Wednesday Night #1603

The Scribe’s Preamble
Considering Man`s average life span in the infinity of time and space, the blood shed and the anguish rent and endured in perceived ownership of land over the lifetime of the individual or the nation is difficult to understand; yet wars are fought and the lives of fellow humans are shed over what are virtually immeasurable or irrelevant differences. The glorification of war serves only to enhance the victorious leader at the expense of the young victims on both sides of the battlefield, while acting as a challenge to future generations to pick up the cudgel.

The Middle East dominates the world news. Eighty percent of the Muslim world is Sunni, the more orthodox branch of Islam.
The underlying problem is said to be Gaza and the need for easier access to that area. As the fragile lull in hostility becomes shakier, questions arise as to what Russia will do to protect the Assad regime, whether President Obama`s re-election will signal greater involvement of the U.S., whether Hamas is a surrogate for Iran and what proportion of the population of Gaza is represented by Hamas. In the light of allegations Israel`s unauthorized possession of atomic weapons, it would be difficult to defend the antipathy towards Iran`s current course of developing nuclear power and possibly, weapons, but the clarity of Iran`s antipathy towards Israel`s existence and, indeed, towards Judaism, should be considerable cause for concern. Politically, President Obama cannot afford to not support Israel in its concern for its continued survival and is said to have promised to upgrade Israel`s anti-missile program.
The intransigence of the leaders on both sides of what appears to be leading to more bloodshed, the failure of Egypt to prevent missiles from being transported to Gaza, and the intransigence of both sides of the equation to arrive at the optimum solution in the absence of a perfect one, do not augur well for a mutually satisfactory solution. Some point to the post world war II return of captured territories to Germany and suggest that Israel should follow that pattern, but in the current situation, there does not appear to be a desire to establish boundaries that are secure and peaceful if Israel`s voluntary withdrawal from Gaza is any indication and in the case of the post war resurrection of pre-war Germany was achieved only after an armistice had been signed. There appears to be a flaw in the suggestion that `we have failed to achieve our objective of wiping out our selected target, so let`s go back to scratch and try again.`
Gaza Tunnels — The tunnels of Gaza are a lifeline of the underground economy but also a death trap. For many Palestinians, they have come to symbolize ingenuity and the dream of mobility.
In the U.S, the fiscal cliff, legislation due to click in starting in 2013, designed to increase taxes and reduce benefits, in order to bring spending and taxation into equilibrium, unless altered before December 31, becomes law at the beginning of the New Year. Although long term benefits are obvious, there are concerns on the part of some prognosticators regarding the effect on the economy compounded by Republican strength in both the House and he Senate. Wednesday Night Mavens remain optimistic that U.S. legislators will avoid shooting themselves in the foot by acting in a manner detrimental to the nation. Nonetheless, the situation is considered fragile. If successful, conservative fiscal measures leading to a recovery would be Obama`s best ally and best assurance of the Democratic party taking back the House in 2014. However, the problem lies not so much in overall debt, as the world needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs the rest of the world. The situation is fragile, the risk being deflation down the road.
There is some good news on the horizon. General Electric and Levi-Strauss. Are said to have cancelled all contracts with China, favouring domestic manufacturing

UPDATE
As the grim news continues from the Israel/Gaza conflict with no end (ceasefire) immediately in sight [Israel: Gaza Ceasefire Is ‘Not There Yet’ Hamas official Ayman Taha said earlier that an Egyptian-brokered truce had been finalised and would take effect from 10pm UK time. But spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Mark Regev said the announcement of a ceasefire was premature and Israeli military operations in Gaza would continue in parallel with diplomacy.], we are absolutely delighted that Dr. Charles Cogan will be returning to Wednesday Night. Chuck Cogan is an associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He was the Chief Near East South Asia Division in the Operations Directorate of the CIA 1979-1984, and subsequently CIA Chief in Paris. He writes extensively on geopolitical topics, including frequent pieces for HuffPost. We cannot think of a more informed, experienced commentator for a Wednesday Night.
At a more provincial level, the PQ has presented its budget and reactions are less than favourable – in fact we haven’t heard many kind words so far, although Le Devoir tells us that the Conseil du Patronat est satisfait. According to Reuters: “Liberal finance spokesman Raymond Bachand said the party would decide later on Tuesday how to proceed. The third party, Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ), will vote against the budget unless there is a “major amendment” such as a reversal of tax hikes, its leader Francois Legault said.”

On this Wednesday before American Thanksgiving, Canadians have much to be thankful for, but also, along with our American friends, families and counterparts, much to worry about – whether the parlous state of affairs in the Middle East and the possible consequences at a global geopolitical level, the looming U.S. fiscal cliff, the dangerously decaying infrastructure in both the U.S. and Canada, and the pressing need for educational reform to meet the changing requirements of our constantly evolving world.

A number of recent items on education matters have triggered entertaining and thoughtful exchanges among some Wednesday Nighters. The topics range from the development of online courses for credit by some of the most prestigious academic institutions, to the woefully discordant attitudes of Departments of Education and administrators of schools and universities with respect to marking of student papers, exams and the maintenance of civility in classrooms. Most striking, of course, is the contrast between a certain element of pampered North American students vis à vis the respect and thirst for knowledge and education exhibited by those in far less favoured environments, whether the incredibly brave and invincible Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, students of the Khan Academy and Barefoot College of India, or the extraordinary 15-year-old Kelvin Doe from Sierra Leone, the youngest person ever invited to MIT’s Visiting Practitioner’s Program.
With all of the choices confronting today’s students, how to ensure that academic credentials from formal institutions and informal platforms are accurately measured and validated? Thanks to John Evdokias, we have discovered a San Francisco startup, Degreed, that aims to do just. These are a few of a number of items on Education: demographics and trends which should ignite a worthy discussion.

