Everyone’s at fault in Mideast peace talks

Published Apr. 10, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

Rumours emanating from the Middle East peace talks suggest things are not going well.

This is hardly a surprise for anyone who has followed the twists and turns of past negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It will inevitably lead to a bout of finger-pointing as to who is at fault, where sympathizers of both sides will quickly blame each other. However, the truth is everyone is at fault, because whatever narratives are spun, neither side is prepared to make the difficult concessions for a real peace treaty to emerge.

Critics of Israel can and will blame the expansion of settlements in the West Bank as the core reason for the impasse and it is a problem, but Palestinian representatives have never acknowledged the legitimacy of an Israeli state even before 1967, when the entire area in question was in Arab hands.

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Dr. Barry Kay interviewed by Global News: Ontario likely to re-elect minority government

Published Apr. 4, 2014, in Global News.

Barry Kay interviewed by Global News on likelihood of Ontario electing another minority government, based on his latest seat projection. Full interview available here.

Will Ford Nation prevail or fizzle in 2014?

Published Dec. 13, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

After pushing Toronto into the international media spotlight for some months, most of us have difficulty fathoming what motivates Mayor Rob Ford, or what sustains his bond with the apocryphally named “Ford Nation.”

Presumably it was coined as an ego-driven public relations gesture to simulate some ongoing affinity with the masses, as with “Maple Leaf Nation” or “Red Sox Nation.”

Without intending to linger obsessively upon the absurdly self-destructive and uncontrollable impulses of this man-child, whose emotional maturity suffers even in comparison with Justin Bieber or Charlie Sheen, he acts as if he can compensate for his blatant absence of remorse with multiple insincere apologies.

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Is Harper looking for the exit sign?

Published Dec. 9, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has often repeated his intention to lead the Conservative party into the next federal election, and it might be so.

But that is the kind of assertion political figures must make in the light of political realities at the time, not as a distant goal.

Whatever the party leader’s aspirations, 2013 has not been kind, and supporters must wonder if the jig for the prime minister is not coming to an end. He has served in the role for almost eight years, and could manage another couple before the next election, should he choose to play out the string afforded by his majority government status. One can question, however, if that really in the party’s best interests?

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Tea party getting a rougher ride from Republican voters

Published Nov. 11, 2013, in The Waterloo Regional Record.

It has become a cliché to say there were no winners in the shutdown of the U.S. in October.

Perhaps so, but even with President Barack Obama’s declining support levels in the face of problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Republican poll numbers fell more than did the Democrats, and in a zero-sum game, that effectively helped Obama’s side.

The tea party and Senator Ted Cruz are not really a Democratic problem, but rather a Republican problem.

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Tea party wing dogs Republicans

Published Oct. 16, 2013, in The Waterloo Regional Record.

There are some life lessons to be gleaned from the current ongoing debacle in the U.S. Congress.

First and foremost, one should be advised not to pick fights they can’t win.

This should seem obvious on the face of it, but when people have little self-awareness, and conduct all their conversations in an echo chamber with like-minded individuals, they can lose a grasp on objective reality.

Moreover, when one is involved in a confrontation, they should have
planned out some tactical approach, including an exit strategy if things
don’t go as expected. These observations would be true at any time, but
particularly when the leaders of a movement have from the beginning
clearly stated the impossibility of achieving their goals.

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Kamikaze Republicans precipitated U.S. shutdown

Published Oct. 2, 2013, in The Guelph Mercury

It has been just over two years since the Republican congressional leadership forced U.S. President Barack Obama to blink in an eyeball-to-eyeball game of chicken between these two branches of the American government.

At that time, the focus of the confrontation was extending the debt ceiling limit, which effectively meant honouring the nation’s debts. Obama conceded at that point, at least to the extent of establishing a commission to agree upon government spending cuts, lest an across-the-board sequestration would be triggered.

We know, of course, that the sequestration ultimately did occur, and that is still a contentious matter for many.

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Putin gives Obama a lifeline over ‘red line’

Published Sep. 18, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

Just when it appeared that U.S. President Barack Obama had painted himself into an inescapable corner over Syria’s chemical weapons use, an impromptu comment by Secretary of State John Kerry was picked up by the Russians to hand him a lifeline out of the mess that he had created with his indecisiveness.

One obvious lesson is that the American president should not specify red lines unless he fully plans to act upon them. This has clear implications for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, where Obama has also warned of red lines.

On the matter of Syria’s sarin nerve gas and other chemical weapons, estimated to amount to some thousand tons in total, authorities will be unable to verify their complete whereabouts without Bashar Assad’s full compliance.

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Indifference in the face of atrocity

Published Sep. 7, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

Some 30 years ago in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War, when former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger was asked who he supported, his answer was “both sides.”

It was perhaps an unnecessarily lighthearted response to a serious matter, but it’s one that might draw a comparison by some to the current Syrian civil war.

Strategically, there is perhaps no better short-term outcome for the United States than an ongoing conflict between Bashar Assad and his Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah supporters and the rebel Free Syrian Army, including the al-Qaida-inspired al Nusra front. This thinking challenges the old argument that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and suggests that both sides remain enemies of American and Western interests.

