Wednesday Night #1384

Written by  //  September 10, 2008  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Despite a respectable list of topics, the evening was unusual because almost entirely devoted to the elections in Canada and the U.S., with some sharply divided opinions on the merits of various competing parties and candidates.

Following the considerable publicity over the Hadron collider, the inevitable question in the minds of armchair scientists is, if the current experiment reveals the nature of the origin of the universe, what existed before the universe and what before that?  Is there really no end to the beginning?  As intriguing as this dilemma appears, the forthcoming election in microcosm Canada appears to hold even greater interest locally than the potential, however minute, for the destruction of the Universe resulting from the CERN experiment deep under the French-Swiss border.

The Canadian election
Wednesday Nighters almost unanimously see the Canadian experiment as resulting in another Conservative victory.  Most Wednesday Nighters view a Harper victory as a sort of renewed Conservative government in Reform clothing driving the country further to the right.  It has been pointed out, however, that a majority Conservative government would not have to pander to the whims of Canadians west of the Manitoba border but could follow a more centrist path (The Nixon-to-China hypothesis).  Regardless of the outcome however, Canada’s image on the international scene will continue to suffer as we distance ourselves from the policies and practices of the Lester B. Pearson era.  Peter Gordon MacKay can certainly not be considered to be in the same league as Pearson.
As for the outcome of the election, all outcomes appear equally probable.  Current polls predict a Conservative majority.  It is possible, perhaps likely, that as we approach Election Day, this possibility will motivate large numbers of voters to shift their support to other parties.  In that event the playing out of the sad reality of an impoverished Liberal party led by an able but inarticulate leader unpopular in his own province would motivate voters to, by default, elect members of the Green, or New Democratic parties to Parliament.  This scenario would see strong support for the Bloc evaporate.
One race to watch for entertainment if nothing else is Whitby-Oshawa, currently represented by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. The Liberal candidate is Brent Fullard, founder of the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors to fight Flaherty’s decision to tax income trusts, who said he sought out the riding — and his target is the finance minister. It seems that Mr. Fullard writes brilliantly and is expected to run a ‘strenuous’ (not to say over-the-top) campaign.
Those (certainly an overwhelming majority) to whom the prediction of an instantaneous Liberal revival appears to be total fantasy, would do well to recall the June 1993 election in which newly elected Conservative Prime Minister  Kim Campbell was expected to wipe the Liberals off the map.  The Right Honourable Kim Campbell’s reign lasted three months and twelve days following which she was succeeded by Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin until the Harper sweep two and a half years ago.
The Liberals, virtually penniless, with a leader unsupported in his home province, are certainly engaged in an uneven contest against the popular, affluent party of the Prime Minister.  However, as the campaign progresses, the only candidate who has nothing to lose is Stéphane Dion whose fortunes can only improve.  As the certainty of a renewed Conservative mandate becomes more evident, the probability of a majority Conservative Parliament for the next four years becomes a reality that voters must take into consideration.  At the moment, with the exception of a majority Liberal government, all possibilities are equally probable including votes split between all parties enabling the Conservatives to form a majority government, the total disintegration of the Bloc, a Liberal – N.D.P. coalition or a loose coalition of opposition parties in a minority government.

The U.S. race
Canadians eagerly await a dress rehearsal south of the border.  Although the unexpected surge in support for the McCain-Palin ticket appears to dull the hitherto shiny Obama-Biden candidacy, according to the U.S. electoral rules, an election held today, even considering the apparent current Republic lead in popular vote, would, as in the case of the first Bush election, not result in an electoral college majority.  It must also be remembered that much of the interest and support arising from the glitter of a political convention is ephemeral and will evaporate very rapidly.  The warm, rosy image of a female candidate whose main interest in life only secondary to politics, consists of motherhood, child-bearing and apple pie (or mooseburgers), will dissipate rapidly following her debate with Joe Biden.  It is very likely that as time goes on it will become evident that the antecedents of motherhood and being the elected representative of a constituency consisting of a population less numerous than the audience she was addressing at her coronation,  are less than adequate as qualifications for the position of Vice-President of the United States of America.  Sarah Palin‘s self- righteous apparent assumption that God has anointed her personally, her unconscionable exploitation of her pregnant daughter, Down syndrome infant and immediate family, will undoubtedly ultimately be her undoing. [Editor’s note: From our lips to God’s ear, as the saying goes (although we hesitate to invoke the name of The Lord in this context]. Sarah revealed herself to be woefully ignorant in her first major media appearance with Charlie Gibson, but we are not sure that the traits that we bemoan will cause the same negative reaction in all targeted groups. After all, we are talking about the country that elected George W. Bush TWICE.]

