Saturday, December 23, 2017

This Christmas, Try to be More Judgmental

One of my favourite expressions, which Google finds to be of disputed provenance, is "Be hard on yourself, but easy on others."

Most of us naturally tend toward the opposite.

In my case, I give myself unlimited hall passes for things much worse than I condemn others for. I have done this all my life, I’m frightfully good at it, and I doubt I will ever stop.

This comes to mind because 2017 has been the worst year of my life. Four people very close to me died within a few months of each other (the last two, 10 days apart), with a fifth passing away just before Christmas 2016.

As one does at times like these, I cast about for guidance and inspiration, which brought me to the works of 18th-century spiritualist Emanuel Swedenborg.

During his later years, Swedenborg claimed to have visited the afterlife, including both Heaven and Hell, and wrote prolifically about what he saw there.

This may seem bizarre, but Swedenborg’s books are profound and detailed, with many concepts worthy of consideration, even if the entire canon were the product of delusion.

In my nascent Swedenborg study, I have found that some Christians consider him to be a heretic, even an occultist.

Whether Swedenborg offered a legitimate interpretation of scripture or was a doctrinal arsonist and, as his contemporary John Wesley is said to have described him, "one of the most ingenious, lively, and entertaining madmen that ever set pen to paper," his prevailing message is clear.

To wit, everything we do and are, and the whole of existence, including this life and the next, is based on love.

The task for us as humans is to decide which sort of love will rule our natures – love for ourselves, or love for God and our fellow man?

In practical terms, this translates to the good things we do for others and, crucially, our reasons for doing them.

Consequently, we must judge ourselves fearlessly on what we do and why.

Personally, I do nuthin' for nobody and, the few times I actually do help my fellow man, I practically give myself a medal in my mind.

Self-interest is crafty and conniving, a master of disguise, and it adapts like a virus.

Let's say you give money to a homeless man on the street. Why are you doing it? Is it so you will be seen doing so, or even just to get him away from your car?

Are you giving to him so you yourself will experience the warm gladness of having helped someone else?

Perhaps most challenging, if you have faith in God, by giving money to that homeless man, do you believe you are increasing your chances of getting into Heaven, and adding to the treasure that awaits you there?

To the extent any of these motivations is true, you will notice what is missing: giving out of a genuine love for that other person.

Even (or especially) those last two motivations – the warm fuzzies and/or jumping the queue to Heaven – are ultimately about you.

Why, even, have I published this column? Is it (as I like to believe) because I have alighted upon something worthwhile that will benefit others?

Or is it so people will think well of me, or consider me erudite for the Dickensian reference in my bio at the bottom, and because I use words like "erudite" and "Dickensian" when I could just as easily have said "smart" and "Scrooge"?

The reason the Golden Rule is to treat others as you would like to be treated, and Christ instructs us to love others as we love ourselves (the starter kit to loving God above all things), is that this is motivation to which people can relate.

We all love ourselves first and foremost. Our assignment is to take that abiding self-love that is in the heart of every human and, so far as we are able, redirect it toward other people.

At this time of year, when crummy gifts are given (e.g., socks, fruity soaps, donations to the Human Fund), they are often ameliorated by saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”

How true that is.

Swedenborg has a particular observation pertinent to the Christmas story, which I must paraphrase (Swedenborg was Swedish and writing in Latin, so gimme a break):

The reason the wise men traveled to see the baby Jesus and laid precious gifts before him is that true wisdom bows down to the supremacy of love – in Jesus’ case, love personified.

We all like to think of ourselves as wise. I don’t know you, but you’re probably smarter than I am.

But all the wisdom in the world amounts to foolishness if it is not informed by love. Similarly, two people doing the same good deed may look identical, but the only one truly doing good is the one motivated by selfless love.

And so, my unsolicited and borrowed advice this Christmas is this: Judge yourself as thoroughly as you are able, even (and especially) when you are being easy on others.

Theo Caldwell should have made mankind his business. Contact him at

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

TDSB Right to Remove Cops, But for the Wrong Reasons

The presence of police officers in Toronto schools impresses two things upon students, only one of which is true.

