Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Next Phase Of Harper's Attack On Informed Policy

Canadians have spent the time since 2006 watching their government move from informed policy making into the realm of sloppy, ideologically driven policy making.

Whether that is the cancelling of the long form census, or the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area facility, Harper has led Canada from being one of the most respected countries in terms of making fact-based policy to being the country leading the race to the intellectual bottom by cutting research funding consistently.

Statistics Canada says the federal government is expected to spend less on science and technology in the coming year.
The federal agency says spending for the 2013-14 fiscal year is expected to decrease 3.3 per cent from the previous period, to $10.5 billion. ...
Statistics Canada says spending on science and technology has been steadily decreasing since 2009-10. 

Statistics Canada says spending on science and technology has been steadily decreasing since 2009-10, and the Harperites are insisting that science research must be focused on commercial results.  A short-sighted view of research that ignores the value of fundamental research which often produces longer term gains, and one that means that research that is apt to be critical of industry (e.g. Tar sands environmental impact research comes to mind) is unlikely to happen at all because it is not "readily commercializable".

There are good reasons why research institutions like universities should be at arms length from both the governments and businesses that fund them.  In the last twenty years, we have watched businesses in particular cozy up to universities - sponsoring buildings and making large "donations with strings attached" contributions and so on.  The result has been an unprecedented amount of control over day to day activities in the universities achieved at the cost of academic freedom.  

While this is touted as "a great way forward", it undermines the principle that research should be objective and detached from the interests which may be funding it.  Instead, the results of that research end up as part of the corporate patent portfolio, and there is good reason to suspect that results that are "inconvenient" are suppressed.

Given the Harperite propensity for propaganda games (such as the "Economic Action Plan" advertisements), one can imagine that scientific results that are inconvenient to this government's ideology are being suppressed, and the funding for that research is mysteriously drying up.

Not terribly surprising from this government, but disastrous from the point of view of anyone who understands the value of objective research in the formulation of public policy.  Like their Tea Party brethren south of the 49th, the Harperites have their heads firmly embedded in the sand when it comes to facts.

Book Review: Sex Change - It's Suicide by Walt Heyer

I have spent the last few days wading through Walt Heyer's latest self-publish book entitled "Sex Change - It's Suicide".

I'd like to say that it brings something new to the table.  It doesn't.

Frankly, this book is a mess.  It consists largely of the author pounding on the table and blaming the high suicide ideation/attempt rate identified in the 2010 NTEC study on the treatment community.

He doesn't really make any new arguments relative to what he argued in "Paper Genders".

Heyer has tried to make the case that the current treatment for transsexuals is horribly flawed.  This is largely predicated on his own disastrous attempt to transition in the early 1980s.  More or less, his claim is that because he transitioned while suffering from an undiagnosed dissociative disorder that everybody else who attempts transition is suffering from something other than what they think.

Unfortunately, Heyer makes enormous leaps of inference and asserts his position as fact without substantiating his position.  The majority of his evidence is anecdotal, or it is made in reference to deeply flawed research which has been largely debunked.

Heyer is no friend of the transgender community.  Although he speaks the words of compassion and advocacy for appropriate treatment, his underlying agenda is to prevent transgender people from having access to the treatment programs that are known to be effective.

[Update 16/08/13]
Heyer seems to have pulled the original Sex Change - It's Suicide title, and re-released under the title "Gender Lies and Suicide"

The summary of the book appears to be more or less identical to "Sex Change - It's Suicide" version, so I doubt there's anything particularly new other than a change of title.

[More after the jump]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Porn Blocks and Other Nonsense

Yesterday, MP Joy Smith popped up suggesting that Canada should follow the UK in creating a general block on internet pornography.

Per se, this isn't a new or interesting move.  In the greater picture of things, it appears to be far more likely that it is in fact an attempt to distract Canadians from Harper's failings which have become increasingly apparent of late.

On the other side of the coin, it is also a piece of red meat being thrown to his base.  Just as they desperately want to regulate women's sexuality, these same groups also tend to be opposed to pornography.  

Blanket blocks on pornography on the internet is like using a sieve to repair a hole in a dam.  

First, just what is the definition of the content that would be filtered out?  It's easy to imagine what material is pornography, but it's much more difficult to turn that into something that can be filtered by an automated system.

Let us assume that we have a computer system available to us which can identify nudity in images.  How do we differentiate between the nudity of a great piece of classical artwork and a playboy centerfold type of picture?  Is there in fact a difference?  What a commercial sites that sell sex toys?  Are they to be deemed "pornographic"?  

Or, come to that, how does one differentiate between a novel with a sex scene and a pornographic story?  Where does the line exist between "legitimate" art (as the anti-pornographers see it) and porn lie?  ... and is there any meaningful way to differentiate that a blocking system could identify?

Then there is always the old standby of keyword blocks.  The problem with this is that such models tend to end up cutting off access to legitimate sites simply because they have certain keywords in their site.  This is a particularly significant concern for those who publish content for the LGBT community to access.  All too often the decision makers who set such things up include a lot of keywords that are related to LGBT people simply because of the intersection of those topics with sexuality - regardless of whether the content is in fact pornographic or not.

Come to that, would this blog itself be blocked because the subjects of gender and sexuality are regularly discussed here and would show up as keywords in a walk of the site's archives?  

The argument that people like Ms. Smith make is often one rooted in the notion of protecting children.  My feeling is that protecting children is a parental responsibility.  It is up to parents to make sure that their children are consuming age-appropriate content - plain and simple.  Even if it were possible to block pornography (and I believe that to be something of a fool's errand), there is much more content on the internet which is far, far worse than pornography.  Considering that rumour has it that there are videos out there of russian roulette being played - with the inevitable consequences of it, I would be far more concerned about children seeing that than I would a few nude pictures.  

Does the state have the right to limit the content I can access on the internet?  Arguably, they do have such a right - especially where the content can be identified as being harmful to others.  Examples that come to mind include hate propaganda, child pornography and material which involves non-consensual exploitation of others in its creation.  We already have laws related to these issues, and frankly if there is a problem today it is the complexity of enforcing them.  I have no problem with law enforcement having reasonable access to the facilities which would enable them to catch the criminals who make that content, and I see little to be gained from sweeping blocks of "inappropriate" material.  

One other point, the notion of "decent" and "indecent" content changes over time.  There is content on TV today that never would have gotten the nod when I was a child, and yet few people blink at that material today.  The humour on shows like Southpark or Drawn Together is, to say the least, ribald.  Sometimes even downright crude.  Yet, the fact that nobody really gets bent out of shape by it today is a sign as to how much things have changed in a short time.  The lines of what content should be blocked will change over time as well.

As an adult, what I consume content-wise is my own business (as long as it doesn't break the law), and further it is my responsibility to filter out content that I consider inappropriate.  Installing automated blocking solutions as has been proposed seems both impractical, but also ultimately an unreasonable limitation on legitimate rights and freedoms.

As a taxpayer, I consider such blocks a waste of money.  I do not believe that the cost of such a program is going to be justified by whatever unmeasurable benefit it might produce.

