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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

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Democracy Deficit, Chapter 62

Go read Paul Well's transcript of the House Finance Committee.

This is what happens when a political party decides it is above the conventions of Parliament and, frankly, above the law....

Last Chance to See....

Of course Buckets' is not without its own little secrets...

Recently, Rempelia Prime drew attention to a story which revealed how "scary" Christians are taking over Liberal nominations, not just Conservative ones. He challenged Buckets of Astroturf to update his/her "Running list of so-con nominees" to include the Liberal candidates, not just the Conservatives.

Shortly thereafter, Buckets' list disappeared.

Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Fortunately, I know that good Liberals everywhere will be relieved to find out that the post is still available via Google's cache. (I've saved the page to my hard drive as well. The comments thread is also available... at the moment.) After all, they believe in making sure Canadians have all of the facts, right?


*crickets chirping*

Update: I posted the following comment in Buckets' (comfy and furry) Welcome thread.
Buckets, would you be able to comment on why this post was deleted?

(It's still available via Google's cache and the comment page.)
My comment was deleted within fifteen minutes.
the invisible hand
Normally I don't quote a whole post or put the links in but The Invisible Hand's catching Buckets with its hand in the hypocritical cookie jar needs to be spread across the Canadian blogosphere.

Grewal Buckets

There is a good deal of speculation about the identity of Buckets' Grewal given the press attention he (or they) have been receiving. I could care less about the identity but thought it worthwhile to note the sheer professionalism and understatement which characterizes the site and its commentary.

By not overstating its position Buckets has quickly gained a lot of credibility on the Grewal tapes. "Just the facts." is not quite the motto, there is a bit of spin, but the spin is minimal.

Can one person, or a few people, get together to tackle one issue in a non-partisan manner? Yes, although the blog entries in this site have been very one-sided. Could one person, or a few people, really be that motivated to look that deeply into one issue? Again, I think it's possible, although I don't know what the motivating factors could be.
right ho!
Good questions. But the answers lie fairly deep in the ethos of the blogosphere - the time honoured tradition of "fisking" - names after the delightful and virtually never accurate Robert Fisk - is the process of a detailed annotation of a particular piece with which one disagrees or which one knows to be wrong on the facts. It is an art and one best practiced with restraint and only the occassional sarcastic blast. Then there was the Rather case where bloggers pretty much proved that memos purporting to bring President Bush's service record into disrepute and which CBS aired only a few days before the Presidential election, were forgeries. Buckets' is using many of the same skills to cast doubt on the Grewal tapes with a fair degree of success.

This would not have been possible had the CPC had the wit to handle the tapes properly and with a degree of candor. Having read the various transcripts it seems to me that the material in the tapes is entirely damning for the Liberals. No, it does not reflect well on Grewal; but, so what? Grewal is not in Cabinet and is not in the Prime Minister's Office. His conduct is not in issue. But the clumsiness of the CPC has put Grewal's conduct and the entirely irrelevant question of how and to what ends the tapes and transcripts were edited in the spotlight allowing the Liberals to creep back into the shadows where they are most comfortable.


Avian flu advances...

While it is fun to discuss the implications of the SCC health insurance decision, a real problem is looming:

The regional director for the World Health Organization, Dr. Shigeru Omi, told reporters in Beijing yesterday that the two recent outbreaks in remote areas in which hundreds of birds died were worrisome because they involved migratory waterfowl and domestic geese, birds that until now had been fairly resistant to the disease.
There is some chance that avian flu will remain locked into the bird population. But, and critically, it has spread to humans in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Thailand. With fatal results.

The death toll from a flu pandemic is difficult to estimate or imagine. If we are lucky the transition of the flu to human hosts will reduce its lethality; but there is not the slightest reason to think this likely. Vaccines against this strain will take about six months from the time of first identified air borne human transmission. So, for those six months, we will have to rely on general anti-virals. (Which, happily, Canada has been stockpiling for some time.

The human consequences of a flu pandemic are likely to be horrific. In the West we are not used to people dying from infectious diseases. The reaction of the medical and public health world to SARS - which was a relatively issolated, if deadly, agent - demonstrates that while we can bring a lot of very clever and high tech medicine to bear, we are not very good at the basics of quarantine and infectious disease control.

