Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's Wrong With Julie Bindel

Over at The Guardian, we have Beatrix Campbell speaking in defense of Julie Bindel.

She's busy arguing that Bindel should be heard - blah blah blah.

The problem with Bindel is that when it comes to transsexual identities, she speaks as if she has actual knowledge of transsexuals. Unfortunately, she doesn't - her writing is full of the same kind of stereotyping that women have fought against for years - only Bindel focuses the her noxious assumptions repeatedly on transsexuals.

If Bindel actually had some real understanding of transsexuals, and did more than simply spout off theories that claim that transsexuals aren't real, then she might be worth listening to. As it is, her theories are like listening to a phrenologist - neither have any basis in reality, and don't deserve to be taken seriously.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Little Example

GLBT folk are often targets for discrimination and persecution - especially in this era of increased travel security.

It is a sad statement that TSA staff are creating their own little games based on other people's lives and appearances.

The board, resembling the TV game show "Jeopardy," includes categories such as "pickle smokers," "our gang" and "creatures," which sources said were names used by managers for gay men, African-Americans and lesbians.

This is nothing more than an invitation to TSA staff to engage in increased harassment of GLBT and coloured people - for no better reason than the amusement of TSA staff.

As an example of systemic discrimination and bigotry, this is an exceptionally blatant form, and it is an example of what is wrong with the paranoid mentality that has evolved since 9/11. I see this as a symptom of the resurrection of the same kinds of irrationality that gave us McArthy's 'better dead than red' anti-communist propaganda. Anyone who is 'different' is immediately a target.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Disagree With The Supreme Court Here

The Supreme Court of Canada decided not to order the Canadian Government to repatriate Omar Khadr.

There is a problem here. The court has acknowledged that the government has violated Mr. Khadr's rights time and again throughout this whole sordid business. The government - especially under Mr. Harper - has been exceptionally rigid in its refusal to act on Mr. Khadr's behalf. It is disappointing indeed that the Supreme Court is unwilling to order the government to take effective action on Mr. Khadr's behalf.

The argument that the Supreme Court has no business dictating foreign affairs policy to the government is flawed in my view. This is not merely a matter of foreign affairs policy - it is in fact a situation where the government has been an active participant in the violations of Mr. Khadr's rights under Canada's existing laws. This is where the Supreme Court has, in my view, missed the point entirely.

Further, it does not recommend any kind of remedial or compensatory actions to be taken by the government to amend the situation that it has created with its mistreatment of his file.

In the bigger picture, this is an example of the Canadian government telling its citizens that they have NO standing with the government - within or without the nation's borders. Consider this carefully the next time you find it necessary to travel.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sorry Apple - You Missed The Point

So, today Apple released the "iPad" ... or at least announced it. After watching the promo video, it seems to me that they failed on one key point - they released a product with absolutely no point to it.

I'm sorry, I don't need _ANOTHER_ web browsing device in my collection - much less one that fits between my iPhone and a laptop for portability. Okay, so it's better than my iPhone for watching video or looking at pictures. That's nice - but neither of those activities is a big part of my time - even when I'm travelling.

Better e-mail and calendar management? Okay - perhaps that might tempt me. Except I've already got a great setup with my iPhone and my Laptop.

I was hoping for a sense of focus in this device - a purpose that was outside of the bounds of what we already do on a daily basis with our laptops, netbooks and smartphones. Instead, we got a smartphone with size issues.

I can see some application domains that would benefit enormously from the iPad's basic technologies - but I'm very disappointed to see Apple's initial launch being a consumer-arena launch. That basically dooms this device and its potential to irrelevance out the gate. As a news reader/browser, there are lots of great solutions out there already - including the Kindle.

Lastly, what's up with Apple's marketing department? Were they asleep at the wheel when they chose this name? They utterly failed to anticipate the obvious parodies that will come along - and did within hours of the product being announced:

There's A Difference ...

I'm sorry, but shoving a pie in someone's face is political protest, not terrorism.

