Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Towards a New Normal

The release of Forbes' annual list of billionaires last week seemed little more than a tired attempt to hawk a few magazines. It tried to create a bit of buzz by ranking a Mexican, Carlos Slim, at the top of the list at $53.5 trillion. Hoped to get America's panties in a bunch trumpeting the fact that Asia was home to more new billionaires than the US and Europe. Endeavoured to convince us the world's economy is turning around heralding the dramatic rise in wealth of the billionaire club, up 500 billion to $3.5 trillion. Guess it's lucky for Forbes that most people really hadn't been paying attention as a quick google search reveals more than a few reactions, from apocalyptic to benignfawning to condemning. Somehow they missed Fortune magazine's announcement that Slim was the richest man in the world nearly three years ago, that the West has already sold its future to the East and that the current brand of capitalism is working on the last course of its meal as it devours itself.

In case you missed it, Bill Gates isn't the richest man in the world anymore, nor is Warren Buffet. Gates had topped the list since 1994 then lost the title in 2008 to Buffett only to regain it last year. Neither did too badly last year, both seeing their fortunes grow by over $10 billion. Problem was, the Mexican's grew by $17.5 billion. Carlos Slim Helú's wealth grew from a paltry $35 billion to $53.5 billion in just a year. While the propagandists will peddle the Horatio Alger myth of a self made man whose business savvy has brought him to the pinnacle of power, Slim owes his over the top success to an inheritance head start and insider influence.

Still drinking the Kool-Aid that teaches us that motivation, innovation and education sets one on the pathway to success? Funny enough, Fortune featured at article alongside their rich list which asked "Are You Born to be a Billionaire?" which stresses optimism and risk taking, when in fact one of the best ways to get on Forbes' list is to be like Steve Forbes himself and be born onto it much like the Walton clan of Wal-Mart fame occupying the 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th positions on the list. Sure, you'll find a useful proportion of productive entrepreneurs who have enlarged the economic pie but looking at the rest of the list, one gets a feeling that the invisible hand isn't as important as the silver spoon in determining one's financial fortune.

Still, Slim wasn't granted the advantage of the Waltons, so how did the son of a Lebanese immigrant amass such a fortune in Mexico? Easy. You control the communication industry of not only your country, but an entire region. "Slimlandia" truly blossomed thanks to privatization of the Mexican telecommunications industry in the early 90's, which brought about a monopoly instead of diversity. His purchase of Telmex, facilitated by contributions to then president Carlos Salinas, was the springboard which has led to a Mexican economy that "is highly inefficient, and it is losing its competitive standing vis-à-vis other countries because of people like Slim." Almost every time a phone rings or text message is sent, Carlos pockets pesos from the 92% of subscribers in land-line telephony, while his mobile operator, Telcel, has almost 80% of users in Mexico. Oh, in the past five years his mobile telephone company America Movil has purchased most of the remaining mobile operators across Latin America, becoming the largest mobile service provider in the region. The reward for the people? Some of the highest phone hook up rates in the developing world. America Movil now has 201 million customers from Brazil to the United States. Slim also owns five insurance companies, a Mexican retail chain, a mining company, the Inbursa bank, the Cigatam tobacco factory, the Volaris airline company and the Progidy Internet provider. Oh yeah, chunks of Saks and Sears, plus he lent $250 million to the NY Times at 14% interest plus warrants convertible into 16% of the paper. All together, Slim’s companies have a value of half of the Mexican stock market, 7% of Mexican GDP, while much of the rest of the country gets by on a little over $4 a day per head (54-57 pesos).

Sure, your probably saying to yourself, "Yeah, sounds like Mexico, poor and corrupt, nothing like that happens in the developed world, after all they've got a drug lord on the rich list." Yet one could easily argue that Gates billions are largely thanks to the monopoly position he attained in his industry, but I won't. Or maybe bring up the culture of war that his seen a transfer of wealth measuring in the trillions to defense contractors’ whose growing use of offshore subsidiaries from 2003 to 2008 resulted in the loss of tax revenue and unemployment benefits for workers. How about you take a noble idea, say, granting health care coverage to your people, then twist it into an evil package that will deliver guaranteed profits to the insurance industry? I suppose I could point out that the entire financial industry was given trillions of dollars to keep them afloat in order to hand over billions in compensation to the guys who drove the world economy into the ground, but that would be too easy. How did capitalism become so corrupt?

