More than 800,000 Americans packed the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Monday to listen to President Obama deliver his second inaugural address, but many more were listening around the world. Here are a few interesting global reactions:
In the Chinese media, Obama's promise to "try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully" and argument that "engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear" than military force was taken as a sign that the U.S.-China relationship will be at the top of his foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Of course, as the state-run Global Times notes, there's a bit of skepticism that the president will live up to his words:
"If the president really lives his words, he would agree that for the sake of the world's peace and prosperity, it is important for the United States and China to foster mutual trust, for trust is the cornerstone for every relationship, no matter between people or between nations...The words also show that he agrees that the two nations should properly solve their disputes, either economic or political."
News agency Xinhua was a little more positive, describing the overall approach Obama outlined in his Monday address as "balanced" and "decidedly progressive."
One Guardian writer described Obama's speech as "urg[ing] Americans to reclaim from conservatives the spirit of the founding fathers" and as "more inspirational than 2009," praising Obama's strong support of climate change and gay rights. Another was more cautious in hispraise, maintaining that Obama's speech was less of a populist manifesto and more of a "to-do list [covering] what he has still to do to make good on the economic promises of his first term."
Peter Foster of the more conservative Telegraph granted that Obama's speech was well-received
by the spectators on the Mall, he reminded readers just how deeply divided the United States still is: "It was apparent," writes Foster, "that only half of the nation had showed up to listen
to [Obama's] call...Overwhelmingly, the crowd of 800,000 people was filled with
the faces of the young, female, urban, African-American coalition that ensured Mr. Obama's re-election for a second term last November. They were Obama's people, and they
were there to celebrate their victory."
In his article for the Australian, Troy Bramston praised Obama's rhetoric, but argued that Obama cannot rank amongst the truly great American presidents until he "translate[s] a presidency of promise into a presidency of action."
That may be hard to do, claims Janet Hook in another article for the Australian, in which she points out that Obama's speech made little effort to readch out to the GOP.
After the inaugural address, the headline of Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat read "The decade of war is over," referencing a line from Obama's speech. Yet in an op-ed for the same paper, Abdul Rahman Rashed, though praising Obama's experience in Middle Eastern affairs, was not so sure about peace in the coming decade. "Obama's second term will possibly be reconciliatory, particularly after John Kerry and Chuck Hagel join his administration...but who can tell if the region will be in a reconciliatory mood?"
In his article for Palestinian-run, London based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi (translated into English by the Times of Israel), Abdel Al-Bari Atwan writes that Obama "completely shut the door on any military intervention, stressing that a decade of wars has ended and that the only way to peace is dialogue." "President Obama's message is very clear," the article continued. "In short, he said that he does not intend to militarily intervene in Syria; will not wage a war on Iran, succumbing to Israeli pressure; and will focus on rescuing his country from its crippling economic crisis."
Atwan continues: "Obama disappointed many of his allies in the Middle East by neglecting to mention any of them in his speech." (Obama didn't mention any foreign countries by name in his address.)
Obama's equal opportunity rhetoric made news in Mexico. In its coverage of the inaugural address, El Universal highlighted Obama's commitment to immigrants, women, and gays. The article quoted Obama's statement promising immigration reform:
"Our trip (as a nation) will not be complete until we find a better way to welcome the hopeful, striving immigrants in the U.S. are still the land of opportunity, until the brightest students and engineers are listed on our strengths work instead of being expelled from our country."
The headline of the article read, in Spanish, "Obama calls for welcoming immigrants."
The president's inaugural address was a chance for Canadians to pat themselves on the back, the Ottowa Citizen snarkily reports:
"On the key issues that President Barack Obama pledged to dedicate his second term to in his inaugural address, Canada has already made substantive progress: on supporting democracy around the world; on providing equal rights to gays and lesbians; on creating an aspirational immigration system."
It doesn't stop there either. The column went to on say that Canada has also beat Obama to the punch in securing a budget deal and repairing its economy.
When Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird hosted a largely American gathering at the Canadian embassy on Monday, he was more tactful. "This is not a time for long speeches," he said. "We have very different systems, so we don't exactly want to be bragging," a Canadian embassy spokesman said.
Rob Carr-Pool/Getty Images
Americans, U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday during his inaugural address, "are made for this moment."
Why? Because "we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention."
It's a reassuring thought, but do we Americans really possess these qualities more than any other countries?
