The Burden of Politics and Governing

 

Photo by Daniel Malikyar on Unsplash

In the course of many extended conversations with a friend who practices law, mostly pertaining to real estate, we would touch on the essence of what a career entailed. I was a school teacher until I discovered the wonders of retirement, and Scott even went as far as to pay a visit to the small rural school where I spent five really stellar years late in my working life. I had visited his office on occasion, but it would have been somewhat awkward for me to get in any observations of his interactions with clients, so I had to take his word for his thoughts on the law, its deployment, and on how it affected the parties undertaking the legal process.

A recurring theme in our conversations was that education formed a good part of many occupations where one has to deal with human beings, and Scott thought this was very relevant to the practice of law, particularly in the process of bringing parties to an acceptable settlement without engaging the services of the court and burning through exorbitant legal fees. I had observed some of this phenomenon in my father’s architectural practice where clients had, at times, unrealistic expectations of what could be built, and especially what could be built within a realistic budget, along with considerations of light, sight lines, interior spaces, interrelationships within the building envelope and how the building related to the building site. This was a critical part of the work because it was, in essence, the intellectual and spiritual framework for construction and ensured that the client understood well in advance not only the end result, but the journey from conception to planning, to detail preparation and on to construction before final occupancy. Dad’s success as an architect rested on the number of people who would write at the end of the process to say not only that they were deeply enjoying the final project, but also that they could see how those initial consultations had set the course for both the process and the result.

Such is not the case for all practitioners, and the area where education seems to be least central to the work at hand is in politics and government, an area where a good part of the electorate is content to function on preconceived notions of ideology and/or to accept the divisions laid out in the existing political framework of parties, candidates and support groups. As in business, it would appear for secrecy and deception to be largely the norm, sometimes through societal inertia, sometimes through duplicity, sometimes through expediency. The electorate gets bombarded with waves of information, but said information has been carefully chosen to direct attention to whatever the agency deems as good and to distract from the sources of the information and, often, the possible and likely consequences of the decisions being made. Where business is entirely about generating profit for shareholders and the executive suite, there seems little impetus to ensure that we are getting the whole picture and that the profits being generated will do more good than harm. The current and ongoing shut-down of the Sears retailing establishment in Canada is an interesting case study, where layoffs and disappearing pensions are being used to fund bonuses to the executives who have taken the enterprise into bankruptcy and dissolution, where those responsible for the decisions that lead to the downfall reap large rewards and those who toiled in the trenches are stripped of benefits, both present and future.

The same hiding behind a veil of secrecy also prevails in most governing bodies, often for the benefit of small groups of people whose fortunes allows them much greater influence than the one vote to which the general populace can aspire. Where this amounts to corruption, if often goes unpunished because of that same veil of secrecy. This is a legal matter and missed opportunity to hold to account those at fault. Other times, there may be cases where policy seems distant in its origin and benefit, and the implementation seems high-handed and dictatorial. In those cases, what’s lacking in a meaningful effort on the part of those enacting that policy to ensure than all parties are armed with the data and analysis to make sense of the action. All of our elected representatives ought to be armed with the knowledge to explain their decisions and the ability to make sense of those decisions to the people who elected them. as well as those who may have made other, unfulfilled choices at election time.

As an example, the current discussions of reconciliation with First Nations certainly has both supporters and detractors. On this file, we seem to be moving slowly, but there is an ongoing stream of relevant information that needs to be put at everyone’s disposal and there needs to be time for options to be developed and time and resources allotted to First Nations to sort out what might be their idea of the desired outcomes. For those like Senator Lynn Beyak whose sense is that First Nations should just “get over it” and become Canadians, there is a chance to review the information and to show that they have a basis for their beliefs, and for the rest of us to understand that perspective, without necessarily accepting that it might be valid if we have data and analysis to bolster our own thoughts.As new material emerges, we might need to re-evaluate our positions.

There is a certain amount of anxiety in the salmon farming community at this point, where First Nations are occupying a farm and where notice of review of tenures seems to have given the idea to the companies that they are about to be unceremoniously evicted from the waterways of the province. It turns out that the reviews are scheduled and that the panic might reveal more about the outlook of Marine Harvest than about the state of the spaces they occupy. For a group that appears to have done whatever it can to squelch information relating to disease outbreaks, escapes and other negative effects on wild stocks, there might be a tendency to think that the fish farming community senses that the end of their current business mode might be coming to an end. I wonder if they are willing to put all the informational cards on the table and let the public decide in full knowledge of how the industry operates and what are the real benefits and harms involved in their operations. It i here that the government, and especially the ministers responsible, ought to have the duty and the mandate to see that all appropriate information is put at the disposal of the electorate so that, when the government decides to either renew the tenures or to let them lapse, we will all have a clear understanding of the reasoning behind that decision.

