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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A letter to Andrea Horwath

Dear Ms. Horwath;

Thank you for your letter to the Premier of Ontario asking her to make life in the province "more affordable, not more expensive".


It has, indeed, come to the attention of many that life for millions of people in Ontario is not affordable.

They do not make enough to make ends meet because they are not paid a living wage, the kind of living wage that would come from being paid a $14 or $15 an hour minimum wage. It is sad that no one in parliament advocates for this.

They are suffering due to inadequate social assi...stance rates across the board; rates barely raised for twenty years now while extremely well compensated politicians ignore the people made to endure nearly impossible hardship on them.

They cannot afford daycare or medications because we have cut personal taxes so much (and not just, as you imply, on the upper classes) that we have no hope of building universal Pharmacare or daycare programs. This leaves many citizens and residents of Ontario with nothing but lint in their pockets. Sadly, again, no one is advocating for universal Pharmacare or daycare.

While some advocate boutique tax cuts for "small" business and middle class homeowners, many find life unaffordable due to woefully inadequate public transit that keeps people in expensive and destructive automobiles and keeps fares too high for those without cars.

Free public transit would certainly make life more affordable. At the very least greatly expanded transit would make the lives of millions far better. It might help save the planet as well.

Strict rent controls and a public housing strategy would make life more affordable.

Lower and ultimately free tuition fees would make life more affordable. They would also greatly enhance equality of opportunity, which these days is mostly a myth.

Socializing the ownership of multinationals trying to move their factories out of the province and thereby preserving good jobs would obviously make life more affordable for the workers and communities devastated by corporate immorality and greed.

I can think of many other things that might make life more "affordable". And more just and fair. Like free summer and after school programs for kids, free educational and recreational programs for adults, stricter labour laws to prevent employer abuse of workers, laws to actually facilitate unionization or worker co-operatives and so many more.

Programs, increases and steps that, even a couple of which, would actually, truly, honestly, clearly make life more "affordable" for citizens and residents in Ontario. As well as making our society a better and far more just place to live in.

Maybe it is time to talk about a few of these ideas. To force the leaders of what we have always assumed were the parties of business, the Liberals and Conservatives, to listen and take notice. To force them to hear what a real People's Agenda would be about.

I would hope you would consider using your power to seek some of these concessions in the minority parliament and in office should you win the next election.

They would make life far more "affordable". They might even surprise you in how they could inspire the people of the province. They would also have the virtue of being the right thing to do.

All the best and In Solidarity.

Woody Allen and the persistent myths of rape culture

This article was originally published on Feminist Current.
 
By now the outline detailing the facts of the terrible story that Dylan Farrow tells of her sexual assault as a child by her father Woody Allen are well known.

After he was honoured at the Golden Globes for his work in film, Mia Farrow and Allen’s son Ronan Farrow tweeted comments that essentially called the Golden Globes and other celebrities out for having done this in spite of Woody Allen’s history of sexual assault, and his entirely and obviously inappropriate behaviour towards Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter whom he had known since the age of eight and began to have a sexual relationship with as soon as he was legally able to do so.

This led to a defence of Allen by Robert Weide in The Daily Beast on January 27th. Weide’s article was followed by a firestorm of criticism as well as by Dylan Farrow herself, after many years of silence, forcefully and powerfully speaking out about the abuse she had suffered.

In the days since, basically every point that Weide made in Allen’s defence has been completely demolished in one forum or another. Feminist Current’s Meghan Murphy called out Weide for his victim blaming and trying to make it all about Mia Farrow (a tactic Allen defenders consistently use) as opposed to about Dylan Farrow. Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth responded to all the “articles containing incorrect and irresponsible claims” in defence of Allen by outlining the “10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation”. Legal analyst Lisa Bloom wrote of the “Six Reasons Why Dylan Farrow is Highly Credible”.  Slate’s Jessica Winter wrote about “just the facts” and how Weide had none on his side. There are many other examples, including the rather damning release of the actual custody judgement.