Unlike the last depression when the gilded fortunes of most plutocrats dropped precipitously, along with the banks the rich have been well taken care of by the system. The government printing presses have been working overtime to maintain the illusion of stability in order to artificially propel stock and resource prices. This has clearly benefited Warren Buffett who has gorged himself on the buffet of buying opportunities that the crisis presented resulting in a $10 billion increase in his wealth. Sure, the "Oracle of Omaha" does his bit allocating wealth through Berkshire Hathaway while taking home a reasonable salary, but what has he produced? One can ask the same of these other 33 hedge fund managers on the list. How did they improve the world?

And who else's wealth is your tax payer money, along with your children's and children's children's children, going to support? Only 16% of the new members of the elite thousand were from the States while Asia added 104 moguls giving them just 14 fewer total than Europe, 234 to 248. The 4th and 5th richest people in the world are now from India, Mukesh Ambani and Lakshimi Mittal moved up from 8th and 7th respectively. Soaring resource prices helped the biggest gainer on the list, as Brazil's Eike Batista saw his wealth increase by $19.5 billion(!) thanks to his mining interests, moving him up to 7th at $27 billion. Russia rounded out the BRIC countries fine performance. As oil and gas prices bounced back, so did oligarch fortunes. Of the 164 returning members to the list, 28 were Russian, giving them a tally of 62 billionaires. Taiwan tripled its number of billionaires to 18 and Turkey more than doubled its own to 28. For the first time China, with 64 billionaires, has the most outside the US whose residents now command 38% of the collective net worth of the world's richest, down from 44% a year ago.

It wasn't until I read the BBC version of the story that my ears pricked up. You see, apparently the latest Forbes list is good news for everyone: "In a sign that the global economy could be improving, the average net worth of the world's billionaires is now $3.5bn, up $500m from last year." You hear that everyone? Yep, it's a good sign for the global economy that the super rich became super richer last year. It was just a year ago that the Beeb was lamenting "Rich list hit by economic crisis". Yesiree Bob, 2009 was a much better year for the world than 2008, a year that saw 332 names wiped off the rich list leaving a measly 793 billionaires who saw their wealth plummet by 23%. Things are much better now as the billionaire list is back in quadruple digits with 1,011 members.

The pursuit of wealth has clearly become an end in itself, with the wealth rankings taking on the importance of an Olympic medal table (yeah Canada, New Zealand or more likely India). Much of the rest of the list is being celebrated and debated over national lines with many cheering their country's inclusion (Finland and Pakistan got their first members) while others lament their nation's totals on the list. National pride seems to be at stake as we're fed the meme that having more billionaires means a better country and world.

Though they've convinced the apologists that this may be true, they couldn't be more wrong. We're seeing the fruits of the system planted by Nixon in which the treadmill of debt allows a nation to sell future generations into indenture in order to buy stuff made by the future slave owners, the price being held low thanks to the artificial peg maintained by the purchase of debt in the first place. Does that make sense (I mean the sentence and the system)? To my way of thinking, a world where hyper-wealth is celebrated has two basic flaws: a system that creates winners also breeds losers to scale, resulting in massive inequality and even more fundamentally, more stuff means more unhappiness.

As it stands, the US and much of the world suffers from more inequality than any time in over 100 years. We're taught to believe in this evil Gilded Age that existed before capitalism kicked in and distributed wealth away from the kings, queens and Rothchilds. Yet today these fat cats do more than throw off the standard deviation of wealth distribution. When a ruling class becomes entrenched it follows that mobility between classes inevitably declines - a lethal ailment for economies. Sadly, the tea partiers will believe it's the government control of the economy that destroys innovation but in reality it's the gilded class and true enough, the government is enabling their control. Funny how those Nordic 'socialist' countries feature much more intergenerational movement than the US (Italy and the UK are even more stagnant).

Whether you invent something or inherit your cash, there is no doubt money is an innovation driver, but 10 digit wealth takes a lot of cream off the top. Could this loss of incentive to move up have led to the decline in median wages in the US between 1998 and 2008? Yet it's facilitated by a tax system that has seen a fall of the highest marginal tax rate from 91% in the 1950's to 28% today (well, the IRS says that the top 400 richest tax filers actually paid a rate of just 16% in 2007 thanks to loopholes, a lower rate than your average Joe). In 1970 the compensation ratio of the top 100 CEOs compared to the average worker was 45 to one. By 2008 it was 1,071 to one. You think they got that much smarter? If given the choice of giving our money to these guys, the banks, the military industrial complex or health care it seems like you would choose door number four, no?  We're sold the fairytale image of the first man from the developing world to become the world's richest along with slumdog billionaires, but they're just replaceable cogs in the machine. It's the machines they operate that control the world's markets, employing armies of lobbyists to influence government, and a network of spies (yes, real spies, CIA, MI5, ex-KGB) in order to maintain their stranglehold on global wealth.

