Archive for July, 2012

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

It was in the Clinton presidential campaign in 1992 that the slogan about the economy was supposed to keep the campaign workers focused on the main issue. If it was important back then, it is vital today. Americans and the rest of the world have gone through Hell in the past four years and it is the politician who can promise economic succour who will win the lolly this fall.

So what is Republican candidate Mitt Romney doing on a world tour? Having worked with a few political candidates who were their own worst enemy, sending the guy on a trip might have been considered the safest thing to do. Mind you, once he got to England and started to shove his foot down his throat, all bets were off. The last thing the Brits needed was another rude American tourist. Telling them what they were doing wrong with the Olympics was not a very diplomatic gesture.

His handlers got Romney out of the British Isles before he restarted the War of 1812. They obviously could not trust him to make nice with the French and the Germans have more important things to do running the European economy. So, he pops up to do some sabre rattling in Israel.

If he had known how easy it would be for the Iranians to obliterate the Holy Land with nukes, Romney would have done his sabre rattling from a safer distance. It is amazing how American politicians scramble over each other in their eagerness to show what a friend they are to Israel. It is as though the American Jewish vote is some kind of Holy Grail on the road to winning the White House.

Next thing you know is that Romney has popped up in Poland. At least he is not entertaining the locals with Polish jokes. He is one

But none of these travels have anything to do with the economy. The secret for Romney this fall will be his choice of Vice President.

If he needs any help in this regard, we would suggest that he choose Bernie Madoff. Yes, that Bernie Madoff. It makes sense. For one thing, you are saved the time and trouble of vetting him. Everything you need to know about the guy is an open book. And you always know just were to find him: in prison. After Romney has won the presidency, he can exercise a little executive clemency. After all, nobody expects Madoff to serve his full 150 years in the slammer.

And why not? Madoff has already proved that he can run the biggest illegal ponzi scheme in history. And what is the American tax system but a huge, legal ponzi scheme? Where else would you find the perfect Vice President?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

It is all in the staging.

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The buzzword in Ottawa used to be ‘optics.’ When asked about the optics, it meant you were supposed to understand how things looked politically. Whatever the current buzzword might be must have been flying around last week when Prime Minister Harper agreed to meet with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. There must have been a storm of messages texted back and forth from Harper’s people to Ford’s people to get the meet organized.

The first concern was the meeting place. The standard arrangement is that the junior politician has to go, on bended knee, to the place where the senior politician reigns. That was waived this time because the Prime Minister had a great photo-op (a likely picture in all the major papers and on TV that night) in Oshawa where he could be seen crowing over the supposed success of Harper-style economics and the financial accomplishments of General Motors Canada.

That did not mean that he would then travel to Toronto City Hall. That would send the wrong message. Mayor Ford had to meet him halfway. That meant they had to meet in Scarborough. (And that really is foreign soil for west-ender Ford.) Next they had to agree on a place. Somebody suggested that since they were meeting ostensively to talk about guns and policing, they should meet in a police station. The next trick was to find a cop-shop with a big enough room for the news media, a bunch of flags and egos as big as Ford’s and Harper’s. They found there was such a place.

The advance team from Stephen Harper’s office probably sent out a rush order for more lights and more flags to decorate the room but it looked fine when the media gathered to witness the meeting of these two leaders. The Prime Minister was, as usual, perfectly dressed in a buttoned-up virgin wool suit and finely coifed in his exquisite hairpiece.

Mayor Ford, on the other hand, was himself. With his gut hanging over his belt, suit coat undone, tie askew, unbuttoned sweat-stained shirt collar, spiked hair and jowls quivering, Rob Ford was every inch his worship, the slob.

These are two very different men within a common political vision. They did the meet and greet for the news media.

The media wondered why they were both so closed-mouth about their private discussion. The truth be known, they had nothing to discuss other than a common interest in fishing. Did the media think they would tell them that?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Brits can certainly handle royalty.

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Who would not have enjoyed that jolly send-up of the Queen in the opening of the London Olympics. Even many of Her Majesty’s Canadian subjects could understand those odd bits of British humour that made the obligatory opening celebrations a delight to watch. Director Danny Boyle, who produced the living movie, as he described it, must have thought he had died and gone to Heaven when he got that assignment.

The Queen (a stand-in at least) parachuting out of a helicopter with filmdom’s current James Bond (Daniel Craig) was about as broad as British humour gets. Mind you, actor Rowan Atkinson—in his Mr. Bean persona—was much funnier in his skit with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Watching the ceremonies, you had to admit that the Brits really know how to do pantomime.  At the same time, you have to admit that British designers should never have been allowed to dress any of the cast of thousands. When one hears the words “British design, one automatically thinks of the word: dowdy. Mind you, for the Mary Poppins portion, they had to stick with the period.

