Wednesday Night #1662

Written by  //  January 8, 2014  //  Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1662


“The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use wealth to enrich and elevate our national life and to advance the quality of American civilization.” 

Lyndon Baines Johnson


Inevitably as a new year is born one reflects on the past and ponders the future.  One tends to think of history as being events which have occurred in the past, oblivious of the fact that as each millisecond passes, history is being made, albeit not always or even occasionally recorded.  History, when recorded, sometimes more accurately than others and always reflecting the interpretation of the scribe; it involves the future, freely predicted, reflecting as yet unfulfilled aspirations and fears.  Current predictions as expressed by Wednesday Nighters include advances in biotechnology and biopathology resulting in a lifespan of one hundred years for human males and one hundred and five for females.  As for the hierarchy of constituent world nations, it yet appears uncertain as whether it will be India or China which will ultimately come out on top.  Inevitably, the most accurate of predictions frequently fail to take into account unrecognized, unforeseen and/or unforeseeable factors.  Unspoken, if indeed the predictions are accurate, are the effects, adverse as well as laudable of an ever expanding human population and/or the steps taken by the Deity, humans or nature to offset them.

As anticipated, the Stock market is strong, as is usually the case; investors make contributions to their retirement savings plans in the first quarter in the year.  It is predicted that regardless of an inevitable normal correction, the bull market will continue.

It is trite to state the obvious, but Montreal is an Island.  Including railway bridges, those that facilitate vehicular traffic and combinations of both there are twenty-seven bridges and one tunnel within Montreal and/or connecting it to the mainland.  One tends to take for granted that the Victoria Bridge is one hundred and forty years old and remains in good condition, whereas those constructed in steel and concrete appear to be have been disastrous, undoubtedly at least partly due to inadequate maintenance.

Phenix-like, the United States is rising from its political ashes; thanks to fracking, it is becoming self –sufficient in oil.  Unlike Canada, labour costs are dropping, unionization is diminishing.  The United States remains the most trustworthy country in the world.  Although the wheels of justice are said to turn slowly, it works, ensuring accountability.  The anticipated tightening monetary control will aid in in that country to maintain its world status.  National debt, albeit although high, is less worrisome than that of other countries; personal debt has decreased.  The Euro is unstable and so China stills favours the U.S. dollar.

The Northern Gateway proposed pipeline from the Alberta Oil Sands to the port of Kitimat, BC is considered to be fraught with danger of a possible oil spill that would prove impossible to clean up. The rail transport alternative to pipelines is more and more unappealing in light of the recent reported accidents and what we are learning about how much is not reported. [New Brunswick train derailment fire renews questions of oil-by-rail’s dangers — A fiery derailment in New Brunswick Tuesday night was the third time a crude-laden train has caught fire in recent weeks.

Wednesday Nighters echo the concern that is more and more frequently expressd about the site of the forthcoming Sochi Olympics which is said to have essentially destroyed a large part of the area at the excessive cost of $50 billion and still counting. There is an inescapable  parallel drawn with the cost overruns of the Montreal Olympic Stadium, however the damage to the social fabric and environment of Sochi is unprecedented.   Some maintain that Vladimir Putin is in a war to outperform the U.S. and Beijing.

Quotes of the Evening

“We will see what happened in Canada during the eighties and petroleum price will fall.  Canada will return to a basket case as it was in the late eighties.”
“There is still a case to be made that the U.S. is broke.”
“I`m willing to bet that gold will NOT go to sixty, at least not in our lifetime.”
“When the U.S. began developing jeans, they went to Puerto Rico, giving rise to FEDEX.”
“The more government deregulation, the more problems we have.”
“Three train leaks of petroleum… pipeline has proven safer.  With the issue of fracking, how much longer will we still need pipelines?”
“Usually, most countries put their ego into the «Olympics and it`s followed by a decline, with exception such exceptions as Canada and the United States.”

