The Harder They Fall


nero

Nero fiddles while Rome burns

It seems that whenever people talk about a fallen empire, they invariably discuss the fall of the Holy Roman empire, but there have been a plethora of fallen empires throughout history and they all share a common thread. It has been said that Pride goeth before a fall, but it is not only pride, or even arrogance that preceded the fall of some of the world’s most powerful empires. The real culprit is a different deadly sin… greed.

A lot has been made of late about income inequality and for good reason. When the haves, who make up less than 1 percent of the population of a country, own more than 90 percent of a country’s wealth and the vast majority are the have-nots, who share the last few percentage points, the fall of that country is not far off. The masses will only put up with so much before there is a revolution, just look at the French Revolution (what happens when you have a pair of entitled 15 year olds ruling a country), or more recently the Arab Spring. Whether it’s a royal aristocracy, a dictatorship or capitalism run amok that keeps the people down, it is only a matter of time until the people will realize that all they need to do is band together and revolt in order to stop the madness.

marie-antoinette

Mmmm Cake!

Sir Edmund Burke once said, “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” He was right. It’s easy to look back at the causes of the declines and falls of each and every former empire and make direct comparisons to current world powers. The writing is on the wall. It is not enough to make sure that the have-nots have almost enough to live on and dangle the carrot of a lottery win, a singing career, a reality show or a game show as hope that they too can become rich. There are only so many times that a shiny object (celebrity) can be used to distract the people from the erosion of their rights. A country must provide more than just welfare and food stamps for its poor. It’s not just the impoverished, though. If a country has successfully eroded away its middle class, by union busting and outsourcing jobs to other countries, all in the name of saving a buck, they have then joined the middle class (which should be more populous than the poverty-stricken) with the poor, thereby strengthening their numbers and making themselves that many more new enemies.

China used to be a powerful empire and is the only country that actually has a chance, and a good chance, at that, of becoming a powerful empire for a second time. This time, they are building their economy by educating their children in fields like technology, science and agriculture. They are studying the success and failures of other countries and learning from them. They are buying the debt of countries that have a lot of unpopulated land, as they are quickly running out of land of their own. They are forward thinking, all the while looking to the past.

Thanks to global warming (or climate change) Russia is poised for power as well. It wasn’t that long ago (1917) that the Russian Revolution happened and Putin is ruling like he has never heard of it. The arctic will be a major resource in the coming decades and Russia owns the lion’s share of the region. It is imperative that they have a forward thinking party in power and soon if they want to be a major player in the near future.

polite-canadian

 Canadians; apologizing our way to the top.

There is a country that is on the threshold of becoming a world power player for the first time for much the same reason. The country that owns the second largest share of the arctic, Canada. Yes, quiet, polite Canada with our wealth of natural resources and our vast amounts of unpopulated land, really could be a super-power in the, not so distant, future, if we play our cards right. When it comes to social issues like healthcare and human rights, Canada is on the forefront. Canada is one of the best countries in which to live if you are a minority or a woman. The quality of our education system is excellent and not so overpriced that only the wealthy can access it. Yes, Canada is indeed a great place to live, which is why as we look forward by protecting our arctic land, we must also look around, like the Chinese are doing, at the successes and failures of others, both past and present and learn from them, so it will continue to be that great place to live. We do not want to see our rights eroded due to complacency on the part of the voting public. It is important that the people of Canada keep a watchful eye on our elected officials, so that they continue to act in our best interests and not succumb to the one thing that will spell our downfall… greed.

A Royal Pain


Ironically, I had planned to write about the British Royal family the day before yesterday, after watching Madonna’s film W.E., then it was announced that William and Kate are expecting their first child which only solidified the plan.

prince-william-and-princess-catherine-kiss-after-their-weddingThe Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Now, before you start thinking that I am going to bash Will and Kate just one day after they announced their good news, let me put your mind at ease. This is not a blog about how William and Kate are spawning another mouth for the taxpayers of Britain (and the Commonwealth) to feed. They have done their Royal duty by creating an heir (a classier way of saying humped like bunnies until he knocked her up) This is a blog about whether or not the British Royal family is still relevant to society. I think not.

coronationlizQueen Elizabeth II on her coronation day.

It could be argued that the British Royals uphold a certain social and moral standard, that they represent a grand tradition and that their mere existence brings countless tourist dollars into Britain. The truth is that the Queen serves as head of the Church of England and must appear at numerous ceremonial functions as the face of England and the Commonwealth. The Church of England was created so that Henry VIII could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, so it’s not exactly a paragon of virtue from the get go. Now, I think Queen Elizabeth II has fulfilled her duty with the utmost grace and has been a shining example of what a monarch should be. She was groomed for the position since birth and has sacrificed her whole life for honour and duty to her country. Elizabeth II has reigned longer than any other monarch with the exception of Queen Victoria (though she is only 5 years away from beating that record). Sadly, her time on the throne is nearing an end and it will soon be time to pass the crown to a new monarch.

