Sunday, October 30, 2011

 

HAWAII CALLS

Clearly the Prime Minister and his handlers have (somehow) managed to convince the President of the United-States to appear and appease Mr. Harper's long sought photo opportunity over the penning of "Perimeter Security" lite: Booyah! And so what, if that pesky Mexican guy must tag along.

Three Amigos - Not exactly as shown.
High-Fives at the PMO in Ottawa as the White House confirmed late on Friday that President Obama is convening the North American government leaders and NAFTA partners to a summit of the "Three Amigos" in Honolulu on Sunday, November 13. Really just a brief get together after Obama hosts the leaders of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation, nations over that weekend in his hometown.

Frankly it's just we Canadians who may be sufficiently gullible to be sold a contrived photo-op which the handlers of "your Harper government" will tout as a sure sign of equality of purpose with the large economic power south of our border.

Amidst the mess back home, as Obama struggles to re-rail his failing presidency the last thing he wants is to appear to be facilitating business with foreigners (us!)  - Even less in the same breath explain to Mexican Honcho Calderon that he's opening-up Canada's borders while building a massive fence along Mexico's.  Fact is the "Three Amigos" last met when George Bush was President in 2009 at the Chateau Montebello Resort just south of Ottawa. In this case Obama and I suspect Calderone are happy to schedule the meeting as an afterthought to APEC, late on a Sunday afternoon in a time-zone 7 hours beyond the east-coast, and far enough away as possible from the prying-eyes of the American News networks.

Lest we be fooled: It's just the spin-doctors at Harperland Inc. who will doing their damned best to make sure this moment in history leads the following Monday's news headlines back here in the frozen north. The "Perimeter Security" pact announced with great fanfare the better part of a year ago was to have been finalized last summer. Instead, as Mr. Obama's popularity has tanked in the USA the negotiations have become an irritant and an embarrassment to the Harper Government: A "Buy America" provision has been tacked-on to Obama's jobs creation legislation. A new trade deal with Central America has re-introduced the $5.50 (per person) Customs user fee on Canadian travellers entering the United States, and legislators in Washington are agitating for U.S. ports to be given preferential treatment for goods entering North America from abroad.

Ay, Caramba! If this wasn't such a farce; I'd be expecting Don Ho to break-out into the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

 

STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE

Actor Johnny Depp who stars in an autobiographical film about Hunter S. Thompson, "The Rum Diary" which opens this weekend, says the journalist/author committed suicide in 2005 because of his growing disillusionment over the collapse of the America dream. Depp says Thompson's faith in, and disappointment with, America resulted in a..."bubbling oozing rage especially during the Bush era."

Perhaps a lesson not too late to grasp for moderates growing rageful at the people who attempt to run our lives. - Oh, Canada! A country with a proud history of accommodation, peacekeeping and inclusion, in the grips of the new hawks of the western world who, in the name of their "War on Big Government" justify policies which make no sense, decisions that can't be justified and initiatives only understood by the few who may be privy to a hidden agenda.

Lest I digress: "War" is such a distasteful term that it should NEVER be utilized in the same sentence as government; and most certainly never to justify initiatives against the democratically constituted institutions of a peaceful society. I am disappointed at the orchestrated attacks against our cultural institutions primarily CBC/Radio-Canada, fronted by Sun Media and its parent company Quebecor and I fear, orchestrated within the deepest recesses of the corridors of elected power.

Canada has changed incrementally since the election of January 2006. So it is outrageous that on at least six separate occasions since the election last May of Mr. Harper's first majority Conservative government it's seen fit and appropriate to limit legitimate democratic debate in the House of Commons on important (some critical) matters such as the Omnibus Crime Bill and all of its ramifications, cutting subsidies to political parties, cutting the powers of the Wheat Board and the Gun Registry.

They claim, as the parliamentary weekly newspaper "The Hill Times" reports this week, to be simply cleaning-up the backlash from 5 years of minority stalemate in Parliament so that..."they have an opportunity to hit the reset button and some time in 2012 come with a new Throne Speech that sets (Mr. Harper's) longer-term agenda." May Heaven help us!

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercise in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Canadian - American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)


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Friday, October 21, 2011

 

NO TRICKS, NO TREATS!

In a couple of weeks on November 5, Canada's Ambassador to the United-States, Gary Doer, will be inducted into the 'Academy of Distinguished Canadians and Americans' at a black-tie gala dinner being held in Boston. Mr. Doer's largely ceremonial induction is the focus of an event sponsored by the "Maple Leaf Foundation," a non-profit organization which is dedicated to the advancement of understanding between Canada and the United-States.

