Wednesday Night #1488

Wednesday Night never fails to surprise – and usually delight – us. This one was no exception, despite the many notable absences due to the High Holidays.
We were joined by two new guests from the U.S. Consulate General: Vice-Consul Scott Lang and Consul Daniel Hamilton. Both have experience in areas of major interest to Wednesday Night. Dan, who is on his second tour in Montreal, was seconded for three weeks to Haiti after the earthquake, helping the U.S. Embassy to resume its full functions and assisting U.S. citizens to return home. Scott, a Balkans expert, who spent 10 years in Sarajevo,  is an example of the new foreign service that recruits individuals with important prior experience and specialized language skills.
One Wednesday Nighter raised the point that when he travels to his other home in Florida, he finds it quite extraordinary to be described at the U.S. border as a ‘non-resident alien’ and wonders if there might be another, kinder, term for the U.S.’ closest neighbo(u)rs. The gracious response was that despite the unfortunate intergalactic terminology, possessors of Canadian passports are in fact blessed and benefit from the very special relationship between the two countries in ways that citizens of no other countries can aspire to. [Editor’s note: It must be the influence of Canadian oil]

Scott’s Chicago origins prompted a discussion of Chicago politics (‘a one-party democracy’) in the wake of Mayor Daley’s announcement that he was stepping down after 21 years, and whether White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel might leave the White House to run. It might not be an exaggeration to compare and contrast Chicago and Balkan politics – both are very hard-ball, somewhat tribal by nature and depend on long-time (even multi-generational loyalties). The future of ex-Yugoslavia is still in the balance, with most of the issues revolving around Kosovo and how the international community will handle Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia is a more post-modern state, with new factions, albeit ones with historic ties to traditional political parties (philosophy). However, historic differences are put aside in view of the over-riding goal of entry into the EU.

With Chantal Beaubien‘s arrival, discussion veered to Cambodia and the first conviction (Kaing Guek Eav, the former prison chief known as Duch) under the Khmer Rouge tribunal. There is no movement to create a Truth and Reconciliation commission following models developed elsewhere (South African, Rwanda, Canada). Chantal is leaving commercial law practice and will be returning next month to Cambodia to clerk with the judges of the tribunal. As Chantal explained, the tribunal differs from those of Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia in that it is a hybrid entity, half local and half international. This model, also followed in Sierra Leone and East Timor, ensures that the people are more aware of the proceedings because they take place in Cambodia and not n The Hague; it is better for victims who can remain in their homes rather than being removed to a distant and foreign environment, and, of course, increases the visibility of the court.
Tribunal formally indicts Khmer Rouge leaders
Four surviving top members of the Khmer Rouge were formally charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the deaths of 1.7 million people during the regime’s 1970s rule today by a United Nations-backed tribunal. All four will be tried together at a trial scheduled to begin by mid-2011. Google/The Associated Press (9/16)]

Veterans affairs
Yet another top civil servant will not have his appointment renewed. Pat Stogran is one in a long line of competent individuals who have spoken truth to power and suffered the consequences from this government. The news that the Veterans’ Affairs ombudsman will be leaving his post has been greeted with dismay and serves to underline the fact that Canada does not look after its veterans well. He has been an outspoken defender of veterans’ causes, particularly those related to physical and mental health issues and extended care.
We were reminded that last April Beryl Wajsman’s Institute of Public Affairs of Montreal presented an excellent event in association with the Brain Injury Association of Canada, to raise awareness of the trauma attached to injury and/or witnessing an injury. The Montreal Neuro is internationally respected for its work on traumatic brain injury (Dr. Vincent Lacroix, who heads the medical team for the Montreal Alouettes, leads the team that trains Canadian medics going to Afghanistan) and is consulted by numerous non-Canadian practitioners on questions related to the military. Treatment of brain injury may be further complicated by a certain military pride and desire to return to active duty, thus a masking of effects suffered. On the other hand, the Canadian public is not always supportive of any role for the military except that of peacekeeper, which places an additional psychological burden on the returning soldier.


The Prologue

Note that the 30th iteration of the West Wing (Vancouver) also takes place on Wednesday, September 8 – it’s always interesting to compare and contrast our respective agendas, although we suspect that Alexandra exerts more control over adherence to topic than do we.
Despite the arrival of our favorite time of the year which, in our calendar comes right after Labo(u)r Day and is the start of the new year, we are feeling very disgruntled and out-of-sorts.
Every time we view the news, the world seems to have grown a little madder, lending a new and sinister interpretation to “”The gods must be crazy”. Perhaps they are not crazy, perhaps they have abandoned mankind which appears to be severely crazed.