[Update 26/7/13]
Go, read:


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Class Warfare - Harper Style

Harper's government has never been a friend of Canada's middle classes.  Recent changes to EI have served to be another plank in Harper's war on Canada's middle class.  Lurking in the midst of the Conservative party's twisted view of things is the assumption that people who are taking advantage of EI are engaging in fraud.

Investigators with the Integrity Services Branch were provided with a 23-page manual, dated October 2012, outlining investigative techniques intended to be used in a pilot project starting in November and winding up at the end of March. 
The document makes it clear the Service Canada employees are to leave no stone unturned in their inquiries, even in the absence of evidence that selected EI recipients had done anything wrong. The document suggests investigators check addresses, bank accounts, medical documents and even the physical appearance of claimants. 
The pilot project involves controversial home visits in which agents knock on the door of an EI claimant's home and ask for an interview on the spot, or deliver a letter to schedule a mandatory face-to-face meeting.

The supposition that underlies this is that EI claimants are inherently engaging in fraud to justify their claims.  While I am sure that there is a certain degree of fraud involved in a system like EI - not all people are going to be scrupulously honest in their dealings with the government, the nature of the government's program here is such that it creates an investigative program that presupposes that EI recipients are engaging in fraud.

Today, it became public knowledge that the person who leaked those documents has been suspended:

Therrien leaked documents to the media anonymously in the spring showing investigators were ordered to find $485,000 in savings each year by denying claims. 
The federal government denied that any quotas were in place, but the opposition hammered the Conservatives on the issue. 
"Telling investigators that they each had to find half a million in fraud presumes that there is widespread fraud, that they're all a bunch of cheaters and criminals," said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in the House of Commons in February.
But, look at this through a different lens for a moment.  Harper is running around making a social safety net program that assumes Canadians who use it are thieves.  Meanwhile, his government is doing precious little to catch up with wealthy Canadians who have tried to hide their money offshore in so-called tax havens.

This can only be seen as one thing - a class war being launched against Canadians by this government. Harper has been consistent in taking positions where the average Canadian comes out disadvantaged, and the wealthy end up with more.

Whether we are talking about the ever expanding ... and unmonitored ... Temporary Foreign Worker program, Mandatory Minimum Sentences, the seemingly non-existent pursuit of tax-evaders who have buried millions of tax dollars in offshore havens or, for that matter, the surprisingly rapid processing of Conrad Black's application to reside in Canada.

On the other side of the coin, it appears some people have started to pick up on what is happening, and are starting to organize in response.  I don't think that unions are the complete answer here - too much has changed since the need for unions emerged in the industrial revolution.  But they are a legal construct, and one that will end up serving a key role in the process that is coming where people will once again assert control over their government, taking it back from the concentration of power and wealth in the oligarchy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Not Just Chilling ...

I've talked before about the rise of corporate feudalism.  As it emerged in the Middle Ages, Feudalism was not entirely a bad thing - it created an environment where there was a structure to protect each other from the predations of others.

Sadly, what is emerging in the world of Corporate Feudalism is less about mutual protection and sharing of resources than it is about control.  Control of wealth, control of information and because it takes people to use information, control of people.

So, when a company like Chevron moves to gain access to the e-mail accounts of activists who have been protesting the company's activities in Central America, it comes as no surprise.  Should you be scared?  Absolutely.  Consider that Chevron is a corporate entity, not an agency of the law itself.  Where (in theory) a law enforcement agency is bound to treat the information gathered in the course of an investigation with a degree of caution, Chevron is not bound by any such constraints.  Should they choose to, they can not only access this data, but release it in whatever form suits their purposes; or mine it for information patterns that can be used against individuals and entire groups.

If that isn't terrifying enough, consider that the information used can easily be used to infer where an individual is at any given moment in time.

No, this isn't just chilling - it is terrifying.  The implications are far reaching, as it places information about private individuals in the hands of those whose interest in that information is at best questionable. If you accept the notion that the rule of law stays the hand of an overreaching state (something that is becoming ever more questionable), then we must ask what stays the hand of a transnational corporation when it has access to this kind of information?

The timing of this is particularly troubling for Canadians who have recently learned that their government has been compiling lists of "enemies", and using that information in ways that are as yet unclear.  If, at the level of our ministers they are gathering "enemy lists" (how delightfully paranoid of them), one can imagine what is going on at other levels of the power structure.  The Harper Conservatives' CIMS database is known to have played a key role in the Robocalls Voter Suppression Fraud.  What is to stop them, or any other entity which accrues an enormous database of information on  people from using that information as a weapon against people?  

We have to recognize further that these kinds of rulings affect far more than citizens of the United States.  It affects citizens of countries who utilize the services of these American organizations.  It gives a corporation which is willing to impose its own notion of "the rule of law" (would this be "rule of corporate policy"?) on people who are not in any way affiliated with the corporation.  Perhaps equally evil is the prospect that if anyone who protests a corporations actions is even remotely affiliated with that corporation, they could find themselves fired for activities utterly unrelated to their work.  Consider working for a company that Chevron owns.  It may not be branded as a Chevron company, it may be operating as a wholly owned subsidiary.  An employee of that company could find themselves terminated for "acting against the interests of the company", not because they had taken actions against their direct employer, but rather because they chose to protest the actions of the company that owns their employer - a fact that they may not even have been aware of.  Consider, for a moment, in Canada, the Petro Canada brand is owned and operated by SunCor now.  That isn't apparent from the public branding of the stations, and I would suspect that a lot of employees who work at those stations are unaware of that relationship.

Freedom of speech is a legitimate right.  The question that we now have to start asking is whether we are willing to grant corporations the right to engage in surveillance - either in the present or retroactively.  In the absence of meaningful ways to stay the corporate hand's reach in today's world, I believe that we need to think very carefully before handing over information of any sort to these entities.  More importantly, there is a very real dialogue that must occur as to the extent of the rights and privileges accorded to these entities and how the structures to ensure that they do not overreach should be enacted.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Catholic.org Spouts Off On Transgender Issues

I've tripped over the website "catholic.org" a couple of times in the past.  Generally, I haven't paid them much attention because they seem to be slightly more off their rocker than LifeSiteNews.

However, they posted a particularly vile article today entitled "Gender Is Gift:  The Dangers Of The Gender Identity Movement Must Be Exposed".

Part I:  Who Is CatholicOnline.org?

The first thing I did was try to find out who, or what, is behind the website.  A quick whois dump was quite uninformative:

Domain ID:D129277-LROR
Created On:16-Nov-1994 05:00:00 UTC
Last Updated On:16-Nov-2012 18:39:42 UTC
Expiration Date:15-Nov-2015 05:00:00 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Network Solutions, LLC (R63-LROR)
Registrant ID:46032708-NSIV
Registrant Name:Catholic Online, LLC
Registrant Organization:Catholic Online, LLC
Registrant Street1:ATTN insert domain name here
Registrant Street2:care of Network Solutions
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Drums
Registrant State/Province:PA
Registrant Postal Code:18222
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.5707088780
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email:ry62y8nt8zg@networksolutionsprivateregistration.com
About all it did was show a link to Catholic Online, LLC.  Which frankly tells us very little about who is behind this.  The first, and most important, question in my mind was whether or not this group was somehow affiliated with the Catholic Church itself.  A little bit of digging led me to the California Secretary of State website which has a nice little feature for looking up company names:

Results of search for " CATHOLIC ONLINE " returned 1 entity record.
Entity NumberDate FiledStatusEntity NameAgent for Service of Process

It doesn't give much more than that, and I'm not surprised by that.  A little bit of digging around turns up a few articles about Mr. Galloway, but nothing particularly revealing beyond having been embroiled in a number of lawsuits over the years.

