Published July 3, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
As June ended, negotiation deadlines in two different parts of the globe lapsed without resolution.
Although the timetable facing Greece’s loan default problems and the Iranian nuclear program are very different concerns, each demonstrates that resolute negotiators extend the process to the final moment — and beyond — to gain maximum bargaining leverage.
The game of “chicken” has frequently been cited to illustrate the practice. Even though the bargaining has effectively been transpiring for more than three years, each side has acted as if it could exact the greatest advantage by extending its rival to the final possible minute, and then some. They can’t all be successful in pursuing this strategy.
Published June 15, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record
Observers of the American political scene might wonder why the 2016 U.S. presidential contest is drawing some 20 prospective contestants, most of whom have engaged in a peek-a-boo exercise of “exploring” their candidacies, while evidently running flat out.
The motivation for exploratory campaigns relates to the regulation of campaign fundraising, which is more flexible before an official declaration is made. The reason for the massive number of candidates — many of whom have little prospect of winning — pertains to ego, a desire for attention in the media spotlight, and alternate agendas.
Published May 23, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
For those who have difficulty understanding how a longtime conservative province like Alberta can elect an NDP government, the most obvious conclusion is that it wasn’t about ideology.
Appearances frequently to the contrary, elections usually aren’t about ideology. The reason that such a contrary illusion so often persists is that the elite opinion leaders who most actively participate in partisan political campaigns, and those who write about or otherwise cover them, are among the minority who see politics through an ideological prism. They want to think that others interpret politics as they do.
The evolution of the Alberta campaign suggests that the result had more to do with the perception of a hidebound Conservative party, and the entitled insensitivity and manipulative cynicism of its leader Jim Prentice, than any specific policy proposals of the New Democrats.
Published Apr. 30, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
The trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy isn’t halfway through its proposed schedule, but Canadians have already heard enough to draw conclusions about the malaise in Canada’s second legislative chamber.
The essence of the former broadcaster’s defence against charges of bribery and fraud seems to be “everybody’s doing it,” and the rules and enforcement of them are weak and meaningless.
Moreover, when the established regulations are so vague, why should any level of common sense judgment or responsibility be expected from our governing officials?
Published Apr. 11, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
In discussing the future of Middle East peace, it should be stipulated that whether it takes a year, a decade or a century, at some point a partition and “two state” solution of some kind is inevitable.
Unfortunately, the implementation of this is nowhere on the horizon, and in fact prospects have regressed in recent years as the optimistic memories of the Oslo Accord fade. That said, the ramifications of the Barack Obama-Benjamin Netanyahu spat for the future of Middle East peace seem neither as revealing nor as significant as the initial media outburst would suggest.
An important part of Netanyahu’s motivation in criticizing the Iranian nuclear deal was probably an attempt to stiffen the U.S. bargaining position, rather than simply scupper the negotiations, much as he might have wished to do that as well.
Published Mar. 19, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
The Israeli election results are yet another reminder of what travails can be produced by a proportional representation voting system in complicating the democratic process.
Even with a minimum threshold of 3.25 per cent support to gain representation, Tuesday’s election produced 10 legislative parties in the new Knesset (Israel’s parliament), none of which receive more than 25 per cent of the vote. This means the task of forming a government requires cobbling together a deal among a wide range of prospective coalition partners, each with their own demands and agendas, which are frequently incompatible with other parties.
For example, a secular party like Yesh Atid has demands that are incompatible with the different Jewish religious parties (Ashkenazi and Sephardic). There is also a party that appeals to Russian immigrant voters, a party to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, and one to the left of Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union (formerly Labour), not to mention a newly aggregated bloc of Arab parties that would prefer to see the Jewish state disappear.
Published Feb. 25, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
Much has been made of the personal animosity between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two men clearly have had differences and don’t play well together.
However, even if we assume the invitation to the Israeli leader by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on March 3 — bypassing the president and the U.S. State Department — was a bush league stunt used for partisan advantage, the long-term implications of it are minimal.
American support for Israel in its conflicts with the Arab world was not always as automatic as in recent times. That support grew over the years in the face of Palestinian alignment with the Soviet Union during the days of the Cold War, and then the emergence of Islamic hostility to America, the West, and even modernity, among its extreme elements.
