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I've yet to thank Stephen Harper for re-incorporating the word "royal" in the names of our armed forces branches, and it'll be awhile before I express gratitude for his latest misguided stab at patriotism - a proposal, originating with a backbencher but enjoying the PM's support - "to display the Canadian flag...without any intimidation by condo boards or other neighbours," in the words of Heritage Minister James Moore.
I collect flags, as it happens, and would be mighty disappointed if told to take down my Maple Leaf. But here's the one example cited in today's Star of citizens ordered by condo management to remove their flag. The aggrieved couple's Maple Leaf, according to their condo management, had been "tossed in the tree like a rag" and was dragging on the ground.
Uh huh. Well, there are rules for displaying the flag. The flag never touches the ground is one. Crumpling it up into a rag and tossing it in a tree is not, since the rules, rather than being codified in an 830-page book, are few and based on common sense. The rule here likely would be that the put-upon couple wasn't treating the flag with respect.
We don't need a law about this. We need such nonsense only if our aim is to distract the people with cost-free initiatives that have zilch to do with pressing matters at hand, like putting 1.4 million jobless Canadians back to work. Anmd investing more heavily in our future with additional spending on education, healthcare, R&D, vastly improved aboriginal living conditions, affordable housing, replacing obsolete infrastructure, and so on.
Instead, as a republican, I have to suffer the unwinding of Pierre Trudeau's initiative, in the 1970s, of "de-royalizing" our supposedly sovereign nation, replacing the Royal Mail with Canada Post and the Dominion Bureau of Statistics with Statistics Canada - titles that appropriately assert our growing distance from Buckingham Palace as the cockpit of Canadian governance but are more easily rendered bilingual.
So, welcome back, Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force.
What does the "Royal" mean, by the way? Oh, that our sovereign is a foreigner, descended from German aristocracy, who has the last word in Canada - when not physically present in this neck of the woods - through her representative, the Governor-General.
Sheesh. Tens of thousands of emigres come to Canada each year to escape monarchialism and other forms of totalitarian rule, and then wonder who is this foreign woman on our currency?
In this regard, at least, it appears we remain trapped in adolescence, there being no groundswell in favor of severing the last official ties between ourselves and a "Mother Country" that was well pleased to be relieved of the burden of its North American settlements. And which thereafter consistently sided with the U.S. in border disputes, since Britain perhaps wisely decided a century ago that America would be more important to its future than, uh, Canada.
That Harper is still playing into this forced patriotism shows his continued enthrallment to the Rovian strategy of "narrowcasting," of appealing exclusively to a largely untutored, largely rural, largely afraid of its own shadow and certainly of the future base that wants the long-form census killed for reasons of privacy invasion (killing the entire census in the process) and favors spending billions on new prisons made necessary by Harper's proposed increase in mandatory sentencing and longer sentences - despite a steadily declining crime rate, and all evidence showing that such measures do not reduce crime. They do go over well with the Tory-voting law-and-order crowdette, however.
There was a time when Tories sought to expand their base, back when they were Progressive Conservatives who invented "big tent" politics long before Reagan latched onto the concept.
Is Harper trying to turn back the clock, or is he the reincarnation of a chapter president of the Women's Christian Temperance Foundation? I am certain that, like Nixon, he was born in a blue suit.
New Yorker essayist Hendrik Hertzberg is pig-biting mad over a recent, classic Friedman missing-the-boat column in the NYT. Friedman argues that Obama and the G.O.P. leadership are equally to blame for the gridlock on resolving the debt crisis. Neither will compromise.
If I found Tom Friedman at the bottom of my Cracker Jack box I'd take it back for a refund.
Hertzberg reminds us that:
Obama has proved over and over, as in the debt-limit horror show, that he is willing - all too willing - to compromise. The Republicans have proved that they are not. They are re-proving it at the moment by again threating a government shutdown, this time by holding disaster relief hostage.
So we're clear on the one thing the G.O.P. cabal cares about:
All of them are aware that if the economy improves Obama will do better in next year's election...As they showed during the debt-limit 'crisis' they created, they see a nice upside to economic disaster.
Hertzberg skewers Friedman's attempt at even-handedness, the faux consensualism among the D.C. elite that has for decades made me retch:
One the one hand, the Republicans are lunatics dedicated above all to destroying the Obama Presidency. On the other hand, Obama didn't endorse all the provisions of the Simpson-Bowles report [on deficit reduction]. See? They're equally bad...
