Wednesday Night #1286 with Pierre Arbour

Written by  //  October 25, 2006  //  Education, Environment & Energy, Herb Bercovitz, Nuclear, Reports, United Nations  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1286 with Pierre Arbour

How long will there be Life on planet Earth?
Unless a solution is found within a relatively short period of time, animal (including human) life on the only planet on which is known exist, will likely cease. Green spaces are disappearing, fish stocks are being depleted and the natural energy balance is being tilted. While over consumption in developed countries is a contributing factor, world human population growth is a prime culprit. Paradoxically, it is in the poorest countries where the population growth is greatest that there is the highest morbidity rate, with AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis identified as the main sources of illness and premature death. While Europe has a growth rate of 0.8% population, the population in Africa is expected to increase this year at the rate of two to three percent.
The very limited use of mosquito bed netting, condoms and other preventative and therapeutic measures can be attributed to many factors, including the greed of national leaders who profit from the altruism of foreign countries and N.G.O.’s, the local religions and cultural beliefs of the citizens of these countries as well as to the religious beliefs of the President of the U.S.

Poverty alleviation
The struggle against poverty and disease must and will be continued, thanks to human proclivity for mutual support. But, in order to be successful, not only to the benefit of developing countries but for continuing human existence, the rationale for large families must be understood. When one examines the relationship between longevity, affluence, literacy and education, and family size, it becomes evident that aside from the natural human instinct for reproduction, the perceived need for large families is the result of desire to have a sufficient number of surviving children to contribute to the family’s continuing existence and to look after their aging parents.
The key to ending poverty lies in education, especially the education of women, leading, quite naturally, to responsible government and the acceptance of ideas that have not been dictated by past practice and experience. It is paradoxical that in retrospect, the citizens of many African countries are worse off than they were as colonials.
The important message is that it is not a problem of developing countries, but a global problem that has the capacity to destroy all life on the only planet that, as far as we are aware, supports it. [Editor’s note: And we would add that before life is destroyed, the world could be bankrupted. See the Stern review]

With education so important to the success of a nation or planet, it is astounding that there appears to be little consensus on how to promote it. There are those who believe that children should be given the choice of spending time in an educational setting until they have found their niche, others who believe that a child’s early interests should be exploited and expanded. Québec deserves great credit for having created the CEGEP network that can act as a stage where interests can be discovered and a filter through which skills and budding expertise can be detected and developed before moving on to University.
Unfortunately, universities in Québec are inadequately funded and their fee levels the lowest in Canada, with the exception of Newfoundland. The relationship between adequate funding and the potential contribution of graduates appears obvious and the loss of potential contributors to our economy is great. Québec has a three-tier fee system with Québec residents paying the least, other Canadian students more and foreign students the most. The provincial economy appears to be insufficient to increase university fundings and all attempts to increase student fees have, so far, resulted in student confrontations, leading the provincial government to back down.

The recently established Fondation Universitaire Pierre Arbour, recognizing the importance of the relationship between education and the well-being of Quebeckers, has named its first scholars currently studying at three Québec universities (Concordia, Université de Montréal, Université de Québec à Montréal) in three different disciplines (Engineering, Business, Computer Science), to pursue studies at the master’s and ultimately the doctoral level. Because the foundation believes that the importance of the mission surpasses accolades for the Foundation, it has succeeded in keeping administration costs to a minimum.

Bears versus CPR
Did we once live in more gentle times or does our memory filter out the past? At one time, railway locomotives crossed the prairies with cow catchers attached to protect and save cattle that might have wandered onto the tracks. Today, trains carrying grain moving through western Canada spill grain along the tracks. This attracts bears, many of whom are killed,. The cost of repair to the trains is roughly equivalent to the annual tourist revenue in the national parks through which they run. In any event, it is the bears who pay the highest price.

Ignatieff: Needs a speaking coach – uses words that are too long.
Rae: Charming, very bright, but is unelectable in Ontario. Campaign disorganized in Québec
Kennedy: Impressive but French not great.
Ken Dryden: No French.
Dion: Despite appearances, the only one that is electable … or is he?

What will happen to the price of oil?

Nuclear power and North Korea

The die was cast in 1945. A single atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a second on Nagasaki, leaving Japan no alternative but to capitulate. Following victory in Europe, the allies were winning in Asia, but the bomb was dropped, with the justification that the war would be shortened thus saving more lives than if the war were to continue in a conventional manner. This was the decision that would change the planet for all time. The U.S.S.R. then developed the bomb, but this in fact guaranteed the peace, as it provided a balance of power and resulted in the non-proliferation treaty that entered into force in 1970 and today has been ratified by 187 parties including the (5 official) nuclear powers. It would appear however, that non-proliferation did not apply to countries friendly to the West such as Israel, India, Pakistan. One by one, the teeth were extracted from the friendly beast, and no one seemed to care until Kim Jong-Il exploded a relatively small device, apparently destroying nothing but the myth of the relationship between democracy, the United Nations and world security. It would appear that national leaders do not always place the welfare of their citizens above their personal ability to exercise influence over otherwise more powerful world leaders.
On the surface, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities should not be a major issue. The population has been impoverished by the policies of its government, the nuclear device was small, the system to deliver it not well developed and each test explosion reduces the risk as more fissionable material is used up. The real danger lies in the possibility of exportation of nuclear devices to other rogue states or militias. The explosion of the myth of protection from nuclear conflagration through the balance of power may be as real as is the possibility of proliferation in Asia and the Middle East unless a new balance of power is established in the immediate future.
Kim Jong-Il can remain confident in his defiance. He has succeeded in insulating his citizens from news and visitors from neighbouring South Korea and China, as well as from the rest of the world. In 1989, with the increasing popularity of satellite television and small video cameras, the population of East Germany, perhaps in an analogous situation, became aware of the physical and intellectual poverty imposed on them by their government and they destroyed the Berlin Wall and in the process, East Germany. The flood of refugees to the West caused great disruption in Germany that took some time to overcome. It is felt by some, that China’s reluctance to bring North Korea, so dependent on China, to heel, is the fear that the resulting increased poverty might lead to a flood of refugees into China, causing great disruption in that country.