Queen-Elizabeth-II-Celebrates-Diamond-JubileeQueen Elizabeth II celebrated her diamond jubilee

The next in line for that honour is Charles, Prince of Wales. Unlike his mother, Charles has not been what you could call a pillar of society. He has acted like a spoiled brat, consistently flouting the rules of his station and yet still expecting to keep his place in line to the throne. Unlike his Great Uncle, King Edward VIII he has not shown one ounce of regard for the import, nor the rules of his title and does not seem to understand that he has done nothing to deserve to ascend to the role of King. Instead he acts like it his God-given right to one day be King. I am sure he was groomed for the throne since birth, like his mother before him. I am sure he is aware of the rules of conduct to which he must adhere, yet, at every turn he has acted in a purely selfish manner, preferring to serve his penis rather than his title (which the taxpayers pay for him to hold). We, the public have had to endure all of the lurid details of his affair with a married woman while he was still married to the mother of his children. We have suffered through tape recordings of sexual conversations where he said he wanted to be a feminine hygiene product. All of this from a man who is paid to be better than the rest of the rabble.

Charles+Camilla+Attend+Annual+Mey+Games+C9c_1rUkb-nlChlamydia, Duchess of Corn-hole and the Man Who Would be Tampon

Support for the Royals is waning world-wide. Yesterday, Yahoo Canada had a poll that asked ‘Do you care about William and Kate’s personal life?’ Over 50,000 people responded and 81% of them voted No. Just last month, a 76 year old man in Auckland, New Zealand (a commonwealth country) was arrested just before he had the chance to throw a bucket of horse manure on Charles and Camilla during a royal visit. But, perhaps nowhere on the planet is distaste for the royals higher than in Quebec where more than 80% of the population is opposed to the monarchy. The last time Charles and Camilla visited La Belle Province, they were met by more than 1000 angry protesters who hurled eggs at their car and shouted nasty slurs at them as they drove past. Even Will and Kate were on the receiving end of a protest when they visited Montreal last year. Every time Canada (a commonwealth country) has to pay for another royal visit there are people from all across the country speaking out against the monarchy.

Prince Charles, CamillaCharles and Camilla in Montreal as protesters hurl eggs at their car.

It seems to me that if Charles is not passed over, that quite a few commonwealth countries will fall by the wayside. After all, we are no longer part of the British Empire, we are our own sovereign countries, some of whom are becoming more financially stable than England. It is my opinion that England would do well to disband their monarchy after the current Queen steps down. The government owns those castles. Why not turn them into luxury hotels? That way the staff could stay on (at a higher wage than the royals are paying them… plus tips) and the tourist dollars would likely be higher than they are now with no one being allowed so much as a tour of Buckingham Palace. Other countries have royals who are royal in title only and can be seen bicycling around town along with the rest of  population, why not England? What exactly are you holding onto? It’s different in Monaco where the Grimaldi family hold court. The Grimaldis aren’t freeloading off of the taxpayers… in Monaco there is no income tax. Income tax as we know it started, by the way, in England in 1798 by William Pitt the Younger.

monacoroyalsThe Royal Family of Monaco

It makes no sense (cents?) to keep funding an entire family to hold positions that are but figureheads in this economy when so many of your own people (taxpayers) are hurting and with so many of your allies shouting down this antiquated tradition. Even if Charles is bypassed and William becomes King do you really think that the commonwealth countries will want to continue paying for the visits and the pomp and circumstance for a 30 year old kid and his wife? I don’t think that the British people will be so keen to keep the royals on if they are the only ones funding them either. I think the world is outgrowing this quaint high school-like tradition where one group is deemed better than the rest of us just because they were born rich, who then piss it all away. We have celebrities for that.

I’d like to leave you with the following video from The Kids in the Hall because, as I was writing this post, this sketch came screaming to mind… and I know I could use a good laugh after all of this kvetching.

America’s foreign policy part two… foreign aid.


I wasn’t going to do another blog about the United States. I felt like I had said all I had to say on the matter. Then, a heartfelt comment on my last entry prompted me to change my mind. You should know something about me. I find it impossible not to respond to statements of fact that are not entirely factual and I am addicted to research. I would like to begin this post with apologies to Erika, the blogger upon whose comment this entry is based. I enjoy your blog and respect your point of view.

Erika’s comment challenged my assertion that America’s foreign policy was faulty at best by pointing out that America does so much good in the world with their foreign aid. To read her comment in its entirety click here

Because of my aforementioned personality traits I must respond thusly.

