Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The M-Pesa is the model for future digital currencies

A misconception about digital currencies (or "crypto-currencies") is that they will be adopted first in the developed economies of the world, those with the technological financial "infrastructure" already in place to enable wide adoption of a digital currency.  The irony of digital currencies (which, because they are based solely on mathematics, are very technical) is that their adoption won't come from tech-savvy people (or countries). It's going to be in the third world.  The M-Pesa was proof of that principle, because 1) it is used like cash, 2) like cash, it is easy to use.

The M-Pesa was introduced in Kenya in 2007.  Since then (in a mere 8 years), 2/3 of all adults in Kenya have used it.  And wrap your brain around this:  25% of Kenya's gross national product is now in the form of M-Pesa transactions.

And, here's the real thing:  the rapid adoption of the M-Pesa didn't come because Kenyans are tech-savvy; far from it.  It happened because nothing more technical than a smartphone app is required to use it.  Like cash, you store your M-Pesa in your wallet, which is, in nearly every case, a smartphone.  Most M-Pesa users have no bank account. They are their own banks. That's the whole reason digital currencies exist ... so that we can all be our own banks.

Of course, digital currencies will not be widely-adopted until nearly everyone carries a smartphone.  Oops, that's already happened!

It's not futuristic.  It's now.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: the year I abandoned all hope

2015 will go down as a landmark year for me.  2015 was, I believe, the year in which I abandoned all hope of seeing a better world someday.  What an empty dream; what a false hope.  That ended sometime this year.  And I'm all the happier for it.

It is quite absurd for any reasoning mature adult to believe that there will be an end to the series of wars that the United States has led the world into.  These wars were, from the very start, intended to last forever; and they will.  There will always be new (and, often, imaginary) "imminent threats" to counter; new enemies among us and massed along the US border, waiting to invade.  That is the frightening world that is intended to become normal; accepted by everyone as inevitable and immutable.

I was an utter fool to ever believe that time and truth would change anything.

Focused on an impossible goal, it was hard for me to see anything but failure in the attempts to achieve that goal.  Yet, there are successes all around me; triumphs of courage and spirit; all based on the values that guided the most difficult decisions I've made in my own life.  I believe these are the successes of people who have refused to yield to the temptations of the propagandists, those authoritarians who promise security from our enemies (and who identify those enemies for us).

Nowhere else in this world do I see people rising above the hatred born of fear, and of self-doubt and insecurity, like right here in Canada.

Last night, in an interview aired by CTV News, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to the politics of fear and of division that he believes Canadians elected him to abolish (at least as official government policies).  He said:

You cannot pretend to be a free and open country and say that you're going to discriminate against people based on their religion. I think the Americans are starting to ask themselves questions about what kind of country they are and who they want to be.
The question he was asked, and Prime Minister Trudeau's full response:

That's hope; that's optimism for the future, but it's not a declaration that Canada will attempt to stop America's foreign wars of intervention; it is a call, rather, not to change the world, but to change Canada.  To change who we are.  To change what we can.  To resist becoming what we deplore.  And in that comes triumph; victory. Avoid being changed by the haters, those who thrive on violence and chaos.  Don't bring it here; we don't want it.

There have been extremely encouraging changes in the world; many in the United States; many among Americans.

First and most importantly of all, there are serious cracks appearing in Americans' wall of ultra-nationalism.  The cult of soldier worship remains strong, of course, but at home, the worship of police, the agents of state power and control, is seriously eroding.

Americans are realizing that daily police shootings of unarmed citizens is a reality that has only recently been brought to public attention; largely through the ubiquity of cell phones, which permit anyone with the presence of mind to capture these incidents on video and make them public.  These things happen, every day, but in most cases they are buried, concealed, covered-up.  People know this, now.

I tried to explain America's gun culture to Canadians, who are absolutely baffled by it ... and the fear and insecurity it evidences.  Canadians simply don't understand the mindset of those who live in a continuous state of fear in their own homes, communities, and streets.  That's just not Canadian.

Americans remain an ultra-nationalistic people who continue to view America's over-militarized police forces as "protectors," but that is changing.   And, in my opinion, that change is one of the most important of the last year.  The power of the state, to control lives because they control the media and every aspect of the economy, is eroding.

I'm not saying there's hope for an end to the wars abroad, or the state of fear at home that causes people to relinquish every freedom; every principle, for the empty promises of safety ... I'm just saying that despite that, there are people, in growing numbers, who simply refuse to become part of it.  And I plan to keep my eyes focused on those people; after all, I am surrounded by them.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Michael Oher on courage, and on honour

You've probably seen the 2009 movie, The Blind Side (starring Sandra Bullock), which is the true story of Michael Oher, whose football career was supported by foster parents, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy.
True story:  In his senior high school year, Oher was struggling to maintain a grade point average that would qualify him to play football at an NCAA Division 1 university.  An essay he submitted for his English class boosted his grade just enough that met the academic requirement for those scholarships.

