Making a home on native land: Adrienne Clarkson on the welcoming way to be Canadian 

Always worth reading her reflections as the 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 begins:

It was Robert Frost who told us in The Death of a Hired Man that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Home is the ultimate refuge, the place of obligatory belonging, the destination of the spirit. The idea that, ultimately, there is a place where you belong, a place which is acknowledged, is a compelling one. We all want to feel that we have a home: security, trust, understanding – all are a part of what we feel our personal home is.

In this time of increased migrations, it’s worth considering once again the notion of home: the kind of home that Canada has been, is, and will be, for many.

Canada’s original residents gave an introductory lesson in “home,” as they welcomed newcomers – Europeans – to their land, and helped them learn how to survive. In a tragic irony, it is their First Nations descendants who now find themselves exiled from a sense of belonging, often literally homeless as well as uprooted from a sense of this land as home.

We would do well to reflect on what we have – or haven’t – carried forward of their welcoming legacy, and on what kind of home we offer to newcomers who come after us.

In the 1948 United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Home is a feeling as well as a shelter. It is what makes the phrase “feeling at home” or ” chez soi” meaningful. Those of us who were lucky enough to have parents until we were adults identify home as where we grew up, where, hopefully, we were loved and cared for until we could face the world ourselves. In the fortunate industrialized world, this means we went from our parents’ care to our own homes, modelling our futures on our past.

Even though I came to Canada as a refugee, I came with my family intact – mother, father, and brother. We had suffered serious trauma, having to abandon our home under bombardment, hiding in basements and watching an enemy, the Japanese army, occupy and destroy.

My family’s house in Hong Kong was looted and my mother saw our household furniture, the baby grand piano, the hand-painted heirloom china, and the silver tea and coffee service sold on the street. Our dog, a borzoi called Snow White, who had run away during the bombing, returned to us with human entrails in her mouth. Our home in Happy Valley was taken away from us and defiled.

When we made our way toward Canada on that Red Cross ship with one suitcase apiece, we had lost all our tangible bearings. But what was within us could not be destroyed. What was in us was the will and energy to begin again – in a new place, no matter how tough.

Despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, an active law intended to keep Chinese immigrants out of the country, we managed to settle in Ottawa, which was then a city of 90,000 people.

Here, the only Chinese either owned restaurants or laundries. But it was the Anglican church that welcomed us and made us feel at home, and that gave my mother, who was Hakka – and whose family had been Anglican for four generations – help and confidence. Coming from Hong Kong, we all spoke English, as good colonials should.

I often think of this when I think of the surge of people around the world, the millions on the move, swelling the refugee camps where they languish for not months, but years, waiting for the opportunity to leave. In Canada, our challenge is to make immigrants feel that they have found the place where, when they had to come here, we had to take them in.

Integration isn’t always a matter of getting lost in the crowd. Sometimes a sense of home can be built in places that may seem insular at first – not Toronto or Vancouver but Moose Jaw or Red Deer. As governor-general I went to Red Deer 15 years ago because they wanted to show me that their population mosaic was as great as Toronto’s. They had jobs to offer there and they were welcoming newcomers.

Among the 300 people who greeted me, 24 countries were represented. Filipinos, Chinese, Kenyans – all got up and spoke about the advantages of coming to what was at that time a city of 75,000 people. Initially, they said, they stood out as foreigners – they were stared at, but they found they could live through that, and if someone directed a racist epithet at their child, someone else would say, “I know his mother – she works at my local Tim Hortons.” And so they felt they quickly became part of a community. They all said that if they had known that they would have to go to a small city to find work, rather than settle in Calgary or Edmonton, they would have said, “No thanks.” In a big city, you can find others like you – whether you like them or not – but you will never be a novelty or different, in the best sense of the word.

People of my generation remember being the only South Asian family in London, Ont. or the only Chinese in St. John’s. It’s not possible to hide in communities of that size, and I’m of the belief that this isn’t such a bad thing. I have a leaning toward the “So I am different. Let’s get that over with now” school of integration. It will cause discomfort for newcomers, but is being stared at in a street or in a store too high a price to pay for establishing yourself in a country in which you are free to choose where you want to live and how you want to live?

My parents would emphasize to me that, in Hong Kong, they would not have been able to afford the kind of education we were getting for free in Ottawa – wasn’t it worth enduring some gawking on the first day of school for that? We must never interpret social awkwardness as an insurmountable barrier to belonging, nor bad manners as an ultimate form of rejection.

True, ugly racism manifests itself in other ways which we can address and combat as a society within our legal system. Some personal suffering, some loss of dignity, some sense of being excluded – all can be steps in a kind of Calvary that leads to acceptance and feeling at home. So many of us who are Canadians now have had to go down this road in the past.

Those of us who came to Canada like me, a refugee, or those who chose to leave their birth countries and chance something different, something more, have risked that we can go somewhere and be taken in. In Canada, we are in a position to take people in. And they will arrive to our cities and to our towns and communities. There will be room made for them. Or, they will make viable room for themselves in what The Globe’s Doug Saunders has described so vividly as “arrival cities”: What looks like disorder and distress can actually be an organic chaos leading to the innovative organization of a home.