As my last post dealt with the American government, I will continue to keep my focus on America’s foreign aid on government aid. In her comment Erika stated “In 2012 American emergency foreign aid budget exceeded 1.6 Billion (with a B) and that does not include regular, planned aid contributions, this was just the “acts of God” stuff.” I’d like to start here because her quote of 1.6 billion dollars (with a B) is the exact amount that America owes the United Nations. Since 1985 the U.S. Congress has refused to authorize payment of the U.S. dues, in order to force UN compliance with U.S. wishes, as well as a reduction in the U.S. assessment. The following chart shows U.S. debt to the UN from 1995 through 2005.

U.S. debt to the United Nations, from 1995 to 2005
Year Regular budget Peacekeeping Total
31 December 1995 $414 million (73%) $816 million (47%) $1.231 billion (56%)
31 December 1996 $376 million (74%) $926 million (57%) $1.303 billion (61%)
31 December 1997 $373 million (79%) $940 million (60%) $1.313 billion (64%)
31 December 1998 $316 million (76%) $976 million (61%) $1.294 billion (64%)
31 December 1999 $167 million (68%) $995 million (67%) $1.170 billion (67%)
31 December 2000 $165 million (74%) $1.144 billion (56%) $1.321 billion (58%)
31 December 2001 $165 million (69%) $691 million (38%) $871 million (41%)
31 December 2002 $190 million (62%) $536 million (40%) $738 million (44%)
31 December 2003 $268 million (61%) $482 million (45%) $762 million (48%)
31 December 2004 $241 million (68%) $722 million (28%) $975 million (33%)
30 September 2005 $607 million (82%) $607 million (28%) $1.246 billion (41%)

As of 2012 the amount owed is 1.6 billion dollars. Oh, in case you were wondering, Canada’s yearly foreign aid budget is 5.16 billion dollars (with a B) and we are paid up.

The comment also stated that, ” we are the first to run to aid when famine, natural disaster or disease strikes both as individual donors and from the government.” and specifically mentioned the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan as examples of this. The country that responded first in 2004 was Australia. The country that responded first in 2010 was the Dominican Republic. The first country to respond in 2011 was, again, Australia. The United States government was generous in their commitment of not only military aid, but financial aid in those situations, they just weren’t first. It should also be noted that the U.S. spends 19 times more on defence that it does on foreign aid.

The word commitment is important here. The United States commits billions of dollars annually to foreign aid, both in emergency aid and planned aid, however, from 2000 to 2011, only 40% of those committed dollars reached their destination, leaving a 60% shortfall. This is not new behavior. In 1970, the world’s wealthiest nations (United States included) agreed to spend 0.7% of their GNP on Official Development Assistance (ODA or Foreign Aid) with a target deadline by the mid 1970′s. To be fair, almost all of the nations who signed into this agreement failed to reach this target (United States included). So, then another agreement was signed stating that these nations agree to spend 0.56% of the GNI on ODA by 2010 increasing to 0.7% by 2015. USA’s aid, in terms of percentage of their GNP has almost always been lower than any other industrialized nation in the world, though to be fair, their dollar amount, since the year 2000 was the highest.

America is constantly whining that they are the country that the whole world turns to in time of crisis for military and financial aid. They seem to forget that other countries exist and are helping out as well. In fact, here’s a chart showing the per capita dollars donated to the 2004 Indian Ocean (Boxing Day) Earthquake/Tsunami.

Country Population (July 2004 or earlier) See [72] Aid (total) (USD millions) per capita (USD) Aid by government (USD millions) per capita (USD) Aid by public (USD millions) per capita (USD)
Australia 19,913,144 1,322 66.38 1,099 55.19 223.4 11.22
Norway 4,574,560 265.1 57.95 175.3 38.32 89.8 19.63
Kuwait 2,257,549 100 44.3
Liechtenstein 32,528 1.2 36.89
Netherlands 16,318,199 509.1 31.20 300.5 18.42 208.6 12.78
Ireland 3,939,558 117.94 29.94 20 5.08 97.94 24.86
Qatar 840,290 20 23.80
Canada 32,507,874 743.68 22.88 531.2 16.34 212.48 6.54
Switzerland 7,450,867 157.9 21.19
Sweden 9,010,627 230.9 25.63 71.9 7.97 159 17.64
Finland 5,214,512 89.5 17.16
Denmark 5,413,392 87.5 16.16
United Kingdom 60,270,708 795.7 13.20 140.3 2.33 654.9 10.87
Hong Kong 6,855,125 85.89 12.529 6.41 0.935 79.48 11.594
Germany 82,424,609 992 12.04
United States 293,027,571 2,875 9.81
Iceland 293,966 2.5 8.50
United Arab Emirates 2,523,915 20 7.92
Taiwan (ROC) 22,191,087 110 4.96 50 2.25 60 2.71
Japan 127,333,002 580 4.55 500 3.93 80 0.63
Singapore 4,353,893 15 3.45
Belgium 10,348,276 24.9 2.41
Italy 58,057,477 125 2.15
Greece 10,647,529 21.6 2.03
Czech Republic 10,246,178 19 1.85
Spain 40,280,780 73.1 1.81
Saudi Arabia 25,795,938 30 1.16
Portugal 10,524,145 10.9 1.04
France 60,424,213 57 0.94
Mainland China 1,298,847,624 63 0.05
India 1,065,070,607 23 0.02

