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Gulf spill estimates under review

A U.S. government task force called the Flow Rate Technical Group released new estimates which ostensibly double the amount of oil being spewed out of a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The task force’s new estimates suggest between 20,000 barrels and 40,000 barrels of oil may have spilled out daily before the well was partially contained.

Whether it is 400 barrels or 40,000 barrels or more, which it very likely will end up being, the potential damage is frightening. What is more frightening still, is the very obvious prioritization on the part of BP to cover up the evidence of the damage ( by withholding video of the oil well for weeks ) over getting any and all relevant information to sciences as quickly as possible.

Passing on the shrimp cocktails

Not only has the recent BP oil spill retracted political support for offshore projects but seafood lovers to top chefs alike are worried  that shrimp cocktails might disappear from restaurant menus. In this upcoming issue of ABJ, we spoke with a national association and a seafood delicacy producer, both of whom talked about the importance of environmental safety. Yet mounting concerns about limited supply has consumers and business owners stocking up frantically.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico couldn’t have come at a worse time; the waters are filled with fish, shrimp, oysters and crab in high spawning season. With oil seeping into oyster beds and no plankton for the shrimp to eat, seafood supply is about to come to a halt—threatening the livelihood of small operators and local fisheries in the area.  But more importantly, New Orleans restaurateurs to seafood lovers are worried that their shrimp cocktail is about to disappear off the menu—for an indefinite amount of time.  For the people of Louisiana that is equivalent to Italians having to forgo pasta.

Many Louisianans fear that the massive oil spill will not be contained without affecting local seafood supply—so they are urgently rushing to the fish markets to stock up as much as they can. As one local explains to the news media outlets, “seafood in Louisiana is a part of life; it’s like walking the dog or going to church on Sunday, people have to have it—it’s like a drug.” Another local Carole St. German explained as such: “people here evacuate for hurricanes and take all their shrimp; they may leave some of their good clothes but they will take their shrimp.”

As someone who couldn’t live without consuming seafood on a weekly basis—except for maybe scallops—has even me a little concerned. After all the idea of a limited supply driving up prices, yet again, in the grocery stores has provoked seafood lovers to hoard mussels and shrimp by the bucket fulls.

Still, the remaining issue is how long, if at all, will the level of quality of seafood be affected and what will the long terms effects be on the local businesses? We want to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

Raging revolt

Grassroots revolt, Inflammatory commentators. Crazed militias. What’s next—the Tea Party?

Actually, yes. In a recent cover story in Maclean’s, a reporter went inside the psyche of a nation to uncover what some say, is the biggest division between Republicans and Democrats since Civil War.

On the heels of the Democrats’ victory in passing a historic healthcare reform bill, the Obama administration is are now facing opposition from a mushrooming number of anti-government, anti-tax and anti-abortion advocates that are forming a conservative grassroots movement.

In the news piece, it points to such media pundits as talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh and Fox news host Glenn Beck are pushing Republican politicians into moving even farther right. Observers say this is the first time in history they have witnessed such a conflict in partisan politics, between the liberals and conservatives. With the Republican’s recent grant slam in Massachusetts with its Senate seat win, Democrats have moved swiftly to reposition themselves for this shifty politically-driven revolt.

Leading the charge on the right is the so-called Tea Party, whose protesters have adopted Obama’s iconography, portraying the President with a red joker smear around his mouth and white face paint—a demonic Al Jolson—is disturbingly suggestive of blackface minstrelsy.”  

What is even scarier is how many Tea Party backers—up to 42 percent—believe Obama is doing many of the things that Hitler did. And in an increasingly divided nation, groups like the Guardians of the Free Republics-according to its website committed to the “behind-the-scenes peaceful” dismantling of the U.S. government-are springing up. By one estimate, the number of paramilitary groups in the U.S. had almost tripled in 2009 to 512.

The problem with this sort of political dissent, however, is that it threatens the very purpose of a democratic process—for whichever party may be in power—to serve its people and lead the nation. It also distracts us from the real issues at hand like a banking reform or say, an international peace treaty.

Let’s hear what you think. Share your comment here.

Careless on the Capitol?

Here at ABJ, we’ve been closely following the healthcare overhaul story as it evolved, covering the implications it may have on physician-owned hospitals to up-to-date news on our website. After several months of committee work and heated debates, the measure was given the final approval by the House of Representatives, expanding insurance coverage to nearly all Americans and handing President Barack Obama a landmark victory.

