What’s Happened to Canada?

harper

 

For years I’ve bragged about Canada to my American-born wife, extolling the common-sense efficiency with which America’s northern neighbor is run. Now, I am afraid I might have to eat my words.

I just got my monthly deposit from Canada.gov, and I am reeling from the shock. The Canadian dollar is worth only 76.70 cents US. That’s the lowest exchange rate in more than a decade.

According to CBC News, the decline is due to plummeting oil prices. Crude is trading below $50 a barrel. And it seems that falling oil revenue is dragging Canada into a recession.

Statistics Canada recently reported that the country’s economy is shrinking, and major banks are forecasting further decline.

Indeed, a recent poll shows most Canadians believe the recession is already there. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents surveyed by Forum Research say Canada is in a recession right now, with only 29 per cent saying it isn’t.

But surely Canada’s economy is not based solely on oil? In that vast, under-populated country, every mineral known to man abounds, trees cover the landscape for miles on end, and there are mighty rivers everywhere. The cities are modern and pristine, and are home to some of the world’s most thriving corporations.

The government is remarkably stable in a volatile world, and the banking system is admirably reliable. Human rights are protected, and violent crime is rare.

On paper, Canada is an ideal haven for investment dollars. And you would think falling oil prices would benefit the country’s manufacturing industry and stimulate consumer spending, making up for the loss of oil dollars.

So what on earth is going on?

I blame the country’s swing to the right in recent years. The Harper government has been a disaster, adopting conservative policies imported from the US, putting all its economic eggs in the oil industry basket and implementing reckless tax cuts to pander to global corporations.

Writing in the Huffington Post this week, Jerry Diaz, president of  Unifor Founding Convention, put it this way:

(The Canadian) government chose to forsake a more diversified, managed strategy to support innovation, investment, and exports across a broad range of value-adding industries. Instead it decided to just keep riding the oil price roller-coaster for as long as it could.

In short, this new recession, following several years of sub-par performance, is mostly self-inflicted. The government cannot evade responsibility for its decisions and actions.

Of course Harper and his cabinet are denying there’s an impending recession (illustration above). But I’m sure the people of Canada can by now see through their “spin.”  I am betting that Canadian voters will remember the glory days of Pearson and Trudeau and vote for change in October.

Click for more on Harper’s disastrous policies.

 

Give Us Your Scum?

liberty

Now I know what Americans – a significant number of them anyway – think of people like me. I’m hurt and I’m furious.

I came to America with stars in my eyes. After the required five years as a landed immigrant, I stood in the Tampa Court House and swore allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands.

The Republic I had in mind was a land in which everyone – rich and poor alike – was regarded with respect, where the old caste system of the British Empire had been replaced with equality for all – equal rights under the law, equal opportunity to succeed, equal social standing… a land of brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

I was inspired by the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I was moved by the compassion reflected on the plaque that adorns the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Surely America had to be a land where I would be welcome, where I would be treated with respect regardless of my financial or social standing, where I could build a life for myself and my family, free from any stigma based on class or race?

I have lived in America for the past 36 years, working as a newspaperman, interacting with Americans, sharing chit-chat over coffee or a beer, exchanging smiles and pleasantries, never suspecting for a moment what some of them must have been thinking.

But recently I have been wondering. I have been wondering about the way young black men are gunned down – by police and others – with apparent impunity, how that poor Sandra Bland was bullied to her death, how states have been restricting voters’ rights for minorities.

Now it seems I need wonder no more. Donald Trump put into words what a lot of Americans seem to feel. He said that immigrants are a blight on America, that we create “problems,” that those who cross the border from Mexico, for example, are “rapists and drug dealers.”

Did Americans immediately repudiate this man’s bigotry? Some did, of course. But look at the polls! Trump is enjoying a surge of popularity among Republicans.

And this morning any doubts I might have had were laid to rest.

The “Fox News Insider” site reports a revealing comment that Ann Coulter made on last night’s “Hannity” show. She said she fully supports Trump’s remarks on immigration but thinks he didn’t go far enough.

Coulter declared:

My only quibble with him is that, number one, it’s legal immigrants, too. And, number two, there are no good ones.

So now we immigrants know how Americans really feel about us – at least the Americans who support people like Donald Trump and Ann Coulter.

Click for Coulter’s rant.

