Wednesday Night 1584

Written by  //  July 11, 2012  //  Catherine Gillbert, Herb Bercovitz, People Meta, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night 1584

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The Scribe’s Preface It is ironic that although the two are closely related, whereas wealth is real, money is not. Although both are means of acquiring material substances and pleasures, the latter, in large measure, is limited and determines the extent to which one can acquire the necessities of life and the wherewithal to indulge in pleasures, whereas wealth marks one’s place in society, determines ones friends and acquaintances, one’s position in the pecking order.

Wednesday Nighters in the community
Tonight’s discussion was put into perspective by the personal stories of community activities of three Wednesday Nighters.
Ron Domachevsky has very recently taken over the presidency of the Thomas More Institute of Montreal ( note, a new website is coming in a couple of weeks) from Warren Allmand. Ron, who is the first non-academic to hold the post, treated us to a brief history of the Institute and its role in educating successive segments of the community, including labor leaders in the 1950s. He shared some of the plans for expansion of its activities from developing online course material and digitalizing the archives to improving fundraising while changing the perception that the Institute’s appeal is limited to the area west of Atwater and north of Sherbrooke Street. In fact, the TMI offers courses in Pointe Claire and Ottawa, as well as at the Institute on Atwater Avenue. Video of the courses for online viewing is also in the plans along with outreach to other communities including Verdun, Rosemount and St Leonard and strategies to attract a younger client base – many of those attending courses today have been doing so for over 30 years.
in the discussion was the plight of those without wealth and the efforts of two Wednesday Nighters to address and redress some of the lacunae and injustices of our society.
Catherine Gillbert is co-founder of Our Harbour, a community organization that provides housing and services in English on the South Shore for people living with mental illness. Recently, the organization lost a major donor, so Catherine is undertaking a one-woman fundraiser by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro next month. Please see and for more information.
Meanwhile, Tracey Arial, backed by Beryl Wajsman, has been reporting assiduously on the case of Danny Palladini, a 70-year old who faces eviction from his subsidized housing facility in the West Island run by Montreal’s social housing office (OMHM). Tracey recounts in The Suburban and The Metropolitain a nightmare of regulatory intransigence. She notes that evictions from low-income housing are rarely covered by media, there appears to be little oversight of the OMHM and no explanation of why there are empty apartments when there is a waiting list of some 20, 000. The relationship between the Régie de Logement, which has the decision making powers over evictions and the OMHM is bureaucratic to an extreme, so the Régie is constrained in alleviating conditions even if it wanted to. The result? Evictions are often for failure to pay as little as two to three dollars of rent. As Beryl points out in his fine editorial the affair raises some troubling questions about the protection of people’s dignity when they fall into the social service system. The most important of these concerns is that a human being does not give up their rights of citizenship just because they are being aided by our social service safety net.

The world economy
With the slowdown of China’s economy, it is more and more evident that it will take a while for things to settle into a recognizable pattern. Meanwhile, the waters are as muddy as ever. In light of such comments, we could not help but wish for Jacques Clément’s presentation of the details and statistics that always made analysis somewhat easier to understand – if not to digest.
The situation in Spain with over twenty-four percent unemployment and the United States still suffering the results of the recent crisis underscore the ineffectiveness of the austerity response to the crisis, as our friend Kimon has preached for many months. While administrative bungling, the prevalence of kleptocratic tendencies and corruption among the authorities, lack of appropriate governance measures, political infighting, and the failure of the wealthy to pay taxes have all to a greater or lesser degree contributed to the economic crises of the ‘Mediterranean’ economies, it is the poor and the middle class of those nations who suffer the immediate consequences, and, longer term, the economies of ‘blameless’ and emerging nations. Whether at the macro level or micro level (see below), it is clear that austerity is not the answer and few, if any, leaders have a clear vision of how to promote the necessary growth. Even if they did, the dysfunction of governments and multilateral organizations would likely derail serious policy efforts.

