Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Riddle of Theological Environmentalism

In a recent post at Pharyngula, PZ Myers is excited by a recent Nature Video Channel video featuring Sir David Attenborough in which he blames the Bible for fomenting an attitude that validates environmental destruction.

"The influence of the book of Genesis which says that the lord God said 'go forth and multiply' to Adam and Eve and that the natural world is there for you to dominate," Attenborough explains. "'You have dominion over the animals and plants of the world,' and that basic notion that the world is there for us and if it doesn't actually serve our purposes it's dispensible, that has produced devestation of vast areas of the Earth's surface."

"Of course it's a great oversimplification," Attenborough admits. "But that's why Darwinism and the fact of evolution is of great importance, because it is that attitude which has led to the devestation of so much of the Earth."

Naturally Myers, who has never heard a criticism of religion that he didn't enjoy, is quite enthused about Attenborough's comments.

But as Attenborough himself admits, his comments are a great oversimplification of the matter. After all, one of the most important elements of religion is that of interpretation.

As it turns out, a great many Christians interpret the Book of Genesis very differently. While some very much do seem to subscribe to the Coulter-esque "take it, rape it, it's yours" school of thought, there are many Christians who believe that their religious faith obligates them to care for the Earth.

Such is the attitude toward the environment taken by organizations such as Care for Creation, a religious environmental group that brings together Christians, Muslims and Jews to meet the group's goal of better caring for the environment.

This is also the motivation behind the recent publication of the the Green Bible, a version of the Bible in which scriptural verses referring to God's love of his creation and God's commandment that the Earth be cared for are highlighted in Green.

Approximately 1000 pages of the book -- printed with soy-based ink on recycled paper with a cotton cover -- are duly highlighted.

Contrary to Sir Attenborough's insistence that the book of Genesis, in particular, is responsible for validating environmental destruction, a significant portion of Genesis is highlighted in green.

While someone who wants badly enough to find justification for careless exploitation of the environment may find it in Genesis, those who pay close attention will find commandments toward caring for the environment as well.

Ironically, the book of Revelations also features numerous passages that promote care for the environment. This is ironic because many Christians who have rejected the Green Bible have questioned the need to care for a world that, according to particular interpretations of the Bible, will only be destroyed anyway.

Even if the eventual destruction of the Earth isn't treated as a rationale for rejecting a biblical focus on environmental protection there is still the matter of priorities. Some conservative Christians have argued that saving souls is more important than saving the Earth -- although they clearly overlook the need for a healthy planet for the next generation (also representing the next generation of souls, depending on the nuances of one's own religious views).

In Canada, the theological environmentalist movement has found some influential leaders. In particular Preston Manning has been instrumental in promoting the Bible as a book that encourages environmental conservation.

This matter isn't nearly so simple as Sir Attenborough describes it. For those intent on believing that the Bible justifies environemtnal destruction, they will find it. But for those who want to believe that the Bible encourages proper stewardship of the environment, they will find that as well. Often, they will support for these differing view points in the same parts of the Bible.

This is why theological environmentalism is a riddle. But like any great riddle, it is one that must be solved in order for the wisdom it entails to be enjoyed.

Unfortunately, the search for this solution won't be abbetted by individuals like PZ Myers who would rather content themselves to chortle triumphantly.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Memo to Charles McVety: Fuckin' Relax

Canadian Christian Coalition leader overreacts to atheist bus ads

In the wake of an advertising campaign launched in Britain in which buses are carrying a pro-atheist message, atheists here in Canada have launched a similar campaign of their own.

In Toronto, the Freethought Association of Canada is set to release its own wave of "There's probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life" adverts on City of Toronto buses.

The Canadian Christian Coalition's Charles McVety (who leads the organization, along with a slew of other Christian-oriented groups) doesn't like it.

"They're attack ads," McVety complained, "saying we worry and saying that we are not happy. That is an offensive statement."

McVety's complaints are reminiscent of complaints by Britain's Stephen Green, who complained that the British ads violated advertising standards.

Fortunately, just as Green's reaction to the ads wasn't representative of the British response to them, nor is McVety's reaction to the Canadian campaign.

"If it evokes a discussion around religion and discussions around issues of faith, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it's done respectfully," noted Neil MacCarthy, the Archiocese of Toronto.

In Britain, Theos, a Christian think tank actually donated a (very) modest sum of money to the British campaign.

There's a good reason why the response to these ads should not be, and fortunately has not been, as uniformly hostile as those of Charles McVety and Stephen Green: the ads themselves are extremely non-threatening.

The ads state that there is probably no God. They don't say anything for certain. If the ads asserted that the Bible is crap, as PZ Myers recently did, that would be one thing. That would actually qualify as an "attack ad" as McVety has tried to label these ads (although that alone wouldn't be enough reason to try to bar them from being run).

And while one may wonder about the irony of the Freethought Association of Canada running ads that at least seem to tell people what to think about God (that God "probably" doesn't exist), and running ads that so blatantly copy the British campaign, there's very little offensive about these ads.

Neil MacCarthy is right. These ads will serve a valuable purpose if they convince people to think about whether or not they believe God exists and, more importantly, why.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Awww, Muffin...

Jack Layton wants to shit in Michael Ignatieff's shoes

According to NDP leader Jack Layton, there's a new coalition on Parliament Hill, and he doesn't like it.

"We have a new coalition now on Parliament Hill -- it's a coalition between Mr Harper and Mr Ignatieff," Layton complained.

"Mr Ignatieff has made his choice, he has decided not to support the coalition and the positive change that it would have brought," Layton complained. "He has formed a relationship with Mr. Harper and this could last for a very long time."

Layton's comments came shortly after Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledged "conditional" support for the budget.

However, Ignatieff is calling for the government to issue periodical reports on the progress of the budget's implementation.

"Each of these reports will be an opportunity to withdraw our confidence should the government fail Canadians," Ignatieff announced.

Which is actually an extremely novel idea for reform. If one treats any confidence vote as essentially a contract between the government and Parliament in which Parliament gives its approval for the government's fiscal agenda under the expectation that it be implimented, then such periodic reports give Parliament a valuable tool for actually enforcing that agreement.

This isn't merely something that should be applied to the current budget -- it should be applied to all future budgets in this country.

But Michael Ignatieff may want to be a good deal more careful about some other things. With Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe formally declaring the coalition to be dead today, Ignatieff won't have that stick to threaten Stephen Harper with any longer.

"We are putting this government on probation," Ignatieff said. "Should Mr. Harper fail to satisfy the expectations of Canadians, we will be ready to defeat him and lead in his place."

But having already disappointed his coalition partners, Ignatieff may not find them quite so obliging should he turn around and decide to defeat the government.

"This is the first really important decision in public life that Mr Ignatieff has had to make... and what he decided to do was to stick with [Stephane] Dion's unfortunate voting policy of propping up Mr Harper," Layton complained. "When the Liberals vote for Mr Harper, with or without a fig leaf of an amendment, they will be casting their 45th straight vote to keep Stephen Harper in office. You can't do that and pretend to be the alternative to Mr Harper."

But consisdering the attitude of most Canadians to the proposed coalition, Layton can't deny that Ignatieff has merely woken up to reality and decided to not hand the Conservative party a majority in the next election.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

James Laxer - "Jack Layton is Now the Real Leader of the Opposition"

Pearce Richards - "Jack Layton: Do As I Say, Not As I Do"

Jason Clements - "What Happened to Democracy?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ugly is as Ugly Does

PZ Myers makes excuses in the wake of a poor debating performance

PZ Myers is absolutely correct when he describes his debate with Kirk Durston at the University of Alberta last night as "ugly".

