In praise of Russian culture: it deserves better

A scene from Ballad of a Soldier: a Russian mother waits for her son to come home from war.

I suppose this may not be the best time to say anything good about Russia and the Russian people. But no sooner do I write that than I think, on the contrary, this may be the best time.

The atrocious brutality of one man, and his corrupt enablers, whoever they are, have certainly cast a dark shadow over Russia and its people, who are apparently as gullible and easily manipulated as any nation of human beings on this long-suffering planet. Tragically, that appears to be one of the most fatal flaws of our imperfect species; otherwise, brutal, murderous tyrants, like Vladimir Putin, or would-be tyrants like Donald Trump would be laughed off the stage before they did too much harm.

Tchaikovsky

Putin claims to be the Great Defender of everything Russian, including Russian culture. He references the current, conspiratorial ‘cancel culture’ mindset when he says Russian culture is in the process of being ‘cancelled’ by the west, led by the current U.S. administration under President Joe Biden. (No one should underestimate the extent to which Trump’s loss in the 2021 presidential election upset Putin’s grand plan for the takeover of Ukraine, including Trumps likely withdrawal of the U.S. from NATO).

But I dare to say, Russia, Russians, and Russian culture most of all deserves something a whole lot better than Vladimir Putin.

I hasten to say, I am not expert in Russian culture. What I know comes from personal experience and appreciation of the works of certain Russian composers, writers, and filmmakers. I can honestly say, from the heart, that my spiritual life has been enriched immeasurably, and my life changed, since the time I was a teenager by the listening, reading, and watching the great, creative works of the rich Russian culture.

Sergei Prokoviev

I think I was 16 when I first heard Canadian pianist Glenn Gould play Sergei Prokoviev’s 7th Piano Sonata with the dramatic, ‘Precipitato’ final movement, like nothing I’d ever heard before. Thus began my life-long love of Prokoviev’s diverse, creative genius. He stands on a par in my book with Beethoven, possibly even higher; and, with the 9th piano sonata especially, he reached the sublime, ‘edge-of-the-universe’ musical expression of J.S. Bach at his best.

Again, as young man barely out of my teens, I saw my all-time, favorite movie on the unforgettable Elwy Yost’s, Saturday Night at the Movies, on TVO. Despite the less-than-ideal title in translation, the 1959 Russian movie, Ballad of a Soldier, is a classic of world cinema, with the most gorgeous and evocative musical score and wonderful cinematography. The scene at the well in the Russian railyard, when the heroine, holding back her long hair, drinks pure, spring water from a rough iron tap, is a life-lasting image. The hero, the young, Russian soldier, Alyosha, on leave for heroism, finally makes it home to his village with no time to spare. His mother finds out he is home almost too late, runs desperately through the field of grain, reaches the road as the truck carrying her son is driving away, then calls out to him, “Alyosha, Alyosha.” He hears her, but they have so little time to speak. Sixty years later it still brings tears to my eyes.

Scene from Ballad of a Soldier

How many Alyoshas, kept in infernal, misinformed darkness by Putin, died in Ukraine today, I wonder.

Most recently, my new most favorite movie is The Ascent, by Larisa Shepitko, regarded as one of the best women directors in the history of cinema, Shepitko was born in the eastern Ukraine. Her father was Persian. She went to Moscow when she was 16 to study filmmaking and immerse herself in the former Soviet Union’s rich, though tightly controlled, cinematic tradition. For example, Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925, Odessa Steps scene) is regarded as one of the greatest formative directors in film history.

Made in 1977, two years before Shepitko’s tragic death in a car accident, The Ascent follows the fate of two Russian partisan’s as they try to find their way back to their group through the bitter cold of a Russian winter after ambushing a German patrol. They reach a farm where they are given shelter but are discovered and taken to a nearby village. They are sentenced to hang along with a group of villagers. After torture, one of the partisans agrees to work for the Nazis to save his life. The other partisan goes to his death with courage and Christlike faith. It is one of the most deeply moving movie scenes I have ever watched.

A scene from The Ascent

The historic Ukraine-Russia connection, early and late, is complicated, and forged on the crucible of frequent, foreign invaders, notably, Mongols, Napoleon’s Grand Army, and Germany’s Nazi regime. It’s no wonder a good deal of paranoia underlied the empire-building policies of Tarist Russia, the former Soviet Union, and now Putin’s Russia.

Ukrainians suffered greatly during the mid-1930s under Joseph Stalin’s brutal, dictatorial leadership of the Soviet Union. Millions of Ukrainians died of persecution and starvation as a result of famine deliberately engineered by Stalin. Whatever brotherhood may have existed between Russia and Ukraine before then was destroyed by Stalin’s brutality, much like Ukraine is now, again, being destroyed by Putin.

Thus have the evil deeds of two, ruthless dictators led to the current war in Ukraine, and the real possibilty of a global catastrophe. The Ukranian people deserve better. So do the Russian people. And so does the world.

You would think ‘in the best of all possible worlds’ the historic suffering of both the Russian and Ukranian nations would lead them to a mutual understanding of how to live in separate, sympathetic peace.

But this is not the best of all possible worlds, so long as autocratic tyrants are allowed to take and hold absolute, undemocratic power.

A lament for the proud, Canadian dream

Readers of this blog may recall that I have often written proudly about Canada as a wonderful example to a troubled world of a country where a great diversity of people of many cultural backgrounds live together freely in peace.

Ottawa in the midst of the Trucker Convoy protest.

I have always in the next stroke of the pen, as it were, noted that Canada is ‘yes, still a work in progress. It has a history of injustices, especially toward Indigenous people, that it seeks in good faith to reconcile. I have always taken a positive attitude, in expressing my personal belief that Canada is ‘heading in the right direction,’ based on the growing mutual respect of Canadians towards each other, and our shared belief, hopefully, that this is a ‘good country.’

That above being said, I now have to say, the events of the last few weeks have been personally disillusioning and heartbreaking.

I must also confess to being … yes, even angered by the sight of large groups of self-righteous people wrapping themselves in Canada’s flag, while doing great harm to the well-being of this ‘good country.’

Picking beans with great, granddaughter, Jorden: living the Canadian dream

And for what purpose? The truckers’ protest began with a focus on the federal mandate requiring Canadian truckers crossing the border on their return trip to Canada to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be quarantined if not. Then it became a protest against all government Covid-19 mandates and restrictions. In the midst of that were growing indications that the real objective is to overthrow the current Liberal federal government and democratic system. And so far, protest organizers – whoever they are, and wherever they are – and defiant supporters still occupying Ottawa and blocking vital, cross-border, trade routes, show no willingness to bend on that extreme demand. Meanwhile, foreign donor money, from ‘anonymous’ sources in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, has aided and abetted the undemocratic aims; Trump flags and U.S. flags, even Confederate flags, have flown at the Ottawa ‘occupation’ and border blockades. And Fox news, the most politically biased news media venue in the Western world, fans the destructive flames in blatant support. The ignorance of their unqualified hosts knows no bounds.

Meanwhile, around the world, Canada’s reputation as a peace-loving country, and Canadians as a peace-loving people, is in ruins.

I have to ask, who is this benefitting? Certainly, not Canada; and certainly not the future of my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; and yours too, my fellow Canadians, who felt warm and secure in the believe our good country was one of the best places in the world to live, and well on its way to being the best. We felt fortunate. We felt blessed. Didn’t we, most of us?

Some among us felt differently. They thought there was something fundamentally wrong, something evil even, embodied in the person of one man, one Canadian, one of us. It is a cruel and dangerous lie.

With certain rare exceptions, who haunt us still, none of us are perfect or evil, trucker convoy protestors and others with different opinions.  But the base, human instinct to close doors, to destroy or blockade bridges, to build walls, to fall into tribal traps, to not love your neighbor: those are symptoms of the ongoing human tragedy. As Canadians we are better than that, and as human beings. That sacred truth was reaffirmed, by the way, more than 2,000 years ago. I’ll leave it to the convoy protestors to discern what that comment is about and give it some thought.

The road ahead.

Morning thoughts (10): Being human at our best

Yes, indeed, the snow was coming down heavily when the propane truck showed up early this morning. And none too soon either: the tanks were getting low, and to be on the safe side, I had turned the thermostat down to 60.

