Wednesday Night #1464

Diana, who arrived from the David Suzuki Foundation fundraiser at which Thomas Friedman of the New York Times was the speaker, described the event and the main themes of the speech. She remarked that Mr. Friedman is an even more dynamic speaker in person than in TV interviews (even Charlie Rose) and that his presentation, which focused on the new edition of Hot, Flat and Crowded  was engaging and stimulating.

Ron Meisels rose on a point of privilege to offer birthday wishes to the Chairman in advance of the occasion. We welcomed Tim Forsythe – after an absence of 21 years. Tim, who was the publisher of the long-gone “This Week in Business”, spent a number of years in Barbados, also as a publisher (of Caribbean Week), and in 2001, moved on to another career, working with Oyster King to rebuild the oyster population by cleaning up Chesapeake Bay. The saga of how this came about made for a very entertaining – and educational – discussion.

Print media, new media, books and readership
The anticipated sale of the Montreal Gazette provoked a lively discussion of the world of publishing, which has changed so radically from the days when the primary source of news and analysis was the morning (and often the afternoon) paper, complemented by radio stations to which multigenerational households listened avidly. Media personalities were trusted voices and active members of their communities. Today, with the advent of the Internet, blackberrys, iphones, kindles and ipads there are few readers of hard copy and fewer (urban) radio listeners.
Magazines and newspapers are in decline [A Graphic History of Newspaper Circulation Over the Last Two Decades], but does the new media offer the same perception of trustworthiness as the printed page? It is the reputation of the writers that inspires confidence – and that is what must be protected in the new environment of ‘free’ information. While publications may be in decline, devoted readers likely read more today because of the portability of the iphone. However, many still prefer the tactile qualities of print, and some maintain that the reader is more likely to stumble on nuggets of information from the print publication than online sources. Others believe that online links more easily lead the reader in new directions – even to the discovery of hitherto unknown journals. Contrasting the online comments on articles in newspapers with the old fashioned, structured, more formal Letters to the Editor, it appears that the floodgates have been opened to a group of rabid, under-educated individuals who have only opinions with few if any facts – giving rise to the suspicion that some may be encouraged by political interests to tilt ‘reaction’ in a specific direction.
Network news, whether online or broadcast came in for the most disparaging comments. There is little if any hard news reporting or analysis from the major networks; it is too often slanted, or simply inaccurate – disinformation spread in the rush to get on air and/or to please the demographics of the audience. The multinational conglomerate owners generally have little regard for the content as long as the bottom line is healthy, thus the success of Fox, CNN and their competitors. Will this change? Not likely in the current North American business and political reality.

The strong Canadian dollar
The expectation that the  value of the Canadian dollar will soon reach par is both a blessing and a danger – as currency values rise, industry tends to depart for markets where labor is less costly. One may question whether industry would become more efficient if it were not shielded initially from the problems related to rising currency. However, efficiency is not only an economic concept, but also a social one. We should also worry about the impact of the rising dollar on tourism: a) fewer American tourists will come here and b) more Canadians will travel overseas where their money go farther than in recent memory.

Ron Meisels on The market
With all of the recent developments around the world (Portugal, Greece, etc.), it is increasingly evident that the market is not influenced by such ‘fundamental’ activities. However, pessimism is rampant among investors who complain that the market is too high, it has run itself out, etc. – a real “Wall of Worry”. Smaller investors are afraid of any risk after the financial crisis. It is a great time to buy what nobody wants and some of the outstanding opportunities are in companies like Home Depot, Loblaw’s, Walmart; even banks are breaking out. The recent announcement of discovery of natural gas in Quebec has prompted interest in the exploration company Junex. Disappointingly, oil stocks are not doing well.
NB: This September Ron will mark the 20th anniversary of founding Phases and Cycles – a cause for real celebration!  In advance of the celebration, he has hired a Client Contact Manager which frees him up to spend more time advising individual clients on investment strategies.

Passage of the Health Care Reform Bill
The world needs Thinkers and Doers, but unfortunately it is often true that the thinkers don’t do and the doers don’t think. With the successful passage of Health care reform, President Obama has proven that he is a Thinker who has also shown that he is  a Doer. This gives some encouragement that he may have the momentum to do well in the mid-term elections.
Meanwhile, juding by our Canadian experience, it can safely be predicted that Americans will quickly learn that universal insurance does not mean universal access to medical treatment. It will be interesting to watch how they adapt to this reality. There are real concerns about the vicious reaction to the vote; the safety of politicians is being threatened, name-calling has reached unprecedented lows, and Republican senators have invoked an arcane rule in order to shut down all committee hearings after 2PM.

