s because, unlike Frank Noland, she was taken seriously by people who liked her libertarian viewpoint. She meant what she said. Just as important, she listened respectfully to what THEY said.

Smith rolled their ideas around, discussing them with real attention, whatever the deep-space distance from the mainstream. And she repeated her own firm views about health care, Ottawa and many other subjects countless times.

Everyone who comes into public life carries baggage. Smith arrives with enough to fill the belly of a WestJet Dreamliner.

Now she wants us to set all that aside. In her TV speech Tuesday, she said that in her media career she discussed hundreds of topics, and “sometimes took controversial positions, many of which have evolved or changed as I have grown and learned from listening to you.

“But I know I’m not a talk-show host or media commentator any longer. That is not my job today.” The job, she added, is “to serve each and every Albertan with everything I have.”

Smith had a chance, right there, to explicitly disavow some of her more incendiary plans.

But she can’t do that without seeming cynical or insincere for all those years. Her core supporters wouldn’t like it, and Smith herself might feel she would be dishonest.

And so, we did not hear her say no, we will not continue to press for private health-care insurance with co-pay and deductibles.

She did not say — as she has before — that her idea for Health Savings Accounts, now official policy, is a pathway to much more private payment for health care.

She did not change her view that masks should not only never be forced on people, but never recommended by her as premier in any situation.

And it wasn’t just radio talk. She formalized many of her beliefs in a long section of a paper for the U of C’s School of Public Policy.

It came out just after ex-premier Jason Kenney said he would resign, and before she declared she would run to replace him.

A lot of what she says makes sense, especially on provincial finances. But her cures for the problems, especially on health care, are often right off the deep end of public opinion.

I don’t believe the UCP can win an election with those views still in question. They’re a giant political piñata for the NDP to shred for months on end.

Smith wrote: “Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves, then we can change the conversation on health care.”

In her view, the system “has to shift the burden of payment away from taxpayers and toward private individuals, their employers and their insurance companies.

“If we establish the principle of Health Spending Accounts, then we can also establish co-payments.”

When the paper was released in June 2021, she did a video interview with veteran journalist Mario Toneguzzi for Business Insider.


Braid: Smith pledges $2.4 billion of inflation relief in TV address to province

Braid: Smith's choices make her seem more moderate. But is she really changing?

She said it was a mistake to eliminate health-care premiums in 2008. (They brought about $1 billion annually into the health-care budget.)

Premiums “need to be brought back in a smarter way in the form of a genuine insurance program, where you pay some kind of deductible,” Smith asserted.

“You don’t need any major surgery in a year, you don’t pay any portion toward the cost. You have a major surgery in a year, you pay a portion of the cost in a deductible, just like you would if you had a claim in your car insurance.”

Depending on income, she said, a person might pay no deductible, or $500 or $1,000.

Does she still want to do that? Will she be quiet about it for now, and then do it after she wins an election? Does she plan to push health-care costs to individuals and private insurance companies?

Smith needs to be specific about all of this. Otherwise, she will eventually get the Buck Henry treatment. Silence.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.


Don Braid: Smith's health spending accounts aim at grooming the public for private payment

This premier was a professional talker for so long that we often know what she really wants, which can be quite different from what she now says

Author of the article: Don Braid • Calgary Herald
Publishing date: Nov 21, 2022 •
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks to the media outside Government House following the swearing-in of her new cabinet ministers, in Edmonton Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. PHOTO BY DAVID BLOOM /Postmedia
Article content

Premier Danielle Smith stoked many fires in her media days. Now she’s trying to stomp one out with her apparent retreat on health spending accounts.

First, she said people would pay for their visits to family doctors with these accounts. The government would seed them with an initial $375 payment, presumably to everyone who holds an Alberta Health card.

But Smith went much further than that. She suggested the private accounts would eventually be the ONLY way family doctors would be paid.

“My view is that the entire budget for family practitioners should be paid for from Health Care Savings Accounts,” she said in June 2021, in a paper written for the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

“If the government funded the account at $375 a year, that’s the equivalent of 10 trips to a GP, so there can be no argument that this would compromise access on the basis of ability to pay.”

Well, sorry, there is an argument. Many people need far more care in times of serious illness. The accounts would also discriminate against lower income people who lack the means to add their own funds to the account.

One GP calls the plan “short-sighted and knee-jerk, without due consideration of the vast array of concerns that a family doctor deals with.”


Opinion: Danielle Smith's health care would help the rich and hurt everyday Albertans

Critics worry Danielle Smith's health care plan will lead to downloaded fees for Albertans

Details of Danielle Smith's $300 health account met with more criticism, questions

Smith suggested Albertans put their own money on top of the government’s $375, get their employers to pay in still more, and even fundraise for their personal accounts.

She threw out these ideas before anybody dreamed she’d be premier. But she still pushes the accounts in her mandate letter to Health Minister Jason Copping, ordering him to “work to establish Health Spending Accounts.”

The premier now says people could use their accounts only for services that aren’t covered by public health insurance — physiotherapy, medications, whatever.

An excerpt from Premier Danielle Smith’s paper in the U of C School of Public Policy.An excerpt from Premier Danielle Smith’s paper in the U of C School of Public Policy.

