Thursday, February 26, 2009
WE WON THE WAR. NOW PREPARE FOR THE BATTLE.
Vancouver artist Douglas Coupland's tribute to the war of 1812 which depicts a giant British toy soldier of the Newfoundland Regiment towering over a toppled American member of the 16th Infantry Regiment, provoked the Manager of the Sakets Harbor, New York, Historic Site to comment that: "Historical or aesthetic interpretation must be made by the viewer." - Essentially that the outcome of the "War of 1812" is in the eye of the beholder.
I have been reminded of the moment over the decision by the National Battlefields' Commission to axe its own plans to re-create the "Battle of the Plains of Abraham" in honour of its 250th Anniversary this summer. As the controversy erupted over the past couple of weeks, in large measure fueled by ultra-separatist elements in Quebec, Federal politicians of every stripe declined to get involved in the debate...except, and of course, members of the "Bloc Quebecois" who seized the opportunity to fan the flames of federal propaganda.
As the Battlefields Commission's chair, Andre Juneau, testified yesterday: Without support from Federal politicians, and once physical threats of violence started flying from opponents, there was little choice but to cancel the event.
The controversy may very well be just a dress rehearsal for the load which will hit the fan once plans get underway to mark the 200th of the War of 1812 in a couple of years.
There is a growing school of academics and historians in the United-States who advance the belief that the Americans somehow, someway won that war. That is precisely the point artist Coupland was addressing with his Toronto monument. A recent episode of "History Detectives" on America's public television broadcaster PBS, concluded of the War of 1812 that: "Although it was not a conclusive victory; it established America as an independent sovereign entity."
At the genesis of the argument is the belief by American historians that the War of 1812 signaled the real conclusion of their quarrel for Independence against Britain which they'd launched under General Washington in the 1780's. - Never mind that in reality that issue was settled in 1786 when the 13 colonies formed a Union. It was after all the Americans, under President James Madison, who declared war on the British North American colonies in 1812.
Lest I digress: At just over five feet, Madison is the shortest ever American President, and perhaps suffered from a complex now named in honour of his contemporary - Napoleon.
In a recent editorial over the Plains of Abraham controversy in Quebec City, the "National Post" noted how much and how frequently the Americans like to re-create their own historic military encounters, including an annual celebrated event on the killing fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Once activities begin to rev-up to the commemorations marking the War of 1812, our National Battlefields Commission may have to walk a non-offensive tightrope of historic proportions.
Any attempt to accommodate American revisionist theories would be a monumental stretch of the facts in any recreation attempts at the Battles of Crysler Farm and Queenston Heights; or in the August 24, 1814 sacking of Washington and burning of the White House.
Of this most recent episode in Quebec City, Canwest columnist Don Martin says today..."this sorry episode proves there are some moments in Canada's past that should be spared the live-action, re-enactment treatment, even when carefully and factually preserved in the history books."
Martin is probably right. Though when it comes to the War of 1812 it seems some people, including scholars, are already making attempts to revise the history books themselves....and, they didn't just start with Johnny Horton's 1959 recording of the song: "The Battle of New Orleans" of January 8, 1815.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
There have been significant developments in the case of the missing diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay and that's what the last minute trip to New York is all about. Harper's mission may be under the cover of Afghanistan, but the truth is the Afghan mess is a NATO mission which the United Nations wants nothing of. And, the Americans already have their own plans, including 17,000 additional troops, to deal with the Taliban insurgency Canada and its other allies have been unable to quell.
The mess though involving Canada's diplomats, Fowler and Guay, is entirely of the making of the United-Nations. That is precisely what Stephen Harper will tell the U-N's Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, when the two confront one another on Monday.
Robert Fowler, Ban Ki Moon's secret personal envoy to Niger, and his diplomatic companion, Louis Guay, their driver, Soumania Moukaila, were kidnapped on December 14 just outside Niger's capital, Niamay. We know now, via secret video and a ransom demand, that they are being held by the Algeria based, A.Q.I.M. - Al Quaida in Islamic Maghrec - which has spread its tentacles into Niger, Mali, Burnika Faso, Libya and Chad.
