Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Power of Repetition

The strange non-event event of the 60th anniversary is demonstrating the power of repetition.

Repeat something enough times, and it will soon become accepted as fact. With the multiplier effect of the internet, this process takes a fraction of the time it took just a generation ago.

Once a factoid gets into the news food chain, it gets digested and spewed out in a range of news outlets increasingly removed from the original source.

This digestive process produces remarkably curious results. The latest instalment in the celebration that wasn't is this UPI story, which popped up on a Wall Street Journal site:

Newfoundland's 60th anniversary quiet
Last update: 9:21 a.m. EDT March 31, 2009
ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland, Mar 31, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) -- The province of Newfoundland and Labrador observed the 60th anniversary of joining Canada's confederation Tuesday with little ceremony.
Last fall province Premier Danny Williams said there would be celebrations but Monday he said such things as the troubled economy and the March 12 offshore helicopter crash that killed 17 oil platform workers put a damper on festive events.
"It's not a time for celebration and it's not appropriate," Williams said.
Plans to have celebrations of the province's recent designation as a "have" province that doesn't need federal subsidies were also scaled back, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Prior to March 31, 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador was a British dominion with its own currency and postage stamps. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, dating to 1729, is the oldest police force in North America. It polices parts of the province alongside the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and municipal forces.
Some residents of the capital, St. John's, told UPI many of the island's natives consider the anniversary of being when Canada joined Newfoundland.
Here's the link: http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/newfoundlands-60th-anniversary-quiet/story.aspx?guid=%7B93EB2344-DBA1-4303-8B73-43FD64D81718%7D&dist=msr_2

What a bizarre little story. Long gone is the original statement in the Globe about canceling the celebrations because Canada "just struck us over the head." Long gone is any hint that the refusal to acknowledge the anniversary may be political in any way whatsoever.

Now the anniversary non-celebration and the "have party" are again uncoupled. The former is now marked with "little ceremony," while the latter is going to be "scaled back."

Now the reasons for DW's decision are reduced to the economy and the helicopter crash. Now it has nothing to do with federalism. Now Harper isn't within 200 miles of the story. And now DW has merely put a damper on the anniversary celebrations, not cancelled them.

Instead, the story offers an error-filled potted history that manages to cite 1729 of all things, the year that Captain Henry Osborne was made Governor of Newfoundland and given the power to appoint justices of the peace and constables. What 1729 has to do with 1949, let alone 2009, is beyond my powers to compute. Someone should ask Greg Malone, who is CP's resident expert on Confederation: http://bondpapers.blogspot.com/2009/03/confederation-irksome-cp-coverage.html

I wonder who fed UPI the erroneous and irrelevant history lesson. This could be Door Number 6, I guess, but it's more a portal to another dimension than an explanation for what's going on in 2009: http://orwellianspin.blogspot.com/2009/03/monty-hall-part-ii.html

Here's a question to ponder: Whose interests are served by this sort of obfuscation?


Now that all the officially-approved shouting about the magical have status and the mastery of destiny has died down (if only momentarily), it might be useful to consider the actual state of health care.

I was going to write a post about the scandalous state of health care. But there isn't much that one can add to the reporting already done by CBC: htttp://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2009/03/30/surgery-urology.html

The point isn't that there is a crisis in health care. Of course there is. The point is that there is a crisis at the top of the Department of Health.

As we noted last week, Gomphus clavatus seems to have forgotten how to deal with the local media: http://orwellianspin.blogspot.com/2009/03/wisecrack.html

Now he seems to have forgotten how to keep an appointment. According to the Tely: "Health Minister Ross Wiseman didn’t show up for a morning address to a major conference in St. John’s on the development of an electronic health records system. Instead, parliamentary secretary for health, MHA Terry French stood in. Wiseman’s spokeswoman said he had a last minute meeting that kept him away." http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=237642&sc=79

Here is the original news release:http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/2009/health/0330n11.htm

There are two logical explanations:
1) He is so very, very busy that he cannot keep his appointments or deal with the press.
2) He is so very, very incompetent that he cannot keep his appointments or deal with the press.

What's the difference between the two? Nothing. Any competent minister has good enough skills with managing media relations -- and managing his/her own schedule -- that it's not necessary to use the utterly lame excuse of being too busy.

Dangovt is certainly a busyness-friendly administration.

Foreign Policy in the Republic of Newfoundland

Orwellian News has already taken a glimpse at prospective democracy in the Republic of Newfoundland: http://orwellianspin.blogspot.com/2009/03/democracy-in-republic-of-newfoundland.html

And we've analyzed DW's Excellent European Adventure:

So to mark the 60th Anniversary of Confederation, let's take at look at what foreign policy would look like in the Republic of Newfoundland. Today's Tely offers as good a glimpse as we're going to get as long as the maple leaf flies in St. John's:

Hedderson gets off to a good start: the Tely has him headlined as meeting with EU Allies. Sounds serious enough to me. NL has formed alliances with foreign nations and is coordinating strategy with them. "We're gathering intelligence and getting some good feel for what this is all about," he told the Tely. While the second part sounds iffy, the first part sounds like 007 territory.

NL not only has a foreign policy; it is conducting intelligence operations. And he has a fast-paced schedule that includes meetings with embassy officials from Denmark, Sweden, Lithuania, Finland and non-EU members Iceland and Norway.

While Hedderson had to concede that he failed to arrange meetings with pro-ban ambassadors, he said that they tried really hard. "We've asked, but in a couple of days, it was very, very difficult to get audiences," Hedderson said. I guess we should cut the new Foreign Minister some slack, since he did give them 48 hours, and he is in a bold and brilliant government from the most optimistic place on the entire planet. Surely the ambassadors would know how very, very busy he is going forward. So what's next?

"We're looking to talk with anyone that [sic] will talk with us, because I need to see the good, the bad and, of course, the ugly," Hedderson said. He added, "There's a big wave over there, and we're just trying to find at least some of the trickles." This must be part of the intelligence operation: tell the press that you have meetings scheduled with allies, then tell them that you're meeting with anyone who will have you over to their place. Must be part of an ingenious plot to keep everyone off-balance while the real negotiations get done in a Blue Line Cab. The big wave must be a secret code word of some sort, since it's unintelligible.

Fittingly, the Tely ends with DW: "Last week, specifically, I wrote every (EU) ambassador in Ottawa a personal letter asking them to address it, pointing out to them that it's our understanding that the EU may even have legal opinions that may prevent them from doing this, that may cause them to have some sober second thoughts."

Well then, if DW sent a personal (as opposed to impersonal) letter setting the record straight, then they will certainly be having second thoughts. What those thoughts will be is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, Hedderson has been sighted driving back and forth across Ottawa in a Blue Line Cab, talking excitedly about the big wave.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monty Hall, Part II (updated again)

Door Number 1:
DW in the Globe, 7 February 2009:
With Flaherty's budget "kindling" the fires of separation, Williams's cabinet is soon to meet over whether to proceed with a March 31 celebration to mark the 60 years since Newfoundland joined Confederation. "Here we are coming up to that anniversary," Williams says, "and here's what Ottawa has done to us. We have to really, really be careful with that. I don't want that to become a focal point for separation, because that's not what it was intended to be. It should have been a legitimate celebration of coming out of the 'have not' status and being a net contributor to Canada. We're looking at that to be a very positive thing — and then Canada just struck us over the head."** http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090206.wwilliams0207/BNStory/politics/home

Door Number 2:
DW in VOCM, 30 March 2009:
No Celebrations For the Province's 60th
He's not blaming it on the current state of relations between the province and the federal government, but Premier Danny Williams says there will be no government planned celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of confederation. Williams had discussed holding a combined celebration to mark the province's new have status and the anniversary of union with Canada. The Premier says while it's an important date in our history, now is not the time, given the economic turmoil, the Cougar incident earlier this month and the loss of soldiers in Afghanistan. Williams says the current state of affairs between the province and the Harper Conservatives wouldn't deter him from celebrating, if they had felt it was appropriate." http://www.vocm.com/news-info.asp?id=35160

Update -- Door Number 3:
It turns out that there is a third option. Say nothing, stick your head in the sand, and wish the anniversary away. Here is DW not talking to the CP, 29 March 2009:
"But for him [DW] or his political foe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the 60th anniversary of Confederation does not appear to be an event worthy of comment, much less rejoicing. It did not rate a mention in Williams's throne speech last week and his office deferred questions about the anniversary to the deputy premier. Messages to the Prime Minister's Office were not returned....The silence is a marked contrast from the pomp that surrounded the province's 50th anniversary in Canada. There was a nationally televised gala concert that included then-prime minister Jean Chretien as a guest. And while there was less cause for celebration in 1999 - the province was reeling from the cod collapse and still financially reliant on Ottawa - the party went ahead. Observers noted the warmer relations between Chretien and Brian Tobin, the premier whose federal ambitions were well-known."

