How Long Does Change Take?

[This post will be updated with links]

Six months ago I explained the dearth of posts at my blog by posting this from Chris Hedges:

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will either wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice but an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us, or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy.

I agreed with Chris then and couldn’t agree more after a week of hearing, seeing and trying not to listen very much to stories about Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs and minor car accident.  Six months ago, I couldn’t think what part, even what very small part, I could play waking people up.  So much wrong, so much to do, so many people really wanting “something” different but not knowing what or how to get it anyway, so many victories for darkness, so much fragmentation, so little time, too much space.  I believe many more people want “justice” than are able to figure out how to articulate their desire in the first place; and certainly not how to make it so in the second.

Recently, two US Senators and the American Conference of Bishops prompted some questions and I began to formulate something like a coherent response, if not exactly an answer. 

In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Roe v. Wade.  In a nutshell, necessarily simple, they decided that a woman may abort a pregnancy for any reason up to the point of fetal viability.  No doubt Roe v. Wade was a victory for women but it was far from a straightforward one, in part due to America’s constitutional system and in part because of the wording of the decision itself.  The definition of “viability” has continued to be a contentious issue for one thing; for another, ensuing state restrictions on abortion, when litigated, made important incursions on the territory staked out in the case.  One thing is clear, however: the decision was never accepted by rightwing, Conservative Christians and the people who represent them.  The onslaught has been continuous, successful enough and often devious – as in the very recent activity of the US Conference of Bishops in negotiation with House representatives trying to get a healthcare reform deal.  Voila Stupak/Pitts.  What women were thought to have won they have had to win (and lose) over and over again since 1973.  Perhaps that victory has never been as threatened as it is right now.  It’s important to see that the threat comes not just from the “wingnut” right but also from among anti-choice Democrats – once touted as the natural allies of feminist objectives.

The history of reproductive rights in Canada is more than a little different.  In 1988, in R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the entire section of the Criminal Code that criminalized abortion and there has been no replacement of that law.  Incursions on women’s reproductive rights have occurred less visibly via hospital boards that refuse to permit abortions at Catholic hospitals or hospitals controlled by other religious denominations; via supply and demand problems respecting the availability of abortions in the healthcare system – some doctors refuse to perform abortions; because some doctors or hospital boards have imposed their own limits on when, in a term of pregnancy,  they will perform abortions; and because of the unaddressed accessibility problems of rural and First nations women.

In some ways, the difficulties that American women experience in trying to access full reproductive rights are more visible.  But in many ways they parallel the problems experienced by Canadian women.  The Stupak/Pitts amendment seemed to come out of nowhere.  There have been several points in the process of trying to achieve healthcare reform when the abortion issue has been raised but it doesn’t seem that anyone expected it to come out of negotiations with Nancy Pelosi, a couple of cultish Christian congressmen and the Conference of Bishops.  But there it is, the congressmen were ready and willing, the bishops pounced and the Democrats caved.  Some of those same Democrats who supported the amendment then went ahead and voted against the reform bill!  And what did the Dems gain by supporting the amendment?  The vote of one Republican (reprobate).  That’s right folk.  One.

We haven’t seen anything quite so dramatic in Canada – a few slippery Conservatives have tried to pass disguised private members bills by us but always unsuccessfully.  The point is though, the rightwing is there, more than ready and more than willing if not quite so able, thus far, to pounce in just the way that Stupak and Pitts, a whole bunch of Reprobates and more than a few Democrats just did.  Witness the comments of Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott just a few weeks ago:

“a growing body of research reveals significant health problems caused by abortion,” including breast cancer, cervical injury, uterine perforations, hemorrhaging and infections.

He said further that pro-life women view abortion as “part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available”.

