Wednesday Night #1563

Written by  //  February 15, 2012  //  Europe & EU, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Prime Minister Harper’s visit to China seems to have been successful on all counts; more than 20 commercial deals worth almost $3 billion, were concluded and a declaration of intent on a foreign investment protection agreement (FIPA), was signed after 18 years of negotiations was concluded. And, of course, the symbolic importance of  the Pandas (which the media insist on capitalizing) destined for a 10-year visit to first Toronto and then Calgary. There is, however, some reticence, both at Wednesday Night and in the various analyses that Mr. Harper may be too eager to sell Canada’s natural resources, without ensuring that Chinese investors will conform to Canadian labor, workplace safety and human rights standards especially with regard to temporary workers brought in from China.  One case cited is that of the legal battle waged by Alberta authorities against SINOPEC (Sinopec, the oil sands and justice delayed )

As the West and North open up, increasing opportunity for Canadians to squander our ancestral inheritance through the sale of unprocessed natural resources, there is some criticism of our apparent reluctance and/or inability to invest a greater part of it for the profit of our descendents through the encouragement of and investment in such transformation industries as refining and steel manufacturing, the sale of building materials instead of lumber … adding as much value as possible to everything that we do.  In the obvious instance of refining oil from Alberta’s tar sands, not only is the refining done in the United States, but the tremendous amount of fresh water that the extraction process demands is too seldom considered in our elation over tax revenues emanating from the tar sands.  As for refining Canadian petroleum products in Canada, the profit margin is so small and the pollution level so high, that only large refineries can exist, making that option philosophically desirable but practically, impossible, although to some degree, refining is done at Fort McMurray and Edmonton, using in the process, four barrels of water for each barrel of bitumen processed.

For the European Union, an important factor is that a failure on the part of Greece to meet its financial obligations could result in a domino effect on the other PIIGS countries; of particular concern is Portugal.  With Greek elections slated for April, nobody really wants to face the issues.  More and more voices are heard stating that the solution would be for Greece to leave the Euro Zone, while others are confident that a reasonable solution to the problem can be found.  Possessing virtually no manufacturing, nor  resources there is very little in which Greece is competitive, apart from tourism and agriculture ,  a situation rectifiable only by the possibility of having a lower currency.  Should Greece default on March 20, drachmas would be worthless and Greek bondholders, mostly in the E.U.,  would really have no other option but to support them.  However, over the long term, this is not a solution and there is no predictable end point; the population has been badly served by its elected representatives government and wealthy tax evaders.  Although not stated in these terms, there is some fear that Greece could fall into the same trap as has Hungary where the  president, described as having a Napoleon complex, is said to have taken power bay frightening the electorate by creating multiple phantom enemies enabling him to acquire greater power than previously permitted by the constitution.  It is to be noted that despite its undeniable strengths, the European Union cannot be considered a great instrument for strengthening democracy.

As a footnote, Icelanders have quietly successfully faced problems similar to those facing Greece today, their success relative to Greece attributed to the difference in the psyche of the two populations.

The New York Times motto, “All the news that’s fit to print” does not appear to influence most of the western media, which appear to be more motivated by sensation than reportage.  Much has been printed in the Western press of the repression of women in Muslim countries, silent about their contribution, contrary to Wednesday Nighter Sheila Arnopoulos’ reporting to Wednesday Night from Tunis of the incredible work in micro credit by women in Tunisia and, presumably in other Muslim countries.

The Prologue

We had thought to be cute/clever by reviewing recent events according to the spirit of traditional Valentine hearts, chocolate, flowers, and assigning them a Love Index Rating (LIR) – if you pronounce this aloud, you may get the wrong idea. Sadly, there is little out there that is loveable or shows any indication of the qualities with which we would wish to associate our Valentines. Maybe next year?

We should likely start with Mr. Harper’s trip to China, which was accompanied by expressions of esteem and almost affection, at least until the Canadians mentioned human rights. Bringing the pandas home to Canadians is as good, even better, than traditional teddy bears, but aside from the pandas, is everyone happy with the outcome(s)? Do we even understand what the outcomes are? Are we happy that while Mr. Harper was wooing China, there will be no “Be My Valentine” messages sent from Ottawa to Mr. Obama?

