Friday, 31 January 2014

Israeli Settlers: Motivated by Ideology or Dollars and Cents?

If you follow the saga that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you know that one of the longstanding issues of the conflict is the fate of the communities that Israel has built in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the end of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.  As we all know, Israel unilaterally evacuated all of its citizens from the Gaza Strip in 2005.  But there are still hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in the West Bank and the Palestinians want them out, too.  

The image that the media, including Israel's own press, likes to paint of these people is usually one of religious fanatics - men with knitted kipot, long beards and side-locks; very conservatively-dressed women and young families with many children who want nothing more than to cleanse the entire Arab population from the Land of Israel from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea.  The media also likes to paint these people as foreign colonists, so whenever they report from a Jewish community in the so-called occupied territories, they usually pick out the first person they can find who has an American accent and seems as if he or she just got off the plane from New York.  Indeed, the English-speaking press uses the term, "settler", to imply that Jews who live in the West Bank, or who used to live in the Gaza Strip, are not native to the land and are just like the first European settlers who went on to found the United States and Canada.  As usual, when it comes to anything to do with Israel, the Palestinians, or the Middle East, the media just doesn't get it.  For one thing, they automatically assume that Israelis who live in the West Bank are there because they see living there as the fulfillment of a Biblical promise to restore the lands of Judea and Samaria to the Jewish people.  But this is not the case with many if not most so-called settlers.

Contrary to media stereotypes, most of the Israelis who live in the West Bank are not religious fanatics bent on driving out the Palestinians.  In fact, many of them are living there, not for religious reasons, but for economic ones.  It's simply a matter of what kind of lifestyle a family wants to have or can afford.  Take, for example, the housing market in our own Greater Toronto Area.  If you are at all familiar with housing trends in the GTA, you know that prices in Toronto have skyrocketed over the last few years, so the closer to downtown you want to be, the more you'll have to shell out to buy a home.  If you want to live downtown, chances are that you'll be living in a condo that feels more like a shoebox - not very practical if you're planning on raising a family.  So what's the alternative for those of us who want a single family home but aren't multimillionaires?  Suburbia, of course, which in the GTA used to mean places like North York, Etobicoke or Scarborough - but not anymore.  Now, what we call suburbia is more like York Region, Mississauga or Brampton.

These housing market trends have also made their way to Israel.  Where it was once possible for an average Israeli family to own a home in established neighbourhoods in cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it is now no longer affordable.  Hence, for Israeli citizens hoping to raise a family, the only alternative has been to migrate to more peripheral communities.  But just as North York and Etobicoke became increasingly unaffordable, so too did cities like the Tel Aviv suburb of Raanana and the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion.  Now, with most established communities out of reach, the newer communities in places like Ariel and Gush Etzion, both located in the West Bank, are looking more and more attractive, not to mention the fact that since 1967, successive Israeli governments have used various financial incentives to encourage Israeli citizens to move to new towns and villages in the West Bank.  Many of these new towns and villages sport the same kind of urban landscape that you would find in Thornhill, Mississauga or any other suburb of Toronto - nice, big single-family homes with private driveways and backyards - perfect for a young couple looking to settle down and raise a family.

Yes, there are folks within the Israeli settlement population that see living in the West Bank as their Biblical birthright and who do not want to share the land with their Palestinian neighbours, but they are the minority, NOT the majority.  Hence, I don't see any reason why the media should present these people to their audience any differently than they would present an average Toronto family that chooses to move to Thornhill to get more house for less money.    

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Rob Ford: The Liberal Media's Favourite Whipping Boy

Toronto's now internationally infamous mayor is back in the news.  A new video has surfaced reportedly showing Toronto mayor Rob Ford rambling incoherently, trying to speak with a Caribbean accent and pretty much making a complete fool of himself. 

Click here to see video

For those of you who have followed the Ford saga from the beginning, you may think that his antics have become old news.  Perhaps you've gotten tired of the whole thing and wish the media would just let it go.  Well I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you.  The folks in the liberal media won't stop bashing Rob Ford until they've run him completely into the ground.  Now just to be fair, Mr. Ford has given the leftists in the media plenty of ammunition to fire at him.  He might as well be bringing the rope for them to hang him with.  Still, I believe that none of the revelations surrounding Rob Ford and his personal life would have come out had he been a left-leaning mayor.  In other words, since Mr. Ford campaigned for and won the Mayor's Chair, the liberal media has engaged in a consistent witch hunt against him.