But considering that Myers himself was the contributor of a great deal of that ugliness to that debate, one should think that he doth protest too bloody much.

Today in a post on his blog, Pharyngula, Myers essentially makes excuses for his poor performance in the debate last night -- and for the record, while he clearly out-shone Durston on the topic of science, his refusal to debate the actual topic of debate can't be looked at as anything other than a default.

In particular, Myers takes exception to Durston's previously-mentioned suggestion that states in which a core value was atheism was responsible for more state-perpetrated mass murders than states in which any religion was a core value.

(Durston described a core value as any value from which a state's other values are derived. Certainly, this is nothing if not an extremely cumbersome definition, but it does work.)

In order to justify that claim, Durston relies on the work of Rudolph Rummel, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii.

Myers essentially claims that if Rummel himself doesn't state that idea in his thesis, then his work can't be used to support it -- tantamount to suggesting that Albert Einstein's theory of relativity couldn't be used to build atomic bombs because Einstein disagreed with them.

And certainly, Myers is right when he notes that Durston's "atheist core value society" argument is nowhere to be found in Rummel's work -- or is at lest very difficult to find. What Rummel's work does provide, however, is the source material that Durston used to draw that conclusion.

In a table of democides -- which Rummel defines as combining genocide with mass murder -- Rummel ranks the states with the largest body counts throughout history, ranking them from deka-murderers to centi-kilomurderers. This table is pictured to the right.

An examination of the top five -- the dekamurderers -- alone confirms the basis for Durston's argument. Three of the five countries he lists as the top murderers in history -- The People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Cambodia and North Korea -- are in the top five.

This may confirm the basis for Durston's argument, but it doesn't justify the argument itself. For one thing, to describe Nazi Germany as a state in which atheism was a core principle would be flagrantly false. The Nazi party promoted a state religion that was based on a collection of source material, ranging from far eastern spiritualism to bizarre occultism.

Moreover, it would be remiss to overlook the religious -- notably Christian -- overtones of European colonialism. Colonialism was treated by many leaders as a mission from god to deliver Christianity around the globe, and claim what they insisted God had created for them.

Think of the priest in The Four Feathers blessing British soldiers going off to fight the insurrection in Sudan telling them that "God has blessed the British race" with its empire.

But Myers, who accused Durston of peddling "bad history" during the debate, moves on to peddle more bad history himself in the course of his debate post-mortem blog entry.

First off, he claims that atheism was not a core principle of Marxism. This is flagrantly false. Karl Marx denounced religion as an "opiate of the masses" -- a false consciousness-inducing ideology that would have to be cast away in order for the allegedly inevitable revolution of the proletariat to come.

It was actually Vladimir Lenin who rejected the need for institutionalized atheism in his 1905 essay, "Socialism and Religion". While this would seem to invalidate the assertion that atheism was a core principle of the Soviet Union, one would have to remember what took place under Joseph Stalin's regime.

Stalin took advantage of pressure being applied on the Soviet government by organizations such as the League of the Militant Godless -- whose slogan was "the fight for godlessness is a fight for socialism" -- to justify changing the Soviet Constitution in 1936. He entrenched the anti-religious cause within the Constitution of the USSR.

This was done so Stalin could nationalize Church lands. Although Stalin made concessions to the Russian Orthodox Church during the second world war -- the Church was instrumental in re-casting the struggle against the Nazis as the Great Patriotic War -- the state continued to spread anti-religious propaganda through the Soviet Department of External Church relations and the KGB.

Even the more relatively moderate regime of Nikita Kruschev mandated the registration of religious groups with the Soviet government.

Entrenching atheism within the Soviet Constitution established it as a core value of that state. Myers is as wrong as he could possibly be to try to pretend otherwise.

Myers also lobbed an accusation at Durston that he was "poisoning the well" by even bringing this up in the first place. This is arguably a valid point. Then again, individuals like Christopher Hitchens have been arguing that religion is responsible for the most killings of any social force in human history -- the point that Durston was actually trying to refute.

If Durston was indeed poisoning the well, he shouldn't be excused for dumping more poison into an already-poisoned well. But by the same token, he didn't poison it first.

Myers also mischaracterizes one of Durston's key arguments. Myers insists that Durston claimed the Flavian testimony of Jesus is evidence of Jesus Christ's divinity. In fact, Durston claimed that the rapid spread of Christianity in the period immediately following Christ's death -- not more than a hundred years later, as Myers claimed -- is evidence that many people believed Jesus had risen from the grave. The Flavian testimony is believed by many to confirm this.

Myers did excel at his scientific arguments. His rebuttal to the argument that Intelligent Design is necessary to explain the complexity within nature was admirably elegant: that simplicity and efficiency, not complexity, are the hallmarks of good design.

But listening to Myers debate -- and his reliance on the "donkey's laugh" -- makes it plainly obvious where some of his admirers get their rhetorical "skills" from.

The debate was ugly. Mostly because neither individual came to the table with any thing terribly ground-breaking to say, and only one of them (Durston) bothered to actually debate the topic they had both agreed to.

Myers' hands were every bit as dirty as his opponent's in making the debate between himself and Kirk Durston an ugly affair.


It seems like Myers may be uncomfortable with his own conduct during the debate. Coming in additional commentary thrown in at the end of his blog post:
"It was Durston's first words that were insulting and illogical — a shot at calling atheists evil. I suppose if I'd opened by announcing that Christians were all stupid, we would have had equivalency…but I did not.

And yes, we talked past each other the whole time. The debate topic was far too broad, I thought we were going to argue about the evidence for design, but Durston wiggled away and talked about anything but.
Anyone who was actually at the debate can say for a fact that this is untrue.

In fact, Myers opened his remarks by saying (roughly paraphrased) "do leprecauns exist? This is the same thing. This is crap."

Apparently, in Myers' mind, expressing his sheer contempt for the beliefs of others doesn't qualify as calling them stupid, as long as he doesn't say so in those explicit words.

Furthermore, if Myers was unsatisfied with the topic of the debate, he should have done exactly what Kenneth Hynek said he should have -- he should have declined the debate.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Lawrence A Moran - "Kirk Durston vs PZ Myers"

Kenneth Hynek - "PZ Myers Should Have Skipped the Debate"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let's Talk About Bad History

In a debate over whether or not God exists at the University of Alberta tonight, PZ Myers and his debate opponent, Kirk Durston, explored one of the more insipid questions used to answer the question over which ever is superior:

The question of which has been responsible for more deaths: religion or atheism.

By drawing upon the body counts amassed by the five most bloodthirsty atheist societies -- which, for the purposes of debate, was defined as societies in which atheism was a central and encompassing tenet -- Durston concluded that between Cambodia, China, North Korea and the Soviet Union atheism has allegedly killed more people than anything else.

Myers objected to the argument under the basis that Durston was classifying all atheists as mass murderers -- but conveniently fails to overlook that fellow famed atheist Christopher Hitchens applies the same argument to religion, by Myers' standards suggesting that all religious people are mass murderers.

He then went on to insist that Adolph Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Accordingly, history's most despised mass murderer -- despite the fact that Joseph Stalin actually killed many more people -- was religious.

Unfortunately for Myers, his assertion is flagrantly false.

Those who paid close attention to history know know that Myers' assertions -- the one thing he excelled at during the debate, with the exception of boring people with a lecture about Hox genes -- know that this is bad history.

Hitler may have been raised Catholic. But in truth, Hitler lived the last decade of his life as a bizarre occultist.

It's well known that Hitler and the other senior members of the Nazi party believed that Aryans were the master race. What is less well known is that they believed Aryans were descendents of Atlantis, who lost their godlike powers due to mixed breeding with the members of "lesser" races.