Update -- Door Number 4:
DW on CBC, 31 March 2009
N.L. marks 60th Confederation anniversary with whispers
"No tributes, no ceremonies and no parties are planned to mark the 60th anniversary on Tuesday of Newfoundland and Labrador joining Canada. Premier Danny Williams had planned last fall to hold a celebration to mark both the anniversary and the province's recent designation as a so-called "have" province, as Newfoundland and Labrador no longer qualifies for equalization. But Williams said with the national economy in disarray and many people in Newfoundland and Labrador still mourning the 17 people killed in the March 12 Cougar helicopter crash, it would be wrong to host a party. "It's not a time for celebration, and it's not appropriate," said Williams, noting the government had already scaled back its have-status plans well before the Cougar crash. Williams said the quiet marking of the anniversary has nothing to do with his endless political wars with the federal government. "We are very proud as a province to be part of Canada," Williams said Monday in St. John's. "Canada is a great country and despite the fact that we may have differences of opinion from time to time with various governments, that certainly wouldn't impede an overall celebration," said Williams. "But, at this particular point in time, we just really sincerely feel that it's not appropriate." Williams said some members of the legislature may rise on Tuesday to pay tribute to the Confederation anniversary. Marking the diamond anniversary so quietly stands in contrast to previous anniversaries. In 1974, a full year of celebrations — including concerts and even a tribute record album consisting of songs composed just for the event — was organized. In 1999, then premier Brian Tobin presided over Soiree '99, which marked the golden anniversary as a tourism marketing event.

And just for good measure, VOCM chimes in again: it has nothing to do with politics.

So let's review DW's explanations for not recognizing the 60th anniversary:
1) Harper's fault
2) Not Harper's fault
3) What anniversary?
4) It is being recognized, just quietly (Danspeak for not).

Strong, proud, confused. It was only a matter of time before the tragedy at sea got dragged into politics.

**Curiously, on 19 February, DW was quoted in CBC saying, ""We may find another format or we may reshape it in another manner. Again it's about doing something tastefully and we don't want to offend anybody under these circumstances." While Harper was front and centre in the Globe and Mail interview published 7 February, now the PM was nowhere to be seen in the discussion of the 60th anniversary. According to CBC, "Williams was planning an extravagant provincewide celebration to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Confederation with Canada this spring....But since he hatched that plan last fall, a paper mill has closed, mines have made cut backs and the provincial government has plunged into deficit. Williams said the province will still celebrate have status and Confederation on the same day."
Here's the link to the CBC story: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2009/02/19/newfoundland-party.html

And here's the link to Nottawa's open challenge to the CBC:

I guess the 7 February story could constitute a Door Number 5, but DW's obfuscation is getting too hard to follow.

And for a regime that just loves gratuitous media releases, Dangovt is curiously silent about this non-event event: http://www.releases.gov.nl.ca/releases/thisweek.htm

For Monty Hall, Part I, see http://orwellianspin.blogspot.com/2009/02/pick-your-principle.html

Newspapers & Blogs

As I've mentioned in previous posts, the days of the Sunday Express are over and they ain't coming back. The question now is how far the decline of newspapers will go, not whether there is a decline underway. The politically motivated attempt by the Harper junta to undermine the CBC will only further damage the ability of the local press to cover the Williams regime.

As with so much else, events in NL are taking place in a much larger international context. The decline of newspapers in St. John's from two dailies and one weekly to one daily newspaper mirrors trends across North American. Like the decline in the newsprint industry more generally, Newfoundland's case is not exceptional.

So where does this leave things? According to Russell Wangersky, newspapers remain indispensable because they provide the raw material on which everyone else relies for public discourse; most blogs and internet news outlets are little more than parasites feeding off the news meat created by print journalism. Why is this the case?

"That's because they don't make anything: they're not covering stories or providing opinion, they're simply redistributing news that someone else had to pay people to collect. They repackage, handing around someone else's work and collecting ad revenues for their efforts.

Bloggers do it, too - many provide valuable insight and points of view, and some provide new material that they've dug up independent of the traditional media. But most bloggers don't have the time to actually attend the scores of events they produce blogposts on - in their own way, a large portion of their output is refining and repackaging the shoeleather being invested by others

Wangersky asks, "If they don't even have the basic tools, how exactly will the media of the future build the news?"

But the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem. Part of the problem lies in the fact that newspapers themselves rely fairly heavily on wire services (CP, AP, Reuters, et al.) to fill their pages, while budget cuts have mitigated their ability to undertake costly investigative reporting. In addition, most columns, editorials, op-eds, letters to the editor, and other types of opinion pieces do not draw on original local reporting based on investigative journalism.

Another complication is the fact that the relationship between newspapers and the internet is not one-way; newspapers also use internet reporting and blogs can influence press coverage, though they are rarely given credit. While most blogs, including this one, provide links whenever they discuss a source or quote anyone, the online edition of the Telegram (with the notable exception of Geoff Meeker's blog) does not provide links to online sources, even those cited specifically in a story or editorial.

In addition, there is the question of the relationship between democracy and an independent press. I think most people, myself certainly included, assume that a vibrant newspaper press is essential for building and sustaining a vibrant liberal democracy. An independent press is, in other words, a necessary condition for democracy.

It wasn't always this way. The modern newspaper press grew out of the coarse world of partisan politics. Far from being paragons of objectivity, they were up to their eyeballs in brass-knuckle politics. Like many bloggers today, newspapers used anonymous sources and pseudonyms were common. Jill Lepore's lively article in the New Yorker (still the best magazine in the world, by the way) is well worth reading.

Also worth reading is James Surowiecki's short piece on the economics of newspapers, which places their recent troubles in their larger context. Surowiecki concludes, "For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is."

Sounds logical to me. If you don't pay for it, you don't get it. And if you don't get independent newspapers, you don't get a healthy democracy.

But the debate does not end there. Far from it. Slate, which has been going through its own decline of late, recently ran a provocative article by Jack Shafer, "Democracy's Cheat Sheet? It's time to kill the idea that newspapers are essential for democracy."

Here's Shafer's conclusion:
"On those occasions that newspapers do produce the sort of work that the worshippers of democracy crave, only rarely does the population flex its democratic might. How else to explain the ongoing political corruption in Illinois, which its press has covered admirably? Maybe an academic at Champaign-Urbana can prove that newspaper investigations of political corruption "damage" democracy by increasing the public's cynicism. Or that stellar newspaper coverage that increases participation in the political process stymies democracy by recruiting too many knuckleheads. Or that bad (but well-meaning) journalism—of which there is too much—cripples the democratic impulse.

The insistence on coupling newspapering to democracy irritates me not just because it overstates the quality and urgency of most of the work done by newspapers but because it inflates the capacity of newspapers to make us better citizens, wiser voters, and more enlightened taxpayers. I love news on newsprint, believe me, I do. But I hate seeing newspapers reduced to a compulsory cheat sheet for democracy. All this lovey-dovey about how essential newspapers are to civic life and the political process makes me nostalgic for the days, not all that long ago, when everybody hated them

While I don't agree with the cheat sheet analogy, I think he's right about not treating newspapers as sacred cows. We also need to re-think the assumption that there is a one-way relationship between the press and the internet.

Democracy is about dialogue. If nothing else, the internet has provided a forum for dialogue. It's not always neat, polite, or ordered; it often serves as a forum for worst instincts and lowest common denominators; and it's not exactly a bastion of elegent writing and sophisticated expression. But it's vibrant, full of different voices, and engaged.

