Sunday, February 04, 2018

The "But Communism Was Bad" Argument

Lately, when debating matters of economics, people that I will broadly call "small government advocates" (usually hardline fiscal hawk conservatives and libertarians) will inevitably start throwing about the argument that "communism is a failed ideology" when they are challenged directly about the specifics of what they would cut from government, or on the flaws in their understandings.  In the last week, I ran into one of these arguments when discussing (or trying to) several implicit assumptions in a libertarian's argument that governments have no right to levy taxes.

The Arguments

Argument 1

The first form that these arguments often take is a consumer argument.  More or less, it boils down to "if you looked in a Soviet era grocery store, there was very little product available.  Therefore, the system was a failure.

For example:

What he's referring to are pictures like this from the late 1970s / early 1980s Soviet countries:  

... and yes, by the late 1970s, the consumer side of the Soviet economy was clearly in deep trouble.  

Argument 2

The second argument basically involves pointing to Venezuela, a country which is currently in the midst of economic collapse.  Of course, as the linked article points out, Venezuela's economic collapse is much more than a simple matter of having a "socialist" government (I'll come back to this in a little while).  Not unlike Alberta, Venezuela has relied for far too long almost exclusively on resource revenues.  When that sector tanks, so does their economy.  

Argument 3

The third argument is basically "communists have killed way more people than capitalists".  Yes, it's certainly true that Stalin in the USSR murdered millions, Pol Pot in Cambodia oversaw the so-called killing fields, and so on.  I don't think anyone can defend the actions of these dictators in any reasonable way, nor do I intend to.  However, the argument that this shows that communism is fundamentally a bad way to run a country's finances is also problematic.  

In Canada, we have seen the federal conservatives use this as a propaganda tool, often to rail against any kind of social policy.  (Government anything = socialism = communism, more or less).  

This argument is particularly annoying because it is fundamentally an emotional argument to start with, and one which is based on a resurrection of McCarthy era "red scare" propaganda.  

What's Wrong With These Arguments?

Communist Dictatorships

I'm going to go through these in almost reverse order.  First, let's start off with the basic assumption that "communism is bad".  The examples cited for why communism is bad are almost all better understood as totalitarian dictatorships.  Whether we talk about Stalin, Pol Pot or even Cuba's Fidel Castro, is that they were all fundamentally totalitarian dictators.  Dictators, regardless of their political stripe are prone to being deeply destructive as they struggle to hold on to personal power.  Whether we are talking about dictators the US supported for years like Panama's Manuel Noriega, or the monarchy in Iran, there were many abuses of power, both human rights, and greed focused.  

One only has to look at the history of American political interventions in Central and South America throughout the Cold War era, or in the Middle East since WWII to recognize that political expediency has ruled the day, with the government supporting governments that are ideologically aligned with them, even when that government is engaged in horrendous actions against its own people.  The history of "capitalism" when it comes to human rights is just as dark as the communist dictators, the only significant difference is that it was largely done through proxy states.

Communism = Socialism

This is a perplexing equivalence.  Anybody who has been through Canada's grade school system in the last fifty years would have gotten a pretty good dose of the different political "isms" that have been predominant since WWII.  As economic theories, Capitalism and Communism are often held up as being diametrically opposed to each other, and Socialism is often portrayed as many variations in between.  In Western countries, Capitalism is broadly understood in the context of greater individual liberty, where Communism is associated with high level economic planning being done by the central government.  

In North America, the so-called "Red Scare" era of the 1950s in the United States (peak Cold War) laid out a cultural framework in which US politicians drew an increasingly frightening picture of communism as the absolute withdrawal of personal liberties, and an overt attack on everything good that American life stood for.  The McArthy era in the US built on the existing mistrust of government in general that is pervasive in American culture, and used broad accusations to attack anyone who had even remotely "left-leaning" political ideas.  We see modern day conservatives in both countries attempting to leverage the resulting fabric by equating any kind of government intervention in society (including social safety net programs) with the extremes of the totalitarian dictators who led certain communist governments.   

However, most people who advocate for things like single payer (socialized) health care, are not arguing for the government to take over control of the economy.  Their ideals are often inspired by the successful governments in Europe which are largely Social Democracies.  The argument that somehow this represents an unwarranted intrusion by the state into the lives of individuals is at best hyperbole, at worst it represents a classic example of the Slippery Slope fallacy by drawing Socialism as being far closer to Communism than it actually is.  

