USA Remains Deaf To Reason

My youngest son, now in his mid-30s, just a few days ago said it was a sense of wonderment to him that when I was a child, the milkman house-delivered his product in bottles via horse or pony pulled carts; the bottles placed as ordered on the front door steps and the empties picked up, starting about the same time a bike riding “lamplighter” rode his crack-of-dawn route to click off the gas street lamps.

I don’t think he believed me when I suggested his sense of wonderment was nothing compared to mine as I still try to grasp the enormity of change in my living world since the day I came caterwauling into a still relatively new 20th Century.

It was a standing joke on my earliest birthdays that it was the clinking of the empty bottles on the milkman’s cart that woke me up and welcomed me like a peal of church bells to the starting line for a romp to the end of one century and a hesitating stumble into the 21st.

And it’s all happened in the blink of an eye, wonderment after wonderment, sometimes at such bewildering speed that aging minds are overwhelmed – and mine quite easily when it comes to the mention of anything “cyber.” I am told that if what I write is “published in digital format on a website, blog or other online space” I have become a “cyberjournalist” engaged in “cyberpublishing” and if what I have written should be published by an online magazine, I have become a “cyberzine.”

Not sure how I feel about that, but I’m sure my mother would have been offended on the day I rattled the milk bottles if told she had given birth to a cyberzine – and dad would have been threatening to sue.

But, here I am laughing about my latest designation as a cyberzine, still amazed at the incredible speed, ease of communication and rapid exchange of ideas digital cyber or whatever affords me.

In my blog a week ago, I lamented the apparent willingness of the United States of America to permit its president to topple his once great nation from its world leadership role. For a year now President Donald Trump, displaying a lamentable penchant for bombast and bad English plus a shoddy grasp of what democracy means, has changed world admiration for his nation’s leadership to the laughter usually reserved for prat-falling clowns.

Vancouver Island reader Glenn McKnight thought the blog would interest a relative in Quebec. It did and the relative replied with recommendations for “further reading” – two books by Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August” and “The March of Folly” and one by Ronald Wright, “What Is America?” Glen forwarded them to me. Tuchman I knew. Wright’s work had escaped me but four days after the exchange between Glenn and his Quebec relative Andre, I had tracked down a paperback. I can endorse Andre’s recommendation as a good read – even though it was written and published BT – before Trump.

The time lapse and changes since Trump’s ascendance do not change Wright’s view that we are watching the collapse of yet another once great empire. In my lifespan – short in the long measure of history – the sun set long ago on the once mighty British Empire and more recently, as noted a week ago, the great Soviet Union disintegrated. The paths they both took to power and beyond to loss are not dissimilar to the paths walked in the past 100-plus years by the USA and now being raced at breakneck speed by President Trump.

It was in 2009, when President Barak Obama had been in office for only 100 days, that Wright added a prophetic “Afterword” as a final chapter to “What is America?” He was encouraged at the time by a poll indicating two in every three Americans were happy with their new president, but cautiously added:

“But that was during the honeymoon. If history is any guide, the political right will harden and regroup, especially when problems at home and abroad prove expensive or tractable. Many will be as keen to thwart the policies of Barack Obama as they were to undo the work FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt).” Wright recalled Obama’s appeal to his nation to “set aside childish things. The time has come to choose our better history….Greatness is never given, it must be earned.”

He added that acknowledgment of past failings and the “new skepticism toward the national myth (and) a return to hard facts … a return to enlightenment” indicated a change for the better for the USA on the world stage.

Unfortunately, his thinking was wishful, America wasn’t listening then and remains deaf today.

 

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A Quasi-monarch President

 “We do not have a parliamentary system where party leaders fight internal battles and get replaced by their internal rivals on the regular; instead, we elect a quasi-monarch, whose removal seems as traumatic as a regicide. And thus, party loyalists tend to identify with their leaders the way royalists identify with their kings and regard the prospect of impeachment not as an opportunity for a change of leadership but a revolutionary threat.”

The quote is from a Ross Douthat opinion piece published April 11 in the New York Times as part of that newspaper’s continuing attempt to explain what is happening in the once proud “land of the free and home of the brave” – the Republic of the United States of America.

In the 1700s, British settlers holding an uncertain toe-hold on the lonely and largely unknown vastness of North America revolted against being ruled by a remote and occasionally insane King George in England. In a dangerous gamble, they challenged the might of the Empire. With a roughshod frontier “militia” and a laughable “navy,” they defeated the King and his parliament and established what they felt was a truer democracy: “A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.”

