Wednesday Night #1921

Written by  //  January 9, 2019  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

First the good news: We are absolutely delighted to learn that Former PM Paul Martin has nominated Irwin Cotler for the Nobel Peace Prize
‘Professor Cotler’s work in the name of civil rights defenders has no borders and his impact is felt throughout Canada and around the world,’ Martin wrote to the Nobel Institute

Tuesday evening’s much anticipated speech (Donald Trump’s first prime-time Oval Office address to the nation) was, in our view, anticlimactic – the expected factual distortions were there (e.g. 90% of all the heroin that comes into this country comes through our southern border), but Trump’s teleprompter delivery had little of the conviction or fire of his free-wheeling off-the-cuff speeches and rallies. Did he change anyone’s mind? Not likely. Is the government shutdown any closer to a solution? Doubtful. We can be thankful that he did not declare a national emergency, but that can still happen, especially when Prometheus becomes unbound from the teleprompter.

We will let the pundits parse every phrase of the speech and the responses from the Democratic leadership, however, one small point. In his conclusion, Trump stated “When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect our country and that is what I will always do so help me god.” In fact, the Oath of Office (which is an incredibly short 35 words) states:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

We presume he has never read the Constitution.

Of all the commentary with which we are deluged each day, David Leonhardt’s lengthy piece in the New York Times Sunday Review The People vs. Donald J. Trump is one of the best. And for a lighter (albeit nonetheless accurate) view, don’t miss President Trump is entering his terrible twos
“If you want to understand this White House, turn off Wolf Blitzer and pick up Benjamin Spock. The ninth edition of the late pediatrician’s famous guide, first published in 1946, tells us all we need to know about this presidency as it approaches its second birthday: “This can be a physically exhausting and trying time.” The 2-year-old “has a hard time making up his mind, and then he wants to change it,” his “understanding of the world is still so limited,” and “he becomes bolder and more daring in his experiments.””

Freedom in the World
Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.
Seventy-one countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, with only 35 registering gains. This marked the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
The United States retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy amid an accelerating decline in American political rights and civil liberties.
Over the period since the 12-year global slide began in 2006, 113 countries have seen a net decline, and only 62 have experienced a net improvement.
The spread of antidemocratic practices around the world is not merely a setback for fundamental freedoms. It poses economic and security risks. When more countries are free, all countries—including the United States—are safer and more prosperous. When more countries are autocratic and repressive, treaties and alliances crumble, nations and entire regions become unstable, and violent extremists have greater room to operate – Michael J. Abramowitz, President, Freedom House

Turkey is one of many countries cited for diminishing/disappearing freedoms, but this week our concern is with the Turkish president’s refusal to meet with John Bolton to discuss the fallout from U.S. withdrawal from Syria. Erdogan has been massing Turkish troops on the Syrian border for weeks, preparing for an invasion to eradicate Kurdish forces that the U.S. has vowed to protect. As this Bloomberg story points out, “The impasse highlights how Trump’s hasty announcement of a U.S. exit from the war-torn country is causing confusion and generating blowback from allies and adversaries alike.”

Hungary is right up there with Turkey in the ranks of countries with disappearing freedoms.In the 14 January edition of The New Yorker, Elisabeth Zerofsky examines Viktor Orbán’s Far-Right Vision for EuropeThe Prime Minister of Hungary, who thrives on conflict, has consolidated power in his own country. Now he is turning his attention to the E.U. “Fidesz and other right-wing parties in the E.U. contend that unelected bureaucrats are making consequential decisions—regulating markets, inflicting rules on technology and economic development, setting quotas of refugee resettlements—without the participation of European citizens; increasingly, voters agree. This resentment is at the core of the Brexit movement in the U.K. and lies behind the growing strength of xenophobic parties in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Central Europe.”