Finally, here's the kicker. More money and more stuff don't make you happier. Building upon the ideas of Thorstein Veblen, who in 1899 coined the term "conspicuous consumption" in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class (google books here), two professors of economics, Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran, believe they have shown through economic formulas that more things make us less happy. Veblen's work is considered to have been the first critique of consumerism where he argued that our modern division of labour began in tribal times when the "higher-status" group monopolized war and hunting while farming and cooking were considered inferior work. Veblen's ideas were discarded by neoclassical economists as he cast people as irrational creatures who chase after social status without regard to their own happiness, an idea that should be gaining more traction in light of the financial crisis. In the Middletown studies, for example, researchers learned that lower-class families were willing to go without basic necessities such as food or new clothes to maintain a certain level of conspicuous consumption, in particular, car ownership. The concept of conspicuous consumption has been carried forward to this day, and is often used to criticize advertising and to explain why poorer classes have been unable to advance economically. His views on the uselessness of "businessmen" have been adopted in modified form by none other than third-ranked Warren Buffett, who has harshly criticized the growth of practices such as day trading or arbitrage, which makes money solely through abstract means.

Well, according to Eaton and Eswaran it seems our drive to own more stuff is really a sort of zero-sum game, where the owners may feel happier but the rest of us are left feeling worse off. They state that once society reaches a reasonable standard of living and consumption shifts towards the purchase of status symbols with no intrinsic value, average wealth may rise causing people to be richer but unfortunately not happier. Worse yet, as people yearn for more status symbols they have less time or inclination for helping others. This, the authors argue, damages "community and trust", which are vital to an economy because they ensure the smooth running of society. They conclude: "Conspicuous consumption can have an impact not only on people's well-being but also on the growth prospects of the economy." Huh, sounds a little bit like what's ailing the west these days as we mortgage our futures in order to buy more stuff today, thus sacrificing our growth prospects.

Well, seems I've managed to ramble on quite a bit again. As usual though, these arguments will fall upon deaf ears of the true believers as the cognitive dissonance created between reality and their beliefs cause them to fall back on tired, disproven arguments. They'll blame my Karl Marx beard for my socialist rantings or accuse me of tall poppy syndrome while ignoring the words of their idol, Adam Smith who warned:

Of the corruption of our moral sentiments, which is occasioned by this disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition
There is little question that our current form of capitalism is failing us, while those in positions of power are doing all they can to protect and propagate their wealth. There's a frightening increase in momentum about it as the rich become richer and the poor poorer. In the meantime, panem et circenses will be fed to the masses while ensuring the next generation will be dumber than the last as places like Texas reinvent the history books and Kansas City closes half of its schools. Knowledge is after all nearly as powerful as the dollar.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

This Week in Wingnuttery

A new semi-regular feature for my 5's of regular readers: a quick(ish) rundown on the thought process of those on the right - as in opposite from left - side of the political spectrum. As today's internet has enabled users to coral the shotgun blast of information into their own RSS'd version of reality, it's good to take a minute and try to understand where the beliefs that the other side of reality get their information. The 24/7 news cycle that has been thrust upon us in the last couple of decade has evolved into something even more dangerous as the deluded right has an even greater capacity to isolate themselves from reality. As more and more pay walls go up, we'll increasingly need this kind of insight to understand how misinformation gets passed onto an unsuspecting public.

We'll start with the Wall Street Journal where March kicked off with:

Milton Friedman has been dead for more than three years. But his spirit was surely hovering protectively over Chile in the early morning hours of Saturday. Thanks largely to him, the country has endured a tragedy that elsewhere would have been an apocalypse.
I'll save you the trouble of reading the rest of the WSJ article. After rattling off a few stats about the power of the latest Chilean earthquake, the writer, one Bret Stephens, goes on to thank none other than Milton Friedman, Uncle Milt, for the low death count in Chile relative to Haiti who sustained a much more powerful earthquake. Why? Well, according to the deluded, it was thanks to the Chicago Boys that Chile adopted strict building regulations which resulted in their housing being built of bricks instead of straw. According to rightwing mythology all the concrete and rebar came thanks to the economic policies adopted by the Pinochet regime under the advice of Uncle Milt.

