Wednesday Night #1670

Written by  //  March 5, 2014  //  Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

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The trumpet of a prophecy, O Wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
— Percy Bysshe Shelley

It would appear that the melting of the snow, the warming of the sunshine, the awakening of the hibernating mammals, awakens, as well, the dormant political scene. This is especially evident in Québec, which appears to be headed for a springtime election, one in which a clear Parti Québécois majority is predicted. On the part of the current Anglophone and Allophone population who call Québec their home and have survived and thrived following a previous referendum, this appears to be part of the wonderful diverse world that they inhabit, but, the concerns surrounding the exodus of taxpayers, both commercial and individual, from Metropolis Montreal, following the previous referendum remains. The importance of multilingual, multicultural Montreal to Québec cannot be overstated; it is said to have become and should remain a quasi-autonomous city. Regardless of the outcome of the forthcoming election, a second referendum on separation is deemed as unlikely; Quebeckers are taking a renewed interest in events in Scotland.

Real estate prices are said to be falling in the western part of the island, which is very likely unrelated to the political situation, the importance of which may very well have been exaggerated by the social media.

“Le plus ça change, le plus c`est pareil.” Just as the Empires of the past have faded into distant memories, and the glories of the British Empire remain only as good background material for novels, the influence of the United States, however powerful, is slowly waning.
The population of the Western World may take comfort from having chastised Russia over Crimea, but it has neither power nor influence over Russia`s decision making in Crimea, or Vladimir Putin`s apparent fixation on the reestablishment of the Russian Empire.

Wednesday Night reports on Norway indicate that retail prices are high, but the population lives well, judiciously spending their money on education rather than on ostentatious objects. They appear to be very attached to their villages and invest in rural infrastructure. In general, people can live in small villages with good schools and culture; hiking, being healthy, just by being careful. Commendable stewardship of the vast oil revenues should be (have been) emulated by Alberta.

