Sunday, 1 November 2009


On Friday, two days after the civic election, the hopeful developer of the "River Landing" complex (also known on this blog as "Fort Gathercole") reported publicly that he did not have the money and so would not be building. So the "Atch Hole" is going to be a hole for a lot longer.

This came as absolutely NO surprise to any of us who have followed this tragic saga for the last number of years. Indeed, we would have been shocked if he had been able to come up with the money.

The biggest question -- what will City Council do next? Just try to re-jug the proposal, or do some serious re-thinking?

For background information see: River Landing.

Friday, 23 October 2009


I recently wrote a letter to the newspaper about the sad state of affairs in our city. I have begun to describe that situation in the first part of "Pity Poor Saskatoon." Today the my thoughts appeared in the "Letters to the Editor" section of the paper -- albeit in an edited form.

Here's the original.

It’s Saskatoon's election time. And John Gormley (with his “usual gang of suspects”) is back with GAAG. (That’s short for “Gormley Against Anything Good.”)

Gormley mentions a “Gang of Four” on Council (“The Politics of City Election Campaigns,” Oct.16/09) but says less about Council’s other seven “gang-sters.” What Gormley missed is their thinking about urban development, which he perhaps shares. They’re firmly stuck in the 1970s. This is 2009.

Saskatoon’s deeply in debt, instead of using a sustainable, “pay as you go” development policy. That debt level is 1970’s thinking. Watch for taxes to rise significantly or services to be cut drastically.

We had the Gathercole building, then the Gathercole site, then Parcel Y; now it’s the “Atch hole.” Will Lake Placid ever build there? Perhaps the City's accepted a “pig in a poke.” That overall lack of planning major developments is 1970’s thinking. And how long will the “Barry vacant lot” sit vacant?

Consider the Farmers' Market. Built too small, in the wrong place, without enough parking, and streets too narrow. That’s 1970’s thinking. (It’s so crowded I, like many others, rarely go there any more.)

And the mayor wants to turn the Farmers’ Market to a kind of General Store, because he doesn’t understand Farmers' Markets. That’s pre-1970’s thinking.

The new bridges -- Preston over Circle Drive and the south-west Circle Drive Bridge. Where are the spaces for future LRT (Light Rail Transit), that we'll need to move Saskatoon’s growing population? No LRT. That’s 1970’s thinking.

Recycling is important. Community-University research has shown that more than half of what goes into Saskatoon’s land fill can be re-used or re-cycled. That would save the city money and extend the life of our current land fill. But, no civic curb-side recycling here. More 1970’s thinking.

There’s a problem with 1970’s thinking. Cities that keep using it don’t shine; they rot.

Just to fill in the blanks, John Gormley is a lawyer who was a Conservative Member of Parliament for a time. He makes his living as a radio talk show host these days. He's just touch to the right; he thinks Attila the Hun was a socialist. When he speaks of those with who he disagree he calls them "the usual gang of suspects."

"Saskatoon Shines" is the big advertising motto the city is using currently.

Curb-side recycling (usually done by the City itself) is a feature of many Canadian cities, often much smaller than ours.

Some of the other elements are explained in previous postings.

The reference to "Atch hole" is to our Mayor, Don Atchison. The community largely wanted the Farmers' Market to go on the Gathercole site. But Mayor Atch (who is up for re-election) has an "edifice complex" -- a Farmers' Market is too simplistic and dull for such a great site. Sigh!

Thursday, 22 October 2009


We're getting close to our civic election. It comes in less than a week -- October 28th.

A lot of people are saying things ar
e pretty good in Saskatoon. Yes, a lot of fancy things have been done along the river in the downtown. But where are the items of substance?

Where is Lake Placid's "River Landing" development, which should be close to finished now, but hasn't even been started? It's supposed to be the "anchor" of our city's downtown
redevelopment. (See my earlier post on "Fort Gathercole.")

