banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Rise of the Rainbow Hawks"

Jonathan Kay penned an interesting article in Saturday's National Post on the Conservative Party of Canada's support for gay rights:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn’t just come around to gay rights: He has made the issue a centrepiece of Canada’s foreign policy. His government has fiercely rebuked draconian anti-gay laws in Africa, to the point of infuriating the social-conservative group REAL Women of Canada, which this month publicly denounced Mr. Baird for using his position “to further his own perspective on homosexuality.” The Conservative government has offered protection to persecuted gays in Iran and worked diplomatic channels to convince Russia to scotch plans to ban foreign adoptions by gay couples.
And in an odd twist, the Tories’ hard-line stance against homophobic governments overseas has boomeranged back to powerfully influence the mainstream conservative view of homosexuality here in Canada — a rare example of a foreign-policy posture setting the agenda on an otherwise purely domestic social issue. In the last two decades, support for gay rights in Canada has advanced, particularly compared to historic fights for minority rights, with breathtaking speed, and much of it happening under a Conservative government.
Reality won't change the narrative on the left that the CPC is homophobic and has an anti-gay agenda, but the facts indicate otherwise.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - New Orleans Blues from the Blues Brothers 2000 movie soundtrack, featuring cameo appearances from a who's who of blues royalty including Dr. John, BB King, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oh those homophobic Tories ...

Wait, what? Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on Monday that Canada would look favourably on gay Russian refugees suffering persecution in their homeland and seeking asylum in Canada:
Canada’s refugee board is likely to look favourably on claims of persecution by gay asylum-seekers from Russia, the Immigration Minister says.
Chris Alexander said Monday in Surrey, B.C., that Russia has taken the wrong path in restricting the fundamental rights of its gay community, and that any refugee claims “related to this particular issue will of course be looked at very seriously by our very generous system.” 
Canada accepts gay asylum-seekers in the same way as it accepts members of any other persecuted group, like a religious or ethnic minority. Asylum-seekers can file a claim after they arrive in Canada because they face persecution by their government, or because they are persecuted by others and the government does not offer protection.
Canada also resettles refugees living in camps abroad, and former immigration minister Jason Kenney, now the Employment and Social Development Minister, adopted a policy of trying to resettle gay refugees fleeing Iran and Iraq. Mr. Kenney said in January he “cannot think of a more obvious case of persecution.”
Russia is the subject of world-wide condemnation for the horrific treatment of homosexuals there. Kudos to the Harper government for stepping up to the plate.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Letter to a young Liberal on gay marriage

I had lunch recently with some old friends who introduced me to their daughter's fiancé, a really nice young man who is a graduate student at a big university. He's also a big-L Liberal who is active in the university's Young Liberals club and volunteers for the party in his local riding. He loves to talk politics, as do I, and we engaged in some good-natured banter over lunch.

It turned out that he and I have a lot in common politically; a belief in individual responsibility, small government, low taxes and fiscal discipline. I remarked that I didn't think he was really a Liberal after all, and that he should come over to the Dark Side and set his inner conservative free. He shook his head and said "I could never belong to a party that doesn't support gay marriage or abortion rights."  Ah, there it was - the old bogeymen that Liberals love to frighten children with.

I said to him that the Conservative Party of Canada has bent over backwards to make it clear to Canadians that a Conservative government had no intention of changing any existing laws or policies in these areas, and he replied "Well why was it in the CPC's 2011 election platform?" I answered that I was familiar with the CPC platform and was sure there was no policy to overturn gay marriage or restrict abortion in the document. He insisted there was, so we left it at that.

A little while later I did check the CPC platform (available here ) and sure enough - nothing. I sent my friend an email to gloat a little:
By the way, you can tell your lefty son-in-law to be that I called his bluff and combed through the most recent Conservative Party Platform looking for his alleged anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, and lo-and-behold, couldn't find ANY! I couldn't even find any "pro-family" policies that could be remotely interpreted, even by a Liberal, as anti-gay or pro-life.
Big surprise.
The young man responded and said that it was his mistake; it wasn't actually in the platform, but was in a 2008 policy declaration that was re-affirmed at the 2011 convention, and sent this link. I responded with this email:
Well, hello young Liberal - I suppose you've been waiting for me to "harrumph" in response, so I guess I'd better fire off a reply.

First of all, I can't find the document you linked anywhere on the Conservative Party's public website; it must be part of Harper's Secret Agenda. However, assuming that it was actually CPC policy in 2011, I have a few comments.

