Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should Prorogue Be a Bad Word?

The ability to prorogue parliament has always been a procedural tool that has always been available to the Government. It is an opportunity for the Government to reset their agenda without calling an election. Last year Prime Minister Harper used it to postpone a confidence vote that threatened to topple the Government that had been elected 6 weeks earlier.

Harper has once again used the tool of prorogation to extend the Parliamentary break until March. The thrown speech will be on March 3rd, immediatly followed by the budget on the 4th. The current break had been scheduled to end on January 25th.

Opposition parties and critics are upset that Harper is once again playing the "take the ball and go home" strategy. He is trying to delay the hearings on the Afghan detainee issues to avoid the truth from coming out. This issue isn't hurting the Conservatives in the polls. It would hardly enough of a reason to prorogue Parliament. There are more important motivations in this decision.

The most obvious reason is the Olympics. No party wants Parliament to be sitting during the Olympics. If anything of importance happens it would either be overshadowed by the Olympics or attract negative attention from the entire world. This is why if you wish to draw attention to a particular cause to be addressed by the Government you don't hold a press conference when Parliament is in session. It is too risky that your issue is overshadowed by a big news day in the Legislature. The focus during the Olympics should be about sports and promoting Canada. Politics can take a back seat for two weeks.

From a strategy point of view the most important reason to Prorogue Parliament comes from the Senate. The Prime Minister in a position to appoint 5 new Senators. This will shift the standings in the Senate to Conservatives 51, Liberals 49. Factoring in the two Progressive Conservative Senators they will have a majority in the 105 seat Senate. For the first time Harper will have minimal concern about the Senate blocking legislation. Prorogation or an election are the only ways to adjust the committees to reflect the new majority. Without the changes they would have an easier time stalling or stopping legislation.

Unfortunately politics is often more about strategy than substance. Harper is taking advantage of an opportunity to improve his ability to do what he was elected to do; Govern. He would not be doing his job if he missed out on this oppurtunity. If the Opposition parties don't like it they can take down the Government on the budget. In the mean time Harper is demonstrating he is a master strategist. He may have a minority Government but his hold on his job is as solid as any other majority government.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The American Gilad Shalit

Since 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, new forms of terror have become part of the risks of day to day operations for overseas military personal, reporters and foreign workers. Kidnappings and how to deal with them have become a more normal occurrence. The days of beheading for shock value and political gain have been mostly replaced by demands for money. This has extended to the coast of Somalia where pirating is rampant in search of the ultimate ransom.

On Friday a video was released to show that the Americans have a different problem on their hands. Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan 6 months ago by Taliban forces. US Army officials were upset at the insensitivity of the video being released on Christmas Day and the use of a prisoner for propaganda purposes. The Taliban are interested in a prisoner swap.

How will the United States respond? Will Bergdahl's parents have to travel the world looking for world leaders to take up his plight? Will they have to plead for the Red Cross to demand that his Geneva Convention POW rights of visitations by the Red Cross and contact with his family be granted? Should there be a prisoner swap? What is a fair trade? Is 1000 terrorists for 1 soldier a good deal? What if they have killed American cvilians and/or soldiers? How many need to be released just to confirm he is alive? How about just sending all prisoners from Guantanamo Bay back to their families for a heroes welcome? Will Bergdahl's plight factor in to the Mid-Term Elections? Will Barak Obama hold regular meetings with Bergdahl's parent's to update them on efforts to get their son home? Will the released prisoners kill again? Will there be massive rallies demanding the US Government do more to help gain his release? Are US soldiers leaving graffiti after military operations to let him know that they were there and they were looking for him?

These are ridiculous questions. The story barely made the news. Israel has been dealing with these type questions for 3.5 years over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. He is being held by Hamas the defacto government in Gaza. He has been denied access by the Red Cross and denied communication with his family. Both are major violations of the Geneva Convention. Shalit's parents have travelled the world trying to build the political resolve to free their son. The price of his freedom still sits at 1000 criminals, including terrorists with blood on their hands. The on and off again negotiations got so serious at one point that Israel released 4 prisoners just for the video tape to prove that he is alive. The entire nation is yearning for his return home. It is the only reason why anyone would even be willing to entertain the prospect of such a ridiculous and potentially dangerous trade.

The United States, European Union and others who enjoy condemning Israel don't understand how important it is for Gilad Shalit to safely return home. If only they put a fraction of an effort into caring about this issue instead of trying to turn up the heat on Israel over petty issues. They would get far more cooperation on issues they see as critical in the region. Those who cannot even relate to this major issue cannot possibly relate to what Israel needs to receive in return to go along with any other peace process. Putting more pressure on Israel does nothing to address these issues. It only strengthens her resolve that Israel needs to protect itself because when push comes to shove nobody else will.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Protesting the Enviornment Protestors

This week 20 people were arrested for climbing to the roof of the Parliament building in Ottawa to bring attention to global warming. The incident was to coincide with the launch of the world wide enviornment conference in Copenhagen. Protestors had to be physically removed from the House of Commons when they decided to shout down governmental proceedings to protest failure to pass enviornmental legislation before the conference. Greenpeace who was behind the latest stunt has declared it a success because everyone is talking about it and the environment.

A handful of people protesting a cause doesn't warrant much attention. The extremism of these last two stunts may get more attention but it does not help the cause. People are more drawn to the lack of respect for the democratic process (and in this case safety concerns) than the message of the protest. The conference in Coppenhagen is huge. If anything the Greenpeace protest was a distraction from the already heavy media coverage of the event. To try to claim that a few people hanging from a roof accomplished anything is giving them way to much credit. They would have accomplished more by being delegates at the conference.

The enviornmental movement is showing their frustration in as they try to avert what they believe to be a worldwide catastrophe. The truth is that while people care about the enviornment it does not necissarily take priority over other important issues. The fact that the best Green Party candidate could only muster 3% of the votes in the most recent round of by elections shows where Canadians priorities are.

The problem with any world wide agreement is that it puts more emphasis on social and political issues rather than the environment. The Canadian tar sands are being singled out as the most dangerous contributer to global warming. On a per capita basis that may or may not be true but in the big picture shutting them down completely would have a negligible effect on the enviornment. On the flip side countries like China and India who are major contributers due to population size are not seen as major threats to the environment.

Most of the negotiations revolves around the issues of have and have nots. Should level of wealth determine how environmentally responsible a country must be? Another report came out today that the cheapest way to reduce global warming is birth control. Obviously the target would be 3rd world countries with high birth rates. Using current environmental logic it should be the have countries that reduce their populations. This would necessitate immigration from 3rd world countries to sustain current economies and stop poverty around the world. Of course this is a nonsensicle stretch of logic (for now).

The bottom line is the world needs to find affordable alternatives to fossil fuels and other enviornmental issues. In the mean time efforts to reduce the amount of energy consumed and waste generated. Major social-economic policy is designed for just that and will do very little to help the environment (unless the goal is to complete economic collapse).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Will Israel Freeze Aliyah?

This morning I tweeted this really well done article about the Israeli Government's announcement that there will be a 10 month freeze on all immigration. The article was meant as a satire to reflect the meaning of the Israeli government's complete freeze on Israeli 'settlements'. As the story was not originally labelled cleary enough as a satire many people believed the story to be true. The sad thing wasn't that people fell for it as we have reached a point where the possibility in not out of the realm of belief.

The Israeli Government is serious about enforcing the 10 month settlement freeze announced last week. The Government is claiming it will give the Palestinians an opportunity to return to the bargaining table. Once and for all it will demonstrate that Israel is serious about lasting peace. There must be some sort of deal behind the scenes for top politicians to buy into that argument again. Just like every other concession the reaction from the Palestinian camp and the world community is the same. It is not enough. Repeated calls for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian State from the same countries that refuse to place their embassies in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem.

Israel is already facing another huge sacrifice as the government tries to determine which criminals are pardoned in exchange for the safe return of Gilad Shalit. Deal or no deal it is going to be a major scar on the national psyche.

It is time for world leaders to change tact and demand practical concessions from Palestinians and not just Israel. There have always been facts on the ground that contradict Palestinians have choosen to ignore. The current method of choosing which ones are relavant is just as ridiculous as the Aliyah freeze suggested in the article.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anti-Israel Boycott Fails Again - This Time Mountain Equipment Co-op

This passed weekend saw another attempt at expanding boycott efforts directed at Israel across Canada. The latest target was Mountain Equipment Co-op for having an Israeli supplier of under garments and water bottles. The boycotters felt this was in violation of their ethical purchasing standards. A boycott was called for Saturday with the Jewish community responding on Sunday with a buycott. Leading up to the week end the only major publicity was a few newspapers condeming the boycott.

The boycott got no attetion what so ever. It has been reported that the biggest turn out was in Vancouver with 20 supporters. Organizers didn't even bother to set up a protest in Toronto. Considering the amount of attention devoted to boycotting Israel at CUPE and other institutions, why was the campaign such a miserable failure?