It is hoped that the Canada at 150 Conference will be a worthy successor to the Aylmer Thinker Conference, but there is concern that it will not generate the hoped-for attention from across the country. Much may depend on the success of the satellite events, although the one organized by Marc Garneau’s team on behalf of the western Montreal ridings seems to be much more sophisticated than most efforts.

The imminent departure of Michaëlle Jean from the Governor General’s office has generated speculation as to her successor. It is rumored that there are still those in Clarence House who believe that either Prince William or Prince Harry should be named – not a welcome, or realistic, idea here.

As many of the topics proposed were not covered this evening, it is anticipated that they will be revisited in the very near future.

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

The U.S.: government and governance
With the signature of the Health Care Overhaul Bill in the wake of its passage on Sunday; having viewed the antics of all concerned; and now the threats that Republicans will seek to repeal the measure, challenge its constitutionality and coordinate efforts in statehouses to block its implementation, we are dismayed, although somewhat resigned, that no sooner is the historic Bill passed than Legal and Political Fights Loom

Meanwhile, as James Fallows of the Atlantic notes: “For now, the significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)… TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period.
That is how the entire rest of the developed world operates. It is the way the United States operates in most realms other than health coverage.” James Fallows – the Atlantic

We believe it is appropriate to revisit the question that has been raised on numerous recent Wednesday Nights, but never adequately addressed – is the system of government of the United States, as established by the Constitution in 1787, adequate or appropriate in a world that in no way resembles the world of the Founding Fathers? Does the much-invoked system of checks and balances work? What to do about a Supreme Court that is (in our view at least) so committed to the conservative philosophy espoused by the majority of judges that it rules in favour of  allowing corporations to ‘buy’ candidates and elections, increasing the power of the lobbyists to a frightening degree. (Vive le Canada for its rules on election spending!)

Is the United States governable? Paul Krugman thinks so BUT – under present Senate rules – given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Another view is put forward by David Frum in his thoughtful piece Republicans can blame themselves wherein he points to the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters –but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead.

Which brings us to the question: is the United States governable given today’s instantaneous communications and the current climate created by the Rush Limbaughs, Glenn Becks (not to mention Sarah Palin) et al.? (See also Bob Herbert in the NYT An Absence of Class)  A situation the Founding Fathers could hardly have foreseen with the provisions of the First Amendment. Perhaps there is recourse to the Sedition Act of 1918 that criminalizes “disloyal,” “scurrilous” or “abusive” language against the government. Certainly we have witnessed all three in the last days – actually far longer than that and not limited to the U.S. – just look at some of the Comments posted on Canadian media websites. But interpretation of those terms is subjective, hence dangerous. Not that the current U.S. Supreme Court would likely find for the government.
Sam Stein comments: I think that some answers to your questions re the US system of government and governance appear in Tom Friedman’s column in this morning’s NYTimes. He cites Larry Diamond, a professor at Stanford, who has some interesting ideas on how to change some of the voting procedures in the US which appear to resolve some of the problems of the hyper-polarized environment in which we find ourselves without descending into the wild world of proportional representation (or should I say proportional mayhemization) and strange coalitions of the shrilling. All the best from beautiful downtown Bamako. [Evidence of the global span of Wednesday Night!]

Canada’s immigration policy
Close the gates to newcomers
By JAMES BISSETT, former executive director of the Canadian Immigration Service.
The reality is that for a number of years now the costs of immigration have exceeded the benefits, and the long-range economic, social, and environmental implications of continuing such high levels – especially during times of economic uncertainty – have not been taken into account by governments.
Our political representatives have a responsibility – if not a duty – to address important issues of public policy. It is high time they took a hard and intelligent look at our immigration policy and in a non-partisan fashion introduce measures to ensure that immigration serves the interests of Canada. This is not happening now, and now is not the time for our politicians to opt out.

In contrast, Tom Friedman offers a very upbeat opinion on the benefits of immigration – America’s Real Dream Team
Tony Deutsch
comments: “What Friedman offers is something observable currently in B.C., Alberta and Ontario in relatively large numbers. Immigrants often chosen for their entrepreneurial potential raise children who are upwardly mobile, and good at it. In Canada we have at least two problems with immigration policy. A large portion of the total annual quota is taken up by ‘family reunification’, where the selection criterion is having a close relative residing in Canada—no entrepreneurship is required. Potential immigrants to Quebec are admitted on the existence or the promise of French language skills. Canada’s rich social safety network draws many. We are  desperately in need of economically active potential taxpayers, criteria not included in a major way in the selection of the last two groups. The lobbying   for particular potential immigrants who have difficulty meeting the current modest screening criteria is so hot and heavy, that the Chretien government discovered that no MP with a Toronto riding can be effective in the Immigration portfolio.Our problem is not with immigration, per se. Our problem is that our screening criteria for immigrants are dominated by sacred cows, where we are neither willing to get rid of the cow, nor really prepared to pay the price for keeping it.”
To which Guy Stanley adds “Today upward mobility is a global phenomenon: the Intel champs and many Canadian grads as well may find better career opportunities in their parents’ home countries (India, China, Morocco, etc.) in which their North American experience will qualify them for top jobs.  Canada will have to do a lot better to keep them. I’m sure they’ll return to Canada often to see their parents and grandparents…and maybe even send remittances.”