 The U.S. election
Following the reportedly chilly reception given to Mitch Romney at the NAACP, it is becoming apparent that the success of electoral candidates is increasingly  determined by micro demographic gains. The electorate has become wary of promises; in the U.S. November election it is anticipated that the winner will be largely determined on 1) who can best  stimulate the vote among ethnic and demographic groups, such as Blacks, Latinos, Jews, white male voters who lack college degrees, etc. and in which States (of particular importance because of the arcane Electoral College system which can overturn a popular vote as it did in the Bush/Gore case);  and 2) who can promise stability and reestablish the American Dream (which is very different for different segments of the population). Both parties will most likely stop trying to persuade voters and concentrate their efforts on potential supporters – just as Stephen Harper put his efforts in the rest of Canada when it was evident that he could not win Québec’s support.
There is a strong rumor that Mitt Romney will  break with tradition by announcing the identity of his running mate prior to the Convention, which seems like a curious strategy as it removes the only remaining suspense of the convention. Furthermore, his wife has floated the idea that he could select a woman (Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann to appease the Tea Partiers? ) – Editor’s update: the latest rumor is Condi Rice – if you believe Fox News.)
The economy and the American Dream
Almost every day there are disquieting news reports of skilled workers and essential public servants (teachers, police, firemen) being let go, or having their wages severely cut. Even to non-economists, it seems clear that if a large percentage of the population is unemployed, or has revenues sharply reduced, the state’s revenue base shrinks, creating a downward spiral that affects housing, small business, food and agriculture, community goods and services, along with the nation’s tax revenues and national infrastructure.
It is said that there is so much wealth in the United States that the nation’s debt could very easily be wiped out if the wealthy were to be required to pay a more reasonable share in taxes. But we are surrounded by examples of those who benefit not only from generous tax cuts dating from the Bush presidency, but also who can afford armies of highly paid accountants and lawyers to shield their money.
Although nobody relishes paying taxes, most citizens do so willingly if they believe that they are getting value for their money. But there is a credibility problem today; people do not believe that their tax money is being spent wisely, to improve services, maintain and repair infrastructure; they believe it is going to pay for ‘cushy’ pensions or otherwise wind up in some (undeserving) person’s pocket. Glaring example was Montreal’s amalgamation/merger project; advertised as a means of stabilizing the finances of the city and region, it proved to be (as predicted by many opponents) a disastrously expensive waste of money, reinforcing the view that the best form of government is the one closest to the people.
Public education has particularly suffered a loss of credibility. At one time many public schools were excellent, and a source of pride for their suburban communities. The children of middle class families attended them and received good educations, allowing them to go on to good universities.  Today, the graduates of those schools opt to send their children to (much) more expensive private schools. The result is a lower quality of education for the less wealthy and an increasingly fragmented, less egalitarian society which inevitably is less sympathetic to the concept of meritocracy and aspirations of those who are not “one of us”.
Thoughtful commentators are more and more concerned with the inequities of North American society, the reduced opportunities for those at the lower end of the scale to achieve significant material progress and the chasm between the wealthy and everyone else. [Editor’s note: see Margaret Wente’s timely The long climb from inequality and her citation of Robert Putnam “Racial disparities are narrowing, but class disparities are widening dramatically. The prosperous and the poor, regardless of race, are increasingly segregated from each other. They live in different places and have increasingly divergent family structures and values. “Over the last two decades or so, white kids coming from less educated, less well-off backgrounds are more and more going through life with only one parent at home,” he says. These kids are disaffected and disconnected from a very early age. “There’s a growing class gap among American youth among all the predictors of success in life.” This gap is way worse than it was in the 1960s, when large minorities of people were still excluded from mainstream life.”


