Unlimited growth increases the divide

Unlimited growth at the Delmar Hotel

by Bruce Mason

The wisest words on Vancouver’s streets, “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” offer a strong medicine for healing the obscene growth for growth’s sake that’s killing us, our economy and the environment.

The seven-inch copper letters are artfully emblazoned across the front of the humble, 30-room Del Mar Hotel and tiny art gallery at 553 Hamilton Street, next to the skyscraper headquarters of BC Hydro.

In fact, the Del Mar credo did fundamentally alter the path of BC Hydro, in David and Goliath fashion. It’s a story that bears repeating in order to find workable alternatives to big developers’ vision for Vancouver and BC, a vision that saps our resources, robs our commons and prevent honest, affordable housing.

George Riste, former owner of the unassuming Del Mar, said, “I love watching people debate the meaning of “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.” But in her 1990 artist’s statement, Kathryn Walter clearly spelled out the intention: “It is directed at those who operate our free-market economy in their own interests, while excluding those interests that would be responsive to the needs of the community.”

In 1981, Hydro began their attempts at acquiring the property, the only domino still standing on the city-block of demolished ruins, on which to raise their edifice. Turning down hundreds of offers and a fortune in increasingly desperate bids, Riste said, “We’ve decided to keep this property for low-cost housing, and BC Hydro thinks we’re silly. But I really believe that we should try to put something back into society.”

And so, for once, the crown corporation had to modify and reluctantly re-design its grandiose plans, a victory for the integrity and mission the Riste family carries forward.

In stark contrast, a few blocks away, another building tells a much different story with “T-R-U-M-P” spelled out in large, gaudy, chrome letters, branding the 63-storey International Hotel and Tower.

Riste never forgot his childhood poverty in the Fraser Valley. Unlike ‘The Donald,’ George provided affordable rooms a few blocks from hellish skid row hovels. Riste explained, “We used to lease buildings, but we found the landlords were terrible people. So we went to the bank and managed to buy our own hotel. This is my life; this is what I love doing.”

One wonders what he would think of the recent count of 3,605 homeless in Vancouver, up 30 percent since 2014. Half have lived here for 10 years or more before becoming homeless. The numbers, like unemployment stats, don’t really add up. They don’t factor in borderline impoverishment, people in inadequate slums, squatting in structures, parks, and doorways, never intended for housing, couch-surfing with friends and family, sharing studio apartments and huge rents. The frequently reno-victed reluctantly flee the city of their birth, or choice, and its interminable housing crisis and near-zero vacancy rate. In May, the average price for a detached house in Vancouver reached a record $1,830,956, among the most unaffordable in the world.

Riste, who died in 2010, at age 89 would be appalled at the new luxury condos for “super cars” in Richmond. The 2,500 square-foot units boast options of luxury furnishings and decoration packages, featuring a mezzanine level, from which to guzzle something high-priced and choke back a hand-rolled Cuban stogie. Due for completion in 2019, two-thirds of the 45 units are already sold. Similarly, all condos in the 45 digs have been scooped up.

And if you search online for best deals for the ultra-rich, rooms at the Trump Tower are often fully booked, boasting that their ‘hyperbolic paraboloid’ triangular tower is the “premier luxury hotel,” featuring Canada’s first Mar-a-Lago brand, a 6,000 square-foot spa by Ivanka Trump.

Hyperbolic, indeed.

“Never settle,” the Trumps post. But for the 10,000 locals who applied to serve, massage and clean up those for whom the “Sweet-tastic experience” is chump change, the advice is irrelevant.

As Trump is unhinged and Site C and Kinder Morgan are exposed for what they really are – in courts of law or through public opinion – what we need to know is “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide.”

The check-out bill for the rich is overdue and it’s time for a stop-payment on Site C. Put the money into job-rich renewables and for-purpose social housing. While we’re at it, take down the T-R-U-M-P sign as the public did in Toronto. “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” must now be the litmus test to take to politicians at every level of government, and the street.

Del Mar’s motto provides the inspiration and awareness to Stop Site C and other highly questionable anti-social projects. Better to build the Commons on common sense, insight and wisdom. More Riste-like, not Ritz-like, within reach of those who do the actual work.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Canada: the case for staying out of other peoples’ wars

white poppy and flag

by William S. Geimer

This book presents the case for staying out of other people’s wars. By other people’s wars, I mean those in which Canada’s national security, by any reasonable definition, is not measurably at risk. We will examine all of Canada’s wars, assess their costs and benefits and consider the vision of a better role for Canada in the world.

This is a particularly important time for a rational conversation about Canada and her wars. We are remembering the centennial years of the Great War (1914-1918). The recent change in government provides an opportunity for this conversation that has not been possible for a decade. The years of the Harper government featured rigid information control and a relentless propaganda campaign in support of Canada as a warrior nation. The only message was that we achieved our national identity on the battlefields of the Great War. If that were true, it follows that Canada should not shrink from invitations to join armed conflicts. Indeed, she should be alert to new opportunities.