It is Canada and the United=States that have advanced the investigation this far, primarily with the collaboration of American undercover operatives based in Mali. In other words the United-Nations and its Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, have been totally ineffective in any effort to secure the release of Fowler and Guay. Prime Minister Harper will be happy to make that point when he meets the U.N.'s high command in New York.
The payback Harper will extract is twofold: Personal pressure from the Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, on the Government of Mauritania to facilitate the exchange of two imprisoned Al-Quaida members for the release of the two Canadian diplomats. If need be Harper will emphasize that it is Canada that has done all of the grunt work in this investigation. Which brings-up point number two: The pesky matter of Canada's 2010 candidacy for one of two vacant seats on the Security Council of the United-Nations.
The former American President, George W. Bush was clearly unappreciative of the U.N.
Harper's response was accordingly lukewarm when a couple of years back our candidacy for the Security Council was proposed. There is a new guy in the White House now. Doubtless he'll soon be seeking assistance from the United-Nations to bolster America's tattered international reputation and clean-up several matters: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran and others. Prime Minister Harper knows that a powerful ally like Canada on the Security-Council would gain substantial appreciation from the Americans.....That just may be why when the Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, leaves Harper's side at the United-Nations; he'll be heading straight to Washington for a first encounter with Secretary Of State, Hilary Clinton.
I guess a bitterly cold February day in Ottawa can be just as intriguing as pretty much anywhere else in the cloak and dagger underbelly of international politics.
Labels: Foreign Affairs
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thankfully wrestling bouts between political rivals have ended. This weekend at a meeting of his Cabinet in Gander, Newfoundland, the Premier Danny Williams, has confirmed that the province has dropped plans for a province wide "Have" status party to coincide with Newfoundland's 60Th anniversary in Confederation, and mark the province's removal from the list of equalization receiving provinces.
The event on March 31 was to have included a school holiday and province wide celebrations. Premier Williams says the entire matter is being assessed "in light of the current Canadian economic climate". Perhaps there is a touch of politics in this matter. Premier Williams and the Federal government, primarily through the new Senator, former CTV broadcaster, Mike Duffy have been at loggerhead over changes to Federal transfers contained in the January 27Th budget.
The Premier of Newfoundland, Mr. Williams, is a formidable opponent and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest Senator Duffy has softened his rhetoric. However that's not necessarily the case with Mr. Duffy's confrontation with the Premier of his native province, Prince Edward Island's Robert Ghiz, regarding the same issue.
The two men apparently held a secret hush-hush meeting in Charlottetown a few days ago to try and bury the hatchet; but Senator Duffy was unapologetic. The meeting followed the earlier rebuke from the Prime-Minister who told a Halifax CTV interviewer that the new Senator's comments were..."perhaps inappropriate."
For his part, Premier Ghiz has said very little about the "tete a tete" other than to express a desire that the Senator focus on the issues facing Prince-Edward Island instead of personal attacks...."Perhaps Mr. Duffy might just need a little time to grow into this new role."
Some Islanders though have been somewhat more expressive over the controversy: One island based blogger told the Charlottetown "Guardian" - "These sniper comments may have gained popularity or a few chuckles in the world of show biz, but in the political arena they are seen as being uncouth, unwarranted, unproductive, inappropriate, crass and belligerent...In short Senator Duffy, a statesman rides his horse sitting high on the saddle, not on the back end!"
Yikes! Senator Duffy claimed that Premier Williams and Premier Ghiz "in bed" was grotesque. Picture that chubby image.
Labels: Canada's Senate
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
WHEN IDLE HANDS...
In the meantime though, since Members of Parliament went home to their ridings last Friday, the idle hands of Parliament's press corps have been busy speculating on just how best to arrange the deck chairs on the country's ship of state.
How else to explain the front page story in Monday's "Hill Times" which suggests the Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, may be contemplating an early exit from the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada...a party which, for the most part, is of his own creation. There is some anecdotal evidence to support the contention. The architect of Mr. Harper's two elections as Prime-Minister, Patrick Muttart, has recently departed the Office of the Prime Minister without, as the "Hill Times" says, any public explanation.
