Wednesday Night #1520

Written by  //  April 20, 2011  //  Economy, Europe & EU, Reports, U.S., Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1520

The evening was enlivened by Alan Hustak‘s description of his recent trip to Israel, which was undertaken on the invitation of the Israel Government Tourist Office which has expressed concern over the lack of tourists from Quebec and hoped that Alan’s persuasive writing might help to stimulate interest among Quebec-based Christians to visit the country that is revered as the Holy Land by all ‘Peoples of The Book”. He recounted his unexpected meeting with Moshe Safdie, the young genius architect of Habitat 67, who was Alan’s guide to the New Jerusalem of which he is the principal architect.
[Read Alan’s piece in The Metropolitain: THIS YEAR IN JERUSALEM
A trip to Jerusalem is an act of faith no matter what your convictions.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel but it is not by any stretch of the imagination, an exclusively Jewish city. It throbs with a brash energy, pulsates with Semitic and Slavic rhythms and resonates with a sense of shared history unequalled in any other place on earth. In the words of one writer, it remains “a golden object of desire,” a site for pleasure, prayer and pilgrimage.

It appears that the U.N. will proclaim a Palestinian state based on 1967 boundaries.  Israel attempts to put its best face forward by providing tours to journalists, politicians and others, among whom are several Wednesday Nighters, all impressed with the country, its history and its development, but critical of the “ghetto-like” areas in which Israeli Muslims are said to live.  No mention was made of the conditions in which Jewish residents in some neighbouring Muslim countries live, nor of the wartime refusal by western countries to accept Jewish refugees, leading Great Britain to grant Jewish immigration to a land that it administered but did not own. While recognizing that the country is bedeviled by the same problems of (elected) political extremists as many of its western supporters, Israel is expected, by both critics and many proponents to meet a higher standard of  behavior, especially in terms of human rights.

The Debates and the election
The great Canadian election debates do not appear to have altered the opinion of the electorate.  Essentially, the country works best when there is a majority but, as with many countries, is unlikely to achieve it.  The uniting of the center right and fracturing of the center left runs counter to any party achieving a majority. There is talk of proportional representation but this does not solve the problem of a minority government.  The most popular candidate is not necessarily the most skilled.  The essence of democracy is that the majority rules.  The French system appeals to some Wednesday Nighters because it inevitably ends in majority rule.  In that country the election is held in two stages, more democratic because it always produces a majority.  Others point to Scotland, which elects its own parliament but also sends representatives to Westminster (a situation not unlike the Bloc Québécois in Ottawa).  As for this election it is predicted that with the exception of two or three seats, the political makeup of Parliament will remain unchanged, although the expected low turnout is said to favour the Conservative Party. [Editor’s note: Not a lot of prescience here]

One of the issues of the debate has been immigration and the delay in immigration of older relatives of recently arrived Canadian citizens, e.g. ‘family reunification.  Despite the obvious compassion for such situations, the demographics indicating of our aging Canadian population, would dictate favouring young immigrants, but there are also strong arguments in favor of admitting grandparents who can provide stability for children and whose presence allows both parents to seek employment without feelings of guilt.

Stock market
As for the stock market the current business cycle is on the rise, but ultimately, there will be a downturn in the cycle.  Those less optimistic point to the increasing debt of developed countries and the possibility that commodities might be overpriced, adversely affected versus the U.S.   Others fear that the increasing popularity of E.T.F.’s (Exchange traded funds) have the possibility of ending up as the next sub-prime fiasco.

Finland’s elections
In the recent Finnish elections, the party elected to power was a “leave us alone party.”  The leader is said to be competent, but the other representatives, perhaps not as skilful.  The fear is expressed that this party could veto a bailout for Portugal, setting off a new European crisis. (The optimistic Wednesday Night Financial Mavens were not present to present the other side of the exchange).


