Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Just as the planet teeters perched at the abyss of "Debtpocalypse" - Pundits, critics, economists, political scientists and politicians are all adding their own perspectives and interpretations to the $14 + Trillion hell-hole the United States of America has dug itself into.

On the other hand, conspiracy theorists are slightly more pragmatic in their approach to our world's financial mess: They blame the "Bilderberg Group" and its alleged diabolical plot to impose the planned economy of a world government dominated by capitalism.

If one subscribes to the hype the "Bilderbergs" (Who met most recently in St. Moritz, Switzerland on June 9 to 12) are the modern day economic equivalent of the Knights Templar famous for protecting the pilgrim routes during the Crusades of the Middle Ages and the mythical guardians of Jesus' Holy-Grail. In 2001, Denis Healey a former British Chancellor of the Exchequer and a founding member of the Bilderberg Group fueled the controversy telling an interviewer: "To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair. Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting each other for nothing...so we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

There are roughly 130 members in the secretive Bilderberg Group all of whom are people of influence drawn from western Governments, politics, finance, industry, labour, education and communications. If they were public, most names would be quite familiar including (Until just recently at least) I.M.F. Chair, Dominique Strauss-Kahn who has since become pre-occupied with more other personal matters...I digress!

The "Bilderbergs" have met at least once in Canada at the exclusive Brookstreet Hotel in Ottawa's deep west end in June of 2006. The Brookstreet and it's private golf-course are owned by Welsh born billionaire (and very private) Terry Mathews a mainstay of the high-tech world of Silicon Valley North located in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata. The presence of Henry Kissinger at the Brookstreet conclave sparked unprecedented attention from south of the Canadian border in the United States. Since that meeting proponents of the aforementioned Bilderberg Conspiracy have included the ultra-right wing John Birch Society, political activists Lyndon Larouche; and past heavy-weight wrestler,former Governor of Minnesota and TV host Jesse Ventura who devoted the entire episode of December 30, 2009 of the television series "Conspiracy Theories" to the Bilderbergs.

Three years after the 1954 founding of the Bilderberg Group, Canadian soil did however play host to the historic Pugwash Conference hosted by another billionaire, Cyrus Eaton, on the northeast coast of Nova Scotia. Shadowed by the unprecedented arms race of the Cold War, the "great-thinkers" at Pugwash promulgated a manifesto opposing nuclear weapons.

If Bilderberg is 20th Century "passe;" virtually a stone's throw from Pugwash, some wannabees and surely many others who are members of the exclusive Bilderberg Group have been meeting now for about a decade behind the gated doors of the exclusive Fox Harb'r Resort in Wallace, Nova Scotia. They are the guests of the former Premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna, now Deputy-Chair of TD Bank; and the resort's billionaire owner (yes, another one); Ron Joyce, the brains behind and co-founder of "Tim Hortons'"! What's known of the guest list there is that it has included former British PM, Tony Blair (on Friday last), and former American Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr., and George W. Bush. Other notables who have attended include British Prime-Minister John Major, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and hockey superstar Wayne Gretsky.

In addition to his current duties with the Toronto-Dominion Bank Group, Premier McKenna is also a former Canadian Ambassador to Washington. I note that this past weekend as he was hosting Tony Blair and all the other private guests behind the Fox Harb'r Gates, Malcolm Bricklin who played a significant larger than life role in the history of New Brunswick was nearby to see: "Bricklin - The Musical". McKenna succeeded Richard Hatfield as N.B. Premier in 1987. The musical on stage at Fredericton's Playhouse recounts the relationship and much of the myth between Hatfield and Mr. Bricklin. The late Premier was both bedazzled and befuddled by the fast talkin' American entrepreneur and the magic of his gull-winged sports car. The contrasts are striking: Mr. Hatfield, a bon vivant, partied hard with the likes of Andy Warhol and Truman Capote at Regine's and Club 54 through his premiership years. Along with the bright lights of those long forgotten Manhattan discos, the bright orange colours in the Fredericton musical's decor bear witness to significantly different times.

Sadly none of which leaves much of a glimmer of any significant world conspiracies being played-out. We'll just have to find our own way out of the morass.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


There's plenty of anecdotal ammunition to suggest that the "Council of the Federation" meeting of Canadian Premiers just wrapped-up in Vancouver accomplished almost nothing in unifying the provinces: The founder of the "council" Quebec's Jean Charest didn't attend and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty upped and left early to deal with matters back home.