It's no accident that newspapers' online comment sections are often so active and full of divergent opinions. The online forum gives citizens an opportunity to speak back to the press beyond the confines of the edited letter to the editor. This means that newspapers are less a one-way conversation, which can only be a good thing for democracy.

It's also important not to overstate the commercialization of the internet. For every corporation that's looking for another way to squeeze a dollar out of the internet, there is an amateur contributing for free. The vast majority of bloggers are doing it without any financial compensation. They earn nothing, and in the case of anonymous blogs, the bloggers themselves don't even get personal credit.

To be sure, we usually get what we pay for, but that's only part of the story in the evolution of media and democracy. The other part of the story is that we can also get what we do ourselves.

Professional journalism is, without question, essential for a vibrant democracy, but so too is civic engagement. If this engagement takes place online rather than in bowling alleys, then perhaps it offers a solution to the problems raised by Robert Putnam.

And if it erodes the professionals' monopoly over political commentary, then perhaps it's not all bad after all.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Popularity versus Support

Why is it that in NL politics, popularity is considered to be the same thing as support?

The officially approved syllogism operates like this: high CRA poll numbers mean high popularity; high popularity means high support; therefore high poll numbers mean high support. The official margin for doubt is lower than CRA's margin of error.

But does this syllogism hold outside Danland? Take Barack Obama. DW likes to compare himself to Obama, and Dangovt's stratospheric poll numbers have been compared to Obama's popularity. This Dannymania prompted stories in both national newspapers: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081209.wwilliams1209/BNStory/politics/home

So is Dannymania just like Obamania? Interestingly, less than 100 days into office, Obama is already facing serious resistance to his policies. You'd think that such a historic presidency would enjoy a prolonged honeymoon, but by March the critics were out in full force. And these critics are not just Limbaugh-listening wingnuts; they span the political spectrum and cross national boundaries. Even before his State of the Union address, papers such as the Guardian were reporting that Obama's personal popularity did not necessarily translate into automatic support for his policies: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/24/obama-poll-honeymoon

What's interesting in the press coverage is that a distinction is being made between popularity for the president and support for his policies. Here is the New York Times, not exactly a bastion of right-wing orthodoxy, on international support for Obama's policies: "Despite his immense popularity around the world, Mr. Obama will confront resentment over American-style capitalism and resistance to his economic prescriptions when he lands in London on Tuesday for the Group of 20 summit meeting of industrial and emerging market nations plus the European Union." Here's the link:

Interesting, isn't it? A clear distinction between popularity and support. No doubt part of the resistance to Obama's policies is due to leftover anger at George Bush, but that doesn't explain the strength and scope of the public criticism. What's happening is that governments and peoples in many countries like Obama but question his policies. They may be fans of Obama; they may be pulling for him; but they are not going to write him a blank political cheque.

Maybe this is another instance of the much-touted Newfoundland exceptionalism. Maybe popularity and support are fused together so tightly in NL politics that they cannot be separated. Maybe Dangovt has a secret teflon coating that makes it immune to critical press coverage, so that nothing ever sticks.

The fact that Obama is facing stronger public criticism less than five months in office than DW is facing after more than five years in power is certainly worth pondering. If nothing else, it's further evidence of the power of Corporate Research Associates Polling.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Blowing in the Polls

The use of CRA polling to dismiss the need to defend the budget did not go unnoticed by CTV.

Not exactly a bastion of radical journalism, CTV noted: Kennedy dismissed concerns that the Tory government isn't doing enough to diversify the province's economy beyond oil, citing the government's popularity as proof that the public supports its fiscal vision. "With all due respect to our critics, I don't think we have to convince the public that what we're doing is right," he said. Here's the link: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090326/nl_budget_090326/20090326/

What's also interesting about CTV's story is that it ends on the issue of unemployment: Unemployment is also expected to rise by one percentage point to 14.2 per cent. By leaving it to the end of the story, CTV gave it heavier emphasis than most other news agencies. In the aftermath of the budget fallout, questions such as unemployment have been largely lost in the public discussion. Ironically, the press coverage has focused less on employment and economic diversification (a word hardly heard these days) than the budget itself.

This is due in no small measure to Dangovt's idées fixe: "have" status and autonomy. The mantra in provincial politics used to be jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Now it's have, shaft, autonomy, destiny. In the midst of all the boldness and brilliance, it's useful to keep in mind the actual rate of unemployment relative to the rest of Canada: http://www.stats.gov.nl.ca/Statistics/Labour/PDF/UnempRate_7608.pdf

If the ABC jihad and the celebration of "have" status did not cure the economy of high unemployment, why are they so uniquely important? What ills did they magically cure?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the polls. The answer is blowing in the polls.

Optimistic Correctness, II

Spurred by a discussion at Labradore, I decided to examine the iconography and rhetoric of Dangovt by going to the core source: the official PC Party web site: http://www.pcparty.nf.net/blueprint2007.htm

However tempting it may be to make specific comparisons to other regimes or to insert links to songs from the seventies, I'll stick to a textual analysis.

Like watching the video of Kennedy's news conference after the budget, interesting things happen when you pay close attention to what's actually being said.

So if you actually read the PC web site, what do you notice?

1) The photo. It's just weird. By jamming an over-sized head into the left-hand corner, the web site not only forces you to look at it first, but it also gives the impression of DW staring down at you. It's also strangely shaped and cropped, with too much focus on the forced smile.

2) MESSAGE FROM THE LEADER. No need to add much here. As funny as it sounds, that's how they've presented DW's message: huge block letters. The message. The leader. No questions.

3) The disconnect between message and language. From the top to the bottom of the page, there is a single, over-riding message: this is his party. He owns it. It's not message from "the team." There are no photos of anyone else. No pictures of the team. It's photo at the top, signature at the bottom. And yet, if you read the address, it uses the royal "we." The rhetoric in the message is entirely collective: it's all we and ours, all the time. The subliminal message is that he literally embodies the collective.

4) The year 2003 is YEAR ONE. Though the rhetoric may appeal to history, it says nothing significant about the real past.

5) Though short, the message lays out a three-act drama:
Prologue: In the beginning, there was darkness, despair, and wilderness.

Act I: Then, in Year One, DW and company appeared. They immediately began to restore confidence to the people and to lead them out of the political wilderness.

Act II: Like all journeys to the promised land, this one requires traveling across the desert and overcoming obstacles. In this case, the obstacle is Harper, who is hell bent on thwarting NL at every turn. Like all dramas, this one has a villain who has no honour. He betrays his promises and can no longer be trusted. So DW alone must confront him. This section is worth quoting: "The lesson in all of this is that we cannot count on others to improve our lot in the federation of Canada. We must take it upon ourselves to control our own future, to become self-reliant." The important word is lesson. Like all lessons, this one has a moral as well as political imperative.

Act III: In the climactic battle, DW must, like all heroes, strike out on his own. He must break from the pack. Dramatic heroism is always individual, not cooperative; it is based on action, not negotiation; and it requires total solution, not half measures. Heroes don't cut deals with the enemy. So it's entirely expected that the next section of the homily states, "We are ready and able to seize the opportunities before us and exercise a greater degree of autonomy to achieve our rightful place in Confederation." Righteousness requires autonomy.

6) The plan. All dystopias have plans. Whether it's a four-year plan, a five-year plan, or a great leap forward, there must be a temporal framework. It's not enough to regulate the task; time itself must be controlled as well. In this case, it's eight years.

7) Final words and phrases are usually revealing, and this is no exception. What's the final word? Deserve. It's all about just deserts. It's all about revenge against the oppressor. This extraordinary challenge demands extraordinary language. The final sentence has no less than three grandiose modifiers: boldly, great, richly.

8) Naming and signaling are always critical to any dystopian regime, and this one is no exception. How does DW sign off? Danny. Just Danny. No need for a surname. Like all stars, he needs only one name. This conveys familiarity and specialness.

This is no ordinary government.

