Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Little Heresy - Alberta Style

So, according to Premier Prentice, the downturn in oil prices is going to create an $11 Billion hole in provincial revenues, and is now talking about putting the brakes on all kinds of infrastructure spending, including a new cancer hospital in Calgary.

Okay, that's a significant chunk of change.  Let's talk about this for a moment.

As the leader of the governing party, Mr. Prentice has a responsibility to all Albertans to ensure that the machinery of government continues to operate smoothly.  Over the last 25 years, we have seen the government make further tax cuts all over the place, in particular to the benefit of corporations, but also introducing a rather ridiculous 'flat tax' income tax scheme.

Every time, the government has tied itself even more so to the revenues from resource royalties to fund programs.

Mr. Prentice, you want to balance the books?  Here's how you do it.  Take a long look at all of the possible revenue sources the government has access to.  Not just tar sands royalties (which are, a pittance because your predecessors cut them to almost nothing).

First, Mr. Prentice, you need to take a long, hard look at the taxation system.  Are the corporations who do business in Alberta paying their fair share?  No?  Then we need to design a taxation system that ensures that they do, especially since so many of the corporations are basically funnelling monies out of Alberta and Canada as quickly as they can.

Second, we need to look at what the individual income tax system does.  Is a 10% flat tax ensuring that we are taxing incomes fairly across the board?  Or do we need to return to the graduated system that was developed in the 1950s?  (Hint:  probably)

Third, and here's where I commit heresy, you need to take a longer range view and determine the means to stabilize provincial revenues so that we are insulated from the vagaries of the resource markets.  This may mean, *gasp*, implementing a sales tax (like damn near every other jurisdiction in the world) that sits in line with the GST, but is not harmonized with it - we don't want to hand control over those revenues over to Ottawa either.

Oh yes, and you need to shed this fetish that conservatives have developed lately with "Public Private Partnerships" and start thinking about long term debt financing instruments like bond funds again.  PPPs just hang the taxpayer with long term operating costs and leases.  One thing that Redford had done (although clumsily) was to structure our finances with a distinction between long term infrastructure costs and operating costs.  That's a distinction that matters, and we need to shed this silly "debt is bad" mantra - yesterday.  Long term debt that is used for purchasing infrastructure is not a bad thing.  It never was.

Alberta needs to funnel every dime it gets in resource revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. Now.  In a couple of decades we can use the investment income off that fund to sustain the entirety of the government (hint:  take a long look at Norway).  In the meantime, let's use all of the instruments of revenue collection available to the government so that we can actually have a reasonable standard of living for the PEOPLE of this province.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

On The WRP Collapse

Much has been made of the WRP's collapse in Alberta this past week.  Everything from speculation about the role of various people, to Ms. Smith more or less admitting that she was being undermined by the Social Conservative rump of the party.  

Back when the WRP was just getting itself going, and Ms. Smith was a mere candidate for the leadership, I had thought that the WRP was going to follow the same trajectory that Preston Manning's Reform party had back in the 80s.  Start off with some reasonable, if unrealistic dreams about a more open, democratic government; fall into the intellectual trap of libertarianism and get subverted by the far right religious nuts.  (... and yes, that's still visible today in Harper's CPC, just look across his front bench and the policies they have implemented - religious privilege and the associated discrimination, bigotry and racism are there)

In the 2012 election, the initial response of Ms. Smith to the "bozo eruptions", in particular the "Lake of Fire" nonsense, was naively libertarian.  "Oh, it's just an opinion.  He's entitled to that" - I've heard that before.  It is the chink in the libertarian armour that the religious right leverages every time.  It almost sounds reasonable: "Oh, but they're infringing upon our right to express an opinion".  As far as I was concerned, Ms. Smith was done as party leader at that point, the question was more one of time.

Even though Ms. Smith might be a (relative) moderate, the fact is that the religious right simply is not capable or interested in "moderate" anything.  They are sold on a particular worldview that includes imposing their theology on the country.

However, the point of this post is not to go on another rant about the impact of the religious right in Alberta politics.

Floor crossings happen in our political system.  I'm not going to make declarations about whether they are "good" or "bad".  I think in the big picture, we have to look at the consequences of the events which have transpired.

A total of 9 MLAs crossed the floor, following 3 other defections from the WRP in the last few months, giving the governing PCs control over 72 of the seats in the legislature, and leaving a total of about 16 MLAs sitting in the opposition benches.

Alberta has a long, troubling history of electing overwhelming majority governments, going back to the Lougheed era.  Under Ralph Klein, things got even uglier, with the majorities seemingly larger and larger and the legislature sitting for even fewer days each year.  Often just long enough to ram whatever legislation was on the agenda through the procedural hoops.  Few people in Alberta are aware of how much legislation gets pushed through without any kind of meaningful debate, although the rushed processing of Bill 10 last month might have finally opened a few eyes to the reality.

The nearly 30 seat opposition elected in 2012 was the first time in decades that this province has had any effective opposition at all.  Most of the time, the opposition benches have been occupied by an intrepid dozen or so MLAs and that's it.  Their voices muffled by the sheer volume that the PCAA has been able to push into the media.

What we should be concerned about in Alberta is the rise of "single party" politics and how it has stifled debate in this province.  People don't talk about politics.  It's almost considered subversive just to criticize the governing PCs in conversation.  Why?  Because until Stelmach, everybody "liked" Ralph Klein.  "Oh, he's not that bad, he seems like such a nice guy" would be the response to criticism.  Fortunately, neither Stelmach nor Redford were terribly likeable, and Prentice comes across as a bit too corporate, so hopefully this will start to thaw the chill on political debate in this province.

In our system of government, an active and vocal opposition is essential.  Prentice would have railroaded Bill 10 through if it hadn't been for a very loud public outcry against it, not just in the legislature, but on Twitter and in just about every other form of media.  The only thing that stands between a Premier with a majority and despotism is an active, informed and engaged opposition.  The Premier should feel uncomfortable at all times.  Every bill should be subject to amendment and improvement in the process.  Not just pushed through with whipped votes.

When the 9 WRP MLAs crossed the floor to sit with the governing PCs, they damaged their own party, but more seriously, they gave Prentice such overwhelming control over the legislature that he can effectively ignore public outcry over anything.  He knows full well that in a year's time, most people will have forgotten about today's outrage anyhow.

This is not good for our democracy.  We've seen that with how Harper has done things in Ottawa in recent years.  While he had a minority, Harper had to tread very carefully.  Now that he doesn't, there's precious little anyone can do to stop him.  Even the relatively sizeable opposition in Parliament is limited in what it can do.  In Alberta it's even worse.

It is my opinion that Alberta would have been far better served by all involved had the 9 WRP MLAs decided to sit as independents.  We are heading into an economic downturn the likes of which may make the 1980 crash look mild.  Having an overwhelming government majority will do us no favours in dealing with the resulting issues.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Bishop Henry, Bill 10 ... Lies, Lies and More Lies

If there is one thing that I find infuriating, it is when grown men like Bishop Henry lie.

In today's Calgary Herald, there is a copy of a pastoral letter that Bishop Henry has had distributed through the churches of his diocese.  In it, we find the following little gem:
The mandating of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) is problematic for a number of reasons.  It infringes parental authority over their children, the freedom to instruct one's children in a manner consistent with their faith, and citizens rights to manifest their religious beliefs by worship and practice in the absence of coercion or constraint by government.
First of all, Bill 202 did not "mandate" the creation of GSAs.  What it does is remove the ability for a school board or school to refuse to allow a GSA to be created.

Nobody is saying that participation in a GSA is mandatory for the students, nor is it mandatory for parents to allow their children to participate in the GSA.  The obligation for schools is to allow the organization.  No more, no less.  The Bishop's argument here is a distortion of the reality - a lie.

