Wednesday Night #1820

Written by  //  January 25, 2017  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

When we looked out the window on Tuesday and saw pristine snow falling over the dreary Montreal landscape, for a nano-second we hoped that it was symbolically eradicating all the ugliness of the past week, but then we realized that thought was an “alternative fact” and the brilliant white cover hid an array of treacherous, icy going.
In the real world, there is no snowy eradication of the past week’s events.

Donald Trump was inaugurated as 45th president of the United States. The normally festive occasion was immediately overshadowed by a storm of tweets and pronouncements, even an unprecedented scolding of the press by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, disputing the crowd size in comparison to that of President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The dispute also affected the Interior Department which was ordered to suspend Twitter accounts after posting comparative photos.
More humiliating was the hugely successful Women’s March on Washington the next day, According to crowd scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain, the crowd was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration a day earlier. Plus, it was replicated in so many cities and towns around the world.
Kudos to all the women and their supporters who marched, but that must only be the beginning. Enthusiasm must be converted to political action, mobilizing at every level across the country,  gearing up for the mid-terms, identifying weak incumbents and supporting strong contenders.

We understand that some of our conservative friends did not share our enthusiasm for President Obama, but they must surely share our dismay over some of the flurry of actions – some expected, some simply petty and some with deadly consequences – taken in the last few days.
HUD suspended FHA mortgage insurance rate cut an hour after Trump took office;
An executive order empowering the administration’s agencies to do all they can—within the bounds of the Affordable Care Act—to undercut that law. And that’s not just symbolic; the powers of the incoming Health and Human Services secretary are broad enough to cripple the ACA,  so it has to be replaced. The replacement option most often advocated by the GOP has centered on health savings accounts, which are meant to help families save money to cover medical expenses—but they usually come attached to high-deductible plans. There’s a new alternative: Some Congressional Republicans have proposed a bill giving states the option to keep Obamacare in place.
— An executive order freezing most federal hiring. His team is also fine-tuning plans to shrink several agencies focused on domestic policy. But, as Politico points out in Revenge of the bureaucrats the backlash could be both frustrating and costly for the administration;
— Delivered a disrespectful talk at CIA headquarters where he not only failed to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by those honored on the wall directly behind him, but also brought his own claque to supply applause and laugh track;
— Pulled out of TPP as expected, but seemingly without any regard for consequences for its trading partners;
— Confirmed that NAFTA is up for renegotiation –  a Bloomberg report points out that it could take months, or more likely years, to hammer out new terms even after political leaders give their go-ahead and the negotiating teams are assembled;
— Green-lighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines (making PM Trudeau and Rachel Notley happy  and the loonie soaring, despite the tagline that terms will be renegotiated ). Dakota Access may be more problematic than Keystone
Re-instated the Global Gag Rule. Trump dramatically expanded the scope of the Global Gag Rule to include all global health assistance provided by the US government.Rather than applying it exclusively to US assistance for family planning in the developing world, which amounts to about $575 million per year, the Trump memo applies it to “global health assistance furnished by all department or agencies.” In other words, NGOs that distribute bed nets for malaria, provide childhood vaccines, support early childhood nutrition and brain development, run HIV programs, fight ebola or Zika, and much more, must now certify their compliance with the Global Gag Rule or risk losing US funds;
Imposed a media blackout at the EPA and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants. Other government agencies involved in environmental issues are also having communications and actions restricted. The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research. (sounds terribly familiar).

Paul Heinbecker, never one to mince words, wrote in the Globe & Mail of January 20th, Trump’s toxic world view is blind to history: “Mr. Trump’s stream-of-consciousness pronouncements suggest a world view a mile wide and an inch deep, less a manifestation of geostrategy than an echo of New York cocktail-party chatter. The president-elect calls the North Atlantic Treaty Organization obsolete, encourages the breakup of the European Union, lauds Brexit before it even happens, deprecates the United Nations, encourages nuclear proliferation, disavows U.S. commitments on climate change, disparages Mexico, blusters on the Middle East and provokes China while handing it the leadership of Asia on a platter, all the while risking a trade war that no country including the United States would win. Meanwhile, his defenders urge us to take him seriously, just not literally.”

On a lighter note, Peter Donolo and Jason MacDonald gave some excellent advice to Sean Spicer: A few tips to make your job easier.

Sadly, we learn today that Donald Trump is still obsessed with his personal urban legend of millions of illegal voters in the election.

It may come as no surprise that ‘1984’ Is Back on the Best Seller List After Kellyanne Conway’s ‘Alternate Facts’ Comment.