[But] they're not equally bad and equally god - not remotely. One side rationally understands (and fears) the consequences of inaction and is demonstrably willing to compromise. The other side irrationally dismisses (and might even welcome) those consequences and is demonstratively unwilling to compromise.
Hertzberg says to forget about a "Grand Compromise," that Obama's real choice is between a Grand Surrender and a Grand Fight. I know which of those two I want him to choose."
Judging from Obama's too-infrequent take-no-prisoners tone in addressing Congress earlier this month, we know he has it in him to take up the "Grand Fight." But I'm not getting my hopes up about a latter-day Harry Truman in 1948 securing an unlikely election victory by beating up on a "do-nothing Congress." Obama's just too cerebral for that. I dearly hope he proves me wrong.
Turns out our friends David and Charles Koch are backers of the troll under the Ambassador Bridge who's blocking plans for a second bridge to erase, for instance, the 5.2 million hours in delays each year for trucks at the crossing.
It's not enough for billionaire Manuel "Matty" Maroun, 84, to buy off legislators in Lansing to the tune of $565,000 in last year's election cycle, so they'll oppose Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's proposal for a second bridge. Maroun also enlisted the help of the Kochs, who, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "bankrolled a public-relations campaign against the proposed [second] bridge," presumably because it would be state-owned. That campaign included mass mailings to Michigan voters opposing the proposed New International Trade Crossing.
For good measure, Matty has also taken on as an advisor in this campaign to impede the $1 trillion in trade between the U.S. and Canada one Dick Morris, the G.O.P.-Dem-G.O.P strategist and Fox yoink remembered by those of us at the 1996 DNC in Chicago chiefly for interrupting the convention with news that he had, and had acted upon, a foot fetish with a woman other than his wife.
Truth is, no one really cares whether a second crossing is privately or publicly owned, we just want to end the bottleneck at the busiest crossing between our two countries. A crossing that 8 million U.S. jobs rely on, reason enough to bulldoze this nuisance into the Detroit River. It's gridlock that is costing Ford Motor Co., to pick just one example, $13.7 million in lost productivity; and far more lost revenue from Southern Ontarians cold to the casino and other charms of a cash-starved Detroit.
Just because Ottawa has offered to lend the Wolverine State $550 million to build the connector roads to a new bridge doesn't mean it insists on owning the thing. We'd happily take equity in the new bridge in place of a loan, and prmptly sell it to mutual fund, insurance company, the University of Michigan endowment fund or any number of private-sector investors. We've read our Robert Moses. We know that toll bridges with their minimal maintenance costs and guaranteed cash flow are gold mines, and that we'd turn a handsome profit on selling our stake.
But just so we have this straight, an octogenarian most people rightly have never heard of is defying the will of a Republican U.S. governor, a G8 nation's federal government, the U.S.-owned auto industry, and the 7 million vehicle drivers that cross the aging Ambassador Bridge each year.
And we're letting him. Guess who that makes me mad at. It's not Matty, that's for sure.
Canada and U.S. spar over Obama's "Buy Canada" stimulus provision. (Diane Brady, BBW)
"As the author Brian Lee Crowley has set out, there is a strong argument that the 21st Century could well be the Canadian Century. In the last few years, Canada has got every major decision right." -David Cameron, British PM, in a speech to a joint session of the Canadian parliament. Cameron predecessor Disraeli mused that Canada might be the Russia of the 20th century, which would have meant 73 years of Soviet economic and cultural bankruptcy. So one takes these things with a brick of salt.
"It's not class warfare, it's math." -Barack Obama, U.S. president, on the need to close the widening gap between rich and poor, Sept. 19.
"We have a lot of kids graduating college, [who] can find jobs. That's what happened in Cairo. That's what happened in Madrid. You don't want those kinds of riots here." -Michael Bloomberg, Gotham mayor, Sept 16.
