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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bibi's Vision for Peace

Solving the Palestinians problems has become the holy grail of international diplomacy. Most politicians leave it until the end of their careers to tackle. They leave such lofty goals to a time when they are focusing on legacy building and marking off their page in history.

President Obama has seen the failure of leaving the biggest challenges to the last minute and has decided to make it a primary goal of his mandate. After failing to get his own party to pass legislation that would close Guantanamo Bay, he turned his focus to the Muslim world. Betraying a friend to pacify an enemy is an easier task than trying to keep both happy. Obama showed his willingness to betray Israel for the mere hope of capturing the holy grail.

On Sunday, Israel responded with an excellent speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu. While Obama has the luxury of treating the conflict like a giant chess game, Israelis do not have that option. The conflict is a reality where we understand our lives and our nation are on the line. Bibi took this tone and set the record straight on issues that reflect the lives of every single Israeli.

He gave a history lesson, reminding the world that Arabs attacking Jews in Israel was a problem long before the creation of the state. Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. The connection goes back thousands of years and is not simply a result of recent Jewish suffering. If Israel can absorb thousands of refugees from the Arab world, a home can be found for Palestinian refugees outside of Israel. In context of the history of Israel it is not settlers that pose a threat to peace. It is those who wish for Israel to be destroyed. Israel has tried different strategies to try to appease Palestinian demands. Such moves have been received with more terrorism and demands for even more. He even threw in the plight of Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped 3 years ago by Hamas. He has been denied access to the Red Cross, which is a war crime by any standard that does not bother the anti-Israel lobby.

The bottom line is that the government is willing to recognize Palestinian self rule or even possibly a state on condition that the entity is not a threat to Israel. Land for peace on condition peace is received in the exchange is a reasonable expectation. Having the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist should be an easy step forward towards peace.

The condemnation of the speech from those who usually attack Israel was swift and harsh. The message from Syria and Egypt was that a Jewish state is racist while an Arab or Islamic State is not. Any goodwill gesture is not enough unless it meets all of the Palestinian demands. Even the highly touted 2002 Arab Peace initiative calls for Israel to meet all of the original demands in exchange for 'normalized' relations with the Arab world. Israel already has a full out peace treaty with Egypt. Aside from a lack of war and some diplomatic channels the treaty has done little to improve relationships between the two countries.

Obama has set out his dream vision for peace. Israel has set out a realistic, yet unattainable visions for peace. When is the Palestinian Authority going to make their speech to the world of how they see their future country shaping up? They won't because they don't have any sort of vision outside of destroying whatever Israel has. Peace can be attained. It requires leadership who truly care about the lives of the Palestinian people. Until then Obama will fail just like all of the others in his quest for the holy grail.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ignatieff Takes Time Deciding to Topple Government

The Conservative Government released the quarterly Economic Progress report. The reports were started in exchange for Liberal support for the 2009 budget. The report is an update as to how well the Government is doing at distributing the economic stimulus package.

The BQ and the NDP were quick to condemn the report during question period. Michael Ignatieff has decided he will wait until tomorrow to make a final decision. This gives him time to read the 234 page report. He has also promissed not to leave Canadians hanging by making a decions on Friday.

"What they expect of me is to do my job properly and I'm trying to do it properly. So I'm going to look at the report tonight if I get a minute and tomorrow, and then we'll make a decision," he said after giving a speech to Quebec business leaders.

Ignatieff gets full credit for not jumping to a decision. Either he has basically made a decision already or he better get his priorities in order and clear his schedule to give this more thought. Taking the time to make the right decision instead of jumping to conclusions or at the very least not playing with an open hand is an improvement under Dion's leadership.

The Liberals are climbing the polls and the economy will probably be on it's way to recovery if they wait to pull the plug on the Government. On the other hand this would be 4 elections in 5 years. The Liberals have been complaining the government has not been spending enough money while the deficit is too high. They also want to reduce qualifications for unemployment insurance to a bare minimum. These are not strong planks for building an election platform.