I personally think that PETA is ridiculous, over the top, and annoying. But they do not constitute a terrorist organization in any meaningful sense of the world. Liberal MP Gerry Byrne needs to get his perspective back.

Our politicians have gotten far too thin-skinned of late. "Pieing" Premier Klein resulted in criminal charges a few years ago, and now we want to label a protest group "terrorist" for organizing a similar attack on a minister of the crown? Give me a break.

Let's quit taking ourselves so seriously, Mr. Byrne. We have enough problems with government politicians attempting to undermine our democracy and the valid political expression of the people - this is hardly the time for us to be getting all uppity about an over the top protest organization that is guilty of poor taste more than anything else.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kenney Admits It

The HarperCon$ don't like Parliament.

"As a minister, I often get more done when the House is not in session," he said as thousands of Canadians were preparing to mount protests across the country against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to suspend Parliament until March 3.

"That's not to say Parliament is unimportant," Kenney told reporters after making an immigration announcement. "But from a ministerial point of view, I think any minister in any government will tell you that's probably generally the case."

Coming as I do from Alberta, I've heard this same kind of idiotic nonsense spewed from our provincial politicians for a long time. Under Ralph Klein, a process of steadily eroding the amount of time that the Alberta Legislature sits began, and an increasing sense of 'right to govern' took root among Alberta's conservatives. This same attitude has been at the top of the ReformaTories since day one - although this is one of the rare times where so senior a member of Harper's apparatus has come out and admitted that he finds parliamentary accountability to be problematic for the way that they want to govern.

The price paid in Alberta over the Klein years has been horrifying. Of all of Canada's provinces, we have consistently the lowest voter turnouts - the last provincial election some 20% of eligible voters decided over 80% of the seats in the legislature. This is an exception dangerous path to see emerging on the federal scene - and one that only benefits Harper - whose narrow form of partisan politics plays primarily on venality, ignorance and apathy.

Frankly, as a voter, I don't give a damn if it is "easier" for a minister to do their job when Parliament isn't sitting. Parliament exists to keep that same minister accountable to the public and on the public record.

For the first time in about two years, I see Jack Layton is finally starting to do his job:

Layton, who is advocating new parliamentary rules to curb the prime minister's power to suspend sittings, said on Friday: "Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are playing old politics – where partisan games matter more than the work of elected representatives.

"Canadians want and deserve better: a new politics that says there is a better way forward, an end to secrecy and arrogance and the beginning of openness and accountability,
" Layton added.

Not that I trust Mr. Layton that far, but I trust him considerably more than the thin-skinned autocrats that Stephen Harper has surrounded himself with who seem bound and determined to do everything in their power to render Parliament meaningless.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Price Of Harper's Tactics

Harper has been one of the most malign Prime Ministers that I have ever seen in Canada. It may in fact turn out to be his legacy will be the redemption of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's reputation among Canadians.

Unlike Brian Mulroney who allowed himself to become caught up in the kind of bribery and personal enrichment scandal that causes politicians in other countries to resign their seats and step out of governments, Harper has continued to play not only an unusually vicious form of partisan politics since the day he stepped into his post at the head of the Conservative party, but he has become increasingly authoritarian since the day he got the keys to 24 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa.

But, Harper's "poltical strategy" genius is also his Achilles heel. He hasn't gotten out of thinking about "destroying the opposition" since he was elected in 2006 in a minority. So desperate is he to accomplish this single minded goal that he has called a snap election in 2008, and prorogued parliament to avoid accountability for issues that the Canadian public were concerned about.

He has all but said outright that he has no respect for Canada, Canadians or our system of government. He will manipulate it as much as he feels he has to in order to achieve his goals.

What I think is interesting is that Harper's support is coming from places where education is not valued particularly:

People in Alberta, Canadians 65 and older, and those with a high school education or less are more likely to believe the government is moving in the right direction.

Those with a university-level education are more likely to think the government is moving in the wrong direction.