Perhaps it's because there are five Provincial Elections in the works for the fall (and potential for a possible record seven elections) that just about everyone brought an intransigent series of wants and needs to the table. Quebec and Ontario want to re-open the Canada Health Act discussions; the Atlantic Provinces agitate for greater Federal Transfers; Saskatchewan is still smarting over the sale of Potash Corp. debacle; and Alberta and British Columbia want trade deals with the Far East.

With the provinces bickering over regional matters and without any common accord to raise pressure on the Federal Government, it's pretty clear that Prime Minister Harper's parliamentary majority in the House of Commons will remain free to set both the agenda and the course of debate come the return of Members of Parliament in the latter part of September.

Though the Obama Administration is somewhat pre-occupied with a debt crisis which threatens to flatten the planet's most powerful economy. Canada's Federal Government seems undeterred by evidence of the sputtering thirty year old "Mulroney" Conservative ideological belief that what ails Canada is easily fixed by increasing trade south with the Americans. If in a post 9/11 reality this simplistic solution worked then everyone assumes the provincial governments could easily be brought "on board" and their demands for additional funding from Ottawa (for whatever cause) would be satiated.

Unfortunately border perimeter security has been the all consuming top priority of the Government of the United States since the heinous attacks on the homeland ten years ago this fall. And, the reality no Canadian Government seems willing to acknowledge under the current circumstances is that trade and security are mutually exclusive. Add the ongoing melt-down of the United-States economy in the aftermath of the great-recession of 2008 and the attendant rise of American protectionism, and the pop-up perfect economic storm risks leaving Canada's export dependant provinces and Federal coffers battered and bruised beyond reasonable recovery.

Mr. Harper has vowed to press forward negotiating with the Americans to cut "red-tape" and bureaucratic inefficiencies which frequently trump reason at the border. But in reality, with the prospect of a bitter and divisive Presidential Election campaign just over the horizon, Mr. Obama's adversaries are sure to make sure America's security boot on Canada's economic throat remains firmly in place. Already the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is being pressed to respond to a sharply critical report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (The GAO) which claims that the American Customs and Border Protection Agency provides an "acceptable level of security along less than one percent of the border." The study commissioned by the GAO applied the criteria used by the US towards guarding its border with Mexico, and concludes that Border Patrol agents can exercise proper control over just 51 kilometers of the 6400 kilometer border between Canada and the United States - Based on its Mexican model, the GAO implies that the U.S. "does not have the ability to detect illegal activity across most of the northern border."

The Mulroney era free-trader model may have been good for business 30 years ago. Excepting Canada's finite vast energy resources; it now seems essential for our future prosperity as a nation to look outside of the immediate neighbourhood to modernize our trading model - Whether the provinces can agree or not on what precisely it is they want.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Unprecedented winter snowfall, spring floods of apocalyptic proportions, famine on the African Continent while North Americans bake under an unrelenting heat-wave. If it wasn't for the absence of plagues and pestilence believers might well conclude that Biblical Prophesy is upon us.

Little wonder that radio and television weather forecasters; "climatologists" as per the preferred designated terminology of this 21st Century, have assumed the role of Hero to the Masses. Lest I digress, what a surprising turn of events particularly when contrasted against the featured dumb-blond stereotypical "Weather Girl" (The Weather Bunny) of the golden age of television and/or the iconic mid-sixties Hippie-Dippy Weatherman persona of the brilliant monologist, George Carlin...

The acute dramatic changes in climate which we now suffer are (of course) the result of humankind's abuse of the planet and its precious ecological systems and balances. Since we're clearly not doing enough to change the obvious outcome, we North Americans must slog through a crisis decade of remarkable floods, drought and in the United-States in particular this year, the deadliest tornado season on record. And if we can't change the weather (or if we won't!) then better that the broadcast meteorologist be our new best bud.

As the weather becomes a bigger story, our need for information will grow. U.S. National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro told The New York Times recently: "The weather is more extreme, the floods are wetter and the droughts are drier. That's going to have real implications on society and it elevates the need for more information and a need for those on-air personalities. It's beyond what to wear for the day or do I need to carry an umbrella."

I am of a generation who remembers when the weather forecast was read directly right-off of the teletype machine. Or at best the weather guy stood in front of a giant chalkboard map to draw smiley face suns and gloomy clouds after patiently waiting his turn till the very end of the News Broadcast. Now of course weather broadcasters preside over radar systems and they frequently cover more "on set" real-estate than their fellow news readers and reporters.