Failed Economies

The failed economy argument is a more complex one to address. Usually the argument goes something along the lines of "government cannot / should not borrow money because communist regimes suffered economic collapse".  Superficially, this almost seems reasonable. The collapse of the Soviet Union is fairly well documented, and the relative lack of consumer goods in Soviet Russia is pointed to as a primary example of how central planning failed.  

A failed economy is a disaster for the people who live in the country.  This is unquestionably true. One only has to look at the regional failures in North America to understand a "closer to home" example - the Rust Belt.  The decline of industrial production in North America gutted regional economies which had previously relied on local heavy industry to sustain them.  While this hasn't resulted in the outright collapse of the US economy, it has caused a major exodus of population, and at least one municipality has had to declare bankruptcy and abandon providing infrastructure services to major areas.  

Generally, a robust economy will survive one or two segments experiencing a downturn.  So, why did  the Soviet Union's economy collapse so thoroughly? The simplistic answer is to claim that central planning is an inherently flawed way to run an economy, and the bureaucrats simply couldn't see what was happening through their own fantasies.  However, such a claim is both overly simplistic, and it ignores a lot of context.  First, we cannot ignore that the Soviet Union had been largely isolated in many ways.  Much of its trade was within the confines of its allied countries and vassal states under its direct control. China was, at the time, not the industrial power it has become in the last few decades, and the Soviet Union found itself trapped in a cycle of competing demands which it could only meet some of.  In many respects, the Cold War became a proxy war for control over client states.  The US was able to force the Soviet Union to expend significant resources in that conflict while limiting the ability of the Soviet Union to acquire cash reserves needed to support their efforts in a world that was using the US dollar as a reserve currency.  In short, the Soviet Union's economy collapsed from a series of internal and external pressures which the US economy has never faced to date.  

External pressures like sanctions, or volatile resource prices play a significant role in the collapse of an economy.  Venezuela is one such example, where its dependence on oil prices at a time when other players in the oil market decided to increase production caused a major drop in government revenues.  Coupled with US economic sanctions and political upheaval in the wake of Chavez's death, the government has floundered with the economy.  Remove the sanctions and political uncertainty, and one might well see a substantially different outcome. 

Again, one might well look to how various states that are nominally allied with the US are doing in various regions of the world and ask whether those states have prospered under governments that the US has backed. The answer here is more mixed. Some, like South Korea, certainly have. Yet others, such as some Central American nations, have suffered under the yoke of brutal dictatorships.  Yeah - there's that dictator word again - it's important, isn't it?  

Consumer Economy Versus Other Models

It is also quite important to recognize that there are significant differences between a "consumer economy" such as the United States has fostered, and other models.  The consumer economy looks at everything through the lens of consumption.  Basically, the function of the economy is solely measured on the basis of product sales.  Nobody pays attention to other factors like whether the product is necessary, or if the price is fair (the magical "invisible hand" of the free market corrects this ... right?), or whether a given product or service needs to be universally accessible (e.g. healthcare).  So ... what does all this mean?  

The Soviet Union opted for a centrally controlled model which did not emphasize the consumer.  However, it's important to recognize that it did work reasonably well for the Soviet Union until the 1970s.  Further, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, it has become much clearer that the Soviet Union cannot be seen as a simple economy. The ability of that country to create its own variations on many Western consumer goods (e.g. Russian versions of numerous western home computers from the 1980s) suggests that the centralized planning only went so far.  We who live in the western countries need to be cautiously skeptical about the picture that was painted for us in the latter years of the Soviet Union.  

Although China is a communist country, it is a much different conceptualization of communism, and one that has adopted a much different model of market economics in the last thirty years.  It is "neither fish nor fowl". It has a strong, often overbearing it seems, central government but this is contrasted with an economy that has adopted much of the principles of the western market economy (and often without the controlling regulations we have added).  It is perhaps the unique pragmatism of the Chinese approach that makes me skeptical about blithely condemning approaches to politics and economics in other countries.  Often, we only have a partial picture painted for us by those who sit in positions of power. 

However, there is a big difference between the command-and-control economy of the Soviet Union and the more market driven economies of democratic socialist countries like Norway or Sweden.  These are countries with comprehensive social programs for all of their people, and yet you cannot by any means argue that they are centrally planned.  They tend to have a greater emphasis on government delivery of key services like health care, and regulation of industry compared to the market fundamentalism that we have seen in the United States.  Does that make them bad countries?  Not at all - in fact they are stable nations which have relatively content populations.  To conflate government intervention in domains intended to protect the people of a nation with the centralized "command-and-control" model of the Soviet Union is at best a stretch, at worst a false analogy.  