It's a good time for the Ambassador and members of the foundation to enjoy this largely symbolic Boston ceremony. Though the 2012 face-off is already well engaged, there is  general acceptance in the U.S.A. that the post holiday season marks the official kick-off of the quadrennial Presidential election campaign. Most certainly in the case of next year's run for the Presidency that means essentially ignoring to another time (perhaps, another Administration) Canada's irritants about which (no doubt) both the Ambassador and the Foundation have been focused during the Obama years.
Always close to a deal, but not quite.
In spite of this age of globalism (or perhaps because of it) one can't help but be reminded of the accuracy of the decades old axiom about sharing the bed with an elephant. Except now, it turns-out the pachyderm is suffering for the outbreak of a hell of a pneumonia: Woeful unprecedented economic conditions amidst a political environment so poisonous that it, without exaggeration, has been tearing at the very fabric of the union. Until the fog of this chaos lifts, there will not be any time nor appetite to deal with Canada's issues.
Though from Canada's perspective our irritants may be monumental and frequently essential to the national well being, when viewed from the perspective of the morass which has befallen the nation with whom we share the continent, they are no bother. Much like the size of the iconic elephant, it just depends from which end of the telescope the examination takes place.

Because he virtually has no other choice on the jobs creation front back home, when President Obama okays construction of Trans-Canada's Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from the border south to Texas in a few days, a majority of Canadians will applaud the decision, and Mr. Harper's government will snatch credit for its economic impact in western Canada. But that's likely the last  acknowledgment of anything positive coming from north of the border until well after Americans decide who may be able to lead them out of their economic and political afflictions a year from now in November 2012.

Canada and Canadians it seems are just so nice that for the United-States, we are not a problem. So at the best of times, with or without the prospects of the bitter divisiveness of a presidential electoral face-off, no matter how friendly the relations continue to be, Canadians must wage a permanent campaign to even stay on the agenda. Though it is a substantial cause of concern for much of the world, the spectre of "protectionism" in all of its manifestations will play a significant role as the U.S. presidential campaign unfolds. We may just have to bide our time and hope for the best.







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Sunday, October 16, 2011

 

BORDER ACTION PLAN

In this country the Government of Prime Minister Harper has been fixated on affixing the "Action Plan" label to just about everything it's attempted since launching the $50+Billion rescue of the economy in the wake of the 2008 world financial collapse. No surprise then that in the absence of Mr.Harper's grand-vision of an integrated Canada-U.S. "Perimeter Security" deal as announced with fanfare last winter, the government will now take to calling the recently negotiated perimeter security lite - "Canada's Beyond The Border Action Plan."

Doubtless despite intense efforts from Canada's perspective; just about all that's been accomplished since the two sides began meeting in February is the establishment of a "working group" which will attempt to peel away at international layers of bureaucratic red-tape, and re-double efforts to establish better communications on matters relating to Customs levies and procedures, and most important to the United-States: Security issues.

That's a very far cry it seems from the Harper "big-vision" which up until just very recently his Government had hope to implement. And that's also why the Prime Minister's office has failed to convince authorities in Washington to make the President available for any announcement, let alone a signing ceremony of any sort. Just slightly more than a year out of the next Presidential elections in the United States the last thing the Obama Administration wants is to focus his moribund jobs creation record over improving cross-border trading relations with the neighbour north of the 49th parallel.


Fortunately perhaps for Mr. Obama's re-election efforts he's now far more likely to focus his attention on the Mexican neighbour south of the U.S. border in the wake of last week's failed alleged Iranian backed terror plot which Homeland Security claims to have been coordinated down Mexico-way.  On Tuesday last, President Obama himself announced that Iranian Forces had sought to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a popular Washington restaurant with the help of Mexican desperadoes. Ay, Caramba! (As is frequently the case in such matters; details are sketchy).

Most Republican Presidential hopefuls in the United-States have seized on the matter to redouble demands that America must secure its southern border by sending more troops to the area, adding predator drone surveillance aircraft,  and building more fencing to separate the U-S border from Mexico. On Saturday Republican candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann signed a a formal pledge committing that as President she will build a double fence across the entire border with Mexico before the end of 2013.

A Raleigh, North-Carolina group called "Americans for Securing the Border"is behind the pledge initiative. It's current focus is on matters related to the problems along the border with Mexico including drug smuggling, illegal immigration, human trafficking and in light of these most recent developments, potential terrorists. But the group's Chair and co-founder, a Washington defense lobbyist named Van D. Hipp, Jr has claimed in the past that the Government of the United-States has been derelict in its duty in defending the "borders".

