Category Archives: Media

A new feeding frenzy

DSC_0028It can’t just be my fevered imagination, but are governments practically everywhere, for their own unique and inexplicable reasons, providing major media with the most succulent red meat they’ve served in years?

Carefully measured gruel of the thinnest possible variety was once the specialty of the day in the communications departments and press offices that tend to the elected class even as they cater to the Fourth Estate. Not anymore. Chow’s up boys and girls. Come and get it.

According to a study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy issued late last year, coverage of Donald Trump during the election campaign that ultimately elevated him to President of the United States, “was negative from the start and never came close to entering positive territory. During his best weeks, the coverage ran 2-to-1 negative over positive. In his worst weeks, the ratio was more than 10-to-1. If there was a silver lining for Trump, it was that his two best weeks were the ones just preceding the November balloting.”

Not that any of this actually hurt the man in the final outcome. But, closer to home, what are we to make of the fortunes of certain members of New Brunswick’s government tied up in what should properly be an exquisitely boring subject: property tax assessments?

An exclusive penned for Brunswick News Inc. by Adam Huras last month reported that “a decision to fast-track the implementation of a new property assessment system was presented to the premier’s office as a move that could bring in $5.7 million in new revenue for government in 2017, according to documents obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.”

What’s more, “emails suggest that the premier’s office knew how lucrative this plan would be and agreed that it should move ahead. But an email from (the premier’s chief of staff) Jordan O’Brien to Service New Brunswick also anticipated public backlash, suggesting ‘that media be advised that people being assessed weren’t being gouged but had been getting a break in the past.’”

Apparently, that particular point failed to grab the attention of the general public as the story quickly shifted to the plight of many property owners whose annual taxes rose, in some cases, by 30, 40, even 60 per cent.

All of which prompted New Brunswick Union president Susie Proulx-Daigle to state, “Assessors had nothing to do with the development and deployment of the formula. The New Brunswick Union is deeply troubled by the statements made recently by premier Gallant in regards to the property tax situation. First and foremost, the blame for this problem does not sit with the assessors, it rests with the elected officials. They need to take responsibility for their actions in this matter.”

In fairness, the premier has indeed apologized to property owners in the province and appointed a retired judge to determine precisely how all of this happened in the first place.

Still, this is an unmitigated disaster for the spin rooms of the province. On the bright side, it fairly demonstrates the potency and social currency of a responsible press, confidence in which has been eroding in this country and others for some time. “No one needs to tell me about the importance of the free press in a democratic society or about the essential role a newspaper can play in its community.” The late Robert Kennedy said that. But the sentiment could fairly apply anywhere.

Of course, the question for government types to answer is: When did they start making the media’s jobs so easy? Ring that dinner bell. The troops are hungry.

Whither Mother Corp?

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Growing up in Halifax, I was a public radio nerd, and pretty much the only one I knew. I’d put myself to bed, listening to the honeyed voice of Allan McFee on CBC Radio’s “Eclectic Circus” just as the low, grumbling baritone of the harbour’s foghorns began to rise.

Other kids would tune into one of maybe three private stations, playing endless loops of Top 40 hits. Not me. Give me some academic yakking about the fall of the Roman Empire on “Ideas”, or a dollop of late-night jazz, and I was good to go, drifting sweetly off to la-la land.

When American radio icon Garrison Keillor announced earlier this year that he was formally retiring, after 42 years, from hosting National Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” none other than U.S. President Barack Obama told the 73-year-old announcer, “One of the reasons I miss driving is that you kept me company. (The show) “made me feel better and more human.”

That’s a bit like how I feel whenever I tune into CBC Radio’s Moncton-based morning program, or the Maritime-wide afternoon call-in show, or the drive-time rolling-home broadcast out of Saint John.

So, I’m always momentarily alarmed when Mother Corp. – which gets the bulk of its money from taxpayers – enters one of its periodic phases of existential angst, as it has just recently. As a panel of Ottawa politicians examines the condition of the news industry in this country, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission has issued a statement that, in part, reads: “The emergence of new digital technologies has made access to news and analysis from around the world easier than ever and presents many new opportunities. Digital technologies are empowering individuals, allowing them to tell stories that are in the public interest and to share them instantly with millions of people.”