The UN Security Council
The apparent inability of the United Nations Security Council to act decisively is obviously related to the power of veto by permanent members. Some (if not all) Wednesday Nighters believe that this results in watered down, less effective measures against miscreant nations by permanent Security Council members who may place the value of commercial, national, ideological, or other ties ahead of objectivity.

Predictably, the war in Iraq has not followed the path projected by the Americans at the time of the invasion. It would appear that ultimately, there must be recognition that a relatively young country created by colonial powers with little if any understanding of the disparate multiethnic population, cannot be welded into a unified state in just over half a century, without the imposition of force. This lesson had been learned in Yugoslavia. The Kurds, Sunni and Shia will ultimately succeed only as separate states, the danger being the likely action of Turkey against the Kurds should that occur. As for the U.S. they still possess a number of military bases in the area and the oil market is a world market that does not distinguish between ethnic, religious or national groups in the sale of its product.

The Liberal leadership race

The Liberal leadership race continues. At a time when the Conservative government is unfolding its true conservative agenda with proposing the extension of patent protection for pharmaceutical manufacturers, changing gun registration legislation, appearing to adopt more made-in-America legislative philosophies, left-of-centre voters should be rushing to cheer the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, but that the party still appears to be looking for a viable candidate. Michael Ignatieff seems not to have completely grasped the difference between academia and government; Stéphane Dion does not appear to have the support of Québeckers, but will probably hang on until the final vote; while Bob Rae is said by some to have lost the confidence of Ontario voters. On the other hand, some Ontarians may have forgotten – or not be aware of – the fiscal and financial sins of Rae’s (NDP) past. Kennedy’s backers and detractors alike point to his unilingualism. The Convention this November/December should be exciting and 2007 may yet prove to be an interesting year for more than stock market watchers.
[Editor’s note: as befits any major event, we note the Convention opens on WEDNESDAY, November 29; we also wonder whether the coincidental first anniversary of Stéphane Dion’s highly successful presidency of the Climate Change meeting may play in his favor.]

Québec healthcare
Concerns continue around health care in Québec. As family physicians generate the bulk of health care costs through prescribing medication, referrals to specialists, ordering tests and radiological examinations, it is felt by some that the government of Québec has acted in a manner leading to the deliberate shortage of family physicians. Whether valid or not, the shortage exists and should be addressed.

The Stock Market
In the stock market as in many areas, history tends to repeat itself, but Wednesday Nighters tend to have more faith in the historical record of our successful Analysts. Based on historical trends and the analysis thereof, the following picture emerges. [Nb now over 12000]
Although the end of the bull market may be near, it has not yet arrived. The market rose too fast at the beginning of the year but we have had minor corrections at the end of June in New York and in July in Toronto, followed by a big upturn, still within the bull market. Historically, September is the worst month of the year, but this year, an exception, saw the market rising in a strong recovery. At the beginning of a bear market Toronto historically leads New York downwards, but not this year, thus the conclusion that the bull market continues. Finally, historically, the end of the bull market is invariably marked by greed, as in the frantic buying of Nortel just prior to the bursting of the electronic bubble. This year, there was no similar frantic buying spree of energy stocks.
In short, the outlook for the market sees the New York market pausing and then once again rising until at least January and February as fund managers, flush with money accumulated since 1992 that must be invested, make their decisions.
Risks are the US deficit and the over-extended consumer in the US, however the outlook for next year is good – “make hay while the sun shines”.
Stocks to buy? Oil and gold are now attractive after the correction. Methanex, despite recent drastic corrections, is at an 11-year high and still interesting. Potash should go to $200.
International factors
Neither the North Korean nuclear explosion, a possible foreshadowing of a world crisis, nor ongoing concerns regarding the impact of climate change are expected to affect the market which maintains its own rhythm through world crises.

Political leaders
It is strange that the gods who have produced such bright, capable leaders in the areas of science and industry appear to have failed us in the realm of politics.
In the U.K., Tony Blair will be gone before next summer. It is anticipated that his successor will be fifty-five year old Dr. James Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In Canada, with Stephen Harper getting mixed reviews, Michael Ignatieff is leading the pack of Liberal leadership hopefuls. Although his brilliance is recognized and he appears to have succeeded in making inroads in Québec, his lack of familiarity with the inner workings of politics is a concern, especially for a party in such dire need of renewal. Those who are, or may be, supporting him as the number of candidates thins out, may or may not be thinking more of such personal issues as cabinet posts or other favours than of what is best for the country. As for Stephen Harper who has earned his laurels but must maintain his position or improve on it if he is to form a majority government, he is accused of lacking a real agenda to bring substantial change to the country.

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