Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The View From Canada


It's not all about America.  Well, not all the time.

The Brits are front and center with this wonderful and riveting drama over News Corp (which I said I wasn't going to write about anymore, dammit!), which is all-consuming in the UK media.  And that same story is fascinating American readers, mainly because it has stirred concerns about the potential hacking of some of the 9/11 victims' phones -- although, I'm stumped as to why those same Americans so easily accept the industrial-level data mining, through phone and email surveillance, to which their government subjects them every day.  Here in Canada, today's Globe and Mail (self-proclaimed as Canada's National Newspaper) is bursting with news and commentary on the Murdock scandal, from the front page to the business section -- only the sports pages are spared, not that there's much of a sports section in the Globe, anyway.

Still, surveying the situation from up here in the Great White North, if its not all about America, it comes awfully close.

After the Murdock story, the debt ceiling issue dominates coverage in the US, just as it gets its share of commentary pretty much everywhere else, including Canada.  Congress is locked in a battle against an August 2nd deadline over if, and how much, to raise the limit on government borrowing beyond the existing $14.3 trillion (!) cap.  The Republicans oppose any increase that is not accompanied by severe reductions in the deficit, reductions they've targeted at the expense of programs such as Medicare and Medicade, designed to help those most in need.  And, as usual, most everyone expects Obama and the Democrats to cave.  There's perhaps some small irony in the fact that the administration of George W. Bush had no difficulty raising the debt ceiling 7 times, accompanied as these increases were by massive reductions in the tax "burden" for the wealthy.  Of course, and as always, no reduction to the $650 billion budget for America's war machine will ever be contemplated, where the potential for savings is enormous, like the return of forces from such hotspots as Germany, Japan and Korea -- or, and here's a thought, the scaling back of the criminal aggression in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya (Canada was a willing player in Afghanistan and continues to participate in Libya, though, I'm not sure, in either case, why).   

Compounding the situation, and against all that is rational, virtually every Republican in Congress, including those running for the presidency, has signed an "oath" that they will not raise taxes in any form, including the simple closing of loopholes for corporations or wealthy individuals.  Even the American Chamber of Commerce has warned against the risk of default arising from this bit of gamesmanship, and recently both Moody's and Standard and Poors have indicated that they may downgrade America's credit rating over the impasse on the debt ceiling.  

This game is being played out against the backdrop of the coming 2012 election cycle and reelection strategies of the two parties, where $billions are now being funneled into the campaigns by unelected corporate interests (and so the purchase of the democratic process continues).  All the while, unemployment rises and home foreclosures continue.  Default by the US treasury will have an uncertain but likely disastrous impact on the world's financial system so, in this case, it is all about America.   

And beyond the US borders, the IMF warns that potentially destructive and unpredictable contagion risks spreading to the global economy if Europe's leaders don't quickly contain the euro debt crisis.  As our Globe and Mail reported today, "The crisis is no longer just about Greece, as investors punish Italy and Spain...Irish and Portuguese government bonds were downgraded to junk status last week by major rating agencies, virtually freezing them out of the debt markets."  Recall, if you will, that the initial crisis began in Greece, where the government ran aground on the dubious strategies proposed and enacted by Goldman Sachs (oops, another American connection).  

Back home for a moment.  In a column by Jeffery Simpson in today's Globe, we learn from the Conference Board of Canada that we are becoming a more unequal society.  Like the trends in the US and Britain, the richest group of Canadians saw their income rise at a disproportionate rate relative to everyone else.  Using the Gini coefficient, which tracks inequality on a scale of 0 to 1 (where 0 represents a world of total equality) The Conference Board ranks Canada 12 among 17 comparable countries.  As Simpson reports "Canada's Gini score is 0.32, slightly worse than Australia and Germany, and far behind Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway.  The United States and Britain, two countries against which Canada measures itself, are the worst performers - that is, the most unequal societies of the 17."  Proof, perhaps, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's grand vision for our country is firmly taking hold.  

But in the end, with all the intrigue and delight over the News Corp scandal, given all the brinkmanship and drama over the potential of default by the US, and the news that Canada is becoming less and less equal, just like the US and Britain, we learn that 11 million of our fellow human beings in the Horn of Africa are facing death from starvation in the worst regional drought in 60 years.  

So, happily, its not about America all the time.

By David.

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Your musical accompaniment for the day: Tom Sawyer, Rush.  A Canadian rock band like no other.  Enjoy.

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