Still, the CRTC reported, “Many Canadians . . .emphasized that local programming, particularly local news, is of great importance to them and a primary source of news and information. In one survey, 81 per cent of Canadians indicated that local news is important to them.”

Within this mix enter the usual suspects of mostly Conservative critics. Tory leadership runner, Kelly Leitch, declared last week, “The CBC doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be dismantled. So long as the CBC continues to distort the market by consuming advertising revenues and having its operations underwritten by the taxpayer, the market is uncompetitive.”

Of course, the CBC’s own research tells a tale of relevance. (What would you expect?) A survey it conducted a couple of years ago reported “80 per cent of Anglophones and virtually all Francophones (98 per cent) who responded to the questionnaire feel that CBC/Radio-Canada is important. Seventy-three per cent of Anglophones and 91 per cent of Francophones who participated believe that public broadcasters will continue to be important in the future.”

At the same time, “42 per cent of Anglophone participants prefer that CBC/Radio-Canada provide the most appropriate regional services into 2020, whether they be online, radio, television, or a combination of all or some, while 38 per cent want continued regional services in all formats (TV, Radio, and Digital).

People like Ms. Leitch (indeed, there appear to be quite a few of them) are welcome to their opinions, but a public broadcaster plays an important role, especially in lightly populated areas such as the Atlantic Provinces. Through it, we know ourselves as members of a larger family of Canadians.

To snag the words of the outgoing U.S. president, it makes us feel better and more human.

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Whose party is this?

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It should surprise exactly no one in New Brunswick that political parties do their level best to differentiate themselves from their opponents by any means necessary. After all, this province, New Brunswick, has been staging periodic vote-fests longer than almost any other jurisdiction in Canada.

Rarely, however, have the substantive policy differences among the three, leading federal camps – Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat – been as vanishingly small as they are today. And this presents New Brunswickers – owners of one of the nation’s least robust regional economies, and one of the most burdened by debt and deficit – with a special chore: Choosing who among these federal courtesans is most likely to doff his cap to the ancient regime of this country; the East Coast.

Shall we all just hold our breath?

New Brunswick’s social and economic challenges are both specific and articulated: High unemployment; low commercial productivity; high rates of illiteracy and innumeracy; low interest in anything remotely resembling renewable energy technology; high levels of disaffection with public institutions; low tolerance for civil-service cutbacks; high disdain for politicians, in general; low sympathy for elected representatives who purport to get things done by upending the status quo.

Under the circumstances, then, why would any party that seriously seeks power vary in form or substance from any other – except, of course, in what they tell the great unwashed at election time?

What they tell us now could fill a thimble for relevance and actual change.

Here come the Tories, barking at New Brunswickers that their jobs-ready, economic action plan has, over the past eight years, saved this province from perdition. Their implied motto is simply this: It could have been worse.

Here come the Grits, insisting that New Brunswickers will be much better off than they have been if only they will giddily throw themselves into the red tide that will surely swamp the Maritimes. Their message is: It can be better, though exactly how. . .well, we’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, comes the third rail (which, incidentally, looks an awful lot like the first and second), the NDippers. They want us to believe that New Brunswick and the rest of the Maritimes are overdue for a massive transformation. Let us, then, agree to abolish the Senate and see how well that works out for us.

Oddly enough, that was an essentially Conservative idea not so very long ago, and even a Liberal one for an Ottawa minute when Justin Trudeau kicked out every Grit senator from his sitting caucus, again, not so very long ago.

As for New Brunswick’s particular social and economic woes, no federal party has yet made a convincing case that this province’s hard and trenchant issues matter more to them than found money on a summertime beach along the Bay of Fundy (which, like substance in political rhetoric, is also rare these days).

What actually distinguishes each federal contender from the other is a media play; crafted and acted before cameras, packaged for YouTube, and meant to be taken with a large barrel of salt.

