Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Israel & Gaza: Tectonic shift in past 24 hours

Israel's embattled prime minister
The Egypt-brokered truce agreement just struck has resulted in two shifts in the underlying political forces in that area.

The first shift is a de facto recognition by Israel of the pan-Palestinian government that Abbas had set in place, as Zvi Bar’el writes in Haaretz:

But this is just a preliminary agreement. The important agreement will come in another month, when both sides return to Cairo to negotiate over core issues like a port and airport, prisoner releases and Gaza’s reconstruction. Over the coming month, the cease-fire’s stability will be tested, and that is the innovation in yesterday’s agreement: The truce is of unlimited duration. 

Thus for the first time, Israel has agreed to a confidence-building process with the Palestinian government to which Hamas and Islamic Jihad are also parties.

The negotiations won’t be direct, but this is clearly a pan-Palestinian agreement with Israel. 

Thus Israel has not only recognized the Palestinian unity government, but also acknowledged that Gaza and the West Bank can no longer be separated. Without these two facts, neither yesterday’s deal nor those to follow would have any practical meaning. Effectively, Israel has recognized Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups as an inseparable part of the Palestinian polity with which it will also have to conduct broader diplomatic negotiations in the future.

The second major change is that the Israeli cabinet is not united around the truce itself. Some reports suggest that the Israeli prime minister did not call for a vote on the truce from cabinet members because it might not have passed.

This is the take of Attila Somfalvi in Ynet News:

Political rumblings began within the Israeli government Tuesday evening after a long-term ceasefire with Hamas went into effect at 7pm local time and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett called for a Cabinet vote on the decision, citing that ministers hadn't been consulted about the deal.

According to Bennett, the decision had been made exclusively by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cabinet members were only updated on the decision by telephone.

The Cabinet appeared to be split on the deal, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Interior Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan opposing the decision, and supporting further military action in Gaza.

If the ceasefire does not result in peace, the Israeli prime minister will find his political career under attack. A significant breach of the truce could lead to a new prime minister.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why is Justin Trudeau dancing to victory?

Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star has a few good reasons why our next Prime Minister will be named Justin Trudeau:

But what makes some politicians attractive and others repellent?

Trudeau is intelligent, humane and self-confident, a Québécois who is devoted to Canadian unity and has the most marvellous family: a sophisticated career-minded wife, Sophie Grégoire, and three adorable young children with the interesting names that only confident parents bestow: Xavier James, Ella-Grace and Hadrien. He has an English degree from McGill, a UBC teaching degree and taught for several years. He has his father’s intellect and wit, while being more down to earth, and his mother’s good looks and warmth. And the guy, a Montrealer, can wear a suit.

Take every word over four letters in that paragraph and you have a list of why the ruling Conservatives hate him. I didn’t put the word “attractive” in there in case they fizzed with resentment and exploded, like when you shake a pop can and open its little metal hole.

The steady drip-drip-drip of Harper political venom and disrespect for Canada’s democratic institutions has done just what many of us thought it would: corrode the initial support for Harper as a man who would tidy up Ottawa, after the shambles of the Liberal government he replaced.

That corrosion is so widespread by now that it will take a miracle for Stephen Harper to remain in power as PM come the next election.

In the meantime, all those who have felt the sting of the Conservative Party disciplinary and deprivation whip should start dusting off their own dancing shoes, and practising a few celebratory hops. Good times are coming back.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

New program can analyse your personality (and a politician’s)

Yair Neuman: Personality Analyzer
Prof. Yair Neuman, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has developed such a program, and has used it to analyse the views of President Obama and Hillary Clinton towards Israel:

Neuman’s method, which he describes as augmented intelligence, works with any text of a person’s words – from a speech, interview, essay, or online post. The text is processed by computer software he developed. An expert must interpret the results.

Among other things, Neuman has used the program to profile political leaders and school shooters, to predict behavior on Twitter, and to evaluate online customer reviews.

How does it work? You feed a speech you made into the program, press a button, and voila! results arrive which an expert can interpret:

Built into the program are semantic signatures for dozens of personality dimensions, including the ”Big Five” personality types – extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience – as well as emotional and psychodynamic characteristics. The signature of each dimension is based on a handful of words that describe it in the psychological literature.

For example, the profile of unfriendliness is based on the use of these words: remote, solitary, apathetic, and indifferent. Unfriendliness is a psychodynamic characteristic, meaning it has unconscious causes. This dimension of the program has not been systematically validated.

The semantic signatures of the words from the text are compared to those of the personality dimensions. The more similar the signatures of the words are to that of a dimension, the higher the person in question scores on that dimension of personality.