When the U.S. House of Representatives defeated President Bush's proposed "guest worker programme" for undocumented immigrants in December 2005, the bill the House adopted ordered the Department of Homeland Security to obtain "complete operational control" of borders within 18 months, including studying the feasibility of erecting barriers on the border with Canada.  In follow-up reviews, (most recently in May 2011) the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.), the U.S. Congressional watchdog, noted that in its opinion just 32 of the nearly 4000 northern border miles had reached an acceptable level of security.

Canada's focus remains on trade with our southern partner which is essential to our own economic security. The focus on border relations in the United-States seems to be from an altogether different perspective. I'm not quite sure we will ever see it with the same optic and intensity.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

 

GREED BROKE THE SYSTEM.

Our modern economic system is broken and there's mounting anecdotal evidence to suggest efforts to effect repairs are slowly tearing apart the fabric of our political system. The Arab spring has morphed into a fall of economic turmoil. Just last week Egyptian activist Mohammed Ezzeldin told protesters in New York's "Washington Square" park that he sees a connection between the spreading Occupy Wall Street movement and the spring protests against (former) Egypt President Hosni Mubarak.

"It's time for democracy, not corporatocracy, we're doomed without it" - That's the rallying cry the Canadian based magazine "Adbusters" issued to its subscribers in July in an article asking readers to protest corporate greed by staging an "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration in New York on Saturday, September 17th. They are still there, and they've been (and continue to be) joined by like-minded supporters in hundreds of cities around the developed world.


Welcome to middle-class poverty! Since that mid-September weekend in Manhattan the protest has unleashed a global outcry against the notion that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In the United-States (primarily) as elsewhere, there is anger and frustration over gargantuan bailouts that lined the pockets of international corporations and which have done little to help individuals and families squeezed between rising expenses, historic job losses, stagnating wages and thinning benefits. 

I wasn't around during the Great Depression but the images of  protesters in Zuccotti Park across from New York's Wall Street, at the dozens of other tent cities in town squares, or most probably later this week on Toronto's Bay Street are hauntingly similar to those of the "dirty thirties".   And, it's not just the issue of image: In the United-States inequality has reached just about the same level as at the end of the 1920's.  The 7,000 American millionaires who paid no income taxes in 2011 excepted; - Everyone has been affected. Just as with the case of the Arab Spring, it's the social media savvy young people faced with bleak economic futures, political grievances and the perils of climate change who are now effecting this demand for change.

Though some politicians have expressed sympathy with the anger towards the role the international banking and investment community has played in this endless financial crisis  paralyzing the world's economies, because there is no firm grasp on solutions; perceptions remain that governments indulge the financial elites. In the absence of tangible evidence of a dramatic shift in thinking, political institutions and economic assumptions; and in the face of (what seems to many) a "big black hole," the legion of protests grows unabated into a second month.

The onset of winter is not very far. Regardless of whether the movement has unleashed the politically creative and productive changes which are clearly needed, the "Occupy Wall Street" protests are a crystalline message that a significant number of people no longer feel they have meaningful representation from those they've elected to political office. Accordingly, they are increasingly prepared to do something about it.


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Saturday, October 8, 2011

 

THE GEORGE BUSH DECADE

Muted commemorations this weekend as the United-States marks the 10th anniversary of the start of hostilities in Afghanistan; a conflict which has cost thousands of lives and more than a trillion dollars. Sadly there is a growing list of experts who fear the country could be sliding back towards the kind of civil war which led to the radical Islamic regime of the Taliban after the Russian pull-out of a similar misadventure signalled the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
It was all so predictable: In "The Daily Telegraph" of London this weekend Britain's former ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, says it's a fantasy to think the war in Afghanistan is being won. He writes that military operations will not cure the underlying disease which has hobbled the region. It's pretty well clear that no one, least of all our American allies, have expectations of remaining for another decade, though that may be the stark reality they face. The 'Telegraph' quotes former United-States Commander in Afghanistan, Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who says that America and its allies are a "little better than" halfway towards their goals in the war. Even the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose despicably corrupt regime has been propped-up for years by the United-States and the NATO allies (including Canada), says the mission has done..."terribly badly in providing security to the Afghan people and this is the greatest shortcoming of our government and of our international partners." No wonder that in Afghanistan this weekend the morbid anniversary is passing without commemoration by neither the government nor NATO and saddest of all, nor by the 140,000 foreign ground troops who are still stationed on the front lines. In a published report, "Jane's" the internationally respected defence publisher notes clearly that the future of Afghanistan will still "hang in the balance" after the planned departure of allied combat forces by the end of 2014. That's in sharp contrast to President Obama who yesterday told a gathering at the Whitehouse that the United-States is "responsibly ending today's wars from a position of strength." He made the remarks while honouring the military who've made the ultimate sacrifice since President George W. Bush launched the war against the Taliban regime after the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.