Friday, March 27, 2009


You just had to know that Ranunculus sceleratus was going to sneak his way back into the Dandelion patch. With not much controversy (yet) generated by the budget, he was forced to go off broadway for some media action. Looks like he got it:

Wow: off-script collective bargaining! What will the Eighth Floor think up next? Off-script government?

Here's Debbie Forward quoted in the Tely: "We've tried to respect the process all along ... we certainly expected government to respect this process, and it appears today they are not doing that." http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=236437&sc=79

What a week. It's been hard to keep up with the steady stream of Golden Oldies. Yesterday, we had the Carpenters. Now it's Aretha Franklin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrV0c9ETnWo

There is a difference with this performance, however. This is one of those duets where the two singers belt it out in competition rather than cooperation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TolafQhqh7w

Jerome and Debbie, together again, singing off-key again, arguing about respect. Again.

Out of all the unions to pick on, Dangovt targets the nurses. They say they are masters of the universe, but they cannot negotiate a deal with nurses. DW's attitude was summed up by his attempt at humour: http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=217282&sc=82

It's not so funny, however, when you have family in need of surgery. It's not so funny when their health depends on nurses. It's not so funny when Dangovt wants to turn collective bargaining into a media circus. But I guess they've done their polling, so now it's time for a shaft.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What CRA Buys

Watch and listen carefully to Kennedy's news conference (it's not long):

Did you catch it?

"I don't think we have to convince the public that what we're doing is right."

In between awkward pauses, he then refers to the "still very good figures out there in terms of the way the public looks at what we're doing," i.e., CRA poll numbers.

Somehow, it always comes down to the poll numbers, doesn't it?

Score high in the CRA poll and you no longer even have to convince the public that what you're doing is right. Great deal for Dangovt. I leave it to you to decide what kind of deal it is for democracy in NL.

Danspeak 9.1

The force is strong with this one, so the obligatory genuflection was unsurprising. But this opening clunker was singularly nonsensical: http://www.budget.gov.nl.ca/budget2009/speech/default.htm

"Mr. Speaker, let me also say that, even though he has been criticized by some at times of tough negotiations and tough decisions, our Premier is the one whose strong leadership and bold vision in tough times has helped Newfoundland and Labrador turn the corner at last and step forward with confidence toward a new era of self-reliance. Under his leadership, our team has only just begun."

There is a glitch here, though it's unclear whether it's a technical glitch or a brain cramp. What, precisely, has the team just begun? Has only just begun...to...do...what...?

He may have been channeling the Carpenters and, if so, I hope he had the decency to sing that part of the speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__VQX2Xn7tI

Danspeak 9.1 is extremely similar to 9.0, as one would expect, though Ranunculus sceleratus Kennedyus is careful not to taste too much of the flavour-of-the-month maritime metaphors. Instead, he mixes concrete with saltwater, trying "to raise to new heights the pillars" of solid foundation analogies, whereas DW is busy sailing the stratosphere's upper latitudes. No doubt this new concrete ship will be launched soon into the North Atlantic.

As DW indicated yesterday, the masters mantra has now evolved. They started out as masters of their own house; then they expanded to become masters of their domain; now they are taking over their own destiny, which is trotted out in the introduction and again in the conclusion.

What's up next year is anyone's guess; it must be hard for the Eighth Floor to keep out-doing themselves every year. Perhaps it will be masters of our own mastery.

Then again, sooner or later someone is going to insist on gender equality. Though it seems to have passed everyone by, master is deeply rooted in patriarchy. What about all the mistresses, missuses, missises, mrs., and ms.?

Optimistic Correctness

A significant evolution in Danspeak 9.0 is that patriotic correctness has been replaced with optimistic correctness. It is no longer enough that everyone support the state. It is no longer sufficient that no one speak up or challenge the regime. It's not even enough to stand united behind the leader.

No, the demands of your nation do not stop there. Now the fatherland expects total optimism. Isn't waving the pink-white-and-green (and hauling down the maple leaf) enough? Isn't crushing all opposition enough? Isn't a goose egg enough? Isn't conducting foreign policy enough? No, it's never, never enough.

Why? According to the Speech from the Throne, "In no other region of the western world is optimism greater than it is right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and this optimism fuels our confidence that we can meet any challenge." [bold in original].

Without optimism, there's no confidence. Without confidence, there's no unity. Without unity, there's no bold and brilliant leadership. Without bold and brilliant leadership, the state would be just an ordinary state, like any other western government.

Thus it is not enough to be very optimistic. You must be the most optimistic in the history of optimism.

Why the obsession with optimism? Well, optimism is a state of mind as much as a behaviour. It's as much about how you feel as what you do. It entails both emotion and action.

Unlike obedience or loyalty, which often require only tacit consent, optimism demands active involvement. You cannot just go along; you must display specific emotion. And not just any display will do: it has to be the strongest show of optimism in the western world.

Such megalomania is worthy of literature. Oh wait...it's already been done by some guy named Eric Blair, who wrote how a servant of the state "set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen." See: http://www.literaturecollection.com/a/orwell/1984/1/

But there is a real difference between politics and literature. In Newfoundland in 2009, the optimism is never quiet.

Out of Body Experiences

Well, Ranunculus sceleratus Kennedyus finally got his photo in the media:

But his voice seems to have changed. See the accompanying audio clip at:

At CBC, he got a photo (though a less flattering one than VOCM's), but still no actual quoted words. Unfortunately, this story comes with no accompanying audio clip, so we don't know whether the vocal problem is permanent:

Still, an out-of-body experience is better than none at all. At least Ranunculus sceleratus got a moment in the dandelion patch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

That Seventies Show

Tripping over the mixed metaphors, purple prose, and shrill bombast, I had an epiphany. Hearing the endless prattle about destiny, the truth suddenly dawned on me. I finally understood what makes Dangovt truly tick.

Here is the scenario: An evil empire is threatening the trade federation. It is led by a former knight who has gone over to the dark side. This empire is determined to shaft, oppress, and otherwise vaporize all the freedom-loving people who resist its plans to turn the entire federal galaxy over to the dark side. But there is one man, the chosen one, who is capable of resisting the evil lord and restoring the republic to its greatness. He is the one determined knight who has the pride and strength to confront the forces of darkness. He alone is able to become master of his domain. He is reluctant at first, as are all good jedi. He does not seek cosmic battle, but he takes up the sword of righteousness in order to defend the republic and to slay the dark lord who detrayed him. It is his destiny.

Sayeth the Jedi: "They have proven that they cannot be trusted to represent our interests, so we must take charge of our own destiny.”

Here it was right in front of us all along but, somehow, we missed the cosmic parallels, which run from the hair styles to stilted dialogue:

Danspeak 9.0

There may exist a hackneyed maritime metaphor that they missed, but it doesn't look like it:

Aside from the purple prose (or salty prose, since we shouldn't mix metaphors), the speech was standard Danspeak updated as the 9.0 version. Here's some preliminary analysis.

Bold/boldly is the it word in Danspeak 9.0:
1) "We ought to hold Bob Bartlett up before our children as a reflection of their own innermost potential to face great challenges boldly and brilliantly."
2) "We as a province were called upon to face great challenges boldly and brilliantly in 2003 when an unsustainable fiscal situation held us in its ever-tightening grip."
3) "His achievements amaze us and his attitude inspires us to fix our sights boldly and courageously on the high latitudes of self-reliance to which we aspire."
4) "Through a bold new Regional Collaboration Pilot Project, My Government will work with regional leaders to explore collaborative forms of governance that advance regional sustainability."

Federation is also in:
1) "We are determined to stand strong as leaders in this federation [Canada?], proud of our achievements and confident in our future."
2) "At a time when the people of our province are celebrating our status as net fiscal contributors to the federation, it is truly appalling that the current Government of this federation [federal government?] has chosen to betray us and oppress us with policies devised to drive us back into decline just because we have exercised our democratic rights – to vote as we wish."
3) "As we move forward to forge new and stronger relationships for the century to come, it is essential that the concerns and aspirations of all members of the federation [provinces?] be taken into account."

Master/masters is now oldspeak, appearing just once:
1) "This unprecedented achievement is the culmination of everything My Government and our people have been doing since 2003 to master our own destiny."