But on the heels of the Democrats’ victory in making health care more accessible to Americans this week, some 12 state attorneys announced plans to challenge the new law on the grounds it is “unconstitutional.” Believe or not, Virginia has already passed a law that protects its citizens from a government mandate to buy health coverage, which is one of the provisions.

While some angered citizens and Republicans expressed dismay, how could anyone with a sense of social responsibility really believe U.S. representatives who voted for this new law are that careless in the Capitol? It’s called looking out for your neighbors, my friends. While tough economic times, often means having to look out for one’s own to avoid total financial despair, it certainly isn’t a reason for selfishness. Granted that the Americans’ sense of security has gone through the rigger after the Great Recession, it is still no excuse for pundits to play on such vulnerable emotions just so they are against something that is completely for their own good—health-wise, that is.

As a Canadian neighbor to our readers, it is always interesting to gain some insight on the American psyche. Over the past year, in speaking with hundreds of business owners, I’ve gained an appreciation for the Americans’ overall drive for success. But what baffles me is the general public’s lack of knowledge of what the healthcare measure would really mean. The Conservative-influenced TV networks do a good job at keeping the public at the edge of their seat, worried about the next big scary thing. So I turned to a group of politico friends—both Conservative and Liberal-leaning for their thoughts. It turns out despite our different political tendencies, as Canadians, we still had a hard time understanding what all the fuss was about.

One liberal leaning colleague pointed out: “And they are the ones complaining that the health care bill would cost too much. Newsflash: lawyers cost money!  Finally, the States are on the road to a true health care system. Believe me, Obama knows better than Palin on this one.”

A Conservative politico blogger admitted: “I’m quite taken aback by the extremism of some Republicans on this issue. I’m really curious what they proposed to make people without insurance (maybe they are middle class, in case they cared),” tells the West Coast native. And, I’d have to agree with him on that.

After all, he says, dogmatic people with extreme ideas (to the left or right) shut off the valve for an open discussion in the public domain. “If there is anything American needs, it’s more lawyers,” jokes the Conservative politico blogger.

Personally, I think the media should do a better job in informing the public, as they play a critical role in this discussion. Even though the healthcare measure does not extend to all Americans, just the uninsured, it is still a step forward, my Liberal-leaning politico friend adds.

 

“Baby steps will make it in that direction eventually. Anyways, with their large deficit, they couldn’t implement everything at once. Still, Obama succeeded where 4 presidents before him failed.”

 

What do you think?  Share your comment with us!

 

 

 

Amazon moving across the border threatens Canada

In the age of search engine wars, a struggling book industry and cultural imperialism, ABJ’s Antonia McGuire sits in on an online discussion forum that dissected the issue of Amazon, an American e-commerce company setting up shop across the border and why Canadians are so worked up about it.

 

 

 

Lurking over the highly controversial topic in the online forum, I felt a tad odd and, for two good reasons. As the editor of an American publication it is of interest to keep taps on such issues in order to relate to readership. As a Canadian citizen, it is kind of like looking at the situation from vastly different set of glasses. Good thing I wear glasses, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see—but that’s beside the point.

The topic du jour (Canadian sic) is a highly sensitive one because of it tends to be a sore spot—the idea of yet another American company impeded on its country’s culture—hits a patriotic nerve in a way that Canadians haven’t yet been promoting, until arguably the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, as fiercely as their fellow neighbors (American sic).

If Canadians are really serious about protecting their culture, they (or we) should be brave enough to stand up and promote it… whatever it is. It seems with the melody of voices—French, English, the several First Nations and so many others—and the renewed debate of whether multiculturalism is really working has them on the defensive. And no wonder, a successful American e-commerce company has yet again narrowed in on their market—to capitalize and make profit—setting up shop in their back door.

 In the Globe and Mail moderated forum Canadian Booksellers Association vice-president Mark Lefebvre who took questions from participants, except for mine. Basically, he argues that competition is key. “We all need competition. It’s great for consumers. What might not be so great is if a behemoth comes into Canada and wipes out the ability for any competition to exist, leaving a single, non-Canadian owned entity running the show.”  What do you think?

To view the entire forum, please visit: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/canadas-booksellers-v-amazoncom/article1497139/

Addicted to Haiti?

Here’s a perfect example of a story often underreported in the media or, one we don’t want to hear.

