Wednesday Night #1661
A timely article in Foreign Affairs: Why Chinese-Japanese Economic Relations Are Improving — Delinking Trade From Politics
We are blessed by Peter Berezin‘s presence for our first Wednesday Night of 2014, which guarantees an excellent discussion around the topic of the December BCA Report How Real Is The Risk Of Secular Stagnation? While there is bound to be a full and frank discussion of the world economy, we are not sure that it will include further examination of the Bitcoin phenomenon despite the recent news that Bitcoin Exchanges In India Shut Down After Regulator Warning
Kyle Matthews will also be here to lend his expertise in international affairs to discussion of the past year’s events and how they may influence developments over the next year.
As we reflect on the year of 2013 and ponder whether any lessons have been learned, it is obviously impossible to touch on all the events of import, however, we offer a sampling.
Pope Francis definitely qualifies as one of 2013’s most surprising and refreshing newsmakers. Much of the world media is captivated by his simplicity in word, deed and lifestyle. [One accolade that he surely did not aspire to -- "A divine sense of style: Pope Francis is named Esquire's Best Dressed Man of 2013"]
Many Catholics and non-Catholics are encouraged by his unusually modern approach to social issues and his influence is such that Bashar al-Assad has sent him a private message ahead of the Geneva peace talks, in which, according to Sana, Syria’s state-run news agency, the Syrian president stated that countries supporting rebels groups would have to stop before peace can be agreed.What exactly the Pope is expected to do about this is not clear. Perhaps we will return to the practice of the 15th century when popes ruled on boundaries, e.g. the Treaty of Tordesillas?
Canadian Press has selected the Lac Mégantic Disaster as the number one story. We would suggest that the Alberta floods rank a close second. Both have major public policy implications – the first involving the regulation of transportation of hazardous materials and the continuing insouciance with which the proximity of railways to city centers is regarded. In the case of the Alberta floods, the dangerous disregard of the effects of climate change on the flows of our rivers – and the inadequacy of much of our infrastructure – should be of deep concern to all levels of government. It is worth pointing out that two outstanding political figures this year have been the mayors of the affected cities. Mayor Nenshi garnered much admiration (adulation?), but his Mégantic colleague, Colette Roy-Laroche deserves equal credit. It will come as no surprise that the runners-up in the CP News Story of the Year survey were the Senate Scandal and — Rob Ford, the mayor at the other end of the good governance scale. Mayors were indeed much in the news, as Montrealers will attest after surviving the experience of four in a year The best line on this topic belongs to Chantal Hébert “Montrealers were embarrassed that they had mayors who resigned, but looking at Toronto, they are happy to have had mayors who resigned” . At Issue, not surprisingly, opted for the Senate scandals, including the role of the PMO, Nigel Wright’s resignation and Stephen Harper’s role. For many in Quebec, there would be little debate – the Charter would be the story.
Global News puts the Alberta floods at the top of their list, includes the death of Nelson Mandela, the birth of Prince George (John Curtin will like this)
One final comment – we cannot refrain from noting the concurrent deaths of Vito Rizzuto and Edgar Bronfman, each in his own way a godfather to his people.
For many months, the world was consumed by the state of Nelson Mandela’s health, culminating in his death, followed by the memorial/funeral arrangements, who was there, who was not invited, what this meant …
Our good friends and Wednesday Nighters, Davids Jones and Kilgour offer their contrasting views on post-Mandela South Africa. David Jones: believes that in Post-Mandela South Africa: Racial tension and violence are likely to return while David Kilgour characteristically prefers to focus on the positive — Current leadership can learn from his lessons of the past
For some of us, Paul Simon’s Graceland is inextricably linked with anti-Apartheid and the emergence in western consciousness of the vitality of South African music. For a highly personal account of how the album came to be, we recommend CBC Radio’s documentary on Inside the Music Paul Simon’s Graceland,
With the exception of a few truly international media organizations, focus on Africa is generally fleeting and lacking in background, but in 2013, even casual consumers of news have learned about the parlous state of governance in countries that they might have difficulty placing on a map — e.g. Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. For a more encouraging view, we suggest Steve McDonald’s Africa’s Long Spring
For a brief period, the news was filled with the tragic story of the collapse of the Bangladesh factory where over 1100 garment workers died – and still all are not accounted for. We suspect that the story aroused interest in Canada because Loblaw’s was a major employer for production of its Joe brand. It is noteworthy that Loblaw’s is one of four companies that have signed on to a compensation plan for the victims and their families. While consumers may take a second look at the labels in their clothes, the problem of abysmal regulation of conditions in these factories remains and refusing to purchase goods made in Bangladesh punishes the workers, not the government.
China, Japan, North Korea and India have otherwise continued to dominate coverage of Asian countries, with stories ranging from confrontations in the China Seas to the summary execution of Jang Song-Thaek, uncle of Kim Jong-Un, and the apparently ongoing purge of his associates.. North Korea’s Dear Leader can no longer be considered as simply a figure of ridicule – he is one dangerous dude.
