Wednesday Night #1586

Written by  //  July 25, 2012  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Education and the Quebec students
The greatest natural resource of any nation is the skill and intelligence of its citizens.  It is largely the passing on of intellectual skills, inherent and acquired, from generation to generation that determines the success of the nation.  Indeed, they represent the intellectual capital of a nation.  Canada has been blessed with both natural and intellectual resources, the latter the result of an accessible system of education.  To the extent that this is so, the so-called student strike is valid.  Indeed, the ideal would be free access, especially to those faculties which will graduate those with specialized productive skills.  It would perhaps be better if the debate were to be held with the value to both the state and individual in mind.  Whether or not it is a trump card in the upcoming provincial election, consideration should be given to the value of an educated population to the country versus the cost of education.
As for the strikers, whose cause it is generally agreed has long since expanded beyond the costs of education to a completely new projet de société , the cost of the disruption of their education and that of fellow students, particularly foreign students, whose education has been involuntarily interrupted – not to mention the impact on the image of Montreal as an international center of higher education –  should be weighed against the gains to be made if they achieve their goal.  They have amply demonstrated the principle.
It is now up to the electorate in what appears to be an imminent election, to express its view and the National Assembly to determine the action to be taken.  The argument that only thirty-five percent of the electorate actually votes should not be construed as inaccurate representation in the Legislature.  If the sixty-five percent of non-voters recognized it as an important issue they would express their opinion by voting.

The loss of social interchange
In the generation whose birth coincided with the wireless age, the age at which the pacifier is a constant companion  is very soon followed by wireless music targeting the ears of the growing child from infancy to adulthood.  Deafness in the younger generation appears to have become much more common, a less desirable side effect of wireless technology.  In the workplace, all too often the isolation that is a major constituent of e-mail and voice mail appears to have replaced a large portion of what once was human interaction, to the detriment of colleagues and clients alike.  The decline of the Plaka or market ritual has lessened human interface, depriving us of some of the richness that can become a vital part of life, uniting rather than dividing in a manner that the supermarket is incapable of duplicating.  The outdoor squares of ancient European communities still serve to bring the inhabitants together in a manner that building high rises and the erosion of green spaces cannot do.

 The European Union
As the European Union approaches its twentieth birthday, cracks have begun to appear in its structure, but it is extremely doubtful that any of its members would prefer to see its disintegration.  As each Euro summit approaches, voices are heard proclaiming its imminent failure, and on each occasion a compromise is reached, a lot of issues refused four years previously become acceptable because basically, the union has been good for Europeans, is rational and predicted to remain intact and viable.

The market
Wednesday Night financial mavens are divided on the message from the stock market.  Some are astounded at the negativity, claiming that it has behaved well with many stocks moving higher.  The trend is said to be positive and will continue to be until the end of August when uncertainty will prevail during the U.S. pre-election period.  The stock market is said to lead the economy and as yet has shown no sign of collapse. Others, however, disagree, seeing a daily deterioration and a depression on the way if it has not already begun.  Still others see the Europe-America region as remaining the dominant model with problems solved and new teams elected.

Rio+20
With lip service but no possibility of action, the Rio conference was compromised.  Once again “Lip service trumps conservation.”  There will be no legally binding agreement.   Environmental issues appear to enjoy lesser importance since 2008 than the social injustice problem.  It has become evident to everyone including the climatologists that the temperature has been steadily rising and will continue to do so as long as each generation passes the problem along to the next without taking measures to reverse the trend.

The Prologue

The tragic event in Aurora, Colorado has overshadowed all other news this past week. Politicians and pundits have filled the ether with comments ranging from lucid and persuasive arguments to those that border on the obscene (Louie Gohmert: Aurora Shootings Result Of ‘Ongoing Attacks On Judeo-Christian Beliefs’ and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) [who suggested] that there is a constitutional right to buy high-capacity clips and magazines. More).
Of the many opinion pieces we have read, we particularly commend two. The first is Bill Moyers’ Living Under the Gun and the second is by ‘Young Turk’ Cenk Uygu: Politicizing Guns: If Not Now, When?
It’s a trick. When people tell you that you shouldn’t politicize a tragedy like the shooting in Aurora, Colorado they are unwittingly helping to spread NRA propaganda. After a tragedy like that, it is the most logical thing in the world to ask what went wrong and how we can fix it. When you ask that question, the obvious answer is our gun laws. It’s awfully hard to stab 70 people and kill 12 of them in a short period of time like that. It’s very easy to murder those same people if you have an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and two glocks.
We must add that Canadian politicians reacting to the Toronto shooting(s) have hardly distinguished themselves. Mayor Rob Ford is a walking caricature; while the Justice Minister (no relation!) added this profound statement Problem is that criminals ‘don’t respect gun laws’well, no, criminals generally don’t respect laws, that’s why we call them criminals.

