Wednesday Night #1514

Written by  //  March 9, 2011  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

 The utterly miserable weather worked against the usual complement of Wednesday Nighters, but the smaller group gave a welcome opportunity for more focused discussion in an intimate setting.

Jean Doré gave a very complete picture of CT-Payment, which is presenting major innovations in the electronic processing of debit and credit card payments; Jean is Strategic Advisor to the Chairman, and also a shareholder. To no-one’s surprise, he is very enthusiastic about the company’s prospects, partly because it has acquired proven technology that has vast market potential in the US, but more so because it truly offers the merchants a far better deal and will help them to overcome the monolithic practices of the banks in this field. He points with pride to the fact that “our integrated solution combined with our neutral stance towards acquirers makes it possible for our merchant-customers to switch acquirer without operational impacts. Merchants will use this capability to better negotiate the credit card processing rate – or merchant discount rate – charged to them.”
He then talked about his 10-year involvement with La Fondation d’Auberges du Coeur which funds some 20 Auberges du Coeur.
Inevitably, some youth search to establish their independence and superiority by escaping to larger centres in order to seek their fortune and establish their independence. Sadly, they often fall victim to those who would exploit their innocence, leading them to crime, drugs and prostitution. For whatever reasons, youth are not treated by society as well as adults in similar circumstances through such measures as women’s shelters. Fortunately many are being saved by the Auberges du Coeur, whose  network of quasi-autonomous shelters has been established to rescue and rehabilitate homeless youth and those in distress, providing them with housing, food, education, training, work ethic, employment and physical needs in exchange for their willingness to familiarize themselves with life’s pitfalls and rewards. Currently, over 3,000 youths a year find refuge at one or other of these hostels. Jean has recently stepped down as chairman of the Fondation to which he brought his usual energy and vast network of contacts to build solid a financial footing. He gave a touching and inspiring description of the work of the directors and staff of the individual Auberges and their success stories (one Auberge even owns a farm and offers the young people an opportunity to learn everything about farming from basic agriculture to marketing of the sustainable final products at agricultural fairs).

An election if necessary but not necessarily an election?
In Ottawa, it would appear that the election that no one (with the possible exception of Bloquistes) wants is rapidly approaching. The Conservatives have a huge war chest, while the other parties are struggling financially. On the other hand, while the Conservatives would like to run a campaign on their management of the economy, if the opposition (Liberals) could get their act together and focus on issues of ethics, trust, transparency and vision, the Harpergovernment would have much to answer for.
There are those voters who do not look forward to the prospect of a majority Harpergovernment, but at the same time would like to see the Liberal party virtually wiped out in an election so that it can be rebuilt into the potent political force it once was, as many are bitterly disappointed in Michael Ignatieff’s inability to relate to the people he needs to vote for him. Some who have observed him in groups of twenty-five or less people, especially among those he considers his academic peers, say that he is dynamic and an excellent speaker/facilitator. But in public – and the House of Commons – he seems to be virtually tongue-tied, or else illogical, in larger groups. At least one Wednesday Nighter offers the explanation that he doesn’t appear to grasp the nature of politics, unable to exploit faults, large or small, in the Conservative government that have the potential of being built into a story with which the Media can run and that the electorate can understand.
An opportunity was lost when the Liberals failed to adequately point out the cost of building and maintaining the new prisons proposed by the Prime Minister in a period when crime rates are falling. Rehabilitation has always produced better results in terms of recidivism than retribution. [When British prisoners were transported to the colonies for cruel punishment and ultimate release, there does not appear to have been either a decrease in the crime rate in Britain, nor an increase in Australia.] Given Jack Layton’s illness and recent surgery, the only person in the NDP who seems keen for an election is Mr. Mulcair and that likely has more to do with his own ambitions. The Bloc would like to see an election, presumably in the hope of picking up votes from disillusioned Liberal supporters in Québec.

