Wednesday Night #1747

Written by  //  August 26, 2015  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Reuters makes it official: China, one of the main engines of the world economy, has overtaken Greece at the top of the worry list of global investors. Forbes trumpets China’s Brewing Crisis Is A Thousand Times Greece’s, reminding us that the two economies “share a semi-Soviet economic model whereby a large part of the economy has been under the direct or indirect control of central and local government, constraining economic freedoms”.
The comentariat has challenged an early assumption that the devaluation was some sort of plot to undermine the global economy. Rather, there’s a pretty universal opinion that the Chinese authorities – the party leadership and its technocrat advisers – are not  up to the task of managing a slowing economy.
The Financial Times  suggests that the turmoil “ has also shaken the ruling Communist party and left Li Keqiang, the prime minister, fighting for his political future (Li’s future questioned amid China turmoil) and Bloomberg recounts that Chinese Authorities Escalate Blame Game as Stock Slide Worsens.
Writing in the New York Times, (Fading Economy and Graft Crackdown Rattle China’s Leaders) Michael Forsythe and Jonathan Ansfield point to the downfall of Zhou Benshun, the first sitting provincial party chief to be purged by Mr. Xi as an indicator of “the uncertainty that permeates the Communist elite as they contend with two unnerving developments beyond their control: an economic slowdown that appears to be worse than officials had anticipated and that could mark the end of China’s era of fast growth, and a campaign against official corruption that has continued longer and reached higher than most had expected.”

As the migration crisis grows each day, Brookings reminds us that “while the ongoing Syrian civil war has many contributing factors (political conflicts, a policy of food self-sufficiency relying on water-intensive wheat crop, inadequate urban policies, and refugees from Syria), the exceptionally long five-year drought linked to rising mean temperatures in the Eastern Mediterranean has contributed to civil unrest. … Had misguided agricultural policies been avoided, the supply of groundwater would have provided a cushion during this exceptionally long drought and, according to the accumulating evidence of the new climate-economy literature, social tensions would have been less.” We highly recommend this report,  Climate change and the growing challenges of migration and would remind Wednesday Nighters that this view was espoused some time ago by Cleo Paskal,  Judith Patterson and other thoughtful participants.
UNHCR forecasts that up to 3,000 people per day will cross the Mediterranean to southern Europe; the Guardian reports (Europe’s migrant crisis will not slow and EU nations must share duties, says UN ) that “the latest bottleneck is in Hungary, where refugees were continuing their journey north despite efforts by the government to stop them. According to police data, 2,093 migrants were detained on Monday, the highest figure so far this year. Over the past week the daily average has been 1,493.”

John Evdokias forwarded from the blog of the Oxford University Press an analysis of the underlying weaknesses of Greek governance, Greece: The paradox of power. “The PM’s current predicament, like that of his predecessors, reflects deep-rooted weaknesses at the very heart of the Greek ‘core executive’. Despite the fact that a prime minister in Greece possesses formal, constitutional powers that are amongst the strongest in Europe, the centre of government lacks the appropriate resources to coordinate ministry ‘silos’ that operate with a significant degree of autonomy. ” Perhaps Greece should take lessons from Stephen Harper’s PMO which apparently suffers from no such problem.
Kimon, not usually known for his reading of lighter publications sends along this sympathetic piece from Town & Country:  Why Is the King of Greece Living as a Commoner? As his country faces collapse, the former monarch makes a dramatic choice. ‘Commoner’ is, of course a relative term, however we were struck by the poignant quote attributed to King George II of Greece, “The most important tool for a king of Greece is a suitcase.”
On another note, Westmount Magazine, edited by Wednesday Nighter Wayne Larsen, has a delightfully positive piece  Greece still offers its best Why you should turn off the news and head for the islands. The concluding paragraph echoes the view that Kimon has so often expressed at Wednesday Night:
“If these reasons haven’t yet convinced you to jump on the next flight headed for Greece, then consider this: every stereotype you’ve heard about the locals is false. They are not lazy, and they are not constantly angry about their current economic position. In fact, speaking with a local waiter, shopkeeper, or tour guide will give you insight into the true personality of the Greeks (and yes, they all speak English quite well). They are helpful, kind, dedicated to their jobs and families, and are willing to share their concerns over politics and the economy in a way that educates rather than worries. Despite whatever is happening in their government, banks, and homes, one thing remains true: the Greeks value hospitality before anything, and that alone will bring your travel experience from great to unforgettable.”