Michael Oher's paper was written about Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, focusing on the difference between courage and honor. This was his essay:

Michael Oher on The Charge Of The Light Brigade
Courage is a hard thing to figure. You can have courage based on a dumb idea or a mistake, but you are not supposed to question adults or your coach or your teacher. Because they make the rules. Maybe they know the best or maybe they don’t.

It all depends on who you are and where they come from.

Didn’t at least the six hundred guys think of giving up and joining with the other side? I mean “The Valley Of Death”. That’s pretty salty stuff. That’s why courage is tricky, should you always do what others tell you to do.

Sometimes you might not even know why you do something. I mean any fool can have courage. But honour, that’s the real reason you do something or you don’t. It’s who you are and maybe who you want to be.

If you die trying for something important then you have both honour and courage and that’s pretty good.

I think that’s what the writer was saying: that you should hope for courage and try for honour and maybe even pray that the people telling you what to do have some too.


There is no honour in any of America's foreign wars.  Yet, America's leaders are tripping over their own feet in their eagerness to appear more hawkish than their opponents.  They are wagering that Americans will abandon honour (and reason) in favour of their false claims of absolute security and solace from fear.  In other words, that Americans will also abandon courage, in the face of a fear they cannot master.
It takes far less courage to oppose America's imperial wars now than it did in 2002.  The honour quotient, though, is still there ... I encourage you to speak out against those wars; if only to people who know and respect you, friends, family members, co-workers, those in your church. 

Americans:  End your wars.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Canada welcomes its first Syrian refugees

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship John McCallum, Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, and the Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne, were at Toronto's Pearson airport late last night to welcome the first of the Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada. 

"Welcome to your new home," Prime Minister Trudeau said.
163 refugees arrived on a gunmetal-grey Canadian Forces military transport and were in-processed, receiving Permanent Resident certificates, along with social insurance numbers, with health cards giving them access to the national health care system, given the opportunity to live, work, and educate themselves in Canada, and given something even more valuable: an opportunity to become Canadian citizens.

Canadians hope these refugees will choose to stay in the communities that welcome them, and to build new lives that tie them to other Canadians, nearly all of whom are immigrants (like myself) or descended from several generations of immigrants.

This is the cover of yesterday's Toronto Star:

In Arabic,the printed phrase is translated as "Welcome" but it is literally translated as "like family and comfortably."

A Muslim friend told me that means a lot more than 'Welcome".  in Arabic culture, it means "Welcome to my home ... what is mine is also yours." It is an expression of a deeply-held Muslim attitude toward guests or strangers.

And it's a belief that resonates with many Canadians; I believe most Canadians.

Canadians have been dusting off this old Tim Horton's ad and sharing it.

"We define a Canadian not by a skin colour or a language or a religion or a background,  but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians   but people around the world share.”

 – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 10 December, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

More on Syrian refugees (coming to Canada)

Coming from the United States, it has been a bit difficult for me to understand why Canadians have been, by and large, very willing to support our government's plan to accept 25,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict into this country by the end of the year ... six weeks from now.

Contrast that with the US, which has committed to admitting 10,000 by the end of next year.  Since the Syrian civil war began, the US has taken in 1800 refugees from the war.  Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees and Canada has accepted 36,300 since 2013.

I believe the stark contrast in the actions of Western countries toward these victims of war is very telling; and you can bet the entire Muslim world is watching and learning.  I believe American resistance to rendering aid and asylum to these unfortunate people has very little to do with fear of terrorists and far more to do with fear of Muslims (or, for some, fear of brown people in general). It's Islamophobia.

Refugees coming to Canada will undergo three separate screening processes. First, they are selected from those screened by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The UNHCR uses sophisticated anti-fraud tools like biometrics. Second, they are interviewed before coming to Canada. Third, once in Canada, they are screened by Canada's security services. Security experts say the chances of an ISIS terrorist getting through are infinitesimal; they'd choose another, easier, avenue of entry.

Canada is prioritizing families
(particularly female-headed households) not individuals, unaccompanied children, and the sick. These groups were selected because they pose the least risk of radicalization.

Experts in national security, terrorism, radicalization and intelligence agree that not accepting refugees is a greater threat to national security than admitting them with proper screening. According to Munk School of Public Affairs Professor Wesley Wark and Georgetown University Professor Anne Speckhard, the squalid refugee camps are hotbeds for extremism. ISIS recruiters find it remarkably easy to find recruits among people living in a state of hopelessness, desperation and disenfranchisement (no control over their own futures). According to Prof. Speckhard: "Experience from many conflict zones teaches us that the longer these refugees are left to languish in despair in camps the more prone they become to radicalization."

Accepting refugees strikes a blow at ISIS. ISIS relies on extortion and the taxes they collect from the vast swaths of territory they control. "They want to stop the refugee process because one of their main sources of income in the ISIS-controlled territory is taxation of the people there, extortion of the people there," according to University of Ottawa law professor Errol Mendes.