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Absolutism bedevils the Middle East

Published Aug. 23, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

Just as one tries to digest the outrages in Egypt of some 1,000 civilian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood slaughtered in the streets, there is now evidence of an even greater bloodbath in Syria involving chemical weapons, likely at the behest of the Bashar Assad regime.

Unlike other trouble spots around the globe, the Middle East seems bereft of sympathetic political leaders, and it is a fool’s errand to sort out the good guys —there aren’t any, at least not in power. Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy has likened the choice facing Egyptians as one between “fascists with uniforms and fascists with Qur’ans.”

Despite American leaders trying to tap dance around the issue, the military overthrow of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi meets the standard definition of a coup d’etat.

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Washington beholden to inflexible Republicans

Published Aug. 19, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

Just as we can observe the futility of absolutist inflexibility haunting many corners of the Middle East from groups such as the Taliban and Hezbollah, the American governing process is being similarly confounded by uncompromising absolutism.

In the process, elected officials are more in tune with their narrow ideological base than the electorate at large. It has resulted in a meagre rating of 12 per cent of the population who are satisfied with the job the Congress is doing, yet most in Congress think they are acting in their electoral self-interest because the system is broken.

The level of political dysfunction in the U.S. has become so profound that the congressional leadership has seemed to stop even trying to portray an illusion of resolving their differences. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has been quoted as saying that he should be judged not by what legislation gets passed, but rather by what is repealed.

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New hopes for Mideast peace

Published Aug. 12, 2013, in The Guelph Mercury

It has frequently been noted that nobody has ever lost money betting against Middle East peace, which has probably led to it becoming a Holy Grail within the diplomatic community. Without wanting to express an abundance of optimism about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s quest, there are some new factors that provide a changing context for the process.

The conflicts that have broken out across the Arab world ostensibly as a result of the “Arab Spring” awakening, are a distraction to the semblance of Arab unity supporting the Palestinian cause. In reality that support has always been a mile wide and an inch thick, because animosity toward Israel is one of the few issues that can divert Middle Eastern societies from the intense internal cleavages that bedevil them. Their hostility toward the Jewish state, is matched and sometimes even exceeded by their antagonism for rival sects and clans within their own society.

The most lethal fracture is the Sunni-Shia split currently causing tens of thousands of fatalities in Syria but also spreading to Iraq and now Lebanon. In Sudan in the past, casualties were even greater, counted in the hundreds of thousands, as was also the case in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Another aspect to the divisions is the clash between religious absolutists, and the secular whom they dismiss as apostates and blasphemers.

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Byelections draw Liberals, NDP closer

Published Aug. 3, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

As bad as the results of Thursday’s Ontario byelections were for Premier Kathleen Wynne, they could have been much worse.

Her Liberal party can hardly be happy at losing three of five seats they had previously taken by margins of 10 per cent to 20 per cent in the 2011 provincial election. Nonetheless, it could be argued that it was even harsher news for Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, whose party took only one seat when expectations suggested they would be competitive in four.

The Liberal vote was down across the board, but in many cases it was the New Democratic Party that was seen as the beneficiary of disdain for the Liberals, despite their third-party status. Wynne’s luck was exemplified by the Liberals being able to retain the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, despite a 15 per cent decline in support, because the other two parties split the remaining vote almost evenly.

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Economic challenges beleaguer Egypt

Published July 6, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

If it can be said that Egypt’s military intervention this week in its governing process was an abuse of democracy, then it can also be said that Mohammed Morsi’s conduct in the presidency was equally an abuse of democracy.

Morsi, who was ousted by the military Wednesday, never seemed to grasp an appreciation that democracy involves more than just an electoral process, but rather an inclusionary respect for all in society, and a guarantee for the rights of those that didn’t support him.

Apart from reneging on his pledge to reach out to all segments of Egyptian society, he railroaded through an extremist constitution, attempted to place himself beyond judicial review, filled government posts with cronies from his movement, and increased prosecutions for blasphemy.

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Political scandals on hiatus but are far from resolved

Published July 5, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

With Parliament in recess, the Senate expenses scandal will be receding in news coverage for awhile, to be replaced by softer summer stories.

But however much he would prefer otherwise, unfortunately for Stephen Harper the matter is far from over. The same celebrity aspect that motivated the prime minister to appoint Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to the Senate in the first place is an important factor in keeping the topic in public view. Indeed, such excessive accounting abuses might have been ignored by the media altogether in the past had they been committed by more obscure members of the chamber.

What makes the scandal more toxic for the government is that it undermines a fundamental principle of the prime minister’s past success: public accountability and integrity.

This accountability was a primary reason for the Conservative defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government seven years ago, and has been crucial in sustaining Harper since then.

Whether the prime minister had prior knowledge of his chief of staff Nigel Wright’s $90,000 payment to Duffy to cover the cost of the senator’s improperly claimed residency expenses, the bloom seems to be off the Tory rose.

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