Jobs are good, so say we all. Unemployment is bad, so say we all. Innovation and productivity must be the urgent concern, so say we all.

Crime? Boo!

Victims? We feel their pain.

Health care? Of course, it’s necessary.

Literacy, numeracy, trust in public institutions? Yup, we have our work cut out for us on that, too.

Still, choose me. I wear the red sweater, or the blue one, or the orange one. The difference is immense.

Even if it’s all the same to you.

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Our home and dangerous land

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We are, dear Canadians, beset from all sides of the political playing field by the proposition that our lives are no longer our own, that our freedoms are transitory, that our faith in this peaceful, prosperous land is illusory.

We get the message from the federal government, whose Bill C-51 seeks to enact, in its own wordy, doctrinaire manner, “the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which authorizes Government of Canada institutions to disclose information to Government of Canada institutions that have jurisdiction or responsibilities in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada; (and) the Secure Air Travel Act in order to provide a new legislative framework for identifying and responding to persons who may engage in an act that poses a threat to transportation security or who may travel by air for the purpose of committing a terrorism offence.”

At the same time, Part III of the bill “amends the Criminal Code to, with respect to recognizances to keep the peace relating to a terrorist activity or a terrorism offence, extend their duration, provide for new thresholds, authorize a judge to impose sureties and require a judge to consider whether it is desirable to include in a recognizance conditions regarding passports and specified geographic areas.”

But we also get the same message – though inverted – from the Liberal opposition in Ottawa.

As far as Justin Trudeau is concerned, “Conservatives pretend to talk a good game about freedom, but look at what they have done with it. They have fallen a long way from the era of Sir John A. Macdonald to the ‘why do you hate freedom?’ taunts of the recently departed Sun News Network. . .Our social contract sometimes requires us to moderate our freedoms. . .The ongoing question for democracies is how we strike the right balance.”

So, on the one hand, international terrorism is the single, biggest threat to our democratic rights and freedoms; on the other, official reaction to international terrorism is the single, biggest threat to our rights and freedoms.

Then, of course, there is the trusty third hand that is the Fourth Estate, which is always ready to further bewilder a benighted public on matters regarding bodily harm and spiritual peril.

In this respect, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente (that fine newspaper company’s “agent provocateur en chef”) does not disappoint.

In her regular screed on Tuesday, she opined: “Some people are allergic to the T-word. After a lone gunman stormed Parliament Hill last fall, killing a soldier at the National War Memorial, they said it was not possible to conclude that this was terrorism. . .It’s easy to see why certain people want to play down the T-word.”

She also wrote: “The terror threat is a potent weapon in Stephen Harper’s arsenal. . .It’s true that Mr. Harper is overplaying the threat of terrorism. It’s also true that plenty of people are underplaying it. . .And it’s disturbingly clear that an increasing number of young Canadians are being caught up in a radical millenarian death cult.”

Overplaying versus underplaying; business-as-usual threats to the social fabric of this country versus radical millenarian death cults; a government that wants to put us all to sleep with bedtime stories about imminent catastrophe versus a political opposition that’s simply willing to put us all to sleep; a mainstream media that’s more than willing to oblige both ends of the ideological spectrum, oftentimes in the same column newspaper  space affords.

We do, indeed, live in dangerous times – but the greatest threat is to our right to think critically and soberly about the world around us.

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For a prominent prognosticator, no easy answers in the year ahead

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Reading The Economist’s redoubtable annual turn as Nostradamus, we will be forgiven if we emerge shocked, appalled and fundamentally confused.

After all, this is what the western world’s leading print pundit of fair-market capitalism does best: perplex.

“The World in 2015” imparts much the same wisdom as the various “Worlds” the magazine has published since big-picture, 30,000-foot views became both the sage and financially responsible way to board-up the bottom lines of publications heading into the otherwise preoccupied end-of-year times, just around the Christian holidays.

In the early 1980s, at the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, these annual numbers were considered essential reading for cub reporters – just as important, for example, as the Canadian Securities Institute’s textbooks for aspiring investment, dealers, brokers and floor traders.