A few (two are Canadian) links:
I don't fear refugees fleeing ISIS.  Bring 'em.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Joe Hill, martyred 100 years ago

19 November 2015, is the 100th anniversary of the execution of labor activist Joe Hill.  Joe Hill became something of a folk hero and legend (and a martyr) after he was executed for a murder he probably didn't commit, mainly because he was part of the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as the "Wobblies").  He was killed to silence his voice.

If you value the standard 40-hour week, and the standard 8-hour work day, overtime pay, paid sick leave, unemployment benefits if you are involuntarily separated from your job, and company-paid health insurance for full-time employees, especially if you retired with a company-provided defined benefit pension plan, then you have an obligation to support the American labor movement and to respect the men and women who made great sacrifices for the sake of all American workers.

You can look down on Wisconsin's striking teachers with disdain if you wish.  You can believe that they just don't realize how good they have it, but the truth?  They know how exactly how good they have it, and they know that they can keep what they have only if they are willing to organize, cooperate, and fight for it. The right to bargain collectively (as a "union") wasn't handed to them gratuitously.  Just like the fair labor standards, wages, and retirements we all have. Unless we have the backbone to defend them, they will be steadily eroded until they no longer exist.  Power never yields without a fight.  And America's workers need to realize that nothing being taken from them now is being done so as a final measure, or as a temporary measure.

We owe the fighters.

I'd like to recognize one of America's great heroes of the struggle for America's workers.  Joe Hill became something of a folk hero and legend (and a martyr) after he was executed for a murder he possibly did not commit.  Circumstantial evidence did seem to implicate Hill, but he was executed mainly because he was part of a labor movement, the Industrial Workers of the World (also known as the "Wobblies").  He was killed to shut him up.  That's how serious the fight for fair labor standards and safe working conditions is.

Joe Hill was executed at the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City by five riflemen.  He is said to have stood before them straight and stiff and proud.

And his last word was spoken defiantly:  "Fire!"

And before his death, he wrote to a friend and fellow labor organizer, "Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize."

Here's an interesting twist to his story:

Some of Joe Hill's ashes were sent belatedly to an Industrial Workers of the World organizer in 1917 to be scattered in Chicago.  The envelope was seized by postal inspectors who were acting under the Espionage Act, passed after the United States entered World War I that year, which made it illegal to mail any material that advocated "treason, insurrection. or forcible resistance to any law of the United States."  Even after his death, they were afraid of Joe Hill.

The envelope, containing only a few grams of Hill's ashes, was sent to the National Archives in Washington, DC, where it remained hidden until 1988, when it was discovered and turned over in Chicago to the men who presided over what little remained of the Industrial Workers of the World, shrunken to only a few hundred members.

The post office apparently had objected to the caption beneath a photo of Hill on the front of the envelope.  The caption read:

Joe Hill – murdered by the capitalist class, November 19, 1915.

Even after his death, they were afraid of Joe Hill.

You know, most of us are faced, at least once in our lives, with a decision that requires a great deal of courage ... I'm thinking now of a father, who had to decide to remove his wife and my mother from a respirator in 1991.   But most of those decisions won't bring us fame or fortune, notoriety or renown, they are just what they are ... decisions that have to be made.   And they are no more difficult, and our choices no more courageous, than those that we read about in history books.

All of us, regardless of our circumstances, should be prepared to meet life's challenges with resolve and with courage.

We remember Joe Hill today because Joe didn't whimper.

 Joe Hill (1879–1915)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Emad Hassan has been released

Emad Abdullah Hassan was one of the 5 Yemenis released last weekend from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.  All five men were held extra-judiciously for 13 years.  They were transferred to the United Arab Emirates for resettlement in that country, after the US admitted they had no evidence that any one of them was guilty of anything.  They were always innocent.  (source)

That reduces the number of men still held by the Americans, without charge, without legal recourse, to 107, 53 of who have been cleared for release (there is zero evidence to charge them with any crime).   A total of 780 prisoners have been held there.  Of that number only eight have been convicted by military courts. Four of those convictions have been overturned by the US Supreme Court  Only three men have been convicted by a military court and are still held in Guantánamo Bay.  Three only, one of whom was Salim Hamdam, who was convicted of being Osama Bin Laden's frigging chauffeur.  (source)

Maybe they're still planning to convict Osama bin Laden's dog-walker on evidence obtained by torturing Osama bin Laden's pastry chef.

From: Charles Aulds <>
Date: Thu, Mar 13, 2014
Subject: Emad Hassan is an innocent man:

Inline image 1

On Tuesday of this weeek, March 11, 2014, a US federal (civil) court heard a motion brought before it on behalf of a Yemeni citizen, Emad Abdullah Hassan, who has been on hunger strike in the  Guantánamo Bay detention camp intermittently since 2005 and continuously since 2007.
During that time, Emad Hassan has been force-fed more than 5,000 times, in conditions that his lawyers allege are abusive, illegal under international law, and amount to torture. The motion filed Tuesday calls for a preliminary injunction that would put an immediate halt to the the force-feeding pending a full review of the practice.

