Trump tweets while Afghanistan burns

President Trump seems only dimly aware the turmoil in Afghanistan. Or maybe he has foreign policy related on the country and is simply unable to articulate it in 140 characters. Most likely, and more disquieting, his contradictory and unintentionally humorous tweets truly reflect his confused views.

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On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers struck Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 80 and injuring 250 in the recent conflict’s most deadly attack. An average of 50 Afghan soldiers are killed a day, another 180 are lost to injuries and desertion. More than 10,000 soldiers died as well as thousands of civilians.

Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Scott Guggenheim, hopes the new administration can achieve what the Democrats couldn’t:

“It breaks my heart to have to say this, but the Republican government is going to be better than the Democrats for Afghanistan,” he told May Jeong in her investigative report for Harper’s magazine (February, 2017).

“The Republicans will say ‘These guys are fighting radicals; we have to stay engaged with them.’”

The Taliban has an opposing view. A spokesman told Jeong:

“He should withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and unlike other U.S. rulers, he should neither seek any more titles of ignominy for himself and American generals nor worsen American prestige, economy, and military by engaging in this futile war.”

The fog created by Trump’s lack of clarity has created an opportunity for Russia.  Vladimir Putin has reason to cheer the selection of Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is CEO of ExxonMobil and has met with Putin. Russia is investing in housing and factories in Afghanistan and recently sent ten thousand automatic rifles to Kabul in hopes of strengthening ties. An exit by the U.S. would aid Putin’s grasp for regional dominance.

Trump seems unaware of what his own military has to say. A Republican-led investigation determined that troops will remain at 8,400. The top commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says: “We have adequate resources.”

While the Republican’s views might be clear, Trump’s foreign policy for Afghanistan remains impenetrable. On one hand is his principle of “America first” which suggests isolation. On the other, he speaks aggressively of the Islamic State: “Their days are numbered.”

Stephen Biddle, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations told Jeong:

“His policies on the campaign trail were so mutually contradictory and changeable that he much harder to predict than an orthodox president would be.” “He talks about Afghanistan only when he’s cornered, and when cornered, he has said he simply wants to get out.”

Trump has more power than either Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has the support of a Republican Congress and expanded executive powers.

But Trump’s war remains at home. He is paralyzed with his war against the media and his decrees by tweet only thicken the fog on foreign policy.

Jeong lives in Kabul and is fatalistic:

“The survivors of the conflict, awaiting the next chapter of diplomacy, have no choice but to be patient.”

Afghans live with hope and patience. That’s all they have with this president in power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merge CBC with Canada Post

 

The CBC and Canada Post are both in the business of delivering information, so why not bring them together into a single entity?

Canada Post/CBC

Canada Post/CBC

They are both crown corporations; they are both undergoing radical transitions to digital communication; and each has what the other could use.

Canada Post has 6,200 public and privately-operated offices across Canada. CBC has hundreds of TV and radio transmitters. Canada Post serves a larger area than any other country. CBC broadcasts to every corner of Canada in English, French and eight aboriginal languages.

The new entity, the Canadian Communication Corporation would not only consolidate the resources of the CBC and Canada Post, it would expand into the mobile wireless business to provide some needed competition.

Canadians now pay some of the highest cell phone prices for some of the worst service in the industrialized world, reports the Huffington Post (July 18. 2013). In a study of prices in 34 OECD countries, Canada is 25th for high priced wireless phones. We are dead last when it comes to the number of people owning a cell phone.

The former Conservative government tried without success to encourage more independent wireless carriers into the market. The CCC would sell phones at Canada Post outlets and use CBC transmission towers to carry the service. For example, a customer in Iqaluit, Nunavut, could pick up the phone at the post office and receive service from a cell transmitter mounted on the tower that broadcasts CBM-FM-3.

Canada’s North lags behind in internet access. Nunavut tourism advises “Internet service is limited in Nunavut and slower than elsewhere. Wi-Fi service is uncommon. Visitors to Nunavut should not plan to spend much time on the internet.”

Professor Dwayne Winseck of Carleton University lists other advantages of the CCC: “Blanket cities with open access, lighting up the vast stock of underused and unused municipal dark fibre (CCPA Monitor, July/August, 2016).” By “dark fibre,” he means optical fibre that is not being used to capacity. As I reported in my column Kamloops Community Network -a vision unfulfilled, (July 22, 2014), Kamloops has a lot of dark fibre, the legacy of bold plan of former city technology manager Frank Mayhood.