The first, unfortunate principle is that authority and surveillance are ubiquitous. There is no boundary between government enforcement and civil society, rendering personal agency obsolete.

And the second proposition – which my mother would refer to as “bollocks on stilts” – is that cops are your friends.

As adults learn to varying degrees in their interactions with police, cops range from revenue collectors to brutal enforcers, but they are not pals.

Following the Toronto District School Board’s decision to end its School Resource Officer program, the ballyhoo broke down much as you’d expect.

The perpetually aggrieved left and reflexively pro-cop right (both of whom should re-think their positions) claimed victory and outrage, respectively. Television news reports showed footage of officers cop-spreading their way down school corridors in that distinctive, space-commanding waddle of the modern constabulary.

For once, the TDSB is correct, albeit for the wrong reasons.

In hockey terms, an ideal cop is like a good referee or an effective defenceman. If he is doing his job well, you don’t notice him.

With that in mind, cops should quit creeping into our kids’ schools, clambering onto our parade floats, and acting like we’re all on the same side.

As hundreds of innocent Toronto citizens who were abused and falsely imprisoned by police during the 2010 G20 meetings can attest, when push comes to shove, cops view citizens less as employers to serve and protect than problems to subdue.

If it seems petty to bring up that mess from 7 years ago, consider that after all this time, there has been almost no consequence for that monstrous betrayal of public trust.

The closest any officer came to that was Superintendent Mark Fenton whose punishment, after being tried and convicted, was being denied a second popsicle at the police picnic, or some such.

The modern police force is less than 200 years old, created in London in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel (from whom British police derive their moniker, “Bobbies”).

Peel’s vision was of “citizens in uniform,” a far cry from today’s aggressive, militarized officers, kitted out in what Mark Steyn calls “the full Robocop.”

Unfortunately, as so often happens when matters concerning police and the public come up, this controversy has become focused on race.

The much larger issue, which has once again been consumed by the unquenchable maw of identity politics, is the relationship between the citizen and the state.

TDSB director John Malloy congratulated race-addled opponents of the SRO program for speaking “their truth.” This is, of course, hippy-dippy modern-speak that reflects a default toward subjective reality far more damaging to students than Barney Fife roaming the halls, but that’s a topic for another day.

In spite of themselves, Malloy and the rest of his wind chimes crew got this one right.

Cops, you need to recognize that, in your line of work, less is more. There is no need for you to be everywhere, high-fiving, politicking and making yourselves conspicuous. We know you’re there.

And I certainly don’t want you near my kid at school.

Theo Caldwell walks like a giant, police defiant. Contact him at

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tax Reform is Useless to Americans Abroad

On any significant topic, every news outlet sounds more or less the same.

The headlines will be different, as will the slant of the reporting and analysis (to the extent those remain mutually exclusive nowadays), but within the body of the text, the same facts and bullet points will be repeated again and again, no matter where you get your news.

This is because, despite their towering self-regard (or perhaps because of it), journalists simply do not know very much about the world. Consequently, they copy, ape, echo, cull from wire services and one another, while almost never applying the necessary diligence to tell their audience something new.

The same is true of politicians. Members of Congress, in particular, often with limited real world experience or responsibility beyond casting one of 535 votes on issues that are largely pre-determined, have precious little understanding of what affects regular people.

Beware when you hear a politician tell you a folksy tale about someone coming up to them on the street or in the grocery store, calling them by their first name and asking them a softball, open-ended question like, “Hank, what are you going to do for me and my family?”

On an instinctual level, you know that conversation never happened – at least, not the way you are about to hear it. But, absent a genuine comprehension of what matters to normal people, politicians must conjure a composite of the average voter to make their point.

There is no better recent example of this disassociation than the noise surrounding Republicans’ recently released tax reform plan.

Regardless of how granular news outlets promise to get in their coverage of the bill, their reports will all say pretty much the same things: the corporate rate may be cut to 20 percent, deductions for mortgage interest, state and local taxes remain bones of contention, the House version must conform to the precise requirements of the Senate (here, your reporter might be slightly intrepid and insert the word “picayune”), etc., etc.