Even during the entry of the athletes—pronounced ath-letes, not ath-el-etes—those costumes on the escorts where ridiculous. If the attempt was to be sure not to overshadow the athletes’ costumes, they certainly succeeded. And the ladies with the stand-up letters over their heads, for each country, were hardly dressed in anything close to haute couture.

But, backing up to the royals, that was supposed to be the highlight of the evening. Even the Queen’s corgis got into the act. Those little dogs were much better actors than the Queen. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves in their role—much more than Daniel Craig. When Craig jumped out of the helicopter, you understood why he wanted to do it, seemingly without a parachute.

And this is just another reason why Canada should not use the British royals for its head of state. Canadian politicians would never agree to the Queen doing acting stunts like that in this country. Our Canadian politicians are far too bloody uptight for that.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Gunfight in the Halifax corral.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Canada’s provincial premiers get together every year to bitch about the federal government. You hardly expect the meeting to be shanghaied by a snarling match between two western premiers.  Poor Jean Charest from Quebec, who is going to the polls next month, was almost ignored as everyone egged on Alison Redford from Alberta and Christy Clark from British Columbia. Their mud wrestling was actually in a slurry of tar sands bitumen spilling into B.C. from Alberta.

While Alison Redford won national recognition for her trouncing her Wildrose opponent in the last Alberta election, it was Christy Clark who was playing the careful political game. Faced with an election in the next year and not looking good in the polls, Clark needed the publicity to show that a) she is environmentally smart, b) was out for money to help B.C. taxpayers and c) looked good in the Premier role while she was at it.

Some people might have thought it was a slip of the tongue when Clark took the first poke at Redford. Clark appeared to be going after Alberta’s resources royalties and Redford made the mistake of responding angrily.Clark knew just where to scratch. The resource royalties are what has made Alberta the greed and isolationist capital of Canada.

Since the time when Ontario residents paid a premium for oil and gas products to support Alberta’s fledgling oil industry, this country has desperately needed a balanced national energy program. Instead, the federal government has used transfer payments to the have-not provinces to try to balance the economy. And the long-reigning Alberta Conservatives have built their dynasty on the fiction of provincial rights to resources.

By the time cooler heads prevailed in Halifax, Redford had fallen squarely into Clark’s trap. B.C. voters were bound to be fully behind Clark’s mildly stated case for protection from catastrophe if the Northern Gateway Pipeline was to go through B.C. She made the point very well that if B.C. was going to take all the risks for the pipeline, then why should the province not share in the profits. By the end of the conference, Redford had to explain that if B.C. wants to get more money from pipeline builder Enbridge, that was quite alright with her. Just do not think of touching Alberta’s royalties.

It looks like the lovely Premier of B.C., Christy Clark, went home with a smile.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Down the rabbit hole with Paul Godfrey.

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Standing and chatting in the aisle between the Caribbean Poker and craps tables, we had looked around and asked, “What are we doing in this dreary place?”

“It’s just 20 minutes from home and you promised me a fancy dinner,” was the wife’s quick answer.

It turned out that the good steak place had a waiting list and we ended up with the second best restaurant at Rama. That was okay. Rama was treating. Luckily the casino does not just offer complimentary meals and entertainment to the big losers. The wife is a really tough craps player and the guys at the $5 table will always make room for her. She makes the game fun. And she knows how to play it.

Craps can be fun but my specialty is blackjack. This is a game where, if you understand the odds, take advantage of the opportunities, manage your money properly and know when to walk away, you not only enjoy the game but enjoy the profits it offers. Ontario Lottery and Gaming boss Paul Godfrey hardly needs us to help him produce $2 billion in profits each year for the Ontario government.

But Paul has fallen for the one lure that is the downfall of all gamblers: greed. He wants more. He wants to break into the Toronto market. He wants to serve the potential market better. He could, we suppose, if he could just do something about the myopic politicians who get in the way. It might also help to overcome the criminal elements that are running clandestine gambling places throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Paul also needs to pull his casinos out of the dark ages. Dark is not sexy in casinos. Dark is not only not sexy, it is eyestrain. Those places can afford proper lighting.

And Paul really needs to improve his employee relations. You get the distinct impression in dealing with employees at Rama that things are not that great. They seem fatalistic about how badly things are being run. The combination of the two organizations, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission and Ontario Lottery and Gaming trying to run these operations is ridiculous.

Paul Godfrey also needs to stop listening to local politicians posturing for votes and do his job properly. He obviously understands where local politicians are coming from. He was one.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

Would that they walked in our Birkenstocks.

