Wednesday Night #1499

[Editor’s note] This Wednesday’s Report differs greatly from the usual format. In the absence of Herb, Louise Des Trois Maisons and Sam Stein undertook the duties of scribe and have done so with brio.

This Wednesday Night turned out to be an intense evening!

The hostess was pleased to inform us that Cleo Pascal received an award from the Quebec Writers Federation. Guess where was Cleo when she was so rewarded!
In Togo!  And this time she had a passport.
[Editor’s note] The news that our OWN Cleo Paskal had won the Mavis Gallant Non-fiction Book Award at the QWF Annual Awards Gala on Tuesday was greeted with delight. Allan Mass, Vice President, reported that Cleo’s witty acceptance speech (below), delivered by her father, elicited a wry comment from host Andy Nulman about being upstaged by a writer who wasn’t even present.
Cleo’s Acceptance Speech
Several months ago I accepted an assignment to cover the first democratic elections in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga. I am currently in Nuku’alofa, where some good old-fashioned electioneering is in full swing. Though they did manage to get some of the dead people off the voter lists.
It is probably just as well for you that I am not there. If I were, I’d be going all Sally Fields on you. I am delighted when anyone other than my immediate family reads Global Warring. They have no choice; there are dinnertime quizzes. One of the reasons I submitted the book to the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction was to force three more people to read it.
To those brave judges, thank you. Knowing the exceptional caliber of the other book in the category, I can’t comment on your judgment, but I can comment on your perseverance. Books are long.
While it is tempting to give my dad something to read that captures the bubbling, gushing, trilling thrill I feel just at being a finalist, I’ll spare him. He deserves better. [As far as this book was concerned, he was a one man Canada Council.]
This damn book took forever to research and write and my family and friends have been incredibly patient and helpful. And that includes my extended QWF family. The QWF has been extremely important to me.
It has made me feel part of a community, it has given me friends, jobs, a place to talk ideas, provided a cultural centre. It has given me so much, and to help it give more to others, I’ll be donating $500 to their great Writers In The Community program. If you don’t know about the program, ask Lori about it. It changes lives.
I really miss being at this, the QWF annual family reunion. It won’t be exactly the same, but if anyone is interested in meeting up, give your email address to my dad and I’ll take a gang of you out to coffee when I am back. Fair warning though, there will be a quiz.
So, my dad’s instructions were keep it short and use a big font. I used 22 point Geneva. One out of two ain’t bad.
Thank you. And thank you again. ‘Ofa atu, which I am told means “much love” in Tongan, but knowing the Tongan sense of humour probably means “do I look fat in these pants”.

The best laid plans of editors and convenors gang aft agley thanks to world events. This Wednesday was no exception.

North Korea
Given the most recent events, a good part of the evening’s attention was focused on North Korea.
The regime is bankrupt.  It has to change.  Can the North Koreans bring the change?
Let us recall a succession of recent events.
Guerrilla activities last month
Artillery attacks in 2010
Torpedoing of a South Korean frigate in the spring of 2010
Let us also recall the visit by Siegfried Hecker (an American physicist, expert on centrifuge installations) to a North Korean uranium plant capable of enriching uranium by 90%.  Enough to build a bomb. His visit coincided with the shelling on the Yeonpyeong Island, killing four civilians and destroying quite a few buildings on the site.
Was the violence linked to the designation of the successor to the present leader?
Was it a call on Barack Obama to force him to stop the sanctions?
Until now, Peking has had some power over its neighbour.  People wonder why China did nothing this time to discipline North Korea. [Editor’s note: at least a partial answer may be found here On North Korea, China Prefers Fence]
America sent ships which were on manoeuvres in the Yellow Sea.  Are we reading correctly the intents of America ? How will the Americans get cooperation?  The strategy needs to be rethought.  Can we help the North to build its economy?  “Can we reassure these guys?” said one.  Poverty is endemic and the military is their life. Making matters worse, North Korea Faces ‘Alarming’ Drought, Declining Food Aid according to the U.N.
Is there a future for a ‘merged’ Korea?
For some years, the South Koreans pondered whether the two Koreas should merge.  They duly consulted with the Germans on how Germany achieved the reunification of the East and the West.
They were appalled at the exorbitant costs needed to attain it.  It also required patience to achieve a lasting harmony between the two cultures.  Many years of communism had a deep impact on East Germany.  Bouts of arrogance by the West Germans did not help either.  Frictions and frustrations have been unavoidable. However, German reunification concerned two groups of highly educated people.  In spite of the differences in their ideology and culture, the East Germans were readily employable. Conversely the North Koreans have been for stretches of time assigned to the military.  The task of educating the North Koreans and enlarging their vision would be no small matter.
The South Koreans have also given thought to the disruption that a migration of refugees from the North would provoke.  It now seems that neither South Korea nor China is ready to welcome massive crowds of refugees from North Korea.
Although the South Koreans have showed patience, they wonder how they can contain the North Koreans until the regime of the North collapses.  The South Koreans fear that the North Koreans could use plutonium bombs that could cause various degrees of damages.