Following on Mr. Vellacott’s comment, this exchange took place in the House of Commons:

Mme Lise Zarac (LaSalle-Émard, Lib.): Monsieur le Président, le député de Saskatoon-Wanuskewin a récemment émis des commentaires sur l’avortement qui insultent et dénigrent les femmes. Le député fait des affirmations qui sont médicalement inexactes pour hausser son programme idéologique moral.
   La ministre de la Santé dénoncera-t-elle les croyances de son collègue au sujet du droit des femmes de choisir?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC)
   Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I note for the member that all members of Parliament in the House are required to have their opinion. It does not mean it is the opinion of the cabinet.
   Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it looks like the muzzles are off. The Conservatives are sounding like Reform Party extremists.
   The member for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin’s comments are completely degrading to women. He claims that abortion causes ‘a greater risk of breast cancer’ and he asserts that ‘abortion is part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available.’ His comments show an odious attitude toward women.
   Will the Minister of Justice stand up for women and denounce these vile comments?

Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I again will note for the member that each member of the House is able to have their own opinion. It does not mean it represents the government.
   What I will highlight is that this government under the leadership of this Prime Minister has made significant investments in Status of Women Canada. We have three pillars of focus: economic security, violence against women and women in leadership roles.
   We also have the highest percentage of women in cabinet in Canada’s history and the highest level of funding at Status of Women Canada, the highest level in Canada’s history with an increase in the number of grass root organizations that are now able to receive funding to support the most vulnerable women in Canadian society.

Guergis would not renounce Vellacott’s statement even though they were incorrect and even though they were degrading to women.  Apparently she believes that the presence in this government of a larger number of women will suffice to shut women’s mouths even if those representatives are not advocating for them.  And she is not averse to lying.  This government has stolen funds from Status of Women and has done absolutely nothing to guarantee women’s economic security – remember the governments attempts to make inroads on pay equity in the public service last year?

But we cannot blame all these betrayals on the CONS alone.  Liberal and NDP members have also been willing to turn their backs on the women who elect them.

For instance.  The much discussed private members bill to do away with Canada’s long gun registry.  It’s a classic rightwing hot button issue and in case not many people have noticed, it’s contradictory as hell alongside the usual “law and order” kvelling done by the nuts.  Crazy like foxes they are though.  As someone who’s noticed has pointed out, though the “right to bear arms” is a classic American cris de coeur of the Christian right, it’s been adopted by the Canadian right too.  Why?  It provides a brilliant wedge between rural and urban constituencies and helps to frame other, conservative v. “liberal” debates.  It’s also a divisive issue between men and women – even rural women are overwhelmingly pro-registry.  It’s been estimated that, in tight races, the gun registry is “vote-determinating for about 5% of the voting public”.  It’s not stupid, crazy people who use this issue to their advantage.  But it just might be stupid people who ignore it.

I’ve also watched how the issue divides “progressive” men and women.  If you can achieve this political result simply by introducing a system to register (not “control” mind you, just register) you’ve gained a lot of ground on the cheap.  Similarly, watch progressive Americans, men and women, try to rationalize the passage of Stupak-Pitts.  “We don’t like it but it was a ‘compromise’ we had to make for the greater good”.  Over and over again.  As if you can trade off the rights of one group of people (a mere 52% of the population no less) for the rights and needs of another.  But over and over “progressives” are willing to do it while women scream “betrayal” and bear accusations, not only of hysteria, but even of selfishness.  This must make conservatives just bliss out.

Then there are the more quiet betrayals.  I’m not sure how they end up being quiet but it’s been done by the HarpyCons with the passage of criminal legislation that provide for mandatory minimum sentences for a load of offences, and with the agreement of both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada no less.  Thanks guys.  Love women of Canada.

Here’s why the mandatory minimums are a women’s issue.  The m.m.s have a disproportionate effect on groups who have experienced historic and current political, social and economic disadvantage.  One of those groups would be women, in this case, particularly First Nations and African American women.  First Nations women are the most rapidly growing group in the prison system.  They are vulnerable to arrest because of police targetting and the poverty,  and social and political injustices that have led to increased drug useage.  First Nations women suffer disproportionate effects once they’re imprisoned.  Often primary caregivers, they’re separated from children for long periods of time and often lose them to foster care forever.  Programmes for women in general receive fewer monetary and staffing resources than those for men.  Women in general are subject to strip searches and body searches in prison that put them at great risk.