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

A spokesperson for Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said it all for the Ontario Whigs the other day. She is quoted in the Toronto Star as saying that “This government believes that Ontarians are well served by the current retail system for beverage alcohol.”

She is talking about a retail system established in 1927 to appease the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. This is about as up-to-date as the Ontario Whigs can get.

And this spokesperson has obviously never visited “The worst Beer Store in Ontario” here in Babel.

We gave up complaining about the dump a couple years back. It is a waste of time. This Beer Store does not accept complaints. The problem is that Brewers Warehousing (owned by the big foreign-owned beer companies) has to decide whether it is in the distribution business, the retail beer business or the bottle return business. It is currently making a disgusting mess of all three.

In Babel’s Anne Street store, the floors are awash in the dregs of empties to the point that the layered crud will rip the Birkenstocks off your feet. The smell is enough to knock you over. The constantly replaced staff is poorly trained and has two speeds: slow and slower. We could always drive more than twice as far and patronize one of the four other Beer Stores in Babel but they each have their own problems.

We keep pointing out to myopic Ontario politicians that the operative word for convenience stores in Ontario is the word “convenience.” The idea is that these convenience stores can be a convenient place to get supplies of beer and wine. Yes, it will be slightly more expensive but do not forget what the extra charge is for: convenience.

With distributing beer to convenience stores on its plate, Brewers Warehousing could do something useful and learn how to do distribution properly. It could also improve its bottle return operations at its less busy retail stores.

One other idea that appeals to us is that standards could be set for convenience stores that want to sell beer and wine. In one easy action and a few inspectors, you can upgrade 90 per cent of Ontario’s convenience stores. And in convenience stores, complaints that the public make could matter.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Three blind mice meet at Queen’s Park.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Were the Toronto news media trying to make a point the other day? They were switching from the funeral of the young man killed in a gunfight at a recent barbeque to a meeting at Queen’s park about gun violence in Toronto. The three blind mice were there: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

When considering these three men, it is very important not to confuse ignorance with stupidity. No member of this trio is stupid. They are all intelligent men. Many people confuse Rob Ford’s brashness and the ignorance of many of the things he says for stupidity. This is a mistake. The man is very smart. He knows his constituents and he plays to them. If he turns you off, so what? You probably did not vote for him two years ago. Watch him a year and a half from now. He might decide to win another term and it is likely he can.

Bill Blair also plays his role on the civic stage. He has all the wiles and charm of a highly successful con artist. He has the police services board securely under his thumb. He poses for the news media. He is a cop’s cop. He brings no new ideas or openness to policing in Toronto. And it is at a time when the city is in need of solutions.

And, as for Dalton McGuinty, the man does not even belong at the table. When you consider the brain power available to him and the resources at his fingertips, he was probably laughing at Ford and Blair having to come to see him. He promised them nothing and he gave them nothing. The only concession was that funding for the extra police for the anti-violence program will be allowed to continue. Ford figured that was all he was going to get so he treated it as a win.

What these three men and their many aides and acolytes need to understand is that Toronto does not have a huge gun problem.

But Toronto still has a gangs and guns problem that has to be contained.

Containing young gangs and keeping guns off the street takes a multiplicity of actions. You have to offer our youth more than malls to hang out. You have to give them opportunities in their community. You have to make sure they can get jobs. You have to give them pride in their community. Give them pride in themselves.

And if the federal government is going to so ignorantly let the border leak guns from America then get ahead of it. Offer to teach youth about guns. Give them a place to shoot. Teach them that hoods are the dorks and only use guns because they lack the manhood.

The reason Toronto does not have a larger guns and violence problem is because it has a basically law abiding citizenry. Toronto is a great city. It is a peaceful city. The city needs to keep building on what is great about it.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Mr. Harper’s China sale.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

There is probably no ideogram among the thousands of Mandarin characters for a ‘pig in a poke.’ It is more likely that the Chinese language has its own derogatory term for really dumb purchases. A case in point is the offer to purchase Calgary-based Nexen Inc. by the state-owned Chinese oil company CNOOC Ltd. for some US$15 billion.

Canadians should be delighted to see that Stephen Harper is really sticking it to the Chinese government. We figured he must be selling something to them but we never figured he would get such a hefty premium. There is more than US$4 billion in that deal that is pure profit for the Nexen shareholders.

Nexen has energy assets around the world that the Chinese want. What they might not have bargained for are the problems surrounding Nexen’s Long Lake tarsands operations in Northern Alberta. While part of Canada’s vast tarsands oil reserves that all countries are eying, Nexen has had constant problems getting into production.

Nexen has been using the solution of processing the tarsands bitumen into synthetic crude oil before shipping it. The company has been struggling with its refining processes and with production targets.