We are supposed to be a healthy and prosperous country – one that is known to shelter and provide for its citizens. Unfortunately, despite this, we have the stigma of unacceptable homelessness and poverty in our country. We know that 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, and that 35,000 are homeless on any given night. Twenty per cent of our homeless population is made up of people between the ages of 16-24. It is shameful that our Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in our homelessness population: One in four people who experience homelessness identify as Aboriginal or First Nations. We want to welcome newcomer families to our country, and yet somehow Canadian children and families are the fastest-growing demographic experiencing homelessness today. All this is a national disgrace.

We must adhere to the values that make this country a desirable place to settle in: “So the last shall be first, and the first last,” as the Bible says. We have means enough to focus our resources on the people who need them most, wherever they may be from.

What we have to do in Canada is assure that the place that has to take people in can offer a real home to them and to the people who are already living here. We must be certain that we are always working toward an egalitarian standard of living. We must give ourselves the goal of eliminating the blight of homelessness, the institutionalizing of food banks, the disgrace of filthy water on our reserves.

Over 40 years ago, in 1976, when we started the CBC’s investigative news programme the fifth estate, we opened a working file on bad water at Grassy Narrows. Several months ago, there was a story on bad water in Grassy Narrows in The Globe and Mail. We do have to wonder, What the hell is going on? For our Indigenous peoples, a home must be the place where they are cared for and valued, just as much as we cared for the strangers who arrived and needed to be taken in.

We must never forget that the Indigenous peoples took us all in as strangers, opened their land to us, and shared their skills and their knowledge so that we could live in a country with a rude, difficult climate and impossible terrain. Through the waterways and in their canoes, we mastered this land and called it home. It is our duty and obligation – and a part of being a citizen – to make sure that home is bountiful for all of us.

Source: Making a home on native land: Adrienne Clarkson on the welcoming way to be Canadian – The Globe and Mail


Who Put The ‘Hispanic’ In Hispanic Heritage Month? : NPR

Interesting history and example of how political level, civil organizations and officials responded to needed change:

And then by 1980, the term Hispanic shows up for the first time on a census form. How did that happen?

One wouldn’t necessarily think of [President Richard] Nixon as a champion of Latino rights or Latino identity. But he was open to hearing Latino concerns, in part because he grew up in Southern California, in a context where he knew Mexican-Americans existed. And they were different. Their lives were different; their experiences were different from whites. In 1972, he created the first comprehensive ‘Hispanic vote’ political campaigns at the presidential level that the country had ever seen. Nixon had what he called “amigo buses” that roamed around the Southwest but also the Northeast and into Florida. Those that roamed on the East Coast played salsa and cumbia and those that roamed in the Southwest played mariachi. This was before the Democratic Party did anything close to this. And the Nixon administration also pressured the Census Bureau to create an advisory board comprised of the Mexicans and the Puerto Ricans, who were incredibly loud, and also some Cuban sympathizers that had been big contributors to Nixon. One of the biggest points of debate is: What would this group be called on the census?

How did they choose the term ‘Hispanic’?

Some of the advisory members said, “Hey, why not use ‘brown’? We don’t fit into these white, black, Asian categories. That’s not us.” Now, if you’re a demographer, if you’re a statistician, that seems like an incredible nightmare. You know, brown can mean Filipinos. Brown can be Native Americans. Brown can be South Asian Indians. This was a complete non-starter.

They went down the list. Latin American. One of the problems is that Latinos were seen as foreigners, invaders and not inherently American. And one of the jobs of the advisory board was to really show that Latinos were an American minority group, like African-Americans — a minority that stretched from coast to coast and that were patriotic, that fought in wars, that contributed to American history, that built American cities. So when a term like Latin American was used, right away, it seemed to strike discord because it was seen as too foreign.

Hispanic was never a term that everybody loved, but it was a term that got a lot of support from within Latinos in the Nixon and, later, the Ford administration.

And, then, how did they make it stick?

The Census director called all the Latino advocacy groups that were being set up in Washington, D.C. — the National Council of La Raza; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and said: “HELP.” NCLR set up town halls in places like Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, showing people the new census form and telling them, “Look, we’re Hispanic. This is us. This is our chance. This is our category!” The second phone the Census director picked up was to Spanish-language media. At that time, the company that would later go on to be called Univision was growing rapidly. They ran documentaries, commercials, even a day-long telethon, where different performers from across Latin America came out. Each of them held out the census form and says, “Hey, remember to fill out the census. We’re Hispanic on the 1980 census. This is important for us.”

How did we get from arguing for totally separate identities like Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban, to me calling myself a Latina?

Because it takes on a life of its own! Once the category was made, everything from political groups to civic organizations to every other media group that would emerge, would draw on census data. As soon as the census numbers came out, Latino lobby groups could then run the numbers and say, ‘Look, this is what Latino poverty looks like; this is what Latino educational attainment looks like.’

They could go up to the Department of Education, for example, and say, “Latinos are the second-largest minority group. And yet, our educational attainment pales to that of whites. Send money to our schools.”

The same exact thing happened in the market. As soon as the numbers came out, Univision releases the first Hispanic marketing manual, in which they take figures like income, and they call it “Hispanic buying power.” And they take the census report and make pitches to McDonald’s and Kellogg’s and everybody else. And they start to slowly grow.