African Canadians, also over-represented in our prison population, are similarly at risk for similar reasons.  But women, and particularly African Canadian women, are especially at risk, as pointed out by Professor Elizabeth Sheehy in her recent evidence to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs:

Women are often caught up in the prosecution of drug offences through their relationship with male partners, often while having minimal actual involvement in drug transactions.  Acting as drug mules is a crime committed often out of economic desperation.  African Canadian women will be the subgroup of women most dramatically affected by mandatory prison sentences.  They are already over-incarcerated at seven times the rate of white women.  Some commentators and judges have observed a growing presence of African Canadian women accused as drug couriers.  It seems evident that the new mandatory sentences will augment the number of women currently imprisoned, with African Canadian women and their children feeling the worst effects.

Professor Sheehy ended her comments with these words:  “I believe Bill C-15 is an affront to our commitment to equality and non-discrimination.”

An affront?  Yes, I agree.  But it’s an affront that very few people know about and that therefore even fewer are concerned about and that the opposition parties of Canada have chosen to ignore so absolutely that Bill-C15 has been passed through the House and now awaits only Senate approval.  There are all sorts of reasons that women’s groups haven’t picked up on this issue in an effective way but I’m not going to blame the women.  I’m looking at the people who women, feminists especially, voted for to represent their interests.  I’m looking at Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada who have seen fit to add their votes to the Conservative votes needed to pass this legislation.

The legislation effects vulnerable groups most but those vulnerable groups are less able to shake the sturdy trunks of the political trees/parties that represent them.  The always waiting, not stupid rightwing is there to pounce.  The mandatory minimum sentencing issue fits squarely with the conservative “law and order” agenda which would be an absolutely irrational policy if it were actually meant to affect law and order.  But it isn’t.  Surely the rightwing is not quite so stupid as to believe that longer prison sentences for drug users and dealers does anything at all to prevent crime – there’s just too much empirical evidence showing that it doesn’t.  No, once again this is a divisive issue being used to achieve political ends, not the least of which is the building of a prison industrial complex to rival that of the United States of America.  It might not “work” but it sure does make a lot of money, create lots of jobs and make constituents in ridings that host prisons pretty happy.

The “liberal” parties supposedly elected at least in part to represent the interests of women and minorities are quite willing to sell out these constituencies out because it just doesn’t do them much harm.  So far.

I, for one, want to make it hurt.  I want to keep sorting out the links between these rightwing policies and liberal betrayals and putting them out there.  I want to defeat the HarpyCons but I also want to make it dead clear that, as a woman, I can’t find a blessed party that truly represents me and my sisters and others for whom I care.  I reject a “headlong retreat into fantasy”.  I’ll not sit around waiting for this culture to die.  That might all sound a little melodramatic but there it is and it suits me just fine.

On this day, December 6th, 2009, when I want to reflect and grieve the women’s lives lost in Montreal in 1989 and all the women of this country who died before or since as a result of intimate partner violence and public violence against women – all those whose names we don’t know – I’ve actually had to time defending my right to define, with my sisters, the meaning of the event and the meaning of those lives and deaths.  When women are murdered because they are women, we still have to fight to say so.  We are so far away, still, twenty years later, from doing those things that must be done to begin the end of male violence against women that we still struggle for the definition itself.

I wish no person physical harm.  But I do want to make that hurt by defeating this government and any other government that thinks it can lead a country while ignoring the needs of half its population.

Give Goodyear a Bad Time

 Open Anthropology headline “Extreme Canada: Ruling Party Interferes with Social Science Funding”:

There is nothing that is intentionally “alarmist” about this headline, as much as some Canadians would want to reassure themselves that only with reference to a corrupt and dictatorial African state would such a headline have any relevance. However, the fact remains, and it is documented and abundantly public, that the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, has intervened in a political action. designed to impede academic freedom for daring to question the supremacy of Israel. Goodyear is a member of the ruling Conservative Party that won power, as a minority government, thanks to 22% of registered voters who cast their ballots for this increasingly extreme right wing party. Not in many decades has Canada seen such an extremist party in power, rendering Canada the last refuge of the Neo-Con agenda, and hopefully its final burial ground.