Tim Horton's opens in Dubai. (Tahira Yaqoob, The National, Dubai; Toronto Life) Big whoop. This is likely bad news for Tims investors; the stock already has been a long-time disappointment. The firm, which sacked its CEO without explanation not long ago, continues after a decade to fare poorly in a U.S. market where it should thrive. Why? Lousy locations, for one. (Which killed Canadian Tire's single U.S. foray.) Not understanding unique regional U.S. markets. (The punishment dealt Quebec pharmacy-chain giant Jean Coutu when it got snookered by CVS in carving up Penney's drugstore business.) Also, criticilly, Tims has no critical mass in its U.S. markets, in stark contrast with its Canadian ubiquity. A smattering of stores here, one or two there...If it was me, I'd start over, with just one state, likely Michigan. Cover the Wolverine state with stores, making Tims the default choice. Then another state, and so on. I like the Tims formula - though plenty complain about its food quality - but not enough to hunt for one. The ex-CEO gained that status, BTW, not long after Hortons turned tail and quit New England. Admittedly that's Dunkin Donuts' home turf. But Hortons had a long head-start over a DD that was miserably run and in near-terminal decline under foreign conglomerate ownership. Now that DD has regained its independence, its can no longer be rolled over and flattened as it could so easily have been when Tims first showed up in Massachusetts, Connecticut and so on.
The incredible lightness of being Tim Hudak. (Trevor Cole, Toronto Life) Not yet online, but on newsstands. Ignore the over-sell cover line ("The truth about Tim Hudak). The truth, in this rare in-depth account, appears to be that Tory Hudak's in the running with the Twin Freaks as pols of slender accomplishment. I dunno whether it's Hudak or an author not asking the right questions of enough sources, but Hudak is depicted here as no more than having been born (in Fort Erie, a quirk that's possibly the only interesting thing about him), raised in relative comfort, a loyal but minor soldier in Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revoluton" (an agenda, right down to the name, lifted from then New Jersey governor Christie Whitman, if memory serves) and having inhaled and exhaled more or less consistently as unlikely leader of the Ontario Tories. Best I can tell, Hudak got that job because the Tories, numbed after the spectacularly failed promise of John Tory, just weren't all that interested in who their new leader would be. The real mystery in this non-election Ontario election, at least for me, is that McGuinty, fighting for his political life, has been so shy about his considerable accomplishments, especially those many efforts aimed at reinventing the Ontario economy for the 21st century. That could be the same complacency, on George Smitherman's part, that gave us the Twin Freaks.
Royson James: Waterfront setback could be first of many for the Twin Freaks. (Toronto Star) See, if we had a Richard Daley, we might have realized Doug Ford's over-the-top bid for a giant Ferris wheel, a shopping mall and other predictable, garish amenities for the waterfront. Which I don't want. But it says much about the boys that their idea wasn't even seriously considered. Is my Star colleague Royson exaggerating? Well, Peggy Atwood effortlessly got the Freaks to back down on closing Toronto "libaries" (as Rob Ford pronounces it). A friend, draft-dodging native of Wheeling, W. Va. and Toronto writer for some 25 years, told me that even from a distance (he now lives in Vancouver) it's obvious that "the Fords are going to end up making Mel Lastman look like a Winston f---ing Churchill."
Oh dear, Part I
After nearly a decade atop Economist's list of the world's 140 most liveable cities, Vancouver demoted to #3, trailing Melbourne (above) and Vienna. Get this: Australasia alone accounts for five of the top 10 most liveable burghs: Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Auckland. Canada has three: Vancouver, Toronto (4) and Calgary (5). The Top 10 is rounded out by Vienna (2) and Helsinki (7). Least liveable: Harare (140). Much as I enjoy the Economist rankings - Mercer, the corporate relocation specialist, and the Lonely Planet guide do prominent rival lists - can't help noticing that, uh, they have a bias toward small towns, which diminishes the relevance. Greater New York's population exceeds the Economist's top 10 combined. The Melbourne Age, of all sources, questions the validity of Economist rankings: "The rankings reflect an upper-middle-class view of the world that greatly values comforts and security but has no dimensionof social responsibility, diversity, equity or sustainability." That Melbournites are utterly dependent on cars - and the town is thus no friend of global warming combatants - is of no concern to the Economist raters. Who, in fact, put a premium on sprawl, rating highest - as Age art critic Robert Nelson notes - the Economist "authors relate the highest performance to medium-sized cities in wealthier countries of lower density." Um, urban planners rightly hate sprawl's inefficiency and champion density. Also, the top 63 cities are bunched so close together in marks that, in Vancouver's case, a single prolonged road closing cost it its #1 ranking. A road closing, BTW, on Vancouver Island, which is to Vancouver roughly what the Finger Lakes are the Gothamites. As for Beijing (72) as the leading mainland Chinese city (far behind coastal Hong Kong), the Financial Times' Kathrin Hille says the honor would be "funny if it wasn't so sad," citing the Chinese capital's smog, congestion, and civil-rights abuses toward refugees and natives alike. The Economist's executive briefing is here.
