Prostitution and Some Left-Wing Men

… like John Baglow.

I think it’s fair comment to point out that the photo chosen by blogger John Baglow to accompany his piece on prostitution posted at rabble is from a campaign organized and funded by the brutal Irish pimp Peter McCormick. I’m sure it was accidental so I will go no farther with that line of inquiry. There are too many other accidents in Mr. Baglow’s piece that require response.

I have no problem when a blogger or any writer of an opinion piece declares their bias – “opinion” – I get it. But Mr. Baglow also points out that he “is a former VP of PSAC, currently a writer and researcher, public policy consultant, occasional academic and poet”. In that case I expect a cogent presentation of the issues involved in debating the merits or lack thereof of proposed legislation to protect communities and exploited persons put forward recently by the federal government. But all I got was a sermon and some insults. Given the ongoing crumbling of mediated public and political debate that we see nowadays with resulting rampant disaffection, cynicism and ignorance, this is disappointing. To see such a blog posted in alternative media is also disappointing. An attempt should be made, at the very least, to take a stab at contributing to the enlightenment of readers rather than making repetitive attempts to mischaracterize important issues involving women, race and class.

It is not only unfair of Baglow to characterize abolitionist feminists as “priggish moralizers” – it’s blatantly inaccurate and manipulative. The abolitionist position is a good deal more nuanced than that and either Baglow knows it and chooses to ignore it in his attempt to polarize the debate, or he is intolerably ignorant.

The abolitionist position is based on an understanding of prostitution as the exploitation of women and particularly of poor women, racialised women and Indigneous women. Note that the coalition of women from the independent women’s movement that participated in the Bedford case was comprised of Asian women, overrepresented and hidden in indoor work which apparently they do not find “safe”; women’s shelter workers; advocates from Canada’s sexual assault care centres; the Elizabeth Fry Society – working with imprisoned women; the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network; and the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Surely all these women and their hard work and careful argument cannot be characterized, should not be characterized anywhere, as mere priggish moralism. In my view that conclusion is both sexist and racist on its face. The differences among feminists with respect to issues such as pornography and prostitution are long-standing; arguments are fairly well-developed on both sides. None of us deserves to be dismissed as an “angry radical” and surely not Meghan Murphy who writes for rabble and is a respected voice in the Canadian feminist community. The link to her work strikes me as purely gratuitous and downright mean. Though I must admit I’m happy to be an angry radical if my argument is actually being accurately described. What the hell is wrong with angry radicals?

Now to Baglow’s argument. He lectures us that we mustn’t see prostituted women as victims and tells us that they have agency and that we must accept that proposition at the outset. He doesn’t define or describe agency or tell us in what circumstances we are allowed to see agency as being so circumscribed as to be almost non-existent. Of course we all have agency. Of course women struggle in resistance to their circumstances. That is both the genius and strength of oppressed people. That agency doesn’t erase exploitation and certainly doesn’t erase our social and political responsibility for it. That’s just a non-starter but it does play nicely into libertarian notions so popular today that exhort us to believe that individual freedom is best achieved when society leaves people alone to negotiate their own way through the difficulties foisted upon them by their sex, race and class. It implies that it is those of us who fight for recognition that people in certain circumstances are victimized who are somehow responsible for that victimization and stigmatization. Nice work lefty guy – let prostituted women choose their work and blame women if it’s stigmatized according to some crazy old Madonna/Whore dichotomy. Many of the advocates amongst abolitionists are survivors of prostitution. What they did to escape stigma, in part, was to join themselves in solidarity with feminist analyses and principles. Because those are the analyses and principles that they believe will lead to the liberation of their sisters. That is, ALL their sisters and not just those who claim to choose and be happy in the sex trade.

Those who are oppressed are not often in a position to end their exploitation without advocacy on the part those of us who are not quite so oppressed. Yes, they can fight for themselves. But Baglow fails to recognize that the women of the coalition are doing just that: fighting for themselves. He says we should not see prostituted women as “hapless victims upon whom unspeakable violence and degradation are perpetrated.” Well, certainly not hapless but yes, often victims upon whom unspeakable violence and degradation are perpetrated. Is that really even arguable?

For instance, let’s take Terri-Jean Bedford, one of the litigants in the now famous Bedford case. Some aspects of Bedford’s life are now a matter of public record. Here’s a description from the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada:

“Terri Jean Bedford was born in Collingwood, Ontario, in 1959, and as of 2010 had 14 years of experience working as a prostitute in various Canadian cities. She worked as a street prostitute, a massage parlour attendant, an escort, an owner and manager of an escort agency, and a dominatrix. Ms. Bedford had a difficult childhood and adolescence during which she was subjected to various types of abuse. She also encountered brutal violence throughout her career … ” see R v. Bedford

There is no doubt in my mind that Bedford has agency. There is also no doubt that she was victimized throughout her life, from childhood on into adulthood, and that her exploitation had a good deal to do with the fact that she was a girl and a woman with limited opportunities and vulnerable to male exploitation. This is not a description of a woman about whom we should be unconcerned. The social harms inflicted upon her are not harms that we should ignore as a matter of law and policy. In some sense she represents what is often referred to as a stereotype of a prostituted woman, abused in childhood, the victim of “brutal violence” and no doubt the victim of the trauma attendant upon such experiences. To say so is not to stigmatize her; the stigma experienced by a prostituted woman doesn’t come because other women care about her experiences or from our advocating for a set of social policies and laws that might reduce the possibility that any woman must suffer what she has suffered.