There’s no more talk of physician visits being part of the plan. She blasts NDP Leader Rachel Notley twisting the truth, when Notley is pretty much pointing out what Smith herself has said.

This premier was a professional talker for so long that we often know what she really wants, which can be quite different from what she now says.

And the goal of these saving accounts is to groom the public for widespread private payment. That’s clear from her own words.

Smith said in the U of C paper: “Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves, then we can change the conversation on health care.”

She argued that the system “has to shift the burden of payment away from taxpayers and toward private individuals, their employers and their insurance companies.”

Even more startling, Smith calls for a “proper” overall health insurance system with deductibles or co-payment.

“If we establish the principle of Health Spending Accounts, then we can also establish co-payments,” she wrote.

“I can guarantee you as well that if the government creates this structure, business and non-profits will step up.

“Employers will make matching contributions to Health Spending Accounts. Non-profits will be established to make charitable contributions to the Health Spending Accounts of low-income earners so they can get a broader range of health services.

“Because that is the character of Albertans. We take care of each other. It’s what we do.”

In my experience, Albertans have always demanded a better system, but never one that makes them pay out of their own pockets.

Smith is toying with political explosives far more dangerous than former Premier Ralph Klein detonated in 2005, when he brought in the Third Way, a plan that would have allowed people to pay for upgraded surgeries and queue-jumping.

The uproar was so furious that Klein had to abandon the plan, but not before throwing a Liberal health policy paper at a teenage legislature page and shouting “I don’t need that crap!”

Smith’s wider plans would inevitably violate the Canada Health Act. A single public pay system is the very heart of the Act. Because Alberta conforms, Ottawa will deliver $5.3 billion to the province this year, 21.5 per cent of the health care budget.

Smith now says anything she does would comply with the federal law. But she constantly voices opposition to many federal policies and actions, claiming the right to nullify them.

It raises the question: would she use her looming Sovereignty Act for health care?

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid
Bell: Danielle Smith, what the heck is up with your inflation plan?

Opinion by Rick Bell • 9h ago CALGARY SUN

FILE PHOTO: Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews during a news conference in Edmonton.© Ed Kaiser/Postmedia

Stop the presses. Take the script back for a rewrite.

The good news sure didn’t last long.

Like less than 48 hours.

Premier Danielle Smith goes on TV and tells Albertans her $2.8-billion inflation plan is just the first step, with much more to be done.

The next day, Smith’s point man on the plan, Matt Jones, tells Albertans there IS more to come , some soon and some down the line.

Smith’s sidekick says what we saw rolled out by the premier was “an initial package” of inflation relief, not the full-meal deal.

This would be a good thing to say and a much better thing to actually do because Smith and her crew took the inflation file and decided to pick winners and losers.

All Albertans are equal but some Albertans are more equal than others, to fiddle with a line from the great George Orwell.

What is worse is the losers, those who got the short end of the stick, those who didn’t score cheques for the new select class of Dani Dollars , were singles and couples with no kids.

And quite a few of them live on far, far more modest incomes than the winners.

Households with a child or children get a cheque if their household income is up to a penny under $180,000 a year.

Seniors and it’s a cheque up to the same penny shy of $180,000 a year in income.

You see, we are told the Smith government considers these folks are feeling the pressure. They are vulnerable. They need the province’s extra help.

The Smith government has a surplus of cash to the tune of $12 billion-plus this year.

They also have enough dough to pay off more than $13 billion in debt, the largest such payment in Alberta history.

The amount of cash coming from the oilpatch is forecast to be an astounding record-breaking $28 billion!

The poor saps who are left out of Smith’s plan are told to be grateful.

There’s an electricity rebate, they are told. There’s the nixing of the province’s tax at the gas pump for six months, they are told.

Wonder how far that will go when the rent increase notice comes in at $200 a month.

Travis Toews is Smith’s budget boss, as he was former premier Jason Kenney’s budget boss.

Let’s just say, on this day, he is not exactly exuding empathy.

He cranks out bean-counter talk and doesn’t seem to connect to the questions he’s being asked.

He appears not to get it.

When the man is questioned again and again he goes on defence, repeating scripted talking points that don’t become truer because they are repeated.

Every Albertan is going to benefit. Every Albertan is going to benefit.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Some who should benefit a lot, benefit little.

“It is a very substantial package,” counters Toews.

Again, for some.

“It is targeted to those who are most vulnerable.”

A family with one kid and a yearly income of … let’s say … $175,000 is more “vulnerable” than a childless couple at $50,000 a year or a single person at $35,000.

Hope that’s not the math in the new school curriculum.

Alas, the endgame is this. There is NO indication there will be more. NONE. That much is clear. Smith and Jones must not have got the memo.

Somewhere along the way the subject of putting a cap on insurance premium hikes also comes up and Toews figures the premiums haven’t gone up.

It’s hopeless. Guess the insurance company mucky-mucks enjoy the same clout they had when Jason Kenney was premier.

Toews is asked again and again about the winners and losers in Smith’s plan.

The most he will admit is a very, very few may not benefit much.

He is sure we can all find a specific example of the very, very few, as if to say: What does that prove?

Toews adds Alberta is providing more support than any other province.

Last time anyone looked, other provinces don’t scoop $28 billion of black gold in one year.

Toews says in Alberta we have a “real affordability advantage.”

Why is Charles Dickens suddenly floating into my brain?