Oh dear, Part II
A rock structure at the Bay of Fundy, Canada's sole entry in an international vote on the world's seven greatest natural wonders. What, the Thousand Islands were ruled ineligible by the International Control Commission? Sheesh. This one has the virtue of looking a bit like a beaver on its haunches, but that won't see it win out over the Great Barrier Reef. (CP)
The Swiss-based New7Wonders outfit that four years ago got folks worldwide to pick their seven favorite modern wonders of the world are at it again, as you know, this time seeking votes on the seven wonders of nature. The one Canadian entry among the 28 finalists is, er, the Bay of Fundy, home of the aptly named Tidal Bore. Also of unsual rock structures, and a passable spot for whale-sightings. I've been to border crossings more interesting than the Bay of Fundy, and yes I did have that wonder inflicted on my on a parental visit through the Maritimes. Though you might, I can't see the point in voting, with the Amazon, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Great Barrier Reef among the finalists. How did the Bay of Fundy nose out Niagara Falls, the Continental Divide, Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump and, well, I could go on? Sigh.
7,000 U.S. millionaires paid no taxes last year. (Derek Thompson, Atlantic) If that doesn't make you a fan of the "Buffett Rule," nothing will. The BF, which Obama embraces, would see no millionaire taxed at a rate less than the average American. This one's a non-starter, though, since thanks to the Tax Code and its copious deductions there are no "average" Americans.
Five reasons Calgary tops Toronto. (Ann Dempsey, Toronto Star) In the humble (really) opinion of a visiting Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. This fellow is very annoying. He's soft-spoken, smart, gracious modest, overtly loves and intimately knows his city. And when invited to, refused utterly to dump on Hogtown. Instead, he mentioned a few of the many virtues of Cowtown. Why annoying? Obviously, because Calgary has the justly popular Nenshi and we have the Twin Freaks - two men, one brain. (*)
Photo: Toronto Star
On the town
Bill Maher at Massey Hall, Saturday. Maher, of course, is descended from Carlin, himself descended from Mort Sahl. Apart from his thing for Ann Coulter, which I never know whether to take seriously, Maher is the most constructive satirist on U.S. politics and culture by far. (Yes, this includes you, Jon, though admittedly HBO gives Maher more breathing room than Sumner "Older Than God" Redstone gives his wage slaves at Viacom's Comedy Central.)
Word on the Street, Sunday. Annual outdoor bookfest is one of the largest in the country, lots of author readings and scribes signing books.
* "Cowtown" celebrates Alberta's ranching heritage. "Hogtown" came about when Toronto, c. 1900, was the British Empire's largest pork processor. Hard to believe, but Toronto got the winsome sobriquet. U.S. counterpart Cincinnati was "Porkopolis."
"Depression" is one of those rare words like "Holocaust" best limited to their original context. There have been no Holocausts since the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, in magnitude and especially determined intent. And any other use of the term - apart from being casual and lazy - can only degrade our understanding and watchfulness of atrocities of such magnitude.
The "Great Depression," initially a euphemism for the early "panics" routine in Industrial Revolution America well into the 20th century, describes one human event only. That catastrophic economic failure is described well by historian William Manchester in his 1974 masterpiece, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972.
Manchester's first chapter begins with these words to describe the conditions of early-1930s America:
That August [of 1932] a writer for the Saturday Evening Post asked John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, whether there had ever been anything like the Depression before. 'Yes', he replied. 'It was called the Dark Ages, and it lasted four hundred years.' This was the calamity howling on a cosmic scale, but on at least one point the resemblance seems valid. In each case the people were victims of forces they could not understand.
Zero Hedge, among my favorite economics blogs, highlights David Rosenberg's assertion that "it's time to start calling this for what it is: A modern day depression."
Rosenberg's former employer, Merrill Lynch, no longer exists, an early victim of the global financial meltdown. A bearish fellow to start with, Rosenberg, a Canadian who is now with the multibillion-dollar money manager Gluskin Sheff, has even more reason to be fraught after the demise of "Mother Merrill." Charlie Merrill invented Main Street retail stock-market investing more generations ago that we all care to remember. And Merrill was the world's biggest brokerage when it succumbed in 2008 to illiquidity from choking on the "toxic waste" Kool-Aid. Though not before propelling Rosenberg to prominence as the firm's chief North American equities strategist, whose sage observations were must reading.