Then there was the Haiti earthquake. In this case the United States pledged the most amount in dollars, however,if you take into account that Canada’s population is one tenth the size of America’s population, and you see the America’s donation is only three times what Canada gave it looks like Canada was a tad more generous here.

Country/organisation ISO country code Funding, committed and uncommitted,
Others 639,381,379
Private (individuals & organisations) 593,639,219
United States US 466,879,506
Canada CA 130,733,775
World Bank (emergency grant) 82,107,356
Japan JP 70,744,798
Saudi Arabia SA 50,000,000
Spain ES 47,664,745
European Commission 43,290,043
France FR 33,844,153
United Kingdom GB 33,070,138
Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) 27,976,462
Norway NO 25,298,044
Sweden SE 25,039,684
Germany DE 21,645,022
Brazil BR 16,884,782
Denmark DK 16,288,032
Australia AU 13,489,209
China CN 10,813,535
Italy IT 9,302,037
Switzerland CH 8,932,039
Finland FI 8,005,607
Russian Federation RU 5,700,000
Netherlands NL 5,050,504
India IN 5,000,000
United Arab Emirates AE 3,209,113
Ghana GH 3,000,000
Ireland IE 2,886,002
Donors not specified 2,219,169
Indonesia ID 1,700,000
Czech Republic CZ 1,154,401
Belgium BE 1,151,876
Poland PL 1,089,466
New Zealand NZ 1,000,000
Morocco MA 1,000,000
Guyana GY 1,000,000
Estonia EE 1,000,000
Inter-American Development Bank 200,000

Aid to Japan for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami was given by governments from around the world. To take a closer look at who donated and what they donated click here .

Yes the United States government does donate a LOT of money in emergency aid funding, however they are often the last country to pay up. In fact, the United Nations had to ask the United States to pay their pledges to Japan as they had not been received a year after the fact. *Note, as of this posting the U.S. government still has not made good on all of the funds it has committed to Japan to aid in this disaster.

As you can see, the United States is not the only country on the planet that helps out in times of need. In fact, during Hurricane Katrina the United States found it self on the receiving end of foreign aid. Even without being asked, the list of countries that offered and gave aid to the United States during this time of crisis is as long as my arm (and then some). As expected, allies of the U.S. gave generously. Australia gave 7.5 million USD, New Zealand gave $2,000,000, Canada was the highest international donor nation (the province of Alberta, alone, gave $5,000,000), and with Mexico was one of the two countries in the world to supply direct military assistance in addition to civilian donations and supplies. But then help also came from some very unexpected places. Countries that couldn’t afford much offered help like Greece, who gave $85,000 and two cruise ships to help house those left homeless by the disaster, Iraq gave $1,000,000 to the Red Cross via the red Crescent, Mongolia gave $50,000 and Nigeria gave $1,000,000. To read more about which nations gave what click here

That, of course is not the only instance in which America has received international aid, there was also the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the current effort due to Hurricane Sandy.

Getting back to the original comment that sparked this post, I was accused of painting the United States as being all bad and that was both unfair and inaccurate. Firstly, I am not sure how one could infer from my last post that I was painting the country as all bad, when I was only discussing the American government with regard to its foreign policy and not the people of the country. But in the interest of fairness, I will concede that the American people are a very generous bunch… but my point here is that you are not the only ones giving.

My issue in the last post was really about how America thinks it is put upon to protect the world from the (as George W. Bush would say) evildoers. That pervasive opinion is so widespread because that is what your government tells you is the case. That is actually not the case. Often times, when America uses its military might to butt into a situation that is none of its business (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libia, Syria), they only serve to unite two warring factions against a common enemy… the United States. Then when the dust settles, those factions get back to fighting each other and nothing has changed except the number of people doing the fighting is now lessened. America could have saved itself some cash and just stayed home. In the case of Afghanistan, the Russian government actually warned the U.S. not to get involved in what would be a military quagmire, but the American government refused to learn from history only to be doomed to repeat it. If the United States government would only learn from both the mistakes (for example the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) and the successes (for example the use of wind power in the Netherlands) of other countries then perhaps they would not be in the financial mud slide under which they are now buried. And perhaps they would stop viewing the rest of the world like this.

