Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

Trump to be at Le Manoir Richelieu.

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Despite being in danger from maddened beavers, American president Donald Trump says he is coming to gamble with the rich and famous of the world this weekend. The other six members of the G7 are not his friends and the old Manoir overlooking the St. Lawrence River is not to Mr. Trump’s more spacious standards. It is time for typical Trump bravado.

How will German chancellor Merkel respond when he says the new tariffs are not personal. He will say that he only put the 25 per cent tariff on steel and ten per cent on aluminum to get their attention.

And Mr. Trump thinks he needs the world’s attention?

The American president already has host prime minister Justin Trudeau’s attention. Trump has been demanding more and more concessions on NAFTA to try to force the Canadians to comply with American demands or call quits themselves on the North American trade treaty between Canada, Mexico and the United States. So far, the Canadians have stood their ground, been cool to separate deals and not taken the bait.

But now there will be allies in the room. French president Emmanuel Macron is no friend of Trump. With his is age and interests being more similar to Justin Trudeau, he and the Canadian prime minister are natural allies.

With the United Kingdom heading steadily and foolishly towards Brexit, one wonders what prime minister Elizabeth May’s motivations will be this year? Is the vaunted G7 about to become the G6 as her parliament makes repeated cuts to her travel budget?

Prime minister Shinzō Abe of Japan is also looking hard at those steel tariffs from his formerly close friends in Washington. He will also have much to discuss with his friends in the G6. And why his neighbour from China is not there becomes a more serious error every year.

The new kid on the block this year is Giuseppe Conte, the new prime minister of Italy. A jurist, he might just take in the entire circus and save his judgement for the end.

The good news is that the Casino de Charlevoix is right there and anytime the participants get bored, they can go to that nice little casino and make a contribution to the Quebec economy. There is always more than the magnificent scenery to please tourists at La Malbaie.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Hoist a quaff to the Queen’s birthday.

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

After ignoring the royal wedding the other day in the United Kingdom, we should give proper homage to dear Queen Victoria. As you might know, it is her birthday today and many are celebrating the occasion. Frankly I am amazed by the numbers of people from all over the world who turn each May to the archives of Babel-on-the-Bay to reread my 2013 tribute to Queen Victoria. I am in no way a monarchist.

And I hardly believe many of us Canadians are monarchists. Sure, there was a spate of gawkers on the weekend because of the wedding of Prince Harry and his actress bride. They suit each other. I hope it lasts. And it certainly was a beautiful spring day for the wedding over in old blighty.

The wedding was pageantry in the excess. The commentary was also an excess of treacle. The wife threatened me every time I offered to turn it off for her. She thought it was lovely. With the wedding running on Greenwich Mean Time, I had recorded it for her but then she also found the Canadian networks were rerunning it at a civilized hour. I think she watched it twice.

Of course, I love pageantry as much as the next bloke. The Brit royals certainly do pageantry well. They also get lots of practice. I thought they did the Diana funeral in ’97 with wonderful pomp. The Brits do a great stiff-upper-lip event but the undercurrents of why can be very interesting.

Even the foolishness of Brexit needs ceremony. I do not suppose that the Queen will fire the first shot across the Channel to make it official but I expect life will go on in Great Britain. The royals will continue to be an asset for tourism and the economy will struggle for a while. It is hard to be sympathetic after such foolishness—after all, it was based on bigotry.

I still cannot figure out what they are going to do about Charles once the Queen passes. At 93, Elizabeth II has set a record as the longest serving monarch but she threatened the Commonwealth leaders recently informing them quite defiantly that Charles would succeed her. Most would have preferred that the succession skip a generation but no such luck.

But you have to admit that having a thriving monarchy in the 21st century is truly a quaint idea. I have met some of the European royals and frankly none of them hold a candle to the British royals. So, hoist your glass high again in a toast: Long live the Queen!

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Sunset for NAFTA?

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Are Canada, Mexico and the United States of America even talking about the same thing? Is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) toast anyway? Does it really matter what the American negotiators propose? Lately they have been asking again for a sunset clause to the agreement. They want it to automatically expire in five years. Why are they bothering?

If nothing else, we are providing entertainment for President Trump. Are the ongoing NAFTA talks like that disappearing tree on the White House lawn? Have you ever got the impression that if all the trees ceremoniously planted on that albeit spacious lawn were still there, the White House lawn would be a veritable forest?