Among politicians, discussion is similarly predictable and useless. Democrats bashed the bill as being a boon for “the rich” even before it was written. Republicans are all droppin’ their g’s and sayin’ the same things about helpin’ workin’ families.

Meanwhile, literally millions of Americans around the world are looking for one, simple change in the world’s most onerous, punitive tax system. But you can read the news and listen to politicians until your eyes fall out and your ears fall off and, unless you come across this column, you will find not one word about it.

We are looking for the abolition of America’s absurd and larcenous practice of demanding taxes from its citizens living abroad.

Much is made of the reform’s repatriation of international corporate profits, and one can even hear the term “territorial tax system” uttered now and then but, on the individual side, there is no mention of liberating 7 million Americans – plus their families, business partners, various visa holders and others considered “US Persons” – from the worldwide clutches of the IRS.

If you are one of these many people and you do not live in the United States – indeed, even if you have never been to the US – the IRS requires that you nonetheless file American tax returns, along with a copy of your tax return from your country of residence, plus all your banking and investment accounts and the values thereof. Moreover, if it is deemed you would have paid more under US tax law, you are required to pay the difference, as well.

This is the very definition of taxation without representation.

To those of us affected, this outrage is nothing new. But to listen to journalists and politicians banging on about “tax reform,” it is as though we do not exist.

In a dozen years advocating on this issue, I have encountered precisely one politician who understands it: former Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), who currently serves as President Trump’s Budget Director.

Senior as Mulvaney’s position is, the OMB Director does not write legislation.

Certainly, after I explain the problem, politicians have expressed generic concern but, for all the action I have seen, I just get rolled into the amalgam of their made-up grocery store guy.

Every quarter, a new record is set for the number of Americans renouncing their citizenships. The reason we know this is the US Treasury Department publishes these people’s names in a petty attempt to shame them for opting out of an unjust system.

The institutional assumption is that these former Americans have done something ignoble that should be brought to light. In fact, the opposite is true: It is unbecoming a nation that styles itself the “land of the free” to make financial prisoners of its citizens.

Until it liberates millions of people who neither live in America nor make use of its services, and who have already paid their taxes elsewhere, this supposedly simpler, fairer tax reform is nothing of the kind.

Theo Caldwell is a dual American-Canadian citizen living in Toronto. Contact him at

Monday, September 25, 2017

Do Not Empower US Border Guards on Canadian Soil

As is so often the case, an important policy change that could affect Canadians in a direct and personal way has been given scant coverage – and negligible criticism – in the news media.

One would hope that a ceding of national sovereignty and the subjecting of Canadian citizens to potential arrest and physical violation by a foreign power operating within our borders would engender some pushback – or at least discussion – but here we are.

In this case, the House of Commons passed bill C-23 in June, the wretched thing now resides in the Senate, and there is a good chance you wouldn’t know that’s bad news until it’s too late.

In brief, this leprous legislation would give American border guards at Canadian airports the power to detain and even strip-search travelers attempting to enter the United States. Moreover, it removes the right of travelers to walk away from US border preclearance if they choose.

One of the few Canadian outlets to cover this issue, the Globe and Mail, has provided a self-parodying object lesson in getting things wrong, editorializing that C-23 “should be a no-brainer” and “the sooner this bill becomes law, the better.”

This bespeaks a misunderstanding of the differences in the exercise of power between Canada and the United States.

As a citizen of both countries, with affection for each and reasonable literacy in their respective cultures, please allow me to assure my fellow Canadians: This is one facet of American life you do not want on your soil.

The exchange of common humanity for a police-like uniform, the clipped, minatory “sir’s” and “ma’am’s” that accompany petty authority, and a repulsive eagerness to punish or imprison – these are all part of Americans’ routine interactions with their myriad constabularies.

The “Land of the Free” holds more prisoners than any other nation on earth. This is a little-known but undeniable fact, belying America’s incessant banging on about its “liberty.”

Canadians are generally unaware of this unpleasant reality until they find themselves on the business end of it – often at the US border.