In our opinion one of the best articles on the subject is Michael Den Tandt’s in the Ottawa Citizen Exercise caution in dealings with China — PM playing hardball with U.S. comes with very real risks.

We will also be watching developments following Tuesday’s meeting between Vice President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama.

Mr Obama, however, may be enjoying a different message – this one coming from Congress. While they have no love for the president, the House Republicans are trying to win back a little public respect if not affection by disassociating the payroll tax cut from other issues and passing a clean 10-month extension of the cut. It isn’t all that straight forward, however, and it’s likely the Democrats won’t accept. If you are confused, read the Daily Kos, which may or may not help.

Adding to our confusion are the messages on the contraceptive insurance plan. As one American friend writes – what were they thinking? The reversal on Friday specifying that religious employers would not be required to offer free birth control to workers and the onus would instead fall on insurers would indicate that the White House had realized that it had unnecessarily created a political firestorm. David Brooks and Mark Shields give a good analysis on PBS Newshour, but still don’t explain why it happened.

The Republicans have been having their own version of love-in in Washington, the Conservative Political Action Conference, commonly known as CPAC. Adam Daifallah attended and has reported on it for the National Post CPAC reveals deep divisions in the Republican Party. His enthusiasm for the event did not however reach the heights (or depths) of Yahoo! News contributor Mark Whittington, who crowed Sarah Palin is the Most Powerful Female Politician in the World

We cannot help but be appalled by developments in Greece. As the Greeks strike against austerity, EU demands more cuts  and there are increasing fears of ‘social explosion’. As Kimon, Paul Krugman and George Soros (among others) argue, absent stimulus, austerity will not improve the crippled economy. We are not optimistic about the outcome. Adding to concerns about the European economy, Moody’s sent an unwanted Valentine to Austria, France and the UK; the agency downgraded its rating on six European sovereign credits and cut its outlook for Austria, France and the UK to ‘negative’.

Russia is in turmoil – in case you haven’t noticed. What is intriguing is that the Kremlin, (apparently) ignoring the protests at home, set out to be a mediator of sorts in Syria. According to the Globe & Mail, Russia has backed off its position on the Security Council vote and appears to be more open to international intervention; maybe even support of the new Saudi resolution at the UN?  Meantime al-Qaeda is now backing the Syrian opposition.  How will these new developments improve the lot of the Syrians, some 7,000 of whom have died?  Whither China?

While we have concentrated on Iran, Syria, Russia, the EU and other crises or impending crises, we have neglected the travesty of justice in Haiti.  Almost exactly a year since it was reported that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s lawyers argued the statute of limitations for prosecution for human rights abuses has expired, a Haitian magistrate has ruled in their favour, despite the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that statutes of limitations are inadmissible in connection with gross human-rights violations proscribed in international law. Words fail us!

We always try to end on a somewhat more cheerful note, so whatever you may believe about Climate Change (please note, Ron Meisels), the Economist Gulliver column Climate change and air travel: Slash emissions, fly by zeppelin, should entertain – and challenge your thinking.

And further to that item, a note for your calendar.

Wednesday the 15th, 17:30 to 19:00
Dialogues and Action for Earth Summit 2012: We Canada Tour, Concordia
Sixty-one days. Fifteen cities. Four people. One cross-Canada tour for Earth Summit 2012..
A combination of presentations, workshops and lectures will be held at schools and universities in each of the 15 cities on tour. The tour aims to empower citizens by sharing the history of the United Nations Earth Summits, information on the upcoming Earth Summit 2012, and an analysis of sustainable development trends on global and national scales. More 

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1563"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson February 14, 2012 at 10:29 am ·

    Stephen Kinsman suggests viewing CTV’s China trade mission alters economic future: expert, as he believes that our comments regarding Mr. Harper’s trip to China have been harsh. That was not our intention. Rather, we question how the balancing act with the U.S. will be maintained going forward.

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