 

Smearing Hillary

clinton 2016Hillary 

The latest attempt to smear Hillary Clinton makes me wonder who might be behind it and how powerful they must be.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened.

The New York Times – yes the New York Times! – ran a story a couple of days ago reporting that a criminal inquiry was being “sought” into the former Secretary of State’s emails. You know, the emails Republicans have been whining about for the last umpteen months, protesting against her use of her personal account for some state business.

According to the Times, “sources” told them two inspectors general want the federal Justice Department to explore criminal charges against Hillary.

It was a lie. And the Justice Department said so.

Secretaries of state have been using their personal email accounts for public and private correspondence since the coming of the Internet, and Secretary Clinton just did what her predecessors had done.

That, according to the Times story, amounted to the “mishandling” of sensitive classified information – a potentially “criminal” offense.

With the Justice Department debunking its “scoop,” the Times altered the story to get rid of the nonsense about a criminal inquiry into Hillary’s behavior but added stuff about a “new report” claiming she sent “at least four emails that contained classified intelligence information from her private server while at the State Department.”

The rest of the media quickly picked up the Times “expose,” with the right-wing echo chamber in full cry.

The story is very bureaucratic and riddled with hair-splitting semantics, but it seems to boil down to when stuff was classified. Apparenly the “sensitive” information Secretary Clinton revealed was not marked “classified” at the time she revealed it but either was or should have been classified later on.

What is it about Hillary that makes some reporters so relentless? And so reckless with the facts?

Remember Whitewater and all those other “scandals” that turned out to be red herrings? It’s no wonder Hillary once complained that she and Bill were the target of “a vast right-wing conspiracy.”

She has since backed away from that remark but in a recent CNN interview she cited “people” who “write books filled with unsubstantiated attacks against us and even admit they have no evidence” and “constant attacks coming from the right.”

There can be no doubt that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been under attack ever since they entered politics. Two respected journalists, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, wrote a book about it (photo above). They painstakingly identified the antagonists, described their tactics, traced the millions of dollars that subsidized them, and examined how and why mainstream news organizations aided the plot to bring the Clintons down.

I know that was then; this is now.

But I wonder about the way the media is treating Hillary, compared with their apparent affection for Bernie Sanders.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Bernie, too. But let’s face it, this self-proclaimed “socialist” isn’t going to win the presidency of this country. Not at this time. You and I know most American voters aren’t ready for that.

Hillary, on the other hand, has a very good chance of trouncing the Republican nominee, whoever he turns out to be (no, it’s not going to be Carly Fiorina).

Could that be the reason – a major reason anyway – that the corporate media seem so biased against Hillary?

Click for more on the debunked smears.

 

Save the Bees!

beekiller

 

If we continue to destroy the world’s bees, we will destroy ourselves. Bees are vital to the agricultural cycle. They flit from one blossom to another, pollinating the plants that feed us.

Yet – in America at least – politicians are reluctant to ban the poison that has already wiped out so much of the bee population and threatens to eliminate the rest.

Why? Money of course. the global corporations that manufacture the bee-killing poison – and the agricultural conglomerates that use it – spend millions lobbying Congress and contributing to politicians’ campaigns.

Fortunately, there are people in America who will do what the politicians won’t. An organization called Friends of the Earth, for example, has been organizing massive protests to persuade retailers to take the nasty stuff off their shelves.

Friends of the Earth U.S. is partnering with Beelieve, Beyond Pesticides, Beyond Toxics, Center for Food Safety, CREDO Mobilize, Friends of the Earth Canada, Northwest Center for Pesticide Alternatives, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, SumOfUs and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to mobilize citizens in a nationwide effort to save the bees.

More than half a million Americans signed petitions demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot stop selling the bee-killing insecticide and plants pre-treated with the stuff.

Today, I received an email from SumOfUs informing me that Lowe’s and Home Depot have agreed to stop selling neonics, the popular pesticide resposnible for killing the bees. The email included a request to sign a petition demanding that Ace Hardware and True Value ban the poison, too.

You can imagine how quickly I signed it.

Increasingly it seems that if we in America want to get anything done, we have to do it ourselves. We cannot count on the politicians to represent our interests. With the obscene amounts of cash that politicians receive from corporations and other special interests, America has become a plutocracy – a country ruled by the rich.