For Toronto in particular and Canada in general, SARS was a wake up call and we seemed to have learned a few things. In particular we saw how quickly our high tech medical system can be overwhelmed by 50 or 100 cases of a deadly infectious disease. In Toronto, if avian flu hits, the number of case will likely be in the hundreds of thousands unless very strict quarantine measures are put into effect instantly. The same is true across the country.

However, and here is where the brittleness of the West and its economic and social structures kicks in. Assuming for the moment that Canada, because of the planning which resulted from the SARS scare and the decision to stock up on anti-virals gets off relatively lightly. Say 100,000 cases and 20,000 deaths - because we live in an interdependent world our good luck will not protect us from the economic consequences of an epidemic.

The worst case projections are that up to a quarter of a given population will be infected and, of those infected, 10-20% will die. So, to take our neighbour to the south, that would be 75 million cases and 7.5 million to 15 million deaths.

The harsh economic fact is that while those deaths will be concentrated in groups of already compromised people, children and the elderly, the already ill and, of course, the poor, enough highly productive people will be killed for there to be a real effect on the economy. An effect which a robust economy could absorb fairly easily over a couple of years; but an economy which is in budget and trade deficit and facing increasing competition for energy supplies? Much more difficult.

Worse, the loss of several million people is not without consequence for the booming housing markets which, in their turn, are underwriting the stacks of private debt Americans have been racking up. When five people on your cul de sac all die in the same week and that pattern is repeated throughout your suburb it is a pretty good bet that housing prices are going to fall - fast.

Even the usually ebulient Alan Greenspan is more than a little concerned about the overheated housing market:
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan this week added to a chorus of worry about the growth of home loans seen as far riskier than the 30-year mortgage that has been U.S. housing's bedrock for decades.

Those alternatives, called "exotic" by the Fed chief on Thursday, have played a big role in sustaining the four-year housing boom by making homes more affordable, which in turn stoked demand and drove prices higher and higher.
It is a leverage which could work dramatically in reverse. Dead people don't make payments nor do they buy houses that other dead people's families are desperately trying to sell. A correction can easily become a crash and that crash can ripple out into the non-housing economy.

Ripples which will look like tsumnamis to a very dependent Canadian economy...

Katzman on the Left's non-reaction to Mugabe

Besides, lighten up! Mass forced starvations aren't just a catastrophe, they're an important neo-Marxist tradition! The poor guy is just trying to be part of the club with his comrades in Russia, North Korea, North Vietnam, China, Ethiopia, and Cambodia. Really, it's all just a differently-relevant culture with its own distinct narratives to cherish as it joins the global rainbow struggle for social justice and equality against the global patriarchical capitalist henegmony. Anyway, don't you know the evil U.S. regime is killing Iraqi babies and serving them at White House banquets with hoisin sauce?

In fairness, some of the liberal commeners here over the last year or so appear to be happy to put a bullet or three in Mugabe. They just haven't thought through the implications of their European idols' inaction for the entire premise of their foreign policy approach. If not the USA, who will bell the cat? Overthrow and/or partition is actually an operation that could be executed with just a few thousand troops, as long air and naval support was there.
Joe, along with many of the rest of us, wonders when the left is going to wake up to the black on black genocide by starvation currently occuring in Zimbabwe.

If Canada had a foreign policy (as if) and armed forces (yeah, right) we could actually be in a position to help overthrow Mugabe and prevent the deaths of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. We could do it in concert with other, middle, powers and we could do it with or without the sanction of the United Nations.

More to the point, we should do it.


Only in Quebec....Pity

The infringement of the rights protected by s. 1 is not justified under s. 9.1 of the Quebec Charter. The general objective of the HOIA and the HEIA is to promote health care of the highest possible quality for all Quebeckers regardless of their ability to pay. The purpose of the prohibition on private insurance in s. 11 HOIA and s. 15 HEIA is to preserve the integrity of the public health care system. Preservation of the public plan is a pressing and substantial objective, but there is no proportionality between the measure adopted to attain the objective and the objective itself. While an absolute prohibition on private insurance does have a rational connection with the objective of preserving the public plan, the Attorney General of Quebec has not demonstrated that this measure meets the minimal impairment test. It cannot be concluded from the evidence concerning the Quebec plan or the plans of the other provinces of Canada, or from the evolution of the systems of various OECD countries that an absolute prohibition on private insurance is necessary to protect the integrity of the public plan. There are a wide range of measures that are less drastic and also less intrusive in relation to the protected rights.