Hassan, now 34, was picked up by Pakistani security forces in February 2002, when he was a 22 year old man who had traveled from his native Yemen to Faisalabad Pakistan to attend university. He has been held without charge for almost 12 years at Guantánamo, despite the fact that he was cleared for release in 2009.  In other words, there is no evidence against him of any crime.  None.  No charges ever filed.

By the most American of all legal precepts, the presumption of innocence, Emad Hassan is an innocent man

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

10 years ago: I have my first "close encounter of the 3rd kind"

It was 17 November, 2005 ... we'd been in Canada for one month.  That day, during my daily lunch-time walk down Main Street Moncton, I approached two young girls who were holding hands, obviously lovers.

I remember thinking, "Oh, cripes, here it comes," and bracing myself for the wave of revulsion that I knew was going to wash over me. I mean, when a man has over forty years of the "proper" social conditioning, the reaction is involuntary. Consider: I was baptized into the proper faith, a member in good-standing of the 1st Baptist Church of an all-white Bible Belt Community, and I voted almost exclusively Republican for 28 years. I knew how I was "supposed" to feel and react.

I was about to confront the last big taboo.

But it didn't happen the "correct" way. I remember watching as the couple parted with a sweet kiss outside a business where one of them obviously worked.  Her partner glanced at me and smiled.

God help me, I smiled back.  In completely violation of everything I'd been taught, I smiled back.  It felt good.

I smiled because I knew how she felt; I've been there, I understand. I saw it in the radiance of her smile. She was in love, and she was proud of that, and wanted me to know it. How could I not, as a human being, understand? Whatever might have once separated the two of us, irreconcilably, vanished.

And I wrote a short account of that simple incident so I wouldn't forget it.  It was a landmark in my life; an evidence of a change I wanted to see in myself.

Friends, there are things, unspeakable things, happening in this world every single day that are infinitely worse than two people of the same gender finding themselves in love. 
I'm just glad I realized it, even if it was awfully late in my own life.  Who wants to grow old harboring some unjustifiable prejudice?  A prejudice based on fear; who wants to live in the grip of fear?

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Just watch me"

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, held that same position from 1968 until 1984.  P.E.T. was famous for a line he delivered when asked how far he'd go in imposing martial law and suspending civil liberties to deal with a terrorist threat from an extremist organization (the FLQ) during what was called The October Crisis in 1970.   His answer was, "Just watch me."
Recently, I googled that now famous quote, to hear it in in context.  I never doubted that the decision to invoke the War Measures Act was justified; and so it was a surprise to me to hear Pierre Trudeau make several statements that I'm not comfortable with.
The video of that impromptu interview:    (6 minutes)
1) Trudeau said, "If it hasn't affected you, personally, yet ... then why should you be concerned?" What is that?  Is than an appeal to look away when an injustice is being done to someone else?  Actually, I think it's more an appeal to the "normalcy bias", which is a rationalization people use to deal with threats or disasters; the flawed logic being that if something hasn't happened yet, there's no reason to believe that it will. Trudeau was basically appealing to this state of mind, I believe.  Pay no attention, he was saying, to that man behind the curtain.
2) Trudeau said "Is it your position that we should give in to the FLQ?  Your position seems to be that we should call off the police and let the FLQ abduct anybody."  That's the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy or false dilemma.  If you don't support the imposition of martial law, he was implying, then you obviously sympathize with terrorists.  That faulty logic would haunt me in the run up to the Iraq War.  If you weren't for that invasion, remember, you were on the side of the terrorists. Remember?

3) Finally, Trudeau tries to denigrate the young reporter who expressed concern for a free society as a "bleeding heart."  The young CBC reporter (Ted Ralfe), who was just 32 at the time, had expressed his own opinion that "This is about choices.  My choice is to live in a society that is free and democratic," and one of the things, he said, that we have to give up for that choice is the absolute safety and security of a police state. He had a valid point ... the choice he perceived, between the abandonment of liberty in the pursuit of security is another that's become a recurrent one.  Personally, I think he was expressing a courage that says, "no, I'm not willing to yield my liberty for the promise of safety."  I agree with him, now more than ever before in my entire life.  I'm not afraid of ISIS, or Russia, or whoever they hold up before as an "imminent threat" to our safety.  ISIS has never harmed me; or anyone I know or care about, or anyone I will ever know or care about. It won't happen.  It's such a remote possibility, it isn't even worth worrying about.  I do know, however, know that my liberty, my natural rights as a human being, are being threatened, and have been attacked.  That's a real concern; and an immediate concern.  That young man was absolutely right to make liberty the more important concern to Canadians.  While the War Measures Act was in effect, 465 Canadians were arrested and held without charge. 
Canadians have often reminded me of the elder Trudeau's imposition of martial law, in which Canadians were arrested, without charges, and denied legal recourse.  It was Pierre E. Trudeau who began concentrating power in the Prime Minister's Office.  Unlike Americans, though, Canadians are not willing to allow the use of a perpetual state of war and "emergency wartime" measures to justify the imposition of a permanent police/security/surveillance state. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Guantanamo Bay prison is a monument to failure

Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national who married a British citizen and was a resident of the UK, was set to be released Saturday after 13 years of unlawful detention at Guantanamo Bay.  Mr. Aamer has a wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen.  Mr. Aamer, now 46, was working with a charity Afghanistan when he was kidnapped by bounty hunters and handed over to the Americans in 2001.

Mr. Aamer's release was delayed, once again, because of a "fact-finding" visit to Guantanamo by three Republican Senators, prompting his lawyer to state, "Shaker is being held for purely logistical and political reasons now, which is dreadful. They have had 30 days to prepare for his release – it only took 28 days after 9/11 to start a war in Afghanistan."

During the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence agents let it be known that they would pay anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 for al Qaeda or Taliban fighters handed over to them. "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams," stated a typical flyer handed out by the U.S. in Afghanistan, introduced as evidence in a 2002 U.S. federal court filing on behalf of several Guantanamo prisoners. "You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life."

Soon enough, the cells of Bagram and Guantanamo were overflowing with goatherds, cabdrivers, cooks and shopkeepers – all lethally dangerous according to the men who turned them over and collected the rewards.

"Do you have any theories about why the government and the Pakistani intel folks would sell you out and turn you over to the Americans?" a member of a military tribunal asked an Egyptian prisoner held in the Guantanamo prison.

In the declassified transcript, the prisoner appears incredulous. "Come on, man," he replied,
"you know what happened. In Pakistan you can buy people for $10. So what about $5,000?"

"So they sold you?" the tribunal member asked, as if the thought had never before occurred to him.


According to the Pentagon's own figures, 86 percent of the prisoners at Guantanamo were handed over by Afghan and Pakistani fighters or agents after the bounties were announced. As of December 2006, the Pentagon had released 360 prisoners from Guantanamo. The Associated Press was able to track down 245 of them; 205 had been freed or cleared of all charges when they returned to their home countries

– from Chapter 14, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein, 2007

The Taguba report (the result of an investigation in the Guantanamo Bay prison abuses by a US Army Major General, Antonio Taguba) which was released in April 2004, concluded that 60% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib "were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release."

The revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib (and Guantanamo) were never about US treatment of terrorists.  They are about how Americans have treated people against whom no evidence of terrorist activities can be demonstrated.

The logic used in both cases is "since we can't prove them not guilty of any crime, they must, therefore, be assumed guilty."

That is obviously contrary to a long-standing principle of American justice; codified as the supreme law of our land, but espoused in the US Declaration of Independence as the God-given rights of all men.  The presumption of innocence is a basic tenet of the American system of justice (a system of justice that Americans, hypocritically, claim they want to spread to the entire world).

What difference does it make now?  It makes all the difference. Because it means that Americans chose to violate (not the civil rights of others) but their own principles.  They crapped on their own Constitution.  And there's a price to pay for that failure of courage.  Because, if Americans can't uphold and defend their own values in a time of crisis; they have already lost the fight to preserve them. 

The Guantanamo Bay prison facility, and the men held there extra-judiciously, is a monument to that failure.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tommy Douglas (born October 20, 1904)

In the summer of last year, when Canadians were given the chance to name the greatest Canadians ever, the list was topped by Pierre Trudeau, the father of Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and the prime minister who gave this country its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But near the very top of that list, they also chose a diminutive rural minister from the prairie province of Saskatchewan, a man who espoused a philosophy of collective compassion, equal access to health treatment for all, and fairness in hiring, among other things. A man I bet most Americans have never even heard of.

Tommy Douglas, the Canadian social reform politician and Baptist minister, is honored by Canadians for one thing ... he gave Canadians universal health care.  But it is not just Canada's health care system for which Canadians honor Douglas, it is his belief that every Canadian deserves the right to have quality health care, regardless of their economic or social situation.  That has become a core Canadian principle.

And last night, I believe, Canadians voted for a return to the Canada of Tommy Douglas, of Pierre Trudeau, Lester B. Pearson, and Jack Layton.  Not the Canada of the past ten years.

111 years ago, on October 20, 1904, Tommy Douglas was born in Falkirk, Scotland.  If you're Canadian, please take a minute to think about how we want to perceive ourselves, and be proud of a Canada in which a man like Tommy Douglas easily ranks among the greatest and most noble citizens.
Charles Aulds
October 20, 2015

Tommy Douglas

In preparation for Canada's 150th birthday (which will be in 2017), an online survey was conducted by the Canadian government, in which 12,000 Canadians participated, which produced a list of those Canadians who are most esteemed by the Canadian public.   Only one of these men is a military leader.