One explanation is the protesters carefully examined what they were boycotting. They found that MEC carefully examines their suppliers and have already addressed concerns about the treatment of Palestinians. They realize that the boycott would hurt the incomes of Palestinians more than it will cause any shifts in Israeli government policy. Perhaps they have learned that every boycott rallies the Jewish community and it's supporters. The targeted victims come out ahead by support from the buycott campaign.

The simpler and most likely explanation is that Canadians really don't care that much about the Palestinians issues. There are number of reports from attendees at the boycotts that indicated even the people who showed up giving out pamphlets really didn't understand the issues. They were not interested in engaging in discussions with people with a different perspective.

Israel has a long history even before it became a state. There was a continuous Jewish community living in Hevron before a French flag was ever planted in the New World until they were expelled by the British in 1933. Jewish communities in East Jerusalem and Gush were expelled when they found themselves outside of Israel after the 1948 war of Independence. The demands of a Palestinian State are to have these communities once again free of Jews, while Palestinians can settle anywhere in Israel outside of a Palestinian State.

The Boycott campaign completely ignores the valid goals and concerns Israel is facing. At the same time it hits the Palestinian they are pretending to help the hardest with zero political benefit. It is time for the boycotts to stop and those who really care about the long term interests of the region start pushing solutions that are mutually beneficial to Palestinians and Israelis. Anything less is a waste of time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving it the full 10%

Under Steven Harper the Conservatives have made a major shift in election strategy. Campaigning is no longer reserved for elections. Controlling their branding with aggressive marketing has insured they are well defined in the eyes of the public. This strategy minimizes the risk of political fallout from a mistake on the short campaign trail. Kim Campbell, Stephane Dion and John Tory have all learned the hard way that campaigns are not the time to discuss major policy shifts. This startegy also allowed the Conservatives to attack Dion at his weakest. The strategy was extra effective as the Liberals did not have the financial resources to proeperly respond to the attacks.

The Conservatives have been using a strategy called ten percenters. This allows an MP to send flyers to other ridings under certain conditions. This Junk Mail strategy has annoyed many but the Conservatives seem to believe they work. The most recent controversy was 10 percenters sent to 5 Jewish ridings outlining the holes in the Liberals Israel foreign policy. The facts in the flyer were technically accurate but did not reflect the complete Liberal policy. There has been debate as to how much the Conservatives meant to imply in their criticism.

A committee is now reviewing the rules regarding the use of the ten percenters. The approach being taken by the opposition parties is that the Conservatives are abusing the system therefore the rules need to be changed. While the Government has spent $6 million on the flyers the opposition parties have spent $4 million. The wrong approach is being taken for meaningful change.

Originally the 10 percenters were designed to inform specific groups of government programs that applied to them that they not be aware of. There is also a secondary consequence. During an election the advantage always goes to the incumbent. They have a track record in government. Government accomplishments are their accomplishments. Plus people don't vote for change unless there is a major reason to. MP send notices to their own riding letting them know the job they as individuals and the government is doing. 10 percenters allows mailings to go out to deliver a similar message even if the riding is currently controlled by another party. They can help balance the playing field already tipped in favour of the incumbent.

The questions that should be asked are in an today's age of communication are mailings really an effective way to MPs to communicate with constituents? What is the balance between communicating with constituents for effective governing versus building on the incumbent advantage? What limitations can be put in place to limit partisan nature of communication with the riding without damaging the ability to represent a riding effectively? Addressing these issues will produce a new set of guidelines to improve the MP to voter relationship. Taking an approach with the intent to simply stop Conservative Party propaganda will simply replace the current system with a different partisan based system.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Palestinian Authority Strategy for Chaos - FAIL

Palestinian leadership has always taken the same single minded approach into negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. They have always been willing to reach a compromise as long as all of their demands are met. Combining violence and diplomacy they have reached some degree of success with this strategy until this year.

The war in Gaza has acted as a deterrent to rocket attacks. The rockets have not completly stopped but it his reduced it to a minimum. Israel returns fire for every attack creating a tangible cause and effect. A new Israeli Government is now in power with a mandate to protect Israel's interests even if it makes the Palestinians unhappy. Economic conditions have improved in the West Bank as security check points have been removed. All of these developments have forced the Palestinians to have to agree to compromise if they want to move forward plus demonstrate the rewards for living peacefully.

The Palestinians beleived that Barak Obama could dictate Israeli policy. They were so convinced that Obama's declaration that settlements must stop would come to fruition, they made it a condition of bargaining with Israel. Israel responded with a definite no, leaving the Palestinians with the option to back down or put more pressure on Israel. The Palestinian Authority has lost support at home by botching the handling of the Goldstone Report. First they postponed it's review by the UNHRC followed by demanding the UNHRC hold an emergency session to have it passed. They have admitted to not having time to read the report plus they cannot follow up any allegations with the International Criminal Court because they have no evidence outside of the report. Judge Goldstone has admitted that the report does not meet the burden of proof for a criminal trial.

Since Hillary Clinton declared that they are satisfied with the compromise over Israeli settlements, the Palestinian leadership has been playing all kinds of political games to gain world sympathy. Elections have been called for January. Unsurprisingly Hamas has rejected the plan sighting the fact that Abbas should have already faced an election when his Presidential term expired. Abbas has threated not to run in the election. He has taken his threats as far as resigning from all of his positions within the Palestinian leadership and dismantling the Palestinian Authority in the process. He has promissed violence will be result of the leadership vacum. Chief Palestinian negotiaitor Saeb Erekat has come out and said that they are trying to gain support at the United Nations to have a Palestinian State recognized with 1967 borders.

The current strategy is to create absolute chaos. The United States and Israel will bend over backwards to make concessions to prevent them from happening. A Palestinian State as has been proposed this far would be suicide for Israel. Palestinians are not even willing to entertain the possibility of logical land swaps that would create a practical border for both sides. That is probably one of the simplest areas to work out. The only strategy that will work is the one they have been pretending to subscribe to. They must be willing to compromise with a solution that takes Israeli interests into consideration. Until that time the silly games will continue with no results.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

By Election Supports Status Quo

By elections can be a good way to get insight into how voters feel about the current government. As the outcome will not change the balance of power, voters have more freedom to express their political feelings. They are often considered a referendum on the governing party more than a reflection of the outcome of a possible general election. The result of Monday's by elections were the Conservatives picking up 2 seats. One from the Bloc and one Independent (for all intensive purposes this was a Conservative seat). The Bloc and NDP each held a seat and the Liberals came in 3rd in every riding. Each party is trying to put a positive spin on the results.

The Conservative seats demonstrate that the can still compete for seats in Quebec and recent controversies have not hurt them too much. They are now only 5 seats short of a majority government putting them in good position to hold on to power in a general election. This should put to rest election fever that had been gripping the opposition parties at different points during the year. This could also give them a little more leverage as they continue to work in the confines of a Minority Government.

The NDP picked up popular support. While it does not indicate that they are ready to knock out the Liberals for Official Opposition status it shows that they do have support for not pulling the plug on the government. Canadians care more about results then swaying with the most recent poll.

The Liberals failed to compete in ridings that they didn't really have a chance to win. The fact that they didn't perform better does not indicate the party is in trouble. However, a strong showing would have been a huge boost for the Liberals.

The Bloc losing a seat just shows that the province will be wide open in the next election. They may still be able to dominate but they will need to be ready for a tough battle. Losing even a handful of seats could be enough for the Conservatives to form a majority government.

The Green Party could not break 5% in any riding. Considering the amount of attention enviornmental issues and it was a by election they should have put up a strong showing. This does not bode well for the Green Party dream to finally win a seat. They are probably going to need to revaluate their stratgey after the next election.

The message that has been delivered to Ottawa is that Canadian's are content with the current government arrangement. An election will not knock the Conservatives out of power. The NDP are doing an effective job in opposition. The Liberals are holding on based their history then the role they would like to play as Government in waiting. The weakness in Bloc support has been exposed. The Green Party continues to be insignifacant on the political landscape. Combining all these messages together is that the government should get back to work and put thoughts of election fever on the back burner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

US Administration backs down on settlement freeze

In his Cairo speech Barak Obama declared that Israeli settlements had to stop. The US Administration exerted a ton of political capital to make it clear that stop meant a full and permanent stop everywhere including East Jerusalem and the old city. Obama had broken away from previous understandings with Israel that while they wanted a freeze it was not realistic.

PM Netanyahu was firm in his resistance to the American pressure. Jewish settlements that were being being torn down by the IDF were immediately being rebuilt and named in honour of of the President. The end result was what the US Administration should have been aiming for in the first place. Israel would temporarily freeze new construction, allow construction already in progress to be completed and stick to previous agreements not to build outside of land already allocated for settlements. Construction could continue in Jerusalem.

Last night Hillary Clinton conceded the American position. She recognized that Israel had already made a huge concession and deserved credit. The unspoken flip side is that Israel once again got nothing in return for their change in policy. Clinton once again called for both sides to return to the negotiating table.

The reaction by the Palestinians to the Cairo speach was to make a settlement freeze a prerequisite to future negotiations. This was a brand new demand never imposed before on any other Israeli government. They thought Obama could bring them a major victory without having to give up anything in return at the bargaining table.