So it was, with a certain level of relief I saw the truck coming down Cathedral Drive as I put a blue box full of recyclables at the end of my long driveway, after spending a frigid hour or so blowing it out with the tractor-and-snowblower attachment.

The truck driver was a cheerful young man, talking about the weather, as Canadians are famous world-wide for doing obsessively. (That must be why I’m writing this now, eh?).

He said the last time he had delivered propane to my place earlier, in the late fall, it also had been snowing heavy on Cathedral Drive. “A winter wonderland, eh,” he said cheerfully as he started to pull the long, black hose around to the side of the house where the propane tanks are located. Inside, the dogs were barking excitedly as they always do when the propane truck arrives, or for that matter, anybody or anything.

I decided to keep the tractor block-heater plugged in because, the way the snow was coming down, I’d likely have to blow the driveway again. That’s one of the essentials of getting through a Canadian winter:  you have to keep on top of it, whether it be clearing the driveway, shoveling snow off the roof, or making sure the tractor essentials have been looked after: motor oil, antifreeze, gear and hydraulic fluid, battery charging okay, and especially, the block heater working well. Any one of those things neglected, and many others not mentioned, and winter will make you pay the price.

The other thing about winter is it demands you re-arrange your priorities, like, in my case, keeping up on the news is relegated to second place.

Still, I find it hard to imagine how people can live without up-to-date news about what’s going on in the world, especially if it’s something that has the clear risk of being able to create catastrophic chaos. And when I say that I immediately think of the world my three grown daughters, and my many grandchildren may inherit.

In the almost four-score years I have been on this planet, I have never seen such troubling times. At the top of the list of those worrisome troubles is the ongoing crisis south of the border. Make no mistake, the future of Canada, as well as the rest of the world, and the U.S. itself, hangs in the balance depending on what happens there. This new year, 2022, will see it go one way or the other: the survival of American democracy, or a virtual authoritarian regime, even an actual civil war. There’s a virtual one already.

Meanwhile, the Covid pandemic has come back with a vengeance because of the omicron variant, after seeming to be on the wane last summer. It threatens to aggravate the socio-political problems in the U.S. Inevitably, the administration of President Joe Biden, already showing signs of strain, will be blamed if the situation doesn’t change for the better. Talk about a ‘perfect storm.’

And if 2021 didn’t provide enough evidence that climate change is real and closing in on catastrophic consequences – think 50-degree summer temperatures, and -50 winter temperatures in western Canada, for just one example – then I don’t know what more evidence will.

What is the matter with us, we human beings? As Shakespeare had the character, Puck, say in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these mortals be.”

All that being said – and much left unsaid – I am compelled to dig down deep and come up with hope, that most positive quality of human nature:

We have it in our power, in the ‘better angels’ of who we are, to change things for the much better. Once our most prehistoric, human ancestors, facing a life-threatening, environmental catastrophe, got together and went in search of a way, and a place to survive and go on living. It was a long and hard journey. It took many years, perhaps many generations. Everyone had a role to play, everyone worked together. They learned out of existential necessity how to be a supportive, peaceful community; otherwise, they would not have survived. Sometimes they laughed, often they cried; they learned how to sing and dance to help keep up their spirits; they created and made tools; they fought off predators by outsmarting them. And they no doubt also prayed to the Great Mystery for strength, inspiration, and guidance.

And they succeeded. And so have human beings succeeded many times in accomplishing all manner of great, good things. That’s who we are at our best: intelligent, individually and collectively, and multi-talented, problem solvers.

Nothing is impossible.

Morning thoughts (5): Hope

Hope is the most precious …

I was going to say ‘commodity.’ But that primarily refers to a raw material or agricultural product that is ‘bought and sold.’ It has also come to be applied in a more general sense, as in, “Water is the most precious commodity.”

That’s certainly true enough, including spiritually; but then I would add calling water a commodity doesn’t do it justice. Likewise, Hope, perhaps to an even greater extent.

So, what should we call Hope? Preferably, not ‘it.’ The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, best known for his book, I and Thou, would suggest ‘Thou.” The title denotes the different quality of relationship people may have with other beings, ultimately leading to relationship with God, the Creator, the Great Mystery. I use that word, ‘beings,’ in the broadest spiritual sense, as applied to all the natural wonders of our world, and beyond.

Whatever we may call Hope, it is most essential. We cannot live without Hope. Surely that’s true — who can deny? — problems of varying degrees of troubling impact are bound to happen in our lives. It can be, it often is, a hard and frightening world for most of us who simply want to live our lives as best we can with a sufficient level of peace, security and stability, and hope for the future.

But Hope is strained under the weight of too much heartbreak and adversity, and of fears engendered by an overwhelming series of major troubles in the world around us, far and wide. Despair can set in if that persists day after day, month after month, year after year.

Despair is a terrible thing. Taken to heart internally, it will break the spirit, leading to other terrible personal and and community consequences like poverty, homelessness, drug addiction that further eat away at the possibility of renewed hope. It is a foolish society indeed that fails to recognize the need to reach out to help those in such critical need.

Despair also expresses itself outwardly, in confused anger and violence. Millions of people in unknowing despair are easily exploited by selfish, unprincipled people for their own gain, including the pursuit of personal power.

Such, I fear, is the world we now live in; and I confess, I am losing hope.

The Covid pandemic is heading toward the beginning of its third year, with a fourth surge fueled by a new variant that appears to be more infectious, spreading quickly around the world. The Omicron variant originated in southern Africa where, like other poor areas of the world, vaccination levels remain extremely low, compared to richer countries, where booster shots are being pushed to meet the challenge amid indications vaccines are less effective against the new variant. It is hoped booster shots will help.

Meanwhile, the other big story is the continuing crisis in the U.S. Make no mistake, that is an existential, world-changing story that affects us all. I have sensed for some time people are tired of hearing about it. But bury your head at your peril.

In recent days, much new evidence has surfaced about the extent to which the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Congress was the result of a coup conspiracy orchestrated from the White House after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He continues to claim election fraud, and insists he has the best interests of his country at heart.  

The White House

Many observers are publicly wondering why, with more than enough evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice appears to be so passive about laying charges, or otherwise showing its hand. To some extent that is the nature of the beast when it comes to enforcing the rule of law; you take the time you need to do your due diligence to ensure you have a strong case. In this case that is even more important. If charges are laid, especially against Trump, and there appears to be anything less than an ironclad case, there is a real chance of civil war breaking out.

Meanwhile, Republicans control a majority of the state legislatures, many of which are busily passing new laws giving them more power to declare the results of the 2022 mid-term elections in their states, if the outcome is not to their liking.

So, in effect, the coup is still underway. And time is running out.

I don’t know how you feel about that. But I am worried.

The decline and fall of American democracy, and therefore, America itself, will shake the stability of the world to its core. Russian troops are massing on the Ukraine border, because Russian leader Valdimir Putin is, at the least, testing the resolve of the U.S. to do anything.

U.S. President Joe Biden and allies have warned of “consequences” if Russian invades the Ukraine. They would likely be more economic sanctions.

The possibility of war is hanging in the balance. It must be noted that any war between Russia and its allies, and the U.S. and it’s allies, would be fought to a large extent in cyberspace, where Russian operatives have already had much experience attacking the U.S., by interfering in the 2016 presidential election in support of Trump.

Am I getting carried away? I actually hope so. But if the last few years have told us anything, it’s that anything is possible.

In the meantime, I keep my hopes up as best I can by, first, going for morning and evening walks with the dogs.

This morning the sun rising through a line of trees to the southeast was enough to stop me for a while. Then on the way back I was struck by how much in a few minutes the sun had risen over the trees.

And that led me to think about how for ages people believed the apparent movement of the sun meant the Earth didn’t move, and therefore must be the center of the universe. In the 16th Century a pretty smart guy named Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician, astrologist and man of many talents, wrote a book that proved otherwise. It was titled, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). A Roman Catholic canon himself, he was praised by other learned people, but also strongly criticized by protestant and Catholic church leaders alike for many years.

