Wednesday Night #1492

Written by  //  October 6, 2010  //  Asia, Canada, China, Economy, Government & Governance, News about Wednesday Nighters, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1492

More on

Announcement re Wednesday Night #1500
At the outset of the evening, Diana mentioned that Beryl Wajsman has announced that he will publish a special edition of The MetropolitaIn dedicated to the 1500th Wednesday Night and is seeking contributions of 300 words or less (neatness counts) from a number of Wednesday Nighters. Deadline for submissions is November 15th.
A group of Wednesday Nighters is working on the celebration of the 1500th on December 1 – save the date! The Nicholsons are not involved, (and will be appropriately surprised) but are grateful to all who are.

Tom Windmuller‘s welcome return reminded us of the Tom & Misha evening  of 2007. Tonight’s version lacked Misha, but was equally entertaining and instructive, and included an intriguing discussion of  little-known facts about Napoleon Buonaparte

A short clip of the exceptional PBS documentary introduced Un regard neuf sur Napoléon Pierre Arbour’s monograph. Pierre prepared this in response to a debate among  a group of amateur historians about “What would have happened if Montcalm had won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham”.  Most had felt that if the outcome had been different, there would have been a French empire from Louisiana to Quebec – and everyone would have lived ‘happily ever after’. Pierre’s research suggests otherwise. Starting with Napoleon’s inglorious flight from Egypt, when he abandoned his army after the French fleet’s defeat at the hands of Nelson. Other fascinating nuggets concern  Napoleon’s rescinding of the abolition of slavery – adding a ban on interacial marriage -, and the later role of his illegitimate (Polish) son, Alexandre Walewski who, together with his cousin Louis Napoléon, ruled France for a number of years. We were also reminded that Napolén had four brothers and three sisters, each of whom had to be looked after, with a kingdom and impressive titles.  According to the memoirs of the Duchesse d’Abrantès, Napoleon’s origins are in fact Greek, as an ancestor  …  had the surname Kalomeros, the Greek version of ‘good place/part’.  More on this topic. Thus, his ambition to equal the exploits of Alexander the Great.
Comparisons of Napoleon and Hitler are frequently made, given their lust for the conquest of Europe – fixation on Britain – treachery vis à vis Russia and foolhardiness in invading that country, but beyond the fact that Hitler was a racist, the great difference was that Hitler was a destroyer, while Napoleon, for all his faults, was a builder, whose great legacy was the Civil (Napoleonic) Code. Furthermore, many believe that the ideals of the French Revolution of liberté, égalité and fraternité would never have spread far beyond the borders of France had it not been for Napoleon’s conquests. Instead, the 19th century was dominated by the concepts of liberty and nationalism, the legacy of Napoleon.
Of all of the points that Pierre has raised in his paper, one of the most fascinating insights is that in 1814, when the coalition armies reached the borders of France, an offer was made to Napoleon that included a return to the natural borders of France. Had Napoleon not refused, many lives would have been saved, but the question remains, would Britain (which was not part of the Coalition) have accepted the continuing threat to the balance of power?

Politics and Governance
With increasing stabilization of the world population, there always appears to be a dominant nation, Britain playing that role until the end of World War II, succeeded by the U.S.  The European Union format, at the moment, appears to be the only plausible manner in which a united world population is possible.  Until World Governance becomes a reality, productivity and prosperity appear to be the determinants of a world leading country.

Like all successful presidential candidates over the last 40 years, Barack Obama has over-promised and under-delivered. He was not elected because of overwhelming devotion to him, but in reaction to the politics and policies of George W. Bush. Blessed with a democratic Congress, President Obama (and/or the people around him) squandered that ideal situation.
Other seasoned observers suggest that the U.S. has survived even worse situations. Kimon points out that the third parties that crop up in many countries reflect a crisis in governance when it becomes evident that governments are unable to fulfill their promises. There are growing indications of such civil strife and home-grown terrorism, not only in Greece, but in France as well.
One of the president’s major mistakes may well have been the appointment of ‘pitbull’ Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, when someone with more tact and a lower ‘insider’ profile might have achieved much more for the president’s programs. [Editor’s note: despite the slightly frivolous headline, there’s a lot of truth in Obama Sure Could Have Used Josiah Bartlett’s Staff]
In foreign affairs, he has wavered on a number of important issues – Middle East peace, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan – likely because of pressure exerted by the military.
This week’s related news includes conjecture that Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might swap jobs on the 2012 ticket, which reminds some of the swap proposed by James Baker and Donald Regan, which resulted in each man in a job to which he was better suited. Would the same be true for a Clinton-Biden swap?
For some Wednesday Nighters, the combination of the right-wing Tea Party with the billionaire financiers of the movement represents a real danger and a frightening lack of vision.
Even as it currently bears the greatest national debt in its history, the United States continues to grow, expenditures on the military continue to increase (and, as is true in other countries, largely as an appeasement to the right, or in the case of dictatorships, to the military). It is unfortunate that the U.S. continues to spend much in terms of both lives and dollars attempting to convert traditionally tribal societies to democracy against their will.  With the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor and deeply indebted, and the apparent absence of limits on political contributions,  some Wednesday Nighters question the relative influence on government of electors and of contributors, and which has the greater effect on legislation, policy and even on which party will gain power.
There is real concern regarding the relationship between money and elections, following the Supreme Court decision that permits unlimited anonymous corporate contributions. The extent to which the dollar has been accorded the franchise will continue.  The potential danger is  the extent to which foreign owned corporations might be able to influence government policy through monetary political contributions. This situation, with its implications of influence from foreign powers is the real threat to democracy. However, some argue that for many years, elections (and not only in the U.S.) have been seen to be bought, and while there are actually checks and balances amongst special interests in the U.S. This may be true, but the exercise of influence by foreign interests is a dangerous precedent, especially when attempting to export concepts of good governance to failed states.