As the decades rolled by, the new republic grew in strength and in less than a century was being regarded as one of the strongest, if not the strongest nation in the world – economically, militarily and by way of government. As “Royals” around the world retained their titles but lost their power, the United States of America grew and its president’s voice became one of great authority on the world stage. Other countries governed by freely elected governments looked to “the States” for guidance – and for protection in time of need.

And then came the assassinations of the much admired, despite some dubious moral failings, President John F. Kennedy in November 1963; Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968; and Bobby Kennedy, June 1968. And then, diminishing even more the strength and respect of the USA, the 20-years of losing warfare in Viet Nam between 1955 and 1975.

The USA was not the only nation losing status. In 1991, the world was amazed and unbelieving when the Soviet Union collapsed in what seemed like an overnight illusion. One day it was there; the next, gone, dissolved by Moscow’s Supreme Soviet with China standing ready to fill the gap.

In the USA, President George W. Bush took over in January 2001. Eight months later, al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the twin towers in New York. The USA responded with increased force in Afghanistan and renewed fighting in the deserts of Iraq in 2003.

President Barak Obama replaced Bush in the White House in 2008 and returned for a second term four years later. Among his major promises were an end to the war in the Middle East and the introduction of Medicare as a service for all US citizens. In January 2017, he handed the keys to the White House to newly – and surprisingly – elected Donald Trump who, within days, decided where TVs with cable news connections should be placed and then launched the first of his semi-literate Tweets condemning almost daily the administration of Obama and the conduct of election rival Hilary Clinton.

Trump’s conduct has alienated many friends of America around the world; embarrassed Republican members of Congress and Senate whom he is supposed to be leading; and confused friend and foe alike with his never-ending litany of facts-that-never-were, delivered with the petulance of a spoiled child. Even when signing routine documents, Trump makes sure the camera is on before he flourishes the pen and carefully “carves” his name, holding it up for the camera to get a close-up of the black-black ink he uses and assuring any children who may be watching their president does know how to spell his own name.

It is unfortunate that the founding fathers who authored the Constitution didn’t provide a quicker and easier method of removing a president from office than complicated impeachment proceedings. In countries operating under the British parliamentary system, if the leader of the governing party becomes an embarrassment, a leadership convention is called. Complaints are debated and the leader either wins a vote of support or earns a sentence of non-confidence. If it’s the latter the chief minister is gone and a replacement elected as party leader and – automatically – prime minister.

Critics suggest this isn’t a fair system because the party ends up electing the prime minister – not the people. It’s a point, but when weighed in the balance with a leader spouting wild Trumpian accusations and theories, it would be a safety valve to cherish. It doesn’t change party beliefs and principles, but it does curb a leader’s bad manners and royal dictates.

For sure, US political leaders must find a quick solution to their presidential problems. In these troubled times we need strong USA leadership with steady guidance and the courage to make tough decisions because they are the right decisions. And, we need leaders who seek peaceful solutions rather than bigger buttons to push or smarter missiles to fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Said “Talk Is Cheap?”

March 7, 2011. From a report to Victoria City Council on financing the replacement of the close to 100-year-old Johnson Street Bridge, known locally as “the Blue Bridge.” The bridge spans a narrow sea channel to link Victoria West with the “downtown” city centre and the bulk of the population. It cost $720,000 to build.

In the 2011 report, council is informed the replacement will cost around $77 million to be raised by borrowing ($49.2 million), city sources ($6.8 million), federal government $21 million.

January 18, 2018, (note the year) from the Johnson Street Bridge Replacement Project Quarterly Update: “The new bridge is scheduled to open to traffic on March 31, 2018.” It did open as scheduled with bands playing; citizens dancing and cheering; council members congratulating each other and basking in praise from happy celebrants on the sleek 21st Century new bridge design, the spacious walkway and cycling path. A mild murmur of criticism fluttered briefly among celebrants regretting the bridge had only three lanes for vehicular traffic but there were more ooohs! and aaahs than grumbles.

And, nobody was wandering around with a placard proclaiming two brief paragraphs from the Jan. 18 update that would have chilled the joy of any Victoria taxpayers already worrying about paying their property taxes by June.

The paragraphs read: “As of December 31, 2017, actual costs of $96.08 million have been incurred. The approved budget is 105 million…. There will be one more planned project budget increase request for tendering. Should additional unforeseen events occur before the completion of the project, Council will be advised.” The italics are mine. I’m a bit of a pessimist when contemplating projects that have already had enough “unforeseen circumstances” to boost an estimated $77 million budget to $105 million and still be months – even years – behind originally scheduled completion dates.