As for the "freedom to instruct one's children", let's have a little discussion about that shall we?  Nobody is talking about the GSA being mandatory.  Nor is the GSA a "teaching" moment.  We are talking about a student led organization providing support to other students.  So, just where is this right being "infringed"?  I'm pretty sure that all sorts of school activities violate one aspect or another of either the bible or the RC Catechism, and we don't hear the bishops moaning about them.  Social groups in schools exist all the time.  If the RC church leaders think that they don't have gay students in their halls, perhaps they need to do some learning.

So, it must come down to the right to "manifest their religious beliefs ...".  Let's consider this for a moment.  The bishops are basically arguing that their beliefs trump the rights of students.  In this case, their "belief" that homosexuality is a sin.  So what?  That hasn't made it go away in the last 2,000 years or so, I don't think it's going away anytime soon.  Let's consider that discussion around "manifesting religious beliefs" a little further.  Who is manifesting which beliefs here?  Does the student not have a right to express their beliefs, or is that now a right reserved solely for the parents?  Do the rights of a religious school extend to, for example, not teaching science because they don't believe in evolution or they want to believe that the earth is flat?

The fact is that GSAs reduce suicide in the student population.  Religion doesn't reduce suicide among LGBTQ students.  In fact, arguably, "religious beliefs" are near the top of the list for reasons that LGBTQ youth end up suicidal.  Where do the hostile judgments come from most frequently?  Those who claim to have religious "belief" justifying them.  The most fervent of believers are often among the worst abusers in this regard.
A number of recent studies have identified groups of students who are most often bullied.  The Toronto District School Board Research Report reported that students most frequently face bullying attacks based on their physical appearance (38%), their grades or marks (17%) their cultural background (11%) or their gender (6%).  It is imperative that we address the root issue - bullying.
Yeah...let's talk about that for a minute.  38% of students have been harassed about their physical appearance.  According to Egale's survey of LGBTQ students in Canada,  74% of transgender students and 55% of LGB students have been verbally harassed; 37% of transgender students and 21% of LGB students have been physically assaulted in our schools.

I cannot emphasize enough how appalling this really is.  LGBTQ students are around 5% of the population, and yet they are grossly overrepresented as victims of bullying.  The numbers that Bishop Henry cites bury this reality.  Yes, we need to address bullying.  GSAs are a tool for doing so.  Whining because they place an emphasis on normalizing people's sexual and gender identities is simply an attempt at erasure.

Bill 10 is a bad piece of legislation.  Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202 was the correct solution to this problem in the first place.  Let me be absolutely clear about that.  There should be no exemptions.  Bullying is wrong.  Using your "faith" to justify erasure and continued harassment is wrong.

If Alberta students want to create a mutually supportive alliance in a school, that should be their right, without exception and without interference.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

_THIS_

I was never a fan of Bush II and his malicious sidekick Cheney, and even less so of their misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yesterday's revelations of CIA Torture are crimes.  These people abused prisoners in ways that all Western powers should be horrified by, and they knew damn good and well what they were doing.

When we first starting hearing rumours of an "extraordinary rendition" program, and the wrongdoings at Abu Ghraib, I figured that there was something much, much worse going on.  Sure enough, that's what was happening.

Round up the lot of these rotten bastards and hang them out to dry.  Ship them off to the World Court in The Hague and lock in a cell while prosecutors put together a case against them.  These are crimes the magnitude of which cannot be ignored.

Canadians need to remind Stephen Harper that torture is wrong.  Not only will it produce exactly zero useful information, it is morally and ethically wrong.  For Canada to even implicitly endorse the use of torture by accepting "information gathered" through those means goes against the values of Canada as a whole.  We are better than that.

It is a shame that Harper isn't.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Prentice's Bill 10: A Legislative Trojan Horse

There is little doubt that the Prentice government is getting its ass handed to it on the editorial pages of newspapers across Canada with respect to its hastily written Bill 10 counter response to Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202.

After looking at Bill 10 for a little while, I have come to the conclusion that this is far worse than being a simple ham-fisted counter-response to Bill 202, it is in fact a legislative Trojan Horse which will create enormous problems in Alberta for years to come ... at least until someone has the political spine to remove S11.1 and a couple of other clauses that are being slipped in.

Let's take a closer look at how Bill 10 will change Alberta's Bill of Rights, shall we?

Off the top, the government wishes to amend S1 of the act.  Before Bill 10, S1 reads as follows:
Recognition and declaration of rights and freedoms
1 It is hereby recognized and declared that in Alberta there exist

without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion or sex, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely:


(a) the right of the individual to liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

(b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;

(c) freedom of religion;

(d) freedom of speech;
 
(e) freedom of assembly and association;

(f) freedom of the press.

After Bill 10, this will read as follows (emphasis added to changes):


Recognition and declaration of rights and freedoms
1 It is hereby recognized and declared that in Alberta there exist

without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely:


(a) the right of the individual to liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

(b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law;

(c) freedom of religion;

(d) freedom of speech;
 
(e) freedom of assembly and association;

(f) freedom of the press.
(g) the right of parents to make informed decisions respecting the education of their children. 
Please note, this is not the Alberta Human Rights Act, but the more foundational BILL OF RIGHTS. Section 2 of the Bill of Rights legislation clearly states that all other legislation in Alberta is assumed to operate in compliance with this act unless specifically stated to do so.  In other words, the Bill of Rights is one step removed from the Constitution in terms of legal hierarchy.

Whose bright idea was it to slide in clause (g)?  A clause like this will be used by the religious wingnut factions to object to everything from sex ed in schools to teaching evolution in biology classes.  This is a broadening of the effect of Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act (a different piece of legislation that Minister Blackett amended in 2009.  This will open the door to lawsuits the likes of which we usually hear about coming out of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Section 11.1 exits the Alberta Human Rights Act, but it is far from dead and gone.  Instead it resurfaces in the Education Act as Section 58.

Section 58 exists under the rubric that there is some kind of "parental right" not to have their kids learn about sexuality.  This is nonsense.  It was nonsense in 2009, and it's nonsense today.  As a parent you have an obligation to your children to ensure that they are educated and literate.  There is no "right" to keep your children ignorant about their own bodies and sexualities.

By adding clause (g) to the Alberta Bill of Rights, the Prentice Government has not only reinforced S58, but in fact has opened up every aspect of Alberta's education system to being challenged by anyone who "objects" to some aspect of the curriculum for one reason or another.

It will also place a chill on teachers as a whole, who will find themselves basically threatened with rights challenges at every turn.

Bill 10 does precious little to protect LGBT youth in our schools, as its provisions for the creation of GSAs (and other student led bodies) is such that the obstacles to appeal are far greater than most students would have the ability to effectively enact an appeal of their school's decision, much less taking said appeal up to the level of the provincial courts.

Instead, it further reinforces the worst aspects of what the Stelmach government did to the Alberta Human Rights Act in 2009, and deepens a set of legislative clauses which are a sop to the narrow-mindedness of a small group of Albertans who seem to think that their religious beliefs have something to say about how children should learn.

Revisions:

3/12/14 11:24   Corrected link to Alberta Bill of Rights instead of Alberta Human Rights Act

Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Open Letter To Jim Prentice

Dear Mr. Prentice,

In responding to MLA Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202 as you did, you have just thrown LGBT students under the political bus AGAIN.

Let me be abundantly clear here.  Clause 11.1 one of the Alberta Human Rights legislation does not "protect" the rights of anyone.  It creates an environment where teachers are afraid to talk freely about sexuality that isn't straight "missionary position heterosexual".

By allowing for a "conscience exemption", you force teachers to go running to parents for "permission" to  talk about these topics.  Guess what?  That sends a message to students that being LGBT is somehow "bad" or "illicit" - something to be ashamed of.  Surely in today's world we know better than that.

