Wednesday Night #1518

Written by  //  April 6, 2011  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1518

All the world’s a stage …

Canada’s election
Both the United States Senate and the Canadian Parliament appear to exhibit many attributes of the theatre, the obvious exception being that it is the audience that pays for the ticket and the actors, when successful, who take their seats.  In Canada, the best actor, by far, is Jack Layton.  In the May 2 performance, however he may possibly lose his seat, in which event he would probably be succeeded by someone from stage left (far left), causing the NDP to be unelectable for many years.  Michael Ignatieff has been diligently improving his stage presence, encouraging his fans, while Stephen Harper, although occasionally deviating from the script, remains a powerful actor.  There are those who believe that some of Harper’s recent pronouncements combined with Ignatieff’s rediscovered strengths could result in a Liberal government (possibly a minority government) on May 2, but this is one drama in which the outcome will be unknown until the final curtain call.

Congress and shut-down of the government
The drama currently being played out in the United States is far more serious. Having failed to pass budget legislation during the pre-election period, the President now faces a Congress in which Democrats and centrist Republicans are manipulated by the right wing members, who threaten to literally close down the government if its demands are not met.  As unlikely as this appears, it may very well happen – as it did under Bill Clinton in late 1995 – early 1996 – although, certainly could not continue beyond a few days at most.  In the long run, far more serious are the possible long term consequences of the deficit engendered by either budget version.  A token diminution of secretarial staff, the obvious easy means to balance the budget, would prove disastrous, but the real danger is the longer term inevitable deficit growth regardless of which party’s budget version prevails, with the predicted shadow of unacceptable inevitable levels of inflation.

Mortgages in default
One indication of the problems continuing to face the U.S. economy is the report of twelve million failed mortgages that the banks are unwilling to declare for fear of adversely affecting their bottom line, thus causing another banking crisis.  About one quarter of U.S. mortgages are said to be in difficulty.  On the positive side, as inflation increases, the value of the mortgage loan inevitably decreases.  It is estimated that it will take only about five years to work through.  A similar situation existed here about a quarter century ago, when Canadian banks owned approximately half the farms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, a situation from which everyone ultimately emerged relatively unscathed. [Update: HuffPost reports: Foreclosure Investors Flip Homes, Reap Rewards Despite the risks of buying into a sagging housing market, a small group of investors eye such real estate with cash in hand. And some want a quick flip. Foreclosure sales represented 26 percent of all U.S. residential property purchases in 2010, down from 29 percent in 2009, the year housing prices were thought to have hit bottom, according to foreclosure monitor RealtyTrac.]

The rise of the Canadian dollar?
Although some express concern about the effect on Canada of rise of the Canadian dollar versus its U.S. counterpart, it is estimated that it is unlikely that the Canadian dollar will rise above a tolerable $1.10 U.S.
Microcredit continues to become more popular around the world with some glitches, but generally successful.  Curiously it has been overwhelmingly successful in aiding women establish small businesses, but not men who tend to be less inclined to repay the loans and less successful in their enterprises.
Sheila Arnopoulos’ book, Saris on Scooters has attracted great success and she is much sought after as a speaker on microcredit matters. Not only was she invited by a student group at Queen’s University called Take Action to speak there about her experiences in India around microcredit, but she is off to the University of Pennsylvania to a student-run microfinance conference where she is on a panel dealing with Microcredit Plus — meaning the economic and social spin-offs of microcredit — empowerment of women, expansion of education for girls, creation of women-led cooperatives, etc.
In May she will accompany a student group from the University of Pennsylvania (half the students are Chinese studying at the University; the others are mostly Chinese-Americans) to Sichuan province in China. “I will be mostly an observer, but will join in volunteer work planned around an organization promoting microcredit in China. Microcredit is expanding in — focusing on the rural 250 million living on less than $1 a day.”

Jacques Chagnon, Member of the National Assembly for Westmount-Saint-Louis has been elected Speaker of the National Assembly.Wednesday Nighters living in that riding have long appreciated M. Chagnon’s service to his constituents and are pleased that he has expressed his dismay over acrimony in the Assembly, particularly during Question Period. It is to be hoped that his election as Speaker will result in raising the level of debate that has been so obviously lacking in the recent past.


