Wednesday Night #1428

Rick Sindelar‘s return to Wednesday Night – after a 19-year absence – generated an enthusiastic and convivial turnout featuring some of Wednesday Night’s tenured members along with Chantal Beaubien, home from Cambodia for holidays and Susanna Eyton-Jones, briefly alighting in Montreal between concert ‘gigs’.  

The governments of Canada and the U.S. have invested enormous amounts of taxpayers’ money to keep General Motors afloat. More potentially viable industries including forestry might very well have proven to be less costly and more practical recipients of this public largesse as General Motors has been moribund for over thirty years and is not likely to ever regain its former glory. It would appear that Canadian banks have not acquired the necessary skill set to shore up and support small and medium enterprises.

Immigration issues
There has been a sudden flurry of high-profile immigration stories that cast Canadian policy in an unfavorable light. As hindrance-free trade and travel across borders have been clearly demonstrated to be a boon to participating nations, Canada’s unforeseen imposition of visa requirements for visitors from Mexico and the Czech Republic is seen as a cumbersome and unnecessary anomaly that is linked to Canada’s failure to adhere to the guidelines for immigration (temporary workers who eventually gain citizenship, investor visa, standard application with point system) with the result that as many as 50% of the immigrants accepted since 1995 are on welfare. Our difficulty lies in tracking illegal immigrants seeking refuge once they arrive and our generosity in supporting them with social benefits once they are here. These are considered possible motivations for the imposition of the restrictions. Possibly the visa requirement for Mexican visitors is based on the current porous border between the U.S. and Canada, permitting the overflow of illegal Mexican immigrants to the United States to find their way to Canada where they find a better social safety net. Certainly, farm workers are well controlled and legitimate visitors from Mexico may very well be deterred by the visa requirements. As for the Czech Republic, the fear, a more legitimate one, concerns the attraction of Canada for the Roma whose lifestyle has caused problems in many European countries and to whom the security of Canadian social benefits probably appears extremely appealing. Once here, deportation frequently proves to be impossible. What is questioned is more the means of solving these problems than the motivation to do so, especially as the deportation of people after they have lived here for some time, if achievable, is cruel, as is permitting them to take refuge in houses of worship. Also, as reportedly happened recently, the splitting of families following and resulting from a considerable delay in achieving deportation, e.g. the parents deported to Pakistan because they allegedly lied about spending a number of years in Dubai , leaving their Canadian children – including a 5-year old – in Canada.
Several options that appear more practical and less cumbersome than the visa requirement include: creating a list of countries from which refugees are or are not accepted; becoming more realistic in the deportation process; and empowering immigration officials with wider powers to screen and refuse entry to visitors who appear to be jumping the queue of people awaiting immigration to Canada, or whose life is not at danger if they follow the normal immigration process. An additional issue is the side of a conflict in the country from which the applicant is emigrating that he or she supports or the religion, political and/or ethnic group of which he or she is a member.

Electronic storage of sensitive information (Cloud computing)
Computer science and computer applications have come a long way from machine language and punch cards to social networks, Internet banking, and purchase of goods and services. It is not surprising, then that an increasingly growing industry has become the renting of electronic storage space, especially to large companies with limited physical space and varying needs. Wednesday Nighters see cloud computing as both as a solution and a possible problem. Concerns revolve around loss of physical control of the security of sensitive information as well as the possibility of an inadequate backup process. They also, however, recognize that Internet banking and exchanges involving the sharing of credit card information, accomplished with little or no trepidation, involve the storage of sensitive personal information by others completely unknown by and beyond the reach of the user.
Several factors must be considered in order to sort out the issue, the obvious one being the availability of extremely low cost personal storage devices. Also, one must take into account the difference between technology, applications such as the banking process and storage of information that might be sensitive and the degree of security in the hands of the guardian of that information. Another factor would be the cost of physical space for a company or organization as compared with that of rented space. [Update: Aug 3, 2009 Security experts find flaws in cloud computing. Concerns about the security of “cloud” services technology are preventing many big companies from adopting it to store corporate data

The market
This Friday marks an option expiry date as well as a quarterly earnings reporting date, foreshadowing a drop in the stock market next week. A number of energy stocks including oil shares have lost ground but there should be a mild correction until the end of this year. However, 2010 does not look encouraging for investors in the securities market.