Nicolaus Copernicus, who put the sun back in it’s right place

Copernicus, being human, worried that might happen, and delayed publication of his book, until shortly before he died in 1543. But even so, he was hopeful: he believed the truth did not diminish, but rather glorified the wonder of Creation; and the day would come when others would see that.

So, thinking about Copernicus raised my hopeful spirits. And then later in the day, I baked bread, and that always helps.

“To know the mighty works of God, all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High.”– Nicolaus Copernicus.

The root cause of the American crisis: a view from up north

Civilization and the social stability it provides, allowing human beings to live their lives in peace and pursue their plans and dreams can never be taken for granted. Recent history has shown how fragile is the veneer of civilization when a would-be demagogue, sensing an opportunity in the mass despair and confusion of a people, can take over one of the world’s most civilized nations; with disastrous results for that nation and the world.

How quickly history and its lessons are forgotten. It is happening again in, of all places, the great democracy that saved the world from history’s most evil tyranny. And again, It can only get worse if that country, the United States of America, can’t somehow save itself from self-destruction.

It’s terrifying to see, even from this distance, day after day how badly American politics and society are divided. On one side, the cult-like obeisance of a large proportion of the population and conservative lawmakers to the demagogue and his outrageous lies. If anything, it grows more extreme, driving the world’s first and greatest democracy toward an existential crisis. On the other side, various commentators are beside themselves with loaded language, preaching to the converted and looking down upon the others, as yet more evidence of the demagogue’s failed coup after he lost the 2020 election is daily revealed. There is no effective communication between the two sides, nothing that might offer a glimmer of hope.

Meanwhile, nothing is done about the continuing, horrendous decline in the quality of life of millions of people who have lost hope of ever being part of the ‘American Dream’, or who live in fear on the edge of that despair. Take a short trip on YouTube and see the depressing sight of how countless people now live in many American cities, like Oakland, in California, the U.S. state with the world’s 5th largest economy.

Speak the truth, by all means; it is the only hope. But start where it begins, at the root cause of the malaise that now threatens the end of a great nation, and the future of the world.

The underlying causes of the rise to power of a ruthless dictatorship in Germany in 1933, leading to the Second World War, and the Holocaust is well-documented: a First World War lost at great cost of life; a punishing peace treaty with crippling reparations; drastic out-of-control inflation, and then a global depression. The demagogue who has already pledged to make Germany great again blames it all on communists, and especially Jews. His Nazi party has become the largest, but with less than 40 percent support of voters, after several democratic elections, still lacks a majority. But he is appointed Chancellor (Prime Minister), of a bipartisan government by an elderly, increasingly senile, figurehead, war-hero president. It is expected the demagogue can be controlled. The Reichstag (Parliament) is set on fire, the communists are blamed, the demagogue is given emergency powers. The old president dies. And the demagogue and his racist party seize total power. Other political parties are banned. Jews, homosexuals, and other people considered racially or mentally defective are persecuted, sent to concentration camps, murdered. All members of the military and government officials are required to pledge personal loyalty to the leader (Fuhrer).

So, the question arises, what has made such a large proportion of the American people, so vulnerable to a demagogue who wraps himself in the Star-Spangled Banner, declares himself the only person who can save the country and return it to greatness, demands loyalty to Himself, and tells lies constantly?

Let’s start by talking about war and how, even before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the U.S., wars and the military-industrial complex that thrived on war became a predominant fact of American life; and then how, after 9/11, they became much more predominant, to the extent that in the next two decades the U.S. spent $14.1 trillion (measured in 2021 dollars) on post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

First, a prophetic warning about the growth of the military-Industrial complex from the late, former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, the former Commander-in-Chief of Allied (western) forces in the Second World War, in his farewell address as president on January 17, 1961:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

The Viet Nam War is a good place to start a discussion about the fateful impact war has had on the American psyche and body politic. Its complex causes have been well documented, for example, on this history.com website.

At its height close to 500,000 American troops were serving in Vietnam. By the time the war ended in 1973, 58,200 had died, and an estimated two million Vietnamese, mostly civilians.

The Vietnam memorial, engraved with the names of 58,200 American dead

A final, humiliating image of U.S. defeat was helicopters landing on the roof of its embassy in Saigon to evacuate Americans, some of whom fought off Vietnam refugees desperate to get on. That image was the parting wound among many others that cut deep into the proud American psyche. “The war had pierced the myth of American invincibility and had bitterly divided the nation. Many returning veterans faced negative reactions from both opponents of the war (who viewed them as having killed innocent civilians) and its supporters (who saw them as having lost the war), along with physical damage including the effects of exposure to the toxic herbicide, Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which had been dumped by U.S. planes on the dense forests of Vietnam,” says the history.com article.

And this: “According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.”

Many Vietnam veterans are still alive today, the fathers and grandfathers of millions of Americans. Many of them, and others, would have recalled that humiliating image of how the Vietnam war ended when the shocking images of the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan were shown around the world this past August. They showed thousands of Afghans desperately tried to get on flights at Kabul airport. It’s no coincidence President Joe Biden’s approval rating suddenly dropped, though it was former President Donald Trump whose administration negotiated the withdrawal deal with the Taliban insurgents, without the involvement of the now-defunct Afghanistan government.

The U.S. spent $120 billion on the Vietnam war from 1963 to 1975. But that number pales in comparison with the $14.1 trillion spent following the 9/11 attacks. As noted above, there never was a formal declaration of war by Congress before the U.S. invaded, first Afghanistan, with justification, and then Iraq, without.

The Center for International Policy, at Brown University’s Watson Institute, has recently published a series of research papers called, ‘20 Years of War, a Cost of War Research Series.’ One is titled, ‘Profits of War: Corporate Beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending.’ As far as I can tell it has received little news coverage. That’s a shame because it contains a wealth of revealing, and shocking, information about the “dramatic increase” in U.S. military funding since 9/11.

That paper includes a quote attributed to a high-ranking official of one of the five major, private defence contractors, in this case Boeing. It underlines the extent war fever at the time left the public purse wide open for huge increase in military spending after 9/11:

“Harry Stonecipher, then vice-president of Boeing, told The Wall Street Journal in October, 2001, the month after 9/11, ‘the purse is now open … any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November.’”

Of the $14.1 trillion total Defence/Pentagon “$4.4 trillion went for weapons procurement and research and development, categories that primarily benefit corporate contractors,” the Watson Institute article says. It adds “the rest was used to pay for pay and benefits for military and civilian personnel and supporting expenditures needed to operate and maintain the U.S. military. It noted the $4.4 trillion figure is “a conservative estimate of the pool of funding Pentagon contractors have drawn from in the two decades since 9/11. The Pentagon’s massive budget for operations and maintenance also subsidizes contractors, but it is harder to determine what share of this category goes to private firms.”

The article notes the Pentagon has become increasingly reliant on private contractors in the post-9/11 period; and “that raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness. This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse.” (my italics, for emphasis)

“One-third to one-half” of the $14.1 trillion went to defence contractors that earned profits “that are widely considered legitimate,” the article says. But “other profits were the consequences of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price gouging or profiteering.”

The paper notes the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that waste, fraud and abuse in the two war zones as of 2011 had already totalled $31 billion to $60 Billion.”

It goes on to describe numerous examples. I will focus on a couple that had a direct and deadly impact on American troops. See the link above to the full report for all the examples.

What the paper calls “a particularly egregious case of shoddy work that had tragic human consequences involved the electrocution of at least eighteen military personnel in several bases in Iraq beginning in 2004 due to faulty electrical installations.” It says some of the installations were done by Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) and its subcontractors. KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton, one of the best known and controversial reconstruction and logistic contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Watson Institute paper says, “An investigation by the Pentagon’s Inspector General found that commanders in the field had ‘failed to ensure that renovations… had been properly done, the Army did not set standards for jobs or contractors, and KBR did not ground electrical equipment it installed at the facility.’”