But it was tied to the most important part of the speech: the sacred have status.
1) "For the first time since Confederation, Newfoundland and Labrador has achieved "have" status." [bold in original].

This status is not just fiscal; it's presented as a sort of collective nirvana:
"We will not qualify for equalization payments in the coming year and in years to come. This unprecedented achievement is the culmination of everything My Government and our people have been doing since 2003 to master our own destiny. For Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, this is a moment to take pride, not merely in what we have done, but more importantly in who we are. We are determined to stand strong as leaders in this federation, proud of our achievements and confident in our future. Let the naysayers be warned: we will not be stopped short of success."

To keep the sacred status and foil the schemes of evil Lord Harpoid, DW has announced his own foreign independent policy:
"If the current Federal Government is not prepared to represent the best interests of provinces like ours, then we as a province will protect our best interests ourselves [details of the new Foreign Ministry to follow, presumably]. To lower tariff barriers to our exports while safeguarding our fish stocks and securing markets for our seal products, we will speak up on our own behalf on the international stage and work to effect progressive agreements that take our best interests fully into account. "

"My Government will allow nothing to prevent us from charting a clear course to the high latitudes of self-reliance. At Long Harbour, we achieved a new and stronger agreement with Vale Inco on the scale and pace of processing, and work is moving full steam ahead. In the offshore sector, we achieved new equity stakes in Hebron and White Rose, and work is moving full steam ahead. Planning to develop our Lower Churchill green energy resource is moving full steam ahead. In no other region of the western world is optimism greater than it is right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and this optimism fuels our confidence that we can meet any challenge."

The fact that the Lower Churchill is moving full steam ahead may come as news to some, but let's leave that to one side for now. The new foreign policy will also generate considerable press but, in reality, it's little more than a red herring used to distract from the fallout of the ABC folly.

What's interesting is that success is never defined outside of being a "have province." If DW is going to captain his own ship (his words, not mine), then why is it so existentially important for NL to be a have province? Why is the collective self-worth of 500,000 people dependent on an artificially created designation derived from the federal funding formula?

It's fitting that the speech ended with tourism, and this last section was one of the few where DW set a specific goal: doubling tourism revenue by 2020 (by which time, of course, DW will be long gone as premier). For me, the money line was this: "Our tourism product is getting better by the year."

It's all about selling the product. To whom, you might ask? Why to those nefarious Mainlanders, that's who: "With award-winning marketing strategies including a billboard on the Gardiner Expressway promoting Newfoundland and Labrador through a curtained window and television ads to rival the best, My Government is confident we have what it takes to draw the tourists in."

Yup, drawing them in just about sums it up.

VODW Update:
Here's the Call-in Digest Version:
"The new designation as a have province is the culmination of the province's quest to be masters of our own domain, and to the deep cut in funding as the federal changes to the equalization formula took effect." [Note: if you can figure out how the dependent clause relates to the independent clause, please email me].

Interestingly, there seems to be a federalist mole in the Valley, who sneaked this out:
"There was no mention of the creation of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College as its own university."

See http://www.vocm.com/news-info.asp?id=35046

Identity Shaft

What do you expect from Thursday's provincial budget?
1) Have not no more

2) Status quo
3) Maximum shaft

No, it's not the VOCM question of the day. It's today's Tely Poll: http://www.thetelegram.com/

I'm sure the goosed results will be amusing, but here's a question for the Tely: Who is potentially giving whom the maximum shaft?

Since DW has stated publicly that the Blue Shaft is the status quo, we can only assume that this Maximum Shaft refers to someone other than Harper. It wouldn't make sense to have options 2 and 3 refer to the same thing, wouldn't it?

Moreover, since this is a provincial budget, it only follows that the questions would refer to the actions of the provincial government, right?

So is the Tely asking readers whether DW is going to give them the Maximum Shaft?

Whatever the answers are, the poll sounds patriotically incorrect.

Results are in update:

More Wisecracks

It is, as I've said many times, a target rich environment. I don't mean to pick on Gomphus clavatus, but these rhetorical nuggets just jumped off the computer screen.

Here are extracts from yesterday's Hansard, in response to questions from the Opposition. To be fair to the ministers, I've copied their entire responses, with the quotable bits in bold:

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, what I said yesterday in the media was in response to some questions around dialysis services in Labrador West. What I indicated clearly was that as a health department, as a minister, we had not had any representation from the community at large or from the health authority. We have four health authorities in this Province, I say, Mr. Speaker, and they have a really significant purpose in the delivery of health services in the respective parts of the Province.
The Labrador Grenfell Authority has a responsibility in Labrador and the Northern part of the Island portion of the Province. They, as a part of their planning exercise and a part of their exercise in putting forward to government requests for either funding or support for program initiatives, have not approached our department or me, as the minister, or government in any way, about having dialysis services in Lab City.
You may recall, Mr. Speaker, about a year or so ago I joined my colleague and we opened a new dialysis service in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!
I ask the hon. minister to complete his answer.
MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Dialysis services, as a range of other programs that we introduce in a variety of areas of the Province, come about as a result of local regional planning from our health authorities who, in turn, make representation to government.

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, it is interesting, you know, the question got framed initially in what I knew as a minister. What was interesting is she referenced the Cameron Inquiry. What was really interesting, one of the pivotal turning points identified by Justice Cameron was a Dr. Ejeckam letter in 2003. That 2003 letter happened on their watch, I say, Mr. Speaker. We weren’t in government at that time.
When we start talking about what ministers know and what ministers do not know, at an operational level, as a minister, we would not necessarily have any idea what is happening on a day-to-day basis at an operational level at many of our authorities, so it is a natural, normal process for us to rely on health authorities to identify health needs in respective areas of the Province.
Now, with respect to the issue of Port aux Basques, I met with the council in Port aux Basques last year in Corner Brook. We had a discussion around the issue as I understand it now, some representation of the community as well as the health authority –

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I can report that we are making great progress. We have done a lot of work. There have been a number of people who have been involved in this exercise, and I would like to be in a position in the very near future to make some further announcements to the House. I am sure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will be quite impressed with the work that we have done and the future direction that we are mapping out for long-term care and community supports in this Province, and in particular the whole home support piece.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
As we have gone through this process – well, I can only speak for the time that I have been minister - during the last two years since I have been in my portfolio, I have had numerous discussions with a variety of not just individuals but organizations who are involved in health services in this Province, whether it is the Regional Health Authorities, agencies who are involved in the direct delivery of services, or individuals themselves who are involved in the direct delivery of services; but, most importantly, numerous individual families and individuals who are receiving home supports themselves have been very much engaged in the discussion.
I make reference particularly to the consultations we have done on healthy aging a few years ago, where we spoke to about 1,000 people, over seventeen communities. I suspect that is probably the most extensive consultation any government has ever done in this Province on any one single issue.

Not to be outdone, here is Digitaria cruciata Burkeia's response to the following question: Would government act to change the existing legislation governing Memorial University such as to accept those recommendations and can we expect such legislation changes taking place before a new president is selected?

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, with regards to the selection for a President of Memorial University, the Chair of the Board of Regents outlined a process that will be followed to select the chair at this time and he laid it out in a very clear, concise manner. It is a very open and transparent process and it is certainly one that government agrees with. So, that process will continue. What I had been asked and I want to clarify, based on the report from the ad hoc committee that came into government, we were asked to engage in discussions and we will certainly do that. As I said, I met with the Board of Regents as recently as yesterday and they will get back to us about how they want to proceed with discussions. That has been the request that came with that report from the Board of Regents and we certainly will follow up with the Board of Regents.

Here's the link: http://www.assembly.nl.ca/business/hansard/ga46session1/09-03-24.htm

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It turns out that Gomphus clavatus Wisemanius is not happy to be kept in the dark alone:

Mr. Gomphus clavatus issued an invitation to the media to bask in his greetings:

But then the eighth-floor phone rang, and he changed his mind and banished the media to the waiting room: http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=235079&sc=79

I hope the media get there early. From what I've been told, our waiting rooms are crowded these days.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Scourge of the Scuppies

While greedy corporate executives are hogging the limelight, we're witnessing another cultural scourge: Scuppies.

