War of Attrition

            As the war in the Ukraine continues unabated, there are two facets of this horrific and unnecessary conflict that stand out for me. I voiced my concerns to Camp over a pint of beer, looking out at the peaceful paradise of Howe Sound and the picturesque harbour of Gibsons. So far removed from all the hurt and wars and yet, thanks to our up-to-the-minute coverage of all that goes on in this world, unable to escape the fact that we are all connected. 

            ‘The first thing that strikes me is, while the Ukrainian economy is being devastated and its infrastructure demolished, Russia’s cities and industries have not been bombed and attacked, and despite sanctions, are able to stumble along. Families are ripped apart and uprooted and the remaining 35mil Ukrainians are traumatized and face a potential famine because they cannot plant, harvest and process their wheat and crops. Secondly, while more and more heavy arms flow from the west into the Ukraine, Russia finds itself in a war not against NATO but against the west’s military and arms industry and capability, including leading technology and advanced systems which have not been used in the theater of war before. The kind of war Russia was not prepared for and is certainly loath to be up against.’

              Camp nodded. ‘In 1994, Ukraine gave up all its nuclear weapons. In return it received solemn ‘assurances’ in the Budapest Memorandum that Russia, the UK and the US would refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. How did that turn out?’

Continue reading

Book Banning

            ‘Did you know that last week the state of Florida has rejected 54 out of 123 (41%) submitted math text books from their curriculum? Critical Race Theory is one of the main reasons for the rejection.’

            ‘What is Critical Race Theory?’ I asked.

            ‘It’s the study of the history of inequality and racism in the US and how it impacts American society today. According to DeSantis allowing critical race theory in schools would teach children that “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.” At least a dozen laws aimed at restricting teachings on topics like racism, sexism, and American history have passed in several states.’ 

            ‘Yes, I see it as another sign of how deep our political and ideological divisions are and the rejection of critical thinking and science by a large part of the population.’

Continue reading

Too Late Tomorrow

            Camp was late and to pass the time I reread some recent articles on the worldwide demand and production of electricity, all of which leads me to the conclusion that we’re not really burning less fossil fuels and are a far cry from being on a path to net-zero emissions.  This was the case even before Russia’s horrific war and the realignment of global fossil fuel politics which will only exacerbate the whole issue of extractions, supply and end-use.

            According to the International Energy Agency, IEA, global demand for electricity surged 6% in 2021 and was especially intense in China where it jumped by about 10%. So far, renewable sources of electricity haven’t kept up, although they grew by 6% globally while coal fired generation leaped 9%. Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 7%, reaching an all-time high, after having declined the two previous years. In the US, coal fired generation spiked by 19% in 2021. The good news is that rapid expansion of renewable energy capacity should cover most of the growth demand in the near future. 

Continue reading

Canada Housing Crisis

            Over the two years ending in February 2022, the average house price in Canada increased by more than 51 percent, to 868,400 Canadian Dollars, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. 

            In today’s Canada Letter in the New York Times, Ian Austen talks about Chrystia Freeland’s budget proposal to make housing more affordable. Specifically, he mentions the two-year block on most foreigners and non-Canadian companies from buying residential real estate in Canada. The effect of foreign buyers on house prices is not as significant as many people believe and this ruling could create some bad headaches of its own.  Many real estate purchases are made by residents or citizens of Canada acting on behalf of relatives or other people living overseas. What matters is not so much citizenship but rather the source of funds for real estate purchases, as Mr. Gordon an adjunct professor at SFU in Burnaby, pointed out. 

            This new rule will also run afoul of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by discriminating against people on the basis of nationality and it also violates the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Trade Agreement” by discriminating against American and Mexican buyers.

            In light of all this fancy dancing by the Finance Minister I hereby reprint a couple of earlier posts, form 2018; conversations where Camp and I addressed the housing issue. 

13th June, 2018

            “You know Camp, we’re lucky to have a permanent roof over our heads, unlike the over 3’000 homeless people in Metro Vancouver.”

            Campbell or Camp for short was just putting away the local paper and Vicky arrived with two ice cold pints of happiness. “Yes, but luck should have nothing to do with shelter and health in our rich society,” Camp said, “the right to healthcare is universal but impossible to achieve without proper shelter and housing.”

            “Exactly,” I agreed. “The reason I bring this up is I came across a year-old report by the EU housing organisation Feantsa, which has found every country in the EU in the midst of a crisis of homelessness, with one exception: Finland.”

            “Really, so how has Finland done it?”

             “By giving homeless people permanent housing as soon as they become homeless, rather than muddling along with various services that may eventually result in an offer of accommodation,” I quoted from the article. “They enacted a policy called ‘Housing First’ dedicated to ending homelessness instead of managing it. With Housing First people do not have to earn their right to housing by proving their capability to manage their lives. Instead, they are provided with a stable home and individually tailored support.”

