Trump renounces American support for two-state solution in the Middle East

Donald Trump declared in a joint press conference Wednesday with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, that he would support either a two-state or a one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This effectively reverses a long-standing US policy supporting the two-state solution,  which is supported by 70.5% of the United Nations’ members.

“The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal … We will be working on it very, very diligently. But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement,” Trump said.

Trump’s position contradicts UN Security Council resolutions and the consensus position of the international community.

Netanyahu said that he preferred to focus on substance rather than labels, and declared that there are two prerequisites for peace. First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state. Second, Israel must retain complete security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.

Trump also declared that he will move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and asked Netanyahu to “pull back on settlements for a little while.”

Earlier Wednesday UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that there is “no alternative” to a two-state solution. “There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states and we should do all that can be done to maintain this,” Guterres said.

Palestinian officials also warned the US against abandoning the two-state solution. “If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said.

“Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy,” she said in a statement.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized during the 1967 Middle East war.

Netanyahu’s commitment to the two-state solution has long been in doubt, despite his commitment, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009, since he has also expressed support for a “state minus” option, in which Palestine would be offered autonomy but without full statehood, while Israel would retain full security control of the area. According to Al Jazeera, most Palestinian and Arab commentators would describe that either as occupation or as apartheid.

Atomic Scientists move doomsday clock 30 seconds nearer to midnight

For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

See the full statement from the Science and Security Board on the 2017 time of the Doomsday Clock.

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Liberals abandon commitment to electoral reform

The Trudeau government has abandoned its commitment to reform the federal “first past the post” electoral system. A mandate letter issued to newly appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, released on Wednesday, says that  “changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

In his letter to Gould, Trudeau said that “a clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. … without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest. Changing the electoral system will not be in your mandate.”

Gould commented at a news conference, “Our view has always been clear. Major reforms to the electoral system, changes of this magnitude should not be made if they lack the broad support of Canadians. It has become evident that the broad support needed among Canadians for a change of this magnitude does not exist.”

Trudeau committed to replace the current electoral system in June 2015, shortly before the federal election campaign. He reiterated the promise in the first throne speech, in which he promised that the Liberals would “take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first past the past voting system.”

A special committee of the House of Commons was struck last June. MPs held town hall meetings on electoral reform. Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions at that time, conducted her own national tour and launched an online survey about the Canadian political system.

The committee returned its final report to the House in December, in which a majority of members recommended calling a referendum on some form of proportional representation.

NDP critic Nathan Cullen, in a bitter and incisive statement, commented that “I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t Mr. Trudeau out here, somehow lacking the courage and fortitude to make this announcement himself. He certainly had no problems making the promise, but not the courage to break that promise in front of all of you here today,” and called the Trudeau decision “one of the most cynical displays of self-serving politics this government has yet to engage in.”  Cullen also called Trudeau a liar and predicted that Trudeau would pay a “political price” for abandoning his promise.

Elizabeth May said, “”I am deeply afraid that this betrayal will strike much more deeply in the hearts of Canadians than Prime Minister Trudeau realizes, particularly among young people. We are in a time of dangerous politics. You must never do anything as a politician who understands what is at stake that feeds cynicism. Cynicism has enough to feed itself. It is work to feed hope. It is work to feed faith. And when you break faith you will reap what you sow.”

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called Trudeau’s actions a “massive political deception.”

Trudeau responded that there is no consensus and that it would be irresponsible to harm Canada’s stability.

Shooter kills 6 and injures 19 in Quebec City mosque

Six were killed and 19 others, all men, aged 35 to 60,  were injured in a mass shooting in a mosque in Quebec City, Sunday night. All of the victims were shot in the back as they prayed. The six victims were identified as Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, and Ibrahima Barry, 39. Five of the 19 injured are in critical condition. Thirty-nine escaped the attack.

Police received several calls from the Centre Culturel Islamique at 7:30pm reporting that shots had been fired. Two men were arrested near the mosque. One turned himself in by calling 911. Only one man, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonette, is a suspect in the attack. Bissonnette faces six counts of first-degree murder in the attack and five of attempted murder. Mohamed El Khadir, the other man arrested, was a witness.