Neuman says his program does not allow him to profile a person’s entire personality – just how it is expressed in context. A person’s true character, he says, becomes clear only with time.

I can’t wait for the day when any discussion of any politicians views on a topic are accompanied by just such an analysis: politicians’ ability to hide their true feelings will be much more difficult when this happens.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Israel & Gaza: Is Kerry a Nebish?

John Nebbish Kerry?
This question has been raised, given Kerry’s missteps in recent weeks:
Nonetheless, one can’t deny Kerry’s almost inexplicable series of mishaps, faux pas and unfortunate events: on Friday it was the press conference in Cairo with the UN Secretary General and the Egyptian foreign minister that was not only upstaged by the Israeli rejection but also marred by technical mishaps that either blotted out Kerry’s face or distorted his voice; before that it was the Egyptian security authorities who insisted on humiliating Kerry by carrying out a physical security check before his meeting with President Sisi; before that it as Kerry’s unfortunate “So how is your day” query to the grieving American mother of fallen IDF solider Max Steinberg; and before that it was Kerry’s hot mike comments about Palestinian casualties on Fox News. Never mind this week’s widely-mentioned New Republic investigative report in which Kerry was assigned most of the blame for the collapse of his own peace efforts.

Increasingly, Kerry comes across as a hapless nebekh, which many Americans pronounce as nebbish because, as Leo Rosten says, they don’t know how to clear their throats. The etymology of the word in Yiddish has been traced by researchers to Middle Age Czech, which is only fitting given Kerry’s renowned Jewish roots in the Czech village of Horni Benesov, where his forefathers were known as Kohn.

What is a nebbish?

Here’s one definition:

Nebbish: a person, especially a man, who is regarded as pitifully ineffectual, timid, or submissive.

Here’s another one:

The nebbish is the bumbling caricature of a Jewish male, embodied by figures like Woody Allen and George Costanza.

I guess you can put me in the Yes, He Is column, given his performance to date on many major files. A sonorous voice and pithy sound bites are no substitute for competence and knowledge; unfortunately, Kerry seems to prefer the former.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

USA: Elizabeth Warren takes the fight to Wall Street

The Real USA
The highly intelligent, courageous and scrappy new senator is not stopping in her fight for the middle class. She is pounding the streets, raising money for long-shot Democrat candidates, and focusing on the rigged stock market that favours the wealthy and has a lock on many elected senators and House representatives:

Yet Warren’s 2014 road show is important in its own right. By stumping for long-shot Democrats in red states, raising and spreading around campaign cash, devising innovative legislation for candidates to borrow and, most importantly, sharpening the left’s rhetorical attack on Wall Street, Warren could have a major impact on the future of the Democratic Party, regardless of what she does in 2016.

Her traveling road show powerfully demonstrates why. Warren blows past any Beltway skittishness over “class warfare.” In her recent appearances alongside Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant, she portrayed the options before voters as “a choice between billionaires and students” or between someone who will “stand up for Wall Street” or “stand up for the families.” 

She name-checked Citibank and Goldman Sachs as among the Wall Streeters who already have “plenty of folks in the United State Senate who are willing to work on their side,” suggesting they don’t need to hold on to eager recipients of financial industry campaign cash like Sen. Mitch McConnell or Rep. Shelley Capito. 

And she used her signature student loan bill that would pay for refinancing by closing tax loopholes, filibustered by Republicans but embraced by the two Appalachian Democrats, as a case study of whose side each candidate is on.
A real leader

Warren’s Wall Street bashing has a good chance of boosting Tennant and Grimes because no matter what shade the state, people hate Wall Street. 

Already this year, Rep. Eric Cantor lost his job in part because Tea Party conservatives felt he was too close to big banks. 

After that Virginia primary, pollster Greenberg Quinlain Rosner conducted a national survey showing that 64 percent believe “the stock market is rigged for insiders” and 60 percent support “stricter regulation” on financial institutions, reflecting support that spans across the partisan spectrum.

Warren is saying what Hilary Clinton dare not say: the financial system of the USA is still broke, and needs fixing; is rigged, and needs leveling; and too many elected representatives are in the hip pockets of the wealthy.

Now if only Warren would decide to run for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 election!

The world would benefit if she won, and replaced President Obama, not just the USA.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Coming soon: High Noon in Ottawa, starring Senator “Sixgun” Duffy

The Mounties have ridden into town, dismounted, and placed their investigations in the hands of the state prosecutors. The prosecutors have carefully drafted 31 charges against a senator, and the stage is now set for an epic High Noon shootout on a dusty street in front of the Parliament in Ottawa.

And the senator has promised to call out several senior members of the Conservative Party as witnesses, under oath.

From the Ottawa Citizen:
Duffy has long maintained his innocence, saying that the details of his housing claims would all come out in court.