The Prologue

The outcomes of the recent elections in Egypt and Libya may have some surprises in store. In Egypt, the new president Mohamed Morsi (we have decided to follow Al Jazeera’s lead on the spelling of his name) is proving to be far feistier than originally predicted. He’s now battling the Supreme Court along with the army. Reuters provides a fairly detailed analysis of the twists and turns of events in Egypt parliament set to meet, defying army . Meanwhile, Libya’s elections appear to have gone far more smoothly than expected. Al Jazeera reports that as Libyan preliminary results trickle in the country appears set to buck Islamist trend. Before we get too excited, final results won’t be available until the end of the week. The Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board pronounces that In Libya elections, lessons for Arab Spring – The Libya elections were a step forward for a bedraggled Arab Spring. They revive the region’s cry for democracy and may set a model in how to accommodate Islam with individual rights. Now that is unexpected.
As the destruction of Timbuktu’s shrines continues, Mali remains in a fraught situation – and now come a series of stories (Mysterious fatal crash offers rare look at U.S. commando presence in Mali and How 1 man derailed 20 years of democracy in Mali ) about the shadowy role that U.S. special forces have played in that country.
Despite positive noises about ‘constructive’ talks (have we ever heard mention/admission of ‘destructive’ talks?) between Bashar al-Assad and Kofi Annan, we remain very skeptical. Russia says it will not supply any new weapons to Syria until the situation there stabilises (by whose reckoning?), but old contracts would be fulfilled. Don’t count on Turkey to rock the boat; Pepe Escobar explains Why Turkey won’t go to war with Syria
Europe does not escape scrutiny. The Atlantic assumes a world-weary tone in the wake of the most recent summit “In other words, Europe has declared they won’t save the euro until they create a United States of Europe. As Wolfgang Münchau of the Financial Times pointed out, that means the euro crisis will last for 20 years. Which really means the euro crisis will end much sooner — Spain and Italy will leave the common currency long before that. But don’t worry. There are lots more summits scheduled in the fall.”
Greece is again having problems with the resignation of Deputy Labor Minister Nikos Nikolopoulos who quit over renegotiations of international rescue loans. Maybe it is time to re-read What would Pericles do? — Faced with a budget shortfall 2,500 years ago, Athens’ great statesman proposed raiding the Parthenon.
We would draw your attention to the Reuters piece Terminating the European status quo which is sufficiently alarming without its reference to the teaming-up of those fine Austrian patriots, Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger and Frank Stronach.
There’s concern over events in Romania where parliament voted to suspend the President pending an impeachment referendum. Some observers say the country’s new prime minister is seriously overstepping his bounds and others fret that the rule of law is in grave danger.
M. Sarkozy is under investigation for illicit campaign financing, so where would you look for him? Probably not in Val Morin, but that’s where he has been hiding out as the guest of the Desmarais family. We thought that French politicians preferred the Eastern Townships.
There’s so much more: Paraguay and Pakistan for example, not to mention LIBOR about which Reuters reports the deepening investigation by regulators in Britain, the United States, and other countries is expected to uncover problems well beyond Barclays and British banks. Our only question: is there any way to get back some of the +/- £120 million Bob Diamond has already received from Barclay’s? And now they are talking about what his ‘settlement’ will be – something in the neighbourhood of £22m. Lots of justifiable outrage in Britain and it is spreading.
And there is Canada:
Now that Bev Oda has departed the cabinet, Mr. Harper has presumably solved all of his governance issues by replacing her at CIDA with Julian Fantino – and it seems that is pretty well the end of the cabinet shuffle everyone predicted.
This statesmanlike move has freed Mr. Harper to join fellow politicians in the rush to Calgary to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Stampede by appearing – uncomfortably for the most part – in the requisite headgear (why did Stephen Harper opt for black? Did he never see a Western?)
Also means that he will be unavailable to take the salute as Canadian scientists from across the country and their allies join Tuesday’s Funeral March of the Scientists in Ottawa (See How Evidence Died ). Perhaps the hapless Peter Kent would be a more appropriate figurehead on the reviewing stand, there being no ministry for Science & Technology. Not only are we seriously unhappy about the public policy issues that have provoked this event, we are dismayed by the latest embellishment of Canada’s international image, as reflected by the headline in Monday’s Guardian: Canada’s PM Stephen Harper faces revolt by scientists – “Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, faces a widening revolt by the country’s leading scientists against sweeping cuts to government research labs and broadly pro-industry policies.” We also note the recent report of the Global Innovation Index 2012: Canada Drops Out Of Top 10 “That suggests the country is not investing enough in higher education, has too few researchers and is not spending enough on research and development.”
Canada ranked particularly poorly in the number of science and engineering students it graduates, in which the country ranks only 46th in the world.”
In the U.S. the campaign continues with pots and kettles calling one another every hue of black while the candidates’ PACs raise obscene amounts of money that could well improve the economy if put to better use. The PBS Brooks & Shields ( last week it was Brooks & E.J. Dionne) offers some good points about campaign strategy as well as what might have been done differently to increase the economic growth.
In the face of continuing disappointing employment figures, Arianna Huffington has launched a bipartisan initiative, somewhat ambiguously titled What is working, to find a solution to the jobs crisis – the partner organizations and leaders are impressive. Maybe it’s time for civil society to take over where the politicians have failed so miserably.
Ron Meisels forwards this Definition of Irony – and sign of the times
The US Food Stamp program, part of the US Department of Agriculture, announced that it is pleased to be distributing food stamps to the greatest number of people ever.
Meanwhile, the US Park Service, also part of the US Department of Agriculture, asks us to “Please do not feed the animals” because they may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.Wish we could frame it so gracefully, but one of more ironic consequences of Mr. Harper’s cuts to the civil service is that the Canada Revenue Agency may lose up to 1,212 employees and hundreds of its auditors are being affected.

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