Without a doubt, the U.S. is not particularly youthful when compared to other countries around the world. The median age in the U.S. is 37.1; the world's median age is 28.4, placing us well on the older end of the spectrum. We're younger than most of the OECD countries, but are still beaten out by Brazil (29.6), Chile (32.8), Ireland (35.1), Israel (29.5) and Mexico (27.4).
Is the U.S. very diverse? Not really, according to Stanford political scientist James Fearon. Fearon tried to measure diversity in 160 countries around the world in a 2003 study, and (with all the appropriate caveats that ethnicity is a difficult thing to define) found that the the U.S. comes in as the 85th most diverse country in the world. The most diverse western country is actually Canada, with an "ethnic fractionalization index" of .596 (the U.S.'s is .491), and we're outranked by almost every country in sub-saharan Africa, as well as Brazil (.549), Mexico (.542) and Israel (.526), among others.
How about our appetite for risk? A little trickier to measure, but a group of researchers at the Social Science Research Center in Berlin tried last November, through a study in which they conducted experiments to measure the risk tolerance of 80-100 students in 30 countries, to see how their results compared with development and growth levels. The U.S., despite our "have gun, will travel" reputation, is actually somewhat risk averse, according to this research: they give us a risk tolerance score of about .-07 - still above those stodgy Germans, but slightly below France. Meanwhile, the Brazilians (again!) seem to be a little more inclined to put some skin in the game:
Finally: do we have more capacity for reinvention than other countries? This might be the hardest characteristic to find a proxy for, but one might be how likely a country's workers are to find new jobs within a certain time period. This study, from 2004, looked at 25 countries, and found that while U.S. workers are fairly likely to keep on moving, they are still less likely to change jobs in a twelve month period than Canadians (again!) or Russians.
Whether these particular characteristics are really the ones that will count in the years to come is the subject of a separate blog post. But if Americans are "made for this moment," as Obama says, it seems that Canadians and Brazilians might be too -- or maybe even more so.
As some Americans scramble to purchase more arms to defend themselves and the media combs through every detail following last week's mass shooting at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, Toronto is also reeling in the aftermath of the city's largest ever mass shooting which left 2 dead and 23 injured on July 18.
Despite having far stricter gun control laws than their Second Amendment-loving southern neighbors, Canada is not immune from gun violence. And while you would be hard pressed to find a Canadian in public office willing to promote concealed carry as a solution, Canada is certainly not immune from the inevitable politicking that follows such events.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Toronto mayor Rob Ford declared his intention to banish gun offenders from the city -- effectively pushing the problem outside his jurisdiction. According to the CBC:
Critics said the mayor's comments were confusing, and it wasn't clear why he appeared to be zeroing in on immigration as an issue when it comes to gun crime.
Ford didn't specify how he thought he would be able to move residents out of the city by persuading the federal government to change immigration laws.
"A lot of people just said: 'Rob, why are they living in this city?' No matter who they are, I don't care if you're Canadian born, I don't care if you're a Canadian citizen. I don't care if you're an immigrant, I don't care if you're refugee. It doesn't matter to me," he said.
"If you're convicted of a gun crime, I don't want you living in this city. And the only way I can find out whether that's legal or not or whether we can enforce that is through the [Prime Minister's Office], and that's what I'm doing."
Freedom of movement is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government quickly signaled that it was not on board.
"Obviously we can't tell people which city [they] can and can't live in," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Prime Minister Steven Harper, meanwhile, took the shootings as an opportunity to plug for the mandatory jail sentence minimums his government controversially pushed through as part of an omnibus crime bill earlier this year.
"I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential," he said. "This is not a theoretical problem."
As recently as July 6, an Ontario court struck down the mandatory minimums for gun crimes included in the bill as unconstitutional. Mandatory minimums have been on the books in the U.S. since the 1980s as part of the country's ailing war on drugs. Critics argue that they result in overcrowded prisons and a loss of judicial independence.
Even before the Toronto shootings, the Harper government's approach to violent crime legislation could be characterized as a "lite" version of the American model which combines tougher penalties with lighter arms control. Harper abolished Canada's long-gun registry in April, amidst howls of protest from the left -- particularly out of Quebec.
The registry - which required documenting licensed ownership of all rifles, long-guns and shot guns -- was established largely in reaction to the 1989 Polytechnique shootings, an event which horrified the country as a whole and is still vividly remembered in Quebec. A decade before Columbine, a lone gunman entered a Montreal, Quebec, engineering school and, shouting his hatred for "feminists," shot 14 female students before turning the gun on himself.