Tony also offers this news from the Hamilton Spectator on the trafficking of Hungarians by what appears to be a Roma gang Human trafficking allegations probed – we are not sure how immigration policy can be blamed for this activity, but are willing to consider all options.

Greece, Germany and the EU  (more on EU and European Council)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that there was no reason to make Greece’s crushing debt the main topic of an upcoming EU summit, widening the gap between Germany and other countries in the EU with regard to Greece’s fate. Germany has resisted calls from Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou for a plan that would enable Greece to restructure its public-sector deficit, which threatens the financial stability of the eurozone. Some 40% of Germans believe that the country would fare better without the common euro currency, and an overwhelming majority oppose offering support to Greece. The New York Times (3/21), Financial Times (3/21)

John Evdokias forwards this apprehensive view from the WSJ:
“The Greek crisis is getting serious. What started as a problem with the fiscal credibility of one euro-zone state has exposed political fault lines running through the currency bloc. Constructive ambiguity, whereby markets were placated with the belief that unspecified help could be provided to Greece, has given way to confusion. With politicians becoming increasingly entrenched on either side of the Greece-Germany divide, the risks are rising that Greece becomes a big problem for the global financial system.” Greek Crisis Risks Boiling Over

A fascinating footnote to this on-going saga was forwarded by Kenneth Matziorinis The World’s Hardest-Working Countries South Korea is Number One – no great surprise; Number Two is – Greece with a higher per capita GDP. The article doesn’t mention statistics for Germany.

Israel’s deteriorating relations with the U.S. since the settlements announcement during Mr. Biden’s trip may or may not be resolved in the meeting today between Mr. Obama (doesn’t he deserve a bit of a rest?) and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is in the U.S. for the APAIC meeting. The BBC comments that today’s meeting is closed to the press – a sign that all is not resolved. AFP reports that Netanyahu reiterated at AIPAC that Jerusalem remained the Jewish people’s indivisible capital, showing no hint of compromise over settlements ahead of the White House talks and made it clear that he would continue to support new construction in the contested city.  His comments that: “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital,” were hardly designed to smooth things over. Stay tuned.

There’s much more – of course – but we want also to remind you of two important events this week.

On Thursday and Friday, the 2010 annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada which will focus on Canadian water policies. Canadian Water: Towards a New Strategy (Final Programme)  Peter Brown and Désirée McGraw are speakers, as is Maggie Catley-Carlson, along with a representative of the West Wing of Wednesday Night, Karen Bakker, Associate Professor and Director, Program on Water Governance, University of British Columbia.

Starting on Friday the 26th and running through Sunday (the 28th) afternoon is the Canada at 150 Conference – Under Marc Garneau’s leadership, the Westmount-Ville-Marie riding association in collaboration with several west Montreal ridings is organizing a satellite conference at the John Molson School of Business on Saturday and Sunday. There will be continuous live-streaming and interaction with some of the country’s leading thinkers and doers as they meet at the main conference to grapple with the big issues facing Canada. One panel discussion with audience participation will be held each day. Wednesday Night is more than well represented on the two panels as participants include Douglas Lightfoot, Désirée McGraw, Karl Moore, Katia Opalka, Bert Revenaz, Paul Shrivastava and Kimon Valaskakis. Entry is free, but you are encouraged to register. Details may be found at–montreal.aspx?lang=en

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1464"

  1. Sam Stein March 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm ·

    I think that some answers to your questions re the US system of government and governance appear in Tom Friedman’s column [A Tea Party Without Nuts] in this morning’s NYTimes. He cites Larry Diamond, a professor at Stanford, who has some interesting ideas on how to change some of the voting procedures in the US which appear to resolve some of the problems of the hyper-polarized environment in which we find ourselves without descending into the wild world of proportional representation (or should I say proportional mayhemization) and strange coalitions of the shrilling.
    All the best from beautiful downtown Bamako.

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