Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A U.S. President Will Finally Declare: Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel. It's About Time!

I was elated when I heard the news. U.S. President Donald Trump will declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and begin the process of moving the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Israel is unique in many facets, some positive, some negative. One of the negatives is that Israel is the only country that is recognized by most other nation-states in the world, but whose capital is not recognized. Could you imagine a country refusing to put its embassy in Washington D.C.? It would be unheard of, because a country refusing to put its embassy in the capital of the nation-state with whom it intends to have full diplomatic relations would be a grave insult and would not be tolerated - except in Israel.

I'm not going to go into detail about why Jerusalem should be recognized by all as Israel's capital. I think people know the facts, whether they choose to accept them or not. Predictably, Israel's opponents all over the world are calling for an international outcry over President Trump's impending declaration. There has been talk of demonstrations, summits, violence, you name it. As far as I'm concerned, the enemies of Israel can whine and cry all they want. Jerusalem has been, is, and always will be the eternal capital of the nation of Israel. To deny this is to deny the facts. But of course, facts rarely matter to Israel's enemies.

Monday, 4 December 2017

After the 2018 World Cup, Expect Another Putin Power Play

The World Cup of soccer is taking place in 2018. I should be excited, but I'm not. Why? Well, first of all, my favorite squad, Italy, won't be competing for the first time since the 1950's. But there's a much more important reason. The 2018 World Cup is being hosted by Russia, or as I prefer to call it, Putin's Russia. I call it this because I don't want to associate the whole of the Russian people with the crimes of their tyrannical leader.

Putin's Russia is growing stronger and more dangerous. Of particular concern to me is how much closer its armed forces are to my ancestral homeland, the motherland of the Jewish people, Israel. Two years ago, Russian forces began directly intervening in the Syrian civil war to bail out Putin's ally and fellow dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. To this day, Russian warplanes are bombing rebel-held territory in Syria, causing countless civilian casualties and seemingly endless suffering. The Russians already had a military presence in Syria in the form of a naval base on the Syrian coast in the northwest of the country. Now that presence is a lot larger, and I must say, very discomforting to me as an Israeli. Putin's Russia and Israel are not enemies yet, but I am certain that they will be in the near future. Putin already gives strong support to Israel's enemies. Not just to Syria, but also to Iran, which in turn supports the terrorist group, Hezbollah, right on Israel's doorstep.

Putin's intervention in Syria has put Russian warplanes perilously close to Israeli airspace. And I don't think it takes a genius to realize that if Putin wanted to, he could have those same planes that are now bombing Syrian cities strike Tel Aviv, Haifa and other Israeli population centers. To make matters worse, Russia and Egypt have recently drafted an agreement that would allow Russian planes to use Egyptian air bases. If this agreement is implemented, Israel will face the danger of Russian air power on two fronts.

I believe that Russian encroachment in the Middle East and elsewhere will only grow as it fills the void left by an increasingly isolationist United States. This brings me back to the World Cup, which I think will mark the beginning of a new phase in Putin's plans to expand Russia's borders and its sphere of influence. The first phase of Putin's land and power grabs began in 2008, when he attacked Georgia and took over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which he subsequently turned into puppet states. The second phase took place immediately after the 2014 Winter Olympics, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine and occupied the Crimean Peninsula. The third phase began immediately after the occupation of Crimea as pro-Russian terrorists backed by the armed forces of Russia itself, took over much of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. The forth phase has been, of course, Russia's intervention in Syria. I believe that the next phase in Putin's quest for more land and power will begin right after the World Cup concludes. Putin does not want to ruin any benefits that hosting the international soccer tournament could bring him, which is why he hasn't made any further conquests in Europe yet. It's the same reason he waited until after the 2014 Winter Olympics to make his move on Crimea.

So by the time the World Cup ends and all the teams, fans and media are out of Russia, I suspect that Putin will make another major land grab. But where will he do it? My first guess would be again in Ukraine, where he may move to take the rest of the country's eastern regions. Another possibility is a move on northern Kazakhstan. Like the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, northern Kazakhstan is predominantly populated by Russian speakers. Hence, Putin could attempt to take over the region arguing that he is simply putting Russians in Russia where they should be. Hitler used the same excuse when he annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia's Sudatenland before the beginning of World War II. History appears to be repeating itself.

Monday, 27 November 2017

My Thoughts on Vegetarianism and Veganism

I remember an ad on the subway that said, "Why love one and eat the other?" The ad referenced dogs, which many of us in the Western world including myself love and cherish as pets, compared to cows, which frequently find themselves on our plates as food. The ad argued that both are sentient creatures and neither should be consumed as food. This was, of course, an attempt at advocating a vegan diet. There are people on my Facebook who are vegetarians or vegans, proudly proclaiming, "I love animals, therefore I don't eat them." Sounds logical, doesn't it? So do I think that vegetarians and vegans have got it right? Is choosing not to eat animals or consume animal products at all a more compassionate way of living that is better for the environment? I think the answer is undeniably yes. But it doesn't mean I'll be going vegetarian or vegan any time soon.

