Friday, March 24, 2006

Division in the ranks (again)

This is just what we need, eh?

Okay, so let me get this straight. Buzz does the most idiotic thing he's ever done, flinging his arms around Paul Martin -- not once, but twice -- during the federal election. He gives him the fucking CAW leather jacket, and urges people to vote strategically.

This, of course, pisses off the NDP, and the executive of the Ontario branch promptly expels Buzz from the party. They tell him he can come back, only if he announces that he's been a very, very bad boy, and promises not to do it again.

And then today, the CAW tells its members not to support the NDP.

Boys, boys, boys. Since when did the fight for social justice become your personal cockfight? We have the most right-wing Prime Minister in history, and all of you refuse to play nice. So now we have a fractured Liberal party and a divided left-wing movement to help carry Harper to a majority in the next election.


The Right to Choose -- salad dressing

This comic made my day (click on it to make it bigger). Thanks to Stephanie McMillan. You can read her blog here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Respect teen sex choices

Okay, a quick plug for my column in the new issue of Capital Xtra. Dykes Against Harper readers will recognize much of this piece, because I first worked through these arguments in an earlier post to this blog. Thanks to all of you who have contributed to this forum, and helped me sharpen my arguments (especially if you've challenged me).

Most brave and eloquent words

I think we all have something to learn from the graceful response of the Christian Peacemaker Teams to the rescue of James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Norman Kember. The CPT folks remain committed to non-violence, and continue to fight the illegal occupation of Iraq. Here is the statement they released today:

Harmeet, Jim and Norman and Tom were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict. They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers. We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.

Today, in the face of this joyful news, our faith compels us to love our enemies even when they have committed acts which caused great hardship to our friends and sorrow to their families. In the spirit of the prophetic nonviolence that motivated Jim, Norman, Harmeet and Tom to go to Iraq, we refuse to yield to a spirit of vengeance...

Throughout these difficult months, we have been heartened by messages of concern for our four colleagues from all over the world. We have been especially moved by the gracious outpouring of support from Muslim brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. That support continues to come to us day after day. We pray that Christians throughout the world will, in the same spirit, call for justice and for respect for the human rights of the thousands of Iraqis who are being detained illegally by the U.S. and British forces occupying Iraq.

During these past months, we have tasted of the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Why have our loved ones been taken? Where are they being held? Under what conditions? How are they? Will they be released? When?

With Tom’s death, we felt the grief of losing a beloved friend. Today, we rejoice in the release of our friends Harmeet, Jim and Norman. We continue to pray for a swift and joyful homecoming for the many Iraqis and internationals who long to be reunited with their families. We renew our commitment to work for an end to the war and the occupation of Iraq as a way to continue the witness of Tom Fox.
Welcome home guys. Your commitment and principled stand on the war in Iraq has something to teach us all about the meaning of solidarity and non-violence.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Peacenicks: you are not alone

I've been meaning to post information about the Michael Franti documentary I saw last week, called I Know I'm Not Alone. For those that don't know of the fabulous Mr. Franti -- he's a progressive independent hip-hop artist who performs both solo and with his band Spearhead. I am convinced that his voice represents the protest music of our generation. He sings (and raps) about the ravages of war, about HIV/AIDS prevention, about homophobia ... you name it. He rocks. And he recently made a documentary about his travels to Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Although the film has a bit of a "rock star does the Middle East" feel to it, Franti did manage to get some incredible footage I've never seen anywhere else.

Some of the moments that really struck me included:

- The first thing that Franti heard when he landed in Baghdad was the loud buzzing of generators. The whole city is literally covered with home-made electrical sources, being sold on the black market to people who are desperate for more than one hour of power a day. When Franti asked a cab driver about the stink of pollution in the air, the driver laughed at him, explaining that people are way too concerned with daily survival to concentrate on such seemingly trivial matters.

- Most of the people Franti interviewed were grateful that the U.S. helped get rid of Saddam. But they don't understand why they are now living in a permanent state of occupation. They see huge U.S. defence companies getting big money to "rebuild" Iraq, yet the city is still sitting in ruins.

- The U.S. soldiers working in Iraq are scared out of their minds, and they just want to go home. They have been told by their superiors to be suspicious of and antagonistic toward the Iraqi people, and as a result, they see all non-Americans as the enemy. But mostly they just want to see their families.

I won't ruin the film for you, but the portions in the West Bank and Israel are the most interesting, I think. He really managed to capture the reality of war and terrorism from both Arab and Jewish perspectives. He ends the film with a toast to "the peacemakers," no matter where they come from.

The immorality of the moral majority

Another tidbit on why supporting the new Afghan government is no better than throwing money at the Taliban ...