Once agian Obama's Nobel Prize winning strategy has backfired. The Palestinians will use this new excuse to avoid negotiations as they wait for more rewards just for showing up. Palestinians will now return to their strategy of sit back and wait until all of their demand are met, no matter how long it takes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

UK protestors want all Israelis charged with war crimes

On a recent trip to England attempts were made to have Defence Minister Ehud Barak arrested on war crimes. The petition came to the courts, as British law allows a private individuals to bring war crime and genocide charges against anybody irrelevant of normal jurisdictional considerations. The courts had an easy out. They ruled that Barak was a guest of the British government and was entitled to full diplomatic immunity.

While the ruling may have worked for Barak, the same cannot be said about lower ranking politicians and senior military officials, who fear being arrested abroad. The Foreign Ministry has been working closely to make sure they are not arrested on trumped up charges. The Goldstone report gives credability to these charges, even though Judge Goldstone has admitted that his report did not meet the burden of proof for criminal charges. The Palestinian Authority has also admitted that they lack proof outside of the report in order to get indictments from the International Criminal Court.

This week Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visited the UK. There were protests and calls for his arrest on War Crime charges. There is one huge difference between Ayalon and others who now fear a trip to England. Ayalon was elected to the Government after Operation Cast Lead. He had no more control over the logistics of the war than any other Israeli on the street. Plus it has been years since he has had to do his army service.

Condemning Israel with alleagations that contradict facts on the ground is a common problem. Normally such tactics would reflect negativly on those making the allegations. Normal rules of reason and logic don't apply to Israel.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Guilty until proven guilty

The world stood by silently as Israel was constantly bombarded with rocket attacks from Gaza. The citizens of Southern Israel were tired of consantly running to their bomb shelters. They were tired of the children's playgrounds with built in bomb shelter, so kids could reach saftey in the 15 seconds they had before impact. The rest of the country sympathized. Israel took military action to stop the attacks.

The world could no longer be silent. The UNHRC held an emergency session to condemn Israeli aggression. They also set the mandate to find evidence of war crimes that Israel had committed. The wording of the mandate was clear that Israel was guilty and it was up to the panel to find evidence. Such a panel could never objectivly determine if the evidence lead to the conclusion they were supposed to find. Canada was the only country brave enough to vote against the resolution.

Judge Richard Goldstone was choosen to head up the panel. Aside from his experience prosecuting war criminals, he had the bonus of being South African and Jewish. Being Jewish was supposed to protect him from criticism of being anti-Israel. Being South African would give him credibility in falsly accusing Israel as an apartheid state. He insisted that he would not take the job until he was certain that he would have the ability to blame Hamas for their war crimes. His comittee composed of others who had publicly expressed Israel's guilt.

The final report was a harsh condemnation of Israeli with a footnotes worth of attention to the pain and frustration that lead Israel to take military operation. The mandate, methodology and analysis of the report were flawed. There has been a ton of analysis done to demonstarte it's flaws.

At the request of the Palesitinians, the UNHRC decided to delay consideration of passage of the Goldstone report until next sessions in March allowing time to come up with a resolution that would allow the added weight of unanimous approval. Jews visiting the Temple mount under a policy that has been in place for years was an excuse for Arab rioting. Israel banned Arabs under the age of 50 and all Jews from the Temple mount. This was the excuse to call an emergency session of the UNHRC to pass the Goldstone report.

The resolution easily passed on Friday. The text of the resolution should eliminate any doubts that the intention of the resolution was political and had nothing to do with human rights. The resolution only passed the recommendations in sections A,B and C leaving out all references to Hamas aggression of rocket fire at civilian populations or the plight of Gilad Shalit. Israel was condemned for not protecting and providing access to Muslim and Chirstian holy sights and the Judaizationing of Jerusalem. Have the Christians ever complained about the administration of their sights in Israeli control? The Arabs have a horrible track record of protecting and providing access to Jewish holy sights. The UNHRC also condemned the non-existant excavation of in and around Jerusalem that posed a threat to Al Asqa Mosque.

The next step is for the report to be handled in UN offices in New York. It should easily be passed by the automatic majority in the General Assembly leading to prosectuion by the ICJ (International Court of Justice). A guilty verdict should be easy to obtain but as an advisory court they don't hold much power. It is unclear if it will be passed by the UNSC leading to prosecution by the ICC (International Criminal Court). This court has some power to enforce their judgements. A guilty verdict here could open the door to prosecution of British, Pakistan, American, Canadian troops for their invovlement in Afghanistan, Iraq and attempts to fighting terrorism. PA officials have asked for patients, as they are not prepared to follow through with the ICC. They have no evidence on their own, outside the Goldstone report. They have no actually gotten around to reading the Goldstone report.

Canada saw the mess that was going to come out of this biased investigation. The UNHRC has once again show they care about attacking Israel and little else. This report and the UNHRC needs to be buried, not because of the problems they pose for Israel but because of the damage it can cause to countries that concern themselves with Human Rights.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How did Obama beat the competition to win the Nobel Prize?

In a surprising move the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace has been awarded to Barak Obama. Setting aside the fact that he had only been the President for 11 days when nominations closed, there are many world leaders that have made headline news for their efforts to advance peace in the world.

Obama is not getting enough credit for what he has accomplished to date. He was able to get the government to give away billions of dollars in the stimulus package. He has made some great speaches about improving the broken health care system. He told the Arab world the United States would stop meddling in their affairs and told Israel to stop settlement construction. To appease Israel, he would get the Arab world to take steps towards normalization. He has also politely asked Iran and North Korea to stop their nuclear weapons program.

The Nobel comitee may have thought this was enough to make him a Nobel Prize Laureate. The worthiness comes into question when considering the results. The health care bill becoming so watered down that by the time it passes, it will make little difference in fixing the system. The Palestinians have used the Cairo speech to make new demands on that must be met before entering negotiations with Israel. Israel has continued to operate in her best interests, despite American demands. The Arab world has laughed at the idea of normalization with Israel. Iran and North Korea continue to develop their nuclear programs.

What about the other world leaders who have promoted peace in 2009.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - Iran - Re-elected as President in a landslide victory, he was able to get voter turnout of over 100% in some districts. Protesters against the clear democratic victory were arrested and tortured. This week death sentences were issued for 3 protestors. More are sure to follow. Ahmadinejad was the keynote speaker at the Durban II Anti-Racism conference. Despite world pressure Iran has continued their 'peaceful' nuclear weapons program while promissing wipe Israel off the map.

Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi - Libya - After Obama his speech at the recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was the most covered in the meeting. He was introduced as the King of Kings before delivering his 95 minute speech. The fact he was allowed to go over his 15 minute time limit shows how important his message is. He had much criticism for how the West treats the 3rd world, suggesting changes to make the United Nations more fair to all nations. He arranged a hero's welcome from the Lockerbie bomber upon his return to Libya under humanitarian grounds.

Mahinda Rajapaksa - Sri Lanka - The Sri Lanka military was succesful this year ending their 25 year civil war with the Tamil Tigers. Lack of access by NGOs and media sparked fears that there was truth to the rumours that genocide was being commited against the Tamil population on top of what was necessary to end the civil war. The UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) stepped in to deal with these issues by having Sri Lanka write the resolution to state what a great job they were doing in bringing life back to normal.

Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir - Sudan - Genocide in Darfur has been a minor distraction for the UNHRC. Since being indited he has found support among the Arab world including freedom to travel without being arrested. Sudan has secured the nomination to take a seat on the UNHRC.

Bill Clinton - United States - He was overlooked for his involvement in the Oslo accords, where all of the other major players won the award. He has been involved in a ton of charity work since leaving office. He took a trip behind enemy lines to secure the release of two reporters being held in North Korea.

Obama has brought hope to many Americans. This hope and the fact that he is not George W. Bush help land him this lucrative award. Instead of being an award for achievement it is an attempt to put more weight behind his lofty goals. Just as his empty words have not been heeded with the lucrative prize they will not be heeded with it. The Nobel committee should have been patient and waited to award it when Obama has proven to be deserving. In the meantime there are plenty of other candidates who were worthy in 2009.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Poll puts Conservatives in majority territory. Is it time for a coalition?

The latest poll by Strategic Counsel put the Conservatives in majority territory.
  • Conservatives: 41 per cent (+6)
  • Liberals, 28 per cent (-2)
  • NDP: 14 per cent (none)
  • Green Party: 9 per cent (none)
  • Bloc Quebecois: 9 per cent (-3)
Someone in on Canadian politics community suggested that the Liberals and NDP should run in the next election with the intent of forming a coalition. Their logic was a Liberal/NDP government would be better than what there is now and 41% Conservatives is one point less than 42% support for Liberals + NDP. Below is my response.

Without getting into the merits of a coalition government the reality of FPTP make this a poor decision for the Liberal and NDP.

First of all it would require an efficient ABC campaign where every vote in every riding is dedicated to a candidate that would beat the Conservatives.

It would require Iggy to campaign on the fact he can't beat Harper. This is a sign of weak leadership that would be unappetizing to voters.