Meantime, Norway remembered the victims of its terrible massacre a year ago.

Massacres of another type continue in Syria with little hope (thanks to Russia and China) of a concerted international effort to halt it. Advice and analysis from pundits abound, however, Robert Fisk’s two recent columns (If Alawites are turning against Assad then his fate is sealed and Sectarianism bites into Syria’s rebels)  reflect the complexities of the situation and the shifting alliances on the ground.

Canada
A number of developments at home bear watching.
– The implications of the gerrymandering of a number of federal ridings in Quebec (Quebec’s federal election map could undergo huge changes) including Mount Royal and Westmount-Ville-Marie. We cannot wait to hear the reactions of Westmounters of all stripes to the proposed name change of the new riding (Westmount with NDG and Montreal West) to Wilder Penfield. Irony of ironies, the new riding would not include avenue Docteur Penfield.
– Far more disquieting is the announcement that RAMQ has recently switched its communication policy from bilingual to “en français” at its customer service centre. … According to RAMQ, customer service agents are to respond initially in French to callers who  have opted to be served in English. Agents are “to use their judgment” to gauge whether callers are fluent or possess sufficient understanding of French to be able to hold a conversation about health in the language of Molière rather than Shakespeare.
– Waiting for the election writ to be dropped (like the other shoe?) Quebec voters – or at least those who are not sensibly cut off from news while enjoying a summer holiday – may wish to reflect on the story in La Presse that the output of Jeffrey Mine is destined for Thailand at the same time as the Thai authorities are trying to ban the import of asbestos for construction purposes.

The annual summer meeting of the Council of the Federation starts on Wednesday in Halifax amidst grumblings [N.S. Premier Finds Ottawa’s Aloofness ‘Troubling’] from the provincial and territorial leaders that Canada’s premiers haven’t had a group sit-down meeting with Stephen Harper since the last meeting of first ministers in 2009. The Council will be discussing issues of national import including health care funding and innovation, even the prospect of a new Canadian energy strategy. The newly re-elected Shawn Atleo, who will be participating in the meeting, has already signalled his intention to ensure that First Nations have a voice in the national energy plan.
But it seems that Mr. Harper’s agenda does not include federal-provincial conferences. As Professor Michael Behiels explains:
With his majority government, Harper has speeded up the transformation of Canadian federalism. The omnibus Budget Bill, passed into law using closure techniques, has demolished a large number of federal statutes that deal, in part or in whole, with what Harper considers to be matters of provincial jurisdictions, especially those dealing with the regulation of the environment and other sensitive matters.
Harper will continue to transform Canada’s federation without engaging in any discussions with what he considers the pesky premiers, a majority of whom most certainly disagree with the excessive decentralization and asymmetry inherent in a watertight compartments classical federation.
Some of the premiers will argue correctly that Harper’s classical federalism will undermine quite rapidly the equality of citizenship and a sense of shared community from coast to coast to coast. Other premiers, like those of Quebec and Alberta, will back Harper’s executive revolution because it puts into place an essential element of the Meech Lake Accord – wholesale decentralization – which was rejected by two premiers and a majority of citizens in June of 1990.