Seems some politicians need a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Trevor Tombe, a noted economist, says the inflation-fighting money is coming out of surplus dollars and the incredible windfall from the oilpatch.

A one-time payment to everyone would have been so easy. And added measures for the truly most vulnerable could still be funded.

“It’s fair. If you’re thinking about it as a dividend out of our now-incredibly valuable resources, well then, every Albertan is an owner of those resources and therefore is entitled to such a dividend.”

Shannon Phillips of the NDP weighs in. Talk about shooting fish in the barrel.

Phillips figures Smith’s approach is frantic and chaotic, creating a plan on the back of a napkin, and the Smith government is “perfectly willing to write off entire segments of society.”

Does she think Smith will add more fairness to her inflation plan?

“They don’t know whether they’re coming or going, these guys. They are throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

Meanwhile, Smith’s budget boss Toews insists “we’re leaving no one behind.”

Yeah right.

Friday's letters: Policies mean more to voters than Smith's PR

Story by Edmonton Journal • 9h ago

Premier Danielle Smith during her televised address to Albertans on Tuesday, Nov. 22,

Re. “Smith uses TV time to temper scarier parts of her image,” David Staples, Nov. 24

Mr. Staples seems to feel that all it will take is for an obvious public relations exercise to manipulate Danielle Smith’s image for Ms. Smith to win the next provincial election. I have news for Mr. Staples. Values, policies, and character will make more of a difference. Rachel Notley is clearly more in tune with her fellow Albertans today than is Danielle Smith. No amount of media scrubbing is going to change that fact.

Karlis Poruks, Edmonton

No bribe, no guilt in voting Smith out
Well, thank goodness, I do not fit the criteria for “Smith Bucks.” I will feel no guilt about the bribe from our premier in six months come voting time. Whew!

Grant Hammond, Edmonton


Edmonton's Clover Bar landfill still not capped and releasing gas after 13 years, new capture technology planned

“There’s very harmful landfill gas that is able to escape through the top of it. We need to cap it, we need to put three feet of clay on top of it."

Author of the article: Lauren Boothby
Publishing date: Nov 25, 2022 • 
Heavy equipment is used to moved garbage at the Clover Bar landfill when it was still operating in 2005. Postmedia, file
Article content

Edmonton’s Clover Bar landfill is still uncovered and releasing fumes more than a decade after closing to the public, and new capture technology is in the works to convert its methane into renewable biogas for sale.

City council’s utility committee met privately Friday to get an update on the landfill-gas-to-renewable-gas conversion project at the Clover Bar landfill. The project was approved in February 2021, also in private, and is expected to be complete by mid-2024.

What was discussed at Friday’s meeting isn’t known, but Edmonton waste services’ utility rate filing offers some details about remediating the landfill, the new renewable natural gas facility, and funding. The waste services branch plans to spend $9.7 million next year and $3.3 million in 2024, along with a $10-million provincial grant, the city confirmed. Some cash will come from the waste services liability fund collected over the years. $1 million has been spent to date.

Capital Power is paying for a portion of the costs and will co-own the site, sharing the profits with the city, although the city would not confirm the contribution or payout.

Capital Power already runs a collection system converting landfill gas into electricity but it is aging and captured less than half of the emissions as of 2018, according to a previous utility rate filing.

Capping landfill would have big impact on greenhouse gas emissions

Before the meeting, waste services branch manager Denis Jubinville told the utility committee that covering the landfill is likely the biggest impact waste services can have on reducing greenhouse gases in the region. This work will be done alongside creating the conversion system.

“There’s very harmful landfill gas that is able to escape through the top of it. We need to cap it, we need to put three feet of clay on top of it,” he told councillors. “That will be a significant reduction in greenhouse gas.”

In an interview, Jubinville couldn’t say why the site hasn’t been covered since 2009 — he only took over leadership about a year-and-a-half ago — but said it takes a long time.

However, doing so is a priority for Jubinville, especially because the old landfill is full of organic waste.

“When (organics) decompose they create gas, and that’s really, really bad greenhouse gas. That’s methane, and that’s really bad for the environment, and because we don’t have a really thick layer of dirt on top, it’s going into our atmosphere right now,” Jubinville told Postmedia. “We really need to cap it.”

The city did not confirm the expected emissions reduction by deadline. However, according to the 2021 utility rate filing, the renewable natural gas technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 149,500 tonnes per year, and more than 2.5 million tonnes by 2040.

Postmedia files show the original plan for Clover Bar landfill was to cover it fully with native vegetation and link the site to trails in the river valley

Former waste management spokesman Gary Spotowski told the Edmonton Journal in 2009 that Clover Bar would continue releasing gas for 40 to 50 years, but it wasn’t a danger to the public.

At the time, Spotowski said “improved compaction” at the landfill meant when it’s fully covered it won’t create several small hills such as those in Rundle Park — which used to be the Beverly dump

Converting landfill gas to renewable natural gas, and putting it into the distribution network for sale, will be a first-of-its kind project in Alberta.

According to the capital profile in the 2023-2024 rate filing, the waste services branch chose a technology called pressure swing absorption because it is proven and reliable, conserving up to 98 per cent of the methane drawn out during the process.