Not only has the ruling party,

but now Minister Goodyear also directly intervened to try to stop funding awarded for a conference, purely on political grounds, and at the behest of the Zionist lobby, and in a clear violation of academic freedom. This is the situation we are dealing with now. These actions and statements have been in public and are documented for anyone whose ideological blinkers are not so firmly nailed into their skulls that they cannot see any of this.

And to some extent, it is we academics, and the wider citizenry, that are to blame. As detailed and discussed in greater depth in my series of essays on SSHRC funding, the Federal Government has no constitutional right to be funding education, which is the domain of the Provinces. In setting up something like SSHRC, the Federal Government violates provincial jurisdiction, and overly centralizes research funding, thereby reducing any room for autonomy in local decision-making. If instead of mumbling and grumbling in private, as the majority of us do — now check how many articles or blog posts are “out there” by Canadian academics critical of SSHRC — we should be organizing. Funding for research should be managed by those who know what to do with it, and that means that any funds that the Federal Government has been accumulating from the Provinces, and directing into research funding, should instead be returned to the Provinces, whose universities should be the primary if not sole arbiters about how to distribute and manage research funds. It makes sense — which means it will likely never see the light of day. In the meantime, we continue to allow ourselves to be held hostage to funding that is aligned with state power that is itself aligned with a ruling party.

Let us look now at the latest episode from Extreme Canada, concerning political intervention designed to stop SSHRC Funding for Conference at York University, “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace,” beginning with those who complained about the conference, and responses from many academics in protest:

See the rest here, including letters of protest and then send your own if you want this country to be freed from the right wing dictators who have taken over the country in the guise of a minority government.  And btw, if the Honourable Opposition was doing its job, this couldn’t happen.

Pay Equity

Who will fight to uphold women’s right to pay equity?  Certainly not Stephen Harper and his (neo)Cons.  Not Michael Ignatieff either.  We can count on the NDP but on their own, they can only hope to get this bill separated from the budget bill so that there’s some chance of it being voted down now that Iggy has decided to sell women out and support the government on the budget.  Women fought hard for this most basic of rights, equal pay for work of equal value.  Why on earth should they be put in the position of having to bargain for pay equity with their government employer over and over again?  How long do you think it will be before the private sector insists on the same “privilege”?

This from Linda Diebel’s blog, the Political Decoder:

The unravelling of rights is exactly what’s happening with the Conservatives’ new “Equitable Compensation Act.” There’s an Orwellian title for you – like the Patriot Act. The change the Conservatives slipped into the recent budget – after failing last year – has nothing to do with equitable pay. In fact, it’s the opposite. It removes any chance women in the federal civil service have of fighting for pay equity by denying them the right to complain to the Human Rights Commission, or to go to court, when they believe there is discrimination. Instead, pay equity issues are to be solved as part of the regular bargaining process but – get this! – if anyone agitates on the basis of pay equity, they face a $50,000 fine. So the Conservative regime is forbidding a woman from fighting for herself and, simultaneously, penalizing her union from fighting for her.

Once this legislation is passed, a woman working in the federal public service will have fewer rights than women working elsewhere in Canada.

“We fought this battle so hard 30 years ago,”  [NDP MP Judy] Wasylycia-Leis said in an interview … “and I never thought we’d lose what we won. It’s shocking. They are taking it away in one fell swoop with the stroke of a pen . . . It hurts.”

There is still a way to stop it, she says. The act is part of the budget legislation and Wasylycia-Leis and her NDP colleagues are trying to divide it off into a separate bill that would then face its own vote in the House that, hopefully, wouldn’t be a non-confidence motion. If the Liberals and (one would think) the Bloc unites with the NDP, it could be defeated. The act should be in committee the week of February 23 and the House not long after.