And they have continued to be, in Rosenberg's current role as effectively a daily blogger on the import of rapidly evolving global economic conditions. I've regarded Rosenberg's work as something of a public service by him and by Gluskin Sheff ever since Gluskin lured Rosenberg back to Toronto.
When someone of Rosenberg's stature, even with his longtime bearish sentiment as a caution against his findings, in calling a Depression, word rapidly gets around. "It's official, it's a Depression, Rosenberg says so." I can assure you that this will be show up in macroeconomics and securities analysts reports for months to come.
But we are not in a second Depression. Not remotely. And, no offense to Rosenberg, it really doesn't help those struggling to set straight our admittedly challenging conditions to have the current downturn described in alarmist terms.
I can hear you saying, Isn't that what George W. Bush told us as the 2001-03 recession was getting underway? Or, for that matter, what Irving Fisher, the Harvard professor famous for dismissing the real Depression, was saying not long after the Crash of '29? At all costs, let's not dampen consumer spending and corporate confidence with frank talk about the deep do-do we're in.
But, I repeat, we're not in a Depression by any standard used to measure the one Depression we have experienced in the past century.
The Great Depression saw the U.S. jobless rate soar to between 17% and 25% in most parts of America, and even higher in Applachia and the other worst-stricken jurisdictions. Today's U.S. jobless rate is 9.1%, which means more than 90% of the workforce remains employed. Not until 1954 did the Dow Jones Industrial Average recover to the record it set on Black Friday. Today's stock market is trading at 2000 levels, not bad given the whammy we've were dealt in 2008-09. American banks failed, and homes and farms were foreclosed, at a vastly higher rate - especially on a per capita, inflation-adjusted rate - than is the case today. The 1930s were plagued by mutually destructive trade wars, a condition not existing today. The Great Depression was accompanied by a pre-existing condition, the "Dust Bowl" - a combination of prolonged, severely unfavorable growing conditions through the 1920s followed by depressed sales and prices and the aforementioned trade wars in the 1930s. And that was at a time when agriculture still employed about half the working population. A population, by the way, largely in darkness at night, since rural electrification came only with the New Deal. Farming conditions were, to be charitable, primitive.
As Manchester notes, there was no precedent for the Great Depression. There is ample precedent for this severe downturn, as Ben Bernanke, famed as a student of the Great Depression, is well aware. The Keynesian economics that has consistently pulled us out of recessions in the post-WWII era was, in 1932, an untested set of theories wholly rejected by then-president Herbert Hoover, enthrall to balanced budgets as a solution to economic failures. As, in fairness, were his predecessors and contemporary experts. Even FDR, campaigning that year for the presidency, pledged to balance the books. That's how deeply embedded that obsolete theology was. You might point out that it's still embedded, or has undergone a revival this year. But more recently, Obama, David Cameron and Stephen Harper are having second thoughts about the calamitous implications of imposing government austerity on people already in distress.
There was, of course, no social safety net at the onset of the Great Depression, no Social Security, old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, Baby Bonuses, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Aid to Families With Dependent Children (the chief welfare program from FDR's time to Bill Clinton's scrapping of it in 1996), Pell grants, Hope grants, SCHIP or Cobra. No Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), devised by Sen. Russell Long (for whom the Senate office building is named) by which Clinton later narrowed the gap between rich and poor for the only time in the modern era, and expanded further by Obama.
There were, as important, few domestic regulators and no international ones of economic importance. The International Postal Union was about the best we could manage before the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944, in which Keynes, now finally a leading light, was the motive force. That New Hampshire conclave gave us the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, now the World Trade Organization) to effectively combat the scourge of trade wars. There was no Securities and Exchange Commission, created by FDR and first headed by Joe Kennedy, who knew a thing or two about unscupulous Street tactics, to ensure that the likes of Anthony Mozillo, chief tout of junk mortgages in the 2000s, would be made to disgorge much of his ill-gotten gains.
Central banks were young, largely untested, and held in suspect regard by the powers that be. (Ron Paul still favors dismantling the Fed. Stupid notions die hard.)
The September 14th edition of "Breakfast with Dave" is well worth reading, even compulsory, especially as a primer on how rare financial downturns, like this one, are different and hugely worse than run-of-the-mill industrial ones. But I have some difficulty with these passages:
A depression, put simply, is a very long period of economic malaise and when the economy fails to respond in any meaningful or lasting way to government stimulus programs. [It is] a series of rolling recessions and modest recoveries over a multiyear period of general economic stagnation as the excesses of the prior asset and credit bubble are completely wrung out of the system...