Clearly changing atmospheric patterns are now the reason why "weather" commands watching television news. And in as much as most of us would like the climatologist to "change the weather" sometimes, if he could he wouldn't be on television. We should just get used to watching, preparing for the worse and hoping for the best.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


When Canada's Parliamentary session resumes in September, Mr. Harper's majority Conservatives will eliminate the national long-gun registry despite ongoing opposition from the country's police officers and their superiors.

To be fair former Toronto Police Chief and subsequent Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, Julian Fantino, doesn't necessarily agree with his former colleagues in uniform. Perhaps, as some have suggested, Mr. Fantino's conversion has more to do with his 2010 election as a Tory Member of Parliament from Vaughan, Ontario followed by his subsequent recent elevation to Associate Minister of Defence than for any waining support for former comrades in arms...I digress.

Be that as it may, it's south of the border in the United States that the problem is far more acute and a frequent source of frustration and irritation for Canadian authorities forced to deal with the ever increasing flow of illegal handguns (by every means possible) into our country.

That is in keeping with President Barack Obama's stance on gun issues since taking office: Once outspoken earlier in his political career in favour of tougher gun measures, the President has tread carefully since the election of 2008, almost never raising the topic except when asked and offering only tepid support for measures he once embraced; for instance re-enacting a ban on assault weapons.

In fact now six months after a Member of Congress was shot in the head in Arizona the President's administration still hasn't taken any new steps on gun violence even though that's exactly what Mr. Obama called for during a nationwide address in the immediate wake of the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Gifford. A significant measure uppermost to anti gun violence supporters is closing the "gun-show loophole" which allows private sellers to sell firearms at gun shows and elsewhere without conducting background checks. As a result, activist groups say that 40% of gun sales in the United-States are conducted without mandatory background checks. These are frequently the weapons used in heinous crimes in the United-States, or having found there way illegally across the northern border, far too frequently here as well in Canada.

To make a bad situation worse across the U.S., states have been increasingly allowing people who have lost their "firearms rights" because of mental illness to petition to have them restored. More than 20 State Legislatures have passed restoration laws since 2008 when Mr. Obama's Presidential election sparked fears that national measures might follow to tighten or eliminate rights contained in the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The intent of these new state laws is to enable people to regain the right to buy and own firearms if it's determined they are no longer a threat to public safety. The main problem is that low level courts such as those that handle small-claims and traffic infractions have been entrusted with enforcing the legislation. There Judges are (for the most part) giving the petitioners the benefit of the doubt.

With opposition from gun-rights group, increasingly hostile legislation from many state governments, an election year approaching, and attention focused on a faltering economy and few prospects for any action from Congress; the silence from Mr. Obama's administration is likely to draw little attention and even less criticism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The world's population is aging rapidly. In twenty years, one billion of the earth's inhabitants will be 65 years or older. In 40 years (by 2050), four-hundred million people will be over 80 years old. A new book, "Shock of Gray" by author Ted Fishman argues that we have been poorly prepared for the aging of the world's population, and how it will pit young against old; child against parent; worker against boss; companies against rivals, and nations against nations.

Fishman argues that as the ratio of the old to the young grows ever larger, global aging is reaching a critical stage. For the first time in known history the number of people of age 50 will be greater that those under age 18. He says no one has yet grasped the full massive effects this will have on economies, jobs and families.

I was reminded this week of the divergent effects in a couple of announcements from the Mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson, who incidentally turns 50 years old this week. The Mayor wore a helmet and a white tee-shirt on Sunday as he launched Ontario's first fully segregated bicycle lane along the length of Ottawa's Laurier Avenue. Cycling is an important form of recreation and Ottawa has close to 7000 kilometers of bike lanes, paved-shoulders and multi-use pathways. But only 2% of residents regularly rely on bicycles for commuting to work, which is the main mission of the Laurier Avenue initiative.

In business attire two days later, on Tuesday: Citing increasing mobility problems amongst the aged, Mayor Watson retired the last of Ottawa's "high-floor" buses. The city's one-thousand transit vehicles are now 100% so called "kneeling buses," capable of allowing people with mobility problems to roll-on and roll-off. Mayor Watson claims that is a first for any Canadian city. Therein the divergent problems of our modern urban environment. Cities were designed for the young, and we continue to develop and build infrastructure for that purpose. At the same time and all the while, it is the aging "boomers" who are putting the strain on our modern cities. - People are getting old fast, and we're doing it in communities designed for the sprightly.