World economy
The long tail of the financial crisis keeps coming back to haunt us. We were in the abyss together but now members of the G20 don’t have the same problems. Inflation is high in India and China, caused in China by increasing wages. In Europe, although the European Union is expected to handle it, inflation and sovereign debt are bubbling up once more. North America, however does not appear to really have a problem with inflation. Canada is doing very well and  exports to the U.S. are picking up.
China is the largest holder of foreign reserves (approximately 30% of the $nine trillion of foreign reserves in the world), 25% of which are in Euros. Europe, has surpassed the U.S. as China’s biggest market. India is growing fast and Australia and Canada have opened up. Unlike these countries the U.S. and Europe are on a different track and must rid themselves of their debt load or face downgrading.
If the world continues on its present rapid growth-path as appears to be the case, it is very possible, even probable that with increasing urbanization, thirty-five new eco-friendly cities will be built in China [How eco-friendly will China’s new Mega City: Population, 42 Million will be is a moot point]  and India. As urbanization is possible only at the expense of arable land, it is axiomatic that food inflation and commodity inflation will follow, impacting even more sharply on the developing world than does petroleum inflation on the developed world.
More and more, the voice of youth influences national policy and one fallout from the recession has been massive unemployment even in China and India among the youth that form large percentages of the population throughout the developing world; this is exacerbated by the pressure on youth to seek professional rather than technical training. Only Germany has escaped this trap by maintaining its manufacturing base and more closely controlling the triage of students heading to universities or trade schools.
The Jasmine revolution and all its sibling uprisings to date have been largely secular and youth-driven, and owe their origins to the new global connectivity that influences the young people who are the principal users of the new social media and allied technologies to believe that things are better — ‘out there’. They are only interested in democratic reform in the sense that democracy appears to improve the chances of creating a better life in which there is a respect for the population.
Some believe that this same connectivity may give Canadian politicians a surprise in the forthcoming elections (federal and provincial), belying the traditional political apathy of young voters.

Energy
Although it is claimed that we are well past where we believe ourselves to be in terms of nuclear energy, the cost of energy for heat and transportation continues to rise exponentially, even more so in Europe than in North America. In the U.K. The cost of gasoline in pounds sterling has the same numerical value as the cost of gas in Canada in dollars. In Europe the availability and dependability of high speed trains have changed to personal transportation habits of Europeans. North America appears to have two problems with this concept, one being the Siamese twin-like attachment of each adult family member to his or her automobile and the other, the lack of the population density in urban centers that gives European trains a ready-made market. The future of high-speed train travel is thus bleak in North America, even factoring in the burgeoning prices of motor fuel.

One Wednesday-Nighter believes that although oil at $140 to $150 per barrel has the potential to lead to a financial crisis, it is probable that the relative current abundance of petroleum would force prices down at that point.

Prologue

Two special guests this Wednesday: Maureen Farrow is in town and we are pleased to confirm the presence of Jean Doré, former Mayor of Montreal and, after ten years with the Desjardins Group, now strategic consultant with CT-Payment, where he is responsible for building key strategic partnerships for the company. (More about Jean). We are very much looking forward to having him overwhelm us with his characteristic unbridled enthusiasm for this and other ventures, while Maureen will no doubt offer her usual clear-eyed perspective on the international economy.

International Women’s Day at 100
Despite gains in gender equality over the past century, such parity remains far-off for many women because of various forms of discrimination, said Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women. Not only do women continue to earn less than men for doing the same work, she said, but they have less access to land ownership and, as girls, are less likely to go to school. The Washington Post/The Associated Press (3/8)
Q-and-A with Michelle Bachelet, head of UN Women
UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet talked to Foreign Policy magazine about her agency’s mission and the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. She was in Liberia to celebrate the day with the Africa’s only female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She was joined on the trip by UN Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin. Click here for more on the trip. Click here to view pictures from the trip on Flickr. Foreign Policy (3/8)
We trust that you are all celebrating the centenary of International Women’s Day (IWD) appropriately. Despite the many positive developments over the past years (Quebec women even have the right to vote now!), as our lovely daughter-in-law reminds us:” We were just lucky to be born in the right countries … and our daughters too …” because around the world, the statistics are shocking. Consider that:
— Women complete two-thirds of the work in the world yet only earn ten percent of the total income and own a mere one percent of the property
— 70 million girls do not have access to a basic education, and
— 60 million girls are sexually abused on their way to school.
There remains much to be done. Thus, it behooves us all to consider how to ensure that much greater advances are made in the next decade. Meanwhile, we happily point you to how Daniel Craig – yes, Daniel Craig of James Bond fame – has lent his name (and physique) to the cause.