And while Myers is entirely correct to note that Germany was -- and remains -- a predominately Lutheran and Roman Catholic country, and correctly notes that the Roman Catholic Church holds some complicity in the events of the Holocaust due to its lack of intervention, his argument falls short on one important point.

There is a stark difference between complicity and complete and sole responsibility.

(Interestingly, Pope Benedict seems to be set to welcome Richard Williamson, a Catholic Bishop who denied the Holocaust, back into the Church.)

But Myers should double-check his history before the next time he accuses a debate opponent of peddling bad history.

It's Because They Lie. All. The. Time.

The pro-abortion lobby just won't be honest, no matter what

As far as online meltdowns go, the one currently being experienced by Unrepentant Old Hippie's JJ is certainly one for the ages.

As it stands at the current moment, JJ just can't seem to keep her story straight. If one were to believe what she'd like people to believe, one would think that JJ is in favour of the abolition of all abortion laws, anywhere. She's claimed as much.

But for those paying close enough attention to JJ and her furious flag-waving in favour of the pro-abortion movement (she refers to it as "pro-choice", yet stridently opposes protecting a doctor's right to choose to refuse to perform an abortion they deem unethical) will notice that JJ isn't being quite as forthcoming with her agenda as she'd like people to believe.

Recent slips on her part have revealed precisely how much of that agenda she's tried to keep hidden.

The most recent big slip on JJ's part is her pledged support for the freedom of choice act, a piece of American legislation that would protect a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, and protect her right to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability in cases of medical necessity.

This would naturally seem to contradict JJ's publicly-stated "the only good abortion law is no abortion law" position. After all, passing FOCA would be putting in place an abortion law -- even though one of JJ's equally-intellectually dishonest cohorts somehow thinks passing an abortion law somehow moves the United States in the direction of no abortion law -- however this makes sense is probably understood by Mike alone.

JJ insists that it's all about the context, insisting that she's only in favour of FOCA because it would be "an improvement" on the status quo in the United States:
"Of course I support FOCA, in the context of what is happening to abortion access in the US right now. (I shouldn't have to add that qualifier since it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but there it is for the cerebrally-deprived.) FOCA is protective legislation that would put a stop to all the nitpicking legal challenges and stupid ballot initiatives currently being used to attack abortion rights.

I never said FOCA wasn't flawed legislation, and Mike is correct when he says FOCA is wrong in some ways. But in the context of the status quo in the USA, it's an improvement. Thus my support for it. OBVIOUSLY the situation in Canada (no law) is far superior.
Certainly, JJ would probably like to have people believe this.

But then there's the matter of JJ's support for not only passing an abortion law in Canada, but one that would entrench abortion rights in the highest law in the land, to the direct detriment of the rights of doctors.

It's clear that JJ is anything but opposed to the idea of an abortion law. She just wants one where her beloved pro-abortion lobby is holding all of the cards.

One really can't help but wonder: why is it really that JJ is in favour of legislation like FOCA in the United States, but not in Canada? Why is it that, for Canada, she would oppose legislation that would protect a woman's right to choose to have an abortion? Why is it that JJ and Mike would denounce FOCA as a bad bill because it regulates something that, according to their insistence, couldn't harm a woman's right to choose (seeing as how they insist that medically unnecessary late-term abortions don't happen in Canada)?

There's something missing in all of this: the same thing that has been missing all along. The truth.

They say they're opposed to abortion laws, then back ideas that would entrench abortion rights in the highest law of the land. They say they're opposed to abortion laws, then support them in foreign countries.

Either they just can't be consistent with their position, or just won't be honest about what their agenda really is.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Did You Double Check That With Michael, John? Or Even With Reality?

Liberal double-talk on the budget palpable

For the past 20 years in Canada, the Liberal party has made an art form of trying to have it both ways.

Accuse the opposition Reform party of plotting to devestate health care with deep cuts while slashing billions of dollars from health care.

Accuse the governing Conservative party of campaigning based on fear while airing some of the most vile fear-based campaign ads in the history of fear-based campaigning.

Now, the Liberals are adding another chapter to this sorry tale: insisting that they oppose middle class tax cuts, despite the fact that their leader previously endorsed them.

Speaking in advance of tomorrow's federal budget, Liberal finance critic John McCallum had some interesting things to say.

"If the permanent tax cuts were very large, we would be very concerned, partly because it would saddle future generations with a big debt and a permanent deficit," McCallum mused.

Despite Ignatieff's previous support for permanent middle class tax cuts -- as brilliantly explosed by National Post Full Comment's Kelly McParland -- McCallum insists that they are ill-advised.

McCallum insisted that the cuts would be ineffective to stimulate the economy because people will be more likely to save the tax cut than spend it.

But here's the problem: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff himself recently pledged his support for middle class tax cuts. As far as stimulating the economy with tax cuts goes, the bigger the cuts are, the better. A large tax cut is much more likely to be spent than a small tax cut.

Sadly, the logic of this seems to be all but lost on an opposition that, despite the reported inclusion of some things they would otherwise support in this budget -- $2 billion for social housing, $1 billion for workers and $1.5 billion for job retraining -- has committed themselves to rejecting the budget sight unseen.

"If [the budget] doesn't cut it, our leader has made it perfectly clear that we vote against it -- and he is prepared to lead," McCallum crowed.

And all Michael Ignatieff needs to do is double-back on his own position and lie to the Canadian people in order to do it.

It's hard to excuse the base dishonesty of the Liberal position on matters economic these days. The Liberal party knows full well that Canada would be budgeting a deficit in the coming year regardless of who was in power. Despite this they accuse the Conservative party of blowing a surplus that they themselves planned to blow anyway -- again, a fact masterfully exposed by McParland.

Michael Ignatieff has previously insisted that he isn't trying to take a shortcut back to power.

Unfortunately, the truth is very different. He and his finance critic are trying to follow a road back to power that is all but paved with little white lies.

A Matter of Confidence

Don Newman offers a very unambitious -- and ill-conceived -- program of Parliamentary reform

Writing in a column on, Don Newman reflects on the recent Parliamentary crisis and draws a not-terribly-unreasonable conclusion:

We should rewrite Canada's Parliamentary rules to make minority governments more stable.

Likely few Canadians would object to a tweaking of the rules to make the defeat of a minority government a little less imminent. Few Canadians want to vote in an election just to have to rush back to vote in another.

But Newman's proposed solution may actually be much more troublesome in the long run than the comparable instability of minority governments under the current system. Newman proposes that the rules place some rather excessive limits on what may or may not be considered a confidence vote:
"One suggestion would be for fewer confidence votes. The Russian-roulette style of parties, either in opposition or in government, trying to create votes of confidence around bills or issues that are not really tests of confidence should be prohibited.

Confidence votes should be limited to the budget, spending estimates, declarations of war, treaties and the speech from the throne, the overview of the government's agenda.

If opposition parties want to gang up and amend a government bill on, say, climate change, so be it, provided the amendments do not call for significant new spending. (Controlling the public purse would remain a government responsibility.)

As well, once in each parliamentary sitting — and until now most parliaments have had two sittings between elections — there should be an opportunity for each of the opposition parties to move a non-confidence motion in the government to test the will of the House.

In the current situation, that would result in a maximum of three opposition-based non-confidence motions every two years, a reduction in the opportunities the three opposition parties currently have.

The real test, of course, is what happens when a government loses a vote of confidence. Then it should fall to the governor general to try to find a new government, which would continue in power until the next fixed election date — or until it was defeated on a confidence measure.
It may make some sense on what can or cannot be considered a confidence vote.

But Newman overlooks the fact that there are matters that are not restricted to finances, warfare, treaties, and the throne speec that very much entail matters of confidence.

