Wednesday Night #1347

The amazing Oscar Petersen 15 August 1925 – 23 December 2007
is mourned around the world.

The last Wednesday Night of 2007 falls on Boxing Day – a frenetic commercial activity that is a horrid distortion of a medieval charitable custom. We believe that a return to the feudal customs might not be a bad idea. We also note that traditionally the servers were given Boxing Day off, but your loyal servitors of Wednesday Night claim no such privilege.
We prefer to think of it as St. Stephen’s Day, referred to in the carol about the benevolent monarch, King Wenceslaus. As St. Stephen was an early martyr, stoned to death for blasphemy, we find this an appropriate day on which to review the political wars between Stéphane and Stephen, who seem to be engaged in throwing stones – if not bricks – at one another.
One could also make the link to state-sanctioned stoning to death in certain Moslem countries (notably Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates) as punishment for the crime of adultery, evoking thoughts of feudal’ again, but in a less pleasant context, which brings us to last week’s call by the UN to abolish the death penalty throughout the world
We are delighted that Noah Weisbord, former law clerk to the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, will be with us. Although his area of expertise lies more in the realm of genocide and the crime of aggression, we have no doubt that he will ably handle this topic.
We often discuss the variations in media takes on issues, but rarely has the divide between different camps been so clearly visible as the first reports on the Pope’s Christmas message; according to the New York Times and the Independent, it was an environmental message. Others (India’s Sify and Australia’s ABC) say it was an appeal for the recognition of the dignity of children. With all respect and at the risk of sounding flippant, we would appeal for the recognition of the dignity of parents (and grandparents). Then there’s CBC that says the Pope urged Roman Catholics to set aside time for God and the needy. Likely we will take the environment tack as we have Cleo Paskal and Catherine Gillbert with us.
Coincidentally, both have recently returned from India. Cleo has much to say about India’s position in the Bali debates and both may have comments on the Hindu nationalists victory in the Gujarat elections. There are the Thai elections to comment as well, along with predictions for Thursday’s outcome in Kenya.
Mention of the Vatican inevitably leads to Tony Blair’s conversion to Catholicism. The Independent airs he view that it was Blair’s “innate Catholicism” that influenced him to bring Britain into the Iraq War. The Daily Mail takes a more critical view of the Prime Minister as a ‘closet Catholic’.
We must call your attention to an unusual Op-Ed piece in the New York Times that discusses the appropriateness of The Ode to Joy as the expression of triumph in geopolitical matters. most recently at the signature of the Treaty of Lisbon. We are not sure if our favorite – and only – Faeroese musician would care to comment, but we are happy to have Jens Christian Justinussen with us to comment on whatever pleases him.
Given the focus on nuclear energy of many recent Wednesday Nights, the news that Stephen Harper is thinking of selling off a stake in AECL should stir some comment. Bloomberg says GE may be interested and there would certainly be other suitors. Is this a good idea??
It seems that an agreement in principle has been reached with many of the key players in the third-party ABCP market and Minister Flaherty has approved it – The FP notes, however that: “Canadian banks … have yet to agree on their role in restructuring the market.”
And in the category of news you must know: Plans are in the pipeline for beavers to be released into the Scottish wild for the first time in 500 years.