Parents who wail and moan about their right to "protect" their innocent little child from these "evils" are doing nothing more than propagating their own ignorance and discomfort with matters of sexuality.  They aren't going to have an honest discussion with their children about sexuality, they're going to repeat the very narrow viewpoint that they have, which is often informed not by facts and rational evidence but by religious doctrine.  Remember, the vast majority of the discrimination and hate that is aimed at LGBT people in our society has its roots in religious dogma.

Yes, as parents they are free to teach their children whatever religious dogma they wish at home.  They are not free to deny their children free and open access to objective, evidence-based knowledge.  Schools which object to students giving each other moral support through mechanisms like Gay-Straight Alliances do so not because they have a religious objection with any validity.  They do it out of fear that their particular little narrow viewpoint of the world is somehow threatened by treating all of society's citizens as equals.

The rights and safety of LGBT Albertans are no less rights than the religious freedoms of Albertans or those of parents.  A child growing up gay in a religious home has the same right to a safe place at school that acknowledges their sexual identity as real and valid as a straight child.

It isn't hard to guess the political calculation that went into this decision.  You looked, smelled blood in the water from the Wild Rose party's recent disasters and decided to throw LGBT students under the political bus in hopes of securing a little more the religious vote that had gone over the WRP in the last several years.

Using students as a political football is appalling enough.  Doing so with students who are part of a tiny minority population is reprehensible, Mr. Prentice.

I urge you to pass Bill 202 in its full form as it stands today.  Man up, and do the right thing by LGBT students in this province, and take steps that remove discrimination from the system.

Sincerely,




Friday, November 07, 2014

So, Just Who Is The Terrorist Here?

In 2014 in Canada, we have had several incidents involving people attacking various institutions and symbols of government.

Consider the following list:





The two in October has been deemed "terrorist actions", the first two have never been called that.

WhoGunExplosivesTarget
GGYesYesVeteran's Affairs Office
Justin BourqueYesNoRCMP Officers
Martin RousseauNoNoCanadian Forces Member
Michael Zehaf-BebeauYesNoCanadian Forces Member & Parliament

Looking the surface of these, I don't see a whole lot of difference between these various events.

The first two involved people who were upset with the government for various reasons, as did the last two.  The last two have been dubbed "terrorists".  What's the difference?  Oh, well, allegedly the last two were "converts to Islam" and had been "radicalized".

All four involve a great deal of anger with the government, and arguably 3 of the four involved ideological differences with the government.  The case of GG seems to be more of a case of frustration with Veterans' Affairs, although given the current government's "Veterans as Photo-ops" approach to Veterans' Affairs, one could argue that there is a causal connection.

In the story around GG at the very least we are talking about PTSD and Depression (both significant mental illness conditions requiring treatment).  Michael Zehaf-Bebeau is known to have sought help for significant mental health issues unsuccessfully.  We don't know enough about Martin Rousseau, although there are hints in the story of possible depression and the act itself seems to be more one of opportunity rather than anything planned.  Justin Bourque is a little harder to pin down on this front, and I don't think there's enough evidence to be certain about his mental health.

Objectively, three of the four cases reflect people struggling with potentially serious mental health issues that were largely untreated.

So, why are the cases of Martin Rousseau and Michael Zehaf-Bebeau dubbed "terrorism"?  Frankly, it's nothing more than an arbitrary connection of these people's religious affiliation.  Both men had converted to Islam somewhere along the way in their lives.  This is not a crime.  In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that each of us has the right to follow whatever religion (or lack thereof) that we choose.

There had been much talk in the news about "radicalized" youth travelling to Syria to fight with ISIS in the months prior to the October events.  The events of this past October got dubbed "terrorism" because a couple of people who were arguably dealing with untreated mental illness happened to be converts to Islam. 

I'm not saying that there are not violent factions within Islam.  There unquestionably are.  However, mere association with Islam should not be seen as an affiliation with terrorism.  The individual acts of two men, both apparently suffering from serious mental health problems, should not be considered "terrorism" on the basis of their choice of religion.  Even if they had posted violent threats online, we have to consider those in the full context of their lives.

The use of the label "Terrorist" has become one of political expediency.  We need to be much more judicious in applying such labels.  As a public, we need to be even more skeptical of the motives of a government that uses that language about people who are now dead and cannot be objectively examined.

Friday, October 24, 2014

No. Just No.

As I had expected, the first steps in the Harper Government's overreaching reaction to this week's events in Ottawa are starting to surface.  

Introducing Harper's Thought Police:

Sources suggest the government is likely to bring in new hate speech legislation that would make it illegal to claim terrorist acts are justified online. 
The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Thursday that Canada’s law and policing powers need to be strengthened in the areas of surveillance, detention and arrest. He said work is already under way to provide law enforcement agencies with “additional tools” and that work will now be expedited. 
The dilemma faced by law enforcement agencies was highlighted by the case this week of Martin Couture-Rouleau.
Wait a second here.  First of all, the notion of "terrorism" is remarkably vague.  As has been pointed out before, "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter".

Just consider this for a moment.  A law like this is highly subjective in its enforcement.  Speak out against the actions of an oppressive government, and you could be "condoning terrorism", or if you speak on behalf of an oppressed people, suddenly that becomes a "crime" for which you can be arrested and detained.

I want to bring to your attention section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this country:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(bfreedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
So, think about this, the Harper Government wants to arbitrarily constrain this right to speak out on various topics.  The notion of what constitutes "terrorism" is subject to the momentary views of the government.  In this government's case, I imagine that speaking out on behalf of the Palestinian peoples would be considered "terrorism", as would criticizing the invasion of Iraq.

Unless these measure have incredibly precise definitions associated with them, it is not going to be much of a leap for these laws to make an entire class of political prisoners in this country - people who just happen to view things differently from the official views of our politicians.

Yes, I said that - political prisoners - for that is what this government is creating.  For those of us who remember the Cold War era, in Russia, such people were called "dissidents" and imprisoned; and China has quite a collection of "ideological prisoners" as well.  Such honourable company to be keeping as a nation.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Closer You Look ...

The closer one looks at the ISIS thing, the more it starts looking like a sectarian war in the Middle East.  Yesterday in the Globe and Mail, Robert Fowler very nicely articulated the problem with short term solutions to the mess in Iraq, and today I spotted a really interesting read describing some of the reasons behind the apparent lack of response from several Arab states, in particular Saudi Arabia.

As is typical of these situations in the region, it is starting to become apparent that for all of its bloodiness, ISIS is simply another sectarian feud spilling out into the open.  Saudi Arabia is divided at the top because some people see ISIS as a challenge to Iran's Shiite beliefs and aggression and therefore a "good thing".

Suddenly, western powers are in the awkward place of having to somehow justify going after ISIS in Syria when they have all turned their backs on the Assad regime there.  (which is nominally secular(ish))

Yes, the beheadings are grisly and vile acts.  Yes, we know that radicals are now recruiting from around the world - using tactics and techniques which are neither particularly new or innovative - they are more or less the standard tactics of recruitment used by extremist religious leaders for decades if not centuries.

Is ISIS really any different than the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 90s?  Or al Qaeda during the early 2000s?  Not particularly.  They are enacting more or less a variation on the usual quasi-tribal violence that has wracked the region for decades and longer.

While Harper is all hot to trot to drag Canada into a moral war to stop ISIS, he and his followers are missing the fundamental point.  This is a sectarian war in a region where we have no political capital left.  The western powers, all of them, have had too much to do with supporting heinous regimes over the last hundred years; and a set of borders which have little to do with the political and social realities of the region.