In another case: “The 2008 death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, a Green Beret who was electrocuted while showering in Iraq, brought Congressional and public attention to the issue. While KBR had inspected the building that Maseth died in and found ‘serious electrical problems’ almost a year before his electrocution, KBR did not fix the identified problems. Notably, KBR’s contract did not require ‘fixing potential hazards.’ A former KBR electrician accused other KBR contractors of falsifying documents to make it appear that they had fixed the previously identified grounding issues. Another former KBR electrician testified to the Senate that KBR used untrained or inexperienced electricians to do electrical work at a lower rate while billing the U.S. government at the same rate used for experienced electricians. Lastly, in July 2008, a KBR electrician testified that the (Department of Defence) had no oversight system for the electrical work, even after soldiers had been electrocuted.”

Halliburton was controversial in the post 9/11 wars because of its connection to Dick Cheney, U.S. vice-president in the administration of President George W. Bush. Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton when he was picked by Bush as his running mate in the run-up to the 2000 election. Cheney had previously been Secretary of Defence in the administration of President George H.W. Bush before he became Halliburton’s CEO. Widely regarded as an unusually powerful vice-president, Cheney strongly favoured the invasion of Iraq, despite knowing before it actually happened that the intelligence that supposedly justified it was faulty. As well, there was no evidence of a connection between Iraq leader Sadam Hussein, and bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization. After the invasion and the defeat of the Sadam Hussein regime, no weapons of mass destruction were found.

Dick Cheney

The Iraq war claimed the lives of between 275,000 to 306,000 people. They included 4,598 U.S. troops, 3,650 U.S. contractors, 15 U.S. Department of Defence civilian workers, up to 208,964 Iraqi civilians, 323 ‘other allied troops,’ and 39,881 opposition fighters.

Canada did not join the U.S.-led coalition that invaded Iraq, but it was a member of the coalition that sent troops to Afghanistan where 158 Canadian soldiers lost their lives.

Another Cost of War study in the Watson Institute series found at least four times as many active duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than died in combat. An estimated 30,177 have committed suicide compared with the 7,057 killed in post-9/11 wars. The report notes “the increasing rates of suicide for both veterans and active-duty personnel are outpacing those of the general population – an alarming shift, as suicide rates among service members have historically been lower than suicide rates in the general population.”

The U.S. had the moral high ground after the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,977 people and injured more than 6,000 that terrible day. The as-it-happened, shocking images brought the watching world to a standstill. Hardly anyone could question the justification to go in force to Afghanistan, to investigate and find and arrest Osama bin Laden and members of his Al Qaeda terrorist organization; and, as well, members of the Taliban government who were complicit, by allowing bin Laden to use Afghanistan as a base of operations. And then they all could, and should, have been brought back to the U.S. to face justice at the scene of the crime, under the rule of law.

Perhaps that’s incredibly naive, or too much to expect, given human nature and its primal need for vengeance; and given the long, established history of nations going to war with or without justification. Some would even argue, and have, that war is the natural state of human beings in a perverse, ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario. Sometimes there does appear to be no choice, as in the Second World War, other than allowing absolute evil to take over the world. But Heaven forbid civilized nations should do something different, something better, when possible, even under such provocation as the 9/11 attacks?

Imagine, if you will, what the U.S. and the world would look like today if, after the inevitable fever for war arose, a strong but less disastrous course of action had been taken that did not kill, wound and traumatize millions of people; that did not cost trillions of dollars; and did not shake the stability of the U.S. to the core, leaving old and new generations afraid and confused about what the future holds.

Instead, the war fever in the wake of 9/11 was exploited by unscrupulous people in high public and private places, who were motivated above all by one desire: to live the American dream of getting filthy rich, and remaining in lucrative positions of power, whatever the cost to the country and their fellow Americans.

Of course, there is a tragic malaise and a lot of deep-seated anger in a large proportion of the American population.

Now, two decades after 9/11, the Biden administration has been having a lot of trouble getting Congressional support, especially from so-called, conservative lawmakers, for legislation to update long-neglected, crumbling, U.S. infrastructure, and improve the quality of life of Americans; millions of whom are struggling through poverty, homelessness, and physical and mental health issues.

Yes, it was going to cost several trillion dollars to begin restoring a damaged nation to health. Gaining approval for more much more than that to fund war and the military after 9/11 was never a problem; more often that not, Congress approved more than was actually requested.

Radicalized conservatives, following the ‘big lie’ strategy of past and present demagogues, have taken to calling the Biden plan “communist” and “Marxist.” That’s how stupid they think the American people are. It can only be hoped they are wrong.

The Capitol building at peace.

The tragedy of 9/11 continues: an historic opportunity lost

Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan

Yesterday, the people of the United States of America, and countless other people around the world, remembered the shocking horrors of the 9/11 attacks. Like many others that morning, I watched in disbelief, hardly believing the terrible images happening in real time before our eyes.

“The solemn day of commemoration offered frequent reminders for Americans of a time when they united in the face of unimaginable tragedy,” said an Associated Press article about the day of remembrance. “That fading spirit of 9/11 was invoked most forcefully by the president at the time of the attacks, George W. Bush, who said, ‘That is the America I know,’ in stark contrast to the bitterly divided nation President Joe Biden now leads.

The AP article continued, “Biden left the speech-making to others, paying his respects at the trio of sites in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington where four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, shattering the nation’s sense of security and launching the country into two decades of warfare.”

With all due respect to Bush, who is a better former president now than he was a sitting one, there is much he could have said about his role in leading his country in the two disastrous, post-9/11 wars. He was largely a figurehead president, while other powerful men in his administration pulled the fateful strings. But as the late, former President Harry Truman famously said about his presidential responsibilities, “the buck stops here.”

Hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan died, and many thousands of soldiers and security forces in uniform, from Afghanistan itself, the U.S., and other NATO countries. They include 158 Canadians. On a percentage basis of the total number of Canadians who served in Afghanistan, that was one of the highest rates of death, second only to the U.K. One of the most shocking statistics I came across, was that 30,177 American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Syria, committed suicide as of the end of 2019. That’s according to The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, of Brown University in the U.S.

The American involvement in the 20-year Afghan war officially ended on August 31 of this year, amid much chaos. That was as the Taliban, the extremists who ruled over Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, regained power so easily and quickly after the fall of a U.S.- backed government. After 20 years of war, the deaths of so many people, and the expenditure of an estimated seven trillion dollars, it was, to say the least, no victory.

The continuing tragedies of 9/11 and those two misbegotten wars include a shaking to the core of a great country, once the light and hope of the world, the country that created the world’s first liberal democracy – yes, liberal – and dared to proclaim, all people are created equal. Yes, it was always a work in progress; but the strength and spirit of that idea helped immeasurably to save the world from domination by the most evil tyranny history has ever known, based on the idea that people are not equal.

The United States had an historic opportunity to show the world how a great democracy deals with even such an atrocious criminal act under the rule of law and due process in pursuit of justice: Send a strong and professional police presence to Afghanistan; conduct an investigation; find and arrest the material suspects; charge them with relevant charges; and take them back to the scene of the crimes to face justice and appropriate punishment according to the law if found guilty. But it failed to do that.

And now that great country is in a downward spiral, terribly divided, between those who believe in its founding principle, and those who don’t. Yes, it is as simple as that.

I don’t blame the millions of Americans who, in their distress and confusion, are being exploited and manipulated by others whose only motivation is a deceitful will to power, and not the good of a great nation.

Twenty years of war and so-called ‘nation-building,’ and trillions of dollars spent for no good reason has neglected the needs of the American people. Who got rich from the spending of that money? The increasing economic inequality of American society belies the country’s founding principle.  No wonder there is turmoil, even to the point of ominous talk about another civil war

.Meanwhile, here in Canada it’s like living next to an ongoing earthquake across our southern border. With our socio-economic life so closely tied to the U.S., the seismic waves of the ongoing upheaval are being felt. Canadians have long taken an interest in what happens politically in the U.S., far more than Americans take in our politics. The current angry divisiveness south of the border appears to have infected the Canadian national election now under way. Elsewhere in the world democracy is struggling to survive, and civilization itself is in peril.

I am a father, grandfather, and great grandfather of a large extended family. I live on a small farm in a secluded rural area of Ontario, Canada called Hope Ness. I am surrounded by a Nature Reserve. Some people say I live in a “paradise” on Earth.

