End of Democracy

 End of Democracy

‘Is the end of democracy in sight?’ I asked Camp, after we both commiserated about the sorry state of the union down south. 

Listening to the news and reading the papers there seems to be a creeping sense of going backwards towards a time when moral, social and judicial lines of demarcation were more clearly defined.’

‘As in right and wrong, left and right, straight and gay, liberal and conservative?’

‘Yes, in a way it’s a nostalgic, revised designer past that many are hankering after, when the world was more fun and everybody knew where they stood. Nobody worried about social norms and using the wrong pronoun or being politically correct.’

‘As in we had the best sex, the best music and the best drugs in the 70ies.’

‘Speak for yourself. The sex and the music are still good and I never indulged in the pot and psychedelics as you have.’

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Best friends stand by and trust each other through good and bad times. Most solid friendships are based on shared experiences or childhood bonds. It’s comforting to have good friends with whom we can be ourselves and all pretense and role-play falls away. Such is my relationship with Camp whom I’ve known for many years. He’s like a brother and I value his advice and counsel. We know each other’s wives and family, share concerns about health and money and most times we are on the same wavelength with the state of the world and the big picture. We disagree sometimes and respect each other’s opinion. We depend on each other for honesty and solid judgement and we like each other’s company. Such is the state of our friendship. When I asked Camp what he thought of the bromance between Putin and Xi he scoffed at the idea of their friendship.

 ‘Although they have sworn ‘boundless friendship’ to each other, their relationship is above all a partnership of convenience. This was obvious by the recent phone call for Xi’s birthday. Both men are 69 and have met almost 40 times over the past ten years and both men think very highly of themselves.’

            ‘But do they trust each other?’

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Camp is back from his Whistler sojourn and he has plenty to complain about the prices of food and accommodation in this holiday enclave. ‘How can normal people like teachers and nurses live in this hyperinflated town? Never mind artists and book sellers.  It’s unaffordable for working stiffs like myself.’

‘I haven’t been to Whistler in ages,’ I said. ‘I used to go skiing there but like you I can’t afford a $ 200 day pass.’

‘Rich men’s problems, as Sophie would say. To change the topic, how is the world turning? I haven’t been paying much attention to the news in the past week.’

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            Camp is at a book event in Whistler, which gives me a chance to air some of my grievances. We live in troubled times, probably always did, but unlike yesteryear when radio, TV, newspapers and tabloids were the sources of information, today we are inundated with up-to-the-minute newsflashes coming from every political, social and media driven internet platform, as well as cable TV and national broadcasters. Who can keep up with this barrage? 

            The best of friends and family can be torn apart and separated by betrayals and divorce but these days also by big events like a terrorist attack, a presidential election or a pandemic. There is a point in time when there appears a crossroad. As the song goes: one path leads to perdition and one leads to sanity. It’s what Portugal’s Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo offered his country: Two roads, both with snipers on them. One road for the unvaccinated where the shooter will be able to take out one of 500, on the other road, the vaccinated path, he will only be able to take out one of 500’000. Which road do you choose?’

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The days are long and the sun is trying to push through the haze, promising warmer weather and maybe even a summer up ahead. I love the long days and the fact that I can walk to our pub and back in full daylight. I could see Camp already parked at our usual table in the corner and he waved when he saw me approaching. How long have we met like this over a couple of pints? It seems like years, before, during and now, after the pandemic. 

‘Did you see the announcement that BC is decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs, a first in North America and highly overdue, I might say.’ Camp said as soon as I sat down.

‘Yes, I did read about it. Two and a half grams of coke, heroin, fentanyl or amphetamines with no risk of arrest or criminal charges and the drugs cannot be confiscated.’

‘A step in the right direction. Over 10’000 people have od’d since 2016 in BC. These were not criminals but victims of a volatile drug supply, mostly off the streets, mental health, addiction and cultural problems.’ 