For the most part, the "but, but ... Communism!" cry often heard from the libertarian influenced right is nonsense.  It is, at its heart, an attempt to resurrect the zombie of McArthyism.  McArthy was a terrible human being who used the politics of fear to forward his personal agenda for greater power.  We should fear those who would resurrect his politics far more.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Do We Need A Financial Magna Carta?

There are many things afoot in the world today that deeply concern me about the role that excessive wealth is playing in the concentration of power.  Back when this blog was first started, I wrote about my concerns that a new Dark Age was developing, and it wasn't going to be pretty.  That was in 2004.  Here we are 14 years later, and many twists in the path have gone by.  To say that we live in uncertain times is an understatement.  A political Dark Age?  Perhaps.  Donald Trump got himself elected by not just preying upon people's gullibility, but by actually celebrating ignorance.

Since 2004, the gap between rich and poor has grown enormously, we are seeing signs of the world balkanizing along trading lines (which is both interesting, and very disturbing).  In the local politics we have populist politicians running about trying to imitate the success of Trump, and a most peculiar phenomenon of the newly formed UCP in Alberta constantly trying to "celebrate" business owners as "job creators".  The overall gist of this seems to be that workers should be eternally grateful to their employers for providing them with a job.  I see this as little more than a form of economic servitude. Realistically, in today's world, a job only means something as long as the employer thinks they need you.  After that, too bad.  (I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion over minimum wage, working conditions, and other related issues just yet - that's not the point of this post).

In North America, there has been a steady shift in the balance of power.  Until fairly recently, the concept of power lay predominantly in the ability of the nation-state to ensure peace within its borders, and protect those borders from incursion by foreign powers.  This was more or less true up until the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  Since then, the forces of economic globalization have resulted in a significant shift of power into the hands of the corporate world.  The ability of multi-national corporations to shift money around the world at the blink of an eye, the revelations of the very wealthy playing games (e.g. the so-called Panama Papers) has meant that great wealth has come to mean great power.  If you work for a large corporate entity today, chances are very good that you have been exposed to many policies and changes at work that suggest the corporation has more control over your existence than perhaps you had thought (for example, most employees are strictly forbidden from speaking about their workplaces to media).  Corporate policy has in some respects come to have the weight of law without the concept of due process.

With the world's financial systems structured as they are now, the ability of nation-states to hold corporations in check is all but neutered.  The local business practices of a company can be regulated to some degree, but realistically, the company can readily move its business and money around to places where the degree of regulation in force is more appealing to them.  This gives them great leverage with respect to both the nation-state as well as the people.  Those familiar with the exodus of manufacturing from the United States (for example), will recognize the way that globalization has been used to gut the local economy of jobs.

So ... let's think about this a bit further, shall we?

In 1215, the first Magna Carta was signed, and became ultimately, the beginning of the gradual erosion of the fiat powers that English Kings enjoyed.  I don't want to bury us in the details of the Magna Carta per se, rather I want to recognize its long role in the evolution of the British state.  Over time, based on the Magna Carta, and with the growing influence of Parliament, the power of the crown shifted away from the person holding the crown to the representatives sitting in parliament.  Today, the monarchy is largely ceremonial, with the real power of government being in the hands of the Prime Minister.  This was a gradual process that took place over centuries (literally!).

Today, we seem to be at a similar place in our history to where we were in late 12th century Britain.  Power has shifted, and now sits in the hands of a few whose interests are often at odds with those of the public as a whole.  (Please note:  I recognize that the Magna Carta was more about the relationship between the Crown and the senior nobility - bear with me - I'm coming to that).  However, the shape and nature of power is now oriented around money.

Conceptually, I am starting to think that we need to formulate a new Magna Carta, this time the emphasis has to be on addressing the power imbalances that have developed as a result of globalization and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

Future posts will start to explore the nature of the power structures involved in an effort to come to an understanding of what shape this new Great Charter should take.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

On Honesty In Politics

Politicians have always played fast and loose with the idea of truth.  Facts get weighted certain ways to support a narrative, creative "spin" is applied to manipulate the public perception of events and policy announcements and so on.  I get it - everybody is trying to make their version of the story look the best.  For most of my life, that's been "fair game" politics.  Sometimes a leader (or a party) has stepped over a line briefly, but usually has stepped back after public outrage has made it very clear they were way off base.

