Friday, January 28, 2011

 

DOWN THIS HIGHWAY BEFORE

Far better qualified pundits and commentators than I have spent the last several days analyzing the motives behind a series of offensive attack advertising from Canada's major political players; the ruling Conservatives and the Liberals opposite.

The level to which these most recent ads have descended has offended many Canadians who have watched from a distance how bitter partisanship has split the United States, derailed many legislative initiatives, and deadlocked the American Congress.

The general expectation is that this bitterness amongst Canadian Parliamentarians will peak around the time of the Federal Government's budget expected in the next 6 (or so) weeks. Most likely culminating into our third National election since January of 2006.

If that is the case, (perhaps it explains the unrelenting bitterness of the current advertising campaigns), Federal politicians will have to vie for the attention of an electorate already engaged in enormously significant provincial election activities in British-Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland-and-Labrador, at least. Provinces which represent about two-thirds of Canada's population and its most significant economic entities.

As demonstrated repeatedly over the last 50 years; the Province of Quebec may offer the most significant challenge to the nation's well being. The popularity of Premier Jean Charest's government has collapsed amidst a litany of scandals and alleged wrong-doing. And in Quebec, the eventual demise of the ruling Liberals, means the election of an avowed separatist Parti-Quebecois government. No surprise then that the Federalist branch of the Separatists, Gilles Duceppe's "Bloc Quebecois" have been threatening to defeat the Federal budget unless the Province of Quebec secures a $5-Billion transfer payment from Ottawa, an NHL hockey arena in Quebec City and Lord knows what else by the time the threats, extortion and intimidation end. Mr. Duceppe, who controls his "Bloc" caucus in Ottawa more tightly than the Prime Minister does the Tories, may just possibly have only one other contending challenger for his hostility towards the country.

(Caution: Offensive language)



Being "Canadian" is a growing insignificant way for Quebecois to define themselves. Just seven in one hundred (7%) of francophone Quebecers define themselves as Canadian first according to a survey released in December by Leger Marketing. The survey which was done for the Association for Canadian Studies concludes that more than 60% of Quebec francophone define themselves as Quebecois first or exclusively.

Just slightly more than 30 years after the first Independence Referendum, and 15 year after the last; a significant majority of French speaking residents of Quebec have disengaged from Federal politics; detached from Canada; and have been increasingly distancing themselves from their emotional ties with the rest of the country. It is a cause which should be of enormous concern for the future of national unity and which demands the uppermost attention of our political leaders who instead have been clobbering each other with unrelated and really offensive attack ads.

A former Canadian Army reservist who served at military bases in Thunder Bay and at Gagetown, New Brunswick; "Major" Serge Provost heads the "Milice Patriotique Quebecoise", a shadowy separatist militia headquartered in east end Montreal where it opened its first recruitment centre in November. Though Mr. Provost says even some hardcore Separatists are uncomfortable with his organization, he claims about 200 members and about 1700 "Face Book" friends apparently willing to take combat training, life saving skills and wilderness survival courses.

Just this month, civil unrest has ripped through Tunisia, Egypt and other relatively quiet parts of the world. At the same time and without fanfare, the U.S. Homeland Security Department has abandoned the "Terror Threat Colour Code" (green-blue-yellow-orange and red) instituted and popularized by the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath of the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. Perhaps we should ask the Americans if we can borrow the multi-coloured lights: Just in case.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

 

BOOMER FRET

It is maybe the reality of our ageing demographic that causes every small tremor in economic news - Employment, Interest Rates, Manufacturing output (you name it) - to terrorize the stock market. We are the "Boomers;" the nation's largest population cohort and we're fretting whether there will be anything left for life in blissful retirement.

Perhaps sadly...well we should. Though most of the world's great economic thinkers agree that Canada is in damn good financial shape; in at least one respect we're one of the world's basket cases. Canadians are drowning in debt: In 2009 our government debt amounted to 82% of the nation's entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared for example to Great Britain (68%) where the national government has just imposed Draconian restraint measures. And even the United-States, the world's economic disaster poster boy, which is just one point above us; 83.2%.

Canada's Federal government debt is as bad as ever, and climbing at the rate $135-Million per day. It peaked at $563-Billion in 1998 before the Liberal Government of Jean Chretien wrestled it back with its own drastic cuts. In the past five years it has now risen back to what the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation claims will be $567-Billion on March 31 - A new record.