In 2000 years of assorted interventions in these countries, there is but one lesson for foreign powers:  Direct intervention is doomed to fail.  The Roman occupation of the Arab lands was a gong show from the start, and every intervention since has ultimately failed at the cost of much treasure and more innocent lives.  To claim that intervening against ISIS is going to turn out any differently is to ignore not only the lessons of the past, but worse to repeat its mistakes.

It is this writer's opinion that while the western powers can intervene legitimately in the realms of politics and humanitarian aid, the powers of the region must work through whatever sectarian differences they may have and develop their borders and governments accordingly.  We may not like what we see happening, but our political capital has been spent there for a long time, at least back to the withdrawal of the colonial powers if not longer.

For those who feel there is a "moral imperative" to intervene, there are interventions which will make a difference, but none of them involve bombs, guns or tanks.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

So, We're Going To War...

It comes as no surprise that Harper is all hot and bothered about jumping into the quagmire that is the Middle East.  He wanted to commit Canada to invading Iraq back when Shrub and his gang of morons were gearing up to invade in 2003.

Canadians should be more than a little skeptical of the motives involved here.  Harper has been itching for an open war for some time, and whether it is in the Middle East or Ukraine doesn't really matter to him.  The goal is a shooting war.  Something he can use for maximum photo-op glamorization of himself.

With his party tanking in the polls at home, he's looking for an adversary that he can demonize and make as scary as possible.  Conservative governments seem to feed on fear, and Harper is no exception to this.  An adversary like ISIS is ideal from a propaganda point of view.  They are obviously well armed, very well funded and violent.  Harper can, and no doubt will, create all kinds of false bogeymen related to ISIS.  Expect to hear lots of "terrorist plot foiled" headlines in the coming months.  ISIS is the new al Qaeda.

Harper's personal popularity has been tanking as the public finally takes note of a legislative agenda that is at odds with the day to day values of Canadians, a series of corruption scandals involving star senate appointees, and continued efforts to discredit the entirety of our institutions of government so that he can justify consolidating more and more power in his own hands.

There is much speculation about when the next election will be held.  Harper's "fixed election dates law" says Oct 19, 2015; but there are many other scenarios.  Harper could call a snap election this winter, hoping that his core voters will come out and vote while others stay at home warming themselves in front of the fire.

Or he could hang on into 2016 when this parliament expires under the constitution.  At that point in time, he could try appealing to the house for an extension.  In which case, expect the propaganda around ISIS and terrorism in general to ramp up dramatically over the next months as Harper tries to whip things into a frenzy of fear.

The last probability is for Harper to step aside in the Spring of next year, and have the CPC go through a leadership race during the summer months, and ride that into a fall election, with a "renewed" CPC headed up by the likes of Jason Kenney.

Either way, I suspect strongly that Harper's desire to jump into war in the Middle East has more to do with the upcoming election.  If he has to put Canada's military men and women in harm's way, that doesn't bother him one little bit.  It's just one more photo-op.

Friday, September 26, 2014

No, It's Not "Short Sighted"

I've seen stories popping up recently where Justin Trudeau is being criticized for refusing to engage with Sun Media.  

The issue is that Sun Media has allowed people like Levant to run amok.  Of course, they're going to play the taunting card.  What Levant's tirade demonstrated was that Sun Media is acting as a mouth organ for the PMO.  

From the Liberal party's perspective, why would they engage with a group who is so obviously biased, and will no doubt take anything that Trudeau says before their cameras and splice it into something entirely different?  

If Sun Media wants Canadians to believe that they are a legitimate media source, they need to take a step back, and rein in the extremists that they are putting in front of the camera.  At this point in time, that may well include insisting that Ezra Levant issue a full, public apology ... on air.   Otherwise, Canadians, and Trudeau's family in particular, are quite justified in assuming that Sun Media is nothing more than a propaganda organ for Stephen Harper and Conservative Party.

Canadians deserve better from our news media than Ezra Levant's childish tirades.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

ISIS, IS or ISIL ... Whatever It's Called This Week

It comes as no surprise that Harper is in a great hurry to commit Canada to a shooting war in Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria.

Make no mistake, "military advisors" is a euphemism.  Harper is committing troops to a shooting war that frankly we have no business involving ourselves in.

I remember saying back in 2002 that invading Afghanistan or Iraq was a fatal mistake.  It was a mistake on two basic levels.

First, direct military intervention in the Middle East has never been an effective strategy.  While military intervention has made Israel happy, and has no doubt done wonders for lining the pockets of the corporate types who profit one way or another off oil extraction in the region, it has done little but prop up regimes which exist as a result of the artificial borders cooked up as the colonial powers pulled back at the end of WWI.

The second aspect was the ridiculous claim that a new government could be installed at gunpoint and have any expectation of credibility on its home front.   You can call it "democracy" all you like, but that doesn't mean that the understanding of democracy is the same in the new country as it is here, or that it is even respected.

The rise of ISIS as a threat should come as no surprise to anybody, nor do I want to diminish the awfulness of ISIS.  Often after the dominant powers in a conflict pull back, those who went underground during the occupation will resurface and organize themselves into something.  In Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out, the Mujahadeen more or less collapsed into the Taliban; ISIS is no doubt a similar phenomenon.

With over a thousand years of failed interventions in the Middle East to reflect upon, we would be well advised to consider stepping back, and let the peoples of that region organize themselves.  I am profoundly concerned by the apparent lack of engagement in the ISIS matter on the part of the regional powers.  Except for those directly affected, the silence (at least in our media) of countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya or Iran is deafening.  I have less than no interest in seeing Canada, or any other western power trying to "lead" an intervention.  When the other powers in the region step forward to put troops on the ground and go after ISIS, then perhaps there are degrees of support we can provide.

Western powers trying to lead such an intervention is merely a repetition of mistakes we have already made.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Institutional Racism In Conservative Ideology

This post has been evolving for quite a long time.  However, in the last few days, a series of pieces have been published which bring together several threads of thought that I have been exploring for the last several years.  

There has long been a degree of bigotry and racism underlying modern day conservative ideologies.  At a glance, it appears to have its roots in the politics of religious literalism and the desire for simple, black-and-white explanations of the world in which we live.  My thinking on this matter has clarified enormously in the last few days.

The first part of this was a very thoughtful analysis published in the Toronto Star:  "The Ideological Roots of Stephen Harper's Vendetta Against Sociology".
Harper’s two disparaging comments about sociology, however, also need to be understood alongside his gutting of the long-form census in 2010. It is widely accepted that this action fundamentally undermined Canada’s ability to understand its own demographics, long-term social trends, and inequalities — in short, its sociology.

So what does Harper have against sociology? First, Harper is clearly trumpeting a standard component of neo-liberal ideology: that there are no social phenomena, only individual incidents. (This ideology traces back to Margaret Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society.”) Neo-liberalism paints all social problems as individual problems. The benefit of this for those who share Harper’s agenda, of course, is that if there are no social problems or solutions, then there is little need for government. Individuals are solely responsible for the problems they face.
If this isn't chilling to you, it certainly should be, because it is a concise explanation of the apparent blindness of the Harper government to the consequences of decisions such as cancelling the long form census and other tools which can be used to inform government policy.