Then we come to the last few weeks of politics in Alberta.  To put it nicely, the newly created UCP (United Conservative Party - although other less flattering expansions of the acronym are also running about) has been playing well past the "fast-and-loose with the facts" line.

First up was their little rural crime kerfuffle where they tried to play "gotcha politics" with a combination of lies and procedural gimmickry in the legislature to try and make the government look bad.  Susan On The Soapbox has an excellent detailed run-down of the ridiculous nonsense being played out there.  From my point of view, this is just one example of fact-free politics.  Yes, rural crime is an issue, but it isn't exactly spiking - the rate of rural crime has been pretty flat for years, and is only marginally higher than that seen in urban Alberta.  Given the complexities of securing vast areas of land, this should come as no surprise to anyone. The UCP stunt in the legislature was nothing more than grandstanding, and deserves even less attention except for the fact that it is based upon a lie - that rural crime is "skyrocketing" in Alberta.

Then we hit the last week of the legislative session.  The NDP tables Bill 32, which the UCP immediately starts claiming that it removes the residency requirement.  This isn't even close to reality.  To vote in Alberta, you still must be a resident of the province.  What the NDP bill does do is remove the 6 month suspension of voting rights the former PCAA put in last time the elections act was updated (sometime in the 1970s).

I suspect the rationale at the time was that you needed to live in the province for a while to understand the issues of the day, and what they mean.  In the 1970s, that idea had some merit - for the most part, provincial politics seldom made headlines outside of the province, and the odds of someone moving to Alberta from another province knowing enough about the issues to be able to cast an informed vote would be pretty slim.  But that was in the 1970s - before the 24 hour news cycle, and more importantly before the Internet made it relatively easy to access news from anywhere.  Today, that clause is an anachronism.

Further, those kind of clauses are also arguably in violation of Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which also did not exist in the 1970s):
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Considering that the SCC has declared that suspending a prisoner's right to vote is unconstitutional, one can imagine that these provincial clauses (most of which likely predate the Charter, as well as the Internet) are similarly unconstitutional, should they ever be challenged.

So, what's fact-free about this?  Several things.  The residency requirement is in no way being removed.  An arguably unconstitutional clause is.  You still have to demonstrate that you actually live here on voting day.  What's the bar for proving you live here?  Provincial ID (e.g. your driver's license), or a document such as a utilities bill showing you live in the province.  The argument that this is going to enable voter fraud from other provinces is laughable.  How many people have the resources to maintain two apparent residences in different provinces?  Come to that, Saskatchewan's population is a quarter of Albertas - it would take a sizeable fraction of Saskatchewan's residents deciding to engage in this fraud in order to influence even a couple of ridings.  BC, has a much larger population, but travelling from much of BC to Alberta by car is a fairly long journey and one would have to imagine that few of BC's residents are particularly interested in engaging in fraud either.

On this file, the UCP has simply "made shit up" in an effort to stir up outrage.

The UCP's propaganda campaign on the Carbon Tax has become increasingly fact-free and outrageous as well.  Their arguments range from "it's the biggest tax increase in Alberta history" (it's not), to "they're killing people's livelihoods" (anybody else forgotten that most Alberta's electricity used to be generated from burning coal, and it's being switched to natural gas and renewables?)  Yeah - along with the rest of the world, we need to stop burning coal for a lot of good reasons.  The NDP government has also directed the funds from the Carbon Tax directly back into the Alberta economy in a variety of programs designed to enable Albertans to become more energy efficient.  This includes bridging finances to assist coal workers who will be unemployed within a decade or so.  So, are they "killing people's livelihoods"?  Yes and no.  If you work in the coal industry, chances are you need to start training for something new, but so what?  Remember when the horse and buggy went obsolete?

Lastly, we come to the dust-up between Saskatchewan and Alberta over contractor license plates.  As outgoing Premier Wall is a known ally of Jason Kenney - and has been quite public in his disdain for Rachel Notley.  I would put good money that the phone lines between the Manning Centre, Kenney and Wall have been going nonstop looking for something else to bolster Kenney as Calgary-Lougheed goes to the polls.  Again, this entire thing is manufactured.  It's about as fact-free a pack of lies as I have ever seen.

