Wednesday Night #1542

Written by  //  September 21, 2011  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

The evening began and ended in jollity and mirth; beautiful floral gifts enhanced the atmosphere, and the presence of a [real] clairvoyant, Catharine Allan, gave a whole new dimension to market forecasting.

The Middle East
As has been the case in the recent past, the Middle East continues to be the centre of political unrest and change, most interesting being the point where five borders surrounding the Kurds meet.  Turkey is emerging as a country of potential influence in the Middle East.
It is difficult to understand why, at this point, recognition is sought for a Palestinian State in which important unresolved differences between significant parts risk leading to civil war. The Palestinian effort to attain recognition appears to be more a political than popular view and is being thwarted by the United States. What should be cause for celebration appears to be a political move that could prove to be divisive and would not favour a successful or peaceful outcome.  It is claimed that the Palestinian population has not been consulted; Gaza and the West Bank are not connected, but rather, two separate entities with different leaders and different goals, thus there is little if any homogeneity or consensus.  It is possible if not probable, that recognition by the UN, without a successful negotiating process would risk civil war.
While there is much happening simultaneously in the Middle East, whatever happens, Mahmoud Abbas will certainly remain an important player.

The Canadian political scene 
The debate over the implementation of the Conservative agenda at a time at which the opposition, divided and impotent, is said to be reminiscent of 1993, the heyday of the Liberal Party.  The current popularity of the N.D.P. in Québec and the probable rejection of potential supporters in the West of a Francophone leader, opens the way for a long term national agenda imposed by an elected government, uninhibited because the lack of an effective opposition, one in which, for example, the environment is more like a pebble in the shoe than a serious problem.  On the other hand, a national government reflects the views of the electorate and the centre of population, more particularly commerce, in North America, has gradually shifted westward.  The downside is that the makeup of the Canadian parliamentary system that has historically favoured a slow shift in political philosophy, particularly through the Senate, chamber of sober second thought, is now also controlled by the Conservative Party.  It is to be hoped that the Liberal Party will, like the mythical phoenix, rise from the ashes, as much for balance as for legislation.

Canada and the “Dutch disease”
(see WN /1525 )
We were reminded of the story of the Three Little Pigs, – love the story but forget the moral.  Canada no longer produces anything, exporting little except capital, human talent; petroleum and natural resources, oblivious to the fact that oil is our capital, a gift of the bodies of the creatures that once roamed the mid west.  Unfortunately, the stone house-building pig is not Canadian and not only do we not put the proceeds of the gift of petroleum bestowed on us to good use, but we use it and a second non-reusable resource, namely water, in its production.  At one point, although not in our own lifetime, unless these truths are recognized, our descendents risk relative poverty and drought.

The economy
What distinguishes the experts from the amateurs in the realm of investments is the ability to analyze and explain both the rational and irrational.  Although the first six months of 2012 should be very difficult for investors, who are advised to generate cash in anticipation of a subsequent potential market drop of possibly up to twenty-five percent, the current drop appears to be due to an irrational temporary reaction to the news of possible payment default on the part of some of the PIIGS countries.

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The Prologue
We are very pleased that Reed Scowen has indicated that he might join us, which will provide us with an expert view of what the new Parliamentary session will bring and possibly some interesting comments on Thomas Mulcair’s possible candidacy for the NDP leadership.  For starters, CBC’s At Issue panel  offers some good observations and ideas. While we miss Alan Gregg, Bruce Anderson is an intelligent addition.

It appears that crime and the economy are to top the list of the Conservative agenda – crime? We thought that statistics indicated crime was going down, but of course that scenario doesn’t augur well for all the new prisons we will be building. Except that Mr. Harper will now be able to get rid of the long-gun registry, so one might conjecture that crime statistics will go up, thus making those prisons useful after all.

Elsewhere in the world, it is the economy that tops everyone’s agenda – with the occasional criminal activity thrown in such as that of UBS Rogue Trader Kweku Adoboli. When they lose money they are ‘rogue traders’; if they make money, what are they? Meantime, who has been watching the $2.6billion fraud scandal in Iran? Europe’s economy is the focus of concern this week with much expected/hoped for from the annual IMF meeting this week.

Our good friend and some-time Wednesday Nighter Stephen Blank kindly forwarded to us an advance copy of the piece he has written for the October issue of Policy Options. “Standard & Poor’s was right, at least this time. The US credit rating was downgraded not because of the size of the debt but because of the inability of Washington to resolve critical issues facing the country. Our fragmented, divided system of government makes decision-making difficult and greatly heightens the need for common sense and public morality among our legislators and for their ability and willingness to play the game our awkward governmental institutions lay out.” He traces the historical context – the Founding Fathers’ calculations in devising the Constitutional system of checks and balances and where that has led us. A wonderful essay – keep an eye open for it. Meanwhile, President Obama has embraced the “Buffett Rule” – it makes eminent sense to us, therefore is anathema to the Tea Partiers (“The Republicans were quick to denounce the proposal as a naked act of class warfare.”). The Daily Beast thinks the President could win this one.

Another sometime Wednesday Nighter, Charles Cogan, forwarded the link to The Wars of Afghanistan, his review for Foreign Policy of Peter Tomsen’s The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers. Fascinating.

With  the opening of the UN General Assembly there is always great theatre, if not grand guignol with the parade of the querulous and quarrelsome (not to mention Mr Ahmadinejad’s usually disruptive appearance), the issue at the top of our international list is Palestine’s bid for recognition as a state by the UN; aside from the inevitable grandstanding from both sides, it strikes us as fascinating that two very serious analysts can view the move so differently. One argues that, “A UN member state of Palestine would be in a perfect position to bring Israeli officials before the International Criminal Court for their criminal attacks on Palestinians and illegal settlement activity. And every Palestinian living around the world would automatically become the citizen of a UN member state that is recognized by almost every state in the world. Palestinians would no longer be considered ‘stateless.” A second maintains that “accession to the UN would undermine Palestinians’ moral and historical claims to being a stateless people, a status that has kept their plight at the top of the international agenda for decades. In the international community’s eyes, moreover, the conflict with Israel would effectively become a border dispute – one of scores around the world – not an existential challenge to the Palestinians. This would reduce the saliency and centrality of the Palestinian issue for many.” The results of a BBC poll show narrow support for recognition of the Palestinian state, but ambivalence regarding how individual nations should vote. No wonder politicians and statesmen are confused.

What to make of DSK’s mea culpa – or was it? – and whither his political future?? According to a BBC report “Former culture minister Jack Lang believes he can return not to the presidential race, but as kingmaker and perhaps prime minister in a new Socialist cabinet.”

All in all, a pretty depressing outlook for the week. In our quest for good or entertaining news, we discovered that one of our heroines, Yvonne the runaway cow has found safe haven at The Gut Aiderbichl animal sanctuary. We are very glad she is safe.

New items to add to your agendas include: Second edition of the Rendez-vous du Savoir: How Universities Contribute to Business Development [in Montreal], October 5 and 6 at the Palais des Congrès. More are listed at http://www.dianaswednesday.com/2011/09/scrapbook-2011-activities-events-and-news-of-wednesday-nighters/

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