Where is "Station 20 West" -- the grocery store and service centre for the people in one of our poorest neighbourhoods, who desperately want and need a grocery store? The Provincial Government originally promised significant financial support to the project. They we had an election, and a different party formed the government. The new party canceled the deal with the poor, the old, the sick, and citizens in general.

Where is the long-promised childrens' hospital that we need for our province?

Where in the new Oliver Lodge -- a long-term care for seniors in poorer health? The provincial government promised money about 20 years ago for that. So far the only thing that has been accoplished is the demolition of the oldest wing of the existing building.

Why has our city council incorporated a new art gallery,
instead of fixing the existing one? The new building will be much more expensive (if memory serves correctly).

(Mendel Art Gallery)

On top of all that, the mayor and his associates on Council have driven the City deep into debt, and have raised the tax rate 20% in the last 6 years.

And the number and value of building permits this year is way down.

The saying is that, "Saskatoon Shines." To me, Saskatoon has a dull glow at the best.
Maybe "rot" better describes what's beginning to show.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


What Canada needs is a reasonable and effective coalition government. We need a government where people can work together, to solve the problems and build on the strengths of our nation.

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen, because of the personalities involved.

Coalitions are normal in many countries -- Israel, India, Germany, France, and Italy, to name a few. In Britain, right after World War 1, Prime Minister David Lloyd George led a coalition government from 1918 to 1922. Britain again had a coalition government (including Conservatives, Labour and, Liberals) from 1935 to 1945 (there was no election during World War 2). That coalition was led first by Neville Chamberlain, then by Winston Churchill. Canada even had an elected coalition government -- the “Union Government” of Prime Minister Robert Borden, from 1917 to 1920.

There is nothing new, strange, or illegal about coalition governments. They have been, and can be, very effective.

Coalitions represent a wide range of thought, much like the thinking of Canadian people. That’s a good thing: we all don’t always think alike agree on everything. If we did, life would be pretty boring. And there would be no chance for change. However, we do think differently; we see situations differently; we see varying opportunities for the future. I think this diversity of thought is good.

As I have written before, much of Canada was built by people from very different backgrounds working together to solve common problems. They knew that if they didn’t work together, they wouldn’t survive, individually or collectively. That reality hasn’t changed.

On the other hand, single-party majority government’s don’t have the same sensitivity to the wide variety of thinking among Canadians voters.

Of course, we almost had a second coalition government in Canada last December, involving the Liberals and New Democrats, with the tacit support of the Bloc Québecois. That would have been a bit different, in that coalitions are usually formed at the request of the ruling Prime Minister. But Stephen Harper recognized the problem, and ran like a dog with his tail between his legs -- to the Governor General. It apparently took a fair amount of convincing, but Michael Jean bailed him out.

But that tells us why we are not likely to have a coalition government.

We have adult men and women in our Parliament who are content to play “king of the hill” like little boys and girls. Stephen Harper is lusting after a majority government, so he can enforce radical change on Canada -- until the country no longer resembles what it has been (to paraphrase one of his more “interesting” statements). We have Michael Ignatieff, brighter and more experienced than Harper, but less politically seasoned, lusting after the same job. We have Jack Layton dreaming of more power. So these personal ambitions prevent the collaborative, community-building approach that our country needs at a difficult and challenging time. Which is not at all helpful.

Canadians-- young and older, rural and urban -- need something better than that, and deserve something better.

(This was originally written for The Western Producer, a Canadian newspaper, and published October 8, 2009. It speaks of a number of British parallels.)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


The first of what may be three elections for us is over. Danielle Chartier, representing the New Democratic Party, (i.e. Social Democratic) received 1,840 votes. Corey O’Soup of the Saskatchewan Party (i.e., Conservative) was second with 1,506 votes. Two other candidates (Liberal and Green) got just over 70 votes each, in the by-election held yesterday.

(Danielle giving her victory speech.)

The past two men who held this riding were both NDP, and both Premiers (i.e., Prime Ministers of the province). It was the CCF, forerunner of the NDP, which led the fight for medicare in Saskatchewan, then the rest of Canada.