So far, it appears that the Canadian response to this spate of violence has been a series of backwards steps.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Canadian scientists and supporters staged a mock funeral in front of parliament in Ottawa yesterday to protest Prime Minister Stephen Harper's proposed cuts to scientific research.
The July 10 event, called the "death of evidence" rally, drew an estimated 2000 protesters from across the country. Led by a participant dressed as the grim reaper, lab coat wearing mock-pall bearers carried the casket containing the "body" of evidence up the steps to Parliament Hill.
The Harper government's budget cut millions of dollars and 12,000 government positions from basic research in Canada. Major slashes will impact institutions such as Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
According to the Globe and Mail, protesters "decried the Conservative government's overall economic agenda, which they say puts the environment at risk for the sake of creating jobs." This includes the closure of research stations such as the Experimental Lakes Area - which provides cutting edge research on acid rain and phosphate pollution.
A great slide show of photos from the rally by Trevor Pritchard is available here at OpenFile Ottawa.
Trevor Pritchard/ OpenFile Ottawa
Nearly 24 hours of voting, 425 pages of legislation, over 800 proposed amendments: This is the marathon from which Canadian members of parliament (MPs) emerged on June 15.
The session, characterized by the Globe and Mail as "22-plus hours of consecutive spanking" of the dissenting opposition parties by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative majority government, will allow the government to push through omnibus bill C-38.
Canadians are up in arms about the bill because it includes legislation that will weaken and threaten the legal status of leading environmental groups.
Because Harper is determined to build a new pipeline out of the Alberta tar sands, the center of Canada's oil industry with known reserves that rival Saudi Arabia's. And he is not about to wait for November to get it done.
The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would have funneled Canadian oil down to refineries on the Gulf Coast, remains in political deadlock after the Obama administration blocked the deal in January.
Incensed by Obama's decision, Harper claimed the pipeline process was being "held hostage" because "certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America."
In the meantime, Harper's government, as well as impatient oil exporters and Asian markets hungry for Canadian crude, are determined to find new ways out of land-locked Alberta in order to increase oil export volumes.
"Enbridge, a transporter of Canadian oil exports, announced a $3 billion plan called Eastern Access. It is seeking permission to build a new "Northern Gateway Pipelines" network, to bring 525,000 barrels a day to Canada's Pacific Coast. Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy company, said it will nearly double the capacity of an existing pipeline network along a different route."
All of these options will have to overcome staunch opposition by indigenous groups and well-entrenched environmental interests on both coasts. Which brings us back to the reasoning behind the Conservative government's push to pass the omnibus bill with the intent of weakening these groups' legal footing.
In order to further quell dissent, Harper's government has also been going after anti-pipeline charity and advocacy groups. A variety of groups, including Tides Canada and ForestEthics, have been threatened with having their charity status revoked. Canadian regulations have long maintained that charities cannot devote more thant 10 percent of their budgets to advocacy. Additional laws pushed through as part of the C-38 package "will bring more scrutiny to foreign funding for charities and also how they use money for political purposes. Charities will also have to take more responsibility for the political activities of groups to which they give money."
The government has also insinuated that shadowy foreign entities are responsible for funding charities in their efforts to derail Canada's well-oiled ascendance to the status of petrostate. The Conservatives' new efforts to regulate "transparency" in Canadian charities has gone so far as to alarm large foundations with names like Bronfman, Asper and Bombardier on their letterheads.
Turns out even Canada is not immune to the lure of "black gold."
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Over the summer, we featured a piece from Brian Lee Crowley, Jason Clemens, and Niels Veldhuis based on their book, The Canadian Century, arguing that the free market reforms Canada had instituted since it was described as "an honorary member of the Third World" by the Wall Street Journal in 1994 had put it on track to be a global economic leader in the 21st century. Reflecting on Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier's 1904 prediction that "the 20th century shall be filled by Canada," the authors mused that "perhaps Laurier was not wrong, just 100 years early."
A story from McClatchy today suggests that tough financial regulation may be as much a part of the Canadian economic success story as spending cuts and benefits reforms:
Not a single Canadian bank failed during the Great Depression, and not a single one failed during the recent U.S. crisis now dubbed the Great Recession. Fewer than 1 percent of all Canadian mortgages are in arrears.