Friday is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina‘s landfall and American media are covering every aspect of the event and ensuing years. PBS presents an original look at Portrait of a city 10 years after Hurricane Katrina throughout the week. Well worth watching. In The next Big One, The Washington Post examines the infrastructure New Orleans has built to protect itself from hurricanes, but asks whether the city can win the battle against rising seas.

Canadian and U.S. political circuses continue to fascinate. If Donald Trump did not exist, some B-movie would have invented him. His statements are more outrageous every day and he still attracts some 20% of the Republican base. Perhaps not surprising if you follow local news of the redneck states. If you can stand it, What Is It With Donald Trump? offers some intriguing insights thanks to a focus group that sheds light on the enthusiasm with which many voters have greeted his candidacy. The companion piece by David Frum Should Jeb Bush Go After Trump? is also worthwhile, while Rolling Stone writes that Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny — Win or lose, Trump’s campaign threatens to unleash the Great American Stupid
With the departure of Jon Stewart, we now rely on John Oliver to call out the authorities for outrageous policies. His recent segment on the IRS’ neglect of the excesses and fraudulentactivities of the televangelists is not only brilliant, it is a real and apparently effective public service message. See: Pressure mounts on IRS to crack down on televangelists following John Oliver segment and be sure to watch the clip to the end as he sets up (legally) the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.
It occurs to us that (some?) political parties espouse very similar fundraising tactics, but it is probably easier to set up a church.

The Canadian campaign continues with moments of sheer silliness (Margaret Atwood’s National Post Column Mocking Harper’s Hair Disappears, Reappears) accompanied by irritating disappointments (Women’s Issues Debate Cancelled After Mulcair Bails) and sheer madness -in our opinion- (Doug Ford Is A ‘Superstar’ Candidate To Replace Harper, Organizer Says), over which looms the daily circus of the Duffy Trial about which the best column has to be Andrew Coyne’s If the Duffy affair was no big deal, why all the effort to hide it?, in which he (sensibly) asks: “If the matter of Duffy’s expenses were no big deal — at worst, a case of an errant senator, and besides, the rules were unclear — it would seem hard to explain why a dozen or more senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Senate spent three months fussing and fretting over it. If, likewise, it was as above-board as we are told, why the obsessive secrecy in which it was enveloped? After all, they were putting money back into the treasury! Surely that called for some kind of celebratory press conference, no?” Amidst all this we salute our brave friends who are running in this election including the most recent entry (for the NDP) Anne Lagacé Dowson.
One final note on the topic -for now- Céline Cooper‘s recent column Social media comments can come back to haunt Millennials written in response to the story on Ala Buzreba who has withdrawn since some offensive tweets came to light. Céline makes the point that “We need Millennials to get involved in politics. They represent over one-third of Canada’s population and are the largest demographic cohort to follow the baby boomers. Lost among the many things people say about Millennials — that they’re entitled, narcissistic and in need of constant validation — is the fact that they are smart, innovative, resilient and keen to make a difference in the world. Yet while approximately 48 per cent of Canadian youth are following politics, public policy or social issues on the Internet and through social media, many of them are opting out of traditional political institutions.”

In case you missed it, Singapore is holding an early election. Announced on Tuesday, and voters go to the polls on 11 September. Now that’s a campaign period we would deeply appreciate.

Turkey‘s citizens are also headed for the polls on November 1st in what will surely be a much less orderly vote than Singapore’s and one with important consequences for the struggle against ISIS.

Last, but certainly not least, congratulations to Ken Matziorinis, President of AHEPA, on the organization’s role in the completion of the new Shriners Hospital. AHEPA Montreal Chapter contributed $250,000 and the Shriners have named the school in the hospital the “AHEPA Family School”.

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