The second and third pieces of this story were published in the Calgary Sun today.  The first being Lorne Gunter's column:  Aboriginal Leaders: Canada's Shame in its Relations With First Nations.
Aboriginal leaders claim the Harper government's decision highlights Canada's "shame" in its relations with First Peoples. They believe it is proof of widespread racism and sexism in the government and in the broader Canadian society as a whole. 
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says the Harper government is "out of touch" and "on the wrong side of history." 
The United Nations - that paragon of sanctimony, hypocrisy and inaction on real human rights abuses around the world - has chimed in. 
And even the country's police chiefs have insisted something must be done. 
So does all this support mean an inquiry really would be a good idea? 
No, it is simply another example of how much our nation's elites (police chiefs included) are seized by political correctness.
It's true that aboriginal women and girls are killed or disappear with greater frequency than non-aboriginal women - nearly three times as much. But the "why" is not as much of a mystery as our chattering classes would have us believe.
Most murdered or disappeared aboriginal women are not the victims of some vast conservative conspiracy or of white racism. They are the victims of the men in their lives.
Most killed or abused aboriginal women are killed or abused by aboriginal men - not callous white cops or violent white johns.
Wait a minute.  Nobody in their right mind is going to believe that a public inquiry is going to identify the guilty culprits.  That isn't the purpose of an inquiry.  The purpose of such an inquiry is to ask much bigger questions.  Questions such as whether the conditions on reservations contribute to domestic violence, and how a man like Picton managed to operate for multiple years, or why aboriginal people are grossly over-represented in Canada's prisons.

Of course, if you take a simplistic, black-and-white view of the world, any murder boils down to "catch the offender and punish them".  Simple, easy and horrendously misguided.   If you don't ask the big picture questions about these situations, you will never fully understand what is going on.  In fact, one is left very much in the dark, with the rather ridiculous assumption that bad people do bad things and that's all there is to it.

Anyone with even a little bit of grounding in reality and common sense will have long ago realized that people respond individual to their circumstances, and collectively to their environment.  Sociology is the study of societies and their behaviours.  The systems within a societal context will influence the individuals living in it.

In Canada, we have over two centuries of relations with the First Nations.  There are enormous problems with these relations, and much of it goes to the differences in what the First Nations understand the treaties to mean and how the Indian Act enacts those same treaties.  I know there are a plethora of other issues to be considered as well, but at its core, the Indian Act is a profoundly flawed piece of legislation which assumes the "superiority" of Colonial-era British society relative to the First Nations and very much embodies a series of structures that to modern eyes arguably impose a degree of structural and system racism which acts against our First Nations.

The overly simplistic rubric of the Harper Government blinds it to these issues.

The second item was a column by Michael Coren:  In The Wake of Tragedy a Sobering Reality
As a Catholic I can tell you with absolute certainty that if countless horrors had been committed by Catholics in the name of Catholicism, I and legions of my co-religionists would protest. I know the same would be true of most other religions and cultures.
Coren's claim that he would protest if countless horrors had been committed in the name of Catholicism is of course completely undermined by his own past utterances on a wide range of matters, not to mention his relative silence with regards to the sex abuse scandal that has plagued his Church for decades now.
But, we are told, these repeated beheadings and murders have nothing to do with most law-abiding, civilized Muslims. Perhaps so, but then it could be argued that neither does a book by Salman Rushdie or a drawing by a Danish cartoonist but that hasn’t stopped endless demonstrations and threats. 
Then there is the reality of the Islamic response. While I am sure that most Muslims are appalled by what happened to James Foley, even a cursory glance at social media reveals thousands of comments defending and justifying what happened, by Muslims on every continent. It might be comforting to believe that Islamist violence and bloodlust is a fringe psychosis, but every survey and all of the anecdotal evidence indicates that a sizeable minority of Muslims support it, an even greater number feel it is in some obscure way justified, and more still refuse to condemn it.
Funny how Coren can see this so clearly in the Muslim faith, and is so quick to call it out while turning a blind eye to the centuries of misdeeds done in the name of Catholicism.

While Coren may well be his own special brand of crazy, his blindness to the systemic racism and bigotry of his position is no different than that of Harper.  The simple, harsh reality is that the ideology they all subscribe to blinds them to the systemic problems they are creating and the very problems which aggravate already awful situations.

The minute you take a position that there "is no such thing as society", it becomes easy to wash one's hands of collective responsibility.  Perhaps the even greater irony of that is that same flight from collective responsibility makes it easier to label entire groups as "other" and criticize them for not meeting whatever arbitrary standard you may set.

I am quite certain that if you were to confront Harper, Gunter or Coren with the implicit bigotry of their positions, they would deny it.  Their very ideological constructs are so limited in their understanding of large, complex systems like societies that they cannot comprehend the idea that their positions foster othering and judgments on incomplete information.

A stage is not only set upon which racism and ethnic bigotry can flourish.  In Harper's Canada, it is not only growing and flourishing, but the flames of ire are being fanned by it.  I can only hope that we are able to replace our current government with one whose perspective encompasses a much broader view of what Canada is, and what it can become.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Militarization Of Canada's Police

Much has been said recently about the "militarization" of America's police forces.  For those of us who live in Canada, let us not be fooled into complacency.

The National Post has an article about the same damn, dumb thing happening in Canada.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson Is The Symptom, Not The Disease

Events in Ferguson, MO this past week have been deeply disturbing, if not downright distressing.  I don't particularly need to recount them in any detail.

Precisely what happened, and who thought what is no longer even relevant.  In the public perception, a white police officer has gunned down an unarmed black youth in cold blood.  Talk about a trifecta of cultural currents that a prominent in the social malaise that is the southern US.  Racism, gun violence, youth crime all rolled into one little ball.

To say that the police and other civic decision makers in Ferguson have handled this entire situation badly is an understatement.  From the changing stories and obvious attempts to justify the officer's actions to the attempt to impose a curfew last night, whoever is "in charge" is either naive, foolish or really, really clueless.

One dimension of this story that is being overlooked, or perhaps even deliberately ignored is the impact of the increasing militarization of police forces in North America.  The US Military is busy shedding gear that it no longer needs from its misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and police departments across the country have been picking up heavy and medium armour equipment at bargain basement prices.  Under what circumstances a police force whose job it is to serve and protect the public from criminal activity and random violence needs equipment designed to withstand driving over land mines is a little beyond me.

I found this picture on Facebook the other day, and regardless of the attribution, the statement made is quite correct, and chillingly accurate.

There has been a distinct change in the mentality of police forces in both the United States and Canada in the last fifteen years.  (Unsurprisingly, since Bush II and his gang of thugs came to power, in particular)

I seldom have to interact with the police directly - I lead a pretty quiet life, and its only rarely that something happens like I get pulled over at a traffic stop or something like that, so when it does happen, the differences between interactions are striking to me.

Several years ago, I got stopped after making an illegal turn (the signs had gone up the week before, but I hadn't noticed them).  The officer that stopped me was polite, explained what had happened and why I was being given the ticket.  Not a big deal really.  That was in the late 1990s.

It would be another decade or so before I would have another interaction with the police.  This one was a whole other kettle of fish.  It involved someone falling back from my vehicle in a playground zone.  The officer saw it as "me passing in a playground zone".  However, the officer in that situation was belligerent, officious and generally quite nasty about the whole situation.  When I tried to explain that the other vehicle had pulled back so that he could pull in behind me as there was a car parked in his lane ahead, I got a lecture about how "I was lucky that the police officer didn't have his speed gun on at the time, or I'd be getting a ticket for speeding too".

That was my first direct experience with the shifting attitudes in our police forces.  Something had shifted from enforcing the laws reasonably and being respectful of the people to automatically assuming that the job of the police was to accuse everybody of being guilty of something.

More recently, we have seen police departments switch from the blue-and-white colour scheme that had been predominant since the 1970s back to the 'black-and-white' of the 1930s.  Further, the equipment of a police car now makes them appear much more aggressive, and there is a return to black uniforms.  When, if ever, did it make sense to fill a teenager (or another accused) full of bullets when they have already surrendered, or are otherwise under your control?

Let's put all of this together.  We have police forces arming themselves with military gear.  Have you seen what a tactical team looks like nowadays?  You can't tell the difference between them and a marine unit on maneuvers.  Further, the "new look" for police vehicles is clearly designed to to intimidate the public, and we're dressing our officers in black ... and that's just the outward appearance.  I shudder to think what is being said in briefing rooms and meetings regarding the public.