Without knowing the reactionary press victim's condition it would seem inexplicable that one could think the man partially responsible for the slaughter of thousands is in fact owed thanks because he made building codes stronger in Chile. Responses to this assertion should begin with reminding the nutter of Richard Nixon's response to the democratic election of Salvador Allende - "make the economy scream" (hard to read copy here, 8th line of the semi-legible scribble). This was Tricky Dick's order September 15, 1970 to his CIA director Richard Helm, launching the soft line campaign to undermine Allende which paralleled the hard line Pepsi fuelled military coup.

But I digress, read more here. Back to Friedman and Chilean building codes. Even if we ignore the fact that the Chilean seismic building code was adopted in 1972, the year before the CIA assassination of Allende, there's the matter of Uncle Milt's view on government legislated building codes. Hint: He didn't like them. In fact, Chile's earthquake had the curious effect of destroying a disproportionate amount of modern buildings and highway overpasses. So, if anything Friedman is to blame for much of the destruction as building code standards and enforcement degenerated after Pinochet took power. Whether you're building highway overpasses or entire economies with only private sector oversight, both tend to collapse when the big one hits.

Next up, McCarthyism is in again. Last week's 'news' cycle featured media stalwart whore Wolf Blitzer giving air time to Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol's view that lawyers who aided Guantanamo Bay prisoners legal defense are unpatriotic. They went even further, suggesting the Department of Justice be renamed the Department of Jihad (get it DOJ, J for Justice or Jihad, sigh). Of course this is nothing new for the likes of Kristol or Cheney, but it gets ugly when it spills over to the main stream of CNN. The Kristol's and Cheney's of the world need to be kept in their boxes, not given forums to create perceptions of American patriotism. The hubbub arose when Liz's Keep America Safe propaganda unit made this ad which instead of getting them tarred and feathered has even reached the floor of the Senate:

If you're a NY Post reader, you don't read that as a lawyer, John Adams defended British soldiers accused of brutal crimes committed during the Boston Massacre calling it "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country." Instead you get 9/11 scaremongering day in, day out. Oh, and they conveniently forget that the Bush/Cheney DOJ and Rudy Gulliani's firm also employed these same horrible types of people providing constitutional protection. Hat tip to Glen Greenwald, the timeline of events showed he was most prescient in his warning over watching how the media would play this story. Unfortunately, the (brain)damage is already done for readers of the Weekly Standard, they think witchhunts are a good thing, but don't hear about how 34 of America's 50 largest law firms represented detainees or filed amicus briefs on their behalf as Senator Grassley had to be reminded. Thanks to Wolf, while passively watching CNN many were exposed to the contamination. I hate Wolf Blitzer. Oh, and anyone named Cheney. There I said it.

Seeing as the Jim Bunning crusade to kill the unemployed is over, just one more shocker this week. Bunning may have had some success making people forget that the nation's debt problem is mostly due to Bush and Republican congress era unfunded wars and Medicare prescription drug benefits that came along with two of the biggest tax cuts for the rich in history (all of which he voted for). If people can be made to forget all that along with the fact that the bank bailout was mostly Bush's, they will also now believe Sarah Palin is smarter than Barack Obama. Yes, it was only Sean Hannity saying it, but remember Faux News controls the minds of many zombiefied conservative neanderthals you may run into. Sorry, I know it's painful, but you gotta get to just past the 2:00 minute mark:

Keep in mind that their definition of smart is obviously different than the traditional one. For them, smart means writing down answers to supposedly unscripted questions on your hand. You're smart when you can only name one of the founding fathers of your nation while claiming to revere their ideas. Yes, smart is calling single payer health care socialist and then admitting that your family used to slip across the Alaskan-Canadian border in order to receive some of that commie medicine. I don't even know what to say, no matter, Zirgar says it better here. Just remember how the Inca were proved right when American's are mulling over the Palin/Cheney vs. Obama/Biden decision come 2012.