Any matter on which the opposition believes the government is risking the fundamental well-being of the country can and should be considered matters of confidence. That means that issues including (but not limited to) environmental protection and national unity could be considered confidence issues.

Clearly, the opposition parties would have to declare their intention to treat such votes as matters of confidence, and should be required to present their case to the Governor General before the vote takes place.

Of course, this is a proposition that would actually mean very little if the office of Governor General could not itself be reformed. Making opposition parties argue their case for a confidence vote before an unelected (read: appointed) official wouldn't work any wonders for the democratic integrity of such a reform.

Canada would have to institute a system for electing the Governor General before any such reform could even be close to being considered democratic.

An interesting possible model for reforming the act of the non-confidence vote itself could be found in Germany, where a constructive vote of confidence is required in order to actually defeat the government. The opposition coalitions in Germany -- German politics, with is combination of directly elected and proportionally-elected parliamentarians, inherently directs German political parties toward forming coalitions -- cannot defeat the government without being able to establish an alternative government.

There are at least three problems with such a proposition. First off, the democratic models used in other countries can rarely be applied perfectly to other countries. Second, it would strip opposition parties of the ability to defeat the government in order to trigger an election; this is something that opposition parties will often want to do. Third, the alternative government would need to be expected to be able to hold the confidence of Parliament.

As it regards Canada's recent crisis, however, one is reminded of the central role of the Bloc Quebecois in forming and propping that coalition up. The Liberal-NDP coalition could not reasonably be expected to hold the confidence of Parliament on any matter related to national unity. Not so long as it relied on the formalized support of a separatist party.

The question of whether or not a government could be expected to hold the confidence of the house also applies to any coalition government proposal. As it regards the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, there is no question that it cannot be justified on these grounds. Without the support of a separatist party -- support that undermines it on a key tenet of confidence -- this government could not hold the confidence of the House. Without that support they hold fewer seats than the would-be opposition Tories.

Then there is always the most important aspect of the matter: proposing reforms to Canada's political system is easy. Actually making them work is a great deal more difficult.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hollow Triumphalism Interrupted

The numbers don't support the portrayal of the Tories as economic goats

With Canada on the brink of at least two years of budget deficits, opponents of the governing Conservative party couldn't be happier.

The message coming from most of Canada's opposition is very simple: oh, if only the Liberals were still in power. Then we wouldn't be facing down a deficit.

The theorem is basically divided into two parts: through spending increases and tax cuts, the Conservatives spent Canadians right down to the brink of a deficit. Even if the hit to government revenues were too big, the maintained Liberal surpluses would at least render the deficits smaller, and more managable.

But those actually paying attention to the numbers know this isn't true.

As done previously here at the Nexus, National Post Full Comment editor Kelly McParland compares the current budget numbers to those forecasted by the Liberal party, and reaches a not-so-shocking conclusion: they aren't that different.

First, there's the matter of the "wasted surplus". As it turns out, then-Finance Minister Ralph Goodale was planning a program of tax cuts and increased spending worth a total of $39 billion to implement if the Liberal party managed to win the 2006 federal election.

The Liberal party had forecasted annual surpluses of $1.6 billion to $3.4 billion.

According to the fiscal plans made by the Liberal party under economic models that forecasted continuing surpluses, the deficit under the Liberals would have been at most $2 billion smaller. This is also before the addition of any additional costs due to the national daycare program the Liberals had planned to put in place.

The possibility is very real that this surplus would have been larger under the Liberal party. The possibility is also much more likely that Canada would have sustained a structural deficit under the Liberal party.

This shouldn't be terribly shocking. The Liberal and Conservative parties used the same economic projections to plan their spending. In terms of raw numbers, Ralph Goodale and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made the same plans.

As such, an important question looms: do both the Liberal and Conservative parties have to "wear" the deficit considering the similarity of their spending plans? Or is there something else to blame for this deficit?

This is a false choice. The answer is a little bit of both.

No matter what they may insist now, few people, if any, predicted the sheer scale of the economic crisis that has led to this deficit. Considering that the government has jumped from budgeting a $2 billion surplus to budgeting a $36 billion deficit (with a $30 billion deficit next year), external influences are responsible for the majority of the surplus.

The Conservatives, however, very much do have to answer for their share of the deficit. They ran on the premise of being more fiscally responsible than the Liberal party, and they delivered something very different. Then again, the Liberal party also campaigned on being more fiscally responsible than their competitors, and their spending plans also speak for themselves.

Given the current levels of spending by the Canadian government, there should be little question that this deficit was inevitable regardless of whomever was in power. This economic crisis was one born in a foreign country, albeit one with ever-closer economic ties with Canada.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to deny that Canada has become much more vulnerable to economic crises born in countries that irresponsibly under-regulate their economies -- in particular, their financial markets. Then again, considering that the United States is Canada's number one trading partner, perhaps the impact would have been just as inevitable in NAFTA's absence.

This is a matter for much more experienced economists to debate.

The bigger picture is that of the comparison between Canada's current economic and fiscal situation and the one the country would be in if the Liberal party was in power. The pictures are scarcely any different.

Not that those eager to pin this matter squarely on the Conservative party are in any rush to admit this. Which only underscores the opportunism and hollow triumphalism of the argument that the Conservatives, and the Conservatives alone, are to blame for the deficit.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

The Phantom Observer - "We're All Guilty of 'Budget Bias'"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Will Canada's Palestinian Community Please Stand Up?

Hamas' targeting of Fatah sparks international... silence

When Israel opened its military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza strip, the international reaction was nothing if not predictable.

Foreign leaders declined to touch the matter with a 50-foot pole, while anyone with even the slightest bone to pick with Israel took to the streets in protest.

But now that Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza strip, Hamas has reportedly taken the aftermath of the conflict as an opportunity to settle some scores with their political rival, Fatah.

Reportedly, up to 40 members of Fatah have been arrested, tortured and killed by Hamas militants, who accused those individuals of collaborating with Israel.

One would expect that those concerned about the human rights violations that allegedly took place during Israeli offensive are rushing to the streets again, this time to protest human rights violations by Hamas.

Think again.

Predictably, there is no outrage over Hamas' actions. But this lack of outrage has some serious implications for the credibility of many protest organizations.

As an example, consider the case of Independent Jewish Voices, an organization of (allegedly) anti-Zionist Jews. "We see it as a major war crime, an atrocity, a massacre, a genocide," IJV coordinator Diana Ralph insisted.

In the same interview, Ralph seems to overlook the criminal actions of Hamas. "We know that Israel has actually announced that one major wing of this assault is a propaganda war," she insisted. "They’re refusing to allow journalists into Gaza, they’re trying to portray Israel as the victim here with lots of press about the Qassam rockets landing on people in Sderot and other places nearby, poo-pooing the disproportionate damage. It’s pretty clear."

Yet if one were to accept Ralph's arguments that Israel's actions in Gaza were war crimes, there would be no question that those in Fatah who have allegedly collaborated with Israel are accessories to those crimes.

As such, the proper course of action would be for those individuals to be arrested and arraigned for war crimes, not be executed in hospitals or schools by Hamas militants.

Yet in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, there seems to be very little objection to Hamas' actions from those who protested Israel's actions so rigorously.

This is nothing new. In 2007, one year after Israel's offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, there was nary a peep when Lebanese forces fought it out with Palestinian militants with a refugee camp square in the middle.

Instead of using ground troops to minimize casualties amongst the refugees, Lebanese forces surrounded the camp with tanks and artillery and bombarded the militants -- much like Israel's objectionable use of tanks and air strikes against Hamas militants hiding out amongst civilian centres.