And as metro and national beat scribblers might have tucked into Charles Dickens, while the snow fell gently on the gritty curbs of downtown Toronto, we trenchers at the ROB studiously perused the writings of Walter Bagehot, The Economist’s preeminent editor (between 1860 and 1877) for clarity about the how the world’s financial systems worked then, and perhaps now, to sadly little avail.

Complexity is, of course, the essential nature of modernity. And accepting intricacy – nay, embracing it – in the affairs of men and women of good conscience is, arguably, what The Economist does best (hence, the name of the publication). In this regard, the 2015 outlook edition does not disappoint.

In his piece, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, writes, “Of all the predictions to be made in 2015, none seems safer than the idea that across the great democracies people will feel deeply let down by those who lead them. In Britain, Spain and Canada, elections will give voters a chance to unleash some of those frustrations.”

Are you listening Messrs. Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau? How about you, Barack Obama, one-time savior of the disavowed?

“The levels of unpopularity and disengagement in the West have now risen to staggering levels,” Micklethwait continues. “Since 2004 a clear majority of Americans have told Gallup that they are dissatisfied with the way they are governed, with the numbers of those fed-up several times climbing above 80 per cent (higher than during Watergate. Britain’s Conservative Party, one of the West’s most successful political machines had three million members in the 1950s; it will fight the (general) election in May with fewer than 200,000.”

So, then, we may reasonably assume, democracy is on the run.

But, wait, here’s what The Economist’s foreign editor, Edward Carr, writes in the same issue:

“Look on the bright side. . .Armed with more realistic expectations, optimists can point to three reasons for hoping for something better in 2015. The first is that democracies take time to respond to new threats and dangers, but when they do they tend to be committed to their new policies. . .The second reason to temper pessimism is adaptation. . .In 2015, China and Japan will begin to put aside their differences. Not because either is willing to give ground on their in their long-running territorial dispute over some rocky outcrops in the East China Sea, but because both need the economic boost from sustained trade and investment between them. . .The third reason concerns America. . .(Some have said) that (Barack Obama) is weak and distracted, and others (have said) that the United States is falling into decline. The charges distort Mr. Obama’s thinking and vastly overstate America’s loss of power.”

In fact, it’s hard to argue with a five-year recovery that has returned five million jobs to the biggest economy on the planet, reduced unemployment to below 5.6 per cent, and goosed annual GDP growth (in that country) to between three and 3.5 per cent over the next 15 months.

Perplexing, indeed.

Are we going to hell in a hand basket; or are we at the cusp of a new age of fair-market capitalism, powered by democracy movements that fully appreciate the role that healthy public institutions play in realizing their peaceful, common goals?

Let us dust off our crystal balls, for all the good they will do us.

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For a prominent prognosticator, no easy answers in the year ahead

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Reading The Economist’s redoubtable annual turn as Nostradamus, we will be forgiven if we emerge shocked, appalled and fundamentally confused.

After all, this is what the western world’s leading print pundit of fair-market capitalism does best: perplex.

“The World in 2015” imparts much the same wisdom as the various “Worlds” the magazine has published since big-picture, 30,000-foot views became both the sage and financially responsible way to board-up the bottom lines of publications heading into the otherwise preoccupied end-of-year times, just around the Christian holidays.

In the early 1980s, at the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, these annual numbers were considered essential reading for cub reporters – just as important, for example, as the Canadian Securities Institute’s textbooks for aspiring investment, dealers, brokers and floor traders.

And as metro and national beat scribblers might have tucked into Charles Dickens, while the snow fell gently on the gritty curbs of downtown Toronto, we trenchers at the ROB studiously perused the writings of Walter Bagehot, The Economist’s preeminent editor (between 1860 and 1877) for clarity about the how the world’s financial systems worked then, and perhaps now, to sadly little avail.

