Wednesday Night #1572

Written by  //  April 18, 2012  //  People Meta, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

The Scribe’s Prelude
Whether it be motivated by academic excellence, charisma, the creation of the identity of a common enemy, the acquisition of greater wealth than neighbours, or other motivation, leaders have arisen seeking, or at the very least, have been accorded, personal recognition. The 1978 Jonestown massacre remains an example of the ability of leaders to subvert reason to blind animal instincts. At such times, one would do well to “kill the messenger” but too often, charisma trumps reason.

Afghanistan
Robert Galbraith was interviewed this week by CJAD’s Ric Peterson. The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the first Canadian soldiers’ deaths (by friendly fire).
We seem to be at war in one manner or another during the lifetime of each generation. Although a visit to Vimy Ridge cannot help but bring tears to the eye of the Canadian observer on reading the names of the youth buried there, we tend to glorify the contribution of our youth and vilify the enemy, while concealing the cost in terms of innocent children and civilians lost in the process. In Afghanistan, independent journalists operating ‘outside the wire’ often found it difficult, if not impossible, to access information about the war from official Canadian sources, while the establishment media was treated differently. This may not reflect a lack of transparency so much as the nature of bureaucracy. The independents therefore have to develop other sources which often give them a very different view of events – and one not necessarily congruent with the authorized version. [Editor’s note: The CIC/Open Canada has more on What went wrong in Afghanistan (and what we can learn from it)]

Development aid
Martha Chertkow’s recent experiences working in New York with Oxfam, and before that in Timor Leste, plus her forthcoming work with the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in Mongu, Zambia instigated considerable discussion of the effectiveness of international aid and humanitarian programs, and the proliferation of well-intentioned but woefully understaffed and underfunded NGOs. It is agreed that intelligent aid to these countries is to the advantage of the donor country, but …
Despite (often) the best of intentions, funding of aid to disadvantaged countries is fraught with problems, including stubborn paternalism that decrees that the donor agency knows “what is good for you” despite evidence to the contrary; insistence on a percentage of goods or services originating in the donor country; delivery of modern equipment with neither the accompanying means to maintain nor the skills required to repair it; and often the tribal nature and/or corrupt officials in the recipient countries. It was acknowledged that although it may be highly desirable to bypass national governments, tribal chiefs/community leaders must be involved, both to ensure that projects have the appropriate blessings and that in fact the funding goes to the community’s needs. Most important, in many views, is the need to have donor staff on site throughout a project. One Wednesday Nighter pointed to the successful experience of a quite sophisticated communications project in Africa, which he attributed to the presence of a full-time Canadian project officer working on the ground with local staff.
Several Wednesday Nighters with NGO experience pointed to problems with the CIDA model, described as ‘archaic’, lacking in focus and transparency, and suffering from all of the identified drawbacks, e.g. it is said that for every dollar of Canadian aid six dollars are spent in Canada. Moreover, CIDA personnel are based in Ottawa and not on the ground in recipient countries. This has led to the rising number of NGO offices in Ottawa. (The number is said to have increased by fifty percent in the past three years.) CIDA has done things that had a positive impact, but many Wednesday Nighters have been more impressed by the Scandinavian model, citing Norway and Denmark’s Danida in particular. Equally impressive are private philanthropic efforts like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which sometimes bypasses governments, involving itself directly in targeted areas with targeted funding and has publicly stated that the degree of “spillage” is some 5% in contrast to much higher figures from government-sponsored aid agencies. Of course, the Gates Foundation has its critics, some of whom suggest that its by-passing of existing governance structures in recipient countries, and focus on a certain number of priorities which the Foundation has identified, its actions could be termed a form of twenty-first century colonialism. On the other hand, in the successful fight against poliovirus in India, the Foundation has funded the partnership of the Government of India, with Rotary International, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO and UNICEF as well as millions of volunteers, health workers and community leaders.

Raoul Wallenberg
May 23, 2012 marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who is credited with saving the lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jews with ‘protective passports’. In this stratagem, he followed the lead of Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz. Wallenberg also was responsible for establishing more that 30 safe houses as well as hospitals, nurseries and a soup kitchen in Budapest. It is ironic that despite his success in saving so many, none was able to save him from almost certain death in a Russian prison. Ron Meisels announced that a memorial service will be held in Montreal on Wednesday, May 23, in the Raoul Wallenberg Square adjacent to the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, where the Paul Lancz bust of Wallenberg is located. Tony Deutsch mentioned that he has two original protective passports that were used by relatives who eventually settled in the U.K.