The "Calgary Herald's" Don Martin also claims unnamed insiders..."Some who orbit just outside Mr. Harper's innermost circle speculate that a Conservative Party with no heir apparent could lose its leader before the next election."
To be sure, since the House resumed in late January the Prime Minister has faced both media and opposition attacks for maintaining a somewhat low profile during the economic crisis: Compared for example to President Obama with whom he'll be lunching on Thursday. Mr. Harper is an economist by profession. One though who appears to have played fast and loose with the truth of our economic circumstances during the October 2008 election when he promised no deficit and no recession.
At the very least, Mr. Harper's honeymoon cruise with the Canadian electorate has long ago sailed-out of public favour. Conservative Party insiders willingly admit that the Prime Minister is having a rough time running the country through this near bottomless recession. Since the January 2006 election of his party, Mr. Harper's governing achievement has been to score two successive minorities. Others before him, including the Nobel Prize Laureate Lester B.Pearson, have walked the plank off their party's helm for just such failures. At the very least, as has been suggested before; Ministers of Finance who, like Jim Flaherty, so badly misjudge the performance of a nation's economy that they go from a surplus to a $30-billion deficit in just 60 days deserve to be shown out the door.
Buoyed by the leadership of Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal Opposition has scored several critical points against the governing Tories. That pressure is unlikely to ease heading into the spring as economic conditions likely worsen.
I do not think it is in Mr. Harper's nature to throw-in this towel and leave politics early. In fact, the highly choreographed visit to Ottawa of President Obama this week appears designed, as several media have reported, to keep the spotlight clearly focused on this near unprecedented photo opportunity for the Prime Minister. But, as "Globe and Mail" columnist Roy MacGregor said of Mr. Harper earlier in the week:..."(when) a highly principled man throws his principles to the wind - He may as well aim high."
Labels: Conservative Pary
Sunday, February 15, 2009
DAMN NEAR PERFECT STORM...
The bearers of the bad news it seems are now caught-up in the financial storm they may have helped create. Within a wickedly competitive media market, in efforts to outdo each sanguinary headline, the media not only panicked the panicky, but may have panicked their own investors...namely the advertising dollars they count on for survival.
To be fair, the media fed panic is but one of the many reasons for the evaporation of advertising dollars available to conventional newspapers, television and radio. But, it is not because the number of users is going down. Just this past week, the Radio Marketing Bureau reported healthy numbers in Canadian use of the media. Eighty-one percent of us listen to radio every day. Compared to the previous year, the 2008 statistics show that 82% used more (or the same) of radio, 79% of newspapers, and 76% of television. On average, every one of us 33-million Canadians listen to radio or watch TV more than 5 hours a week.
The upswing in numbers is not surprising. During difficult times people retrench their discretionary spending and seek cheaper forms of entertainment closer to their home. The movie theatre business and radio listening exploded during the dirty thirties of the "Great Depression."
Seems there's a whole different business perspective though. Credit Suisse advised its business clients last week that Winnipeg based, "Canwest" is on the verge of bankruptcy. The diagnosis was also confirmed by CIBC. The Asper family controlled media empire is staggered by a $3.7-billion debt fueled by rising costs and departing advertisers for its newspaper, television and radio operations in Canada, and TV stations in Australia and New Zealand. A year ago Canwest shares traded on the TSX for $6.11 - Last week they were 49 cents.
South of the border, the 20-million subscriber satellite radio Sirius Corporation, formed just last October in a merger with competitor XM, was expected to default on $175-million in obligations this weekend...and could file for bankruptcy in a few days. Sirius is an equity partner in Sirius Canada, owned by the CBC and Standard Radio; and XM Canada, a publicly traded Toronto based company chaired by John Bitove Jr.