When it comes to light that local casinos have become a money laundromat, and where it comes to light that the phenomenon has been known to government for the better part of a decade, and where the knowledge has been buried because it might have a negative impact on certain “commercial” enterprises, and where those enterprises are undertaken by people whose moral, electoral and financial support props up the party that buries the report, we have the exact opposite of a desirable education quotient. This is not a simple oversight, but a fraud on the electorate, even if the law seems not to see it as punishable.

The same applies to the approval of projects that appear, on the fact of it, to contrary to the interests of Canadians as a whole, but that will be good for board rooms in Toronto, Calgary and Houston, projects whose evaluation omits large swathes of data about downstream consequences to be suffered by all of us, but whole effects will be mitigated for those who stand to gain the most.

As a voter, I am willing to revise my position on many files, but I need to see that I’m getting decisions based on the best information, which means all the information. It falls upon my representatives to convince that the revision is warranted.

 

 

Who Knew?

 

I read just about everything written by Michael Lewis, starting with Moneyball, through all the  sports and financial tomes he published. He has interesting perspectives and is a good storyteller. The sports stuff is good entertainment and thought-provoking, the financial stuff is a little chilling, and his latest pronouncement on Canadian housing as outlined in an article in MacLean’s adds to an already disturbing picture of market manipulation on a grand scale leading to the destruction of liveability in much of Canada’s urban landscape. The recent revelations of casino money-laundering in B.C. only adds to the feeling that there are subterfuges being used to skirt both the letter and the spirit of laws and to pervert the market mechanisms that are supposed to provide a measure of affordability for those residents who need to work and live in our communities.

Studies seem to indicate that foreign ownership is not the major problem, but that doesn’t entirely eliminate the phenomenon of overseas capital as one of the exacerbating factors, especially when it appears that there are “underground banks” in play and that real estate developers constitute the largest group of those flushing large quantities of cash through the gaming system. Also in play is the accumulation of debt by those signing up for mortgages, some of which may not be within the realm of realistic repayment, particularly in case of a retrenchment of the market where the asset might become less valuable than the sum of the debt incurred to purchase.

The U.S. is being run by a clique of bandits who have assumed the reins of power and are busy ensuring that the satisfaction of their greed, as well as that of their puppet masters, is being satisfied to the detriment of society and the environment. We in B.C. have toiled under a government for the past decade and a half whose main mission seemed to be sequestering the benefit of the commons for the benefit on party donors, many of whom are in finance and real estate, either directly or indirectly. This has generated a socio-economic structure where there has been a pretty thorough decoupling of any relation between housing costs and salaries/wages, meaning that a lot of folks can’t afford to live anywhere within reasonable proximity to where the jobs are, and that, increasingly, jobs go begging because there is no one around to work them as they flee what are unrealistic markets for housing. The knock-on effects of twisted markets are being felt outside the urban centres as people sell out of the rich markets and take the resulting cash to lower-cost areas, but the real estate and finance people follow them, and prices rise sharply with the arrival of these newly-wealthy real estate refugees, pricing the locals out of their own market.

Real estate people love it, as both buying and selling causes the honey to stick to their hands, bankers love it, because the create money from nothing and take it back in as a representation of real wealth, and officialdom seems loathe to anything other than minor tinkering for fear of alienating powerful constituencies and not wanting to be tagged as having caused the pain that will inevitably result from a marketplace that is so out of kilter. However, that pain will come, and experience teaches us that those with the greatest political clout will be those who feel it least, while those who have pawns in the game will take it on the chin. After all, unless you live in Iceland, you haven’t seen any of the people responsible for the last crash held to account for it. The prospects for the next “correction” don’t seem all that rosy either.

Committed to Canada

 

How strange it can seem that, when a trade dispute arises, one of the principals in the dispute seems all of a sudden to become solicitous of the well-being of the constituents of one of the other parties involved in the dispute. Such seems to be the case with the current round of sniping over aircraft contracts, originally between Boeing and Bombardier. With Bombardier having a good chunk of its investment held by the Province of Québec and with Bombardier, over the course of several decades, having been the beneficiary of considerable largesse on the part of the federal government, one might conclude that Boeing has some legitimacy in their claims against Bombardier. Silly me, I neglected to pay attention to the duopoly that is supposed to govern the whole of the aeronautical sphere, airline division, to be divided more or less equally between the lion and unicorn that are Boeing and Airbus. So when Delta Airlines purchased a significant chunk of Bombardier’s C100 (I believe it was), Boeing cried foul and asked for the imposition of tariffs to countervail the unfair advantage that Canada offered in terms of subsidies. 220%, boys, just like that! Make America Great Again, and a follow-up of another 80%. We’ll show them! Never mind that Boeing is so fat with US military contracts of the type that could unto themselves be considered a subsidy that they didn’t, it would seem have a comparable aircraft to sell to Delta, but Delta could easily buy something that Boeing makes to keep Boeing happy…so Canada is making rumblings about playing hardball by negotiation a deal for used Australian F-18s rather than a purchase of new F-18s from Boeing, but would these not be serviced by, hmmm…, Boeing? If this conjures up thoughts of Alice in Wonderland, you’re probably on the right track. And then we get this, on the Web, on television, and who knows, it may be in print as well, I no longer read pulp dailies, so I don’t know:

Committed to Canada

Committed they are, to continuing to sell as much as possible at the highest profit to a country whose aeronautical industry has been consistently suborned over the last many decades to the interests of outfits like Boeing. They will toss us a bone from time to time, but Boeing is committed to generating shareholder value and nothing else. This commitment is reminiscent of the protestations of eternal faithfulness at the altar that is little other than a prelude to divorce. It’s offensive.

A Tale of Two Cities

…except, in this case, it’s a case of two attitudes defining a single city.something that seems to come to the fore when crisis is upon us. The constructive side of the two outlooks was outlined in some depth is Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell, a telling litany of how self-help and community organization develops in times of great stress and potential societal breakdown.

Houston in the time of Harvey is very much a case in point.

Case #1 showed up on a news broadcast that my wife was watching the other day, and the owner was quoted elsewhere in the press as saying something like: “To Hell with profits.” When people see human need and the common good as a higher calling than whatever the status quo was, we’re all better off.

 

 

Case #2 is not such a happy outcome, in which a mega church had to be shamed into contributing to the well being of the dispossessed and the despondent, despite the clear message in the New Testament about duty of care. This piece from iconoclast sportswriter Dave Zirin, delves into the shenanigans of not only televangelists, but sports franchise owners and the havoc they wreak, with seeming impunity, on the public accounts (remember that roof replacement at BC Place?)

 

The Houston Stadium Grift Comes Home to Roost

 

One can only hope that, in this battle for the soul of humanity as we enter a time of greater danger and precarity than humanity has faced in and phase of its “civilized” existence, the answer will lie behind Door Number One, with figurative mattresses for all.

 

 

 

Snowed Under

BHouse-Snow

 

As last year(!) drew to a close, I found myself making like a BC Liberal flack and wearing out the <delete> key in my inbox. Both my wife and I, in our retirement, have taken it upon ourselves to be active in the community and beyond, in aid of creating a social and economic system that works on the principle of inclusion and that works toward a model of ecological regeneration, she from the standpoint of Christian obligation (as well as a generous nature), and I from the standpoint of a morality evolved through secular readings and observations. Our main focus is on our local community, which, it’s plain, is in need of an awakening to current circumstances and to a rebuild foundation for economic activity and reward, but she has ventured as far as Kenya with a women’s missions group, and we both maintain links to both national and international groups seeking to redress the worst (at first) of the world’s ills.

The sad parts that, once one has established a link to an organization, it seems that the relationship becomes one of lifetime support. My inbox has offered me more opportunities to donate in the last couple of weeks than I could ever hope to match, and there are many serial “offenders”, people who remind me several times daily about upcoming deadlines for tax receipts, or opportunities to meet matching donation quotas. The language has gotten progressively more florid as the deadlines approach, tugging ever harder at the heartstrings and guilt pangs to ensure the survival of each and every progressive social and ecologically-focused organization ready to vanish into the ether without my paltry donation.

I guess I can be a hard-hearted bastard when I need to: long ago, I learned to say a firm “No, thank you” based on the principle of being an active reader, seeker and link-follower. I can find the people with whom I need to connect to lend support and don’t need to be solicited with cold calls of one kind or another to prompt me, lest I forget to feed the machine: we do, of course, also get solicitations through Canada Post and via the phone, and my constant refrain when called upon, boils down to “don’t call me, I’ll call you: the best way to get left off the donations list is to ask.”