Reasonable Accommodation – NOT
The news about the abhorrent “Burn the Koran” Day promoted by Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center (what a misnomer), has flashed around the world, eliciting a strong rebuke from General Petraeus, as it should, and understandable reactions among Moslem communities. The best comment we have seen is from the Washington Post:  “A Facebook friend instant messaged me last night with an idea to counter Jones. ‘People should, leading up to and on the day of, go out and BUY a copy of the Koran to counter the bigot’s act. People of ALL faiths’ he wrote. That’s a superb idea. There’s gotta be an iPad app for that.”
Meanwhile, in France, ‘Muslim’ gargoyle adorns French cathedral — A Muslim stonemason in France has been immortalised by having his face carved on a gargoyle (a tradition that dates from the 12th century) on the side of the cathedral in Lyon – and, of course “a local far-right group has said the carving is an affront to the Catholic Church.” For once, the Church is taking a far more benevolent view.
Iran is adamant that the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will not be stopped by foreign powers’ interference.
In Pakistan, while floods and consequent devastation  continue to assail the population, the Taliban not only continue with terror attacks, but have issued death threats to aid workers.
Continuing the long-gun registry debate, we are pleased to include John Curtin’s message “I said last Wednesday that I’d read (but couldn’t quite believe) that Canada had more guns per capita than the US. According to an interesting list, I was dead wrong, so to speak. The US still has a healthy lead in firearms with Yemen and Switzerland taking distant second and third places. Canada is in ninth, well out of the medals.” NDP MP Glenn Thibeault has announced he will switch his vote, joining colleague Charlie Angus, to oppose repeal of the federal long-gun registry. The sponsor of the bill remains confident that it will pass, but says “I recognize I’m up against some well-organized, well-financed, politically motivated organizations”. Can’t imagine what organization is as well organized, financed and politically motivated as the NRA, which, according to the Coalition for Gun Control “is tracking the Canadian situation carefully”. (See NRA TV video) – We are deeply upset that the NRA is so interested in our gun registry.
As debate continues about immigration reform in Canada, a number of immigration ministers met in France. So far as we know, the conclusion (at least for Canada’s own Jason Kenney) was that it is Time to get tough on human smuggling and, furthermore, that we must send clear messages about how to dis-incentivize those who exploit desperate migrants. Presumably this means that Canada is currently offering incentives? If not, we must not be understanding the clear message.

Two Wednesday Nighters debate immigration below.

1. Problems accommodating immigrants are not unique to Canada. Some of the reasons derive from inadequate education or university degrees or skills which may not be in as great demand here as elsewhere. Therefore, it is imperative we invite those with the education and skills we do need to actually come here. They would experience a greater sense of self-worth; they would feel valued and appreciated by all Canadians. In effect, for many, their dreams would be realised.
As long as we concentrate our resources on attracting those with inadequate or unsuitable qualifications, the situation will worsen unnecessarily. We will be constantly faced with an increasingly larger, dissatisfied and troubled immigrant community, to the detriment of Canada as a whole.
Canada will become the melting pot that some wished to eschew in favour of their multicultural tapestry. If our leaders exercise the necessary political will to implement immigration policies and procedures to shape the inevitable, the result could be extremely beneficial to Canada and all Canadians, whether native-born or newly-minted immigrants.
In the meantime, we cannot simply throw up our hands, accept the current problem as inevitably worsening and insoluble, and not adopt the easily comprehensible initiatives suggested above to stem it, or at least mitigate its effects.  We must be proactive for the sake of all Canadians, including relatively recent immigrants.
Another viewpoint:
2. How is it that there is a sustained multi-generation decline in income for immigrant families that are non-European, and visible minorities?  Is this a result of sustained under-employment?  Or is it a result of misinformation prior to migration to Canada and lack of preparation for the actual challenges that exist once new immigrants arrive?  Did you know that Statcan does not count or track new immigrants during their first year of residence in Canada?   I thought this was curious as it is the period most critical to the future success of new immigrants, particularly skilled immigrants.  Cultural affinity of European-born immigrants may give them an ability to find information and opportunity with greater ease than those immigrants who come from non-European backgrounds.  I’m curious if there is serious consideration of the disparity between European-born immigrants and those who are not, as was presented clearly in Mark Kelly’s article in the National Post.
Another aspect to this issue is the changing demographics in Canada.  [This] Statcan table shows changes taking place in a majority of our cities across Canada.  In 2031 there will only be a small fraction of Canadian cities that will not have 20% or more of their population represented by visible minorities from non-European backgrounds.  They may be first, second, third or fourth generation Canadians.  However, if Mark Kelly’s story and related stats are to be believed, we are going to have a problem on our hands.  Increasing numbers of Canadian citizens and immigrants have not realised the success achieved by European born immigrants during the same period of residence in Canada. As a result of feeling marginalized and discouraged, these citizens may over time not have the same investment in the vision of Canada that has been established by European-born immigrants. These differences can be glossed over during periods of strong economic growth.   However, as we are experiencing a very gradual recovery of the Canadian economy, the folks who are having difficulty entering the Canadian labour market or fully participating in the labour market as their European-born or Canadian born counterparts may feel they are being left behind.  Poverty will claim a greater number of Canadians in coming years and make them vulnerable to political opportunists who may choose to exploit these populations.
The research paper from Statcan provides further evidence of the fundamental demographic shift within our lifetime.   The shift references not only visible minority as one characteristic but also a population that does not have English or French as their maternal language, etc.   In terms of social reproduction of the cultural and social norms that we have come to know, growing up in Canada, the absence of easy integration and settlement of new immigrants will bring fundamental change in their opinion of Canada.  My question remains – how are we examining the impact of these experiences on citizen’s participation in a vision (theirs or others) of Canada?  What is that vision?