While there is more to the Ferguson situation than just this one dimension, when you start giving your police heavy weaponry, and tools designed to intimidate the public there can be no doubt that at the end of the day you are creating a powder keg.  You don't make things better by tossing lit matches into powder kegs ... Our police forces in both countries need to be reminded that their role is to enforce the law to the benefit of the public, not to its detriment.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Harper's Gambit

With his numbers sinking in the most recent polls, Harper appears to be moving to bring out his rear guard actions to sustain his grip on power.

There are several pieces to this discussion:

(1)  Foreign Affairs

Between fomenting a shooting war with Russia in the Ukraine,  a stance on Israel that's about as nuanced as an angry rhinoceros, and taking explicit sides in the ongoing collapse of Iraq and Syria, anyone would think that Harper was trying to drag Canada into a war.

Make no mistake about it, that is one of the cards that Harper wants in his hands.  There are two primary reasons for this:

a.  He thinks he can use it as a weapon against Justin Trudeau.  Play the "tough war president" routine, and try to portray his opponents as "weak" and "ineffectual" on such matters.

b.  If Canada is engaged in a shooting war, he can try to invoke the little clause in the constitution that allows for the extension of Parliament beyond 5 years.  (This would be unprecedented, but I don't put it past PMSH to try if he thinks his grip on power is in danger)

(2)  Escalating Attacks On Trudeau

Harper's war on Trudeau is once again escalating, with Harper attempting to use the government's health agency as part of his propaganda campaign, and of course ratcheting up the rhetoric against Trudeau in their flyers (which taxpayers pay for).

This is hardly surprising, given that October 2015 is when Harper's "Fixed Election Dates" law says there should be an election held, and nothing that the PMO has thrown at Trudeau has stuck.  The boys in the short pants are no doubt starting to panic about the ongoing slump of CPC support in the polls.

Frankly, this one is almost secondary.  For all intents and purposes, Harper can keep going until sometime in 2016 under Canada's existing constitution.  Expect to see Elections Canada spend millions of dollars setting up polling stations for an election that hasn't been called in fall 2015.

(3)  Expanding Propaganda Campaign

The Harper Government has been nothing if not relentless in its use of government resources to spew propaganda.  From the billions spent on "Economic Action Plan" ads, to the more recent (and blatant) attempt to try and turn Health Canada communications into anti-pot propaganda,  and the hyping of military nationalism in the promotion of "celebrations" for 1812, Harper has used just about every trick in the book to try and twist and buffalo Canadians into looking at the world through the narrow little lens that he wants us to.

(4)  The "Fair Elections Act"

We still don't know just how far this one is going to go in changing the balance in the electoral system.  There are enormous parts of that bill which got railroaded through which seriously compromise the ability of Canadians to exercise their right to vote, and to enable further shenanigans next election that will make the Robocalls conviction of Michael Sona look like small potatoes.

I have no doubt that Harper will do everything he can to hang on to power.  If he thinks he can steal the next election, he will do that in preference to the other alternatives, but there is nothing stopping him from delaying the next election well into 2016, if not beyond that.  

Monday, August 04, 2014

An Open Letter To Margaret Wente

Dear Ms. Wente,

I thought that as a journalist you were supposed to do some research before you go writing stories.  In the case of your August 2, 2014 column in The Globe and Mail, it is painfully obvious that you haven't even bothered to try.
As a child, Lindsay Leigh Bentley desperately wanted to be a boy. She refused to wear dresses and adored going hunting with her dad. She loved sticks, guns, motorcycles and monsters. She chopped the hair off her Barbies. Her parents had to cut her own hair short because she refused to let them brush it. Her best friends were boys. In childhood pictures, she looks fierce, and tough as nails. 
These days, her worried parents would probably hustle her off to the nearest gender-identity clinic.
Had you done even the slightest bit of actual research, you would have discovered that there is very little that is so simple about the treatment of Transgender youth.  The World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH SOC) would have been a good place to start.  (Take note of this reference, we will be coming back to it)
...But it is also the story of advocacy run amok, in which a small but militant group of activists has managed to strong-arm well-meaning people into believing that gender is not innate but “assigned,” that those who are “trapped in the wrong body” would be happier with radical hormone treatments and mutilating surgery, and that children as young as one or two should be pushed along a path whose implications they are far too young to understand.
Wow ... how many twists and lies can you put into a single paragraph, Margaret?  Let's start enumerating them:

Sunday, August 03, 2014

A Call For Change In Business

It wasn't so long ago that businesses recognized people at their local levels as having something to contribute.  That individual employees have a meaning greater than the "bottom line".

That was before the Internet and globalization.

In 1990, as a new graduate from University, I started working for what was then a small, but growing company of people that was doing some pretty amazing things.  Over the course of the next couple of decades, I saw the company grow, go through numerous acquisitions, eventually ending up as part of an enormous conglomerate with thousands of employees, billions of dollars a year in sales ... and absolutely no soul.

Large companies become so focused on the "bottom line" (aka "profit") that they lose sight of the fact that they wouldn't make a wooden nickel of profit if it wasn't for the effort of the people who make up their companies.

Over the evolution of the company I witnessed firsthand, I saw it go from being a small operation where everybody knew each other, and people came together to make things happen - both at work and in their personal lives.

Things like local celebrations were more or less entire days where very little "business" got done, but all of our clients made a point of trying to be in town to take part in the fun.  The staff at all levels participated, and generally speaking all of it was an excellent opportunity for everybody to engage.

As the company grew, things changed.  Subtly.  Each change was a small one.  A degree of balkanization emerged as the company grew.  Certain leaders carved out their own fiefdoms; then celebrations were cut back, with "costs" and "liability" cited as the primary reasons.

A few acquisitions later, and everybody in the management tier was suddenly being measured not on whether their people were happy, but on their ability to bring things in "under budget".  Soft measures like the ability to motivate their teams, or to deal with difficult personnel issues effectively got replaced by numbers.  Experience and skill became secondary to costs - senior staff would be marginalized and let go to save money.

We have seen this across the board in business.  The largest businesses have come to view their staff not as skilled contributors to the company and its objectives, but as expenses.  Expenses, as any accountant will tell you, are a cost of doing business that should be minimized in order to maximize the profits being accrued by the business.  In retailers like Wal-Mart, there is a conscious effort to keep wages of sales floor staff as low as possible.  Why?  For no better reason than to "maximize shareholder value" (a line of reasoning in the world of the executive boardrooms amounts to "make more money").

Businesses no longer recognize the contributions of their staff below the management tier, and even there middle management (supervisors, department managers in particular) are often squeezed out of this, their responsibilities increased and the latitude to make decisions ever dwindling as those above them try to make everything "quantifiable", and "help make better business decisions".

The results of this?  In North America, we have seen businesses gut their local manufacturing base in order to make a "more efficient" business.  In the world of IT and technology, everybody thinks that "outsourcing" (code phrase for sending the work to cheap labour in India) is the way to get things done because it's "cheaper".  The skills of craftsmen (and I include knowledge workers like programmers, writers and graphic artists) are seen as increasingly irrelevant locally.  ("Oh, we'll just hire someone off Guru.com to do that")

The result of all this?  Nobody trusts anybody.  Companies don't trust their employees with their real strategy and goals (employees quit and go work for the competition, you see);  employees don't trust companies with their careers (layoffs are everywhere, all the time); employees don't trust each other (because there is always someone scheming to get ahead of the rest by stabbing their colleagues in the back), and so on.  There is nothing that motivates staff to give their best efforts to the company, and the company undermines the very people that should be the base of its success.  The net result?  Large organizations are doomed to hollow themselves out and fail catastrophically.  If the 2008 meltdown of GM (and the subsequent 2012-13 recall crisis) told us one thing it is this:  GM has gutted itself to the point that the people with the most to contribute have either been pushed out or are straightjacketed by management processes focused entirely on profits.

