Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections on Activism

People keep saying that 2012 will be the year of protest in North America - the year when ordinary people rise up and demand better treatment from government elites. For example, the Occupy movement is organizing a general strike for May 1. I'm all for that. I think it's crazy that Canada doesn't have stronger employment laws to protect employees, that we don't provide a way for the majority without pensions to save for our retirement, that we don't have lobbyists to fight for ordinary non-unionized working people, that our top tax bracket is so low that we are killing the principle of progressive taxation, that we're in a state of perpetual war. I have written about these issues many times.

But protesting effectively isn't easy. It's a well-known strategy of the far right to encourage division in order to energize their base: Mike Harris as premier of Ontario was a master of this. Thus well-intentioned activists can end up achieving the opposite of their intention.

Most public protest is organized by unions, but unions don't represent the majority of people: like corporations, they exist to fatten one particular group and the rest of the population can go hang. I can't support a movement that claims that Ontario's high school teachers are victimized by not having infinite pay raises, even more time off, and even better pension deals.

Then there are groups with hidden political agendas: when I was a student activist in the 70s, the "Trots" and anarchists showed up at every protest, trying to infiltrate and trick us into promoting their goal of violent revolution. And there are the plain old nutters, insisting on unfeasible and undesirable change: the libertarians, the anti-tax crowd, the obsessed anti-car crowd.

Another problem with trying to be an activist is that it's really difficult to trust people who organize activists. They have their own personal agendas, whether it's springboarding a political career or just getting their photo in the paper.

I recently ran into a problem with a pro-democracy movement. A couple of years ago I happened to be around during the formation of a local chapter of Canadians Advocating Political Participation (CAPP). I was never very active (the rest of the local group supports proportional representation and I don't), but I was impressed by the organizational abilities of our two Facebook admins, who set up tons of non-partisan events and got good turnouts.

Our mistake was in trusting the bosses of CAPP. Out of the blue a few months ago, one of them called Shilo Davis unilaterally shut down our group. She made it impossible for us to write on the wall of our Facebook page, stripped our two admins of their admin privileges, and parachuted in her sister Amanda Davis as the only person with any control over our Facebook site. Amanda Davis, who doesn't even live in our region, has done nothing whatsoever: not contacted anyone or updated the site. Many CAPP Waterloo members, myself included, have tried over and over to reach these people, but they ignore us.

If we can't trust national organizers and have to always operate in local, unorganized ways, it's not at all clear that we can have enough impact to effect any change. Whenever we link up into national groups, we have the problem of power-mad idjits like the crew running CAPP, who seemingly have no interest in democractic practices like accountability and transparency.

For a general strike to work for everyone, it would have to be diffuse: those participating in it would not all have one voice. That would probably be impossible. Even if we tried it, the unions or the CAPP soundrels would try to hijack the day. Even if we had a single message that everyone agreed on, the Shilo Davises would get their snouts in front of a microphone and make it all about them.

It's an age old problem, I know, but I just happen to have hit a wall with it this week: it's not easy as an individual to have a voice, because the world is full of opportunists who are always on the lookout for ways to coopt the voices of others. I'm starting to understand why many people don't speak up and don't vote.

But please, if you have any ideas for how to organize a movement, speak up here or elsewhere.

My only plea is that I not get bombarded with comments by those in favor of proportional representation, telling me that I'm ignorant and need to educate myself...

Update: It seems that Amanda Davis is not the sister of Shilo Davis, but an alias used by Shilo Davis.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Press Release for Canadian-Americans

Press Release: Isaac Brock Society

Posted by Petros — January 10, 2012

Caution to U.S. Citizens and U.S./Canada dual citizens who are residents of Canada about the IRS announcement (IR-2012-5) January 9, 2012, regarding Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

On January 9, 2012, the IRS announced a renewed Offshore Voluntary Disclosure program. This is an IRS program designed to bring tax cheats into compliance. During the last two disclosure programs in 2009 and 2011, a significant number of unsuspecting Canadian residents entered these programs to “make it right” with IRS. We strongly warn law-abiding Canadian residents of the dangers of entering this program which is intended to attract tax cheats who live in the United States but have undisclosed offshore accounts.

The United States has dusted off a long neglected, possibly unconstitutional law which requires all United States persons to file a yearly disclosure of foreign financial accounts (FBAR). There is widespread ignorance of FBAR, and up until recently, very limited compliance. A significant number of Canadians learned about the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure program from the Canadian media and entered it in fear, not realizing that the IRS had every intention of levying fines of 25% of their net worth (or in some cases 5% for those who were unaware that they were United States citizens), even though in most cases they owed no taxes to the United States, had no knowledge of the FBAR reporting requirement, and had innocent and necessary bank accounts in accordance with the laws of Canada. As a result of this crackdown by the IRS, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty went to bat for Canadian residents, insisting that the IRS get off the backs of hard working Canadian residents who had done no wrong and who were abiding by the tax and banking laws of Canada. “Canada is not a tax haven”, he insisted. As a result of Flaherty’s efforts, United States Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson tried to assure Canadians that the IRS was not out to get grandma’s bank accounts. He said, “My message on this is to sit tight. We are not unreasonable. We are not unsympathetic. We are not irresponsible.” Law abiding residents of Canada, please do “sit tight”. Do not enter this program out of fear, and do not allow a lawyer to enter you into this program without clearly explaining why you should. If you enter the program, the IRS will surely fine you up to 27.5% of all of your monetary and non-monetary financial assets.

All residents of Canada, who may be affected by the extra-territorial reporting requirements of the United States, should also know the following points:

(1) The Canadian government has said it will not enforce the collection of FBAR fines. Thus the IRS has no means to collect fines from any accounts in Canada.

(2) The Canadian government has said it will not collect taxes for the IRS from Canadian citizens, provided that the person incurred the tax liability while a Canadian citizen.

(3) The IRS cannot be trusted. The Tax Advocate Service, the ombudsman service within the IRS, issued a rare Tax Advocate Directive rebuking the IRS and ordering them to respect the terms of the program and be more lenient, returning to the policy of the FAQ 35 which said that those who enter the program would not be fined more than they would have under existing statutes. To date the IRS has ignored the Taxpayer Advocate Directive. This suggests that the IRS has decided that Offshore Voluntary Disclosure should be a revenue generating instrument and apply the fines of 20% and 25% without regard to the innocence of the people that entered into the program. The IRS presumes that everyone who enters these programs is a tax cheat.

(4) We must stress that the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure program, which the IRS has announced, is not a mandatory law but a voluntary program. Therefore, enter it only if you wish to relinquish voluntarily 27.5% of your hard earned savings and other assets to the IRS.

(5) If you are a United States citizen or Green Card holder and are or were unaware of your filing requirements, we urge you to get sound information regarding your rights and responsibilities from reliable sources. If you are living in Canada and abiding by Canadian tax laws, you are not a criminal nor should you permit the government in Washington D. C. to treat you as one. Know also that “cross border” accountants and lawyers do not have equal standards of competency or morality. Buyer beware!

Peter W. Dunn has written this press release on behalf of the Isaac Brock Society, which is an informal group of individuals who are concerned about the treatment by the United States government of US persons who live in Canada and abroad. We have come together to fight the overreach of the IRS and to provide one another with accurate information, peer-to-peer advice and comfort. Our website is