A major problem in countries with pure PR and guaranteed coalitions government, is that voters never know what they are voting for. The issues that draw a person to a party may be the ones that get bartered away in the quest for power. While this is the current state of the Liberal platform, the differences between the parties should become cleared during an election. Voting for the ABC candidate takes away the ability for a voter to express their preference for differences Liberal or NDP policy.

The right side of the political spectrum were unable to defeat the Liberals due to vote splitting. Their merger helped put them on equal footing with the Liberals. A formal Liberal/NDP merger or the collapse of the BQ are the only realistic way to win an election on the basis of "We don't like the Conservatives" How important are the differences between the two parties? That is a strategic decision for the parties to make.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Gilad Shalit Pre-Trade

From time to time, in minor league sports a player will be trade for a bag of balls, hockey pucks or other sporting equipment. Often these trades have more to do with contract technicalities than skill. From time to time the player can even go on to have a successful professional career. Israel has been staring down the prospect of an unattractive trade. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped 1199 days ago.

On Friday Israel traded a video of Shalit in exchange for 20 female prisoners. Assuming this was a pre-trade to bring about Shalit's freedom the price was relatively minor. In a world where perception is more important than facts, the drawbacks of this deal could have far reaching damaging results.

The positive results for Israel are clear. Providing the general public proof that Shalit is alive helps avert fear of a repeat of the Goldwasser and Regev trade. Israel did not know in advance if the soldiers they traded for were not alive. It adds to the burden of Hamas to protect Shalit. A number of times Hamas has taunted Israel claiming they didn't know if he was alive or dead. He is now beyond a shadow of a doubt their responsibility. The video can easily be spread to help put pressure on the world to help pressure Hamas to release him. It can also bring comfort to the Shalit family. He has been denied communication with his family and visitation by the International Red Cross as required by International law by the Geneva convention.

In practical terms Israel did not sacrifice a lot for the video. Most of the prisoners had already served 2/3 of their sentences and were due to be released soon. In Canada they would have been eligible for parole. Others had not been convicted and were still awaiting trial.

Unfortunately, Hamas gains are Israel's loss. The details of the prisoners are unimportant. All that will be remembered is 2o prisoners is worth a video tape. How much more will Israel have to sacrifice in order to get Shalit home. Any deal provides incentives for more kidnappings. PA elections are supposed to be coming next year. The West Bank under Fatah has prospered. Israel has been lifting economic restrictions and road blocks as the threat of terrorist attack have decreased. Hamas has brought nothing but suffering by engaging in attacks against civilians in Southern Israel. A tangible reward for their terrorist efforts could help their quest to stay in power.

The leaders of Israel have some very important decisions to make. I am no where need qualified to even begin to suggest what the correct decisions are. Gilad Shalit needs to come home and the saftey of all Israeli citizens needs to be protected. The Government has demonstrated that they are working hard towards these goals. It is possible that a final resolution may be close at hand. We can only hope and pray they will make the right decision.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Quebec Superior Court Dismisses case to Stop Construction in Modiin Illite

The Palestinian town of Bil'in has tried to stop construction in Modiin Illit by turning to the Quebec Superior Court. The town tried to claim that since the construction company Green Park is based out of Montreal the Quebec courts should order a halt to the construction. They wanted to claim that the mere construction of the homes is a war crime.

The reasoning behind the ruling was that the jurisdiction belongs to the Israeli courts and should be taken there. The Israeli courts have handled hundreds of claims dealing with Palestinian complaints regarding land claims. The route of the security fence has been altered many times as a result of these law suits.

The courts were wise in avoiding making political decisions across the ocean. The construction is located in the neighbourhood of Kiryat Sefer. This Haredi community has full autonomy over their religous life including an approval committee for new residents. It is a community that takes no interest in the political aspirations of the nation. They simply want a place where they can raise their families according the way they see fit.

The construction is located just below the boundaries of where the current housing is already built. It is the most logical place to put more housing to provide for a growing community. The land is located a mere 1/2 km from the Green line. The commonly held belief is that any final status agreement will have Israel borders redrawn to include this community in exchange for land that would be better suited to a Palestinian political entity somewhere more practical. Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any land compromise. Palestinian leadership would rather have hundreds of thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes rather than take include land settled by Palestinians in Israel proper to be included in a future Palestinian State.

Issues of settlements are part of a comprehensive political solution. Israel has proven that they are willing to expel citizens for political gains. Forcing Israel to make concessions on final borders without the benefits of negotiation and compromise only undermines the whole process. Israel has already tried the focus on small issues and has received terrorism in return. The bigger problems must be solved first and then everything else will fall into place. Anything less is unacceptable.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Loyal versus Effective Opposition

During Stephane Dion's reign as the leader of the Liberal Party the NDP lay claim to the title of "Effective Opposition". They opposed government confidence no matter what. They even declared their intention to vote against the budget without even reading it. This forced Dion to explain why he was going to be against legislation he would allow to pass. At the same time Liberals were digging through old closets for scandals, the NDP were bringing up current issues that were relevant to the current Government.

Michael Ignatieff was supposed to bring change with the Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition performing their duties to keep the government in check. With the threat of an election as the spring session wrapped up, the Liberals reached a deal for government compromises on EI in order not to take down the government. Things appeared to be back on track.

With the return from summer break the Liberals were not satisfied with the promised changes and Ignatieff declared they would bring down the government at the first oppurtunity. It seemed like a simple turning the tables on the NDP to make them look bad the same way they had been battered by the NDP.

Jack Layton turned the tables on the Liberals by declaring their support for the EI changes. They would keep the government afloat until they are delivered. Other government funding would not face being lost in the shuffle of another election. By voting in favour of popular legislation they have once again demonstrated they are able to be the effective opposition. Canadians have noticed as the Liberals have once again started dropping in the polls. In the long run effective government will trump a constant change in government. Ignatieff better tread carefully or he may find himself on the losing side of an election he could have avoided.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change of Tact, Pressuring Hamas to Free Shalit

It has now been 1179 days since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. This week his family is once again stepping up efforts to put pressure on the government to have him return home. Their latest move takes a tactical change putting pressure on Hamas, instaed of just the Israeli Government.

This week a Rosh Hashannah care package for Shalit has been travelling the country. Later today The families of 1000 Palestinian prisoners will hold a rally in Gaza. Simultaneously a rally to free Shalit will take place in Israel near the Gaza border crossing. The care package will then be delivered to Gaza in the hopes of making it to Shalit. When the Shalit family is satisfied he has received the package, 1000 care packages are scheduled to be delivered tomorrow to Israel and distributed to the prisoners.

The Palestinians families lost their ability to visit their family members as a direct result of the Shalit kidnapping. The rally on the Gaza side has Palestinian placing blame on Hamas for their suffering. Delivering the package would bring some comfort to a young man about to spend his 4th Rosh Hashanah locked away in captivity. Refusal to deliver the package is a further example of how Hamas would rather let their thousands of their own suffer, rather than bring comfort to one lonely person.

On Tuesday Hamas said they will make sure Shalit does not get the package. Hamas is once again letting their true cruelty show. This time it is obvious to all of the Palestinians involved. This is probably just an isolated incident, but Hamas is losing some support with elections scheduled to take place next year. This has the potential to eventually grow into something bigger with the Palestinians finally rejecting Hamas rule and possibly having Shalit return home. We can only hope.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Employment Benefits Target Older Workers

The last session of Parliament ended with the threat of another election. The reason for going to the polls would have been the Government's refusal to reduce the qualifying period for unemployment benefits to 360 hours. Instead an agreement was reached between the Liberals and Conservatives to use the summer to come up with a solution.

The Government announced their plans for temporary changes to employment insurance. Benefits will be extended by 5 to 20 weeks for people who have been working 7 of the last 10 years with limitations based on if they have collected benefits during that time. A ways and means motion on Friday will determine if this will be approved or if Canadians will once again go to the polls.

The Liberals and NDP took the approach of focusing on the benefits for people unable to hold jobs for a long period of time. The Conservatives have focused on older workers who have been in the work force for a long time. This demographic tends tend to have the hardest time adjusting to unemployment. The extra time may be enough to make the difference between time to retrain properly or jumping back into the job market. If all it takes is a few more weeks for upgrading skills the entire economy benefits.

Election fever has hit Ottawa once again. It will be hard to sell why this improvement is worth bringing down the government. The NDP and Liberals have an inverse relationship in terms of when is best for them to go to the polls. They target many of the same voters, the Liberals want a majority government and the NDP want a minority Liberal government. This leaves the Conservatives in the best position to serve up legislation that the opposition parties will have no choice but to vote down. That will not happen until the polls put them in clear majority territory. When you are playing a game of chicken, anyone can lose. The best scenario for Canadians is to hold of on an election and have the government get some work done, followed by a majority government to put an end to the election fever games.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Will Voters Choose Turnip or Change

It would not be hard to think that Dalton McGuinty is on route to be remembered by history as one of Ontario's greatest Premiers. He was first elected on a campaign of no tax increases. He then brought in a health premium, which he had to apologize later and admit it was really a tax. When Toronto was collapsing under the financial burden of cost down loading, he came to the rescue by giving Toronto new taxing powers.