The Prologue

We have been lax – and late – and apologize. Our only excuse is a certain preoccupation with the forthcoming New School of Athens “Montreal Dialogues” conference, of which you have all been kept duly informed.

Not so busy, however that we do not continue to keenly observe the serious news and absurdities of the world around us.

We are struck by the juxtaposition of the situation of the U.S Government, in dire peril of being shut down by a few hundred Republicans, and the Libyan regime which so far, to our dismay, is withstanding the onslaught of the western powers, backed (sort-of) by the Arab League and maybe the African Union (depending on the day and which way the wind blows). If only we could send the Republicans to confront the Brother Leader and his minions. And, think about how much the trip would enhance John Boehner’s tan. As a corollary, maybe we could invite Turkey to mediate the budget dispute with Congress.

The French have tried a novel solution in Libya: Bernard-Henri Lévy as envoy, or, as the Financial Times styles it Philosophes sans frontieres as Plato battles Nato.
Whatever the outcome, the question remains Who are these Libyan rebels? Possibly not ideal allies, which, we believe, is why President Obama was so hesitant to become involved.

Japan continues to battle the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Good news today is the Reuters report that Japan stops radioactive leaks into sea from crippled nuclear plant, but debate on the safety of nuclear energy continues around the world. Wednesday Night’s lively debate on this topic was largely pro-nuclear, but all recognized that Japan faced an impossible and improbably perfect storm – unlikely (though not impossible) to be replicated. Nuclear power aside, the devastation to the global supply chain is beginning to be felt; the announcement Toyota is to shut down all of its U.S. factories because of parts shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake is a case in point.

So much is happening in so many parts of the world that we find it difficult to establish a thread for our topics without weaving an overly complex cloth. Thus, we are leaving aside such developments as events in the Ivory Coast , where the UN appears to be close to invoking R2P, and the quite peaceful outcome of the Haiti election with the victory by Michel  “Sweet Micky” Martelly . Nor will we embark on a lengthy overview of events in the Middle East, not even the news that Israeli President Shimon Peres had a working lunch with President Obama to discuss the way forward toward a two-state solution, although we are looking forward to Alan Hustak‘s account of his recent trip to Israel. For now, you will have to be content with the news flash that he spent an afternoon swimming with Moishe Safdie.

So, finally, we come to Canada

A fascinating, if less than world-shattering, story is that of Mr. Harper’s assiduous pursuit, via background checks, of dangerous infiltrators in his encounters with the (presumably) voting public, whilst apparently stunned by mounting evidence of the infiltration of his precious inner circle by a convicted fraudster. We are bemused by the statement that “Harper said he didn’t know Carson’s criminal record was more extensive than originally thought” [emphasis added]. Does that mean that the original criminal record was acceptable for engagement in the PMO? Meanwhile, there is some explaining to do regarding the ejection of students from some Harper events and as usual the benighted Dimitri Soudas tries valiantly to stay on a message that doesn’t answer the questions.  Conservatives try to explain student ejections from rallies
Reporter: Why are they being kicked out of Conservative rallies?
Dimitri Soudas: As I stated earlier we’re having great turnouts at our crowds (sic) so far. Every single campaign stop, we’ve had tremendous turnout so far.
Ah Dimitri, we can always rely on you to provide tragi-comic relief.

The sad thing is that more people will be titillated by these items than will ever notice the serious policy issues that are coming out. We are particularly dismayed by the resurrection of the divisive gun control question – and this from the Harpergovernment (all one word) that wants to build more prisons to combat crime. While we are frequently told that gun control is an urban/rural debate, we were reminded by a recent radio interview that it is also often gender-based. Whatever it is, it appears that Mr. Harper and his Conservatives are far more interested in acrimonious debate with the objective of gaining power than in bringing the country together to accomplish the many things that need to be done.

Meanwhile, who noticed this item?

Alberta conservation plan stuns oil patch
The Alberta government has proposed new environmental rules that would revoke a number of oil sands leases – including those which already have active projects – in an effort to protect sensitive habitat, wildlife and forest land in the most industrialized area of the province.

On a lighter note (and with thanks to Cleo) we commend to your attention P.J. O’Rourke’s replique to Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Irish Setter Dad Whose children will succeed in life, Amy Chua’s or mine?
And from Tony Deutsch, this delightful account of a helpful mother’s frustration Apparently children don’t require editing

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