This is significant in my view, and it tells us a lot about the Conservative's tactics. They thrive on ignorance - in the extreme actually. Alberta's government has always been quick to cut back funding to its public school system, and Harper's attitudes towards any research initiatives that he finds 'politically uncomfortable' have been similarly hostile. His attitude is very much that an educated public is a bad thing - primarily because an educated public will question his directions and orders. Harper likes obedient little minions, not critics that challenge his loftiness.

With this second prorogation of Parliament in a year to avoid dealing with being accountable to the Canadian public, Harper has made it abundantly clear where he stands. In spite of his promises for greater government transparency and accountability, he has actually dragged Canada backwards a good twenty years or more. This is a club that the opposition can, and certainly should, use every time Harper or one of his parrots opens their mouth. You cannot talk on one hand about making government work better or be more transparent and then on the other hand shut down Parliament every time it becomes politically inconvenient. Parliament is the gateway through which Canada's government is held accountable to its citizens. Harper is abusing the very trust which voters have handed him ... and the voters should be angry about it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Light Blogging For Now

It's not a lack of interest on my part in the news of our nation, but for the next few weeks, my attentions are on more personal business.

Normal blogging activity will resume sometime in mid-late February.

Monday, January 11, 2010

But ... But ... The Liberals Did It!

So, the latest talking point to come out the PMO is that the Liberals have prorogued parliament before, so why is this prorogation such a big deal?

Let's consider this for a moment. Superficially, it almost sounds like a reasonable argument. Except for a couple of things that differentiate Harper's use of prorogation from every Prime Minister before him that I can remember.

First of all, we have to consider timing. In September 2008, Harper called a snap election in September - in direct contravention of the stated principle of his own government's fixed election date law. (I won't argue that he broke his own law - the law itself was fundamentally pointless in the first place)

Then we come along in November of that same year, and Harper has his government table a budget that was designed to provoke the opposition. As soon as talk of a coalition to replace the HarperCon$ popped up, Harper went running to the Governor General for a prorogation - knowing full well that he would likely lose the confidence vote on the budget his newly minted government had just tabled. We are talking about prorogation of the parliament before the government had even begun to execute its stated legislative agenda as set out in the Throne Speech.

This year, Stephen Harper once agains runs behind the skirts of the Governor General - this time to side step having his government held accountable for its role - direct or otherwise - in the mistreatment of detainees in Afghanistan. Public ire was growing, and the attempts to dismiss and marginalize the testimony of people like Richard Colvin were backfiring.

For the most part, I think the Afghan issue is a minor issue in the long run - it will no doubt seriously damage the government's credibility, and hurts Canada's image on the world stage. But, in terms of politics, it is an issue that most people will move beyond fairly easily - as long as they are satisfied that the government has taken steps to resolve the problem.

The pattern is unmistakable - Harper is proroguing parliament not when he has substantially completed his legislative agenda, but instead he is using it as a political tool to avoid precisely what parliament is there for - to hold the government to account - and to hang onto power as long as he possibly can. He certainly cannot claim that he has substantially completed his government's agenda - in fact he's torpedoed it multiple times. This is quite different from past prorogations I can recall.

When this article was brought to my attention, it scared the heck out of me.

In fact, he said it's when Parliament is sitting that Canada's stability comes into question. That's when "the games begin," he said, and his minority Conservative government faces the constant threat of defeat and an election.

"As soon as parliament comes back, we're in a minority Parliament situation and the first thing that happens is a vote of confidence and there will be votes of confidence and election speculation for every single week after that for the rest of the year," he said.

"That's the kind of instability I think that markets are actually worried about. But you know the government will be well-prepared and I think Canadians want to see us focus on the economy. So that's what we're going to be doing."

Uh - wait a second. Harper's missing the entire point and purpose of a parliament - namely to hold the very machinery of government accountable to the people. Here's a Prime Minister arguing that Parliament should be suspended because "it creates instability"? Wrong, Mr. Harper. Very Wrong.