Complexity is, of course, the essential nature of modernity. And accepting intricacy – nay, embracing it – in the affairs of men and women of good conscience is, arguably, what The Economist does best (hence, the name of the publication). In this regard, the 2015 outlook edition does not disappoint.

In his piece, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, writes, “Of all the predictions to be made in 2015, none seems safer than the idea that across the great democracies people will feel deeply let down by those who lead them. In Britain, Spain and Canada, elections will give voters a chance to unleash some of those frustrations.”

Are you listening Messrs. Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau? How about you, Barack Obama, one-time savior of the disavowed?

“The levels of unpopularity and disengagement in the West have now risen to staggering levels,” Micklethwait continues. “Since 2004 a clear majority of Americans have told Gallup that they are dissatisfied with the way they are governed, with the numbers of those fed-up several times climbing above 80 per cent (higher than during Watergate. Britain’s Conservative Party, one of the West’s most successful political machines had three million members in the 1950s; it will fight the (general) election in May with fewer than 200,000.”

So, then, we may reasonably assume, democracy is on the run.

But, wait, here’s what The Economist’s foreign editor, Edward Carr, writes in the same issue:

“Look on the bright side. . .Armed with more realistic expectations, optimists can point to three reasons for hoping for something better in 2015. The first is that democracies take time to respond to new threats and dangers, but when they do they tend to be committed to their new policies. . .The second reason to temper pessimism is adaptation. . .In 2015, China and Japan will begin to put aside their differences. Not because either is willing to give ground on their in their long-running territorial dispute over some rocky outcrops in the East China Sea, but because both need the economic boost from sustained trade and investment between them. . .The third reason concerns America. . .(Some have said) that (Barack Obama) is weak and distracted, and others (have said) that the United States is falling into decline. The charges distort Mr. Obama’s thinking and vastly overstate America’s loss of power.”

In fact, it’s hard to argue with a five-year recovery that has returned five million jobs to the biggest economy on the planet, reduced unemployment to below 5.6 per cent, and goosed annual GDP growth (in that country) to between three and 3.5 per cent over the next 15 months.

Perplexing, indeed.

Are we going to hell in a hand basket; or are we at the cusp of a new age of fair-market capitalism, powered by democracy movements that fully appreciate the role that healthy public institutions play in realizing their peaceful, common goals?

Let us dust off our crystal balls, for all the good they will do us.

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Testing the meaning of tolerance

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Irony is, after all, its stock in trade.

How surprising is it, then, to learn that, just before the fatal attacks on 12 of its staffers last week, the French satirical organ, Charlie Hebdo, was well on its way to organ failure – the victim of falling sales and dwindling readership?

Now, it will live forever, not so much as a worthy compendium of political commentary and provocative humour, but as a symbol of French resistance to tyranny. (Not exactly what the gang of murderous thugs, brandishing kalashnikovs and invocations to the prophet Muhammad, was hoping to achieve).

Then, of course, around the world there were organized marches in memoriam for the dead and in solidarity for the principles of free speech. In the City of Lights, alone, gathered a throng of 1.5 million comprising people from all walks of life – some deserving to attend; some, in the opinion of many, not so much.

According to a piece in the Guardian online, “Press freedom campaigners condemned the presence of world leaders attending the unity rally in Paris on Sunday who have poor records on human rights and the free press in their home countries. Reporters without Borders singled out leaders from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as being responsible for particularly harsh environments for journalists. These countries rank respectively 159th, 154th, 148th, 121st and 118th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom in a league table compiled by the group.

“‘We should show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo without forgetting the world’s other Charlies,’ said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the campaign group. ‘It would be intolerable [if] representatives from countries that reduce their journalists to silence profit from this emotional outpouring to. . .improve their international image. . .We should not allow the predators of the press to spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.’”

Naturally, this said nothing about the quality of the publication’s satire, itself – a topic that has, understandably, garnered little attention ever since Paris conferred honorary citizenship on the magazine, the national government announced a bail-out fund of one million euros so it can, in the words of French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin, “continue next week and the week after that and the week after that.”

