Wednesday Night #1293

Written by  //  December 13, 2006  //  Cleo Paskal, Herb Bercovitz, Mark Roper, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

It’s a bit too early to wish the locals Merry Christmas – we don’t put OUR tree up until the 15th or so. But we can offer a simmering seasonal potpourri for your enjoyment.
We have unwrapped a series of early Christmas presents with the outcome of the Liberal Leadership convention (discussed extensively at last Wednesday’s lively session), quickly followed by the decision not to revisit the Gay Marriage issue.
Of course, we now have all the silliness about Stéphane’s dual citizenship; turns out he’s not alone , so maybe this too will pass. We were offered a challenge this week to try to work in “pecksniffian” to a Wednesday Night invitation – It seems to us that pecksniffian Ezra Levant, pundit and publisher of the Western Standard, who first raised the question, makes this a no-brainer.
From the U.S. come glad tidings of John Bolton‘s departure from the UN, with no possibility of any more recess appointments.
Justice has been done – Pinochet has gone to meet His Maker without benefit of clever lawyers to plead ill health.
Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered the microcredit practice of granting small business loans to the poor, received the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday. His challenge to the world is that the award inspire “bold initiatives” to fight poverty and eradicate the root causes of terrorism. Way to go, Microcredit!
Kofi Annan has given his farewell speech as UN Sec-Gen at the Harry Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. The National Post has a waspish, but no doubt quite accurate, deconstruction of the speech, which managed to never mention President Bush
Other events are not exactly stocking stuffers:
Fidel may well also disappear from our world soon – what will become of Cuba? The Economist gives us more questions than answers.
Lebanon in turmoil with large Hezbollah-led demonstrations over the past weekend, while some of Iran‘s students have done the unthinkable, demonstrating against President Ahmadinejad who in turn coined a phrase, calling them an “oppressive” minority
No Christmas feast would be complete without Turkey whose admission to the EU is again in question as membership talks are frozen
It seems that Santa’s sled will not have early competition from the Airbus A-380. The long tale of woe is a worthwhile read.
Finally, as we contemplate the damp, foggy air around us, how can we let the remarkable performance of Canada’s Minister of Environment go unremarked? “Rona Ambrose asked the auditor general to review Liberal climate spending – but appeared unaware of basic facts of her own government’s climate spending Monday.” And that’s from the government-friendly National Post!
A little sweet, a lot of spice, the potpourri is simmering, awaiting your contributions.

The Report (Jacques Clément’s Report, notes and photos)

Announcement – 25 years of Wednesday Nights
According to our most numerate Wednesday Nighter, Gerald, the Silver Anniversary of Wednesday Night will take place on January 31, 2007 [Editor’s note: the date is in dispute and is to be recalculated taking into account Islamic, Jewish, Julian and Gregorian calendars, with and without leap years, etcetera, etcetera.] Brian Morel has valiantly stepped forward as Organizer-in-Chief of the festivities and asks that anyone interested in helping contact him through Diana.

Christmas bonus – excess?
This year has been especially kind to many large financial and industrial institutions, reflected in the obscene bonuses accorded their senior managers and employees. Far from enriching the population, it is probable that the excess of this type of reward system, justified by allegations of competition in hiring managers with the best track record, constitutes a danger to free markets.

The news that Canada’s six biggest banks have set a new benchmark for profitability, smashing their previous full-year earnings record with total net income of $19 billion for 2006 makes them an obvious target of much Wednesday Night criticism, especially since many local branches closed and now ATMs are farther and farther apart, leaving one to wonder how private citizens can do any banking at all.