It is Mr. Harper who creates the instability himself. He has not learned the fundamental rule of politics - namely that it is the art of compromise. This is especially true when we are talking about a minority parliament.

But Mr. Harper has never taken responsibility for his own failings as a leader. Instead, it is a constant barrage of blame levelled at the other parties in the house. Never mind that he has his ministers write legislation that is deliberately provocative; or that is so rooted in ideology that it is simply bad legislation.

This is the kind of logic that comes out of third world dictators trying to justify abusing their own countries laws. We should be very careful with Mr. Harper at this time - he appears to be setting up the bed of lies to justify extending the suspension of parliament indefinitely so that he can govern without being accountable at all.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The G&M Points Out What I've Said For Years

... ever since Harper was first elected, actually:

If a leader in such a strong position feels such a strong need to obtain a majority, it must be that he somehow still feels constrained by his minority situation. It must be that Mr. Harper wishes to do something that he knows would be intolerable even to such a weak opponent as Mr. Ignatieff.

Unlike Mr. Gobeil, I'm pretty sure I know what Mr. Harper wants to do to Canada - and it isn't pretty.

Harper still has to satisfy the squirming wingnuts that he's really their brand of conservative - which means if you are either female, or you belong to a minority that the wingnuts despise, you can expect things to change dramatically.

As for fiscally, remember that Harper is in bed with Bush II-styled NeoCons. Expect him to go after choking Canada's government as hard as he can.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

You Know It's Bad When

Your Prime Minister's antics are attracting attention across the pond.

CANADIAN ministers, it seems, are a bunch of Gerald Fords. Like the American president, who could not walk and chew gum at the same time, they cannot, apparently, cope with Parliament’s deliberations while dealing with the country’s economic troubles and the challenge of hosting the Winter Olympic games.

But then, the writer at the Economist takes out his knives:

The argument that previous prime ministers frequently prorogued Parliament is no more convincing. In almost every case they did so only once the government had got through the bulk of its legislative business. The Parliament that Mr Harper prorogued still had 36 government bills before it, including measures that form part of the prime minister’s much-vaunted crackdown on crime. When it reconvenes, those bills will have to start again from scratch. Past prorogations were typically brief (see article). This time sessions will be separated by a gap of 63 days.

Both points are significant, because they give Canadians a little more insight into how badly Stephen Harper is abusing our democracy.

Mr Harper is a competent tactician with a ruthless streak. He bars most ministers from talking to the media; he has axed some independent watchdogs; he has binned campaign promises to make government more open and accountable. Now he is subjecting Parliament to prime-ministerial whim.

In short, PMSH is trying to make parliament accountable to him, rather than the other way around. It is a disappointing statement indeed that a Prime Minister would behave as Harper has - and worrying indeed that he is beginning to attract the same kind of attention that Bush/Cheney did during their tenure in the USA.

The damage that Harper is doing to Canada and our government is incalculable -and it is time it stopped. It is time that the Opposition parties stood up and acted in the interests of Canadians who respect and value our democracy.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Rick Mercer - Go Read

22 Days of Snow Days

... a must read.

Welcome to Canada 2010 – we embark on a brand new decade as a country that has taxation without representation.

This is a prime minister who could argue he is Canada's greenest PM simply because he's the only one who has gone out of his way to give potted plants key portfolios.

H/T: Alison @ The Galloping Beaver

Patterns of Prorogation

So ... PMSH has once again prorogued parliament - only a little over a year after the last time he pushed that button.

Normally, the governing party prorogues parliament when it has accomplished the bulk of what it set out to do in the last throne speech. At that point in time, the government needs to adjust its direction and a prorogation is quite appropriate.

That is not what is happening with Harper. He's using prorogation not just as a political tool, but in fact he is using it in a way that guarantees that his government will never actually pass any substantive part of its legislative agenda.

In short, the Conservatives are legislatively bankrupt. They keep clobbering their own legislation mid-stride, and have to reintroduce it. I'm sure it makes for good propaganda - after all, they can continue to spout off their nonsense about being "tough on crime" and so forth without actually having to deal with the consequences of truly brain damaged legislation.