His re-election campaign framed him as the "champion of education." He demonstrated that he brought labour peace to the education by locking up contracts until after the election. This time he promised, no new taxes.

His second term has seen a York University strike. Student living in fear of losing their entire year waited until the last possible moment for the Province to step in. Toronto swimming pools have been endanger of closing because they happened to have been built in schools instead of community centres. A year ago, when he could have got concessions from the federal government to bring in the HST, he was against it. Now that the economy has tanked and the feds have nothing to offer he is in favour of another tax grab. Plus the Afrocentric school that did not fit in his narrow view of education, is now open in Toronto. Smart Hydro Metres have been brought in which guarantee price increases for almost everyone. Not to metion a summer filled with scandals of mismanaged government programs.

There is a theory that the Liberals could run a turnip in Toronto and win an election. That theory will be put to the test on Thursday. A by election in the Toronto riding of St. Paul's will take place with Sue-Ann Levy, as the challenger to the Liberals unchallenged reigns.

The attacks on her during the first few days of the campaign were disturbing. She was attacked for being high profile, Jewish, Lesbian candidate. She was a decoy, designed to check off riding demographics. Liberals could use this strategy because that is what they represent. A Conservative candidate must some how be a decoy because the Conservative Party could not possible represent the interests of these groups.

Sue-Ann Levy is a highly qualified candidate. As a Toronto Sun reporter she has been successful at exposing the many problems that exist in city hall. She understands how politics works and what needs to be done to improve the system. She would be a tremendous asset to the job that needs to be done at Queen's Park. A win would also send the message to the Liberals that they need to tighten up under understand that unlike last time re-election will be based on their performance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Marking Turning Points in History Wolfe vs. Montcalm

This weekend Quebec City will be marking 250 years since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The battle turned the French colony over to the British. The British decided not to interfere with the existing system of law, language or culture. That decision has defined Canadian culture until this day and still remains a point of conflict in French/English relations.

One of the events planned for tomorrow was to reenact the battle. In elementary school late 1700s early 1800s was my favourite time period to learn about. I had a teacher who did reenactments. He played a part in reacting a battle in a made for TV movie and took a week off of school to reenact the Battle of Waterloo. He was my teacher when we took a class trip to Quebec City, including visiting the Plains of Abraham. Battle reenactments are a great way to make learning about this time period more fun and interesting.

The plan was cancelled because some Quebecers found it offensive. The official reason was that there was the possibilty of protests becoming violent. Instead the anniversary is going to be marked at the same venue, by reading the FLQ manifesto. The FLQ wanted Quebec independance. They planted bombs, kidnapped and murdered Government officials. Their actions resulted in the 1970 October Crisis. The War Measures Act was implemented suspending civil liberties and giving police powers for mass arrests.

This is becoming a common theme around the world. If a group is capable of violence than governments will bend over backwards to try to accomodate their point of view. Groups that will not be violent do not require the same kind of appeasement. In some cases the victims are criticized or even charged for inciting the violence.

Government officials may feel proud that they have protected the safety of their citizens by avoiding violence. The truth is they have just set the stage for the next battle which will mean a choice between violence or further concessions. It is important to be mindful of viewing the world from different perspectives. If threat of violence determines public policy instead of priniciples and public discourse, all of society loses.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Anti-Israel Boycott Reaches Toronto International Film Festival

This past year, In Toronto, the best way to guarantee success is to be the victim of an Anti-Israel boycott. The Boycott of an LCBO in April, saw their Israeli wines sold out in 15 minutes, with other kosher wines sold as a substitute. The jump in sales in other stores. A Palestinian attempt to usurp the Dead Sea scrolls brought about similar results where they are being displayed at the ROM.

This year the Toronto International Film Festival choose Tel Aviv to be the feature city. Tel Aviv has been celebrating their 100th anniversary, plus Israel always brings the type of open thought that film festivals are supposed to bring. A film has already been withdrawn in protest and there are a bunch of people in the industry supporting the boycott. There will be a big conference on the first day of the festival to bring maximum attention to the call to boycott.

Cameron Bailey decided that this issue was important enough to respond. In a letter he defended TIFF decision to choose Tel Aviv as the feature city. Towards the end he the protest by saying

"John writes that his protest isn’t against the films or filmmakers we have chosen, but against the spotlight itself. By that reasoning, no films programmed within this series would have met his approval, no matter what they contained. For us, the content and form of films does matter. In fact, when I met with a number of the signatories earlier this week, I encouraged them to see the films before passing judgment on the programme. Regrettably, they chose a different route. We know some of them to be veterans of Toronto’s battles against censorship -- all the more surprising to watch them denounce a film series without seeing the films in it."

If he had stopped here, he would have gaurenteed a sold out festival. He succinctly pointed out how silly it is that people recalibrate their moral compass when Israel is involved. The Jewish community would have cause to rally around the festival. Just an other example of out of touch with reality celebrities buying into the the nothing good can possibly come from Israel attitude.

Unfortunatly, Bailey choose to add a final paragraph to his letter.

"We recognize that Tel Aviv is not a simple choice and that the city remains contested ground. We continue to learn more about the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. As a festival that values debate and the exchange of cultures, we will continue to screen the best films we can find from around the world. This is our contribution to expanding our audiences’ experience of this art form and the worlds it represents."

Bailey has managed to find a backhanded way to try to show support while claiming that the film festival should be exempt. Tel Aviv is the city where all the world's embassies are because they refuse to recognize Jerusalem in any way shape or form as part of Israel. Anyone claiming Tel Aviv as contested ground is either incredibly ignorant or sees the only solution for the Palestinians is the elimination of Israel. A perfect rebuke ruined by the need to keep everyone happy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Plea for Gilad Shalit

To: Harper, Stephen (Right Hon.)
CC: Kenney, Jason (Hon.) , Kent, Peter (Hon.) , Cannon, Lawrence (Hon.) , MacKay, Peter Gordon (Hon.) , Ignatieff, Michael, Rae, Bob (Hon.) , Cotler, Irwin (Hon.) , Layton, Jack (Hon.), Chow, Olivia, Dewar, Paul

Right Hon. Prime Minister Harper,
I am a proud Canadian citizen that moved to Israel last year. A large factor in the move was the Ontario Government's decision that not all religions are equal when it comes to education. I still keep a close watch on the Canadian political scene. During the last Federal election, I received dozens of phone calls regarding eligibility and how to cast a ballot from over seas.

I am proud of the Canadian Government's record when it was a member of the United Nations Human Right Council. Consistantly Canada would try to focus on Human Rights issues from around the world, instead of the narrow minded focus often taken by the UNHRC. Canada was a leader in trying to focus attention on the crisis in Darfur. When the UNHRC stood up and voted against resolutions that were unfair or biased. Many countries preferred to abstain instead of standing up for what their beliefs. Sometimes this meant standing alone. Even at the very end of the mandate, Canada tried to stop Somalia from receiving immunity from human rights abuse investigations by the UNHRC.

With the lead of the new administration in the United States, the Israeli/Palestinian issue has become a front and centre issue on the world stage. There is one issue that casts a shadow over any efforts to find a long term solution. An issue that is sometimes mentioned in passing but never treated as of critical importance. That issue is the plight of Gilad Shalit.

Shalit is about to spend his 4th birthday in captivity. In that time he has been a victim of gross violations of the Geneva Convention designed to protect his basic human rights. He has been denied access to the Red Cross. He has been denied communication with his parents. To add to the cruelity Hamas frequently releases statements suggesting hemay or not be alive. Before Operation Cast Lead, Hamas held a play performed before thousands of cheering spectators. An actor playing Shalit pleaded to be returned home to his Mommy and Daddy. This summer Hamas had summer camps for children where they reenacted the kidnapping. The entire country feels pain for the suffering of Gilad and his family.

The terms of his release are designed to cause more pain and suffering to Israelis. Since Shalit was kidnapped they have been demanding a 1000 for 1 trade including 450 prisoners serving life sentences. Some of the prisoners they want make the likes of Paul Bernardo look like a petty criminal. They include Ahlam Tamimi. She is serving 16 life sentences for her roll in the Sbarros Restaurant bombing. That attack included 5 members of one family including children aged 14, 4, 2. She has never expressed any remorse for the families she has destroyed. Also on the list is Abdallah Barghouti who is serving 67 life sentences for his role in bomb making in various attacks. Marwan Barghouti is serving 5 life sentences. He is has used his time in jail to position himself as possibly becoming the next leader of the 'moderate' Fatah party.

I urge the Canadian Government to take a more visible and proactive role in bringing Gilad Shalit home. As long as he suffers, the nation of Israel suffers. Please help bring him home safely and unconditionally.