That's just the Federal Government debt, add in provincial debt where some economies - New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec (to name just three) - are their own basket cases, and Canada's total government debt will be well over $ One Trillion on March 31 when the books are closed for the fiscal year.

Lest you think that it is just our elected officials who are doing a bad job at minding the nation's purse strings - They are - But the rest of us are "maxed-out!" Spending by Canadian consumers over the past two years is the most leveraged in history. Canadians hold more than their own $-One Trillion in mortgage debt alone; up about 8% since 2009, and an eye-popping 194% since 1995. It's not just the family credit cards that are maxed-out either. Last year (2010) about 2,000,000 Canadians took out equity loans from the value of their generally mortgaged homes - The average withdrawal was $46,000.

Fueled by historically low mortgage interest rates, it has been Canada's housing market which buffered the country against the economic recession which shook most other parts of the developed world. But the pent-up demand for an average Canadian home which is now priced at $331,000 is rapidly evaporating amongst the record personal, national and provincial debts we have accumulated as a nation. It may be later than our American cousins' or the homes of our ancestors in the United Kingdom and in France; but the party is probably over for us too.

Just this week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded Canada's GDP growth predictions for 2011 to 2.3%. In recessionary times, that ain't bad but it pales against the IMF's world economic predictions of 4.4% growth. At the very height of the recession one Canadian Imperial Bank economist called Canada..."a safe harbour in today's global economic storm." For the most part, witness to the turmoil abroad, Canadians were pretty smug about our country's fiscal position.

If our reasonably safe economy was fueled by an unprecedented housing boom which has now spent itself out; there may be good reason to fret that it was all along an illusionary boom built on a somewhat expensive house of cards.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

 

COMMUNICATING WAS SLOWER BACK THEN.

If there is one major difference between other times in the past in which political expression was an "ugly" business, perhaps it lies in the technology of our modern speech.

Journalist Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times commented just recently that we live in an era which is saturated with communications of all sorts. Something which though it has resulted in radically democratizing speech, has also lifted away the veil of restraint as well as previous standards of responsibility.

He explains that in the not too distant past, political rhetoric was somewhat buffered by the constraints of time and distance. But since the development of 24 hour television news in the latter half of the last century, and ever more so with the advent of "new" media; when the political discourse turns ugly it seems to be all around us...because it is. To quote Rutten: "The Internet has been a great enabler of incivility, not only because it so easily allows the anonymous or pseudonymous expression of the most violent or hurtful opinions, but because it reinforces the illusion of a virtual world in which there is nothing but speech."

There are enormous advantages to the technology which is changing the playing field of North American politics, but in this new environment the need for civility and restraint are being watered-down and may be darn close to elimination. These days it seems that the heated rhetoric and bitter divisive accusations no longer have to account for the actual consequences of a real (rather than virtual) world.

Sadly, it's little wonder that at a time when it may be most essential, politics looks very much like a business in decline as Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne points-out in a recent post: "The figures are stark...voter turn-out in recent elections has hovered around the 60 per cent mark." Coyne notes that a generation ago the winning party in an election, Conservative or Liberal, could consistently persuade 30% or more of eligible voters for their support. In recent elections that's fallen to 22 or 23 per cent for the "winning" party. In the election of 2008 the total share of eligible electors who voted Liberal was 15%.

Any other business or industry experiencing such a catastrophic decline Coyne says would be turning itself inside-out trying to figure out what it's doing wrong. With the threat of a national election looming yet once more, it seems the best Canada's two mainstream national parties can muster is instead increasingly destructive negative advertising which as one pundit put it are..."so vicious they actually give attack adds a bad name." - The pundit by the way is Gerry Nicholls, an Ottawa consultant who from 1998 to 2002 was Stephen Harper's Vice-President when the Prime Minister led the "National Citizens' Coalition." - To be blunt Nicholls says..."they are nothing but mean-spirited, personal attacks that go way beyond the pale."

The problem with politics in which every question, issue, situation, mannerism and motive is framed in trite, abusive, angry and negative values is that it makes compromise impossible. Debate in politics demands respect and civility. When important relevant issues essential to the nation's future are worked-up into a virtual vitriolic blood-drenched confrontation; understanding and compromise become unattainable.