First - so what? Many Conservatives (probably a majority) believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I do not share that opinion, and am a firm supporter of gay marriage, but I don't think that people who disagree with me are evil, and I accept that it is OK to believe in traditional marriage in a free democratic society. Lots of religious folks are uncomfortable with gay marriage but would support some sort of civil union that gives gay couples the same legal rights while reserving the religious sacrament of marriage itself to be performed by churches. Libertarians like me believe that the state shouldn't be involved in marriage at all - couples should be free to make their own arrangements without having to have the approval of the government. Incidentally, the CPC position isn't just that of right wing redneck Christians - it is also shared by Jews and Muslims and lots of recent immigrants whom your party is bending over backwards to attract. It is also the opinion held by one of your liberal patron saints Barack Obama, at least it was until his recent deathbed conversion-of-convenience.

The document you sent me also contains the following phrase - "The Conservative Party believes that Parliament, through a free vote, and not the courts should determine the definition of marriage." In 2006 the Conservatives introduced a resolution in the House asking members to decide in just such a free vote whether to re-open the debate on gay marriage. The resolution was resoundingly defeated, and many Conservative MPs (including a few Cabinet ministers) voted against it. There has been no further attempt to raise the issue by the Conservatives or anyone else in the House.

By the way, the document you linked to is not the platform that the CPC ran on in the 2011 election, which made no mention of gay marriage or abortion. So, I would have to conclude that the party does not want to change the existing laws in these areas. Stephen Harper has had a majority government for over 2 years now and controls the House of Commons, the Senate and Rideau Hall and will soon be able to pack the Supreme Court with Conservatives - surely if the CPC wanted to abolish gay marriage or restrict abortion they would have done it by now. In fact, Harper has ruthlessly clamped down on backbenchers who dare to even bring up these issues, much to the chagrin of some social conservatives. I believe Harper when he says (as he has many times) that the CPC has no intention of re-opening these issues and that he considers them settled in Canada.

And anyway, what is the cutoff date for outrage over past policies? 2011? 2006? 1945?  It seems to me that your party has had some dubious achievements in the past - for example, Jean Chretien promising to abolish the GST and then reneging, and cancelling the EH 101 helicopter contract at great public expense. Let's not even get started on the Sponsorship Scandal. If you want to go back far enough, who was responsible for imprisoning Japanese Canadian citizens during WW II or refusing to allow Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to immigrate? Hint - it wasn't the Conservatives.

By the way, speaking of gay marriage - let's play a little game called NAME THAT HOMOPHOBE! I'll give you an example of homophobia from the not-too-distant past and you identify the politician.

1. Which Canadian politician wrote a policy paper that included the following: "This portion of the paper makes clear the reasons for my objections to those who would force society to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and why I see this as the inevitable result of recklessly (albeit with the best of intentions) adding "sexual orientation", howsoever defined, as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Tom Wappel, Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest 1988-2008, candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1990

2. Which Canadian politician said "Homosexuality is not natural. It is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Roseanne Skoke, Liberal MP for Central Nova 1993-1997 and one-time candidate for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party

3. What cabinet minister said "I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North that I would defend the traditional definition of marriage" prior to resigning from the Cabinet rather than support legislation legalizing gay marriage in 2005?
a) Deborah Grey, Conservative
b) Vic Toews, Conservative
c) Joe Comuzzi, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

4. Which MP quit the party in 2005 rather than support its position on gay marriage?
a) Peter Mackay, Conservative
b) Diane Ablonczy, Conservative
c) Pat O'Brien, Liberal MP for London-Fanshawe, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

5. What cabinet minister said "marriage cannot be treated like any other invention or program of government. Marriage serves as the basis for social organization; it is not a consequence of it. Marriage signifies a particular relationship among the many unions that individuals freely enter; it's the one between a man and a woman that has two obvious goals: mutual support and procreation of children (barring a medical anomaly or will). No other type of relationship, by definition, can fulfill both goals without the direct or indirect involvement of a third party ... for most MPs, marriage remains the cornerstone of society, not some government response to the most recent lobby" ?
a) Jim Flaherty, Conservative
b) Tony Clement, Conservative
c) Joe Volpe, Liberal MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, senior Minister responsible for Ontario and Toronto

If you guessed the answer was C in each case, you're right! OK, that was ancient history, right? The Liberal party has - what's Obama's word for it - evolved since then.