The American Century is over
To someone based in Europe, it is surprising to see how North Americans continue, anachronistically perhaps, to look to the United States as the dominant world nation, while the remainder of the world, particularly East Asia sees India and China – today’s foremost economic power –  as increasingly playing that role. We in Canada continue to look up to the U.S. as world leader, despite its low employment rate, loss of housing, high unemployment and mounting debt.   Although we view the U.S. as the leader of the free world with some concern, much of the rest of the  world continue to see it only as the military superpower.
Europe, while not necessarily sharing the Asian view that America’s century is over,  appears to be looking increasingly eastward (including Russia) economically, although retaining the military ties to the NATO alliance. [Editor’s note: See William Pfaff on “Europe Looks East – Gorbachev’s ‘New Policy Forum’ Hints at the Future” — No one attending the New Policy Forum in Sofia was very interested in Washington’s present military and geostrategic preoccupations.]

This gloomy view of the future of the U.S. is not accepted by many Wednesday Nighters who have seen previous phoenix-like reincarnations on the part of the U.S., a melting pot of energetic people with a history of overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. However, the very virtues of the U.S., the open society, great universities, research capabilities, creativity  … are precisely its vulnerabilities vis à vis the mercantilism of China.
However, there are huge vulnerabilities in China and India that may very well crack. The extreme vulnerability in China is increasing democratization; in India, it is the caste system.

We are in transition but we have no idea what model will prevail.  The trends that we see today may continue or may be reversed.  One certainty is that the Chinese model is definitely not the model for the world.  One possibility is that the European model, may become the blueprint for world governance.



Following last Wednesday’s fascinating introductory presentation, Pierre Arbour will return for a more fulsome discussion of his Napoleon paper.

The symbolism of number 1492, when Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” and arrived in The Americas on October 12 without knowing exactly where he was, is not lost on us, given that we are fast approaching our own sailing date of November 1. However, we not only know where we are heading, but where we will make landfall.

Columbus was one of the first European immigrants (let’s not complicate matters with the Nordic voyagers) – and a good deal less benign than (most) more recent ones – which provides a perfect segue to the on-going topic of Canada’s immigration policy.

We are encouraged by the formation of the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform Rethink immigration, new group urges and the role of Derek Burney as one of the founders. One Wednesday Nighter comments: Efforts by the Centre to explore the debate on the status of our immigration system, will provoke other responses and interest from various groups. Let’s hope that discourse will lead to solutions and informed debate. We agree and hope that there will be much thoughtful discussion of options. Meanwhile, the Globe & Mail has published a story today Recession hit hard, recovery came slowly for immigrantsEmployment gap greatest among those with highest credentials that appears to support much of our debate about Canada’s seeming inability to match highly skilled immigrants with appropriate employment opportunities. Let us hope this is an area where the new policy centre will be working actively to provide solutions.

The demographics of the developing world, and especially, the BRICs are a thread in many of our conversational patterns. This piece from The Globalist should be of interest to economists, demographers and anyone else with a more than passing interest in our ever-evolving planet. The Battle of the Billionaires: China Vs. India In the world of today, as well as for the foreseeable future, the world’s only population billionaires are China and India – at 1.35 billion and 1.21 billion, respectively. Even so, these two population giants are on distinctly different demographic paths. Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, explains. See also NYT Dot Earth ‘Population Billionaires’ Face Tough Choices

Malcolm Gladwell has an important piece in the New Yorker this week, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted. — Social media can’t provide what social change has always required. If this is a topic you enjoy, please see Social media, society and technology for more.