Once collected, landfill gas is sent into a system to remove impurities like water, siloxane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. This conditioned gas is fed into what’s called a pressure swing absorption upgrading unit that has a series of vertical towers connected by a complex network of valves and switches, cycling the gas between low pressure and high pressure where chemicals like carbon dioxide are absorbed, while others are captured in a filter.

This system is expected to generate up to 245,000 GJ per year for at least 20 years and bring in $3 million of revenue annually. The 2021 version of the capital profile said it would capture more than 75 per cent of the currently generated gas.

‘Pressure cooker’

While Jubinville thinks covering the landfill is important, it’s a complicated and long process. As they age, landfills can become unstable, he said.

“When you cap it, you’re creating a pressure cooker. It is still decomposing, and it’s creating pressure inside of this landfill, so we need a system to relieve that pressure.”

If the cover is too heavy, the sides could be pushed out and spill into the North Saskatchewan River. Reinforcing the riverbank is another part of the plan to prevent this from happening.

The methane created can be released, burned, or used for another purpose — in this case, drilling wells into the mound to pull out liquid and gas to be converted to renewable natural gas.

“If we can use this gas in an effective way in converting it into renewable natural gas, it is to the benefit of our community,” Jubinville said.

The Clover Bar landfill opened in 1975, closed in August 2009, and was Edmonton’s first engineered sanitary landfill. It lasted 20 years longer than expected after recycling programs were introduced in the late 1980s. The secondary landfill, which was built after the 1987 tornado, ceased operations in 2008 
Edmonton school boards, ATA respond to province's masking, online learning policies

Story by Madeline Smith , Anna Junker • 

Students are pictured at Svend Hansen School in Edmonton on Oct. 19, 2022.
© Provided by Edmonton Journal

Edmonton’s two biggest school boards say they welcome the “clarity” provided by the province’s new policies on masking and online learning in schools.

Alberta’s United Conservative government announced changes to regulations Thursday that prevent school authorities from moving to online-only classes and state that mask-wearing can’t be a condition of attending in-person learning.

Mask mandates haven’t been in effect in schools since February, but a recent Court of King’s Bench of Alberta decision found the provincial government acted “unreasonably” last winter when it lifted the school COVID-19 mask requirement. At the time, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange told school authorities in a letter that they would not have the power to require students to wear masks, but Justice Grant Dunlop concluded that the minister’s words were not a regulation, so they didn’t actually prohibit school boards from taking action.

As schools have struggled with surging respiratory illnesses that have spiked student absenteeism rates this month, school authorities have been pushing for answers on what metrics would prompt the return of public health measures, and who should be expected to make the decision.

Alberta government restricts online-only learning in schools

Edmonton Public Schools requests data on health protocols after spike in student illnesses

Both board chairwomen for Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools said Friday that the province has now given a clear answer on whether boards have the authority to implement health-related decisions.

“I think all Albertans now understand that it’s not within the jurisdiction and nor should it ever have been within the jurisdiction of individual school boards to make decisions that belong to health officials,” Edmonton Public Schools chairwoman Trisha Estabrooks said.

Edmonton Catholic Schools chairwoman Sandra Palazzo echoed the sentiment.

“We’re looking to our medical officials to make these decisions,” she said.

Emily Peckham, a spokesperson for LaGrange, said Friday that the government’s intent is to give guidance on measures “that may limit access to education.”

“Some school authorities have recently considered implementing at-home learning due to high rates of staff illness and some interest groups have been calling for school authorities to implement mask mandates,” she said.

“Given that there are currently no health orders to support these decisions, we are ensuring a consistent approach across the province.”

Edmonton Catholic Schools board chairwoman Sandra Palazzo responds to new provincial government regulations on masking in schools and the use of online learning in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. David Bloom/Postmedia

ATA underlines school staffing issues

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Jason Schilling acknowledged in a Friday statement that the latest regulation changes offer school boards more clarity, but added that the government’s solutions are “unworkable.”

“Many schools across the province are struggling in the face of widespread outbreaks of COVID-19, influenza and RSV to maintain in-person teaching because of widespread teacher and student illness,” he said.

“If schools have no choice but to implement online learning in response to severe staff shortages and limited availability of substitute teachers, they simply will not have sufficient capacity to offer in-person instruction at the same time, as is required by the regulation.”

Estabrooks also said staffing issues don’t go away if an in-person teacher and an online teacher must be provided.

“In fact, it’s exacerbated, and so I would predict that could be a challenge,” she said. “We’re not at that point and I have full confidence in our superintendent that we’ll be able to manage and navigate this.”

Student absenteeism rates due to illness have been lower this week, after days in early November when 16 per cent of students in Edmonton’s Catholic schools and nearly 14 per cent in public schools missed class because they were sick.

As of Thursday, absenteeism rates at both Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools were about four per cent.

But Estabrooks said Edmonton public is still waiting for more details on how health officials are monitoring the rates of illness in schools and what thresholds they might consider in terms of future public-health orders.

“Across the province, there isn’t a lot of transparency. In fact, there’s no transparency in terms of the number of outbreaks that AHS has declared in schools across the province,” Estabrooks said.

“We’re still in this pandemic and we’re still looking for some answers, some thresholds and greater transparency.”

