Monday, August 29, 2011

 

@ SUMMER'S END

The end of August and the post Labour Day turnaround surely spell the end of summer. Perhaps this is a good time (as good as any) to clear-out the backlog from my blotter in anticipation of a new start to the fall season of political and economic folly...

TUG O' WAR: Although there is a $10-Million budget already earmarked by the National Capital Commission to upgrade that "handyman special" which now is Canada's Prime-Ministerial residence, the Harpers' aren't on-board with the renovations. Twenty-Four Sussex Drive is 143 years old,  the plumbing and wiring were last overhauled in 1950 when Louis St. Laurent lived in the place; there's no air conditioning and the house is said to be drafty and freezing cold in winter.  Maybe it's that Laureen thinks hangin' the family laundry on Margaret Trudeau's old clothes-line is just fine. Though you can bet Mila never did. But, times are tough...

WATERWORLD: If it's an issue of spending $10-Million of public funds during a time of austerity which bothers the Prime-Minister, a proposal from south of the border may have a solution to appeal both to the Harper's sense of thrift and the Prime Minister's philosophy of government. The founder of "Pay-Pal" is bankrolling the formation of a whole new floating ocean country in international waters on an oil rig (like) platform. Proponents of the plan, the San Francisco based "Seasteading Institute" say the idea is to start a country from scratch and promote policies of..."no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons." The first full time settlement is to be ready in about 8 years. Which could be about the time the Harper's move-out of 24 Sussex.

THE CLOCK OF THE LONG NOW: More anecdotal evidence why most middle-class Americans endorse proposals to raise income taxes on the nation's filthy rich. Never mind the illusion of creating an artificial floating libertarian world (see above). Another tech titan, the founder of Amazon (Jeff Bezos) announced this summer that he will be building a clock designed to keep ticking for 10,000 years. It will apparently be built inside a mountain in west Texas. Hopefully construction can be completed by the time followers of the "Odd Day" movement are ready to celebrate 11/13/15 in slightly more than four years. Heck it was just this spring that evangelist Harold Camping professed himself "flabbergasted" that the world had failed to end on May 21st. He's now "two-for-two" having previously predicted the 'Rapture" in 1994. Once this "Clock of the Long Now" is in place, at least he won't be running-out of time soon.

LEGO IN DEEPEST SPACE: On October 15, in Winter Haven just south of Disney World, the latest entry into the crowded central Florida "theme park" business will open its gates and unveil the attractions. The multi-million dollar  "Legoland Florida" may already have a promotional "leg up" on the nearby Disney Mouse, Universal's Harry Potter and the various creatures at Seaworld and Bush Gardens.
Just when you may have thought that NASA's clock was ticking-down (Lest I digress: See "clocks" above!) with the demise of the Shuttle Program, the good folks at that other central Florida attraction, Cape Canaveral, loaded-up three Lego figures on board a space probe named Juno for its blast-off earlier this month on a five year mission to the planet Jupiter. When the spacecraft arrives in 2016, the Lego likeness of the Roman God, Jupiter; his sister Juno; and the Italian astronomer Galileo will be there to take in all the sights of our solar system's largest planet. In the last three weeks they've already become the farthest flying toys ever...and children of all ages may track their progress at LegoSpace.com. Guaranteed; a promo campaign sure to keep on giving.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

 

TALKING WITH AMERICANS

The problem with the enhanced perimeter security discussions that Prime Minister Harper and President Obama spoke of just about nine months ago is that we perceive things differently. Approaching the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, it's the "security" elements of the discussions which remain the focus of the American agenda. But as banks here on the northern side of the border lower growth forecasts for the Canadian economy, our agenda remains dominated by facilitating trade and easing the flow of goods and services across our "thickened" borders.

Mr. Harper has been mum on the subject since telling the Paris G-8 Summit back last spring that an action plan on this historic overhaul of Canada-U.S. Relations would be forthcoming this summer. In the ensuing months America's economic woes have worsened, the nation's $14+Trillion debt virtually brought the country (and the world) to its knees a few weeks back, and the Obama Administration has already engaged in a de-facto campaign to salvage the Presidential Election of November 2012. A significant measure of the opposition to Obama's agenda is fueled by a "Tea-Party" supported shift to more American protectionism.