Indeed, reported Reuters, “Albert Uderzo, the 87-year-old who created the famed French comic character Asterix, announced he would come out of retirement to help illustrate the irreverent weekly, which plans to print a million copies of its next edition next Wednesday.”

All of which may have irked Atlantic magazine writer Scott Sayare into penning a rare online screed. “Charlie’s hope, according to its editors, is to show believers the folly of their faith,” he writes. “This can hardly be called an undertaking of tolerance, that other virtue of liberal democracy.”

In fact, he jabs, “the impulse to consecrate Charlie Hebdo in a moment of horror and anger – an impulse felt far beyond France – is eminently comprehensible. But one may mourn the dead and condemn their senseless slaughter, and hail their courage in carrying out a mission in which they deeply believed, without celebrating the magazine for virtues it did not espouse.”

Frankly, he notes, “until the killings, Charlie Hebdo was not much celebrated or even particularly valued – publicly, at any rate – by the French, though the many slander cases brought against it came with a certain amount of publicity; as of 2012, its weekly print run was about 60,000 copies, about a tenth of what the country’s most popular news weeklies sell. . .Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication. . . The magazine is, however, intolerant of religion and believers of all sorts, and smug in those anticlerical convictions. Dialogue with its opponents was never of much interest, and it has repeatedly chosen to target some of France’s most vulnerable inhabitants for provocation. . .It is a publication that champions its speech rights with all the crude prurience and vitriol and rhetorical excess the law permits.”

And yet, one could argue persuasively, that it is precisely such coarseness – once, not very long ago, dismissed and derided by the French establishment – that has galvanized, through tragedy, a nation and much of the western world.

How brutally ironic, indeed.

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All the news that’s fit to ignore

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If I were a newspaper editor with my pick of front-page stories, which would I choose to run above the fold?

Would it be the one about Burger King gobbling up Tim Hortons for a cool $12.5 billion? Or would it be the one about humanity possibly facing extinction in a century or so thanks entirely to manmade global warming?

At the Globe and Mail, at any rate, the answer is a no-brainer (as it is, I’d guess, at just about every other daily news organ in the world). Donuts and burgers trump the apocalypse every time.

And so it was, Tuesday, when the Globe ran its insider’s look-see at the deal between Timmy’s and 3G Capital Group, the Brazilian private equity fund that bought Burger King for $4.1 billion in 2010, on Page One.

Meanwhile, casually floating amid the news of less apparent import on Page Nine was an Associated Press story about the final draft report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a report which makes dire predictions of  “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

You might have reasonably expected a followup in the front section’s middle two-page spread, normally reserved for in-depth analyses of subjects and topics in the news. But, no. There, too, Tim’s had dibs.

“You may have heard that Tim Hortons is becoming part of a newly-formed global company headquartered in Canada,” the advertising copy cheerly chirped. “Among other things, this will help us grow and expand our brand around the world. What remains the same is our focus on top quality, fresh products, value, great service and investment in community. . .That focus on our guests and community will never change.”

Neither, alas, will mankind’s preternatural ability to miss the forest for the trees.

A multi-billion-dollar corporate merger happens every couple of years, or so. But the end of the world as we know it? Come on people, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. One would think it deserves a little more respect than it gets in the mainstream media and popular press.

“The UN report tells us once again what we know with a greater degree of certainty: that climate change is real, it is caused by us, and it is already causing substantial damage to us and our environment,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University told the Associated Press. “If there is one take-home point of this report, it is this: We have to act now.”

Or not.

Consider what John Christy has to say. He, too, is a climate scientist, though unlike most of his peers, he’s no catastrophe junkie. The University of Alabama academic told the AP, “Humans are clever. We shall adapt to whatever happens.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Christy is not altogether beloved by his peers. In a recent New York Times piece, Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology equated his colleague’s sanguinity about the future to courting disaster. “It’s kind of like telling a little girl who’s trying to run across a busy street to catch a school bus to go for it, knowing there’s a substantial chance that she’ll be killed,” he said. “She might make it. But it’s a big gamble to take.”