You may know them by another name, but these neopuritans are revolutionizing public life as we know it. Whether it's the jihad against bottled water or disposable diapers, scuppies are there, telling you what to do and yelling at you when you don't do it.

If you're not sure when you're in the presence of an actual scuppie, you should refer to the check-list: they are always ultra-thin, smug, and patronizing; they wear expensive clothes that are made to look inexpensive; and they love to talk about their exotic travels and extreme vacations to authentic places, where they exercise compulsively and eat obsessively. Here's a link to a handbook: http://www.scuppie.com/

The inconvenient truth that we're witnessing is nothing less than a transformation in public morality. It used to be that people were judged by how they treated others. Now people are judged by what they consume. Public morality has become collapsed into consumerism: you are what you buy. Buy the wrong stuff, drive the wrong car (soon it will be any car), and you're going straight to cultural hades.

Over the past generation, it has become increasingly unacceptable to make public judgements about someone's personal morality. We are supposedly living through a great age of cultural permissiveness and tolerance. But that's not entirely true.

While vast areas of private conduct have indeed become off-limits for public shaming, environmentalism has become a new, officially-sanctioned secular religion. You may be a complete jerk who treats his family like garbage -- you may be a habitual liar or just mean to others -- but if you score high marks on the environmental litmus-test, you're okay. Going green (and being thin, of course) is your get out of jail card in the new game of cultural monopoly.

But like all secular religions, scuppieism has a moral blindspot. In the case of scuppies, it's travel. While the high priests of environmentalism shriek at the sound of a water bottle being opened, they're deaf to the noise of a jet airplane. While they condemn the masses for shopping for deals at Walmart, they jet-set across the globe, looking for that perfect $20,000 authentic experience. While they judge you for drinking Tim's, it's fine for them to travel to Jamaica for the world's perfect coffee beans. It's not the amount money you spend but rather how you spend it that counts. Consume tacky stuff and you can kiss your social capital goodbye. Consume exotic travel (leave your carbon footprint 30,000 feet in the air, over the Pacific Ocean, rather than on a freeway) and you're judged superior for having improved yourself. Thus while one section of the Globe and Mail yells at you to stop driving your car, another section urges you to fly to unspoilt Mongolia, where the world-weary traveller can savour the best yak milk in the world.

Make no mistake: their politics are deeply personal and they're playing for keeps. Last fall, when the local NDP candidate came to my door, she nearly slapped me when I told her I was voting for another party. She was positively enraged: the NDP was not just the best choice; it was the moral choice. I made two mistakes. I told her that Jack Layton really bugs me (he still does). And in my driveway was parked a Chevy (it's still there).

P.S. In response to one scuppie who emailed me: in terms of the actual environment (as opposed to the dogma of "sustainability," which is an extremely slippery concept) the selective acseticism of the scuppie ethos does little to help the cause. By focusing too much on individual consumer behaviour (micro-economics) rather than government policies (macro-economics), they often fail to build the type of larger political coalition that's necessary for real progress. The mantra "think globally, act locally" has it backwards: it should be think locally and act globally. Feel-good consumerist policies such as the "one-ton challenge" make good PR, and national states like them because it's a cheap way for them to deal with difficult problems. Environmental issues should be treated like other public safety issues, rather than an existential contest to see who can be the thinnest pocket-mulcher. Incremental steps, such as increasing mandatory fuel efficiency for cars (which would have significant popular support), have a more direct and immediate impact than fantasies about abolishing the internal combustion engine.

And finally, as for the issue of personal asceticism, which is at the heart of the scuppie creed: fat people don't live nearly as long as skinny people, so they don't cost the public as much, nor do they consume as many natural resources over their lifetime as thin people who live far longer. And if you think rabid environmentalism stops there, think again:
If people should stop having babies to save the environment, then why stop there? Why not mass euthanasia?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Narcissism Index

Narcissism is everywhere these days, it seems. It seems to be all the rage in pop psychology, as commentators look for something to blame for the mess we're in:

For those not inclined toward psychology, there is an omnipresent cultural disease out there as well: "Mad at the bankers? Don't be. They are us," proclaims Konrad Yakabuski:

So I was thinking that if narcissism is so popular, then this must explain Harper's web site.

If they are us, and he wants to appear just like us, then appearing narcissistic should get him a landslide -- right?

According to his web site, he's doing well:

Not one, not four, but eight photos of the unphotogenic PM on his homepage. He's got one with the cat, another on the phone, and another with the hard-hats.

And, knowing that you just can't get enough, one of the photos links to a video, while the other links to a photo album. On the photo album page, you'll find fifteen more photos, which (you guessed it) link to more photos, which link to more photos. You get the picture.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rex Lapham

Everyone, myself included, is prone to an outbreak of Laphamism from time to time.

Which is why it's important not to take yourself too seriously or your topics too dismissively. While Murphy tends to adopt a stern seriousness when he writes about Newfoundland, he dips into pop culture and US politics for purely comic relief. This may be because he knows the former better than the latter (note to Rex: the Aniston bit is getting tired), and he often shows a weak grasp of American politics.

In today's Globe, Murphy tries, and fails, to stick it to Jon Stewart, Barack Obama, and just about everyone else in American public life:

Yes, Rex, it's all an elaborate march of folly over the cliff of civilization. But it's also an important, complicated march that needs to be analyzed seriously and discretely. If Cramer was too easy a target for Stewart, then surely the Stewart-Cramer "take-down" is too easy a target for the learned, augustan Murphy.

Murphy is not only wrong on important points (Stewart's rage was genuine, not faux), but he gives the false impression that Stewart focused solely on Cramer. Cramer's appearance on the show came after Stewart had already done a wide-ranging, trenchant (and, of course, funny) piece on the politics of business media:

Dripping with condescension, Murphy asks, "Amid the trillions of dollars currently gushing from Congress - in appropriations so large and so quickly passed that no one, not even those authorizing them, is reading the damn things - why take the fly swatter to the most insignificant bug in the room?"

Why? Well, you have to start somewhere, don't you? And Cramer and CNBC were not exactly fleas on the financial dog; in fact, they spent millions (and made millions) feeding the dog junk food. Without all that media junk food, it's uncertain whether the financial dog would have become so fat and greedy over the past decade.

Just because there are trillions gushing out of the Treasury does not mean that CNBC should get a pass. As I've mentioned earlier, there are good economic analyses out there to be read:
Frontline has a good piece as well:

And, if nothing else, Stewart's "take-down" has done a public service by generating a genuine (as opposed to a dismissive) discussion of whether Cramer and his ilk are "too easy" a target:
Townie Bastard has weighed in as well:

Muphy being Murphy, he's not content to pour scorn on Stewart. He tries (and again fails) to link the Stewart-Cramer story to the furor over AIG. And then, in a rhetorical flourish, he concludes that the American presidency has become a "four-year celebrity guest spot."

To be sure, we are witnessing an incredibly target rich environment for satirists, humourists, and Laphamites. But Murphy has to make up his mind whether he wants his column to be wryly funny or sternly serious. Without humour or sincerity, he's left with disingenuity.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Gaffes and Weekend Reading

The evidence is in. Political gaffes are now officially bipartisan:

Writing gaffes are interdisciplinary, too:
"As a man passionate about science and as a chiropractor, we're confident he would want to get it right."

Still, I'll take a dangling modifier over a creationist any day of the week.

I'd also take Niebuhr over any of our current party leaders in Canada. If you're looking for something to read over the weekend, try this: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22472

Thank God it's Friday.

Bubble, Toil, and Trouble

Yesterday I compared the global economic recession to a tsunami; today the Globe is using the same word to describe Ben Bernanke's $1 trillion treasury splash:

The story raises a couple of important issues for both the Canadian and NL economies.

On the one hand, the prospect of such a massive injection of liquidity woke up the commodity bulls, who are betting that the US stimulus package will indeed spur demand. Prices for commodities such as copper and oil jumped sharply, and it's likely that grains will follow as well. Gold reached a six-month high, and silver posted its best one-day surge in almost 30 years, which is good news for Canadian mining companies.