I can tell you that the rest of the world would be grateful if you would only acknowledge that we do our part too.

American foreign policy, a foreign perspective


Canada and the United States have long had what, from the outside, can be seen as a symbiotic relationship. We used to have (until recently) the world’s longest undefended border. We signed on to NAFTA even though it benefitted us far less than it did our neighbours to the south. On the world stage, America is the cartoon Bulldog and Canada is the Jack Russell terrier jumping around asking, “what are we doing today, Spike?”

The USA is the one on the left.

MILITARY

America has long gotten their power through military might, which is why military spending is the sacred cow when it comes to America’s budget. Neither Republicans, nor Democrats will significantly slash funding for America’s military no matter the fiscal consequence. America’s military budget is larger than that of China, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, and Australia combined. A strong military has been too large a part of the American identity for far too long but it’s the only thing keeping them in a position of any real international power, so they are doomed to keep the funding bloated. Americans are so wrapped up in this identity that they actually think that the rest of the world wants them in the position of protector. In this link, from Aljazeera, the Americans on the panel are all of the opinion that America HAS to defend the entire world, that they have been placed in that position by their allies. (The foreign policy conversation begins at the 24:15 mark.) It seems this opinion is a pervasive one in the U.S. However, if you ask the leaders, or even the people of countries around the world, you get a very different opinion. Most other countries see America as a corrupt and greedy bully that has taken the role of warmonger (not protector) upon itself, without ever being asked to do so, because they have been able to convince themselves that they own the moral high ground. That being said, there is no denying that America’s military might has served them well since the country’s inception. Unfortunately for America, their military (among other things) is bankrupting them, so they seem to be between a rock and a hard place. President Obama ran (the first time) on diplomacy over war. He seemed genuinely concerned about how America was perceived on the world stage. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, he has not lived up to his promise. Just ask any country who has been on the receiving end of one of his drone attacks.

MORAL HIGH GROUND

A big part of what angers other countries about America is the fact that Americans smugly go around the world claiming the moral high ground. America is, “the greatest nation in the world”. Meanwhile, America has tortured, murdered and raped its way through wars just as much, if not more than the rest of us. America should be called out on human rights violations as much as countries like China, Iran and Pakistan are, if only because of their for profit healthcare, prisons, and their drug war that only serves to keep the minorities and the poor from achieving any level of success. The hypocrisy of the moral high ground in this case would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. If you look at the countries causing the most conflict in the world right now they all have one thing in common… they all  think that they have God on their side and that they are the good guys doing God’s work by fighting the forces of evil. In fact, this has been a huge part of America’s brand since the American Revolution. This religious ideology is dangerous because it excuses all sorts of atrocities without actually having to have any kind of well thought out reason for killing, torturing or raping innocent (and not so innocent) people in countries around the world. They are so wrapped up in thinking they are the best, that they constantly act against their own best interests. In this last election there was quite a bit of China bashing going on. Do they not know that China holds the vast majority of their debt and makes most of their products? Yes, Americans are so smug that they think it’s okay to bite the hand that (literally) feeds them. It’s not easy being America’s enemy.

DEADBEAT NATION

It’s no picnic being America’s friend either. In 2011, when the United States Congress was busy bickering about whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, quite a few Americans seemed shocked that their country was not paying its bills. This is nothing new. America hasn’t been paying their bills for years. Even when court ordered to do so, America continues to be a deadbeat nation. Take a look at the Canada USA softwood dispute for an example of this behavior. Apparently NAFTA wasn’t good enough for the USA when it came to charging whatever they wanted to for a Canadian product, so they decided to impose a tariff on Canada’s softwood. Canada took them to international court, several times and won. America still has yet to pay the agreed upon amount in its entirety. (that is a nutshell version, to get the whole story, I encourage you to click the link.) I could cite may more examples, but we’d be here all day. When it comes to paying back what they owe, America reminds me of Dean in the following sketch from Kids In The Hall.

I’d be very wary of signing a deal with America.

THE BLAME GAME

One thing the U.S. government is good at, is blaming other countries for things that are (at least partially) America’s fault. Take, for example the Gulf Oil Spill. America was very quick to blame the entire thing on BP, so as to get out of having to pay for the lion’s share of the clean up costs. Halliburton was just as much, if not, more to blame, but they got off relatively scott free. Even the financial crisis in Greece, which was a major contributor to the Euro Zone crisis, falls onto America’s shoulders, via Goldman Sachs, a bank that received a government bail out.