The Economy
We are happy that Kimon has returned from Europe and can thus guide our thinking about current developments.
A week after the IMF Cuts Global Growth Outlook, Bloomberg/Newsweek carries a gloomy AP story: Global economy in worst shape since 2009 — Mounting fears about Spain’s financial health. … Six of the 17 countries that use the euro currency are in recession. The U.S. economy is struggling again. And the economic superstars of the developing world — China, India and Brazil — are in no position to come to the rescue. They’re slowing, too.The lengthening shadow over the world’s economy illustrates one of the consequences of globalization: There’s nowhere to hide.
Spiegel reports New speculation of a Greek exit from the euro zone hit financial markets on Monday after the IMF and major creditors including Germany were reported to be intent on refusing further aid. German media commentators don’t see how Greece can avoid quitting the euro — and say Athens has mainly itself to blame. Reuters is more concerned that Spain slump deepens as bailout fears grow .
Nonetheless, writing in Foreign Policy Think Again: The Eurocrisis, David Gordon and Douglas Rediker, respectively head of research at Eurasia Group & former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, and senior fellow at the New America Foundation & a former member of the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, sound a somewhat more optimistic note.
They conclude that “we might even see the exit of one or more member states, with Greece the most likely. But other peripherals won’t see a Greek exit as a signal to leave themselves; in fact, measures taken as a consequence may well strengthen their own prospects within the currency union. The likelihood of the eurozone imploding and the reintroduction of national currencies across a broad swath of Europe thus remains exceptionally small.”
And while the world worries about where its next bailout will come from, Steven Kinsman points to World’s super-rich ‘hiding’ trillions offshore, report says. It seems that the world’s richest 0.001 per cent were sitting on what amounts to a hidden stash of nearly US$10 trillion dollars in 2010. And that’s just under half of the vast wealth held in offshore accounts by the world’s super-rich that year. According to the study’s conservative estimates, the wealthy elite had used cross-border tax law loopholes to stash at least $21 trillion dollars offshore and out of tax collectors’ reach by the end of 2010.

London 2012
In these last few days before the opening of the Olympics, there still appear to be some ‘issues’ including drivers grumbling about the designated “Olympic lanes” on London streets [not to mention outraged London Cabbies], choking off roadways and creating grinding gridlock; public transit users who expect heavy congestion on the city’s already crowded Underground, plus concerns over security and the announcement by border guards and some railway workers that they intend to work to rule during the Games. The latest complaint, which we seem to remember from other Olympic opening ceremonies, is that many athletes will be no-shows at the Games’ opening ceremony because Danny Boyle’s extravaganza is starting too late in the evening for those who must rest up before competing the next day. All the British media are doing a great job of minute-by-minute coverage of everything that is happening. Our favorite item from The Guardian: Bookmaker William Hill has changed its odds to 100-1 from 66-1 on bets that [Mayor Boris] Johnson will accidentally set his wild hair on fire with the Olympic torch. This follows the mayor getting a haircut.

And a note of levity:
Just so you will not be overwhelmed with Olympic-related news, we offer you this delightful gem: the French city of Angers has demanded restitution for the murder of Edward Plantagenet, the last member of the Plantagenet dynasty that ruled England from 1154 until 1485. The city would like an apology and 513 years’ worth of compensation, but says it would accept the Crown Jewels instead. In another timely law suit, the heirs of the Knights Templar have launched a legal battle (Knights Templar v. Pope Benedict XVI, et al. ) in Spain (as though that country did not have enough to worry about) to force the Pope to restore the reputation of the disgraced order which was accused of heresy and dissolved seven centuries ago.  [The reporter who covered the story for the Telegraph told NPR that there is no good evidence (Dan Brown notwithstanding) that the order continued to exist after its suppression and, more to the point, no evidence that these plaintiffs actually have anything to do with it.  The claim is “ludicrous,” she said, thus either calling it into serious question or proving she is part of the plot.]

Wednesday Night author
Some of you will remember Wednesday Nighter Pierre Desrochers from the time when he was Research Director of the Montreal Economic Institute (2001 – 2003) and frequently contributed challenging views to WN discussions. He is now Associate Professor of Geography at U of T and is the co-author with his wife, Hiroko Shimizu of the recently published The Locavore’s Dilemma. Eating locally not sustainable according to new book
(RCI) Food activists believe many challenges associated with our modern food supply can be solved by eating locally and farming sustainably. But in a new book, entitled, The Locavore’s Dilemma, Pierre Desrochersand Hiroko Shimizu dispute these claims by revealing the true environmental impact of agricultural production and the role of industrial producers in making food more affordable, varied, and available.

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