You are welcome – invited – to contribute your thoughts.

As the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, there is growing concern about world hunger , exacerbated by the floods in Pakistan and drought in Syria about which we hear much less. Jeffrey Sachs reminds us of the differences between acute malnutrition, global hunger and global malnutrition.

On our favorite topic of governance, there are several relevant items.
Ballots and bullets in Nigeria’s oil state – As the country prepares to vote, a life-and-death struggle to control the patronage networks from which many Nigerian politicians draw their power gathers pace. Sadly, this hardly qualifies as news.
Putin, Citing Roosevelt, Hints at a 3rd-Term Bid  Mr. Putin, asked whether he would damage Russia’s political system if he chose to run again, noted that Roosevelt was elected four times in the United States because at the time, it was allowed under the Constitution. He seemed to be suggesting that if he ran again, it would be as proper because he would be complying with Russia’s Constitution.
And on ChinaThe Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. By Richard McGregor,  the must-read book, reviews of which have already engendered some fascinating exchanges between Wednesday Nighters:
(The Economist) The permanent party – An entertaining and insightful portrait of China’s secretive rulers
ANY study of the Chinese Communist Party today will soon confront two jarring questions. The first is how a party responsible for such horrors-the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, the death of some 35m-40m people in the worst-ever man-made famine from 1958-1960-has stayed in power without facing any serious threat, the 1989 Tiananmen protests aside. The second is why it still calls itself “communist”, when China today seems closer to the cut-throat capitalism of Victorian England than to any egalitarian dream.
(New Statesman) Market Maoism
All is not well in the mighty central organisation department of the Communist Party of China, the section that controls the fortunes of the CPC’s 75 million members. In this compelling exploration of the world’s largest and most successful political machine, Richard McGregor reveals that the cadres complain that party members are “losing belief”. Even those in senior leadership positions “doubt the inevitability of the ultimate triumph of socialism and communism”. Many have replaced their faith in communism with a belief in “ghosts and demons”.
An Interview with Richard McGregor, Author of The Party

Richard McGregor is the former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times and author of the newly released The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.
“My purpose was simply to describe the political system as it really is. I think few people, even foreigners living in China, appreciate just how vast and resilient the party apparatus that underpins the government in China is, and how deeply its tentacles extend into all manners of institutions, like universities and the media. And often people who do know a lot about the party will attempt to explain it away, as a product of Chinese culture or some such. I wanted to describe in an unflinchingly fashion a system that is the product of resolutely political arrangements.”

But there is some good news: George Soros’ gift of $100 million to Human Rights Watch certainly qualifies. [Update: did we jump the gun in offering congratulations? There is some criticism of HRW, notably from the NGO Monitor which cites a critical October 2009 op-ed by the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast.]

To all our Jewish friends who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah, we wish an auspicious beginning to the new civil year, with much blowing of horns (tooting of own horns is also allowed)

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1488"

  1. david September 8, 2010 at 6:57 am ·

    great invite

Comments are now closed for this article.