What it does tell me is enough to be fairly comfortable that any relationship between Catholic Online, LLC and the Catholic Church itself is arms length, and what is published there is reflective of the company and its ownership and is not directed out of Rome.

Part II:   The Article Itself:  Gender Is Gift:  The Dangers Of The Gender Identity Movement Must Be Exposed

Every single human cell contains chromosomes which identify whether we are male or female. That cannot be changed. It is a given. In fact, it is a gift.
Welcome to the opening line - the standard trope we've heard from various sources in the right wing when arguing against any kind of accommodation for transgender people.  Chromosomes determine sex, and sex determines gender ... or so the argument goes.  Of course, there are a plethora of intersex conditions which call that little bit of nonsense into question.

The Gender Identity Movement insists upon the recognition in the positive law of a newfound right to somehow choose one's gender. They insist upon laws which accommodate, fund, and enforce this newfound right. Those involved in the activist wing of the movement want to compel the rest of society to recognize their vision of a brave new world or face the Police Power of the State. In a culture where freedom is redefined as a right to choose anything and liberty has degenerated into license, the newspeak of the age calls the instrumental use of the body of another sexual freedom. Sadly, the same spirit of the age fails to recognize the integral unity of the human person, body, soul and spirit, and has turned the human body into a machine with parts which the revolutionaries think can simply be interchanged. 
The grammar nazi in me desperately wants to tear this paragraph apart.  It is appallingly poorly structured.

However, there are basically three prongs of attack that they are setting out:

  1. That laws which prohibit discrimination against transgender people are somehow "creating" a right which did not exist before.
  2. That transgender people, simply by existing in the public sphere, are somehow central to the degeneration of society into licentiousness.
  3. That transgenderism is based on the notion of body parts being interchangeable. 

I have yet to fully understand what it is that people have against ensuring that all members of society are freely able to live and contribute equally, free from discrimination and marginalization.  Coming from an allegedly Christian source it is particularly disappointing.  One only has to spend a small amount of time reviewing the history of early Christianity to observe that the modern day church has its roots in a highly persecuted group.  That they should engage in the same kind of persecution today is testament to how far the faith has drifted from its roots.

LGBT people have long been pointed to as an example of society degenerating into licentiousness - mostly based on the mythology there is something inherently immoral about someone whose sexual preferences aren't aligned with the "majority".  Really, this is rooted in little more than social "othering" - a favourite tactic of bullies through the ages.

The last claim fails entirely to address the realities of what it means for someone to be transgender.  First of all, it makes the assumption that gender surgery is somehow a central feature of transition.  It is not.  Second, as with the pithy quote used as an introductory statement, it makes the false assumption that there is a direct relationship between gender and genitals.  Talk to anyone who has walked through a gender transition, and you will find that even if they have had Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS), that there is an awareness that the physical only defines a limited subset of gendered experience.

Quoting former Pope Benedict XVI's address to the Curia in December 2012, the article's author makes the following claims:

"The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, which serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God." 
"This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female - hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will."
Frankly, I do not expect any Pope to be terribly well versed in the subtleties of human experience when it comes to gender, sexuality and the accompanying social baggage.  My expectations where Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) are concerned are exceedingly low.

Ratzinger misses something that is critical in his analysis. He presupposes that the physical body defines the person entirely.  The one thing that psychology has demonstrated in its relatively short history is that mind and body are not guaranteed to be congruent.

Further, his attempt to interpret Genesis literally falls flat on its face when confronted with actual evidence.  Of particular note is the existence of people who have CAS and other intersex conditions.  These are naturally occurring conditions, and just as much part of "God's Creation" as anything else.  Frankly, the rest of the Genesis story is so riddled with statements that we know to be factually incorrect that it is difficult to take seriously any attempt to read it literally.

These articles reflect where this is headed unless we expose it and oppose it. The operative word in all of this is gender.  Cultural revolutionaries are intent on redefining the word. Then, using the Police Power of the State, they insist that people be guaranteed a right to choose their gender and change their mind at whim. 
Babette Francis mentioned a book in the gender identity movement, "Trans People in Love", co-edited by Katrina Fox, an Australian activist, who "wrote an emotive piece for the Australian Broadcasting Commission recently entitled "Marriage needs redefining." In it she insists that all the "gender boundaries" surrounding marriage must be removed. "A more inclusive option," she begins, "is to allow individuals to get married whatever their sex or gender, including those who identify as having no sex or gender or whose sex may be indeterminate."

Well, duh.  As much as the far right wing likes to continue to insist that the only kind of marriage that is valid is between a man and a woman, countries like Canada who have legalized Same Sex Marriage demonstrate clearly that there is absolutely no basis to the fear mongering that society will collapse as a result.  Further, existing marriage laws in so many places hang transgender and intersex people out to dry.

We also face an increase of what are wrongly referred to as Sex Change or Gender Reassignment surgeries. Though those who suffer from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) deserve empathy, the facts remain; no such surgery can accomplish a change of gender or sexual identity. In effect, they mutilate the body and destroy the bodily integrity of the person. 
Every single human cell contains chromosomes which identify whether we are male or female. That cannot be changed. It is a given. In fact, it is a gift.
As previously noted, chromosomes and DNA are far from the entire story when it comes to gender.  Even if you take the line that chromosomes = sex, you run smack into having to explain a variety of intersex conditions where chromosomes clearly do not equal sex.  I'm not at all certain that such simplistic aphorisms are ever going to be meaningful.

Most transsexuals will tell you that if their "birth sex" was a gift, it was given by someone with a particularly nasty sense of humour.

Removal of genitals and attachment of artificially constructed ones which are absolutely incapable of ovulation or conception, in the case of a transsexual male who tries to be a woman, or the generation of sperm, in the case of a transsexual woman trying to be a man, does not change the structure of reality. 
The removal constitutes mutilation and the construction of artificial organs with no reproductive function does not alter the gender or sex of the person. Medical science confirms that our identity as male or female affects even our brains. In addition, even the physical appearance must be sustained by massive doses of synthetic hormones.
The argument that GRS is somehow "mutilation" fails to appropriately examine the consequences of failing to provide that surgery for transsexuals.  Here is where the whole person arguments that the religious love to throw around are obliged face the fact that GRS is part of a protocol aimed at ensuring that the whole person is as congruent as possible.  No more, and no less.

In 2002 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church issued a letter sent without public release to every Bishop. It clearly stated that such surgical procedures do not alter a person's gender and that in no circumstance are baptismal records of such individuals who have undergone them to be altered. Further, the document made clear that no one who has undergone such a surgery is eligible to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter the religious life. 
At the time the letter was received from Rome, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., was the President of the U.S. Bishops' conference. He sent a letter to all US Bishops in which he wrote "The altered condition of a member of the faithful under civil law does not change one's canonical condition, which is male or female as determined at the moment of birth." 
The Gender Identity Movement insists upon the recognition in the positive law of a newfound right to somehow choose one's gender. They insist upon laws which accommodate, fund, and enforce this newfound right. Those involved in the activist wing of the movement want to compel the rest of society to recognize their vision of a brave new world or face the Police Power of the State.