Mr. Baglow then exhorts his readers to see prostitution as mere labour, lest “bare principle” blind us to the “complex issues of everyday life”. I think Mr. Baglow means we must put aside ethical and normative considerations in order to deal with the ugly reality of prostitution, that age-old and unshakeable institution. But many things are laborious, many things are work, that we choose to put outside the law and outside social approval. In arguing that men ought not to be able to purchase women’s sexual services and remain within the law and social norms, abolitionists are not arguing that women in the sex trade do not do work. We are arguing that men ought not to be allowed allowed to exploit women’s bodies without penalty. We must think about what particular kinds of work exploit human beings, i.e. women, to such a high degree that we cannot condone it. There are many examples of different kinds of work that we find beyond the pale. In citing examples I do not mean to compare them to prostitution but merely to note that human labour is not always legal work: for instance, overtime work that is not compensated appropriately; slavery; wage slavery; child labour. The illegality does not pertain to the worker but to the capitalist and the consumer. As it should with respect to prostitution.

Baglow’s “Mrs. Grundy” comment is, frankly, diminishing and dismissive of women and thus sexist and beneath contempt. I am in solidarity with women who work in the sex trade. I seek a form of solidarity that envisions a society in which women, racialised women, poor women and Indigenous women do not have to sell sexual services to men in order to survive, either psychically or physically or whatever other way. When we take steps toward that vision, we enable and support women in making real choices – still circumscribed by the human necessity to work, but not forced or coerced into a form of work which only very few would truly and freely choose. Mr. Baglow is free to disagree with respect to how we achieve that end. In my view he ought not to be free to misrepresent and insult the efforts of those women with whom he claims to be in solidarity.

As Andrea Dworkin said, “The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.” Amen sister. Amen.

Girls, Guergis, Guns & Armageddon

UPDATED BELOW

Marci McDonald’s 2006 article in The Walrus, Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons, gave us the first systematic analysis of the hidden Christian fundamentalist agenda of Stephen Harper’s goals for Canada – the establishment of the conditions necessary for the Second Coming of you-know-who.  Who knows if Harper is such a fantastical fool that he really believes in all that anti-evolutionary, anti-woman, anti-gay, pro-Israel STFUness.  What matters is that a bunch of nutbars has such power in the corridors of Canadian political power.

Harper has cemented a partnership with people who have become astonishingly powerful in the US and whose religious ideology nicely parallels social conservatism.  Harper is known to be a fiscal conservative, but has needed the support of old-style Progressive Conservatives who haven’t necessarily had the ability to attract the support of the far right wing – if they had, they wouldn’t have lost their Party.  Each time Harper throws an anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-Israel, law and order dog biscuit to this crowd he wins votes that would not necessarily fall into his lap via fiscal conservatism alone.

Is all this becoming more clear to Canadians?

Antonia Zerbisias’ interview with McDonald, now the author of a book on these issues - The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada  - provides us with a startling (to some people) collection of issues that have come to the fore of late that certainly substantiate the writer’s painstaking research, from the cancellation of Paul Martin’s national daycare programme to the introduction of  private members’ bills that would limit women’s free reproductive choice to Harper and company’s otherwise inexplicably over-the-top support of Israeli policy towards Palestine and general opposition to same-sex marriage.

That’s a cartload of issues and each one deserves it’s own discussion.  I’m going to have a brief look at how acceptance of the Fundy Formula effects women or, for the sake of the almost alliteration – teh girls – and how “liberals” have failed to appreciate the significance of CON policy and legislation.

From the outset women and women’s advocacy groups have had no difficulty apprehending HarperCON’s anti-woman agenda.  As McDonald points out, he began with the cancellation of a national daycare programme, moved on to a systematic assault on women’s equality-seeking groups and from there to defunding NGOs with specific focusses on providing reproductive services to women in developing countries and anti-violence initiatives.  He has also engaged in a vicious public assault on his former Minister for the Status of Women, Helena Guergis, whose portfolio had been all but disabled anyway.

These issues share many common characteristics and some that are not so obvious.  For instance, though most of us here understand quite well that the lack of a national daycare programme hurts not only the children of Canada but also women who are still their primary caretakers, we were probably less aware that, as McDonald points out, Harper “was also pandering to social conservatives who don’t believe that the government should have any role in child-rearing, who believe that mothers should be at home bringing up their children or who send their children to religious daycares and schools.”