In the view of one expert, there are always environmental concerns regarding mining operations, however most mining operations in most (North American) jurisdictions are extremely responsible, reclaiming waste and restoring land. It should be remembered also that most mining operations are in remote areas where there is little else.
With the development of the Far North, there has always been concern expressed about the environmental damage done by mining operations. However, Judith Patterson who has just returned from Baker Lake where she was part of a government-industry-academia team carrying out work on geological mapping targeting uranium deposits, has positive news.  Today, there are successful mining operations being carried out with sophisticated measures put into place in consultation with the elders to protect the tundra, as well as a general sensitivity to the need to protect that environment in which these operations take place.

AECL
The debate continues. In the early 90s Canada began to build replacements for the aging reactors, but by ’95 the MAPLE project was in trouble and for the next 12 years, governments kept throwing money at the problem without acknowledging that the new reactors did not live up to design expectations. Now we have neither expertise, staff nor money to fix the problem.  Should we be heading into fast-breeders? Or buy designs from another country?

Politics
Sarah Palin is said to be attempting to forge an oil-based political alliance between Alaska and Texas (Palin’s Pipeline From Hell) where she has become the darling of the far right. However, Wednesday Night observers believe that she does not as yet – and is very unlikely to ever – possess the political capital (or intellectual discipline) necessary to be elected President. In fact, it is highly possible that her recent resignation can be attributed to her desire to make money than to make a run for the presidency — she will also be free to become a political commentator and spread the gospel of the Right.

As more emerges about the actions of Vice President Dick Cheney in fostering and hiding illegal intelligence operations,  there is increasing concern that he and his allies in the last administration will emerge unscathed after not only breaking the law, but violating the Constitution. Talk of action by the International Criminal Court is likely unrealistic, and it is even more unrealistic to think that there will be pursuit in the American law courts – traditionally blame is not assigned to the top tier of any administration, but rather falls on scapegoats at the third tier (example: the Haldemans and Erlichmans of the Nixon administration) as the public will view evidence against the very top as politically motivated and trumped-up. [Editor’s note: Excellent background on this topic may be found in TIME’s report Inside Bush and Cheney’s Final Days]

Montreal’s mayoralty race
Government is an enterprise and the Prime Minister of the country, the Premier of a province or the Mayor of a city must have not only people skills but the business skills  and ability to coordinate and run the entity (including ensuring that garbage is collected, water conduits maintained and other equally unglamorous activities). Louise Harel certainly has acquired the people skills, but has little experience in running anything, thus the concern over Mme. Harel’s ability to successfully manage a large city with 23.000 unionized employees (paid 30% more than other equivalent public sectors), while actively supporting trade unions and political causes unrelated to municipal administration. Additionally, Mme Harel carries the baggage of her instransigeance in the face of the irreperable and predictable damage caused by the forced mergers of the cities and municipalities of the Island of Montreal, all of which does not foretell a brilliant era for the city should she be elected Mayor.

Julius Grey, a brilliant lawyer and defender of human rights at all levels of society, staunch pleader for Westmount against the forced merger (Bill 170)  is greatly loved and admired as a friend by Wednesday Nighters and it is therefore inevitable that his public support for Madame Harel, architect of the infamous merger,  should be met with some dismay and questions. It is assumed that the connection is the common thread of unwavering support of the socialist philosophy by both.

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

While summertime brings absences of Wednesday Nighters who, in more bucolic surroundings, take refuge from construction chaos, festival madness and – depending on the viewpoint – advantage of or refuge from political hiatus, it also brings delightful surprises and the return of long-lost and much-missed friends. Such was the case last week with the appearance of Marina Boulos-Winton who has moved back to Montreal with her family and has already begun her new job as President & CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal. We are delighted that Marina will return to the fold of active Wednesday Nighters.

This week Richard (Rick) Sindelar will return to Wednesday Night after a very long absence. When he served as U.S. Economic Consul (a position in which he was followed by John Riley and then Terry Jones, and which has now been abolished), he was a faithful Wednesday Nighter who contributed much to sober discussion, generally with more than a touch of humour. After he left Montreal, he served as Deputy Director of the Office of Near East and South Asia Analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and later was Deputy U.S. Consul General in Monterrey, Mexico.
He retired from the Foreign Service and now practices law in Houston (Texas), one of his specialties being investment visa matters . He teaches courses in American Foreign Policy and International Security at the University of St. Thomas, is a member of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and has appeared as an analyst on Houston television and radio to discuss international crises such as the Israeli-Hezbollah war in 2006 , terrorism and recent events in Iran  See also his recent commentary  published in the Houston Chronicle.

Susanna Eyton-Jones has also alighted again in Montreal following a winter-spring season of jetting back and forth to Europe’s major musical centers, e.g. Munich and Vienna, Torre del Lago , home of the Puccini Festival, and Rome for auditions and concerts (with great success).

