Wednesday Night #1361

Wednesday Night Goes Global – or at least partially!

On Wednesday April 2, a select group of Wednesday Nighters will gather in Athenson the first day of the New School of Athens (NSOA) Conference Athens-3 organized by Kimon Valaskakis OWN. Jaime Webbe and Cleo Paskal are participating in the Panel on Globalisation and Security: Managing Natural Disasters. Jaime is an Issue Paper author and Cleo, a Lead Panelist. The Rapporteur of the Panel is another occasional Wednesday Nighter, Paris Valaskakis, and Bert Revenaz will be a participant and cheer leader.
A few hours later, as Wednesday Nighters are gathered around the table at 33, the West Wing (Vancouver) will be opening its first session – yes, we know there’s a three-hour time difference, but they go to bed earlier in Vancouver. We are very happy that Alexandra & James have got this up and running and that Steven Lightfoot will be our delegate at the inaugural West Wing meeting.
On another international note, John Buchanan will be with us from London; we are glad he won’t have had to come through Heathrow’s Terminal-5 to get here.
Our menu will offer the usual variety of spicy fare:
Zimbabwe‘s elections will no doubt still be in question – at least the official results – unless, of course, Uncle Bob has had the good sense to skip town for Malaysia as one rumor has it. There’s someamazing coverage by very intrepid reporters and bloggers, and the CBC, whose reporters are among the very few western journalists to be allowed in the country, is doing a very credible job.
As there’s little notable optimism regarding the (global) financial crisis, Treasury Secretary Paulson’s plan to overhaul the regulatory apparatus of the U.S. financial system is not only coming in for a lot of criticism, but is not likely to happen – so why bother criticizing it, we ask?
In any event, this is a topic that will remain on the Table d’hote for many weeks – months – to come and we always welcome the analysis and guidance of Chil Heward, Peter Perkins, Ken Matziorinis, Tony Deutsch, Ron Meisels and John Evdokias, and are never happier than on those occasions when Julius Grey chimes in.
[Note the article in the Financial Post of March 29:TSX to hit 16,000 in six months, Meisels predicts:’A New Bull Market’
Darkening clouds may appear to be gathering over Bay Street, but one analyst sees a ray of light. Ron Meisels, president of independent market research firm Phases & Cycles, says stocks have already entered a new bull market phase and the S&P/TSX composite index should reach 16,000 within six months.]
Climate Change is again on the table, as 163 countries gather in Bangkok to start work on the Son of Kyoto. Don’t expect anything spectacular, the talks will go on until the end of 2009, but just to start things off, Canada is being criticized for misrepresenting the toughness of the new national Climate Change Plan – we’re sure when the delegation trots out the great environmental enforcer, John Baird, everyone will be reassured.
Speaking of John Baird, too bad he won’t be in Montreal this weekend. We would have dearly liked to have seen him as one of the 200+ Canadians undergoing training as Al Gore messengers. Kudos to Désirée McGraw and her associates in Climate Project – Canada for organizing this event, which includes a comedy gala at Place des Arts on Saturday evening.
NATO meets on Wednesday in Bucharest and the Wall Street Journal reports that the summit is shaping up as a showdown between Presidents Bush and Putin. The latter hopes to defeat the U.S.-backed initiative to give Georgia and Ukraine inside tracks to membership in the Organization. A Russian official suggested the plan would amount to “destroying” the strategic balance of power in Europe. A Canadian commentator drew a parallel with the U.S. position on Russian missiles in Cuba.
[Update: April 1 NATO backs much of Canada’s Afghanistan stance
NATO, along with its 13 partner countries in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is banking that a sweeping communique to be released Thursday, which some are calling a vision statement, will result in a renewed statement of solidarity in Afghanistan and affirm a long-term international commitment to the war-torn country.
There will, of course, be juicy tidbits about the U.S. Presidential campaign, which we follow assiduously.
On a related note, David Mitchell OWN (who is still with us for another week or two) and Terry Jones OWN have sent this item: – More than half of U.S. doctors now favor switching to a national health care plan (health insurance) and fewer than a third oppose the idea, according to a survey conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research (CHPPR).

The Report

This thirteen hundred and sixty-first consecutive Wednesday Night Salon was of particular significance as it demonstrated not only the longevity of the unique institution, but the ubiquitous nature of human beings of diverse languages, religions, political philosophies and/or countries of origin. Tonight saw the inaugural session of the Vancouver, B.C. branch of Wednesday Night (aka the West Wing of Wednesday Night) with an attendance of a dozen invited members and a brief telephone exchange between the two groups. Across the Atlantic, in Athens, it was the opening day of the third conference of the New School of Athens – the brainchild of Kimon Valaskakis OWN. At least six Wednesday Nighters are participating.