Top Canadian Heroes

  1. Pierre Elliot Trudeau
  2. Terry Fox
  3. Tommy Douglas
  4. Lester B. Pearson
  5. Chris Hadfield
  6. David Suzuki
  7. Jack Layton
  8. Sir John A. Macdonald
  9. Wayne Gretzky
  10. Romeo Dallaire

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't let fear determine your future

By the time of the next election; I will have been a resident of Canada for a full ten years, a citizen of this country for 3 and a half years, and will vote for the first time in a Canadian federal election.

I lived in the United State for 48 years, before immigrating to Canada from the state of Alabama in October 2005.  When I came to Canada, everything seemed pretty much like the US, but with a few differences, of which I was keenly aware.  In 2005, Canadians were not obsessed with their fears.  They did not talk about what they feared all day, they didn't try to convince me that I should be afraid, like them ... if I only understood the danger we're all in!  They didn't try to tell me that, in other words, that if I were smarter, I'd be more fearful.  What a bullshit attitude; but that was the attitude of the South I left. Constant fear, and bold talk, but just talk. 

I think the gun culture of the States defines the difference in Canadians and Americas.

I know the gun culture well, I was a part of it. It's a culture of fear ... Americans are a frightened people, controlled by that fear.

The guns – and I possessed my own share; I'm not exempting myself – are pacifiers. Americans need them to feel safe, secure, and in control. Canadians don't; and that's a huge cultural difference.

But consider what’s happened in the ten years since I crossed the border.  There is a large growing segment of Canada's population that is starting to obsess over fear. And fear has taken center stage in the upcoming federal election.

Fear is like anger.  It's an emotion that must be constantly fed, or it will diminish.  Canada has an entire political party, it seems to me, devoted to stoking fear, and anger, and hatred ... seeking to exploit those emotions.  Just like our American neighbors. 

Canada can avoid the same. On October 19, two weeks from today, I believe Canadians are going to soundly renounce the Conservative Party government of Canada; and reject the politics of fear that have controlled this nation for far too long.

Friday, October 2, 2015

How social media took out Vic Toews

Here's how social media was used to take out one sanctimonious Canadian politician.  I love this story.

Vic Toews was the Canadian Minister of Public Safety in Stephen Harper's Conservative Party government until he resigned on July 8, 2013. The year before, Toews had introduced the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (also known as Bill C-30).  Bill C-30 was widely seen as introducing American-style warrantless surveillance to Canada.   In defending the bill, Vic Toews made the repugnant statement that people "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

In other words, "If you aren't a pornographer, you've nothing to fear."  The insinuation: "if you protest our surveillance bill, you might be suspected of viewing child porn"

And there's the logical fallacy: "if you've done nothing wrong, you have no reason to protect your privacy."

Public response to that statement, and protest of Bill C-30, was immediate. And within days, someone using an anonymous Twitter account began posting personal information of the court proceedings during Toews' divorce from his wife of 30 years, Lorraine Kathleen Fehr, after she discovered that he had fathered a child with their underage babysitter. All of the information posted was already on the public record, filed with the Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba, but posting in on Twitter was a violation of his privacy; true ... and it was a perfect use of irony to disprove Toews' claim that people who have done nothing wrong should have no expectation of privacy.

Toews later denied that he made the "child pornographers" reference, despite his comments being available on video. In February 2013 the government announced Bill C-30 would be scrapped entirely, Vic Toews resigned from his position on July 8th of that year, and retired from politics.

Do you think the mainstream media would've revealed the hypocrisy underlying Vic Toews' claim that no Canadian is entitled to a private life? 

Social media brought this one down.  He got what he deserved.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Behold, the mighty Hoover Dam! 80 years old

America's Hoover Dam was dedicated in a formal ceremony on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Eighty years ago.

Hoover Dam, which forms Lake Mead, once one of the US's largest water reservoirs, was constructed over a five-year period (1931–1936) during the Great Depression.  The total cost of the dam was $49 million dollars when it was built, which would translate to $700 million if we tried to build something like it today. 

For perspective, consider that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost, to date, $1,641 billion.  Those wars cost the Americans 2,345 Hoover Dams. 

Hey ... maybe they could simply build 2,345 Hoover Dams (47 in every US state) and then blow them all to bits; they seem to like doing that with their wealth. 

Lots of things come to my mind, though, when I think of what Americans could do with that money.  I wonder why it never occurs to some Americans that they're simply flushing their treasure down the crapper.

My mother used to say, whenever I would spend my entire allowance on bottle rockets and firecrackers, "Son, you're just burning up your money."  Yeh, point conceded, but how I loved to watch it burn!  I guess some people just like a lot of noise and pretty sparks, huh?  :-)

The wars were wars of choice; no one forced Americans into them; Americans chose war over what they could have had instead.  It was a bad choice, an unwise choice, but it was also a choice they made with their eyes wide open. My dad always used to tell me:  "if you want to know what a man's priorities are, watch how he spends his money." People always find a way to afford the things they really want most.  Always.