The economy is in a depression when the banks ar sitting on nearly $2 trillion of cash and yet there is no lending going on to the private sector. It's otherwise known as a 'liquidity trap.'...
In a recession, everything would be back to a new high nearly three years after the initial contraction in the economy. This time around, everything from organic personal income to employment to real GDP to home prices to corporate earnings to outstanding bank credit are still all below, to varying degrees, the levels prevailing in December 2007. [The month the U.S. economy is said to have gone into recession, though such figures are notoriously subject to revision.]...
We are talking about $5 trillion of excess debt that has to be extinguished either by paying it down or by walking away from it (or having it socialized). Look, we can understand the need to be optimistic, but it is essential that we recognize the type of market and economic backdrop we are in.
The economy has not failed to respond to government stimulus programs, of which they has been just one in America. The Obama stimulus of February 2009 took GDP from negative growth of more than 6 per cent to positive growth of more than 6% by the end of that same year. I'm not if in non-wartime U.S. history there has ever been a "swing" of 12%-plus magnitude. And, as Rosenberg notes, the result included a stunningly rapid recovery in a stock market that had plunged 40% and an equally stunning recovery in corporate profits. It also created or saved about 3 million U.S. jobs, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
But then the stimulus ended, as designed. And so did the recovery. Here too we have a precedent, one of FDR's few major mistakes when he eased up on stimulus after his first re-election, in 1936, and the New Deal recovery stalled. (The "patrician of the Hudson" really did believe in balanced budgets, and was tacking back in that direction, also mindful of a looming world war that would play havoc with the Treasury.)
Obama, one could argue, made the same mistake, save that the roughly $800 billion stimulus over two years - a larger sum, even adjusted for inflation, than FDR spent during the entire New Deal era - was as much as conservative Dems in the Senate would give him. (The G.O.P. stood on the sidelines, withholding every one of its votes from the Recovery Act.)
So it's just wrong to say this U.S. economy doesn't respond to genuinely robust stimuli. It does, it has. So have the economies of Canada, China, Germany, Britain and every other nation that with admirable speed resorted to deficit financing to cushion the blow of what politicians and policymakers quickly understood was a devastating financial downturn and not a more routine, briefer and less harmful "correction" in an economy that was "getting ahead of itself" or "overheated," as economists say. No, this was the near-utter collapse of the global financial system, from Frankort to Frankurt, and the drastic steps required were taken because, unlike the Great Depression, there were institutions and procedures in place to act with competence, speed and power. By power, I mean the sheer size of the stimulus packages worldwide. Leaders correctly sensed that the events of 2008-09 were no time for half measures by way of restorative action.
I don't quibble with Rosenberg's bill of indictment against an economy whose performance is underwhelming or worse in one category after another. And if his purpose is to draw attention to the need for an American economic renaissance I applaud him. America's workforce has slid to one of the least-educated in the industrial world. Public-service cuts at the state level are further diminishing the Republic's still viable prospects of "winning" the 21st century as it did the proceeding one.
But here's one thing the current malaise (no argment with that term) has in common with the Great Depression. They each have been, not economic crises, but political ones. Like Hoover, a gifted and humane fellow who arguably was the best commerce secretary in U.S. history, those pols today influenced by reactionary Tea Partiers don't get that you have to spend money to make money, or in political economy terms, you have to invest in your people, not starve them of a future as contributing Americans.
No less than Rosenberg, I despair at government policies that appear to have been ineffectual, but a second look shows they worked as long as they were in place. First they saved the global financial system from utter ruin, then stabilized the domestic economies of the U.S. and other industrial nations. And then the forces of reaction and austerity took over. On came the "moralizers," as Paul Krugman calls them, who can't bear the idea of spendthift Greeks not being punished for living beyond their means, when the real issue is a domino effect if Greece is left to default.
Calling this downturn a Depression is too easy. It lets too many people off the hook. It suggests, as Republicans now do, that the first stimulus didn't work (plainly untrue), so why sign onto Obama's recently sought $444-billion "Son of Stimulus." Indeed, why do anything? Calling it a Depression, which was regarded in the 1930s as an incomprehensible act of the Almighty, obscures the reality that what we broke we can repair, shorn of ideological fixations that hold us back.
It's been said some ideas are so looney only academics can hold them. Editorial boards also fit into that mold.