On the other side of the coin, the NDP has been attacking Jason Kenney for being "from Ontario".  Frankly, this is a silly attack.  There is a kernel of truth to it, but I think the NDP is stretching the point here.  If they want to attack Kenney on this file, they need to go after the fact he couldn't be bothered to campaign in his own riding for the last several elections.  That's a valid criticism.  The fact he was born in Ontario is irrelevant.  The fact that he maintained a residence in Ontario while an MP is also irrelevant - his absence from his riding is not.

There is an ethical issue here - not just the basics of being honest with others (as I'm sure we all learned growing up), but rather of doing one's job well.  The job of the UCP as the official opposition right now is to present Albertans with an intelligent, and useful set of alternatives to the governing party.  That means proposing meaningful amendments to bills, and articulating reasonable policy alternatives.  Not spouting whatever fictional nonsense you think your audience wants to hear.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Post-Rebel Journalism Needs To Become A Recognized Profession

The ongoing collapse of Ezra Levant's "The Rebel" (no links provided - I will not link to what I consider a hate site) makes one thing abundantly clear to me:  Journalism must become a regulated profession in Canada.

Ezra has cried blue murder every time his company was denied accreditation by government press galleries.  What the ensuing discussion has demonstrated is that we don't have a means of identifying what is legitimate journalism from nonsense.  Frankly, in today's environment, parody sites like The Beaverton could demand accreditation and access to media galleries, and yet they do not by any reasonable definition engage in journalism per se.

Paula Simons has argued that because of charter guarantees, there is no need for the media to be a licensed profession:

I respect Ms. Simons - she is one of the good journalists we have in this country.  However, I respectfully disagree with her position, and I will lay out my reasons for this here.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

About The WomanMeansSomething Violence Database

[Update: July 1, 2017]
Yet another annoying problem with Dirks' little statistics project is the fact that we know in the US there are Christian activist groups who are staging "men in women's bathrooms" tests in places like Target.  This alone is enough to invalidate Dirks' database.
So, a man by the name of Paul Dirks has created a "Sexual Violence Database" which he claims shows a strong correlation between jurisdictions where trans rights have been provided in law and an increase in sexual predation in female designated spaces.

I downloaded the raw data and took a look through it.  First, the database is fairly small.  At this point, it contains some 255 entries.  It encompasses incidents dating back as far as 1984, and as recently as 2017, in the USA, Canada and United Kingdom.  At a glance, it appears to be a compilation based on whatever he was able to find in the news.  To be fair, most of the data dates from 2004 to present, so I will ignore pre-2004 data since there is only a handful of such incidents.

2004 - 2 incidents
2005 - 2 incidents
2006 - 2 incidents
2007 - 1 incident
2008 - 1 incident
2009 - 3 incidents
2010 - 6 incidents
2011 - 11 incidents
2012 - 20 incidents
2013 - 22 incidents
2014 - 31 incidents
2015 - 52 incidents
2016 - 68 incidents
2017 - 32 incidents

If you look at this, you would think that there is a sudden increase in the number of "male predators invading female spaces".  After all, from 2009 to 2016 represents a 2200% increase in reported incidents.

However, there are a few problems to be considered.  First, Mr. Dirks has gathered his data by trawling through internet archives.  This leaves us with a few problems.  First of all, as good as internet archives are, we have to remember that they are not guaranteed to be complete.  Second, we have to recognize that news media in general seldom reports all such incidents.  For the most part, only the most salacious stories are going to make the headlines.

The apparent increase could simply be a function of perceived public interest in such stories, a little like the way that for a while after a spectacular storm, even minor weather events become part of the local news.  To get a perspective on this, I went to the Statistics Canada Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2015 summary, which contains the following:
In 2015, there were almost 21,500 police-reported sexual assaults, the majority (98%) of which were classified as level 1 sexual assault. Between 2014 and 2015, the rate of sexual assault level 1 increased 3% to 58 per 100,000 population. The rates of sexual assault level 2 also increased (+13%) with a total of 377 incidents reported in 2015, or a rate of 1 per 100,000 population (about the same level as reported in 2013). In contrast, the rate of the most serious sexual assaults (level 3) declined 11% in 2015 with 104 incidents (12 fewer than in 2014) (Table 5).
So, let's put this in perspective.  Dirks' data shows 52 incidents in 2015.  That is 0.24% of the total reported sex crimes in Canada alone (and Dirks' data encompasses Canada, the USA and the UK).  When we isolate Dirks' statistics to Canada only, there is a total of 7 incidents, or 0.032% of the total sexual assaults reported in the country.