Thank you for your help in dealing with this issue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Watering Down Terrorism Hits Pan Am Flight 103

It has been 20 years since Pan Am Flight 103 went down over Lockerbie, Scotland. 270 people lost there lives in the terror attack. To date Al-Megrahi isthe only person ever sentenced for the bombing. After serving 8 years of a life sentence, he will have the opportunity to spend the end of his life on his death bed at home with his family.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill gets full credit for taking responsibility for his decision. His simply applied of Scottish law that allows prisoners within 3 months of their death bed can be granted the chance to live out their lives at home with their families. He was addament that the decision to let him go had nothing to do with any considerations that he was wrongly convicted. He also denied any political considerations. The US Administration was against the decision. The fact the Muslim prisoner was released on the eve of Ramadan must have been purely coinicidental. Another important fact MacAskill pointed out was that there was some sort of custody arrangement. It sounded like he will have some form of house arrest enforced by Libyan officials.

Some people are outraged that comopassion is being shown to someone who's crime had none for others. Those who support the decision are buying into the compassionate grounds arguement or the belief that Al-Megrahi is the victim of miscarriage of justice. Has it reached the point where terrorism is scene as a form of political expression as opposed to one of the most despicable forms of murder.

When Karla Holmolka was let out of jail, there was outrage that she served out her entire 12 year sentence. Paul Bernardo is technically eligible to apply for probation next year. Any attempts to be released on bail would be met with equal outrage. This murderer/rapist would not recieve any compation to enjoy the end of his life even on his death bed.

Next week Gilad Shalit will spend his 4th birthday since being prisoner. He has been denied the most basic level of human rights under the Geneva Convention. He has been denied access by the Red Cross and communication with his family. Hamas frequently uses his captivity to taunt Israelis. World leaders have at most paid minimal lip service for his freedom.

The price for Shalit is well known and unchanged. Approximatly 1000 Palestinians serving various sentences for crimes against Israel. So far Israel has balked at including prisoners that have commiteted terrorist attacks similar to those of Al-Megrah. They are serving multiple life sentences in some case dozens for the number of Israelis they have been convicted of killing. Hamas is willing things out until they get the deal they want.

When Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up it was considered an unforgivable crime. The very notion that someone could kill 270 people and be released from jail was inconceivable. Now being a murderer does not have the same stigma, no matter how much damage was caused. They are subject to the same mercy as other who have commited much lesser crimes.

Justice Secretary MacAskill may sleep well tonight proud of his ability to show compassion to others. His decision just reaffirms that terrorism is no different than other serious crimes. Taking the stigma out of being a terrorist just makes it that much easier for the perpetrators of future attacks to not fear being brought to justice.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bibi is Master of the House

The challenge of any government is the ability to guide legislation through parliament into law. Government's that are unable to pass legislation becomes dysfunctional and useless. A government that can ram through any legislation they want with little to no opposition comes close to the brink of a dictatorship. The balance between the needs of the majority and caring for the minority fall somewhere in the middle .

Two weeks ago Benjamin Netanyahu fell into the embarrassing situation of being unable to pass key legislation. He has been trying to overhaul the entire system for land ownership and had to move some huge hurdles with different organizations such as JNF. When it came time for the key vote, members of the government were hiding in the lunch room to avoid voting against the government. The legislation had to be pulled in order to not be defeated on the Plenum floor. The political maneuvering used up time preventing the Mofaz Bill from being passed.

On Monday an extra session of Knesset gave Bibi a second chance to show he was in control of the Prime Minister's chair. He was able to get enough MKs on board to pass both pieces of legislation. Even the opposition parties gave up on taking full advantage of the time allocated for a full blown fillibuster.

The land transfer legislation is very complicated. The challenge is to correctly guess which of the unintended consequences are going materialize. There is plenty of reason to be concerned. Hopefully in practise this will turn out to be mostly an administrative change with little impact on Israeli society.

The Mofaz Bill is intended to give the Prime Minister more flexibility to hold power. Before this law was passed it took 1/3 of MKs from any party to cross the floor. The Mofaz Bill allows a minimum of 7 MKs to cross the floor for parties with 21 or more MKs. In a political system with little to no individual accountability to the voters this hurts the democratic process. It makes it easier for MKs to abandon those who voted for them. Placed high enough on the party list and they could keep their jobs despite political backlash. The unintended consequence of this law, that it is also easier for a faction to abandon the government. All coalitions are so fragile that such a move would collapse the government.

For better or for worse the legislation has passed. Bibi has once again shown he is a skilled politician. As Prime Minister he will take the country in the direction he sees fit, despite the opposition. Let's just hope he is taking it in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Strike Aftermath. Will the Stench Dissapear with the Garbage

The 39 day Toronto inside and outside worker strike has been over for almost a week. The clean up has become as residents try to salvage the rest of the summer from services that were unavailable for the first part of the summer. When the garbage is all cleaned up and life is back tomorrow how long will the stench remain?

There are a number of interesting questions that will be forgotten in the next few weeks. At the start of the strike sources on both sides predicted a 6 week strike. The City found a way to allow the Gay Pride Parade to go on despite the strike. The strike was settled on the eve of Carribana. Both events are major money makers for the City. Did the strike really prove anything for either side or were workers and citizens just pawns in a game with a mostly predetermined outcome?

Voters will forget the stench of the strike when the garbage is gone. If they could only remember the frustration of the last 6 weeks, when it comes to election day. It would be great news for the City. History has shown that it is unlikely to happen. Perhaps that is what the major players in the strike were counting on.

Schreiber Finally Lands in German Jail

Karlheinz Schreiber is a master at deception. He is willing to spin any story with contradictory twist and turns to serve his own needs. By dragging others like Brian Mulroney into his legal troubles he has managed to avoid facing the consequences of his own actions. He avoided being sent to Germany for almost 2 years to build a case against Mulroney. He even managed to be allowed out on bail and enjoy the hospitality Canada has to offer.

Sometimes it is better late than never. The 75 year old has finally been extradited to Germany. This time the courts are not granting bail as they consider him to be a flight risk. The German Authorities have waited a long time to get their hands on him. They will not let him off the hook so easily. He will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Before he left, his lawyer Eddie Greenspan indicated that Schreiber plans on returning to Canada. He will either be cleared of the charges and return as a free man or will request spending the rest of his life in a Canadian jail cell.

Schreiber has manipulated the justice system for too long. It is time for justice to be served. He has already milked all he can out of Canada. Hopefully, German authorities will choose to keep him.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Anti-Israel Protest Losing Momentum

The anything to do with Israel is evil campaign has been continuing. The most recent attack is report of alleged IDF abuses during Operation Cast Lead. The reporta had no way of validating the truth behind the allegations or even verifying that the testimony was more than just hearsay. The British have revoked licenses to supply the Israeli Navy with ammunition for their boats.

Despite these moves, support for the protests against Israel has been fading fast. A combination of gerneral apathy, more interesting world events and a proper response by the Jewish community have all softened the blow in attacks against Israel.

The BDS (Boycott) campaign against Israel had been hailed as the ultimate way to collapse the Israeli economy the same way it helped bring change in South Africa. The biggest hole in the campaign was to focus on certain companies, rather than holding to true moral values. The Jewish community has brought another major hole to the BDS campaign by offering financial support to those exposed to boycott efforts.

There have been a number of boycott failures this year. A call to boycott Israeli wine in Toronto resulted in the targeted store being sold out in 10 minutes and the small group of protestors overwhelmed by support for Israel from the Jewish community. A call to boycott and deshelve Israeli products at Trader's Joe got such a poor turnout, the organizers didn't bother publicizing the event happened. The Dead Sea Scrolls now being displayed at the ROM in Toronto. Palestinians leadership cried foul, declaring the Scrolls to be part of stolen Palestinian heritage. This sad and desperate claim once again rallied the Jewish Community, driving up ticket sales. It also exposed the Palestinian pitfall of trying to claim ownership on anything that helps their cause.

Free Gaza is an organization that runs celebrity filled boats to run the blockade to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. They like playing the hero. How the aid is delivered is far more important than the aid reaching the intended recipients. The fact that over a hundred truck loads of aid pass through Israel into Gaza each day, (far greater than what they can get on their boats) is not relevant to their cause.

Their most recent run lead them into some public relations mistakes. They originally filed their travel plan to Cyprus authorities, as heading to Egypt. It was only after being out to sea that they changed their course to Gaza. The ability to change course is legal, but they never had any intent of going to Egypt. They may not have even recieved permission to leave port if they were honest with local authorities. They seemed shocked that Israel has control over Gaza waters. Egypt gave up claims to Gaza long ago and it is not like they tried to coordinate with the Palestinian Authority. They claimed to be in mortal danger after the Navy threatened to open fire on them. They didn't even receive a wanring shot. Their first mate said that they would be boarded and arrested. That is exactly what happened. No surprises, no real danger.

Throughout the ordeal they did their best to cry foul. They tried claiming they had no desire to go to Israel. Their manifest of the aid they were bringing kept changing. One report said they each carried a bag of cement while, their Twitter account said they only had a symbolic bag of cement. There cries for media attention fell mostly on deaf ears. When the British deportees were returned to London, they got out maybe a dozen supporters and zero media coverage.