Danielle lives just a block from our home; O'Soup doesn't live in our city, let alone the Riding. Danielle has a long history of community service. Cory was involved in a community development project, but turned his back on the people of this riding for the sake of political opportunity, when people needed his help (very long story).

Next up; civic elections, which will be held last week of October.

Will there be a federal (national) election? Well, the boys and girls of the Parliament in Ottawa are still "playing poltics" about that. When "scoring points" for "the party" is more important than serving peoples' needs, politics gets pretty disgusting. Sigh!

Friday, 4 September 2009


In Saskatchewan, we may be hit by three (count 'em, three) elections in quick succession this fall.

1. In the Saskatoon Riversdale Provincial (as in State or County) Riding, the by-election is set for mid-September.

2. In late-October, we have elections for Saskatoon City Council (like other urban and rural municipalities in the province).

3. Now, there's a chance we may have a Federal (national) election as well -- the key issue being programs of support for workers who lost their jobs in the recession (such as Employment Insurance).

I think elections are a good thing. It is actually a chance for people who want to think, to think about the issues that effect their lives -- political or more-than-political.

But three in a row in a few months? Let's get serious!

Yes, there are significant issues we have to deal with in our community, province, and nation
. But to try to tackle all the problems at, effectively, the same time, is to invite being overwhelmed -- politicians and voters alike.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


While you were sleeping, the Bear was watching. Not saying, just watching.

Now, time to talk.

Over the last two days, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported almost 13,000 new cases of a/H1N1 Influenza, and 50 more deaths. That's in just two days. Total recorded infections world-wide are about 90,000, with 382 deaths.

If we're at 6,500 new cases a day right now, we could well see 10,000 new cases a day by August or September.

But there is good news. It came at a meeting of officials from Canada, Mexico and the U.S., held in Cancun, Mexico on July 2nd. The speaker was Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO. Here are some excerpts from her speech.

• "We have seen some social disruption, especially when schools and camps have to close, bringing added demands on parents and their employers. Most health systems have coped well, though some have reported some strains on staff, hospital beds, laboratories and resources."

"The overwhelming majority of patients experience mild symptoms and make a full recovery within a week, often in the absence of any form of medical treatment." (Emphasis mine.)

If you want more information, Dr. Chan's speech is available on the WHO web site. It is worth the read, if you're interested in keeping up on the details -- which could save your life.


There are a lot of people, on both sides of our common border, who think Americans and Canadians are pretty much the same. That is true, superficially. When given more consideration, the hypothesis begins to fall apart.

That doesn't mean that Canadians are good and Americans are bad. Or vice versa. It is just that we are different. We see things differently; we value things differently.

The starting place, I suppose, is our own respective institutions. Americans are in search of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," according to the Declaration of Independence (traditionally thought to be signed on July 4, 1776). In the British North America Act (July 1, 1867), Canada's first constitution, a key phrase refers to "peace, order, and good government."
Those phrases represent two very different approaches to life. So one should hardly be surprising that our thinking is different.

Though I'm being a bit "broad brush" here, I think it is fair to say that Americans are more individual-oriented, while Canadians are more community-oriented (though much less now that in the past).

Nowhere is this more obvious that in our approaches to health care. Canada has, in effect, a single-payer system. Each province (state) has its own health care program, and pays for hospital and physician services in its province. (Constitutionally, health care is a provincial responsibility.) There is a federal act which co-ordinates inter-provincial collaboration, and provides federal money to the provinces, so similar services can be maintained nation-wide, regardless of the relative wealth of the various provinces.

This did not come quickly or easily. It evolved over a 20 year period, from the end of World War Two until the mid-1960s. Saskatchewan (where I now live) was the first province to take action. In 1946, the Saskatchewan Hospitalization Act was passed, giving free hospital care to virtually everyone in the province. The provincial government wanted to do more at that time, but didn't have the money. By 1957, the Federal government passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act, which extended the Saskatchewan model to all provinces through permanent Federal-Provincial shared-cost funding. With the federal money in place for hospitals, Saskatchewan again took the lead in providing coverage for physicians services in 1962. By 1966, there was another Federal act, which provided shared-cost funding for physicians services. And while there has been some fine-tuning of the system over the subsequent years, the principles are still much the same.