In short, when you distill the entirety of their argument down, it still reduces to preserving their religiously borne right to treat others as second class citizens.

If the great danger that transgender people pose to the Catholic Church is that their presence and existence will someday force the church to treat all people as equal members of society, then perhaps the Church needs to revisit its dogma and practices with an open heart and mind.  It is hard to argue that would be a bad thing.

Corbella Repeats CPC Talking Points On InSite

Licia Corbella's column in the Calgary Herald today attempts to blame the death of actor Cory Monteith  on Vancouver's InSite.

That Ms. Corbella would take such a stance is hardly surprising - she has long been a cheerleader for just about everything that Harper does - especially the "get tough on everyone except Con$" justice policies.  She doesn't quite blame things directly on InSite, but when you look at what she has written, it is plenty clear that this is part of an attempt to discredit InSite.

Ask any informed Vancouverite where you could pick up a bit of heroin and they’d be able to tell you. Everyone from teetotalling old ladies with blue hair to a straight-A student in elementary school — all know if you want hard, illicit drugs, just go to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and heroin will be as easy to acquire as chewing gum.
Heck, ask virtually any informed person across the country and they’d be able to tell you that if you want to go on a seedy trip of your choosing — be it a heroin holiday or a crack cocaine carousal — just head down to East Hastings Street and you will find what you’re looking for with no risk of arrest.

Note the first thing she does is portray the drug scene in Vancouver as rampant and out of control.  She doesn't say this, but her quip about "teetotalling old ladies" makes it pretty clear.  What she fails to note is that every large city in Canada has its own seedy area where drugs are readily available.  Vancouver's Downtown East Side has merely received the bulk of the attention in the media - largely because of the high level of systemic poverty, and the social problems that have developed in that part of Vancouver.

The Calgary-born actor, who was raised in Victoria, was found dead Saturday in his room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, which is a five-minute cab ride away from the Downtown Eastside, but worlds away in terms of ambience.
It’s unlikely that the 31-year-old would have risked bringing hard drugs across the border from his home in the United States, so it’s safe to assume he either picked some up himself or had a gofer do it for him by visiting InSite, the government-sponsored and funded safe injection site at 139 East Hastings. The next step is easy. Wait for an injection drug user to show up, ask them to score you some heroin, grab a few clean, free needles and distilled water, and you’re set.
Corbella's choice of words above is subtle.  Without saying it, she has implied that InSite has become a source for accessing drugs.  While this is a popular characterization among Conservatives, it is patently false.  InSite does not exist as a supplier of drugs, and drug dealers do not just "hang out by the doors".

Proponents of safe injection sites argue that such harm-reduction strategies save lives and that’s inarguably true. After all, if an injection drug user overdoses in the safe injection site, then a nurse is on hand to offer assistance and call an ambulance. This has happened numerous times. 
But no one ever asks how many people have died of drug overdoses who use the safe injection site as a legally safe place to procure drugs.
The eye-rolling stupidity of this statement is beyond comprehension.  Had Ms. Corbella taken the time to do the most basic of research, she would have found the following on InSite's own pages:

There has never been a fatality at InSite since opening.  In fact, research shows that since InSite opened, overdoses in the vicinity of the site have decreased by 35% -  compared to a 9% decrease in the city overall.
I don't know about you, but that seems to make it pretty clear that InSite's presence alone has served to reduce overdoses, both locally and in the greater metro area.

I told her what I’d do instead was call the Montreal police and ask them if they knew where the heroin users and dealers hung out. I didn’t have any Montreal police contacts, but called the on-duty sergeant. He didn’t know and neither did the various other police officers I was transferred to. 
In other words, show up in most North American cities and even a heroin junkie can’t necessarily find their poison. Even police don’t know where to go in their own city to find the stuff. But ask my strait-laced 82-year-old mom in Vancouver, and even she knows. 
Ms. Corbella's comparison here is ridiculous.  First, the police in any given city aren't going to give out information on illegal activity to anyone who calls them up.  They wouldn't know Ms. Corbella's voice over the phone from anyone else, nor would they be interested in facilitating whatever oddball fantasy some caller might be harbouring.  Second, it should be painfully obvious that when you travel to a different city, you probably aren't going to be well connected to the various sources for whatever your poison is.  While I might be aware that the DTES in Vancouver is a place where drugs are available, doesn't mean for a minute that I'm going to be able to find someone to sell it to me.  Drug dealers tend to be a rather wary lot, and unless you are introduced by someone they know, you aren't getting anything - you could easily be a cop.

The other thing that Ms. Corbella is overlooking is that prior to InSite's establishment in the late 1990s, Vancouver was experiencing an epidemic of drug overdoses.  That has abated since then ... and it abated long before Harper and his gang of "throw everyone in prison" thugs came anywhere near power.

InSite is well meaning. But the time has long passed for an independent investigator to really study how many people are using it as a gateway into hard drug use and a legally “risk free” way to procure an illegal substance.
InSite's research material has been lauded around the world for its clarity and objectivity.  Ms. Corbella's suggestion that they are less than objective is ludicrous.  It is nothing more than a repetition of the standard CPC line of drugs in general, and InSite in particular.

It is a sad thing indeed that the CPC and its cheerleaders seem to think that it is productive to attack people who are already down.  Perhaps they should look at the rubric of their own sloganeering and start to give people a hand up - which is precisely what facilities like InSite are designed to do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More From The "I Regret GRS" Club

Another pseudo-anonymous letter allegedly from a transsexual who regrets having GRS has been posted on Walt Heyer's blog.

Why do I say "pseudo-anonymous"?  Because, frankly, I'm not at all sure that Heyer hasn't written it himself - there are some significant overlaps with aspects of Heyer's own story which I have critiqued in detail already.  I am not at all convinced that we aren't looking at a sock puppet.

However, even if it is a 'sock puppet', it is worth taking a closer look at what is said - in part because it attempts to critique the latest edition of the WPATH Standards of Care.

I have tragically come to realize my story is fairly typical of most MtF persons. I was molested by my "trusting" grandfather at age 3, father was killed at age 5 and while my mother remarried; you could essentially say I grew up without a "father figure" or role model.

There are a couple of things here that set off alarm bells for me.  First is the "I was sexually molested" line, and the attempt to link it to "most MtF" transsexuals.  The religious right wing, aided and abetted by people like Heyer love to try and associate transsexuality with some kind of flawed upbringing - in particular sexual abuse or the absence of an appropriate father figure - both are common tropes, with no basis in evidence.  Yes, a percentage of transsexuals were sexually abused as children, but so are a percentage of non-transsexuals.  Any attempt to declare a causal link here is sloppy reasoning or wishful hypothesizing.