            “That sounds almost utopian and why can Finland do it but we cannot?”

            “That’s the multimillion-dollar question,” I said. “It’s quite simple really. They made Housing First a national homelessness policy, making it possible to establish a wide partnership of state authorities, local communities and non-governmental organisations.”

            “There must have been problems and opposition to this common sense but albeit radical approach?” Camp said.

            “Not really since the plan included concrete objectives and resources to meet them. However, some attitudes did have to change, I’m sure.”

            “But how does it work? It all sounds so simple?” Camp said.

            “From what I read the tenants pay rent and are entitled to housing benefits, depending on their income. The rest is covered by the municipalities or services they buy from NGO’s. It costs money for sure but there is plenty of evidence that shows it is more cost effective to end homelessness instead of trying to manage it, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons.”

25th October, 2018

            “Camp, what do you think of the argument that all these Airbnb’s should be permanent rentals, instead of temporary holiday rentals?”

            Camp took a long swig from his cold beer and sat back in his chair.  This was going to be a long answer. “First of all, you can’t force people to rent out their extra apartments or rooms to people who can’t find affordable housing elsewhere,” he pontificated.  “You cannot roll off a communal and collective responsibility onto the shoulders of individuals. You can tax holiday rental income and put that money to work and you can limit the amount of Airbnb’s in specific communities and maybe even give out licenses but then you’ll have the big operators buying up all the licenses and leave the mom-and-pop operations out of the loop.”

            “There were always B&B’s and holiday rentals and house exchanges. I remember my parents renting somebody’s flat or farmhouse in the mountains for ski holidays. Cheap and affordable.  Nothing new about all that, except Airbnb has really cornered the market with their user friendly and peer reviewed platform. We use it all the time when we travel.”

            “It’s a shame how the real estate and housing market has managed to price people out of house and home,” Camp lamented, “and no developer, investor or speculator will solve the crisis. Not as long as the rules and laws turn the whole housing market into a casino where the highest bidder always wins and dirty money can be laundered in a simple real estate transaction. You do know that they call Vancouver a Casino, ready and willing to accept anybody’s money.”

            “I tell you how to solve the housing crisis,” I said, just after Vicky set down a couple of fresh pints for us. “Housing co-op’s that’s the way. It works in Switzerland and in Finland and it guarantees housing at stable, affordable rents without speculator landlords and realtors involved. Here is how it works: 100 people put in $ 5’000.- each and together they borrow 10 million from the bank or a government fund. First time buyers can get a grant or a subsidy, depending on income. For the next 25 years, the rent, tied to a fixed interest rate, pays off the initial loan. Now the co-op owns the buildings and the land and now the rent, which doesn’t fluctuate, pays for upgrades and renos. If you move you sell your initial share and that’s it.”

            “That sounds just too simple and perfect,” Camp said. “Why don’t our governments adopt this strategy? Everybody wins. The renters, the builders, the banks and the government.”

            “I have a suspicion that the developers which own the civic governments would viciously oppose this kind of socialist idea,” I said.  

            We both paused, took a drink and looked out at the pristine vista spreading out before us. 

Words vs Bullets

            ‘You know Camp, when Biden said that ‘for god’s sake this man cannot remain in power’, he meant it. It’s called a gaffe because everybody knows it to be true but nobody wants to spell it out. Also, when he called him a butcher. Yes, none of these words were scripted but Biden said what he felt to be the truth and I for one agree with him.’

             ‘How many times did Trump speak off script and did he get lambasted for it? Ridiculed, yes, fodder for comedians yes, but his words did not change the world. Nor will Biden’s. Let’s face it, who is the villain in this tragedy? Who is raping and destroying his sister nation and plunging his own country and indeed the rest of the world into dark times? The words of an old man will not change much, even though he is the president of the USA. The unprovoked violence unleashed by Putin is the real culprit here and Biden is right. He cannot remain in power. He needs to be exiled into a Siberian gulag or better yet, Guantanamo Bay.’

            ‘The Russians are told that the horrors left behind in Bucha is just a movie-set staged by the Ukrainians, disregarding the dozens of journalists who witnessed the apocalyptic scenes. Also, movie corpses aren’t real and don’t smell,’ I pointed out. 

Continue reading

Corporate Stone Wall

            When Camp came into the pub, I could tell that all was not well. He mumbled to himself and seemed out of sorts. ‘What’s happening Camp. Everything all right?’

            He sat down with a heavy sigh and shook his head. ‘I’m so fed up with trying to reach people from Revenue Canada or Expedia, from the bank to my internet provider or insurance company. Either I get somebody on the phone I can hardly understand or I get put on hold or they forward me to another number which usually brings me back around to the number I originally called like an endless loop.’

            ‘You’re not alone Camp. It happens to all of us. Try calling Amazon or WestJet and you’re up against a virtual stone wall.’

Continue reading