Hopefully the Liberals will take more time to rebuild before jumping into another election. The party needs to build itself up on principles and solid policies. Voters can sense opportunism and it will hurt them in both the long run and in the short run.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

UNHRC Turns Back Humanitarian Crisis

An emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). An army battles an insurgent group of 'resistance fighters' that have been fighting for Independence for decades. The resistance fighters are considered terrorist by many countries for their use of suicide bombers and children soldiers. Many people were killed including civilians. Human Rights Groups, Humanitarian Aid NGOs and reporters have been blocked access. Accusations of genocide, human rights violations and war crimes. Sound familiar?

Sri Lanka was the country in question over their war with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and treatment of the Tamil community. As the experts of the events in their country they took the task of writing the UNHRC resolution. The 12 point report acknowledge that they were doing a great job and encouraged Sri Lanka to continue to wish them success in handling the humanitarian crisis. Any criticism against Sir Lanka was written off under the principle "respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and its sovereign rights to protect its citizens and combat terrorism," On May 27th the resolution was approved.

[Adopted by a recorded vote of 29 to 12, with 6 abstentions.

The voting was as follows:

In favour: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay, Zambia;

Against: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;

Abstaining: Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, Ukraine].

There were no calls to let in Humanitarian workers. There will be no War Crimes investigations. There was no pronouncement of guilt before the facts were investigated. No calls for any interference by the UN unless requested by the Sri Lanka government. This may have come as a shock to members of the Tamil community. They fail to meet the UNHRC most important criteria for considering the plight of their people. They are not Palestinian and there is no way to blame Israel for their suffering.

Whenever Israel is taken to task for protecting their citizens against terrorism the UNHRC reacts quickly and harshly. The calls for cease fire are immediate and resolutions take minimal consideration into the facts that prompted a military response. Pronouncements of guilt for war crimes are pronounced before proper investigations can be carried out.

The UNHRC cares about condemning Israel over and above any other consideration. This Tamil community is learning the hard way, just how important they are to what is supposed to be the most important Human Rights Organization in the entire world.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

US vs Islam, Obama Delivers the Speech

President Barak Obama delivered his long awaited speech to the Islam world in Egypt today. He was expected to lay out his plan for bringing peace and solving all the problems in the region. Instead of a plan he painted more of a Utopia picture of how he would like to the world to be. Everyone has legitimate grievances and if everyone would just forgive and forget the past his perfect world could emerge.

His speech was long and covered a lot of different areas from different perspectives. If you wanted to be positive you could read in the points on the topics of interest. If you wanted to be negative he provided just as much to attack, especially if you were to read between the lines of what he could have or should have said. His acknowledge of the Islamic world was refreshing for those who generally have a negative attitude towards the United States even if his facts were not always 100% accurate. His claim that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States and that there are 7 million Muslims in the United States appear to be off base. Some of his claims of Islamic inventions could also be challenged be historians.

The most likely response from the Arab world that he is trying to appease is to ignore the criticism of themselves. They will push Obama to take action on the things the care about like attacking Israel and do nothing to address the improvements that they have been challenged to undertake.

In the Arab world Obama is putting a more palatable face on foreign policy. It may help with some of the more moderate countries. It is the hardliners that are not willing to give an inch (including the Palestinian Authority) that are the big problems. A little bit of sugar coating is not going to overturn an entire ideology bent on harm and destruction. The question is how will he try to force is fantasy onto to other countries.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Aftermath of War - Peace in Sderot

Last week I did something, I was not even willing to consider doing 6 months ago. My family went on the hour drive to the town of Sderot. We did some shopping at a local grocery store and went to a restaurant for lunch before returning home.

In 2005 the government deciding the best way to deal with rocket attacks was to abandon Gaza. Jews were forcibly removed from their homes. They left behind completly intact Green Houses that had produced the best vegetables in the entire country. The Palestinians were handed an opportunity for economic growth and a chance to prove they could form their own nation on a silver platter. From their point of view it was not perfect. Instead of making the best with what they had they destroyed it all. Sderot became the front line target for missle attacks.

Citizens of Sderot had 15 seconds to find shelter from the time an air raid siren went off until it would land. The death toll was light but you never knew which siren was the one that could put your life and your property in danger. Unlike the Palestinians, they made the best of a bad situation and stayed. Children's playgrounds were built with protective shelters. There are random concrete walls all over the place, designed to provide extra protection. The owner of the restaurant I was at explained he told his 6 year old that it was a game. If he got to the bomb shelter first he won.