During the 1980s, Latino political organizations started to demand that not only should we have a Hispanic category in the census, but we damn well should have it on birth certificates. Michigan, Georgia, Louisiana — they still categorize Latinos as whites. And there was a large political push among these groups, with even Spanish-language media writing to them and saying, ‘Look, put us down as Latinos. We’re not white. We’re distinct. We’re different.’

Robert Fulford: A history of ‘Islamophobia,’ a word of dubious value

I always find it surprising that some people can can devote column space to the word Islamophobia without any discussion of the real world issues of discrimination and prejudice that many Canadian and other Western Muslims have experienced. This is essentially a more sophisticated version of the earlier commentary by Candice Malcolm (M-103 weaponizes what a ‘phobia’ is).

A cop-out IMO. One could argue that an excessive focus on the word Islamophobia is in itself a reflection of Islamophobia (or if you wish, anti-Muslim attitudes):

Every era has special words that ignite resentful arguments and reveal difficult emotions. There’s no doubt that Islamophobia is our word, a painful term that’s hard to avoid.

It functions as a rhetorical weapon. Whoever uses it (and many do) is trying to convict someone else of chauvinism and a thoughtless prejudice against Muslims and Islam. It’s a protective word, a shield against Muslims being damaged by criticism and argument.

Pascal Bruckner, the French philosopher, who has spent a great deal of time working on this issue, summarizes his opinion in a few words: “There’s No Such Thing as Islamophobia. Critique of religion is a fundamental Western right, not an illness.”

A phobia is a medical term, an anxiety disorder stirred up by irrational fear of heights, or perhaps spiders or snakes and other repellent creatures. Few would confess to feeling that way about Islam. Fewer still would seek treatment of their negative reactions to Islam.

Islam is a titanic force in this era and we talk about it and write about it often. But we hardly know how to express ourselves. We stutter and stammer when it comes up and sometimes we may use words like Islamophobia to censor ourselves. From Barack Obama down we have wrestled with attempts to define Islam or interpret it. Obama actually said that the Islamic State is not Islamic, as if he would know. He said Islam is a religion of love and peace, to which the only honest reply is: Sometimes Yes, sometimes No.

Our thinking on this subject can be affected by a sense of guilt, conscious or unconscious. Many Muslims are from places conquered and then dominated by European imperialists. Bruckner has investigated this fact in his book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism.

“Nothing is more Western than hatred of the West,” Bruckner says. “All of modern thought can be reduced to mechanical denunciations of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination.”

The hard truth is that many non-Muslims find it difficult to speak about (or to) Muslims. Our intentions are confusing, even to us. We hope for good relations with Muslims who live among us and we assume that they are as appalled as we are by violence committed in the name of their religion. We also hope they know that Islam, though sacred to them, is also the scourge of millions when it’s interpreted literally by blindly self-righteous mass murderers.

We know they seem more sensitive, in a way, than others. They can’t easily shrug off humiliation. Le Monde in Paris pointed out that Charlie Hebdo, the satire magazine, devoted only four per cent of its covers to ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed; meanwhile, the same artists had been mocking Jesus, Moses, the Dalai Lama, and the various popes for 40 years. But Islamist killers were so offended by the four per cent that, in January 2015, they assassinated most of the staff.

Le Monde’s comparison means nothing. The killers could reason that Jesus, the popes and the rest are of little importance. The Prophet, on the other hand, is a crucial figure in their daily lives and they must protect him from humiliation.

Bruckner is of course right when he says that critique of religion is a fundamental Western right, but committed Muslims are not entirely in the West. They are in a larger place, the world they imagine, where no such right exists. Perhaps they know that Christianity and Judaism broke into pieces because their rules permitted serious, long-ranging criticism of their most basic principles.

The word Islamophobia originated in the early 20th century. An early use was in a French biography of Muhammad (“islamophobie”). Sometimes it was used internally, within Islam, to identify a fear of Islam felt by liberal Muslims and Muslim feminists, rather than a fear or dislike of Muslims by non-Muslims. It was given an official imprimatur in 2004 when Kofi Annan, then the UN Secretary-General, said the word Islamophobia had to be coined in order to “take account of increasingly widespread bigotry.” From there on it was part of language, a word of dubious value.

Source: National Post | Full Comment » Full…

Worlds of Islam, Michael Jackson collide in Egyptian film | Fox News

Interesting and risky film to make:

An Egyptian ultraconservative Muslim preacher hears on his car radio news of the death of Michael Jackson, the pop singer he idolized in his teens, and he becomes so distraught he crashes his car.

The news of the passing of the King of Pop is the start of a crisis of conscience for Sheikh Khalid Hani, the main character of the movie “Sheikh Jackson,” Egypt’s first feature film to focus on the religious movement known as Salafis, followers of one of the strictest interpretations of Islam.

It follows Sheikh Hani, a Salafi, as his love for Michael Jackson throws him onto a bumpy journey to discover his own identity, mirroring how Egypt’s conservative society is torn between its Islamic and Arab traditions and Western culture in an age when television, telecommunications and social media bring together people and cultures from all corners of the world.

“I no longer cry while I am praying. That means my faith is faltering,” Hani confides to a female psychiatrist in one scene. Crying while praying, he explains, reflects his fear of God.