None of us can do it all, and it is precisely because we don’t seem to act in concert a good part of the time that concentrations of money an power find so ready a lever in the mechanisms of our current society, but I rue the day when we have a superstructure on the scale of the United Way for apportioning money donated to social, political and economic causes. Organizations of that nature seem to become self-focused and look after the organization itself before tending to the needs of the component causes. There is also a multiplicity of approaches that exist to deal with the inequity and iniquity of our current circumstances, some focused in the political realm, some purely ecological, some social initiatives, some squarely aimed at economic levers. I’m good at deciding where to put my time, money and words, and I don’t want people tugging at my sleeve at every corner, upsetting my internal harmony. I also know how fortunate I am in the circumstances of my birth, upbringing, career, cultural and social life, and to sense that my fortune should be everybody’s fortune, but please, a little decorum.

Two Very Telling Reports Say The Same Thing

FCDoc

One report was published by the Fraser Institute, the other by the Wait Times Alliance, and both outlined a rather dire situation for people awaiting referral to a medical specialist for treatment, delays that haven’t lessened despite injections of cash from whatever level of government. Global News aired the first report and followed up with a personal account in an on-line piece posted here (video also available).

The sum of the two reports is that we’re trying to achieve different results by applying the same processes and thinking, a mode almost universally acknowledged to produce little other than frustration. The underlying message, the same delivered several times in word and deed by Dr. Brian Day, is that we should carve out a rôle for the private practice of medicine in order to reduce wait times.

Certainly wait times might shrink for those who could afford to jump to the private side of the medical equation, but it would certainly torpedo any notion of universality and would, above all, line the pockets of some physicians and the investors who would expect to reap a benefit from the work of some and the misery of others. Piling on another ten per cent for investor profit seems a strange way to get out of the cash crunch unless the intent is to eliminate access for some clients while expediting the draining of the bank accounts of others.

There is an interesting benchmark that the two studies seem to have set for purposes of comparison: the baseline year being 1993. For those with short memories, this is the period immediately preceding Paul Martin’s book-balancing feats, accomplished largely at the expense of transfer payments, and specifically the unravelling of the universal health care system. My mother had a hip replacement in 1994 and my father had bypass surgery the same year. I don’t think either of them had time to get a referral before the surgeries were done to remedy the condition; in neither case did even a week lapse before the intervention took place.

These two reports smack of yet another stab at introducing the same chaotic and dysfunctional system of medical delivery that we see in the U.S., and what the reports scream at high intensity is that greed is the primary motivator of both these organizations.

 

 

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

BB

It’s not a knee-jerk to speak ill of the dead, but when we see the wave of only mildly restrained praise for Bill Bennett, the Mini-Wack, on the occasion of his passing, it raises a concomitant tide of bile over the lack of willingness to point out the influence that this “titan” had on the lives of British Columbians, as well as the downstream effects that his administration has had all across the country as part of the tide of trickle-down or supply-side economics that were very much coming into fashion during the reign of Bennett II.

Bennett was well-placed in 1975 to shovel dirt on the grave of the Barrett régime when labour turned on Bullchip Dave and the media of record were full of reports of the provincial economy coming apart at the seams, all of it directly attributable to the Barrett tax-and-spend, a social-worker-on-every-corner, communist-at-the-door reign of terror.

Bennett is being hailed as an architect of fiscal restraint, meaning that he set us on the road to privatization, the swiss cheesing of the social safety net, the comforting of the comfortable and the afflicting of the afflicted, and the environmental degradation of pretty much the whole province. Some of this came briefly into sharp focus during the turmoil of a possible general strike and the resulting sell-out by Jack Munro when, for a brief moment, there was a pretty clear picture of the number of the potential dispossessed and the possible power to be wielded through unity. Didn’t happen: cold feet, trust in false idols, lack of trust, Bennett was a clear winner, and we’ve (almost) all been losers ever since.

Bennett came from a position of privilege and did all to protect and enhance that position for himself and the small élite of his ilk, and he set a pattern for a succession of premiers who continued the good work of the Rockefeller Republicans. When a person makes life so much more difficult for so many people, any praise ought to be verrrry muted and couched in the context of the deeds done.