Big business has shown us one thing:  That money is sociopathic.  It has no ethics, no morals and no empathy.  When you run your business solely by the numbers, you guarantee that it will fail eventually.  In the meantime, workplaces will become hostile environments where people will be afraid of each other and scheming for their own respective survival rather than the good of the company.

It is time for a major change in our business world.  We must move away from the multi-billion dollar trans-national model.  Yes, a company has to make money.  But it cannot do so at the expense of the well being of its workers.  Smaller companies need to learn to collaborate, but the day of "mergers and acquisitions" as a means of growth must end.  Businesses need to recognize that at the end of the day, they are made up of people and that their responsibilities are to their customers and staff first, shareholders second.  The only way this can happen is when local management are free and able to look after their staff as people rather than solely as expenses.

The mantra for business in the coming decades has to become about local talent, trust and growth.  Not growth for growth's sake, but growth where you reach your customers, and where your talent is.  Trust, between the business and its employees as well as its customers.

Make it worthwhile for people to work for you, and they'll stay.  Let it become a hostile workplace where the only thing that matters is the bottom line and your company will fail, because your best and brightest will leave - hollowing your company to a shell.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Oppression is Never a Successful Strategy

I'm getting sick of waking up every morning to the latest news of the atrocities going on in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The list of grievances held by each side is miles and generations long, and quite frankly I don't think either has any claim to the moral high ground.  Over the years that I have observed this mess, it has been a matter of the Palestinian groups engaging in guerrilla warfare, and the Israeli government responding with an ever heavier hand.

Today, the Israeli government has bottled up the Palestinian people behind walls and barricades.  What passes for an economy in the Palestinian territories is strangled by Israel's blockades of trade, limitations imposed on electricity (in a shared electrical grid) and so on.

The Gaza Strip is all of 139 square miles, for 1.6 million people (for comparison, the City of Calgary is 318 square miles for 1.2 million), surrounded by a fence with guard towers along its land boundaries, and a naval blockade at the sea ... all enforced by the Israeli army.  Essentially this is an open air prison, mostly holding people who have never been convicted of a crime.

For all of this, have the attacks on Israel ended?  No.  Of course not.  Like a medieval siege, bottling a people up for protracted periods of time basically has one effect:  it galvanizes the besieged against the besiegers.  Old grievances are nursed and nurtured, feelings harden and any act which allows the besieged to thumb their noses at the enemy is seen as a victory.  If that's one more rocket getting over the wall, so be it.  If that rocket happens to land somewhere that does real damage to property or people on the enemy side, it will be seen as an even greater victory.

Meanwhile, the besiegers congratulate themselves on their overwhelming firepower and the "victories" of hitting whatever targets they are told to hit.  The fact that civilians, including children, are in the line of fire is an unfortunate accident hidden under the rubric of "collateral damage".

Whether or not HAMAS is a "terrorist organization" is political semantics.  At one time the PLO was held in similar regard for the same reasons.  There is little to be gained from such labelling.  Palestinian complaints of disenfranchisement at the hands of Israel cannot be ignored any more than Israel's fears of being overrun by its Arab enemies.  

This will not end well.  Sieges end with brutal occupations which seldom create long term allies; in the middle ages "undesirable" populations were herded into segregated ghettos in urban areas, breeding resentment and worse and facilitating hostile pogroms by the governing powers.  In neither case can one say that the results are anything that we can be proud of in our collective history as a species.

Let me be abundantly clear:  What has happened in the region since 1967 has not worked.  Period.  There was a brief time after the PLO and Israel came to terms which seemed to defuse things a bit, but on the whole, the constant escalating violence of one group trying to assert territorial claims, and another group trying to respond to what amounts to an insurgency simply has not worked.

The political discourse in Israel has been dominated by a particularly bellicose leadership that seems to think that the only response to violence is more violence.  The tighter the iron grip, the more readily that things being squeezed slip between the cracks created.  Just as nations have found time and again in the past, never underestimate the ingenuity of people under great pressure.

Politically, the state of Israel is rapidly becoming a failed experiment, for many of the same reasons that its predecessor Palestine failed.  The very construct of a nation state which denies the validity of all of the peoples who live within its borders is doomed to fail.  Where Mandatory Palestine failed to acknowledge the Jewish peoples in its borders, Israel's approach to the Palestinians has also failed.

The political discourse has to be remade, and moved from the language of adversaries to that of coexistence.  When I think about it further, the entire situation may well require the collapse of the political structures of the current Middle East region in order to resolve.  Much of the region's borders are the result of the European colonial powers redrawing borders in the wake of the demise of the Ottoman Empire.  The net result has made little or no sense in the broader context of the region and its peoples.

I don't know what the long term geopolitical picture looks like in the region.  I do believe that the current arrangements are doomed to fail.  It will take the emergence of statesmen on all sides who can look beyond the grievances of today to build states where coexistence is the rule of the day, rather than the often violent suppression of "rival" sects and populations.

There may be no "right" answers to the question mark that is Middle East politics, but one thing is clear:  the current situation is not working, and the mess in Israel is but a symptom of that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Radical Feminism Versus Reality

The New Yorker decided to publish an exposé about the ongoing war of words between Transsexual Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) and transsexuals.

Sadly, the author spent most of their time talking about what TERFs have written about transsexuals and failed entirely to present the transsexual side of the discussion in any depth.  In fact, the entire article came across as if the transsexual community's reactions to various TERF proclamations about transsexuals were simply an overreaction.

While I have no doubt that there are those whose fury over the acts of various TERFs towards the transsexual community is such that they have made threats or been otherwise unpleasant about things.  The transsexual community is hardly uniform in its sensibility or willingness to discuss topics when they feel they have been slighted.
Such views are shared by few feminists now, but they still have a foothold among some self-described radical feminists, who have found themselves in an acrimonious battle with trans people and their allies. Trans women say that they are women because they feel female—that, as some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a “female brain.” They believe that if women think and act differently from men it’s because society forces them to, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential. In the words of Lierre Keith, a speaker at Radfems Respond, femininity is “ritualized submission.”
One might wonder just what room for dialogue there might be when the TERF argument starts with absolute erasure of the lived experience of transsexuals.   Perhaps even more troubling is that the TERF position clearly ignores a large and growing body of evidence that does show that masculinized and feminized brains are objectively different (and that transsexuals reflect brain structures that tend towards female typical).

In many respects, it isn't the TERF's denial of the reality of transsexuals that gets people wound up.  I think if it were merely a disagreement over philosophical points of worldviews, it would be far less contentious than it is.

Unfortunately, TERF writers going back to Janice Raymond, author of a treatise entitled "The Transsexual Empire" have done their level best to erase the narrative of transsexuals.  Quite frankly, Jeffrey's latest work is really just another volley in an ongoing war where transsexuals are concerned. There is very little in it which is new, revolutionary or even evolutionary.

Whether or not "Radical Feminist" theory has any legitimate criticism of the social roles assigned to our male and female citizens is unfortunately lost in the core assumption that denies transsexuals the right to their own stories.  Jeffreys, along with the other TERF writers are blinding themselves to the growing evidence of biology and how it influences the expression of gender.  The rigidity of the TERF position is also its brittleness.  Feminism needs a new direction to evolve.  The work started so many years in the past has not been finished yet, and yet it cannot move forward without including the diversity of gender identities and roles that have emerged in the last 25 years.  I firmly believe that the TERFs like others with rigid, inflexible belief systems will become the intellectual dinosaurs in the coming years.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Confusing Freedom With Imposition

Canada's "Association For Reformed Political Action" came to my attention this past week.  Just from the name, you can tell that this is one of the groups that is seeking to turn Canada into a theocracy much like the far right is currently doing in the United States.