The film goes beyond examining Salafis, says the director, Amr Salama. “It’s about humanity … It tells you that one’s identity is not a single dimension or an unchangeable thing,” he told The Associated Press just days before “Sheikh Jackson” premiered in the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month.

It’s a journey Salama has some experience in: He was a huge Jackson fan in his teens and then became Salafi during his university years, before moving away from the movement.

Salafism is one of the most closed, uncompromising visions of Islam. Its doctrine is primarily built around what its followers believe is emulation of the actions the Prophet Muhammad. They are easily recognized by their chest-long beards, robes that reach to just below the knees. They shun music, film and dance and outside influences seen as decadent. Salafi women wear the all-covering niqab, including veils over their faces.

Followers view life as a little more than a transitional phase and are contemptuous of worldly pleasures. Immortality in heaven is their chief goal.

When Hani goes to the psychiatrist — who he thought by her ambiguous name was a man — he asks her to put on a headscarf during their sessions. She refuses, and throughout their talk, he can’t look at her. When she asks him the last thing that made him feel alive, his response comes from Salafi doctrine: “I bought my shroud and wrote my will.” He occasionally sleeps under his bed, convinced that it is the closest thing to being inside a grave, thus a reminder of his mortality.

But Jackson’s death revives in Hani the obsession with the singer he had in his teens, when he imitated the star’s look and dance moves. It earned him the nickname “Jackson,” but also the disapproval of his macho father.

“He is effeminate,” the father says of Jackson. But Hani’s mother whispers to him, “He is the world’s best singer. But keep that as our little secret.” When the mother dies young, Hani’s father turns into a serial womanizer and becomes violent, beating Hani for imitating his idol.

When the adult Hani discovers his own daughter — around six or seven — watching videos of Beyonce, he tears out the Wifi and denounces “dancing to the devil’s tune.”

The film, which is to be released in Egyptian cinemas later this month and which Egypt has put forward as a candidate for a best foreign film Oscar nomination, goes into delicate territory.

Source: Worlds of Islam, Michael Jackson collide in Egyptian film | Fox News

Trump has started a brain drain back to India

Positive impact for Canada:

So many [foreign hi-tech] workers have been frustrated that attorney Brent Renison sought class-action status for a lawsuit filed last year in U.S. District Court in Portland. He argued, in part, that the H-1B lottery was arbitrary and capricious. The suit asked the court to order the government to process visa petitions in the order they are filed and compel the government to establish a waitlist like the one used for green card petitions. The government prevailed.

“Some people are moving out of the country, taking valuable skills with them,” Renison says. “Some people are choosing not to come. If this persists, were going to lose a lot of the foreign students we educate.”

The system was barely functioning as it was. Applications for work visas already were so clogged in the federal bureaucracy that in recent years even Ivy League graduates couldn’t be certain of receiving one. Getting a work visa hasn’t guaranteed stability, as Sahay, the data architect, knows.

Employers can sponsor immigrants’ green cards, or permanent visas, but the approvals process is backlogged. The federal government places caps for green cards on each country each year. Indians seeking permanent residency say it’s routine for them to linger in line for a decade or more. Up to 2 million Indian workers here and abroad may be waiting in a green card backlogthat could take a decade or more to clear if there are no changes to the system, says David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute think tank.

Those concerns may add to the shortage of highly skilled technology workers in the United States, just as Canada or Singapore vie for those same people.

Every other startup company, says Vish Mishra, an investor with Clearstone Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, has operations based overseas or recruits workers in India, Eastern Europe, Canada or Israel.

“You’re not going to have, all of a sudden, 200,000 [American] people filling the gap that exists. What are businesses going to do? Businesses have to import talent,” he says.

Canada has become more attractive just since the U.S. presidential election. The country granted temporary work visas to 1,960 Indian nationals in all of 2015, and 2,120 total in the fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of this year.

In November, Canada announced that as of June, the country would speed the processing of standard visas and work permits to two weeks for highly skilled talent working for companies doing business in Canada. The move, the government says, will help companies grow and fuel job growth for Canadians.

Meanwhile, in the United States, tech workers and engineers are bound to established companies that filed paperwork for them years back. Almost everyone in the Indian tech community knows a weekend entrepreneur who desperately wants to start his or her own company but can’t quit work because they would be visa-less. Meanwhile, friends and family in India beg them to come home and bring their ideas to India’s own booming silicon valleys.

Rishi Bhilawadikar, a user-experience designer in the Bay area, says that tenuous life lived by so many educated Indian workers — in America, but not really of America — spurred him to shoot a feature film.

In For Here or To Go, made over the course of more than seven years, the characters weigh whether America has lost its promise for young, mobile Indians. The idea bubbled up, Bhilawadikar says, after he read research that showed how certain laws keep some immigrants from fulfilling their potential, driving many back home or to countries with more welcoming policies, such as Canada and Chile.

Source: Trump has started a brain drain back to India

Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism? Andrew Sullivan

Good long thoughtful read. Although written for the hyper-tribal US environment, lessons for all countries of the risks of identity bubbles. Conclusion:

Tribalism is not a static force. It feeds on itself. It appeals on a gut level and evokes emotions that are not easily controlled and usually spiral toward real conflict. And there is no sign that the deeper forces that have accelerated this — globalization, social atomization, secularization, media polarization, ever more multiculturalism — will weaken. The rhetorical extremes have already been pushed further than most of us thought possible only a couple of years ago, and the rival camps are even more hermetically sealed. In 2015, did any of us anticipate that neo-Nazis would be openly parading with torches on a college campus or that antifa activists would be proudly extolling violence as the only serious response to the Trump era?