Day of remembrance: 1 year after Gulf oil disaster
In case no-one has noticed, we all seem to be pretty busy these days.  Not sure whether others are going through the anxious times of tardy preparation of their Tax Returns, but we have just emerged from some sleepless nights devoted to that activity. Hence, this will be a somewhat abbreviated message.
Every time we open our mail (electronic and otherwise), there seem to be even more individuals and organizations beseeching us to attend a fascinating and/or worthy event. We truly wish we had the time for all of them.
But first, Hearty Congratulations to Kimon for having pulled together the Montreal Dialogues of the New School of Athens. The Wednesday Night contingent was impressive and the feedback we have received has been excellent.
We would like to remind you that this Wednesday, the traditional All-Candidates (Westmount-Ville-Marie) meeting is scheduled for Victoria Hall at 7pm. No matter what your favorite flavour, this is always an interesting and well-run event; we urge you to attend and to come back to WN afterwards to share your impressions (or rants).
The election campaign is of course taking up much space in both the media and our lives and we are sure that everyone has a favorite story, commentary, image, or poll. We will limit ourselves to calling your attention to the action of our favorite NGO – Engineers Without Borders  Foreign Assistance Reform Network urges practical steps to modernize Canada’s role in the world  At a time when our country is grappling with a significant deficit and Canadians are being asked to tighten their belts, the Foreign Assistance Reform Network (FARN), led by Engineers Without Borders, is asking all political parties to join us in endorsing a plan to modernize Canada’s approach to foreign assistance – maximizing the impact of every dollar spent and ensuring Canada’s efforts to reduce global poverty are as effective as possible. EWB is urging Canadians to send a message to all the candidates in their riding in support of the FARN platform. We like this idea (and have sent our letter), but are afraid that Jeffrey Simpson is right when he writes In part, there is no debate about foreign affairs because Canadians are much less interested in the world than we believe ourselves to be.
At the absolute opposite end of the foreign affairs/humanitarian aid spectrum is the unexpected controversy about Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea”, and builder of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the investigation by 60 Minutes, there is good reason to doubt much of the author’s account of his work, and considerable question about the accounting practices of his foundation. The Wall Street Journal has a fairly lengthy summary of developments. On the other hand, whether or not he built all of the schools he claims to have, he has been an inspiration for millions and has contributed much to the spreading realization that education, particularly of women and girls, is the key to successful social and economic development. What makes this particularly relevant to Montrealers is that Greg Mortenson is to speak at Concordia on May 5th at a fundraising event for 60 Million Girls – an organization that our friend Anita Nowak recommends very highly. We do not know whether he will honour the commitment or be invited not to.
While we know that Wednesday Nighters have a more-than-passing interest in foreign affairs, we do wonder how many of you have been following events in Nigeria and Finland? Nigeria appears to have held its first pretty transparent election, and with minimal violence, in recent memory. But it is Finland that is newsworthy, with results that could have considerable influence on EU policy, particularly the proposed bailout of Portugal. We have been trading messages from ‘informed observers’ with Tony Deutsch and admit that we have learned more about Finnish politics in the past five days than we ever knew. It has been a fascinating education. Even the Economist has taken somewhat astonished note Finland’s election – Truly amazing
The U.S. appears to be staggering from one bruising fight to another (the debt ceiling debate) President Obama’s Budget Speech Backfires: S & P Slaps US with Negative Rating  (worth reading) and the consequences will be felt everywhere. We look forward to hearing comments – and particularly policy advice – from the economists and market mavens in our midst.
And what about gold?  A somewhat sceptical Wednesday Nighter has forwarded this for your reading pleasure Gold Default Risk Triggers Pension Fund to Take Delivery of $1 Billion of Bullion
Concerns that the sovereign debt crisis may be entering a new phase and the risk of contagion has seen peripheral eurozone bonds fall sharply and the euro fall against major currencies and gold today. Sovereign debt risk, global inflation concerns, geopolitical risk, disappointing European earnings and concerns about Japan’s coming reporting season have seen equities weaken and new record nominal highs for gold and silver (all time and 31-year). Will Ron Meisels tell us that this is purely cyclical and as predicted?
These items are only the tip of the iceberg, but should serve to whet your appetites. We look forward to having you with us and would like to remind you that while many are faithful to the tradition of an offering to Bacchus (as Alexandra so gracefully puts it), there has been an apparent reduction in those offerings in recent months, thus some are living off the bounty of others. Not fair.
We look forward to seeing you and hearing learned discourse – or not. Passionate debate is good too.  And if not this week, then next.
Recognizing that many are leaving for the holiday weekend, we wish you all a very Happy Easter and/or Passover, in the hope that you – and we – will be blessed with more seasonable weather, appropriate to Easter Egg Hunts and other frolics. Speaking of seasonable (or un) weather, next week we propose to bring environment issues to the table, given that they are as absent from the political debate as foreign affairs.

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