To illustrate my point, take a look at our provincial premier, Kathleen Wynne, and her Liberal government - a government with an agenda so far to the left that they make the folks in the NDP look like Conservatives.  Fortunately, Premier Wynne hasn't made a complete fool of herself appearing on camera smoking crack or being drunk.  Nope.  Instead, her government squandered about a billion dollars cancelling gas plant deals to save a couple of Liberal ridings.  For those of you who don't know, a billion dollars is what Mayor Rob Ford claims to have saved Toronto taxpayers since he was elected.  Predictably, the liberal media has cast doubt on this claim, interpreting the numbers as they see fit.  Still, you have to wonder, what seems like a more newsworthy story with enough traction to get someone kicked out of office?  A guy who has a lot of personal vices and behaves inappropriately in public, but who may have saved us taxpayers up to a billion dollars, or a woman who behaves herself in public, but leads a government that squandered over a billion bucks to save their lowly hides?  I can hear the media lefties saying, "darn, the gas plant boondoggle is a much bigger deal.  We better keep taking swings at Ford and hope the public buys it."  Unfortunately, much of the public has bought it, hook, line and sinker.  Never mind that the left-wing press can't seem to find any way to criticize how Mayor Ford governs the city, which is why they have resorted to attacking his personal life and his behaviour.  If following politics since my early teens has taught me anything, it's that personal attacks are always employed by a politician's opponents whenever they are feeling desperate, and I truly believe that the leftists on Toronto City Council and their cheerleaders in the liberal media are desperate.  They're desperate because for the first time in what seems like forever, a mayor has come forward who makes sure that they don't get a free pass to engage in reckless spending as they have done in the past on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, old habits die hard and since City Council stripped the mayor of his powers, the leftist councillors are once again heading for the trough.

This year, it will be up to the citizens of Toronto to decide Rob Ford's fate and the fate of our city.  It's just a matter of time until the liberal media gets into full campaign mode, singing the praises of Olivia Chow, or some other left-wing candidate, who will want to make bicycle trails out of every one of our major streets, ban cars from pretty much everywhere, smother Toronto business owners with regulatory red tape, and spend the city into bankruptcy so quickly that even Greece's finances will look better than ours.

Now, by no means am I writing this to endorse Rob Ford.  I'm getting sick of his crude and embarrassing behaviour just as much as the next guy.  The problem is that we're faced with a very inconvenient choice: a person with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who behaves like an idiot and yet still respects our tax dollars, or someone who behaves like an upstanding citizen in his or her personal life, but who will throw away our hard-earned money at a pace faster than a Canadian Olympic speed skater.  I wish we had a better choice, but unfortunately we're stuck with the lemons that we have - and they're really sour.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The New-Old Cold War

As far as most people know, the Cold War between the capitalist Western bloc, led by the U.S. and the communist eastern bloc, led by the Soviet Union, ended when the Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991 and broke into several different states.  But did it really end?  I ask this question because since 1991, the governments of both the U.S. and Russia have often behaved as if the Cold War were still going on.  The Russians, who were the dominant force in the old Soviet empire, have been striving to either keep or reassert their dominance in former Soviet states, like Ukraine and Georgia ever since they broke away from the USSR and became independent.  At the same time, the Americans have made efforts to increase their influence in both the former Soviet states and the former satellite states of eastern Europe.  So it's no surprise then that ever since communism lost its grip on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the United States and Russia have been at loggerheads over major conflicts since the early 1990's, from the Bosnian civil war in the early-to-mid 90's, to the current civil war in Syria.  Perhaps the Cold War is still going on.  Then again, it may not be that simple.