The Report — Photos and more


The last Wednesday of 2007 was marked by a more than usually eclectic group and a number of new faces including writer and film maker Clayton Bailey; Alana Klein, Doctoral candidate at Columbia Law School who is teaching at McGill; Tom Hesler, a Law School classmate of Chantal Beaubien, Philip Osano, a former Sauvé Scholar from Kenya now a Ph.D. candidate at McGill; and Rahma Adam from Tanzania who is now at the Kennedy School of Government. A welcome returnee after a long absence was The King of String and Father of Cleo, Tom Paskal.
Climate Change
Unfortunately, much of the debate on climate change is absolutist, rather than recognizing that there are a number of actions that can be taken simultaneously [and different actions according to local and regional conditions]. The momentum of climate change is likely irreversible, therefore emphasis today must be on slowing down the rate of change [mitigation by lowering the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere], along with the adaptation projects to enable poorer countries to cope with the effects of climate change [This is the basis of the Bali Action Plan].
At this stage, it is difficult to see what difference will be made in the medium term by cutting emissions, given the melting of the permafrost, release of methane and inability of oceans to absorb the carbon released and other phenomena. Thus the negotiation on carbon emissions has become an economic mechanism, rather than one that is science-based. Developing nations must act in their economic self-interest and some nations are playing the game far better than others. India and China will not be cutting emissions in the near future. China is presenting itself as the voice of the developing world on this issue, with an eye towards acquiring intellectual property rights for technologies that they want to have for free. What the West fails to understand is that for a country like India, the proposals set out at the Bali meeting were viewed as a strait jacket for their economy imposed by the industrialised nations.
Kenneth Rogoff in the current issue of Foreign Policy suggests that the first thing the next American president should do upon taking office is to insist that the U.S. Congress pass a huge increase in gas taxes; implementing steep carbon taxes that hit coal, heating oil, and natural gas. A number of European countries have introduced carbon taxes with varying degrees of success, but there is no cohesion in tax policy and few empirical studies are available. For more on this see: A Review of Carbon and Energy Taxes in EU
The U.S. will likely follow suit – already states and cities are far out in front of the federal government on issues of sustainability, proving that this is a popular issue and one which the next administration will have to address, but the question remains – is it too little too late?
Meanwhile, a recent visitor to Japan, remarked on the great number of hybrid vehicles and wonders what the effect would be if the U.S. government were to push for similar policies. Japan has no domestic oil supply – and therefore no domestic oil lobby; likewise, a number of developing nations with little or no domestic oil resources are also encouraging hybrid, or low-mileage vehicles and adoption of new technologies that are very close to implementation. As developing nations take these steps and costs of manufacturing are lowered, the U.S. will have to follow, but it must be remembered that the entrenched corporate powers are extremely strong and the shift of the U.S. economy will be massive.
While carbon emissions remain the focus of the international community, from the standpoint of national security, the issue must be the location of infrastructure on coastal lands that will be the first victims of rising ocean levels.
Inevitably, a highly articulate voice was raised to assail the ‘ecotheocrats’, criticising the evolution of the fight against pollution into the more undefined global warming, subsequently morphed into climate change, and suggesting that there has not been an effective environmental movement since Nader’s Raiders. International business will thrive under carbon emissions trading, without reforming its practices that include the devastation of agricultural lands in developing nations and the use of African nations as laboratories for testing of pharmaceuticals. This same voice reminds us that the root of the problem is overpopulation which places ever-increasing demands on natural resources and nature’s bounty.
Catherine the Intrepid (Gillbert) recently returned from trekking in Nepal where she noticed considerable changes since her previous visit three years ago. Among her observations: the extensive road building activities which will bring development and many changes to the villages. The political situation is confused; the monarchy appears to be on its way out, with many of those to whom she spoke talking about future uses of the Royal Palace, but on the other hand, the police and the army are still totally loyal to the King (who pays them). There appear to be a number of separatist (predominantly Buddhist) groups, seeking regional autonomy. The social system is equally confused in that both a strong caste and clan system exist. The Maoists are seeking a system similar to the Indian, with entrenched rights for the different castes.
All political parties, including the Maoist Party, are led by Hindus, a fact that makes the Buddhists – many of whom are of Tibetan origin – feel increasingly marginalized. The dominant position of the Hindus reflects the gradual takeover of the country by India; historically Nepalese were Buddhist or animist.
The Crime of Aggression (starting a war)
For over 100 years, legal experts have been struggling to define the Crime of Aggression and have it admitted to international criminal jurisdiction. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been given authority to prosecute four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (which is not defined because it was too controversial for States to agree). A Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression was established in 2002 by the Assembly of States Parties to continue discussions on the definition, elements and jurisdictional conditions of the Crime of Aggression. It is expected that in 2010 there will be an accepted definition of what is a legal and what is an illegal war, and States (Heads of State – policy makers) will be held to account, rather than individuals. But problems will not end there. Coalitions of nations are attempting to insert clauses or conditions favourable to their situation or perspective (ex. Inclusion of occupation of territories as viewed by Arab nations with reference to Israel; they want each day to be determined a new crime of aggression – a sort of unlimited compound-interest approach). Definitions are subject to lists of contexts. Prosecution will have to be initiated within the State accused of the crime and then pursued in cooperation with the ICC, which has the investigative powers. We need only to examine the situation in Sudan to understand how easily investigations can be avoided, waylaid, postponed or sidetracked by forces within a government.
One question that arises is how to reconcile the current policies of deterrence with the definition of aggression. One way to address the issue is through application of the theory of Constructivism to international relations and state security
It should be recognized that these developments will not aid in the prosecution of such groups as Al Qaeda who use war as a method of mobilizing a population.
Generating heated debate, one Wednesday Nighter questions the usefulness of the ICC (and the UN in general), maintaining that both are held in thrall by a large group of rogue states that will do everything to thwart justice, ensuring that the heads of state who have presided over the murder of thousands of their citizens will never be brought to trial. While this may be true at the level of the General Assembly and the Security Council at times, the ICC appears relatively free from such influences, although lacking the powers that would permit a universal application of the rule of Law.
Sustainable Fisheries Management
Fisheries are in decline throughout the world, largely through mismanagement by politicians who establish quotas that are too high. While Canada is regarded as a worst-case scenario, there are pitifully few examples of good management; the Maine lobster fishery, a decentralized system with much input from the fishermen is generally regarded as sustainable and successful. The problem is that politicians generally think in terms of their elected life and are incapable of taking the long view; therefore there is a need to take fisheries management out of the political realm and confide it to an independent authority. One appealing model is that of Central Banking Systems, created to pursue long-term goals.
[Editor’s note: Despite Canada’s appalling performance in fisheries management, the country houses a remarkable and influential Fisheries Centre at UBC; the maps produced by Dr. Daniel Pauly’s Sea Around Us project give an unequivocal picture of the state of fisheries worldwide.]