Worthwhile readings include: China in 2014: The three Rs by Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center; The Importance of De-Hyphenating India by our good friend and Wednesday Nighter, Cleo Paskal ; and from the Geopolitical Monitor, Forecast 2014: Northeast Asia
The Christian Science Monitor poll gives top ranking to the U.S. government shutdown, followed by the Boston Marathon bombings, the failure of passage of any national gun control legislation, Edward Snowden, and at least two weather-related stories.|
The Middle East
Syria and Iran would have double billing in our view, the first because of the apparent hopelessness of the situation (Syria Has Yet to Move Arms as Deadline Draws Near) and the second because the election of Iranian President Rouhani appears to have brought about a new openness to dialogue World powers, Iran to resume expert nuclear talks on December 30
Then there is Turkey. As the Telegraph reports: “Just a year ago Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was the dominant face of Turkish politics and an important Middle Eastern power-broker who was both trusted by the West and open to the East. He had governed for a decade on a successful mix of devoutly Islamist politics married with financial acumen, friendship with the West yet business ties with its Middle Eastern enemies like Iran.Yet as crisis engulfed his government last week, the flailing prime minister’s formula for success had returned to haunt him as a corruption probe threatens to bring his empire down around him.”
Europe & Russia
Once again, Vladimir Putin surprises; this time it is the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but lest we think he is becoming Mr. Nice Guy, The Observer reminds us that the Russian president runs rings around the supposed liberal leaders of the west as he advances his authoritarian agenda. “Putin has managed to protect his client dictatorship in Syria – even after it broke one of the few taboos limiting man’s inhumanity to man by using chemical weapons. He has Edward Snowden, perhaps the most damaging leaker in recent history, under the vigilant eyes of his secret police in Moscow. He has out-manoeuvred the pro-European demonstrators in Kiev and bought off the Ukrainian government.” Although on the last point, more than a month of protests continue against the government’s decision to cancel a deal for greater European Union integration and a vicious attack on prominent investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovol has ignited further fury against the government.
The Jerusalem Post proclaims 2013 The year authority broke down, stating the (rather obvious) government is no longer what it once was; “The year that ends next Tuesday was exceptionally bad for political power, of whatever system or location, as social upheaval proliferated, governmental ineptitude soared, and the international system increasingly seemed like a lawless Wild West town begging [for] a sheriff.” While the piece leads with the disastrous launch of Obamacare and the revelations of Edward Snowden, pretty much every other major country or region (with the notable exception of Israel) comes in for criticism.
Among the more poignant looks at 2013, this from The Atlantic.
Important Buildings We Lost in 2013
Before shiny new projects rush to break ground in 2014, let’s raise a glass to some of the most iconic buildings we said goodbye to this year.
Many of the contested demolitions in 2013 involved structures that were once considered innovative, but just a few decades later, have been labeled “obsolete.” This fact heats up some food for thought: Just how future-proof are the “futuristic” buildings that are being proposed and built now? Among them the PanAm terminal that opened in 1960 at New York’s Idlewild airport- it was marvelously futuristic. (see Comment from Sam Stein below)
The most visually stunning is the National Geographic 2013: Year in Review
From superstorms to sequestration, 2013 held progress and pitfalls for science
Concerns about energy, climate change and warmer oceans creating stronger storms moved front and center in 2013. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien joins Judy Woodruff to review the year’s big developments and science headlines, including new ways to attack cancer, the latest in space exploration and the impact of funding cuts.
Despite the sad state of Canada’s environment policy (or lack thereof) there is encouraging news in The Top 9 Environment Stories Of 2013 — The environment is not getting any better, but these small beacons of innovation are working on stemming the tide.
At the risk of creating a slight frisson among certain friends we delight in pointing you to this item from the Scientific American: Climate Scientists Pose for Pinup Calendar — Columbia University showcases “the planet’s hottest climate science, and the people behind it”. And more for everyone’s entertainment, The 13 Most Obvious Scientific Findings of 2013 — a sampling of the unsurprising research of 2013—with a few notes on why scientists bothered.
Continuing in the lighter vein as we look forward to 2014, New UK Bill to Let Women Inherit Titles Named After Downton Abbey — a new bill snaking its way through the UK’s House of Lords would change a 400-year-old system of agnatic primogeniture and allow baronets to pass their titles to their daughters instead of their sons. It’s nickname? The “Downton law.”
For your 2014 Calendar:
Friday, January 10, 2014
9:30 am – 11:00 am
President Obama and the United Nations
The CIC in partnership with The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Concordia University’s Political Science Department and the U.S. Consulate in Montreal presents Dr. Esther Brimmer on how the Obama administration has re-oriented U.S. foreign policy toward the UN over the last 5 years. More information and to register