Wednesday Night #1364

Before doing our usual tour d’horizon of news and events around the globe, we would like to call to your attention much pleasanter local happenings: the Octet Plus (with Holly Jonas and David Oliver) concert on Saturday, 26 April; the Infinitheatre fundraiser (John Mavridis) on Tuesday 29 April – featuring Denis Arcand -. Details
Alex Shoumatoff has two pieces in the current issue of Vanity Fair on topics that he discussed at Wednesday Night: The Arctic Oil Rush, in which the Russians are playing an aggressive part, and The Thistle and The Bee about Donald Trump’s project in Aberdeenshire – an epic story.
World events since last Wednesday continue to move madly off in all directions. While keeping an eye on the ever-evolving campaign in Pennsylvania, we must watch what The Three Amigos are doing in New Orleans (NOT our first choice for the meeting, but then, we are not Dubya). As Oil hits $117, Stratfor muses about untold reserves in Brazil and Paul Krugman takes up the cause of overexploited Planet Earth, as he contrasts today’s situation with that of the 1970s’ resource crisis.
Brazil also shares the limelight with its fellow BRIC countries in the Economist’s look at the “perils of overestimating emerging markets“.
We tend to avoid the Israel/Palestine question — so many know so much more than we do, and opinions are carved in stone — however we cannot resist pointing out that Jimmy Carter has been going where angels fear to tread (The Holy Land) to the displeasure of the Bush administration , while Benedict has been treading in the unholy spaces of New York, UN Headquarters and Washington (and actually seems to have endeared himself to quite a few skeptics).
More and more world leaders and others are taking up the cause of world hunger, (Soaring prices are hitting rice, a staple food for more than half the earth’s population, causing political unrest, supply bottlenecks, and sometimes draconian moves by governments to protect domestic stocks.) For the moment it is talk, not solutions.
Zimbabwe’s crisis continues with opposition leader Tsvangirai turning to the UN for help as the Chinese arms ship vainly seeks an African port to unload the shipment bound for Muagbe’s government.
We note that in Afghanistan (we had a WONDERFUL evening with Desmond Morton & Robert Galbraith on this and other military topics last week), the governor of the province of Kandahar has denounced an alleged plot to remove him, which he seems to attribute partly to Maxime Bernier after the latter’s inelegant hints during his visit last week.
Ah yes! That brings us to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the nasty spat with Elections Canada.
Once again, we will greatly miss our OWN Jacques Clément‘s comments on news that the Bank of Canada slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point on Tuesday, as it warned of softer economic growth this year.

The Report

World Hunger
Nearly two centuries after his death in 1826, Robert Thomas Malthus appears to have been reborn. It was Malthus who theorized, or more accurately, hypothesized that the rapidly increasing working class population and stable food production would lead to an ever increasing food shortage, leading to a constantly decreasing standard of living for the already impoverished workers. His solution was a simple one, namely the stabilization of the size of the less advantaged through late marriages and moral restraint. In this, the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are faced with the same dilemma and although analysts no longer appear to put the blame on allegations of exaggerated propagation by the disadvantaged, the definition of the problem as well as a reasonable solution appears to be elusive.
Grain, notably rice, is currently in short supply world wide. As with any problem, a viable solution requires a credible definition which, in this instance, appears to be somewhat elusive. Several probable causes have been suggested:
– The spread of the ever increasing world population has decreased the area of arable land in the world available for agriculture.
– The transformation of cereal crops to synthetic fuels has caused a shortage of basic food.
– Subsidies encourage farmers in Africa to grow exotic fruits such for export to Europe at the expense of cereal crops.
– Supply management of crop production and quotas on poultry production in affluent countries in order to maximize revenue to farm owners, presumably in exchange for political support.
– Rapidly increasing cost of transportation due to petroleum shortages.
– International restrictions on the importation of farm produce artificially reducing potential agricultural production in areas adversely affected by those restrictions.
– The tendency to withhold produce from the market in the anticipation of profiting from rapidly rising prices.
The fact that we are reliving Malthus might lead us to hypothesize that we are experiencing a cyclical phenomenon, albeit of a relatively long cycle. Wednesday Nighters proposing that hypothesis, explain that price variations are instantaneous, whereas crop cycles are relatively long and that we are currently in the nebulous period between perceived shortages and increased production to the point at which Malthus can once again be laid to rest. Resident Wednesday Night Economists estimate a lag time of approximately two years.

The Conservative Party versus Elections Canada
The welcome appearance of David Marler after a prolonged absence from Wednesday Night brought a highly personal view of the recently exposed financial shenanigans of a government that was elected on a promise to clean up after the scandals of the Liberals.
There are times when the best is just not good enough. Whatever the party loyalty of Canadians has been, the current Conservative government has been generally perceived as cleaning up the apparent feeling of excessive entitlement sometimes attributed to its Liberal predecessors. However, a week ago, amidst much publicity, the RCMP executed a search warrant at Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa, on behalf of the Commissioner of Elections who is actively investigating the Conservative Party for its alleged involvement in deceptive financing practices during the 2006 federal election. The event and underlying charges are cause for reflection on how our government is run and how we are affected by the agenda of the media who tend to report only sensational news and to sensationalize the dull if it is reported at all. The legal implications of the current dispute are minimal when contrasted to the moral implications of our system of government; especially so knowing that no one appears to be responsive to the collective will of the electorate.
Incredibly, within the current system, there are those whose sense of morality and service outweigh the drive for reelection. It should be our objective to maximize their number.
Several improvements to the electoral system were proposed by Wednesday Nighters, not all feasible.
– The electorate currently has no means of evaluating a candidate’s qualifications to fill the position. Publication of the curriculum vitae of each candidate would help us to vote less on the basis of party affiliation or affability and more on demonstrated skills.
– The salary and benefits of Members of Parliament should be reviewed. It is presumed that less affluent but more capable candidates need higher incomes to enable them to run and serve, but that tends to overshadow ability as the prime prerequisite, and diminishes the importance of the concept of public service. There are certainly many qualified, dedicated Members of Parliament, but it is likely that the draw of celebrity and a relatively affluent lifestyle tempts some members to perhaps value reelection over morality in some instances.
– The influence of the press and increasingly important Internet filter news and emphasize the sensational.
– The party system places a higher value on party cohesion than on independent thinking. Better decisions tend to be made when consensus is valued more highly than imposed unanimity.

Shortage of physicians
Although their education is highly subsidized in Québec, the physician shortage continues to cause concern among Wednesday Nighters, many of whom have personal experience of friends or family members who have left Québec to practice elsewhere. With physicians’ salaries in Ontario double, and in Alberta triple, those in Québec and medical graduates being discouraged from practicing in urban centres here, it should come as no surprise that we are bleeding not only competent medical but nursing personnel. . It is no longer true, if indeed it ever was, that Francophone practitioners were locked in, but for some reason, the government appears to be unwilling to stem the flow.

The market
We are currently in a bull market with rising stock prices anticipated until mid-2009, when a five-year decline, reminiscent of the 1968-1974 period is anticipated.
Growth of approximately six percent is anticipated in Asia, The Americas and Russia. There is no credit crisis in emerging countries. Asia went through their financial crisis in the 1990’s, China’s financial situation is solid, and Canada will do very well thanks to the affluence of the western provinces.



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