Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tom Stringham: What would the Hobby Lobby case look like in Canada?

If you are a Canadian who has not closely followed Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, you might be surprised to find out what everyone is so upset about.

The US Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the retail chain Hobby Lobby in one of its highest-profile cases this year. While the family which owns the chain has complied with a new mandate that requires them to provide employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives, they have objected on religious grounds to paying for abortifacients (drugs that prevent or disrupt embryonic implantation).

Their objections stood in court, as a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito contended that the US government had failed to show that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of enforcing the state’s interest in providing access to birth control.

There is a legitimate debate to be had whether the US could provide access to popular birth control methods in less restrictive ways, although it appears the court ruled correctly (Justice Kennedy, concurring, suggested the government could just directly fund these drugs). But the media has avoided that discussion for the most part, instead framing the case as part of some larger conflict of religious freedom and women’s health. Some progressive groups see the decision as an assault on women.

The extreme politicization of a relatively narrow issue is unfortunate, but even more regrettable is that not a single voice in the American media appears to have looked outside the US for broader context.

In Canada, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs are not generally covered by the public health system. These drugs can be purchased, like most drugs, at the patient’s expense. Some private insurance plans cover birth control, but this is not a requirement. It goes without saying that employers are not required to pay for abortifacients as part of their benefits packages to employees. It’s a quirk of the American health care system that a woman’s employer is the first party responsible for her birth control choices.

One protester’s sign at the Supreme Court today read “Keep bosses out of bedrooms!”—the implication being that employers should not be allowed to withhold abortifacient coverage. But the slogan could be used in defense of a much different message. Employers would be happy to stay out of bedrooms and, in all likelihood, would rather not be forced into the situation of making sensitive health care decisions at all. If they lived in Canada, they wouldn’t be.

The Hustings


Geoffrey Wale: Appreciate Tamar Iveri’s voice, not her opinions

Tamar Iveri is an opera singer from Tbilisi, Georgia. Her career is thriving since her debut at La Scala in Milan in 2011. She has an extraordinary talent and is very much in demand at opera houses across the world. She is currently embroiled in a scandal for allegedly having approved of anti-gay protests in Georgia in 2013.

Same-sex activity was decriminalized in Georgia in 2000. However, she hails from a society where 83.9% of the population (according to the CIA World Fact Book) practices Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the majority belonging to the national Georgian Orthodox Church. The Georgian Orthodox Church opposes homosexuality as a contravention of traditional Georgian values and the public largely concurs.

It is alleged she made the following statement in a letter to the Georgian president following violent anti-gay protests in Tbilisi in 2013:

I was quite proud of the fact how Georgian society spat at the parade… Often, in certain cases, it is necessary to break jaws in order to be appreciated as a nation in the future, and to be taken into account seriously. Please, stop vigorous attempts to bring West’s ‘fecal masses’ in the mentality of the people by means of propaganda.

The letter was brought to the attention of the National Opera of Paris by the Georgian gay rights organization Identoba who asked that her concert at the National Opera of Paris be cancelled.

She admits to approving of the anti-gay protests, despite having many gay friends. She has since formally apologized for airing these comments and views. Her apology proved too little, too late for Opera Australia who hired her to sing the role of Desdemona in a production of Verdi’s Otello in July 2014. In learning of her comments, Opera Australia has seen fit to release her from her contract noting “Opera Australia believes the views as stated to be unconscionable.”

The fact remains that vehement religious opposition to homosexuality is a reality in Georgian society and she has as much right as anyone else to speak her mind on the issue. That she saw fit to openly express her opinion on homosexuality has caused her considerable embarrassment outside of Georgia and the cancellation of her contract with Opera Australia.

Opera Australia would do well to remember is that her views are her own and do not represent those of her employer. Audiences appreciate her for her voice, not her personal opinions.

The Hustings


Jeffrey Collins: Worrying about the day after in Iraq

“You pay attention to the day after, I’ll pay attention to the day of”. These words, spoken by General Tommy Franks, the chief architect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, were invoked during a conversation with his civilian counterparts in the lead-up to the war. And, in my view, they aptly sum up the failure of American strategy in Iraq.

Strategy, in the military sense of the term, is composed of two interlocking components: the military (or operational) and the political. The former deals with the actual use of force while the latter, and most important, is about the goals that one wants to achieve through the use of organized violence. The two shall never be treated separately.

But this did not happen in 2003. Instead, Franks—with the backing of the Bush administration—contented himself with the military aspects of the war. Consequently, the joint US-UK invasion force marched into Iraq with too few troops to secure the population and with practically no plan to run the country once Saddam fell.

The result was, as we know, total chaos. The political vacuum that emerged in April and May 2003 set the tone for the situation that exists on the ground today: the looting of Iraq’s public infrastructure literally crippled the state’s ability to function. Hospitals lost critical equipment, while government buildings were stripped of furnishings and wiring. Just as importantly, the looting presented an image of an uncaring America, creating a permissive environment that sectarian gangs quickly filled (once they finished robbing Saddam’s unguarded armories).

