Wednesday Night #1338

Written by  //  October 24, 2007  //  Beryl Wajsman, John Curtin, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  4 Comments

24 October 2007

Lately, we have spent a lot of time agonizing over the political scene in this country. So much so, that it appears to us we have been neglecting many international news items and issues, so this Wednesday, appropriately United Nations Day , we propose to look at some of (it is hardly likely we’ll get to all) the topics below.
While we wrestle with the possibility of an election in Canada, there appears to be a never-ending stream of election outcomes, not to mention political manoeuvering in other countries. How many people paid attention to the results from Poland (we admit that when we were paying attention, we always found the twins a bit creepy), or to the singularly mean-spirited Swiss People’s Party campaign in Switzerland that resulted in important gains for the SVP which, besides its opposition to immigrants, wants to keep Switzerland out of the European Union?
In Russia, things have suddenly become more complicated with the news that Mikhail Gorbachev has been elected head of a new political movement founded, he said, to help bring democratic principles to Russia , a challenging undertaking given Mr. Putin’s recent moves to assure his succession will toe his line. Oh well, if Mr. Gorbachev’s new party goes nowhere, perhaps he can take solace in his designation as a Hero of the Environment (in itself, this designation has a faintly Soviet ring to it) by TIME
Meanwhile, almost as nobody was looking, there’s a newly announced leadership lineup in China that “modestly enhances the authority of President Hu Jintao”.
Next week, Argentina will vote to replace current President Nestor Kirchner, probably with his wife who, described as the ‘Argentine Hillary‘, sounds a great deal more qualified that the former first ladies of Argentina whose attempts to succeed their president husbands have been pretty disastrous. Is there a feminine of caudillo?
Kenya will have elections in December; the Parliament is dissolved amid forecasts of a close race. Although the rate of growth last year was back to the 1981 level (this is good news), inflation, corruption, lack of jobs and high crime rate plague the country.
Meanwhile in Pakistan, the return of Benazir Bhutto to lead her party in contesting the January elections has already precipitated violence and, sadly, there’s surely more to come.
And then there’s the flare-up between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurd separatists (PPK) that could turn very, very ugly, despite international efforts to get things back on track
Good news from Africa for once. The first winner of the Mo Ibrahim award for leadership in Africa was announced. It is Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique and currently UN special envoy to peace talks between the Ugandan government and Lord’s Resistance Army rebels. While there is much debate about the effectiveness (not to mention morality – it does appear to be a sophisticated form of bribery) of the prize in encouraging honesty among African leaders, if it can encourage even 2 or 3 leaders to do the right thing, it can’t be totally bad
Reverting to some of last week‘s topics, we would point to Jacques Clément’s predictions that the US dollar would slide against the euro to $1.43 (it did it on Friday) and that oil would be at $90/bbl (see Comments) It remains to be seen whether the Loonie will reach $1.05 – it dropped back to $1.02 today, but we have a way to go until year-end.
No mention of emerging markets last week, but a subsequent piece in MarketWatch suggesting that we could see an emerging markets bubble brought this response from WN’s favorite EM expert “More money will flow into EM, in search of better performance, [and] that could lead eventually to a bubble, but we are not at that stage yet. Still time to invest in EM and enjoy the run; too early to take profits.”
We are also intrigued by mention on the news tonight that the Caisse plans to invest in Indian real estate for the first time and may spend up to C$1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) there in the next five years .
Bruce Kippen’s predictions regarding the Alberta royalties dispute look seems accurate – we’ll find out on Wednesday Night (“Albertans will find out Wednesday night how the province will act on a government report that recommended hiking the royalty rates charged to energy companies”) and this could mean a provincial election. So, we are back to the topic where we started – elections.