The point is that your own party has social conservatives in it too, many of whom have objections to same-sex marriage. But I won't hold that against you. I certainly don't think that ALL Liberals should be tainted by the opinions of a few troglodytes, no matter how prominent they may have been in your party.
I think that there are many young people out there who are naturally conservative (or at least libertarian) but will never vote for the Conservative Party because the left has successfully equated the CPC with being homophobic and pro-life. To young people, personal liberty is more important than law-and-order and the idea of the state telling them whom they can or cannot marry or whether or not they can have an abortion is anathema.To them, gay marriage trumps fiscal conservatism. Social conservatives disagree and feel let down by the Harper government for abandoning these bedrock issues, but if  the CPC hopes to attract young voters who have small-c conservative leanings, we have to let sleeping dogs lie. Harper's doing the right thing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Lonely Boy Blues, performed by Duke Robillard accompanied by Jay Geils and Gerry Beaudoin:

Friday, August 09, 2013

Throw Gwen Landolt out of the Big Tent

I've often been told that libertarians and social conservatives have to come together and overlook their differences in order not to fracture the conservative movement and to provide an electable alternative to the Liberals. I generally agree with that strategy and try to look at the big conservative picture, but unless big-C Conservatives repudiate Gwen Landolt and REAL Women, we're inviting criticism which we probably deserve.

Ms Landolt, writing in the capacity of national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, recently posted an editorial on the organization's website criticizing Foreign Minister John Baird for "furthering his own perspective on homosexuality" while publicly condemning the governments of Russia and Uganda for punitive anti-homosexual policies. She writes:
Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, has abused his position as a cabinet minister to impose his own special interests in the foreign countries of Uganda, Kenya and Russia.
He awarded $200,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money by way of the Department of Foreign Affairs to special interest groups in Uganda and Kenya to further his own perspective on homosexuality. He also insulted the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, at a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Quebec City when he criticized Uganda for its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In response, Ms. Kadaga stated that Uganda was a sovereign nation and not a colony of Canada, and no one could tell Ugandans what to do.
Last week, Baird admitted working extensively behind the scenes to prevent Russia from passing legislation designated to protect Russian minors from homosexual propaganda. Baird blasted these laws as hateful, anti-gay and intolerant.
Ms Landolt's problem with Baird's position is that it is a betrayal of "conservative values":
This is the strange, intolerant world Mr. Baird wishes to impose on sovereign countries, despite their own cultures and religion which find this unreasonable and unacceptable.
Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice-President, stated, “Just who does John Baird think he is, using taxpayers’ money to promote his own personal agenda and endeavouring to set standards of the laws of foreign countries? He argues that homosexual rights are a ‘Canadian value’, but this applies only to himself and his fellow activists and the left-wing elitists. These are not conservative values and that of grass roots Canadians, who after all, pay the bulk of the taxes”.
Mr. Baird’s actions are highly offensive to conservative taxpayers. He cannot and must not undermine other countries’ sovereignty and dignity, rooted in stable family structures and religious faith, in order to impose his own value system on them.
Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party.
Let's focus on the two countries that Ms Landolt thinks should be left alone to enjoy their own cultures. In the case of  Uganda, government ministers have made several attempts to pass draconian anti-gay laws which, among other things, prescribe the death penalty for the crime of "aggravated homosexuality". It doesn't, as Ms Landolt seems to suggest, simply protect the rights of religious people to express their disapproval of the "homosexual lifestyle" or of gay marriage, reducing the whole situation to an issue of free speech. If this were simply the case, I might actually agree with her. In fact the proposed law provides lengthy prison sentences and even death for being gay. Blogger Jim Burroway summarizes the bill's contents:
The current bill reiterates a lifetime imprisonment on conviction of homosexuality, and defines a new category called “aggravated homosexuality” with provisions for the death penalty upon conviction. Among the factors which can lead to “aggravated homosexuality” is if one partner is HIV-positive. This bill would mandate HIV testing to determine eligibility for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Also like the earlier draft, the bill includes a complete ban on all LGBT activities — including blogging — which could be construed as “promoting homosexuality.” This infringement on free speech, peaceful assembly, and redress of grievances marks the elimination of fundamental human rights for LGBT Ugandans. The bill also bans all organizations which advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens and holds their leadership criminally liable with fines and imprisonment for up to seven years.
The bill also retains provisions which require that if someone knows that someone is engaging in homosexuality, that person is to report them to the police within twenty-four hours or face fines and/or up to a three year prison sentence themselves. The bill also extends jurisdiction to acts committed outside Uganda by Ugandan citizens. In other words, if a Ugandan citizen is known to be in a gay relationship outside the country, he will risk lifetime imprisonment (or death, if he’s HIV-positive) upon his return. The bill also provides for the extradition of citizens from abroad.
The bill also voids all treaties and international obligations which violate ” the spirit and provisions enshrined in this Act.”
The new bill adds some additional provisions over the previous draft. This bill adds the category of “attempted homosexuality” and provides a penalty of seven years in prison. For “attempted aggravated homosexuality,” the penalty is lifetime imprisonment. It also provides for compensation for “victims” of homosexuality, a provision in law which is sure to result in consensual partners turning against their partner to not only avoid the draconian legal penalties, but to claim the status of victim and seek compensation.
Further, the bill now adds an explicit ban on same-sex marriage. Anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage, either in Uganda or abroad, will liable for a lifetime imprisonment. New charges of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” and “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality” would carry a prison sentence of seven years. There is also a new charge for operating a brothel, with a definition so broad as to include any hotel owner. That, too, carries a prison sentence of seven years.
Is this really the policy that REAL Women of Canada wants to get behind?  This is what Gwen Landolt is exercised about, worried that John Baird insulted the speaker of Uganda's parliament by speaking out against it and having the effrontery to undermine Uganda's "sovereignty and dignity"? I find her position repugnant.