And why would Americans, who worship their free enterprise economy, want to guarantee concern about NAFTA every five years? Business thrives on economic stability. To threaten the trade agreement every five years would guarantee instability. What idiot dreamed up that clause?

The NAFTA negotiations seem to have become a make-work project for out-of-work republicans. And Canada’s pint-sized foreign affairs minister has been the belle of the ball. She has been leaving the heavy lifting in foreign affairs to the prime minister and he has been proving himself woefully inadequate to the task. He cannot even get an invite to the upcoming wedding at Windsor Castle.

And what is the point to NAFTA anyway if the American auto manufacturers follow some foolish strategy of killing their traditional family car business? Did you hear that they are only going to build gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks in North America? They are leaving the family car business to imports from Europe and the Orient. Just what do they expect to happen when it costs over $200 to fill the gas tank of the family tank?

Judging by all the trade deals Canada has made over the past year, it is hard to say what the impact of a failed NAFTA would mean? It would certainly have a more serious impact on the U.S. than on Canada. The transitional period might be difficult but we would come out of it smarter.

It has been too much of a convenience over the past century to have friendly and compliant neighbours. We should keep them friendly but we need to rely on them less.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

A Commonwealth at bargain price.

Friday, April 20th, 2018

Our prime minister Justin Trudeau has been in London this past week, pressing the flesh with the long-running Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth, as we usually call it is the fallout of the old British Commonwealth and is made up of former colonies and protectorates of times past when Great Britain ruled the seas.

This bit of tourism lore is only noted because an usually astute Toronto Star columnist was complaining yesterday about the $12 million per year that he thinks Canada wastes on this pretentiousness.

To the contrary mon frère, the Commonwealth is ours at a bargain price and if our country ever comes of age, the Commonwealth will welcome our leadership. And that is a very substantial block to have backing you up in the halls of the United Nations.

Regrettably, our prime minister is going to waste our friends’ time at this year’s meeting. He is going to give the same old-same old lecture on human rights, LGBT rights and gender equality. It is not that these subjects are not worthy of attention but the prime minister fails to give the recalcitrant little nations who ignore these basic human rights concrete reason as to why they should listen.

Better research and attention to these backward countries’ needs might solve the problems they are having in understanding the subject. Because leadership is what this group needs. The crown can provide the platitudes at these meetings. Canada can supply the meat and potatoes facts that make the need clearer.

What the organisation could be is a listening post in world affairs helping all of the countries in their foreign affairs, trade and tourism interests. These are the dollars and pence issues that can make the organisation more worthwhile. What nation would fail to pay its dues when the organisation is adding to its gross domestic product.

Since four of the five members the ‘Five Eyes’ Intelligence community are Commonwealth countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and United Kingdom) there is also a briefing taking place for that group of four, without the presence of Donald Trump of the United States. This will include an intense look at the Russian interference in elections on the Internet. I am sure this will be the most important and productive session at the Commonwealth meeting.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Waiting for Mr. Trump.

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Is this the day Mr. Trump sends the world to war? We wait. We wonder. It might not be a good day to plan next year’s vacation. The man has his finger on the button.

He makes jokes about it. Who else knows when he is just kidding? He exchanges insults with a mindless puppet of a dictator. He threatens the world’s second largest nuclear power. He is a narcissist and a womanizer, a xenophobe and a crude and ignorant Islamophobe.

What does Mr. Trump really know about other countries, world affairs, the ups and downs of world trade, the economics and the concerns? And, come to think of it, what does he know about the United States of America?

There are no Trump Towers to build in Nebraska. There is no Trump Casino in Utah. And what was the last book about America Mr. Trump enjoyed reading? The Trump view of America comes from his travels between his building projects and his golf courses that are mostly on the East coast of the United States. For leisure, he travels to his golf courses up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

This is a shallow person with insomnia who has embraced the use of social media to make himself feel important. He brings in serious people who want to help him but they soon tire of the impossibility of the chore. Yes, ignorance can be cured but only when the ignorant person wants to learn.

Mr. Trump is not interested in learning. His ego does not allow it. He is a septuagenarian who lives in the bubble of extreme wealth. People come to him. People are there to serve him. What he wants, he can buy. The losers, the bikers, the unwashed, the born again, the desperate and the angry, see him as their saviour, as he speaks to them and, they think, for them.

Mr. Trumps current press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is an excellent example of that Trump following as she reflects the same distrust of the traditional news media. The media might consider her boorish and ignorant but she is the best they are going to get from the Trump White House.