WAKING UP

Slowly, other countries are waking up to the fact that America’s purchasing power is a bit like the Emperor’s new clothes. Sure, they buy stuff with the zeal of a kid at Christmas, but if they defer payment, or just plain, don’t pay at all, why would you sell to them? Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (whose actions are hit and miss in my book) has cleverly been travelling the world, making deals with burgeoning economic powerhouses like China, Japan, Brazil and, most recently, India to offset Canada’s reliance on American trade. In fact, this chart, from the International Monetary Fund shows that the world economic stage is yet another place where America is no longer number one .

The Twenty Largest Economies By Incremental Nominal GDP From 2007 to 2012
Economy Nominal GDP (billions in USD)
(01) China

4,756.006

(02) Japan

1,628.043

(03) United States

1,624.691

(04) Brazil

1,058.832

(05) India

794.189

(06) Russia

653.852

(07) Australia

596.361

(08) Indonesia

462.684

(09) Canada

346.017

(10) Saudi Arabia

272.107

(11) Argentina

214.741

(12) Iran

176.425

(13) Switzerland

172.325

(14) Colombia

154.837

(15) Turkey

133.939

(16) Thailand

130.012

(17) Mexico

127.588

(18) Egypt

124.655

(19) Malaysia

113.564

(20) Venezuela

107.936

The twenty largest economies contributing to global nominal GDP growth (2007 – 2012)[

Many other countries are following suit, making deals with each other to offset their dependence on the weakening American economy.

I have long been saying that the only thing at which America can still rightfully claim the number one spot is branding. They are very good at perpetuating an image, just not so good at living up to that image. Unfortunately, for America, everyone but the American public can see behind the curtain.

Sick and tired


 Image by the brilliant DonkeyHotey

The American hype machine has been running at a fever pitch this election season. Between the dog and pony show that was the race for the Republican nomination, to the game of hot potato that came before the announcement of a running mate and the actual Presidential campaign, it seems as if America has been campaigning for about a decade now.

As regular readers already know, I live in Canada. You would think that Canada is now America Junior with the way we have been inundated with every little fart that each American candidate has tooted since the beginning of this election season. You can’t get away from news about the U.S. election… it’s everywhere. It’s reported on by our Canadian news shows, in our Canadian newspapers and on our Canadian websites, thankfully the American election is never the top story on any of those venues. Unfortunately, on sites like Huffington Post Canada or Yahoo Canada (Canadian versions of American websites), unless there is a heinous killer on the loose (Luca Rocco Magnotta) or a natural disaster (earthquake of the coast of B.C. or hurricane Sandy) it’s almost always the top story. Yesterday’s top story on The Huffington Post Canada was cleverly disguised as a story about Canada. It was even titled O Canada. The story was all about how a recent poll showed that Canadians would vote for Obama over Romney by a margin of 7 to 1. How is this Canadian news?

Canadians are a fairly savvy bunch. You can’t just put the word Canada and an image of a Maple Leaf on your logo but still report mainly American news stories and expect that Canadians won’t notice. In the case of the Huffington Post, I imagine that the reason for them to have, typically, less than 50 percent Canadian content is due to the fact that most Canadian bloggers know that cachet is not French for cash and don’t want to write for free. In the case of Yahoo Canada and others like it, I assume that as they are American owned and operated, they are not bound by the same Canadian content laws that govern our media.

Canada is part of the Commonwealth, otherwise known as the British Commonwealth, and as such, we have a close relationship to Britain and the Queen, yet when there is an election held in England, we hardly hear about it. The province where I live, Quebec, is still very French in both language and culture, but when an election is held in France, it barely makes our radar. Recently Quebec held an election and the U.S. election still got more news coverage in Quebec than that of our own.

Believe it or not people who live in Canada actually want to know about what is happening in their own country. I have spoken to many Canadians who go out of their way to avoid news about the U.S. election, but still know more about it than the undecided American voters do.

America is the only country on the planet that has such a long election campaign. In Canada our campaigns range from 36 days (the minimum) to 74 days (the length of our longest campaign… just two days longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage). One could be led to believe that Americans really like campaign season, but it seems that Canadians aren’t the only ones who are sick and tired of having news of this election shoved down our collective throats.

I must say, this little girl sums it up perfectly.

The toughest job is looking for one


 

The past week has been a tough one. The place where I worked was shut down, so I am officially unemployed. I have spent the past week making calls, posting employment wanted ads and literally pounding the pavement/knocking on doors searching for a new job.