When Allen issued a statement in the New York Times, reiterating his long held contention that it was all “implanted” in Dylan Farrow’s mind by Mia Farrow, Dylan responded powerfully again by noting that “I have never wavered in describing what he did to me.”

Yet in spite of this overwhelming evidence legions of Woody Allen’s online defenders, (the majority of whom seem to be men, based on what I’ve seen in many online discussion threads), continue to insist that Dylan Farrow is the unwitting dupe of a plot by her vengeful mother. This despite the fact that many of them are also supposedly the educated, enlightened, liberal types who I think are broadly believed to be Woody Allen’s fan base.

Predictably, of course, some conservative journalists like the National Post’s Jonathon Kay got in on the act penning articles repeating many of Weide’s already discredited claims, while seeking to use ”personal experience” to imply that false sexual assault accusations are widespread or that one needs to be wary of similar accusations of child abuse. This is an old tactic, as, of course, undocumented and entirely one-sided “personal experiences” can be used to try to undermine the actually well-established facts about rape and child sexual abuse, facts to which we will shortly return.

This is due, no doubt, to the sad reality of the reflexive need of many to blindly defend their heroes, whether cultural, political, sporting or what have you. While they would obviously not see it this way, there is in practice little difference between the supposedly boorish defenders of any number of sports figures accused of sexual assault and rape or the allegedly bookish defenders of Allen other than, perhaps, the type of language they use. Sexism and rape apologism presented in more rarified form is not, however, any better, more excusable or less misogynist.

But is also due directly to rape culture and its persistent mythology as well as to the continuing and ongoing lies — and they are lies — about how common, widespread and prevalent false accusations are. It should come as absolutely no surprise that so many fall back on what are proven rape myths when convenient and are unwilling to acknowledge how deeply embedded rape culture is, as doing so forces one to ask many uncomfortable questions about sexual violence and the extremely gendered nature of it. It ultimately forces one to confront the widespread and extremely violent nature of Patriarchy and male behaviour found across cultures and countries; behaviour that men engage in across lines of class, race, education and other factors.

So fall back on the rape myths men (and some women) do. And again they must be confronted. The absolute and proven fact is that false allegations of rape or sexual assault are extremely rare, especially versus cases of sexual assault itself, and especially when compared to the legions of men who actually get away with sexual assault, which is sadly the vast majority of those committing it. Even those who write pathetic articles arguing that the tiny number of such cases should still somehow be regarded as a major social issue acknowledge that only 2-4% (at most) of all reported rape or assault allegations are false. Given that it is well established that the vast majority of sexual assaults, as many as 90 per cent, are never reported to the authorities, the actual, real occurrence (not all of those everyone knows from “personal experience”) of false allegations versus actual incidences are completely statistically and socially insignificant.

Does this mean they do not happen and are not devastating when they do? No. It does, however, mean that attempting to conflate them is simply a tactic and attempting to imply that their occurrence makes it more likely to be true than usual in any specific given case is inane. Allen’s defenders also completely ignore the reality that many of the terrible false convictions of people for actual rapes or for the insane wave of Christian conspiracy theories about “Satanic” sex rituals in the 80′s and early 90′s that they reference were due almost entirely to prosecutorial misconduct and are in no way analogous to the Allen situation. To say that claims made by women (or men) that are consistent over twenty years from childhood to adulthood, where they unequivocally can identify the person they are accusing, and that still turn out to be false and are proven to be so are rare, would be an enormous understatement. It strains belief to discredit someone on this basis.

But the realties of rape culture run much deeper than this. As men of any background can be the perpetrators of sexual violence, so can their victims. As Kirk Makin wrote in the Globe and Mail:

It’s a crime like no other. A violation of the self as well as the body — an assault on trust, on privacy, on control. It’s also an offence with an afterlife: a sense of bruising shame and guilt.
And it happens to women in Canada every 17 minutes.
Some of those women place calls to services such as the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter – about 1,400 of them last year alone.
“These are not just women who live in poverty or need,” says Summer-Rain Bentham, one of the counsellors who answers their calls. “These are women who are teachers, doctor or lawyers; women whose husbands may be police officers or judges.”
But if these women are hoping for more than support – if they are hoping for justice – the phones might as well keep ringing.
Less than half of complaints made to police result in criminal charges and, of those charges, only about one in four leads to a guilty verdict.
Sexual abuse and assault is a daily threat and actuality for all women. Men too are sexually assaulted both as children (and defenders of the Catholic Church initially attempted to use similar arguments to Allen’s defenders against emerging stories of the widespread assault of boys and girls when accusations were brought by the victims often decades later) and as adults. But what is in no doubt is who, regardless of the gender of the victim, the perpetrators of sexual violence and assault are.