My pessimism plunges even deeper when I remember San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was built in four years for $35 million (around $500 million US today) and was completed in 1937  $1.3 million under budget.

It would be bad enough if bridge building was our only problem on Vancouver Island but, alas, bridges are just minor stuff. A couple of miles from the new bridge, on the same harbour but closer to the open ocean, construction has begun on a new waste water and sewage treatment plant and the extensive pipeline required to carry waste to the plant for treatment before being discharged into the ocean. Estimated cost $765 million – for a project scientists and public health officials say is unnecessary. The majority of the funding will come from federal and provincial governments with municipal governments collecting an added $344 a year from home owners in Oak Bay, $296 in Victoria, $258 in Esquimalt, $208 in Saanich, and $146 in Colwood and other peripheral communities.

Mega spending all round with millions added to the final bills for the two projects mentioned here – a new bridge and a new sewage treatment plant to do what deep tidal oceans have been doing successfully and efficiently for years. Both projects were plagued with lengthy and mostly unnecessary debates and challengeable decisions that delayed the inevitable for decades.

Meanwhile, these projects consistently pushed to the back burner of social progress the far more important issue of affordable housing. It remains high on the priority list of just about every village and city in Canada. It is acknowledged as essential for the well-being of every community – but there is rarely any meaningful move to find the funding for a massive home-building project.

A few municipal governments may have problems finding space for housing developments, but provincial and federal governments surely have enough Crown land that could be put to good use for model housing estates. It needs some bold thinking – maybe even a rent-to-buy scheme. And it needs to be started soon, before our young people give up hope of ever establishing home and family in the country they love and head for more welcoming places – as so many of we old folks did so long ago.

One suggestion for any politician or party with the courage to propose and develop an affordable housing proposal. Every day that passes between a proposed solution and a proposal actually at work and functioning, can be costly. Delays extending for months then years as they did on the two major projects mentioned above, can be disastrous.

It is a sad commentary that the increased cost caused by delay roughly doubled between first estimate and final cost – the millions saved by less talk and more action would have been more than enough to have jump started the financing of affordable housing – or other much needed projects.

 

Bob Strachan a Leader Well Remembered

I think the poet Robert Browning was a little premature when he penned those immortal words: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” That one line gave generations of grey hairs the illusion the “golden age” was about to begin. However, he was only 77 when he died so he was still on the outer perimeter of life, walking on strong legs and able to tie his shoelaces as fast as an eyelash wink.

It’s after 80 for most of us that the body’s underpinning gets wobbly without the aid of a walker or a strong stick, and totally irrelevant thoughts bubble unprompted and unexplained to mind. This morning I woke up thinking clearly about an old friend first met in the Palace Hotel, Nanaimo, in 1953 and I had no idea what had triggered Bob Strachan from dark night shadows to bright morning memories.

And if you’re asking “Bob who?” I shall be delighted to tell you because Robert Martin “Bob” Strachan was the longest-serving leader (April 6,1956-April 12,1969) of the British Columbia Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) which later became the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Bob immigrated to Canada from Scotland and worked as a $10 a week farm labourer in Nova Scotia in the late 1920s before moving west to BC – first to Anyox, then Powell River and eventually the Nanaimo area. Always an active unionist, Bob had become head of the BC Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

He was elected MLA for the old riding of Cowichan-Newcastle in 1952 and won eight elections in a row – four for the CCF and four for the NDP before retiring from politics in 1975, the year he was appointed BC’s agent-general to the UK. He had been the leader of the party since April 6, 1956, and had won a significant membership challenge to his leadership in 1967 but stepped down a year later to clear the way for up and coming brilliant lawyer Tom Berger  – the man he had defeated in the membership vote – to now inherit the leader’s mantle and lead the party in the next election..

The NDP membership went into the general election of 1969 with a huge expectation that Berger, having replaced the strong trade unionist carpenter, would convince the electorate to take a chance on the moderate intellectual lawyer.

The membership was wrong. The NDP not only lost the election; it lost Berger its new leader in Vancouver-Burrard. Three years later, Dave Barrett finally led the NDP to the promised land of government for one short term in office before being defeated in 1975 by Bill Bennett’s Social Credit coalition.

It would be 1991 before the NDP was given a second chance with Mike Harcourt at the helm. By then, memories of the Scottish carpenter, who had died in 1981 of lung cancer, were fading.

