Wednesday Night #1742

Written by  //  July 22, 2015  //  Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

An SRO group that included a number of prominent members of Montreal’s Greek community gathered to hear and debate Kimon Valaskakis’ views on Greece and the EU. Additionally, Dario Ayala  came to photograph the evening for the forthcoming Gazette article by Wayne Larsen

The discussion turned to the importance of the informal economy which, in the popular view, is seen as a method of evil tax evasion. Often referred to as the Shadow Economy, it has a pejorative connotation with little or no distinction between baksheesh given in order to ensure that a legal service is rendered rapidly and efficiently (a tip in advance?), the exchange of goods and services, or major fraud. In Kimon’s view (shared by a number of others), the Informal Economy has been the safety net and the national refuge of Greece, allowing the people to survive cataclysms, occupation and disasters.
When the banks closed for two weeks, thank God there was cash under the mattress. He adds “once you introduce cultural relativism you understand much more about the diversity of this planet and the fact that one size does not fit all”. [Lessons in resilience from rural Greece by Alexis Adams illustrates the importance of the informal economy, making the case that this is a way of life, as well as a means of survival.]


With Kimon Valaskakis‘ return from Europe, we will enjoy an eye-witness account of the tumultuous events surrounding the Greek debt crisis which have consumed the editorial and op-ed pages for weeks. We have been watching the developments and debate with fascination – and increasing skepticism about the future of the EU – and are indebted to Kimon, Tony Deutsch and a couple of other experts for the insights they have shared in a series of e-mail exchanges. Most recently, Kimon wrote:

There comes a time in a marriage when a divorce or at least a trial separation becomes less bad than staying together.
If the price of staying in the Eurozone is signing the 13th July Suicide Pact between Greece and Europe, I would indeed advise Tsipras to get the heck out.
But I am even more convinced that this is not good for Europe and that Schauble is mistaken if he thinks the Rest of Europe will remain unscathed.
Here’s my reasoning.
(1) If Greece encounters disaster and becomes a failed state in the strategic region of the south-eastern Mediterranean, this would be very bad for the EU for obvious reasons. A veritable nightmare.
(2) If Greece becomes prosperous through Grexit then that blows the whole attractiveness of the Eurozone and will be an open invitation for other to follow suit.
Goodby Eurozone. The momentum would be reversed. From the 21st century we would return to the first half of the 20th. A Balkanized Europe.
This being said, if things do not improve, Grexit would be the lesser evil, but an evil nevertheless.

As many know, one of our favorite sources of thoughtful (and sometimes not!) analysis is Project Syndicate. Today it announced “our new monthly columnist – Yanis Varoufakis” while inviting followers to read his 20 July column, Europe’s Vindictive Privatization Plan for Greece. No doubt where his sentiments lie. He joins Jeffrey Sachs (Germany, Greece, and the Future of Europe) and other influential voices in the Project Syndicate focal point Greece and the Fate of the Euro
None other than Dominique Strauss-Kahn has added his voice to the expanding group of critics; “What happened last weekend was for me profoundly damaging, if not a deadly blow,” he wrote in the open letter entitled “To my German friends” published on Saturday.
Another thought: Europe’s Worst Crisis in Decades Is Also Populism’s Greatest Opportunity — Populism appeals to the “will of people” but is actually profoundly undemocratic. Democracy is about the negotiation of competing interests, the balancing of different values. Populism, in contrast, is a kind of mob rule. Where there is complexity, it offers simple solutions. Instead of seeking common ground, it looks to exaggerate the differences between them and us. The unquestioned righteousness of its own cause and means to its ends leads to the demonization of those it opposes. Along the same lines, in Spain’s Podemos and the Rise of the New European Bolsheviks, Rafael Bardaji writes: “Politics in Europe is in the midst of a potentially transformative moment. We are seeing the emergence in full force of new populist and anti-establishment forces in many quarters coinciding with the collapse of the traditional political establishment. There is a growing lack of trust and confidence in the traditional political players, and that vacuum is being filled by radicals promising simple solutions that attract millions of voters. The fact that those proposals have failed miserably in places like Venezuela or Cuba is not undermining the electoral chances of parties like SYRIZA or Podemos.”
Finally for the gluttons for punishment among you, Foreign Affairs offers a new anthology of the best analyses of the eurozone crisis and the future of the currency union, “Europe’s Monetary (Dis)union”.

On Monday, the Security Council unanimously approved the Iran nuclear deal in a 15-0 vote. Separately, the EU also voted its approval in what is deemed to be a signal to the U.S. Congress which has 60 days to review the agreement. The equally serious obstacle is in Iran, where the deal must win final acceptance from the National Security Council and ultimately Khamenei, who has so far withheld final judgment, thanking the negotiators while saying the text must still be scrutinized and approved. His speech on Saturday in which he vowed to defy American policies in the region despite the deal was, as Secretary of State Kerry said, “very troubling”.
And while there is no doubt about the virulent opposition of Israel,  the Saudis and Gulf States to the deal, this opinion piece offers a new perspective, leading to long-term ramifications.
Big loser in any nuclear deal with Iran may be Russia
“The recent Russo-Iranian alliance has been more a marriage of convenience than a genuine partnership. Russia uses Iran as a geopolitical foothold in the energy-rich Persian Gulf and to poke a finger in the eye of U.S. allies in the region. In return, Iran takes advantage of Moscow’s veto power at multinational forums such as the United Nations. An Iran that is engaged with the West in areas such as energy, trade and peaceful nuclear power generation would no longer see Russia as protector of its interests. It is a fact that Iran’s fractured and vitriolic relationship with the West has driven it to form political, commercial and military ties with Russia. Those ties are still fragile, at best.”
Of all we have read recently, we particularly recommend Robin Wright’s letter from Iran, due to be published in the New Yorker print issue of 27 June.