Those who claim knowledge of and about the confidential and delayed (if not stalled) talks between our two countries say more than 30 significant files on, and aspects of, the cross-border relationship are being negotiated. And, there's ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that the political and economic climate south of the 49th parallel have slowed the forward movement on the talks. It's not just that everyone recalls Hillary Clinton's outburst: "Security trumps trade" in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Despite expending significant political capital and promises of Canadian Government loans, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder remains unable to convince his Legisture to back the plan to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Well financed opponents of the bridge project  have said that it..."stands in the way of American capitalism."

Though so far Canada seems to be making little perceivable gains on facilitating trade, just this week it appeared to bend on additional border security aspects. It's creating a new 50 officer RCMP contingent of experts in combatting illicit trade who will be deployed along the St. Lawrence River islands which form the international border east of Lake Ontario. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already flies stealth un-manned observation aircraft along much of the Great Lakes basin and along the land border west of Ontario. It's believed that radar and sensor feeds along the border are a part of the perimeter security negotiations. With a Presidential election looming,  the Obama Administration is unlikely to acquiesce easily to Canada's trade "wish list" when American politicians back home believe Canada has a porous border which leaves the United-States vulnerable to terrorists slipping across the border to wreak havoc. Lest I digress: Lord knows; Obama had enough of an issue over his Quebec manufactured bus during his recent mid-western tour.

Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has already made it abundantly clear that these negotiations aren't going to be made in public. But the political vacuum in Parliament as a result of the recent death of Opposition Leader Jack Layton may very well mean that the secretive nature of the entire process undertaken to revamp Canada - U.S. relations by the Harper Government remains "under the radar" far too long.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

 

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

A weekend 'Globe and Mail' account of the Government's decision to restore the "Royal" prefix to the Navy and the Air Force describes the move as just one part of Prime Minister Harper's (grand) legacy plan to "create a new frame" for Canada. Patrick Muttart now a Chicago businessman and a former Deputy Chief of Staff to Harper says it's..."the emergence of a new alternative to the established Liberal narrative about Canada."

Much of the 40 (or so) year-old narrative Mr. Muttart describes is in the post 1967 Centennial legacy beget by the Trudeau Government and embraced across both sides of the political spectrum by the Governments of Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

Prime Minister Harper is just returned from a week-long mission to boost ties with Latin America. But the biggest failure of the government's efforts to reinforce Canada's place amongst the countries of  the lower Americas has been to imitate the failed United States approach in our relations with the island nation and the people of Cuba.

Since he took over from his brother Fidel, President Raul Castro has been deliberately nudging Cuba towards a freer market economy and slowly allowing more personal liberties. It's not perfect: Repressions, strict limits on speech, and human-right abuses still exist as they do in Columbia where Mr. Harper was last week to proclaim Canada's new Free Trade Accord with the government in Bogota. As they do in Honduras where, in addition to Costa Rica, Mr. Harper spent a couple of days promoting business and trade with Canadians.

This grand scheme in whichever manifestation by the Harper Government to re-frame Canadian history and derive an alternative to the last 40 years of Liberal narrative may risk jeopardizing our long-standing goodwill, economic, and tourism advantages with the people of Cuba. Canada earned Cuban respect and gratitude by being one of just two countries in the western world not to break diplomatic relations following the revolution in the 1960's. Fidel Castro acknowledged this historic bond by attending Pierre Trudeau's state funeral in Montreal on October 3, 2000.

One of a series of "secret" U.S. cables released by the infamous WikiLeaks last spring suggests that the Harper government's diplomatic posturing in central and south America is designed to gain influence and favour with the United-States. But, as the co-author of - "Canada-Cuba Relations: The Other Good Neighbour Policy" (Peter McKenna) points out: "The Canadian government's approach to Cuba is out of sync...all at a time when the Obama presidency is looking to change the tenor of U.S. - Cuba relations."

For example, President Obama in 2009 removed the restrictions on the travel of American Cuban exiles imposed by President George W. Bush that limited Cuban-Americans to one trip home every three years. Now they can go as often as they want to visit family members. An estimated 400,000 took U.S. charter flights to Cuba last year. To digress: (I've posted about this before) - Cuban authorities charge a 25% import duty on each gift brought into the country by the visiting Cuban-Americans. (See: "FELIZ NAVIDAD" Dec. 19, 2010)

It's almost too late to act before the Canadian government's regressive diplomatic policies towards the island nation of Cuba are outstripped by the Obama administration's desire and efforts to tap the enormous trade and economic potential which exists just off the North American coast. In spite of the roughly 900,000 Canadian tourists who visit Cuba each year, Mr. Harper's diplomatic holding pattern has Canada gambling our goodwill and storied relationship with the Cubans.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

 

15/08/11

Dog Daze of Summer: I'm taking a short break from regular blog activities. I encourage you to get caught-up on past "posts" you may have missed, or to re-read significant "posts" on specific topics of interest.
All of the topic LABELS are conveniently listed in alphabetical order along the column on the left of this page. Click on any label to access all of the related posts back to October 2007.