This is not a case in which the Court must show deference to the government’s choice of measure. The courts have a duty to rise above political debate. When, as in the case at bar, the courts are given the tools they need to make a decision, they should not hesitate to assume their responsibilities. Deference cannot lead the judicial branch to abdicate its role in favour of the legislative branch or the executive branch. While the government has the power to decide what measures to adopt, it cannot choose to do nothing in the face of a violation of Quebeckers’ right to security. Inertia cannot be used as an argument to justify deference.
Chaoulli v. Quebec
Rather cleverly the SCC declined to ground its ruling in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the impugned law already contravened Quebec's own Charter.

So, in a technical sense, the decision does not apply in the rest of Canada; but the Court indicated the direction of its thinking here,
It cannot be concluded from the evidence concerning the Quebec plan or the plans of the other provinces of Canada, or from the evolution of the systems of various OECD countries that an absolute prohibition on private insurance is necessary to protect the integrity of the public plan.
If ever there was a broad hint this is it.

Which means that Dithers and his Health Minister, "Let's Make a Deal" Dosanjh, are left in a rather awkward position. The Canada Health Act, in so far as it can be construed as prohibiting private provision of medical care, would appear null and void in Quebec. The Court is strongly signalling that the integrity of the healthcare syatem as a whole is not a sufficient basis for denying a particular person the right to purchase medical services outside the scheme, but within Canada, using whatever form of payment they choose and insuring themselves.

Assuming that Tommy Douglas does not actually climb out of his grave to smite the SCC, the Canadian Health Care system is pretty much at an end as a single payer system.

And, without invoking the notwithstanding clause, it is not clear the feds can do a thing about it.

Should the feds be think along those lines they will want to read McLachlin C.J., Major and Bastarache JJ.'s concurence:
While the decision about the type of health care system Quebec should adopt falls to the legislature of that province, the resulting legislation, like all laws, must comply with the Canadian Charter. Here, it is common ground that the effect of the prohibition on private health insurance set out in s. 11 HOIA and s. 15 HEIA is to allow only the very rich, who can afford private health care without need of insurance, to secure private care in order to avoid any delays in the public system. Given the prohibition, most Quebeckers have no choice but to accept any delays in the public health regime and the consequences this entails....

Where lack of timely health care can result in death, the s. 7 protection of life is engaged; where it can result in serious psychological and physical suffering, the s. 7 protection of security of the person is triggered. In this case, the government has prohibited private health insurance that would permit ordinary Quebeckers to access private health care while failing to deliver health care in a reasonable manner, thereby increasing the risk of complications and death. In so doing, it has interfered with the interests protected by s. 7 of the Canadian Charter.


Quick check....

There will be a few of these mysterious posts for the next couple of days...

Odious Little Man

Two thousand leaflets attacking gays and lesbians have put a Christian activist in western Canada under investigation by Edmonton police for hate crimes.

The flyers by Bill Whatcott of Regina refer to gay marriage as "sodomite marriage" and use graphic language to describe the alleged sex practices of homosexuals.

The handouts also used derogatory terms to describe federal Defence Minister Bill Graham.
Whichever form of Chrisitanity Whatcott subscribes to I cannot imagine that it includes stuffing nasty little pamphlets into people's mailboxes.

However, that is a largely theological matter and if Whatcott's whacky, nasty, belief system demands that he publish and distribute this vile material then, frankly, that is, or should be, his right.

Not so says the pointy end of the human rights Taliban,
"The material is offensive and it's an affront on the basic tenets of our society, which is about multiculturalism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence," Const. Steve Camp, of the Edmonton police hate crimes unit, said.
This is wrong in oh so many ways. First, since when is it the job of a policeman to comment on the political implications of evidence seized in a criminal investigation? Second, since when have "multiculturalism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence" become "the basic tenets of our society"? I would have thought that "free speech/freedom of assembly/freedom of religion" would have occupied that high ground.