“Extend public Wi-Fi in cities across Canada,” adds Winseck, “and broadband access to underused and unserved people in rural, remote and poor urban areas.” Rural service is not a luxury; it’s a necessity in business and education. The mayor of Caledon, Ontario, says that some students have their parents drive to the parking lot of a public library just so they can upload homework assignments (National Post, November 23, 2015.

The Trudeau government will give $16 million to internet service providers in B.C. to provide better rural access. If it makes sense to provide give money to private providers, it makes even more sense to invest in the CCC.

While there is a scarcity of internet service in Canada, there is also a looming news crisis. The CCC could not only deliver the news, it could produce it through the CBC’s capacity.

The business model of news delivery is failing as we get news echoed from ever fewer sources. A newly configured public broadcaster could fill that vacuum.

Stephen Harper’s gift to Canada

It’s not what he intended but former Prime Minister Harper has emboldened Canada’s Supreme Court and strengthened the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Harper set out to remake Canada in his own image; a conservative unlike any Canada has seen before. Certainly not like the Progressive Conservative party that his amalgamation consumed; one based the libertarian principles Harper learned from his American professors at the University of Calgary.

Harper considered the Charter, introduced in by Pierre Trudeau in 1982, to be an artifice. But to Harper’s chagrin, the legacy of his nemesis has been strengthened.

It’s not for lack of trying. Harper tried to subvert the Charter by passing contrary laws.  Looking to emulate the U.S. system of making political appointments, he tried to stack the Supreme Court to support his subversion. That backfired as the judges he had appointed struck down laws he had passed, such as those on mandatory jail terms or illegal drugs.

Another approach was to kill of the Charter by a thousand cuts. In changing the law incrementally, he imaged that lots of small increments would add up to big change. Sean Fine, justice reporter for the Globe and Mail explains:

“On murder, he took away the ‘faint-hope clause’ that allowed for parole after 15 years instead of 25. Then he permitted the 25-year waiting period for a parole hearing to be added up in cases of multiple murders – 25 years on each murder. And then he promised life in prison with no parole for especially brutal murders.”

Harper tried to shut down the safe-injection clinic in Vancouver, Insite, where drug users could inject heroin with a nurse present, The Supreme Court ruled that shutting the clinic would severely harm, perhaps kill, drug addicts.

The Supreme Court ruling had the unintended consequence of making it harder for the Harper government to limit the rights of the vulnerable. Undeterred, Harper pressed ahead with prostitution laws, which the court unanimously ruled against decreeing that the laws endangered prostitutes.

More consequences of this legacy played out when the city of Abbotsford attempted to keep homeless people from sleeping in parks by spreading chicken manure.

“B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, a Harper appointee, ruled for the homeless and against the city. Government should not cause physical or psychological harm to a vulnerable population, he said, citing the Insite ruling.”

Ghosts of a strengthened Supreme Court and the Charter brought in by Pierre Trudeau will haunt the son. Rulings have reduced the ability of all governments to impinge on rights.

Solitary confinement in federal prisons is being challenged based on the Insite ruling. If Justin Trudeau’s new Minister of Justice, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, attempts to defend the status quo, she could find herself taking a position on basic Charter rights similar to that taken by the Harper government.

“The result could be a supreme irony: Unless she moves quickly – on refugee health cuts, on mandatory jail sentences that fall most heavily on aboriginal peoples, on a spate of laws that reduce judges’ discretion – the Trudeau government will find that its justice-department lawyers are in court defending Harper-era policies whose goal was to remove perceived liberal bias from the justice system.”

Stories sustain successful immigration

With one exception in the last decade, Canada’s integration of immigrants and refugees has been the envy of the world. Policies help but stories sustain success.

One measure of policies is the Migrant Integration Policy Index. The index comes up with a score after considering eight factors: labour market mobility, family reunion, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination.

Canada’s score has been steadily rising since MIPEX started monitoring in 2006 except last year because of the Harper government. “Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies,” said Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels.

airport-welcome

In spite of the Harper Government, Canada has remained relatively successful. Canada ranks sixth out of 38 countries, compared to Australia (eighth), Sweden (first), U.S. (ninth), and Ireland (ninetieth).

Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement points to areas in need of improvement.

“On the question of whether Canadian citizenship and status is ‘secure from state arbitrariness,’ Canada scores a meagre 23 points, well below Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the European average,” says the director of the centre in the Toronto Star.

The stories we tell ourselves about the immigrant experience are more difficult to measure than policies but important nonetheless. Those stories form a self-fulfilling prophecy that promotes further integration of new Canadians into the fabric of society.