The international community (including the Canadian government) is furious at the new Afghan government for prosecuting Abdul Rahman for converting to Christianity. According to the CBC,

Rahman, 41, is now in jail in Afghanistan and faces the death penalty unless he agrees to convert back to the faith in which he was raised, said the judge at the Shariah court ... "We will invite him again [to renounce Christianity] because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance," trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah told the BBC on Sunday. "We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so, we will forgive him.
Now of course I agree that this is horrendous (and another example of why the notion that this is somehow a democratic government is a total myth), but what the media hasn't been reporting is that "Homosexuality, "lesbianism," and conversion to faiths such as Judaism or Buddhism are also punishable by death." Believe it or not, this tidbit came from the American national security journal The American Thinker .

So let me get this right ... persecution of Christians elicits international outrage, but persecution of Jews and queer people elicits no response.

Is this what they mean by "the moral majority?"

Thanks to Gilles for this tidbit.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Here's where I stand so far

So I have spent the last few days letting the various arguments about Afghanistan percolate ... I'll share with you where I'm at, but if you have any persuasive arguments that may sway me in another direction, please let me know.

Reasons why the Canadian mission is a bad, bad idea:

1. No politician has made it clear why we're really there. Are we there to help the country re-build? To "restore democracy?" To fight terrorism? To keep the peace? As others have pointed out, the reasons keep changing as Canadians express doubts about this deployment. And if Canadian soldiers are going to be involved in a long-term military occupation (or war for that matter), we should at least understand why we're there in the first place.

2. This is not a UN peace mission. This part of Bush's "War on Terror," exacerbated after 9/11. One of Bush's first actions after 9/11 was to bomb the shit out of Afghanistan. Has this stopped terrorism from growing, or has it (and the occupation of Iraq) just made the U.S. more of a target? Hmm ... I wonder. We should learn from the experience of the Canadian hostage who was just freed by Palestinian militants. They let him go when they realized he was Canadian. They were prepared to harm him when they thought he was American. So is Bush winning the War on Terror? I think not.

3. The "new and improved" Afghan government is no Western-style democracy. It's not any kind of democracy for that matter. Recent reports indicate that the government is unwilling to build schools for girls. Period. Gay people are routinely stoned to death (legally) in Afghanistan, and women have few legal rights. Just who are we propping up by supporting this mission? Will this really help improve people's lives in Afghanistan?

4. Where are the Afghan voices of peaceful resistance? So far, the only people I've heard from are the occupiers (Canada and the U.S.), and the new Afghan government. Is there any room for self-determination in this "rebuilding" scheme? Shortly after the U.S. bombed Afghanistan in 2001, military planes dropped food "aid" packages onto the masses of displaced people. At the time, reports said the supposed "food" included in the packages included Pop Tarts. I am not joking. This seems to be the perfect metaphor for the Western "rebuilding" of another culture.

5. We should be suspicious when politicians tell us to shut up. The suggestion that it is somehow inappropriate to discuss the merits of this mission for fear of "not supporting the troops" is absurd. Canadians want to understand why we're in Afghanistan, so they can make an informed decision about whether or not they support the deployment. This debate is important precisely because we care about our troops. We want to know if this mission is worth risking Canadian lives. We want to know if our country is doing more harm than good by being over there. Some of the strongest anti-war voices in the U.S. are the parents of soldiers who were killed in Iraq. Will it take a Canadian Cindy Sheehan to get our politicians to listen?

Here's what I would say to Stephen Harper: if this is truly a humanitarian mission, explain to me why it is one. And then explain to me why this mission (as opposed to other humanitarian crises in countries like Darfur) is the one Canada should be involved in.

Unilateral action is just sooooooo un-Canadian.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

More critical perspectives on Afghanistan

Antonia Zerbisias posted some sharp criticism of how the media lapped up Harper's visit to Kandahar on her blog. My favourite snippet:

Consider: "Before its liberation, under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan often served as an incubator for Al Qaeda and other terror organizations. This reality hit home with brutal force on 9/11, when two dozen Canadians lost their lives suddenly and senselessly in the destruction of the World Trade Center." While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were a terrible tragedy, this mission is not about payback. Or is it? And for what exactly?
Peggy Mason from the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre argues that the military's strategy in Afghanistan "seems certain to ensure that ordinary Afghans — just like ordinary Canadians — will find it almost impossible to distinguish between the war-fighters and the peacebuilding forces."

On the other hand, James Laxer says Canada should get out of Afghanistan "for an old-fashioned, even politically incorrect, reason. It is not in our interest to put our young men and women in harm's way in a struggle that will not be won."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Is this the new face of peacekeeping?

If you're anything like me, you're still confused about Canada's newfound role in Afghanistan. I mean, Stephen Harper's stealth visit to Kandahar reeked of propaganda, and his refusal to explain to Canadians why we've sent troops there sounds awfully like George W. Bush's "either you're with us, or you support terrorism" mentality.