I have many avenues in which to search. I am a certified and experienced massage therapist, an experienced elder companion with CPR certification. I have a tremendous amount of fashion knowledge, everything from luxury brands to Old Navy). I would be a great salon or spa assistant. I am open to a wide variety of jobs up to and including cleaning houses. I’ve even been told that I write well.

The bad economy isn’t helping things. The most difficult hurdle I have to overcome, however isn’t that times are tough all over, it’s that I am an Anglophone living in Quebec. Even though the area in which I live is mostly English-speaking, the Province has a law that says, any company that employs more than 50 people, must offer fully bilingual service. We had an election last month in which the Parti Québécois won the leadership of Quebec and now, the first thing on their to do list is to change the language law so that any company with more than 11 employees must be fully bilingual.

It’s not like I don’t speak some French, but I am not anywhere close to being fluent. I have always been able to get by with the amount of French I can speak, but all of a sudden, it has become a real issue that could keep me from getting hired. I love where I live, but under the circumstances, I may have to look into moving to an English-speaking province (ie. any other province in Canada) in order to give myself a better shot at a new job.

It’s only been a week, so thinking about a move is incredibly premature, but I wouldn’t be the only one upping stakes after the election. This week, the Huffington Post reported a story about Quebecers flocking to Ontario in the wake of the change in leadership. It’s stories like this that make me nervous. If business owners are leaving the province because of the new language laws, they take jobs with them, leaving less opportunity and making it less and less realistic for me to stay.

 

What’s he really saying?


Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird

This week Canada’s, usually outspoken, Foreign Minister, John Baird took a decidedly timid stance on Russia’s harsh sentencing of three members of the punk band Pussy Riot. Meanwhile, leaders from all over the world spoke out loudly against Russian authorities.

The three members of the band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to 2 years in prison each for singing a protest song about Vladimir Putin.

In Britain, Alistair Burt, a junior foreign minister, had this to say, “We have repeatedly called on the Russian authorities to protect human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and apply the rule of law in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way. Today’s verdict calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms.”

In the United States, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted as saying, “The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences… and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia, we urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Moscow to overturn the punishment, saying, “This case adds to the recent upsurge in politically-motivated intimidation and prosecution of opposition activists in the Russian Federation. I expect that this sentence will be reviewed and reversed in line with Russia’s international commitments,” she added, saying the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent, and independent legal process”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sentence was “excessively harsh” and “not compatible with the European values of the rule of law and democracy to which Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has committed itself. A dynamic civil society and politically active citizens are a necessary precondition for Russia’s modernization, not a threat,”

I have included the above quotes as a contrast to what John Baird had to say on the matter. John Baird is known for saying that he “won’t just go along to get along”. Baird has been a staunch supporter of Israel, gay rights and religious minorities facing oppression. He has publicly criticized China’s human rights records as well as the repressive regimes in Syria and Iran. Yes, Baird has been one tough cookie. That’s why his quote about the sentencing is so confounding.

Here is Baird’s quote. “We believe in every part of the world of sentencing having some relation to the serious nature of the crime. Obviously, there’s, I think, widespread concern that this was perhaps too much and that were perhaps political considerations. We support around the world independent judiciaries, and we certainly take note of what’s happened.”

That was preceded by the tame statement that Baird’s office released the day of the verdict that didn’t even mention the trial, “The promotion of Canadian values, including freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, features prominently in our ongoing dialogue with the Russian authorities.”

That wasn’t even a weak slap on the wrist, which makes me wonder what he’s really saying. Is Canada on the verge of passing some strong anti- protest legislation? Is he just so sick and tired of protesters getting all the attention in Canada (and yes, contrary to what some might think, Quebec is still a part of Canada)?  Is he in bed with the Russian authorities in some way that Canadians don’t know about? Does he hate women who aren’t afraid to speak their minds? Is he putting religion above human rights? What dirty little secrets is he hiding? His uncharacteristic lack of stance makes me wonder all sorts of things. When the public begins to wonder about the motives of an elected official, they start digging to come up with the answers, spelling the beginning of the end for said official. John Baird needs to choose his next words very carefully if he doesn’t want the public supplying his motives for him.

Baird also needs to remember that we elected this guy…

not this guy…

A Cavalcade of Canadian Comedy


HAPPY CANADA DAY! I am concluding Canada week with a salute to Canadian comedians through the years.

The cast of SCTV

When I was little, there was a Canadian comedy duo that helped shape my sense of humour as it is today. These men called themselves Wayne and Shuster. Here is one of my favourite, and one of their most famous sketches.

In my teens, the Canadians who made me laugh were a group of comics from Toronto’s Second City troop who did a show called SCTV. Starring many comics who are still enjoying illustrious careers like Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Harold Ramis, SCTV was a great showcase for Canadian talent. SCTV is also responsible for launching the career of the late, great John Candy. Below are a few of my favourite characters in action.