Kamloops city Councillor Arjun Singh told a meeting at city hall that his grandmother became a refugee after the partitioning of India in the 1940s. “I am looking forward in our community to welcoming people from Syria,” he said. “We’re going to be giving them their freedom … a real ability to start again,” Singh told News Kamloops.

As we successfully integrate more refugees and immigrants, the more those immigrants will tell their success stories. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle; it’s a virtuous circle.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city and son of immigrants, told one such compelling story to MacLeans magazine. He tells of a community forum on refugees he attended in which he expected a lot of anger. When a First Nations woman stood up, he thought she was going to point to all the problems that reserves face. Instead:

“What she actually said was, I need some help. Because I need to understand how and when they’re coming because I want to make sure, … we have an opportunity to have the elders there to drum them in and to do a smudge ceremony so we can welcome them to this land… I might have lost it at that point.”

Canada’s new Liberal government faces challenges in keeping us from slipping further. Canada’s MIPEX rating should improve with the 17 Indo Canadians MPs recently elected, five who wear turbans, one who is minster of defense. It will take time to repair the damage of the Harper years but as sure as day follows night, jubilant stories will keep the narrative alive.

B.C.’s Carbon Tax not as advertised

B.C.’s carbon tax is praised nationally and internationally as achieving the best of both worlds: reducing CO2 emissions (GHG) without weakening our economy. I wish that it were true because I take pride in B.C.’s  leadership.

carbon tax

B.C.’s economy has not been hurt, but that’s because our carbon tax is small compared to other taxes.  The carbon tax is only 7 cents per litre compared to 30 cents per litre for fuel tax, excise tax, and GST.

The only way that B.C. meets its target for GHG reduction is by buying debatable carbon credits, not through the carbon tax. Marc Lee, senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explains the mischief:

“The B.C. government makes the dubious claim that they met their interim GHG reduction target for 2012 of 6% below 2007 levels. Even then, B.C.’s numbers showed only a 4.4% drop, which, as noted, involves a one-time drop from 2008 to 2009. The claim of 6% reduction is based on the purchase of bogus carbon credits (offsets), making it more fiction than fact.”

The trouble with the purchase of offsets is that there is no detailed reporting on how offsets were used. The whole scheme suffers from “massive credibility problems” after a scathing report by the auditor general.

The 4.4 per cent drop in GHG wasn’t because of the carbon tax. It was because of the Great Recession of 2008 when the world saw a reduction because of slowing economies. Even the U.S. reduced GHG. Between 2007 and 2009, emissions fell by 10 per cent, half of it due to less coal burned, half due to the recession. The Smithsonian magazine says:

“In effect, more than half the carbon decline was due to a drastic drop in the volume of goods consumed by the U.S. population.”

Even the claim that B.C.’s economy was not hurt by the carbon tax is suspect; all of Canada’s economy grew. From 2008 to 2013, B.C.’s economy grew by 12.6 per cent while Canada was 15.1 per cent.

“If we go to constant dollars, there is a very slight edge to B.C. over Canada, but it works out to 0.07% per year in GDP growth rates.”

Our carbon tax could be something worth bragging about if it was significant. With relatively low fuel costs, now would be the time to increase them. If the tax was increased from the current $30/tonne to $200/tonne, fuel prices would only increase to what they were last year.

And since the carbon tax is revenue neutral, there would be no net increase in taxes. Even then, a better idea would be to invest the tax in renewable energy and public transit to lower GHG further. Meanwhile, let’s get real about our carbon tax.

“We need to stop telling fairy tales about the province’s climate action policies and its carbon tax (and I say this as a general supporter of carbon taxes).”

B.C.’s Premier Clark has a lot of explaining to do. Her proposed LNG project will result in the province exceeding targets. Clark’s new plan to be released by December will tell us whether our pride in the carbon tax is warranted.

Kamloops Community Network -a vision unfulfilled.

 

Olds, not Kamloops, became Canada’s first gigabit town after big carriers refused to expand services. We could have had it before the Alberta town. Taking matters into its own hands, Olds launched a municipal Internet utility with 1 Gbps service.

Olds understands that high speed data connections are as important as any other infrastructure. Information highways are as vital as roadways in making small towns attractive places for innovative people to live and for business to thrive.

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To get some idea of just how fast 1 Gigabits per second is, I checked the speed of my internet connection at home in Kamloops. At a download speed of 28 Mbps, it’s a bit better than city average. But its only three per cent of what we could have had. You can check your speeds at the Global Standard for Internet Metrics (OOKLA), as well as checking local, national, and global speeds for comparison.