I am still muddling through this issue. I don't feel like I have enough information to fully assess the situation. I have a deep suspicion that the main reason Canada has increased its involvement in Afghanistan is as an act of solidarity with the U.S. And I know that this is not a UN-sponsored peacekeeping mission by any stretch of the imagination. Internal voices of dissent like the incredible Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan seem to have been silenced on this issue. Surely local people resent what amounts to another Western occupation.

But I also wouldn't want to sound like an apologist for the Taliban, or for the years of gender apartheid that women in Afghanistan were forced to contend with. When I read the history of Rwanda, it is devastating to imagine that if the international community had acted, we could have prevented the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.

I know that war is never the answer. As Michael Franti says, "you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace." But I need other, more informed people to explain to me why this mission is a problematic one, in a manner that expresses solidarity for the legitimate suffering of the Afghan people.

Here are a couple of places where I've started to unravel the situation:

1. Gerald Caplan's recent article in the Toronto Star, "War and peace are too important to leave to generals like Rick Hillier."

2. Rick Salutin's column, "Trust the public on Afghanistan."

3. Linda McQuaig, "Forces' leaders trying to stifle debate on mission."

4. Oh, and believe it or not, Margaret Wente has similar reservations.

Any other suggestions? Please help me out, and post references to other articles that might be of use to activists who are trying to get a handle on this issue. Thanks.

And thanks to all of the fabulous people who have been posting comments on this blog ... it's exciting to engage in a dialogue with all of you!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Update re: A Feminist SOS

Yay. I'm happy to see that posted Audra Williams' fantastic article from This Magazine today. Check it out.

I commented on her piece here.

Happy International Women's Day. Let's work together to keep feminism dangerous.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How anti-feminism betrays women

I'm beginning to think that it's no wild-eyed conspiracy theory to suggest that the mainstream media has declared war on feminism. Not that daily newspapers have ever been at the forefront of the fight for women's rights, but for a few decades, the feminist-bashing seemed to be isolated to a few "femmenazi" insults, and the occasional sneering from "post-feminists" like Camille Paglia. I mean there will always be stuck-up, rich, out-of-touch anti-feminist women like Barbara Amiel and Diane Francis. And stupid men who like their white male privilege so much that they blame feminism for emasculating Western society. But the new neo-con take on feminism is really dangerous. Here's the gist of it: North American women should stop wining because there's nothing left to fight for. Instead, they should support Bush's War on Terror, and seek to liberate Muslim women from oppression by bombing their communities, installing puppet governments, and giving big "reconstruction" contracts to U.S. corporations.

I already posted a rant about a recent Maclean's article that declared that "the war on terrorism in the real women's issue." In today's Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente makes a similar argument in her piece titled "How the feminists betrayed feminism." She spends many column inches criticizing Judy Rebick for suggesting that U.S. imperialism, coupled with racist security laws and unfair trade policies have dealt a "mortal blow to a feminism that seek economic and social equality." Wente suggests that feminists should focus their energy on spreading Western values among to poor, oppressed (largely Muslim) minions, and -- no surprise -- stop whining about racism and inequality in North America, because it simply doesn't exist anymore.

I am not kidding. But in honour of International Women's Day, and in case you are actually inclined to believe Ms. Wente, here are five reasons why feminism is needed now more than ever:

  1. A woman's right to choose is under attack -- in the U.S. and Canada. In case you've been asleep this week, South Dakota has just banned all abortions, unless the life of the mother is threatened. No exceptions for rape or incest survivors. This has led one women to post do-it-yourself abortion instructions on the internet. Meanwhile in Canada, the extreme right-wing groups that helped vault Stephen Harper into power are pushing for a free vote on abortion in the coming months.

  2. The dream of a national day care program has been ripped away from Canadian women. I've already written extensively about this. But in a nutshell, the neo-con model of tax cuts instead of social programs, and the latest call to transfer tax points to the provinces so they can fund their own social programs adds up to one reality for Canadian women: no daycare spaces, and inadequate, uneven access to social programs across the country.

  3. Women are still being beaten and assaulted. According to Status of Women Canada, half of Canadian women (51%) have been victims of at least one act of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Of all victims of crimes against the person in 2000, females made up the vast majority of victims of sexual assaults (86%), criminal harassment (78%) and kidnapping/hostage-taking or abduction (67%). Of the almost 34,000 victims of spousal violence reported in 2000, women accounted for the majority of victims (85%), a total of 28,633 victims.

  4. Women (particularly Aboriginal women) are among the poorest people in Canada. According to the Coalition for Women's Equality, 52% of single-parent families headed by women are poor. Almost half of all "unattached" women over 65 are poor. The average income for women with disabilities and for aboriginal women is $13,000 a year.