UPDATE:

February 1, 2016

 

Evidently, we’re not done praising Mr. Bennett. A memorial gathering was held this past weekend in Kelowna and much praise was heaped on the now-deceased Premier. I know this from hearing some tasty clips on CBC Radio’s On The Island, clips from a couple of my favourite people, Pattison and Spector, commenting that Bennett seemed tough, but that it was tough love and that he always had the interests of the people of BC at heart, in addition to which, he had a knack for telling the truth. Yes, yes he did care about keeping the people of BC in their place as contributors to the Pattison economy, and yes, yes he did tell the truth, exactly as dictated by folks like Pattison and Spector (Spector who worked tirelessly for the likes of Billy Bennett and Zalm, friend to Campbell and to that stirling example of moral rectitude, Brian Mulroney). These people are so generous that they would save us from the sin of greed by being taking on all the greed they can and showing us the true path of poverty and obedience. So now can we call it a day and let Bennett stay dead?

 

Harping On A Theme

Double_harp

Obama is leaning on TPP potential partners to expedite the ratification of the agreement. Our own Chrystia Freeland has apparently muttered things about “parliamentary debate”, a debate which, given the majority status of the Liberal Party and the obvious support that the Opposition would lend to an agreement they negotiated, is likely to happen within the confines of the Liberal caucus. I would hope that the (Not So)New Democrats would have some barbed questions for both the other parties, and if I were a Bloc MP, I would be hopping to get in on this action: TPP might mean the end of any special status for Québec in Canada, as well as any meaningful notion of sovereignty in Canada itself. At least the Libs are not saying something such as:”Yes, sir, Mr. Obama, we’ll just deploy our best government-issue rubber stamp and move into the world of total corporate governance.” Whatever else, Obama has done, the worst damage may yet be to come from the enforcement of ISDS  provisions and the chill that would likely spell the end of the ability of communities all across the signatory states to protect their local economies and environments, leaving all resources and areas of endeavour to be run on a for-profit basis by those who have already managed to sequester an insane portion of the world’s wealth for their own use and abuse. So, to work, Chrystia Freeland (may your name be a reference to a reinforced democracy than to a nation given away for nothing).

CF

 

Qui sème le vent…

L

Pic is really from Dico Larousse and should be titled, I think, Je sème à tout vent.

The full title expression is:

Qui sème le vent récolte la tempête.

Check out France’s military and commercial interventions and it’s easy to see why Paris would be a target. The violence on both sides speaks to a failure of understanding, dialogue and diplomacyCondemnation all around for said violence. Could last evenings events be part of the tempest of the above expression?

Also worth noting, perhaps, is the ongoing and increasingly pronounced inequality of opportunity and income that grips French society along with the rest for the Western World, and the World in general. The election of a Socialist government in 2012 has meant an extension of the same policies inflicted on the country by the neo-con/lib Sarkozy. Mitterrand taught us the same lesson. The impoverished tenement districts of many French cities are cesspits of crime, insecurity and despair, and fertile territory for the radicalization of young folks who see no future for them in society as it is presently structured.

Strange that Erica shared with me an article from Canadian Mennonite the other evening about a pastor noting that the sugar he put in his coffee in Hawaii had likely been grown a stone’s throw from where he sat, but that it had been shipped to the US mainland, processed, packaged and shipped back. He figured the little sugar packet had travelled some 16 000 kilometres before being dissolved into his coffee and returned through biological processing to its native soil. Wait, there is a link: this reminded me of the passage in Candide (Voltaire, 1759) about a runaway slave from a sugar plantation in the Caribbean area who was missing various parts of his anatomy because he tried to escape his servitude, and each time he did so, his master would remove a hand or a foot.

On nous donne un caleçon de toile pour tout vêtement deux fois l’année. Quand nous travaillons aux sucreries, et que la meule nous attrape le doigt, on nous coupe la main ; quand nous voulons nous enfuir, on nous coupe la jambe : je me suis trouvé dans les deux cas. C’est à ce prix que vous mangez du sucre en Europe. 

…some get the sugar, some pay the price.

The Islamic State is a nasty bit of business, and it’s an easy decision to deplore the violence they have visited on Paris, as well as a litany of barbaric acts committed all over the Near East and beyond. But did no one take a moment to get François Hollande to reflect on the causes and effects of his adventures at home and abroad? When he ambles through the aisles at FNAC or Galéries Lafayette, does he never consider the notion of “You broke it, you bought it.”?

 

French Karma