It is ironic that Bangladesh has chosen this time to pursue Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate and pioneer in microcredit, an innovative approach to lifting so many women out of the depths of poverty. It is hard to believe that the actions are not politically motivated.

One of the more remarkable recent developments is the role of women in the current Middle East turmoil. As Al Jazeera points out, “women are not merely joining protests to topple dictators; they are at the centre of demanding social change”  The Middle East feminist revolution .

The exception appears to be Libya, where we have seen little evidence of women at the forefront of the revolt, but then, if we are to believe Mr. Gaddafi, the rebels are all young men on drugs [perhaps fed to them by wives, mothers and sisters?].

That brings us to the dominant news story – Libya’s increasingly volatile state and the world’s reactions. Seemingly, the authorities are incapable of agreeing on a course of action while political pundits debate whether action would be viewed as imperialist by the Arab world. If Gaddafi prevails, it appears to us, that amidst the inevitable bloodletting, the West will be blamed for inaction by the unfortunate losers and a vast number of the unhappy population of the region. This would not augur well for relations in the future when eventually some or all of those groups prevail.

While the politicians debate the merits of alternative courses of action, other pundits and economists are more concerned with the effect of events on the availability and price of oil. Practically rubbing his hands in glee, Tom Friedman says that now is the time to rid the U.S. of its dependence on oil by adding a tax that ensures the price does not go below $4 p/g. Much as it grieves us to disagree with one of our idols, to our uneducated eyes, as this inevitably raises the cost of transportation of practically everything, unless there is a miraculous appearance of a nation-wide high-speed rail system, the first and lasting result would be hyperinflation. On the other hand, in the same interview, he wisely pointed out that depending on the 86 year-old King and “ailing” Saudi government to keep the oil flowing is not a good idea, especially given the state of some other OPEC members – Kuwait, UAE and Nigeria. But would we rather be beholden to Venezuela and/or Russia?

In our never-ending quest on your behalf for thought-provoking reading/viewing material, we offer the following:

Peter Mansbridge talks with best-selling author Don Tapscott on the “wiki-revolutions” in the Middle East and how mass collaboration is changing our world.
Glenn Hubbard
and Bill Duggan: A Marshall Plan for the Middle East?
U.S. economic aid to the Middle East has mostly funded government infrastructure projects and food aid – neither of which helps small and medium sized local business. More recently, it funded NGO projects, too. But all prosperous countries of the world got that way not through government infrastructure, food aid, or NGO projects, but through the growth of a domestic business sector. India and China are only the most recent examples. Like it or not, a thriving local business sector is the only path to prosperity and stability the world has ever known.

At home, as we bask in the warm embrace of the Harper Government,  the unfortunate Bev Oda has yielded her headline spot to court rulings on “In-and-out” campaign spending and the national securities regulator (unconstitutional says Alberta), however, our preference is for Disgraced integrity czar’s $500,000 severance deal includes gag order As we have noted elsewhere, we promise NOT (Bev Oda, please note) to do our job AND to keep quiet! Just, please, secure us an appointment like Mme Ouimet’s.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1514"

  1. Stephen Kinsman March 9, 2011 at 9:13 am · Reply

    By the way: Talking about price of gas and high-speed rail transportation, the Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has rejected a federal grant of $432,000,000. towards such a link between Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Eventually, the Feds said, fine, we’ll give it to other states for similar works. He was proud of the fact that like other Republican governors, he has spurned federal democratic aid.The spin-offs from this project would have been immense for Florida, never mind the eventual impact on travel, business.and the environment. He has also asked the legislature to “Don’t blink, just cut”, and pass his budget His proposed cuts to education, for instance, are extremely unfortunate.

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