Just so we're clear on this, France and Britain were months ahead of the U.S., Canada and others in calling repeatedly for a military intervention to prevent a genocide in Libya. French and British flew most of the sorties that prevented that possible genocide of 700,000 civilians in Benghazi. French fighter jets were the first to attack Gadhafi's forces, the U.S. preferring to "lead from behind." (*) Well before Gadhafi's ouster was certain, France recognized the rebels' National Transitional Council as the new government. The French and British successfully pushed for unfreezing Gadhafi's 600 million pounds of purloined assets held offshore and is dispatching the funds to the new legitimate government in Tripoli. Tangible French and British assistance in rebuilding Libya includes funding for mine clearance. On their visit to Tripoli and Benghazi late this week, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron "avoided triumphalism," said a U.K. Independent otherwise critical of the visit. Cameron stressed "it is your revolution." The two European leaders implored the rebels to engage in "forgiveness" toward current and former Gadhafi loyalists, and that there be "no settling of accounts."
But, yikes, Sarko and Cameron have been way out of line in visiting Libya. That's a view widely heard, though not in the majority, in Britain and France. I think the Independent summarizes that criticism perhaps best (or worst), even finding an echo of Dubya's infamous "Mission Accomplished" photo op:
The enthusiasm of Libyans [over the European leaders' visit] does not let British and French leaders off the charge that their visit was made in unseemly haste; a case of too much, too soon...The image of two heads of government lined up for the benefit of the world's media was of far greater impact than the rhetoric, giving the impression of rich patrons swooping down to bless their successful project...Mr. Cameron should resist the temptation to try to offset stuttering domestic progress with ersatz foreign policy successes. He should also beware of being co-opted into President Sarkozy's pre-election posturing...With the situation in Libya still so far from a substantive conclusion, yesterday's ceremonies had strong tinges of both hubris and circus. It was too soon for either."
On the most important charge, of haste, it was essential that France and Britain follow up and follow through - precisely what their visit is about, and consistent with the two nation's non-let-up drive to aid the anti-Gadhafi forces in ending the slaughter of Libyan innocents. The alternative? Do the air strikes, then go home, seldom if ever to return. (Rummy wanted U.S. troops out of a "liberated" Iraq by December 2003.) Iraq was a war in Western, and specifically U.S. interests. Toppling Gadhafi was of little strategic value to the West. Gadhafi already had forsaken his nuclear ambitions and was selling his oil - a mere 3% of world production - to whomever paid top dollar for it. (Italy, as it happened.)
Yes, Gadhafi et fils are still on the lam. Yes, there have been acts of retribution by rebels. And yes, the NTC and the Tripoli Military Council are at odds on some issues. Libya is not a monoculture, like Japan. There are seven major tribes in a nation Gadhafi held together by force of arms. It's hardly surprising that discord exists in these early days. And one effective way of resolving it is to have prominent outside friends and supporters show up in person to help consolidate the new order and speak of peaceful resolutions and the need to avoid a slide toward chaotic conditions.
It took America two generations to recognize the People's Republic of China. It still refuses to recognize the half-century long reality of Castro's Cuba. America's best interests have been ill-served on that score.
I can't stress enough how important it is in world diplomacy when formal recognition is extended by one nation to another, sealed by the early personal state visit of the nations embracing the newly constituted nation into the world community. Heck, it's a huge deal when a nation recalls its ambassador to a country with which it's out of sorts - as Israel understandably did last week after militants attack the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Full recognition of a new nationhood - by Security Council members France and Britain, no less - is the most powerful signal possible at this time to LIbyans that (a) a new and better era truly has dawned and (b) that they're not alone in they're project to rebuild their nation.
A less chartiable sort than I would fire the editorial board of the Indpendent, a paper I enjoy and rely on, for describing Gadhafi's ouster after four decades an "ersatz foreign policy success." If it wasn't in the main a great success in achieving the goals set for the mission, I have to guess that the Indpendent's notion of genuine success would be the overnight transformation of Libya into, say, Switzerland.
Finally, Sarko and Cameron are grown-ups in political life. They know, I know, and scribes employed by as distinguished a journal as the Independent should know, that all the foreign policy successes in the world will not advance a pol's electoral prospects at home.