T H E  P R O L O G U E
A stream of learned reviews of 2013 and predictions for 2014 continues to clutter mailboxes and airwaves, e.g.
Joseph Stiglitz: The Great Malaise Drags On
There’s something dismal about writing year-end roundups in the half-decade since the eruption of the 2008 global financial crisis. Yes, we avoided a Great Depression II, but only to emerge into a Great Malaise, with barely increasing incomes for a large proportion of citizens in advanced economies. We can expect more of the same in 2014.
George Soros: The World Economy’s Shifting Challenges
The most intriguing statement from this always provocative author is that “the polarization of American politics shows signs of reversing” – from his lips to God’s ear.
John Mauldin‘s lengthy Life-Changing Innovations Everywhere Will Overwhelm Forecasts For A Low-Growth Future sounds a positive note as he disputes the findings of Dr. Robert Gordon’s latest paper “Is US Economic Growth Over?”. He enthusiastically cites “tens of thousands of James Watt-level minds tinkering in all sorts of fields ” and the “robotics … nanotech and biotech and telecommunications and artificial intelligence, all driven by the burgeoning and increasingly important field of information technology. It is the cumulative information from hundreds of thousands of inventions, innovations, and discoveries that allows for the individual creations developed by each of those 10 million entrepreneurs. And as more and more budding Einsteins, Newtons, and Watts gain access to education and information through the internet, the innovations will continue to compound and accelerate.”

From Stratfor: Top 5 Trends That Will Shape 2014
–An enduring detente between Iran and the United States
–The rise of nationalist and extremist parties in Europe
–Russia and Germany bargain over Central/Eastern Europe and energy policy
–China’s return to strongman politics
–Domestic turmoil and economic stress in India and Turkey
The United States will attempt to balance power in the Middle East through its strategic negotiations with Iran; the rise of nationalist and euroskeptic parties will be felt in this upcoming year’s elections; the Chinese president will continue to consolidate more power under himself. Barely missing the list but still notable: the end of the FARC insurgency in Colombia, escalating violence in Nigeria, and Mexico’s return to political gridlock.

The Geopolitical Monitor (Forecast 2014: Economic Trends) suggests 2013 turned out to be a pleasant surprise for global markets, spurring optimistic forecasts for the year ahead. 2014 will likely be a better year for global growth and many near-term risks have dissipated. Yet such upbeat sentiment should not distract from the political dysfunction and absence of progressive reform policies in some of the world’s most significant economies.

AlJazeera offers an extensive 2013 in Review; including an interactive timeline

And on a local – and admittedly highly partisan – level
Stephen Harper’s 13 Fails of 2013
From hide-and-seek omni-bills to abandoning veterans, a very unlucky 13 for Canada

However, events stubbornly intervene to direct our focus towards new or not-previously-identified developments.
A case in point: the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the Iraqi province of Anbar. Reuters offers a handy analysis in Insight: Fuelled by Syria war, al Qaeda bursts back to life in Iraq

One month to go until the Sochi Olympics open. Much of the developed world has spent the last months deploring Russia’s anti-gay legislation, but now attention is focusing not only on recent terrorist acts linked to the event, but also  on the corruption and excess surrounding the construction of the Olympic site. At a cost of over $50 billion, these are the most expensive games in history. The Passionate Eye aired Putin’s Games  on January 4th; this not-to-be-missed documentary is available for viewing only in Canada and for only a limited time. When you have seen it, you will understand why. Bloomberg has also published a lengthy critique that is well worth reading.