Speaking for myself, I got the “women at home” aspect but missed the part about the children of working mothers placed in religious daycares and schools and the concomitant threat to public education.  As McDonald concludes:

 It was one of those policies that cut across both of his constituencies, economic and social. That would characterize most of his policies.

But McDonald misses something – that the struggle for a national daycare programme is something that not even Liberals will take to the wall – making it much too easy for Harper to hand out gifts to his social conservative base.  Maybe libs and lefties will take daycare if they can get it but it’s certainly nothing to bring down a minority government over.  Few issues that are perceived to be or actually are those that effect primarily teh girls are that important.  Or none.  In fact, when these issues are raised what I hear most often from the libs and even the left, such as it is, is that these issues are “distractions”, diversions from primary purposes, that they might be worth a few jabs in question period and an opportunistic media punchline here or there, but they are really window-dressing issues, dog bones thrown out or removed with little political, social or economic meaning beyond the moment.

For instance.  When the cabal reconvened after prorogation, Harper threw one of his bright shiny things into the Throne Speech, promising to make our national anthem “gender neutral”.  Quite apart from the discussions about what that would take and the general hue and cry about history and national treasures, what interested me was the response from the centre and the left along the lines that language doesn’t matter, sons are “generic” and Harper is just trying to trick you stupid broads into accepting this bright shiny thing as if it’s something real.  Down the toilet went the respectable and now historical feminist argument that yes, language does matter and under the bus, ground into the ruts, went teh girls.  Of course Harper had no trouble dumping the proposal and looked like he was responding to the outrage from social conservatives and liberals all in one fell swoop.  How nice for him.

I’m beginning to see a similar modus in operation with respect to Helena Guergis.  She’s a young, childless woman married to a brown man in political difficulty (even though he’s no longer in office) who “managed” a portfolio that men, conservative and otherwise, don’t care much about.  She wasn’t and isn’t worth much to anybody it seems.  Any attempt to point out the rampant sexism of the attack on Guergis result in shouts from the left that Guergis is a loose cannon, mythically and powerfully destructive and possibly a blondly stupid disaster with whom we should not concern ourselves one teensy bit.  STFU girls.

I was never a Guergis supporter.  But did she ever have any supporters?  And is there a liberal or left dude that gives an elderberry fart about what happens to women in politics?

It’s also been clear in the past that the abolition of Canada’s long-gun registry is an issue used as a political football by left, right and centre in attempts to prevent the alienation of “rural voters”, all of whom are assumed to be men.  Both Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton failed to whip their parties before the vote on the abolition bill in the last session of Parliament, resulting in an easy “yea” result for the legislation.  It remains mighty unclear that anything has changed this time ’round, despite Ignatieff’s attempts to revise the legislation.  Will Jack Layton whip?  Who the hell knows.  So it’s not only girls under the bus on this one, it’s dead girls under the bus.

As for the progressive defunding of women’s equality-seeking groups and NGOs, Ignatieff is perfectly content to use this issue as a political chip – but where the f**k has he been for the last four years while it was happening?  Where was he in December 2009 and early 2010 when a Liberal/NDP coalition would have brought down this anti-democratic, anti-woman, homophobic, pro-Israel and the Rapture government and, for instance, its attempted assault on pay equity?  As for the Libs failed attempt to underscore the reproductive rights of women with their Parliamentary motion?  I actually will stfu on that one.

Women have allowed themselves to be used thus for too long, hoping to get bigger prizes in the end.  Or perhaps any prize at all.  I’m beginning to hear heartening rumbles from girlfriend-land that none of these hopeless pols ought to rest comfortably in the beds their wives and girlfriends have made for so long, and so patiently.

The Theocons so well described by Marci McDonald are the focus of renewed realizations, discussions and organizing among awakening and already fully conscious women – and a few pro-feminist men.  Take care liberal and left doodz.  Move out of the crosshairs of that metaphorical but very well-aimed long-gun.

 

UPDATE:

HarperCON whines

“Last night’s dominant CBC story … featured an attack on the religious affiliation of some government members and supporters,” the Tory missive says. “Apparently, the CBC thinks it newsworthy that some Conservative Ministers and MPs practice their faith. Even more scandalous, some members of the Prime Minister’s Office go to church!”

Pale is peeved.

And on the Helena Guergis story, there’s this from the PI who started it all:

“I have nothing — I have no evidence, or no information, with respect to the conduct of Ms. Guergis in my possession or knowledge,” he stated.

Instead, he said the mere threat of bad optics, coming after a string of embarrassing gaffes by Guergis, may have been enough to force Harper’s hand.

“This is an issue of optics,” Snowdy said.

Mother’s Day 2010

I can’t think of a better thing to post on Mother’s Day, the day that Julia Ward Howe designated as an international day of peace called for by mothers around the world, than this reflection by Joe Bageant, about the political conflict brewing in America these days and apparently, in Canada too:

Most of the liberal thinkers I know still do not grasp that the anxiety working people have, even the Tea Partiers, are rooted in the same things as their own. Yes, the right is definitely cruel. And yes, it can by now be called fascist. However, to deal with what has happened, one must come to grips with what produced the internal distrust upon which fascist empires are built.