As noted earlier I first met Bob in 1953 when I was sports editor, sports reporter, court reporter, general reporter and reporter of anything else that didn’t have a title. I was introduced to him by Frank Crane who was deeply involved in hockey and the BC Liberal Party. I can no longer remember who had the office on the second floor of the Palace; just that it was where I first met Bob on a hot summer’s day and got my first taste of political reporting. They really were different days; not necessarily “good old days,” just different. Bob and Frank discussed politics calmly and challenged without rancour each other’s views.

I was just fresh out from England myself so, apart from the normal conversational insults traded between Scots and Sassenachs, we had lots in common. When I eventually moved on from Nanaimo it would be the start of close to a decade of travel through Port Alberni, Penticton, Edmonton and finally Victoria where Bob was Minister of Transport and Communications and responsible for the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). He was basically packing up and getting ready for his two-year stint as agent-general in London.

I never did get to ask him whose office it was at the Palace on Skinner Street – his or Frank Crane’s – or to thank him for those early insights on how people can be unfalteringly opposed to another’s point of view but always with respect.

David Mitchell’s book W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia gives a thumbnail description of the times I’m remembering: “Relatively speaking, these were genteel days when the power of politics in British Columbia could be exercised in an atmosphere free from the poisonous clouds of excessive partisanship and polarization. During legislative sessions, for instance, Bennett and Strachan, or as they addressed one another, ‘Mr. Premier’ and ‘Mr. Leader of the Opposition’ would have a weekly cup of tea together.”

Maybe reading that again is what brought “Strach” back from wherever he’s been hiding in my grey matter, just to remind me to remind you to remind your local politicians – if they need reminding – that debate can be biting but doesn’t have to be bitter.

And if you are wondering what a trade union man and leader of a socialist political party was doing with an office or at least a meeting place in a Palace Hotel, wonder no more. Nanaimo’s “Palace” was built in 1889 during the economic surge following completion of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway and expansion of No.1 coal mine.

It was one of several similar establishments offering a pub and place to eat and socialize on the ground floor with sleeping accommodation on a second floor. Described as “handsome and ornate” in the 1800’s it still functions today as “The Palace Hotel” on a bend in the narrow lane called Skinner Street.

Its homepage describes it as a “club”, its exterior ablaze with neon lights advertising coming events and an ideal place to party. There is no sign of the upstairs window – always open on summer afternoons – at which I was privileged to sit and listen and learn.

“Comments” on the Palace website would indicate that its original offer of quiet “seclusion” no longer applies.

“Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears a Crown”

There’s a new book on the block and it’s worth buying (for under $20!) if you have any interest at all in the way provincial political decisions lead to new benefits or disasters – modest or major – for the people who give governments the money they need to play with.

The authors, BC provincial legislature press gallery reporters Rob Shaw, The Vancouver Sun, and Richard Zussman, Global News, admit “A Matter of Confidence – the inside story of the political battle for BC” captures only “a moment of time” in BC’s political history. While they deal comprehensively with events from 2009 – 2017, they say: “A Matter of Confidence is meant to offer a glimpse into the decisions these governments made, or didn’t make, and the actions of those around the (three) premiers during this time. It is too soon to pass judgment on their contributions to the province or how history will remember them.”

They tell their story well in language that carries the reader from event to event with easy flow; it is a rare political treatise in that it captures individual thinking and action in lively fashion and leaves the reader wanting to read one more chapter before turning the bedside light out.

Once in a while in the excitement of being in a front row seat while dramatic events unfold, develop, explode or fizzle like a damp squib, they hint the happenings are unprecedented, the most exciting times ever in BC history. That isn’t true. For real excitement in the west world, readers – and writers – can do a fact check of Premier Joseph Martin – known as “Fighting Joe – who lasted less than four months in office and departed in genuinely unprecedented style; or take a quick read of half a dozen other Premiers with shady business dealings, one or two with sad morality rules  and a few dismantled by party dissidents.

I’m not suggesting Shaw and Zussman should have cluttered their finely tuned page turner with dip-ins to past or worse events; just that they should have left out the few lines where they hint they were watching history being made whereas, with a few minor cast adjustments, they were watching it repeat itself.

One major criticism – this from the time the authors deal briefly with Premier John Horgan’s duties when he worked for Premier Mike Harcourt in the 1990s and was “tasked with keeping a close eye on ambitious cabinet minister Glen Clark. In those days, the NDP’s greatest enemy was itself. Harcourt would be forced out and Glen Clark would later become premier. Clark would keep Horgan around on his staff….”

Two questions: I wonder what “keeping a close eye” on Glen Clark meant; and is there any solid evidence that the NDP’s “greatest enemy in those days” no longer exists?