The U.S. political scene continues to fascinate. Hard to keep up with the Republican candidates as the number of entries seems to expand daily (on Tuesday, it was Ohio Gov. John Kasich who announced). For now,  Donald Trump is garnering most of the headlines, although it is more and more difficult for any rational individual not to be embarrassed by his presence and seeming popularity. Think Progress offers a glimpse of Trump supporters in case you are as baffled as we are.
The New York Times asks reasonably Are There Too Many G.O.P. Candidates? Is such a large pool of Republicans entering the race for president good or bad for establishing a record?

There are several new items filed under Education 2015, one of our favorite topics – and one we consider indispensable in achieving any roll-back of global inequalities. We were pleased to see Think Progress weigh in on vocational education Vocational Education Should Be For Everyone, and in the wake of the  the World Education Forum in Incheon, Brookings published a two-part series of which the second article Quality and the SDGs: What will this really mean for education? (Part II) merits particular attention for its advocacy of the introduction of relevance pedagogy.

“The development of learning strategies, creativity, the techniques and behaviors of teamwork, critical thinking, and so on does not happen by rote or as highly circumscribed tasks. Two examples come from Eastern Tajikistan, where I have been advising the Aga Khan Foundation to introduce a Relevance Pedagogy model. In one second grade class, a highly accomplished, dynamic, experienced teacher took his second grade class on an outing to observe and learn about trees and rocks in nature and to understand erosion and how to prevent it. This was a vast improvement over the custom of only teaching these notions as abstractions from a text, as was evident in the enthusiasm of the students, their deep and creative questions and their quick and thoughtful answers to questions from the teacher. Yet, the teacher still did most of the talking, identifying the functions of trees and rocks in the natural and built environment along the 10-minute walk to the destination and pointing out and explaining the ravages of erosion and where the bank was still intact once the class reached the river bank. The local content was abundant. What he missed, though, was the opportunity for students to explore and discover these many dimensions on their own, perhaps working as teams and even competing to write down all the functions they could spot along the walk and to hypothesize and even do experiments about erosion and its prevention. Besides the even more profound learning of the concepts that would have occurred, they could have been honing their observation, teamwork, creativity, confidence, perseverance, critical thinking, and many other personal competencies.”

We have been happy about many actions taken in Montreal with Denis Coderre at the helm, but we are bitterly disappointed by the news of the proposed development of Maison Alcan (Proposal for Maison Alcan is ‘brutal,’ critics say). Spokesperson Richard Bergeron, independent councillor and member of the executive committee, said the city has followed the law on urban planning, but the process appears to have been underhanded and excessively secretive (No signatures as Maison Alcan referendum deadline passes). It seems that the beautiful greystone, so lovingly restored under David Culver‘s critical eye is to be preserved, but for how long? What a contrast with the intelligent way, as documented in Céline Cooper‘s engaging piece, the building’s owner and authorities have treated the Northeastern Lunch sign.
The construction summer madness seems greater than ever with many malcontents (Peel St. merchants decry slow rate of reconstruction) and Local politicians upset with construction contracts. Beryl Wajsman offers some valuable advice (Montreal can work. Let’s make it happen!) that we hope authorities are absorbing & applying.

Last week we learned that Canada ranked as ‘most admired’ country in the world according to an annual survey conducted by the Reputation Institute [not, we admit, previously one of our go-to sources for news]. This week, Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 and with a score of 81, Canada ranks 10/175, putting it behind the usual Nordic suspects, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Luxemburg and the Netherlands. This has led inevitably to discussion of tax evasion (versus avoidance) and other corruption matters. A possible solution to your ethical dilemma: move to ‘Liberland,’ the Place of No Taxes Where Crowdfunding Rules.

Notwithstanding our fascination with the Greece/EU/eurozone drama, we owe it to ourselves to look up, up and away and enjoy the scientific and technical marvels of the New Horizons Pluto probe. You might also enjoy From the Start, Pluto was a Puzzle: Timeline and The Weirdest Reason Pluto Didn’t Become A Real Planet

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1742"

  1. Linda Renaud July 29, 2015 at 6:07 pm ·

    Where else but Montreal can one find such intelligence and wit being bandied about for two solid hours on hotbed issues over a glass of Pinot Noir?
    With Kimon there to offer a first-person account on the turmoil in Greece, followed by Zahra’s insight into the Iran deal, the conversation was most satisfying. While we were spoiled last week with assessments into the economic and political underpinnings that drove events (in both cases) to the tipping point, almost all the salons I attended in Los Angeles centered on ‘celebrity’ in one form or another.
    As a result I no longer have any interest in sitting through an evening listening to unrelenting, partisan b.s. (Jerry Brown was the exception) unless I am there to write a review. And I soon tired of book signings where the canapés were better than the conversation. One of the few exceptions was the night Margaret Atwood came to speak at UCLA about her surprise best seller, Payback (2008). The woman can not only write but also speak intelligently. Imagine that!
    Kudos to you and David on another exceptional Wednesday night. And, of course, on the Gazette article!

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