That's notable given that the recent U.S. economic turmoil was triggered by a meltdown in mortgage finance, forcing an unprecedented government rescue of Wall Street investment banks and the collapse of more than 300 smaller banks as the housing sector went bust.
How'd Canada avoid all that?
"This sounds very simple, but one of our CEOs has said we are in the business of making loans to people who will pay them back," said Terry Campbell, vice president of policy for the Canadian Bankers Association in Ottawa.[…]
Even so, there's plenty to learn from Canada's conservative — yes, conservative — regulatory regime. It requires more rigorous loan underwriting standards and much bigger set-asides by banks for potential losses during market downturns.
Canada also lacks a big tax write-off for the interest that borrowers pay on their mortgages. They get a capital gains tax exemption on any profits on the sale of their primary residence, and that's it. Yet the rate of home ownership in Canada is equal to, or greater than the U.S. rate, and the lack of mortgage-interest deductions leads Canadians to swiftly pay down their mortgage debt.
The Gaggle blog over on our sister site Newsweek notes that Canada's parliament has shut down for two months (?!) for the winter Olympic games.
For those of you who have gotten behind on your Canadian politics, here’s a basic rundown. Prime Minster Steven Harper, who leads the Conservative Party, was facing a lot of difficult issues: an inquiry over maltreatment of Afghan detainees, economic woes hosting the Olympics. So he announced in December that he was basically shutting down, or proroguing, Parliament until March 3, 2010, the day after the Olympics ends. And, when they come back to session next month, the agenda is basically reset: any bill that was on the table is done and gone away with. This has lead to numerous prorogation protests across the country, despite Canadians being generally known for their politeness. A one-week shutdown due to a massive snowstorm isn’t looking so insane, now is it?....
As a Canadian citizen, I generally don’t like to slam on my native land; I’ll definitely root for Team Canada come this Friday. But in terms of ridiculous government deadlock and partisanship, unfortunately, we have already claimed the gold medal.
Which makes complaining about Congress feel a bit silly.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
Democracy Now host Amy Goodman -- a well-known left-wing critic of U.S. foreign policy -- was detained and questioned when entering Canada last week. But according to her, it wasn't her views on the war in Afghanistan or free trade that had the border guards worried, it was fear that she might say mean things about the upcoming winter Olympics:
In the country to promote her book Breaking the Sound Barrier , a collection of the award-winning journalist's columns, she planned to discuss the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, of which she is a critic; Canadian icon Tommy Douglas, a hero of medicare; global warming; and the worldwide economic meltdown.
“Well, that pretty much does it. And he said, ‘what about the Olympics? ‘And I said, ‘the Olympics? Do you mean when President Obama went to Copenhagen to try and get the Olympics for Chicago?' ” Ms. Goodman recalled asking.
She claimed the officer persisted in questioning her about Vancouver's upcoming Games.
“I said, ‘no, I wasn't planning to talk about that,' ” she said. “He just seemed incredulous. They didn't believe me.”
They began to search her notes and computers and those of her two colleagues, Ms. Goodman alleged. They then photographed the journalist and gave her a stipulation to leave the country by Friday night. They were delayed over an hour.
The recent summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2016 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia have attracted a good deal of criticism from human rights activists, but Canada? What exactly were they worried she was going to say?
At least four times over two days this month, simulated IED blasts will bring the Afghan war – and Canada's combat role in Kandahar – home to Americans if an elaborate scheme based on modern training realism attracts widespread attention, as is hoped. [...]
The mock village, complete with a small souk and peopled by nearly a dozen Afghan actors, will be created in the courtyard of the Canadian embassy, halfway between the Capitol and the White House. A handful of Canadian soldiers and, Col. Martin hopes, U.S. Marines will arrive to “see the village leader” just as the IED blows up, “critically injuring” at least one Afghan, who will get immediate first aid from a Canadian medic.
“It should provide the full flavour of hyper-realistic training,” said Col. Martin, adding: “Absolutely, you are going to hear it out on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The dramatic recreation of combat, using sophisticated simulations developed by American companies and used to train U.S. and Canadian troops before they are sent to Afghanistan, is intended to garner attention for the often overlooked Canadian combat effort.
Hmm..loud explosions on Pennsylvania Avenue with armed soldiers and "Afghans" running around. What could possibly go wrong?
That Air Force One Manhattan flyover doesn't seem quite so bad anymore.