By my late thirties, this feeling of a "feminine core" continued. It led me to purchase online and experiment with Estrogen and an Anti-Androgen. My body slowly started to feminize. I dieted and exercised feverishly and got my body down to an acceptable female weight. I felt great; this must be who I am?
I remarried again in my early forties to a wonderful woman. Yet, the programming in my mind was so scrambled by then that it was difficult to differentiate between reality and fantasy. By the time I started seeing a gender therapist and a surgeon they were as convinced as I was that I was female.
Since I was already on estrogen, the endocrinologist felt morally/ethically obligated to continue that same protocol and at least monitor it and prescribe it legally. I received my first letter for surgery after a year and the second after two years. My childhood issues were jotted down by the therapists almost as if a side note. (A very common failure in approving surgery.) At no time did I tell my family, consider my career or even consider talking to the love of my life of my plans. This "sickness" and it is a sickness, consumes and takes over your life! You will lie to everyone around you as you continue to lie to yourself to get it done.
Thought number one here:  The person seems to have started by self-medicating - taking hormones apparently without the supervision of a doctor or even a psychologist.  I've seen this line before - almost always from people who attempted transition that shouldn't have in the first place.

The second point here is that the person does not appear to have engaged with a therapist until they had walked a long ways along the physical transition path.  This is consistent with Heyer's own biography, in which he clearly did not engage with a therapist on any consistent basis.  It has long been my opinion that there is nothing wrong with regularly being in contact with a therapist during gender transition.  While it is not essential to transitioning successfully, an objective cross-check cannot hurt.

The author does not tell us how long he engaged with therapists to gain the letters for surgery, and ethically, the therapist is only obliged to do an assessment.  Unresolved issues related to past abuse are ultimately up to the patient to decide if they are willing to pursue and resolve them prior to having surgery.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the author clearly could not be living full time at the point where they acquired the letters for surgery.  Not only were they not working in their chosen gender, but even their spouse was not aware of their plans.  Given the dramatic effects of hormones, I am somewhat puzzled how this could possibly be, unless communication in the relationship had broken down to the point that the couple were keeping separate rooms.  I find this particular aspect of the story far too close to Heyer's own story.

The recently published WPATH Version VII has simply allowed the medical community to open the "floodgates" for this very tragedy to unfold. To get on cross gender hormones and then have surgery has become almost as simple as going to the convenience store for a pack of gum. If the client wants it, give it to them. "Real Life Test"? Maybe, maybe not, depending on your circumstances, occupation, etc. It is a billion dollar industry that thrives on your illness.
The most recent edition of the SOC does not make it "easier" to get access to hormones - an assessment and referral letter is still needed.  Whether or not all doctors who see transsexual patients implement this requirement is another matter entirely.

A careful reading of the current SOC is pretty clear, and there is a lot of clinical flexibility in the system.  Given the incredible diversity of gender variant people that are being identified, and the fact that they all have somewhat different needs, this is not surprising.  Again, for someone considering transition, it is more important than ever to engage with a treatment team that includes experienced professionals who understand the subtleties and shades of grey appropriately.
Get help. Don't mutilate your body. The psychiatrist, psychologists, and surgeons will enjoy a wonderful life. You, however, could end up with a tortured life, ending up penniless, possibly unemployed, without family or friends and maybe even homeless. And that's if you haven't tried or committed suicide by then! All so you can become the girl you "think" you are inside and wanted to be! People, God or whatever you believe in made you in the correct gender. It is encoded in your very DNA. If you think differently, get real help; but, DON"T CHANGE IT.
Gender is not just physical sex;  even if all aspects of it are somehow encoded in our DNA, such a perspective is a gross oversimplification.  It is well known that genes are expressed differently in each individual.  The biochemical system that is the human body is not absolute and deterministic in nature or function.

Lastly, the implicit notion that transsexuals are somehow lying to themselves has been tested and disproven repeatedly.  Even the DSM IV test clearly established the difference between delusion and the transsexual's experience.  A story like this is, to me, a cautionary tale - one that tells us all that when undertaking something as subtle and complex as gender transition, that there is much to be said for being cautious in how you approach the subject.   If you find yourself having to lie, or cover things up, then you better get to a place where those lies are no longer necessary and see if you can live with yourself openly.

Is The PMO Above The Law?

There seems to be a mistaken belief in Harper's PMO that they are above the law.  

According to CTV, the PMO has been quietly withholding an important e-mail related to the Duffy Affair.

“My understanding is it is a paraphrase of conversations that happened,” he told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife. “I’ve had them described to me from someone who is no longer here.”
The Feb. 20 email describes a secret deal to have Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright personally bail out Duffy, a Conservative senator who improperly claimed $90,172 in living expenses and faced the public release of an audit of his spending. 
After CTV News broke the story, Wright resigned and Duffy left the Conservative caucus to sit as an Independent.
The Mounties subsequently launched an investigation into Wright’s payment to Duffy. The lead investigator has contacted CTV News twice to ask about the Feb. 20 email. In order to protect his sources, Fife told the Mounties to ask the PMO for the information they need to conduct their investigation.
But insiders say the Prime Minister’s Office has been withholding that information.
Asked if Wright himself has the email in question, MacDougall said: “I can’t speak for Nigel.”
RCMP affidavits allege that three other senior PMO staffers, including Harper’s former legal counsel Benjamin Perrin, knew of the deal between Wright and Duffy.
 Later today, we have the PMO denying that they have been asked for this particular e-mail:

The Prime Minister’s Office denies it is withholding an email from the RCMP concerningNigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy.
In response to a CTV story about the email, spokeswoman Julie Vaux told Global News:
“Contrary to CTV’s reporting, our office has not been asked for this e-mail.  As we have always said, we will assist investigations into this matter,” she said in an email.
Please note the careful wording from the PMO:  "our office has not been asked for this e-mail".  The only way that this makes any sense whatsoever is in terms of the PMO playing semantics games by trying to treat this e-mail as distinct from other evidence related to the Duffy Affair.  Perhaps the RCMP's request didn't name that e-mail by its unique database identifier, or some other semantic dodge.

The PMO is quietly dodging this while fighting Corporal Horton's move to get a "Production Order" from the courts.  For the PMO to claim that they have not "received a request" for a particular e-mail smacks of the same kind of dishonesty that one expects from a fraudster when caught cooking the books.

Quite frankly, it is my opinion that Corporal Horton should gather a squad together and march down to the PMO, and demand that they turn over every last scrap of information that is related to the Duffy Affair, and every person in that office who does not cooperate is taken down to explain themselves to a judge.  This PMO, and the Prime Minister at the top of it all, seem to think themselves above the law and that the rules do not apply to them.  It is time to remind the "get tough on crime" lot that the rules apply to them just as much as the rest of Canada.

Even if Duffy has committed no crime personally, another crime has been committed:  the trust of Canadians has been abused by a hypocritical government that wants to imprison more Canadians for longer times has tried to place itself and its misdeeds outside the law.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cabinet Shuffle ... More Of The Same With A New Focus

So, yesterday Stephen Harper rolled out his old-new cabinet.  Colour me unimpressed.

The the first scandal to escape this new cabinet was that the PMO instructed ministers who are leaving / moving to new offices to create transition documents which contain a list of "enemies" in the bureaucracy.  This is serious simply because it tells us that we have a political government which after seven years in power still has not learned to work with the stakeholders and bureaucrats who are assigned with carrying out the government's wishes.  Unsurprising though, when you consider that this was the same government who issued a manual to MPs in 2006 about how to disrupt the business of parliament.