With granddaughter Jorden in the garden

I try to live in Hope. I pray. But I am worried, I fear for the future of my family and the world.

Did this continuing tragedy have to happen?

I invite you to read the article below that was published 20 years ago as an editorial in the Owen Sound Sun Times newspaper a few days after the 9/11 attacks. I might change a few words now; but I’ll leave it as is, and ask you to consider if the point made was valid then, and is still:

The central question facing the human race is how to break the cycle of hatred and violence that is leading it, apparently inexorably, to self-destruction. That was the question hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. And it’s still the question, underlined yet again by the terrible events of last week, the mass murder of thousands of innocent people in the United States by religious or ideological fanatics. 

We say religious OR ideological fanatics because, although the mounting evidence so far points to a crime committed by Islamic fanatics, such atrocities are not the exclusive property of any one culture, creed, race or religion, no matter how much it may comfort us under such circumstances to think they are. They are the evil, criminal acts of human beings who are so full of hate and twisted in their beliefs they can actually justify, even sanctify what they’ve done. 

We have no doubt that somewhere in the Middle East today there are people celebrating the deaths of so-called martyrs who, by their deed of mass-destruction, are now regarded as being in paradise enjoying the pleasures of countless compliant virgins. But we also have no doubt that, just as there are grotesque perversions of every religion on earth, including the Christian, such concepts do not reflect the beliefs of the vast number of Muslims, a few of whom live and work in our own community. 

The crime that took place last week was on a scale that boggles the mind. We look on in disbelief. Our hearts and eyes recoil at the terrible images played over and over again on television as if someone is trying to convince us that, yes, it really did happen. Talking head after talking head tries to explain how and why it happened, and who might be responsible. There’s a sinking feeling in millions of hearts, that such a thing could happen and might happen again, in North America, of all places. Such terrible things have always happened somewhere else. Or, most comforting and reassuring of all, they’ve only happened on television or in the movies. So they’re not real. 

But of course they are. And though our society has refined the art and technology of seeming to safely distance ourselves from the cruel reality of human nature (while indulging in it for entertainment) it’s never really that far away. And perhaps now more than ever before we are being called by the terrible events in the U.S. last week to confront that reality and do something about it once and for all, or be doomed. 

People – young people especially – often question the sense of studying history. Why learn about what happened 5,000, 2,000, 200 or even just 50 or 20 years ago if you’re planning on becoming a mechanic? Anyway, it’s boring. 

In fact, history is anything but boring. But, more to the point, history is the chronology of human events that, if learned and properly understood, can be turned into a collective wisdom that could potentially save the human race. Someone once said, ”he who fails to learn the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them.” No truer words were ever spoken. 

Even a superficial study of history reveals that the human race has regularly repeated its most atrocious mistakes. Man’s inhumanity to man, war, atrocities and terrorism on a massive scale have occurred throughout recorded history, in every part of the world, including North America. And we can see a terrible cycle of violence, hatred and cruelty, as one evil deed begets another. There are people in the Balkans (the former Yugoslavia) today, for example, who still feel obligated to seek atrocious vengeance for terrible atrocities that took place more than 500 years ago. 

Today we understand the anger of the American people in response to a terrible atrocity. Those who say the entire civilized world was attacked, and may be attacked again soon, are right. It’s understandable the U.S., indeed the whole world, must defend itself, and respond aggressively to investigate thoroughly and take action to prevent further attacks. If the evidence points to outlaw terrorist organizations then criminal charges should be laid and justice should be done under the rule of law. If the evidence also points to the material involvement of rogue states, then they too should be punished. 

But we caution the U.S., and everyone else whose blood is understandably up after what happened last week, let’s not fall into the trap of history. Let’s not commit our own atrocities in retribution. That’s precisely the escalation of violence the terrorist enemy wants, so the cycle of violence can keep turning toward the apocalyptic goal their twisted minds crave. 

And then let’s all of us do some serious soul-searching and thinking about human nature and what we can all do to avoid falling victim to its dark side. 

Parks Canada says national park name changes about reconciliation

The decisions to start referring to the Bruce Peninsula as the Saugeen Peninsula, and to soon begin formal public consultations possibly leading to a name change for the Bruce Peninsula National Park itself, are not connected to a judgement coming soon in the Saugeen Ojibway land-claim lawsuit, Parks Canada says.

Instead, the name changes are Parks Canada’s ongoing effort to support the reconciliation of Canada and the Indigenous people who live within the country’s boundaries. “The identities and cultures of Indigenous peoples are rooted in land, and honouring connections to place is an important part of Parks Canada’s commitment to reconciliation,” the agency says in a statement responding to written questions from this writer.

“‘Wedokododwin’ (the Anishinaabe word for ‘working together’) begins with small steps. In this spirit Parks Canada team members use the Anishinaabe word ‘Saugeen’ referring to the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula informally and regularly,” the statement says. “A recent letter to partners signaled the intent to extend the use of this language more broadly,” it adds.

That is a reference to an email recently sent to operational ‘partners’ by John Haselmeyer, superintendent of the Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five Marine National Parks on the upper peninsula in the Tobermory area.

“Going forward, we will be changing how we refer to the Bruce Peninsula.  Instead, we will be referring to the peninsula where our two parks are located as the ‘Saugeen Peninsula,’” Haselmeyer said in the email, a copy of which was obtained by this writer. The email also referred to a public consultation process leading to a possible name change for the Bruce Peninsula National Park itself.

When contacted last week for further clarification and comment, Haselmeyer said he was not authorized to speak to the media and requested written questions. Several questions were submitted last week. Parks Canada’s statement and written answers were received a week later.

In the public interest an initial article was written, based on the contents of the email. The article, published last week under the heading, ‘Name change in the works for national park,’ also noted the coincidental timing of the national park-related name changes, and the current status of the long-standing Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s (SON) land-claim lawsuit. A judgement is imminent, following the conclusion of a trial last fall.

In response to a written question about a possible connection to the SON lawsuit and its possible outcome, Parks Canada offered the following answer:

“How Parks Canada refers to the broader peninsula area, and the consultation that will take place to engage Canadians in a discussion about the related name of the park itself are not connected to any litigation.”

The SON lawsuit was filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 1994. The trial began in April, 2019, and ended with final arguments last fall. It is now up to the presiding judge, Justice Wendy Matheson, to make a ruling for or against SON’s claims.

The case centers around Treaty 72, signed in 1854, resulting in the two First Nations that now comprise SON surrendering most of what remained of their territory on the Saugeen Peninsula, as it was then named. SON claims the Crown failed, through the actions of its representatives, in its fiduciary (trust) duty to protect the interests of the First Nations, as promised in an earlier 1836 treaty.

If the judgement is in favor of SON, the next phase of the case in court would be a determination of the amount and method of compensation owed to the two First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash and the Saugeen First Nation.

The Parks Canada statement has more to say about the possible renaming of the Bruce Peninsula National Park: “There is strong recognition of the ‘Bruce Peninsula’ park’s existing name, including public interest among residents, the business community, and visitors to the region. Parks Canada will undertake public consultations before making any formal changes to its name.”

The statement adds upcoming management planning for the two national parks on the upper peninsula will include formal public consultations, “and there will be many opportunities for Canadians, partners, and stakeholders to provide feedback and guidance over the coming months. This process will include important considerations around names and languages.”

 One of the written questions submitted to Parks Canada asked for a definition of ‘partners’ and examples of who they are. Parks Canada’s answer follows, slightly edited:

“The Agency works with partners in local communities to develop new and sustainable ways to manage visitation in popular areas, ecological protection, and regional tourism issues. In this setting, partners refer to the businesses, groups or organizations that Parks Canada works with in the region, examples of which will be the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, government organizations such as the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula, Bruce County Tourism, or RTO7; local tourism providers such as tour boat and dive boat companies; and non-government organizations such as the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association or the St-Edmund’s Property Owners Association. Many of these have a seat on the park’s Park Advisory Committee.