Americans chose war.  Americans want war.  Lots of it.  By their actions; they demonstrate that.

Not gonna criticize Americans.  We all know they're God's chosen people!  I'm not questioning that.

But I do think Americans would be far better off, after 14 years of war, to have built 2,345 Hoover Dams.  Just sayin ...
Charles Aulds
September 30 2015


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Most Canadians just want to restore Canada

As a new Canadian, voting this Fall in my first federal election, I was a little surprised that so many young people I know and work with (in a liberal Atlantic province) express a preference for Thomas Mulcair over Justin Trudeau.  I just don't see the personal appeal, though I support the party and its platform.

It was explained to me that Mulcair comes across as a very capable public administrator, one to whom important decisions can be trusted.

Our current government is perceived as one that had badly mismanaged Canada; taking the country in directions it didn't need to go.  Canadians (those I know personally), by and large, do not want radical change, they want a return to the Canada they love; and I, the Canada that brought me from the United States, at the age of 48, to start a new life, in a new country, in which I had no family or friends.

Now a citizen since February 2012; I can still see the Canada that enticed me to immigrate; and I see young Canadians determined to protect and restore it.  And that makes me confident of my/our future.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

We protect our own rights when we defend the rights of others

When I immigrated to Canada in October 2005 from the Southern US state of Alabama; it was a big surprise to me to discover that Canadians also exhibit an adulation of soldiers and the military; it was not exactly what I thought of as a Canadian trait. People start wearing the poppy two weeks before Remembrance Day and by November 11th, you will hardly pass someone on the street without a poppy on their coat.  Unlike Americans, though, Canadians don't take pride in military power, with Canadians, it's more of an agreement that "we owe our freedoms to those who fought and died in all of Canada's wars ... yada yada."

I do believe Canadians give too much credit to the state and the soldiers who serve that state for the freedoms we enjoy. Not enough credit to ourselves; we're the ones who are most responsible for defending our rights/freedoms ... soldiers are delegated the responsibility for defending the nation's sovereignty and security, which is a lesser role, a less important role, even if more hazardous.  Soldiers will do what they are told, even if those actions are morally wrong or illegal, always, with shockingly few exceptions. 

It is true that we grant ourselves our freedoms in our laws and we protect them in our courts; but more importantly, we protect and defend our freedoms when we exercise them, and guard them when we insist that those freedoms be granted to others, even those with whom we strongly disagree.

We defend our own rights, liberties, and dignity when we protect the rights of those who we may not even feel deserve them, especially those who are powerless to defend themselves. Canadians: remember?  Americans: remember?

I'm using one of my Charter or Bill of Rights freedoms right now; did you recognize that fact? So, what would you really be attacking if you attacked me, personally, for my opinions or beliefs, or if you tried to intimidate me into silence, as others have?

Inclusive Freedom. Expansive Freedom. That is the Canadian idea of Liberty.
The idea that the liberty of all is enhanced when new freedoms are granted to
Justin Trudeau, March 9, 2015
In a Speech delivered at the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

TED talk: David Rothkopf, "How Fear Drives American Politics"

I found this TED talk by David Rothkopf very interesting.  In it, he explains how the fear-driven reactionary response to 9/11 has led to more terrorism, a war on our fundamental rights, and attacks on science by the US government, replacing reason with emotion in decision-making, an inability to respond effectively to modern threats, and enormous costs to society, mostly from the fear-driven distraction from the most critical issues that we confront, terrorism not being one of those.

He begins the talk, like this ...

On September 11, 2001, 19 guys took over four airplanes and flew them into a couple of buildings. They exacted a horrible toll. It is not for us to minimize what that toll was. But  the response that we had was clearly disproportionate – disproportionate to the point of verging on the unhinged.

We rearranged our entire national security apparatus in the most sweeping way since the 2nd World War.We started two wars.  We spent trillions of dollars.  We suspended our values. We violated international law.  We embraced torture. We embraced the idea that if these 19 guys do this, anybody could do it.  Therefore, for the first time in history, we were seeing everybody as a threat.  And what was the result of that?  Surveillance programs that listened in on the emails and phone calls of entire countries, hundreds of millions of people, setting aside whether those countries were allies, setting aside what our interests were.

Despite the fact that, according to our intelligence services, on September 11, 2001, there were 100 members of core Al-Qaeda. There were just a few thousand terrorists. They posed an existential threat to no one.