The brutal way Americans were forced to internalize the values of a gangster capitalist class continues to elude nearly all Americans. Most foreigners too. This is to say nothing of how our system replaced our humanity with ideology, our liberty with money, and fostered fascist nationalism through profound degeneration of the people’s mind and spirit. It’s not as if one can ever escape that sort of thing, either by going to a place like Mexico, getting drunk or whatever. We are made in Americas’ image, whether we admit it or not, and America’s image is the face on a ten dollar bill

Liberal or conservative, money is what we care about — period. From birth, the empire has made one thing very clear to us: If you do not produce or acquire enough of the green stuff, meet the quota, you will be ground beneath the heel of the machine we call a society. No universal health insurance or higher education, no guaranteed minimum income, no worker rights, nothing for you suckers but the tab. So keep humping.

With such a national ethos, who can blame Americans for caring most profoundly about money? Everything is secondary to money. The future of the world’s children, the planet, everything. I’ve been watching the horrific BP oil spill on CNN (doncha love the way they call it a “spill,” as if it was a cup of coffee?) The first and biggest ongoing question has been, “Who is going to pay for it?” Right off hand I’d say the fish, birds and wetlands will pay for it, along with future generations. One quart of motor oil will pollute 250,000 gallons of water, and already there have been millions of gallons of oil blasted into the earth’s waters from this single spill. Yet the big question has been “Whose money and how much is going to change hands here?”

It is now clear to me that the people’s rage is a tool in the hands of the new electronic and digital corporate state. Its various channels, eddies and pools, regardless of type, can be directed toward all sorts of mischief and profit. Left or right, the angry throngs on both sides can be managed and directed. They can be sent chasing various injustices, denouncing evil characters on Wall Street, Times Square bombers, BP executives, or whatever, worked up into slobbering outrage over Sarah Palin, and thus kept divided and working against each other for the benefit of last gasp capitalism.

Once outside the furious drek of American political and economic life, and having finished the last book I will ever write, I found myself asking: “Why did the good in the American people not triumph? How can it be that so many progressive, justice-loving citizens failed? Their positions were well reasoned. The facts were indisputably on their side. Obviously, there was, and is, more going on than merely losing battles to demagoguery and meanness. Why do we lose the important fights so consistently? What has kept us from establishing a more just kingdom? Something is missing.

I think it is, in a word, the spiritual. The stuff that sustained Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and gave them the kind of calm deliberate guts we are not seeing today. I am not talking about religion, but the spirit in each of us, that solitary non-material essence, none the less shared by all humans because we are human. When we let our capitalist overlords cast everything in a purely material light — as material gain or loss for one group or another — we played the oppressor’s game.

It was always a game with no vision. Just good guys, bad guys, pissed off people, or apathetic disenfranchised ones, amid one helluva lot of money changing hands. Mostly the wrong hands. That game drives us to the petty the larcenies we perform against one another in the name employment, and the atrocities abroad to which none of us lay our rightful claim as beneficiaries of the empire’s pillage. Our purposeful blindness to such things necessarily eliminates any universal vision. All the best ones are universal.

Yet down inside human beings is a love of justice. Honestly. The psyche seeks balance, and therefore seeks justice. Regardless of the perversion of its definition, and therefore the laws, by those who own nearly all of our country and damned well intend to own the rest, we know.

While those elite forces can own everything around us, and have proven they can make life quite miserable if they care to, they cannot own that thing inside us. The one that gives out the last sigh before sleep, and travels the realms of the great human collective consciousness alone. This is the consciousness that ebbs and flows between all external events. There is nothing mystical about it. Go sit in any quiet place with your eyes closed for a half hour or so, and that self will invariably say hello.

This is also the self that our oppressors can never allow a moment’s rest. Because when it finds rest, it finds insight, and can fuse the spiritual, psychological and material worlds into some transcendent vision that can at last seen and sought after. It makes Buddhist monks rebel in Sri Lanka and creates indigenous liberation theologians in Latin America.

Fortunately for Wall Street, the world’s bankers, the military industrial complex, there is science, which they love so dearly they purchased it outright. Scientism has successfully sold the notion that spiritual awareness is superstition. By that accounting, the mind is no more than the brain, and love is a body sack of chemicals interacting. (A stunningly successful new public relations campaign by BASF chemical corporation campaign actually declares that love is chemical. Its success both here and in China would give Orwell the heebie jeebies.)

This will in all likelihood be the last philosophical and political battle with capitalist totalitarianism, assuming it can even be called a battle. I am not seeing much thinking and no genuine struggle on the American people’s part. Consumer capitalism’s material gratification has been so grotesquely satisfying, that it has shredded most of thinking in the country and all of willingness to take risks.

The blinking reptilian elites now own our entire material needs hierarchy chain, top to bottom. You eat, shit, work, fuck and die at the pleasure of their Great Machine. The presence of six billion others, most of whom are in the same situation, all but guarantees this as our material destiny on a finite and increasingly poisoned planet, before the big hasta la vista.