Another written question asked why a notice about the name changes wasn’t sent to the general public, considering the process has effectively already begun. Following is Parks Canada’s answer:

“A new management plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park is in development. The plan guides management decisions and actions for the parks, and serves as a key accountability document to the public. The process to meet legal and policy obligations while reflecting the interests and input of Canadians unfolds over many months and creates several opportunities for Canadians, partners and stakeholders to provide feedback, guidance and to weigh in on proposed direction, themes and changes. Strategic in nature, management plans outline a long-term vision and include measurable objectives and targets to achieve results.

“This public planning and consultation about the future of the park is also a great time to speak about the name of the park itself. Parks Canada is launching the public engagement process in the near future. Parks Canada hopes that many Canadians will choose to become involved and provide their thoughts about the future of the park.”

The reader can decide if that answers the question.

.

Name change in the works for Bruce Peninsula National Park

The Grotto, one of the most popular destinations at the Bruce Peninsula National Park

Calling it a “small, but important change,” Parks Canada has changed the name of the Bruce Peninsula to the Saugeen Peninsula in its ongoing communications with operational “partners” who were recently sent an email message about the new policy.

For the time being the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park remains the same; but Parks Canada intends to begin a formal public consultation process leading to a possible change of name recognizing the park’s presence in the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation

“As valued partners of Parks Canada, I am writing this morning to let you know about a small, but important, change at Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Going forward, we will be changing how we refer to the Bruce Peninsula.  Instead, we will be referring to the peninsula where our two parks are located as the “Saugeen Peninsula,” Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five parks superintendent, John Haselmeyer said in the recent email.

Additional information about a lengthy public consultation process beginning soon to change the name of the national park comes near the end of the email message.

“Please note that the name of the park remains ‘Bruce Peninsula National Park.’ A name change for the park itself requires a longer process of public consultation, which we will be undertaking in tandem with our upcoming management planning consultations,” the message says.

These developments come as an Ontario court judgement regarding the merits of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation’s (SON) long-standing, land-claim lawsuit is imminent.

In 1994 SON took the unusual step of filing the claim as a lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court. After 25 years of ‘discovery’ the trial finally began in April, 2019. It ended last fall, with closing arguments. It is now up to Justice Wendy Matheson, the judge who presided over the trial, to decide for or against the SON multi-billion-dollar claim for damages. Key elements in the SON case largely focus on the circumstances surrounding a treaty signed in 1854. Under the terms of Treaty 72 the two First Nations that comprise SON, ‘surrendered’ most of what remained of their territory on the peninsula. At the time it was called the Saugeen, or Indian, Peninsula.

That treaty followed another one signed in 1836 that surrendered the largest part of the SON territory south of the peninsula, on the promise that the Crown would protect the Saugeen Peninsula from further incursion by non-indigenous squatters. However, in 1854 the Crown’s British colonial negotiators again said they were unable to control the squatting which had continued on the peninsula. SON produced evidence during the trial that appeared to show that was a lie.

The traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation included a large area in southern Ontario before 1836.

“SON’s claim is that this was a breach of the Crown’s fiduciary duty. What SON is seeking is a declaration the Crown breached this duty. If successful, in a later phase of this claim, SON will be looking for recognition of its ownership interests in lands on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula that are still owned by Ontario or Canada or have not been bought and paid for by third parties (so, municipal roads, for example), as well as compensation,” SON’s law firm, Olthius, Kleer, Townshend LLP, says on its website where a large body of information about the case is publicly available. In contrast, the non-indigenous government defendants in the case have been publicly secretive over the years about the progress of the case.

In a phone interview peninsula national parks superintendent Haselmeyer asked this reporter to submit written questions about the timing and reasons for the name changes, including the plan to begin a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

One of the questions asks if the timing of the changes has anything to do with the SON land-claim case, with an important judgement now imminent. And if not that, then another question asks what else prompted the changes at this time.

Another question sought more information about the ‘partners’ who received the email message. Another asked why peninsula residents weren’t also notified of the name changes, including the name of the national park. The point was made that informing ‘partners’ that a formal process to change the name of the Bruce Peninsula National Park is planned effectively started the process; and, therefore, peninsula residents should have been notified at the same time.

As of this writing the additional information from Parks Canada in answer to written questions was not yet available. There will be a follow-up story when it is.

A judgement in favor of the SON claim will lead to a second phase in the court process in which the amount and method of compensation for SON’s damage claims will be determined. Grey County — previously named as a defendant along with Bruce County and Bruce Peninsula local municipalities, as well as the federal and provincial governments — reached a settlement with SON last fall when it agreed to transfer ownership of a county forest to SON.

Based on that precedent, if the initial judgement is in favor of SON it appears likely compensation could include transfer to the two First Nations of property currently owned by government entities, including provincial and federal Crown land.

Full disclosure here: this reporter lives on a property surrounded on three sides by the Ontario Parks’ Hope Bay Nature Reserve south of Lion’s Head.

Under the sub-heading, “why are we doing this?’ the Parks Canada email explained that the Bruce Peninsula, after it ceased to be the Saugeen Peninsula was “named after James Bruce, a British colonial administrator who was Governor of Jamaica, Viceroy of India, and, from 1847 to 1854, Governor General of the Province of Canada.  James Bruce never visited the peninsula that now bears his name.

“Using the name ‘Saugeen’ better acknowledges the connection of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation to the Saugeen Peninsula. Some partner organizations in the region have already adopted this practice, the email said.

“Saugeen is the anglicized version of the Anishnaabemowin word ‘Sauking’ meaning river mouth. It is the traditional name for this peninsula, and was still in common usage well into the 1970’s.”

Epoch Times mailbox surprise prompts fact-finding mission

mailbox

I was surprised recently to find a copy of the Epoch Times newspaper in my mailbox here in my secluded, little corner of the world on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. Why me? I’m not a subscriber and had no interest in being one.

But then I saw the ‘sample issue’ tag at the top of the front page and realized it was a promotional flyer of sorts, though not routinely delivered like most others. Lots of us on the peninsula must have got it, and many residents of other parts of Ontario, according to media reports. The date of publication-coverage on the pages of the sample edition is January 1-7, 2021. An historic week to say the least.

I recognized the Epoch Times name. I had seen it in passing before in my daily browsing on the internet for news and had been left with the impression it was too conservatively biased for my taste.

But out of curiosity and to be fair I took a look through the sample edition, including a full, promotional page under the heading, “Read what others won’t report,” signed by publisher, Cindy Gu.

“These are trying times,” she wrote. “So, this complimentary edition of the Epoch Times is for you to enjoy. Because what we all need right now is honest, responsible journalism that investigates issues in an objective, and unbiased way.”

I browsed through the rest of the paper and soon got the impression it’s coverage was far from unbiased.

The Epoch Times is described by several online sources as far right-wing in its views, a supporter of soon-to-be former U.S. President Donald Trump, and affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement persecuted and banned in Communist China. The newspaper was founded in 2000 as a Chinese language on-line publication based in New York. A short time later it began publishing a printed edition, and then an English-language edition in 2003. More recently, its strong support for Trump helped fuel a surge in circulation.

The sample Canadian edition’s front page includes an article under ‘USNEWS’ with the headline, “$500 Million Donation From Facebook’s Zuckerberg Used to Undermine US Election, Violate Law: Report.”

thomas more

The article says the report was released in December by the Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society. The Society, a registered U.S. charity, is described in the article as a “constitutional litigation organization.” It is deeply conservative in stance and often involved in legal actions on behalf of anti-abortion and religious-freedom advocates. The Society is named after St. Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England under Henry VIII. He was charged with treason and beheaded after a trial for refusing to support the King’s divorce from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. More also refused to support the tyrant King’s break with the Roman Catholic church and set up a separate, new national church for England.

The Epoch Times article says Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated a total of $500 million in grants to local election officials across the U.S. to help cover increased election expenses caused by unusual circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic. That may not be an accurate number. Numerous online reports put the Zuckerberg donation at $400 Million. But they do confirm, as the article says, that a non-profit charity based in Chicago, The Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) got donations totaling $350 million from Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. The CTCL distributed the funds to a total of 2,500 cash-strapped county election offices that applied for help to cope with Covid-19 challenges.