There were no mass protests then, there seem to be no mass protests now.

Will Canada's Palestinian community please stand up?


Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Walker Morrow - "Hamas Moves on Fatah 'Collaborators'"

Ezra Levant - "Stop the massacre in Gaza"

Obama's Cool And Canadian Politicians Are Dicks

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Outrage Is When You Know

When they refuse to debate is when you know they know

There's something very special about pro-abortion lobbyists who insist there is no debate regarding abortion.

That shouldn't be mistaken for special in a good way. It's the other kind of special.

It takes a very "special" kind of person to deny to existence of something that, whether they like or not -- and it's clear that they don't -- is happening right before their very eyes.

If denying the existence of that debate isn't one thing, insisting that it can't even be allowed to happen -- despite the fact that it is -- is another.

Naturally, the pro-abortion lobby will over all kinds of excuses about why they can't be bothered to debate their pet issue with people who, god forbid, dare to disagree with them.

They insist it's because the anti-abortion lobby can't argue rationally. And to their discredit, many members of the anti-abortion don't argue rationally.

But if that were the case, one would have to think that the pro-abortion lobby would consider itself obligated when confronted with a rational argument.

Think again.

A recent episode invovling (who else), the Unrepentant Old Hippie, JJ, casts light on the real reason they won't engage in a rational debate: it would mean that they would have to defend their ideas honestly.

It started simply enough: with a question over whether or not medically unnecessary late-term abortions should be banned, something that was dismissed as unnecessary. Dr Henry Morgentaler himself had refused to perform late-term abortions that were medically unnecessary because he judged them to be unethical. Suggestions that a doctor's right to refuse to perform an abortion they deemed to be unethical be legally protected was similarily rejected -- if not ignored entirely.

But then there was the matter of JJ's own double-speak on the issue.

When known anti-Semite Robert McClelland suggested abortion rights be enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, JJ gushed over the idea.

When confronted on the subject, however, JJ took a rather characteristic way out. she lied:
"I’ve never “advocated” for any such thing - I once responded positively to an idea tabled by another blogger in the comments here, which is hardly “advocacy”. I’ve never even done a post about it. That’s advocacy? Uh, no."
But then again, one only has to take a close second look at the comment itself:
"Robert - Right on! That’s one debate I hope we can have very soon, with the outcome of having reproductive rights protected in a way that’s untouchable."
JJ responded affmirmatively to the idea of entrenching "women's reproductive rights" -- a euphemism for abortion rights -- "protected in a way that's untouchable".

Either JJ is simply lying about the position she's taken or she doesn't understand how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually works. If a woman's right to an abortion were protected in the Charter, a doctor's right to decline would have to be protected there as well.

One has to remember that this is coming from an individual who opposes protecting a doctor's right to choose to refuse to perform an abortion they deem to be unethical. That protection is unnecessary, they insist, because "no one is forcing doctors to perform abortions".

Yet if JJ and Robert McClelland were successful in their bid to entrench abortion rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, doctors could not refuse without risk of legal reprisal. If they were successful to this end -- a proposal that JJ insists that she doesn't advocate, and yet responded to the same proposition with a resounding "right on" -- a woman denied a medically unnecessary late-term abortion could sue in a civil court, or complain to a human rights commission.

So what was JJ's response to being confronted with the calculated inconsistency in her own stances? Recriminate:
"You really are a textbook case of bad-faith debate. If you ever want to be taken seriously as a blogger, you need to cut that out. There’s lots to debate without making shit up.

Now fuck off, I’ve had enough of your bullshit.
But JJ fails to explain: what, precisely, was made up?

She wrote the words. Robert McClelland proposed an idea that would make doctors who refused to perform abortions they considered unethical -- including Dr Henry Morgentaler himself -- vulnerable to legal reprisal.

And she responded with "right on!"

A person could quote her until the cows come home. So why can't she just be honest about it?

There is a reason. It's because the most extreme elements of the pro-abortion lobby has conducted their side of the debate under protracted conditions of intellectual dishonesty and cowardice. Not to mention precisely the bad-faith arguments that they love to accuse others of making.

For example, consider this, a blogpost wherein JJ concludes that if one single medical professional -- in this case, a nurse -- abuses protection offered by freedom-of-conscience legislation, then such legislation is a bad thing because it was abused.

Yet if one were to accept the same line of argument, then all it would take to prove that a ban on medically unnecessary late-term abortions is necessary is one single medically unnecessary late-term abortion. All it would take to dispel the argument that abortion doctors adhere to Henry Morgentaler's admirable ethical standard is one single doctor who doesn't.

Of course they'll never be honest about this. And if ever confronted with the inconsistencies, dishonesties and hypocrisies in their own arguments, they'll never take responsibility for them. Instead, they'll take the intellectual coward's way out.

Which comes back to the real reason why people like JJ don't want any kind of an abortion debate to happen -- because if it did, they would have to face the reality that it may not end favourably for them, because some of their arguments are not defensible.

That's why they won't debate. Hell, they won't even be honest about why they won't debate.

Jane Junn, Russel Peters and the Ridiculousness of Race

In an interesting video via Fora TV, Rutgers University associate professor of political science Jane Junn makes it pretty apparent that more and more Americans are discovering Canada's own Russel Peters.

In the course of a speech about race and politics Junn notes that the fastest growing demographic in the United States is those Americans who describe themselves as multiracial.

Junn gushes about Russel Peters' comedic genius while quoting one of his jokes about the mixing of race.

"He says 'what if you mix together a Jamaican and an Italian what do you get'?" she recites. "A pastafarian."

"What about a woman from Iceland and a man from Cuba you get Ice Cubes," she continues. "And a woman from the Phillipines and a man from Holland you get a Hollapino."

Peters doesn't stop with hilarious send-ups of the kind of jokes that six-year-olds tend to tell their parents.

Performing for the Def Jam Comedy Jam, for example, Peters quips about brown being the new black. This would provide an interesting new way to look at Barack Obama's election as President: if a black president is fascinating to you, just imagine a Muslim president!

It shouldn't be imagined that race is set to disappear from the United States -- or from countries such as Canada -- overnight, or even within the next hundred years. Or ever.

But the rapidly-growing category of multiracial Americans has obvious implications for both racism and race. The United States has clearly come a long way from the days when interracial mating, dating and marrying was considered miscegenation and was illegal.

In the near future race may not only be considered to be irrelevant, but it may eventually even come to be seen for what it is: absolutely ridiculous.

That is the genius of Peters' comedy. As a member of a visible minority himself, he certainly recieves a special dispensation -- consider it something of a "never, ever go to jail" card -- as it pertains to race.

He embraces this license to indulge in racial humour and ultimately uses it to make the very notion of race -- or at least the social need to label people on account of race -- seem more and more ridiculous. After all, if our societies really have a deeply-rooted need to label people according to race, the time is not far off when we would need to come up with jumbled labels such as the type that Peters proposes.

This was certainly an ingenious stroke shared by the writers of the movie Domino, an action-verite film that featured a scene in which one of the black characters goes on Jerry Springer and proposes new labels such as "blacktino" and "chinegro".

The hostile reaction Lateesha Rodrigues faces from an audience member serves as a reminder that society may not be ready to abandon it's old socially-entrenched labels just yet.

But the inevitability that such lables do not apply to increasing numbers of people makes their obselescence inevitable. This shouldn't be mistaken to mean that racism will cease to exist. Racism will likely adapt to racially-mixed norms, although some people will certainly cling to modern notions of racism just like some people cling to their old computers and television sets. (You mean like that ancient RCA you're watching TMZ on right now? -ed)

As modern notions of race become less and less relevant, modern racism will likely become retro. Maybe it'll even die like disco -- which, whether anyone cares to admit it or not, has never died entirely.