  5. Women are shockingly underrepresented in Canadian politics. Only 62 women -- or roughly 20% of the seats in Parliament -- won seats in January's federal election. Harper's cabinet includes six female cabinet ministers, including Rona Ambrose, who Maclean's has referred to as "the beauty" in a recent cover story about the new government. It's not online yet, but I highly recommend you read Doris Anderson's essay "A Silenced Majority" in the new issue of This Magazine.
The real betrayal is not feminism itself, but the people who condemn women to poverty, violence and exclusion by arrogantly assuming that we have nothing left to fight for. As the folks at Briarpatch noted in a recent editorial, "feminism gets bad press not because it's dead, but because it's dangerous."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

New institute defines 'family' narrowly

The Ottawa Citizen

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Re: New kid on the block will be famous one day, Feb. 24.

As one of the participants in the protest against the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada that columnist John Robson refers to as "dreary," I feel compelled to respond to his attack on equal families, and his glowing endorsement of the institute's aims.

Despite the institute's innocuous title, its affiliation with Focus on the Family demonstrates its true aims: to reverse marriage rights for same-sex couples, to attack a women's right to choose, to dismantle any semblance of a publicly funded child-care system, and to encourage "abstinence-only" sex education.

Focus on the Family maintains that homosexual people can be "converted" through therapy, and its leader has referred to abortion as a "baby holocaust."

Does this sound like neutral public-policy research?

Those of us who braved the brutal cold to stand up for equality during the institute's launch (and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians that do so every day in their homes and workplaces) believe strongly in the importance of "family values." But our values include love and acceptance of all Canadian families, including single-parent families and same-sex-parent families.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, along with our friends, families and allies, will continue to monitor the activities of groups like the Institute of Marriage and Family, and their influence on the new Conservative government's political agenda.

The quest for equality requires vigilance -- even on an icy day in February. Mr. Robson should get used to our "dreary" protests, because they aren't going to stop any time soon.

Ariel Troster, Ottawa, Egale Canada

Friday, March 03, 2006

Okay, one tiny victory ... now let's raise the rates

No child-care benefit clawbacks in Ontario: McGuinty
CBC News

The Ontario government announced it will not claw back the federal government's proposed child-care benefit from social assistance and disability cheques.

During Wednesday's question period, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province will not deduct the federal government's proposed child-care allowance of $1,200 a year for every child under the age of six from support cheques.

Earlier this week, a cabinet minister refused to rule out such a deduction.

The provincial government already deducts the National Child Benefit Supplement, despite McGuinty's campaign promise to end the supplement clawback.

So far, he has just capped it at the 2003 rate.

McGuinty stressed that he is focused on trying to save the existing child-care agreement made with the Paul Martin's Liberal government, and urged all three provincial parties to band together on this issue.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Child care "choice" is no choice at all

Stephen Harper is a diehard economic libertarian. He thinks that social programs only hinder economic prosperity, and has referred to Canada as a "Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term."

This should come as no surprise to anyone. He is, of course, the former head of the National Citizens Coalition, which was originally founded to fight the establishment of universal publicly-funded medicare. Murray Dobbin has done a great job of pointing out the hypocrisy of Harper's statements during the federal election, which directly contradicted statements he made years -- even months -- before.

We've heard a lot about "alternatives" and "flexibility" in the last few weeks. But don't be fooled, these terms are masking the ideology that Harper really believes in: individualism over collective rights, wealth over social justice, profit over people.

Take his so-called "choice in childcare" program. It's not a program, it's a tax cut. It's an outright rejection of a national childcare program that propagates the notion that women should be home taking care of their kids. This also implies that all women should be married (to men I assume, given the Conservative position on gay marriage), and it's tough shit for anyone who actually has to work to make ends meet or -- horrors -- doesn't have a spouse.

But don't take it from me. Take it from new Human Resources Minister Diane Finley who said "There have been many studies that show that the best people to raise children are the parents." Yeah, well there have been many studies that show that hungry children don't thrive, and that adequate health care, housing and early childhood education are preconditions for proper brain development and socialization.

And the worst thing is that this tax credit would do nothing for people who are struggling to raise their kids while on social assistance. How on earth can women return to the workforce, if there is no affordable (and safe) place to take their kids? As of yesterday, the media was reporting that the Ontario government would likely roll back the child care benefit from social assistance cheques. In other words, no extra money for the people who are really poor and could actually use some extra cash to pay for childcare or food!

Although I don't hold up much hope for the Conservatives changing course, click here to sign a petition to stand up for universal child care.

And to learn more about an Ontario-wide campaign to raise social assistance rates, check out OCAP's site.