Other companies are counting on shipping unprocessed bitumen through the Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia. As designed, this Enbridge solution is really two pipelines. A smaller diameter pipe running parallel is designed to carry light crude oil to the Alberta terminus where it will be mixed with the tarsands bitumen to, in effect, grease the way, for the combination to be shipped at higher temperature and higher pressure to the terminus at Kitimat, B.C.

It was the same type of bitumen and crude oil slurry that was spilled in Michigan two years ago by Enbridge. What the company proved for all to see was that its inept disaster planning was inadequate, careless and irresponsible.

The recent demands of the British Columbia Liberal government seem to ignore the dual pipeline aspect of the Northern Gateway proposal. While it is hard to envisage all the conditions being met, it would appear that the demand for a better share of the profits from the pipeline shows us from where the provincial government is coming.

The Chinese might not be too pleased with their purchase if the only way they can ship their new tarsands production is through the American Midwest via TransCanada Pipeline’s XL pipeline to the Texas ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

Canadians will be puzzled to hear that Stephen Harper, super salesman, is now wearing the mantle of Stephen Harper, protector of Canadian ownership. We wonder how long he will take to approve his own deal?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The silence of the politicians.

Friday, July 20th, 2012

In the heat of the summer, politicians head for the barbeques. They leave the cupboard bare for the pundits and commentators. It is a time of renewal and of contemplation. There is little to stimulate the writer.

Yet in Toronto, the guns of the summer are in play. Politicians posture. Police pressure. And people die.

The chair of the police services board in Toronto reads a written apology for the board not protecting the citizens during Toronto’s shame of the G20 two years ago. He apologized because of the report that was released that said the board did not do its job. He apologized and then walked back and sat down in the seat of the chair. He did not have the grace to resign. He did not do the necessary: call for Chief Bill Blair’s resignation.

But Ontario’s Whig Premier McGuinty has offered to solve the gun problem. It must be a measure of his desperation. He has offered to meet with the lame duck mayor who has absolutely no idea what to do to ask him what he wants to do. The premier is ready to throw our tax money at the problem. The mayor has already turned down that type of help from the federal government.

The mayor does not believe in community outreach programs for youth in disadvantaged areas of the city. He does not understand the need for role models to compete with the gangs in the hood. He does not understand the need for programs to compete with graffiti and vandalism. He does not understand the need for community programming that includes crafts, home making, sports, life skills and opportunity for positive social interaction for everyone. He cannot comprehend that it costs a few dollars to do it; it costs far, far more to not do it.

Canadians are, in the main, law-abiding and kind people. Newcomers to our country are eager to share those traits. That is one of the reasons they chose Canada. They did not escape hooliganism in other countries to see their children fall in with hooligan gangs here. There are more important opportunities and we have to make sure the opportunities are available to all.

Our youth are not lambs for the slaughter. The politicians have to speak out in the silence.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Looking for scapegoats in Scarborough

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

The shock of the shooting in Scarborough the other day is reverberating throughout Toronto. People are angry. Their leaders are the losers. Everyone pontificates and nobody has any answers.

Do the kids with guns have to kill as many people as are killed in Chicago to convince the mayor there is a problem? Only a fool plays the numbers game. In a perfect world, one death is wrong. Mayor Ford has his priorities. He was elected to halt the ‘gravy train.’ When he found out there was no gravy train, he could have had the decency to resign. He remains a lame duck politician, mouthing platitudes.

Toronto still has not fired Bill Blair. The Toronto police chief disgraced the city two years ago at the G20 and has been posturing ever since. He beat the politicians to the news media gathering on the Scarborough shooting scene. In full regalia, he promised action, retribution and raised public fears of gang retaliation. The Toronto news media faithfully reported his words.

One problem is that these wannabe Toronto hoods seem to be consistently lousy shots. It keeps the death toll low but it is hell on bystanders. It is never open season on the innocents and it turns the entire community against the malefactors. If there were a properly organized organized-crime element in Toronto, you would think they would have a few surreptitious pistol ranges where the future fodder for gun wars could learn something about gun safety and marksmanship.

But our first priority must be the innocents. It offers opportunities. It opens up entire new lines of clothing for children. Can you just imagine the cute little play suit with Kevlar lining that the child can wear when going with mummy to the Eaton Centre? Or the steel helmet worn rakishly when having the tyke’s face painted at a local barbeque.

Toronto is a big city. It offers freedom and opportunity to people of all races, religions, cultures and interests. It is a city that can do better than a Rob Ford for mayor. It is a city that does not need a posturing mouthpiece for a police chief. It is a city that needs to care about opportunities for the individual in our society. Making that happen is critical to the city’s future.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me