After the earthquake that shook Haitians, leaving the masses homeless and desperate for the basics, the world responded with aid and celebrity-endorsed TV fundraisers. Not to say any actors have anything to do with the interesting consequence. But according to Ben Fountain’s op-ed article in the New York Times (February 6), there’s an eerie consequence with the sudden attention on the poverty-stricken country and its ports being closed due to the natural disaster.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was already well-known as a “parking lot” for the cocaine trade and related political maneuvering. In fact, a 1993 memo written by John Kerry as the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations, asserted that “there is a partnership made in hell, in cocaine, and in dollars between the Colombian cartels and the Haitian military.” At the time, Haiti was well on its way to becoming the Caribbean’s leading transshipment point for cocaine entering the U.S. from South America. While the players up top have changed, this partnership has continued to flourish.

Today, drug trafficking is a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise in Haiti, generating tremendous profits in a country where most people survive on a few dollars a day. Former President Jean Betrand Aristide, who was elected many times over before various coups took him out of power, told the UN that each year Haiti is the transit point for 50 tons of cocaine worth more than a billion dollars, providing Haiti’s military rulers with $200 million in profits.

After the coup in September in 1991, Port-au-Prince’s chief of police, Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois became known as the key man in Haitian drug trafficking, along with a network of solders and paramilitary attaches who carried out ruthless political terrorism which killed thousands of Haitians. By 2000, an estimated 75 tons, or 15 percent of the cocaine consumed annually in the United States, was being channeled through Haiti. And so, as New York Times writer Fountain points out, Americans have shown tremendous generosity toward Haiti since Jan. 12 –more than $20 million in donations have been made to the Red Cross, $57 million or more was raised by the Hope for Haiti Now telethon, including the countless private planes taxied at airport runways in Florida, waiting for a landing slot in Port-au-Prince.

Ah yes, this is the good news story that makes us all feel good. Then there’s the other part—that darker side to the story. As Fountain reminders, the U.S. is currently the largest consumer of cocaine. Now, if you put two and two together it means, it’s all about drug wars, corrupt governance, death and poverty.

Isn’t it rather sickening to think that there is a straight line from our drug habit back to the conditions in Haiti? Has it really come down to some of the richest countries in the hemisphere and the poorest, trapped in the global war on drugs? One would have to agree with Fountain that it is naïve to hope that Americans will quit their cocaine any time soon for Haiti’s sake. But it would be equally naïve not to recognize this huge obstacle standing in Haiti’s way, and the role we’ve played in creating it.

Still, it is rather gross to think our hope for Haiti lead straight back to our addictions.

iLawsuit

Just because everyone loves Apple, it doesn’t mean that love is reciprocated. Although only one company was listed in Apple’s recent lawsuit against HTC for infringing on its patents, it seems Apple is sending a warning to other iPhone copy-cats.

It is not inconceivable that Apple will take several companies to task. After all, CEO Steve Jobs has always been very clear about intending to defend more than 200 patents within the iPhone. It’s obvious Apple doesn’t need the money, but the company ’s ideas are intended to offer unique products—not a platform for similar ones.

The HTC lawsuit could be the first of many, as larger manufacturers (e.g. Motorola, Samsung or Sony Ericsson) have similar touchscreen products. Regardless of how far it goes, Apple’s actions are sending a clear signal that it wants erode the market of iPhone look-alikes. And fighting an aggressive battle against HTC could be enough of a deterrent.

Now we wait for the fallout.

Transforming magazine experience

The recent launch of Apple’s iPad has many people in the publishing industry wondering what it means for their business. With the device’s ability to integrate print with digital content through cyberspace has some publishers excited about its capability.

And for good reason: if you are an art director, editor or creative director, this new product could very well leave the door open to the endless possibilities for storytelling through words and art. Wired magazine has harnessed the opportunity to launch their new product—a digitally-based interactive version of the magazine—in partnership with Adobe.

Observers are watching carefully, to see how the experiment plays out. But others are already predicting the strategic move will transform readers’ magazine experience altogether. “We’ve reached a point with technology in which we will be able to consume media in a very different way,” explains David Dadich, Creative Director of Wired in a digitally-based video interview with Adobe.

“Because our customers have specific relationships with the brand of magazines and really that is where the opportunity is. It is a new way for them to connect with our advertisers, moving away from the static notion of ink on paper,” says Dadich, whose editor in chief has referred to it “a way to reset the economics.”

Industry fans of the iPad are saying it’s a new way to build relationships with customers. Just imagine how excited advertisers will get when readers can actually move that product around on the screen, to take a better look. Interactive storytelling and advertising –that’s the genius of Apple. It has actually created a new vehicle for storytelling. If only Marshall McLuhan was here to witness it.

Adobe’s experience designer Jeremy Clark explains the new relationship with Wired as “building on the same magazine, using the same designers and creative people that produce the print version with new technologies, like Adobe Air, which has new interactive capabilities to play with text, imagery, animation—all be in a single platform with this new device.”