Other topics
Middle East
The short list includes:
Afghanistan – cash being carried out of Kabul
Lebanon – In the wake of the CBC investigative report that has concluded that Hezbollah was involved in the 2005 murder of the former PM, Rafik Hariri, there is concern that Lebanon will – once again – go up in flames. The report also named one of the suspects fingered by the UN commission investigating the murder: Wissam Hassan, today Lebanon’s intelligence chief, who at the time was Hariri’s chief of protocol.

Some reflected that Americans are not good at wars and wondered how many wars can the Americans lead simultaneously?
One said:  We to not want to use weapons of massive destruction!
World economy
To reign in deficit we cannot devalue currency.

After Months of Resisting, Ireland Applies for Bailout

A few frightening statistics were offered:
Unfunded banks – The Guardian points out: “the stress tests conducted on Europe’s banks earlier this year were worthless. All the Irish banks were given a clean bill of health.”
Very high unemployment 13% of GDP
Official unemployment 29%
Those who have stopped looking for work  39%
Youth unemployment 42%

To keep in mind the US deficit and debts
Germany will not finance the rest of Europe
“To reign in deficit we cannot devalue currency.”

The Prologue

George Archer has proposed a topic relating to governance that is dear to our hearts and highly appropriate on the eve of American Thanksgiving. He writes:

I wonder if we can focus on the state of democracy in the U.S. It appears that the country’s political process is currently unable to discuss in a reasonable manner, much less begin to fix, the many serious problems it faces. What are the forces that have brought the world’s most vibrant democracy to this state? What are the necessary foundations of a democratic state that the U.S. may have invented and developed for so many years that may have fallen into neglect? I should add that I am not counting out the US; I have too much respect for its energy and inventiveness and ability to reinvent itself to do that.

Aside from the numerous political commentators (e.g. Nicholas Kristof: A Hedge Fund Republic? and the Economist: As America undergoes dramatic, uneven changes, it may become harder to govern) who regularly write on the topic, even such an unlikely individual as George Soros has recently been quoted as saying that at times China wields more power than the U.S. because of the political gridlock in Washington. “Today China has not only a more vigorous economy, but actually a better functioning government than the United States” China has better functioning government than U.S. Moreover, Paul Krugman, writing about The Hijacked Commission (the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) points out that “It seemed obvious, as soon as the commission’s membership was announced, that ‘bipartisanship’ would mean what it so often does in Washington: a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right” – not a recipe for democracy at work. Still more disturbing is Mr. Krugman’s There Will Be Blood:
One of our parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing.
“There’s a legal limit to federal debt, which must be raised periodically if the government keeps running deficits; the limit will be reached again this spring. And since nobody, not even the hawkiest of deficit hawks, thinks the budget can be balanced immediately, the debt limit must be raised to avoid a government shutdown. But Republicans will probably try to blackmail the president into policy concessions by, in effect, holding the government hostage; they’ve done it before.
Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America’s role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, [Former Senator Alan Simpson, co-chairman of a special commission on deficit reduction] ‘can’t wait.’ And he’s what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican.” Kimon Valaskakis comments: US GRIDLOCK AND DUMB DEMOCRACY A SERIOUS THREAT THAT COULD LEAD TO MAJOR POLITICAL UPHEAVAL IN THE US ITSELF.
Adding to the discourse is The Economist on-line debate This house believes that America’s political system is broken.