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            ‘Another mass shooting, this time by an 18 year old killing 19 fourth graders and two adults in an elementary school in a small border town in Texas. Only a week after a massacre in a grocery store in Buffalo, killing ten innocent shoppers. How can anybody think this is not about guns?’ Camp said, looking sad and upset.

            ‘Yes, only in the USA is this possible. Both killers were teenagers wielding military grade assault rifles, the kind used in wars, as in the Ukraine.’

            ‘How can teenagers be allowed to purchase and own such destructive weapons and tactical assault gear? It defies any kind of reason and common sense.’

            ‘And yet, politicians like Ted Cruz want more guns in the hands of Americans, even teachers, in order to protect themselves. If guns make everybody safer, the US would be the safest country on earth. I never heard of these protection rifles. They’re called assault rifles,’ I said.

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New Old World

            Looking out at the world from our small community on the edge of the pacific, we are insignificant in the big picture but yet we have all we need for a good, comfortable life. We also have a big, panoramic window to the world which comes across in non-ionizing radiation in the form of RF waves for cellphones and computers and variable frequencies for TV signals. Great inventions, which connect the people on this planet and also lets us look far beyond our solar system and galaxy. But there is a hitch and it happens to be one of Camp’s major peeves which he willingly shared over a fresh pint at our watering hole.

            ‘Thanks to the profit driven social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, U-Tube and TikTok, lies, conspiracy theories, propaganda and fake news are proliferating to a point where those four platforms alone elected president Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the Philippines. His infamous parents stole billions from their people, imprisoned and killed thousands and have been tried and condemned for human rights abuses as well as exiled from their homeland. Much of their ill-begotten wealth is still tied up in litigation and sits in bank accounts from Switzerland to Hawaii. Marcos Junior does not acknowledge his parents kleptocracy but instead wants his paws on their money. Under the guise of ‘freedom of information and speech’ those platforms have become the voice and the ballot box for fringe movements, radical crackpots, and populist politicians like Trump, Orban or Marcos.’   

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Proceeds of Crime

            Spring has bypassed the Westcoast and it feels more like October and November: Mayvember Clare calls it. ‘I have yet to see any bees in the garden,’ she said. Maybe we just forget and cannot wait for summer to arrive. It’s the middle of May and the temperature creeps barely into the double digits. La Niña. No matter, I love the long days and the fact that it’s light until 9PM. 

            Camp is back this week, already waiting for me at our usual table, glumly staring out at the grey, wet world. Before I had a chance to properly settle myself, he let me have the good news. 

            ‘According to a recent article in the Economist, it seems that Russia’s economy is back on its feet, defying predictions of collapse. The Ruble is now more valuable than before the invasion of Ukraine and they’re keeping up payments on their foreign currency bonds, much different than Ukraine’s economy.’

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Change or Perish

            I knew Camp had something on his mind that couldn’t wait to be spilled out and I was not wrong, but not quite ready for the intensity of his lament and soliloquy and it had nothing to do with the current war in Europe or China’s latest failing experiment in social engineering.

‘I’ve come across a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist from the 19thcentury,’ Camp said as soon as he plunked into his chair by the window. ‘It’s still relevant for our times. It goes something like this: You must change your life’ in order to have a better life. My modern interpretation is that we all must change our lives, in other words, stop the spread of rampant capitalism, stop with the exploitation of the third world, stop with the manic consumer orgy, the over production of goods and waste, stop the excesses of the modern world. ‘

‘Except that none of us are willing to give up our luxuries that we consider necessities like cars, fridges, air travel, laundry machines, closets full of clothes and shoes, pre-packaged groceries, air conditioning, heating, cooking and kitchen equipment and all other manner of energy consuming gadgets,’ I said.

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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?’

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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.’

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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. 

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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. 

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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.’

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Trust the Music

‘It used to be the autocratic East against the democratic West or the poor South vs the rich North with all the countries caught in-between like the Far and Middle-East, South America, the South Pacific,’ I said to Camp.