P R O L O G U E
It’s all about Russia and Ukraine, this week,  whether it is geopolitics or global economy. And it IS very worrisome especially because the airwaves and ether are filled with the conflicting views from experts and self-important ignoramuses alike. Sometimes it is easy to differentiate, sometimes not.
We have attempted to keep up with some of the (conflicting) opinions on what the U.S./EU should do and you will find a selection of items on our Ukraine and Russia pages.
Meantime,  one interesting development is Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland’s solo visit to Ukraine. Given her intimate knowledge of the country and its language, she should be able to
Liberal MP Freeland to head to Kiev to show solidarity with Ukrainian
Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland is headed for Kiev to show solidarity with Ukrainians and potentially meet with members of the post-revolutionary government, just as the former Soviet state warns of all-out war with Russia.
Ms. Freeland, a Ukrainian-Canadian, is slated to arrive in Kiev on Tuesday and plans to remain there, possibly at her uncle’s home in Kiev, at least until the end of the week. The Toronto Centre MP, whose journey to Ukraine is an official Liberal Party trip, said the Liberals believe Moscow’s military moves have been so provocative that Canada and its G7 allies should seriously consider expelling Russia from the G8.
The Liberals are not alone in suggesting that the G7 should meet away from Sochi and leave Mr. Putin to host his own G1.
There’s not a lot Canada can do at this stage, as has been pointed out by Jeremy Kinsman and Paul Heinbecker (Ottawa reduced to ‘gestures’ on Ukraine, say former top envoys) , among others, and at first glance, not much any nation can do. Naming and shaming doesn’t have any effect on Mr. Putin, who is focused on restoring the Russian empire. The Economist frets that “the fox, the West knows lots of different things but is not sure what it really wants, while Mr Putin is like the hedgehog that knows just one big thing, namely that Ukraine, especially in the south and east, is really part of Russia’s world.”
However, in Putin’s Kampf , Charles  Tannock, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament , offers some concrete suggestions:
“Given the scale of Putin’s adventurism, the world’s response must be commensurate. Canceled summits, trade deals, or membership in diplomatic talking shops like the G-8 are not enough. Only actions that impose tangible economic sanctions that affect Russian citizens – who, after all, have voted Putin into power time and again – offer any hope of steering the Kremlin away from its expansionist course.
Which sanctions might work? First, Turkey should close the Dardanelles to Russian shipping, as it did after the 2008 Russo-Georgian War …  it should close the Turkish straits not only to Russian warships, but to all commercial vessels bound for Russia’s Black Sea ports. The impact on Russia’s economy – and on Putin’s military pretensions – would be considerable.”
A final comment comes from a wily European observer who believes that Putin has shot himself in  the foot,  creating a bitter enemy of one of Russia’s biggest neighbours. With mistrust of  Russia growing everywhere, nothing has been gained, given that the naval base in Sevastopol was already guaranteed by treaty and the Russian populace lived happily with the local minority. The military strategic position has not changed at all. “Occupying and annexing parts of Ukraine will not strengthen Russia, but make her other neighbours ever more convinced that a Russian is [always] a Russian. Putin is a lackey of the oligarchs and depends on them. These crooks again do not trust the Russian banks and therefore have huge fortunes stacked away in the West . Squeezing the oligarchs is the most effective way to create domestic troubles for Putin. Everyone in the West ought to support now Die Muti Angela Merkel to fortify her to read Putin the Riot Act. The Germans know how to handle the Russia and also have the biggest stake in the game.”
There remains, as the National Post points out, Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas makes it hard to enact meaningful trade sanctions ; the Guardian ( Is Europe’s gas supply threatened by the Ukraine crisis? ) takes a more sanguine view, concluding that “Europe accounts for around a third of Gazprom’s total gas sales, and around half of Russia’s total budget revenue comes from oil and gas. Moscow needs that source of revenue, and whatever Vladimir Putin’s geo-political ambitions, most energy analysts seem to agree he will think twice about jeopardising it. Short of an actual war, the consensus appears to be, Europe’s gas supplies are unlikely to be seriously threatened.”
Maybe, just maybe, Vladimir Putin’s ambitions have been temporarily restrained  by the realization that his adventures can and will wreak havoc with the Russian economy. Although he  ordered troops involved in the military exercise in western Russia back to base on Tuesday, Crimea is a continuing flashpoint and the tone of his  statements about Ukraine remains threatening. Russia paid a heavy financial price on Monday, with stocks, bonds and the ruble plunging –   the Moscow stock market fell 10.8 percent on Monday, wiping nearly $60 billion off the value of Russian firms – we may assume that the oligarchs were not happy. [Putin ends army exercise, Russian markets rally despite Ukraine tension] We can only hope the West  will continue to be on its guard for, as Andrew Cohen points out (Vladimir Putin’s sledge hammer in Ukraine)  “The reality is that we did not know how our indifference to Russia’s complexities and insecurities would play out then, and we have no idea what the grim Putin will do now.”. Add to that the unsettling comment from Angela Merkel that Putin is ‘out of touch with reality”, seemingly confirmed by his bizarre performance at Tuesday’s press conference, and it is obvious that there is a long way to go before the situation will be defused – let alone, resolved. .
Meantime, we offer our sympathy to President Obama who, while preoccupied with the Russia/Ukraine problems,  has also had to deal with the visit of the intransigent Bibi.  We had hoped that with the possibility of Russia’s disengagement from the Syrian and Iranian files, Israel might have been somewhat more amenable to reducing the tinder factor in the Middle East. Sadly, no. At White House, Israel’s Netanyahu pushes back against Obama diplomacy
Half-way around the world, lurks another potential crisis identified by hitherto unknown (to the public) US Naval Intelligence expert Captain James Fanell whose remarks at a Naval Institute conference that   China was training its forces to be capable of carrying out a “short, sharp” war with Japan in the East China Sea remind us that when all our attention is directed to one part of the world, there is room for great mischief in others. The Friend of Wednesday Night who called our attention to this situation comments that over the medium term the odds on a short, sharp war will shorten, possibly dramatically so, for a number of reasons. China will have had more time to prepare. The West’s track record is one of all talk and  no action,and  Beijing doesn’t give a hoot about international opprobrium. Once an army finishes training for an event, the pressure grows to get on with it before its newly gained skill set wanes. US naval power is shrinking. But by far the greatest, & most worrisome, odds-shortener will be China’s domestic situation., If there were serious domestic unrest in China, due to the implosion of its banking system that many experts expect or, more inevitably so, to the people rebelling against life in a society in which they and their children cannot safely drink the water, breathe the air or eat the food, the temptation will be to start a war to unite the people against a foreign enemy, to distract them and turn any criticism of the domestic situation into an act of treason. The last phrase does not require a leap of faith; we call your attention to an article in The Daily Telegraph by (former Sauvé Scholar) Malcolm Moore China’s human rights situation ‘worst in decades’First year under president Xi Jinping sees the most severe campaign against dissidents for decades.  
In the feeding frenzy over the Academy Awards and Ukraine/Russia, too many likely missed the visit of the Aga Khan to Ottawa. As the Globe & Mail’s John Stackhouse says in Seven global insights from the Aga Khan,  “he is more than spiritual leader to 15 million Ismaili Muslims. Well-read, well-travelled and well-connected, he is a voice of reason globally and an effective bridge between East and West, Islam and secular. He has the ear of world leaders, and through the extensive development network of his foundation, an understanding of the poorer parts of the world. “ The interview (Aga Khan: ‘Without a doubt, I am seriously worried’ about the world)  even covers the Quebec Charter …
Speaking of Quebec,  thanks to the hue and cry in both traditional and social media, it appears that the OQLF has backed off on the Delilah dossier . Language police drop attack on Chelsea boutique owner Seems that unlike in Mr. Putin’s case, naming and shaming (sometimes) works with the OQLF.
The Economist essay What’s gone wrong with democracyDemocracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century. Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it? — is a must-read and re-read. We look forward to comments. Also of interest is the Financial Times article:
We do not have to live with the scourge of inequality
Some emphasise the disincentives to work and invest that result from high taxes and transfers. But others have argued that redistribution need not be detrimental to growth. If progressive taxation is used to finance public infrastructure, or health and education benefits for the less well-off, it may actually contribute to economic growth. Sharing wealth more equally may actually help produce more wealth overall.
A final note – and with apologies to our Wednesday Nighters academic or non,  who have surely never been guilty of such transgressions: Gibberish is spreading like a virus from academiaBad writing has spread beyond the ivory tower, into every corner of modern life

