Wednesday Night #1605

Written by  //  December 4, 2012  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

If you have not yet admired it, we highly recommend the Economist’s current Daily chart: The Advent Calendar – A round-up of the year’s most popular graphics and charts, delivered one-at-a-time in proper Advent tradition.  It is a treasure trove of information.
Our thoughts for this Wednesday are somewhat random from the deadly serious to the frivolous – we’ll let you decide which is which – owing to the fact that Diana has had an urgent task to perform for her website – verifying some 3,000 links (broken or in need of redirecting) within the next 5 days.  Don’t ask … it has to do with the new look of the site (thanks to Bert Revenaz’s devoted attention) and is time-consuming, especially as the computer gets tired and balks occasionally. Thus, all other activities have had to take a back seat.
However, we cannot ignore the events of the past week, especially that answer to the paparazzis’ prayers – THE announcement from St James’ Palace that Will & Kate are having a baby. A new documentary for John Curtin?  Will they follow the current fashion of the media darlings (read Brangelina), sell the story and the photos for an outrageous sum, which they will then donate to charity?
Stephen Kinsman comments, “I am told the reason they waited so long is that they were saving up for a house…”
Montreal home of self-described Israeli spy ‘gutted’ in alleged firebombing (just up the hill from us in what is supposed to be a quiet and elegant enclave). The various twists and turns in the career of the ‘spy’ reached some sort of pinnacle, at least for Montrealers, when Mr. Ben-Menashe negotiated an agreement with Arthur Porter, then director general of the McGill University Heath Centre; you will remember that Dr. Porter was also chairman of the Review Committee (SIRC) that oversees CSIS. It seems that Dr. Porter had wired $200,000 in personal funds to Mr. Ben-Menashe; a private company he controlled was to receive from the Russian government a $120-million aid package … to be spent on projects in Dr. Porter’s native Sierra Leone. Well that deal didn’t work out and when it came to light, Dr. Porter resigned somewhat reluctantly from his assorted posts, skipped town and is reported to be engaged in promoting cancer care clinics in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, McGill has launched court proceedings against Dr. Porter, claiming he owes it almost $300,000. And the MUHC is now under scrutiny for a $1.3-billion hospital construction and maintenance contract it awarded under Dr. Porter’s tenure to SNC-Lavalin.
SNC-Lavalin’s former chief executive, Pierre Duhaime, was arrested last week on charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and using forged documents related to the MUHC project. Everyone is quick to point out that none of the allegations has been proven in court. But stay tuned for all the ramifications including whether we ever learn which of many unsavoury candidates was responsible for gutting Mr. Ben-Menashe’s lovely house and pretty well ruining the one next door.
Mr. Ben-Menashe’s checkered background offers a perfect segue to the situation in the Middle East that goes from grim to grimmer. In a move that appears to most of the world as petulant if not vengeful, Israel has reacted to last week’s UN vote on Palestine by freezing the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority and announcing plans to build 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The U.S. has condemned the action and a number of European nations have withdrawn their ambassadors in protest. And, in an editorial titled simply Reckless behavior, Haaretz says “Netanyahu’s decision to punish the PA has provoked a confrontation with the international community that might plumb new depths for Israel’s international standing. This is a heavy price that cannot be explained away as an investment in national security.” Only Canada remains steadfast in its admiration of all things Israeli and even Mr. Harper recognizes that Canada could suffer from the same consequences that Haaretz predicts for Israel.
There appears to be a growing concern that Canada’s foreign policy as evolving on Mr. Harper’s – and John Baird’s watch – is doing our country more harm than good internationally. Some long for the days when Canada was perceived as the world’s boy scout; but Canada  was admired as a Middle Power, a voice of reason , neither a threat nor a liability, and therefore an effective advocate for good and just international policy. No longer true. Politicians relied on and trusted the knowledgeable skilful diplomats who appear to be largely scorned today. When did Canada last put forward an interesting or novel concept that was embraced by the international community? That would likely be around 2000 when the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) first took shape. Why does Canada not take the lead in the Arctic Council, the Convention on the Law of the Sea, or stewardship of natural resources? It is not for lack of talent or interest in academia or among policy makers.
