Wednesday Night #1383

Not to be missed: Beryl Wajsman’s account of the Peel Street flood and the decision-making process involved in making even temporary repairs (scroll down to Beryl Wajsman on Hydro)

Although the models range from selfish hedonistic dictators to career politicians fighting to retain their jobs in the face of unprincipled competitors, the ideal, like the figures on the Grecian Urn, strived for but never achieved, would be men and women who unselfishly seek to serve their fellow citizens; a place in history at the expense of sacrifice in this lifetime. As the current North American election drama plays out, the tactics of the actors in both United States and Canada become transparent to those who would look beyond the script to the coded message.
John McCain, an intelligent, capable politician, not so far right as to offend moderates nor too far left to offend the redneck vote, must overcome the handicap of being relatively unassailable because of his record, hence not especially newsworthy. By contrast, Barack Obama, although untested, is eloquent, attractive and has successfully rendered racial barriers obsolete.
As this election is more about image than issues, newsworthiness and emotions become more important than logic. John McCain’s virtually unassailable record, in addition to Gustav’s help in overshadowing the process of naming a Republican vice-presidential candidate might have been insurmountable publicity roadblocks for a lesser presidential aspirant. The nomination of Sarah Palin hailed as brilliant by some, achieves several purposes, the obvious one being that she is a woman. McCain has finally achieved front page status, the female vote, especially that of women who consider gender more important than competence, the anti-abortion, vote, voters who support the underdog, have already switched their support from Democrat to Palin. More importantly, the previously invisible John McCain has become controversial, newsworthy and very possibly at the head of the line to be elected the forty-fourth President of the United States of America.
George Bush has despatched Dick Cheney to Azerbaijan to deal with problems there. Would the mother of children including one with Down syndrome be available for a similar mission? Possibly, possibly not. In any event, the United States will muddle through as it, as well as other democracies, have always done. Harry Truman ascended the presidency with very little in the way presidential skills, but grew learned rapidly. Perhaps Vice-President Palin will do as well. [She did not!]
The tendency of even relatively honest politicians appears to be to consider their own fortunes first, followed by that of their party, leaving the fate of the country in third place. Logic alone would not have led the Prime Minister to call a 2008 fall election. Parliament has been working well and considerable time and money has already been spent on the three September 8 by-elections for which an advance poll has already taken place. Tactically, however, although there have been no roadblocks to legislation, the fortunes of the party in power appear to have superseded the ability of Parliament to work as a criterion for calling an election. The Liberals still suffer from a leadership problem as well as an almost empty war chest, making this an optimum time for the re-election of a Conservative government, possibly a majority Conservative government. Even if they gain some additional seats, the Liberals will be left in an even more vulnerable financial situation.

Some Wednesday Nighters would prefer a U.S. type of government with the Prime Minister elected directly by the population independent of the makeup of Parliament, and Ministers appointed from any of the parties regardless of party affiliation.

The Prologue

Welcome home to all the summer’s happy wanderers. We have missed you – and you have missed some fascinating evenings – and look forward to catching up with your news, along with your thoughts on The News as it unfolds.
Speaking of unfolding,-  or more accurately, unravelling -, the Republican Convention will surely go down in history as one of the more bizarre on-again-off-again political events, with Gustav looming menacingly, but also saving everyone from the embarrassment of  an appearance by George W. and Dick Cheney.
Not to be outdone by our neighbor to the South, Canada has been having its fair share of bizarre politics – the farcical consultation with opposition leaders appears to be another first. Aside from everything else, we deplore the wasted efforts of the three by-elections and the necessity for our candidates to go through identical efforts in the weeks immediately following. We cannot help but wonder what benefit Mr. Harper sees in calling an election here when so many of us will be riveted on the U.S. campaign, not to mention that an October 14 election will spoil the Thanksgiving weekend for many, while hardly being viewed as an appropriately joyous celebration for the first day of Sukkot.
And why would Mr. Harper want to have an election in the face of the news of the OECD’s prediction that our economy “will slow to a crawl“? Or the Senate report that Canada’s preparedness to deal with major national disasters and emergencies ‘gives new meaning to the word ‘discouraging’ ”
But this isn’t – and shouldn’t be – all about US.
Amidst all the concern about Gustav and the Republicans, who is giving thought to the disaster in Bihar, the region of India hit hardest by monsoon, where almost half a million people have been evacuated?
The Russian bear has rumbled out of post-Cold War hibernation. The conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and more importantly the “Medvedev Doctrine” are cause for concern in Europe and in the former members of the Soviet Union. Today’s pronouncement of President Saakashvil’s political demise is bound to be received with considerable displeasure by his western supporters (but likely not much action as evidenced by this story: “Russia has praised the European Union for taking a “responsible approach” to its conflict with Georgia by declining to impose sanctions on Moscow“) .
The situation in Japan is worrying, principally because most commentators do not see immediate relief from the problems that caused the PM to resign. “Asia’s largest economy was left rudderless again yesterday after Japan’s prime minister quit suddenly, sparking concerns that free-market reforms will be put on the backburner as a recession looms” gloomily notes the Honk Kong Standard, adding “Whoever replaces Yasuo Fukuda will inherit the same problems he faced – a deadlocked parliament, a worsening economy, an ageing population and huge public debts.”
Pakistan
, which is holding presidential elections this Saturday, is in political shambles with not much optimism about the outcome.
The UN says North Korea needs $503 million in food aid between now and November 2009 to avoid famine and Ethiopia again faces famine as a result of drought.
In other words, there’s not much to celebrate as the fall season starts and we should warn you that throughout the summer months, our economist friends have made sure to uphold the ‘dismal science’ appellation. One foresees the Dow at 2000, although that’s a very long-term forecast.
Meantime, do read – if you have not already done so – Dr. Doom from the NYT magazine (George Archer called it to our attention), a profile of Professor Nouriel Roubini, who warned in September 2006 that the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” At the time, his audience laughed uncomfortably. Now he’s a sought-after authority.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1383"

  1. Douglas Lightfoot September 5, 2008 at 5:37 pm · Reply

    My comments were something like, “none of the candidates for president or VP have even a rudimentary grasp of the energy situation”. Someone immediately said they were all lying, as if to indicate that they really did understand the energy situation. If so, that is very good news. When in power they will be able to make good and appropriate decisions. On the other hand, there was no legislation out of Washington or the states in the past year to indicate it is true.
    This is not a criticism of the U.S. The situation is similar in Canada, Britain, Europe and elsewhere.

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