Scottish independence will be decided by referendum this year
“it is a rather big deal. A bigger deal, in fact, than many people seem to appreciate. This time next year the United Kingdom may no longer exist. At least not as we have known it. There is an expectation – much cherished by Scottish nationalists – that many things would remain much the same if Scotland votes for independence. We will be fine, they say, because we will keep all the wonderful things about Britain (the BBC, the NHS) and we will maintain the useful things as well (the Bank of England) while ditching the intolerable aspects of life in Britain (Tories, chiefly). There will be less drama than you think, so let’s vote Yes.Perhaps. It all seems somewhat too good to be true which, in politics, is generally a leading indicator that it is all too good to be true. Against that, the Unionist campaign has hit upon the novel tactic of scarcely running a campaign at all. Not, at any rate, a campaign built upon the idea that the United Kingdom might offer Scotland – and its other constituent members – a bright and bounteous future. Scottish independence: Are you still paying attention?
Céline Cooper offers her analysis Onus is on the Yes side in Scotland, pointing out that On Sept. 18, voters will be faced with a simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” For those of us who have lived through Quebec’s two referendums with their labyrinthine ballot questions, the Scottish proposal sounds ridiculously straightforward..  [Update: Céline’s excellent piece was picked up and extensively quoted in the Herald Scotland As Others See Us: The View from Canada (3)]
The Washington Post takes a more alarmist view: Scotland secession could lead to re-Balkanization of Europe

Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel have been at the center of western concerns, however, the role of the U.S. traditional ally, Saudi Arabia, must not be neglected. According to an AlJazeera analysis “Senior royals, including intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, have promised a historic shift in Saudi foreign policy to include a break with the US, a search for new allies, a willingness to act independently, and a new assertiveness. One might call this the Kingdom’s Gaullist turn, akin to France’s 1966 decision to pull out of NATO’s military command”. And what of the Saudi decision to give $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese army to purchase French weapons and ammunition? Is the emerging Saudi-French partnership, which constitutes a turning point in the Middle East. With the shrinking American role in the area, a void has opened that regional forces and terrorist organizations from everywhere are rushing to fill.

The crash of a train carrying crude oil in Casselton, North Dakota has raised the stakes in the debate over pipeline versus rail transport of crude oil with proponents of each claiming that their option is the safest. According to Climate Progress, “North Dakota trains now carry more oil across the country than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would. Ninety percent of the fossil fuel-rich state’s oil is carried by freight, shipped off to refineries all around the U.S. and Canada. One of those freighters turned up in a massive derailment in Alabama in November of 2013, when a 90-car train derailed and caught fire, sending flames 300 feet up into the air. Still, rail transport of crude is proliferating in North America. A new proposal for a rail terminal in California may soon bring North Dakota crude to that state, too. And the executive of a major oil company has even deemed rail a good alternative to pipeline transport. The surge in rail transport, he added, is calling into question the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

In praise of engineers,, a favorite source of information on a variety of scientific and development issues,maintains that With their practical approach and game-changing ideas, engineers can bring development insight to a wide audience. In Encounters with extraordinary engineers, the editor posits that: (1) Development experts with an engineering background can have a practical advantage (2) They can also bring comprehensive understanding of issues, often with simple ideas and (3) In turn, scientists should not rest until their work has practical impact.

The ivory trade and the illegal poaching that it stimulates has long been a concern. Therefore, it is welcome news that China has destroyed more than six tonnes of illegal ivory amid growing concerns over elephant poaching. International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said the destruction was a powerful symbolic act that showed that the Chinese government is “concerned about the toll ivory trafficking is taking on elephant populations, as well as the other threats to regional security that arise in connection with wildlife crime.” Wildlife groups estimate more than 35,000 elephants were killed for their tusks last year by ivory poachers.

New highs and lows in our winter weather are prompting discussions everywhere about climate change versus weather (NOT the same thing) and have added polar vortex to the mainstream vocabulary. HuffPost, which is not the place we normally visit for scientific information, offers a brief layperson’s explanation of what is happening and why the cold temperatures we are experiencing do not serve as an argument against global warming (“Despite wind chills nearing -60 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago and temperatures that left some parts of Canada colder than Mars, Arctic sea ice is still melting, atmospheric CO2 concentrations are still climbing and climate change is predicted to pose a far greater threat to the planet than many scientists thought.”)

Meantime, as Montrealers contemplate the dangerous icy sidewalks, we offer this charming confirmation that it is not only humans who have difficulty remaining upright. The difference appears to be that penguins are better at picking themselves up and dusting themselves off with no broken bones in evidence.

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