What strikes us as important about this issue is that it appears to not be limited to the chattering classes. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Canadian Studies, Canada’s universal health care system topped the list across all regions and languages as something Canadians were most proud of, followed by the importance of Canada’s reputation abroad.[Incidentally, at the bottom of the list in terms of importance was the connection to the British monarchy, with only 14% of Anglophone Canadians saying it was important, 6% of Allophones, and only 1% of Francophones.]
We welcome your thoughts and insights.
The US and allied intelligence have been monitoring Syrian movement of chemical weapons components in recent days.Reports have drawn a denial from Damascus of the we-wouldn’t-do-that-even-if-we-had-them variety (According to the BBC, a Syrian foreign ministry official was quoted on state television as saying Syria would “never, under any circumstances, use chemical weapons against its own people, if such weapons exist”); the U.S. isn’t impressed. President Obama has issued a warning that “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.” NATO has said it will back Turkey against Syria and Mr. Putin, one of Syria’s few remaining allies, is in Turkey for talks, which some believed might  lead to a breakthrough, however, Al Jazeera reports that “Russia and Turkey for the moment cannot find a mutual approach on the methods of how to regulate the situation in Syria. But our assessment of the situation completely coincides,” and Xinhua quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “Russia has been in intensive contacts with the Syrian government and the opposition, trying to persuade them to sit down at the negotiating table”. None of which is stopping the brutal violence of the civil war.
And then there is Egypt – have you been watching the stand-off between the Judicial Council and the Judges Club? No, not really? Try the Guardian for an interpretation of what’s happening – it seems that Mr. Morsi has won this round and there will be a referendum on the new constitution on December 15. But what will be the outcome? Last week it was reported that 100,000 Protesters descend on Tahrir Square . Much of the population is not happy with the prospect of replacing one dictator by another.
Michael Enwright (The Enright Files) hosted a most thought-provoking pair of interviews with two authors on the internal and external forces that have shaped modern Israel and Iran. Gershom Gorenberg, the author of The Unmaking of Israel, argues that the greatest existential to Israel comes from within – from the country’s own internal tensions and contradictions. And Christopher de Bellaigue, the author of Patriot of Persia, examines the CIA-led coup that toppled Iranian president Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953 and sowed the seeds of the intractable distrust and enmity between Iran and the West that prevails today. Highly recommended!
Of course, none of this will matter very much if the Mayan Calendar is right and the world reaches its best-before date of December 21. Is there any symbolism in the date according to our calendar of 12 – 21 -12 that we should be aware of?
Should you prefer to think that we are not facing the threat of an ‘end date’, you might want to worry about the effect on the global economy of the Indebted Dragon, e.g. according to Foreign Affairs, China is pursuing a risky strategy, whereby Governments borrow money using land as collateral and repay the interest on their loans using funds they earn from selling or leasing the same land. All this means that the Chinese economy depends on a buoyant real estate market to keep grinding. If housing and land prices fall dramatically, a fiscal or banking crisis would likely soon follow. Meanwhile, local officials’ hunger for land has displaced millions of farmers, leading to 120,000 land-related protests each year.
Another item for your consideration: Nations gather to debate future of the Internet
Representatives from nearly 200 countries have gathered for a meeting of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union. While Western powers aim to preserve the current system of Internet governance, a slate of primarily authoritarian states are seeking to a system similar to that for telephones, with clear standards and costs. ITU head Hamadoun Touré says claims of a takeover are misguided, and that revisions would improve global infrastructure and access. “The brutal truth is that the Internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege,” Touré said. BBC (12/2), CBC.ca (Canada)/The Associated Press (12/3), The Economist (12/1)

As always, there is much, much more for us to ponder – these are suggestions only. And remember, 12/12/12 will be the last repetitive date we will ever see.

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