Wednesday Night #1796

Written by  //  August 3, 2016  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Inevitably, the topic on everyone’s mind was Donald Trump. Some Wednesday Nighters believe that he will win the election despite his innumerable faux pas, because he speaks to the deep dissatisfaction of so many voters with the status quo. Others believe that his attack on the Khan family – and by definition the military- may have been a turning point. But all are deeply concerned by the strong indications of mental instability, pointing to the evidence that Trump’s behavior presents a perfect fit with definition of narcissistic traits “a personality trait encompassing grandiosity, arrogance, self-absorption, entitlement, fragile self-esteem, and hostility.”
In this context, Donald Trump: The Unproductive Narcissist is a useful read: “Donald Trump has reached his late 60s without facing the situational exigencies that could potentially curb his larger-than-life narcissistic behaviors—scenarios that many other productive narcissists have encountered.”

There were several questions about the origins of “Gold Star mothers/families” which were conveniently addressed by the LA Times in the article How a gold star became a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice

Concern was expressed regarding the report from The Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration secretly apparently airdropped $400 million in foreign currency in exchange for the release of four (?) Americans, a move that breaches U.S. protocol and amounts to ransom. Was this ransom or simply a deal – given that the funds were part of a trust fund Iran used before its 1979 Islamic Revolution to buy U.S. military equipment that was tied up for decades in litigation at the tribunal?
According to Reuters, the five, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released on Jan. 16 in exchange for seven Iranians held in the United States for sanctions violations. The prisoner deal coincided with the lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.
At the time, the United States said it had settled a longstanding Iranian claim at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague, releasing $400 million in funds frozen since 1981, plus $1.3 billion in interest that was owed to Iran.

P R O L O G U E

Senior GOP Officials Exploring Options if Trump Drops Out

ABC News reports that Republican officials are exploring how to handle a scenario that would be unthinkable in a normal election year: What would happen if the party’s presidential nominee dropped out?
Perhaps he could be certified as mentally unfit? Much as we want to see him go, for the sake of the world, country and Republican Party – in that order – we fear for the reaction among disappointed and angry followers.

This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )

This picture released by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games shows the emblem of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 31, 2010. A multidisciplinary evaluation commission, formed by 12 professionals enjoying domestic and international recognition, was involved in the whole process of the emblem selection. (AP Photo/Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games )

Starting on Friday, the 5th, we will have to tear ourselves away from the political circus to the south to watch an even greater –and possibly even more fraught-  spectacle much further south – the Rio Olympics. While we wish all the athletes well, if we are to give credence to even half of what we read/hear, it is hard to believe that all will be smooth sailing. While smooth sailing in the polluted waters is doubtful, the latest news about the precarious location of the  international television broadcast centre and its recent flooding is hardly designed to enhance favourable reporting on the construction woes and corruption that have surrounded these games. Yes, there are always doubts about the readiness of venues and  the capabilities of the host country in the days and hours leading up to the magical opening ceremonies, but given the appalling state of Brazil’s governance, it seems that some of our worst fears could be realized. This in turn gives us reason to strongly recommend The trouble with the Olympic GamesIn light of the Russian doping scandal, London’s debatable legacy and the craven prostrations of prospective future hosts, the Olympic ideal looks shabby indeed as we draw closer to Rio. What is the point of the Games today? Note in particular the sensible conclusion that “It is this ceaseless search to find the next host that is most of all wrecking the Olympics, inducing cities to fritter billions on facilities that have no useful afterlife and destroy the lives of the poor who get in the way. The same process has produced such monstrosities as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and, lying in wait for us all, the 2022 Qatar World Cup. For the summer Games at least, there is a potential solution: returning the Olympics to its ancient home. Greece is ideally placed geographically.” We have heard it before, but surely the argument is stronger than ever.

We attempt to keep up with the twists and turns of the race for the U.S. presidency [Election campaign 2016: Republicans and Election Campaign 2016: Democrats], however we occasionally miss something (!). Very recently we came across this late April piece from Salon which, we believe, bears consideration  Maybe Donald Trump has really lost his mind: What if the GOP frontrunner isn’t crazy, but simply not well? It might supply an answer to our increasing bewilderment over some of The Donald’s actions and pronouncements. Speaking of which,  just when you think that things cannot become more surreal Veteran gifts Trump his Purple Heart at rally in Virginia

On a rational note, do see Cleo Paskal’s analysis of the problematic issue of the TPP for Hillary Clinton and  the Democrats. An original viewpoint we have not seen elsewhere.

In  Hair of the Top Dog, Ian Buruma approaches the dark topic of the appeal of Donald Trump by pointing out that his peculiar hairstyle is not unique and that the question of hair in politics might not be as trivial as it seems: “It is remarkable how many politicians, especially on the populist right, have sported heterodox hairdos.” His eminently intelligent conclusion:  “satire and ridicule will not work to persuade people who love Trump precisely because of his weirdness. It sets him apart from the establishment they despise. The weirder he gets, the more his supporters like him. And the more that clever comedians in New York mock him, the more his fans will rally to his side. This is the great perversity in our age of angry populism. Reasonable arguments and political optimism can now be turned into negative qualities, the typical marks of a complacent elite, oblivious to the concerns of people who feel that the joke has been on them. Reasonable argument did not work to convince 51.9% of British voters to remain part of the EU. It may not work to keep an ignorant and dangerous buffoon – silly hairstyle and all – from becoming President of the US.”

You will find more good albeit gloomy reading in History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump , Be sure to follow the link  from “Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted.” As we read this second piece, we could not help but wish that Kimon were with us to offer his thoughts.