As utopian as it sounds, I truly believe all of us have to at least try to change the culture from the ground up. There are two ideas that might be of help, it seems to me. The first is individuality. I don’t mean individualism. Nothing is more conducive to tribalism than a sea of disconnected, atomized individuals searching for some broader tribe to belong to. I mean valuing the unique human being — distinct from any group identity, quirky, full of character and contradictions, skeptical, rebellious, immune to being labeled or bludgeoned into a broader tribal grouping. This cultural antidote to tribalism, left and right, is still here in America and ready to be rediscovered. That we expanded the space for this to flourish is one of the greatest achievements of the West.

Perhaps I’m biased because I’m an individual by default. I’m gay but Catholic, conservative but independent, a Brit but American, religious but secular. What tribe would ever have me? I may be an extreme case, but we all are nonconformist to some degree. Nurturing your difference or dissent from your own group is difficult; appreciating the individuality of those in other tribes is even harder. It takes effort and imagination, openness to dissent, even an occasional embrace of blasphemy.

And, at some point, we also need mutual forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if you believe, as I do, that the right bears the bulk of the historical blame. No tribal conflict has ever been unwound without magnanimity. Yitzhak Rabin had it, but it was not enough. Nelson Mandela had it, and it was. In Colombia earlier this month, as a fragile peace agreement met public opposition, Pope Francis insisted that grudges be left behind: “All of us are necessary to create and form a society. This isn’t just done with the ‘pure-blooded’ ones, but rather with everyone. And here is where the greatness of the country lies, in that there is room for all and all are important.” If societies scarred by recent domestic terrorism can aim at this, why should it be so impossible for us?

But this requires, of course, first recognizing our own tribal thinking. So much of our debates are now an easy either/or rather than a complicated both/and. In our tribal certainties, we often distort what we actually believe in the quiet of our hearts, and fail to see what aspects of truth the other tribe may grasp.

Not all resistance to mass immigration or multiculturalism is mere racism or bigotry; and not every complaint about racism and sexism is baseless. Many older white Americans are not so much full of hate as full of fear. Equally, many minorities and women face genuine blocks to their advancement because of subtle and unsubtle bias, and it is not mere victim-mongering. We also don’t have to deny African-American agency in order to account for the historic patterns of injustice that still haunt an entire community. We need to recall that most immigrants are simply seeking a better life, but also that a country that cannot control its borders is not a country at all. We’re rightly concerned that religious faith can easily lead to intolerance, but we needn’t conclude that having faith is a pathology. We need not renounce our cosmopolitanism to reengage and respect those in rural America, and we don’t have to abandon our patriotism to see that the urban mix is also integral to what it means to be an American today. The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s-land that lies between the two tribes. Reentering it with empiricism and moderation to find different compromises for different issues is the only way out of our increasingly dangerous impasse.

All of this runs deeply against the grain. It’s counterintuitive. It’s emotionally unpleasant. It fights against our very DNA. Compared with bathing in the affirming balm of a tribe, it’s deeply unsatisfying. But no one ever claimed that living in a republic was going to be easy — if we really want to keep it.

Source: Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism?

Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment – The New York Times

Good and sobering analysis and how Facebook and other social media were caught unprepared for the darker side of human nature and societal impact:

On Wednesday, in response to a ProPublica report that Facebook enabled advertisers to target users with offensive terms like “Jew hater,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, apologized and vowed that the company would adjust its ad-buying tools to prevent similar problems in the future.

As I read her statement, my eyes lingered over one line in particular:

“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us,” Ms. Sandberg wrote.

It was a candid admission that reminded me of a moment in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” after the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue.

“I had been the author of unalterable evils,” he says, “and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control.

Facebook is fighting through a tangled morass of privacy, free-speech and moderation issues with governments all over the world. Congress is investigating reports that Russian operatives used targeted Facebook ads to influence the 2016 presidential election. In Myanmar, activists are accusingFacebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.

Few of these issues stem from willful malice on the company’s part. It’s not as if a Facebook engineer in Menlo Park personally greenlighted Russian propaganda, for example. On Thursday, the company said it would release political advertisements bought by Russians for the 2016 election, as well as some information related to the ads, to congressional investigators.

But the troubles do make it clear that Facebook was simply not built to handle problems of this magnitude. It’s a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps. Its engineers are in the business of building apps and selling advertising, not determining what constitutes hate speech in Myanmar. And with two billion users, including 1.3 billion who use it every day, moving ever greater amounts of their social and political activity onto Facebook, it’s possible that the company is simply too big to understand all of the harmful ways people might use its products.

“The reality is that if you’re at the helm of a machine that has two billion screaming, whiny humans, it’s basically impossible to predict each and every possible nefarious use case,” said Antonio García Martínez, author of the book “Chaos Monkeys” and a former Facebook advertising executive. “It’s a Whac-a-Mole problem.”

Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy, said in a statement: “We work very hard to support our millions of advertisers worldwide, but sometimes — rarely — bad actors win. We invest a lot of time, energy and resources to make these rare events extinct, and we’re grateful to our community for calling out where we can do better.”

When Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004, nobody could have imagined its becoming a censorship tool for repressive regimes, an arbiter of global speech standards or a vehicle for foreign propagandists.

But as Facebook has grown into the global town square, it has had to adapt to its own influence. Many of its users view the social network as an essential utility, and the company’s decisions — which posts to take down, which ads to allow, which videos to show — can have real life-or-death consequences around the world. The company has outsourced some decisions to complex algorithms, which carries its own risks, but many of the toughest choices Facebook faces are still made by humans.

Even if Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg don’t have personal political aspirations, as has been rumored, they are already leaders of an organization that influences politics all over the world. And there are signs that Facebook is starting to understand its responsibilities. It has hired a slew of counterterrorism experts and is expanding teams of moderators around the world to look for and remove harmful content.

On Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a video posted on Facebook that the company would take several steps to help protect the integrity of elections, like making political ads more transparent and expanding partnerships with election commissions.

“We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he said.

But there may not be enough guardrails in the world to prevent bad outcomes on Facebook, whose scale is nearly inconceivable. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s security chief, said last month that the company shuts down more than a million user accounts every day for violating Facebook’s community standards. Even if only 1 percent of Facebook’s daily active users misbehaved, it would still mean 13 million rule breakers, about the number of people in Pennsylvania.

In addition to challenges of size, Facebook’s corporate culture is one of cheery optimism. That may have suited the company when it was an upstart, but it could hamper its ability to accurately predict risk now that it’s a setting for large-scale global conflicts.

Several current and former employees described Facebook to me as a place where engineers and executives generally assume the best of users, rather than preparing for the worst. Even the company’s mission statement — “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” — implies that people who are given powerful tools will use those tools for socially constructive purposes. Clearly, that is not always the case.

Hiring people with darker views of the world could help Facebook anticipate conflicts and misuse. But pessimism alone won’t fix all of Facebook’s issues. It will need to keep investing heavily in defensive tools, including artificial intelligence and teams of human moderators, to shut down bad actors. It would also be wise to deepen its knowledge of the countries where it operates, hiring more regional experts who understand the nuances of the local political and cultural environment.

Facebook could even take a page from Wall Street’s book, and create a risk department that would watch over its engineering teams, assessing new products and features for potential misuse before launching them to the world.

Now that Facebook is aware of its own influence, the company can’t dodge responsibility for the world it has helped to build. In the future, blaming the monster won’t be enough.

Canada border agent detentions of Mexicans surge to highest levels in a decade

While the removal of the visa requirement for Mexicans is the largest factor, the high number of detentions and asylum determination refusals suggest ongoing enforcement of entry regulations:

Detentions of Mexican nationals by Canadian border agents have surged dramatically this year to levels not seen in a decade, new figures obtained by The Canadian Press show.

According to Canada Border Services Agency, the total number of detentions from Jan. 1 into the first week of September hit 2,391 — roughly six times the 411 in all of last year — and equal to the previous five years combined.

“CBSA cannot speculate why the number has increased,” spokesman Barre Campbell said in an email Thursday. “The agency’s role is to apply Canadian law at the border.”

The sharp increase has contributed to a rise in the rate of detentions of all foreign nationals this year. Figures show agents detained 1,032 people each month this year, compared to 877 a month last year and 993 in 2015.

Experts point to two main factors as the most likely cause of the upswing in Mexicans running afoul of border agents in Canada.

Last December, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted a visa requirement for Mexicans coming to this country, making it easier to do so. The result was an immediate jump in detentions.

Additionally, the crackdown on undocumented migrants under U.S. President Donald Trump and his threat to remove deportation protections from those foreigners who entered the States illegally as children — the vast majority Mexicans — may also have prompted many of those affected to look north to Canada.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said on Thursday that Canada was working with Mexican officials to monitor migration trends and address any risks.

“Canadian officials have co-operated closely with Mexican counterparts to lay the ground work for the visa lift and ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place,” Bardsley said in an email. “These efforts include measures to identify and deter irregular migration, including bolstering co-operation on travel-document integrity and traveller screening.”

The last time the Mexican detention numbers were anywhere near current levels was in 2008, at 3,301, border agency numbers show. That year also saw the number of Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada reach record levels.

In response to what they characterized as phoney refugee claims, the former government under then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper imposed an onerous visa requirement in 2009 that meant all would-be Mexican visitors had to provide numerous supporting documents.

“We are spending an enormous amount of money on bogus refugee claims,” Harper said at the time. “This is a problem with Canadian refugee law, which encourages bogus claims.”

Harper’s visa decision resulted in an immediate plunge in detentions and asylum claims that lasted until 2015, with a slight uptick happening last year. However, the requirement angered the Mexican government and civil-rights groups in Canada among others, ultimately leading to Trudeau’s reversal of that decision late last year.

Bardsley defended dropping the visa requirement as a boon to bilateral relations, trade, investment and tourism that he said will result in lasting economic benefits for Canada.

Recent Immigration and Refugee Board statistics also show a dramatic increase in asylum requests from Mexicans this year, although the vast majority of such applications are rejected as unfounded.