It is now up to the public – that’s us – to fight for ourselves. And the most powerful force we possess is our buying power.

I often buy stuff at the Ace Hardware store up the road. It’s a few miles closer than either Home Depot or Lowe’s. But until I hear Ace has stopped selling neonics, I’ll be driving those extra few miles when I need to fix something in our home.

If money is going to rule our society, I will spend my dollars where they can do the most good. If I know, for example, that the Koch Brothers produce a certain brand of paper towels, I won’t buy it – not even when it’s on sale. And if I am informed that a corporation advertises on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, I will do my best to avoid their products.

With more than 300 million consumers in America, imagine how powerful a force for good we could be if we all adopted this approach to our shopping. And imagine how much muscle individual investors could add by refusing to buy shares in corporations that cause harm to society – gun manufacturers for example.

The way things are going politically, it may be the only way we the people have of protecting our interests.

Click to sign the petition.

Click for the sad story of bee deaths.

 

Hooray for the Reggae Boyz!

jamaica

 

Little Jamaica continues to amaze.  With a population smaller than some American cities, Jamaica has beaten the mighty US to reach the Gold Cup final.  It’s the first time in Gold Cup history that a Caribbean island team has achieved this remarkable feat.

Now, it’s on to the championship for the Reggae Boyz. They will face Mexico on Sunday in Philadelphia.

Can they beat the six-time Gold Cup champions? Don’t rule that out. They beat the US didn’t they?

And, while Mexico struggled to win its semifinal match against Panama (2-1 in overtime), the US trounced Cuba 6-1. I saw the US-Cuba semifinal, and it was no-contest.

I didn’t see the US play Jamaica, though. How could I have missed that?

Blame it on my ineptitude at figuring out the way sports are televised these days. I never know what channel an event is likely to show up on. The US Open golf tournament mysteriously appeared on Fox, for example. And the British Open was broadcast not by the Golf Channel but by ESPN. I keep trying to catch the Pan American Games but most often end up with some basketball contest between countries I’ve hardly heard of.

Of course, the media hereabouts don’t provide much information about the Gold Cup or the Pan American Games. They’re too busy telling us what outrageous thing Donald Trump just said.

I suppose the way we get to watch TV is dictated by the corporations that have bought up American media outlets. They schedule events to get as much advertising revenue as they can, not to make us viewers happy.

Through a confusing maze of mergers and acquisitions, global corporations have acquired control over what Americans see, hear and read. One corporation often owns several network and cable outlets and they decide what outlet gets to broadcast what event based on their corporate interests.

I am doing my best not to miss Sunday’s final, though. I Googled the event and it looks as if it’s being broadcast by Fox Sports at 7:30 p.m. Now, all I have to do is figure out what channel Direct TV assigns to Fox Sports.

Wish me luck.

Click for a report on the game.

Click for video highlights.

 

Forget Donald Trump

donald

 

The American media are playing with our heads. They know Donald Trump has no chance of winning the Republican nomination. And they know that if by some miracle he did, he would have zero chance of being elected President.

Covering this clown as if he were a genuine contender for the nation’s highest office is the height of irresponsibility. But it builds TV audiences and sells newspapers. His bizarre comments are what we reporters used to call “good copy.”

But while the lights may be on, there’s nobody home.

I don’t care what the polls say. I don’t care if Trump wins in Iowa.

He is just wasting our time with his nonsense.

The 24 percent of Republicans who supposedly support Trump might not even vote next November. Indeed, I doubt they have enough sense to find their way to the right polling station on election day.

I suppose some of the Trump supporters are soreheads looking for a voice to vent their frustration. But I bet quite a few say they support Trump as a way of flipping pollsters the bird. They wouldn’t really vote for the guy.

It’s true that, generally speaking, Americans are not intellectually inclined. They distrust eggheads, that’s for sure. But they are not as dumb as that makes them seem. They know Donald Trump is not for real. When the time comes to put up or shut up, they’ll mark their ballots for someone they consider relatively sensible.

You don’t think anybody in their right mind would actually put Donald Trump in charge of the Doomsday button, do you?

So don’t be alarmed when you hear the pundits exclaiming over Trump’s “popularity.” It’s all part of the media circus that pays their fat slaries.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the show must go on.