As for Russia, the issue is a law banning "gay propaganda" recently passed by the federal parliament. The law makes it illegal to "distribute information to minors" promoting homosexuality:
The cornerstone of Mr. Putin’s “War on Gays,” however, is the vaguely defined and definitively antigay Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, which allows the government to fine individuals accused of the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations amongst minors. The federal ban “builds on the success” of regional laws on “propaganda of homosexualism to minors,” passed in 10 regions since 2006. We have yet to see an example of the federal law in action, though we came pretty close when four Dutch citizens were briefly detained in the northern city of Murmansk in July. Regional laws were used several times to fine gay rights activists.
Here is what Article 6.21 actually says:
Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

If you’re Russian. Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (120-150 USD), public officials are subject to fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (1,200-1,500 USD), and registered organizations can be either fined (800,000-1,000,000 rubles or 24,000-30,000 USD) or sanctioned to stop operations for 90 days. If you engage in the said propaganda in the media or on the internet, the sliding scale of fines shifts: for individuals, 50,000 to 100,000 rubles; for public officials, 100,000 to 200,000 rubles, and for organizations, from one million rubles or a 90-day suspension.
If you’re an alien. Foreign citizens or stateless persons engaging in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, or they can be deported from the Russian Federation and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreigner uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention with subsequent deportation from Russia.
In her editorial Ms Landolt seems to suggest that the Russian law is necessary to protect minors from pedophiles, and who could argue with that? I don't think any sane person would have a problem with a law prohibiting the serious crime of pedophilia - Canada has such laws after all. However, as critics have pointed out, Russia's new law would make it illegal for gay couples to publicly display affection or to show a rainbow pin or flag in public. The law has already been used to arrest Russian gay rights advocates for protesting or attempting to organize parades, and to arrest and deport "pro-gay" foreigners for attempting to film documentaries about or give lectures on gay rights in Russia. For Ms Landolt to suggest that this law is necessary to fight pedophilia (which is already illegal in Russia) is just detached from reality.

National Post columnist Barbara Kay, a social conservative herself, wrote a great editorial in today's paper on the subject of Gwen Landolt's column, which she calls a "stunning moral gaffe". I agree with Ms Kay when she writes:
Ms. Landolt has compromised years of dignified advocacy work, and worse, set at an unbridgeable distance well-wishers and occasional collaborators such as myself. Does she realize the implications of what she has said? And from whose moral-relativist playbook she has drawn this leaf?
Her statement, first of all, offends against Christianity, which teaches that one may hate the sin, but must not hate the sinner. The death penalty for homosexuality — indeed any express form of persecution — is hatred of the sinner. It is not “unwise”; it is unjust, immoral.
More important for most Canadians, any persecution of gays offends against democracy and the ideal of individual rights, on which our freedoms are based. If Ms. Landolt believes it is justifiable to ignore the persecution of people whose beliefs or behaviours she is unsympathetic to, as long as it is happening elsewhere, she has lost the moral authority to criticize persecution in other countries of those whose beliefs and behaviours she is sympathetic to.
Thus, in one fell swoop, she has aligned herself with anti-Semites who shrugged as Jews were persecuted in Russia, self-loathing Westerners who do not criticize the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and feminists who do not censure the disgusting practice of female genital mutilation because it is “their” cultural custom.
It is shocking that Ms. Landolt, a woman of high intelligence, does not see the bright line between her right to express her own private disapproval of homosexuality, and her obligation to respect and support the right of all individuals to live their lives according to their own desires, as long as they are not causing overt harm to others, without fear of judgment or curtailment of their liberties by the state.
I respect the opinions of social conservatives and count many of them as my friends, but this goes beyond social conservatism and into sheer spite. Conservatives who support these policies deserve to be marginalized.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Blues for a Saturday night

Tonight's selection - Luther Allison sings It Hurts Me Too in a live performance at the 1997 Montreal Jazz Festival: