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Yes, it is astonishing

Cathie from Canada - Tue, 10/07/2014 - 00:11
The US Supreme Court basically ruled today that all those lower court decisions authorizing gay marriage in a number of states are constitutional.
In celebration, Andrew Sullivan has written The Astonishing Actual History Of The Gay Rights Movement, from the despair of AIDS to today's victory:

Using the institutions and self-knowledge and smarts that had somehow defeated the plague, gay men charted a future when nothing like this would happen again, when gay men would never be parted from their spouses on their death beds, when gay men’s physical and psychological health would never be treated as insignificant, when gay men would never suffer the indignity that so many endured in front of our eyes. And so we built the case for marriage equality and for open military service as a recognition of the self-worth our survival had given some of us, and to pay some kind of tribute to those who had fallen.

We went, in other words, from about the deepest hole you can imagine to a determination not just to get out of it, but to see the mountaintop in our lifetimes.

...We are on this mountaintop together, even as so many dead lie round.

On political calculations

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 18:44
I haven't seen anybody else question the most self-congratulatory aspect of Stephen Harper's position on a new Iraq war, and at least a few commentators seem to have been willing to swallow it whole. So let's address the question of which leader has the most obvious political reason to position himself the way he has:
I urge all Members to consider and support the motion we have presented. I do this, Mr. Speaker, in recognizing that, in a democracy, especially one approaching an election…there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action, and little political risk in opposing it.Of course, for an opposition leader, Harper is right to recognize that there's little upside in falling in line behind a government call to arms. But for the government, the calculations are rather different: instead, one might make the argument that based on past performance, any PM seeking re-election should be giddy about the prospect of both a bump in personal support, and the ability to label opposition parties as unpatriotic for disagreeing on any issue.

Which means that some war - any war - can easily be seen as Stephen Harper's best chance of shaking up a political scene which had turned against him in order to create some hope of appealing to somebody beyond his rapidly-shrinking base.

But what about the long-term political dangers of owning the war for himself? Well, those would never really materialize to the extent Harper could strong-arm other parties into co-owning the war. And even then, the choice to limit Canadian involvement to air strikes makes any bloodshed unlikely in the time leading up to the next federal election.

So the Cons' chosen level and type of involvement in the new Iraq war makes a world of political sense, allowing Harper to start up the jingoism with minimal risk of losses. But by the same token, it looks rather less logical to the extent anybody actually feared that ISIS was the existential threat Harper claims it to be. 

Now, one can fairly make the point that the other parties' choices are also consistent with rational political positioning. But a leader as hyperpartisan as Harper - whose party has the most to gain from pushing military action of any kind, and the most to lose from not forcing the issue - should hardly be taken seriously when he claims that political upside isn't at the centre of his own choices.

what i'm reading: how i live now, excellent (youth) novel by meg rosoff

we move to canada - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 17:00
Last year, I wrote about an excellent, unusual youth novel called There Is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff. I recently read the author's 2004 debut novel, How I Live Now, and I'm here to lay down a flat-out rave review.

Most of How I Live Now is told from the point of view of a teenaged narrator, in a present-tense first-person stream of thought, with long, rambling sentences and minimal punctuation. I often have problems with quirky or immature narrators as the voice feels forced and inauthentic to me. I found some famous and popular novels unreadable because of this. In this book, however, I found the voice completely authentic and utterly compelling.

In the first part of the book, a group of teenagers and children have been left on their own, without adults. They create an idyllic, natural, peaceful world, a kind of anti-Lord of the Flies - cooperating, caring for each other, communing with nature.

Then everything changes. The children are split up, the world becomes dangerous and unpredictable. Of course, the world was always dangerous and unpredictable, but the children had been sheltered from it, as most of us reading the book are, in the course of our daily lives. Now the reality of the very scary, dangerous world is hard upon them. The teenaged narrator and a younger girl are plunged into a world of survival and loss.

There is a war. To the children, it's a war without a name, without a known enemy, and without a battlefield. Rather, without a far-off, designated battlefield - a war where every place is a battlefield, where there is nothing but battlefields: a terrorist war. Rosoff imagines what this is like, through the eyes of someone trying to survive and to protect those she loves. That is, through any of our eyes.

As I read, as the girls' journey progressed, the descriptions of war and ruin began to feel very familiar to me, from blogs like Baghdad Burning by Riverbend and books like The Deserter's Tale. An invasion, then an occupation. No electricity, no running water. (What would the implications of that be? Not a temporary power outage, but no electricity, at all. The narrator fills in those harrowing details.) Food shortages. Checkpoints. Tensions between occupier and occupied, leading to random violence and retaliation. It dawned on me that the war Rosoff describes was actually happening while she was writing it. The story takes place in the UK, but this war did happen, in Iraq: it's "us" and "them" with the roles reversed. As the familiar landscape is transformed into a nightmare, Rosoff asks us to imagine what a modern-day war looks and feels like to the people who are forced to live it.

There are many other themes folded into this slim novel. Eating disorders is a subtext, as are potential psychic abilities. As in There Is No Dog (as in the real world!) teenagers have sex, but the sex is implied with a light touch, while the intense descriptions are saved for love and other confounding emotions.

This book fits easily into the "teenage survival" subgenre of youth fiction - a crowded field - but does so without creating a futuristic fantasy world. The fantasy here is a reality that exists, somewhere, right now. That's part of what makes the book so unforgettable. And although I'm describing the war theme because I was so impressed with it, the book's ultimate triumph is the way the narrator changes and grows from her experiences, from a troubled but self-centered girl into a compassionate, resilient, resourceful young woman.

How I Live Now is a fast-paced, compelling read. Although it's technically a youth novel, if you're old enough to think about love, war, death, and the aftermath of all three, I recommend you read this book.

Even the NRA Should Support This

The Disaffected Lib - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:24
Family knows best.  California has introduced a law enabling concerned family members to petition a court to seize the firearms of a family member they believe to be a danger to himself (herself) or others.

Every jurisdiction - state, province, federal government, the lot - needs this sort of legislation.  There have been too many cases of parents and near relatives warning law enforcement of trouble looming only for their pleas to be ignored leading to avoidable tragedy.

While Canada may not have the level of mass death gunplay all too familiar in the States, we do have plenty of gun-related suicides and domestic killings.  We certainly have enough to warrant a law like California's.

Monday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 07:49
Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Sean McElwee is the latest to highlight how only a privileged few benefit in either the short term or the long term from unequal economic growth:
Milanovic and van der Weide decided to investigate how inequality affects growth across the income spectrum. They used a state-level survey conducted once every decade to estimate annualized income growth at different income percentiles. What the researchers find is that the old story of “trickle down” economics have no support in the data — instead, inequality boosts growth only for the rich.
When the authors dug deeper and looked at individual states, they found that, “inequality is negatively associated… with subsequent real growth for the population located below the 25th percentile, and positively with growth for the population belonging to the top decile.” In simple language: Inequality benefits the rich and harms the poor. A rising tide doesn’t lift all boats — just the luxury yachts.

Using the data the authors have developed, we can discover what growth would look like in a more equitable society. The chart below shows annual income growth between 1960 and 2010 by percentile in yellow. The chart is sloped upward, meaning that the income of the richest grew by 1.8 percent each year, while the growth of the poorest grew by .7 percent each year. However, if inequality was reduced by one standard deviation (the difference between Connecticut and South Carolina) across the country, income growth for the poor would more than double, to 1.6 percent each year.