There are many reasons for America’s penchant for imprisonment – from its misbegotten “war on drugs” to the viral spread of punishable acts defined by unelected agencies – but none is more potent than its cultural craving for authority and demand for obeisance.

Already, US border officials at Canadian airports behave as though they have the power to search and detain – relying on travelers’ ignorance of their actual authority.

They go so far as to creep around Canadian terminals in plain clothes, identifying and harassing unsuspecting passengers.

A female acquaintance of mine was recently put upon by one such operative in a Toronto airport bar, after she had cleared US customs.

He flashed a badge and demanded she come with him. Canadian as she is, she obliged. She was hustled into a windowless room where several US officers questioned and accused her for hours, reducing her to tears and causing her to miss her flight.

Now, could you imagine those jokers with legitimate power to detain and strip-search, ratified by the Canadian government?

The young lady in question is a pleasant, law-abiding person who was meeting friends for a shopping weekend in New York. Attractive and alone, she was vulnerable prey for jumped-up nasties with little else to do.

As an American guard at the Canadian border recently admitted to me, “At the southern border, we actually do stuff; up here, we just pretend to do stuff.”

And there it is – Canada is about to hand police powers to otherwise indolent foreign agents who, by culture and necessity, will be eager to exercise their new authority upon the nearest soft target: you.

This change has been in the works since 2015, providing numerous, bi-partisan targets of ire.

Blame it on Stephen Harper’s authoritarian streak, or Barack Obama’s advancement of the administrative state, or Donald Trump’s inherent evil, or Justin Trudeau being Justin Trudeau – whatever it takes to get your motor running. Just don’t let this happen.

Theo Caldwell is a dual American-Canadian citizen. Contact him at

Friday, June 23, 2017

No Company Should Have a Human Resources Department

It is a linguistic irony of the modern corporation that those most desolate of resourcefulness and human rapport occupy its Human Resources department.

Consistent with its culture of perverting language and policing words, “Human Resources” is one of those contemporary terms of which the intended and practical meanings are exact opposites.

If you work for an organization large and unfortunate enough to have a dedicated “HR” division – and even, perhaps, if you have been a member of that mirthless, officious cohort – you know of what I write.

Moreover, though your conditioned response is to consider HR a necessary evil – after all, someone needs to hire, fire, and ensure the company avoids legal disputes arising from personnel issues – you sense, on some level, that life would be better if the entire bureau simply did not exist.

Developed in the 1980s to protect corporations from the sudden ubiquity of “sexual harassment” cases, Human Resources departments have persisted and metastasized such that the current generation of workers cannot imagine a world without them.

But, like so many cost-driving, self-perpetuating, control-seeking entities one finds in both the public and private sectors, scrutiny yields that not only are they not good at what they do, what they do is not good.

As stated, the essential functions of HR consist of hiring new people, terminating those no longer required, and monitoring employee conduct between those two junctures (advocates of HR may insist there’s far more to it than that, but this has been the plaint of every irritating profession from politicians to mimes; to wit, what they do is much too complicated for the rest of us to comprehend).

In the first instance, it is not uncommon for HR personnel to have no training or experience as to the revenue-driving aspects of the organizations for which they work.

This is to be expected since HR is, as noted, a cost-driving enterprise, the make-work nature of which provides, at best, a thin prophylactic against legal trouble.

But consider the bounded rationality of an HR person working for, say, a software or engineering company, tasked with laying out the qualifications and sifting through the resumes of applicants, while lacking expertise in that field. Certainly, she will receive guidance from the department head seeking a new employee, but the deficit of knowledge regarding the actual job dictates that the HR person does not know what to look for.

This is how you get nonsense prerequisites for posted positions such as, “minimum 5 years’ experience” or “English or Journalism degree required.”

As to the former, perhaps one applicant served 5 years in a cubicle, accomplishing nothing of consequence for a competitor, while another evinced prodigy-like skills in a shorter period of time and wishes to bring them to bear for you. Thanks to a reasonable-sounding yet arbitrary number devised by HR, the company will most likely hire the lummox and let the superstar slip away.