Former city technology manager Frank Mayhood had a vision for Kamloops in1998 after reading an article in Scientific American. He figured that all of Kamloops 25,000 buildings could be wired for less than it cost to build our water treatment plant.

We would have been the most wired city our size in Canada. And forget that old critism that public projects shouldn’t compete with private: Frank’s project wouldn’t compete any more than public roads do. “It’s like a port for ships or roads for trucks. The government builds ports and roads but private companies own the ships which dock and the trucks which drive on the roads carrying goods,” Mayhood told Kamloops This Week in 2001.

Not only did Kamloops City council think it was a good idea, so did provincial leaders. Kamloops MLA Claude Richmond said “This technology has not been used as comprehensively anywhere else in British Columbia. Kamloops has again shown itself to be a leader.”

The first phase was completed by stringing 50 km of optical fibre and the data speeds were blindingly fast, the capacity huge. Built in 2005 at a cost of $1.1 million, it connected city hall, the school district and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Right away, the city saved $25,000 a month in telephone costs.

Tony Klancar, Information Technology Manager for the City told me that they offer data rates of 10 Gbps but that’s only limited to the equipment attached to the backbone. Bandwidth rates of 100 Gbps for 450 users are possible on the Kamloops Community Network. And that’s not just the occasional top speed offered by some carriers; that’s a continoius 100 Gbps.

The second phase involved connections to businesses was a partial success. The third phase, however, which would connect all Kamloops homes, never happened.

The idea just seemed to run out of steam after Frank Mayhood retired, former city councillor Nancy Bepple told me. Without someone driving the vision, the demand waned.

What a shame. By leasing excess capacity, the city could have paid off the cost of infrastructure in no time. Telus obviously thinks that stringing up optical fibre is sound fiscal plan, picking up the ball that the city dropped. On a private highway, I still might get speeds of 1 Gbps.

Legalize all drugs

Don’t use drugs. If these two statements seem contradictory, it’s understandable. Legalization is approval. And since drug abuse is a problem, why approve drug use?

The flaw in this argument is that drug abuse in not a legal problem, it’s a medical and social problem. It wastes lives and is a burden on our health care system; it destroys families; it consumes the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.

we want beer

Prohibition is a well-intentioned initiative but it doesn’t work. As we discovered in the case of alcohol prohibition, booze was simply driven into the hands of criminals and organized crime who waged war against rivals.

Warring cartels and gangs in Mexico alone killed 120,000 in the years 2006 to 2013. That’s forty per cent more deaths than all the deaths due to illegal drug use in the U.S. according to data from the Center for Disease Control.

Guns in Canada are a serious problem. In the same period (2006 – 2013) there were approximately 1500 gun homicides in Canada. Not exactly the carnage that Mexico is experiencing  but that’s not the point: just because guns result in death and injury, no sensible person would suggest making them illegal.

What does make sense is the regulation of guns. Gun owners must obtain a Possession and Acquisition Licence and renew it every five years. Education makes sense. As a general rule, applicants must have passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.

Tobacco in Canada is a serious problem. In the same period, 259,000 Canadians died due to tobacco-related diseases according to the Canadian Cancer Agency. Education has reduced the number of Canadians who smoke from fifty to less than fifteen per cent.

Politicians have agreed for decades that education is key to harm reduction. As one of the founding members of the Calgary chapter of the Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee in 1976, I received letters from all leaders.

In his letter, then leader of the opposition Progressive Conservative party Joe Clark wrote: “In my view, a drug education programme would be far more beneficial and economical in attacking the problem than using law enforcement agencies and the courts.”

NDP leader Ed Broadbent thought that marijuana should be removed from the Criminal Code and placed under the Food and Drug Act and added: “I would agree with your statement that it does not appear to have any worse impact than alcohol.”

Prime Minster Trudeau wrote that his Bill S-19, one that would remove marijuana from the Food and Drug Act, died on the order paper but his government was pursuing the bill. “[My government] is working to make certain the legislation we introduce strikes a proper balance between concerns over the personal and social effects of penal laws aimed at discouraging its use.”

Time has stood still for the last four decades. Regressive Canadian governments have preferred to pander to misconceptions such as the “war on drugs,” or “prohibition works.”

Meanwhile the U.S., a place we think of a bastion of conservative thought, has leapt ahead of Canada. Now some states, such as Washington, have legalized the sale of marijuana. I just returned from Seattle and didn’t notice any reefer madness in the streets.