Instant information may be changing the world. But it is the "high road" of ennobling and balanced political rhetoric which will earn respect and resolve impasse. Regardless of how we communicate now or into the future, Canadians must demand and settle for no less than wise, respectful and humane discourse of their politicians and leaders.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

 

SUPPOSE YOUR "WIKI" LEAKS

The Canadian Security intelligence Service (CSIS) has a list of people "permanently bound to secrecy" under the country's Security Information Act. I am not one of them.

In the nation's capital nothing happens quite by accident. All the more so when a "control freak" is at the helm, as others have described the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Last fall when a draft communications plan to sell Canadians on a secretive agreement with the Obama Administration titled: "Beyond The Border; A Shared Vision For Perimeter Security And Competitiveness" was leaked to the media, Canada's government went into overdrive to deny the agreement was set for President Obama and Prime Minister Harper signatures in January. It's an omnibus agreement which aims to facilitate the cross-border transfer of goods and services between our two nations in the aftermath of the so-called "thickening of our 5000 mile border" since the savage terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Supporters and proponents of the deal say a North American perimeter security pact is the obvious next logical step. Despite its reluctance to confirm the details of any agreement in the works, the Federal Government has trotted-out a number of high profile public supporters of the "shared vision" including five former Canadian Ambassadors to Washington and several former Government officials involved in the Free-Trade Accord of the 1980's and its subsequent follow-up evolution the "North American Free Trade Accord" (NAFTA.)

Of course the Devil is always in details. Even though the Harper Government has been reluctant to clarify just what is involved in this new tentative deal with the American Government, the widely anticipated "tete-a-tete" between President Obama and Prime Minister Harper has been delayed while officials grapple with the details of the accord. There are a couple of "sticky" issues, and recent seemingly unrelated developments within Canada, may (in fact) be designed to allay American demands and / or concerns. They involve both Canada's northernmost border, as well as our southern border along the United States.

U.S. Homeland Security has identified a serious flaw in the country's strict control over who enters and leaves American soil: It is done at airports and seaports, but there is no way to track who is leaving the United States along the dozens of land-routes which enter into Canada. The fear is that terrorists, extremists and others who would do harm can drive across the border and grab a flight out of Canada without knowledge. As an essential part of the "perimeter" agreement, Homeland Security wants the Canada Border Services Agency's (CBSA) list of who is entering the country from the United States. The issue could be directly related to the Harper Government's adamant rejection of additional landing rights in Canada for the Middle Eastern air carriers "Emirates Airline" and "Etihad Airways." The resulting diplomatic rift has led to the cancellation of Canada's nine-year military lease on a Middle Eastern airfield used to transfer troops and supplies to Afghanistan; as well as unprecedented Visa restrictions for Canadians wishing to enter the United Arab Emirates.

Up at the Arctic border, America's giant Massachusetts based defence contractor Raytheon covets the management contract for the North Warning System (NWS). On 9/11, NORAD lost significant minutes in tracking the five hijacked passenger jets over the United States because it's Radars, like the guns of France's fabled "Maginot Line," were aimed "out of country" rather than inward...I digress. The remotely monitored "North Warning System" Radars built in 1992 are controlled from an underground bunker in North Bay, Ontario, but it's a joint Alberta and first nations (Inuit) firm that holds the maintenance contract. Raytheon has its sights on the contract worth about $70-Million per year of which about 60% is paid by the American Government. It expires in the fall. The 47 automated Radar sites are located on Inuit land, and the Aboriginal have invoked land-claims agreements to kibosh the Harper Government's international tender-call.

The volatility intensifies if you add a potential Canadian Federal election in the not too distant future. Critics and opponents of the proposed "perimeter security" agreement are claiming already that the additional collaboration with Homeland Security and the U.S. Defence establishment poses serious Canadian privacy and sovereignty concerns.

Ultimately improving the flow of goods and services between our two countries is a worthwhile objective. However in its current context, the political cost may be beyond any national party's ability to withstand once the details see the light of day.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

 

LOOSE ENDS...

Mid-way through the first month of the second decade of the 21st Century: Good enough to tidy-up a few loose ends before embarking unto the remainder of the decade.

