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Me and my Motorcade No.25

Harper on - Canada [STEPHEN HARPER]

Canada’s fleet of official state cars and aeroplanes was in heavy rotation this summer as the country welcomed Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their first royal tour abroad since getting married.

In May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in an especially good mood to play host, having just won his first majority government. The electorate seems to have finally overcome the idea that he has a “secret agenda” to introduce more US Republican-style policies to Canada – they became especially suspicious of his US leanings when Harper abandoned the Canadian-made Lincoln Town Car as his official state car in favour of the Cadillac DTS, the carriage of choice for the last two US presidents and assembled in Michigan.

Opponents have even tried making hay over the composition of Harper’s motorcade. In 2006, a black Chevrolet Tahoe SUV began appearing as part of the cortège, prompting one left-wing parliamentarian to accuse Harper of wanting to mimic then president George Bush. The addition, however, likely had more to do with security measures. Nonetheless, to appease nationalists the prime minister might consider upgrading to the Cadillac DTS’s successor, the 2012 XTS, which will be produced closer to home, at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario.

Aircraft
The ageing Canadian Forces operate five Airbus A310s, long-range transportation planes that were frequently deployed to Afghanistan. One of the craft, simply dubbed “No 001”, is configured for the prime minister, high-ranking officials and the royal family. It was the VIP Airbus, with removable state room, that ferried the UK royals around on their recent visit. For short-haul trips, the PM flies in a Canadian-made Bombardier Challenger 600 business jet.

Helicopter
Since assuming office, Stephen Harper has made Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic a policy priority and symbolic visits to the northern territories have become an annual summer ritual. While there, he usually spends time surveying the landscape aboard a Sikorsky CH-124 Sea King, a workhorse among Canadian military aircraft. There is a bit of irony here — replacement of the country’s ageing Sea Kings has given governments political headaches for almost 20 years.

Car
The prime minister typically travels in a motorcade of six or seven vehicles, himself riding in a Cadillac DTS, a full-size luxury sedan with an armoured long-wheelbase. The governor general’s stretch limo is also available to borrow whenever he needs a more capacious ride.

Explosive issue

Brazil [SEWERS]

The citizens of Rio de Janeiro have a new worry: the city’s sewer lids are exploding into the air without warning. In the past three months there have been 13 incidents injuring pedestrians.

Built in the 1950s and ’60s, the subterranean pipes shelter electric cables and gas conduits. It’s an explosive combination that no one seems able to solve. “The gas alone isn’t enough to burn or explode. It needs an electric spark, an electrical fault,” says Bruno Armbrust, president of CEG gas firm. In July, the Light electrical company and CEG signed a document that includes a fine of €43,000 for each new explosion.

What a beauty

Venezuela [MISS UNIVERSE]

Venezuela may have little sporting success but its beauty pageants are in a class of their own: five Miss Venezuelas have become Miss Universe – more than any other country. Some worry too many beauty queens have had plastic surgery. The backlash has begun: for the first time in years, most contestants at this year’s pageant in October will be all-natural beauties.

Election watch - Guatemala

Facts:

Type: Presidential and legislative
Date: 11 September
Candidates: From a wide field of presidential hopefuls, including former first lady Sandra Torres whose controversial presidential bid was declared invalid by Guatemala’s Supreme Court, a frontrunner has emerged: the Patriot Party’s Otto Pérez, a hardline retired army general.
Issues: Combating entrenched corruption, high murder rates and spiralling drug-fuelled crime.
Comment: Guatemala needs a popular president who enjoys a strong mandate and legitimacy, along with support from the international community.

Leading the Latinos

Argentina

By far one of the most literate nation in Latin America is Argentina: 97.2 per cent of the population is able to read and write. But the level in the northeast, where much of the country’s indigenous population lives, is half the national average.

Canny move

Cuba

In 2002 Cuba’s Education Ministry developed a programme to teach youngsters and adults to read and write in just three months. The “Yo sí puedo” (Yes I can) course has reduced illiteracy for more than four million Cubans and has been implemented in 29 countries worldwide.

Testing tolerance

USA [TRANSPARENCY]

Barack Obama came into office promising transparency – but his lawyers have opened more prosecutions against leakers than previous administrations combined. A Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter has been subpoenaed and faces prison if he doesn’t reveal his source for an exposé on CIA activities in Iran. The administration has established “a zero-tolerance policy”, says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Taking a gamble

USA [CITY HALL]

With Chicago staring at a deficit of $655m (€450), the city’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, hopes to spark a revival with a downtown casino – the first in the US to be government-owned. Supporters expect the casino, which still requires the governor’s approval, to create up to 5,000 jobs.

Yet revenue at four casinos in outlying areas has dropped 30 per cent since 2007 and major urban gambling projects have been a mixed bag in North America. St Louis’ downtown casino, opened a few years ago, has been profitable. But New Orleans’ gaming complex, on the edge of the French Quarter, is widely viewed as a failure.

Professor Richard McGowan of Boston College, author of Dividing the Spoils: States and the Gambling Industry, says urban casinos create jobs and generate revenue, but also serve as a regressive tax and cannibalise nearby entertainments.

With Rod Blagojevich recently becoming the fourth former Illinois governor to be sent to jail since 1975, betting on a government-owned casino seems like playing with fire.

Emanuel’s improvements:

  1. Bienvenido: Opened the Office of New Americans to broaden opportunities for foreign-born business owners and immigrant access to city services.

  2. Trash talk: Hired a consultant to lay out a better rubbish collection plan, most likely replacing the city’s traditional ward-by-ward method with a grid-based system.

  3. Staying green: Planning a bus rapid transit system, around 160km of bike lanes and energy efficiency retrofits for municipal buildings like City Hall.

Red hot off the press

Argentina [MEDIA]

An Argentine law banning classified ads offering sex came into force in July. The move sparked fierce debate about freedom of expression and has taken away a key revenue source for the media. President Fernández de Kirchner denounced the media’s stance of being against sex trafficking while also making money from the advertisements.

Sinking feeling

Mexico [URBAN PLANNING]

Compare an original photo of Mexico City’s iconic statue El Angel de la Independencia to one taken in 2011 and a subtle change will pop out: steps. Like much of the megacity, the ground around El Angel sinks at a rate of 10cm each year. Here, the solution has been to add 14 steps – elsewhere it’s not as easy as that.

Once a valley of lakes, Mexico City’s population ballooned in the 1950s. City growth eventually buried the lakes, creating a precarious mass of concrete balanced over soft marshlands. The city now extracts ground water at a dangerously high rate, compromising its already weak base, says José Miguel Guevarra, an engineer and a coordinator of the city’s special projects on water.

New processing plants, massive wells and drainage tunnels aim to address future water and sinkage problems – but it is a race against time. A few more steps for The Angel may also come in handy.

The challenges facing Mexico City:

  1. Getting on down: Mexico City sank an estimated 9 to 11 metres in the 20th century.

  2. Getting on up: Mexico City has sunk so far it now needs to pump its waste out over the surrounding valley walls.

  3. Wash out: As the city drops, extreme flooding becomes an increasingly dangerous problem. Engineers worry flooding is the greatest long-term risk for a megapolis of 20 million people.

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