This has important political implications. First, we should not assume that the mere fact that inequality reduces economic growth will be enough to convince the rich to reduce it. Inequality benefits the rich immensely. Second, the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats has been so utterly disproved it should be embarrassing to state in public.  - Meanwhile, Jim Stanford argues that the Cons' continued insistence on demonizing organized labour is backfiring as the public realizes the importance of voices standing up for workers:
Where unions were once portrayed as greedy and unruly, they now survive (and even win) by successfully positioning themselves as defenders of public interest and universal rights. This reframing of the union message has been essential in their recuperated influence. Unions cannot be seen as “special interest” groups, enriching their own members at the expense of consumers or taxpayers. They must be seen as an institutional bulwark on the side of all those who work for a living, defending vulnerable people within a social order that is increasingly lopsided. As unions succeed in that effort, the political value of union-bashing will continue to erode.

But this lesson will likely be lost on the federal Conservatives. They are desperate to change the political channel, and eager to throw one more bone to their strident base. In that case, it is safe to expect more anti-union rhetoric in the year ahead.- Kaylie Tiessen points out that the Ontario Libs are right back to ill-advised austerity economics - only this time with less fanfare about their real cuts to public services.

- Carol Goar discusses Scientists for a Right to Know as one of the crucial actors in restoring the principle the scientific research should be both carried out in the public interest, and treated as public knowledge. But Mike De Souza reports on why the Cons don't want the facts getting out - as they tend to involve political staffers insisting that civil servants falsify advice any time the truth proves inconvenient to their political message.

- Finally, Lorna Dueck asks whether we're still the Canada which once went out of its way to offer a home for refugees, while Erna Paris notes that there's also far too much mean-mindedness in Canada's past which is being echoed by today's government. And the Star is similarly appalled that the Cons are refusing to restore health care for refugees in Canada in the face of a court order requiring them to do so.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Politics and its Discontents - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 06:08
Despite the polls currently showing majority support for Canada's joining in the war against ISIS, the Prime Minister may find that its enthusiasm for such futile adventurism is short-lived. Perhaps, after the next election, Mr. Harper will find that he has some time for that long-deferred fishing trip?

H/t The Globe and MailRecommend this Post

A Foolish Mission From A Foolish Prime Minister

Northern Reflections - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 05:59


After the Conservatives vote this afternoon to go to war, we will enter the annals of historical folly. Dishonesty and folly are Stephen Harper's hallmarks. They are present in everything he does. But his entry into Iraq is truly foolish, for several reasons. Michael  Harris writes:

When Steve made his war announcement against the beheaders, there was a strange addendum.

Although Canada would join the noble bomb-fest in Iraq, there would be no bombing in Syria without the permission of the leader of that country.

But the leader of that country is the same monster Steve wanted to bomb only a few months back. Remember that guy, the one who used poison gas to kill his own people? Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in that country’s civil war. So why does Steve need the permission of the monstrous President Assad to save Scarborough from ISIS?
Besides the problem of asking his enemy's permission, Harper has created the problem of bombing people who could be his allies. How does he propose to distinguish between enemies and allies:

And then there is the small difficulty of identifying who to drop the bombs on. For years, a deadly civil war has been raging inside Syria to topple President Assad. Many factions are involved in the fight, including some that are backed by the United States, and others that are mortal enemies.

That is where the trouble starts. The U.S. backs the Free Syrian Army. But it does not back and instead targets the Jabbat al-Nusra group because of its alleged affiliation to al Qaeda. And that is a problem because the Free Syrian Army sees Jabbat al-Nusra as a valued ally in the fight against Assad. Remember that old the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend thing?
Michael den Tandt writes that this is Harper's Churchillian moment. But there is a big difference between Harper and Churchill. Churchill was no fool.

Harper's War: Churchill Moment or Swan Song?

Montreal Simon - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 04:50

It was the night before Canada officially goes to war, and no doubt in his command bunker Stephen Harper must have been in a state of feverish delirium.

No doubt believing that Harper's War will make him look like a Great Strong Leader, and that he'll be able to destroy the ISIS hordes AND the opposition.

That this is his great chance to save his old and tired government. 

With six planes and no boots on the ground.

Or as Michael Den Tandt calls it, his Churchill moment. 
Read more »


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