Peter Perkins’ introduction of his father-in-law, Charles Cogan brought several new dimensions to questions frequently discussed at Wednesday Night. Following a 37-year career with the CIA, Dr. Cogan became an associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA) at the Kennedy School, Harvard, where he concentrates on European issues and in particular on French-American relations.
Dr. Cogan’s most recent book is “La République de Dieu”, a collection of essays, on the idea of God; on evangelism; on Islamic fundamentalism; followed by empirical chapters analyzing a number of conflicts between the Muslim and non-Muslim world: Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel/Palestine.
Pope Benedict XVI’s comments in the guest book at Auschwitz, which are quoted in “La République du Dieu” led to a brief discussion of the failure of Pope Pius XII to speak out against the Holocaust, and the initiatives taken by Pope Benedict including especially his pronouncements on Islam-Christian relations. Mention was made of the controversial citation of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus by Benedict at the University of Regensburg. [The quotation that caused the uproar was “Show me just what Mohammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”] Regensburg was the site of an early pogrom carried out by Crusaders – reminding us that Christianity has its share of violent and despicable acts in the name of religion.
[Note: “The European Union’s tolerance of Islam’s incursion has reached its limits”]

Afghanistan
His familiarity with events during the turbulent period of the Russian ocupation of Afghanistanenabled him to make a number of clarifying points about the role of the U.S. during those years and put paid to the oft-repeated charge that the U.S. created the Taliban (it was the Pakistani CISI) and Bin Laden in an attempt to create a bulwark against communism by using Islamic fundamentalists. It is true that certain mujahideen commanders who had been supported by the U.S. and the CIA, later joined forces with Bin Laden, but that fact belongs in the realm of unintended consequences.
As long as Pakistan remains a haven for the Taliban, and the Pakistani border remains porous, the Afghan campaign remains a hole-in-the-dyke type of operation with virtually no hope of ultimate success. It must be remembered that 45% of the population of Afghanistan is Pashtun and the border regions of western Pakistan are populated by Pashtun. Their shared interests are not those of the western allies.
Like John Manley, some Wednesday Nighters point to the building of the infrastructure and the education of women, nurtured by the NATO occupiers, but others, probably the majority, see the campaign as a quagmire from which we must extricate ourselves as we did from Viet Nam, a humiliating experience, but one which did no lasting harm to the Republic.
If, in fact, disengagement is an accepted option, it will not take place while the current U.S. administration is in office. More probably, it would be more feasible following the November, 2008 U.S. presidential election.

The Markets
Investment Guru Ron Meisels, Wednesday Nighter with a long history of successful predictions on the cyclical nature of the stock market, currently predicts a rise in the TSX index to 16,000 by about September of this year. Not as catchy as the slogan he coined in 1995: “ten thousand by two thousand”. He also predicted the break-through of the thirteen thousand barrier in 2003.
His prediction is supported by several of the other financial experts present who explain that the current North American crisis is financial rather than economic. Given the generally good state of the world, there is considerable optimism that over the medium term – 3 to 4 years – the financial and housing market problems will have been worked out.
Meanwhile, Canada, long ignored as a fertile ground for investment by most Europeans, is becoming increasingly attractive. In addition to being the biggest supplier of energy to the United States and an important source of minerals and raw materials, Canada is poised for good economic growth in most areas with the notable exception of the banking sector.
In the United States, the Federal Reserve has moved swiftly to successfully defuse a deteriorating situation and it is not unreasonable to expect that it might do so once again by requiring the banks to take an early write-off of their current losses in order to speed up the recovery there.
In Canada, the solution to the ABCP problem is elusive as retail investors continue to claim the return of their $350 million losses as a condition of ratification of the Montreal Accord . It is likely that Chairman Purdy Crawford will recommend that their demands be met.
Emerging markets remain strong, recovering rapidly from their sympathetic drop with our markets, and are expected to ultimately recover more strongly than ours. There remains some concern, however, over increasing inflation in Southeast Asia, stemming largely from rapid increases in food costs which are leading in some areas to civil unrest.

Olympic Boycott
With Nicolas Sarkozy’s musings on boycotting the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, one must keep in mind his impulsive, reactive nature. Nevertheless, it is likely that the Emperor of Japan as well as the heads of state of several Western nations will not attend, thus making a diplomatic statement without inhibiting the athletes’ participation. [Update: Prime Minister Harper has announced that he will not be attending – what about retaliation in 2010?]

The MetropolitaIn is on schedule for publication in three weeks, despite some frustrating minor delays.

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