I knew some of the pioneers of the Saskatchewan acts. The acts came about because of citizen pressure on government. There were lengthy public discussions -- in Church basements, Community Halls, and School classrooms. Rural people, particularly, saw neighbours loosing their farms -- both their homes and business -- in order to pay their hospital and doctor's bills. They agreed that sort of thing shouldn't be happening in a country like Canada. (That's not "peace, order and good government.") The leading party in Saskatchewan, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, was both instigator and responder to the citizens demands. And citizen demand is what ultimately led to the development of what is referred to as "medicare" in Canada.

So today, every person's hospital care, and doctor's care, is covered. A couple of provinces charge premiums for individuals or families, but these are relatively small, certainly not at the levels of US insurers. (To get Canadian-level care in the US, people would have to pay over $1,000 per month).

Ironically, the challenge which led to Canadian medicare is still a huge problem in the United States. Almost 50 million Americans (just under 20 per cent of the population) have no health care coverage, because they cannot afford it. Many more have inadequate coverage. Unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US; of those who go bankrupt, 75% have some, but not enough, health insurance.

The proposed solution is a single payer. It's called HR676, and is slowly gaining support. A recent poll I saw indicated about 60 per cent of health care professionals, particularly doctors, support some form of this plan. This plan appears to go well beyond the bounds of Canadian legislation, in that it covers a lot more than Canadian medicare

What will happen next is not clear, for either country. Some Canadian physicians are pushing for a return to more private health care (meaning more money to doctors, at patients' expense). Some Americans are pushing for better care through better insurance, even if that is provided by government (with or without some premium paid by the insured).

Interesting times await.

Friday, 12 June 2009


Finally. The World Health Organization (WHO) has gotten around to declaring what everyone else knew for weeks. We have a real, true, honest, full-blown pandemic with A/H1N1 influenza. The disease can be passed easily from person to person. About 29,000 confirmed cases world-wide, with 144 deaths. The disease has spread to multiple countries in every continent (including Australia, a country that thinks of itself as a continent). That's "Level 6" in WHO language. It doesn't get any worse. Technically.

That "technically" is significant. The Level 6 declaration recognizes the extent to which the disease has spread geographically, not the severity of the situation (which is the more important issue). In Canada, where we could have 3,000 to 4,000 deaths in a "normal" 'flu season, we've had FOUR deaths attributed to A/H1N1 (this latest monster 'flu). Four deaths; not four thousand.

So, wash your hands when you get home from being wherever. Wash before meals. Sneeze into your elbow. Etc.

I'm not suggesting we should ignore the problem. I am suggesting, as usual, that we keep the whole thing in its appropriate context. "Let's be careful out there," continues to be the appropriate phrase.

One other thought. One way to possibly curb the spread of this illness: wash your hands before you send an e-mail or blog post. You can trust the Bear on that. ;)

Saturday, 6 June 2009


I was at a meeting of our health region's ethics committee this week, and guess what got mentioned? Yup; A/H1N1 Influenza.

I raised with my colleagues the potential problem with the World Health Organization's mathematical model of influenza prediction. One of my colleagues, a physician (who shall remain nameless), said perhaps the mathematical model is "only for pandemics that count." At which we all laughed.

The latest statistics I have show the WHO has recorded about 22,000 cases of A/H1N1 influenza around the world, with 125 deaths. So the death rate is about 0.5% of those infected.

With the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) situation in 2003, there were only about 8,100 cases recorded world-wide, but 775 deaths. The death rate then was 9.5% of those infected.

Bit of a difference between those two outbreaks.

So, there are pandemics, and there are PANDEMICS (as in pandemics that count).

Indeed, the WHO itself seems to have come to the same conclusion. It's thinking about reporting a "severity assessment" with any change of pandemic level alert.

Hey; have those people been reading my mind (or my blog)?