3 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1347"

  1. JOE HUEGLIN December 25, 2007 at 3:52 am ·

    Health Minister Tony Clement appears to have not quite had his facts straight when he said concerning the resignation of Michael Burns as AECL Chairman: “I actually think this was just an interesting coincidence.” The Chairman’s resignation was unrelated to the crisis in the production of medical isotopes at the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) reactor. It was, however, the near completion of a more than year long reorganization of the Crown Corporation readying it for possible privatization.
    The first step in the privatization process was the appointment of Burns in October 2006, which was done over the recommendations of the Nominating Committee of AECL’s Board of Directors, who had recommended Jean-Pierre Soublire. Soublire had been Acting Chair of the Board of Directors for (AECL) since October 20, 2005.Burns, a former fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance, was probably considered as more amenable to change than someone who had been on the Board of Directors of AECL since 1998.
    Rather than concentrating on bringing the reactor up to the standards agreed upon when the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) approved the AECL application to renew the Chalk River Laboratories Site Operating Licence in July 2006 government focus was on restructuring AECL into “two divisions a commercial reactor business and Atomic Energy’s research and development operations.” Accomplished in October, 2007 it was seen by industry observers as a possible: “signal that the federal government is quietly preparing to privatize a portion of the crown corporation”.
    On November 2, 2007 Robert Van Adel, AECL President and Chief Executive Officer, a staunch public spokesman about the success of his Corporation, retired half way through his term of office. Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn announced this decision in July.
    On November 29th, before the isotope crisis, Chairman Burns resigned.Though the last step deemed necessary for reorganization is not yet in place. This is Bill C-63, the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, which received first reading on June 15, 2007, would limit the liability of a nuclear plant to a maximum of $650 million dollars; Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn by “coincidence” on November 29th launched “a strategy review of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to determine whether the maker of the Candu nuclear reactor needs to be restructured, a move industry observers say will likely lead to a partial privatization of the heavily subsidized Crown corporation.
    The isotope crisis gave the choreographers of new directions for AECL the opportunity to appear to act decisively. On December 14th Chairman Burns resignation was announced as well as the appointment of his replacement as Chairman and that of a new CEO.
    The events of December 14 were not as Clement said “an interesting coincidence” but rather what Maurice Burns has called “a clumsy piece of political [o]pportunism”. Burns’ resignation was being used as the opportunity to slip in a new management team.
    Was a real crisis used to push the new Conservative government’s privatization plans? Perhaps the answer to this question is to be found in another coincidence: the publishing on December 15 of a column headlined “AECL served a purpose, now it’s time to sell it.”

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson December 29, 2007 at 9:49 am ·

    Riots Erupt Across Kenya as Rivals Declare Victory
    NAIROBI, Kenya — With the results from Kenya’s closely contested elections still up in the air, riots erupted across the country on Saturday. Columns of black smoke boiled up from the slums ringing Nairobi, the capital, as supporters of Raila Odinga, the leading presidential challenger, poured into the streets to protest what they said was a plot by the government to steal the election.More
    (BBC) Kenya’s knife-edge election result has been delayed amid chaotic scenes at the offices of the electoral commission.
    There were scuffles at the counting centre in Nairobi as party rivals demanded recounts of Thursday’s vote, amid claims of rigging. Officials suspended the count until Sunday. The delays have already sparked violence and looting across Kenya. Details

  3. Diana Thébaud Nicholson January 3, 2008 at 6:35 pm ·

    Wednesday 2 January 2008
    Nepal starting major road construction
    A new road will help cut travel times in Nepal between capital Kathmandu and Terai. With this new road, the distance between Kathmandu and Tarai will be 82km, reducing travel time from the present six hours to just two. The Nepalese government has given its approval for the construction of the North-South Fast Track along the Bagmati river, with work starting in 2008. The North-South fast track road project is being supported by Asian Development Bank with a budget of US$310,000 for initial work. The process of contract bidding is now underway. This will be one of the 64 major projects Nepal’s Department of Roads (DoR) is launching, which will increase the length of strategic roads in the country by 2,300km to a total 7,330km. Of this, the DoR will invest an impressive $115 million, Nepal’s Army will contribute $5.3 million and the Road Board will provide $12 million. According to the DoR, other major projects include the Dharan-Katari-Hetauda road, the Dang-Rolpa-Rukum road, the Karnali Corridor road and the Gorkha-Kilo Barpak Road. Along with support from ADB and the World Bank, the governments of Japan, China, India and the UK are also keen to help Nepal construct more roads.

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