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
As inevitable and cyclical as a solar eclipse, the expected recession has arrived.  The only surprise, although inescapable, was the takeover by the U.S. government of Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae.  The irony, of course, is that this represents the first nationalization of a corporation by a government that is so fiercely anti-socialist as to even deny its citizens the right to national Medicare.

The Prologue

We are still recovering from two events last Wednesday Night. Beryl Wajsman’s inimitable entry for the Just For Laughs Festival – his account of the fallout from the disaster at St Catherine and Peel and the bumbling attempts of assorted authorities to attack the problem left us rocking with laughter, while decrying the attitude best described by Margaret L. “je ne suis pas décisionnel dans ce dossier”. Don’t miss the video of this incredible performance.
The second was, of course, the speech by Sarah Palin to the Republican National Convention. Breaking with tradition, we watched the entire speech together. Opinions were divided on how effective she will be in turning around the McCain campaign, but there was no doubt that she delivered beyond expectations that evening. And the wires (wireless) have been humming ever since. Certainly, as the “Trojan Moose” she has managed to divert the dialogue from what really matters in the campaign:
… what’s being discussed just 57 days before the election. Is it the highest unemployment rate in five years? The bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The suicide bombing yesterday in Iraq that killed six people and wounded 54 — in the same market where last month a bomb killed 28 people and wounded 72? That the political reconciliation that was supposedly the point of “the surge” is nowhere near happening? That Iraq’s Shiite government is now rounding up the American-backed Sunni leaders of the Awakening? That the reason 8,000 soldiers may be leaving Iraq soon is so more can be deployed to Afghanistan where the Taliban is steadily retaking the country?
At least two Wednesday Nighters have devoted energies to writing thought-provoking analyses of the issues and climate surrounding the American campaign, Rodrigue Tremblay in The U.S. 2008 Presidential Election: An Evaluation  and David Jones in The Running Mate Is Fear, published in the most recent issue of the MetropolitaIn,.
Now, thanks to Mr. Harper we have our own national campaign (that nobody wants) – at an estimated cost of $300 million. We cannot fathom media descriptions of this as a “snap” election; the run-up has been a long, winding (windy?) road. But, as one Ottawa observer remarked “[Harper says]he needs an election because he says the government can’t pass any legislation at the same time as he boasts about all he has accomplished since being elected”. However, we are cheered by the news of the early publication date of Julie Couillard’s book, just when we were worried about same-old-same-old.
Before we become enmeshed in the trivia of the Canadian election, we have a great opportunity this week to consider much larger issues of governance and leadership in the company of Kimon Valskakis OWN who also looks forward to sharing the excitement of New School of Athens developments. We hope our economists (including Kimon) will share their insights on the Fannie-Freddie takeover (the NYT used ‘seizure’), political ramifications and subsequent events in the NY markets (U.S. Stocks Tumble as Lehman Brothers Rattles Banking Shares) as OPEC embarks on its closed-door meetings (note the large Russian delegation).
Shouldn’t we also be looking more attentively at developments in Pakistan, with the swearing-in of Asif Ali Zardari as president today? The New York Times Magazine of 5 September carries a very disquieting article  on Pakistan’s relationship with Al Qaeda and the Taliban that should be read.
What – if any – effect might the incapacitation or death of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il have on U.S. and other countries’ foreign policy?

Collision course

Cern should act as an inspiration to bright young people – and then invigorate a wide range of fields with the benefits of their training.

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