Operation Cast Lead was a response to the cries of the citizens living in Southern Israel. They were tired of the constant air raid sirens, the constant threat of danger. The rest of the country had sympathy and demanded the government to take action. The response was 3 weeks of military action where most of the people killed were those trying to harm Israel. I can now feel safe enough to take my family to Sderot without the fear of falling rockets.

The United States has been delivering the message that the path to peace is to remove Jews from their homes. The only path to peace is to take away the enemies ability to cause harm. If Obama fails to recognize this reality on Thursday he will find that is plan for peace is nothing but a unfounded fantasy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bulldozing Jewish Homes brings peace, bulldozing Arab homes prevents peace.

A few dozen Jewish families living in a trailer on the hilltops that they legally purchased. In some cases their building permits failed to get final approval due to political posturing. They are a threat to the entire peace process. The should be physically removed from their homes and their houses destroyed.

Arabs build homes and ignore the entire building permit process. In some cases they build on land owned by others or public land that has already been allocated for other purposes. Enforcing these building codes is an obstacle to peace, that the world is ready to quickly condemn Israel for.

Barak Obama is undertaking a very dangerous game in order to fail in a different way then is predecessors. He is trying to befriend the United States enemies by betraying long time allies. In the end Obama will find he the enemies will not changes sides and selling out Israel will not help reach any American foreign policy goals. There is still time to turn around. Is Obama ready to face reality and make the right decision.

A Question of Loyalty

Israeli society has major divisions in society. Some of the major tension points are Jews/Arab, religious/non-religious, left/right, those who do army service and those who don't. Yisrael Betaynu ran on a platform of unifying some of the divisions focussing on the goals of the state. The loyalty oath law was rejected by the cabinet on Sunday.

The downside of this plan received a lot of attention world wide. It called on all Israelis to take a loyalty oath towards the state in order to receive citizenship. Failure to take the oath would lose the benefits of social assistance and other government programs.

It is a strange scenario where individuals who are so set against the country they live in, have no problem reaping the benefits from the government. Every country in the world requires some sort of citizenship oath and loyalty to the country they choose to live. This law is supposed to create the same type of atmosphere that in order to recieve citizenship you need to believe in some degree in the values of the country and desire for the continuation of the country in wich you live. Those who would not accept the oath would likly be in the category of prefering Israel not to exist.

The desire for this oath is understandable. The problem is opening the door for the government to decide the line between loyal citizen and loyal citizen who disagrees with government policy. This aspect of the bill accomplishes very litte with the potentional to open many undesirable, unforseen consequences.

Unfortunatly one of the best aspects of the Yisrael Betaynu platform was also rejected with this bill. Currently every Israeli is obligated to do Army services. Arabs are exempt and there is also a religous exemption. Girls are allowed to do Shirut Leumi (National Service) instead of the army. This means that they do some sort of community service, so that they still serve their country in a non-military way.

The bill tried to do away with the exemption by requiring all citizens to do some sort of community service. Arabs would do service within their own communities and something similar would probably be worked out for the Haredi communities. This proposal is at the forefront of labelling Yisrael Betaynu as a racist party. This is a classic case of the label covering up the facts.

Israel has a mandatory draft. It is only fair that people who are not going to be putting their lives on the line to defend their country, to find a way to serve in a manner acceptable to one's own personal beliefs. In Ontario, community service hours have become a mandatory part of the high school curriculim. Community service helps society as a whole and brings valuable experience to those who participate. Putting the same goals into the context of Israeli society balances the playing field for everyone, while helping make the country a better place to live.

In the face of enemies both from outside and within there is a natural reaction to reject those who want to take from society but are not willing to contribute and in cases willing to destroy. Making the system of who has to serve the state and how would have been an excellent way to bridge many gaps in Israeli society. Unfortunatly this idea adds extra obligations to those who get a free ride. Combined with some political spin and the optics are that it is aimed to opress the Arabs. The purpose of trying to balance society is completly lost. Combined with the loyalty oath and the bill had no chance of being passed. The positive idea with have to wait for another time to be considered again.