For those of us who bemoan the ignorance of voters – and not only in the current U.S. campaign – a recent article in Quartz posits that Compulsory voting may be the key to democracy, noting that “Recent scholarship on voting laws suggests that requiring citizens to vote would not only up turnout—it might also help boost overall political awareness.”

Our last word on the subject (for now) is this piece about our favorite reference when in doubt over the credibility of a purported news item from an unfamiliar source:  Can mythbusters like Snopes.com keep up in a post-truth era?

Lest you think we are ignoring the other crises and potential flare-ups in the world, a brief tour d’horizon would include developments in Venezuela where the opposition has collected enough voter signatures to take the campaign for the recall of President Nicolas Maduro into the next phase; in Malaysia where the billion dollar money laundering  scandal surrounding  PM Najib Razak continues to simmer, but without any noticeable effect on his power;  and, of course, there is Turkey.

Our two Davids (Jones and Kilgour) have made Turkey the subject of this week’s entry in their on-going debate in the Epoch Times. In Turkey’s New Crisis Puts Rule of Law in Question David Kilgour points out that “Erdogan’s government appears to have assisted ISIS in various ways, including providing a logistical, economic, and political base in Turkey. An estimated 25,000 foreign combatants joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria through Turkey. During 2015, ISIS was enriched by $1 million to $4 million daily because most oil it obtained was smuggled through Turkey. The respected Guardian newspaper (U.K.) reported that ISIS computers seized by U.S. commandos in Syria contain irrefutable evidence of collusion with the Erdogan government. By assisting ISIS to replace al-Qaeda as the Sunni jihadists in Syria, Erdogan escalated the ISIS conflict into a full-scale regional war between Sunnis and Shiites. When Erdogan finally agreed in principle to fight ISIS (or pretend to), NATO reluctantly went along with his wishes, agreeing that it would withhold much-needed support from the Kurds, who had fought ISIS effectively from the war’s beginning.”  Meanwhile, in Talking Turkey With Ankara , David Jones reminds us that  “We need Turkish active cooperation and support in battling Islamic terrorism (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. We are flying missions from Turkish airbases against ISIS combatants. We are depending on Turkish border control to stifle the flow of prospective ISIS supporters through the country. Likewise, Europeans are depending on Turkey to stem the cascade of Syrian/Middle Eastern refugees into Europe—the price hasn’t been cheap, but less costly than the social/political disruption caused by an untrammeled flood of refugees. Even before the coup attempt, relations with Erdogan were fraught with difficulty and complexity; he is unlikely to be more cooperative now.”

David Jones has been busy. His  NATO: Myths and realities , published in  the Metropolitain last week, clarifiessome of the accepted mythology around NATO” and in particular with respect to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, noting that in  laying out the parameters of response to an attack on a NATO member, the specific required responses by other NATO members are far from defined.  He adds, “there is no Article 5 requirement for other NATO members to do anything.  It requires no action to accept that an ‘attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all.’  But such recognition makes no demands on individual members.  Indeed, each ‘will assist the Party of Parties so attacked by taking…such action as it deems necessary…’  But what action?  Perhaps stiff notes of protest?  Denunciation in the UN Security Council (as Article 5 does require an attack to be ‘immediately…reported.’)?  Full combat response against invaders up to and including nuclear weapons?  Or no action at all?”

PBS Newshour recently featured an interview The unprecedented aging crisis that’s about to hit China with Howard French, author of a lengthy piece, China’s Twilight Years, published in the June issue of The Atlantic. His thesis that the country’s population is aging and shrinking [which] means big consequences for its economy—and America’s global standing was sharply criticized by commentators on both sites. We look forward to your reactions.
Less controversial is the news that the 600-year-old drainage system of the imperial palace works better than modern ones. Despite weeks of pounding rains across China, hundreds of “water spitting” dragon-shaped drainage points in the Forbidden City release excess water and prevent flooding. So much for modern technology.

Whither Canada? Aside from alarming weather, the news is pretty good.

Although loopholes exist, the new legislation in BC aimed at foreign ownership that is contributing to an unsustainable rise in housing prices has generally been well received by  most, but will inevitably create cottage industries among the real estate sector and its lawyers. Early off the mark is one Barry Appleton who says the tax favours local investors and is, therefore, a violation of NAFTA.

The PM’s announcement on Tuesday of  the new selection process for Supreme Court of Canada justices has also been greeted with approval. The naming of former PM Kim Campbell as chair of the board that will oversee an open application process is an elegant bipartisan gesture, and it is hard to fault the composition of the board. We are intrigued by the thought that anyone can nominate him or herself and wonder whether we will have any friends who do so…

For all the Montrealers who continue to suffer from congenital construction cone allergy, take heart. Josh Freed has a solution, having discovered the Quartier des spectacles where “all works remarkably smoothly, more Switzerland than Montreal. If our city road crews ran the site, summer festivals would be delayed till Christmas — and end two days later when a stage crumbled during a labour walkout, blowing a power line and causing a province-wide blackout. But in the Quartier of festivals, nothing seems to go wrong. The Quartier has become a remarkable vision of what Montreal could be — and the conclusion is obvious. Let whoever runs the Quartier des Spectacles run the rest of our city’s services, too. Let them run our buses, roadwork and street-cleaning as efficiently and courteously as they do the comedy fest. Let St-Denis St. construction finish as rapidly as the jazz fest sets up and tears down. Let’s unite our two cities into one — and make Montreal as spectacular as our Quartier des Spectacles.”

And McGill ranks first in Canada and 37th globally in the Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars supplement, which identifies institutions showing the most significant growth in high-quality scientific research publications over the past four years.

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