Humans and octopuses share ancestor that lived 518M years ago

Story by Stacy Liberatore For •

Octopuses and humans descended from the same primitive worm-like animal that lived 518 million years ago, and this could be why the eight-limbed creatures are highly intelligent.

The creature, known as Facivermis yunnanicus, is the earliest known example of animals evolving to lose body parts it no longer needed and was minimally intelligent.

A new study led by Max Delbruck Centre, Berlin found octopuses' brains are similar to humans because the marine animal has a variety of gene regulators called microRNAs (miRNAs) in their neural tissue comparable to the number in vertebrates.

The findings suggest miRNAs, a type of RNA gene, play a fundamental role in developing complex brains.

And this is 'what connects us to the octopus,' co-author Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky said in a statement to SWS.

Octopuses possess a variety of gene regulators called microRNAs (miRNAs) in their neural tissue compared with the number in vertebrates, which means their brains are similar to humans. This could explain their high intelligence© Provided by Daily Mail

Octopuses are renowned for being clever. They can use tools, carry coconut shells for shelter, stack rocks to protect their dens and use jellyfish tentacles for defense, SWNS reports.

Scientists have long studied the intelligence of octopuses, watching them learn to solve puzzles and open screw-top jars.

Recently they were even filmed throwing rocks and shells at each other.

Octopuses belong to a group known as cephalopods - which also include squid and cuttlefish.

The study analyzed 18 different tissue samples from dead octopuses and identified 42 novel miRNA families - mainly in the brain.

The genes were conserved during cephalopod evolution - being of functional benefit to the animals.

'There was indeed a lot of RNA editing going on, but not in areas that we believe to be of interest,' said Rajewsky.

The creature, known as Facivermis yunnanicus, is the earliest known example of animals evolving to lose body parts it no longer needed and was minimally intelligent© Provided by Daily Mail

The study analyzed 18 different tissue samples from dead octopuses and identified 42 novel miRNA families - mainly in the brain. The genes were conserved during cephalopod evolution - being of functional benefit to the animals© Provided by Daily Mail

What was the worm-like animal?

A study in 2020 claimed that a worm that lived on the seafloor 518 million years ago is the earliest known example of animals evolving to lose body parts it no longer needed.

The evolution of Facivermis — a worm-like creature that lived around 518 million years ago in the so-called Cambrian period of China — has long been a mystery.

It had an elongated body that could reach up to 2.2 inches, five pairs of spiny arms near its head and a pear-shaped tail with spikes.

The unusual creature lived a tube-dwelling lifestyle, anchored on the sea floor — because of which it evolved to lose its lower limbs.

'The most interesting discovery was the dramatic expansion of a well-known group of RNA genes, microRNAs.

A total of 42 novel miRNA families were found – specifically in neural tissue and mostly in the brain.'

Given that these genes were conserved during cephalopod evolution, the team concludes they were beneficial to the animals and functionally essential.

Lead author Dr Grygoriy Zolotarov, from the same lab, said: 'This is the third largest expansion of microRNA families in the animal world, and the largest outside of vertebrates.

'To give you an idea of the scale, oysters, which are also mollusks, have acquired just five new microRNA families since the last ancestors they shared with octopuses - while the octopuses have acquired 90.'

Oysters are not precisely known for their intelligence, added Rajewsky, whose fascination with octopuses began years ago while visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

He explained: 'I saw this creature sitting on the bottom of the tank, and we spent several minutes - so I thought - looking at each other.

'It's not very scientific, but their eyes do exude a sense of intelligence.' Octopuses have similarly complex 'camera' eyes to humans.

They are unique among invertebrates, with both a central brain and a peripheral nervous system capable of acting independently.

Scientists have long studied the intelligence of octopuses, watching them learn to solve puzzles and open screw-top jars. Recently they were even filmed throwing rocks and shells at each other (pictured)© Provided by Daily Mail

If an octopus loses a tentacle, the tentacle remains sensitive to touch and can still move.

Octopuses are alone in having developed such complex brain functions because they use their arms very purposefully.

The creatures use them as tools to open shells or as a weapon to spat at predators.

They are also very curious and can remember things. They can recognize people and like some more than others.

It is believed they even dream since they change their color and skin structures while sleeping.

Rajewsky said: 'They say if you want to meet an alien, go diving and make friends with an octopus.'

Rajewsky is now planning to join forces with other experts to form a European network that will allow a greater exchange.

Deutsche Bank warns of peril in borrowing from U.S. banks

Story by By Tom Sims and Marta Orosz • Friday

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany's Deutsche Bank has a stark warning to European companies borrowing from U.S. lenders: They will drop you when times get tough.

The caution, spelled out in an interview with Deutsche Bank board member Fabrizio Campelli, is the latest escalation in a battle with U.S. banks for the business of European firms on its home turf.

It comes at a time that the corporate banking unit of Germany's largest lender is seeing a resurgence in the home stretch of an extensive restructuring.

"A number of European corporates are already realising the risks of not operating with companies that are long-term committed to the geographies ... in which they operate," he said, without citing any examples.

Campelli, who oversees Deutsche's corporate division as well as the investment bank that powered Deutsche through the overhaul, said U.S. banks "tend to flex lending up and down depending on circumstances".

"There was evidence of non-German banks in this country taking lending off the table while German banks were going longer-credit during the pandemic, in 2020," he added, again without citing examples.