David Kilgour‘s recent speech ONE CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE ON AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY FOLLOWING MID-TERM ELECTIONS to the World Affairs Council on four foreign policy issues in the new (U.S.) political environment takes the discussion beyond the U.S. borders, into the realm of the influence exercised by the political forces at work. Guy Stanley comments on David’s speech: the comments at the top of the speech are the ones that touch on the deeper issues, e.g. “To be sure, a major foreign policy rethink is long overdue and I agree with Jeffrey Sachs that there has been an unfortunate bi-partisan consensus in your country for too long that America is ‘the world’s colossus, the indisputable power, the new Rome, the twenty-first-century empire, the sole super power’.” (See Guy’s full comment.)

Concurrently, we have a governance issue in Canada which deserves far more examination (and, in our opinion, outcry) than it has received – the death of the Climate Change Bill in the Senate  Climate bill, Commons crushed in one blow Not only does this mean “that Canada will arrive empty handed at an international conference next month in Cancun, where nearly 200 countries will be trying to hammer out an agreement on climate change”, but Mr Harper’s defense of the action by the Senate represents a complete about-face of his previous position on an un-elected Senate and yet another failure of the present government to respect the country’s democratic tradition. We would also add the disgraceful situation at Rights and Democracy that Paul Wells describes as The twilight struggle of transparency and accountability

Judith Patterson has strong opinions on Quebec’s shale gas project, as do many others – unfortunately, for reasons we are unable to explain, we cannot access her October 23 Global TV interview, but seem to be the only ones with the problem. (Note: you have to scroll down to the Focus Montreal Section, and then click on the October 23 icon.  Hers is the first interview of the programme.) We, will, however, have Judith, live, this Wednesday to explain  – and give us a reading list. We have not ascertained whether she is one of the 200,000 calling for Premier Charest’s resignation because inter alia he has failed to declare a moratorium on shale-gas development.

Maureen Farrow will be with us, thus economic subjects will not be ignored and we look forward to discussing Economist Ha-Joon Chang on Currency Wars, the G20, and Why “There’s No Such Thing As a Free Market” forwarded by Kimon Valaskakis with the comment: An iconoclastic view of capitalism and free trade by a Cambridge University economist, well worth reading and commenting by the ‘Wed-Night Globalization Caucus’, along with the economic issues related to whether or not democracy can (again) work in the U.S.

For your calendars:
From the CIC
Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
Pierre Marc Johnson: Reporting on a Great Ambition: The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement
Registration at 6:00pm, Presentation at 6:30pm
Cocktail to Follow Presentation
McGill University, Peterson Hall, Room 116
3460 McTavish Street, Montreal
M. Johnson will discuss the state of the Canada – European Union negotiations towards a comprehensive free trade agreement, that for the first time, involve the provinces at the table.

Do join us, and if you are unable to do so, comments are very welcome and we ask you to please let us know if you will not be with us. With the new WN 2.0 formula, there are always others waiting in the wings.

3 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1499"

  1. Paul Shrivastava November 22, 2010 at 7:52 pm ·

    I will not be at this Wed Night 2.0. The idea of discussing the plight of liberal democracies is dear to my own heart, but I will have to be satisfied by just commenting on it. The “gridlock” that Soros mentions and “bipartisanship” that Krugman mentions have been with us for nearly 30 years and a defining feature of liberal democracies. This form of national governance is ideal for maintaining status quo and incremental tilts to each side of the centre. This is of course disastrous when big problems require major changes. US has big problems, needs big changes, but its gridlock ensures it stays stuck in the middle. China’s authoritarian governance is draconic, but it can deal with big problems. If population is a problem they can enforce a one-child policy, if deforestation is a problem they can enforce each citizen planting one tree each year.