Monday, 1 June 2009


So, let's get this straight.

1. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when there is "efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission" of an influenza outbreak. That is a Level 6 problem -- a full-blown Pandemic.

2. According to the WHO's most recent update, On June 1, there area bout 17,500 cases of A/H1N1 flu internationally, with 115 deaths. That's level 6, technically.

3. Somehow, though, I think there's something wrong with the mathematic model the WHO is using to predict and declare pandemic situations. Level 6 should mean that people are dying like flies caught in a brush fire. But that's not happening.

P.S.: Just don't go on any Australian cruise ships for a while.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


The latest information from the World Health Organization is not encouraging, but far from being disastrous. As of this morning, the WHO (in its Influenza A(H1N1) update 35), indicated there were 11,034 confirmed cases in 41 countries, with 85 deaths. (While I don't wish to undervalue the lives that have been lost, we are very fortunate there have been so few, thus far.)

What this appears to mean is that the current version of the flu is not nearly as deadly or virulent as in other major outbreaks. And while the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, has been pushed to move to the final level, level 6, she continues to say that such a move is not warranted at this time. There are some suggestions Chan may not be strictly following the WHO guidelines for level 6 (as the linked story indicates). However, this may be in keeping with the overall criteria for assessing the severity of a flu outbreak.
Her action, moreover, does not stop individual governments from upgrading their own precautions and actions.

Ms. Chan is, in my estimation, trying to strike an effective balance between vigilance and action on one hand, and over-reaction (and panic) on the other. I think she is doing a good job.

Friday, 8 May 2009


Last year in the United States, about 37,300 people died in traffic accidents.

So far this year, two people in the US have died of current variety of H1N1 influenza.

So, how many people have stopped driving because of all those traffic deaths? Hands up please.

That 37,300 is a drop of about 9% from the year before. The decrease is largely attributed to the fact that people are using their seat belts more. Or, simply, more people are taking reasonable precautions when driving.

In 'flu time, reasonable precautions mean washing your hands frequently, and using disposable tissues for blowing your nose, etc.

Which is why this ol' Bear is going about life as usual. But being just a bit more careful, especially washing my paws when I come in from shopping (or whatever).

Thursday, 7 May 2009


Fortunately swine don't fly, though people can and do (in airplanes).

I promised you about a week ago that I would try to help you stay abreast of what's been happening with the H1N1 Influenza. But my ethics work here has kept me sidetracked. (So I've been a dreadful failure in keeping you informed -- official numbers are only part of the story.) I just sent another memo to a colleague this morning, raising issues about the health and safety of people who work during a pandemic. In the SARS outbreak in Toronto a few years ago, a significant number of deaths were among health care professionals. (Just as in 9/11 in Manhattan, a lot of police and firefighters died in the line of duty.)

One of the major concerns in any pandemic relates to the number of health care professionals who will show up for work. There are research numbers which suggest that about 50 per cent would stay home. Talk about a health care system being overwhelmed by that loss of employees!

One of the challenges of emergency work is protection of workers. Back in the days when I was a firefighter, I sometimes had to work above the fire (a particularly dangerous place) looking for people who might be trapped or injured, so we could get them to safety. Back them I had a heavy canvas, rubber-lined "turnout" coat, boots, a helmet, and self-contained breathing apparatus. And given that level of protection, I was reasonably confident doing what I had to do, even thought I was in a risky situation.

The biggest fear in a pandemic is that health care workers will not get the protective gear they need in order to do their jobs safely. That puts them, and their patients, and families, and, ultimately, the community, at risk. How much risk? I'm not sure. But at least in principle, this is a significant problem.

So we have a legitimate ethical challenge. Workers say, "Yes, we're committed to our profession and our patients, but how can you expect us to work when we don't have the protection we need?"

I'll let you think about that one.

Friday, 1 May 2009


I'm moving all my work related to A/H1N1 Influenza to my "Bears Noting" blog. This, after all, is my blog for "current news" and ethical developments.