These errors, to use such a euphemism, were soon followed by more awful ad hoc decision-making: the disbanding of the Iraqi army (they could keep their AK47s); the de-Baathification policy which effectively prevented the professional classes from ever returning to work again, which disproportionately impacted the minority Sunnis; and the imposition of a democratic system on a divided, demographically uneven society, which further inflamed internal tensions (as my colleague Henry Srebrnik covered yesterday).

While the 2007-08 “surge” produced some promise of Iraqi unity through the skillful mating of counterinsurgency tactics with political goals, the Obama Administration reverted back to inept form soon after. The focus again became the military, this time building up the Iraqi army, while the political realm wavered. It is the consequences of all these mistakes that we are dealing with today.

The Hustings


Jackson Doughart: Stand up for MacKay

I’ve never really liked Peter MacKay, to be honest, but I feel quite bad for him in the latest phony scandal from Ottawa. MacKay was so audacious as to send a feel-good message to recipients of the Conservatives’ e-mail list for Mother’s and Father’s Days. True to script, the right-wing “chauvinist” (that’s Chrystia Freeland’s word) praised women for their role in raising children and husbands for their role as providers.

I personally received the Father’s Day e-mail, though I can’t find or recall the Mother’s Day one, and remember thinking at the time that this was exactly the kind of thing that some CBC hack would milk out of proportion to show how “out-of-touch” the Conservatives are in our post-modern genderfied age.

And so, equally true to script, the National runs a leading story about how MacKay has “done it again”, using it as an opportunity for more mutual stroking of Canada’s bien-pensant class. Laughably, they said that the e-mail was “leaked”, even though anyone can join the subscribers list of thousands of people.

I’d only like to express my disappointment with the political right’s tepid response here. Margaret Wente starts her analysis well, calling this an instance of manufactured outrage, but ends by essentially bashing MacKay for failing to realize that “there are certain things you can’t say in public, even if (sometimes especially if) they’re true.” She went on: “Anything to do with gender differences, for example. If he isn’t smart enough to know this, then you’ve got to ask whether he’s smart enough to be a cabinet minister.”

There should be a bit more shame in this sheepish acquiescence to political correctness, which needs to be confronted as often and as sharply as possible. As Wente herself points out, the very figure of Ms Freeland, who took to the floor of Parliament to denounce MacKay, herself juggles a career as a public intellectual and now politician with mothering three young children. But that seems to provide her with no perspective on how other women are unable to do both at once, or who do not want to do so, and how a perceptive public figure may well recognize and even celebrate this.

So our smiting and wrath on this occasion should logically be directed at the CBC for its attack not only on MacKay but on conservatism as well. If only the constituency of most reasonable and in-touch people were a bit more institutionally robust, perhaps Ms Freeland could be floundering from her own ill-conceived comments.

The Hustings


Barbara Kay: The just cause of pitbull opposition

The National Post editor who hired me wanted more than an opinionated writer. She wanted a columnist who could hold forth on an eclectic array of subjects.

I thus found myself on the alert for, and writing about what you might call orphan topics in the news that yet provided solid inspiration for commentary on human nature’s endlessly fascinating propensity for self-delusion, my general self-appointed bailiwick.

One such orphan topic was the growing popularity of pit bulls as family pets, a topic that soon, to my own surprise as well as my loyal readers, began to consume me.

Pit bulls are bred for fighting, inflict grievous damage on the animals and humans they savage—with small children at special risk for maiming and death—and accordingly represent a much higher public health risk than all other breeds combined. That’s not my opinion. That is an evidence-based reality.

How then to account for the fact that in the last 50 years they have increased in number (in the U.S.) from about 200,000 (most in the care of realistic dog fighters) to more than three million?

One answer lies in the trickle-down effect of identity politics.

Dog fighting used to be an activity controlled by the Ku Klux Klan, a group of extreme white bigots so despised by all civilized people that their fighting dogs were tarred by the same brush. After the KKK broke up, prison gangs and bikers took over the dog fighting industry.

Amongst those who took a special shine to the dogs were underclass black and Hispanic men, for whom intellectuals felt a special sympathy. That sympathy extended to the pit bulls they identified with as bad-ass on the surface, but good inside.

The dogs were perceived as having gotten a bad rap, just like their owners so often did. The notion took hold that it was “racist” to “discriminate” against pit bulls, as though dog breeds were individuals like humans rather than artificially constructed stereotypes—and unlike humans, consumer products.

Between 1930-60 there were nine pit bull-related fatalities in the U.S. Since 2010, pit bull-related fatalities have escalated to an average of 30 a year, about 10% of them soft-hearted rescue personnel, and another 10% equally soft-hearted adopters.

Yet pit bull love remains invulnerable. Nothing is so hard to change as a false belief, and my pit bull researches daily offer me fresh evidence of this well-established maxim.

The Hustings