Wednesday Night #1821

Written by  //  February 1, 2017  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Since January 21, each day is bleaker than the last, despite the lengthening days and lack (so far) of truly fearsome winter cold.
So before launching into our litany of geopolitical woes, let us celebrate the very successful outcome of Margaret Lefebvre‘s knee operation. She has left the Verdun hospital and is now at the rehab center, preparing to be bullied into sprightliness. Although she is still in pain, she is quite chipper and her glorious sense of humor is intact if not enhanced.

With Steve Bannon’s elevation to an unpresidented seat at the NSC, it has become abundantly clear that he is the puppet master of the White House (President Bannon?). He is reported to have had a major hand in writing the doom-and-gloom Inauguration speech and is given credit for being the principal author of the largely ill-conceived Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda, including the “Ban on Muslim immigration,” “Few in the West Wing other than Bannon and [White House advisor for policy Stephen] Miller are reportedly aware of what the executive orders Trump has issued at a breakneck pace really contain, as legal experts, affected agencies, and lawmakers have been largely left in the dark.”

Much has been written and said about the chaotic and incompetent early days of the administration, but Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson writes about the Muslim ban that “It’s a Shock Event” designed to distract from more unpopular goals. “A successful shock event depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines.”

In How to Build an Autocracy, David Frum exposes further Machiavellian possibilities. He believes that the preconditions are present in the U.S. today and presents “the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.”  It’s a long, but worthwhile read. His colleague at The Atlantic, Eliot Cohen,  is somewhat more optimistic “There should be nothing surprising about what Donald Trump has done in his first week—but he has underestimated the resilience of Americans and their institutions.” Meanwhile, Bernard-Henri Lévy weighs in on Project Syndicate with Donald Trump’s Plot Against America.

The Cabinet nominations continue to wend their way through the vetting (if one may use such a strong word for the current process). However, all has not been smooth sailing. Democrats have blocked confirmation votes for Sessions, Price and Mnuchin and a couple of Republicans on the committee indicated reservations that could mean that Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education is not exactly a sure thing when the vote goes to the Senate. She is accused of plagiarizing answers to a questionnaire for her confirmation hearing – including one answer lifted from an Obama official.

The Supreme Court nominee, announced on Tuesday night, may also be in for a rough ride from the Democrats. The long profile in Politico. Neil Gorsuch is what legal scholars call an “originalist” or “textualist,” favoring a literal meaning of statutes and the Constitution. “Neil Gorsuch is one of the most respected conservative originalist legal intellectuals of his generation,” said Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center. “He’s unusual for his memorable writing style, the depth of his reading and his willingness to rethink constitutional principles from the ground up. Like Justice Scalia, he sometimes reaches results that favor liberals when he thinks the history or text of the Constitution or the law require it, especially in areas like criminal law or the rights of religious minorities, but unlike Scalia he’s less willing to defer to regulations and might be more willing to second-guess Trump’s regulatory decisions.” Quartz tells us that Gorsuch was ranked highest in a Scalia-ness scale recently created by legal scholars and was deemed the deceased jurist’s “natural successor.” Scalia-ness in this case manifests in three things—adherence to originalist principles of interpretation, writing about how to consider the law beyond just legal issues, and issuing separate opinions to elucidate a personal position. … If Gorsuch is approved, he will no doubt be like Scalia in one other important way. Every so often, he’ll be unpredictable.

The Washington Post has high praise for the reaction of our government to Sunday night’s shocking attack on the Ste Foy mosque After Trump sows chaos, Canada picks up the pieces “as long as Trump is in the White House, the contrasts between his divisive, nationalist presidency and Canada’s current embrace of inclusiveness and multiculturalism seem likely to grow even more stark.” As CBC’s Chris Hall points out, Trudeau’s imminent meeting with Trump carries substantial political risk as he attempts to navigate between selling the importance of Canada as a trading partner and maintaining Canadian values (read Immigration) while not irritating The Don.

While we have all been mesmerized by the events in the U.S., we risk losing sight of other world events. France is enjoying its own political turmoil thanks to “Penelopegate” which could derail François Fillon’s bid for the presidency.
Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine has escalated, with at least 13 civilians and fighters on both sides killed in the worst outbreak of violence in several weeks.
Adama Barrow, the new president of The Gambia is now installed and pledges reforms. His predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, left the cupboard pretty bare when he departed, however, the European Union (EU) is set to release significant budgetary aid to the country now that he has fled to Equatorial Guinea.
Amnesty International has released a report “If you are poor you are killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs” , detailing the horrendous abuses since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office seven months ago. –  More than 7,000 drug-related killings, with the police directly killing at least 2,500 alleged drug offenders. At the same time, according to Transparency International, Duterte’s Philippines Is Getting More Corrupt

The introduction to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index highlights  the connection between corruption and inequality, “which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth. The interplay of corruption and inequality also feeds populism. When traditional politicians fail to tackle corruption, people grow cynical. Increasingly, people are turning to populist leaders who promise to break the cycle of corruption and privilege. Yet this is likely to exacerbate – rather than resolve – the tensions that fed the populist surge in the first place.”

A Digital Fact-Checker Fights Fake News
Storyful is using bots to sic reporters on viral hoaxes.
Just before Thanksgiving, Storyful released Verify, a free add-on for Google’s Chrome browser that automatically tells users whether its 40 journalists around the globe have vetted the videos they’re watching. So far, the team has vetted 250,000 videos, with more added daily. A browser icon lights up green if the video is in Storyful’s vetted archive, or red if it isn’t.
The index is fed largely by automated bots that comb Twitter, YouTube, and other networks for videos that match certain keywords or are spiking in popularity. Unlike Facebook’s forthcoming effort to crowdsource the tagging of bogus stories, or Slate’s new text-focused fact-checking browser tool, Storyful’s Verify incorporates its team’s own reporting. The company says it’s in talks with social networks about ways it can help but declined to name them because of nondisclosure agreements.

News you need to know:
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has added three new breeds to its annual event, which for the first time will also include a program featuring cats, thus promising terrier-driven havoc. Of the new breeds, we rather fancy the Pumi, described as “an ancient Hungarian herding breed. “They are a cute and strong herding dog, … very interested in pleasing their owner and a quick learner.”

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