Wasylycia-Leis says she’s embarrassed men in other parties haven’t fought harder for such a basic right for women. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, she argues, could have refused to support a budget that contains this new pay equity regime, instead of demanding only  progress reports.   “Maybe,” she said, “they’re not aware what this does to women.”  [emphasis added]

Oh they’re aware Judy.  But I know you know that.  I would prefer it a great deal if this bill was called what it is – the Inequitable Compensation Act.  At least that would be honest.  But then, we’re talking about politicians.

I’m supposed to be too old to be shocked.  I’m shocked.

Harper & Humble Pie

From Andrew Steele at the Globe and Mail:

The federal Conservatives are choosing to respond to the threat to their survival by becoming more, not less partisan.

For instance, today the Conservatives announced planned rallies in 12 Canadian cities, including in front of Stephane Dion’s office in Montreal.

The attempt to delegitimize the British Parliamentary process worries me. But more troubling is its futility.

While it’s possible these tactics may poison the public opinion environment to the possibility of a new government, it does not seem likely to dissuade the MPs in the House from voting that they have lost confidence in the regime.

What I am hearing from MPs and senior insiders is that it is that very partisanship of Stephen Harper that is forcing them to bring the government down.

Rather than responding to threats, rallies or leaked private conversations, these moves are only strengthening these MPs’ resolve to remove the Prime Minister from office so the focus can revert to the economy.

What these people are telling me is that the only course that could avert this disaster for the Conservatives would be a show of humility and non-partisanship from the Prime Minister.

Read the rest here

Neither humility nor non-partisanship are in this Prime Minister’s constitution.  Pun intended.

Don’t Back Down

James Laxer on making the brouhaha something more than just a brouhaha – and the consequences of not doing so:

If the Conservatives manage to salvage their hold on government, the retribution they will inflict on each of the opposition parties will be a terrible one. Stephen Harper does not deal well with what he interprets as public humiliation. Here’s a guy who can’t even attend the annual Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa because he’d have to lampoon himself and people might laugh at him. Lacking a sense of humour, which means a sense of proportion, he is not well-suited to political life in a democracy where give and take is of the essence.
The only thing this man understands is conquest, which is why even the members of his own party don’t really like him.
If the Liberals decide to let Harper wriggle out of this one, they will have exchanged the substance of victory for a Pyrrhic victory.
Making a coalition work will not be easy for either the Liberals or the NDP. What will unite them though is that they are on the same side of the fence when it comes to the need for a serious stimulus package to cope with the economic crisis. Oddly enough, keeping the Bloc onboard may prove to be not so challenging. The Bloc will claim credit for the portion of the stimulus package that goes to Quebec, and they will be rid of Harper’s noxious agenda on culture, crime, and gun control, an agenda that Quebeckers hate with a passion.
The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc can either hang together or they will hang separately.

Read the whole thing here

And see this Laxer post on Harper’s economic mismanagement and why that is the reason to bring this government down.

Canadian Politics

canadians

Well, thanks to the hubris of Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty, politics are interesting in these parts.  I feel all hopey-changey.  C’mon Canada, support that Progressive Coalition and force Harper out of office – or at least make him pay attention to democracy!

Cathie has an excellent round-up of what Canadian Progressive bloggers are saying here

And here‘s a petition to sign and send along to everyone you might know, urging a Progressive Coalition – go on now – sign the petition and pass it on!  Finally, there’s something we can do for ourselves in this country.  More people voted for the NDP and the Bloc than voted for the Conservatives – let’s find them.

Poopin’ Puffin Party

See that little puffin over Stéphanne Dion’s right shoulder, dropping a load of poop?  That’s what the tussel betwen the Conservatives and the Liberals was all about today.  And some people say the voters are stupid …  Besides which, Dr. Oz says that white stuff isn’t bird poop, it’s pee.  Hhhmmm, trying not to think of pissing contests ….  Jack Layton wishes he could get in on this.

So.  Right.  When Canadian political parties want to really do a hatchet job on the opposition, they show videos of birds pooping on them.  Well.  That’s kinda ok by me.

Libs and Conservs

I thought I’d re-run Rick Mercer’s take on how the Liberals stand up strong against Harper’s Conservatives

And here’s Dr. Dawg on the Liberal’s voting record during the last Parliament – wowzers, them Lib boyz (mostly) really distinguished themselves.