Click for the latest on Trump’s antics.

 

Fire Major Garrett!

garrett

 

CBS should fire Major Garrett. This lame excuse for a news reporter clearly crossed the line at President Obama’s televised press conference on Wednesday. The way he phrased a “question” about Iran was unacceptable, and he must have known it.

Garrett (above) asked the President to explain why he was “content” with leaving four Americans imprisoned in the Islamic Republic while celebrating the pact to stop the Iranians from developing a nuclear bomb.

It was obviously an offensive “question,” and it was – obviously – intentionally offensive.

The President called the “question” nonsense. He explained that he grieved for the American prisoners in Iran and sympathized deeply with their families. American diplomats are working earnestly to get them freed, he added.

I am impressed by President Obama’s forbearance. I can think of a few words for Garrett’s question other than “nonsense,” none of them printable.

Clearly, Garrett is not among the President’s political supporters. Before becoming CBS News’ Chief White House Correspondent in November 2012, he worked for the National Journal, and – before that – for Fox News. But at CBS he is presumably being paid to report the news, not to make the President look heartless.

As a former newsman, I am appalled at the way today’s media representatives behave. In my day, we felt bound by a standard of objectivity that kept our personal feelings – as much as humanly possible – from interfering with the news.

Even by today’s loose standards, Garrett’s “question” was a shocker. Who does this guy think he is? And how does he think the release of the American prisoners has anything to do with preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear threat to the world?

The “question” was so bizarre that several other media representatives felt obliged to criticize it. CNN’s Dana Bash observed that Garrett had crossed the line and Don Lemon, Gloria Borger and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell were among those who agreed.

Garrett’s behavior reflects badly on the network he represents. And it reflects badly on Westinghouse Electric Company (part of the Nuclear Utilities Business Group of British Nuclear Fuels), which owns CBS. (I hope their public relations employees read this blog.)

Garrett’s outlandish display of personal animosity toward the President is at least as egregious as Brian Williams’ fibs about his wartime experiences. And NBC has banished Williams.

I call on CBS to do the same with Garrett. To overlook his offensiveness would not only display a lack of decorum but also severely damage the network’s credibility as a news source.

Click for more on Garrett’s “question.”

 

Honey or Vinegar? We’ll See

iran

 

There’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Obviously, that’s what President Obama believes, as his historic deal with Iran so clearly demonstrates.

Is it true? Is it true all the time? Or only sometimes? And, if only sometimes, is it true this time?

Only time will tell.

If Iran abides by the terms of the deal and refrains from trying to develop a nuclear bomb, the pact will go down in history as one of President Obama’s finest achievements.

If Iran justifies Benjamin Netanyahu’s mistrust and cheats on the treaty, America’s first black President will be remembered as a naive dupe.

I’m betting on the former.

I’m old enough to recall how bitterly the US waged war in Vietnam. And now, the two old enemies are enthusiastic trading and development partners. Indeed, I’m old enough to remember the hatred that raged between the Americans and the Japanese. And look at Japan today. It’s probably the most pro-American country in the world.

What bombs and bullets failed to do the Yankee dollar has done.

With all its faults, American-style capitalism can produce prosperity. So far it has created a better life for people than any other economic system that I know of.

Even China, once a rigidly Communist state, has moved inexorably toward a free-market economy.

So, I am guessing that with the oppressive sanctions removed, with its oil back on the world market, with its foreign bank deposits free to return home, Iran will flourish as it hasn’t done since the Persian empire.

And you know once people taste prosperity, they become hooked.

Of course nothing in this life is a sure bet.  Especially in the Mideast with its mystifying maze of fanatical religious rivalries.

Bellicose Benjamin could turn out to be right. And we might all rue the day Iran’s sanctions were lifted.

But I don’t think so. In my gut, I feel this is going to be remembered as President Obama’s finest hour.

Click for more on the pact.

 

Watch Out for Walker!

walker

 

If ever there was an enemy of the American worker it is Scott Walker. This militant right-winger has made a career of pandering to the rich and powerful and destroying workers’ rights in his state. Now he wants to bring his reptilian style to the White House.

