June 14th, 2010

[URBAN NOTE] "How the G20 Will Affect Everyone, From Cyclists to Tourists"

Torontoist's friendly, and only moderately cheeky, guide to Toronto during the G20 summit covers pretty thoroughly the many, many different ways in which Toronto will be rendered substantially unliveable, for everyone from studetts to the homeless to people unfortunate enough to live downtown. (I don't, barely, but I do use the TTC so yay me!)

There’s no way around it: living downtown on Summit Weekend won’t be any fun at all—unless you like limited access to your home, your friends, your family, and all the other amenities of modern living you’re likely accustomed to in a non-police state.

If you live within the "Security Perimeter" (in black on our map), the Integrated Security Unit has probably given you accreditation, much like members of the media might get for an event like this. That ostensibly makes it easier for you to get through the fence and cops and protesters and the media. Because pass cards have that power.

Otherwise, Toronto Police and summit organizers insist that residents of the city can go about their daily life. The Star reported on a June 10 meeting, organized by Councillor Adam Vaughan, at which police suggested that leaving extra time to get places and carrying photo ID will be necessary for those living downtown during the summit.

[. . .]

Some Torontonians are planning to leave town G20 weekend. That’s not a bad idea, especially because vacationing can actually be a profitable venture. For those who live downtown, why not list your home on Craigslist? Lots of people are—because if the government’s gonna spend a billion dollars of your money to pay for this thing, you might as well get a kickback.

With all this, I'm almost hoping I'll be lucky enough to get caught up in my very first anti-globalization riot.

[LINK] "Farmers sue tobacco firms for $150M"

Back in 2008 I linked to an article describing the drawn-out and painful collapse of Ontario's tobacco belt farms, wrecked by cheaper foreign competition and anti-smoking legislation. According to Tom Blackwell in the Financial Post, the survivors of that industry are suing their buyers, arguing that the cigarette manufacturers' involvement in cigarette smuggling scheme cheated them out of huge amounts of income.

Farmers have filed $150-million in class-action lawsuits, alleging that the firms paid them the lower, export price for tobacco that was initially sent to the United States, but then smuggled back--tax free--for the Canadian market.

[. . .]

In the 1990s, millions of cigarettes from a different source were smuggled into Canada and sold tax free on the black market.

It turned out the industry was deeply involved.

The federal government laid charges in the mid-2000s against the four major tobacco companies, alleging they deliberately "exported" product to the United States, knowing it would be secreted back across the border, and saving billions in taxes.

Imperial, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges settled the case in 2008, paying a total of $300-million in fines after pleading guilty to a violation of the Excise Act.

They also agreed to hand over more than $500-million to resolve civil cases filed by the governments. JTI-Macdonald and R.J. Reynolds reached similar settlements this April.

The farmers' suit stems from the two-price system they worked under until recently.

In 1986, for instance, growers were paid $1.84 per pound for tobacco to be sold domestically, and $1.11 for tobacco used in products destined for export, according to their statement of claim.

As the smuggling operation picked up steam, the percentage of tobacco the companies bought for export soared four-fold from 3% in 1986 to 14% in 1993, the document indicates.

Since the firms knew the tobacco would end up back in Canada, they should have paid growers the domestic price, the suit charges.

[LINK] "‘Dead Border’ Is Price of China Support for North Korea Regime"

Bloomberg reports how North Korea's economic catastrophe has helped make life in a Chinese border community that would already be facing enough problems (as is the frequent wont of border communities) even more uncomfortable still.

Business is slow at sportswear maker Li Ning Co.’s store in Tumen, China, says Wang Qian, who sells World Cup-themed athletic shoes emblazoned with German and Italian flags.

Across the Tumen River is North Korea, whose closed economy discourages growth in northeastern China, the country’s industrial heartland as recently as two decades ago. Tumen’s annual per-capita gross domestic product, at 16,000 yuan ($2,342), is two-thirds of the national average. Young adults, including ethnic Koreans, are leaving for better opportunities, especially in South Korea.

“Most of the people here are over 40, and they’re not the type who buy a lot of sportswear,” said Wang, 22.

Irony of ironies, deprived of access to northern Korea the people of Tumen are moving to southern Korea instead.

Tumen’s streets were largely devoid of traffic, and a rock band from the provincial capital of Changchun played to only a scattering of onlookers steps from the Li Ning store.

Shopkeepers had a ready explanation: emigration to South Korea by the region’s ethnic Korean population. More than 92 percent, or 1.78 million, live in Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning provinces, with the heaviest concentration in the prefecture encompassing Tumen.

South Korean statistics back up their claim. There were 363,087 ethnic Koreans from China living legally in South Korea last year, compared with 310,485 in 2007, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Salaries in South Korea are one attraction. A 45-year-old taxi driver surnamed Zhang said his wife obtained a forged marriage certificate showing she was married to a South Korean. She works in a factory there, making air conditioners and earning the equivalent of 10,000 yuan a month, five times his wages. She saves 80,000 yuan a year and plans to return to China soon, he said. Zhang didn’t want to use his full name because of his wife’s illegal means of obtaining a visa.

“There’s nothing to do around here,” said Sun Xiaoyu, a Tumen shopkeeper selling South Korean-made snacks and drinks. “Business would be much better if we bordered South Korea.”

North Korea’s 2008 GDP was about 2 percent of South Korea’s $930.9 billion total, according the most recent data from South Korea’s central bank.

At this point, even if the borders were opened up could the damage be reversed? North Korea's not likely to be a prosperous market, and South Koreans interested in bargain-hunting would be more likely to head north of the DMZ than leave the peninsula altogether.

[LINK] "Vast Ocean May Have Covered One-Third of Primordial Mars"

80 Beats carries this news.

Two scientists went looking for water on Mars. After closely studying the Martian terrain, they think they might have found it–covering about a third of the planet, 3.5 billion years ago.

In a study published yesterday in Nature Geoscience, Gaetano Di Achille and Brian M. Hynek detail their hunt, which included looking at data from NASA’s Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA), a probe that studied the topography of the planet’s surface for four and a half years, starting in the late 1990s.

Scientists have debated whether Mars once supported oceans for over two decades, and, as the authors claim in their study’s abstract, these oceans remain one of the “largest uncertainties in Mars research.”

The authors of this study, who started out speculating on how water might have formed the apparent deltas and valleys on the planet, eventually looked at the altitudes of these features to determine if they could have been linked to a large body of water.

Gaetano Di Achille and Brian Hynek … had been building a database of Martian river deltas and valleys to examine how they might have been eroded by water, but ultimately realized that they had enough data to tackle the bigger picture. “Our research started as kind of a joke,” says Di Achille. “We were working on this database of deltas and valleys, and we said: why don’t we try to check this ocean hypothesis?” [Nature News]

They found that 17 of 52 deltas were at the same height, which might imply that they fed the same body of water which could have once filled a basin on the Northern hemisphere of the planet. Given that basin covers about a third of planet’s surface, the paper’s author question if these deltas might have channeled water into an ancient Martian ocean.

“If Mars had an extensive hydrological cycle in the past, with rain, groundwater reservoirs, ice sheets and surface run-off towards lakes and possibly a northern hemisphere ocean, then there should be evidence of deltas ringing the margins of these lowlands at a common elevation,” said Mr Di Achille. “Likewise, river valleys draining into such an ocean should also flow down to the same elevation, and shouldn’t be found below this level.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation