Tuesday, April 27, 2010

 

UPDATING THE AFGHAN FILE

The House of Commons seems fixated on whether some of the Rules of Order have been broken over the release of documents related to Afghan detainees. The Government meantime is only happy to oblige, when it so pleases, by laboriously dumping hundreds of pages of paperwork, frequently just a few hours before the next session of an Ottawa Military Police Inquiry over the issue that (quite frankly) matters very little.

That this mindless bureaucratic paper jam is stalling the inquiry into the manner detainees were treated five years ago conveniently distracts from the real issues of our Afghanistan deployment. Frankly this was (and sadly still is) "war" and that is stuff that happens. But the inquiry and the Harper Government's intransigent fashion of releasing mounds of redacted documents and thousands of censored pages of records hides from view a seemingly absolute lack of strategic planning to get the hell out of there by next winter.

Canada's firm commitment to remove our military from harm's way in Afghanistan is less than nine months away. While the American deployment in Iraq was on a much larger scale...it's now taken the U.S. more than 3 years to out-deploy. Our trucks, tanks, assorted other vehicles; and the tons upon tons of supplies, men and equipment...plus the aircraft, drones and almost 7 years of accumulated military odds and ends aren't going to suddenly disappear from Kandahar Province and magically reappear at CFB Petawawa overnight (or wherever they came from). But, obviously "mum's the word" on that front.

There are reasons to be cynical about what all this means: The Americans are clearly focused on the old Taliban Capital of Kandahar City with President Obama's ramped-up deployment of about 130,000 additional forces in Afghanistan. Politicians and military officials in Canada have already conceded that we'll continue to "play a role" in the strategic reconstruction of Hamid Karzai's increasingly despotic country. Just a few days back the Commissioner of the RCMP noted that his police force is ready for an enhanced deployment in Afghanistan. Great! Let's deploy a para-military force in lieu of a real one. Canadian agencies like CIDA and some NGO's say they're standing put. Lest I digress: I guess they'll "stay-put" indoors because it's currently too dangerous for United-Nations personnel to step outside in Kandahar City. I am really not sure our government (hopefully not with the duplicity of the opposition) is being all that candid and sincere about the Afghanistan commitment beyond next February.

South of the border just this week a group of retired U.S. military officers, members of the strategic group - Mission Readiness - reported that American teens are "so fat" that fewer of them can meet the military physical fitness standards. The report says that almost a third of Americans aged 17 to 24 are too overweight to join the military. The report says..."many young Americans are simply too fat to fight"...and that threatens national security by putting military recruitment in jeopardy.

And: - In a sixth annual report from "Active Healthy Kids Canada", the agency assigned an "F" for physical activity levels for most Canadian young people because they don't meet recommended physical activity guidelines....

I am seeing a trend here: Increasingly sedentary behaviours could some day end all global conflict. I can't wait!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

 

ODE TO 20TH CENTURY JOURNALISM

The proliferation of personal communication devices, and the explosion of the social networking phenomenon via the Internet have strained the practice of journalistic integrity near its inability to recover.

I should not have been shocked last week (though I was) to witness a seasoned practitioner of the trade, Larry King, reduced to interviewing the judges from "American Idol" on his once top-rated nightly CNN show. The lines separating news and entertainment; opinion, rumour and fact; professional from amateur have been obliterated during this first decade of the 21st Century.

Anyone with a connection to the Internet may now contribute to the discourse of public conversation. Doubtless it is more democratic, but is it any more healthy? In the United-States a recent survey conducted by the reputed Pew Research Center notes that Americans have become a nation of "news grazers" whose..."relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized and participatory."

But: In a society where journalism (Voyeurism to some degree - I digress!) includes citizens with cellphone cameras; the micro-blogging service Twitter; social media Facebook, and millions of blog sites and bloggers, few of us have neither the time, nor the skills and ability to sort-out the news from the entertainment, and the facts from the fiction.

The U.S. media reported recently about a debate within Fox News which has divided the organization over journalistic principles and the antics and pronouncements of its highest rated program hosts (to be polite) the eccentrics Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. Little wonder that the Pew Research survey referenced above found that 70% of its respondents were "overwhelmed" by the amount of news and information from different sources and; more critically, that almost two-thirds (72%) thought most sources of news were biased.

Most current efforts by 20th Century media organizations to carve-out 21st Century niches amongst the clutter of un-traditional journalism are frequently misguided.- Which may explain why Larry King interviews "American Idol" has beens; Barbara Walters hosts "The View"; and CBC News Network's "Power and Politics" interviews Kitty Kelley about Oprah's biography.

The sensible late 20th Century phenomenon of "All-News" TV channels has evolved from a desire for competent round-the-clock journalism to a relentless competitive aggressive multi-channel universe. Each of which; in a relentless search of audiences and revenue; has devolved, along a particular political bias and agenda, from sensible journalistic choice to an egregious barrage of infotainment alternatives. In the process each bears a substantial level of blame for elevating the mundane to manufactured crisis. As in the case of last fall's "swine flu" pandemic. And, perhaps more recently the grounding of all flights over Europe; and (here in Canada) scandalous allegations involving a former junior Cabinet Minister and her partying husband.

It seems that the traditional news hierarchy has been up-ended. A recent opinion forum published in "USA Today" concludes that consumers of information are both overwhelmed and appallingly under-informed..."With actual news, and items that look suspiciously like news, coming at us from a variety of outlets, how do we know what to trust? How do we distinguish credible information from raw information, misinformation and propaganda?"

Then why should anyone seek-out quality journalism - especially if we believe anyway that it's all driven by opinion, entertainment, ratings, revenues and bias?

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Friday, April 16, 2010

 

THAT VOODOO YOU DO?

It is probably true that our modern civilization has damaged the planet's ecology beyond repair. The cloud of Volcanic ash and vapour currently drifting over Europe and the Mediterranean countries though shows that when nature fights back...it holds the winning hand.

As the score is tallied from the 2008-2009 global recession; economists, commentators and bankers are being kind in their analysis of Canada's weathering of the downturn, and our prospects for a full recovery. A story I read this week described the Canadian recession as, in fact, pretty mild. The quick turnaround in business indicators including the "loonie's" dramatic rise on the money markets seem to bear that out.

South of the border, in the United-States, the situation is dramatically different. Regulars on my FaceBook Wall read earlier this week my comments about the favorite part of the more than 100 times I have driven between Ottawa and Florida. - The historic and wealthy Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia where many of Washington D.C.'s elite and wealthy have their homes (estates, really).- As it was on Tuesday - With the Lilacs, Apple Blossoms, Vineyards in full bloom; and the Polo Ponies out to pasture, the serenity of the scenery can be quite deceiving.

The earth shattering fall-out from the collapse of the world's economy could well trump "Mother Nature's" fury in changing the planet we all call home. The red ink flowing out of America's economic tap to the tune of billions of dollars per day, may lead to tectonic shifts of dramatic proportions on a world-wide scale.

The United-States of America owes too much money and it has set itself on a collision course with its principal banker: China. There are few historical precedents from which to draw (if any), for two such totally divergent countries; with incompatible social, political and economic systems; coupled with uncompromising world views and attitudes, to be so inter-dependant on one another. For a time, U.S. consumerism may still fuel the world's economic engine. The sad reality is that it will be crushed eventually by its heavy debt load.

How soon? The national budget now inching its way for approval from President Obama's desk towards Congress paints a truly dismal picture. America's debt is $12.8 Trillion. In this fiscal year alone; it's projected to grow by another $1.5 Trillion. To put that into perspective: In Bill Clinton's first full year as President (1995) the entire budget of the United-States was the amount of this year's shortfall - $1.5 Trillion. In fact, the American government has spent more than it has raised since 1970...except for a four year period at the end of the Clinton Administration.

So, how soon? To the degree that it does not depend on China calling-in it's debt; the tipping point appears to be in about 10 to 12 years. The Obama Administration's own projections indicate America's debt in 2020 will be just short of the country's entire economy - Roughly $21-Trillion. At modest interest rates, the annual cost of servicing that debt will be near $1-Trillion.

The exceptionally unpopular things that need to be done to wrestle down America's monster in the closet may mean that economic turbulence and turmoil on an Apocalyptic scale are just around the next corner.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

 

GOT YOUR BULLET BARNEY?

FREDERICKSBURG, VIRGINIA: So here am I; having just driven through the country side of North Carolina, being reminded of the iconic 1960's Andy Griffith Show based in the mythical community of Mayberry, North Carolina, USA.

It seems as world leaders and some wannabees (including "ours") gather just 40 miles north of here in Washington D.C. to ponder the future of the planet's nuclear arms proliferation; our Prime-Minister Stephen Harper, on arrival at the conclave has committed Canada's fissionable stock-pile to be delivered to the United-States for decontamination. To the same extent that Mayberry's Deputy Sheriff, Barney Fyfe (aka Don Knotts), was forbidden from loading his pistol: - Surely now the world can rest at peace!

Apparently, it seems that the nation's nuclear bomb-making enriched uranium has been piling-up at the Chalk River, Ontario research laboratory for many years. A result of the medical isotopes produced there for various world wide consumption. Lest I digress; that's the same nuclear facility that's been "closed for repairs" for about a year leaving doctors and hospitals to search far and wide for replacement isotopes: In the process leading the Kanata based MDS Nordion Corporation to the verge of bankruptcy. Never mind the Chalk River security levels.

Probably not since John Diefenbaker (another Tory Prime-Minister) acquired Bomark Missiles from the Americans back in 1959, and then refused to equip them with the nuclear bombs they were designed to carry, has Canada played such a critical, determining role over the future of nuclear proliferation. LOL!

President Obama has gathered in Washington the world's best thinkers and great leaders, with a few missing exceptions, to determine measures which could preclude terrorists from acquiring enriched uranium and build so-called "dirty" bombs. It's a noble cause. But, I can't help but be reminded that here in North America, about one-tenth of one percent of our population is apparently "at war", while the rest of us go on with lives unaffected...except (of course) for the immeasurable costs of waging those "wars".

The Americans have spent trillions of dollars prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with; as far as Canada is concerned, our acquiescence, support, military commitment, and billions spent propping-up the increasingly despotic Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai. Just days after thousands turned-out in Ottawa and many Canadian cities to mark the passing of Canada's last World War I veteran; I too grieve with the parents of our Afghan war dead who wonder if their sacrifices have been in vain?

The folly in Afghanistan now ranks as the longest war in the history of the United-States; with the Iraq imbroglio a not too distant second. In hindsight it seems all that money spent - (not to mention the lives ruined or lost) - could have been far better targeted on nuclear disarmament, the security of our North American continent, and the gathering of intelligence on the radicals who wish harm against us; then a summit of leaders trying to put that Genie back in a bottle!

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

 

LAND OF ENCHANTMENT

My home and native land...I have a neighbour here in central Florida who reminds me on occasion that there are more people living in California than in all of the world's second largest country: Canada.

Last fall as I escaped eastern Ontario's 2009/10 winter that never was; I noted on these pages that it's useful and appropriate sometimes to view ourselves as others see us: In this case the large powerful southern neighbour with whom we share most of the North American continent.

Though not all of the following observations are as our American cousins necessarily see us. - As I prepare my return journey north I feel a need to reconcile the differences and contradictions about Canada that seem easier to observe from somewhere else than on our native soil.

- Americans cringe and complain about western Canada's "dirty" tar-sands. Oil extracted in Alberta accounts for about 30% of U.S. consumption each day...and they ignore the dirtiest of coal mining practices on their soil. An industry which most of the developed world abandoned during the last century.

- A Washington based lobby group: "Defenders of Wildlife" which counts many Canadians amongst its members, agitates against wolf and polar bear hunting in the north. A friend and university contemporary from the 1970's; - and current resident of Nunavut,- boasts on FaceBook that his "son got his first wolf".

- Europe recoils after The Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, eats raw seal meat while participating in an Inuit ceremony. The same Governor-General in 2006 awarded the multi-Grammy and Juno Award winner, Sarah McLachlan, the "Order of Canada". Sarah McLachlan campaigns relentlessly in the U.S. in favour of animal welfare and against the annual seal hunt.

- The debate over health-care in the United-States is one of the most divisive and partisan in the country's history. Supporters acknowledge and praise Canada's superior universal medical system. One of Canada's highest profile provincial premiers, Danny Williams of Newfoundland & Labrador, travels to a Miami hospital for cardiac surgery.

- Fear of separatism scuttles a multi-billion dollar deal to sell New Brunswick's power corporation to Hydro Quebec. Jacques Parizeau who led the separatist forces in the 1995 referendum and; then blamed..."money and the ethnic vote" for his loss; checks himself into Montreal's Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital for medical treatment.

-Two young Canadians who hoisted a red Maple-Leaf on a California flag-pole in boisterous celebration of the Vancouver Olympic Games are charged with desacrating the U.S. Stars and Stripes they pulled down in the process.

Think we're conflicted? Maybe that's what makes being Canadian so damned fascinating, worthwhile and interesting. Here's looking forward to "road stories" to pass along from the drive back home in a few days.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

 

WHITE ANGLO-SAXON MEN JUST WON'T DO!

I have writ, mused, speculated about this before: This long Easter weekend though it seems speculation is rife and makes it somewhat obvious that the Prime Minister's office is intent on floating one or two trial balloons on Harper's choices for future Governor-General.

Lest I digress; given the names floated some might be given to suggest they're closer to lead-balloons than trial balloons, I digress. Regardless, the genesis it seems lies somewhere in the entrails of a recent Angus-Reid poll which suggests close to 60% of Canadians are happy with the way Michaelle Jean has carried-out her Vice-Regal role since she was appointed by (then) Prime-Minister Paul Martin.

Though they are across the street neighbours on Ottawa's Sussex Drive, The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, just gave the Governor-General a phone call in January to prorogue the House of Commons to re-calibrate his Government. Mme Jean has now twice sided with Harper on back-to-back "prorogation", but relations between the Queen's representative and the Prime Minister have been frosty all the way since Harper's minority Tories were elected in January 2006.

It's probably not all Mme Jean's fault: After all, she was appointed by a Liberal Prime-Minister. Way back then there were persistent rumours that her film-maker husband had been sympathetic to Quebec's "independantiste" movement; and (God Forbid!) she worked for the "lefties" at the CBC like her Jean Chretien anointed predecessor, Andrienne Clarkson. So...despite twice acquiescing to the Prime-Minister's delusional controversial prorogation of the House of Commons...Michealle Jean sealed her own fate on an extended Vice-Regal term by: (a) Stealing the media spotlight during Obama's February 09 Ottawa visit (b) describing herself (in a Paris speech) as Canada's de facto Queen (c) stealing the Harper spotlight in the aftermath of this year's earthquake in her native Haiti.

The result, as I have speculated previously (See: "When Just a Phone Call..." Jan, 2/10) is that Michaelle Jean is likely even to be denied a "last Hurrah": Presiding over "Canada Day" 2010 celebrations. - The Queen herself (at Mr. Harper's invitation) will be in Ottawa to do the honours on July first. Michaelle Jean's term in office as Governor-General ends early in September. But seems in spiteful finality, Mr. Harper's Conservatives will anoint her successor while The Queen is in Canada through late June and early July.

Thus this Easter weekend's trial balloons of potential candidates being floated through the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail. Funny though that the Tories seem intent mostly on proposing white Anglo-Saxon males for the Vice-Regal post. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (I am one) But, haven't we moved beyond the point for the mostly ceremonial post of Governor-General?

It is the Prime Minister's prerogative to propose to The Queen whomever he wishes to name as Her representative in Canada. Maybe he wants someone closer to his own image? How else to explain the names bubbling near the speculative surface: Reform leader Preston Manning, hockey mouthpiece Don Cherry, ex-pat Wayne Gretzky, retired Defence Chief, John de Chastelain; and Mulroney-era confidant Senator Noel Kinsella?

Obviously, it's time for Michaelle Jean and her retinue to call-in the moving vans.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

 

SARAH SMILE!

To digress: The spelling differs, but I hope the Philadelphia blue-eyed soul duo, Hall & Oates, will lend me the title of their 1976 smash hit - Sara Smile.

Just recently in my native province of New Brunswick, the Government of Premier Shawn Graham reversed its decision to sell the provincial utility; NB Power, to the world's largest power generator, Hydro Quebec, because polls showed the Graham Liberals would lose the next election over the issue.

It seems in politics, as in television's ratings battles, popularity contests trump noble objectives and principles. Just this week, environmentalists have been outraged by decisions south of the border.

In order to mitigate the anticipated fall-out in November's Congressional elections from the bitter divisive battle with the country's right-wing elements over health care. President Barack Obama has unleashed a wholesale assault on the oceans. In an unexpected, unanticipated and aggressive declaration on off-shore oil and gas exploration, the American Leader has lifted the country's moratorium on drilling off the east coast of the Atlantic; and he's set in motion measures to support and promote gas and oil exploration in the eastern Gulf Of Mexico and in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska by 2012. Not surprisingly, Obama's Republican opponents applauded his pronouncement.

Now this: Discovery Communications, which owns Discovery Channel and several other popular American cable and satellite television outlets is - (It seems with some measure of justification)- accused of being inconsistent with its owns principles and objectives by signing the former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, to a contract to star in one more American reality TV series. It's not just that we all have had already too much of staged television reality; but critics point out that Discovery, known for its spectacular wild-life focused productions, appears here to sacrifice its own principles by signing Palin who served all of 2 1/2 years as Governor. Environmentalist note that during that period her State's government escalated a war on several endangered animal species including wolves and polar bears which, at the very least, appears inconsistent with Discovery's mission. At last check, a petition against the planned production launched by the a Washington based lobby group, "Defenders of Wildlife" claimed to have received close to 150,000 signatures.

Some think that Sarah Palin may be positioning to launch a campaign for the U.S. Presidency in 2012. Lest she flame-out like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard", she remains coy about firming-up her plans. She knows media interest would quickly evaporate if she abandoned aspirations to her nation's highest office. Anyone remember H. Ross Perot? And, he's a billionaire! - A wink and a smile perhaps; but Mrs. Palin is obviously not quite ready for her close-up.

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