Like many great comics, Russel Peters may well be ahead of his time, and Jane Junn knows it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not a Bad Start

Obama delivers on day one, but the hard work remains ahead of him

Of all the speeches a politician ever has to give, the one given on the day one becomes leader of their country is the one to get right.

Barack Obama certainly did that today.

Before an estimated crowd of four million people, Barack Obama took the oath of the office of President of the United States and gave a rousing, ambigious inaugural address -- one that was truly worthy of the historic occasion.

"The challenges we face are real," Obama announced. "They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met."

It's no surprise that Obama understands the work that needs to be done. Now, all that's left is for him to actually do it.

Obama certainly feels confident that the United States has the tools at its disposal to navigate the difficult waters ahead. "We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth," he said. "Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Yet as Obama gets set to remake the United States, a question remains about what he would have the United States make itself into.

According to New School for Social Research Philosophy professor Simon Critchley, many Americans may have cause to wonder about this. Because Obama has created such a populist narrative around his candidacy and around his Presidency many Americans may have superimposed values onto Obama that he doesn't necessarily represent.

Certainly, this is the warning that Naomi Klein issued to progressives about Obama before he was even elected. Certainly, he may be more progressive than his predecessor, but he may not be nearly progressive enough for many of those who have entrusted him with their agenda.

Whether or not Obama is truly the progressive messiah that many have imagined will remain to be seen.

Obama also continued his clear attempt to build a pervasive political mythology around himself, taking the oath of office on the same bible Abraham Lincoln used in 1861. Certainly, it's fitting that the first black President take the oath of office using the same bible as the man who ultimately ended the atrocity of slavery, but the calculated symbolism is simply too much to overlook.

Considering Lincoln's central position in the American civil religion, there is little question that Obama and his team intended to use a Lincoln totem in order to solidify his place within that civil religion.

At the very least, the Democrats have finally decisively finished the act of snatching the legacy of Abraham Lincoln away from the Republican party forever. It probably helped them that this legacy is one they surrendered long ago.

Barack Obama is off to a fine start as President. But this is only day one.

Only the future can tell how well Obama will truly stand up to the office of President of the United States of America.

Cry Fucking Harder, Bill

Former Weather Underground terrorist denied entry to Canada

In a blog post on National Post Full Comment, Stephen Taylor brings us the tale of Bill Ayers -- the former Weather Underground terrorist now famed for his associations with now-US President Barack Obama -- being denied entry into Canada.

“It seems very arbitrary,” Ayers complained. “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969. I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”

Not that he hasn't committed felonies. By his own admission, he's done that.

"I don't regret setting bombs," Ayers told the New York Times (on 9/11, no less!). "I feel we didn't do enough."

It may come as a shock to Bill Ayers that known terrorists are not allowed it Canada. It shouldn't.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Kevin's Woodshed - "Bordering on the Insane"

The Reaction - "Canada Denies Entry to Ayers"

Barack Obama: America's Fifth First Black President

Monday, January 19, 2009

Patrick Brazeau's $260,000 Question

Government asks Congress of Aboriginal Peoples for its money back

Ever since Patrick Brazeau's appointment to the Senate, questions have lingered over his handling of sexual harassment allegations during his time as the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Now, Brazeau will have to face another question about the CAP's operations during his time as National Chief.

In 2007, Health Canada began an audit of the CAP to determine what happened to $472,900 the government gave the organization in order to improve health care for off-reserve aboriginals. Of particular interest in the project was diabetes and early childhood development.

The CAP apparently dispursed more than a quarter of a million dollars without proper documentation, including the awarding of work without contracts, and unexplained expenditure of funds.

"The audit findings identified concerns with CAP's internal financial controls including approximately $260,000 of ineligible expenses in consulting fees, travel and meeting costs and per diems for CAP employees during 2005-06," a Health Canada spokesperson wrote in a news release.

A significant portion of the funds was even allegedly spent on board meetings for which no minutes were recorded.

The government has halted all funding to CAP until it submits a plan to repay Health Canada.

If the previous concerns about Brazeau's handling of sexual harassment weren't enough to cast serious doubts on Brazeau these recent developments have certainly done the job.

With the new concerns about possible corruption within the CAP this development raises, there's no tenable way that Stephen Harper can go ahead with Brazeau's appointment. The apparent misappropriation of government funds by the CAP has scandal written all over it.

One must also consider important questions about whether or not Stephen Harper knew about the audit -- as mentioned previously, initiated in 2007 -- before appointing Brazeau to the Senate. Examining any individual's dealings with government agencies would strike most Canadians as a reasonably routine part of any vetting process. And while Harper likely couldn't have predicted the outcome of this audit, the risk he likely took in making this appointment should have many Canadians wondering about his judgement.

Brazeau has some important questions about precisely what happened to the $260,000 in question. Until he does, Stephen Harper should suspend his appointment. Failing that, Brazeau himself should voluntarily step aside.

On "Change"...

Heather Mallick is down with change... at least when it's other people changing

In an opinion article published on the CBC website, Heather Mallick is being herself again.

Not as outrageously as before. Her infamous "Sarah Palin has a secret penis/why Republican men need viagra" column should be fresh in the minds of many Canadians, as should the controversy surrounding it.

On Saturday, ahead of Barack Obama's inauguration, Mallick has taken an interesting attitude toward change.

Change? Who, me?

In the column, Mallick takes issue with Obama's official inauguration poster:
"Barack Obama is making me nervous. "Be the change," his official inauguration poster urges. Until recently I would have done anything the man suggested. But could he be more specific?

This presidential inauguration is a good time for my chronic paranoia to flower. (How did George W. Bush put it, "Fool me once, shame on-shame on you. Fool me-you can't get fooled again.")

What change? Does it make me uncool to wonder if I shouldn't make the change rather than be it?
Which really seems to imply a particular character issue of Mallick's when it pertains to change.

The slogan on the poster is a shortened version of "be the change you want to see". This adage basically suggests to people that if they want to change the world, they should first change themselves, making themselves reflective of that change. The strong Buddhist undertones of this maxim tend to be spiritually and intellectually soothing.

The message of the poster could be interpreted any number of ways.

A particularly compelling interpretation could harken back to Obama's own campaign slogan "yes we can". Heavily populist in nature, the slogan was refreshing because it symbolized faith not in Obama to change the United States, but in the ability of the citizens of the United States to change their country under Obama's leadership.

It was a drastic departure from the "yes he can" message that would normally typify American politics.

Now, on the eve of his inauguration, Obama is expanding the message. In order for the people of the United States to change their country, they must first change themselves, both individually and collectively. Once again, Obama seeks to empower the people rather than glorify himself.

Hopefully, he even believes it.

But for Mallick, change isn't something she wants to be -- it's something she wants to make.

Namely, she wants to make other people change:
"I don't want to be illusioned about Obama. I want to get it right, from the start, and not be let down.

Obama invited to his inauguration a man (Pastor Rick Warren) who has openly preached that gays are lesser beings, unfit to marry and raise children.

When I initially decided to overlook this politically pragmatic invite, I felt like a bully, which is the worst thing a person can be. It's easy for me to let Obama off the hook on Warren, but then I'm not gay.

That is why I don't like this skilled rendition of Obama gazing into a distance, which is clearly implied to be packed with future glory, and being told to Be the Change.

What change, I ask again? It sounds like the same old thing.
To a great many people (including this writer), the inclusion of Pastor Rick Warren at Obama's inauguration seems extremely unfortunate.

But then again, a great many people (sadly) hold beliefs such as this. To banish them from the public eye or from public functions doesn't do anyone much of a service. Instead, they'll merely foment their views in isolation and alienation.