The restructuring of cabinet however, does not signify any of the things that Canadians might have been seeking.  Harper left Peter van Loan in his existing role, and brings Pierre Poilievre into cabinet.  For those who were hoping to see a less combative government in the second half of its tenure, this is a disappointment.  For the rest of us who long ago recognized that Harper's approach to things is pugilistic because the man is himself a bully, this comes as no real surprise.

Much has been made of the number of women in Harper's cabinet.  Frankly, I am unimpressed.  Harper has pushed out his most senior women who could effectively hold senior cabinet posts, and brought in a few more youthful women into junior posts.  The message is clear enough - if you are female, you don't have what it takes to run a senior portfolio - that space is reserved for the boys.

The most interesting appointments in cabinet, in my view, are Jason Kenney and Pierre Poilievre.  Jason Kenney moved from Immigration to the Minister of Employment and Social Development, and Poilievre to Democratic Reform.

Given recent changes to programs such as EI, I'm going to guess that Harper is about to unveil the next phase in his war on Canada's middle classes.  He wants Kenney there because like the heavy-handed reforms Harper/Kenney rammed through Canada's immigration system, Harper knows that he can trust Kenney to be just as mean-spiritied as Harper himself. 

Since 2006, Harper has systematically attacked Canada's middle classes on several levels.  First has been a continual increase of the number of "Temporary Foreign Workers" that are allowed into the country.  No matter how I look at this, it has become a tool for employers to drive down wages across the board.  Concurrently, they have turned Employment Insurance into something that is far less available to Canadians and pushes those seeking work into jobs regardless of whether the individual is suited to them.  Again, this has the effect of pushing down earnings and places workers at the mercy of employers whose sole interest is ultimately to minimize their costs.

As for "democratic reform", this portfolio seems to have been fundamentally a placeholder.  A way for Harper to claim that he is doing something about the democratic deficit issues in Canada and thereby keeping an old promise.  The reality is that he is far more likely to be taking apart Canada's democracy, and any changes that a minister in this position will be allowed to make will exist for the sole purpose of ensuring that the Conservatives are "the natural governing party", or that another party will be so hamstrung that undoing much of what Harper has wrought will be next to impossible.

In short, this is a cabinet shuffle which hints at some new directions for the Harper Government, but it does not signal a change in the government itself - it will remain ugly and hostile to the interest of average Canadians.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rising Corporate Feudalism - Policy Versus Law

The story of Carla Cheney has been making the rounds for the last week or so.  The short synopsis is that she was fired from WalMart in Ontario for calling the police about an animal left locked in a closed vehicle.  

Superficially, this is not a particularly big story - she apparently violated company policy regarding how she interacts with customers and got fired for it.  Companies are free to create policy that regulates the actions of their employees - this is neither new nor surprising.  What is interesting is the intersection between the company policy and civil law.

Here we have a situation where public education programs are very clear - if you see an animal in distress, call the police or animal services.  Period.  In Ontario summers, leaving an animal locked in a car is leaving the animal in distress - heat and humidity in a closed car is an evil combination.  No pet should ever be subjected to those conditions.  Even leaving windows partially open is highly debatable.

WalMart's policy guidelines stipulate that the employee should bring the issue to the attention of a manager and let the manager deal with it.  Superficially, this doesn't sound unreasonable.  Until you realize that a busy manager is going to prioritize an issue like that based on all the other topics they are dealing with at the same time.  Further, we don't know if the rest of corporate policy enables the manager to act in accordance with local law, or if the manager is explicitly or implicitly discouraged from engaging law enforcement in such situations.

What is interesting here is that the corporation has a policy which essentially appears to overlap with existing civil law.  Were I, as a private citizen, to make the same phone call that Ms. Cheney did, WalMart would be unable to do anything about it.  However, in the context of the situation, WalMart saw fit to terminate her employment for "violating company policy".  This creates a situation where in some very fundamental respects, the corporation has placed its own internal "laws" (policies) above those of the state.  Further, they have also exacted a surprisingly harsh penalty for violating those policies - certainly one that far exceeds the penalties which would be applied to the animal's owner, for example.

This creates precisely the environment which I have been critical of in other posts on this blog - namely one of corporate feudalism.  As long as you abide by the rules of the corporation, you can get away with just about anything you like - at the price of sacrificing personal ethics as well as potentially ignoring local laws.

The same issue had started to emerge in the 1990s in the form of "whistleblower" issues.  People who found themselves observing wrongdoing within the walls of a corporation had no avenue to safely call out those actions without being terminated.  This provoked an attempt to solve the problem in the form of "whistleblower" legislation in a number of jurisdictions, but ultimately has not been adequately resolved.  Employees within a corporation are still held to a code of silence when their corporation acts maliciously.  This is little different to the oath of fealty that a feudal lord would demand of his followers - it acts in many respects as a law above the law which limits the ability of the individual to challenge that which they see as wrong.  Corporate policy, especially in multi-national entities has become a law above the law - used as an instrument to limit individuals' ability to do the right thing for fear of serious economic consequences.

If calling the police because you see an animal in distress is an offence that gets you fired, one can imagine that were Ms. Cheney to be witness to more serious fraud within the company that she could be subject to severe sanction within the company should she take the story outside of the company.

While I can respect the fact that companies, like individuals, have a right to protect themselves from unjust and inappropriate accusations.  However, I do have a huge problem with corporations creating policies which essentially place them above local laws.  When those systems become such that the individuals within a corporation are threatened with consequences should they step outside of them, even when they have witnessed the violation of laws.

When such threats exist, implicitly or explicitly, we have a situation where one agency is acting in a manner that is explicitly hostile to the rule of law as currently understood and is in fact creating a second set of rules which not only binds the individuals involved, but subverts the purpose of civil and criminal law in the first place.  That binding is one more step in the creation of a feudalism which is hostile to the individual and their freedom.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stephen Harper Only Calls Himself A Conservative

I'm not entirely sure that what cloaks itself in the name Conservative these days is in fact "conservative" in any meaningful sense of the word.  So, when Maclean's published an article by Conservative organizer Ken Boessenkool entitled "Revealed: Stephen Harper Is Conservative. Really", I did a double take and read the thing a couple of times over.

As I would expect, Boessenkool has really written a cheerleading piece that is singing Harper's praises. It contains a lot of supposed accomplishments, but it conveniently overlooks the reality of many of Harper's policies and glosses over the consequences of those same policies.

Boessenkool goes through Harper's approach to things one piece at a time, and I will address my comments in much the same order.

Incrementalism...Harper, in contrast, focuses on small, incremental, doable policy. These policies don’t always reach a conservative destination but are, for the most part, important steps on the journey to that destination. And so conservatives celebrate the hundreds of ways in hundreds of days that small changes are made to immigration, grants and contributions, Employment Insurance, trade and so many others.Incrementalism is inherently conservative because conservatives wish (to be trite) to conserve. Conservatives are skeptical of large, government imposed, social change. They abhor “strategies” and grand schemes. They prefer to do things incrementally.
To the rest of the world, this is Harper's not-so-hidden agenda politics.  Harper's "incremental" changes started in 2006, and haven't slowed down much.  They started out with a series of blatant attacks on women and minority groups - cutting funding related to women's equality, axing the charter challenges program come to mind as particularly key starts of his "incremental" program.  

