Good news, bad news: August 25-31, 2011

Plans to build a 4,300-km pipeline between the Alberta oil sands and refineries in Texas will have “no significant” environmental impact, according to a U.S. State Department report.

Good news

Good news

Manish Swarup/AP

Safe passage

Plans to build a 4,300-km pipeline between the Alberta oil sands and refineries in Texas will have “no significant” environmental impact, according to a U.S. State Department report. Although the controversial conclusion sparked a mini-protest outside the White House (a NASA scientist was among those arrested), the report confirms the obvious: America needs Canadian oil, and the Keystone XL pipeline is the safest way to get it there. The project will also create thousands of jobs on both sides of the border—an economic benefit that, unlike the environmental fears, is very real.

Tweaking social networks

Facebook beefed up its privacy settings last week, giving its 300 million users more streamlined control over who gets to see their personal photos. Britain, meanwhile, dropped a controversial proposal that would have granted police the power to arbitrarily shut down social networking sites in times of crisis. (The short-lived plan came after rioters in England used Twitter and Facebook to coordinate their mayhem.) Taken together, the decisions strike a fine but necessary balance in this age of tweets and pokes. Privacy is a right, but so is free speech.

A generous offer

Sixteen of France’s wealthiest people, including billionaire L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, signed a petition asking the government to put a one-time tax on the über-wealthy so they can do more to help lift France’s and Europe’s struggling economies. President Nicolas Sarkozy responded with a small, temporary tax increase this week. Meanwhile, astronomers in Australia may have found the answer to the world’s financial troubles—a planet made of diamonds. It’s just 4,000 light years away.

He kicks, he scores!

Manchester United’s 8-2 defeat over Arsenal looked more like a hockey game than your typical soccer match. Wayne Rooney even scored a hat trick, a rarity in a sport that rarely offers more than a few goals per game. In fact, Arsenal hasn’t given up as many goals since the 19th century. (The team is offering fans free tickets as compensation.) A few more wild games like this one, and soccer could find itself with a healthy new fan base in North America.

Bad news

Bad news

Jose Luis Magaua/Reuters

Shaken and stirred

Hurricane Irene may not have been the historic storm that officials warned of, but it still brought devastation to the eastern United States with widespread flooding, $20 billion in damages and 38 deaths. In Quebec, the tail of the storm also reportedly caused one death and the evacuation of hundreds of homes. Irene hit the U.S. just a few days after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia shook the Eastern Seaboard. Damage was limited but the quake left at least one lasting mark: cracks in the wall of the Washington Monument, one of the most prominent symbols of American might.

Blind fury

Denying plans to harmonize taxes while secretly considering the option is political behaviour worthy of rebuke. So it’s hard to blame British Columbians for rejecting the HST in last week’s historic mail-in referendum. But the voters have in this case punished bad politics by killing good policy. Economists agree the HST benefits taxpayers in the long run by encouraging business investment and reducing red tape. Blame for the HST’s death rightly belongs at the feet of the B.C. Liberals, but it’s a disappointing loss, nonetheless.

Chopped down

Earlier this summer, short-seller Carson Block warned of a potential massive fraud at Canada’s largest publicly traded forestry company, Sino-Forest. Now it seems he had good reason to raise alarms. The Ontario Securities Commission levelled its own accusations of fraud and halted trading of Sino’s shares. The company’s CEO resigned while an investigation continues. But what’s clear already is that the big losers will be shareholders, who stand to lose billions on what was once deemed a safe bet.

Fumbled

It just doesn’t feel like Labour Day without a grudge match between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts, a CFL tradition dumped this year due to a lack of available stadium dates in Toronto. Punting the game shows a lack of imagination. Why didn’t they just move it to Hamilton? The Ontario leg of the “Labour Day Classic” always generates drama. This year, both the hapless Argos and the middling Ticats could use it.




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