I was brought-up in a French speaking household. The expression "tidying-up loose ends" I only learned at University. My STU classmates will recall J.E.P. Butler's sophomore American History course: Dr. Butler, a history scholar and poet, "Jeppy" (we called him, affectionately of course) would walk to the Post office every day carrying a suit-case. Students never quite knew whether he received any mail...but now in my own 7th decade, I'm understanding the daily significance of waiting for the Postman - I digress.

CHEEP - THE NEW CHIC: On both sides of the North American border urban centres have been dealing with the new "chic;" keeping and raising chickens in the yard. In Ottawa last fall, City Council nixed a proposal to allow "coop housing" in private back yards. It's much the same elsewhere including Detroit and Spokane in the United States where issues of noise, odor and abandoned fowls have resulted in significant restrictions. Supporters of the proposal suggest that besides laying the "freshest" eggs, chickens eat bugs and weeds and provide homegrown fertilizer. Chicago, New York, Seattle and Portland (Oregon) are all okay with the idea, and the website Backyardchickens.com claims a membership of 70,000.

HISTORY IN PHOTOS: "La Societe historique du Madawaska;" my home town's historical society has acquired and catalogued a treasure trove of photographs from about 1930 to the early part of the 21st Century. The photos (more than 2000 so far) are being posted on the bilingual website Demelerlespinceaux.ca as the historical society lays the groundwork for hosting the 2014 World Acadian Congress ("Cajuns" to my American friends)in Edmundston, New Brunswick. There's been some controversy about the Congress as many locals, perhaps a majority, (myself included) are not of Acadian descent or extraction. But there's no controversy about the historic value of the photo collection acquired following the demise of "Studio LaPorte." Sidney Laporte, his daughter Charlotte and her husband Larry Coburn, their daughter Louise and her husband Mike Jessop chronicled the history of "La Republique du Madawaska" in photos for more than seven decades.

YOU'LL BE AMAZED BY THE CRUISE RATES: Two gigantic cruise ships sailing out of ports in Florida have significantly depressed the all-inclusive cruise market to the Caribbean so far this winter. In a continually tough American economic market, the Royal Caribbean owned "MS Oasis of the Seas" and the "MS Allure of the Seas" have added an additional 12,000 rooms ("berths" in seagoing terms) to the already crowded weekly sailings from ports in Florida. That accounts for an incredible availability of 90,000 oceangoing "berths" sailing out of Florida every week this winter. Pick your Port: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa or Canaveral and you're good to go - Cheap! As long as you stay away from the shipboard casinos.

NAMED NAMES: A new book out over the next few days, "Remembering My Father" by Ron Reagan, the late American President's youngest son, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the actor turned politician who died of complications from Alzheimer's in 2004. One thing the book doesn't talk about is the late President's past as a secret FBI informer during the notorious Communist witch-hunt of the early 1950's which was fueled by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. At that time, the actor Ronald Reagan was President of the Screen Actors Guild, Hollywood's most significant trade union. Over the "McCarthyism" period a number of film and (early) television acting careers were destroyed by accusations of subversion and treason without any proper regard for evidence.

Loose ends nicely tied-up. Thanks Jeppy!

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

 

BLOOD LIBEL AND A MOMENT OF SOBER SECOND THOUGHT

In his first public comments by the Prime Minister since the horrific shootings in Arizona, Stephen Harper cautioned that Canadians should avoid turning this heinous crime into a debate over the state of political discourse in North America.

South of the border there's been a debate all week on whether the shootings outside of a Tucson supermarket in which 14 people were injured and six killed have been somehow connected to the acrimonious bi-partisan political discourse in the United-States.

Just in recent hours two of America's most prominent conservatives; Sarah Palin and broadcaster Glenn Beck have lashed-out against commentators who have suggested they have contributed to a pervasive atmosphere that might incite some people to violence.

America...indeed much of the world has been deeply disturbed by the mass killings in Arizona. The attempted assassination of Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords seems tragically familiar to people in countries where 21st Century political violence has been routine. In neighbouring Mexico diplomats signaled that the attack was an alarming signal for the health of democracy in the United States. Across Latin America less mature democracies, including Mexico, are all too familiar with frequent spasms of political violence. But; even mature European democracies have expressed worries and concern. The Paris daily "Le Monde" said the events in Tucson seem to confirm..."an alarming premonition that has been gaining momentum for a long time: that the verbal and symbolic violence that the most radical right-wing opponents have used in their clash with the Obama administration would at some point lead to tragic physical violence."