Kofi Anan’s parting shot
Despite undoubtedly justified widespread criticism of the current U.S. administration, to some, Kofi Anan’s parting shot at President George Bush appears excessive. Throughout the history of democratic nations, traditional individual rights have been temporarily diminished by no less revered national leaders than Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. During World War II, under the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as in Canada, citizens of Japanese origin were rounded up and detained for the duration of the war. The United Kingdom under Winston Churchill, suspended the right of habeas corpus, resulting in the detention of many citizens thus deprived of their democratic rights, yet these national leaders are revered to this day. It may very well be that the inept manner in which George Bush has acted has engendered his current widespread unpopularity but the threat of international terrorism is very real. It will be for history to judge his record.
This is not the first occasion on which the impartiality of Kofi Anan has been brought into question. He has supported six resolutions condemning Israel, but none against any other nation, among which many whose human rights violations have been at least as serious.
[Editor’s note: We do not always agree with opinions expressed at Wednesday Night. While we too have grave misgivings about the Secretary-General’s tenure, we would not criticize his comments that “You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less than 60 years ago?”
We would also point to the flip side of the criticism leveled at the departing Secretary-General by some in the room, which was reported widely in the U.S. media and warrants our consideration. “In response to a question after his remarks, Annan said he was appealing for cooperation and leadership, not criticizing the United States. ‘What I am saying here is that when the U.S. works with other countries in a multilateral system, we do extremely well,’ Annan said. The U.S. has a special responsibility to the world because it continues to have extraordinary power, he said”.]

The geopolitics of large-scale environmental impacts
Whatever criticism might be raised concerning the means employed by the United States to preserve the integrity of the western world against a perceived threat, that country remains the linchpin in protecting the Western World against international terrorism. The irony of this situation is the vulnerability of the United States to the growing worldwide problem of unbridled environmental change. Aside from the justifiable criticism of the incompetence of the engineers and Administration personal responsible for the design and maintenance of the levees protecting New Orleans and their reaction to the disaster, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the destructive nature of the rapidly changing environment, including the impact of populations that live in areas that should not be developed as urban centers.
The cost of repair ($125 billion of insured losses versus the cost of Iraq at $87 billion) has been absorbed and there appears to be a large degree of apathy about the ability or inability of the U.S. to repeatedly absorb the human and material cost of such natural disasters, which are not only localized, but social problems are exported with refugees. What does not appear to be taken into consideration is the vulnerability of the heavily populated U.S. Coastal regions, against rapidly escalating climate change that threatens to result in greater, more disastrous environmental events, which in turn affect the entire national security of the nation. While obvious threats are to the Gulf Coast and other coastal regions of the U.S., not only Florida and Louisiana are at risk, but as far north as New York, for example, theoretically flooding Manhattan where ten-foot sea surges have been predicted to occur every ten years or so.
Canada has a comparative advantage to the U.S. in that the population is more linear than coastal, the country having been originally settled along the railway line and hence it is less vulnerable.
Of course, the United States is not the only country in danger of being affected by environmental impact. Europe and the other continents will become more vulnerable. The Korean Peninsula is especially exposed to the ravages of increasingly frequent and violent attacks by El Niño. The resultant damage to the tactical equipment of the U.S. Navy could open South Korea to invasion by the North Korean army.
China suffers from problems stemming from poor engineering And these may well be compounded by unwise decisions of the government to proceed with such projects as the Three Gorges, the modernization of the North South – or Grand – Canal, a water diversion project that centers on the ancient waterway over which grain taxes were once shipped to the northern imperial capitals from the grain-producing regions of the South, and the train to Tibet, more than half of which is built on permafrost. The canal could now play a major role in facilitating modern transportation within China.

Microcredit 101
The recent Microcredit Summit in Halifax launched two lofty goals to be reached by 2015: 1) reaching 175 million poorest families with Microcredit, which will affect 875 million people and 2) ensuring 100 million families rise above the US$1 a day threshold, lifting 500 million people out of extreme poverty.
There is little doubt that Muhammad Yunus merited the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. However, Microcredit has been successfully exercised for many years, particularly in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, but also in Africa and other parts of the world. Small amounts of money are loaned jointly to small groups of women who share the responsibility for repayment. Though frequently uneducated in relation to their counterparts in more affluent parts of the world, they have demonstrated considerable sophistication in planning and implementing commercial projects, most frequently with the help of NGO’s, have become more independent and repay close to one hundred percent of the loans. More important still, in the experience of someone who has followed this story closely, the beneficiaries of these tiny loans have improved their lives, managed to put their children through school and many are expanding their businesses with new Microcredit loans.
Democratic India favours equality in its citizens and reserves educational places for the lower castes, but out of six billion people, one billion live on less than one dollar a day. Microcredit experience has not only demonstrated the poor pay back. The social climate of interdependence appears to be a powerful incentive in preventing non-repayment. Because of the interdependence of these small, close knit groups, each member realizes that if she does not repay her portion of a loan, the burden will fall on her close friends and neighbours, which is personally and socially unacceptable. Moreover, the Microcredit experience has demonstrated that affluence is not necessarily a function of intelligence and in India, the traditional caste system and gender bias have, in the past, acted as a deterrent to the potential contribution of intelligent, streetwise women, who know and understand their communities’ needs, and are skilled in the careful handling of money, preventing them from becoming independent and contributing to the economy.
The real spirit of micro credit is (that) people who had nothing, get together
The critical issue is (that) their (the micro-credit borrowers’) collateral is social collateral. Obviously it works.
I have been meeting people who cannot read or write, but they are starting dairies
This is the new form of woman power – a niche not occupied by men at all
[In India] they are trying to institute micro-insurance schemes for small farmers