The perception among many Canadians is that today's U.S. border officers are meaner. The reality is that they are likely to be younger, under more pressure and – should you give them a reason – yes, meaner....
The report notes that the U.S. border patrol has been on a massive recruiting drive, meaning more agents with less experience.
And of course there's that whole terrorism thing keeping everyone on edge. In an incident feeding the mean image, Canadian Desiderio Fortunato was pepper-sprayed by a U.S. border agent after refusing to turn off his car until the officer said "please." According to the Globe and Mail, Transport Canada puts the cost to the transportation industry of increased security at $550 million per year.Though the image of the brutish U.S. border guard may be easier for both countries to imagine, Canada has been cracking down too. As many Americans are discovering to their shock, old misdemeanors, especially DUIs are causing them to be turned away by Canada. Any conviction considered a crime in either country is grounds for denial of entry.
I knew I should have paid my old parking tickets.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Eating seal is illegal in Europe. But a New York Times piece today says that's far from the case in Montreal:
Across town, at Les Îles en Ville, Andrée Garcia, an owner and chef, has elevated seal from an occasional specialty to a regular feature. The most frequent preparation there, Ms. Garcia said, is a filet-mignon-style cut of seal that is pan-seared, then roasted briefly in the oven and finished with a cranberry sauce.
Looks like the blubbery animal is becoming quite the anti-Europe symbol these days. A lot of French nationals are coming from far and wide to feast on charismatic megafauna, too. And nobody has yet managed to top the eating of a raw seal heart as a political statement.
Move over Roquefort. The newest niche transatlantic trade dispute involves Canadian seal products, which the EU has banned because of Canada's commercial hunting practices. Inuit hunters are exempt from the ban, but fear that it will inevitably affect their livelihoods.
While touring Inuit Communities in Northern Canda, Governor General Michaelle Jean -- Queen Elizabeth's representative in the Canadian government -- butchered and ate raw seal heart in solidarity with the hunters:
Ms Jean used a traditional Inuit knife to help gut the animal then ate a slice of raw heart.
It came weeks after the EU voted to ban Canadian seal products, but Ms Jean did not say if her actions were in response to the EU proposals....
Asked later if her actions were a message to the EU, she said: "Take from it what you will."
An EU spokesperson called Jean's actions "too bizarre to acknowledge," which the Inuit, who I presume have been eating seal heats for quite some time, would probably take umbrage at. And this from the continent where its a major media scandal when companies paint fake black hooves on ham legs.
Update: Video from the CBC if you really want it:
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
The Olympics torch for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver is officially supposed to evoke "the cool, crisp and modern lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports." But a lot of people are saying the 37-inch white torch, with crimped ends and twist in the middle, resembles a hand-rolled marijuana joint, especially when it's lit (and viewed in the horizontal position).
It doesn't help that Vancouver is a major marijuana-producing area. The Olympic torch has now been dubbed the Olympic Toke.
Photo: © VANOC/COVAN
This is disturbing to say the least:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.
“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
When asked about those rumours, Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
George W. Bush caught a lot of (understandable) flack from scientists for his partial embrace of "intelligent design" education, but even he chose a science advisor who stated clearly that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
In a wonderfully Onion-esque article, The Calgary Sun reports on former U.S. President George W. Bush's first public engagement since leaving office. Bush is in Canada to address the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, but first stopped off in a local Italian joint.
The story nabs some on-the-ground impressions from intrepid locals: Bush was a "funny and a down-to-Earth kind of guy. We even got some pictures with him." Another notes, "I tried pointing him out to my mom but she didn't get to see him."
And the article duly reports on what's really important up in Canada: "Bush wasn't the only high-profile guest there last night...Calgary Flames forward Olli Jokinen happened to walk in minutes before."
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
What better way to start a new relationship than giving your partner a mixtape that expresses who you are and how you feel about them? In that spirit, the Canadian Broadcasting Company is asking Canadians to vote on a playlist of the "top 49 songs from north of the 49th parallel that would best define our country to the incoming U.S. President Barack Obama."
The final 100 candidates are here and include hits from Neil Young, The Band, Joni Mitchell, Arcade Fire, and Feist. If nothing else, it's a reminder that unlike Europe, Steve Walt could never dismiss Canada's contributions to contemporary pop music.
Canada is set to be the destination of Obama's first international trip as president. A gesture that Canadians are clearly hoping is a sign that this time around, the relationship between the two countries will be more "Rockin' in the Free World" and less "You Oughta Know."
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