            ‘Yes, and today most countries are siding with the democratic West as evident in the 141 vs 4 votes at the UN, condemning Russia’s or Putin’s war against Ukraine. Yet, there are large, populous countries like Indonesia, China and India who are not on NATO’s and the USA’s side when it comes to arming Ukraine or condemning Russia but are willing to help in humanitarian ways.’

             ‘Only North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Eritrea stand behind Russia. No surprise there. Nobody else condones or supports this horrific war but it’s a different world from the one after the second World War when the US was the sheriff of the so-called free world.’

            ‘Except they interfered without impunity in other countries’ elections and regimes and fought proxy wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria,’ Camp said. ‘Also, the writing was on the wall, at least since 2014 and even before. Russia was never going to be a western style democracy especially under Putin who hates the west and the USA in particular.’

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Dogs of War

            Camp is away at a book fair this week. I admire his faith in books and writers. ‘They are the keepers and tellers of the stories,’ he said. ‘It’s what distinguishes us from the other life forms, the stories.’

            Here are my thoughts on the recent unleashing of the dogs of war in the Ukraine by their alpha dog, the warmonger Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.          

            The recent, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Putin and his henchmen, will result in death and suffering, destruction and misery, mostly for the Ukrainians but also for the Russians. All for one man’s hubris and delusions of grandeur which is propagated on Russian State TV by his ‘Lipstick Army’: women TV commentators and pseudo journalists like Margo Sacharova, Margarita Simonjan or the Russian spy Anna Chapman. 

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Apocalypse Now?

            I walked into the pub and saw Vicky polishing glasses at the bar. ‘I hear you had the covid,’ I said. ‘Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. A couple of days of headaches and congestion. It scared me though but I soon got over it. Troy, my son, probably brought it home from daycare. He never had any symptoms though. I now have two jabs and one recovery. Should be good for a while.’

            Everything seems so normal here: The pub, the lovely view, the beer. Meanwhile Europe is at war and the death, destruction and lasting impact on the world, the environment and the crippling psychological impact and devastation of Putin’s brutal war are ongoing. Ukraine is suddenly Aleppo or Srebrenica or worse. 

            When Camp walked and sat down, I knew that the war in Ukraine was the elephant in the room. No way we could not talk about that catastrophe. He plunked down his newspaper, I think it was the Globe and Mail, and sighed. ‘It doesn’t look good,’ he said.

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Lucky Dog

            ‘I hear a lot of people pointing out how lucky we are to be living here, on the Westcoast in British Columbia, to be born where we were and that it is even a privilege to be who we are and that we should be grateful for it all etc. Do you feel privileged and lucky Camp?’

            ‘I have to admit, I’m happy to live here, considering Putin’s insane war of attrition in Ukraine, but then again, we’re all connected. I don’t feel privileged, certainly not because of who I am or where I come from. I had nothing to do with it. And lucky? Luck implies active participation like rolling the dice, playing the cards, buying a lottery ticket, so no I don’t feel particularly lucky or privileged.’

            ‘But you’re born in a free country, into a middleclass family, never had to go hungry or without a roof over your head, never had to run and hide, or go without meds when you’re sick. Don’t you think that constitutes privilege?’

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It was a cold and clear sunny day, with a faint promise of spring in the crisp air but reluctant to let go of the hand of old man winter. At the top of my agenda, indeed what kept me awake most of the night, is the bully-war, presently under way in the Ukraine. It’s not a pleasant topic but one that needs discussing, even though mine and Camp’s opinion feel so futile and inconsequential and yet I had to get it off my chest. Camp was already seated when I walked in. I took off my mask and sat down just as Vicky placed a frosty mug in front of me.

            ‘You want to talk about Putin’s invasion, don’t you?’ Camp said before I could utter a world. ‘It’s what he has always wanted, to be master of the universe and to bring back the USSR.’

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