Meanwhile, win or lose, we are left with our inner selves to sustain each day (if only because Oprah has not yet gained copyright). In doing so we can discover the only kingdom that was ever ours. The same one gurus, messiahs, martyrs and hairy-assed sages the world over have ever agreed upon. The kingdom within.

Joe says that by this time next year he’ll be focussing more on the kingdom within than without.  Who knows?  Maybe I will too.  Thinking about it.  This is one of those things that fell into my hands in a moment of crisis and says something I wish I could have said.  But now it’s said, I’m a happy camper.

Women in Pants Riding Bicycles

The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896
It’s been 100 years since the idea of setting aside a day for the celebration of the world’s women and demanding their equality was first proposed.

In 1869 British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On 19 September 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

The very first International Women’s Day was launched the following year by Clara Zetkin on 19 March (not 8 March). The date was chosen because on 19 March in the year of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promise he made, which he later failed to keep, was the introduction of votes for women.  [here]

So even then it was about promises broken and the work of (mostly) women to force equitable, if not revolutionary, change.  If women today wonder why Susan B. Anthony would point to the bicycle as a liberator of women, we need only think back to the extreme limitations on women’s mobility that she had seen go by the wayside in her lifetime.  The bicycle and its female riders once evoked extreme anxiety in folk worried about women’s sexual innocence and purity.  Seems like the sight of women astride a bike with those saddles between their legs could only mean one thing to some peope – women feelin’ happy,  Oh my pearls!

The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding.  Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.  [here]

Even so, women achieved their right to ride bikes partly as a result of their willingness to ride sitting bolt upright.

The growing numbers of middle class women riding bikes in awkward, long flowing skirts eventually resulted in a revolution in clothing.  In Britain, dress reform was advocated and, to some extent, won – by the mid 1890s women were wearing bicycle trousers and culottes.  When your clothes get out of the way, many things are possible beyond bike riding.

Riding a bike and wearing pants can make a difference.  I wonder what difference changing the words of Canada’s national anthem might have made.  It was a strange, HarperCON kind of offer from Canada’s government and not one they took seriously themselves – apparently Harper cabinet ministers had not been consulted and they made short work of clearing up any possible confusion: no way were they supporting it.  Peter MacKay and Tony Clement said so publicly and Jim Flaherty, asked about the change in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on the budget, could not possibly have been less enthused.  When you make a proposal like this you have to explain, justify and sell it.  Instead, the CONs sold it out. 

Did the howls of outrage from “redneck” members of the CON base scuttle the deal?

“My guess is that while Stephen was out swanning around Vancouver for the Olympics and a lot of women were doing great there and winning a lot of medals and probably some feminist got to him and said, ‘We ought to revise the national anthem,”‘ Flanagan said in an interview.

“He’s always looking for things that can reach out to other constituencies without alienating the Conservative base. So I’m not surprised that he might have seen it in that light, say(ing), ‘Well, here’s something we can do to show that we’re open toward women, particularly women who vote.’

“And maybe he didn’t think through or forsee the reaction that would draw from rednecks like me.” 

Flanagan applauded the about-face. He said national symbols, like the anthem and flag, should “arouse a sense of awe and mystery” and that stems from the fact that they are enduring symbols for the ages.  [here]

Of course it would be “sons” and other “enduring” things that arouse that “awe and mystery” – daughters apparently don’t have the same symbolic power.  It can’t be the issue of change itself that provoked the outcry because the words to the anthem have changed several times and can hardly be called lasting – it’s only a 30 year-long tradition in its present form.  I think the CONs are averse to anything that even sounds politically correct and I think they’re averse to women in pants on bicycles too.

The CONs weren’t the ones who concerned me this time ’round.  I heard more than enough howls of protest in a place that’s been a bit of a safe haunt for me since late December – Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP).  There were regular knee-jerk comments about the change being merely symbolic (merely?) and a trivial issue and an attempt to win women’s votes by fooling us into thinking the CON’s care.  Women, of course, could not be relied upon to notice that HarperCON really doesn’t give a crappie about women’s equality – even though many of the women CAPPers are also members of an anti-Harper group called “Proud to Be a Member of That Left-Wing Fringe Group Women” and have been working equally hard and for longer than members of CAPP to point out the effects of Harper’s fiscal and social conservatism on women, minority groups, Aboriginal people, children, the disAbled, members of LGBTTQI communities, poor people and just generally groups whose rights are guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  We were not about to be bought off by an offer of a bright and shiny thing but it appeared to me that teh menz - and too many womenz – thought our heads could be turned by the promise of  a pretty geegaw.  How’s that for respect? 

There isn’t a woman/feminist I know who had it in her mind that the next issue we would tackle ought to be making our national anthem “gender neutral”.  It’s not that some of us haven’t thought about it from time to time and certainly after having our ears assaulted by the tune for two weeks while the Olympics ran on.  But as others have pointed out (repeatedly and ad nauseum) I don’t think it occurred to any of us that it was either that important an issue or a winnable proposition.  Still, when something is offered that is only right and good, why should we not have accepted?

