VICTOIRE! | Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calville (right) hoists the Grey Cup yesterday with teammate Anwar Stewart (left) after the Alouettes beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a thrilling 28-27 comeback to win the 97th Grey Cup championship in Calgary. (The Super Bowl, in case you're wondering, turns 42 next year.)
SWISS VOTERS' SLAP AT MUSLIMS | Large majority in vote banning mosque minarets. Vote seen as a victory by far-right groups across Europe, which, sadly, it is. Swiss government, which tried and failed to dissuade citizens from approving the ban, which was proposed by a far-right Swiss party spewing hate and untruths about Muslims, tried yesterday to reassure Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims that their religion is still respected. But it isn't, as the 57% vote approving the ban has made clear. Voters in 22 of 26 Swiss cantons approved the ban, which now will be inscribed in the Swiss constitution. Switzerland has only four minarets, which already had been prohibited from calling worshippers to prayer - their principal function. Not good enough for what appears to be a racist majority in this multicultural state of Swiss, Italians, Germans and French. Which bodes ill for similar discrimination against Muslims elsewhere in Europe. (Photo: Geneva mosque, AFP.)
HARPER CHASTISES UGANDA ON ANTI-GAY LAW | Bill would threaten gays with death. Execution of gays is among provisions of private member's bill with goverment approval making its way through Ugandan parliament. No one at recent Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Trinidad and Tobago had the guts to openly call for Uganda's expulsion. Many nations have been expelled or suspended from the Commonwealth in the past. Meanwhile, Rwanda, with its shoddy human-rights record and no connection with Britain (it was colonized by the French and Belgians) was admitted to club over the weekend. Harper told journos he bravely took Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni aside to "indicate Canada's deep concern." You don't chastise and express concern with the likes of Museveni. You threaten to cut off Canada's $23.75-million in annual foreign aid to his country. Gordon Brown was similarly ineffectual in expressing deep disappointment.
SHAME ON HARPER | Harper lies in accusing opposition of attacking our Forces over detainees. In photo-op aboard frigate HMCS Quebec, patroling waters off Trinidad during Commonwealth summit, Harper says: "Let me just say this, living as we do, in a time when some in the political arena do not hesitate before throwing the most serious of allegations at our men and women in uniform based on the most flimsy of evidence, remember that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are proud of you and stand behind you, and I am proud of you, and I stand beside you." Let me just say this: No one has accused our rank-and-file troops of mistreating Afghan detainees. The accusation, for which the evidence is manifest and unassailable, is that Harper's government, senior defense mandarins and high-ranking commanders in the field knew they were committing Afghan detaineees to abuse, including torture, in letting our troops hand them over to the Afghan National Army. No one is making allegations against "our men and women in uniform," whom the opposition and everyday Canadians have consistently supported without reservation. This is the practised M.O. of our too often Nixonian PM: Discredit the messengers rather than facing the facts and solving the problem, by which in this case Canada has been earning an international black eye on the PM's watch.
TRIPLE-DOWN | Obama tomorrow will triple U.S. troop presence he inherited in Afghanistan. In 8 p.m. TV address, U.S. president will describe a graduated increase of about 35,000 troops, contingent on Karzai progress in reducing corruption. (Good luck with that.) Obama will also at least hint at an exit strategy. Many of Obama's fellow Dems on the Hill see another Vietnam looming, as do war weary everyday Americans, whose support for Afghan conflict has been waning for months.
CANADIAN TROOPS PREPARE FOR U.S. HANDOVER | Our troops ready Kandahar for U.S. troop arrival. In a strategy shift that began months ago, Canadian troops in Afghanistan's toughest neighbourhood have been experimenting with counter-insurgency methods much like those proposed by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Thus more than a year before Canucks' scheduled combat withdrawal, to replaced by continuing humanitarian commitment in Afghanistan, American troops moving into the region will have as smooth a transition as possible to the new U.S. "COIN" (counter-insurgency) strategy of winning hearts and minds rather than kicking down villagers' doors in search of Taliban, which Canadians finally abandoned as counter-productive several months ago.
BACK-TO-WORK LEGISLATION FOR CN STRIKERS | Ottawa will act today. Rona Ambrose, labour minister, will argue that CN, one of the Big Six N.A. roads and the most profitable, must get back to work or the economy recovery will be stalled. (Photo: CN train at Tashereau yard, Montreal, on Saturday. CP.)
HOW WE LOST OSAMA | U.S. Senate committee fingers Rumsfeld, Tommy Franks and others in U.S. foregoing its chance to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001. No revelations yet at Chairman John Kerry's committee, as testimony to date repeats facts long known - that Washington rejected on-the-ground calls for air and ground support to trap Al Qaeda leader. What Kerry must do, in service to the Republic, is surface emails and other "smoking guns" to confirm or disprove suspicions that Bush administration found it useful to have Osama at loose to justify unconstitutional actions Bush took as a permanent "wartime president."
U.A.E. ASSURANCES OVER DUBAI | U.A.E. says it will backstop Dubai losses. Move is timed to calm world markets ahead of this morning's opening bell on NYSE, where stocks plunged Friday on news that once oil-rich Dubai can't make payments on portion of emirate's total $80-billion (U.S.) debt. Global markets, after panic attack Thursday and, in U.S., in post-Thanksgiving trading, had already settled down by close of last week's trading, but the reassurance will be welcome. It would also appear that European banks are the most exposed to Dubai debt, with Credit Suisse leading the pack. EB had a heads-up on mounting Dubai woes here. (Photo: Dubai city centre. Steve Crisp , Reuters.)