Getting rid of leaders has been standard political party procedure since before Caesar got the Shakespearean warning “beware the Ides of March” and a short time later told his followers to keep an eye on one “Cassius who has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In every country in the world and in every political party where leaders become prime minister or premier elected, there has been at least one potential Cassius. It’s the “enemy” political leaders face when the ambitions of party members replace party loyalties..

On the final pages of their book, the authors quote new Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson responding to a question on the prospect of facing Horgan in the Legislature: His response: “My task is to make sure we hold the NDP to account with smart incisive questions that will make their skin crawl.”

I have a distinct feeling that Premier Horgan will not lie awake at night worrying about the possibility of Wilkinson “skin crawlers.” But, he should be thinking from time to time about a lean and hungry Cassius. There’s one or more out there with ambition that can dangerously displace loyalty. Mike Harcourt could tell him how to recognize them if he doesn’t already know. So, could Glen Clark and Ujjal Dosanjh and his minister of Finance Carole James who also felt past whisperings of the Cassius chill.

It could be dead, cured by last year’s election victory as “A Matter of Confidence suggests, but is more likely just dormant. Waiting for the next “uneasy head that wears a crown.”

 

 

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Rules Of Engagement or Assassination

Stumbling around in the Internet cellar a few days ago, I tripped over a seemingly endless list of sites offering drones for sale. I was not unaware the recreational flying missiles had become popular. Nor was I unmindful of the fact that the stupid among us have already created some serious concerns flying them near airports or busy highways. But, I wasn’t prepared for dozens of ads offering “APEX Warhawk drone with HD Camera for less than $150 – and free shipping” or “drones for kids” at $32 and with half a dozen different sizes and styles to choose from.

It set me wondering how long it might be before the ungodly chorus that chants “guns don’t kill people” after each mass murder by firearms expands its embrace to include a weapon that can kill from a distance. “Drones don’t kill people” doesn’t have a familiar ring yet, but the way things are going it won’t be long.

Already on the debating table is the phrase “targeted killing” coined by USA forces battling ISIS in the Middle East. One side argues the drone is a fair weapon of war because it is actually “piloted” by a human being working a computer joy stick, hundreds of kilometers away. Non-military minds argue that killing by an explosives-loaded drone directed to destroy a specific individual or small group suspected of terrorism is an “assassination” and should be classified as murder.

The debate continues as drones become more readily available in size, payload capacity and cost and with many available as do-it-yourself kits ready for assembly. The “civilian” models now being offered with fast free delivery, and the pun probably intended, are specifically designed to carry cameras.

A few years ago, even the most modest mechanics found it easy to use camera mounts as mini-bomb holders. They became popular with terrorist organizations with the larger models quickly nicknamed “kamikaze” because they looked like a fixed-wing aircraft and carried an explosive warhead. They were relatively cheap to buy or build, though not known for accuracy; but like the first home computers purchased only by science class geeks, the early generation of drones moved quickly from being an interesting new toy to essential streamlined battlefield equipment.

In the forefront of invention were Israel and the USA. Both now have drones easily carried, launched and controlled by infantry and can be fired kilometers from their targets. The US model is called Switchblade, the Israeli – Hero-30. They boast advanced warheads and a communications system that cannot be jammed. It should be noted that the USA Central Intelligence Agency has long boasted about the accuracy of its computer-guided and controlled drone and smart bomb strikes, but has never been too convincing when explaining its “misses” or “collateral damage,” which is politely defined as “damage to other than the intended target.”

Media and humanitarian organizations tend to go high end when totaling the dead. The CIA tends to classify any casualties not in uniform as “tribesmen,” thus inferring they were really militants. Other observers list them as “civilians” – collateral damage. The CIA and military officials say “regrettable but acceptable.” Humanitarians say “regrettable and unacceptable” because the drone pilot cannot be absolutely sure who is in the target areas and, and if he or she kills only one innocent is guilty of assassination.

The latest drone unveiled a matter of days ago and probably already “improved on” is equipped with something called Vanomap. It enables the drone to navigate through a forest at 32klm an hour from launch point to target. It claims 99 percent accuracy in weaving around trees and finding its target but the “pilot” pulling the trigger has no way of knowing if the people milling about on his video monitor are terrorists or a family celebrating a wedding.

In the blink of an eye death comes calling in a  modern acceptable military victory – or the assassination of innocents which has gained in acceptance in every war fought since “total war” and collaterally damaged civilians became the norm.

