Archive for November, 2015

The Nature of World War Three

November 23, 2015

The first world war was fought in the trenches of Belgium and France and in parts of the world like Gallipoli. Artillery and ships were used amongst other weapons.

WW2 was more widespread geographically. All parts of Europe were involved spreading into Russia, North Africa and the Middle East, and an extensive Asian front in India, South-East Asia, and Japan where the US played a major role. The opponents were organized in and fought as national armies, navies and air forces, controlled by governments.

Today’s terrorist attacks, especially over the past 15 years, have taken place in different parts of the globe, conducted by non-traditional forces often located  among civilian populations. When these terrorists are attacked by regular military personnel, civilians are placed in danger or forced to move from their traditional homelands. The result is flows of refugees who live in squalid camps or undertake dangerous passages to what they perceive to be safe havens in places like Western Europe and North America.

 

Since 1914, there have now been three world wars, the last one currently being fought in the Middle East and parts of the world where terrorist acts can be undertaken either by local inhabitants or by persons who can easily cross borders. Modern societies have many places where bombings can occur to kill people, disrupt lives and capital equipment – power grids, travel (road, rail, air, ships), commercial activities dependent on communication systems, cyber attacks on computer networks and so on.

For most of the post WW2 period, potential threats have focused on nuclear attacks from countries with this capability. Today’s threats can be undertaken with equipment like drones, individuals willing to perish as suicide bombers, and other low cost measures which are impossible or hard for civilized societies to guard against.

 

A listing of terrorist attacks by year and location can be found at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_(non-state)_terrorist_incidents

They have occurred in all parts of the world including major incidents like 9/11, bombings and shootings in Madrid, London and Paris, as well as many in other locations. Travelling the globe today is a bit like travel by horse and coach in earlier days when highway men could be expected to attack and there was no protective police force.  Today, I would argue, we are in the midst of WW3 with techniques used which are far different from those used in WW1 and WW2.

World War Three is Underway

November 15, 2015

Terrorists could have conducted the November 13th,   2015 Paris attacks in any country or city in the world. Further actions can be expected to be undertaken by suicide bombers or perhaps by drones or missiles. Nowhere is immune from such attacks, and no country can provide defense from such attacks. Countries are now faced with a form of world war, the third one in the last hundred years. It is being conducted not by government funded military forces, but by terrorist organizations paid for by individuals from around the world. Containing these actions is far more difficult than is the case of conventional warfare.

 

Globalization which is pervasive in economic transactions now characterizes conflict. Dangers from the spread of nuclear technology, which have been of concern since WW2, are now surpassed by the spread of other technologies which are far cheaper to acquire and use to deadly effect. Drones, for example, are available in toy stores, can fly at low levels and carry deadly substances. Amazon is experimenting with drone technology to deliver packages.

 

WW3 began some years ago including events such as 9/11, attacks on various US embassies abroad, bombings in Madrid, London, Paris and throughout the Middle East, assassinations in various countries including Canada. Wikipedia provides a list of deaths and injuries from terrorist attacks to-date in 2015 and for previous years. No single event started WW3, but at some point the accumulation of attacks around the world signal that these are not isolated events. Responding to them will require forceful action, not negotiations leading to some sort of peace treaty. An enemy using youth suicide bombers does not include negotiations in its arsenal.

Some thoughts after the Canadian Federal Election

November 15, 2015

There has been a changing of the guard, not only with the governing party but in terms of the number of newly elected MPs. Almost two hundred of the 338 elected MPs are new in that they did not serve in the last parliament. Many are also new to the House of Commons. A number of the Cabinet Ministers are also first timers including the Ministers of Finance, Defense, Justice and the Environment. They have to learn parliamentary procedure, their portfolios and the committees on which they serve. Expect some hiccups. Already we have learned something unexpected about the Science Minister.

The existence of newcomers means that the atmosphere in the HOC will hopefully be more respectful, at least to start with. Question Period occupies a small proportion of a member’s time while the house is sitting, but it provides a public face for parliament and its members.

Originally I was against gender parity in the cabinet, mainly on the grounds that other groups in society will claim representation, as is already given regionally. Racial groups may claim similar representation. Now I am having second thoughts. Parity may improve the atmosphere in the House. If it does not and if Ministers, male or female, don’t perform then they should be replaced and let the gender balance settle where it may. By the way, is 50% female representation an upper limit?

The issues for which the federal, provincial and municipal governments legislate are set out in various constitutional statutes. However in practice and application this is difficult to manage. The provinces are responsible for healthcare and education but actions taken by the federal government, including funding, affect the delivery of these services. A federal Liberal government will be dealing with a number of provincial Liberal governments including Quebec and Ontario. It won’t always be rosy.

The three main parties have resumed their historical positions as government, opposition and the NDP as third party. The orange wave in Quebec appears to have been a one-time phenomenon.

Amending the federal voting system needs to be done with care. Each system has benefits and costs to groups in society. For example if proportional representation had been in effect in the last election, the Liberals would have won less seats and the other parties more. But with PR more parties will be formed which try to attract voters and governing becomes more difficult. If the Liberals move towards PR they will be losing (in the future) some of their recently elected members, which may not be a popular move within the party.

Canada is a poorly defended country. It covers a large area with a long coastline. Its armed forces, especially the navy are inadequate to provide protection. Consequently the country continues to remain under the defense umbrella of the US as has been the case since WW2. Investment in drones may provide more effective security than investment in fighter aircraft and submarines.

Already a budgetary review is undermining promises made in the election. Now the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris may cause Canada to reassess its commitments to allied forces in the Middle East.

Student debt – how much of a burden?

November 2, 2015

Student costs for postsecondary education are primarily a combination of fees and living costs plus the cost of loss of income from employment while studying. Universities have also learned how to charge for services in addition to basic fees. Overall costs are met from student income from savings, part-time work, borrowing from parents, friends and institutions. The burden of any debt incurred depends on the borrowing costs and the terms of repayment.

 

Those readily employed after graduation will be able to plan their repayment. Those unemployed will carry the burden of debt longer. One interesting scheme is for universities to require no payment at the time of study, but for the student to incur a debt which is paid for after graduation and dependent on the amount of earnings. Collection can be tied to a person’s annual income tax filing.

 

Many universities have created a country club atmosphere of indoor and outdoor sports, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and shops. These are used to attract students, but at the same time divert student time from academic study. One way to reduce costs and maintain a focus on studying is to register for online courses, which can be taken at lower cost to the student who does not have to travel to and live on a campus.

 

Of course this is not a direct substitute for an on campus experience, but it is a way to reduce the costs of post-secondary education. Correspondence courses have provided this means of study for years. Today technology makes distance learning that much easier. In fact, many classroom lectures are made available as power point presentations which allows a student to either access the material in the classroom and online or just online. This means of delivery is more suitable for some disciplines (history, english) than for others where lab time is required (engineering, chemistry).

 

Discourse on student debt is usually engaged in by those experiencing it. My observation here is that while debt cannot be eliminated, its effects can be mitigated by a variety of means. Some of these require the student (and parents) taking action before payment for post-secondary education is required.