The new government of Justin Trudeau has tentatively expressed a different vision. Within 24 hours of coming to power, Trudeau notified the U.S. that Canada would withdraw its planes from the war in the Middle East. He was immediately subjected to criticism for this move, as well as for the decision to fast-track acceptance of Syrian refugees. The government, however, remained committed to the war and pledged to explore new ways to assist the latest coalition assembled by the U.S. This is the time for Canadians to look critically at our war history and be heard.

I am a trial lawyer. I present my case, not the case of my learned friends who promote Canada’s continued involvement in other people’s wars. Their case is not difficult to access and it is put by those with far greater resources than I. Consult any works of David Bercuson or Jack Granatstein.

The outcome of this case will have important consequences for us as a people. For example, if military action really is good for our position in the world, we must accept that we will always lack the capacity to be a major military power in our own right. That means we must ally ourselves with a strong military patron. That patron was once Great Britain and is now the United States. Attaching ourselves militarily to a patron requires ceding some of our sovereignty and independence in decision-making, thus yielding control of an important part of how we are perceived in the world. It also includes being, and being seen as, complicit in the human rights abuses of the patron.

We do well to remember also that any call to join in military action will be made on the basis of what the patron sees as its national interest, not ours. Persuading the Canadian public to accept such subservience requires, in turn, accepting the notion that we need the protection of the patron, and dealing with what the patron requires in return.

Why do people continue to support war in general, in spite of its poor record of benefits? Why does Canada in particular involve herself in other people’s wars? An examination of Canada’s wars suggests that there are recurring factors, each with characteristics and themes that begin to inform the answers to these questions. We will see that most of them appear each time Canada goes off to fight someone else’s fight. These factors, individually and in combination, provide compelling reasons to stay out of any particular war. For that to happen, however, the factors must first be recognized and evaluated. It really does not matter whether the evaluation is done in a personal emotional manner or as a cold cost-benefit analysis. The war loses. But in reality, war always wins. And Canada, never under any realistic threat of invasion, continues to fight. Why? j

William Geimer is a veteran of the US 82nd Airborne Division. Through his work as a lawyer and law professor, Bill presents a compelling case that Canada can end its fealty to powerful patrons like the UK and the US and instead make a more valuable contribution to international relations.


EVENT

Come here Bill speak

VICTORIA: Saturday, October 28th 2:30 p.m. Pilgrim Coffee House,1910 Sooke Rd (Colwood Corners).

VANCOUVER: Sunday, Novemeber 4th Elizabeth May, MP, Green Party of Canada speaks at 10:30 service Canadian Memorial United Church and Centre for Peace, 1825 W 16th Ave. (16th and Burrard). Following the service, she will be joined by William Geimer, who will speak about his new book Canada: The Case for Staying Out of Other People’s Wars. tarheel@shaw.ca

Digital issues at the top of MPs’ agenda

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Now that Parliament is back at work after its long summer break, Canadians will be watching expectantly as MPs get to grips with a packed agenda of pressing digital rights issues this fall.

Top of mind for many Canadians will be the government’s proposed reforms to Bill C-51, the controversial and unpopular spying legislation forced through Parliament with scant debate by Stephen Harper’s government.

These reforms were set out as Bill C-59 in June by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. As my colleague Marie Aspiazu observed in last month’s column, parts of Bill C-59 represent a positive step forward when it comes to privacy, especially in the long neglected area of surveillance oversight.

However, the government’s proposals also leave very important gaps. For example, they completely fail to address Bill C-51’s information sharing provisions, which turn the personal information Canadians hand to the government in the course of their everyday lives into an open-ended surveillance dragnet. A group of over 40 organizations and privacy experts (ccla.org)

have also warned the reforms threaten to legitimize mass surveillance and data-mining activities by Canadian spy agencies.

While some progress has been made, a ton of work remains to be done to fix the significant remaining problems with Bill C-59. Goodale has promised these reforms will be thoroughly reviewed at committee stage in Parliament; MPs, especially those sitting on the parliamentary committees tasked with studying the bill, will continue to hear an earful from Canadians seeking to finally turn the page on the poisonous legacy of Harper’s Bill C-51.

Surveillance reforms are far from being the only major digital item on MPs’ to-do list. NAFTA talks are stepping up amidst well-founded concerns that the renegotiated deal threatens to replicate the worst aspects of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Readers may recall how the TPP’s draconian copyright rules would have greatly restricted how Canadians share and work together online while also costing our economy millions. There’s no doubt the powerful media conglomerates pushing extreme copyright proposals will pull out all the stops to achieve with NAFTA what they failed to do with the TPP. To stop them, we’ll need to ensure that MPs hear loud and clear from Canadians that NAFTA must not be allowed to threaten innovation or restrict our access to information and content.

The fall session is also likely to see the publication of the government’s proposals on the future of Canadian content in a digital age. We’ll be watching closely to ensure these don’t undermine net neutrality or force low-income Canadians offline through the imposition of a Netflix Tax, an Internet Tax or similar, unfair fees. And we’ll need to keep up the pressure on the government to finally come up with the new investment required to create a national broadband strategy that ensures all Canadians, no matter their income level or place of residence, benefit from affordable, high-speed Internet.

