Wednesday Night #1908

Written by  //  October 3, 2018  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

What news?
One cliffhanger and the other – not so much.
NAFTA has changed its name (along with some major clauses) and Quebec has changed its government.

The agreement formerly known as NAFTA is now USMCA and Trump promptly declared a world-historic victory. The most comprehensive review we have found to date is How NAFTA was saved: The bitter fight and the final breakthrough by John Geddes in Maclean’s. While the headlines are about supply management/dairy products, intellectual property, pharma costs,  the automotive industry provisions and aluminum and steel, a less-publicized element is that Canadian broadcasters have the power to block U.S. Super Bowl ads again. For many Canadians, the ads are the only reason to watch.
We rely on our policy wonks to examine the full text and tell us what we really need to know while the pundits and analysts debate whether Canada caved, or was a canny negotiator. Andrew Cohen sums it up best “A swaggering Trump got his way this time, though not as much as he claims. He bullied us. Our government did the best any government could. It knew that its foremost responsibility, after national unity, is to preserve relations with the United States. Always.”
Meantime, CTV news’ coverage is exceptionally complete.

Dairy products offers a perfect segue to the Quebec election. Quebec is NOT happy with the provisions of USMCA and Premier designate Legault (yes, get used to it) in his first news conference since the CAQ’s landslide victory, said on Tuesday his top priority in the short term is protecting supply management. Without giving details, Legault said “all options” would be considered to answer the concerns of Quebec’s dairy producers, who account for about half the milk produced in Canada.
Election night was over almost before it began. Polls closed at 8pm and at 9:15 p.m., The Canadian Press declared a majority government for the Coalition Avenir Quebec. Although many had been predicting a CAQ victory, the rout of the Liberals was greater than most expected. The island of Montreal remains a PLQ bastion, which does not augur well for Mme Plante, but the South Shore succumbed to the charms of the CAQ with the notable exception of Gaétan Barrette – what do the citizens of Brossard know about the much-disliked Minister of Health that escapes the rest of us?
Our friend Steve Pinkus of Mainstreet Research had this comment: “I am astonished by the reaction to the polls today. All the major companies including our own had very similar voter percentage predictions. Mainstreet was the only company however to publish polls from 69 ridings, many of them with multiple refreshes as things changed. We predicted 72 seats for the CAQ. They got 74. No other pollster or aggregator came close. And to be clear we did not simply guess, we looked at each of the 125 ridings individually and based largely on our surveys we made our calls. Yes, we overestimated the Liberal seat count, and so did everybody else. That’s because when election day came the PLQ voters simply didn’t turn out.”
Will the CAQ bring in massive change? (William Watson: Quebec voted for change, but how much change they actually got remains to be seen.) Some of its priorities are worrisome, especially the willingness to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause in order to introduce a somewhat draconian secular charter.

On the other side of the world, an election that sets a good example to many more developed countries. The island republic of the Maldives  saw massive voter turnout sweep an authoritarian leader from office. The voter turnout was 90 percent and Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won 58 percent.  The victory for Solih was immediately welcomed by India, which had been increasingly critical of Yameen’s authoritarian government and its heavy reliance on China. The previous president Abdallah Yameen borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects in the country, raising the risk of a Chinese takeover by debt.  It seems that China is not happy with Solih’s victory, possibly because his party has promised to review all contracts with the Chinese? We have commented often on the Chinese strategy of lending large sums with a view to taking over the infrastucture when the country defaults. [See China geopolitical strategy

With the first Monday in October (does anyone remember the delightfully old-fashioned movie in praise of a far more civil era?), the US Supreme Court begins a new term. There are just eight justices instead of the usual nine, with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh still in doubt. For now the court will remain ideologically deadlocked as it begins hearing cases.
As to the Kavanaugh story, we simply cannot keep up with the depressing news, bulletins and conjecture, so will wait to see what the FBI has to say and whether the nomination will go through (we deeply fear that it will).

Meanwhile, the biggest – at least, the longest, most exhaustive – story is the  massive investigation of President Trump’s finances by the New York Times. Aside from the revelations of corruption, what is most interesting and, no doubt, most offensive to Mr. Trump, is the debunking of the myth of the brilliant, self-made mogul. Reaction from all sides has been swift, however, it is unlikely that the base will be moved – the length and depth of the report would confound all but the most dedicated reader!

It is once again Nobel season and the first announcements have been made:
American James Allison and Japanese Tasuku Honjo won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday for game-changing discoveries about how to harness and manipulate the immune system to fight cancer, and Canadian Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, is one of the trio honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work to turn lasers into powerful tools. The Atlantic story about Professor Strickland’s Wikipedia page is a reminder of how many gifted people (especially scientists?) toil in obscurity – or perhaps it has more to do with the arrogance of Wikipedia’s editors?

The construction of the Wikipedia page feels like a metaphor for a historic award process that has long been criticized for neglecting women in its selection, and for the shortage of women’s stories in the sciences at large. To scroll through the “history” tab of Strickland’s page, where all edits are recorded and tracked, is to witness in real time the recognition of a scientist whose story likely deserved attention long before the Nobel Prize Committee called.

The Nobel prize in Literature will not be handed out this year in the wake of a scandal that has left the body inquorate (a delightful new word for us). Read all about it in The Guardian’s fascinating, bordering on salacious, long read: The ugly scandal that cancelled the Nobel prize. We will console ourselves by going to see The Wife in which Glen Close is “superb as a long-suffering literary spouse whose marriage reaches crisis point when her husband wins a Nobel prize.” Coincidence that the film is directed by Swedish director Björn Runge?

A new must-read is P.W. Singer’s LikeWar The Weaponization of Social Media. Richard Stiennon’s review in Forbes should convince you with this statement: “Reading LikeWar will help you to avoid being part of this Internet of Idiots (IoI). As much as nobody wants to admit that they get sucked in by confirmation bias, we all fall prey to it. The constant barrage of messages we get through FaceBook, Twitter, our favorite sub reddits, YouTube, and Instagram, subtly impact our world view. Only constant questioning and filtering will protect us from being part of the problem.”

As assiduous fact checkers, we try to verify the origins of any links we pass along, however, we were almost caught today by the headline Snopes Gives Up. Fortunately we checked the source, satirical site The Out and Abouter, before sinking into despair. We wonder how many were fooled? The fact is that the headline was credible at first glance because, as many are not aware, Snopes is feuding with one of the internet’s most notorious hoaxers.

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