Pretty much everyone in the "biz" is jittery: There are no clear signs when the bleeding will stop. Writing this weekend in the Canwest owned "National Post", Columnist Robert Fulford notes, somewhat like Mark Twain's - "Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated" - that the demise of the print medium has been predicted before, and that sensational stories such as recent suggestions by competitors that the venerable "New York Times" is near collapse from the weight of its own debt are hardly helpful to a struggling industry. Surely though the signs of a problematic are there. Another venerable newspaper, the century old Boston based "Christian Science Monitor" will stop publishing as a daily this spring.
As Fulford points out: Adverting in the pages of newspapers is plunging and readers believe that it is their right to receive information free over the Internet. Meaning the magic pot at the end of the rainbow is damned near empty.
Just this week the CRTC announced it plans to shorten the licensing terms from the normal seven years to as little as one year for conventional television broadcasters. It claims that they are facing a severe economic crunch. Canwest's "E-Channel" stations in Victoria, Kelowna, Red Deer, Hamilton and Montreal are for sale...CTV's "A-Channel" stations in small and medium markets like Barrie and Pembroke, Ontario are also draining resources and money from CTV's core operations. There do not appear to be any buyers for any, or all, on the near horizon.
Down south, the much promoted and anticipated switch to digital television (DTV), has come off the rails less than one week before the February 17th changeover. It's now been pushed back to June 12 because at least 6-million American homes would have permanently lost their signals on Tuesday had the change gone ahead. Money, $250-million, allocated for the $40 home coupon to help ease the cost of the DTV changeover has run-out, as has the supply of converter boxes on store shelves.
It seems it is not only our Canadian economy which is at the mercy of our southern neighbour; it's our culture as well. Faced with the financial constraints, Canadian Television Networks have spent more than $775 million in the past year buying foreign programs to crank-up audiences. That's about $150 million more than they spent on all Canadian programming.
Oh what a mess!
Saturday, February 7, 2009
...ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE
The circus' founder, P.T. Barnum, is credited with the 19th century remark - "A sucker born every minute." His words came to mind this week as Senator Mike Duffy single handily destroyed the objectivity of his own iconic 40 year career in Canadian political journalism. A practitioner of the craft of journalism myself, including as a colleague of Senator Duffy at CBC Radio News in the 1970's, I too was offended with his twice repeated comments about the grotesque nature of Newfoundland Premier, Danny Williams, and PEI, Premier Robert Ghiz, "getting into bed together".
Whilst I entirely understand that in politics you..."dance with the one who brung you", it seems to me that the remarks caused near irreparable damage to the objectivity of all Canadian political journalists. Mr. Duffy has clearly chosen to park his career's journalistic principles and integrity at the Senate's door. Although within the Senate's Chamber, Senator Duffy has since withdrawn his disdainful metaphor, his intransigence over repudiating the full nature of the choice of descriptive words may also well have caused collateral damage to the reputations of the other 17 Senators appointed along with him in December...They too should be concerned.
The Prime Minister chose his words carefully on Friday evening in telling CTV News Halifax that the Senator's language was: "Perhaps inappropriate". The message though seems to me clear: Insulting the Premier of the province you represent in the Senate is a hell of a way to ingratiate yourself with the people of P.E.I. who elected Premier Ghiz...especially when the insult comes from a heretofore cherished favourite son of the Island province.
In Canada's Red Chamber, Senator Duffy sits amongst at least two other former CTV journalist colleagues: Senator Jim Munson, appointed by Prime Minister, Chretien; and Senator Pamela Wallin, appointed along with Mike Duffy in December by Mr. Harper. I hope that they both will be able to assist Senator Duffy in reigning-in his sharp and somewhat inappropriate rhetoric; lest the people of his native Prince Edward Island regret that it wasn't Stompin' Tom Connors who was named their Senate representative...Or worse: That such behaviour make the Senate, much like the circus train, a vestige of another time...Wait - It already is!
Labels: Canada's Senate
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
LEST WE FORGET
Faced with mounting evidence of the dismal failure of the mission against the terrorists, the new guy in the White House has pledged to re-focus America's war efforts on the very place they should have been all along. The misguided adventure into Irak was George Bush's war. If as President Obama has indicated he is determined to do then, the wind-down in one war theatre will mean a wind-up into the other.