David Christopher is interim communications and campaigns director for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Mayday! This is Spaceship Earth

spaceship earth

Houston, we have a problem.

by Bruce Mason

It was a summer of fire, smoke and hard rain. Of nightmarish hurricanes and awakened dead reckoning. All connected and predictable, in fact, meticulously forecast for decades. Equally predictable is how quickly we forget the lessons and how easily we fall into death traps, exacerbating rather than mitigating. And it’s all down to a tiny, but global, cabal of fossil fools and liars and their financiers, followers, cheerleaders and enablers.

In late August, the real costs and consequences of inaction were on full public display, complete with smoking guns and dark, watery scenes of crimes against Nature, as fires and floods increased exponentially.

Surely, it’s time to stop naming hurricanes after people. How about Hurricane Exxon, Koch, Chevron and Shell, amongst the 90 companies responsible for two thirds of human-caused catastrophe? The 1 percent scooping virtually all new income, world-wide, while playing a losing game of chicken with Mother Nature.

Forty years ago they knew and fully understood the science, spent billions on government and so-called Think Tank disinformation, promoting the very technologies warming the planet, making disasters inevitable.

Just as the US National Weather Service introduced new colours on satellite maps to show the unprecedented magnitude of the 50+inch Houston downpour, we must make adjustments to fathom the cataclysmic scale of our collective problems.

“Global warming” morphed into “climate change” and “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers.” It’s now time to call it what it really is: “climate crisis.” The World Health Organization conservatively warns it will be killing millions within a decade if left unchecked.

It’s tragically ironic that Harvey and its aftermath touched down in Houston, pounding the very centre, and quintessential symbol, of fossil fuel. A handful of scientists huddled in a small section of Mission Control, not underwater, to bring three astronauts – two American, one Russian – back to Earth.

As the trio of anxious space travellers slipped into gumboots on Texas tarmac, stark space images of dystopian flooding and fires were fresh in their minds, including BC’s continuing “season” of 1,000 fires. One million hectares – an area the size of half of Vancouver Island –burned, and in LA’s biggest-ever fire, it was much the same, while deadly smoke eerily returned: Seattle, to Denver, and Greenland, linking up, obscurring, more and more of the planet.

“It looks like an atomic bomb when you see the big billows of smoke,” 150 Mile House fire-chief Stan McCarthy reported, expressing his heartfelt concern for firefighters’ mental health.

The astronauts also witnessed historic rainfall affecting 41 million people in Asia, more in Africa; Europeans dubbed their searing heatwave “Lucifer” and regions of Australia were suddenly uninhabitable. Bangladesh was two-thirds underwater as floods ravaged Northern India, Nepal, the basin of the Himalayas and the financial capital of Mumbai, crossing the border into Pakistan.

Those particular events were all but missed in the America-centric corporate media, not wanting to “politicize” human catastrophe. “Unprecedented” and “record-breaking” became clichés, flavours of the week or hour, amid endless echo-chambers that all regulation is harmful and stunts economic growth.

Instead of clarity, we’re handed a prism of suffering; heroic man vs. nature narratives carved from the rubble, with no view or discussion of causes, let alone policy. Our attention capriciously re-focused on panicked speculation of nuclear war and endless examples of democracy, devolving into distracted idiocracy. Ignorant hubris, staring into an eclipse with naked eyes, praying for blind luck.

As flood waters subside, disease is becoming rampant. Irma has struck and other hurricanes are poised to strike, as more of the West catches fire. We are literally witnessing the end of the world as we know it. Look around. Where are the birds, insects? Why are trees and plants dying. Five-hundred-year floods don’t necessarily happen once every five centuries. They are events with a one-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. Houston has now had three in the past three years.

While Fort McMurray burned, Justin Trudeau shilled for his elite donor class, who are now little more than arsonists. Their disaster capitalism is sure as hell amplifying damage, fundamentally altering everything in its insatiable, predatory path. As a species, we must take hold of our destiny and plan for something infinitely better.

“Talking honestly about what’s fuelling this era of serial disasters –even while they’re playing out in real time – isn’t disrespectful to people on the front lines,” observes Naomi Klein. “In fact, it’s the only way to truly honour their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Pope Francis pleads, in God’s name, “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.” We must re-visit consequence, the only way to break the cycle of ignorance and denial. Stop refusing to hold the negligent accountable, strike back with adequate force at toxic climate denial and corruption. The costs of engaging and heeding scientific guidance are nothing compared to the probability and gravity of coming loss, not even close.

Our strength is collective. It resides in the vast majority of people for whom homelessness is just an injury, an illness, a bad season, bad luck or one pay cheque away. We aren’t as disposable as the 1% treats us. It’s time to fight back against the greed, pipemares and other fossil fuel evils. To stand up for a better BC, in a better world.