Published Feb. 5, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.
It goes without saying that the dramatic decline of energy prices, and the related drop in the Canadian dollar, affects different sections of the country in various ways.
What is challenging for the government in balancing the federal budget is terrible for Alberta’s oilpatch, but is good for consumers in Ontario and in much of eastern Canada, who will average close to $1,000 savings per family on transportation and heating costs. While the most obvious manifestation is the dramatic price drop of gasoline at the pumps, the implications are much broader.
Canadian government tax revenue is reduced markedly, leading to a postponement in the federal budget while Finance Minister Joe Oliver prays for a reversal in this trend.
Published Jan. 14, 2015, in The Waterloo Region Record.
One should be appalled but hardly surprised by last week’s jihadist attacks in Paris.
This has been only the latest and most outrageous of a series of assaults occurring internationally in the cause of trying to incite conflict between the Islamic world and western modernity. That France was the site of these most recent provocations does have some particular implications, however.
It is the western nation with the largest Muslim population and proportion (about eight per cent) and until now has seemed to be the one most dedicated to ignoring potential problems from that source.
The days of sweeping Islamic alienation under the carpet are probably at an end, as free speech in the media has become the focus of the debate and national values are now at stake. Moreover, the spectre of Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Front looms to concentrate the minds of France’s mainstream politicians.
Published Nov. 29, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
As controversial as U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent executive order was concerning the status of undocumented, illegal immigrants in the United States, the issue might pose more strategic problems for his Republican opponents in Congress.
For all the threats and warnings from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner about “not playing with matches” or “poisoning the well,” a review of his own actions suggests the Republicans have themselves contributed substantially to the toxic atmosphere by blocking any legislative proposals by Democrats over the past four years. Moreover, they have been shown to have no new policy suggestions of their own on the issue.
Unlike the Democrats, they are clearly divided in trying to simultaneously satisfy tea party extremists who fantasize about impeaching Obama — among many other radical agenda goals — and the mainstream establishment wing of the party, more based in reality, which just hopes to win elections.
Published on Oct. 29, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
Given the current gridlock in the United States Congress, one might reasonably ask why it makes any difference who wins the Nov. 4 mid-term elections.
The American political system was created under the principle of “checks and balances” and “separation of powers,” which assumes a modicum of accommodation among the various branches of government for it to work efficiently. Alas, compromise has little resonance among contemporary political leaders in the U.S.
Only during the first two years of his presidency has Barack Obama been able to deal with a co-operative Congress. Reports suggest that immediately after his election in 2008, Republican congressional leaders vowed to frustrate his agenda at every turn
Published Oct. 21, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
A casual observer of the Toronto municipal election scene might be misled into thinking that the mayoral contest would itself determine the city’s future policy decisions.
Certainly, media coverage of the race has focused almost exclusively upon the position of mayor, largely ignoring the other 44 council members. This absence of coverage forgets the fact that the city has a “weak mayor” system, with limited power of independent policy action for that position beyond appointing an executive committee.
On matters ranging from the revision of Rob Ford’s budget proposal, the rejection of his transit plan, his policy on plastic bags and then ultimately the removal of most of his powers when scandal broke, the council was in no way under the mayor’s thumb.
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Published Sept. 17, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
In a world that has become increasingly safe for tyrannical aggression to go unchallenged, as evidenced by the Russians in Ukraine, the Crimea and Georgia, and the Chinese in the islands of the South China Sea, the recent expansive activities of the militant group the Islamic State might all seem to be cut from the same cloth.
Most nations, including our own, have appeared to prefer to utter some pious denunciation, then keep our heads down and turn the page. If the United States wants to get involved, so be it, but we have been quick to judge if things go awry, as frequently happens. All this, so long as we are disengaged.
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Published Aug. 23, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.
Whatever outcome results from the on-again off-again conflict in Gaza, Hamas is obliged to declare victory as it did in 2009 and 2012, if only to save face from the debacle they have put their population through.
Whether that “victory” is purely symbolic, as in “Hamas is still standing,” or has some substantive gain, remains to be seen. The rush by some academics to challenge battlefield accounts and definitively declare the conflict as an Israeli defeat depends upon definitions. The perception of any encounter can be revised so that any victory or defeat can be redefined upward or downward to mean anything.