Later changes, such as the gutting of Statistics Canada's effectiveness by axing the long form census, gutting of Environment Canada programs which study climate change and muzzling of government funded scientists have made it clear that this is a government which does not make evidence based decisions.  

Changes to the seemingly ever-growing "Temporary Foreign Worker" program and to EI have solidified the direction of Harper's initial cuts in 2006 - the establishment of all-out warfare on the middle class in Canada.  

Doing makes better copy than undoing. And so a second source of the commentariat’s confusion is that conservatives are are, or should be, undoers. As O’Rourke says, “We are participants in an enormous non-march… to demand nothing, that is, except the one thing which no government in history has been able to do – leave us alone.”
Early on, Harper managed to undo some fairly big initiatives of his predecessors. Anyone who has been in government knows that inertia is probably the most powerful force. And hence undoing bad policy ought to be hailed as a victory, a step forward, a conservative coup.
And so conservatives celebrate Harpers termination of the Kelowna Accord – that expensive, nebulous, expensive, open-ended, expensive, exclusionary, expensive, process laden and expensive deal concocted by the government of Paul Martin. The 2006 Conservative budget killed it. Dead. And Conservatives moved on to a number of modest, achievable, outcome-based (in a word, incremental) policy changes on the aboriginal front such as clean drinking water, education improvements and strengthened rights for women and girls on reserve.
What Harper did when he killed the Kelowna Accord was put aboriginal peoples in Canada on notice that he was going to slam them down even further than they already had been.  Is correcting the problems that exist in Canada with respect to our aboriginal peoples going to be cheap?  Of course not. You would have to be the village idiot to think that there was any kind of simple solution to a problem that had been a couple of centuries in the making.  The Kelowna Accord was the result of several years of negotiations between the governments involved - a long collaborative process.  What have we seen since?  A series of arbitrary changes imposed on Canada's First Nations, often without their consent or even the appearance of consultation.

Harper is an undoer alright.  He undoes anything that he didn't think of, without paying so much as the slightest bit of attention to whether or not there is merit in them.  He also demonstrates that he has absolutely no ability or desire to work with the stakeholders who are directly affected by his decision making processes.

Tax and Social Policy
But enough about incrementalism and undoing. Have the Harper Conservatives actually done anything conservative?
Let’s start with the big ones – tax and social policy. Liberals maximize the number of decisions government makes for people while conservatives maximize the amount of decisions people make for people. Or as O’Rourke puts it,
There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as “caring” and “sensitive” because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try do good with other people’s money.  Well, who isn’t? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money – if a gun is held to his head.
And so Conservatives celebrate that, rather create programs that only benefit families whose children are housed in unionized institutional childcare, the Harper government gave money to all families with children to do as they saw fit. To do so, the Conservatives killed a $5 billion dollar underfunded unionized institutional child care program and replaced it with a $13 billion dollar program giving cash to all parents with children.
It’s hard to understate the magnitude of the philosophical divide here. Instead of deciding what kind of family choices should be rewarded with government largesse, the Conservatives created the largest new social program since medicare that left those choices to families. And while part of this is doing good “with other people’s money,” most conservatives would argue (even if O’Rourke doesn’t) that society has an obligation to support and promote child-rearing. But (like O’Rourke) I would argue that the conservative way to do so is to provide that support with minimal interference in the choices families make.
Conservatives celebrate tax reductions as good economic and good social policy – it puts more money in the hands of individuals and families, rather than government. While some purist libertarians may object to the social meddling of some of these tax cuts, the following are all cuts enacted by the Harper Conservative government. Reducing the GST from 7 to 6 to 5; reduction of the lowest tax rate; increases to personal exemptions; introduction of the Child Tax Credit; introduction of the Canada Employment Credit; and the introduction of the Arts and Sports tax credit
The total tax take of the federal government has been reduced from 16.3 percent of GDP when Harper took office to 14.0 percent today. That’s a 14 percent reduction in total revenues as a percentage of the economy, or $42 billion more in Canadian’s pockets. That’s a hundred bucks a month for every man, woman and child in Canada.
First, in reducing taxes Harper has not done Canadians as a whole any favours.  Instead, he has hamstrung the government's very ability to fund itself - evidenced by the fact that since Harper came to power, he has literally spent Canada from consistent budgetary surpluses which were being used to pay down debt and alleviate the infrastructure deficit that resulted from the austerity programs undertaken to clean up the mess left by Brian Mulroney - Harper's ideological predecessor in office.

Sure, it's nice to have a couple of dollars more in your pocket - it might buy the odd cup of coffee here and there.  What Boessenkool's analysis fails to recognize is that the bulk of those tax cuts do not benefit middle class Canadians.  Instead, they serve only to benefit the wealthiest Canadians and the corporations, and more of the burden of financing our government falls upon the middle and lower income levels as a result.

Reducing the GST from 7% to 5% is great PR - everybody prefers to pay less at the till.  But it is a short lived joy when it is discovered that the government has starved itself for cash to the point that programs which protect people when they have times of unemployment are not available to them, or that those same programs will force them into taking jobs far out of their fields of expertise rather than enable them to find appropriate employment.

Boessenkool's hostility to unions is palpable throughout the article, but I cannot leave it unremarked upon.  Under the assault that Harper and his government have waged on Canada's middle classes, organized labour suddenly finds itself with a very real purpose once again ... to fight back against the predations not only of exploitative employers, but also a government which is overtly hostile to the very concept that Canada's workers are in fact the backbone of the economy.

Foreign Policy
The other big one is foreign policy. For decades the Canadian government sought to be a middle power, a consensus builder and a follower. A sideshow in nearly all eyes but our own. The Harper Conservatives energetically turned the page on this approach. Harper took sides on the global stage openly, early and emphatically. Or as O’Rourke puts it, “This is the second wonderful thing about Zionism: it was right. Every other “ism” of the modern world was wrong about the nature of civilized man – Marxism, mesmerism, surrealism, pacifism, existentialism, nudism.”
And so conservatives celebrate the government’s hearty support for Israel on the international stage. They do so because Israel is a beacon of democracy and a functioning market economy surrounded by countries largely hostile to these things, on top of their hostility bred from varying degrees (from overtly hostile to aggressive) anti-Semitism. Conservative support for Israel has undoubtedly brought political dividends in a small number of ridings in Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and elsewhere. But there has also been a backlash among the much larger, albeit much less unified population that believes either this is the wrong side, or that we ought not to take any side.

I think if Mr. Harper and Mr. Boessenkool were to listen to Canadians as a whole, they would very quickly discover that Canadians as a whole aren't exactly in love with Mr. Harper's more aggressive approach to foreign affairs.

Where Israel is concerned, Mr. Harper has fallen into the trap of "to criticize Israel the state is to be anti-semitic".  His blind, unwavering support for Israel the state does Canada no good when the world looks on appalled at the way in which the state has fought against a two state solution as has been the mandated objective since Israel was formed - or at the very least since the 1967 war.  Blind support for a state that is doing to its neighbors as Israel is doing aggressively to the Palestinian people does Canada no good on the world stage.

Harper's approach to China has been no better.  Swaggering about, and lecturing China on human rights issues while still very much dependent on China's trade at a time when the US economy has been buckling is neither nuanced nor good foreign relations.