Our lieutenant governor’s “Three Rs”

Judith Guichon

by Bruce Mason

Photo: 2017 Canada Day Citizenship Ceremony at Government House, in which Her Honour presided over the swearing-in of 150 new citizens. Photo by Rachel Rilkoff of Government House.

For a short time in late June, all eyes, and much speculation, focused laser-like on Hon. Judith Guichon, BC’s 29th lieutenant governor. Representing the Queen is mostly ceremonial, but the urgent, unenviable task of making a vitally important decision thrust Guichon onto a red-hot seat, under a glaring spotlight. The corporate media pack sniffed, chowed down and quickly moved on to another flavour shortly after she denied then-premier Christy Clark’s desperate, self-serving, 90-minute plea for a snap election.

Judith Guichon, BC’s busiest lieutenant governor in decades, was etched into our history then calmly carried on with her own personal goal, which includes visiting 150 schools and pledging to use her position to educate about what we must learn if we are to have a future worth living.

She calls them “my three R’s: respect, responsibility and relationships.” Guichon lives and breathes the belief that we have a responsibility to respect the land, and to honour that relationship in order to leave a healthy planet for future generations..

In January of this year, while accepting an honorary doctorate from Vancouver Island University, she explained why she had taken the job in 2012: “There’s an increasing gap in understanding between urban and rural populations. Since we both need each other, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for me to bridge that gap. And it was such a wonderful opportunity to learn something new.”

Christy Clark had welcomed her, saying, “She has a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of BC and has spent a lifetime ensuring that we all stay connected to our roots.” In retrospect, our former premier underestimated and misunderstood Guichon’s overriding “appreciation” and “lifetime” of work.

Sure, Guichon had been recommended by then-prime minister Stephen Harper and had donated a modest total of $1,350 in 2005 and 2009 to Gordon Campbell’s liberals. Her friends and neighbours note that she leans right, as most of them do, obvious in the recent election, supporting fiscal responsibility and economic diversification. All of which had little influence over doing the right thing.

Before she was appointed in 2012, Guichon lived in the Nicola Valley in BC’s interior and owned and operated the Guichon Ranch, as the family of her late husband, commercial pilot Lawrence Guichon, had done since 1878. The couple took over in 1979, the fourth generation to run the ranch. They studied holistic management, focused on environmental stewardship and practised and promoted sustainability that emphasized natural habitat, such as letting cattle graze longer and using less feed. They are credited with introducing healthy techniques to the ranching community.

While growing a small parcel of land and a few head of cattle into a sprawling property with thousands of livestock, a general store, post office and a hotel, Judith Guichon, with a neighbour, started a recycling society in Merritt. She played the flute in the Nicola Valley Community Band and spoke up on water issues, served on health boards and task forces on species at risk, ranching and agri-food. She also developed her signature biodiversity program.

After her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 2003, she wrote, “The love of my children enabled me to carry on. To say that I would not have endured without them is not overstating the case.” Her current husband Bruno Mailloux and four adopted children carry on while she nears the end of her five-year term.

Personally, I never had any doubt that she would do the right thing and I wish I could shake her hand and share a few words, again. Two years ago, in a reception line at the end of her tour of the Gabriola Island Medical Centre, she asked if I wrote the book, Our Clinic, that had just been presented to her. It tells the story of how a community of 4,000 residents and a volunteer army of 170 built a multi-million dollar urgent care health clinic and heli-pad on donated acreage, without raising any taxes. Christy Clark’s liberals chipped in a total of $100,000 at the last-minute.

A short time later I received a hand-written letter – remember those – from Guichon: “It will be my pleasure to tell your story where I go because it is incredible, an absolutely amazing feat that I hope others can learn from. My own projects are about healthy land and healthy communities. We all have a responsibility to leave them in as good or better state for those who follow.”

Just as she did as a rancher, Hon. Judith Guichon broke the mould of lieutenant governor by making a decision to invite the NDP and Greens to form government in the best interests of the people of the province. And her story, the real story, is the one to record, share and act on.

Reflections of Canada – now that the party’s over

Canada reflections

by Bruce Mason

It’s been 150 years since the old province of Canada was carved up into Quebec and Ontario and joined by the hip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Confederation. We’re spending a cool half billion – plus security, promotional items, provincial expenditures and other unforeseen costs – to celebrate. Never mind the big bucks spent on beer, flags and assorted props and memorabilia. Some of us even learned to utter “sesquicentennial.”

The feds picked up the tab for 500 “projects” – 3,285 were pitched – for everything from the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland and Labrador to a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary and Ontario’s six-story high, 11 ton rubber duck, which cost $150,000 to rent and transport to six cities. In the Lower Mainland, the SkyTrain stopped running to an overflowing Canada Place. There were so many parties and goers that a mobile application and website, Passport 2017, was created, to the tune of $1.3-million, to help us find nearby events in all this glorious and much-touted diversity.

Refelections of Canada book cover
The provocative book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston

But one of the biggest surprises had to be the number of citizens who opted to utilize, at least part of the day, to reflect on the current state of their nation. I spent July 1 with a remarkable book I had been saving for the occasion. It’s been getting a bit of a buzz in the press and deservedly so. Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years delivers on its promise on the book jacket “…to communicate a complex and engaging landscape of what Canada is at this point in its history. This is a book of lively, respectful and thoughtful debate.”