I couldn't imagine my life without meat or dairy products. I love a good steak, I love chicken, and as far as I'm concerned, you can have my cheeseburger when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. So I don't see any problem with eating meat or consuming other animal products for food. I think it's natural for us, just as it is for other living beings on this planet who consume the flesh of other creatures to survive. But to be honest, the real reason I won't give up eating meat is because vegetables and other healthy stuff just taste like crap to me. Let's just say that I'll consider being vegetarian or vegan the day that someone can show me food that doesn't come from an animal and tastes as good as a nice, juicy t-bone steak.

I'm certainly not saying that I don't care about how animals are treated before they're slaughtered for food or how they're slaughtered, which is why I've put my name to many petitions advocating for more humane treatment of animals destined for our dinner plates and will continue to do so. I think it's simply unjustifiable that we treat the creatures we eat to survive with such disdain. As I see it, any animals we eat ought to be wined and dined (at least in a figurative sense) before they are put to slaughter. And when they are slaughtered, they should feel no pain or as little pain as possible. It's the least we can do for the living, sentient creatures that sustain us.

It would be ideal if everyone on this planet all of a sudden chose not to consume animals or animal products, but I just don't think it's going to happen. Although the number of vegetarians and vegans around the world has grown significantly over time, the vast majority of Earth's human population still eats animals to survive. I think it's more likely that we will develop technology to grow meat without killing animals. Such technology is even being developed now, though it is still in early stages. So for now, we still have to choose between adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or continuing to consume animals and animal products with the knowledge that animals will likely be harmed and suffer inhumane treatment on their way to our plates. 

Down With Repeat Commercials!

Watching and listening to commercials is just something you have to put up with when you watch television. And I understand that if TV shows and networks want to survive, they need the revenue that comes from selling advertising space. This is especially true in the internet age when an increasing number of people are opting to stream TV programs instead of paying for a cable or satellite subscription. But why oh why must we be bombarded with the same commercials over and over again!?

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm sick and tired of having to see the same commercials whenever I watch TV. Does anyone remember that guy on the Canadian Tire commercials a few years ago? If you do, you may also remember how much you hated him, having to see him on nearly every commercial break during the hockey game. How about a few years before that with those damn annoying Sprint commercials. I think I had steam coming out of my ears every time I had to see Candace Bergen in those ads.

Again, I understand the need for advertising revenue and for advertising in general. But for goodness' sake, if we have to sit through commercials while we watch TV, can we at least see some more variety without being bombarded with the same ads over and over again?    

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Wanted: A More Just System of Capitalism

I am a firm believer in capitalism, but I don't believe in a capitalist system where some are so rich, their net worth is even more than the GDP of some nation-states, whereas so many others are so poor that their very survival is threatened by poverty. I want a capitalist system in which people can still become wealthy, but where even the poorest of people still have the right to a decent home, a good education, enough food to eat and access to adequate health care. These are rights that I think are just as important as the right to free speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, if not more so. Indeed, what good is having the right to speak your mind or worship freely when you're so poor that you can't even feed yourself? 

The unapologetic capitalists out there would probably answer my question by saying that in a capitalist system, all people, including the poorest of the poor, can become rich and powerful if they just work hard enough. So all it takes is hard work, right? I wish it were that simple, but the fact of the matter is that there are many people in this world who work hard but still struggle to provide for themselves and their families, while at the same time there are rich people who barely lift a finger yet still enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. If all it took to become rich was to work hard, then most of the people slaving in minimum wage jobs today would be millionaires.

Now of course, I'm not saying that hard work can't lead to riches. It does in many cases. History is full of so-called "rags to riches" stories about people who started off with next to nothing and eventually became rich beyond their wildest dreams. The problem is that devout capitalists assume that it's in the power of everyone to do this when in fact it isn't. Not everyone can become the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson. The reality is that some people are just more talented and innovative than others. But does that mean that those who don't have the brains and the talents of today's rich and powerful should be condemned to poverty? Certainly not. The average person should still be able to at least put food on his table and a roof over his head.

Capitalism has always been under threat because it leaves so many people with too little to live a dignified and fruitful existence. It has only survived this long because some of our leaders fortunately realized that they needed to lend a hand to those whose boats didn't rise with the capitalist tide that was supposed to lift them. This explains in part how the modern social safety net - things like unemployment insurance, socialized medicine and free primary and secondary education - took shape. Improving and expanding this social safety net so that those who have less can still feed, clothe and house themselves is essential for the future survival of capitalism. But lately, the opposite has been happening. Instead of expanding and improving social programs, compassion-less governments, like that of U.S. President Donald Trump, are eroding the social safety net. In my opinion, it's like they're digging their own graves, because once capitalism leaves too many people behind, those people will inevitably revolt and capitalism will be overthrown along with its biggest beneficiaries.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Syria's civil war has been going on for half a decade, but despite the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and the seemingly endless suffering that the people of Syria have endured, neither the ruling Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad nor the various factions opposing him are backing down. As the war has dragged on, it has morphed into not just a civil war, but a proxy war between competing international powers. The Americans and Sunni Arab Gulf states support the rebel groups while Russia and Iran have backed Assad's regime. The only thing that they have been able to agree on during the course of the war has been the need to defeat the so-called Islamic State terrorist group. Now, at long last, the death cult of ISIL is all but defeated in Syria, but the war continues. Is there any end in sight? Not unless those party to the conflict can reach an agreement that gives all of them at least some of what they want.