Last year, five of the largest U.S. banks - JPMorgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup - captured a combined 35% share of the revenue for loans by German companies, up from 18% a decade earlier, data from Dealogic compiled for Reuters show.

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Christian Sewing recently warned of the "danger" of European reliance on foreign banks, equating the threat to the region's dependence on outsiders for energy.

Deutsche Bank has long highlighted a need for Europe to have strong banks to vie with U.S. and Chinese competitors, but the latest rhetoric signals a more aggressive tone.

Campelli called for a "concerted approach" by politicians and regulators to support European banks.


In 2019, Deutsche embarked on a revamp, promising to shift away from its volatile investment bank and towards its more staid businesses that serve corporations and individuals.

Having long struggled to deliver on that pledge, the tide, buoyed by rising interest rates, is turning. Higher borrowing costs are fattening profits from regular banking, although war, runaway prices and energy costs cloud the horizon.

"We're now getting there," said Campelli, who previously oversaw the overhaul. "Did we rely more on the investment bank during ... 2020-21 than we initially expected? Yes. We're starting to see a much more balanced earnings mix."

U.S. banks reject the criticism. JPMorgan, now one of the largest banks in Germany, says it is committed.

Stefan Behr, head of JPMorgan's operations in Europe, told Reuters he hasn't seen any pushback on its growth in Germany and noted that "many of the German banks work with us on deals as well as us being a banking partner to them."

"There's competition for every deal. And when they don't win it, I'm sure that they're not happy about it, just like we're not happy if we lose a mandate," Behr said.

Citigroup's head in Germany Stefan Hafke told Reuters that its client base in Germany is made up of "very long-term, sustainable relationships."

He said he wanted strong European banks in Germany and pushed back on being a mere U.S. bank. "We are operating on an equal footing with anyone else," he said.

Goldman, whose headcount in Germany has surged in recent years, declined to comment. Morgan Stanley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Bank of America said Germany was critically important to its strategy, saying: "There is no pullback."

(Editing by John O'Donnell and David Holmes)
India, Israel's 'Indo-Abrahamic Alliance' continues to gather pace

Story by By JONATHAN SPYER • 17h ago

This week marks 14 years since the Mumbai terror attacks. Between November 26 and 29, 2008, operatives of the Islamist Lashkar a-Taiba organization struck at 12 sites across the city of Mumbai. Among the locations targeted was the Nariman House, host to a Chabad center. Rabbi Gabriel Holzberg and his wife Rivka, who was six months pregnant at the time of the attack, were murdered along with four other hostages.

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid attend the first virtual meeting of the I2U2 group with Indian Prime Minister Nehandra Modi (on the screen) and United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in July© (photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

The attackers were later neutralized after an Indian special police squad stormed the building. Famously, Sandra Samuel, a local caregiver employed at the Chabad House, rescued the Holzbergs’ two-year-old son, Moshe, and carried him to safety from the building.

The events at Mumbai in 2008 have become emblematic of the growing bond between Israel and India, which may now be described as a strategic alliance. In July 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel, the first visit by an Indian head of government. During the visit, Modi met with Moshe Holzberg. In January 2019, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was joined by Holzberg and Samuel on a visit to Mumbai.

The commonality that was expressed in the harshest terms by Lashkar a-Taiba’s choice of targets in November 2008 has flourished in the intervening years. In the area of defense and security, India is now the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, with exports to India constituting 46% of Israel’s total arms exports. Israel is the second largest supplier of military equipment to India after Russia, New Delhi’s traditional armorer.

A municipal worker cleans the street in front of a bilboard displaying Indian and Israeli flags for PM Netanyahu's visit, Ahmedabad, India, January 2018 (credit: REUTERS/AMIT DAVE)© Provided by The Jerusalem PostA municipal worker cleans the street in front of a bilboard displaying Indian and Israeli flags for PM Netanyahu's visit, Ahmedabad, India, January 2018

India-Israel ties expand into agriculture, tech

The burgeoning relations are not limited to the defense sphere. In the area of agriculture and water management, Indian authorities have partnered with Mashav, Israel’s international development organization, to develop methods to cope with an emergent water crisis.

Investments in the tech field are of growing significance, with Teva Pharmaceuticals among the most notable players. The acquisition by the Adani group of Haifa port is perhaps the most significant recent development in the commercial field.

And so on. The evidence for the deepening connections between Jerusalem and New Delhi in a myriad variety of fields is inescapable. An interesting question concerns the foundations of this edifice.

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What are the considerations and factors that have brought about the spiraling in relations in recent years?

In this regard, two areas are most worthy of consideration. The first is the area of geopolitics and strategy. The second is the cultural-political sphere. The grounding of the alliance in civil society and public sentiment is also important.

REGARDING THE first, India and Israel face a common challenge as Western-aligned states at a time when the US, the leader of the democratic world, is in a process of recalibrating and reducing its external commitments. There is a consequent need for the establishment of structures enabling long-term strategic cooperation between regional powers. The formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August 2020 paved the way for an emergent three-way alliance between Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi and New Delhi.

In an influential essay published by the Middle East Institute in July 2021, Egyptian-born strategic thinker Mohammed Soliman posited the emergence of what he termed an “Indo-Abrahamic Alliance,” bringing together the UAE, Israel and India. This alliance, Soliman suggested, would form the basis for a “new trans-regional order” in West and South Asia.