The book is a product of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Founded in 1996 through a donation from Peter Wall (of iconic Wall Centre fame) of $6.5 million shares in the Wall Financial Corporation, it was worth $15 million at the time. It was the largest single private donation in the university’s history. The institute is a significant community of scholars; more than 450 faculty associates “address fundamental research questions through collaborations that transcend disciplinary boundaries.”

The book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston, a preface from UBC president Santa Ono and an introduction by the editor, followed by a poem, “Diverse by Design,” from George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Institute.

However, it is the first of 41 easily accessible essays that sets the tone and hits the reader right between the eyes. This is a collection that is more provocative than celebratory and “Practising Reconciliation” starkly lays out our collective “horrific reality.” It is conversation between three scholars who work in partnership to locate the burials of children who died at the Indian Residential School on Kuper Island, now called Penelakut Island, in the Salish Sea. And if you still don’t get reasons for the urgent need for Reconciliation, you will find them here in a handful of pages.

The book covers the state of Canadian democracy, environmental challenges, changes to our health-care system, income and other inequalities, the Arctic, arts and culture, technology and even relations with China. In “The Hygiene Hangover,” UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address the unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians’ zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other auto-immune diseases.

If you experienced the viral video of Trudeau’s explanation of quantum computing, you will enjoy Philip Stamp’s, “A Quantum Parable,” which offers a different take on the topic from PM Justin Trudeau. While Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing, it could be on the verge of hemorrhaging high-tech talent by not supporting Burnaby-based D-Wave, an innovative pioneer in the field. Stamp likens it to Avro, the Canadian company that manufactured the world’s most advanced fighter plane in the late 1950s: the CF-105 Avro Arrow. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people, but after the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive “brain drain.”

There is much more to recommend in Reflections of Canada. In the months that still remain in 2017, on the beach, in the fall and during the onslaught of an uncertain Canadian winter, this is a must-read for a sober analysis and for answers to ubiquitous questions, such as “What’s happening?”, “What now?” and “Will Canada grow into it’s legacy of hope and leadership in the world?

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

Mr. Premier, do it now for democracy

John Horgan cover

Summer is upon us. While we enjoy the bounty of sunshine, we must be careful not to fall asleep and get burnt. As with the outdoors, so it is inside politics. Ecology, equality, food security, affordable housing, etc., and democracy itself are getting baked. Here’s what some of Common Ground’s contributors have written:

The prominent issue that the BC NDP was elected for was to get big money out of politics at the provincial and municipal levels.

The NDP and Greens committed to banning corporate, union and foreign donations with limits on individuals. We also need limits on campaign spending.

These changes should be the first order of the new BC government and apply to the anticipated City of Vancouver by-election, likely in October.

Unfortunately, with the NDP’s appointment of Geoff Meggs as the new Chief of Staff for BC, it sends a confusing signal.

Geoff Meggs was central to the split within COPE forming the development industry backed Vision Vancouver that continues to accept large corporate donations with enormous influence on housing policy.

– Elizabeth Murphy

In April, Common Ground published and videotaped our extensive interview with John Horgan, providing a rare opportunity to present his platform beyond a few disconnected seven-second sound bites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwtiLzC5pck Here are some highlights for which we intend to hold him accountable:

“Inequality in our society is the biggest challenge that the new government will have, and in fact it’s the biggest challenge British Columbia has.

“I’m dedicated to do what I can, if fortunate to win the election to make substantive changes and leave a planet that’s healthy. Instead of just giving tax breaks to people, I want to give money back to people so they can change their own behaviour…That’s the standard we should be measured by.”

“I’m grinning like the Cheshire cat at those three crowns – ICBC, BC Hydro and BC Ferries particularly, fundamentally… So, yes, we’re going to look at those three major crowns – with a magnifying glass and find a better way forward, that has people at the centre.”

Voters in BC will be watching closely. In the meantime, here are a few quotes from UK Labour Jeremy Corbyn for everyone – especially our new government – to keep in mind.

“Nothing was given from above, nothing was given from above by the elites and the powerful, it was only ever gained from below by the masses of people demanding something better, demanding their share of the wealth and the cake that’s created.”

“You should never be so high and mighty you can’t listen to somebody else and learn something from them. Leadership is as much about using the ear as using the mouth.”

– Bruce Mason

The real price of democracy is eternal vigilance, i.e paying active attention after voting, so those we elected keep their word. We voted for change, specifically: 1) get big money out of politics, 2) proportional electoral reform; each are fundamental for improving our democracy. Both the NDP and Greens promised no less. And during their swan song Speech from the Throne the Liberals joined the consensus.  The parties are lined up, now the job must be done before the forces against democratic reform attack. The sharks are circling, having left the warm waters of neo-liberalism. They smell fresh blood in the NDP-Green government in the making. Big money and big developers want to insert their agenda into the mix. The newly forming government must be protected from the same big financial, land-flipping forces that made Vancouver housing unaffordable for most. Don’t let what corrupted Vancouver infect the rest of BC.