As was to be expected, Republicans continue to hurl recriminations over the Romney defeat. We have amused ourselves by maintaining a page on U.S. elections 2012 – the mornings after where the entries vary from final numbers and other pertinent trivia to serious reflections on the way forward. Notable is David JonesThe American Election – Mulling Over the Entrails, published in the Métropolitain. Perhaps the most telling part of David’s analysis is the comment that At this moment both winners and losers are uttering ritualized “let’s play nicely together” language; winners (after all they have won) and losers (who know that Amcits hate poor losers). Commentators are happy to inform Republicans that to become relevant they have to become Democrats (or something so close to such that the difference wouldn’t be worth a dime). But the likelihood of serious cooperation is as unlikely as discovering that Obama is an alien from Mars.This does not bode well for the negotiations between the White House and Congress aimed at avoiding the fiscal cliff. Other observers are more sanguine.

One persistent complaint by a number of observers (and voters) was the absence of discussion of climate change during the campaign (with exception for Mayor Bloomberg’s endorsement of Mr. Obama). However, not only did President Obama claim climate change as a personal mission of his second term on Wednesday, offering for the first time to take charge of the effort to find a bipartisan solution to the existential crisis, but the World Bank has also acted to rectify the situation with the release on Sunday of Turn Down the Heat, a new report that warns that climate change could decimate agriculture and cause global health problems causing the global economy to suffer greatly. It is to be hoped that this will help the world to refocus on a problem that it has ignored or at least put on a back burner for too long.

But one has to ask when Mr. Obama will have time to tackle climate change. The situation in the Middle East, already volatile, has now become a giant tinderbox ready to explode with the next rocket … Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Egypt- the wildcard. The analysts are abundant, opinionated and all over the map (literally and figuratively); the world’s attention is riveted on Israel and Gaza, to the great relief of President Assad, no doubt. We have seen and read many reports and analyses, however, one of the most intriguing – and chilling – comes not from one of the usual suspects, but is the commentary of a highly successful derivatives trader (who certainly must understand risk analysis) and we urge you to read and react to Israel Military Implements Gaza War, Phase 1 of Iran Nuclear Attack Plan which theorizes that
“The bottom line is that the Israeli Government had put its military plans on hold until after the US Presidential Election, following which it has now implemented its 3 stage plan the ultimate goal for which is the destruction of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, towards which it is using the cover of actions in defence of attacks from Gaza that the Israeli elite has engineered as part of a series of war gaming scenarios and plans put together many months ago. These plans have now been put into action and the events in motion suggest that we will first see a Gaza invasion [UPDATE: Gaza counts its dead as Israel plans invasion] , then of Lebanon, followed by a strike against Iranian nuclear and military infrastructure, all within the next 3 months so as to chime with the January Israeli general election that Prime Minister Netanyahu aims to win.
In respect of the consequences for a region-wide war, Israel has miscalculated in their rush to implement plans, as they see the country’s security being underwritten by the United States therefore have ignored the wider [Middle East], Russia, and China dimensions to a conflict that they seem determined to instigate. For instance we could see that whilst the US is preoccupied in another war in the Middle East, China uses that as an excuse to seize the East China Sea Islands that it disputes with Japan and thus change the whole strategic balance of East Asia / Pacific that the US has dominated since the end of World War 2.” Warning: the author is not a professional writer and some of the thoughts would benefit from editing for sentence structure and punctuation.

With the election of Michael Applebaum as interim Mayor of Montreal, Henry Aubin (Short term as mayor gives Applebaum glorious opportunities) sees an opportunity for a new approach, to think big and help prepare the way for intelligent reform through careful, impartial study of questions relating to various structures (administrative, democratic, political, etc.); meanwhile, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has drawn attention to the crumbling infrastructures of our municipalities across the country (a subject with which Montrealers are all too familiar) and challenged the federal government to “come to the table in Budget 2013 with a $2.5 billion/year investment increase which the cities are prepared to match.” Given the parsimonious policies of the current government, what might be the odds? While on the topic of municipalities, it is a delight to see how well received Peter Trent’s book has been by the reviewers (see where we have reproduced Henry Aubin’s flattering rebuttal of the standard criticisms levelled against Peter. Who knew Peter had once voted for the PQ?

Our Wednesday Night authors continue to generate reading material, however in Cleo Paskal’s case, her latest contribution to our bookshelves is limited to those who read German. She informs us that a book she co-authored with German TV anchor Claus Kleber, Spielball Erde: Machtkämpfe im Klimawandel (Bertelsmann, Germany, 2012), is currently #1 on the Politics and History  (and #30 overall, including fiction) on the German Bestseller’s list. It is loosely related to the sort of topics covered in Global Warring. And no, Cleo doesn’t speak German, but says that Google translate is a wonderful thing. Should you wish to order it: http://www.amazon.de/Spielball-Erde-Machtkämpfe-im-Klimawandel/dp/3570101347

Finally, we hear from Alan Hustak that the second draft of his book on The Old Brewery Mission is complete.

Once again, we have left many items off the menu, which by no means suggests that they won’t make it into the conversation. If you have a pet topic, bring it along …

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