In 2016, for example, 242 Mexicans applied for refugee status. Almost three times as many — 660 — were recorded in the first seven months of this year alone. The board does not keep statistics of how many people came via the U.S. rather than from Mexico itself.

The law allows the border agents to detain foreign nationals or permanent residents on reasonable suspicion they pose a danger to the public, may go underground, or where identity is in doubt. The CBSA data relates to detentions not detainees and may include a person detained more than once.

Source: Canada border agent detentions of Mexicans surge to highest levels in a decade | Toronto Star

Why won’t Trudeau stop real estate scammers? Gary Mason

Builds on earlier article by Douglas Todd (Todd: Tax avoidance behind Metro’s disconnect between housing, income):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting a rough ride for going after doctors and small-business types allegedly exploiting the tax system to their benefit.

Perhaps Mr. Trudeau would get more brownie points pursuing those gaming the real estate sector, people who are leaving a far more critical problem in their wake than anyone sprinkling income to pay a few less dollars in tax.

The latest census information underscored once again the inexplicable divide that exists between average incomes in certain parts of the country and house prices. The median total income for households in Metro Vancouver, for instance, was $72,662 in 2015 – 15th in the country. In the city of Vancouver, it falls to $65,327 – an area in which the average house price is $1.4-million. In neighbouring Richmond, B.C., the average house price is over $1-million and the median total income is a paltry $65,241.

Only when you go further out into the burbs, where house prices are lower, do incomes begin to rise. In Surrey, for instance, the average home price is $764,000 and median total income was $77,494 in 2015, according to the recent census.

In a place such as Calgary, median household income was just under $100,000 and average house price around $460,000 – so there isn’t nearly the disconnect that you see in Vancouver or Greater Toronto, where the average home costs just over $750,000 and median household income was $78,373.

In Metro Vancouver, some of the most expensive areas for housing – Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond – claim some of the highest poverty rates.

Richard Wozny, a real estate analyst with Site Economics, has delved into the numbers in Metro Vancouver. He says that in the world of economics there is something called the median multiple, which is the ratio of income to average house price. So, if you earn $100,000 and the average house price in the city in which you live is $200,000, than the ratio is two to one, or simply two.

A median multiple of three or under is considered affordable; five and over is considered seriously unaffordable. Hong Kong, one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, had a multiple of 19 in 2015, according to a Demographia study. Australia’s Sydney, another city with extreme house prices, had a multiple of 12.

Metro Vancouver’s median multiple exceeds 20, with some municipalities such as the city of Vancouver and West Vancouver in the high 30s. And yet, the median household incomes in some of those same ultra-expensive neighbourhoods fall below the regional average. How do you explain that?

Mr. Wozny says even factoring in the likely percentage of retirees in some of these areas, the numbers make no sense. More likely, some of those buying homes for $1-million, $2-million or $3-million are not reporting their full incomes. We know that, in some cases, wealthy offshore investors are using trusts and numbered companies as well as spouses and children to buy homes while reporting little annual income.

Meantime, people in the “outer burbs” living in homes of less value are reporting more. In other words, there are people of moderate income living in Metro Vancouver who are, through their taxes, paying a greater share of the costs of the regional services and infrastructure that others, making far more income, also enjoy.

Canada has become an Eden for money launderers and tax evaders, allowing many to freeload off of others who can ill afford it. It was disclosed this weekthat since 2015, the Canada Revenue Agency has identified hundreds of millions in taxes owing in real estate transactions. Yet only three cases nationwide have been referred for criminal prosecution.

Mr. Wozny looks at a city like Seattle that has a higher median household income than Vancouver and lower average house prices. He believes part of the reason for that is because the United States has tougher regulations, including taxing worldwide incomes. This helps prevent offshore opportunists from scamming the tax system and pillaging the real estate market to the detriment of honest, hard-working Americans.

It’s ironic that the proposed tax changes that are causing Mr. Trudeau so much grief are supposed to benefit the middle class, that fuzzy demographic the Prime Minister loves to defend.

Yet, that same middle class in parts of this country are getting absolutely hosed by some who are helping to drive up housing prices, reaping the financial rewards from it, but not paying the same costs as everyone else.

It’s not fair. And the government needs to do something about it.

Source: Why won’t Trudeau stop real estate scammers? – The Globe and Mail

New Antifa Book: Only Bougie Wimps Oppose Left-Wing Violence Against Fascists

Good review and critique of those on the left who justify violence:

Thanks to the well-timed release of his book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook—a thorough study of anti-fascist activism—Dartmouth lecturer Mark Bray has become an in-demand media presence. His authoritative point of view has been featured by Meet the Press, The New Republic, and also (along with two self-professed antifa) in a debate with me on Al Jazeera over antifa violence.

A former Occupy Wall Street organizer, Bray utilized his contacts among the pan-leftist activist community to interview scores of international antifa. Their perspectives, combined with Bray’s rigorous historical research and his unabashed advocacy for antifa’s battle against amorphously defined “fascists,” constitute the bulk of Antifa’s pages.

Bray’s book dispels certain misperceptions about the group. Not merely defined by violence, antifa devotes much of its energy to the investigation and outing of various white supremacists. Taking a historical long view of the movement, Antifa details how communities of anti-fascists rousted racist skinheads out of the punk rock and soccer scenes in a number of cities, and recounts some notable historic antifa victories, such as “The Battle of Cable Street,” when in 1936 over 100,000 anti-fascist protesters stopped a march through London of over 5,000 black-shirted fascists.