The disgusting Mr.Whatcott is engaged in an act of political speech. Political speech with which I completely disagree; but not nearly so much as I disagree with a policeman telling us what constitutes a thought crime here in Canada the Good.


More Grewal

buckets' Grewal serves up a tasty slideshow demonstrating that a) what was cut from the originally released tapes was substantive, b)that there is no question that there was a deal being discussed, c) that the tapes could have been released unedited.

This last point is worth bearing in mind. Whoever edited the tapes was not terribly clever. The material which was cut and is now restored is mainly more of the same, tawdry, exhibit of venial men making corrrupt promises to subvert democracy in Canada.

Why bother? What Grewal says in the excised bits does not alter the essence of the dealing and neither side of the transaction looks any the less sleazy.

The unfortunate truth is that the CPC had a smoking gun and then, for reasons unknowable, decided to look down the barrel and pull the trigger, just to see if all the bullets were spent.

Chalk up another "x" in the dumb column for the Tories....Sigh.



Liberal MP Pat O'Brien announced Monday he would be leaving the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent, saying Prime Minister Paul Martin had gone back on his promise to give adequate public consultation on same-sex marriage legislation.
globe and mail
O'Brien had been long rumoured to be ready to quit the Liberal caucus over SSM. But this remark is interesting,
Mr. O'Brien said Monday that he feels that the Prime Minister went back on his word and that the process to legislate same-sex marriage was "unfolding to be a farce."
Calling the Prime Minister a liar, in the nicest possible way, is pretty strong language from a sitting MP. I suspect we are in for more fun in the House.

Is this guy Paid???

Instead of 1,000 teenaged girls with diaries, the blogosphere is more like 1,000 grumpy dads watching the 6 p.m. news and complaining that the world is going to hell. Remember that the next time someone tells you that blogs are the future.
globe and mail
Ivor Tossell has discovered,
But the amount of original material on weblogs is surprisingly low. The Internet is always turning up new writing talent, but most weblogs fill up space by pointing to items on other weblogs and adding their own two cents. It amounts to an awful lot of commentary, and as it happens, the seed is usually an item from the hated mainstream media.
globe and mail
Now, Ivor, if you take a look at the Globe and Mail how much of the material is original? Do Margaret Wente and Jeffery Simpson, much less full on geniuses like Heather Mallick and Leah McLaren, do original reporting? No, they comment on material which tends to be generated by a few Globe and Mail reporters and wire services.

Bloggers now have the access to the wires. And, they have access to more than one wire, plus all that commentary from other newspapers, television stations, online magazines and their fellow bloggers, RSS feeds, a television and Lord knows what other resources.

Most importantly they have access to and know about the interests and expertise of their own blogging community in which a great deal of highly original work is being done. Go look at my blogroll. Virtually everyone on it writes original commentary. It may have its roots in the news which moves over the wires, but Kevin Grace or John Robson or Nick Packwood are original voices.

Ivor, who a quick Google search turns up as about 22 and an ex-editor of two UofT student magazines would appear to be playing the much loved role of the "grumpy young man" for his media betters. So, hey, Ivor, get a blog, join the party and stop whinging.


Making the cover of Time magazine is pretty much a sign that a story has passed it climax...A bubble may be bursting somewhere near you.

Don't believe me? Here is the Time cover for September 27, 1999 when the NASDQ Composite index was at 154.00, two years later that index stood at 67. Of course, Time was not wrong, by March 2000, six months later, the Nasdaq index was at 282. Largely because magazines like Time were hyping the boom and bringing loads of people who had no business in the volatile, over valued, hi-tech market into that market afraid that they were missing the next big thing.

Update: Calculated Risk exerpts Yale economist Robert Schiller. You'll remember Schiller on "Irrational Exuberance" the last time there was a little bubble...

"Although home prices have gone up a lot in the recent years, they are just the same houses, right? There is no change in the services they provide, its just the value we put on them. And so houses' value can just evaporate overnight too. If people suddenly get vary wary of investing houses, because they don't think the prices are going to go up, or if they think they are going to fall that will cause home prices to fall."
robert shiller

Update II: Good news, HedgeStreet is offering a way to short the housing market in selected US cities.