Postscript on the Alberta royalties topic:
Alberta’s largest labour organization is threatening to launch an election-style campaign aimed at punishing the governing provincial Conservatives if Premier Ed Stelmach scraps a government-commissioned panel’s proposal to raise oil and gas royalties. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan says he believes the premier will institute a “watered-down” version of the Alberta Royalty Review Panel’s proposal of a 20-per-cent increase in total royalties worth roughly $2 billion per year, if he doesn’t outright reject it. Last week Mr. Stelmach said Alberta’s current royalty regime has created “one of the most successful economies on earth.” He has also said he will not allow oil and gas companies to bully him into making a decision on royalties. The issue has ignited a political firestorm in a province that opinion polls show largely favours the review panel’s recommendations. It reached a head recently when hundreds of energy workers nearly came to blows with industry representatives following a rally at the provincial legislature.
The industry has made almost-daily threats to trim billions worth of investments and eliminate thousands of jobs if the royalty panel’s recommendations are followed.
(RCI Cyberjournal Oct. 23)

The Report

In a sense, Cuba is a paradox. As has become obvious in Florida, expatriate Cubans have demonstrated their traditional entrepreneurial traits while their homeland, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, exhibits its dictatorial, communist style of government dating back to its cold war relationship with the U.S.S.R. Positive effects of the post-Batista era include universal free access to food, education and medical care, development of medical and agricultural expertise. On the negative side, Cubans live with ration cards and a very low-income level, and the country is in desperate need of investment capital. Meantime, the success of those who have succeeded in escaping to the United States is proof that their entrepreneurial spirit remains intact, though suppressed in their native land. With the Cold War long ended, Geopolitics dictate the buying-off of the failing Cuban leadership and the resumption of trade between the U.S. and Cuba, which would also help neutralize the increasingly rapid spread of the Hugo Chavez effect on Central and South America. As logical as this solution might appear, any U.S. political party favouring such a move would inevitably lose its political support in Florida where the politically powerful Cuban exiles and their progeny retain a virulent hatred for Castro and opposition to any accommodation with that regime.
But that would require statesmanship as opposed to political brinkmanship

The Blackwater Investigation
When is a mercenary a security guard? Probably when he is accorded that title. It is perhaps the memory of the Minutemen defeating the British Redcoats in the U.S. War of Independence that inspires the Americans to go this route, but is more likely the advantages of hiring (27,000) independent rifle operators, including the savings in not having to pay lifelong benefits, the avoidance of established rules of engagement, or the fact that Blackwater casualties are not counted in with those of the military. These “security guards” are accountable to no government for their deeds or methods used.
It’s not about cost, it’s about being effective

Turkey and the Kurds
With a population of over seventy million spread over a territory of close to eight hundred thousand kilometres, on two continents, Turkey, a secular Islamic state and important military power, is an important ally for the U.S., the E.E.U., as well as for NATO. As the growth of Islamism increases the importance of secular Turkey to the Western World, the evolution of several scenarios around the Mediterranean make this relationship simultaneously more important and more precarious. According to one serious analysis, Turkey is beginning to take a role more independent of the U.S. and less dependent on the E.U. It is making strategic alliances with Iran and Israel, another factor in the apparent diminution of U.S. influence in the Mediterranean basin. In other views, Turkey has failed to take advantage of several windows of opportunity and is of decreasing importance.
The Kurds are a generally peaceful people numbering some 35 million who lack an autonomous homeland (the only nation that did not receive a country under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). The Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) is currently attempting to establish the country of Kurdistan by carving out a territory from existing parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia, attacking Turkish territory and killing Turkish soldiers. Understandably, Turkey wishes to respond by raiding Northern Iraq. Although it never happened, the U.S. had planned on invading Iraq simultaneously through Kuwait from the south and Turkey from the north. Had they joined in the war in Iraq, committing their real military power in central Iraq, Turkey might have had a somewhat free hand to pursue the PKK in northern Iraq.
In balancing the equation, it must also be remembered that there are important recently discovered oil fields in northern Iraq.

Turkey and the EU
A second problematic area is Turkey’s wish to join the European Union, eventually as a full member. Accession is contingent on deep political and human rights reforms and the EU position is that until those are in place, Turkey is excluded from consideration. In the unlikely event that effective reform were implemented, and membership considered, the high Turkish birth rate coupled with the increasing number of Turks living and working within the EU would undoubtedly constitute a threat to the continued existence of that union. As the most rapidly reproducing country in Europe it has been predicted that the Turkish population will surpass that of all European countries within fifteen years. It may well be that Turkey would be accorded certain special commercial and other privileges, falling short of full EU membership. On another plane, it is wise to ask whether Turkey can be considered to share in the cultural, philosophical and political aspirations of the member countries of the EU? And if not, would it be an appropriate member of the alliance?