In an interview, Rogers’ senior vice president and general manager of digital media, Claude Galipeau told Masthead that the iPad’s capabilities offer “new opportunities to advertisers as well as editorial writers, photographers, videographers, and graphic designers.”

In other words, titles like Maclean’s and Canadian Business will be able to bring readers breaking news and customized online content using audio and video.

Hear hear, to the next generation of storytelling!

For the full video of the Adobe interview, visit: http://tv.adobe.com/watch/xd-inspire/transforming-the-magazine-experience-with-wired/ .

Buying private health care

ABJ’s ANTONIA McGUIRE dissects the issue of private health care with Richard Baker, who is founder of the Vancouver-based company Timely Medical Alternatives in which helps Canadians obtain private health care, including in the U.S.

Following the national story about Canadian provincial Premier Danny Williams’s decision to have heart surgery in the U.S., I weighed in on the Globe and Mail’s live discussion with Richard Baker who explains the ins and outs of getting private health care. There were many great questions and answers in today’s afternoon discussion. Here’s an excerpt from the online chat.

 

 
   
     

“As a Canadian I believe in the value of having a universal health care system (certainly I have benefited from this social net as journalism only pays so much). As the editor of the American Business Journal, we discussed the issues of the healthcare reform in length and I’d have to agree with Premier Williams’ decision. If you can afford it, why not? After all, it takes the pressure of the public system,” I posted on the live chat.

“I believe in a Universal Healthcare system too, but having a universal healthcare system does not preclude having a parallel private healthcare system, for those like Danny, who can afford to pay for faster service,” Baker responded via the live chat.

Another Canadian born, Long Beach, California resident posed the question: “what is good enough for ‘free’ care? Not dying?” To which Baker responded: “Not sure what point you’re trying make …but consider that 3 percent of the American public (10 million people) cannot afford basic healthcare insurance. That compares to 3 percent of the Canadian public, who can afford healthcare, but cannot get access to it and are on interminably long waitlists.”

Another blogger by the name of Alan weighed in. “My worry is that we’ll ghettoize the free care with declining levels of service while the pay to play tier will get all the advantages. It appears that this has happened in Europe and even in Japan to some extent.”

Baker responded in saying: “I think the way to look at this is to observe that there are zero waiting lists in Japan, the cost of delivering public healthcare is significantly less than the cost per capita in Canada. If the end result is that people paying for private healthcare get better service, it is no different than the fact that people in Canada paying for the very best in dentistry have the best dental care, yet people are not critical of their fellow citizens for accessing high quality dentistry.”

Finally, he argued the templates are out there for anyone interested. “If [Canadians] were to adopt the same system as Japan or Switzerland, it would be a very good start. Are they perfect? No. But once the parallel private tier was in place, we could hopefully modify it to Canadian needs,” said Baker, adding a comparative note to other healthcare systems. “But, if they move to Obamacare, as they are proposing, they will be in the same predicament that we are approaching in Canada—absolute unaffordability,” argues Baker.

One cannot help but wonder if his last statement is a bit of a stretch. Now, the floor is open to you—what do you think? Weigh on the discussion by commenting here.

To view the entire excerpt, please visit: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/buying-private-health-care/article1457734 

U.S. campaign financing goes awry

Ah, how money talks. This is especially the case when it comes to the power of money in U.S. elections.

For those of you who haven’t heard the news yet, the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted limitations on corporate donations for political campaigns. The extra dollars would go toward political advertising in support of or against a politician looking to get elected for public office.

The news came as a lobbyists’ wet dream. While Conservatives welcomed the changes, Liberals condemned the decision saying, it was a major victory for banks and health insurance companies.

The ruling has been considered by many observers to be a potent weapon for corporations, labor union or interest group who can spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against politicians’ re-election if they vote the wrong way for piece of legislation. In the case of the healthcare bill and new regulations on banks’ spending on executive bonuses poses as a lethal weapon to the Democrats. “With its ruling, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” President Barack Obama said.

In a recent op-ed article entitled “Stampede Toward Democracy” in the New York Times, contributor Jan Witold Baran comments on precedent ruling by arguing that the ruling supports political participation.

And yet, one cannot help but wonder if there are enough checks and balances set in place.

Who will be responsible for making sure there is no influence on lawmakers’ votes? Will a politician be publicly disgraced by negative TV ads during the next election, if he or she doesn’t vote the “right way?” That, I believe, is a far cry from what is a democratic process—it’s political interference.

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