Some surprising economic data

Some surprising news on the economy this morning –

First, the U.S. economy grew in the first quarter of the year so, technically, the U.S. is not in a recession.

Most economists work on a definition of recession that requires two consecutive quarters of negative growth or contraction. The U.S. economy grew, albeit at an anemic pace, in the fourth quarter of 2007 and, data this morning shows that it advanced at an annual rate of 0.6 per cent in the first three months of 2008.

Second, the Canadian economy shrank in February, largely because of a decline in manufacturing. That surprised most forecasters who predicted the economy would continue to grow in February.

The next headline you'll read: The Toronto Maple Leafs make the playoffs …

Since joining Confederation in 1949, the annual budget of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has included a big helping hand from Ottawa. In 2009, that stops, says NF Finance Minister Tom Marshall and Newfoundland becomes a 'have' province.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland's seat in the have-not club looks to be taken up about the same time by Ontario, which hasn't taken an equalization dollar since 1983.

And, in other news, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs …

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Humour: Nigerian e-mail scam vs. Conservative financing scandal

Calgary Grit has a good one

Dearest Candidate,

Good morning, how are you and your family? I hope fine. Please, I am sorry to bother you with my problem.

Please know that it's not by mistake I am contacting you but by the special grace of God. My name is Stephen Harper and I am the leader of the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Party has $ 9.1 million in its bank account which is destined to be used for advertising in the election campaign. However, the evil Commissions of Elections Canada is watching us closely and is not permitting us to spend more than our $ 18.3 million limit. … [Read the rest]

Canada's Two Economies? Maybe not…

For the last several weeks, one of the major themes I've been reporting so far as Canada's economy is concerned is the phenomenon of two economies within one nation. One economy is B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador and those provinces are booming. The other economy is in central Canada, mostly Ontario and Quebec. The conventional thinking is that the economies in those provinces are suffering because of the high dollar and their greater exposure to U.S. markets. (The U.S. economy is definitely slowing but did it shrink in the first quarter of this year? We'll find out Wednesday morning when the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis releases GDP numbers for the first three months of 2008.)

But today, along comes Statistics Canada with its review of provincial and territorial accounts for 2007. Overall, Canada's real gross domestic product — the sum total of all the goods and services produced by working men and women in this country — rose 2.7 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006. Now that's not a knock-the-ball-out-of-the-park number but that's a pretty good year. In fact, 2.7 per cent growth was the average rate of growth for our economy over the last five years.

Now, Newfoundland and Labrador actually did knock it out of the park with provincial GDP growing 9.1 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006. (see chart, left, courtesy of StatsCan) Everyone else was between 1.6 per cent and 3.3 per cent growth. That would be Alberta at 3.3 per cent — definitely an above-average performance but given record-high oil prices, etc., etc., 3.3 per cent was all it could do? In fact, growth of 3.3 per cent was Alberta's worst year since 2003.

And what about poor beat-up Ontario? All it did was see its GDP rise 2.1 per cent — pretty good considering everyone (including me) had just about written off the province's manufacturing-based economy. Heck, Québec's economy expanded by 2.4 per cent. No wonder Jean Charest is now that province's most popular politician.

Here's Merrill Lynch's chief Canadian economic strategist, David Wolf, on this latest data:

More timely indicators generally suggest that regional reconvergence in Canada extended into 2008. Job growth in Western Canada dropped to 2.5% y/y in Q1, lowest in nine quarters, from a peak of 4.3% a year ago. Job growth in Central Canada, by contrast, has generally picked up, hitting an 18-quarter high of 2.2% y/y in Q4 before edging back down in Q1 (see Chart 2). Even inflation has eased out West, in fact by more than in Central Canada – we calculate that the average CPI inflation rate across the four Western provinces was 2.3% y/y in Q1, down from a peak of 3.6% in Q2 2007 and the lowest rate since Q2 2005, while the 1.5% Q1 rate in Central Canada was in line with the recent range (see Chart 3).
In our work, we are primarily concerned with the Canadian aggregates; regional divergences are interesting largely to the extent that they may complicate the interpretation and projection of what's happening to the economy as a whole. Our main point here is that those divergences don't look particularly complicating at this point, in contrast to the conventional wisdom. To be sure, the recent divergence between commodity prices and the US economy suggests that Western Canada's lead over Central Canada may start to widen again – but not likely in such a way as to invalidate the message in the national data.

Bisphenol A: We hardly knew you …

The Washington Post today looks back at more than a 100 years of Bisphenol A, the chemical recently labelled as a a possible problem by Health Canada (a big victory for environmental activists; a bitter defeat for industry types).

Bisphenol A was the chemical that made the plastic clear and hard in the sippy cups used by my daughter and son when they were infants. Now, Health Canada says I exposed my son and daughter to a chemical that people in the environmental movement who I tend to trust say is a carcinogen. My government, which, above all else seems to want to be prudent, says: “The scientists concluded in this assessment that bisphenol A exposure to newborns and infants is below levels that may pose a risk, however, the gap between exposure and effect is not large enough.”

Harper's a "control freak", former Tory PM says …

Ok, the PM in question was Kim Campbell. Still, she's a pretty smart cookie if politically, er, unlucky. And she tells Canwest's man in Paris that Harper is “very controlling” but “competent”:

PARIS – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is running a competent government but should curb his “control freak” tendencies and make clear to Canadians his government won't impose a socially conservative agenda if he wins a majority, according to former prime minister Kim Campbell… [Read the full story]

PR, journalism, ethics and Joe Thornley

I'm often asked to speak to conferences of public relations professionals or to meet with the employees of this agency or that agency and I'm always happy to do so.