There is, of course, the possibility that they may change their views. That would be welcome to a great many people (including this writer). But to demand they change their views lest they be unwelcome to come to the party is not what a monist like Obama would do. After all, monism is the belief that there are certain universal moral principles that everyone can agree upon provided that they can be convinced, and it's hard to convince someone who you won't let in the front door.

For Obama to achieve the kind of collaborative, inclusive change that we wants to implement, he needds to open a dialogue with a great many people that he and his supporters would otherwise disagree with.

But it seems that Mallick herself isn't feeling very collaborative or inclusive:
"We liberal-minded people, hundreds of millions of us, have triumphed. We were proved right about George W. Bush.

We said that he embraced stupidity; it is wonderful to see intellect valued again in public office.

We said he panicked after Sept 11, 2001, and gave terrorists the most valuable gift imaginable — America's self-inflicted blows to its own military and system of justice.

We said that private affluence couldn't be sustained when it accompanied public squalor and now the economic collapse is destroying both spheres. (Obama can't fix this but he'll have to try.)

We said the invasion of Iraq was not justified. (Obama will have to find a way out of the morass.)

We said torture was wrong and the rest of the world would come to hate America and its allies for it. (Now Obama's torture-deploring cabinet nominees will need to find a way to restore a great nation's good name.)

So I should be high on happiness right now, no? The second Gilded Age is dead. People are thinking hard about the health of the planet.

In my own little universe, I finally have the birch tree in my garden I've longed for since childhood. I have eyesight, a pile of new books to read and am hearing rumours about a new 9-inch computer screen for reading big fat newspapers on my lap. That screen might save the industry I work in.

I'm finally teaching the university class I want to teach to the students I want to teach it to. I can spend the year watching Malia and Sasha Obama and their rivers of laughter and curiosity as they explore the White House and the world it opens up.

Hark at me, trying to pump up enthusiasm in my own personal head. Yes, we were right. The thing is, though, I'd almost rather have been proved wrong.

I feel no triumph whatsoever and the triumphalism of the inauguration poster leaves me wary. It's redolent of wartime. I don't feel giddy. I just feel tired.
Mallick's message is very clear:

We (the left wing) won. Now all the stupid people (everyone else) can fuck off.

But if Mallick ever believed that such an exclusionary and parochial result was going to come out of Obama's election, then she wasn't paying attention. If she believed this, she hasn't paid attention to a single word spoken or written by Barack Obama.

Those familiar with Mallick have every reason to suspect she'll never change. That's why she'll never truly be part of the change that Barack Obama wants to implement.

Pakistan: Obama's Biggest Challenge

Pakistan poses a dilemma for Barack Obama's Afghanistan focus

As Barack Obama prepares to take office tomorrow, he must be aware that there is a great deal of work ahead of him.

A significant portion of that work will be related to his new focus on Afghanistan and, by extension, matters pertaining to Pakistan.

Taliban fighters and other insurgents have used a largely-uncontrolled border between the two countries to operate out of bases in Pakistan. Obama has already announced that he would allow American forces to pursue insurgent fighters into Pakistan. But there are far more important matters related to Pakistan to be dealt with.

Clearly, part of Obama's approach to Pakistan will have to deal with nuclear weapons.

Of all the (officially) democratic countries in the world right now, Pakistan may be most vulnerable to takeover by Islamic militants. Allowing such individuals to get their hands on nuclear weapons is by any account a nightmare scenario, especially considering reports that Al Qaeda has attempted to acquire submarines within the past six years.

Neil Joeck of Livermore Laboratories has suggested that Obama may institute a policy requiring the reduction of American nuclear weapons to 1,000 units. But in order to deal with the threat that Pakistan's nuclear weapons stockpile, Obama would have to negotiate a peace treaty between Pakistan and India that deals decisively not only with mutual nuclear disarmament, but also building a sturdy and just peace between the two countries.

According to Joeck, Pakistan maintains their nuclear stockpiles as a deterrent not only against India mounting a nuclear attack against Pakistan, but also in order to deter a conventional attack.

Considering that Pakistan has moved troops out of its north western region in response to recent tensions between the two countries, the war in Afghanistan would reap an obvious dividend from peace between the two countries.

A clear obstacle to such a peace accord is the matter of Kashmir. Tariq Amin-Kahn notes that there are few means by which a just peace could be achieved between India and Pakistan without resolving that controversy to the satisfaction of both countries.

Pakistan could not accept Indian hegemony in Kashmir.

One obvious short-term solution is for India and Pakistan to negotiate an agreement of mutual demobilization from Kashmir.

Amin-Kahn and The Real News' Paul Jay seem to look to Obama to negotiate such an agreement between India and Pakistan. But as a fellow member of the Commonwealth, Canada is actually much better positioned to help barter such a deal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and National Defence Minister Peter MacKay have ruminated about negotiating a deal involving the sharing of terrorism-related military intelligence between the two countries. Negotiating a mutual demobilization from Kashmir would be an ambitious but worthwhile project for Canada's diplomats to pursue.

The idea should not be for Canadian diplomats to replace an effort by American diplomats to negotiate such a settlement, but rather to work as a partner with Barack Obama in an initiative modelled after the mission diplomacy that has successfully negotiated agreements such as the landmine ban.

The work involved would be arduous, but in the end rewarding. That is more than enough reason for the Canadian government to be a leading partner in helping Barack Obama tackle his biggest challenge.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

And Now, Finally, Some Answers

Some Nexus readers may recall a pair of "bring it" challenges issued by Unrepentant Old Hippie JJ.

Readers may also remember that, despite at least on one occasion agreeing to answer the questions posed to her as a response to her "bring it" challenge, JJ has yet to respond.

That is, at least, until now.

Responding to one of the questions asked -- the question over whether or not doctors in Canada should have their right to perform an abortion they judge to be unethical protected -- JJ has finally seen fit to answer:
"And I've answered it on multiple occasions, Patrick, but once more for the road: doctors are not *forced* to do any procedure they don't want to. In one of several previous answers (At what point here did JJ forget that she refused to answer the question on one occasion, and just plain didn't on another? -ed) to this same question from you, I cited the example of my own pro-life GP, who rather than specialize in gynecology (because it would involve doing abortions) chose to specialize in pediatrics. That's the path most doctors would choose.

That may not be the answer you want, but it's not going to change no matter how many times you ask me the same question.
This would seem like a satisfactory argument.

Except that, as it turns out, JJ herself isn't really in favour of things staying this way.

Take, for example, the following comment from known anti-semite Robert McClelland over at JJ's own blog:
"We should have the debate but it shouldn’t be the debate the fetus fetishists want. The debate we should be having is whether or not to enshrine women’s reproductive rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
To be fair, this wasn't really JJ's idea. But then again:
"Robert - Right on! That’s one debate I hope we can have very soon, with the outcome of having reproductive rights protected in a way that’s untouchable."
The problem with this, of course, is that entrenching abortion "rights" in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would actually enable women to litigate against doctors who refuse to perform abortions.

As the pro-abortion lobby will insist at length, Dr Henry Morgentaler himself had admirable ethical reservations about late-term abortions, and refused to perform them.

Yet if Robert McClelland had his way, women would have an unquestionable right to abortions -- likely under any circumstances. Thus, doctors such as Henry Morgentaler could actually face legal action in civil court or before a human rights commission.

In other words, JJ is opposed to legislation protecting a doctor's right to choose to refuse to perform an abortion they deem to be unethical. Even as she is doing this, she's advocating for a course of action that would erase a physician's right to choose. If this had been done prior to Dr Morgentaler's retirement, Morgentaler himself would almost certainly be subjected to legal action for refusing to perform an unethical late-term abortion.