But Dr. Christy’s “relax, don’t worry attitude” has made him the darling of certain Republican members of congress, conspiracy theorists and populist nincompoops who equate education with elitism (except, presumably, when he’s in the room).

And because he appears to rationally demur at the current, standard model of anthropogenic atmospheric warming, his views invariably find their way into the type of news copy that all-too-valiantly strives to be “objective” and “balanced”. (Although, really, if 99 experts on a subject say a thing is about to happen and one says it’s not, does lending both sides equal credence serve the interests of objectivity and balance)?

It hardly matters, because if a thing hasn’t happened, it’s not front-page news. And if there is even the slightest question or debate about its likelihood of ever occurring, it is, at best, Page Nine material.

Now, a story about one fast food giant gobbling up another. . .well, that’s real. Heck, you can almost taste the relevance, can’t you?

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Making the enemies list and checking it twice

 

Beware all the liberal media vipers in our midst

Beware all the liberal media vipers in our midst

Canadian political junkies are in for a treat next month when former Conservative operative and Stephen Harper confidant Bruce Carson spills the beans about his brief sojourn at the center national power. 

But we addicts of hysteria in statecraft may not actually need his upcoming book, “14 Days: Making the Conservative Movement in Canada”, to help us comprehend the true dimension of Tory paranoia. These days, the party’s power brokers are managing to do that all by themselves.

As the Globe and Mail reported last week, Conservative officials recently sent a fundraising letter to potential contributors asking them to pony up big bucks for what is certain to be a titanic battle against the Liberal establishment and their lickspittles and  lapdogs in the mainstream media.

The Globe quoted portions of the letter from Fred DeLorey, the party’s director of political operations, thusly: 

“(The) increase in the number of seats, plus the need to expand Conservative communications and outreach. . .will require the biggest campaign budget in Conservative Party history to ensure victory next year. . .To compete for these extra new seats in 2015, our outreach and communications budget must expand too – and we must do it now. If we wait until next year, it may be too late.”

Indeed, lefties lurk around every corner.

“Despite all his verbal flubs, lack of experience, and his failure to outline any practical economic policy for Canada, Justin Trudeau is still awarded a shining halo by liberal-minded journalists and pundits who are bedazzled by their own hopes of a Liberal second coming,” Mr. DeLorey fumes.

What’s more, he instructs, “Over 80 per cent of Canadian media is owned by a cartel of just five corporations – each of which owns dozens of publications and networks under various subsidiaries and affiliates. . .The Canadian newspaper industry today is largely controlled by a small number of individual or corporate owners, which often own the television networks.”

As a result, this “media convergence has greatly complicated our Conservative Party efforts to present the unfiltered facts and foundations behind our policies for economic growth, our faith in family values and our commitment to jobs, free trade and prosperity. . .The official campaign for re-election of Stephen Harper and our Conservative majority government won’t start until next year – but in the media it seems it has already begun.”

Fie, a pox on all your wobbly Fourth Estate houses, especially the CBC, which  

“costs taxpayers too much and its operations should be privatized” before, presumably,  “inexperienced Liberals like Justin Trudeau or leftist ideologues like Thomas Mulcair” make it their official mouthpiece!

This is not the first time Tory brass have taken a swipe at Mother Corpse (or, indeed, any media that doesn’t display the word “Sun” in its corporate letterhead) in a fundraising letter. In fact, for several years now, the practice has been all but required by right-wing etiquette. 

In 2007, the late Doug Finley, who was then the Conservative Party’s campaign director, decried alleged incidents of political bias among frontline reporters at the CBC. Is this (he asked rhetorically) what $1.1 billion in taxpayers‘ money buys for hard-working, well-adjusted Canadians?

Still, though most citizens will dismiss such frantic hyperbole outright, the Tories do know their audience, which suggests that there’s less genuine fear than calculated fiat in the messaging.

The danger of a Liberal resurgence in this country is real, but right-wingers deal with their terror of fancy-pants, artsy-fartsy types by towing the party line. And they do it better than anyone else. 