Many in my line of work think of PR folks as pests, as “flacks”, as a nuisance that gets in the way of real reporters trying to get their stories.

I take a different view and because of that, I think I have a competitive edge over my press gallery colleagues who don't even look at press releases before throwing them in the garbage and who never grab a coffee with a PR person. Public relations people — whether they work for a corporation, an agency, a governnment department or a political party — are vital to my professional success. They know stuff I don't and I never want to give any of them a reason not to tell me what they know.

They not only know stuff about the clients they represent but they know a lot of stuff about their competitors and about the industry they're in. If I'm looking to sniff out a rumour, let's say, about an airline company, the PR folks at that airline company are unlikely to tell me much. Fair enough, because that's their job. But I'll be the PR folks at that airline's competitor, the train company, the bus company, the travel agency, and the government airline regulator may have heard something about that rumour. So it's in my interest, as a reporter, to make sure I maintain a decent professional relationship with the PR folks in what I've sometimes referred to as my “ecosystem of sources” — a term I used to describe my sources, PR folks, readers/viewers with a keen interest in the topics I'm writing about, and other journalists on my beat.

Now, I'm a professional, too, and that means it's my job to take in all this information and recognize what trends or facts would be of interest to the folks I represent: Readers of my newspaper or viewers of my television newscast. My job is highly competitive. If a press release crosses my desk and I toss it only to see my competitor do something on it for the six o'clock news, then I'd better be prepared to say why I got 'scooped' by my competition.

Professionals in the PR business, I think, recognize this: The good ones know they're dealing with professional journalists who really only need to be told something once. The good ones know that relationships they establish with a journalist should outlast whatever client they're representating or whatever project their office is involved in.

Which brings me to Joe Thornley of the public relations firm Thornley Fallis. He — and his firm — are among the “good ones”. Now, I don't know if their clients feel the same way 🙂 but my experience with him and his employees has been exemplary. Joe's got a post up at his blog right now about ethics and public relations. It — and the pieces he's linked to — are interesting reads if you're in his profession but I think some of the points he makes are also important to keep in mind if you're on my side of the fence in the business.

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Must read: A reporter is jailed in Zimbabwe

Barry Bearak has been reporting for The New York Times from Zimbabwe's capital Harare. He recently got arrested and jailed for “committing journalism”. His account of the arrest is fascinating:

One of my captors, Detective Inspector Dani Rangwani, described the offense to me as something despicable, almost hissing the words: “You’ve been gathering, processing and disseminating the news.”

… I was new to Africa. My wife, Celia Dugger, and I arrived in January as The New York Times’s co-bureau chiefs in Johannesburg. With elections coming in Zimbabwe, I soon made two trips to Harare, each time taking ritualistic precautions for safety. I left my credentials and laptop at home, entered the country as a tourist and interviewed people only behind closed doors. Each night, I destroyed my notes after e-mailing their contents to myself at an Internet cafe. I wrote my articles only upon returning to Johannesburg …

The cell was about 7 feet wide and 15 feet deep. Three bare shelves of rough concrete extended a body’s length from both of the longer walls. Only the top slab left enough space for a person to sit upright, albeit with slouched shoulders. There was a circle of concrete in a corner to be used as a toilet. Behind it was a faucet. Stephen [a freelancer for The Sunday Telegraph who was arrested in the same sweep that nabbed Bearak] tried the knob. It did not work.
The floor was filthy. The odor of human waste infected the air. More bothersome were the bugs. “Cockroaches the size of skateboards,” I quipped. This was hyperbole. The insects were mostly tiny and black, others short, white and wormy. We were soon sharing our clothes with them…

The courthouse is called Rotten Row, after a nearby street. It’s a circular five-story structure built around four elaborate saucers that once fed into one another as a fountain. With the nation insolvent, there’s no money to maintain either ornamentations or courtrooms. Floors are filthy. Microphone stands have no mikes. The building’s clocks are each stymied at 7:10 . . .

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Iggy, Campaign Finance, and Obama

On Friday night, Liberal Party Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff spoke at a dinner in Toronto held to raise money to help pay down the debt incurred during his oh-so-close run for the Liberal leadership. This line in his speech jumped out:

In 2006, we ran a national leadership campaign in the world’s second largest democracy—by geographic size—for a little over 2 million dollars, and we did it with a wider base of donors than any other candidate. What we spent over eight months, Barak Obama spends in a single day.

The campaign finance reforms initiated first by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and then improved upon by Prime Minister Stephen Harper prove that it is possible to have a vibrant and democratic political culture, in which free speech rights are preserved, without the distorting effects of “Big Money” in the life of the state.

A Conservative cabinet minister told me over a drink late last week that he heartily concurs with these reforms: “If you were to go to Calgary and meet with the CEOs of a dozen big oil companies and you knew that each of them had given your campaign $100,000, you don't think that would make a difference? Any one who tells you it wouldn't is lying.”

Looking for an AppleScript I can use on Entourage – can you help?

Looking for help with this problem:

I'm using Microsoft Entourage v 11.3.6 on Mac OS X (v 10.4.10). Entourage stores mail messages in these giant .mbox files. I want to store mail messages locally as text files. I get a lot of mail and I don't want to be going through the “Save As…” steps for each message.

So I'm wondering if AppleScript can help me out here, taking any message that comes into a designated Entourage folder on my local machine and then saving that message with a unique filename in a designated folder (i.e. drive\users\dakin\documents\archivedmail\ ) on my local drive. The unique filename could be something like the numeric date and time that the message was received. Or it could be a sequential number assigned by AppleScript based on the last file saved. The name of the file doesn't matter just so long as these mail messages get out of their .mbox format and into a plain-text format on my drive.

All solutions gratefully accepted. Thanks!