And if you are among those who think Mr. Trump will be impeached at some time, you better help get it started. Impeachment is not something that happens overnight.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Ceding civility.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

It is the same in every country. It is obvious that simple civility is missing in our politics. Whether elected or self-appointed, our politicos are turning nasty. We are even electing cretins who think the thing to do is revile rivals, turn on their own, reject diplomacy, dispatch pacts, and make sure the needs and wants of the politicians come before promises to the populace.

What the hell are we achieving in this world? The highly successful European Union is being turned on by the losers it was designed to help. The Brits are putting Brexit to bed before teatime. We are seeing continued growth of the extremists of the right throughout Europe. President Emmanuel Macron in France has been under attack since before the honeymoon got started. And the Greeks seem mad at everybody.

How about the Russians—you remember those people who lost the cold war do you not(?)—they keep acting like they are still a world power. They think they can walk all over the Ukrainians and terrorize the Baltic states. Vladimir Putin in Russian thinks he is as important as Xi Jinping of China who is already president for life in that country.

And if you think that democracy is a better answer, look what it got you in the United States of America. That incompetent, Donald Trump, in the White House is giving democracy a bad name. And do not expect the U.S. Congress to save the day. That organization forgets who sent the individual members there on the day they are elected.

And what is really frightening about Donald Trump is that he trades insults with a lunatic in a small country who thinks he can lob a few intercontinental nuclear missiles at the U.S. A small error in calculation in Pyongyang and one of those things could land in our laps here in Canada. It would be a lousy way to end our commentaries favouring liberal democracy.

The good news/bad news is that Donald Trump has a play date coming up with North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong-un. Since Kim only travels by train. Trump is flying to visit him. And considering neither of them has a clue about international diplomacy or relations between sovereign states, we will be keeping our fingers crossed that they play nice.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

Keep the Russians, Kick out the Yankees.

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Public safety minister Ralph Goodale got some television coverage the other day. He was enjoying himself. He was being asked about the Russian spies being told to leave the country. In his usual enigmatic style Goodale was explaining that he could not say anything about what these spies were doing in Canada. He was implying that he knew everything and all the while you were thinking neither he nor the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had any idea what the Russians were doing.

Igor Gouzenko, a Russian cypher clerk who defected after the Second World War, made every effort to make spying exciting. He was never as imaginative though as his contemporary Ian Fleming, who wrote the Bond 007 books after working for the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service. Spying never has been much of the cloak and dagger machinations in the shadows. The reality is that it is dull, dreary work and most spies end their days with liver failure from too much vodka rather than bullets.

I remember one time at a break in a business conference in Quebec City chatting with the station head of the Central Intelligence Agency (the American CIA). Yes, he was real and we had an amusing conversation. It started out with him asking what a spook should look like. We answered that the spy should look like any business person in the room. And that was where he did his work. He admitted that most of his reports to Langley, Virginia were gleaned from our daily newspapers.

Frankly, I do not think we have any secrets from the Americans anyway. Our manufacturing is so integrated with the U.S., there are no trade secrets left. We manufacture aircraft parts and assemblies for each other, firing controllers for tanks, armoured scout cars and a myriad of other defence items under our cooperative defence production sharing.

What we really need in these current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations is some secrets. And the only way we can keep those secrets is to keep the Americans from reading our newspapers.

We need something other than water and other natural resources to sweeten the NAFTA deal. We need to have some trade secrets—something more than how you get the caramel into the candy bar.

We really should let more Russians come here at the expense of their government. They can read our newspapers and learn about the good life in Canada. If they are doing anything serious, someone will tell us.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

The failing Facebook fiasco.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

After 14 years, Facebook is still just a teenager. It was early in its existence that, out of curiosity, I test drove the program, created a page with minimal information and studied the developing interaction. What annoyed me about the program was that, when tiring of the experiment, I was unable to get rid of the test page. It goes on forever like something lost in space.

But it was obvious from its rough beginnings that Facebook was an invasive tool to be easily manipulated. It is like a vast pool of koi for predators. It is there to massage your ego, display your life in pictures and challenges you to win friends and “likes.” It profiles you and produces a commodity that Facebook can sell to those with the price. It has become a bottomless pit of commercial treasure.

You should think seriously sometimes about how much you want others to look in on your life. It is not just friends who are interested in your planned trip or your children or their friends.