That’s why, in political terms, they have more money than God (despite their persistent and disingenuous poor-mouthing). It’s also how they have effectively demonized the mainstream media for a sizable chunk of the mainstream audience of news and opinion (again, despite their absurd and disingenuous claims to victimhood at the hands of commie-influenced press barons).

Time and again, the modern incarnation of conservatism in Canada makes claims to truth where none exists and then makes quislings of all who dare question its wisdom and virtue.

Still, we political junkies wouldn’t have it any other way. Most of us are journalists, anyway. Who else but a late-stage partisan paranoiac is going to keep us on our toes?

 

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When our knowledge is unequal to our opinion

 

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Whenever a columnist, book reviewer or any other species of gum-flapper, who’s paid to pontificate windily about the world’s state of affairs, writes something like, “I don’t know much about this subject, but that’s never stopped me before,” I usually take that as a helpful invitation to stop reading.

Occasionally, though, curiosity gets the better of me. 

So it was the other morning when I stumbled across a line in Margaret Wente’s latest attempt to speak for the common man from her lofty perch, at the Globe and Mail,  as one of Canada’s best-known columnists.

In her diatribe against “liberal policy elites” who are snapping up copies of French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book about the growing divide between those who have and those who have not in western societies, Mrs. Wente declared, “I’m not qualified to analyze Mr. Piketty’s work (Capital in the Twenty-First Century), which even critics have described as ‘brilliant’. My question is why now?”

Her answer was transparently deflective: “The progressive elites have been completely captured by the declinist narrative. . .There’s just one problem with this. Although highly educated social progressives are alarmed by the scenario, hardly anybody else is.”

She then “proves” her point by quoting surveys that show that regular folk – you know, “real” people – couldn’t give a toss about so-called income inequality. In fact, what Joe and Jane Public care most about is government incompetence and waste.

Now, there’s a straw man if ever one came tumbling out of the opinion pages of Canada’s national newspaper. 

Ms. Wente may not like “policy elites”. She may have reasons to distrust them. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the deleterious socio-economic effects of the ever-widening gulf between the rich and rest. 

Equally, the apparent sanguinity of the general public doesn’t automatically denote that the average man and woman on the street is right. In fact, it doesn’t even go to the root of the problem.

Has it occurred to Ms. Wente that one reason why middle earners are more ticked off with governments than rich people is that they recognize how tax policies,  which were supposed to protect the common interest, have effectively accelerated the concentration of wealth among the one per cent?   

Besides, asking someone directly whether he’s worried about income and wealth inequities is like asking a farmer whether he’s concerned about crop failure. Sure, in a general sort of way. But it’s not real until it happens, up close and personal. And in this regard, data trumps anecdote every time. 

Earlier this year, a formerly confidential government report (made public through an Access to Information request by Canadian Press) declared that “the Canadian dream is a myth more than a reality.”

In fact, its findings pointed to “a middle class that isn’t growing in the marketplace, is increasingly indebted though it has a relatively modest standard of living, and is less likely to move to higher income (i.e., the middle class is no springboard to higher incomes).”

Other findings included:

“Over 1993-2007, there has been a slight hollowing out of the middle class, and the face of the middle class has changed considerably. Couples without young children and unattached individuals now account for most middle-class families.”

Meanwhile, “although middle-income families experienced a good progression in after-tax income, the same cannot be said of their earnings. In particular, the wages of middle-income workers have stagnate. . .Although the middle class holds a relatively fair share of the ‘wealth pie’, higher-income families have far greater nest eggs. Furthermore, wealth is not equally divided among middle-income families, with those headed by younger individuals being at a disadvantage.”

Compared with other western nations, Canada actually fares pretty well. But for how long? 

The economics of rampant income inequality is not an issue of pocketbook envy. Disparities in the currency that makes everyone’s world go round generate disparities in every avenue of life, from education to health care and, eventually, to the consumer sectors that sustain all goods and service-producing industries.

Although I am one of those gum-flappers who gets paid to pontificate windily, this time you can trust me.

I actually do know a little something about these things.

 

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