Power Hungry Harper

It appears fairly clear that Canada’s Prime Minister is going to take his country into a Federal election next week.  You would think that he would not waste the time and money of Canadians unless he felt that an election was both necessary and likely to result in a different allocation of power between the federal parties than that which the country has been living with, miserably, for several years now.

But that’s not the case.  Even Harper cannot say that he believes an imminent election will lead to a change in power or even anything other than a minority government:

“My expectation would be that we will have another minority. I think that’s a reality of the current political climate,” Harper reported during a two-day tour of the north.

Harper said that the possibility of anyone getting a majority, “in the current political alignment” is highly unlikely.

Whoa!  Talk about low expectations.  Harper need barely get his hair mussed to declare himself a success according to his scenario, assuming, of course, that he believes it will be a Conservative minority.  That being the case, why the hell is he about to waste our time and money and put us through the horrors of listening to him and all his colleagues, of whatever political stripe, lie to us for weeks on end?

A “fresh mandate” he says.  According to Merriam-Webster, the word mandate means, in this instance, “an authorization to act”.  He has an authorization to act for heaven’s sake.  A mandate is not a loaf of bread that goes stale; it isn’t something that needs refreshing except, according to the rules of Parliament, when the Opposition can show lack of confidence and bring the government down or otherwise, due to the lapse of a generally accepted period of time that Harper has always, till now, acknowledged to be about five years from the date of the last election.  That’s not now.

So, if Harper doesn’t expect to get anything much different from what he has, what the hell is he up to?  Tom Flanagan thinks he knows.  The former Harper chief of staff, who is now a political scientist at University of Alberta, thinks Harper is waging a “war of attrition” against the Liberals:

 As Mr. Flanagan sees it, the first major battle in this incremental war occurred in 2004, when Mr. Harper managed to reduce Paul Martin’s Liberals to a minority. In the second clash in 2006, Mr. Harper won his own Conservative minority.

The third skirmish, which Mr. Harper appears set to launch next week, likely won’t kill what Mr. Flanagan jokingly refers to as “the evil empire.” But, if the Tories can win a few more seats at the Liberals’ expense — an outcome Mr. Flanagan considers realistic given Mr. Harper’s superior campaign skills and the Tories’ fatter war chest — he predicted that would be enough to throw the Grits into a long-term tailspin that could eventually lead to their demise.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, to acknowledge that Stephen Harper is better at anything than just about anyone.  But when the competition is Stéphane Dion, I can only wish to disagree.  I’ve little doubt that Dion could give Tom Flanagan a run for his money as an academic, but as a campaign politician he’s downright embarassing – I squirm in my seat watching the guy.

But if Harper is willing to put the Canadian people to the trouble and expense of a federal election just so he can fuck over the Liberals, I hope the people of this country show him who’s boss and leave him with the most stale bun in the shop.  I’m not interested in Harper’s personal war with the Liberals.  I’d like my country to have a credible government.  I’d love to see a big Canadian boot in the middle of that guy’s butt.  If we can do that, bring the election on.

Listen my dear Canadians, there’s more than one way to warm his buns.  We have more than two choices in this enlightened land.  We have the New Democratic Party.  I’m not insane; I know that Jack Layton isn’t going to be the next Prime Minister of the land.  But the NDP is more than a credible option and, in fact, is the only party in our beleaguered nation that can provide a coherent vision of how to get through the economic mess and the foreign policy debacle that the Conservatives and the Liberals have led us into.

None of us is so dumb as to be unaware that the world and our country faces serious challenges which must be met if we are to survive on this planet.  We have no time for internecine political warfare.  Hey y’all, Steve is up in Tuktoyaktuk trying to expand Canadian sovereignty over its resources.  Why aren’t we engaging other countries in negotiations that would involve shared responsibility for Arctic waters and a mutually beneficial share of its resources instead of attempting a coup?  Instead of wasting our very precious time and resources on Steve’s quest for personal dominance and power?