What people like Harper and Boessenkool fail to fully understand is that Canada's place on the world stage involves wielding soft power.  Canada is uniquely situated, with an enormous ability to influence the United States by virtue of both trade as well as geographic proximity.  We have historically had much more clout on the world stage because we are seen as the voice of reason in situations where the primary players are deeply polarized.

I know that what I'm going to say here is going to offend anyone who claims the mantle of "conservative".  Canada succeeds best on the world stage when it wields "feminine power".  What I mean here is that we do not have the raw mass in the room to play hardball - the simple reality is that we do not have that kind of muscle.  We succeed when we bring people together and build consensus (all of which are things typically discussed about the differences between masculine and feminine social patterns)

Canada is a major power in the world when we take nuanced, subtle positions.  Unlike what Mr. Harper and his ilk assert, this is not "fence sitting" at all.  It is the art of diplomacy at its highest - that of reading what the various parties in the world are saying, and then helping them to see where there is common ground.

Under Harper's foreign policy, Canada's stature in the world has been greatly diminished, and will likely continue to be reduced until he is removed from power and replaced by someone who understands what diplomacy really is.

Economic Stimulus
Some conservatives bemoan the Harper’s response to the global downturn. They point out that fiscal stimulus programs have a shoddy record of success, and in any event are hardly conservative. Or as O’Rourke puts it in a rare moment of wonkishness “In politics, as opposed to reality, everything is zero sum.” Better is his more un-wonkish statement that “Giving money and power to governments is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
Is there such a thing as a conservative stimulus plan? Following O’Rourke it would involve taking money from governments and giving it back to individuals – a tax cut. In economic terms it would be a tax cut that encourages spending. In terms of timing, it would occur at of just as the economy started to slide.
And so with this massive and exceedingly well-timed fiscal stimulus in place, conservatives do not fault the Conservatives for hitting the pause button. The 2008 Fall Economic Statement was that pause button. It had a few other items and what happened next is the subject of much speculation and a fair amount of lore, but the essential outcome for present purposes was this: the opposition parties held a gun to the minority Conservative government’s head demanding, among other things, a large stimulus package in the forthcoming budget.
The Economic Action Plan was the result.
In the circumstances, how conservative was the EAP? The International Monetary Fund analyzed Global stimulus packages announced “After the 2008 Crisis” (hence they did not include the prescient tax cuts noted above). These IMF analyses show the following:
  • Canada’s overall fiscal expansion in 2008, 2009 and 2010 was below the G-20 average, and well below that in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.
  • Discretionary fiscal expansion in those years was also below the G-20 average, and well below that of United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Australia.
  • Canada’s Economic Action Plan was heavily weighted to infrastructure and support for housing and construction (Home Renovation Tax Credit). Both were pulled back following the downturn. In contrast, other countries relied much more heavily on social service spending (especially the United States) that is much more difficult to pull back and hence produced much more serious structural deficits.
  • Canada continues to have one of the most, if not the most, healthy balance sheet in the world.
And so, with a gun ever at their heads urging them to do more, the Conservatives delivered one of the more conservative fiscal packages in the developed world. Not the most conservative conceivable, but almost certainly the most conservative possible in the cirumstances.
Let's be abundantly clear about a couple of points here.  First, Harper had already spent Canada into a deficit position before the 2008 crisis.  Had Harper not been spending like a drunken sailor on enormous military contracts (none of which have been successfully procured yet, seven years on), Canada's balance sheet would be in much better shape than it is - without making wholesale and vicious cuts to programs that are in fact important, such as the Charter Challenges program.

Second, quite frankly much of the "Economic Action Plan" appears to have been spent on signage and giant cardboard cheques for photo-ops.  In other words, propaganda spending.

Perhaps more horrifying has been that Harper has moved away from the tradition of budget and accompanying implementation legislation and instead has chosen to wrap the budget up in enormous "omnibus" bills that do far more than support the government's budget.


Another conservative front that Conservatives have moved on is crime. While some conservatives of the libertarian bent cringe at some of these things, most conservatives believe that if you do the crime, you do the time. Or as O’Rourke puts it: “The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors – psychology, sociology, women’s studies – to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions.”
... Conservatives celebrate longer mandatory sentences instead of house arrest for serious crimes. 
Here is one of the fundamental areas where conservatives and social liberals diverge.  The conservatives under Harper seem to think that the justice system is all about punishment.  The greater the punishment, the better goes the rubric.  Of course, the flip side is the issues of rehabilitation, integration and so on.  Not to mention the exorbitant costs of running an ever expanding prison system. (as California has discovered - and very nearly gone bankrupt as a result)

What conservatives often argue is that stiffer sentences serve as a deterrent.  They do not.  The deterrent argument has never been borne out by statistics.  The fact is that sentences are the "price" that society deems should be exacted for a given crime.  We do that through incarceration - taking away someone's liberty.

Beyond that sentence, the issue remains one of making the offender an effective participant in the fabric of society.  If we fail to do that, then there is no chance whatsoever that there is any justice done - either on behalf of the victims of crime, or the criminal themselves.


A final area where conservatives laud Harper’s approach is in the area of federal-provincial relations. One path to the conservative goal of a smaller government is for government to stick to its knitting. Conservatives are policy modest, liberals, not so much. As O’Rourke says, “The principal feature of liberalism is sanctimoniousness. By loudly denouncing all bad things – war and hunger and date rape – liberals testify to their own terrific goodness. More important they promote themselves to membership in a self-selecting elite of those who care deeply about such things.”
Policy modesty has played itself out in the areas of health care and education. On both, Harper has, shall we say, erected firewalls between the federal government and the provinces. The previous occupants of 24 Sussex regularly got tangled in federal provincial snarls. They would host big dinner parties (sometimes overnighters!) where ten premiers would collectively beat them up. No more. Other than in the area of research and federal unconditional transfers, Ottawa does not dictate, preach or harass provinces on how they should run health or education. Ottawa is no longer the voice of sanctimoniousness and unhelpful intrusions into health and education. Today the Council of the Federation – a body of provincial and territorial governments sans the federal government – meets regularly to discuss these issues on their own. As they should.
Speaking of sanctimonious nonsense, I cannot even begin to speak to how Mr. Boessenkool's position grossly misrepresents things.  Harper has simply dictated the terms upon which he will engage with the provinces and brooks absolutely no counterpoint.

If Mr. Boessenkool thinks that relations between Ottawa and the provinces are suddenly magically so much better under Harper, it's only because Harper doesn't actually pay any attention to the issues in the provinces, nor does he give a damn about whether programs like Health Care are equally available across Canada.

Harper's hostility to such programs is well known - rather than attack them directly, he is going after them by attacking them through incrementalism and deliberate neglect.

No, Mr. Boessenkool, the man you idolize as some great conservative is not a conservative.  He is a destroyer; he is a force which has brought Canada low in the world.  He has not preserved that which is good, rather he has moved to destroy much that is good, and has hamstrung the government's very ability to fund itself.

Further, Harper's willingness to follow the example of US Republicans in fomenting overt class warfare against Canada's Middle Class makes him not a conservative at all - at least not in any classical sense of the term.  It makes him a slave to big money corporatism.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...