Whatever the motive(s) of the attacker, the attack has sent a chill through a fundamental part of American democracy: The right and freedom of people to gather and meet with their elected representatives. As was noted by the New York Times owned central Florida "Lakeland Ledger" - "The United States is not a Third World country. But it begins to look like one when a simple meeting between a Member of Congress and her constituents ends in a hail of bullets."

Debate demands respect. In the United States and many believe sadly increasingly so in Canada, harsh and personal rhetoric has reduced political discourse to a series of insults, slurs and barbs traded amongst those (and their supporters) who hold opposing views and positions. Canadians haven't just witnessed the poisoning of the political discourse south of our border; but we too have witnessed a troubling increase in the cynical and divisive wedge politics which leads to outlandish rhetoric and character assassination.

Most assuredly America's gun culture played a significant role in last weekend's Arizona massacre. Prime Minister Harper is correct to claim that: "The reality is that democratic debate everywhere is animated, (and) it's always going to be that way."

Clearly though the Tucson shootings should be as much of a clarion wake-up call for Canadians as for our American cousins south of the border.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

 

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

Just as few days ago as the 111th Congress of the United States convened in Washington; nine white men from isolated outposts in Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Kansas and California were meeting with reporters just around the corner from the White House.

Emboldened by what observers and pundits have described as the new "Tea Party Congress," they brandished a manifesto proposing legislation to make a distinction of American birth certificates between persons "born" subject to the jurisdiction of the United-States, and persons who are "not born" subject to the jurisdiction of America. Essentially, a "Class B" birth certificate for the offspring of non-U.S. parents who are born in America: So called "anchor babies"...The American born children of what the group described to reporters as an..."illegal invasion of roofers, house cleaners, carpenters, nursemaids, drug mules, drywallers, hookers, gardeners."

Forty years ago this week "All In The Family" debuted on North American television. Though it forever changed television, it seems that it's ability to use comedy as an equal opportunity weapon to tackle politically charged issues has been abandoned to the garbage bin of history. It is not surprising therefore that in the aftermath of the shocking and dreadful events which have unfolded in Tucson, Arizona; Archie Bunker has surfaced back in America's national consciousness and conversation, with some observers and pundits claiming that the legendary character portrayed by actor Caroll O'Connor who died in 2001..."was the original Tea Partier"



As Americans (Indeed the entire world) may have learned from the events which have unfolded in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. It is entirely possible that over-the-top rhetoric whether it is pronounced by politicians, far too frequently by television commentators, or quite simply by unbalanced people; may lead to violence.

Norman Lear who is credited with creating the characters of "All In The Family" isn't quite sure whether Archie Bunker was 40 years ahead of his time a charter member of the "Tea Party Movement". Of Archie, Mr. Lear who is 88 years old, is quoted in the current issue of Parade Magazine: "He would, however, defend the Tea Party because he, too, was for small government and fiscal responsibleness - just as he sang, ...Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again."

In early 1971 Archie Bunker's worries and fears: Whether about losing his job; making the next mortgage payment; or quite simply that the world (embodied in son-in-law "Meathead") is moving too fast, struck the very same chord and fears which grip modern Americans.

But as Tucson bears witness: Far greater dangers are lying amongst our current hyper-partisanship biases than Archie Bunker's issues forty years hence. Today, the media and perhaps more so personal mass communication devices via the Internet; wireless technology; Twitter and social media of every description instantly assign motive; and far too frequently speculation of every nature is passed-on as fact without any reasonable effort at confirmation.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

 

A CHARMED OFFENSIVE

"Go north, young man, go north," screams the header in the 'Washington Times' daily newspaper earlier in the week; extolling the virtues of America's neighbour to the north of the 49th parallel.

Granted the conservative leaning "Times" doesn't quite have the cachet of the venerable 'Washington Post'. But in Washington, the world's most influential city, one takes compliments and accolades where one can. I quote: "Now, instead of expanding Canada's welfare state, the Conservative government led by Mr. Harper is intent upon building the nation's global competitiveness...The last time Canadians really caught Americans' eyes was when prime ministers (sic) such as Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, both leaders of the Liberal Party, were proving uncooperative in the realm of foreign policy."