In their honour and in the interest of sparking the usual scintillating Wednesday Night debate, we have a few topics in mind.
Two topics from last week received short shrift:
Iran continues to dominate our concerns. While our sympathies and hopes lie with the Green dissidents, we do not see how they can resist the ruthlessness of the authorities. It appears that there are big cracks in the solidarity of the mullahs and religious powers, but how – and if – the situation will be resolved in the long term remains a big question. The turmoil combined with the potential nuclear threat is deeply worrying. We look forward to hearing more from Rick on this issue. The arrest and pending trial of Maziar Bahari, the Iranian/Canadian journalist who works for Newsweek, leads us to wonder whether the Canadian government will do anything to intercede for him. In fact, it seems that Iran does not recognize dual nationality, so, sadly there is little Canada can do, despite Lawrence Cannon’s efforts

The Bahari story serves to underline a topic that has been raised recently and which we believe is extremely important – what can you expect the Canadian government to do for you if you get into trouble overseas? Please read At the mercy of the government and if you have any lingering doubts, see David Jones on The Abousfian Abdelrazik Puzzle in last week’s MetropolitaIn , which also has extensive coverage of events in Iran and Canadian reactions. And note the difference in the French government’s reaction to the arrest of a French academic by the Iranians.

The G8 Summit  has concluded with – as usual – mixed results. President Obama seems to have accomplished as much as could be expected as Chair of the Major Economies Forum (MEF), but it was a pretty challenging task. There was considerable carping about the number and relative importance of all the “G” meetings. We are actually quite happy to see the questions raised about how useful all these summit meetings are – they cost host countries a bundle, although perhaps that is considered part of the national stimulus package – and the carbon footprint is horrendous. Maybe the leaders should all gather on a cruise ship in down season and not be allowed to land until they settle everything – a new take on “Ship of Fools”. We cannot let the topic go without a quick mention of Stephen Harper being late once again for the ‘Family Photo-op’ – and the general ineptness of his press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, including the highly embarrassing Ignatieff gaffe

We continue to be dismayed by the AECL Chalk River story. As the U.S. is moving to ensure its own supply of isotopes  (and why wouldn’t they?) Canada has quite obviously lost a huge opportunity. Not all the fault can be attributed to the Conservative government – the Liberal governments deserve some blame – but the short-sightedness of the Harper government in deciding to get rid of the problem by splitting up and selling off AECL, while cancelling the MAPLE project will set in train sad consequences for Canada’s once-vaunted expertise.

Everyone is talking about GM’s emergence from bankruptcy as a leaner but not meaner company “From this point on, our efforts are dedicated to customers, cars, culture and repaying the taxpayer,” said Fritz Henderson, chief executive. We wonder whether the expensive lesson has been learned and anticipate some assessments from Wednesday Nighters along with informed opinion regarding the debate over the need for a second stimulus

And now to the consumer revenge story of the week: “United breaks guitars” – surely, you have all been following this great Canadian David (actually, Dave) & Goliath (United airlines) story which we positively relish. We see a new niche for song writers and video makers,  designing name-and-shame messages for other sad consumer versus corporation battles.

Two stories at the local level have captured our attention:
Henry Aubin’s column in Saturday’s Gazette : “Louise Harel won’t change”, which begins with “Julius Grey‘s endorsement of Louise Harel’s mayoral candidacy is a real stunner. The human-rights lawyer was one of Harel’s bitterest adversaries in the suburbs’ struggle against the forced merger that she, as the Parti Québécois government’s responsible minister, masterminded for Montreal Island. Grey represented his hometown of Westmount in its futile court challenges to the merger in 2001. He argued with feeling that imposing the merger on unwilling towns was an assault on Quebec’s Charter of Rights. Now he is heading one of the working groups that Harel has set up to advise her party, Vision Montréal, on issues.” (His issue: ethics.) Mr. Aubin is sceptical about Julius’ conversion and we admit to sharing his sentiments.
So now we have our own home-grown Madoff-Ponzi scammer: Earl Jones . Coincidentally, David met him not long ago and found him to be charming and ‘interesting’ –possibly with something to contribute to a Wednesday Night. Fortunately, we did not follow up (although we firmly believe that our astute financial gurus would have nailed him very quickly). The fact that we may have escaped does not diminish our sympathy for his victims, nor our dismay that such individuals can prey upon trusting friends and family members.

There is bound to be much, much more (China and the Uighars, the Cheney/CIA story , never-ending Sarah Palin resignation analysis, North Korea, Pakistan …) so please check back on www.wednesday-night.com and do join us for what promises to be a stimulating (without package) evening.

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