If she and her pro-abortion cohorts were successful to this end, not only would legislative protection for doctors become necessary, but it would also be unattainable. The only way for the government to protect doctors the pro-abortion lobby would be trying to punish for their sense of ethics would be to either entrench that protection in the Charter, or invoke the notwithstanding clause.

Invoking the notwithstanding clause on any issue even remotely related to abortion is almost certainly something the pro-abortion lobby would never tolerate.

It's hard to overlook the obvious overtones of a pro-abortion hidden agenda here. The pro-abortion lobby would insist that their advocacy is merely in favour of choice. Yet while they insist that protection for a doctor's right to choose is unnecessary, they on the other hand call for a course of action that would permanently and "untouchably" deny doctors their right to choose.

It's just another example of the two-faced nature of the pro-abortion lobby: pretending to be moderate in public, then plotting their extreme agenda when they think no one's looking.

Breathing Smoke, Playing With Fire

Ignatieff opposes, supports, tax cuts for middle class

Taking the helm of the Liberal party -- even if only by default -- during a time of economic and political crisis, there's no question that Michael Ignatieff has a very tenuous path to walk.

On one hand, Ignatieff must find a way to dispel Canadian concerns about the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition government -- one in which the government would be mortgaged to the separatist Bloc Quebecois. On the other hand, Ignatieff has to appease the supporters of that coalition arrangement, and keep them convinced that maybe, just maybe, he'll go ahead and defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservative government.

As National Post Full Comment editor Kelly McParkland notes today, this has backed Ignatieff into a very tenuous position -- one that may leave many Canadians wondering just how far Ignatieff can really be trusted.

As Parkland notes, Ignatieff recently voiced opposition to the middle-class tax cuts proposed by Stephen Harper.

"This is not the moment for broad-based tax cuts because we think it will lead us into structural deficit and our children will be paying the price for Stephen Harper's mistakes for years to come," Ignatieff insisted.

Yet this is very different from Ignatieff's position of just over a week ago, in which he announced that, as Prime Minister, he would address the economic crisis with, wait for it... middle-class tax cuts.

"I think it’s going to be important to get stimulus into the Canadian economy fast, so we may be looking at tax cuts very quickly, tax cuts targeted at medium and low income, to boost their purchasing power fast," Ignatieff announced.

According to the Chronicle Herald, Ignatieff added that he would prefer that those tax cuts be permanent.

Ignatieff noted in his interview with John Ivison that "[Mr Harper] seems to have a better sense of what constitutes confidence in the House of Commons. I welcome that development and want to see proof of it."

Yet Ignatieff himself needs to come to a better understanding that when it comes to economic issues, he cannot have it both ways.

He's either opposed to permanent tax cuts for the middle class, or he's against them.

It he decides to come down against them and defeat the government despite his earlier expressions to the contrary, there is no question that Ignatieff will pay.

He'll either try to go ahead with the proposed coalition government, be quickly defeated in Parliament and be faced with an election in which polls have indicated Canadians will deliver a landslide majority to the Conservative party. Or he'll go to an election, be faced with his flip-flop, and suffer dearly at the polls -- perhaps even worse than Stephane Dion's recent defeat.

Kelly McParkland describes Ignatieff's position as "breathing smoke". Should he sufficiently embolden himself to try and act on his sudden opposition to middle class tax cuts, he'll most certainly be playing with fire.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

James Laxer - "Ignatieff's Dilemma: Coping with the Conservative Budget"

Dust My Broom - "Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff: I Was For Tax Cuts Before I Was Against Them"

Far and Wide - "The 'Wear It' Narrative"

Obama Completes the Messiah's Journey

Barack Obama solidifies his place in American Civil religion by retracing Lincoln's footsteps

With just two days before his Inauguration as the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama has arrived in Washington.

Considering the messiah narrative surrounding Obama -- a narrative wrought with racial overtones -- it may only be fitting that Obama arrived in Washington via a six-city train trip that followed the same route Abraham Lincoln used to travel to Washington in 1861.

As anyone with even a passing familiarity with American politics knows, Lincoln is revered in the United States for ending the civil war and for ending slavery.

However, as Molly Worthen notes, Lincoln's significance to American political culture goes deeper than this simple reverence. In fact, Lincoln is a central figure in what Worthen describes as the American civil religion -- a term coined by Jean-Jacques Rosseau to describe political narratives that embued with the sacred character normally reserved for religion.

According to Worthen, a civil religion inherently is not a theistic religion, but draws many of its roots from a theistic religion.

In the case of the United States, according to Worthen, the American civil religion finds its origin in the notion of American exceptionalism that seems to find its ultimate origin in a 1630 sermon given by original Massachussets Governor Reverend John Winthrop.

Winthrop, a Puritan, was leading his colonists to America in order to build a "shining city on a hill" -- God's model society that they can then export back to Britain. However, as they became disillusioned with the Purtian movement in Britain, who compromised their beliefs in exchange for political power, Winthrop and his American Puritans decided to focus on spreading their religious ideology throughout the United States, including westward.

The Puritans, the most educated and literate of the American colonists, had a decided advantage in disseminating their ideology.

Spreading westward, however, compromised the Purtians' religious beliefs not in the name of political power, but in the name of survival. Faced with more and more rugged and dangerous terrain and the other perils of westward expansion the Puritans eventually came to focus their efforts on simply surviving.

In time this focus on survivalism mixed with various religious revivals -- which Americans of the day oddly enough believed originated in Canada -- to create uniquely American brands of Christianity: namely, Baptism and Methodism, the leading evangelical religions in the United States today.

Interestingly enough, as the United States approached the time of the Revolution at the formation of the United States, evangelicals worked closely with secular humanists to ensure the separation of church and state. For secular humanists, the reason why they desired this is fairly obvious. For evangelicals, however, the matter was not quite so transparent. Evangelical religions demanded a voluntary conversion. The idea of state coercion into their religions was anathema to the evangelical leaders of the time.

The American Civil War and slavery led to a splintering of the American civil religion. After the war, many of the freed slaves viewed the war as an act of liberation. Reconciliationists from the northern states regarded the civil war as a redemptive act, in which the sins of the American state -- slavery -- were erased via a baptism in blood and fire.

In the south, however -- which many southern religious leaders had described as "God's model society" before the war -- the narrative that emerged was very different. They saw the civil war as a "noble defeat", and organizations such as the Ku Klus Klan were born in the belief that they needed to protect white women from sexual advances from freed slaves, and redeem the blood spilled in the war.

Lincoln's assassination in 1865 ensured his place of martyrdom in the American civil religion. His Gettysburg address and Inaugural address have been canonized in the minds of the American populace, right along with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

With Obama's election, however, this generation may be witnessing an integration of the emancipatory and reconciliationist narratives of the American civil religion. The ascension of the first black president in American history could be argued by many to finally redeem not only the crime of slavery, but also the overt racial oppression of African Americans for more than a hundred years after the Civil War, and more pervasive forms of racial oppression for many decades after that, reflective of inequalities that continue to exist today.

Whether or not Obama will actually deliver on the promises percieved by the emancipatory narrative -- a perception based on the demands that many African Americans place elected African American leaders, acknowledged by Obama himself in Dreams From my Father -- only time can tell.

But considering the effort the Democrats have put into building a pervasive political mythology around Obama -- including Ted Kennedy's health-defying speech at the Democratic National Convention -- there's no question that Obama's journey to Washington was an extremely calculated move.

As calculated as the journey was, however, it may actually fit. Obama may well be able to fill Lincoln's mythical shoes -- but only time, and his performance in office, will tell.