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We Should Have Supported The Science

Sometimes I’m a little slow to react – and sometimes so slow that I find myself commenting on history instead of what should (would) have been current affairs had I been quicker off the mark. It is a fact that since I hunkered down in the Berwick Royal Oak Residence for senior citizens 16 months ago (yes, tempus does fugit) I have quadrupled my rate of procrastination.

Thus, today, I bring you my thoughts on an event that took place a year ago in and on the waters of Puget Sound; an event which would be hilariously entertaining had it not involved a spill of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater and cost multi-millions of dollars to fix.

Readers of my blog, who reside beyond the provincial boundaries of British Columbia, may have picked up whispers from time to time that BC’s capital city, Victoria, admired for its scenic and floral beauty, disposes of its raw sewage and stormwater into the ocean which rolls between BC and Washington State.

For years, local governments and regional district authorities resisted the cries of environmentalists demanding that the disposal of raw sewage into the ocean end, and a full sewage waste-water treatment plant be built at a cost of millions of dollars. For years local government countered those protests with environmental and scientific studies and reports that the waste being piped into fast flowing deep water currents was being transformed, diluted and returned to nature with pristine efficiency.

The scientific evidence did not impress Victoria protesters. Their voices echoed across the ocean and found common cause in Seattle where USA local governments began to belittle Greater Victoria’s scientific evidence and apply economic pressure to force the building of a full treatment plant. Victoria’s economy depends heavily on tourism and negative media plus political attacks on the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean began to take their toll.

In Canada, provincial and federal governments ignored or rejected scientific studies that claimed ocean tides and currents were taking more than adequate care of any perceived problems. Local environmentalists created a symbolic mascot to wander the streets and attend public gatherings. It was an adult male made up to look like human faeces, aptly named Mr. Floatie.

There is little doubt Mr. Floatie’s vulgar presence was more appealing to an easily led public than the carefully reasoned science stating nature was already controlling the situation; that full treatment was not necessary. The threat that senior governments might withdraw heavy funding required to build the plant weighed heavily in the final equation. In September 2016, a decision was made to proceed with the project at a cost now estimated at more than a billion dollars.

In May 2017, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps accompanied Mr. Floatie to Seattle to triumphantly attend his “retirement party” after two years working for Mayor Helps, Tourism Victoria (and) their Seattle counterparts. The party was hosted by Canadian Consul General James Hill. The flight to Seattle would take the Mayor and Mr. Floatie over the site where four months earlier hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater had spewed untreated from Seattle’s West Point sewage and stormwater treatment plant.

There is no indication in the reports on Mayor Helps’ and Mr. Floatie’s flight that the site of the disastrous sewage spill was ever pointed out to them or that they ever got to meet Kim Stark, the lead quality water controller at the King County Environmental Lab. Ms. Stark had assured a concerned public that in the days immediately after the spill caused by a mechanical failure, “some monitoring categories spiked,” but that just a short time later, “everything looks typical.”

Then she significantly added: “There was a reason West Point outfall was put in the location it was. It is a perfect location [because] there are some very high bottom currents. So, the effluent goes out and kind of moves and just becomes very diluted very quickly.”  Which is why in very short order after the West Point outfall disaster occurred “everything was back to normal” – which is exactly what the scientists and environmental engineers had been saying was happening with Greater Victoria’s sewage disposal since the great debate began.

But the people ignored the science and the logic and followed instead the advice of a piece of … well, maybe best not to go there.

 

Remembering The First Man He Killed

I was cynically amused a few days ago when USA President Donald Trump puffed his bottom lip and pronounced that had he been on duty the day 17 school children and school workers were murdered he would have burst into the school and without hesitation executed the shooter.

I have no doubt the President believed the thought. And, I have no doubt that he has never been in a position where he was required to face the fact that if he opened the door in front of him it could be the last thing he ever did on earth. Others were also critical of police who failed to react as they had been trained that fateful morning. Cowardice was not an unspoken word.

My reaction was a little kinder, although I have never been in a situation where a well-armed man was waiting just beyond a door ready to kill me if I opened it. I have no idea what my reaction would have been or would ever be but many years ago, William Manchester, a writer of great integrity, told me how I might have felt and reacted.

He was writing one of his several classics – Goodbye Darkness, a memoir of the Pacific War. In the opening pages we find him flying across the Pacific to revisit old battle grounds. As he flies through the night, old memories, “phantoms repressed for more than a third of a century come back; (one) with a clarity so blinding that I surge forward against the seat belt, appalled by it, filled with remorse and shame. I am remembering the first man I slew.”