The misinformation rolls around the planet with Tsunami-like destruction. Is there any wonder why Canadian officials support torturing brown people in Afghanistan? How the only way Obama can improve national security standing among much of the electorate is to kill more people in a country he's not at war with remote control indiscriminate killing toys. You have to remember the information that these poor creatures are fed with the goal of retarding society. Gnashing your teeth about illegal Israeli settlement construction will get you nowhere without remembering why the right hates brown people. In a world where America is destroying itself like 18th century Poland while I'm living in a 21st century Poland still trying to imitate the States, it's not only the language that's hard to translate. Having a dictionary can help you understand the words coming out of the right-wingnutter's mouth but you'll never comprehend the meaning oozing out of their mind without remembering they get most of their 'information' from Rupert Murdoch controlled sources. Wow, didn't even mention Rush Limbaugh once in the inaugural installment of wingnuttery. D'oh!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pwned by the Podium

The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries

-International Olympic Committee

I don't like it one bit, it makes me feel somehow, I dunno ... unclean. Just as the Macbeths needed more than water to remove the blood from their hands, Monday's shower couldn't remove the stink from my hangover. The blood was symbolic of the stain left on the conscience of those royal usurpers by unchecked ambition while the stench of nationalism hangs in the air thanks to an all-out pursuit of medals and glory. I admit it, I'm proud that Canada won the most gold medals at this year's Winter Olympics; so why does it make me want to puke? Easy, as most foreign journalists have observed over the past couple of weeks it's just not Canadian, this kind of jingoistic flag-waving belongs to our neighbours to the south.

"Own the Podium". The program sponsored by the Canadian federal government at a cost of C$117 million is what got under the skin of most people. Seems that us canucks were fed up with coming in fourth place and seeing that as host nation, this would be Canada's chance to shine in the world's spotlight, funding was directed towards those events where we deemed our chances of winning to be greatest. Based on the results from the two previous times Canada hosted the Olympics, perhaps you can't really blame the Canadian Olympic organizers for wanting to improve on their past performance. You see, Canada failed to win a single gold in either Montreal in 1976 or Calgary in 1988, the only host nation in history who can claim such a dubious record. OK, Montreal was the summer Olympics, but Calgary? We couldn't even muster a gold in the winter games!

So, this time it would be different. Thanks to a $66 million infusion from the country's taxpayers, along with $51 million in sponsorship funds, the program offered Canadians who took home gold $20,000 apiece in a stated goal to take the overall medals title. While we may not have reached it, you can't argue with the result that was achieved as Canadians took home the most golds, 14. But hold on, it seems there is no agreed upon way of measuring who 'owned' the podium. Europeans generally tend to rank the countries by total golds won, while ironically North Americans usually rank by total medals. Both methods have their inherent weaknesses. Is a bronze really as valuable as a gold? Conversely, if a team wins only one gold while another country garners, say nine, but all of them silver and bronze, can you say the gold winners had a better Olympics? Such was the case in Turin in 2006 as the Japanese with a solitary medal, golden, were ranked ahead of the Fins with six silvers and three bronzes according to some tables.

But here's the rub: should it even matter? After all, the trappings of podiums and flag-raisings were not even part of the rebirth of the Olympics in the modern era. 1956 and Soviet domination brought it about as rivaling ideologies jockeyed for superiority any way they could. Those Italian Winter Games saw the Soviets come out ahead with seven gold and a total of 16 medals, but it wasn't until the Melbourne Summer Games that the world noticed politics taking over the event. The Hungarian Uprising and the Suez War combined to see multiple nations pull out of the games: Lichtenstein, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden boycotted due to the Soviet presence while Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon did likewise in response to the Israeli invasion of Egypt. The age of political boycotts was initiated, up to then no one had made such a political statement, not even of the Nazi games of 1936. Of course the fall of the Berlin Wall has brought with it the end of the age of politics, ushering in the age of economics which coincidentally hasn't seen a single boycott in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Sadly, 'Own the Podium' didn't begin and end with solely helping Canadians; it also hindered everyone else as non-Canadian athletes found their access to practice sites was strictly limited. It started last winter when speedskaters from several countries were denied access to the Richmond Olympic Oval. The benefits of familiarity vary by sport. It may be irrelevant for some sports, after all, an oval is an oval, but it is particularly important on one-of-a-kind new sites like the alpine skiing runs or the track for luge, bobsled and skeleton. At the Whistler downhill course, unfamiliar to most of the world’s best skiers, several medal contenders were left watching over a fence as the Canadian team trained. Meanwhile a gentlemen's agreement between the luge teams of the United States and Canada was ignored, cutting practice runs. Canadian athletes had hundreds of trips down what is widely considered the world’s most treacherous course while foreign athletes had a few dozen. Some have gone so far as to say that lack of access to the luge run was a factor in the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

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But really, who won? Just as in Beijing, where the Chinese led in golds while the US led in total medals, the US repeated the overall medal victory while again losing in gold, this time to Canada in Vancouver. So depending on your view, optimists may see it as two winners, while pessimists may see none. It's all academic anyway as even winning 'only' nine golds in Vancouver, the Norwegians continued there medal per capita dominance at the Winter Olympics. In fact the nation of 4.7 million has won more medals than any other country at the Quadrennial Cold Weather Athletic Competition (thanks Stephen Colbert). Norway has 290 total medals to the USA's measly 237, with Canada lagging well back in 7th with 127. Well, at least the success of "Own the Podium" allowed the canucks to move past the Swedes who are now back in 8th and in fact if measured by gold, Canada is now tied with Finland for 6th with 42.