Trudeau plans to travel to Quebec City later Monday.

This is not the first time the mosque has been targeted. Last summer, a pig’s head was placed near the front door of the building.

Vigils will  be held in Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax later Monday.

Canadian Muslim groups have expressed shock and anger at the attack. The National Council of Canadian Muslims called on law enforcement agencies around the country to increase security around mosques and Islamic centres. The Canadian Council of Imams expressed shock at the “senseless killings.”  The council also cautioned against blaming any one group for the attack.

Donald Trump called Trudeau to express his condolences to Canadians and offered to provide any needed assistance. French President Francois Hollande condemned what he called an “odious attack.” A representative for German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the shooting “despicable.” Pope Francis offered his condolences and called on people of different faiths to respect each other.

Trump bans Muslim immigration

In his first week as president of the United States, Donald Trump has instituted a four-month ban on refugees entering the United States and a ninety-day ban on travellers from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen, including holders of green cards, which allow foreigners to live and work in the US, who will not be allowed back in until they are rescreened. Hundreds of protestors gathered Saturday at airports in Dallas, Chicago, New York and elsewhere. Late Saturday a federal court judge said stranded travellers could stay in the country. The American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would help 100 to 200 people with valid visas or refugee status who found themselves detained in transit or at US airports.

Trump denied that the order is a “Muslim ban,” adding that the measures are long overdue: “We’re going to have a very, very strict ban and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”

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Chaos erupted at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules. Some legal residents in the air were detained upon arrival. Thousands of refugees seeking entry were thrown into limbo. Some leaders of the US technology industry, a major employer of foreign workers, called the order immoral and un-American. Colleges warned their students that they should avoid international travel in case they might not be allowed to return to the country. France, Germany, and Britain all criticized the order. Britain said it would complain to the US if any of its citizens are affected. Iran condemned the order and vowed to retaliate. Of the seven countries on the list, Iran sends the most visitors to the US, about 35,000 per year.

Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that Canadians welcome those fleeing persecution, terror and war without regard to faith.

Newly elected President Donald J. Trump revives coal industry

Scraps climate change plan

Trump’s first act as President of the United States has been to declare his energy policy in which, less than an hour following his inauguration, he declares his intention to revive the coal industry.

The 2013 Climate Action Plan, which was aimed at reducing carbon pollution, will be scrapped.

The statement declares that Trump’s energy policy will focus on tapping previously untapped domestic energy reserves in the areas of shale and gas as well as coal.

Coal produces half of the world’s electricity but also produces about 39% of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change.

Clean coal technology reduces the dirtiest characteristics of coal but is itself polluting and expensive.

Trump will also eliminate the Waters of the US rule, which protected national airways, lakes, rivers, and streams, through the Environment Protection Agency.

Trump has previously declared his intention to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency too.

What’s a CEO worth?

Thirty years ago, the top earning 100 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in Canada earned forty times the national average. Today, they earn 193 times the national average, according to Hugh Mackenzie, author of a report of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published Tuesday. The average top earning CEO’s salary today is $9.5 million per year, compared to $49,510 per year for the average Canadian full-time worker. CEO’s salaries increased 30% between 2008 and 2015. During the same period the national average wage increased by 17.5%.

Between 2014 and 2015, CEO’s salaries increased by 7%, almost double the average annual increase between 2008 and 2015.

The three highest paid CEOs in Canada were Michael Pearson, CEO of Valeant Pharmaceutical ($182.9 million); Donald Walker, Magna International ($26.5 million); and Hunter Harrison, Canadian Pacific Railway ($19.9 million). The lowest paid CEO (of the top 100) was Eric La Flèche, Metro Inc. at “just” $3.6 million. Of the 100 top earning CEOs, only two were women.

For comparison, a neurosurgeon earns about $223,753 per year in Canada, about 4.5 times the national average. By this logic, the average top earning CEO is over 42 times more valuable than the average neurosurgeon.

Mackenzie called the salary difference “absurd,” noting that “nobody’s worth that much money.”