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1670"

  1. David Mitchell March 4, 2014 at 12:21 pm · Reply

    I thought this may be of interest. It’s by Jack Matlock ” a career diplomat who served on the front lines of American diplomacy during the Cold War and was U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union when the Cold War ended.” http://jackmatlock.com/2014/03/ukraine-the-price-of-internal-division/

    But Matlock omits consideration of an important factor discussed by Craig Roberts [who, as you know, was was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments.” But you might not have known –as I didn’t– that Roberts did “Russian studies in graduate school,… traveled in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, … published in scholarly journals of Slavic and Russian studies,…twice addressed the Soviet Academy of Sciences, [was] invited to explain to the CIA why the Soviet economic collapse occurred despite the CIA’s predictions to the contrary,}
    Roberts tells us that:
    “Washington tried, but failed, to take Ukraine in 2004 with the Washington-financed “Orange Revolution.” According to Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, since this failure Washington has “invested” $5 billion in Ukraine in order to foment agitation for EU membership for Ukraine. EU membership would open Ukraine to looting by Western bankers and corporations, but Washington’s main goal is to establish US missile bases on Russia’s border with Ukraine and to deprive Russia of its Black Sea naval base and military industries in eastern Ukraine. EU membership for Ukraine means NATO membership.
    Washington wants missile bases in Ukraine in order to degrade Russia’s nuclear deterrent, thus reducing Russia’s ability to resist US hegemony. Only three countries stand in the way of Washington’s hegemony over the world, Russia, China, and Iran.”
    http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/03/03/washingtons-arrogance-hubris-evil-set-stage-war/
    Wish I could be there tomorrow night. It should be another fascinating evening. David M.

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