There is already ample anecdotal evidence that thousands of American war experienced, perhaps battle fatigued, troops are about to be shipped into Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries, in a last attempted rescue of this failed mission.
Canada is leading and foremost amongst the members of the International Security And Assistance Force (ISAF) established under American command in 2001 and transferred over to NATO as the United States ramped-up its invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Canadian contingents' commitment has twice been extended from the initial support of operations near the Afghan Capital, Kabul; to Kandahar province in the south where we have taken a higher ratio of casualties to troop numbers than any other ISAF Member. For the scorekeepers, the sad tale stands at 108 Military dead (4% of 2700 soldiers), one Diplomat and 2 Aid Workers murdered in an insurgency which really can't be described as war in any traditional sense.
Through from last fall's Federal Election campaign until now the Prime Minister has remained steadfast in the commitment to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan in February 2011 - Two years from now. Given the state of affairs overseas it is abundantly clear the efforts to clear-out the extremist insurgents, many streaming in from the hills of Pakistan, cannot be completed by our date set for departure.
It seems to me from Canada's perspective there are just a couple of options out there left to consider - Withdraw as planned from an unfinished war - What a waste of Canadian lives - Or extend the commitment. It is a debate which as the clock ticks down we are not having in Canada.
I am betting though that Afghanistan and Canada stand high on President Obama's agenda for his visit to Ottawa on February 19th. President Obama is committed to ramping-up the war in Afghanistan...the last thing he needs is a partner committed to leaving no matter what. It is worthy of note that after Ottawa, the President's next outing on the international stage is in fact, the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France in April. That is precisely where he will be arguing not only for NATO's extended support for the Afghan theatre but additional commitments: Troops, Equipment, Aid for taking the war back to the Taliban's doorsteps where George Bush left it.
The ground work for Obama's April NATO Summit will be laid this weekend at a major NATO Security Conference in Munich, Germany attended by the American Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates. Sadly if Canada is to be steadfast over plans for the military's commitments in Afghanistan: The timing is bad for this Munich meeting, perhaps also the later Strasbourg meeting. Back in Ottawa wags and pundits are reporting a rift between Prime Minister Harper and his Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay. European insiders describe as "clumsy" Mr. MacKay's recent low-key campaign to be named NATO's Secretary-General...But, the "Toronto Star" reports the issue both came as a surprise to the Prime-Minister, and that: "all hell broke loose in the PMO" when MacKay's colleagues tried to publicize the candidacy.
The debate we should be having at the country's highest levels is the future of our military and its deployment in expensive failing efforts which have eroded our historic role as "Peace Keepers", and damaged our reputation on the world's stage. Instead, petty political rivalries amongst old Tory leadership candidates may derail any meaningful serious discussions over Canada's role on our already dysfunctional flawed planet.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
THE ENIGMA IN FOWLER'S MISSION TO NIGER
The "National Post" reported on Friday that the Secretary-General of the United-Nations, Ban Ki Moon, had spoken recently to Ambassador Fowler's wife, Mary, to update the situation. Between them, Mr. Guay and Mr. Fowler have about a dozen anxious family members, wives and children, back home; all of whom are hoping for the best in these evermore perplexing disappearances.
People who have personal knowledge of Robert Fowler say he's pretty much "his own man": A lone wolf who is known to be secretive and capable of taking control of complex situations. These attributes served him well as Deputy-Minister of National Defence under the stewardship of Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, during the tough years of multiple cutbacks in the military's budgets. Ambassador Fowler was also Canada's representative at the United-Nations when Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister; and he served as a Foreign Affairs advisor to Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Louis Guay was a Quebec champion water-skier at the University of Sherbrooke. As a Consul at the Canadian embassy in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Congo) he would water ski on the crocodile infested Congo River to the dismay of his colleagues. Mr. Guay was subsequently assigned to the mission in Gabon where he served as Canada's Ambassador. Before his most recent trip to Niger, he had been working on the Sudan Desk of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa.