Bray eschews any pretense of objectivity. And there’s nothing wrong with that—he chooses to use history in service of advocacy. Yet because of its glorification of antifa violence regardless of justification or effectiveness—Antifa is more hagiography than history. For example, Bray neglects to point out that “The Battle of Cable Street” led to electoral gains and a surge in membership for the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and he devotes exactly one paragraph of his book to concern over a growing “culture of insurrectionary maschismo” that fetishizes black bloc tactics at the expense of non-violent anti-fascist activism.

Though critics of antifa’s violent “no-platforming” tactics include Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—and despite substantial evidence that such actions increase the prominence of the very speakers antifa seeks to silence—Bray insists that non-fascists need not fear the fists or fire of antifa. But the fact is that some victims of antifa violence have included people that only someone who sees Nazis on the insides of their eyelids could define as fascistic: journalists, photographers, and people of color.

Just as many mainstream liberals did, Bray lauds the well-publicized antifa sucker-punch of alt-right leader Richard Spencer as a contributor toward “legitimizing anti-fascism.” This was on Inauguration Day, when Spencer was giving an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and an antifa member punched Spencer as he was being interviewed on a Washington street. Footage of the reeling white supremacist went massively viral and triggered a wide-ranging debate over the righteousness of “Nazi punching.”

But Bray also writes glowingly of “the most iconic moment of the day… when a limousine was set ablaze.” Bray neglects to mention the immolated limousine was occupied by a Latino driver who suffered minor injuries in the attack, and the vehicle was owned by a Muslim immigrant, who asserts he was later harassed by individuals who mistook him for a Trump supporter.

Antifa is not a paramilitary group, nor does it have a hierarchy. This fact leaves the deployment of violence to the discretion of individual participants. Docu-journalist Leighton Woodhouse, who has written favorably of antifa, covered the demonstrations against a right-wing “free speech” rally in Berkeley this past August and wrote of how easily mob violence in the name of “justice” turns innocent people into collateral damage. “Anybody who challenged the Black Bloc made themselves a target, whether they were a white supremacist looking to stir shit up (and there were maybe five or six of those in a crowd of thousands), or a liberal who yelled their disapproval at their tactics, or a reporter taking pictures after being commanded to stop,” he wrote. “If you pissed someone in the Black Bloc off, and someone came after you, the rest of the bloc followed. Suddenly you were facing a hostile mob, the time for arguing your case expired, literally fearing for your life.”

Though Bray dismisses concerns about potential antifa mission creep—insisting that average foot soldiers in the fight against fascism are disciplined and sophisticated enough to distinguish actual fascists from less threatening right-wingers—he and other advocates continue to lower their own bar for acceptable violence.

Case in point: After antifa rioted to shut down a scheduled speech at Berkeley by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopolous, the group’s supporters cited unnamed sources claiming Yiannopolous intended to publicly out undocumented students. Though Yiannopolous’ noxious politics are unabashedly anti-immigrant, he issued a public denial that he intended to dox (although he admitted he liked the idea). He never did do it. Significantly, this unsubstantiated rumor continues to be cited by pro-antifa journalists to justify the violence.

Following neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Bray and other advocates have made conflicting claims, arguing on one hand that a fascist takeover is imminent unless the rest of us tacitly approve of masked vigilantes acting as judge, jury, and executioner of anyone they choose in the streets. On the other hand, such advocates boast of scores of alt-right rallies subsequently canceled because of the counter-threat posed by antifa. (The latter claim is likely inflated due to one anti-immigrant group’s decision to cancel one day of 67 rallies in part because they didn’t want neo-Nazis and alt-rightists co-opting their cause.) A more likely supposition, suggested by Kill All Normies author Andrea Nagle, is that Charlottesville made any association with the alt-right so toxic that once sympathetic alt-light trolls are running for cover.

Bray never explicitly accuses President Trump of being a fascist, but he argues that the alt-right’s influence on Trump further justifies antifa action, and as a revolutionary socialist group, Bray notes antifa could not be bothered with the lamentations of mainstream Democrats who worry the group could provoke an electoral backlash. Though he doesn’t claim to be a part of antifa, Bray shares the group’s illiberal view of civil liberties and supports its goal of a “revolutionary socialist alternative… to a world of crisis, poverty, famine, and war that breeds fascist reaction” which they believe would create a crime and prison-free “classless society.”

Ultimately, Bray addresses nearly every argument by invoking the fact that Hitler and other far-right insurgents began with small followings, but then some of these groups did what had been previously considered unthinkable—assuming political power and murdering millions. Therefore, Bray persistently relies on the counterfactual argument that because countless fascist movements have been “nipped in the bud” by anti-fascist activism over the past century, non-violent protest can be blithely dismissed as a bourgeois obstruction to the true justice only antifa is brave enough to deliver.

As an advocate for a cause he believes in, Bray comes loaded for bear with historical precedent. But because of his assertion that the ends justify antifa’s means—period—his perspective is hampered by a willful obtuseness and a refusal to address inconvenient facts.

Source: New Antifa Book: Only Bougie Wimps Oppose Left-Wing Violence Against Fascists