I'll be right back!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

 

OVER A RAINBOW

It has been (sometimes) painfully obvious during  the last 48 hours that players along the investment food chain - big and small, institutional and individual - have clearly been spooked by this worldwide debt debacle and credit rating(s) downgrade.

Of course it isn't just within the United States. The European banks once again are having to rescue yet two more of their own (Spain and Italy) from the near precipice of total financial failure.  Though China is not itself without financial sin, it was a darn rude awakening over last weekend for our American friends to be lectured about their mountain of debt by the Communist government of the country's largest lender. The $14+Trillion hell-hole the United States Federal Government is into is just one component of the macabre imbroglio the folks at S&P and debt holders worldwide had to mull-over and consider to arrive at the credit downgrade which has now shaken confidence in the American "greenback" to the very core.

Individually, each man, woman and child in the United-States owes about $150,000 when their share of the Federal debt is combined with State, Municipal and personal borrowing commitments. That is a $45-Trillion drain on the world's largest economy. Be that as it may, much of it (about 40%) is being borrowed from offshore lenders despite growing anecdotal evidence of America's right-wing political agenda desires, efforts, and tendencies to insulate and isolate itself from the rest of the world.

On the Canadian side of the border where the Federal Government deficit is about $50-Billion and the total national debt roughly $1-Trillion, (though still cautious) politicians are sounding somewhat more smug about the long-term effects on our economy of this debt downfall. Though probably not a lesson for our partners south of the border, there is interesting evidence that Canada's embrace of the spirit of multiculturalism has worked in surprisingly strong terms to favour the economy. It comes in the results of a survey of rich Canadians undertaken by Bank of Montreal (BMO) and the Harris polling organization. The survey which was conducted amongst people who have more than $1-Million in "investable" assets found that about one-third of those investors were "new" Canadians (not born in Canada).  Even more interesting was that pollsters found 96% of those new rich Canadians had no plans to invest outside of the country.

There are about 250,000 immigrants who arrive in Canada each year. Clearly the very vast majority are not wealthy and are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families. But,  as a
spokesman for BMO told the Financial Post of the survey results: "These findings speak to the spirit of Canadian multiculturalism and how this country fosters an environment that helps individuals to succeed and thrive. Attracting the best and brightest demonstrates the relative prosperity and openness of Canada's economy. This bodes well for long-term wealth generation."

The net result is that although about one-third of rich Canadians weren't born here, most of them are keeping the bulk of their money in their adopted home country. That's a worthwhile lesson learned.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

 

EYES RIGHT! - ON THE GREAT WHITE NORTH

To digress: "The Night Watch Man" philosophy is a largely discredited 19th Century political concept which postulates that the State's only legitimate function is the protection of the liberty of its citizens. Two imperative manifestations of the theory are prison building, and massive military build-up and deployments.

The three-week long "Operation Nanook" which the Canadian Government by way of the Department of National Defence is launching this weekend,  is the largest display yet of Arctic military muscle. In fact it is not just the military: Peter MacKay, the Minister of Defence, calls it a "whole of government approach" which includes the Coast Guard, the RCMP, Transport Canada, Public Safety Canada, Environment Canada as well as Indian and Northern Affairs. It culminates near the end of the month when Stephen Harper travels North to be photographed amongst this silly display doubtless much to the amusement of our allies and foes alike. Ever the supportive good Tory soldier, MacKay descibes Harper as..."very engaged on this file, part of his strong commitment to the Arctic."

One of a couple of  key elements of this mutli-faceted "operation" involves a maritime search and rescue mission in international waters between Greenland and our northeastern Arctic coast. Three Danish Navy ships and a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker will share in the duties. Of course that comes just a couple of weeks after Mr. Harper's Government floated (pardon the pun) a trial balloon about putting the "Search and Rescue" capabilities of Canada's military into private hands, I digress.