Manchester, in charge of a 19-member squad of marines, takes us to a beach on Motobo where a fisherman’s shack from which sniper fire had already claimed several victims, was barring progress. He was the leader. “Sweating with the greatest fear I had known until then, I took a deep breath,” asked for squad coverage and made a dash for the hut dropping every dozen steps, remembering to roll as I dropped.” He was almost at the door when he realized he wasn’t wearing his steel helmet and “that was a violation of orders. I was out of uniform and I remember hoping, idiotically, that nobody would report me.”

He remembered, too, how his jaw began to twitch and “various valves were opening and closing in my stomach. My mouth was dry, my legs quaking, and my eyes out of focus.” He struggled for control, kicked the flimsy door open, crashed inside where “my horror returned. I was in an empty room!” There was another door, another room which meant that’s where the sniper was – now alerted by the noise.Waiting.

“But,” wrote Manchester, “I had committed myself. Flight was impossible now. I smashed into the other room and saw him as a blur to my right. I wheeled, crouched, gripped the pistol butt with both hands and fired.”

He was the first Japanese soldier Manchester had ever shot, the first he had ever seen at close quarters.

“He was a robin-fat, moon-faced, roly-poly little man … squeezed into a uniform that was much too tight.” Manchester’s first shot had missed “the second caught him dead-on in the femoral artery.” As the sniper slumped down and bled out in a pool of his own blood, Manchester kept firing until his magazine was empty.

He reloaded his gun, and “then I began to tremble, and next to shake all over. I sobbed, in a voice still grainy with fear – ‘I’m sorry.’ Then I threw up all over myself. I recognized half-digested C-ration beans dribbling down my front, smelled the vomit above the cordite. At the same time, I noticed another odour; I had urinated in my skivvies.”

Another member of his squad arrived, checked to make sure the sniper was dead. “I marveled at his courage,” Manchester wrote.”I could not have taken a step toward that corner”. The squad member then approached Manchester but quickly “backed away in revulsion from my foul stench saying: ‘Slim, you stink.’ I said nothing. I knew I had become a thing of tears and twitchings and dirtied pants. I remember wondering dimly: ‘Is this what they mean by ‘conspicuous gallantry?’”

And as I read Manchester again, I wondered if President Trump could read him and identify and confess without shame a true warrior’s tarnished distress;and I wondered how many of the people quick to brand as cowards men who couldn’t cope with fear, would have handled the situation in the beach hut on Motobu.

I ask myself the same question and hope I never have to find out.

 

 

 

Twenty Seven Words Divide The USA

It’s hard to believe that 27 words penned in 1791 to give strength to the then-emerging United States of America would be ripping the country apart 200 years later.

But, as Walter Cronkite would say, were he still around to enlighten us, “that’s the way it is” south of the 49th parallel where the fight continues over the right to bear arms.

The ink was hardly dry when the new and much-admired USA Constitution was revealed to the world along with a block of 10 amendments to the original – amendments that remain as a solid foundation to democracy, troubled as it is today.

The first of the 10 amendments grouped as “The Bill of Rights” was approved by Congress on September 25, 1789 and ratified two years and three months later on December 15, 1791. It dealt with “freedoms, petitions and assembly.” In 2018, this Bill of Rights continues to provide protection for people who worship other than a Christian God, and for “the press” when it publishes stories a sitting president might find offensive.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Not many words and as easy to understand as they were when written centuries ago.

That lengthy preamble brings me to the now famous “second amendment,” that has created angry debate for decades and burns fiercely today at the heart of the firestorm following the most recent murders of 17 Florida school students and staff by a mentally damaged teenager in ownership possession of an automatic firing rifle.

Amendment Two, the right to bear arms, is a concise 27 words and was clearly understood and supported in 1791: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The National Rifle Association of America, the powerful USA “gun rights” lobby, argues that any attempt to curb gun ownership rights as guaranteed in the second amendment of the Constitution is an attempt to destroy a foundation stone of the USA and a betrayal of the founding fathers. They say even the most modest increase in screening of people seeking to own firearms would be an infringement of the second amendment and violation of a sacred trust.

They do not mention that after the United States had defeated the British army, the USA retained no huge standing army. Its soldiers had gone back to their farms or other jobs – taking their rifles with them and keeping them handy just in case they should again be called on to defend what they now called “our country.”

They were “the militia” the founding father preferred to the standing armies they had so recently defeated in their battle for Independence. As the State of Virginia summed it up in the original debate on the right to bear arms: “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the proper, safe and natural defense of a free state…..”