Pertinent to the latter (and I admit I benefited from this in my early career), jobs that involve writing or media are often gate-kept by requirements of degrees in English or Journalism. Once again, this evinces a misunderstanding by HR personnel as to how things work.

One’s capacity for writing financial or news copy, for example, is not aided in the slightest by an English degree’s obligations to read Moby Dick or The Faerie Queene. And as for a degree in Journalism, suffice it to say sheepskin of this sort makes four years of Gender Studies look like time well spent.

But again, to an HR person who has no idea what her company does or how it makes money, this sort of thing seems perfectly sensible.

To whatever extent Human Resources bring imagination to bear, they discover uncharted ways to infuriate and enervate. No better object lesson exists than the HR-developed online application process.

Profiles must be created – complete with unnecessarily complicated passwords that incorporate upper and lower case letters, at least one number, special characters, and an emoji of a smiley whale – before carefully crafted resumes are deconstructed and supposedly “populated” into HR’s preferred form.

Invariably, such programs make a dog’s breakfast of the applicant’s curriculum vitae, such that even the most suitable candidates become frustrated at having to correct and readjust every field; indeed, the more extensive their experience, the more irritating and time-consuming is this process.

Moreover, the applicant is robbed of the opportunity to present himself as he would like, since HR has prioritized their own convenience by making the process uniform. At what point does a qualified candidate with other options begin to make assumptions about the organization and question his desire to be part of it?

Likewise, Human Resources’ involvement in the termination of employment, whether the person is leaving of their own volition or not, brings out the automaton-voiced worst of HR people.

The “exit interview” of a voluntarily departing employee – supposedly undertaken to find areas for improvement within the organization but more properly understood as scanning for potential legal liability – is a nonsense conversation between a person who is dishonest about its purpose and one who no longer cares.

Conversely, the unnecessarily obnoxious, key-card-snatching, security perp-walking type of employee termination, designed by Human Resources and punctuated by one of their number uttering passive-aggressive, lawyer-approved disclaimers, is a rare moment in which the minatory nature of HR is laid bare.

Notwithstanding their ineptitude and menace evident at the commencement and conclusion of employment, the greatest organizational damage done by Human Resources occurs during the time in between.

It is unhealthy, on a day-to-day basis, for a coterie that is uninvolved and disinterested in the actual business of an organization to monitor and police those who are working to make it a success.

Again, HR types might insist there is a constellation of other, wonderful things included in their work but, make no mistake, their primary purpose is to keep an eye on you. This is undertaken with scrupulous adherence to the shifting mores of political correctness.

This is how you get “mandatory diversity training” and, true to HR’s roots, zero-tolerance policies and terminations for behavior fitting the eternally elastic definition of “harassment.”

Glomming on to an organization’s hull, Human Resources exerts a kind of parasitic authority, since it is neither assigned (inasmuch as HR exists outside the traditional chain of command) nor emergent (no one looks to HR for guidance simply because they respect them so doggone much).

Consequently, as outsiders with opaque power and picayune priorities, HR personnel are often oddly behaved (admittedly, there may be a chicken and egg scenario at work here). Again, supervision by peculiar people who do not understand or care if you are good at your job is not conducive to esprit de corps.

Perhaps most chilling are those moments when HR attempts to show their “fun” side. If you wonder what the Human Resources folks do when they are not alienating applicants, calling security, or sending stern memos about wearing open toed shoes or labeling your lunch – this is it.

That cartoon alligator holding a badminton racquet on the flier announcing the first-come, first-serve giant hoagie party in the break room at lunch – that was your HR associate’s morning.

Relatedly, if you are employed someplace where company time and resources are consumed to make a zany video about the people who work there, you need to find another job at once. In seriousness, you must commence sending out resumes the moment you are finished reading this essay.

The healthy growth of an organization is measured, in part, by its ability to decentralize. Human Resources is antipathetic to that. Even a large corporation consists of smaller, interdependent entities, the managers of which, with developed skills pertinent to their field, know what they need.

As the employment market shifts, with job changes and contract work becoming more common, one hopes Human Resources, that malignant misnomer of the modern corporation, returns to the abyss from whence it came.