The emergence of this alliance, Soliman suggested, would fill the potential vacuum left by a necessary American shift to focus on east Asia. The alliance would be based on deepening formalized cooperation in such crucial areas as maritime security in the Mediterranean, the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, missile defense, drones, common opposition to Islamist extremism, and data security.

India’s close relations with the UAE have long been based on petroleum exports and remittances from a large Indian population working in the UAE. In recent years, non-oil bilateral trade has sharply increased, with the UAE now India’s third-largest trade partner. Israel’s trade relations with the UAE, of course, have flourished since the signing of the Abraham Accords, with a free-trade deal signed in May 2022.

This emergent three-way alliance is based also on the presence of a rival alignment currently crystallizing – namely, that of Turkey and Pakistan. While efforts at rapprochement with Ankara on the part of the UAE and Israel are currently underway, the deeper orientations and ambitions of Ankara, at least for as long as the Islamist AKP remains the governing party, are likely to prevent a major change in this picture.

The establishment under US auspices of the “I2U2” group, in July 2022, formalizes and solidifies the strategic partnership between India, Israel and the UAE. Indian commentator Harshil Mehta described the I2U2 as a “platform for the 21st century, driven by economic pragmatism, multilateral cooperation and strategic autonomy.” Mohammed Soliman has expressed the hope that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia will eventually form part of this structure, which in turn will be the basis for a new, autonomous but Western-aligned security order in Asia.

The second foundation of the India-Israel strategic alliance derives from the cultural-political sphere. At the most basic level, it is a geographic fact that the two countries are located precisely at the eastern and western edges of the Islamic world. Both are based on ancient civilizations, revived into sovereignty at the moment of, and as a result of, the decline of European, specifically British colonialism in the post-1945 period. Both, indeed, were born in struggle against the retreating British Empire. And both were engaged in wars of defense during their founding decades against their neighboring Islamic states.

But beyond these general points, the specific and fascinating commonality derives from comparable internal political trajectories. Both countries were led during the struggle for sovereignty and in subsequent decades by a westernized, secular and social democratic elite. The movements in question became categorized in later years by a degree of corruption and estrangement from the orientations and desires of the populations over which they ruled.

Both have been replaced in recent decades by parties descended from alternative conceptions of the nation that were present during the pre-state periods of struggle. These have remained during the early years of statehood as alternative frameworks, and have now become dominant.

In both cases, the formerly subaltern and now dominant orientations are characterized by a more particularist conception of the nation, with a greater place given to religious tradition and observance, and a heritage of militancy.

The strategic partnership between India and Israel appears well-anchored at the public level. A poll conducted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2009 found that 58% of Indians declared themselves supporters of Israel. Similar levels of warmth and support exist may easily be discerned on the Israeli side.

Shared geopolitical interests, a common political and cultural trajectory, and high levels of mutual support at the civil society level constitute the foundations of the relationship. This commonality was expressed at the starkest level in the events in Mumbai between November 26-28, 2008. In the intervening years, it has burgeoned and deepened in a variety of complementary directions. What Mohammed Soliman termed the “Indo-Abrahamic Alliance” continues to gather pace
Canada doesn’t appear to have a plan to welcome climate migrants

“Climate debt isn’t just money.”

This is the second in a two-part series examining the impacts of climate change on migration, in partnership with Ricochet.
 Read part one here:

Growing up in Ghana, Jamima Baada watched her community, including members of her own family, migrate from one region to another less impacted by climate change.

Now she teaches climate change and human migration at the University of British Columbia.

Baada, who immigrated to Canada for educational opportunities, is in a relatively privileged position compared to the rest of Ghana, where many are farmers still surviving on subsistence agriculture, and unable to move to Canada because of a lack of resources.

“The populations most impacted by climate change cannot afford airplane tickets,” Baada said. “And that is assuming that they’re able to go through the visa application process.”

Every minute, 41 people are displaced due to the climate crisis, according to a 2021 report from the Environmental Justice Foundation. What is Canada’s plan to welcome these migrants, now and in the decades to come?

More and more people are increasingly displaced by the global climate crisis because their homelands are no longer habitable. As many as a billion people could be displaced and forced to migrate over the coming decades, driven from their homes and communities because of extreme weather events, conflict and extreme heat.

Global heating is slowly boiling the oceans, which is melting the ice and causing the world’s water to rise. As the sea level rises, several cities and even countries could disappear over the next few decades. According to a 2021 report from the International Organization for Migration, as many as 280 million people’s homelands could be submerged by the end of the century.

“No one is spared. No place in the world will be safe in the future,” said Caroline Dumas, the Special Envoy for Migration and Climate Action at the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Egypt.

“Hundreds of millions of people, especially children and women, are today facing an existential threat.”

There are two main drivers to climate-induced migration: Sudden onset, which refers to natural disasters, conflict, water and food shortages; and slow onset, such as land degradation, or desertification, and rising sea level, or ocean acidification, explains Rachel Bryce, co-chair of the Climate Migration Working Group for the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says slow onset is generally overlooked even though it is one of the most important drivers of climate migration. “Climate change is still seen through a very Western lens, as almost exclusively floods or earthquakes, rather than what it is largely, which is a slow erosion.”