They are men. Overwhelmingly men. As the latest statistics from Statistics Canada point out:
Regardless of the type of offence, males were consistently more likely than females to be the accused. Sexual offences showed the highest representation of males: 98% of all persons charged with sexual assault level 1, child pornography and sexual violations against children in 2011 were male.
In the end, one has to think that this gendered reality of rape and sexual assault and abuse, this indisputable fact that sexual violence is a male crime that flows from a society and a civilization founded on male supremacy and patriarchy, underlies much of the persistence of the defenses of the (too numerous to recount) cases of famous and powerful men accused of such crimes that many simply cannot believe are guilty. As well as of the literally countless similar defenses of the millions of not so famous perpetrators of these assaults who have never faced, and never will face, justice.
If we, as a society and as individuals, confront the reality of how prevalent, widespread and so often totally unpunished male sexual violence really is, then we also have to confront the reality of what patriarchy is — how it is an inextricable part of what allows men to continue to get away with so many terrible crimes against women and children. We have to confront the established fact that supposedly “good” men — priests, artists, intellectuals, activists, business people, “pillars of the community” — are just as likely to be sexual predators, pedophiles and violent towards women, boys and girls, as any other men.

It is easier to disregard and reject what women say or to imply that they are being emotional, irrational, petty or malicious. It easier to chose to think that it was all a vindictive lie by a scorned woman.

This is why so many do.

Where is the ONDP on a $14 an hour minimum wage in Ontario?

In an election year pledge that is both a woefully insufficient step in the "right" direction and an act of supreme political cynicism, Ontario's Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised an immediate hike of the minimum wage in Ontario to $11 an hour, after having frozen it since 2010.

It is a smart move. With the likelihood of the minority parliament falling in the coming months, it is a small, token gesture toward the large numbers of citizens worried about growing inequality. It also has the virtue, from a Liberal point of view, of being small. Other than putting up the usual resistance, very few, even in the business community, have gotten, or are likely to get, too worked up about it.

In part this is due to the ongoing effort by a coalition of labour groups and community activists to get the minimum wage raised to $14 an hour, a prospect that no doubt terrifies the business class, even though it really is the bare minimum needed to live above the poverty line in centres like Toronto. No doubt they realize that $11 an hour represents a victory of sorts.

While Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour called the Liberal proposal of tying the minimum wage in future to inflation "revolutionary in a way," this is a proposal also supported by many business groups (and had been in advance of it),  and is especially appealing in the present context of relatively low inflation and the very real possibility of future deflation. This "revolutionary" proposal may likely not lead to a $14 or $15 an hour minimum wage for a generation.

More difficult to understand, for some, is the ONDP's apparent reluctance to take a strong stand on this issue consistent with its alleged social activist and labour allies.

To date, while some of its caucus members have been slightly more outspoken, the leader driven party has not strayed from its message of boutique appeals to minor consumerist middle class issues and its pandering to the fiction of the small business "job creator." While it is true that small businesses create many jobs, it is also true, especially in the absence of an industrial or neo-industrial state job creation strategy, that the jobs they create are often not even worthy of the term "McJob." They are, overall, without any question the lowest paying jobs and rarely have any benefits of any meaning.

The ONDP also distorts what a "small business" is. When it calls for a reduction in the small business tax rate, as it does, it fails to mention that this applies only to incorporated "small" businesses, which are often not even the romanticised vision that some have of "Mom and Pop" businesspeople toiling away long hours for their "community." Many incorporated "small businesses" are professionals attempting to minimize taxes, small landlords, etc. It is a designation that is about liability and tax law; nothing else. Many, many, small retail business people, like corner store owners, small coffee shops, independent online retailers, etc., are not incorporated at all and function instead as self-employed sole proprietorships or partnerships under tax law.