I will be updating items here as I get information.

I have already received a bit of news from others. If you know about something that is happening in your region or country, and want to add it, please feel free to do so. That way we'll be able to keep each other informed of our experiences.

See you anon.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Newspapers: R.I.P.??

As a person whose life includes a career as a journalist (primarily in radio but subsequently free-lance in print), and as an ethicist, I tend to watch the "business" of journalism as well as work in it.

Within the space of two days, I came across two different laments over the deaths of newspapers. One was on long-time friend and excellent journalist Jim Taylor's Weblog, the other on the blog of Mike H, The Life of Writing.
Then French Fancy got into the act, and I read and then got a note from Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. A couple of other journalists added their thoughts to me. Then someone drew my attention to an article in The Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic, about why he blogs (and gets a lot of attention).

So I followed the "3R's" of journalism: research, reflect, (w)rite.

The following is a revised form of something published in The Western Producer. That paper has an on-line version, for which there is a subscription fee.

The changes I have made here reflect some of the on-line wisdom and concern we have been sharing in the blogsphere.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Newspapers are making news these days -- often by going out of business.

In the U.S., Seattle Post-Intelligncer has quit printing after almost 150 years. Denver’s Rockey Mountain News is gone. The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune are going, going, . . . These are big papers -- like Canada’s National Post or Globe and Mail. Smaller, local or regional papers face similar problems.

This makes me sad. Having been a writer and broadcaster for about 30 years, it’s like seeing your neighbour have to sell his or her farm, or home. Journalists write “the rough draft of history” -- and with a degree in history, I worry about that potential loss of information, to current and future generations. That same loss makes us less aware of what’s happening in the world around us, and could happen to us. It’s hard to make sound ethical judgements in an information vacuum.

What’s happening? The biggest problem is lack of money -- from advertising. It’s basically a case of how many eyeballs (readers) a paper can “deliver” to a potential advertiser, as opposed to what a magazine, or television, or other newspaper can deliver. The problem is not new; but is getting worse. As the economy tightens, and trends shift, so do advertisers wallets. With less money, papers reduce staff and pages. (In fact, a recent report from the Mercury News in San Jose indicated the newspaper industry shed 5,900 "newsroom" jobs last year.) With fewer reporters, research fades, while governments and big corporations “massage” their messages. The quality of news can be “dumbed down,” as reporters are require to crank out stories like sausages from a sausage machine. (The image is not far-fetched; in radio, we had a deadline every hour. Exmoor Jane recounted having five deadlines per day when working for a London paper.) International events are omitted or buried as papers shrink.

As ownership is concentrated (with fewer people owning more newspapers, radio, and television), a kind of editorial “group think” sets in -- so one paper looks like another. Add the trend to make information “entertaining” (“info-tainment” is the technical word).
(French Fancy's dismay about the treatment of Natasha Richardson's death speaks directly to the matter of info-tainment.) I believe that news should be well-written and interesting. But news is news, while Monty Python and American Idol are entertainment.

Eventually, one wonders what one is really getting, and whether it is even worth reading (or bothering with a subscription).

My fear is that the loss of good newspapers will leave us all far less educated, more insulated, and increasingly self-centred. And far less capable of dealing with the challenges and pressures of daily living.

There are, I think, two rays of light in the gloom.

Instead of, or in addition to, print editions, some papers are producing electronic or “on line” editions. As people become more computer oriented, they tend to get their news through computers. Some are exclusively electronic, like B.C.’s The Tyee. Whether this will improve the overall quality of the reporting remains to be seen.

Then, there’s the return of an ancient tradition. Long before print, there were troubadours and minstrels -- poets, singers, performers. As they traveled, they would also carry the news from one place to another.

Those ancients have been replaced by others -- called “bloggers” -- who fulfill the old story-telling function, sharing bits and pieces from here and there. Sometimes professional journalists also blog -- giving a different flavor and context to their work. (There's an
interesting piece in The Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan about why he blogs.)