Professor Anil Gupta is widely acclaimed as the “The Innovation Guru” in India, where he helped set up the National Innovation Foundation (NIF, 2000, to make India an innovative and creative society and a global leader in sustainable technologies. He spoke today at Harvard’s Belfer Center. Paul Shrivastava wonders if he should be invited as a Distinguished Speaker to Concordia; and Guy Stanley comments: There is a lot of interesting material on the NIF website. One I came across, clicking on the image stream at the bottom of the nifindia page, was the invention of an improved pepper thresher. In a labour intensive industry, this machine could replace two workers and according to the text, because of the productivity gains it promised, the industry sector council would subsidize its commercialization, i.e. uptake by the growers–we would call this commercialization, although in Canada as we know there are few if any actual subsidies for new technology uptake by industry.  Yet one cannot help wonder, looking back at western experience, , how this will actually work: This looks very like the process at work in mid-19th century England where capital deepening was generally labour displacing and the boost to productivity from innovation made England a leading industrial power. That ground to a halt in the 1870s–in part because extending the franchise and building powerful trade unions obstructed the continued introduction of labour-displacing technology. Why won’t that or worse happen in the pepper case?

Elections – lots of them:
October 5 marks the 10th anniversary of the ouster of the late Slobodan Milosevic – who remembers that he stepped down after mass demonstrations in Belgrade against election fraud?
Brazil is headed for a second round: A last-minute surge by Green Party candidate Marina Silva has pushed Brazil’s presidential election into a second round with Lula da Silva’s widely tipped successor, Dilma Rousseff, narrowly missing out on becoming the country’s first female leader. This story doesn’t mention that Marina Silva was an earlier protégée of Lula when she was Minister of the Environment.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that the general elections of October 3 in Bosnia and Herzegovina were conducted in conformity with the international norms and in a peaceful and orderly manner. We are sure they know whereof they speak.
Not so peaceful and orderly is the continuing saga of the U.S. mid-term elections. Please check out Paul Krugman and Frank Rich on the topic. And breaking news tells us that Jerry Brown is leading Meg Whitman in California (makes one believe in resurrection).
And soon (November 7) there will be what Nick Clegg terms Myanmar’s Sham Election

On economic matters:
According to Reuters, the UN to establish rules for sovereign debt
Governments and financial institutions are calling upon the United Nations to address issues of sovereign debt by creating rules that would help prevent irresponsible lending, and empower courts to resolve debt-related disputes. The initiative, which is expected to be taken up early next year by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, is intended to reduce the frequency, and intensity, of debt crises. Kimon Valaskakis may have comments on this report and how it relates to Global Governance. The FT reports that there’s a  Call for new global currencies deal — The world’s leading countries should agree a new currency pact to help rebalance the global economy.

The extended interview with Jon Stewart during which Bill Clinton gives his analysis of how the U.S. economy can be fixed is brilliant. We encourage you to watch it at:—bill-clinton-interview-extended-ii/

It’s a lot more inspiring than Mark Carney on Employment in a modest recovery . Guy Stanley points out that this speech strangely appears to have prompted little discussion, adding  Carney’s comments underline the persistent economic weakness of our trading partners, a basic relocalisation and restructuring (downsizing) of Ontario’s auto industry–hitherto one of the three major motors of Ontario’s economy–itself a major motor of Canada’s, the need to soft pedal any monetary policy tightening and persistent excess capacity in labour markets–and he is telling consumers to protect themselves from more shocks by restraining demand and claiming The Bank has to be vigilant about inflation!!! He also makes a passing reference to the need for fiscal policy to step up. — i.e. big tax cuts needed?? I assume that’s what he meant.  This seems to be contrary to current government policy, so therefore his speech ought to have ignited some discussion…Alas, whatever there was does not seem to have become public.

Sheila Arnopoulos is in Toronto where she “gave a talk at a big Microfinance conference over the weekend, and on Thursday [is]speaking about microcredit in India at the Munk Centre for Global Affairs, at Trinity College, U of T. Her scooters seem to be taking her many places. Bravo!

Guy Versailles, a too-long-absent Wednesday Nighter has an excellent excuse. Those of you who are following the twists and turns (Who do we believe?) of the Bastarache Commission will have noted that Guy is the Commission spokesman. We truly wish him well and cannot imagine that this is a fun job!

A Reminder: Thursday, October 7, 1-8 PM  the 1st Annual Science & Policy Exchange, a forum on the role of science in shaping public policy, chaired by: An Thien Ngo; Moderated by Beryl Wajsman;  Speakers include Wednesday Nighters Richard Bruno, Marc Garneau and Steven Lightfoot.

Comments are closed.