Not only does the ONDP's proposed "small business" tax cut not cover them (not that they actually need a tax cut, given that round after round of personal tax cuts have them covered), the party disingenuously claims to represent them with this policy when it does not.

Never mind that despite holding the balance of power, the ONDP has done nothing to force the minimum wage issue. Horwath and the ONDP have also been working for many years, however, to distance themselves from being seen as a programmatically leftist party backing systemic changes of any meaning, and have instead focused on traditionally right wing ideas of placing emphasis on the "cost of living" in a consumerist sense as opposed to on the traditionally leftist notion of alleviating poverty and social inequality through comprehensive social programs.

An Ontario voter forwarded me a reply that he received, after emailing the office of NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh and asking him and the ONDP to support a $14 an hour minimum wage. His office wrote back:
In regards to your concerns about the minimum wage increase, we understand the frustrations of Ontarians. Families are getting squeezed, their bills are going up, fees are rising, hydro costs are skyrocketing, and families just can’t keep up. Responsible working families who work hard for forty hours a week, should not be living in poverty. Hard work and responsibility should be compensated with a fair and reasonable wage. The ONDP has a long history of working with the OFL and applaud their grass roots work to have the minimal wage increased. We look forward to seeing what they bring to the debate, as many of their previous campaigns have helped shape the growth and betterment of Ontario.
This is very telling. Among other things, it perpetuates that awful fiction of the "worthy" versus "unworthy" poor, directly implying in its language that those who are not working, for whatever reason, have been laid off, or cannot find full time work (and many workers are forced to work what are legally regarded as part-time jobs) are not "responsible." One might ask, should "irresponsible families," or, heaven forbid, people without "families," unable to find work "forty hours a week," be living in poverty?

Beyond that, in seeking to avoid answering the inquiry, which it tried very hard to do, the response focuses on "bills," "fees," "hydro costs," etc., completely disingenuously implying that these are the reasons that people are feeling the "pinch" as opposed to the fact that many in the working class, and even the middle class, are not making a living wage.

By focusing on the consumerist issues the ONDP avoid tackling the actual underpinnings of inequality and injustice; the downward pressures on wages and the lack of a forceful commitment by any political party to living wages. By implying there is a "debate" as to what the minimum wage should be, they are directly saying that business people who feel the minimum wage should be kept low have a position worthy of consideration.

All one has to do, frankly, is look at the shockingly reactionary by-election ad for ONDP candidate Wayne Gates. The video ad talks about how Tim Hudak did not do enough in the great struggle of  "rewarding job creators" and making sure slot machines stayed in race tracks! This is an interesting vision of social democracy.

Nowhere does it talk about higher wages or economic equality issues.

Horwath and the ONDP, however, has been actively courting the "905" area code suburban vote by seeking to jump on the perceived coattails of Rob Ford style right wing "pocket book" populism. Hence their fixation on consumerist issues like HST hydro cuts, auto insurance rates, opposing obviously environmentally beneficial "car taxes" and the like, while having no alternative funding visions for important social objectives like Toronto transit expansion other than vague promises about "corporations" somehow paying for it all. They will, of course, pay for nothing.

The calculation is obviously that Horwath thinks Ford still has an appeal among 905ers and that the NDP can somehow harness this. This calculation is very open for debate. What is not open for debate is that it leaves workers in low wage jobs, the Precariat, entirely out of the equation.

Minimum wage and non-"middle class" workers do not primarily need small cuts to hydro bills, auto insurance rates (if they even own a car), or to have the worst employers in the economy "rewarded" for creating bad jobs, they need higher wages, expanded and free transit, universal daycare, pharmacare, and the types of universal social programs "progressives" and social democrats once actually fought for. They need a wage and job strategy that is not centered around the economy's worst and least reliable employers, "small business."

They need active parliamentary political representation that will fight for living wages and economic justice.