Iran is the current immediate source of concern, very dangerous, very calculating. It has youth, eighty percent literacy, education, resources, – everything required to establish an empire. As for its development of nuclear weapons, the unasked question is why the United Nations International Atomic Energy Commission should not become involved. Nobody should be against Iran’s development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as long as it is controlled by the international community and devoted to peaceful purposes. As for Russia, whether or not one agrees that Putin is monstrous and murderous, or merely calculating and ambitious to a dangerous degree, Iran serves as a fortuitous counterbalance to the U.S. It is believed that when Russia sold nuclear material to Iran, it was not considered possible that Iranian scientists could convert to the military nuclear technology as rapidly has happened.
There is another dimension to the Russia-Iran alliance, which is the memory of the failure of the Afghanistan incursion. No matter how popular Putin may be, the Russian people will not countenance another military adventure in the Middle East.
The situation now hangs in the balance and the outcome depends on whether Russia will disengage from Iran, or whether the U.S. will move – or sanction moves – against Iran to eliminate the nuclear capability.

Quebec Citizenship
Pauline Marois’ conditions (immigrants required to have an “appropriate” working knowledge of French to be sworn in as Québec citizens, those who fail to develop their French-language skills would not be allowed to hold public office, raise funds for a party or petition the National Assembly with a grievance) for Québec citizenship is a no-brainer.
[Please read Beryl Wajsman‘s articulate editorial for the Suburban on this topic]
It is very unlikely today that a candidate who does not speak French could be elected to the Québec Assembly [or would think of running]. However, surely, the person who gets the most support from his or her constituents is by definition, their choice to represent them.
If a deaf mute runs for office and is elected, that is whom the people want and who is to deny their right to choose?
What is interesting, however, is a device through which the third-ranking party in the province succeeds in capturing the headlines over several days. Some Wednesday Nighters see Pauline Marois as the representative of the dying older generation, but others suggest that religious tribalism is part of the national psyche and has now been replaced by those members of the political classes and intelligentsia who advocate State control over the lives of the average Québecois.
Although the media have often emphasized the most virulent presentations to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, tolerance for immigrants and religious groups is reasonably high throughout the province. One interesting note on the Commission hearings indicates that the levels of tolerance are much lower in regions closer to Montreal.


4 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1338"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson October 26, 2007 at 6:56 pm ·

    Though independent economists doubt official claims that Cuba’s economy is growing at around 10% a year, they agree that it is expanding again after a decade of privation. That is mainly thanks to aid from Venezuela and trade with China. There are fewer power cuts and more buses on the streets. But wages are still below their level of 1989. Food is rationed or expensive and medicines are often in short supply. This week the education minister admitted that low pay was prompting an “exodus” of teachers from schools.
    The Economist, October 25, 2007

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson October 30, 2007 at 10:20 am ·

    A follow-up to the evening’s discussion on Iran & Russia
    TEHRAN (AFP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was headed to Iran on Tuesday for a surprise visit to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, amid growing differences between Moscow and the West over the Iranian nuclear drive. … Some Iranian officials said after Putin’s visit that he made a proposal over the Iranian nuclear programme to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However this was never confirmed by Moscow.
    The United States and its European allies accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb and are threatening a third set of UN sanctions against Tehran to punish its nuclear defiance.BBC

  3. Diana Thébaud Nicholson October 30, 2007 at 7:02 pm ·

    Language watchdog slams ‘mean-spirited’ swipe at anglos
    OTTAWA — Quebec anglophones have made tremendous progress in adapting to their province’s linguistic reality and don’t deserve the kind of mean-spirited treatment PQ MNA Pierre Curzi dished out in his jibe about West Islanders not being real Quebecers, Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser said Tuesday.

  4. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 1, 2007 at 5:16 pm ·

    The United Nations General Assembly voted by 184 to 4 to urge the United States to lift its trade embargo against Cuba. George Bush recently said that the embargo would not be lifted while either Fidel Castro or his brother Raúl retained power. The Economist “Politics This Week” Nov 1, 2007

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