I would argue that, 15 years later, since there are more terrorist attacks, more terrorist casualties, since the region from which those attacks emanate is more unstable than in any times in its history, we have not succeeded in our response.
David Rothkopf, CEO of the FP Group and editor of Foreign Policy Magazine
TED talk:  "How Fear Drives American Politics"   (18m00s)

It is very encouraging to me that Americans, as Mr. Rothkopf says, are finally emerging from a long "age of fear."  Americans are finally awakening (it seems to me) to the reality that not one of the seven wars they've launched since 9/11 have been successful in mitigating the threat of terrorism and, by making large regions of the planet politically unstable, they have increased the size of terrorist groups and their power and their reach.  America's fear-driven response to one single successful attack has made war more likely, perhaps inevitable, and possibly endless.

The fact that it took 15 years for Americans to even begin to deal with what was, essentially, a tiny threat, almost irrelevant to most people, is absolute evidence that the country is dysfunctional; not just in Washington, but from sea to shining sea.  The crisis facing Americans does not lie overseas; it never has.  Not even in the Cold War world that I grew up in.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Edward Snowden awarded the 2015 Bjørnson prize for free speech

On September 5th, Edward Snowden accepted the 2015 Bjørnson prize for intellectual freedom of expression via a video link from Moscow, because the United States told Norway to extradite him if he attempted to accept the prize in person.

In a world that needs heroes, we are very fortunate to have a man like Edward Snowden.

"The boundaries of our rights have been changed arbitrarily by a few officials
  sitting behind closed, who substituted their judgement for our own."

– Edward Snowden, in accepting the 2015 Bjørnson Prize for free speech

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bruce Ivins was not guilty

Last week, when the young female journalist and her cameraman and boyfriend were shot to death in Virginia while filming a live TV interview, I was surprised to read (in two different places which listed other journalists who have been killed in the US) that Army scientist Bruce Ivins (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Maryland) was guilty of murdering a photojournalist Robert Stevens with anthrax. It didn't happen that way; and I'm gonna challenge the lie.

That lie resulted in the destruction of Dr. Bruce Ivins career, and caused his suicide as well. It is also one of the lies that led to the widespread acceptance of other lies that led to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Just like the "imminent threat" from Saddam Hussein's non-existent stockpiles of WMD, there were no "terrorist sleeper cells" in communities across the country. That was a lie. And it was a lie that Bruce Ivins killed anyone with "weaponized" anthrax.

The FBI hounded Bruce Ivins with their constructed case for his guilt, where there was none. Sure he had the knowledge, he had access to the labs and strains of the virus; it was easy to build a circumstantial case for his guilt. Except ... none of it was true. They didn't care; they needed to pin it on someone; Bruce Ivins didn't have the political power or connections to defend himself against their attack. If he had been guilty and arrested for the anthrax letters in 2008, he would have been the only terrorist arrested in the US for killing at least 1 person since the year 2000. In 2008, when they were close to making his arrest, it was very important to the government that they find at least one real terrorist to back up their wild claims of terrorist "sleeper cells" just waiting for orders to attack ... in 2008, Americans were just beginning to believe that the terrorist threat was blown completely out of proportion.

Bruce Ivins was used to justify the war that the neocon leaders wanted; and would have. Americans were simply too frightened to care about the truth; or about American principles of justice. And that fear was largely cultivated by their governments.

Because the FBI botched its investigation, never had even the shred of a case against Ivins, and this is not the first time they were called out on it. The 2011 National Academy of Science (NAS) report pointed out the same things as this GAO report: that FBI and its contractors developed methods that were not validated. They never proved that the anthrax in the letters actually grew from parent spores in Bruce Ivins’ flask, as FBI purports. This failed claim forms the linchpin of the FBI’s entire case.

Bruce Ivins was innocent.

Earlier this year, in a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, Richard Lambert, the FBI director who was in charge of the anthrax letter investigation from 2002-2006 claimed that the FBI is concealing evidence that will exonerate Bruce Ivins of sending those letters. Lambert was head of the FBI office in Knoxville from 2006 until his retirement in 2012.

Lambert's lawsuit also contends that the Justice Department caused him to be fired from a subsequent security job at the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory because he had filed a whistleblower report in 2006 alleging mismanagement of the anthrax probe. In that report, nine years ago, he referred to "the FBI's fingering of Bruce Ivins as the anthrax mailer" and "the FBI's subsequent efforts to railroad the prosecution of Ivins in the face of daunting exculpatory evidence." In other words, Lambert was also targeted for attempting to reveal the truth.

Remember, if you can, that the government originally tried to pin the letters on another Army scientist, Steven Hatfill, who was cleared of those charges, and received $5.8 million to settle his own lawsuit against the Department of Justice.

Remember, too, that the two Senators to whom the letters were mailed (Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle) were those most likely to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act. Believe what you will, but I believe they were put on notice: You shut your mouths, or we'll shut them for you.

Bruce Ivins was innocent.

Never forget the vile spirit of fear-driven hatred and lust for vengeance that held Americans in its grip in 2002. Because that is the true character of those around you; that which is revealed in a time of crisis.

For that reason, I refute the lie when it's repeated now.

Bruce Ivins was innocent.