The market
Following a three-month rally, the stock market has had a weak correction. It is expected that Friday, an expiry week, will see a downturn. By the end of the year, the market should rebound, but not much higher than the previous high. The financial sector, representing thirty percent of the market is not doing that well, but should rebound by September. The fate of the market during the last quarter of this year will certainly be influenced by the outcome of the U.S. election. Have the effects of global warming helped the market? A case could be made for favorable influence of the milder weather on construction and renovation.

Climate change
This past winter has provided powerful evidence to the adverse, changing nature of world climate. Canada continues to maintain its reputation as Number One International Villain, even though the U.S., China and Russia have similarly done little or nothing to mitigate the problem. This is in no small measure due to the public policy pronouncements of the Conservative government, ineptness on the part of the responsible ministers and, most recently declarations that environmental impact enquiries will be conducted with all speed, accompanied by thinly veiled threats to the advocacy role of environment organizations.

New head of the World Bank
Naming Jim Yong Kim, an incredibly intelligent individual, without any background in economics or banking experience, as President of the World Bank comes as a surprise to many. On reflection, the decision may have been a wise one as the position has more to do with administration of a huge organization, its development priorities and funds (Jeffrey Sachs made the case recently that the Bank is a development institution), than with banking. Considering the complexity of that organization and his history [lifelong dedication to improving the health of the very poor in the global South, training in medicine and PhD in anthropology; extensive relevant experience on the ground, and in working with NGOs (he co-founded the widely admired Partners in Health) and in institutional settings (he directed the HIV/AIDs programme for the World Health Organisation) and having been the successfulpresident of Dartmouth University for the past three years], it may indeed be a good match, however, there are many who feel that the U.S. has maintained its stranglehold on the presidency for far too long. Despite her gracious reaction to Dr. Kim’s confirmation, supporters of the candidacy of Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iwaela and that of José Antonio Ocampo are deeply critical of the selection process . It should also be noted that the BRICS are flexing their muscles at the IMF (BRICS demand bigger IMF role before giving it cash) and will no doubt be similarly restive at the World Bank. However, Mme Lagarde is universally judged to have been an excellent choice as head of the IMF and will, no doubt, handle any problems with aplomb.

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Prologue
We are delighted to have two special (infrequent) guests this week. Bert Revenaz will be here from Vancouver and wherever Bert is, good debate is guaranteed. He may meet his match, as Martha Chertkow just got back from working as UN Security Council and Peacekeeping Assistant to Oxfam International New York, and is here fleetingly before heading off to her next adventure working with the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in Mongu, Zambia for 3 1/2 months- and then Law School at McGill in September (which she will surely find very dull in comparison).
In the spirit of the eclectic interests of our guests and, in fact, all Wednesday Nighters, there is a variety of topics that we may or may not explore this week.
Normally, Wednesday Night does not encourage discussion of religion; however in this Easter Week, in light of recent developments in the U.S., we thought an exception to the rule might be in order.
The American presidential election will dominate much of the news until November. As Mitt Romney takes center stage, with the exit of Rick Santorum (whew!), The Christian Science Monitor asks Mitt Romney’s Mormon dilemma: To reach voters, should he discuss his faith? For more thoughts, we strongly recommend Meet The Press of 8 April on the role of religion in American politics, a civil and respectful discussion.
Separation of Church and State has been a (sometimes acrimonious) matter of debate in the U.S. in recent years (The separation of Church and State myth) while in Canada it is not an issue. Or has it become one? Canada and the world offers some thoughts on the influence of the Christian Right Recently, Andrew Nikiforuk, an unabashed environmentalist, published an article in The Tyee (certainly not one of the Conservatives’ favorite sources) Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission subtitled Signs mount that Canada’s government is beholden to a religious agenda averse to science and rational debate. Beyond the issue of the Harper government’s antipathy to environmental issues, we also wonder about how his world view is coloured by his faith, in particular regarding unrelenting defense of Israeli government policies.
At Issue is one of our favorite CBC offerings. The most recent one covers a lot of ground from the F-35s to the NDP/Mulcair ads. But on the topic of the F-35s, our favorite headline has to be Honey, I shrunk the F-35 cost estimates
Energy and environment
Stephen Kinsman suggests this should be required reading: Arctic oil rush will ruin ecosystem, warns Lloyd’s of London
Insurance market joins environmentalists in highlighting risks of drilling in fragile region as $100bn investment is predicted – a Chatham House study is associated with Lloyd’s stance.
The CEC invites all to Tina Fey wins Best of Breed at Westminster Dog Show – we wonder, can a Brussels Griffon do a mean Sarah Palin imitation?
We love the comment on this web page “I think I’ll get a pet snake and name him Harper.”

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