In fact, a highlight of this largest ever military deployment in the far north will be the first ever use of  Boeing ScanEagle surveillance drones to aid in (among other things) the Greenland search mission. -  Just like the ones Canada's military was using until recently in Afghanistan these predator drones aren't really ours. The drones flown in Afghanistan and their operators were part of a $95-Million lease from/with west coast based mega-defence contractor MacDonald-Dettwiler (MDA). Guess it's somewhat evident the good folks at competitor Boeing want in on the action. This week Peter MacKay told journalist Matthew Fisher this deployment is "precedent setting (and) a harbinger of things to come." Er, Ah, Ahem...truth be told - Alas, like so many other of Mr. MacKay's pronouncements about the Canadian military, this project is years behind schedule - May not see the light of day.  In this case because the Forces don't have (Can't find - Can't afford) anyone to fly the drones. While they don't carry a pilot, each aircraft still requires operators on the ground to fly the plane on a typical 20-hour mission; experts to down-load and interpret its sophisticated photos data and images, and staff to maintain the equipment and prepare each drone for flight.

Dubbed JUSTAS (Joint un-manned aerial vehicle Surveillance and Target Acquisition System) it was an estimated $1.5 Billion venture scheduled for the government's approval back in 2009. Natch! It's backlogged by the Harper Government's "efficiency and effectiveness" review along with the Close Combat Vehicle program; the Buffalo aircraft replacement program; the Navy shipbuilding program...the list goes on.

Back to Arctic chest-thumping: Commenting on last spring's flurry of secret U.S. documents released via "Wikileaks," Journalist John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail wrote about a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa - "Washington looks on all this with condescending amusement, noting that, though Mr. Harper is forever making announcements - An Arctic deep sea port! Armed patrol vessels! A new icebreaker! - his government rarely actually cuts a cheque."

Ultimately, it seems it's all just politics and photo-ops. I guess we should be grateful.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

 

IT'S A DEAL, NOT A SOLUTION

My first reference on these pages to the looming American debt crisis dates back to October 2008 in a post related to that month's Canadian Federal Election. (See: "Crucial Debate..." 01/10/08). Despite the congratulatory afterglow of America's Congressional leaders, as the designated curmudgeon on the matter, I note now the nervous, restive skittish and muted response of the North American Stock Markets to Washington's last minute decision to avert an unprecedented international financial crisis.

Perhaps America has somewhat salvaged its crippled credit, but it really has plugged just one hole in an uncontrolled leaky dike of debt.  Had I been posting thirty years ago, I may then have noted the shift to a right-of-centre ideology that began in the United States under President Nixon and continued incrementally during the terms in office of Ronald Reagan through to George W. Bush's 21st Century. That's as far back as this multi-trillion dollar debt hole reaches. Manifest in the current "Tea Party" Republicans, the right-wing ideologists  have reached their extreme, and have evidently evolved into a movement willing to visit economic calamity on the civilized world in the name of minimal taxes and smaller government in the USA.

There is a resounding great disconnect between the politicians of Washington and for that matter those here in Ottawa and the electors they expect will bring them to (or keep them in) elected office. Modern journalism's hysteric incessant need for updates and reams of mostly irrelevant information means that at crucial moments in our times, politicians who play along are reduced to talking "at" each other through a third party (the media); rather than "with" each other directly to solve a crisis. It's become a dangerous sport; one which may affect the well being of an entire country, or as we've witnessed over the past two weeks, the welfare of the world. In June the departing host of "The House" on CBC Radio, Kathleen Petty, weighed-in on these media hysterics: "We keep score, assign penalties, and generally treat politics as a sport. But as sports go, politics might be a great game for participants, but not spectators or listeners."

Americans like the rest of us in the world that surrounds them think that the last couple of weeks have been a disgrace. In fact according to "Time" (on-line) the words most frequently volunteered to pollsters following-up on the theatrics in Washington were "ridiculous," "disgusting," and "stupid".  - Lest I too belabour the sports analogy, there were no winners in the last few weeks in the debt debate.

Though I am not terribly hopeful of the outcome; what remains to be seen is whether political leaders in the United-States and those who watched events unfold from this side of the our common border have learned any lesson from the drama?  There are five provincial elections on the docket in Canada this fall. With more than a third of the country's population living in Ontario its call-out to voters on Thursday, October 6th is crucial to Canada's well being. While in the United-States what's abundantly clear from the debt debate is that President Obama has significant challenges ahead to alter dynamics and perceptions to secure a second term in the Presidential Election in 15 months.

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