Newspapers, journalism, news -- everything seems to be “in process” -- “in transition.” I see it happening, to some extent, every day in the blogsphere (though writing in the blogsphere tends to be self-centred, sometimes to the point of being narcissistic -- though some bloggers provide good information and reflection on important topics). Meanwhile, politicians are trying to harness the blog world for their messages, as are (big) businesses.

But there’ll always be stories to tell, and someone will tell them.

You can trust the ol' Bear on that.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


I've made some changes in how I do my blogging.

When I first set up the blog "The Ethical Pilgrimage," it was in connection with my post-graduate studies in bioethics. When I became chronically ill, my plans to finish my degree evaporated.

Now, that blog is about to do the same (more or less).

I'm going to keep it up in the blogsphere, as a matter of historical record and reference (should I need it, or other people want to see particular items). Thoughts which I would normally have posted there will be found on this site. I will probably be posting here a bit more frequently, though "Chrome on the Range" will still be my primary blog. "Desert Epiphanies" will continue to be the site for more thorough discussion of matters related to spirituality, faith, and church.

Thank you to those who have taken the time to read and follow those few notes on "The Ethical Pilgrimage." If you'll "bear with me," I think you'll find this site to be as noteworthy as that one.

Monday, 2 February 2009

SMOOT-HAWLEY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, or, How to Turn and Recession into a Depression

Most people are not familiar with the "Smoot Hawley Tariff Act," named after the guys who put the ideas together. But those tariffs helped turned a U.S. recession of 1929 into a world-wide depression through most of the 1930s. And the current U.S. government is about to do the same thing all over again, with it's new $855 billion, "America first" stimulus package.

Once again, Americans are showing they cannot remember their own history. They are again jeopardizing their economy, and the economies of other nations.

Senator Reed Smoot (a Republican from Utah) and Representative Wallis Hawley (a Republican from Oregon) saw the U.S. economy needed to grow, by increasing American firms' share of business. One way to do that, and effectively "stimulate" the economy, was to restrict foreign imports. That way, people would be forced to "buy American" or pay a lot more for the same thing. In fact, the Bill raised import charges on about 20,000 items.

Opposition began even before the law was passed in June, 1930. Over a thousand economists and many business leaders begged President Herbert Hoover to veto the bill. Complaints came from well over 30 other nations as well. (People knew about it because it had passed the House of Representatives in May, 1929.)

That action may have helped to trigger the financial crash of October, 1929. By the time it became law, other countries were already boycotting or imposing their own tariffs on American goods. Canada was among the first to do so, even before the bill had passed in the U.S. Senate. The U.S. State Department says that between 1929 and 1932, overall world trade dropped by 66%.

While the U.S. stock market had been uncertain since 1929, by 1930, politicians and business leader were saying the end of the crisis was in sight. But in late 1930-1932 the market headed almost straight down, reaching its lowest point in June, 1932, a year after the Smoot-Hawley Law was signed.

Smoot-Hawley wasn't the only problem America faced, but it was significant. The other major problem was a string of bank failures. But if you cannot produce and sell enough to re-pay your debts, of course banks are going to fail. Think of Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Mannie Mae, and Freddy Mack, which have run into huge problems in the last few month. It's the 1930s all over again.

History's lesson is that if you put up a brick wall around your country to keep imports out, other nations will do the same. That's the main problem with the current U.S. stimulus package. It has a clause which would do, in effect, the same thing which the Smoot-Hawley Act did in 1930; it will help turn a recession into a protracted depression.

Canada has been protesting, as it did with the Smoot-Hawley Act. The "buy American" clause in the current U.S. proposal is a fundamental violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Will the Americans listen? Who knows? Will Stephen Harper impose Canadian counter-measures if the American law passes. Not likely; I see Harper as pretty timid in his dealings with the United States. Were the stronger-willed, broader-thinking Michael Ignatieff in charge, things might be much different.

President Obama inherited an economic disaster when he took office as America's 44th President. How he handles the "buy America" language in the stimulus package will be a major test of his foreign policy. How he handles it may determine outcomes as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.