The Epoch Times article, citing the Amistad Project/Thomas More Society report, alleges the CTCL and other non-profits deliberately, and illegally under U.S. election laws, used the Zuckerberg money to target local election office in swing states to benefit the vote in Democratic “strongholds.” It says Facebook and the CTCL did not respond to requests for comment.

APM Reports, the investigative journalism arm of non-profit America Public Media Group, says in an article published December 7, 2020 that it had been unable to get interviews with the CTCL about the private election donations after repeated requests.

“But through a series of interviews, public records requests and a review of public meetings, APM Reports pieced together the details of grant awards in the five swing states that decided the election.” its article says under the headline, ‘How private money helped save the election.’

“APM Reports obtained more than 30 grant agreements and applications between local election offices and the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The documents show requests mainly focused on the logistics of the election: increased pay for poll workers, expanded early voting sites and extra equipment to more quickly process millions of mailed ballots.”

The APM Reports article notes, “In the weeks since the election, allies of President Trump have included the (CTCL) grants in their voter fraud conspiracy theories. They have challenged the legality and neutrality of the grants, claiming that the funding was aimed at boosting Democratic turnout. But an APM Reports analysis of voter registration and voter turnout in three of the five key swing states shows the grant funding had no clear impact on who turned out to vote. Turnout increased across the country from 2016,” the article said, adding, the analysis found that counties in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona that received grants didn’t have consistently higher turnout rates than those that didn’t receive money.”

As the November 3 election approached, local election offices in the U.S. were running out of money. In March 2020, the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) included $400 million for states “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle. This supplemental appropriation funding, distributed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), will provide states with additional resources to protect the 2020 elections from the effects of the novel coronavirus,” the EAC still says on its website.

The APM Reports article notes that amount if federal funding was widely regarded at the time as nowhere near enough to meet the pandemic-related needs. As a result there were fears the election could be a “catastrophe.”

The CARES election money came with a host of strict requirements, including an unexpected one from Trump administration officials that required states to match 20 percent of the federal money. Only states were allowed to apply, rather than local, county, election officials directly. The EAC also required detailed ‘narrative explanations’ justifying how the money was used for strictly Covid-19 related needs.

EAC

The EAC’s most recent quarterly report, published October 10, 2020, about the disbursement of the CARES money for the period April to June, 2020, says all of the $400 million was used up by then. It notes, “Some states requested less than their full allocation due to concerns over meeting the required 20 percent match.” In other words, the EAC ran out of Covid-19 emergency money to help election officials across the U.S. cope with the unprecedented challenges they faced.

It wasn’t until well after the election that another bipartisan, Covid-19, relief bill was finally worked out and approved by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Trump.

The private donation money, including the Zuckerberg money, proved to be a lifesaver; or, as one elections manager said, “Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it.”

Benjamin Hovland, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and a Trump appointee was, to his credit, one of many high-ranking federal and other officials in the U.S. who issued a ‘Joint Statement’ on November 12, 2020 defending the integrity of the November 3, 2020 election. Click on the link above for the complete list of names. Following is the full text of the statement:

“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result. 

“When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.

“Other security measures like pre-election testing, state certification of voting equipment, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) certification of voting equipment help to build additional confidence in the voting systems used in 2020.

“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too. When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”

It’s well known by now that the Trump campaign and supporters, in their efforts to overthrow the election results, filed numerous, unsuccessful lawsuits alleging the election results in swing states were skewed by fraudulent activities. I found no evidence in my research that any of those lawsuits made an issue in their claims of the private donations that helped local election officials overcome the challenges of holding a national election in the midst of a pandemic emergency.

In summary, there was much more to the private, election-funds story than The Opech Times covered.

Big day coming soon for the Bruce, formerly Saugeen, Peninsula

In the garden with granddaughter Jorden

(February 9th, 2021. This article has been updated regarding third-party — including private property — issues and current Government of Canada policy related to First Nation land claim settlements.)

Not that long ago a people now often referred to in Canada as ‘First Nation’ used to walk freely for ages on the 5.9 acres (2.4 hectares) of land I now call home here in Hope Ness, north of Hope Bay, on the Bruce (Formerly Saugeen) Peninsula.

They’ve been on my mind a lot, those First Nation people who trusted the British Crown enough for a time to fight and crucially help protect Canada from U.S. invasion during the war of 1812; who fought honorably for Canada and the Crown in disproportionately large numbers in two world wars; and who now continue to fight, peacefully and honorably in Canadian courts, for justice.

So, let us non-Aboriginal Canadians, locally and across Canada, first learn and think about things like that before we get all hot and bothered about the prospect of a court decision in favor of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) in their long-standing, land-and-water claim lawsuit. Because, make no mistake, they have a good case. Final arguments are done, the trial is over, and case has been adjourned as the Justice presiding over the case considers a judgment. That will surely come in 2021, and likely early at that.

Yes, a judgement in SON’s favor could be highly consequential, leading to either court-ordered compensation for 160-plus years of heart-breaking loss and injustice, or a negotiated settlement. Or it could be appealed, perhaps as far as the Supreme Court of Canada. More years could go by. Some of us, myself included, could be gone by then. But be careful what you say to your children and your grandchildren: don’t leave them with a burden of fear and anger to sort through, or not, and the bitter consequences that come from that.

The Saugeen Peninsula was named after the First Nation people whose territory it was long before the controversial signing of Treaty 72 in 1854. As a result of that treaty, most of the peninsula was ‘surrendered’ by the Saugeen First Nations in trust to the Crown and opened up for settlement by non-Aboriginal newcomers. A people whose territory just 18 years earlier had encompassed an area of two million acres, were left with a few small reserves and hunting grounds.

Then, within a few more years, the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation were forced out of their community, called Newash, to make way for the expanding new non-Aboriginal town of Owen Sound. Another reserve at Colpoy’s Bay north of Wiarton was lost, with some people from there going to the new Nawash reserve, at Cape Croker, some going to the Chippewas of Saugeen reserve near Southampton, and others to Christian Island, near Penetanguishene on the other side of Georgian Bay.

The Chippewas of Saugeen reserve is on the Lake Huron shore, near the mouth of the Saugeen River, north to Chief’s Point at the mouth of the Sauble River. The north-south boundary of the Saugeen reserve, and thus the ownership of Sauble Beach, is currently also the subject of a land-claim before an Ontario court.

The two distinct but related First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash, and the Chippewas of Saugeen, together call themselves the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON). Since the time of ‘contact’ when Europeans began to show up in this part of North America some 400 years ago, they have been called by various names, including Chippewa, Ojibway, Odawa, Pottawatomi. They identify themselves as Anishinaabe. They speak a dialect of the same language spoken by other Anishinaabe people in the Great Lakes area; and they share many cultural traditions, including a deep spiritual connection to their territorial land, and waters.

Under the Saugeen Ojibway Nation name the two First Nations have worked together for decades to successfully re-affirm their Aboriginal rights.

An Ontario Court (Provincial Division) judgement in 1993 was a landmark case. In dismissing provincial overfishing charges against two Nawash fishermen it affirmed the two First Nations’ “priority” right to fish commercially fishery in the waters around the peninsula.

In 1994, frustrated by the lack of progress in land-claim talks Canadian government offcials, SON took the momentous step, unprecedented in Canada, of filing a land-claim lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court.

That action alleges the Crown violated its Fiduciary, or trust, duty in the allegedly improper and deceitful circumstances and events leading up to, and during, the signing of Treaty 72.

Canada was still a British colony in 1854. It became a self-governing Dominion in 1867, and like many other former British colonies remains a Constitutional Monarchy to this day, with Queen Elizabeth II its formal Head of State.

The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the ‘Law of Fiduciary Obligation’ in part as “special relationships … that entail trust and confidence and require that fiduciaries act honestly, in good faith, and strictly in the best interests of the beneficiaries of such relationships

The defendants named in the SON lawsuit are the Crown, in the name of the governments of Canada and Ontario, Bruce County and four local municipalities, Northern Bruce Peninsula, South Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores; and Georgian Bluffs in Grey County.

Grey County itself was previously also named as a defendant in the unique land-claim case. But the county reached a negotiated settlement with SON, announced Sept. 9, 2020 in a joint news release, by agreeing to transfer ownership to SON of a 275-acre county forest.