Game, Set, Match: The battle is engaged for the hearts and minds of Canadians for "Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Competitiveness" - The omnibus agreement negotiated between the Obama Administration and the Government of Canada which will be announced when Prime Minister Harper and President Obama meet before month's end.

There was a time (not so long ago) when Canadians prided over the line separating our country from the United States, which stretches 5,500 miles (8,900 Kilometers) as the world's "longest undefended border". Alas, since the attacks of September 11, 2001 our "thickening" border has suffered a decline of goods shipments from Canada to the United States from 87% of our national output, to 73% for the last full year of which figures were compiled: 2009. Exporters have been screaming at successive government's about how much more difficult it's become for people and goods to cross-on over the other side.

Though Mr. Harper's government seems to be purposely keeping opponents in the dark as long as possible about this alleged revised version of the failed Fortress North America perimeter agreement. Opponents believe it could harmonize immigration, customs and national security policies. Essentially making Canada adopt American policies in just about every matter related to continental security in order to expedite the flow of goods, services and travellers across our international border.

Conspiracy theorists will vouch that timing is almost too good to be accidental: Just this week thousands of Canadians lined-up for hours at the Buffalo, New York border crossings to be processed (passports in hand) to attend the World Junior Hockey Championship games, where they made up more than 80% of fans. And; eventually to witness Canada's dream team being humiliated by the Russians in the Gold Medal final. Dirty "Ruskies!" - Digressions aside: Won't that just about justify Harper's purchase of those F-35 stealth fighter airplanes from our American allies?

The stakes for Mr. Harper's political future are close to extreme. If he does not win a majority in the next election which is widely expected before the end of 2011. Then, pretty much everything for him will get worse, and despite his iron-clad grip on the Conservative Party, his caucus will likely opt to have him spend more time with his family and less being a leader; as was observed in the wake of this week's Cabinet "shufflette".

One suspects that it`s easy enough with the right spin to charm both Canadians and Americans. After all, in the United-States Canadian rockers "Arcade Fire," Hip-Hop artist "Drake" and teen heart-throb "Justin Beiber" already are at the very apex of the music charts. And, let`s not forget Canuck doughnut icon Tim Hortons Inc., which is the second fastest growing fast-food restaurant chain in the country. A nation which is so desperate for jobs in the aftermath of its endless recession that cheap restaurants in America have become a haven for the nation's economy battered job seekers. A country recently described by the 'Los Angeles Times' as a nation of hamburger flippers where the rate of poverty has risen to close to 15%; the highest level in more than 50 years...I digress (somewhat).

A couple of years back Mr. Harper`s government paid handsomely for two well connected U.S. media consultants, including former George W.Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, to secure the Prime Minister podiums on Fox News and CNN to shill government and party initiatives. This week`s presumed plant in `The Washington Times` is probably just more of the same...Fox News and CNN interviews will doubtless follow.

As for our Canadian hearts and minds: Toronto media outlets have confirmed that Mr. Harper`s own former spin-doctor, Communications Director Kory Teneycke, is returning from his embarrassingly forced sabbatical to take-over Quebecor`s ``Sun-TV News`` before it launches in early March.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

 

POLITICS IN WONDERLAND

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is busy re-arranging his Cabinet chairs aboard the HMCS Tory, Canada's ship of state. South of the 49th parallel, American legislators are returning to Congress.

In both nations political party leaders are sharpening their focus on upcoming Federal elections. That, and the notion of fixed election dates is about where the similarities end. To digress: America's fixed election date is enshrined in the Constitution of 1776. In Canada, although the law to fix Federal election dates was adopted by Parliament in the winter of 2006, politicians on both sides of the aisle citing prorogation(s); minority governments; dysfunctional Parliaments; bad economy; good economy; (the list grows) have so far circumvented their own law, and there are every indications to conclude they'll do it again before 2011 ends.