Unfortunately, Statistics Canada doesn't provide records at the level of detail that would allow for easy identification of how many sexual assaults occur in the scenario that Dirks and his allies are so worried about.  In terms of frequency, relative to the number of sexual assaults reported each year in Canada, 0.032% seems low - very low - hardly evidence of a shocking increase of any kind.

But, there's a more unsettling aspect to Dirks' data.  If his claim bore any truth value, we would expect to see a marked increase in the number of "men" presenting as "female" entering women's washrooms/change facilities etc. with malicious intent.  Across all countries, and years, there is 20 records in Dirks' database which match that criterion.  That's 7.8% of the records, with between 2 and 5 entries recorded per year between the years 2008 and 2015.  Of these, Canada is only represented in 2 entries, the UK in 2, and the remaining 16 taking place in the USA.  Canada is a country of some 35,000,000 people.  We are talking about 2 incidents - in different years - in the entire country that meet this somewhat bizarre criteria.

So, does this bear even the slightest resemblance to an epidemic of "predators taking advantage"?  Not in any meaningful sense.  It's not even a significant percentage of the raw data in Dirks' sample, much less when held up against the scale of sexual assaults reported in Canada.

There's another dimension to this that I think needs to be discussed further.  Dirks' data set presupposes that either implicitly, or explicitly, the perpetrator of any incident is using the idea that granting Transgender people equality rights under the law as a framework to support their malfeasant behaviour.  Since few of the cases in the database even involve someone who made the claim that they were transgender prior to committing the offence, we really cannot justify that assumption.  It's a bit like noting that there are a lot of cars speeding on a road going past an area where there have been a lot of break-and-enter crimes, and concluding that speeding drivers must have something to do with the break-and-enter crimes.  Statistically, one might even find a significant correlation using a simple correlation test, but that doesn't mean that the two measures are in fact causally connected to each other.  In fact, I'd wager that if you stopped and asked all of the speeders on the road, most would tell you they were in a hurry to get home/to work/whatever - nothing at all to do with the break-and-enter crimes.

Further, we need to question the criteria that Dirks is using for selecting candidate articles.  He seems to have taken the rather broad approach of simply assuming that any crime where a male person has entered a female space is implicitly associated with the granting of equality rights to transgender people in a particular jurisdiction.  No attempt is made to verify that there is any actual connection, he's just hoping that there will be enough incidents to make it look as if there is.  Gathering the kind of data that Dirks wants is actually very difficult work.  Simply trawling through news archives is going to give a very incomplete picture, one which is biased by the coverage themes of the time, as well as the availability of old archives.  Additionally, not all of the incidents that Dirks includes even constitute criminal offences.  There are several which were obvious "baiting" incidents (such as a man attempting to sue a women's-only gym for discrimination), and other incidents which are of similarly dubious motivations.

For Dirks to have any kind of reasonable conclusions, he needs a much more comprehensive dataset, and he needs it to be based on a more meaningful basis than a convenience sample of what he could dredge out of online news archives.  At this point, any inferences he draws from this dataset should be looked upon with considerable skepticism.  Lastly, I would point to the fact that in the entire dataset that Dirks has compiled, there is exactly 2 cases where someone who claimed to be transgender actually assaulted someone.  That person is now serving an indefinite sentence as a dangerous offender.

Remember, Bill C-16 doesn't legalize being a sexual predator.  That is still a crime.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Comparing Transsexualism With Body Integrity Identity Disorder

Today, right-wing opinion site "The Federalist" published an essay "Woman Demands Doctors Sever Her Spinal Cord To Align Body To Mind (Same as a Transsexual Man)" by Glenn T. Stanton.

The basic argument that Mr. Stanton is making is that gender reassignment surgery isn't necessary.  He does this through a rather roundabout argument that attempts to link Gender Dysphoria (GD) with Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID).

Phenomenologically speaking, GD and BIID carry some significant similarities.  Perhaps the most striking of these is that patients who experience these conditions frequently can trace it back to their early childhood memories (First, & Fisher, 2012).  Second, both describe significant dysphoria resulting from their condition, and may seek medical or psychological intervention to alleviate these symptoms.  Dysphoria is a shockingly rational experience, quite distinct from clinical anxiety or other experiences.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

So ... You Think Silence Is An Answer?