In Providence, Rhode-Island meantime, researchers at Brown University say at least 33,877 people - foreign and Afghan troops, civilians, insurgents and others have died as a result of the conflict. The American Pentagon puts the cost of its own operations at $323.2 billion exclusive of costs borne by its NATO partners including Canada. Our Department of National Defence claims the cost so far has been $11.3 billion. Others have claimed that it's (in fact) closer to $22 billion. Canada engaged in the Afghan conflict in February 2002. It took on battle operations in August of 2003 with Operation Athena. History will show that it was a simplistic effort by the Liberal Government of Jean Chretien to abate American anger at our decision to stay out of President Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq.

Buoyed by the initial success of the American military in routing the Taliban extremists from government in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration lost interest and quickly changed its focus to Iraq; leaving the hapless NATO allies (including Canada) to "clean-up" the Taliban's mess in Afghanistan. The problem is (and it continues to be): That while America's virtual carpet bombing of Kabul, Kandahar and other strategic targets in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks crumbled the Taliban regime - It scattered its supporters and fighters into the hills bordering Pakistan where in the decade since they've transformed from a rag-tag group of guerrilla fighters into a well disciplined and very patient militia. The irony is: That the United-States surreptitiously financed the Taliban insurgency against the Soviets two decades ago, and it continues to support (to the tune of billions of dollars each year) the Pakistani overlords who now protect them.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

 

CYBER MORONS

The Conference Board of Canada was plain and clear in a message just a few days ago. It warned that North Americans are exposing themselves to serious unnecessary risks because we don't know enough about the technology we use every day.

The Conference Board says too frequently for most of us, cyber-calamity is just a click away. In a country where one-in-three kids under the age of 10 has a cell phone, while one-in-ten, ten years and under, has a social networking profile and e-mail address; it's perilously obvious that most of the modern technology is relatively easy to learn and to use. In a single phrase: That's the danger! You don't need to have a comprehensive level of knowledge in order to work it. Consider though that the "smart-phone" puts more technology in the palm of its user than all of the computing knowledge used to carry Neil Armstrong and his fellow space travellers to the Moon in 1969 (and bring em' back) and the result, in and of itself, can allow a person to get into cyber areas that are "difficult to manage," to be polite.

I am never at a loss for amusement, amazement and astonishment at the naivety of otherwise experienced, savvy, intelligent and educated contemporaries (as well as members of younger generations) who are victimized by the relative blanket of security we foolishly wrap ourselves with once seated behind the computer screen and keyboard. For instance the virus-like, fortunately harmless, moronic cyber "chain-letter" spread across Facebook less than 10 days ago about the network's plan to start charging a fee to its account holders...."it was even on the news" (So it must be true?) - Or - The more harmful: "Wow! I can't believe who's been viewing my profile." - A hacker application spread over Facebook which hijacks (clickjacks!) your profile and those of your friends to subject everyone to unwanted advertising.

That's just the "fun" stuff, or as someone put it recently: "The problem that exists between the chair and the keyboard." The warning from the Conference Board says our "knowledge gap" needs to close in order to protect individuals, organizations and governments from far more serious ever lurking cybercrimes. They say people use e-mail, social media and other Internet-based applications without taking sufficient time to consider the dangers of on-line crime, personal espionage and sabotage.

As for governments, including Canada's Treasury Board and the Department of Finance, they have been subject to unprecedented cyber attacks from unknown sources in recent months. As part of its national response the Federal Government will begin shortly a television advertising campaign aimed at the problem. Under Public Safety Canada's rubric "getcybersafe.ca" the TV ads and the website will offer a range of tips on security, updated threats and computer viruses and scams. The cause may be honourable, the response lukewarm; because the Conference Board study also found that most people... "ignore cyber safety campaigns."

Ultimately a cheaper and more effective solution may be just to take a break from the Internet and social media from time to time. That's the recommendation last week from Chris Hughes an early developer of Facebook. Hughes, who was among the group of Harvard students who worked with Mark Zuckerberg to develope the medium in 2004, says: "I want to continue to live in a world where people can sit through a meal without looking at a phone. I want to have days when I only spend a little bit of time in front of a screen." - Amen!

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