There have been a lot of world events taking the focus off of Israel. The defeat of the Tamil Tigers in Somalia, Health Care Reform in the United States, Garbage Strike in Toronto, Michael Jackson's death and the election results in Iran. Iranian officials have even found a way to blame Israel for the protests in Iran.

Barak Obama has been pumping up the pressure on Israel, while the world focuses on more relevant issues. Some of the apathy can be attributed to other world events. If even some of the public has noticed some of the inconsistancies with criticism towards Israel. It makes the world a better place for Israeli's and Jews around the world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Double Voting on Knesset Plenum Unethical

It only took 6 years but MK Ronnie Bar-On has finally been reprimanded in a double voting incident. The Knesset uses an electronic voting system. The results of all votes can be tabulated quickly and accurately. The system is fast and effective when it is not being tampered with.

Bar-On had decided after voting for himself he would also vote on behalf of
MK Inbal Gavrieli. The evidence of the case suggests that he probably voted how she would have voted. He may have even had permission to cast the vote. As this was only an ethical breach without any apparent harm done there will be no further punishment.

It is every MKs job to be present in their seats for voting. If they miss a vote than it is their own responsibility. The ethics committee was correct in handing down a harsh rebuke over the incident. The Knesset already has a long standing reputation for corruption. The Israeli electoral system does not leave very much room to hold politicians accountable for their individual actions. The rebuke is welcome. Hopfully it will serve as a warning to others to act on behalf of themselves and their constituants.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Attempt to Downgrade Bet Shemesh from Israeli City to Illeagal Settlemen

Last Friday there was a major accident along highway 38 outside of Bet Shemesh. A car crossed the centre line and hit another car head on. 6 people were killed in the accident. Palestinian main stream media also reported this tragedy.

The problem with the Palestinian news source is that they reported Bet Shemesh as being a settlement. Bet Shemesh is located in Israel proper by any definition. The intentional misuse of terminology is a great cause for concern.

There is an old expression that the winners write the history books. With today's technology the truth goes to whoever can spin their side of the story the best before history has a chance to sort the facts out. Truth can easily be lost in the rush for a good story. A simply placed wrong word creates the impression that Bet Shemesh is to be included in the demand to stop settlement growth. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly said they want the 1967 borders no more, no less. However, when it comes to actually negotiating are they going to try to claim Bet Shemesh is a settlement and demand it as part of negotiations. After all their media reports that it is a settlement.

The Palestinians have rejected as a non-starter having the Old City of Jerusalem being declared an International City under the United Nations. Some Palestinian officials have responded that they want a 'United' Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian State. Not only do they want full control over the Kotel (the spiritual centre of the Jewish people) but they are willing to claim territory that they do not have a claim to.

For people who may face having their homes traded in for an empty peace deal, this careless use of language are cause for concern. Those who live in this part of the world who have to live with the fallout of an agreement have cause for concern. How can there be trust when terminology can so easily be changed in an attempt to cease more territory?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

G8 Calls for the Immediate Release of Gilad Shalit

The G8 held their annual summit in 2009. This year they also invited the G5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) as guests, since the environment was a keyissue. In the course of their meetings they did adopt statements regarding Israel.

G8 Statement Middle East Coverage Starts on Page 6 of 10


Here are the highlights:

The achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East remains crucial for the international community.

We also call on the Parties to fulfil their obligations under the Roadmap – including the unequivocal rejection of violence, terrorism and incitement, and a freeze in settlement activity, including “natural growth” – and on Arab states to take meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel and to provide political and economic support to the Palestinian Authority.

We call for the immediate release of the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. We also call for the immediate opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, in a manner that respects Israel’s security. .

We look forward to a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbours, also building upon the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which will be a key element of this regional process.

...we urge a resumption of peace negotiations also on the Syrian and the Lebanese tracks.

We underscore the importance of regional partnerships in areas of education, economic development, science and technology, and health, as outlined in President Obama’s speech in Cairo.


It is great that they called for the release of Gilad Shalit. The statement could be better categorized as a whimper. The statement did not appear to make news anywhere outside of Israel. There is a massive move by the United States to establish that Jewish homes as the biggest threat to any sort of real peace. Since the Obama speach the Palestinian Authority has once again clarified they will accept nothing less than what they have been asking for the entire time. Practical compromises are unacceptable and they will not negotiate until an offer they could accept is on the table. Syria has made a number of statements that if they don't get back the Golan Heights they are prepared to take it by force. The Egyptian government who has had a 30 years of 'normalized relations' with Israel, is appealing a court ruling to strip citzenship from Egyptians who have married Arab Israelis. Hizzbolah has kindly infomred the newly elected Lebanese government that the new Government was not to interfere with their defence of the Southern border. In the last few months UNIFIL has found a number of weapons in violation of UN Resolution 1701 that brought an end to the 2nd Lebanon War.

Hamas has effectivly tied Israel's hands with the capture of Gilad Shalit. The purpose of his capture continues to be to cause pain and suffering for Israeli society. In violation of the Geneva convention he has been denied access to the Red Cross and denied communication with his parents. Both acts make his captivity a war crime. To add to the cruelty they refuse to confirm if he is alive or dead, eventhough they are bargaining as if he is alive. The price for his release is and has always been 1000 prisoners including 450 serving life sentences.

The pain of Shalit's captivity is felt across Israel. It is a topic of conversation. There are signs and posters all over the place. It is felt when a mother watches her 18 year old go off to do his army service. It is felt by the soldiers both new and doing mandatory reserved duty who feel he is abandoned. It is felt by families of terrorist victims who may one day watch the orchestrators of their nightmares go free without any rehabilitation or remorse.

The release of Gilad Shalit on favourable terms unleashes a multitude of options for the Israeli government. It would allow for the possibility of support of lifting the siege on Gaza or reasonable land concessions. It allows Israel to once and for all put the ball in the court of Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon. The decision to live in peace would fall exclusivly into their hands.

If the world leaders really care about making peace they need to take greater efforts to freeing Shalit. As long as the nation feels the pain of his captivity the government cannot consider any more sacrifices to an ever increasingly mythical goal.

Updates

This blog was started in the aftermath of the October 2007 Ontario election. I had been writting about politics on and off since 2006. I have now added all of the old posts to the blog.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Did Harper Eat the Cookie?

On Friday Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the funeral of former Governer General Romeo LeBlanc. He accepted communion when it was offered. The video footage seems to show that he did not immediatley eat the wafer. It is possible he ate it immediatly after the camera panned away. In this case the correct course of action was to immediatly eat the wafer.

Some Catholics have expressed concern that Harper has slighted Catholicism. Treating the host inappropriatly is a major issue. During the Middle Ages, Jews would be found guilty on trumpped up charges of Desecration of the Host. The penalty for cookie torture was death and would sometimes extend to the community at large and not just the accused. Keeping the wafer instead of eating it is a major insult. A spokesperson for Harper said that he did swallow the wafer.

As a Protestant he would normally not be allowed to take Communion. However as he is the Head of State there may be an exception to this rule. There is an accepted custom of crossing arms to indicate to the priest that one will not accept Communion. It stands to reason that people would have been just as offended by that decision sighting the exception to the rule. As a Protestant Harper would be more used to the idea that everyone eats the wafer at the same time. He could very easily have noticed right after the camera panned away that nobody else was waiting.

It took 5 days for the story to break. Despite the number of people standing around him, there doesn't seem to be any eye witnesses. Both are more indicative of a slow news day than a major story. Harper is scheduled to meet with the Pope this week. He should simply ask the Pope what the correct protical should be to avoid such silly problems in the future.

Update: Senate Speaker Honourable Noel A. Kinsella has confirmed he witnessed Harper consuming the host.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Toronto - More than the Garbage Smells

The City of Toronto strike continues to drag on. There are reports that both side are prepared for a 6 week strike. As always the losers are the citizens who are unable to access community services. CUPE and City Council seem to be clueless at the anger felt by residents about the strike.

On Wednesday, CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan wrote about the strike in the Toronto Star. He talked about the historical importance of unions and their goal to provide every worker with a 'liveable' wage. He does not feel it is fair to publish workers for an economy collapse caused by risks taken by the rich in attempts to further line their pockets. Rank and file union members have claimed they can relate to the economic suffering of others because they had to live with Rae days or 8 years without a raise under Mel Lastman.

Union demands have hurt the economy, especially in the auto sector. There is a reasons aside from nationality why companies like Honda and Toyota were not jumping in line for government handouts. Unreasonable labour rates, plus union red tape can cut into the pofitability of a company. If a company can't make money then they are not going to have any employees. The fact that the union doesn't flinch at complaining about reduced sick benefits to people who have lost their jobs or live in fear of losing their jobs during the economic colapse.

City council is doing their fair share of not connecting to tax payers. Call from an emergency council meeting to slash roll back this year's raise. An oppurtunity to take action didn't make it to the floor for consideration, when the decision was made to freeze union salaries. Excuses from councillors range from their portion gets donated, to the meeting would cost too much, to it is a 'cost of living' increase and not a raise. Mayor Miller's excuse is that the city stopped the practise of tying their salaries to contracts the city negotiates, recognizing it was a conflict of interest.