Since Prime Minister Harper's first minority Conservative government was elected in January of 2006, Canada has been in perpetual general election mode. Down south of the border the Obama administration faces the daunting task of rebuilding its battered reputation as the race to the November 2012 Presidential election launches against an emboldened adversarial Congress. The Republicans have welcomed more than a dozen "Tea Party" supporters into the ranks as a result of the recent mid-term face-off. A "Tea Party tidal wave" as described by the movement's darling; former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Over the holiday break, publishers of President George W. Bush's biography "Decision Points" confirmed the tome had sold two-million copies; a favourable comparison with Mrs. Palin's "Faith, Family, Country" which has topped 1.5 million copies. Cynics scoff that it's toss-up which is the better door-stopper. Either way, with the holidays over it's likely what's left in the bookstores will soon find the way to the remainder bins...I digress!

Quite unlike Prime Minister Harper who knows exactly who he is politically and what he wants; President Obama's problems are exacerbated as he seems to still be working through the political equation of who 'he' is? - As perhaps are the American people. His antagonists will attempt to make the most of the dilemma. In the process the Republicans and their Tea Party associates must walk a fine line and not overreach and "scare little kids and pets" - Perhaps defining a situation which on the northern side of the border may explain why Stephen Harper and the Tories have been mired in minority territory for four years.

Critics have described the legacy of President George W. Bush as a stewardship of illusions. The Edith Piaf of Presidential policy as one put it: "He regrets nothing!" - It seems also quite clear to those same analysts that Mrs. Palin is not qualified to be President of the United-States. Many believe that the talk about a potential bid for the high office was just to help "move books" when "Faith, Family, Country" hit the shelves early last fall.

Somewhat like bookends, the frame of the American Presidential race for the next 20 months seems abundantly defined. One could wish only that Canada's seemingly never ending struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the electorate was so crystal clear.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

 

THE MEDIA SUPERLATIVES JUST WON'T DO.

Welcome to another year of climate change. Unfortunately, North America's media headlines and superlatives may just not suffice anymore.

In the last 24 months (or so) our now all too frequently weather extremes have been described in media headlines as "storms of the decade"; no wait: "storm of the century"; and yes everyone will surely recall "Snowmageddon of 2010."

The obvious reality is that the world is the victim of an aggressive change in climate brought about by the planet's warming; and for which (besides the media's obsessive headlines) we are doing pitilessly little to deal with. Here in North America slogans and headlines have become our antidote for efficiency.

Having now wrapped the first decade of the 21st Century the slogans, "Snowmageddon" et all have simply replaced mankind's ability to deal with the symptoms of our crumbling human infrastructures...God forbid we should even begin to deal with the reality that our two-legged Race is causing the planet itself to strike-back against the excesses.

In the wake of three successive December storms along Canada's Atlantic coast which caused damages in the millions of dollars to New Brunswick's already battered economy; Robert Hughes, a researcher with the province's Department of the Environment concludes that the unprecedented storms may be an example of climate change, and advises..."in the end Nature will tend to win."

Of course the same storms also caused havoc along the northeast coast of the United-States, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelling passengers at airport and railway terminals and on highways stretching from the deep south to Maine's border with the fore mentioned New Brunswick. And, the headlines screamed that either the airline customer services failed, or the Mayor of New York; Governor of New Jersey...and all the others have somehow been the ones to blame.

Of course, it's not just us: There's flooding across the Pacific rim from Australia all the way north to California. Unprecedented storms in western Europe and record breaking low temperatures affecting the Caribbean Islands and into Florida. Polk County, Florida - America's tender fruit mecca - set a total of seven record cold days in December, including minus 4 Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit) on December 28. Not terribly good for everything from the Orange and Strawberry crops to the precious tropical fish farms which lost 70% of the year's output.

It's complicated to believe that "global warming" is freezing our asses off. But that is the reality and not only is there no short term relief, but it seems that as a human race we aren't even prepared to face the rapid changes we have brought unto ourselves - Of course other than to nod "yes" when the media scream with another superlative adjective, and/or blame others for the state of the weakened infrastructures which can no longer cope with Nature's fury.

If that isn't enough, maybe this will help: Breakfast teas produced in India and sold worldwide; notable for their heartiness, strenght and body, are turning weak and fowl tasting. Experts conclude it's more evidence of flavour fall-out occasioned by climate change. The Queen surely isn't likely to be amused.

Clearly we are both unprepared and unwilling to take the necessary measures which would give humans a fighting chance against the changing climate circumstances successive modern generations have visited on the planet's ecology. Guess we can all keep watching for the superlative media headlines and hope for the best...but in the end: Nature likely will win.

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