I have always laughed at the rewards programs used by large retail organizations so that they can better tailor their directed marketing efforts. I was puzzled once that the drug store chain that we frequently use was sending me advertising and enticements to buy their cosmetics. The simple answer was that I had been taking the wife’s cosmetic purchases to the cashier for her.

But it made me think about how credit cards can tell the tale of your travels, your interests, your weaknesses. In our consumer societies, there are those who want us to become an open book.

It might not have been the original idea for Facebook. That appeared to have started because Mark Zuckerberg and his geek friends at Harvard University had problems getting dates. Today Zuckerberg is worth billions and he is still just a geek.

Rather than worry too much about those who exploit social media for commercial gain, the real concern today is the international hacking into government and other programs to influence political choices. Elections and referenda are constantly trying to reduce costs by using more and more computer services. These services need to be protected or they can be hacked to serve the needs of others.

Orwell described the situation in the book 1984. The actual year has come and gone but, if we are not careful, Big Brother will become reality.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Trump should not bully China.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump is a bully. That is how he negotiates his way through life. He bullies women for sex. As a developer, he bullied politicians for building rights. He bullies lawyers and courtiers, underlings and peers, wives and children, and lately, countries and their leaders. It is his nature.

But he probably should not try to bully the People’s Republic of China. Xi Jinping has just been made president for life in that country and he might just want to show off by stomping on that upstart Trump.

And as much as many of us would enjoy watching the stomping, it would not turn out well. Everyone loses in a trade war. A trade war is the application of onerous duties on each other’s products by two or more countries. It adds to the cost of specific products from each country. When each country reciprocates with duties of its own, it tends to stifle trade between the two countries.

In addition, companies who also make the tariffed products in the country charging the tariffs, can now charge more for their products because the tariff items become much more expensive. Check softwood lumber prices in the western U.S. and you will see the new reality.

Basic economics tells us that free trade is good for the economy and heavy tariffs are bad for the economy. And the object lesson is that trade wars are bad for all the participants. Nobody can really win. And if it is a case of outlasting your opponent, there is some reality to face here.

The Chinese tend to be more disciplined than Americans. They have suffered hardships and famines over the years. They can be more stoical.

Americans, by way of contrast, are liable to be annoyed by hardships brought on by bad management of the economy. They can be resentful. Heck, it was the way the people in London were managing their economy that set off the American Revolution. And they have not been all that amenable to the politicians who screw things up ever since.

What we can be confident of is that the Americans will have a regime change long before the Chinese. And that is why it would be really stupid for the Americans to have a trade war with the Chinese.

But, then, nobody ever accused Mr. Trump of being practical.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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

To be murdered in Mali.

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

Our government wants us to send some Canadians in harms way in Mali in West Africa. As the country with the highest mortality rate for peace keepers, we are not going to enjoy Mali. “Don’t worry” our defence minister tells us, “We are only going to send a few helicopters, pilots, ground crews and people to do training.” We have time to get some fresh flags for the Highway of Heroes before the casualties start arriving.

You do know that being one of the larger countries in Africa does not make Mali any more hospitable? The French deserted the country after the Second World War and it has been in turmoil since. Between the isolation of the Tuaregs, the radicalism of the Islamists and the total incompetence of the southern tribes to run things, the country goes back and forth from totalitarianism to chaos quite quickly.

The poorly trained and ill-equipped West African troops trying to keep the peace in Mali have already had some 162 of their people killed by heavily armed brigands, Islamist terrorists and an alphabet soup of causes.

And do not be surprised when the Islamic extremists suddenly have ground-to-air missiles to welcome the Canadian helicopters. Thankfully, it is hard to find good cover in the Sahara north of Timbuktu.

The basic problem with Mali is that there is no peace keeping involved. First you have to have some peace to keep. And even in a country where our troops who speak French will have an immediate advantage, it is very difficult to tell a friend from an enemy. The land is the enemy.

And we are not making the task any easier when Canada and the U.S.A. are throwing billions of dollars every year into the Mali economy. Everyone wants their turn at being a politician so that they can rip off some of this money for themselves.  Meanwhile, the cotton economy of the south is dwindling, the fundamentalist Islamists of the north are funded by the middle-east supporters if ISIL and Al-Quaeda and the Tuaregs just keep working their salt mines.

Why Canada’s government feels it has to make a statement of support to the United Nations this way is beyond us. A seat on the Security Council for our dead is not worth it.

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Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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