Theo Caldwell is a dual American-Canadian citizen living in Toronto. He has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade. Contact him at

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Tax Reform No One Talks About

“A territorial tax system – what IS that?”

So inquired a White House reporter of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as he outlined President Trump’s tax reform proposal.

The question itself, and the baffled tone in which it was delivered, reveals much about why Americans who rely on news media for analysis of economic matters, and tax policy in particular, remain so benighted.

In particular, American citizens, their families, business associates, and various other “US persons” seem blithely unaware of the power claimed over them by the Internal Revenue Service.

To wit, if you are an American, or married to one, or in certain sorts of business with one, the IRS demands that you file and pay taxes to them every year, even if you have never set foot in the United States.

This is almost never discussed in the mainstream media, presumably because politicians, journalists, and various financial talking heads simply do not understand the issue. In a country where a majority of citizens do not hold passports, perhaps this it to be expected.

But the fact remains that Americans who move abroad, whether they are leaving in a huff because their preferred candidate lost an election or simply emigrating for work or family, must still file and pay US income taxes as though they had never left.

Specifically, the IRS requires a complete US federal tax filing, along with a copy of the tax return filed in the country of residence, so the two can be compared. If it is found that the filer would have paid more in tax under the American system, the taxpayer is expected to send the difference to the US Treasury – again, even if that person has never been to the United States.

Beyond the self-evident taxation without representation inherent to such a regime, the crushing complexity of the US tax code makes compliance difficult and expensive.

It is not uncommon for Americans abroad to send a few pages and a cheque to the tax authority of the country in which they reside, but then have to spend thousands of dollars to process and send a 50-page return back to the United States, even if they owe nothing further.

This is applicable to more than 7 million Americans who live in other countries, along with their spouses and various other associates and relations. These people are acutely aware of the injustice and inconvenience of this system.

And yet, you can read financial newspapers and watch business programs until your eyes fall out and hear nary a word about it.

The flummoxed query posed to Mnuchin pertained to Trump’s plan to reform the corporate tax system, such that American companies doing business abroad will be taxed only on their US operations. This would be a worthwhile change and, pace the intrepid reporter who seemed buffaloed by the concept, would bring the United States in line with almost every other nation in the world.

But, as usual, there has been no discussion of whether the individual American abroad will be liberated from the worldwide clutches of the IRS. It is all well and good to offer relief to corporations – indeed, for at least the past three presidential cycles, Republican candidates have phonetically repeated that $1 trillion will be “repatriated” by such a reform – but what about an employee of one of those companies stationed overseas? Or, for that matter, what about someone who has nothing to do with America or its corporations, with the exception of having been born there, or having a spouse or parent who was?

Currently, the only escape for Americans living abroad is to renounce their citizenship, and even that requires hefty fees and payment of an “exit tax” – essentially a capital gains tax on all assets above a certain threshold. Moreover, the IRS reserves the right to scrutinize former citizens’ taxes for years to come, and those deemed to have renounced for tax reasons are technically prohibited from entering the United States.

A few years ago, the US Treasury Department began publishing quarterly lists of Americans who renounced their citizenship (and every three months brings a new record high number of renunciations), presumably to shame those people.

Rather, the shame is on a government that treats it citizens as property, demanding money from livelihoods and toil that take place in other nations.

No other country in the world subjects its citizens to this sort of worldwide taxation, with the exception of Eritrea. But the United States actually gets away with it.

Combined with other excesses such as FBAR and FATCA – whereby Americans living abroad must annually report the numbers and holdings of all their financial accounts to the IRS – the current regime is indefensible.

At the moment, ex-patriots of Russia, North Korea, and the People’s Republic of China enjoy greater economic freedom than Americans living abroad. This is one of those appalling, counterintuitive facts that, upon hearing, one squints and rationalizes and inwardly insists must not be true. And yet, it is.

As the adage goes, Americans once rioted because the British put a tax on their breakfast drink – and it wasn’t even coffee.

A tax reform worthy of America’s legacy of freedom will liberate its citizens all over the world.

Theo Caldwell is a dual American-Canadian citizen living in Toronto. He has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade. Contact him at