With a powerful “standing army” today plus an efficient and well trained National Guard replacing the old militia, it seems to me that some of our more sensible neighbours down south are simply asking their government to make sure that any  non-militia civilians owning guns, especially rifles, are “well regulated … people … trained in arms.”

As a Canadian I can’t be too smug about the USA’s failure to tighten their gun culture rules. In 1989, Mark Lepine executed 14 women students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique engineering school, and wounded nine other women and four men before committing suicide.

It touched off a debate on the need for beefed up registration rules and gun ownership fitness. Surveys at the time claimed only 17 per cent of the people supported the government registration program – and the furor died in Canada as it has in the USA following past mass shootings.

Will the current wave of revolutionary  anger  also fade? I fear so. In the land of the free the cult of the gun remains strong.

It’s Now A Hundred Year War

It is just a small spat in a vast world of conflict, but it’s been a long one. It started shortly after Alberta joined Confederation in 1905 and continues today. One hundred years ago Alberta in 1918 met in Ottawa with members of the new Confederation to discuss mineral rights and to whom they belong – the province in which they are located or the wider Canada, the State.

Usually Alberta and British Columbia have been on the same side fighting Ottawa for better resource sharing deals.Who can forget the 1980’s when Alberta lead the fight against Ottawa’s newest oil tax policies with the late Premier Ralph Clyne shouting “let the Eastern Bastards freeze.” Alberta’s current Premier Rachel Notley and BC’s John Horgan, both leaders of provincial New Democrats, follow different drummers with Notley allied to Ottawa and Horgan the lone hold out against the plan to twin the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Coast at Vancouver.

The project has survived many scientific, environmental and engineering studies and has been approved by the National Energy Board, the federal government, Alberta and, in January 2017, by the then Liberal government of BC under the leadership of Christy Clark.

Clark won the election with one seat more than the NDP only to lose the right to govern when NDP leader John Horgan stepped forward with the signed assurance that Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, with two other newly elected Green MLAs, would give him a slim majority. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon accepted Horgan’s proposal and he became Premier John Horgan.

Until a few weeks ago, Horgan was in harness with Weaver and implacably opposed to two Liberal mega job creation projects – Kinder Morgan and the massive BC Hydro Site C project in northern BC. In late January of this year Horgan announced his call for one last final, final, definitely final review of Site C by the BC Utilities Commission and then,reluctantly, admitted construction had already progressed beyond a point of no return and could not now be justifiably abandoned. Site C would proceed.

Weaver, who was at one time in favour of Site C as a clean energy project, shifted to the opposition as environmental protests grew. He became an objector and remains an objector, unhappy with Horgan’s decision but not unhappy enough to withdraw the support that keeps the NDP in power.

Both leaders now face much tougher decisions on Kinder Morgan, encouraged by thousands of environmental voices chanting their opposition – some vowing to lie down in front of bulldozers if construction ever begins, others boasting they are ready to go to jail for their cause.

But the masses forming to protest and the leaders jockeying for position to lead them, have a major problem. The federal government through Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved the pipeline. Premier Notley has repeatedly reminded Horgan, and his Green echo finder, of this constitutional fact – on issues like this Canada’s national rights take precedence.

Readers with good memories may recall my August 19, 2017 blog in which I wrote on this same subject: “When Canada became a country 150 years ago, our First Prime Minister John A. Macdonald told new Dominion of Canada statesmen: ‘Let us be English or let us be French – and above all else – let us be Canadian’”.

Not too many years ago, the people of Quebec wooed by many of their leading politicians were asked to make a decision on whether they wanted to remain Canadians or leave Confederation. The Quebecers proved to be Canadians first; our Confederation rejoiced.

Premier Horgan has said his aim is to get the best pipeline deal he can for British Columbia. That is an objective to be praised and supported as long he remembers, as should we all, to ‘above all else’ be Canadians.

Prime Minister Trudeau has said the approval of the project was the best option for all Canadians. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate, on science and evidence. We have not been and will not be swayed by political argument, be they local, or regional or national,” he said. “We have made this decision because we are convinced it is safe for BC, and it is the right one for Canada.”

Last Saturday, February 17, Premier Horgan announced his government would seek leave to appeal a National Energy Board (NEB) made December 7,2017, to allow construction work to commence at the Burnaby pipeline terminal.

If the appeal is granted construction will be delayed. If it is denied Premier Horgan’s always shaky supportive alliance with the Greens will collapse and BC voters will be back to the polls for a first election with taxpayers picking up the tab.

What taxpayer happiness to be able to look on a forest of election signs and slogans and know we paid for them.