Since their abductions and disappearance on December 14th, the road to the truth of their mission has been anything but a superhighway. The United Nations for whom Mr. Fowler was working, even at first denied that he was travelling in Niger as an emissary of the Secretary-General. In the intervening seven weeks; Ottawa, the Government of Niger, and the United Nations have all become increasingly secretive about the kidnappings.
In an extensive report published on January 24th in the "Globe and Mail", and now repeated in the January 30th follow-up published by the "National Post", both newspapers allege a connection to the Algerian based terrorists Al Qaida In The Islamic Maghreb. The A.Q.I.M. is known to operate in the area including Mali where it's been blamed for the kidnappings of several European tourists including four who disappeared last week. Incidentally this "Blog" was first to claim a possible connection to the A.Q.I.M. on January 14 (See post: "MONTH #2-SHAME ON US"). Mali officials had a few days earlier confirmed being asked by Canada to assist in the search for Ambassadors Fowler and Guay. During the last seven weeks though, the Government of Niger, including its President, Mandanou Tanya, have continued to insist the abductions are related to the rebels of the Tuareg Region. A charge those rebels themselves have denied.
The mystery has since only deepened. The New York based investigative group "Inner City Press", which has not received any credit for the investigative work shamelessly repeated in both of Canada's national newspapers, says it was told last week by a..."Senior U-N Official to stop asking (about Fowler) - It might make insurance problems". The demand followed the "Inner City Press" publication of a conversation it had with..."the lead Ambassador of a permanent five member of the Security Council about Fowler's status -
Is he alive?
Yes - The Ambassador answered.
How do you know?
You asked and I answered. I cannot say more. But, we do have immediate fear for Mr. Fowler's safety. But no one speaks about it. It's quite extraordinary."
For the record the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council are: The United-States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France.
Those are the facts: But...The longer officials remain mum about Bob Fowler's mission to Niger and whatever details they may have about his mysterious abduction along with Ambassador Guay and Mr. Mounkaila; bloggers, human rights advocates and supporters of various African factions along the Internet have been rife with speculation. Few of the charges can be completely verified. But they do point to two inescapable conclusions:
1) When official sources refuse to speak to the media. Someone, somehow always steps-in to fill the void...
2) There may be many and varied reasons why some groups on the African continent bear a grudge of one form or another against Canada's diplomats. For instance:
In a note about Mr. Fowler's and Mr. Guay's trip to the Canadian owned SEMAFO Gold Mine the day they disappeared, the authors of: "Africa's Blessing, Africa's Curse" say that Canadian diplomatic missions in Africa..."spend much of their time making sure that mining companies and host governments are brought together and the companies are much praised by Canadian officials." The authors claim that Africa is home to about 600 Canadian (mining) concessions worth more than $12-billion.
"Democracy Now" picks-up on that theme, adding that every Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau (Clark, Mulroney, Chretien, Martin) has left office and profited from the natural resources of the Congo..."while the Congolese people suffer." Specifically about Niger, "Democracy Now" claims that an Alberta company it identifies as - T.G. World Energy - hired the former Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, to intervene in a dispute over the exploration rights for oil and gas on 18-million acres of Niger wilderness. Because of his credentials the former Prime Minister snagged a meeting with the President of Niger and lobbied successfully on behalf of the Calgary firm.
Lastly one Internet post I have been unable to confirm hints at a possible backlash resulting from some nebulous connection to the SEMAFO Gold Mine, it's President Benoit Lasalle of St. Laurent, Quebec; Ambassador Louis Guay and a non-governmental organization (NGO) called "Plan Canada" funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
What is abundantly clear is that the "code of silence" from Ottawa, Niger, the United-Nations and from anyone else who may be involved; is growing stranger by the day. As is clearly becoming obvious: That leads to wild speculative stories which at the end of the day are unlikely to serve the cause of Robert Fowler, Louis Guay and Soulmania Mounkaila's safe return to their homes and families.
Labels: Foreign Affairs
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