For My CPC Friends

The Telegraph is running a series of policy papers from a ginger group in the British Tory Party,

What is peculiar to Britain, however, is the inability of the right-of-centre party to capitalise on the anti-government mood. On the Continent, Right-wing parties have traditionally positioned themselves as defenders of local traditions against the bureaucracy of the state - champions, so to speak, of the little man against the government inspector. But in Britain, uniquely, the right-of-centre party is seen as more centralist than its rivals.
Not just Britain...

The heart of the proposal is this:
Conservatives need to adopt a Self-Denying Ordinance. They must dispel the notion that they are interested simply in office and convince the country that, rather than grasping at the levers of control, they would push powers outwards and downwards. They should be guided in all things by three principles.
# Decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people they affect;
# Law-makers should be directly accountable;
# The citizen should be as free as possible from state coercion.
Were the lamers in the CPC to take on this sort of commitment and actually run with it they would leave the Liberals without a reply. Dither's can talk about the "democracy deficit" until he is even redder in the face; but he is to much a part of the machine to do a thing about it. Harper, if he would forget about SSM and keeping the fundies on board, could bang around at this individual rights, decentralist message until he had actually managed to establish a real difference between the tired, corrup, old gang of the Liberal Party and a new vision for Canada. (And, as a bonus, radical decentralization is almost certainly the only option which has even a forelorn hope of keeping Quebec engaged with Caanda.)

Euro Wobblies

Yet the crisis widened beyond the document alone, with a media offensive being mounted to bolster the euro after German officials and an Italian minister openly discussed its possible demise. In the first rumblings of a call for the franc to be reinstated, Nicolas Dupont-Aignant, a member of Mr Chirac's ruling UMP party, said: "France, Italy and Germany would be in a better state without the euro. However, I don't believe we should ditch it now.

"But either it is reformed, and the central European Bank kick-starts growth by lowering interest rates and pursuing a more American-style monetary policy, or the euro will explode in mid-air."

The governor of France's central bank, however, rushed to the euro's defence. Christian Noyer said that the currency was "in no way under threat" following its fall in value since the No votes of the past seven days. He dismissed as "absurd" the idea of a temporary withdrawal from the euro by individual states.
sunday telegraph
Remember rule one of currency trading which I alluded to on June 1st,
A good rule in international banking is that when central bankers are going public to deny that a currency is in trouble, the currency is in trouble.
moi, scroll down
That makes two central bankers in three days who have called one element or another of the Euro's collapse "absurd".

Add to that a Frenchman calling for a more American style monetary policy and the idea "Short the Euro, short it hard and short it fast." begins to catch hold....


The Brittle West

The fragility of the structure of the West's economic system is easy to exagerate. After all, the American economy is still huge, Britain has become highly productive, Canada has a lot of oil and, perhaps as importantly, water. Japan, notionally a Western nation and card carrying member of the G-7 has lots of American Treasury bills.

Yet, for all of that, the consumer debt, the housing madness, the coming oil shocks, the brittleness of the EU and the coming end of Canada's hundred and twenty years as a bi-cultural nation, all suggest a degree of wariness is in order.

After the last American election it became popular on the American left to spend a good deal of time suggesting that the entire economic structure of America - and, often by extension, the West in general - was profoundly suspect. Adverse economic statisitics were seized with glee in order to demonstrate that the "Bush regime" might be able to win ("steal") elections but, so what, the American Empire had jumped the shark. From peak oil to the balance of trade, Uncle Sam was on the wrong end of economic history.

This was, and remains a profoundly conservative, view of the world; but then again the American (and Canadian and non-Blairite British) left is a profoundly conservative bunch of folks. It is a view which is profoundly suspicious of technilogical solutions, sceptical about the motives of politicians and businessmen, hostile to the idea of captialism and free markets and, at a profound level, in reaction to the entire idea of wealth creation.

Which does not make its critique any the less cogent no matter how much one might dispise the motivations of that critique.

Peak oil is a reality - the only open questions are price and how quickly hydro carbons will actually run out. The American balance of trade and budget deficit are more than a little troubling. But the issue which I am inclined to thing the left conservatives have too heavily discounted is the brittleness of the West's economies.