I believe I know what the framework for such an agreement could potentially look like. It certainly isn't what I'd like to see happen, but based on the realities on the ground, I think it would be the best way of ending the conflict. The biggest issue of the conflict is, of course, who should rule Syria. Both the Russians and Iranians would like Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad to continue in power. They see him as a key ally in maintaining and advancing their interests. Russia in particular wants to keep its naval base in the region of Latakia,which borders the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin does not want to lose another ally in the Middle East after the fall of Libya's Moammar Ghaddafi. For its part, Iran seeks to expand its power sphere in the Middle East and wants to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel, hoping to eventually annihilate the Jewish State. In fact, it has been reported that the Islamic Republic has begun building a base just thirty kilometers from the Israeli-Syrian border. Israel obviously doesn't want the Shiite regime on its doorstep, especially since they already have to put up with Iran's proxy militia, Hezbollah, on its northern border with Lebanon.

Both the Americans and their Sunni Arab allies would like to see Assad removed from power in Syria, thereby curbing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia in particular is now battling Iran for the role of regional hegemon. Not only is the kingdom supporting rebel movements in Syria, but it is also heavily involved in Yemen's civil war as it attempts to destroy the so-called Houthi militia, which is backed by Iran and now controls the northern part of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

I believe a solution can be found that accommodates the interests of the U.S. and her Israeli and Sunni Arab allies on the one hand and the interests of Iran and Russia on the other. No one will get exactly what they want, but everyone will get something. This solution would see the region of Latakia split off from the rest of Syria. As I mentioned before, Latakia is the home of Russia's naval base. It is also where Assad maintains the bulk of his popular support from his fellow Alawite Muslims, who form the overwhelming majority of the population in the Syrian coastal region. So part of the solution to the Syrian conflict would see Assad leaving Damascus to take up residence in Latakia and ruling over a new state therein. This would allow Russia and Iran to maintain their alliance with Assad and would also allow Russia to keep its all-important naval base in the region.

The rest of Syria would then be free of Assad and his regime. Israel would not face the threat of another front opened up against it and the U.S. and her Sunni Arab allies get what they want in the form of a government in most of Syria that is more favorable to their interests. But what would a new government of Syria look like? Taking into consideration Syria's multi-ethnic, multi-religious character, I believe the logical way forward for the country is a form of federalism or at least a governmental structure that would allow autonomy for minority communities, especially the Druze and the Kurds. The country's constitution would have to be re-written to reflect the country's diversity rather than giving Arabs and Islam supremacy in the way it does today.

In a nutshell, it is only through compromise by which the war in Syria will ultimately end. Indeed, the most powerful opposing parties to the conflict, the U.S. and Russia, have already agreed that there is no military solution.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Toronto Marks 20 Years of Amalgamation...And 20 Years of Decline

I was prompted to write this blog when I saw a Facebook post by Mayor John Tory commemorating 20 years since the different parts of Toronto were amalgamated into one "megacity" as it was then called. I honestly think that this is a grim anniversary, because ever since the amalgamation, which many if not most Torontonians rejected, Toronto has been in steady decline.

Before amalgamation, the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto was composed of several separate municipalities: North York, East York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and of course, the old City of Toronto. Enter Ontario Premier Mike Harris. He decided to put all of them together, whether Torontonians liked it or not. Harris was hardly a friend to Toronto. In fact, I would say he had a big hate-on for this city. It's no surprise, then, that he downloaded a whole bunch of costs onto the city without downloading additional funds. He also removed the provincial subsidy for the TTC, which is now one of the least subsidized transit systems in North America.

In 2003, the Liberals deposed the Tories as Ontario's governing party, but they didn't undo the damage that Premier Harris and his government did to the city. Quite the contrary, they did even more damage by giving the stiffs at City Hall more power to raise taxes and fees. Ever since then, the city's spendthrift mayors and councillors have been pigging out at the trough. Year after year, Torontonians see the fees and taxes they paid go up and the level and quality of city services go down as their elected officials recklessly spend taxpayer dollars on their own pet projects.

To make matters worse, amalgamation sewed the seeds of division between the old City of Toronto and its suburbs. To this day, folks in the suburbs complain about how they are shortchanged by "downtown elites", especially when it comes to public transit. Indeed, the further out from the downtown core you go, the worse public transit gets. Toronto's transit system remains stuck in the 1980's. At the same time, the city's population has grown tremendously. As a result, Toronto's buses, streetcars and subways are severely overcrowded and much of the city is under-served by the TTC.

I would say that Toronto is still a great city. But after twenty years of amalgamation, its people are divided, its transit system is woefully inadequate, home prices have skyrocketed and traffic is simply a nightmare.