    The bigger problem is for global governance issues – climate change is one. National level governments acting on their own interest will never be able to solve this one – yes Canada has regressed this week, despite 85% citizens supporting climate change legislation. But most countries are coming to Cancun empty handed

    Hope it will be a great Wednesday. Later this week, I am leaving for France, and then to India. There I will be in Shillong, a rain forest with water shortage, and visit Jharkhand, the richest coal and ore mining state reeling under Maoist rebellion, and Bandhavgarh the White Tiger “sanctuary” with its last tiger couple. Who said India was a contradiction!

  2. Guy Stanley November 22, 2010 at 9:59 pm ·

    Kimon’s arguments are always interesting and his tour d’horizon is very impressive. His argument assumes the possibility of democratic “global governance” because I suppose he thinks it a necessity. But there is little evidence to support its possibility and quite a bit on the side of skepticism. To be brief, however, I will take on the conclusions.
    If one accepts Kimon’s analysis of the current US political and economic situation, it is “dumb democracy” that is the cause of US troubles. There are other interpretations. One is simply the perpetual cycle of government forms familiar to students of Plato–as Kimon clearly is.
    Plato –who at the end of his life was only too aware of the limits to human politics and governance–would surely recognize the familiar political cycle from the WASP-led oligarchy of the 1950s to the democracy stretching from Johnson to the emerging plutocracy from Reagan to GWB. In the Platonic cycle some version of autocracy is the next development. (Harbingers? Note for example (a) Obama’s ability to issue a death warrant against a US citizen (a jihadist cleric living in Yemen), (b) the threat of cyber terrorism and the generally accepted position that only the Pentagon and the NSA in particular has the ability to counter it, but to do must have access to all US internet traffic!) (c) the absence of any strategy for “defeating” jihadism except perpetual war.
    As to “dumb democracy”, whatever one thinks of the Tea Party, the historical record as it is so far available suggests that it was (a) the unchecked power of the political élite to make war (b) the unchecked influence of economic monopolies, especially the banks and (c) the subsequent failure of both that has put the State in its current disequilibrium of suspended legitimacy. In other words, rather than “dumb democracy” one might just accept that the US is undergoing another periodic “adjustment” –and possible breakdown–of its constitution. Some other equivalent constitutional tests: Jackson, the civil war, the New Deal, the Bush-Gore election…and now this.
    As Krugman points out, the picture is dismaying: if anything is too big to fail without an ensuing catastrophe, it is the US.
    Bad as things appear in the US, however, today’s post-Westphalian sovereignty structure preserves some alternatives. Now imagine a situation with no alternatives to “the universal monarch”: is that not global governance? We need to think more in terms of “resilient” good governance, less “universal” governance. As Canadians ought to know as well as anyone, constitutional adjustments are an inescapable part of “governance”.

  3. Louise December 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm ·

    Commentaire: La Corée du sud a consulté sur la réunification de l’Allemagne

    Le berceau de l’érudition et de la culture allemande a été à l’est.

    On peut dire que ce fut difficile pour les Allemands de l’est lors de la réunification quand les Allemands de l’ouest les ont traités de haut et ont occupé en peu de temps une majorité des hauts postes détenus jusque là par les Allemands de l’est.

    De plus les gens de l’est n’en sont pas revenus que les alliés aient bombardé Dresde 17 fois, alors que la guerre était pour ainsi dire gagnée par les alliés. Il est devenu clair pour l’Est que les Alliés voulaient les humilier en visant carrément les civils et les monuments historiques, trésors de la nation.

    Sans surprise c’est dans l’est qu’on trouve aujourd’hui les noyaux vifs du néonazisme.

    D’autre part il faut aussi comprendre la perception des Allemands de l’ouest qui avaient une toute autre façon de travailler et une mentalité de performance complètement différente de celle des Allemands de l’est. Dans le monde du travail cette perspective des uns et des autres était culturellement très différente et une source potentielle de conflits.

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