Brittleness is about the capacity of a structure to survive an shock. The obvious and best example of a shock would be 9/11. America shut down. Billions of dollars were simply lost in the charred heaps of the World Trade Center. The loss of life was horrendous; but the anticipated loss of confidence didn't happen. While much ink was spilled on the rather useless question "Why us?" Most of America absorbed the blow and got on with business and life.

In a way, the very pointedness of the 9/11 shock, the fact that it was so concentrated and without follow up from al-Qaeda, meant that its effect was to boost rather than destroy American morale. (An outcome which anyone who knew America was unsurprised by.)

I suspect that a similar attack would create much the same reaction; but I also suspect that, not withstanding the gloomier warbloggers, it is unlikely that such an attack will be mounted.

Instead, the resilience of the American and Western resolve are going to be tested in quite different ways over the next decade.

I am frankly a bit bored with the pleasures of watching Dithers and the CPC race to the bottom. So a few thoughts on what I suspect will be the real issues of the next decade on a global and national scale will follow.

Who, Me, Worried??

The state's booming housing market has generated $1 trillion in increased home equity since 2000, triggering billions of dollars in consumer spending, the California Building Industry Association reported yesterday.

In addition to strengthening the economy, the gain in home values makes it highly unlikely that widespread mortgage defaults will occur in the event of a sharp economic downturn, said Alan Nevin, the association's chief economist.

"People have the ability to borrow against their homes," Nevin said. "If times get tougher, they could borrow a sufficient amount to pay their mortgages."

Refinancing has enabled homeowners to buy goods and services "they wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise," he said.
sign on san diego
While currency pricing may be an abstraction, the ability to borrow really large chunks of money agianst the paper profits locked up in your house is very real and very worrying. Pace builder economist Nevin, where people have leveraged their borrowing against the appreciation of their home during the good times, they can, in the event of an economic downturn, become mega-paupers in an instant. What Nevin seems intent on ignoring is that in a downturn people will a) have already borrowed against the equity in their homes, b) be watching that equity evaporate as housing prices fall...

The problem with the current state of real estate prices is twofold. First, they have lost touch with what people actually earn and now reflect such never, never financing schemes as interesst only mortgages. Second, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to engineer a "soft landing". The second problem is a function of the first.

If you buy a house for $400,000.00 with a downpayment of $40,000.00 and you have an income after tax of $60,000.00 you are buying an asset for six times the total of your yearly net earnings. This is a bit crazy; but imagine you have done this and the value of that asset goes to $600,000.00. Now you look like a genius. So, feeling your oats you go and borrow $100,000.00 to pay off your credit cards and put in that new home entertainment center. Now you owe eight times you net annual income.

So what if you lose your job? Or you keep your job but there is a downturn and the houses on your block are being sold at discounts of 20% (a relatively mild housing crunch) from the top price of $600,000. Well, you're ok because that means your house is worth $480,000.00 - and you only have $460,000 in debt secured against it.

Of course you are not going to be able to borrow any more money agianst your equity and that is going to mean you will not be able to buy more stuff on your credit cards with the assurance that the rise in the value of your equity will pay those cards off. Which will, if it happens in the suburbs of North America, lead to significantly reduced economic activity....the malls will empty.

Now, add a little oil shock. Nothing catastrophic, say $75.00 a barrel oil and $4.00 a US Gallon gas. Are we having fun yet?

A minor bump - a terror attack, a wiggle in the upward curve of gas prices, a mild sell off of US currency and Treasuries by Japan and China - might be enough to shift a downturn in housing prices into a bit of a rout.

The fate of a given suburbanite as he drowns in home equity financed consumer debt, while personally tragic, is largely irrelevant. However, the joker in the pack has been the way in which banks have bundled their second and even third mortgages into securities, discounted the paper and sold it to pension funds or as bonds.

The accurate measure of the value of a currency, as I argued below, is a matter of the bets which speculators and central bankers put on the future prospects of a nation. If the real estate bubble, with its doubtful lending practices and willingness to pass the paper to the last sucker, shows signs of collapse, all bets are off with the USD.

Which, I fear, will overwhelm the relative prudence which Canadian lenders have shown in their dealings with our own often inflated real estate market. While a rising tide lifts all ships, tsunamis ignore borders.