He has also quietly told colleagues that he intended to call as witnesses senior members of the Conservative party so they would be forced to talk about what they knew.
Wright, is expected to be a key witness at any trial. However, the RCMP announced in April that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Wright with anything.
A senior Tory, perhaps?

In his statement last night, Bayne says the evidence will show that his client did not want to participate in Nigel Wright’s and the PMO’s repayment scenario, which he says they concocted for purely political purposes.

Rest assured, if the State does not call Nigel Wright as witness, then “Sixgun” Duffy will most likely do so. Either way, I believe it is highly probable that Wright will be given a chance to explain what happened before, during and after the events that led him to utter his now immortal “We are good to go” words.

And “Sixgun” Duffy is sure to call as witnesses some very senior Conservative senators, to talk about the events surrounding the first proposed deal with Duffy: the one for much less than $90,000.

Senator "Sixgun" Duffy getting ready ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Israel & Framing the Issues: The Israel Project and Frank Luntz

A key to understanding the inner workings of modern politics is to understand what role the framing of issues takes, and the key to that is to understand why Frank Luntz, the Republican advisor, ranks at the top of political framing.

The news is full of interviews of Israeli and Palestinian spokespersons, with the occasional Hamas leader appearing.

When you watch and listen to these people represent their sides, ask yourself which spokespersons do the better job of framing the issues.

Here’s one take of what is governing the framing of issues by Israeli spokespersons, by the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera:

Do you wonder why official Israeli spokespersons sound so calm, smiley and kind when their popular base sounds so angry, so aggressive, and so racist? How they are likely to say something like, "thank you it's nice to be with you", even after being grilled by a probing frustrated anchor. Why, when asked about the expansion of illegal settlements, Israeli spokespersons speak of the need for a peace settlement, and when asked about bombing civilians, they speak of a better future for all children, Israeli and Palestinian?

Wonder no more. This is all part of a well-thought, well-orchestrated media strategy to mystify, mislead and even misrepresent the reality. And much of it can be found in The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary

But this is not unique to Israel. Governments set up entire ministries and/or institutions to defend their policies and advance their narrative, at times to mislead their enemies or competitors. Indeed, it's naive to expect otherwise. Like cynicism, gullibility is especially dangerous for journalists.

And you can access the Project document itself at this site.

Just who is The Israel Project? Check Wikipedia for information.

Monday, July 14, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: China’s leaders could have ruled the waves, but blew it

Decisions made can impact centuries, as China found out when its leaders made a shortsighted decision in the early 1400’s:

In Nanjing today you can see a full-size replica of the treasure ship of Admiral Zhen He, the most famous sailor in Chinese history. It is 400 feet long – nearly five times the size of the Santa Maria, in which Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492.

And this was only part of the fleet of more than 300 huge ocean-going junks....

With combined crew of 28,000, Zheng He’s navy was bigger than anything seen in the West until the First World War... In a series of six epic voyages between 1405 and 1424, Zhen He’s fleet ranged astoundingly far and wide...

But then, in 1424, this harmony was shattered ... Zheng He’s voyages were immediately suspended ...

From 1500 anyone in China found building a ship of more than two masts was liable to the death penalty; in 1551 it became a crime even to go to sea in such a ship. The records of Zheng He’s journeys were destroyed.

Civilization: The West and the Rest, by Niall Ferguson, The Penguin Press, 2011

For more Quotes, please CLICK HERE and for even more, CLICK HERE.

Monday, July 07, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: The German Juggernaut in search of a Hedgehog

About Jose Maria Aznar, Prime Minister of Spain, at the Amsterdam Treaty negotiation in May 1997:

But not with Aznar. They waited until everyone had settled into their roles at the negotiations, including me, and then offered him a compromise, not a bad one but not a good one. He said, No, I told you my terms. Ah yes, but we need to know your bottom line, they said. That is my bottom line, he replied. Then he said: I’m going into the next room to smoke a cigar. Which he promptly did.

They tried everything. Wim Kok, former prime minister of the Netherlands, went in and made his disapproval clear in a mildly Dutch Protestant way. Jacques Chirac tried to lord it over him in a very French way. Helmut Kohl finally rose to his fee and carried his considerable weight into the next room, looking like a juggernaut in search of a hedgehog. He came back mystified. The hedgehog had inexplicably refused to be squashed. Kohl turned to me. “You’re new like him,” he barked. “You go and try.”

A Journey: My Political Life by Tony Blair Alfred A. Knopf 2010

For more Quotes, please CLICK HERE and for even more, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Political generational shift

"Shake hands with the nice man. First, I'll take his job, and then later, when you're all grown up, you can take mine!"

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