Finally, we must pass along this rather extraordinary Opinion piece from Madhav Das Nalapat, Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian, Shadow men work to remove President Trump
If the plans activated since 8 November 2016 by the “Shadow Men” succeed, the 45th President of the United States will not last in office beyond a thousand days from his swearing-in on 20 January 2017

The trouble with all this is that we risk ignoring other world developments like Britain’s Supreme Court ruling on Article 50 and Brexit. “The decision sets clear limits on the extent of the government’s executive powers. Rights embedded in the law by the 1972 European Communities Act, which took the UK into what was then the European Community, cannot be removed by the government’s prerogative powers, a majority of the justices declared. The eagerly awaited ruling by the largest panel of judges ever assembled in Britain’s highest court routes the protracted Brexit process through parliament, handing over to MPs and peers the authority to sanction the UK’s withdrawal.”

It seems that Iran, Russia and Turkey have agreed to enforce Syria Cease-Fire, but neither the Syrian government nor the rebel fighters signed the agreement and nobody seems to know what the mechanism to monitor and enforce the cease-fire is.  It’s complicated – Stay tuned.

The situation in Gambia appears to have been resolved, although President Adama Barrow remains in Senegal. Yahya Jammeh had initially conceded defeat, then announced he no longer recognised the result, triggering a protracted political crisis which ended when he flew into exile late on Saturday. He did not leave empty-handed: it is reported that “over two weeks, over 500 million dalasi ($11 million) were withdrawn” by Jammeh and he also took luxury cars that were piled onto a Chadian cargo plane.

Over the weekend, Israel approved 566 new settlement homes. The construction in East Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law. Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Meir Turgeman, said the project had been on hold until Trump took office. Trump and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had a “very nice” phone call; no word on whether they discussed moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Then on Tuesday, the Israeli government announced that another 2,500 new housing units would be built in the West Bank.

The Trudeau cabinet has been holding a retreat in Calgary focused on how to deal with the reality of the Trump presidency. CBC’s Neil Macdonald has some thoughts on How [to] negotiate a trade agreement with a president for whom facts don’t matter and notes that former PM Brian Mulroney has been recruited to help in his capacity as a friend of Donald Trump. Desperate times – desperate measures?

In the wake of the PM’s language gaffe in the Eastern Townships, Céline Cooper suggests that the Liberals could use a Quebec lieutenant despite Justin Trudeau’s earlier (and rather arrogant) earlier statement “Why do you need a Quebec lieutenant, when you have a Quebec general?” Céline is absolutely right.

More bad news from Postmedia – layoffs at the Gazette and Ottawa Citizen while the delusional Mr. Godfrey maintains that he is hopeful that the Trudeau government “will intervene to help the sector as it grapples with tremendous digital disruption to traditional business models.” That is the same Mr. Godfrey who, in early December, pocketed the second of three retention payments totaling $900,000.

Reminder: This Thursday, January 26 (5:30-7:30pm): Sauvé Fellow Guillaume Lavoie will speak at Sauvé House on the Sharing Economy and Public Policy. The sharing economy is not a fad, but an irreversible social phenomenon. It impacts all spheres of activity: social, economic, and political. It transforms the way markets work, relations between individuals, and, inevitably, the role of governments. Join Sauvé Fellow Guillaume Lavoie to learn more about the collaborative economy and how it can lead to more productive, more sustainable, and more entrepreneurial. We have been privileged to hear Guillaume on this topic at Wednesday Night and would certainly enjoy the expanded version.

The McGill Institute for the Study of Canada is hosting its 2017 Annual Conference February 9 and 10. Titled Canadian Exceptionalism: Are we good or are we lucky?, a sparkling roster of speakers will examine whether Canada is indeed unique, and if so, whether this is a matter of history or geography or circumstance, or because there is something in our policies, institutions, or character. At $75 per ticket, it is likely one of the most affordable interesting events of the season.

Parents or grandparents of teenagers may find some solace in the McGill study published in the Journal of Sleep Research; the researchers found that students from schools that started earlier slept less, were less likely to meet the national sleep recommendations for their age, and were more often tired in the morning. Start times in the Canadian schools ranged from around 8:00 to 9:30. “We found a strong association between later school start times and better sleep for teens,” says Prof. Frank Elgar, co-author of the study. “Changing school start times involves consultations among various stakeholders, and logistical issues such as bus schedules,” Gariépy notes. “But these challenges can be overcome. A later school start-time policy has the potential to benefit a lot of students.” Dare we add that there might be beneficial results for traffic patterns and public transport ridership?

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