Walker is the kind of guy you instinctively want to smack upside the head on passing. He is a sneak and a schemer, a suck-up and a bully. His top aides have been convicted of campaign finance violations. A radio show host pretended to be one of the Koch brothers and taped him in a conversation that hilariously – and frighteningly – displayed his craven submission to his billionaire patron. He is known for his vendettas against political opponents and for shamelessly bestowing favors on supporters.

Of course you can’t believe a word this guy says. After his re-election as Wisconsin governor in 2014, he insisted he would stick with the job and not run for US President. Indeed, he declared, “you have to be crazy to want to be president.”

Yeah, crazy like a fox.

The fact that such a person can be a credible candidate for President says a lot about the state of politics in America – and what it says is scary as hell.

In his book, “Unintimidated, a Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge,” Walker boasts that:

Today, we can sound like conservatives and act like conservatives – and still win elections. Those who say we can’t don’t see what I see in Wisconsin and what my fellow governors in states all across America see. We don’t need to change our principles. What we need is more courage.

That. folks, is a declaration of war.

The “principles” this menace refers to include not only the standard “conservative” list of regressive social policies but also a mind-numbing recipe for economic oppression of the middle class.

His regime in Wisconsin was distinguished by union busting and the sabotage of such basic rights as education and health care. He has been a fervent supporter of such “reforms” as privately run prisons and right-to-work laws. And he is a rabid anti-environmentalist, of course. His fealty to the Koch brothers demands no less.

Yes, Scott Walker has to be the most unsavory entry yet into the crowded ranks of Republican presidential candidates. But this slippery son of a Baptist preacher is not to be underestimated. Dodging massive recall efforts as Wisconsin governor, and outflanking numerous opponents in a long career of retail politics, he has shown he knows how to manipulate the American voter.

What depresses me is that Americans have been brainwashed so successfully over the past half century that “conservative” principles like Walker’s are actually embraced by so many people.

If Scott Walker becomes President, we will find out once and for all just how catastrophic such “principles” can be.

Click for more on Scott Walker.

Click for his campaign shenanigans.

Click for the infamous “Koch” phone call.

 

Work Harder, Work Longer!

jeb

 

Massa Jeb has spoken. He says you aren’t working hard enough. He wants 4 percent annual growth, he says, and the way to achieve it is for you to work longer hours.

So pull up your socks, workers! Tote that barge! Lift that bail!

So what if you’re working two or three jobs to support your family? So what if you’re working 50, 60, even 70 hours a week?

Massa wants you to do even more. As a member of the top one percent, he is counting on you to produce more abundantly so he and his upper-crust buddies can live more luxuriously. The way he sees it, that’s your patriotic duty.

I suppose it’s only to be expected that Jeb Bush (above) would have this kind of economic vision. As a member of one of America’s most powerful dynasties, he has made millions – $15 million since his days as Florida’s governor, I understand – from his lucrative consulting and business interests.

Meanwhile, the American worker’s pay has flat lined despite a big jump in productivity. Workforce productivity has risen some 80 percent since the 1970s, making the US the most productive country in the world. But today’s average hourly wage has no more purchasing power than it did in 1979.

Jeb seems blissfully unaware of the economic facts of life in the country that he wants to lead. As Matthew Pulver reminds us in Salon.com today:

 … in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader on Wednesday, he demonstrated a complete lack of appreciation for how hard Americans work — and for how little. Perhaps you can also forgive him for not recognizing that, in fact, Americans work more than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, that we get less vacation time, less maternity leave, and retire later than most anyone else, and that that trend is only intensifying.

Of course, Jeb’s world is light years away from yours and mine. Born to wealth and privilege, he has parlayed his family connections into a massive personal fortune.

Still, he should know – or his campaign advisers should know – that America’s sluggish economic growth is not because of slackers in the work force but because of low wages, which have left the vast majority of Americans with so little discretionary income that consumer spending is languishing.

And, no, the slow economy is not because so many Americans have part-time jobs. As former labor secretary Robert Reich pointed out on MSNBC last night, the part-time workers more often than not have two or three jobs as they hustle to bring home the bacon.

Jeb obviously doesn’t know how the average American lives, but he should know how the corporate elite boost their profits. He should know corporate America has been outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries like India and China. And he should know that advances in technology have increased productivity and enabled massive layoffs.

So he should know that the way to boost the American economy is by addressing income inequality. But, as a Republican candidate, you can bet he isn’t going to go there.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for the facts on American wages.