Wednesday Night #1667

Written by  //  February 12, 2014  //  Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Continuing our exploration of historic events in the year corresponding to the number of the current WN, this reference for 1667 struck us as particularly appropriate  January 20Russo-Polish War (1654–67): Poland cedes Kiev, Smolensk, and eastern Ukraine to Russia in the Treaty of Andrusovo.

Poor Ukraine, always a pawn; and although current events shave been somewhat  overshadowed by the Sochi Olympics, the tug-of-war between Russia and the EU continues, while everyone holds their breath, waiting for the next  post-Olympic shoe to drop. For the moment, all we know is that “Yanukovich met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday. He has since returned to Kiev but no word has yet filtered out on what the two men discussed”.
Wednesday Night’s two Davids (Jones and Kilgour) have, as usual, different opinions in their David vs. David debate, but what remains undeniable is that Victoria Nuland’s  unguarded (and unprotected) comments  (Victoria Nuland: Leaked call shows US hand on Ukraine ) indicate an inappropriate meddling by the U.S. – or some elements of the State Department. Poor Secretary John Kerry, he didn’t need this.

While on the topic of Russia, we would call your attention to the riveting CBC Doc Zone  Defying Putin which focuses on two very brave and charismatic men (and their wives) —   Moscow’s anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who launched an interactive  website Monday that paints a vivid picture of the suspected cost overruns and conflicts of interest at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Yekaterinburg’s mayor, Yevgeny Roizman. Well worth watching.

Tuesday’s budget  may be at the top of Wednesday Night’s agenda, but Canadians have been warned not to expect too much from Tuesday’s “stay the course” budget — what BMO Economics called “among the least eventful in recent memory” — as the Conservatives head into the last leg of their race to balance the budget by the next election.
Heads-up that Brett House will be commenting on it on CBC Montreal’s 5 & 6pm newscasts, and at 5:40pm on CBC Radio (1 88.5FM). This reminds us of the days when Carl Beigie would be in the lock-up.
[Update: 13 must-know budget items, including new justice programs; Jeffrey Simpson: A ‘boring’ budget, unless you’re a senior … chock full of little tax credits and small spending programs for a dizzying variety of groups and projects, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government’s budgets tend to be. A few new spending programs were major, important and praiseworthy – for native education and university research, for example. But more were of the here-today, gone-tomorrow variety, with no agenda behind them for shaping the overall economy.]
There’s been lots of commentary leading up to the budget (most of which you have probably read);  we do want to call to your attention one that reflects a question raised by several around the Wednesday Night table: Andrew Jackson: Canada needs sound fiscal thinking, not balanced budget laws
“In last year’s Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce legislation to require “balanced budgets during normal economic times, and concrete time lines for return to balance in the event of an economic crisis.”
This proposed legislation makes little sense in terms of sound economic policy. But it will likely be introduced as part of the federal budget.”
Assorted leaks by no-one less than the minister inform us inter alia that it includes targeted measures to promote job creation and protect consumers’ spending power. .  “We’ve looked at hundreds of issues and some of the most important ones are relating to jobs, relating to young people, relating to apprenticeships, relating to internships, relating to getting people that first job even though they’re well educated and so-on,” Flaherty told CTV’s Question Period.
More  predictions according to Yahoo! Finance: No big tax cuts or spending programs are anticipated, as the Conservative government sticks with its plan to eliminate the deficit next year. But like any budget looking to score some political points, there should be a few benefits for Canadians. … Flaherty has hinted at measures to address prices differences between consumer goods in Canada and the U.S., a hot topic for Canadian shoppers.
Citing sources, the Globe and Mail newspaper reports the budget will also include measures promised in October’s Throne Speech to help bring Internet access to 280,000 more households and businesses in rural and remote regions of Canada.
Last Friday, Flaherty signalled that another Conservative concern, tightening the rules for charities to curb money-laundering to terrorist organizations, would be dealt with on Tuesday as well. Is this the logic behind the auditing of 7 Canadian Environmental Charities? In Russia, as we have noted elsewhere, environmentalists are jailed; here, we audit them to death.
We will leave the Fair Elections Act, and  the Citizenship Act, both of which are stirring up considerable controversy,  for another Wednesday Night.
But before we move on, it seems that we will be enjoying an election in Quebec in April – the 14th to be precise, if Léo Bureau-Blouin is to be believed (seems he let that date slip in a chatty interview).
And to add to Ma Tante Pauline’s woes, Former premier Jacques Parizeau is seriously worried about the state of Quebec’s economy.
“It’s the first time in 30 years that I am worried about the economic future of Quebec,” writes Parizeau in an opinion column Monday in the Journal de Montreal, saying there has been an undeniable deterioration in Quebec’s finances. Ctv reports further: “When approached Monday to discuss Parizeau’s statements, PQ Minister Jean-Francois Lisée left the room rather than answer questions from reporters. Later in the day, he told CTV Montreal he blamed the previous Liberal government on the economy (sic).” We don’t think that’s exactly what he said. In any event, it will be fun to see the opposition shoring up their criticisms with references to Monsieur Parizeau.

The thoughtful, lucid, Richard Dimbleby Lecture given by the IMF’s Christine LagardeA New Multilateralism for the 21st Century (If you want the full impact, watch the video) is a Must Read and Watch.  There is much to consider starting with her assertion that “This will be a more diverse world of increasing demands and more dispersed power. In such a world, it could be much harder to get things done, to reach consensus of global importance.”
As Kimon has commented: “Christine Lagarde’s lecture was indeed encyclopedic and full of insights. The IMF has moved a long way in now accepting a socio-political world in addition to its historical focus on purely economic issues.  Worth a good Wednesday Night discussion” – so let us debate and   discuss.  