There are a number of Jason Kenney's supporters running around with the mistaken belief that because Kenney refuses to answer questions about his Social Conservative (SoCon) beliefs is somehow an endorsement that he will be benign on those issues should he ever become Alberta's Premier.

Like the CPC policy change last year where they "progressively" agreed not to talk about gay marriage in the party platform any more, we have to recognize that silence is not a neutral position.  With most politicians, there is exactly one time that they will be silent on an issue:  when they know that what they would say carries a high political price.

Overtly social conservative issues don't fly in Alberta these days.  There are plenty who wish they would, but one only has to look back to the 2012 election when candidate Rev. Hunsperger's infamous "Lake of Fire" blog post became public to see this.  Then Wildrose Party (WRP) leader Danielle Smith tried desperately to 'duck-and-weave' on the subject, but Albertans didn't buy it.  In a matter of a week or so, WildRose went from being positioned to oust the long reigning PCs to being an also-ran. Albertans - especially in urban areas - withdrew their support from the WRP so fast it stunned both politicians and strategists alike.

Let me clear - Kenney is nobody's fool.  He knows that his socially conservative beliefs aren't exactly electable material.  If he gets hung with them, then his political goose is cooked.  His one hope is to cloak himself in the mantle of "free enterprise" and "fiscal conservatism".  As long as he can avoid being held accountable for his SoCon beliefs, he thinks he can have it both ways.  Appeal to Alberta's long held "free enterprise spirit" and at the same time be revered as a political hero by the religious right (which is strong in rural Alberta).

Fortunately for us, the Internet has a long memory, and it will be difficult for Kenney to entirely avoid the reality that his past has wrought.  Kenney got his start in politics as a pro-life advocate in his undergraduate days:

If this were merely a "youthful moment", I'd be willing to let it go.  But it isn't.  Through the 1990s, Kenney spent much of his time on the 'pro-life rubber chicken circuit', and became quite a sought after speaker.  Unfortunately, even a relatively young Kenney seemed to understand that his track record in this area could bite him.  As a result, it is next to impossible to find transcripts of his speeches, or indeed, any record of what he outside of brief mentions in organization newsletters.

However, it is these speaking engagements which are a large part of what got him such an effusive endorsement from Campaign Life Coalition:

This same record also shows us a consistent record of Kenney voting dutifully on SoCon lines over the course of his career as an MP.  However, we also have to pay attention to his other activities too.  For example, he became a "co-chair" of the renewed "Pro Life Caucus" in 1998.  This is a group which was (and still is) very secretive about both its membership and its activities.  Mentions of it a few and far between.  But searching on The Interim's website, it doesn't take long to find that Kenney and this caucus were quite active.  

If one doesn't dig too hard, it's easy to believe that once Kenney became a cabinet minister, he ceased to be engaged in these matters.  Yet, his name is frequently mentioned in organization articles about events like the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA)'s "God and Government" events.  

These are the things Kenney is refusing to speak about.  He won't tell us what he believes will make for good government.  As transgender Albertans learned in 2009, a politician who isn't talking about these things openly may well be plotting something really horrible.  

There are a myriad of ways for Kenney to attack SoCon issues.  If you are transgender, he can revisit Liepert's actions and yank funding - and he'd get away with it as part of an "austerity" package.  We'll be told to "share the pain".  When Harper was first elected in 2006, the first things his government did (and Kenney was at the table), were overt attacks on women and minorities.  Make no mistake, I would expect Kenney to repeat this same approach were he to ever become Premier. 

You're a woman who is sexually active?  Abortion and birth control access will be on his list.  Attacks could range from going after funding to requiring doctors to provide letters, a return to the "therapeutic abortion review panels" of the 60s and other procedurally oriented attacks.  One only needs to look at some of the crazy stuff that the Republicans have tried to impose - including required vaginal ultrasound procedures before an abortion is permitted.  Contraception can be attack in a myriad of ways, including restricting access to certain "licensed" providers.  (e.g. behind the counter at the pharmacy type of stuff).  

As for issues like marriage, it may be "the law of the land", but that doesn't stop Kenney from rewriting the rules around marriage licenses in Alberta to make it more difficult for LGBTQ couples to access.  Anything from "review processes" to simply underfunding the licensing.

I don't live in the halls of government, and _I_ can figure out how Kenney might proceed.  Someone more familiar with the apparatus of government like Mr. Kenney can no doubt come up with a dozen tools I haven't thought of.  This is why silence is not "neutral", nor should we trust the use of silence.