The fact is that not only is Harper scheduling himself an extended vacation at taxpayer's expense, but his party is out of ideas. They have no real legislative vision - they'd rather govern from behind closed doors as much as possible.

Privilege To Oppress

I've been engaged lately in a very interesting conversation about how social privilege can be used as a source of oppression lately. It has been primarily from a feminist perspective, but today's traipse through right wing blog No Apologies revealed a very interesting pattern of assumed religious privilege being used to justify oppression of both women and GLBT folk.

Consider the following:

Hateful attack against Truro’s Christian mayor
The Status of Women Must Be Abandoned
'I'm a pariah' says Muslim scholar who is gay
Calgary favours homosexuality over Christianity

All of these articles are arguing in one form or another that articles of specific religions are essentially a legitimate reason for limiting the lives of others.

Consider the following:

...They further expressed their shock and amazement at the City’s response, since the City authorized a flag raising ceremony on the masts of City Hall and a proclamation just three months prior for homosexuals. The church feels that the requests were the same and that the only difference can be found in the message. Street Church states that the City now officially endorses homosexuality and firmly opposes Christianity in the public square.

There's a couple of points of interest - first is the claim that because the City of Calgary chose to recognize 'Pride Month', that it should also recognize a religiously-centered celebration. This is a false equivalence, since different faiths have substantially overlapping Calendars (especially around the Winter Solstice).

The city's response (posted at Pawlowski's Streetchurch website reflects this:

The City of Calgary recognizes multiculturalism and our pluralistic society, and we celebrate our city’s diversity and the benefits this offers our community by enriching the lives of all Calgarians. The City recognizes several important cultural and religious events in the community including the Menorah Lighting, Eid celebration and the annual Nativity scene. However, while we allow the celebration of faith-based events at City Hall, we do not issue proclamations for religious or spiritual leaders nor do we raise a flag in honour of a specific religion.

This makes sense when you consider the fact that not only does Christianity hold major celebrations during December, so do other major faiths such as Judaism, and arguably most pagan faiths do as well. For the City of Calgary to specifically recognize one of these faiths over another is to send a negative message to the citizens of Calgary who do not profess that faith. Religion is deeply personal, and highly contentious at the best of times. For the City to remain more or less silent on the subject is quite appropriate.

Yet, at the same time, while these same people are crying out about how their particular faith is being "persecuted" (how a faith that is nominally practiced by the majority of our population can possibly argue that it is being 'persecuted' is beyond me, but they do), the same people have used the doctrines of their particular faiths to argue quite loudly that GLBT people should be held as less than equal participants in our societies.

Consider the following comment:

Good for Mayor Bill Mills to stand up to this pervertion.

It is very interesting from the perspective of considering the notion of socially organized oppression in the context from which feminism argues. The claim is, in essence, that it is a horrible thing for GLBT people to be treated as equal participants in society. Yet, the religious argument against homosexuality doesn't recognize that it is the flip side of the persecution claim that they make routinely.

Similarly, there is also an emerging argument from right wing political christianity that claims that feminism has "gone too far", resulting in commentary like this:

Something is wrong with that picture, now we have woman taking care of the men, broken homes, and nothing going right. Our society has been vilified. Even though men are physically stronger many times than woman we have woman taking mens jobs, but still not getting paid as much.

"Men's jobs"??? Really - I didn't know there was such a thing any more.

However, this is again a situation where a position is being staked out that is rooted fundamentally in a scriptural understanding of "the differences between men and women". In this situation, it is fairly clear that again, a scriptural understanding is being used to limit a person's ability to contribute to society fully.

Both are ultimately examples of asserted privilege on the part of the claimants - they believe fully that they are "in the right" of the matter, and do not appear to understand how they are in fact imposing their beliefs on others in a manner that limits both the value and the validity of individual, lived experiences.

Monday, January 04, 2010

So ... Forsyth Found Her Spine

Today she crossed the floor in the Alberta Legislature.