Deteriorating agriculture is a main driver of human migration, Hussan explains. Most of the Latin American workers in Canada are farmers who lived on subsistence agriculture back in their countries. Many were forced to migrate north through the continent because desertification has made the land unliveable, he said.

Baada says that countries throughout the Global South are disproportionately bearing the burden of climate change, even though rich countries in the Global North are the ones that created the problem in the first place. Global South countries are also the least equipped to cope with climate change because of the lack of development.

The long-term impact of underdevelopment has created the conditions where extreme weather events can be catastrophic, Hussan said. “Floods of a similar magnitude in Canada would not have resulted in millions of people being displaced.

“In Pakistan right now, 30 million people — almost the population of Canada — are displaced, because of floods. But if those kinds of floods had happened in Canada, you would not see the entire country displaced.”

Federal NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Canada has a responsibility to increase the number of accepted refugees and asylum-seekers. “Instead,” she said, pointing to new numbers released this month, “the government is reducing the numbers, so it’s going in the opposite direction.”

Sean Fraser, Canada’s immigration minister, declined requests for an interview.

“The work of lowering emissions and transitioning the energy sector must happen while supporting communities on the frontlines,” Kwan said. “[These changes] have to happen simultaneously because people are being displaced right now.”

Coming out of COP27, Kwan says she is not seeing the urgency from the Canadian government that is required on this issue. In addition to pushing to end oil and gas subsidies immediately, and to stop pursuing pipeline expansion, Kwan says the NDP is demanding the government sign on to an environmental bill of rights — for people and nature.

“We need public accountability, truth be told,” she said. “We can’t trust the government on this issue. They say nice words, but they don’t match that with action. We need independent oversight with regard to climate action.”

What that means for Canada is making significant financial contributions to a fund for countries experiencing the ravages of the crisis right now.

“We must respond to what is happening in the global community,” Kwan says. “Climate migration is already happening. People are already dying as a result of it.

At this year’s global climate talks, adaptation and mitigation efforts, as well as loss and damage funding for countries in the Global South, were a central piece of the negotiations.

At the eleventh hour, a deal was reached to provide funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters, overcoming years of resistance from rich nations who contribute the bulk of the world’s emissions.

The agreement calls for a committee with representatives from 24 countries to work over the next year to figure out exactly what form the fund should take; which countries and financial institutions should contribute; and where the money should go. Many of the other details are still to be determined. Importantly, the agreement makes clear that payments are not to be seen as an admission of liability.

While establishment of a new international fund for loss and damage is a historical breakthrough, activists say COP27 ultimately failed to achieve any consensus for a phase-out of fossil fuels. Many hoped Canada would announce an end to fossil fuel expansion, a cap on oil and gas emissions, and a windfall tax on oil and gas profits, none of which happened.

“When COP27 ends, the Canadian public will want to know: Did Canada’s contribution help ensure a safe future? Or did we add to the delay on climate action, which will be measured in lives,” said Julia Levin, national climate program manager for Environmental Defence.

“Canada must stop bowing to fossil fuel lobbyists and putting the interests of a small number of wealthy individuals ahead of all Canadians — and indeed the entire global community.”

Canada’s current legal definition of a refugee doesn’t include those who are forced to flee their countries because of climate change. Bryce, of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) said that needs to change.

Like most countries, Canada’s definition of a refugee is based on the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees text written in 1951 in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Nazi persecution of Jews and others.

The legal definition of a refugee is therefore very specific to this period and only concerns someone “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The only scenario in which someone affected by climate change could receive refugee status is if “the effects of climate change cause instability, and the state is unable or unwilling to provide protection against some aspects of persecution that resulted,” Bryce said.

Climate migrants might also be able to seek permanent residency through “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, but those considerations are exceptional and rarely granted, she adds.

A 2021 report from the refugee lawyers association, suggests a number of ways Canada could modernize its policies to include climate-induced displacement. For example, climate migrants could be added to Canada’s legal definition of a refugee.

Guidelines could also be created to tell officers reviewing humanitarian and compassionate considerations to look specifically into climate risks. A third suggestion is providing “climate visas” following the example of Argentina, which recently introduced a three-year visa for people displaced by natural disasters.

But these are only temporary measures created to assist in response to specific events, Bryce said. It does not help those affected by slow onset climate change.

Climate migrants might also come through regular pathways, such as study and work permits, and family sponsorship. But CARL believes these policies are not enough “to contend with the growing scale of climate migrants,” Bryce said. In addition, she said it disadvantages those most vulnerable to climate change — the people who don’t have enough resources to immigrate.

However, for Hussan of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, changing definitions on paper “are not real solutions; they are tinkering. They don’t actually deal with the scale and scope of the crisis.”

He said changing definitions also doesn’t address Canada’s responsibility and accountability for its disproportionate damage throughout its 150-year history. Canada is among the 10 top worst polluters in the world, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

At the same time, the Canadian government and industry are planning to expand oil and gas production well past 2050, the year the government has previously committed to achieving “net-zero” emissions.

“In terms of Canada’s moral responsibility, this country needs to stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere, stop paying subsidies [to fossil fuel companies], and not depend on false hopes like carbon capture technology,” Hussan said.

“Climate debt isn’t just money.”

Daphné Dossios, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media