On the other hand, the looming liquidity tsunami has brought out the inflation bulls as well. The rally in the price of gold is in large measure due to spreading fears of inflation, as speculators take larger gold positions to hedge against the US currency. It's only a matter of time before the US dollar begins what will surely be its own sustained deleveraging, and, at this point, no one knows how far or how fast this will happen. A sharp decline in the US dollar would be bad news not only for US consumers, who would have to pay more for imported goods, but also Canadian exporters, who could see the Canadian dollar back to parity.

No one has been paying much attention to inflation because everyone has said that we have more important things to worry about in the short-term. But if the gold speculators are right, inflation may become a real problem sooner rather than later. If inflation really takes off -- and given the uncertainties of the past year, who knows? -- then all bets are off for a Carney-style recovery. For Canada, gains made by rising commodity prices could be outweighed by the domestic effects of inflation, which will eat into consumers' purchasing power and undercut consumer confidence. A sustained spike in inflation could force Carney to raise interest rates before the economy has recovered sufficiently, raising the spectre of 70's-style stagflation.

What's certain at this point is that nothing is certain. Congress, the White House, and the Treasury are concocting an American stimulus brew worthy of the three witches in Macbeth. We've already had plenty of economic bubbles, social toil, and political trouble; but no one knows whether this latest brew will create a vaccine against the global meltdown virus. Given the fact that American consumers were already so heavily indebted before the whole crisis began, it will take more than a single rebate cheque to induce them to return to their pre-2008 spending habits, if they ever do.

Which brings us to NL. The Tely has a thoughtful editorial on the politics of economic projections: http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=233896&sc=80

"For years, this province's finance ministers have deliberately pegged the price of oil lower than the price turned out to be. The result has been, almost every year, a surplus beyond expectations.

Lowball in March, and look good in October - it's become a tradition.This year, once again, results may not be the same as expectations - but look to the province to be far more cautious about what it's expecting, simply because when it comes to economists' predictions, it seems more like pinning jello to the wall than anything else.

And it will be interesting to see what flavour we get when this province's new budget arrives next week."

Mixing oil and jello is always interesting. What will be even more interesting is the politics of expectations and blame. Will the Blue Shaft act as the sole antagonist, or will there be other actors in this drama? The nurses have been out of the provincial news for quite a while, haven't they?

Nurses Update:

Back in the news: http://www.thetelegram.com/index.cfm?sid=234686&sc=79


Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Smart People Do Even Stupider Things

Just when you think Harper has reached his stupidity nadir, he reaches again. I've already chronicled some of his attempts to be the stupidest PM in Canadian history:

But his quest for political stupidity seems to reaching Feithian levels. Perhaps he's looking for the type of legacy that only a Tommy Franks diatribe can inspire:

Either that, or the Pepsi has finally rotted out his cranium. Whatever the cause, today's Globe offers a fascinating account of how far Harper will go to in his quest to prove he's an epically moronic tactician:

Instead of letting the Dodge story drift away into that good media night, Harper apparently could not keep himself from raging against the dying of the news cycle.

So what did he decide to do?
1) Start a pissing match with former Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge.

2) Box himself into a corner by insisting that Canada is in fine economic shape.

3) Bet against an unprecented global meltdown.

Let's start with number 1. No doubt that the federal Tories were mad a Dodge for his earlier comments. So what? Suck it up and move on. The last thing you do is feed the media another news cycle. The fact that Dodge didn't predict the recession is neither here nor there. He's not exactly the type of person you want to be seen attacking. You're not going to be able to start a witch hunt against a former Bank of Canada Governor. Stupid, but not fatally stupid.

Now for number 2. The Globe notes that Harper has backed away from his reckless claim that Canada will lead the G-pack out of the recession. But he has still left his political behind twisting in the political wind, and pointing out that economic forecasts are "all over the map" will hurt rather than help him down the road. Canadians remember that this is the same economic genius who responded to the beginning of the meltdown last fall by saying that it presented great buying opportunities. Harper's one claim to fame was that he understood economics; once that claim is burnt, he has nothing to fall back on except the ineptness of the Liberals, who will surely get their act together before the economy recovers.

Harper seems to believe (perhaps sincerely) that the health of the major banks will act as a type of galactic force field that will protect the Starship Canada from the evil subprime borg. He is, of course, completely deluded. Since its genesis in the financial sector, the meltdown virus has mutated into a global tsunami that has cut a path of destruction straight across national economies, from consumer demand to export markets. Canada is, among the G-7, unusually dependent upon commodities and export markets, and our manufacturing base is heavily dependent on the auto industry. The destruction of demand for everything from softwood lumber to lobster (not to mention base metals and oil) will severely undermine Canada's capacity to bounce back as quickly as more diversified economies. A smart politician would have realized his mistake and kept quiet.

As for number 3, who in their right mind would bet against this tsunami? In terms of a costs/benefits analysis, this one is a no-brainer: whatever benefit you might possibly get from being Mr. Economic Optimist is far outweighed by the risk of getting it wrong.

If things get worse before they get better (as they likely will) today's Globe may have written Harper's political epitaph: "Mr. Harper stood by his relatively confident take on the Canadian economy yesterday despite Mr. Dodge's forecast in The Globe and Mail that Canada and the world are facing a long and deep recession that will alter the nature of capitalism."

Iggy must be pinching himself.

Recession Update:
Yup, we're doing just fine...

Bears, Seals, and Bad Omens

You know it's not a good omen for the seal hunt when Vladimir Putin, of all people, wants to save the seals.

Putin showed a bizarre sense of ironic humour when he labelled the seal hunt a "bloody industry" that "should have been banned a long time ago." I guess military invasions or arms exporting don't count as bloody industries, then. On Wednesday the Russian government announced a ban on the hunting of all harp seals less than one year old.

According to the NP:
"The move came as a surprise to Thomas Hedderson, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador, whose province is preparing for the beginning of its annual hunt. Harp seal reserves off the coast there number well more than five million and are increasing, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
"I'm not as familiar with the Russian hunt as I am with our own, but they're clearly having problems we are not experiencing," he said.
"Our hunt is one of the best-managed and most-regualted [sic] industries you'll see anywhere. It's sustainable, it's viable and it's humane."

As with the naked Spanish seal hunt protestors, this latest development has nothing to do with federalism, Harper, or the never-ending ABC war. It has nothing to do with whether NL has its own foreign policy.

I'm sure some open-line caller will insist that DW could have changed Vlad's mind if DW was President of the Republic of Newfoundland rather than a mere provincial premier. But sooner or later, the politicians and public in NL are going to have to come to grips with the full international scope of the opposition to the seal hunt.

I suspect it will be later. What will happen sooner is that the whole mess will be conveniently blamed on Ottawa. What will happen sooner is that DW will use the seal hunt as a political tool, as another way to attack Harper. What will happen sooner is that the public discussion will devolve into dark tales of yet another federalist conspiracy.

It would be nice to have an open and frank discussion of the geopolitical context of the seal hunt. But I suspect I'll be cashing in my old-age cheque before that happens.

Here's the link to the NP story:

P.S. And what kind of juvenile, asinine comment is this: "I don't know where he's coming from, whether it's a personal point of view or his country's view," Mr. Hedderson said. Does every cabinet minister in NL have an implant that forces them to utter such DW-style jibberish in public? God knows how they must speak behind closed doors. I guess it's never dawned on them that not all politics is personal.

Here's some geopolitics 101: Vlad is the PM. He's a shrewd politician. He has made a political calculation: the extremely small economic hit Russia will take for the ban is far outweighed by the political gain. His invasion of Georgia last summer, coupled with his natural gas power-play this winter, really pissed off the Europeans; so what better way (and what cheaper way) to curry favour with the seal-loving Europeans than to come out against the seal hunt? That's it. Got it?

Media Update:


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anyone but Canada

It was only a matter of time before ABC morphed in the national media into "Anyone but Canada:" http://www.canada.com/Business/story.html?id=1373881

The National Post story is a retread the Rob Antle's story in the Tely:

As I've pointed out in an earlier post, DW's European Adventure is full of contradictions and inconsistencies:

In this case, it would be understandable if DW's many groupies cried foul. They can point to numerous occasions when DW affirmed that he's a proud Canadian.