Will political power remain with the old economic rulers or become fresh, new power of the people? This is the choice before us. The commoners are 99 percent; big money is 1 percent. 99 percent is a far larger democratic majority. In BC we have suffered 16 years of 1 percent rule, now it is our time to shine.

Former SFU professor, R. D. Mathews, told Common Ground: “John Horgan can call or appoint people to a public inquiry into the financial operations of BC Hydro. The prior government used BC Hydro as a cash cow, milking it dry by taking profits from utility bills we pay, and putting that money into general revenue to make it look like they had a balanced budget all the time running BC Hydro into debt.”

Some experts believe their goal was to bankrupt BC Hydro and then privatize it by selling it to their corporate friends. We have the opportunity now to bring the real workings of BC to light. Let us save our most precious public asset from privatization. We can stop this further theft of the commons now.

As well, the scandalous made-in-secret Independent Power Producer contracts have directed money away from the public purse into private hands. Many of the original owners of IPP contracts, which include run of river licenses, have flipped their IPP licences to much bigger multi-national corporate interests like General Electric. When sold the new owners receive the lucrative IPP secret contract. Our new government can open the books and let the public see what the previous government has done.

There are a host of other non-transparent issues: Kinder Morgan pipeline, Woodfibre LNG agreement with Indonesian billionaire, Site C Dam, ICBC. And while we are cleaning up the mess, let’s review BC Rail and BC Gas privatization sales. The prior Liberal governments kept much from the public, let the new government open the books.

Give us the change we voted for, and get it done now. Thanks in advance.

– Joseph Roberts

To the heartfelt cheers from a massive audience at Glastonbury Music Festival, Jeremy Corbyn quoted Shelley:

Rise like lions after slumber,
in unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew:
Which in sleep had had fallen on you.
You are many, they are few!

PS Send us your comments for future editions to editor@commonground.ca

An interview with Michael Hudson

an expensive house

on greed, debt & the inevitable housing crisis

by Joseph Roberts

Michael Hudson is one of the world’s leading economists. He acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Greece, Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and taxation. www.michael-hudson.com

Joseph Roberts: You wrote The Bubble and Beyond before the 2008 financial crash happened.

Michael Hudson: [There were] articles I’d written since about 2004, basically, and I hadn’t yet put it all together in a book. I’d submitted a book to a number of publishers, The Fictitious Economy, forecasting there was going to be a crash in 2008. One year before at Harper’s, I published all the charts based on this book, showing exactly why it was going to happen. Then it happened right on schedule.

JR: What causes bubbles like that?

Michael Hud
Michael Hudson

MH: Debt. The reason bubbles burst is that they’re financed by debt. People will lend more and more and more against real estate or companies and the cost of servicing this debt, the interest and amortization, exceeds the cash flow, the profit or income that’s being earned, and there’s a break in the chain of payments. The tendency of debt in every economy is to grow exponentially. Every interest rate is a doubling time. It can be thought of as that. And the debts grow independently of the economy.

When debts grow faster than the economy’s ability to pay, there’s a crash. That’s why the booms, the build-up and expansion of a business cycle are rather slow, but the crash comes very quickly. So it’s really not a cycle at all. It’s not like Schumpeter described in his book on business cycles: a very smooth sine curve. It’s a ratchet effect.

They’ll pay all of the increased rental value to the bank as interest because they’re hoping for a capital gain, because that’s where the action has been for the last 50 years in the US. Not income. Most people have got rich, not by saving their earnings, but they’ve got rich by the capital gain, which includes middle class families that got rich, not by saving their wages, but by their house appreciating.

JR: Why did Wall Street get bailed out in 2008 rather than Main Street? The US House and the Senate first initially rejected the bail-out. What happened after their first vote?

MH: A lot of pressure was put on the Republicans to say, “Wait a minute, most of your campaign contributions come from the financial sector, the FIRE sector: Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. Who are you going to be for, the voters or your campaign contributors?” And the politicians said, “Our campaign contributors. They’re our constituency.” Or, as Hillary Clinton’s people called them, “the donor class” – the large financial firms and monopoly real estate investors. So President Obama, essentially influenced by his mentor Wall Streeter Robert Rubin, decided to save the banks, not the economy.

Inner engineering

JR: Vancouver, Toronto and other Canadian cities have these huge, expensive bank towers housing the Royal, TD, Montreal and Scotia banks, other financial corporate palaces and now even Trump Towers. But for the majority of people, there is a housing crisis. Housing has drastically changed. In 1957, my parents bought a brand-new, two-story, three-bedroom home in Coquitlam for $13,000. It had a big back yard where we put in apple trees, a large front yard and a double car garage. Within three years, my parents had it paid off. They both worked; my dad was a machinist and my mother a schoolteacher. We were a working class family. Our children can’t do that today.