Bush 41, Liberator of Kuwait, rewarded as such with a 90% approval rating, was fired two years later, his presidency cut short by a domestic recession. Churchill was fired the same year peace broke out, finally, in Europe, because economic conditions at home were horrid and Britons wanted a change. (I think Cameron, a fellow Tory, is rather well-versed in Winnie's fate.) This week's visit, a two-day story in the news cycle, will be long forgotten when the French go to the polls in next year's presidential election. Duh and double-duh.
The personal visit by Cameron and Sarkozy, and promptly, will remembered in Libya's major cities a bit longer, for perhaps a few decades.
(*) "Leading from behind" is a term an Obama White House official errantly let slip from his lips, certain fodder for "America the indispensable nation" adherents. What it meant was that a looming disaster in Europe's backyard should properly be dealt with by European powers. No more waiting for Bill Clinton to end the genocide in the Balkans, a comparative stone's throw from Rome, Paris and Berlin. A crucial factor for Obama was that America already had militarily struck two Muslim nations inside a decade - a third begged heightened disfavor of America among 1.6 billion Muslims. And was that Tunisian and Egyptian totalitarian regimes had fallen earlier the same year absent outside military intervention. That this might happen in Libya as well was a consummation devoutly to be wished. As it happened, with likely genocide in the rebel redoubt of Benghazi 48 hours away, the U.S. abruptly changed course and joined the military coalition to end the Gadhafi regime, prompting Canada and even neutral Sweden to dispatch fighter jets to participate in the airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces.
Or so the international news media have it.
Like lifelong New Yorkers who inexplicably have yet to visit the Statue of Liberty, I'm proud as punch of the Toronto International Film Festival (nee the Festival of Festivals, for us geezers) but for years haven't taken in the films. More fool me, since flicks like American Beauty and Chicago premiering here have months later won Best Picture Oscars.
Michael Moore got his start here, when his breakout film Roger & Me was captured TIFF's People's Choice award - the prize for most popular film by TIFF patrons' ballots - and thus finally found a distributor. And you can't shut him up about the wonders of Canada since. (Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, which may well have launched the consumer safety movement, didn't gain traction with U.S. interviewers until after the CBC went ga-ga over it. So a grateful Nader's also been a champion of Canada, since Unsafe's publication in 1965.)
Note to self: Identify nascent U.S. influencers of public opinion who can't find an audience with America's MSM, and offer to launch their careers in the Great White North. Best means I can imagine for Ottawa to create a Canadian fifth column in the Lower 48.)
Here's Salon's film critic, Anthony O'Hehir, tying to catch the allure of TIFF in words:
One journalist friend of mine describes the Toronto International Film Festival as an exercise in chaos theory or, to put it another way, a gigantic real-world game of Tetris. No other festival in the world has so many simultaneous identities or fills so many niches: Toronto hosts a number of major Hollywood premieres and kick-starts the Oscar season, serves as the North American entry point for adventurous cinema from all over the world, rivals Sundance as a marketplace for American indies and is the principal showcase for Canadian film, all at the same time.
So no matter how many movies you see at Toronto -- and I've seen plenty over the past week -- you come home wishing you could have stayed longer, slept even less or sternly said no to party invitations.
Nice try, Mr. O'Hehir, as close as anyone's come that I've seen. All that's missing is the star-gazing. A couple 30-something women friends were rewarded big time in their annual celeb patrol this month, enjoying brushes with greatness with Brad and Angelina, Bono and the Edge. Clooney actually grabbed Rebecca's arm in greeting, and of course she won't use that arm until the commencement of next year's softball season.
Thing is, the reserve we inherited from our British side keeps us from pestered Mr. Clooney, et al, for autographs and photos. Actually, most of us Canucks daren't even call out their names. They figured that out a while ago - circa 1985 - and so they reliably show up in droves knowing they'd need fear harassment. My favourite story is Tom Cruise, long before he became weired out, blocking out scenes for Top Gun with director Tom Scott at a McDonald's on Bloor Street for about an hour without interruption from the great unwashed popping in for a Happy Meal.
I won't go into what we inherited from our French side, as that would take a book. One thing we didn't get, alas, is Quebec's remarkable Quebecois celebrity culture - an impossibility in these precincts given that most of our favorite mass-media entertainment originates with Paramount Pictures, Conde Nast and NBC.
TIFF a balanced, healthy cinematic ecosystem. (Ann Hornaday, WaPo)
David Olive is a business and current affairs columnist at the Star, which he joined in 2001 after stints at the Globe and Mail, National Post and Financial Post.
"If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion."
- George Bernard Shaw