Symbols are important.  The national anthem is supposed to include all Canadians and it specifically excludes women by mentioning “sons”.  Language is important and gender inclusive language is important.  Solidarity is important too and after being called a feminazi by a man of supposed liberal leanings, I’ve lost a bit of my new-found trust in the importance of “women’s issues” for some of my bro-friends.

But hey, it’s true.  I’d rather have a bicycle and a pair of pants than one of Stephen Harpers flying sparkle ponies.  So shut up!

The Harper Agenda

Murray Dobbin points out that the Harper Agenda on the economic front is likely even more important than the prorogation:

It is gratifying to see such widespread opposition to Harper’s assault on Parliament and democracy — from almost every major political columnist, newspaper editorials, over a hundred political scientists, and constitutional experts — including a significant number of unusual suspects. It is a clear sign that Harper has overreached yet again — a character flaw that has saved the country from disaster more than once. Harper now sits at 33 percent in the latest Ekos poll, and if the movement continues to grow, Harper’s plan to force an election over his March budget will have to be put on hold. That might have the effect of postponing the worst cuts.

But the sudden support for democracy by parts of the Canadian elite will not extend to defending the legacy of public services, wealth redistribution and government intervention in the economy. Those are the things that are in Stephen Harper’s crosshairs, and progressives will have to fight the campaign to stop him on their own.  [more of this must read]

Amidst the excitement of the movement against Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, it’s not only important to keep this in mind, it’s important to strategize about effective responses.  Progressives will likely be back on their own at that point.

Anti-Rogue Right Over the Edge

I’ve been waiting for so long for Canadians to wake up, pay attention, get pissed off, get politicized and boot Harper’s tush out of Ottawa.  For what now seems like  a very brief time in December of 2008 Canadians did wake up  but the lack of leadership, primarily in the Liberal Party, and ignorance about the meaning of a coalition between the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois took the wind out of the sails all too soon.

Since then I’ve been watching and waiting.  Not entirely passively.  I watch the news, the blogs, the independent web reporting sites, the mags, online and off.  I’ve alerted people to good material and hoped they read it.  I expressed my outrage on Twitter, Facebook and occasionally on this blog.  I wrote letters to newspapers, MPs, opposition leaders and the PM.  But mostly I waited.  Many of us waited.  Sometimes I lost hope that anyone in this country was ever going to care.  Care about the war on Gaza and Canada’s blind support of Israel.  Care about Canada’s part in the war in Afghanistan.  Care about the growing number of Canadians locked up in prisons for stupid reasons.  Care about the arrogance and autocracy of Stephen Harper and his effect on our democratic institutions.  Care about people like Omar Khader, Hassan Almrei,  Suaad Hagi MohamudAbousfian Abdelrazik and others whose names and skin colour were not kindred to Stephen Harper.  Care about the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentences bill that would put more Canadians in prison for more stupid reasons and the possible abolition of Canada’s long gun registry that actually seems to be making a difference in preventing or responding effectively to violence against women in domestic situations, the funding of the Status of Women, pay equity, the Court Challenges Programme . . . well, much more than all that believe it or not, but for now and most recently, the treatment of Canada’s Afghan detainees.

So many people lost faith that Canadians were ever going to care that when it began to appear that the frozen giant had awoken from its long slumber, when rumblings of revolt were heard on Facebook in the group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament  – well, many were afraid to believe it.  I wasn’t one of them.  I don’t know why.  But my intuition is that I spend so much time on the web reading, listening, learning, chatting and “networking” that I felt the pulse right away.  If you’re not there you don’t know, you don’t feel it, you can’t see it.  I was a member of that group early on and I sent links to the group to everyone I knew.  I tweeted about the group over and over.  I spread the news in other groups.  I believed it was going to go.  And it did.  Lots of other people believed it too or it wouldn’t have happened.

What’s the difference between last year’s momentary excitement about the possibility of a coalition government that could topple the Conservatives and this year’s moment?  Last year we were dependent upon the potential parties to the coalition to keep it going when Harper prorogued.  The moment was easily brought to an end through a combination of Harper’s willingness to impose his will on Parliament and the country and the appalling and depressing weakness of the opposition.  This year, Harper’s still there, behaving like an autocrat; the opposition has gained no strength.  But the success of the awakening depends upon the people participating.  Stephen Harper can’t shut it down.  The opposition parties are barely able to respond well never mind take leadership roles in the movement.  Its success depends solely upon the will of the people involved.

That might well be the only way it was ever going to work.  Pass it on.

Best Chance for Progressives in a LONG TIME

I am in agreement with Murray Dobbin, in full rah rah mode:

This may well be the best chance progressives have had in the four years of Harper government to deal him a decisive blow and frame him and his government as unfit to run the country. He has clearly been hurt by this but Harper will not go away quietly and if we do not take advantage of this moment and take the next two months to press the issue of democracy (and the Afghan detainee issue which prompted Harper’s move) we can count on Harper to recover – especially given the current weakness of both the Liberals and the NDP.