The medical specialists in Québec
A Wednesday Nighter recently suffered a medical emergency that brought home just how bad the situation is. The small suburban hospital to which he was admitted had no neurologist to diagnose his situation. Fortunately, the confrerie of Wednesday Night doctors was able to come to his aid. Many, many other citizens of this province will not be so lucky. And the shortage of specialists in Québec will soon affect even those who have connections. Today, it takes at least three weeks to obtain an appointment with a neurologist.
Québec is heading for a major medical crisis. In 1995, the provincial government implemented an inexplicable early retirement buyout scheme for medical professionals, resulting in a shortage of Physicians and Nurses, exacerbated by an antiquated fee schedule that has remained unchanged for the past fifteen years and that is not only unbalanced but totally non-competitive with fees currently paid to their counterparts in the rest of Canada. An aging population constituting an increased demand for medical care has exacerbated the situation. If it is the belief of the government that language differences or local loyalty will keep young graduates here, they are sadly mistaken. Québec City, though perhaps remote from the economic and population centre of the province, is not Delphi and the Oracle apparently does not reside in the National Assembly. It is apparent that the situation will deteriorate and, if history is any predictor of the future, the population will tolerate only so much before insisting that their government of whatever political persuasion re-examine its priorities.
Adding to the problems are the two mega-hospital projects for which there may not be sufficient staff (or clients in the case of the MUHC).
One of the problems … no one seems to know the pay scale (of physicians) versus (that of) electricians and plumbers. Why aren’t they better at stating their case?
You citizens pay your taxes and the government is cheating you by not guaranteeing the medical care you paid for

The economy
We are reminded that there is indeed such a thing as the business cycle. What goes up inevitably comes down and the economies of both Canada and the U.S. seem headed south, although predictions are for a soft landing. But tax receipts are up in North America because of record corporate profits, record stock markets and record capital gains.
The U.S. trade deficit in goods dropped in October to its lowest level since August 2005, reflecting a sharp fall in the price of oil. However, the deficit with China continued to grow and hit $24.4 billion. One interesting news item is that factory orders in China are down. This could presage a drop in China’s rate of growth, which does not augur well for Chinese prosperity.

Emerging markets
The world is flush with money and that money must go somewhere. Emerging markets are expected to grow by six percent next year. These include not only manufacturing countries such as China and India, but also such countries as Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, Chile, Mexico. For the investor, emerging markets should not be considered to be homogeneous, but as separate entities. [Editor’s note: Two recently published news items support this view. ” … even after a sharp setback in May and June, the world’s hunger for commodities along with fierce domestic consumer demand spelled a torrid pace of growth in the emerging markets of China, Russia (50%) and India (48%), all three of them soundly outstripping the U.S. and other industrialized-market nations for the fifth straight year. Less liquid markets took even greater leaps, with Morocco up 66% and Venezuela 62% . And: “Investors in emerging markets added more money to stock funds last week than at any time in seven months after record-breaking share rallies from China to Brazil pushed inflows for 2006 past last year’s all-time high”
Emerging markets are not homogeneous

Today everything is blamed on the current president for many things that other presidents have done many times when country is in peril

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1293"

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