If there is still a Cold War taking place, it is significantly different than the clash of ideologies that characterized the period from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union.  Russia now embraces capitalism with open arms and is in fact an important player in key economic sectors, such as oil and gas.  So the ideological conflict that was a main ingredient of the old Cold War no longer exists.  Also, although the U.S. and Russia are still the two main rivals of a resurgent cold war, the battle lines are quite different.  Most of us know that the original cold war pitted the U.S. and its western European allies, brought together by the NATO military alliance, against Russia and its satellite states in eastern Europe, held together by their own military alliance, the Warsaw Pact.  Today, the U.S. and its European allies are still bound together by NATO and the Europeans themselves are much more closely integrated by the European Union, which has broken down most economic and political barriers between the European states, leading to a situation where people can cross from France into Germany as easily as people in Ontario cross into Quebec, without having to worry about borders or customs.  The Russians, on the other hand, no longer have a major military alliance binding them to other countries, though they do still have significant political, economic and military ties with some of their neighbours and are continually making efforts to make new alliances and solidify old ones.  Finally, one major factor that significantly distinguishes the new Cold War from the old is the fact that Russia is no longer the only major cold war foe.  It is now joined by a up-and-coming superpower, China, and an increasingly assertive Iran.  Since the end of Soviet Union, the ties between Russia, China and Iran have grown significantly close, and I believe that they will only grow closer.  Unlike in the original cold war, there is no ideology that binds these three countries, but simply a common goal to counter the influence of the United States which emerged as the world's only superpower after the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  So now the old cold war between the U.S. and the USSR has given way to a new one pitting the U.S. and its allies against the regimes of Russia, China and Iran.  Let the games begin!

If I continue on the premise that a new cold war began almost immediately after the old cold war ended, I would say that so far, the U.S. and its allies have had the upper hand.  The European Union has expanded into the Eastern European states once dominated by Russia and the former Soviet Union and has even reached the borders of Russia itself.  In southern Europe, the Russian-backed leaders that perpetrated many of the atrocities associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia in places like Bosnia and Kosovo, have been driven out of power, making way for further EU expansion.  The most recent victory of the U.S.-led West over the triple axis of Russia, China and Iran took place in Libya where rebels, backed by NATO air power, toppled long-serving dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who maintained friendly relations with Russia, China and Iran.  I sense, however, that the tide may be beginning to turn.  For example, in Syria, the site of a civil war that has now dragged on for approximately three years, U.S.-led efforts to topple the ruling dictator, Bashar al-Assad, have unraveled.  In recent months, Al-Assad has been gaining ground against the opposition, whose Western allies have wavered in sending them the weapons they would need to topple the dictator.  At the same time, Russia, one of Al-Assad's strongest supporters, continues to provide him with a steady supply of weapons and other equipment (see for example this article).  Iran also supplies the Syrian regime with both weapons and soldiers, while China provides moral support to ensure that no regime change occurs.  Also, the recent deal on Iran's nuclear program has demonstrated increasing weakness on the part of the U.S., which has shown that it is no longer willing to risk a military conflict to counter growing Iranian power in the Middle East.  The deal has also brought to light the resurgence of Russia under its autocratic president, Vladimir Putin.  On the European front, President Putin has practically blackmailed Ukraine into signing an economic cooperation pact that would strengthen the country's ties with Russia, instead of signing on to a trade deal with the European Union, which would have put the country on the road to EU membership.  A smaller, much lesser-known pact was also concluded between Russia and Armenia with the former using similar blackmailing tactics to persuade the latter former Soviet state to comply.  Meanwhile, the growing Chinese economic juggernaut is continuing to make inroads into Africa and South America in a race for raw materials.  China's military is expanding rapidly and so recent spats over tiny islands in the East and South China Seas are likely to become more frequent - and more dangerous.

I would say that overall, the tide will continue to turn against the U.S. and its allies, in favour of the Russian-Chinese-Iranian axis, at least in the near future.  The influence of the U.S. and the rest of the Western world will continue to decline in the midst of economic hardship, mounting debt levels and the weak, Neville Chamberlain-esque leadership of Barack Obama.  America and its NATO allies will significantly reduce their military capabilities in order to cut spending and control ever-increasing levels of debt and budget deficits.  At the same time, Russia, China and Iran will increase their military capabilities as well as their political and economic spheres of influence.  Where there were once American and European military bases, you may soon see Russian and Chinese military bases in their place.  In the worst-case scenario, we may wake up one day to find ourselves outmatched by the Russian-Chinese-Iranian triangle of terror.  At that point, the only question I would ask is, how long before we see tanks and troops of the three countries' armies on our streets?  Okay, maybe you find this last thought laughable, but consider that many in western Europe had the same reaction when Winston Churchill tried to warn them about Hitler's Germany.  It's a safe bet that these same people weren't laughing once nearly the entire continent was under the boot of the Nazis.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Why the Jewish People and Every Other Persecuted Nation Need a Home to Call Their Own

When asked why Israel needs to exist, most supporters of the state will give you an argument that includes the Holocaust in some way.  I can remember my grandmother saying to me that if Israel had existed during World War II, there would not have been a Holocaust.  True enough, but do we really need to look back more than 60 years ago to prove why a persecuted group of people, such as the Jews, need a state to call their own?  I don't think so.