It has been a long time since I heard anything out of Ms. Forsyth that impressed me - but today she sounded like she is actually has started thinking a bit. This is a distinct improvement on the response I received from her when I approached her about Ted Morton's bill 208, when she left me with the impression she had been ordered to vote for the bill, so vote for it she did.

Isley cautioned, though, the Wildrose Alliance must present itself as a viable governing alternative that is just slightly right-of-centre on the political spectrum. The party also must be careful how it manages the crossovers so as not to be painted as a protest party, he argued.

“We need to be moderate ... We can’t be viewed as just a protest fringe movement if we hope to form the government,” he said. “I don’t think they want to just throw their arms open and say that anybody that wants to come can come.”

Interesting ... it shows an awareness within the WRA that they have to show themselves to be something other than a reactionary party.

Thinking about it further, Forsyth has to be getting closer to retirement - she's been a part of the Alberta political scene for a long time - it wouldn't surprise me at all if Forsyth sits until next fall and then steps aside, to allow Danielle Smith to run in a byelection.

Although today's floor crossings are really a warning to Stelmach, and provide a glimpse into the cracks in the PC's foundation in Alberta, I have yet to be convinced that Stelmach and his inner circle will get the message.

I will reserve my judgment for now on the WRA - they haven't convinced me yet that they are mature enough to form a government - much less whether they represent the kind of government that I would support.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Positive Change

While I'm not in love with everything I see Obama doing, I have to give him credit for appointing Amanda Simpson to a post in the US Department of Commerce.

It's not the appointment itself that warrants recognition - it's the fact that she was appointed at all. Amanda Simpson is a transwoman, and in the last decade or so (especially under the NeoCons of GWB, transsexuals found themselves fired from government jobs more often than hired. So it is a positive thing that under Obama, Ms. Simpson has been hired, and it apparently has little to do with her gender status at all.

Of course, the right-wing commenters here and here show us once again the ugly underbelly of bigotry that transpeople face.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Insecurity Response

In the wake of the Christmas Day attempt at man-bombing a plane, there has been a renewed level of agitation from the right-wingnuts for racial and religious profiling to be used for screening people at the airport.

The problems with this are myriad. How do you identify someone's religion? For that matter, how do you identify if someone is of a particular ancestry - especially in North America where there are a lot of people born and raised here who might appear to be of Arab ancestry? Or for that matter, just what makes someone "visible" as a member of a particular ethnic population?

The practical answer is that you can't - and it won't work - ever.

Such approaches to threat management are just as ineffective as the ridiculous restrictions that have been placed on people flying into the US in the last week.

They do, however, have some insidious side effects that we should be thinking about. Let us presume, for a moment, that there was such a profiling scheme implemented. In effect, what you have just created is two queues at the airport - one for whatever group(s) you designate as deserving additionally scrutiny, and one for the rest of the population.

How is this any different from the racial segregation policies that were a part of South Africa's Apartheid era?

They aren't. Period.

In fact, such policies plant the seeds for the same kind of insane limitations on freedoms and liberties that were in place for decades in South Africa. (Not to mention segregation era USA, come to that) What they do is confirm the assumed notion that so many people have that being different is somehow a threat. This is precisely the kind of policy that makes neo-Nazi and other racist organizations ecstatically happy - because it gives them the "moral authority" (in their view) to beat the tar out of whomever raises their ire.

In fact, what it lays down is the foundation for exactly the kind of racism and bigotry that our very laws have been designed to eradicate.

As an aside, just how do you "know" somebody's religion? You can ask them, but the determined will quite happily lie to you about it; and people change religious affiliation all the time. How many of us in this society are "lapsed Catholics", or perhaps are Catholics that switched to one of the Charismatic churches?

The real answer is to investigate and root out threats one at a time - as they turn up. Not with heavy military action, but with counter-intelligence and espionage. Focus on undermining the very organizations that facilitate these actions the same way they operate - in the shadows.

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...