A key point in the case is the promise made in 1836 by Crown representatives to convince the Saugeen to sign a treaty surrendering 1.5 million acres of their territory south of the peninsula. They said the Crown could not control the encroachment of squatters into that large part of Saugeen territory. However, they promised to keep squatters out of the peninsula “forever.” But just 18 years later, during high-pressure talks leading to the signing of Treaty 72, different Crown representatives again told the Saugeen there was nothing they could do to stop squatters encroaching on the peninsula.

Yet, after the treaty was signed, at 1 a.m. the morning of Oct. 14, 1854, Laurence Oliphant, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs under then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Elgin, sent a message to Grey County Sheriff, George Schneider. It ordered him to “summarily” eject any squatters intruding on “the property of the Crown” in the newly surrendered peninsula.

In 2004 a claim for Aboriginal title to the waters surrounding SON’s traditional territory in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron was added to the lawsuit.

The case has been divided into two phases: first phase, determining the merits of the case; the second, consideration of compensation.

The lawsuit claims a total of $90 billion in damages. In legal parlance that’s known as a “placeholder,” John Bainbridge, a lawyer with land claim experience, wrote in the Bruce Peninsula Press in August, 2019. “Any litigant who fails to put in a figure for compensation in their Statement of Claim will get zero dollars if they win the lawsuit. If the SON establish that they have a valid claim, a negotiation will begin to determine an accurate figure for compensation that will probably fall far short of $90 billion,” Bainbridge wrote. He noted “the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is one of the biggest so far in Canada and the compensation they received was $1.4 billion.”

I have thought all along that compensation arising from the SON lawsuit would have to be largely in the form of territory. SON is seeking ownership interest in Crown lands, currently owned in the name of Ontario and Canada, including the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

From the beginning of the lawsuit SON has made the point that private property bought and paid for by ‘third parties’ in good faith is not at risk. Bainbridge confirmed that: “As a matter of principle no Aboriginal land claims in Canada will affect private property acquired ‘in good faith.’ All claims seek title to crown land only – either federal or provincial. This is why road allowances, Parks and the lakebed are subject to the claim.”

A current Government of Canada website page, about the federally sanctioned process for resolving First Nation claims , outlines the government policy regarding private property rights when land is involved in settling ‘Specific Claims:’ “It is important to note that Canada’s policy on specific claims protects the current ownership and rights of private land owners. Private property is not taken away from anyone to settle specific claims. Nor is anyone asked to sell their land unwillingly. If land changes hands after a settlement, this can only happen on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis,” it says under the heading,’ An Overview of Specific Claim Settlements Involving Land.’

I note that policy is discussed as part of the in-house, claim-settlement process preferred by the government, rather than lawsuit litigation, the approach taken by SON, but discouraged by the government. Similarly, in a separate court action, the Saugeen First Nation chose litigation in its claim that the SFN reserve boundary was mistakenly draw after the 1854 treaty; and, therefore, all of the beach at Sauble Beach is rightfully reserve territory. Several private property owners were named as defendants when the lawsuit was filed in 1995. The Government of Canada was also named as a defendant, but now supports the SFN action which is still before an Ontario Superior Court. The SON lawsuit is a separate action. I contacted the federal ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs’ media office in hopes of clarifying the government’s policy as it relates to litigation-lawsuit claims, including the SFN Sauble Beach case. But ministry officials declined to comment on that matter.

Under the terms of Treaty 72 surrendered land was to be surveyed into 100-acre farm lots, to be sold to settlers, and the money thus acquired put into trust funds for the benefit of the First Nations. But no thought was given to road allowances, given over to municipalities by the Crown without payment.

Full disclosure here: I have as much reason as any non-Aboriginal property owner on the peninsula to be interested in the outcome of the SON lawsuit for a couple of reasons:

First, I live on what’s now part of one of those original, 100-acre lots mentioned above. My copy of the original Crown patent says it was sold April 10, 1880 to John Heath for $100.

Second, I’m surrounded on all sides by the provincially owned Hope Bay Forest Nature Reserve. I’d be a fool not to think it might be included in any compensation settling the SON lawsuit. Does that worry me? Not much.

But I do have some concerns, about how an outcome of the lawsuit in favor of SON, and a subsequent compensation settlement, will be received in the non-Aboriginal community. That’s especially if people feel like they’ve been blind-sided because they’ve been left in the dark for 25 years without any information from government defendants.

Most of what is publicly known about the status of the case has come directly or indirectly from SON as they keep their people informed via online newsletters, and updates also posted on the website of the law firm, Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP (OKT), handling the SON case.

Haven’t we been here before? Shouldn’t we here in the Owen Sound, Bruce Peninsula area know better by now? Shouldn’t we have been demanding more information, on the assumption there were surely some things that could be made public, so we could start thinking about what might be coming?

In that regard, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nawash fisherman who turned into my driveway one day in the summer of 2014.

He looked to be in his mid-30s. He had freshly-caught Georgian Bay whitefish in his well-used pick-up to sell. Did I want some? Yes, I said.

We chatted for a while as he wrapped up the filets. I saw he had a long scar on one side of his face, from what must have been a seriously deep, sharp cut. I hesitated for a moment, but had to ask, was he one of the young, Aboriginal men assaulted one night in the summer of 1995 in downtown Owen Sound in one of series of violent incidents that happened when some in the local, non-Aboriginal community reacted angrily to the 1993 court decision regarding SON’s right to fish commercially in local waters and the subsequent emergence of an Aboriginal fishery?

Yes, he was, he said.

I have written about him before, in a post for my blog, Finding Hope Ness. I’ll quote from it here:

“Left with that scar for the rest of his life, the result of a racist attack, it would have been understandable if he was still also carrying a lot of anger and resentment toward his attackers, and perhaps even the non-Aboriginal community whose racist spawn they were. But on the contrary, he had moved on. Life, he told me, was too precious and good to waste on that kind of spirit-destroying thing.”

About a week later I was at a packed public meeting at the Sauble Beach Community Centre. The mostly non-Aboriginal, local crowd was there to hear about an important development in the nearby Saugeen First Nation’s long-standing claim that the north section of the popular beach should rightfully be in Saugeen reserve territory, and not part of the amalgamated Town of the South Bruce Peninsula. The government of Canada was prepared to correct the mistake, giving Saugeen ownership of the entire beach, the crowd was told. They were also told the First Nation was willing to enter into a co-management agreement with the town to manage the beach as part of a negotiated settlement.

None of that went over well. The immediate and overwhelming response was outrage and disbelief at the very idea, so much so that the negotiated settlement went nowhere. The court case remains unresolved, but currently awaiting the outcome of a Saugeen motion calling for a summary judgement. Such a motion is an option provided for civil cases in Ontario when one of the parties believes there is “no genuine issue for a trial,” according to the Ministry of the Attorney-General. The onus is on that party to prove the point. The government of Canada supports the Saugeen motion. South Bruce Peninsula council opposes it and is supported by the provincial government.

I warned more than six years ago, after the Sauble Beach debacle, that there was a need to develop a better, more respectful and thoughtful way of responding to local First Nation land claims because there were more and bigger ones to come.

I was referring to the SON land-and-water claim lawsuit, now awaiting a judgement, coming to a peninsula near you, any day now.

On a hopeful note, the public statement announcing the negotiated settlement worked out between Grey County and SON last September suggest some fresh, conciliatory breezes are starting to stir:

“This settlement provides some closure to a long-standing claim, but I hope it can also be the beginning of more conversation, more understanding and a stronger relationship between Grey County, SON and the Anishinaabe people,” said Grey County Warden Paul McQueen.

“This agreement is an important step forward in a long history of our communities working towards righting a wrong,” said Chief Lester Anoquot of Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. “We are happy and hopeful that we are taking this step with our neighbours towards building a better understanding and a stronger future alongside one another.”

In 2018, well before the trial began in April, 2019, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation indicated a willingness to begin talks leading to a comprehensive, negotiated settlement. But the governments of Canada and Ontario refused. They both separately cited SON’s original 1994 decision to take the claim to court, rather than use the government-sanctioned process, as their reason. I fear that could yet prove to be a costly, missed opportunity.