Climate change and natural disasters – A few noteworthy items on one of our preferred topics:
Global warming ‘pause’ due to unusual trade winds in Pacific ocean, study finds
Study shows sharply accelerating trade winds have buried surface heat underwater, reducing heat flowing into atmosphere
The contentious “pause” in global warming over the past decade is largely due to unusually strong trade winds in the Pacific ocean that have buried surface heat deep underwater, new research has found.
A joint Australian and US study analysed why the rise in the Earth’s global average surface temperature has slowed since 2001, after rapidly increasing from the 1970s.
The research shows that sharply accelerating trade winds in central and eastern areas of the Pacific have driven warm surface water to the ocean’s depths, reducing the amount of heat that flows into the atmosphere.

Amidst the news of the alarming flooding of the Thames comes an interesting item about the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which is based in Reading. According to the Calgary Herald, “Using state-of-the-art weather forecasts that can see rain coming weeks before clouds appear on the horizon and a mathematical model that calculates how precipitation runs off anywhere in the world, Lorenzo Alfieri and his team of researchers in Reading, England, could see that the Bow River was almost certain to surge in late June to levels higher than those seen during the disastrous 2005 floods.” But authorities in Alberta were not alerted to the dire prediction at the time, as
“The system is still in a development phase, so there is no official network of partners to send flood alerts,” he said. We do not know whether the Centre accurately predicted the flooding of the Thames.

Cryptolocker and ransomware.
This is not one of those annoying email messages that assures you that it has been checked by Snopes, this is real-life experience of our good friend, Alan Hustak who has recently undergone the horrific experience of having his computer hijacked and held for ransom. This is new to us, although the practice was being discussed last October in the UK. According to Backblaze.  there is a  Recent Malware Forcing Victims to Pay For Data Retrieval  “Lately, Backblaze has been seeing a few reports stating that a very specific type of ransomware, known as Crypto Locker, that takes control of a victim’s computer and holds it hostage until that victim pays to get it removed. It is known as ransomware because if Cryptolocker is not paid within a specific timeframe, it will destroy the key that is needed to unlock your computer’s data, making the data and files on your computer and any attached external or backup drives permanently inaccessible.” The perpetrators are very clever; the initial ransom demand is for $300, however, if the victim fails to respond within a brief delay, the amount climbs to $3,000. We can only imagine that most victims respond immediately.
Alan tells us that according to the RCMP, his is only the 13th reported event in Canada which means that there is lots of scope for expanded activity of  Cryptolocker. So, be warned. For more on this malevolent Trojan (yes, that is redundant) simply Google Cryptolocker.
Important note: Preferred payment is by Bitcoin!

The debate continues with an excellent analysis in the Financial Times, A dangerous mistake lies at Bitcoin’s intellectual coreWe need the flexible and timely policy that cryptocurrencies rule out, says Mark Williams
Meantime,  the BBC reports that Bitcoin’s value has dropped sharply after one of the largest trading exchanges said there was a flaw in the virtual currency’s underlying software. MtGox … said an investigation had revealed it was possible for thieves to fool the transaction process so that double the correct amount of bitcoins would be sent.

The Cruelty of Creationism
A new documentary shows how biblical fundamentalism imprisons the mind.
HBO’s new documentary Questioning Darwin, which features a series of intimate interviews with biblical fundamentalists. Creationism, the documentary reveals, isn’t a harmless, compartmentalized fantasy. It’s a suffocating, oppressive worldview through which believers must interpret reality—and its primary target is children.

Postmedia Decapitates Parliament Bureau: A Tipping Point?
The more investigative reporters sacked, the less incentive the rest have to probe.
(The Tyee) Postmedia’s decision to torch its parliamentary bureau last week will inevitably compromise the newspaper chain’s ability to produce investigative public affairs reporting. There will be fewer hands to file access to information requests, fewer eyes to read public records and fewer minds to think of questions that aren’t being asked.
That’s a blow to Canada’s democracy, given that Postmedia publishes the National Post, the website and nine newspapers in major cities across the country.

White House destroys François Hollande state dinner invitations
President Barack Obama’s aides scramble to keep up with French leader’s chaotic personal life after break-up with Valérie Trierweiler 
After scrapping the first 300 invites, the Americans were left wondering whether to include the name of Mr Hollande’s new mistress … . It was eventually settled that the French leader would be travelling solo to Washington, ending the nerve-racking uncertainty for the White House’s protocol officers. The decision will spare Michelle Obama from a day of tea and local visits, which is usually how she entertains foreign leader’s spouses while her husband holds bilateral talks.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1667"

  1. Guy Stanley February 11, 2014 at 2:48 am ·

    Before she became a full time politician and international civil servant, Mme Lagarde honed her chops as a big time lawyer in Chicago during the 1980s–at the epicentre of the meltdown of Keynesian ideas and the rise of Friedman et al monetarism as the answer to everything economic and political. So a speech from her that starts and ends with Keynes deserves careful reading. Indeed, the economic points in her speech about the need for carefully designed fiscal measures to reduce inequality and for a strengthened IMF in the context of tributes to Keynes raise by implication the issue of completing Keynes’ design for the international monetary system. While she was careful to say there was no need to return to the Bretton Woods drawing board, she was perhaps raising by implication the need to ditch the current system of a single international reserve currency (Eichengreen’s “original sin”) in favour of Bancor, (Keynes’ play on “bank gold” en français). It becomes particularly pertinent in light of her criteria for a new international financial system and her conclusion that “History proved Keynes right”.
    Looking forward to the WN exploration of her lecture!

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