MH: That’s right. People think that if their grandparents and parents could somehow buy a house and it would go up in value, that would be their retirement fund. Since WWll, that’s how the middle class was essentially created. They often made more money on house appreciation in a year than they would make working for a whole year. And it’s gone up. In some cases, they made more on the house appreciation than all of their salaries for a lifetime.

That’s come to an end and people don’t want to acknowledge that era is over. Already, the economy is fully loaned-up. That’s the word that Wall Street uses. “Loaned-up” means there’s no more debt it can carry. All of the surplus income that families have, over and above basic subsistence needs, is paid to the banks and the real estate sector, the FIRE sector. There’s no more leeway in the economy to grow because it’s all been pledged for debt service. The growth is over. That’s why since 2008, the US economy has been shrinking, except for the wealthiest five percent. The bottom 95% have actually shrunk.

JR: Last year, the amount of capital gains in housing exceeded all of the labour combined in Vancouver. How did that occur?

MH: It happened because banks are willing to lend so much more money that the bank loans bid up the price of property. Property is worth as much as a bank lends against it, and it’s true that foreign investors have come – speculators Blackstone, I’m told, from America. The hedge fund was bought here. Chinese and European investors have all been bidding up the price of commercial property and luxury buildings.

But for the rest of Vancouver, [with regard to] the vast majority of buildings and houses, banks have lent more and more money because they don’t particularly care if the occupants go broke. If the occupants have to borrow so much to buy a home in Vancouver, over a million dollars for many single homes in Vancouver, well, in order to pay debt service on a million dollars, you have to earn about $100,000 a year. If they don’t earn that, if they go under, the banks will say, “Never mind, we’re not going to lose a penny on that because the land is more valuable.”

And if enough families can go broke and be foreclosed on, the banks will then say, “Okay, look, we have a big parcel of land. We’ve got the homeowners off. They’ve had to leave because of debt. Now, we can be building another great big office building.”

JR: How does foreign debt and foreign capital affect our housing and economy? Japan once held the most US capital debt, mostly in US treasury bonds, and now it’s China. These debt-rich countries go to the US to cash in that debt. They want to buy a super-port or Standard Oil of California and the US says, “No it is not in our national interest.” How do they unload their US treasury bonds? Does Canada accept US treasury bonds from China and other countries as currency?

MH: Well, yes. They’re certainly marketable and any country is willing to buy treasury bonds at pretty much the market price. Maybe a teeny margin below. The US, as Obama said, is the “exceptional country.” What does that mean? That means we don’t have to obey international law. International law is for other people. We’re the exception to international law. We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have to obey international law.

We don’t obey any foreign court. We don’t obey the international courts. We don’t obey the Geneva Convention. Because we’re the “exceptional country.” We insist that other countries open their market to American investors to buy their commanding heights and then privatize them and treat their infrastructure as monopolies. But we won’t let China even buy gas stations in the US when it wanted to buy a set of oil distributors on the west coast. This is the double standard and it’s why China and Russia and Iran and other countries said it’s a guaranteed losing game. “They want to buy us but they won’t let us buy anything.”

JR: If a country doesn’t play along with the US empire, the empire strikes back.

MH: Yes. As it did in Chile.

JR: America has a list of countries that won’t comply to their unipolar world currency. Would it make sense to have more than one international currency system in the world?

MH: That is happening. That would be called a ‘multi-polar world’ and that’s exactly what countries out of the US are saying. That’s why China and Russia are moving closer together. They have a bank clearing system to replace the American/European bank clearing system to clear bank transfers in case the US says they will wreck their banking economy by unplugging them electronically from SWIFT system (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). They’re having their own systems.

Other countries are having to protect themselves by withdrawing from the globalization order. That’s exactly why you have Brexit in England. The French election debated this. And north Italy parties are threatening to withdraw from the Euro Zone. The most active people supporting withdrawal from the Euro are the Portuguese because so many Portuguese are having to emigrate to Brazil where they speak the same language. Spain. And of course Greece.

So America, in being the “exceptional country,” with its double standard, says, “If you don’t do what we tell you, we’re going to treat you like we treated Gaddafi or Saddam or Assad.” Other people can say we want to decouple as quickly as we can. Globalization really means a US double standard of military, economic and financial control while other countries are trying to survive because, for them, this is really a new feudalism.

JR: So what’s different today from 30, 40 or 50 years ago in terms of the housing situation?

MH: Well, here’s the issue. Vancouver is part of a naturally rich British Columbia territory. It’s well situated geographically. Who is all this natural wealth going to benefit? Is it going to benefit the citizens who live in Vancouver or are they going to let one percent of the population – the political insiders, the real estate developers and bankers – siphon all of this rising property and rental value of real estate, just take it for themselves and shift the tax burden on to the wage earners and the businesses? That’s what’s happening now.