The size of the aging boom is quite simply staggering. Every day for the next several decades, thousands of baby boomers will turn 65. That is in addition to the oldest-old, the 85-to-90 something, whose numbers have already grown by one-third in the last decade with no signs of slowing. The "New York Times" recently described the phenomenon as a..."silver tsunami (that) will challenge a youth oriented society." Since demographers have been warning about the phenomenon for years, it is shocking how far behind we are. And when any planning and forethought is given to the problem it's almost always viewed as a health issue - Preparing for the coming wave of Alzheimer's / Or as a political liability - When will the social safety nets collapse under the weight?

Cities and suburbs were designed for younger people, full of stairs, cars and now increasingly (it seems) bike lanes. The problem is that as these become more difficult to navigate older people retreat. As the population growth tilts to the majority of people over 50 years old or more, the challenge will be to keep them from retreating by adapting age friendly solutions to modern planning. It seems that we still have some distance to travel along the path...and not one of us is getting any younger.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


One of those frequently annoying and seemingly endless lists of "things you should know" currently making the rounds of junk e-mails being repeated ad nausea, foretells things which will disappear during our lifetime.

As in mostly every such cases the author is unknown, but of the 9 things listed subject to imminent disappearance - The Post Office, the Cheque, and land-line telephones among them - I think generally everyone would agree that "Privacy" belongs on the endangered list. Alas, the concept of privacy has been gone for a long time anyway. As the anonymous author of "the list" litanizes: There are cameras on the street, in most buildings, and even built into computers and cell phones. From the growing list of Social Media sites, applications and outlets right down to the GPS coordinates emitted by your vehicle (and recorded in its own computer), through to and including Google Street View; someone knows "who" you are and "where" you are. And all that while, the "chip" embedded in your credit card identifies your habits and feeds a billion monitors so that your profile is matched with the advertising from your Internet provider, all to encourage you to buy something else, again and again.

Really the advertisers and sellers, the gossip mongers, the "big brother(s)" who watch and track every movement, action, and purchase; and who somehow along that process have managed to strip modern humanity of every shred of privacy; are (and have been) simply reflecting our own very public appetite for round-the-clock talk and information on and of every type; and most frequently of the most intimate nature. Collectively, over time we've convinced ourselves (fooled ourselves,really) that it all is news of crucial importance to our well being. And in a free, open society, news is an essential element of the principles of a healthy democracy. Ergo: Nothing is sacred nor confidential anymore: Privacy be damn!

Its practices may have been censured; but it was not by accident that the late unlamented London based "News Of The World" was the most read English language newspaper on the face of the planet. Nor for that matter that gossip websites and a multitude of publications and broadcasters engage in bidding wars, giddy deal-making and outrageous payments for "exclusivity" over the attention grabbing antics of personalities in public crack-up mode. As was the case with television personality Charlie Sheen a few months back - or for that matter, just recently about the lurid outcome of the Casey Anthony murder trial down in central Florida and the list goes on.

Some things disappear and some evolve over generations and during every lifetime. That is how we have measured progress since the dawn of civilization. Sometimes the changes are good, sometimes not: Frequently the difference is in how humankind has adapted to them. Perhaps the loss of the privilege of privacy fits into one of those two categories. Though I can't imagine that it would ultimately be seen to have been a "good" change. Perhaps eventually what we will have left that can't be changed are memories...But alas! The onset of old age may eventually also take those away.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


The western world has been watching with troubled fascination and concern Greece's slow march into financial collapse. The proud crucible of modern civilization and our democratic institutions begging with extended hand for relief from European neighbours while its people riot in despair along Athens historic avenues.

Greece's twice bailed-out multi-billion dollar national debt is roughly equivalent to $44,000 for each of the small country's 11.5 million inhabitants. Yet each of its economic tremors has rocked investors and banks in the financial capitals of the world for much of the last 12 months.

Ponder a nation with a population of 311.5 million people with a multi-trillion dollar national debt which (in fact) equals $45,000 for each of its inhabitants? Such is the looming brick-wall of the debt crisis facing the United-States of America. The Government of the United-States reached its statutory $14.29-Trillion debt limit on May 16th: But for the grace of God, and only by using a series of accounting techniques and voodoo economics has the Obama Administration been able to continue issuing debt and paying its bills for now just short of two months...and time is running-out rapidly.

Last Friday, on the eve of the Independence Day weekend, the U.S. Treasury advised that it can only maintain the "illusion" for another month: Max! The gloomy Fourth of July forecast confirmed that the Government of the United States of America, the world's most powerful economic engine,"could begin defaulting on its $14.3-Trillion debt on August 2, 2011."