What they cannot do, however, is account for public statements like this:
"Canada just struck us over the head."

or this:
"And we have been building up a war chest for when the feds come at us again, quite frankly."

For more examples, see:

The provincial politics of ABC and its impact on federal-provincial relations have received exhaustive coverage and debate. But its impact on how Canadians view NL has received little attention to date.

No one seems interested in discussing how fair-minded Canadians might feel about DW's outbursts. Perhaps few people in NL care about what Mainlanders think.

But plenty of people, especially in Dangovt, care a lot about Canadians' tourists dollars. The same Dangovt that loathes the Globe has an annoying pop-up ad embedded on the newspaper's homepage.

Given everything that DW has said since 2003, it's perhaps not surprising that today the Tely carried this letter to the editor:
"Not visiting this year

We've been watching the pretty tourism ads for Newfoundland in the paper and on television. We were actually thinking that we might come down this summer.

But then we began to think about it a bit. Do we really want to spend our money there? This is the province that the rest of us have been shoveling money to since 1948. Not only have we never been thanked, but apparently we are actively disliked by a majority of you.

Why else would you overwhelmingly support a premier whose main platform seems to be antagonism to the rest of Canada? Up here, we don't like people of his sort - he makes his way by inciting anger between the citizens of this country.

He is the antithesis of what a good Canadian should be and his standing in your province, unfortunately, says a lot about Newfoundlanders in general.

Now, it's separation.

Now we are hearing calls for a separate Newfoundland. Please feel free.

We wonder how long you'd last without the transfer payments for which you apparently have such low regard. So we're not coming this summer ... sorry.

Rob Hammond
Brockville, Ont. "

Maybe this is an exceptional, isolated case. Maybe Mainlanders will flock to see all the blond- and red-haired Celts prancing authentically under the NALCO transmission lines.

Maybe not. The letter writer might be an isolated jerk for all I know (the jab about "shoveling money" was nasty, unfair, and wrong), but perceptions are perceptions. And despite DW's superhero powers, even he cannot control how Mainlanders will respond to what he does and says about Canada.

Before the next DW meltdown, it might be worthwhile to pause for just a minute and consider how people outside Newfoundland may respond to anti-Canadian rhetoric, let alone acts such as pulling down their national flag. It might also be useful to think about how separatism affected financial investment in Quebec. The full consequences of the ABC folly are still unknown, but what we do know is that they will spill well beyond provincial borders and Ottawa knife-fights.

As I've maintained, DW's predictions about getting shafted have had a funny way of turning into self-fulfilling prophecies:

Maybe that's been the plan all along.

The National Pap

As far-fetched as it seems, the National Post seems to lauching some sort of wingnut jihad against the Globe for reporting Goodyear's moronic statements. It sounds an awful lot like parody, but the commentaries are evidently serious attempts to say really, really stupid things.

1) Here is Don Martin: "The clash between religious creationism and political correctness flared briefly in the headlines again this week." Political correctness? Really?

You know the wingnuts are out of ammunition when they have to toss out that tired canard. This whole thing truly is a throw-back to the 80's. Martin accuses the Globe of launching a smear campaign, while he himself smears those who are genuinely concerned about Goodyear's commitment to science. Not only is his column singularly lazy and poorly reasoned, but he shows that he has just an amazing sense of humour:
"Perhaps Mr. Manning has the right idea. Mr. Harper should call all the whitecoats together and put them in a room until their 180 IQs devise a worthy scientific stimulus experiment for the sector’s $5-billion boost in government spending.
If nothing else, they always could salute Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday by declaring as one voice that dinosaurs were indeed wiped out 65 million years before the age of homo sapiens. Except Barney, of course."

Yeah, Don, you're absolutely hilarious:

2) Not to be outdone, Martin's colleague Jonathan Kay was positively apoplectic, calling the Globe story a "FRONT PAGE SMEAR ON RELIGION!" Kay attempts the amazing feat of conflating personal religious faith with the public views of the Minister of Science about science.

Like Martin, he is left without a relevant argument to pursue, so he decided to bring out the big rhetorical guns to blast the whole issue into submission. Whereas Martin ended with Barney, Kay goes for the full Monty:
"There is a broader issues at play here. So permit me to leave the fishbowl of Canadian politics for a moment. Seventeen years ago, in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a plurality of U.S. Supreme Court Justices wrote these soaring words: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State."

Quite the rhetorical flourish, with an appropriate American touch. Too bad it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Globe story that got him so sweaty in the first place:

With friends like these at the National Post, Harpoid won't need enemies. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that they're on the Liberal payroll. Keeping the Goodyear story alive for another news cycle -- now that's tactical brilliance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

He Blinded Me With Science

I didn't have the Reformeisters pegged as 80's music fans, but they're sounding an awful lot like one of those hit radio stations that pander to Generation X. Expanding the Tories' reach among forty-somethings must be Harpoid's latest brilliant strategy.

As their performance over the past couple of days demonstrates, the Reformeisters' repetoire spans the best from the decade that brought us the mullet.

Exhibit A
Here's Preston Manning in today's Globe:

I know, it's a sordid piece of drivel -- even skimming it could harm your brain. So here's one of the best bits from his Hooray for Sciency mission:

A good starting point would be to organize, within the next six weeks, a one-day, high-profile gathering in Ottawa of the country's top science practitioners, administrators, entrepreneurs, investors and communicators. The purpose would be to showcase what they and their peers can contribute to all of the above, especially economic recovery.
This event would be organized by a professional event-planning company, not an agency or company with a vested interest in federal science spending or policy.
Attendees would spend at least half their time in as many meetings as could be arranged with MPs, senators, senior civil servants and media representatives to convey a single, positive, amply illustrated message: Canada's science and technology community stands ready and willing to do its part to assist in coping with the recession if given the direction, opportunity and resources to do so.

Yay! Scienticians can now grab their rightful place alongside the professional scientists in elitist universities. Now what would that gathering look like? Well, Manning is clearly channeling Thomas Dolby:

All you have to do is make Manning's voice an octave lower, and he's a dead ringer for the old dude on the video who exclaims, "Science!!"

Exhibit B
Here's Gary Goodyear in today's Globe:

I'm sure he's at a loss to explain why his evolutionary skepticism is creating such a fuss. Like Manning, he's twitching with excitement about all the sciency learning that will enable us to learn truthy things:
“I do believe that just because you can't see it under a microscope doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It could mean we don't have a powerful enough microscope yet. So I'm not fussy on this business that we already know everything. … I think we need to recognize that we don't know.” Asked to clarify if he was talking about the role of a creator, Mr. Goodyear said that the interview was getting off topic."

But his rhetoric soars even higher than Manning's high-pitched call to arms. For Goodyear, the fate of the free world depends on our scienticians:
“Now I have got a portfolio that I am absolutely passionate about and frankly connected to,” he said, adding that his days of experimenting with engines in high school automotive class gave him an appreciation for what it feels like to come up with something new.
“When I was in high school, we were already tweaking with a coil that would wrap around the upper [radiator] hose and it got an extra five miles to the gallon. … So I've been there on this discovery stuff.”
Commercializing research – the focus of the government's science and technology policy – is an area where Canada needs to make improvements, he says.
If we are going to be serious about saving lives and improving life around this planet, if we are serious about helping the environment, then we are going to have to get some of these technologies out of the labs onto the factory floors. Made. Produced. Sold. And that is going to fulfill that talk. So yes, we have to do all of it, we have to do discovery … but it can't end there.”

Passion, commercialism, engines, saving lives, and a whiff of scientology...if you think that combination sounds familair, you're right. Like Manning, Goodyear is channeling another one-hit wonder from the 80's:

As another pop-culture star who got his start in the 80's once said, "It's funny cause it's true."

But there's no doubt that Goodyear's creationism will take your breath away.

News Cycle Digestion Update:

Well, this news cycle got digested before bedtime. Not sure what's more pathetic: having your Science Minister being forced to say he believes in evolution (did he say what type of evolution?); or having your Industry Minister being forced to say that his research and development includes the humanities.