Yes, the maple leaf was in your face at these games, but that's the idea for the home team isn't it? To show the rest of the world you kick ass, like they did in Sydney and more recently at the Beijing coming out party for the aspiring G2 superpower. Every country that is awarded the Olympics immediately prioritizes the winning of more medals than ever to inflate its national ego and help justify the enormous expenditure and effort. China was guilty two years ago of favouring the home team and don't forget their Project 119, named for the number of additional gold medals it might contend for by focusing on medal intensive sports. Yes, I guess what's ok in China is ok in Canada. And don't forget Salt Lake City in 2002 which saw a nation desperate to prove to the world that it was still the world's superpower and therefore needn't fear anyone. What's a few maple leafs jerseys when the stars and stripes were just as ubiquitous eight years ago? Oh yeah, that was the fringe benefit to these Olympics for the host nation's government, it distracted the people's attention from that little political fiasco that saw democracy shut down for over three months in the true north strong and free. Canada's national fascist rag admitted as much and even claimed the strategy a success. Yeah, that's right, it's ok to torture, or it least be complicit to torture, like the Americans too.

So, unfortunately for Canada, it seems it's alright that they have a leader determined to turn their once distinct nation into a watered-down version of their southern neighbour so long as he's a hockey fan. Somehow Harper has missed who's winning the global race these days, but he better wake up quick as the thin-skinned response of the Canadian media to comparisons between 1936 Berlin and 2010 Vancouver won't be in evidence at the site of the next winter Olympics, Socchi, Russia in 2014. I'm sure they'll choose more dramatic nationalistic maneuvers, anyone remember the Arctic? Medvedev has already demanded officials responsible for Russia's abysmal medal performance step down so we know that one of the stories of 2014 will again be the home nation's drive to top the podium. As China has raced to lock up resources around the world to feed their growing economy, Canada (and the US, Denmark and Norway) better watch the Russians close. After all, they did take advantage of the distraction that the opening ceremonies in Beijing afforded them in 2008 as the Georgian conflict kicked off. Guess we'll have to wait and see what they have in store for the world.

And then there's hockey. Without the gold medal victory Sunday night against the American squad, the Canadian Olympics would've been deemed a bust by most no matter the other results. Again, I must admit that my nationalism gene was activated as I walked into my local bar here in Poznan and in my Polish-English garble inquired whether the game would be on TV there. After a moment of confusion the owner/bartender broke into a smile and said "Oh, your friends!" And so it was, as my Canadian brethren took the ice, I was settled in comfortably on a bar stool, beer in hand enjoying 'The Game' on the other side of the world. The win wrapped up Canada's 14th gold from 17 days of competition, moving them past the Norwegian team's 2002 performance for most ever. The glow of victory remained Monday as everyone seemed to have seen the game as well and made sure to tell me what a good game we played, on the street or in school. But when the hangover finally cleared on Tuesday, this dirty feeling crept back, nagging me, demanding to know: what comes next for Canada?

The first week of the Vancouver Olympics threatened to turn the games into the worst ever, but by the end of day 17, the city and Canadians had managed to turn this perception on its head. The city seems to have come out a big winner, but I fear it'll turn into a loss for the country. Politically rudderless, a wasteland with no credible opposition and a megalomaniacal leader intent on burning the Reichstag; economically dependent on her sickly neighbour to the south and the biggest environmental disaster in the world (which coincidentally just welcomed billions in investment from, you guessed it, China); and morally corrupt, where the Olympics sponsors can snow the public with a green campaign while being the dirtiest corporations on the planet (and no, I won't go into the irony of trucking in snow to a Winter Olympic site bereft of snow thanks to trucking). My hangover has passed, the world seems less foggy. Now that the Olympics are over, Canada gets to have a functioning government once again. I think I can deal with the new Canadian attitude so long as the energy from Own the Podium gets turned into Own Your Government.