The fact is that if Vancouver acted in the way that Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the classical economists urged, they would say, “Look, all this rising land value should be in the tax base.” Suppose this vast amount – really, I think a trillion dollars by now over the last decade of increased land value – suppose that instead of leaving it to landlords to be paid out as interest to the banks, this had been the tax base. Vancouver could’ve supplied public services freely. It could have free transportation, free schooling. There’s no need for Vancouver to have a sales tax. There’s no need for it to have an income tax because these taxes raise the cost of living and, therefore, raise the cost of doing business.

When Vancouver lets the real estate developers and the banks benefit from all this rise in the price of land that increases the cost of living to new buyers, that means you’re priced out of the market. In order to get a job in Vancouver and live here, you have to earn over $100,000 a year. In other parts of the world, people are able to do the same job for much less because they haven’t had a real estate boom. So it turns out the real estate boom that people think is a sign of prosperity and wealth is actually impoverishing Vancouver by driving it into debt. In order to buy into the real estate boom, new buyers have to take on an enormous new debt and the result will leave Vancouver debt strapped.

JR: People are pressured into playing the game.

MH: They really believe it’s still possible to get rich by going into debt, and for 50 years after WWll ended in 1945, that was the case. You could buy a house and as the economy got richer, the value of the house would go up and cities built more parks and schools and urban amenities. The value would go up, but all of that has now reached a limit.

When I first went to work on Wall Street, with the Citizens Savings Bank And Trust Company, basically banks would lend mortgages only if the cost of servicing a mortgage absorbed 25% of their income. If the mortgage costs were more than a quarter of your income, the bank would say, “Sorry, you can’t afford it.” Well, now in the US, almost all residential mortgages below super castles are government-guaranteed up to 43% of the wage earner’s income, of the borrower’s income.

Now, just imagine if you have to pay 43% of your income for a mortgage or for rent. In NYC, it’s common to pay 40% of your income for rent. You may also have to pay another 10% of your income for other debt – credit card, student loan, auto debts. There’s about a 15% automatic wage withholding for a very regressive social security tax and a healthcare tax. Then about 10-15% more regular income taxes and sales taxes. People don’t realize that only about 25-30% of the average family budget in America can be spent on goods and services. So how is the economy going to afford to buy what it produces? It can’t. Most people in NYC cannot afford to go out and eat in restaurants anymore so all over the city restaurants are closing down. In fact, all over the US. In March, it was announced that corporate and business bankruptcies are way, way up. The trend is for bankruptcies.

The Barnes and Noble where I live in New York has gone out of business. The bookstores I used to know are all out of business. Near NY University, on 8th Street, the main street, which used to be the street for bookstores and other big shopping, half of the storefronts are all boarded up, for rent, empty, going out of business.

And in Vancouver, the first day I was here, we walked down a big major street with wonderful art galleries going out of business. Other stores for rent, going out of business. Other buildings obviously had just been renovated, empty, nobody in them. So the effect is to empty out Vancouver.

JR: And who profits from that?

MH: Ultimately, the banks profit because most of the real estate is bought on credit. As I said, the motto of real estate investors is “rent is for paying interest.” They’ll pay all of the increased rental value to the bank as interest because they’re hoping for a capital gain because that’s where the action has been for the last 50 years in the US. Not income. Most people have got rich, not by saving their earnings, but by the capital gain, which includes middle class families that got rich by their house appreciating. That’s why groups that are left out of home ownership have missed this whole capital gain bit.

So you’re having a bifurcated economy: an economy between a generation that inherits trust funds and is able to sort of live on money that their wealthy parents have made in the financial real estate sector and people who don’t inherit trust funds and are literally the disinherited. This polarization is going to widen and widen and become increasingly a political crisis.

JR: The inequality gap that’s occurring is astounding.

MH: And that should be what economics is all about. But if you look at all of the economic models, they’re all about equilibrium. The pretense – and this is junk economics – is that if an economy gets out of balance, automatic stabilizers return it to equilibrium. The reality is just the opposite: once an economy gets out of balance, it tends to veer further and further out of balance. Mathematicians call that hysteresis. Until there’s a crash.

JR: And there will be continual crashes because…

MH: Because they’ll get bigger and bigger and these economic crashes will be turned into political crashes.

JR: Thank you so much for this insightful conversation.

MH: Well, it’s been really good to be in Vancouver because I’m impressed by how many people really do understand the problems with finance and real estate. Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration in it not getting through politically. So the problem is how do they translate this economic understanding that things are out of balance into a political policy and movement that will put it back in balance?

And it can be put back in balance by a combination of fiscal policy, tax policy and financial policy. But it requires an educated electorate.

house image by Selensergen

RCMP admits to cellphone spying

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP has admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians’ cell phones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa and at the international airport in Montreal.

In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP’s own use of Stingray devices.

Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cell phones within a radius of up to two kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range, essentially making them a tool of mass surveillance.

There’s no need to be a target of a police investigation to have your private information compromised; you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cell phones are located within a two-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.

Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They can even listen in on and record the content of cell phone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP saying they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata. As Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, “Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn’t let them off the hook.”

For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP’s belated admission did not exactly come as a surprise. It will, however, hopefully prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the public’s privacy?

Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?

Last, but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying. Surely, a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?

It’s clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

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