As 2014 begins, there are still millions of people who do not have a nation-state or autonomous homeland of any kind.  Some are more well-known than others, but their common thread is that they face an extraordinary level of persecution that often does not allow them to nurture their own cultures, traditions and languages.  For Israel-haters, the Palestinians are of course the cause célèbre.  And yes, they do face a tremendous amount of persecution, but much of it is not at the hands of Israelis, but rather fellow Arabs.  In Lebanon, for example, they are not entitled to citizenship or many other basic human rights.  They are confined to their refugee camps and only allowed to work in the most menial of jobs.  Actually, a good chunk of the Palestinian population throughout the Arab world still lives in the same refugee camps that were created after they left what became Israel.  Their fellow Arabs, who talk a good game when it comes to defending the Palestinians against the so-called Zionist enemy, have made little effort to improve the lives of Palestinians living within their borders.  But of course, contrary to what all the anti-Israel cheerleaders out there will tell you, there are other stateless peoples quite worthy of our attention.
The Kurds, for example, are perhaps the biggest ethnic group that do not have a country of their own.  They are spread throughout several countries, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  They never willingly accepted their inclusion into any of the aforementioned states, and even when they were promised autonomy after the First World War, they didn't get it.  As decades have come and gone, the Kurds have been subjected to repeated massacres at the hands of dictators, like the late Saddam Hussein, who slaughtered countless numbers of them in northern Iraq using his chemical weapons arsenal.  In Turkey, Kurds have even been prevented from using their own language and have been subject to prosecution and jail time for doing so.  And in Syria, the Kurds in the northeast of the country continue to struggle against both the brutal regime of Bashar Al-Assad and terrorists backed by Al-Qaeda, who strive to impose their tyrannical form of Islamic Sharia law on them.

A much lesser-known group, the Rohingya Muslims, is also without a homeland of their own.  In fact, neither Burma nor Bangladesh, the two countries which the Rohingya inhabit, will afford them the rights of citizenship, or any rights for that matter.  The Burmese government insists that they are an unwelcome religious minority in the largely Buddhist country and come from Bangladesh originally.  At the same time, the Bangladeshis insist that the Rohingya are not their responsibility either, and so these people are caught in the middle, stateless and hopeless.  They have been subjected to repeated massacres at the hands of both the Burmese military and their non-Muslim neighbours.  Many of them have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they have no freedom of movement and are forced to live in the most squalid conditions.

Even in Europe, where the Holocaust took place, one group of people continues to suffer from relentless and sometimes life-threatening persecution.  The Roma, themselves victims of the Nazi Holocaust, continue to wonder the continent as they have for centuries.  They often live in third world conditions in makeshift camps as they have repeatedly been denied housing, jobs or social services.  Forced evacuation of their camps is not uncommon.  And in today's Europe where economic conditions are harsh and unemployment is rampant, the Roma are an easy scapegoat along with Jews and any other ethnic or religious minority.  Attacks on Roma by fascist gangs have increased along with the economic hardship.  Even here in Canada, our government has made efforts to ensure that no new Roma immigrants reach our shores, arguing that they are not entitled to any form of asylum because they are fleeing "safe countries" - the same "safe countries" in which they live in conditions not fit for a dog, let alone a human being.

But of course, here at home we have our own stateless people - Native Canadians.  Yes, these are the people who lost their independence as Canada, created by the descendants of European explorers and colonists, encroached deeper and deeper onto their land.  They too often live in squalid, third world conditions, stripped of their land, their culture, their languages and their way of life.  Fortunately, for those of us who love Canada and love being Canadian, the vast majority of Native Canadians do not seek independence and would be content with some form of limited self-governance.  The same cannot be said of the Québécois since many of them do seek independence, though I would not consider them to be a stateless people in the same way that I consider the Kurds or Roma to be stateless.  After all, the Québécois have twice rejected independence and although they remain part of Canada, they at least have a significant degree of control over their own destiny and have used it to nurture and entrench their own language, customs and culture, sometimes to the detriment of the province's English speaking minority.