It’s Time to Join the Democracy Movement !

Write your MP and if you’ve already written your MP, write again.  Write to the PM, to local newspapers cc’ed to national media and to leaders of the opposition.  Demonstrate with members of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament on January 23rd.  If we let up we’ll get the democracy we deserve.

Here & There on US Health Care

From Hillbilly Report:

After months of healthcare debate a bill has been passed in the Senate. A bill that stripped basically all that was good for working Americans out, and has become very unpopular among a majority of Americans. A bill that mandates millions of Americans at the mercy of the insurance industry, and allows them to continue to discriminate against folks with pre-existing conditions. Quite simply, a bill that was written for Corporate Welfare complete with backroom bribes to get it passed. And for many Progressives, the fact that we had not a champion in the Democratic caucus to stand up for us and vote against these junk reforms was painful enough, Harry Reid added insult to injury.  [more]

Wendell Potter at Huffington:

Although the effort to achieve health care reform has been arduous and ugly, progressives can’t merely brush off their hands, move on to other issues and hope the stars will align again for “real” reform. When you stop and think about the bottomless pot of money that health insurance companies constantly replenish by diverting part of our premium dollars away from paying for medical care, it is in some ways remarkable that we have accomplished as much as we have with this legislation.  [more]

David Sirota, also at Huff:

For those caught up in the obsequiously triumphalist bullshit coming from the DC elite – you know the crap about the Senate allegedly passing the most important piece of progressive legislation in American history today (an analysis I completely reject) – it’s important for us all to remember that the health care battle isn’t over – and specifically, the battle over the public option isn’t over.  [more, of course]

Ronald Brownstein at The National Journal:

The new Internet-based left, because it is so heavily reliant on college-educated whites generally less exposed to the economy’s storms, also has a blind spot on kitchen table issues. According to the Census Bureau, just 6 percent of college-educated whites lack health insurance, for instance, compared to 19 percent of African-Americans and 31 percent of Hispanics. But the idea that Democrats should just press restart after the grueling struggle to reach this point carries an air of fatal abstraction: If health reform fails now, the next chance for big change probably wouldn’t come for years, if not decades. “The universal rule of health care — there are no exceptions — is you get what you can,” says Brown University political scientist James Morone, co-author of The Heart of Power, a recent history of health care politics.  [more]

Letter to David Sirota at Open Left:

This is an excellent example of the “satisfying purity of indignation.” Millions will benefit from a compromise plan. Zero would do so from a more ambitious but unachieveable plan. I’ve no patience for this kind of impractical and bloodless stance. Please take me off your list.

Sent from my iPhone
Stephen Davis
Executive Director
Millstein Center
Yale School of Management

Sirota’s response

From Dan Sweeney, Huff again:

What the past several months have revealed, far more than the power of lobbyists (which we already knew) or the ability of senators to toss their ideology out the window for fun and profit (ditto), is the complete and total inability of the government to govern. Whatever your opinion of this health-care bill, whatever your opinion of Democrats or Republicans, put that aside for a moment and consider this: A charismatic president with a supposedly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House is completely incapable of enacting massively popular reform.  [he goes on]

Michael J. W. Stickings, the Huff goes on:

reality is reality, and politics are politics, and, given the Senate’s ridiculous rules and procedures that effectively require a supermajority of 60 to pass legislation, the votes just aren’t there even for a Medicare buy-in, let alone for a public option, let alone for a robust one, let alone for anything even more substantial.Like it or not, that’s just the way it is, and while I wish there had been a stronger push by progressives and liberals for concessions from right-leaning reform-skeptic Democrats like Nelson, Lieberman, and Baucus, specifically regarding subsidies for those who simply will not be able to afford the insurance they would be required to buy, and while I wish Obama, and the White House generally, had pushed for more substantial and transformative legislation (it’s still not clear to me what Obama is actually for, if he is for anything other than the Senate bill as is, which he may not be), we are left with a stark choice: pass the bill or kill the bill.

I think the choice is clear: PASS THE BILL.  [a bit more]

From Reed Abelson at the good ole Globe and Mail:

For many people, the result of the long, angry health care debate in Washington may be little more than more of the same.As President Obama once promised, “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.”

That may be true even if you don’t like your health plan. And no one seems to agree on whether the legislation will do much to reduce workers’ continually rising out-of-pocket costs.  [more]

Paul Krugman:

Now, in a hostage situation there are times when you have to just say no — when giving in, by encouraging future hostage-takers, would be worse than letting the hostages perish. So the question has to be, is this one of those times? I don’t think so, given the history: as Kevin Drum points out, health reform has come back weaker after each defeat. I’d also point out that highly imperfect insurance reforms, like Social Security and Medicare in their initial incarnations, have gotten more comprehensive over time. This suggests that the priority is to get something passed.