Food for thought: Mark Galeotti: So who ‘won’ 2018? “Of course, Russia is the aggressor in the current political conflict. It stole Crimea, stirred up a toxic mix of rebellion and proxy war in the Donbas, unleashed its spies, trolls and assassins in the West, encouraged all manner of populists, racists and demagogues, and covered up atrocities such as the rebels’ downing of the MH17 airliner. Most recently, it has begun treating the Azov Sea as its private lake, strangling the port trade of Mariupol and Berdyansk and shooting up Ukrainian ships that tried to run the gauntlet of the Kerch straits. It is not, however, engaged in an attempt to reconstitute the USSR (or the tsarist empire), trying to shatter the whole global order, hell-bent on territorial expansion (beyond Crimea), or even that effective in magnifying the very real internal tensions and divisions of the West. The Kremlin is driven by insecurity, isolation and the belief that it faces a terrifyingly competent and powerful enemy determined to see it humbled.” On the other hand, as our economists would say, Dmitry Gorenburg writes that Circumstances Have Changed Since 1991, but Russia’s Core Foreign Policy Goals Have Not, arguing that Russian foreign policy “has been focused on first stopping and then reversing the decline of Russian power in the late 1980s and the 1990s and on ensuring that Russia was protected against encroachment by the Western alliance led by the United States.”

Brexit – as always – is in the news. The latest as of Wednesday morning: Brexit: PM may have to draw up new deal three days after Commons defeat
Amendment wins cross-party backing to stop government ‘running down clock’ to no deal
MPs will attempt to force the government to return with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal within three days of her plan being defeated in parliament.

It seems that the U.S. – China trade talks may be bearing fruit. CNBC reports that people familiar with the talks told Reuters on Tuesday that the two sides were further apart on Chinese structural reforms that the Trump administration is demanding in order to stop alleged theft and forced transfer of U.S. technology, and on how Beijing will be held to its promises. If no deal is reached by March 2, Trump has said he will proceed with raising tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, at a time when China’s economy is slowing significantly. Beijing has retaliated in turn to U.S. tariffs. But as meetings wound down in Beijing on Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted: “Talks with China are going very well!” Let us hope that there is an end in sight to the situation in which Canada is trapped over the “The Huawei dilemma” Do see the  Interview with Jeremy Kinsman, on this issue; he pulls no punches.

Uday Bhaskar has sent a link to his detailed review of ‘Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Struggle for Supremacy’ by Dilip Hiro Although he writes that “The inherent complexity of the Saudi-Irani relationship, their internal vulnerabilities and the shadow of the external interlocutor add to the tangled and blood-splattered nature of the Cold War in the Islamic World. Hiro is to be commended for illuminating this opacity.”, he states that “for a book that has almost 900 end notes over 43 pages — the macro-analysis remains blurred.”

Wednesday Night’s Two Davids are back after a brief holiday hiatus.
David Jones writes Liberals in Canada Facing Difficulties as Election Looms “Liberals entered office lugging a heavy load of promises, many of which have proved problematic … What has resulted, however, is a comedownance for Liberals.” He concludes, however: “For Canadians, Trudeau’s “courtship” passion is over; the first excitement of “marriage” has passed; now the question is whether they will stay together “for the children.” (And Trudeau still has great hair, lovely wife, and charming children.)”
In Prospects For Canada’s 2019 Election David Kilgour agrees that the “bloom is clearly off the rose currently for Justin Trudeau and his government among most Canadians. According to the survey by the respected Angus Reid Institute, at the time of the 2015 election Trudeau’s favourable approval rating nationally was 64 percent compared to 30 percent disapproval. Near the end of 2018, only approximately 35 percent of Canadians approved and 58 percent disapproved of his performance as prime minister.” (He goes on to note that “The institute’s related survey on approval ratings for Trudeau’s ministers revealed that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland enjoyed the highest approval, followed by Transportation Minister Marc Garneau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Ominously, the bottom group of ministers included Finance Minister Bill Morneau.”)
After weighing the positive and negatives likely to affect the October election, David concludes “Canadians continue to seek a better country, building on our successes to date. This might result in part from a willingness to change governments when we are disappointed. Many voters will be weighing this factor next Oct 19th.”

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