My point is that before those of us who support Israel immediately go back in time to the atrocities of the Holocaust to justify the state's existence, we should take a closer look at different peoples around the world who still don't have a nation-state to call their own and who, as a result, continue to be persecuted even to the point that their lives are threatened.  I am almost certain that without Israel, the fate of the Jewish people would be very similar to that of the Kurds, Roma or other stateless peoples.  In fact, I need not remind anyone reading this that even with Israel, Jews still face significant persecution and even threats of future genocide.  That being said, I would still argue that the best way to protect a nation, its culture and the lives of its people, is for that nation, whoever it may be, to seek an independent nation-state or at least a limited, self-governing entity, because not having one threatens a nation's existence.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Want More Choices When You Watch TV? Special Interests Are Out to Make Sure You Don't Get It

A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to go to a discussion group to talk about a new initiative by the CRTC to offer more choices to consumers, particularly TV viewers and users of other screen media.  The invitation sounded like a good opportunity for me to go and rant about what I think are the CRTC's ridiculous regulatory policies that restrict the choices of Canadian TV viewers and make all of us pay for content that we don't want.  Little did I know that the gathering was actually a love-in for local documentary filmmakers, who are part of a larger special interest group that seeks to limit the choices that Canadians have when they watch TV so that they can coerce all of us to pay for whatever it is that they're producing.

For those of you who don't know, the CRTC, which stands Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission, is the federal government body that regulates all media in Canada, including what we watch on TV, hear on the radio, or download on the internet.  But the first C in CRTC might as well stand for communist rather than Canadian.  This arm of government tells our cable and satellite companies what channels they can offer, what channels they must offer and even where on the dial the channels must be.  If that's not bad enough, they can even dictate to the channels what content must be shown, forcing them to broadcast a certain amount of Canadian content regardless of whether or not the Canadian TV viewer wants it.  And to top it all off, the CRTC makes cable and satellite companies contribute funds to pay for Canadian programming.  This cost is eventually passed on to us on our insanely high cable and satellite bills.  Yes, your cable and satellite bills are higher because you're paying for both channels and content that you don't want, but that the CRTC and their Canadian content (Can-con) thumping cheerleaders insist you spend your hard-earned tax dollars on. 

For expressing these views, I was asked to leave the meeting, which I did.  At least the moderator asked me to leave politely, unlike her colleagues who acted as if they wanted to lynch me - or maybe just try to grab some more of my tax dollars.  These people are angry because for the first time, the CRTC is saying that it actually cares about what Canadian consumers think.  How dare the CRTC even contemplate listening to consumers for a change, because it could mean that for the first time, Canadians won't have to pay for TV packages full of channels and content that they don't want.  The death of the status-quo in which the Can-con lobbyists, represented by groups like the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, can no longer make Canadians pay to subsidize their industry is unthinkable to the people who were sitting in that room with me.  Perhaps they're thinking, "Oh no!  I might have to try and sell my product on the free market like other small-time entrepreneurs instead of counting on a regulatory body to make sure that Canadian tax payers subsidize me and my work, and keep the competition away."  Indeed, the Can-con people and the arts community in general are notorious for asking for government hand-outs.  Many of them cry poverty because their work isn't earning them a decent living.  And yes, it's true that there are a lot of "starving artists" out there.  But why should fellow tax payers have to pay for their inability to make a living with their work? 

I run a small business myself, as do many Canadians including people I know personally.  If my business failed, would the government be there to bail me out?  I wouldn't count on it, and I certainly wouldn't count on the government coming to me and saying, "your business is a failure, but don't worry, because we're going to make your fellow tax payers pay for a certain amount of whatever you're selling, regardless of how good or bad it is.  We're also going to make sure that we keep your potential competitors from the U.S. and elsewhere out so that Canadians will have no choice but to do business with you, even though they will pay more and get less."  This sounds completely ridiculous, but it's exactly what the so-called starving artists and Can-con cheerleaders want to hear from all levels of government.  And boy do they throw a tantrum when they don't get what they want.