Over the years City Council has called on taxpayers to tighten their builts. Tax increases and new taxes have been standard to help with city finances. City Council has still not managed to roll back a single perk to show that they are prepared to stand with residents and tighten their built. The overall savings to the city budget would be minimal. An act of do as I do, instead of do as I say would go a long way to gaining respect from residents.

The Gay Pride Parade was too important to allow the strike to allow it to be cancelled. The same effort and care was not placed on Canada Day celebrations. City Council and it's unionized employees are out of sink with the needs of the community. They are willing to allow everyone else to suffer in order to stick to their ideoligical guns. In Toronto voters are consistent in re re-electing the same politicians over and over again. If they continue to be treated like garbage and taken for granted, there is a slim chance that will not be true for the next election.That seems like a risk all the important players are willing to take.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quiz for Canada Day

As Canada Day is tomorrow, it is once again time to test your knowledge of Canadian history. The Dominion Institute is an organization that advocates for more history to be taught in schools. They take various surveys to demonstrate how lacking Canadians are in knowing their own history.

The most recent survey involved identifying famous Canadians by picture. As usual some of the major players in Canadian history scored low with pop stars such as Celine Dion, Wayne Gretzky and Terry Fox as being more easily recognized. When I took the online version of the test I scored an 8/10. For the two answers I got wrong, my second choice was correct.

The test does say a lot about Canadians relationship to history in culture. I don't think the test is a fair marker for testing people's knowledge. There were many names on the list that I recognized and their contributions without having a clue as to what they look like. Joey Smallwood was a regular guest in my grandparents home. I know what he did but I have no clue what he looks like. Billy Bishop, Tommy Douglas also fall into the category of people that I know how they have contributed to Canada without any idea of what they look like.

Sadly most Canadians who could not identify the picture probably didn't recognize the name either. It is for that reason we need organizations like the Dominion Institute to convince the government to include more history lessons in school.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gilad Shalit, The Real First Obstacle to Peace

Today marks three years since Hamas went into Israel proper and captured then 19 year old Gilad Shalit. The pain of his kidnapping was felt across Israeli society and by Jews around the world. His lack of freedom continues to be an open wound in the heart of Israeli society.

For the last 3 years Hamas has tried to leverage the plight of this one man into political gain. Hamas is happy to commit war crimes by refusing to follow the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War. They have denied the International Red Cross access to him. They have not permitted communication with his family. They have refused to confirm he is even alive. Shortly before Operation Cast Lead they held a rally where thousands of cheering supporters witnessed a play where an actor playing Shalit begged to be returned to his mommy and daddy.

Hamas set the price of his freedom at 1000 prisoners. Some of those prisoners are serving multiple and double digit life sentences for carrying out restaurants and night clubs. Ahlam Tamimi is serving 16 life sentences for her role in the Sbarro bombing. Killed in that attack was a family 2 adults and 3 chilren aged 14, 4 , 2. She has expressed no remorse for the attack and even takes satisfaction out of the children who were killled. Abdallah Barghouti is serving 67 life sentences for his role in bomb making in various attacks. To lump these two in as political prisoners would be inconceivable by any other country in the world.

Hamas has one goal. It is the destruction of Israel. Hamas is willing to sacrifice the well being of their own people in order to make Israel look bad. Israeli society is not willing to make concessions towards any sort of peace plan before the return of Shalit. The soldiers who went into Gaza felt that they were on a mission for his rescue. When the operation was called off, messages were spray painted on walls saying that they had been looking for him.

Shalit is the key to advancing the well being of the Palestians. If he goes home safe and sound it opens up an entire world of possibilities. It is time for the world to put pressure on Hamas for his unconditional release. Anything less is unacceptable by International law and those who sincerly want to improve Palestinian lives.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Over 100% Voter Turnout, the Envy of Any Democracy

When the protests in Iran started, there were some questions about the goals of the protesters. Were they angry about losing an election, voting fraud or the entire political system. The Iranian Government claimed that with over 85% voter turn out Iranians unquestionably believed in the system.

The election results have been officially certified twice before the Guardian Council investigated the allegations of fraud. They have found 50 cities where the voter turnout was more than 100%, bringing into question the validity of 3 million ballots. Voter turnout in democratic countries has been on the decline for centuries. Governments have tried all kinds of electoral reforms to try to increase voter turnout. Now that the 85% number has been proven false, it can no longer used as a ringing endorsement of Iran's political system.

The Council is taking the approach it is not enough ballots to change the results and therefore insignificant. They are not willing to consider that there may be even more problem they have not investigated or uncovered. From the beginning the Council worked to minimize the number of irregularities they would look into. This guaranteed that no matter what they found they would not have to consider over turning the election results.

The election fails all democratic principles of open and fair elections. It is up to the leaders of the world to call them on it. Unfortunately, the United States has there own issues of voting irregularities determining the outcome of the Presidential Election. Even with the new information President Obama will continue to sit on the sidelines until he can safely pick the winning side.

Iran's version of democracy is a farce from top to bottom. From the process of picking candidates, to interference by religious leaders, to stuff ballot boxes. The question is still unclear if protesters are upset with possibly being cheated out of the rightful President or frustrated by the system that only provides the illusion of democracy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran: What Happens After the Green Revolution?

The revolt in Iran has been by far the biggest news story over the past week. The story has many different angles to draw the interest of the world. The underdog Iranian people are standing up to their own government after under taking efforts to prevent a free and fair election. The use of Twitter as the main source of news and coordination allows the average person to feel like they are making a difference by change the colour of their computer screen. President Obama has stepped into major quicksand with his new approach to foreign policy. He is trying not to move too much to avoid being sucked in before the dust settles. Will the world see long term political changes or thing returning to normal?

The President of Iran has a very limited amount of power. The Ayatollah is the Supreme Leader, who also has a council of religous clerics to keep the government in line. Approval must be obtained to run for President which eliminates the possibility of candidates that want to make signifigant changes. There was very little difference between Ahmadinejad, Mousavi in regards to major policies such as the development of the nuclear program.

Weeks ago, Obama had apologized for too much interference in the Islamic world. His hands are tied as he tries to walk the fine line of respecting the choices Iran makes for their leadership and objecting to human rights abuses directed protestors. The result is a weak position on both issues and with the hope that the dust settles soon. Too much commentary will result in the loss of goodwill he thinks he generated from one speech.

A lot of attetion is being focussed on the protests in Tehran with Twitter as the main source of information. Twitter may be a useful tool but it is not as widespread in Iran as countries whose citizens are following the events. Reporters have been observing that the protests are coming from every segment of society. It is not limited to students or upper class urbanites as reported at the begining of the protests. If this is a mass movement why are there not protests not spreading to other regions of the country? It would make it much harder for security forces to clamp down and contain reporters covering those events. It could be as simple as the people outside of Tehran are not aware of the events in the capital. The movement is realitivly small without some sort of ground support.

The Irananian government is taking all aggressive steps to put down the rebellion. Mousavi could face exile, life in prison or death. Protestors are being rounded up and efforts are underway to minimize the amount of information that gets to the outside world. Blame has been placed on Israel, United States and United Kingdom. This serves as justification for ignoring the voices of the people.

The Ayatollah as threated death to those who continue to protest and the death counts support a willingness to follow through. The world is going to be witness to another Tianamen Square. The world was horrified. Then they moved on. Iran is already dealing with sanctions for the nuclear ambitions. Putting down the rebellion will not add more sanctions, especially with a United States firm commitment not to interfere. Many protesters will serve lengthing prison sentences and possible death. Then it will be business as usual in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Parliament Ready to Pack up for the Summer

Parliament has been busy wrapping up the summer. The last major order of business was the Federal Government Economic Update report which will be voted on Friday before Parliament rises for the summer. As it is a budget it is a monetary issue it is subject to a confidence vote.

The opposition parties did not like what they saw. None of them are in a favourable position to go to the polls. The question was how to avoid an election without sacrificing any future political capital. The BQ and NDP came out against the government before reading the report. This scores points with those who don't like the government and would like to see it changed as soon as possible. The Liberals have been eroding their support so an election may change the government at the expense of their own parties.

The Liberals are climbing in the polls. Taking down the government on the economic update would force the focus of their campaign to be on the government is not spending enough money, the defecit is too high and the EI eligibility should be given to people before they have worked passed their probation period (360 hours). These are not issues to grap voters attention in the middle of the summer, when an election was not wanted in the first place. The Conservatives have very little to gain from an election. It is not likely they would get a majority government and there is a risk they could lose. The longer they wait the better their chances are as the economy recovers.

All the parties played the game of chicken threatening an election. The only logic choice was for the Liberals and Conservatives to work out an agreement to avoid an election. The parties will work together over the summer on how to improve the EI system. In case they cannot come to an agreement the Liberals have been given an opposition day in September where they can table a non-confidence vote.

This is how minority governments are supposed to work. There will be some sort of agreement on how to best help Canadians the same way an agreement was made on the budget. Aside from being unwanted an election would also have frozen some of the funds that the opposition has complained is not being distrubted fast enough. For now this is a good arrangement for all Canadians.