I decided to spend a little time sniffing through their website, and found a fair bit of interest.

First is an explicit and clear sense of just how deeply these groups are connected with the Harper Government.
... a speech to the ARPA groups from cabinet minister Jason Kenney
Do you think you would find Jason Kenney speaking to a feminist group, or an LGBT group?  Come to think of it, how many conferences have you heard about being held on Parliament Hill in recent years ... besides those which are connected to the religious lobby?  Kenney is well known as a speaker on the "pro-life" circuit, but he is very careful to make sure that no public records of his speaking engagements are readily available.
Parliament Hill was abuzz with close to 70 representatives of ARPA chapters from across the nation who gathered last week and sat down with approximately 50 Members of Parliament and Senators to discuss issues close to our hearts.
In itself, there isn't anything particularly wrong with this group lobbying the government.  In fact, all groups should be able to lobby the government.  The real question is what does an organization lobbying the government actually represent?

Well, in this case, one doesn't have to go too far to start building a picture, and it is one which all Canadians who respect what is good and decent in this land should be concerned by.

Let's start with the following "public policy submittal" from ARPA's website:
Canada is a nation in search of an identity. We don’t publicly recognize any god as supreme, let alone the Christian God. We follow leaders and ideas for a time, only to move on to the next person or thing that stirs us. But hockey, donuts, and beer aren’t exactly symbols on which to build a nation.

Over the decades Canada has divorced the Christian God from our public institutions and replaced Him with self- worship, state-worship, and earth-worship, among other things. Yet we continue to lay claim to, and benefit from, many of the political and legal by-products of the Christian faith, including fundamental human rights, much of the Criminal Code, and the concept of rule of law.
Ah ... this would be the plea for their particular faith to be granted supremacy over all others in the nation.  After all, we were all "Christian" at one time, weren't we?  Ah, here we are:

In a nutshell, civil governments are called by God to be his servant for good, to bear the sword to punish criminal wrongdoing and to promote justice and righteousness (see Romans 13:3-4). The goal for civil government is to allow for citizens to enjoy a peaceful and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1-2), not to convert souls or eradicate false religions.  
One reason for this limited role of the civil government is because there are other governments instituted by God and described in the Bible. Each of these governments has their own roles and responsibilities. For example, the family is a governing institution that is accountable directly to God, not to the State. It is entrusted with the duty of raising and educating children, among other things. The State has no business telling parents what their children must be taught. The family unit is not subservient to the State. Both are accountable directly to God. 
Ah yes.  The classic arguments that "God" has all the authority, and therefore the state has no reason to intervene in such trivial matters as education.  (after all, there's nothing like teaching your children fables like creationism instead of actual, objective science)

Now, in large part, this looks like the usual religious freedom claims.  More or less, the state has no right to dictate what religious doctrines are taught to children, and that people should be free to do as they please in such matters.
This suggestion that the God of the Bible is the authority from which all human authority is derived sounds radical. But the status-quo is not all that different. Much of what is guiding public policy in the provinces and our nation today is also religious – it’s just hidden under a superficial veneer of neutrality.
Religion is “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”2 Every official is guided by his or her own beliefs or worldview – it is why you entered public office. As historian Link Byfield noted “All laws – not just laws concerning sexual behaviour – are based upon some moral principle. The entire Criminal Code, for starters, is an anthology of morality. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not murder, all these rules are moral principles.”3 In many regards Feminist MP Niki Ashton is no less religious than self- described evangelical Christian Stephen Harper. As a result, the policies coming out of our Parliament and Legislatures are also religiously based, though some are more explicit than others (see the example on the right). For example, the belief that health care should be distributed “freely and fairly” is a religious conviction based on a view of human worth and the role of the state.
Frankly, this is a sloppy attempt to say that "everything is religion" - a rather ludicrous reductio ad absurdum claim.  To make such a claim, one has to presuppose that morality is only informed by religion.  A more clear-headed view of the world would realize that someone can arrive at various "moral" positions through paths other than religious teaching.  For example, an atheist whose worldview is informed by empirical evidence and observation may arrive at the proscription against theft on the basis that stealing something harms the other person by depriving them of the fruits of their labour.  This is not a religious position, but rather one which can reasonably be arrived at without even so much as opening a religious text of any sort.  Is this a "religious" position?  Not in the least.

The claim is made (frequently) that our entire system of laws is rooted in religious codes that have been around for centuries.  This is partially true, but to claim that Christian religion uniquely informs our legal traditions is to ignore the fact that human society has had a social contract for millennia, and through many different religious traditions.  In many respects, one might view religion as having evolved from the abstract social contract as a means of ensuring a degree of consistency over time.  In terms of law, we traditionally credit the Babylonian king Hammurabi with creating the first known written legal code.  One might imagine that prior to this, there were laws that encompassed the likely violations of the social contract in various societies, but they were maintained orally.  Further, we know that the Greco-Roman concept of religion was highly legalistic, with various rituals forming a "contractual bond" between humans and the various Gods.  The Romans would claim that their authority was derived from the contractual endorsement between the Gods and man, just as Christianity claims authority from "the eternal God".  It is in fact this reality that causes me to assert that religion is a reflection of the society from which it emerged.

Now, things get interesting.  To this point, what we have is a group running about lobbying politicians to enable their religious freedoms.  Not entirely invalid, and per se, I have no real objection to this.  They should be perfectly free to believe as they wish and practice their faith in peace.

Then we come to some of the other campaigns that ARPA is connected to:

We Need A Law :  A "Fetal Rights" anti-abortion lobby effort.  Headed up by Mike Schouten.

The Truth Is:  An anti-abortion campaign of ARPA, with an associated "Pregnancy Help Line" (a la the misleading "Pregnancy Crisis Center" model the far right in the US has adopted to undermine Planned Parenthood.

Human Rights Commissions:  Part of a far right campaign to dismantle human rights codes and commissions that are enacted both federally and provincially in Canada.  The claim is largely that these bodies unreasonably constrain religious freedoms (which mostly turns out to be it constrains a religious "freedom" to discriminate against people who the religion doesn't like very much - like the LGBT communities).

Here is where the problem arises.  It is not that ARPA wants religious freedom at all.  It is the desire to impose their worldview on others by restricting what others who may not share their worldview are able to do.

For example, the arguments against abortion are largely based on a religious claim that life "begins at conception".  Of course, the definition of "life" is left open, allowing for much shifting of goalposts in debate.  However, making such restrictions effectively deny women's agency in setting up their lives and managing them.  While someone who happens to have the same religious philosophy as ARPA professes to may well not pursue an abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy, someone whose worldview is informed through a different set of drivers may well wish to do so for their own reasons.  In this situation, we have a problem.  The ARPA group is demanding that the agency of others in their own lives somehow unreasonably impinges upon their religious sensibilities and therefore must be limited.

Likewise, the complaints about the human rights laws (which are subservient to the Constitution and Charter - and to my knowledge have never been overturned by challenge before the courts), basically boil down to a complaint that their ability to bully and abuse others who they disapprove of is being restrained by these laws.

So, on one hand they are demanding that nobody, especially the state, impose itself upon their religious freedoms and on the other hand they are demanding that our legislators write laws which reflect their worldview and as such impose that same worldview upon all Canadians regardless of their own individual world views.

Apparently, they have not understood the distinction between individual rights and freedoms and the much broader social contract of cooperation that is needed in a diverse country in order for all members of society to be able to participate fully and freely.

More concerning is that groups like this seem to have far greater access to our current government than those who do not share these beliefs.