But what’s happening, I think, goes beyond health care; what we’re seeing is disillusionment with Obama among some of the people who were his most enthusiastic supporters. A lot of people seem shocked to find that he’s not the transformative figure of their imaginations. Can I say I told you so? If you paid attention to what he said, not how he said it, it was obvious from the beginning — and I’m talking about 2007 — that he was going to be much less aggressive about change than one could have hoped. And this has done a lot of damage: I believe he could have taken a tougher line on economic policy and the banks, and was tearing my hair out over his caution early this year. I also believe that if he had been tougher on those issues, he’d be better able to weather disappointment over his health care compromises.

So there’s a lot of bitterness out there. But please, keep your priorities straight.  [more]

Jon Walker at FireDogLake:

Today’s vote in the Senate to pass their health care reform bill was a big win for many people. It was a big win for the drug companies, the biologics industry, the hospital companies, and the for-profit health insurance corporations. They will all get billions of government dollars piled on to their ledgers, and and millions of Americans now forced to buy their products. The vote was also a huge win for the lobbyists who just saw their profits jump thanks to this great opportunity to show their clients just how powerful their hold on Washington really is.

This vote was also a political win. It was a big deal for politicians–like Barack Obama, Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and Harry Reid–who cared more about putting up a “W” on the scoreboard than about the policy. It was also a big day for senators like Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. The incredibly broken rules of the Senate gave them an absurd amount of anti-constitutional power that allowed them to hold reform hostage for pork and industry favors.

It was loss for the country. Our broken health care system will remain broken and costs will continue to rise at an alarming rate. Things like drug re-importation and a robust public option, which would have helped bring down prices for millions of Americans, were stripped from the bill at the request of powerful industry lobbyists.

It was also a big loss for the progressive movement. We were out-gunned by industry lobbyists, and many of our movement “allies” failed us. A woman’s right to choose was thrown under the bus just to get something passed. The supposed “progressives” in the Senate refused to go all-out and use every tool to achieve the most progressive reform. Lawrence O’Donnell is right, most importantly, this bill will give liberalism a very bad name.

This is not progressive reform. This is a perverse Democratic version of Reagan style trickle down economics. Hundreds of billions will be given to poorly regulated private health insurance companies in the hope that they spend roughly 80% of that money on actually providing people with health care. It forces millions of people to buy very expensive insurance that they cannot afford to get actual health care, so that Democrats can proudly say millions more people are “covered.” Private health insurance companies are what have ruined our current system and are dramatically less efficient than public insurance programs, yet Democrats will use them almost exclusively. It is a massive reward for a history of terrible performance. Instead of reining in the insurance companies, it only enriches, empowers, and entrenches them further. The only “check” on the industry will be new regulations, but with extremely weak to practically non-existent enforcement, it is basically no check at all.

[there's lots more over there]

So much to think about.  Likely I’m on the side of the lefty abstractionist naysayers.  Overall I’m just sad.  Though I was never a believer in the hopey-changey President.  I’m frustrated with those lefty abstractionists who were.  In any case, the American system of government and its flaws has been exposed in all its vain-glorious ingloriousness.  That’s what people should be paying attention to, whatever they think about health care “reform”.  Perhaps the problem is with the notion of reform itself.  Now there’s a revolutionary idea.

The Last Generation

From the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society, June 1962

Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority — the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present. Beneath the reassuring tones of the politicians, beneath the common opinion that America will “muddle through”, beneath the stagnation of those who have closed their minds to the future, is the pervading feeling that there simply are no alternatives, that our times have witnessed the exhaustion not only of Utopias, but of any new departures as well. Feeling the press of complexity upon the emptiness of life, people are fearful of the thought that at any moment things might thrust out of control. They fear change itself, since change might smash whatever invisible framework seems to hold back chaos for them now. For most Americans, all crusades are suspect, threatening. The fact that each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change. The dominant institutions are complex enough to blunt the minds of their potential critics, and entrenched enough to swiftly dissipate or entirely repel the energies of protest and reform, thus limiting human expectancies. Then, too, we are a materially improved society, and by our own improvements we seem to have weakened the case for further change.

Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity — but might it not better be called a glaze above deeplyfelt anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a yearning to believe there is an alternative to the present, that something can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies, the government? It is to this latter yearning, at once the spark and engine of change, that we direct our present appeal. The search for truly democratic alternatives to the present, and a commitment to social experimentation with them, is a worthy and fulfilling human enterprise, one which moves us and, we hope, others today. On such a basis do we offer this document of our convictions and analysis: as an effort in understanding and changing the conditions of humanity in the late twentieth century, an effort rooted in the ancient, still unfulfilled conception of man attaining determining influence over his circumstances of life.

More

Rebels with a Cause chronicles the movements for social change of the Sixties that began with the civil rights movement and culminated with the angry protests against the US war in Vietnam. Told through the eyes of SDS members, the film is about far more than SDS. It’s about the values, motivations, and actions of a generation that lost its innocence but gained a sense of power and purpose. It’s about a decade that changed America.