OILPATCH SPLIT-UP | EnCana begins trading tomorrow as two firms. EnCana will be a natural gas play, one of N.A.'s largest producers. And spin-off Cenovus Energy Inc. will be a play on Alberta heavy oil projects. In preliminary trading since Nov. 2, Cenovus has been the more popular of the two, given the worldwide natural-gas glut of recent months. I think they both make good medium-term investments, as the gas market improves with more U.S. emphasis on gas-powered electric power generation, and a resumption in significant global investment in the oil sands that was interrupted by the recession. And to repeat from an earlier post, both smaller firms are now more vulnerable to hostile or friendly acquistion. Which means there also will be a takeover premium built into the stock of these two widely traded firms.
LOWDOWN FOR PICKUPS | Pickup-truck sales at a 17-year low in N.A. The bad news for Detroit is that this is one of the few sectors in which it retains dominance over imports, and pickup volume accounts for lofty 20%-plus of total Detroit profits. Why, because they're cheap to build but command $30,000 (U.S.) selling prices and lavish profit margins. The good news is that truck owners are among the most brand-loyal of vehicle buyers, and their ageing trucks are overdue for replacement once economy shows any serious signs of sustainable recovery. Even in these grim times, Ford's flagship F-150 pickup is still the single best-selling vehicle in the U.S. Lots of upside here, especially for Ford and for hybrid-fuel trucks. (Photo: Ford F-150, the smallest Ford pick-up and most popular vehicle in America.)
GOD BLESS GEORGE W. BUSH | His $5-billion (U.S.) AIDS-relief program working wonders in Vietnam and Africa. Bush got America's largest-ever health-related foreign aid program through a hostile GOP-controlled Congress, and it has already saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa. Vietnam is the only non-African nation in which the U.S. program has been rolled out, as goodwill outreach to a former enemy, although that rationale has never been formally stated. The local stigma against HIV-AIDS is even more powerful in Vietnam than Africa, where anti-AIDS efforts have been underway much longer, accentuating the virtue of the U.S. decision to extend the program in Southeast Asia. The current administration is committed to continuing the program, with modifications including to increase effectiveness. (Photo:Pham Huu Khoi, in advanced stages of AIDS, at the U.S.-financed Mai Hoa Center for HIV and AIDS patients, largely operated by U.S. caregivers, in the village of An Nhon Tay, about 60 km. northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. David Guttenfelder, AP.)
A CHINESE COMPANY TO WATCH | Lenovo is already #4 world PC maker. Acquired the also-also-ran PC division of IBM only a few years ago, and already has leveraged it into global leadership for Chinese firm. Lenovo is acquiring a firm with tech to better connect phone lines with PCs.
HOPE FOR CANWEST ASSETS, IF NOT COMPANY | Without debt, largely bankrupt firm is in surprisingly good shape. Full-year losses are ugly, at $1.7 billion for fiscal 2009, or total of $2.7 billion over past two years. When your losses are more than half your revenues ($2.9 billion last year), you've in a very deep hole. But 4Q newspaper publishing profit down only 20% from last year, before epic advertising drought began; and Global and cable channels swing from loss to $12 million profit. As time goes by it's becoming clearer than with someone other than founder's heir Leonard Asper at the helm, CanWest would have made it through the media downturn. Servicing its massive debt, bequeathed by founder Izzy but added to by Leonard, is firm's only major problem. Scuffle with partner Goldman Sachs over ownership of cable channels that came with part-Goldman-financed purchase of Alliance Atlantis, detailed in 4Q report, is true to form. Dating from tax lawyer Izzy's earliest days as an entrepreneur, CanWest will go from start to finish of its 35-year life mired in litigation. A good investing rule: Avoid lawsuit-happy firms. It's not the cost of the litigation, it's distracting from the basic business and speaks to the character of the firm. Conrad Black another obvious example, but they are rife in the Fortune 500 as well. A different story with RIM, which "patent trolls" regard as a pinata. You notice RIM tries to settle these nuisances ASAP and focus on new-product development, rather than spending a decade battling the parasites into submission in court.
QUOTE OF THE DAY | "Maybe it is healthier, but that should be the people's choice and not because a pop star thinks farting cows and pigs herald the end of mankind." -Liverpudlian Paul Nutall, European parliamentarian, on Paul McCartney's campaign to have carnivores give up one day's meat a week to cut greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. H/T Mike Kesterton, Globe and Mail.
Courtesy The New Yorker, Nov. 23 edition.
Please consider joining me as an elf this holiday season by participating in the Toronto Star's Santa Claus Fund, a century-old Toronto tradition. The Star uses donations to assemble and distribute gift boxes to thousands of less-financially advantaged children throughout the GTA. Each box contains a book, clothing and a toy. You can read all about it, including first-hand accounts of Toronto families in need, at http://www.thestar.com/santaclausfund. I'm counting on your kindness to help put smiles on thousands of young faces this December 25th! Many thanks, David