In my 20′s I was watching and laughing with, The Kids In The Hall. With a nod to Monty Python, the sketch comedy of the  Kids in the Hall was often ridiculous in premise, but was always funny. Here are some of my favourite moments from the show.

Stand up comedy has also given us some fantastic Canadian talent. I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of my favourites.

JIM CARREY

RUSSELL PETERS

RON JAMES

JEREMY HOTZ

ELVIRA KURT

COLIN MOCHRIE

NORM MACDONALD

CAROLINE RHEA

RICH LITTLE

Then there are the comedic actors from Canada… and there are many. Enjoy these clips of some of the best.

LESLIE NEILSEN

DAN AYKROYD

PHIL HARTMAN

SETH ROGEN

MICHAEL CERA

MIKE MYERS

TOMMY CHONG

Here’s hoping you are all smiling this Canada Day.

A Canadian environmentalist in his natural habitat


Today’s Canada week entry is consummate Canadian science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is my favourite Canadian scientist. Suzuki was trying to educate the public about the environment before it was cool and he is still a leader in the field. Through his Suzuki Foundation (founded in 1991) he is actively researching and trying to implement real solutions to our lack of environmental sustainability.

Here he is talking to George Stroumbouloploulos (the smartest interviewer on television today), on the CBC show The Hour, about alternate energy sources among other things.


In 1979, David Suzuki began hosting a TV show called The Nature Of Things. A science magazine show that focuses on the natural world, how we live in it, and how we can better live with it. The Nature Of Things is aired in nearly 50 countries world wide and is one of the most truly educational shows on television. For me, there were a few truly memorable episodes of the show.

As a proponent of medical marijuana (and legalized marijuana in general) the episode done in 1998 called Reefer Madness 2, which explored the effects of medical marijuana and people dealing with it’s legalization was groundbreaking, as it debunked quite a few myths about the plant.

As a huge fan of Charles Darwin’s work in the field of evolution, the 3 part episode entitled Darwin’s Brave New World, aired in 2009, was riveting television.

Below is a trailer for Darwin’s Brave New World.

Suzuki has been widely recognized and honoured for his work over the years. he is a recipient of The Order of Canada, The Order of British Columbia and UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for science among many other international awards. He holds 26 honorary degrees from universities around the globe and is showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 76.

To say that I admire this man is a real understatement. Building a career he is, not only,  passionate about, but world renowned for,  from meager beginnings, David Suzuki is a tribute to what an education can accomplish. He is a scientist, a teacher and a true Canadian inspiration.

Who is… the most famous Canadian host on television?


Canada week continues with a tribute to a proud Canadian, Alex Trebek.

Trebek and one of his many Daytime Emmy Awards

Alex Trebek has been a fixture on American television since 1973 when he began as host  of the game show Wizard of Odds for NBC, though Canadians had seen him in their living rooms for a decade previous as host of a music program called Music Hop (1963-64) and the quiz show Reach for the Top (1966-1973). Trebek had a long history of hosting game shows before he was tapped as the host of Jeopardy in 1984 that included shows like, High Rollers, Double Dare, the $128,000 Question and Battlestars.

Alex Trebek hosting High Rollers

It is as the host of Jeopardy for which he will be most remembered. Trebek has been the host of television’s smartest game show for 28 years (or 6300 shows) and counting, having recently extended his contract with the show until 2014. Jeopardy has been good to Trebek, garnering him five Emmy Awards and stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Trebek’s star on Canada’s Walk of Fame

As host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek seems to take great pleasure and pride in his knowledge of all things Canadian. Both Trebek and Jeopardy have become part of pop culture. With no fewer than 26 cameo appearances as himself in his role as Jeopardy host, in movies and television shows, as well as shows like Saturday Night Live and Family Guy lampooning the show and even a Weird Al Yankovic parody song called I lost on Jeopardy, Trebek is much, much more than just your average game show host. Alex Trebek is an iconic television personality.

A clip of my favourite Celebrity Jeopardy as done by Saturday Night Live. Not the best quality, but still funny.

Trebek believes in giving back. As a spokesperson for World Vision, Trebek has travelled to many third world countries, providing aid to families battling poverty. He is also involved with the U.S.O and has embarked on several tours with the organization in order to support U.S. troops overseas. Education is another subject that is important to Trebek. He sits on the boards of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation and the National Advisory Council for the Literary Volunteers of America.

Trebek, surrounded by contestants of the 2010 National Geographic Geo-Bee

Bravo Alex Trebek. His career proves you can be successful for celebrating intelligence and that is something we need more of in this world.