The world's foremost debt rating agency, the financial services giant Standard & Poor's, has already confirmed it will lower the U.S. credit rating from AAA to D - its lowest rating - if political Washington can't find a way out of this morass. Unlike Greece there is no conceivable possible world bailout for a fourteen (plus) trillion dollar bill that the American Congress with the tacit approval of its people has accumulated on the country's credit card.

With now less than a month to go, and shadowed by a looming Presidential re-election bid in 15 months, the Obama Administration needs a compromise just short of a miracle with the Republicans who control Congress...

So far the Republicans have said they will not agree to resolving the country's debt ceiling problems unless a deal is struck first to cut the United-States deficit by $4-Trillion in the next 10 years. Those talks are at an impasse over the President's insistence on increasing taxes.

Economists are plenty alarmed, and in financial and banking circles the talk of a financial Apocalypse is thick. There are clear warnings of credit markets in a state of panic, and of steep interest rates, coupled with Draconian spending cuts and tax increases if the U.S. defaults.

But at least so far, among most Americans the dire warnings appear to be falling on unconvinced ears. Why? It's not unlike the bumper sticker sported on some cars when the world as we know it was supposed to end back on May 21: "After the Rapture, can I have your car?" - Some experts blame "doomsday fatigue." They say in recent times Americans heard that things were going to go haywire with the turn of the millennium (Y2K), and they didn't. They were primed for post September 11 terrorist plots that did not unfold. Time after time they've seen Congress come to the brink, only to pull something out of its hat. In short this could be one critical instance where Washington's past tendencies to cry wolf and stage histrionics on issues of the day has left everyone unprepared for an eventual economic shakedown with worldwide ramifications.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Enough time has elapsed since last week's Parliamentary filibuster to draw some objective conclusions about the effectiveness of the NDP's new found muscle in the House of Commons.

Conventional wisdom would seem to suggest the war-of-words waged in the House of Commons over about 80 hours should have been a boost to the New Democrats. Canadians care about the issues which affect their daily lives. Though they are no longer quite as critical; sending / receiving mail and the larger question of the long-term viability of Canada Post are of concern. A week after the NDP's filibuster we know nothing has really been changed. In essence issues of importance to Canadians can only be addressed by policy initiatives. A filibuster is playing the game politics.

In fact there's anecdotal evidence which suggests the NDP filibuster ended abruptly, and with neither fanfare nor whimper at mid-evening on Saturday (June 25) because the very union and union members the party claimed to be defending told the party leaders to quit the gig. Once the dust settled a Liberal party insider is said to have described the newbies over on the NDP bench in these words..."so these guys are kind of amateurs, posers frankly...you've got all these young, spunky new NDP members and they were able to last two days?" - Essentially, Members of Parliament barely out of high school playing high stakes politics in the House of Commons.

In fact team building with the party's young and inexperienced MP's who now sit across from the Harper Government as the Official Opposition may be the only positive from Mr. Layton's (at best) ill defined strategy over the CUPW strike and lock-out. But, at what cost?

Over a couple or three days in the latter part of last week, Mr. Layton both delayed the summer recess of the House of Commons, and in a tight-rope like walk poised the future of his party's fortunes perilously close to a dangerous fall on the wrong side of the political spectrum. Political analyst Angelo Persichilli says Mr. Layton and the NDP..."are living a magic moment in the history of the party, and they deserve it all. But they have to be very careful about how they live it, because their dream could easily turn into a nightmare."

To be kind, and assuming there was a strategy behind the New Democrats' decision to filibuster on the merits of Bill C-6, it was that it gave Mr. Layton a chance to play to the NDP's core values and support base; rally the party's freshly elected 101 Members of Parliament; and clearly define the party's ideological differences from the Harper Tories. Although therein lies a danger which even the union Mr. Layton's troops was defending (CUPW) may have realised before party strategists. The New Democrats folded on their filibuster because CUPW came to the merciful conclusion that it could not win, and that the longer its 48,000 members were locked-out, the more money they would lose. The abrupt end to the Parliamentary platitudes may have substantially mitigated the perception among "unconverted" electors that the NDP is a better opposition than it could ever be a government in waiting. Which (of course) is precisely what Mr. Harper's Conservatives want every Canadian to believe. Perhaps fortunately for Mr. Layton, he has four more years to alter this classic perception.

BY THE NUMBERS: With assistance from Hansard's someone actually took the time to count "words" in the filibuster.
Some examples: Total Number of words spoken by all MPs - 432,143
The phrase(s) "Mr. Speaker" - 1,087 times
"Canada Post" - 287 times
The word(s) "rights" - 548 times
"outrageous" - 21 times.