The war in Strathcona…

In a recent foray into the Main and Hastings corridor, an area known to this blogger for over 30 years, it was truly shocking to see the level of human desperation which continues to consume that area. What have we to show for the last decades of effort? Seemingly nothing. A whole community is under siege and burning before our very eyes. The area known as Strathcona is gradually being swallowed whole by an industrial level of drugs and the suffocating undercurrent of violence. Mental anguish and conflict layered on top of excruciating poverty.

This despite 30 years of a victim centric infrastructure which has been created, developed and now maintained by myriad levels of social workers, housing advocates, drug counsellors, medical staff, firefighters, police, sanitation workers and all those academics that like to “study” the problem. The advocates of all stripes have been continually moving in and out of these garbage strewn streets and alleyways, pausing long enough to relay their latest theory on how to correct this miasma of despair. Playing in the background, on some sort of victimization verbal loop, is the ever constant narrative of the “oppressed”, the “downtrodden” and the “unable to fend for themselves”.

It is scary place. It is depressing, but it is equally disgusting that in a country as bountiful as Canada, that this monument to everything that ails this society, stands in proud defiance.

Where has it all gone so wrong? Millions and millions of dollars expended in this apparent never-ending war on a drug fuelled mental health epidemic. It is a magnet which draws from all over the country. A bizarrely twisted tourist attraction, for all the wrong reasons. A place where even the hardened from other cities are truly taken aback at such a level of lawlessness and depravity.

Drastic and innovative action is clearly long overdue. Not innovation designed by the leftist victim advocating culture wing of our society, but by some with a modicum of common sense and where individual responsibility becomes part of the solution.

But the very first step, desperately needed and absolutely essential, is an honest managerial and expenditure review. A macro look over decades of funds and governmental decisions. A far reaching and inclusive appraisal of what has been spent and the effectiveness of those expenditures and the managers who have been overseeing the policies and processes for years.

The Washington Post recently unveiled a sweeping story sourced by thousands of pages of information which looked at the true cost of the war in Afghanistan. One can not help but be taken by the many parallels to what seems to be a similar story about the the war zone at Hastings and Main.

What the Washington Post and others found was that the war and the efforts of the Americans and the many other countries, including Canada, in Afghanistan has proven to be not just a failure, but a failure of epic proportions. It’s worth looking at their findings.

It was in 2001 that President George Bush announced the first military action in Afghanistan with the goal to disrupt terrorist operations and attack the Taliban. Today, eighteen years later, the Taliban control much of the country and are killing Afghan security force members sometimes in the hundreds per week. Even though the leadership of the Taliban moved to Pakistan, they have now expanded into Yemen, northern Africa, Somalia and Syrian.

Over $10 billion was spent on counternarcotics. Despite this, Afghanistan remains the source of over 80% of the global supply of heroin. Before the war the Afghanistan government had almost completely eradicated opium when the actual Taliban were in power. Opium production has now quadrupled.

They spent $87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces yet today no one believes that the Afghan military could support themselves. The army is continually fighting desertion and casualties making them replace over a third of their Forces every year.

War related spending has doubled the size of the Afghan economy but the current rate of unemployment is 25%. Corruption in all its forms still runs rampant.

$30 billion was spent on infrastructure and reconstruction. Most of that money has been considered “wasted”. The Inspector General documented over $15.5 billion lost to fraud and abuse between 2008 and 2017.

$500 billion on interest to finance the war spending, as all the monies have been borrowed which will take years to pay.

Over $1.4 trillion will be spent on veterans that fought in post 9/11 wars by 2059. About $350 billion has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are estimating the total spending bill for the medical problems, over the next 40 years, to amount to another $1trillion.

Afghanistan remains one of the largest sources of refugees and immigrants.

What has this got to do with all of us? It demonstrates the problem when incremental spending and single narratives are accepted as gospel and when the problem is allowed to fester year after year. It demonstrates the need for a great big spotlight to be shone on this smaller version of Afghanistan. Not a study by an interest group that continually circles the DTES, but an independent study, independent of all who have been part of the thirty years of problems.

The usual self-described experts always avail themselves to the cameras and microphones, to riff or to lecture the rest of us on what they believe is the cause of the problems. They have no shortage of people to blame, but that blame seems to stop short of any introspection.

The Libby Davies or Jenny Kwans, or the Pivot Legal Society do not need to be consulted in this proposed study. Their versions are already clear and predictable. They are always pointing to some level of government not providing “more”. The money being demanded is an endless request which re-invents itself with another justification, in one form or other, for the next year.

Money clearly is the common cure all whether you are asking the firefighters or the housing advocates.

Each agency demands annual funding, taking credit for successes which go unchallenged or doesn’t seem to reflect the reality.

There have been studies and counter-studies over this continuum. The studies, like the DTES many services often operate in silos and not always in a singular approach.

Donald McPherson, is a typical example. The former drug policy co-ordinator for the city of Vancouver (who now heads another Drug Policy Coalition) talks about the 10 year plan outlined in the Vancouver Agreement in 2000. It was designed to improve housing and social welfare. He blames the collapse on the Harper government.

Mr. McPherson in this proposed future study should also be ignored.

Governments themselves have come and gone, each offering up their particular version of what is needed. Liberals and NDP equally share responsibility for these disastrous results. None of them take the time to look in the mirror.

On one side of the ledger, groups like the BC Centre for Disease Control takes credit for saving 3000 lives between April 2016 and December 2017.

On the other side of that account is that 2177 people also died in this Province during this time.

There is no shortage of positive spin.

Twenty-three operating supervised injection sites claim to have saved 230 deaths. The overall goal of these sites is to decrease “needle sharing”. Their “observational studies” dutifully report favourable results. Their evidence is that fewer people are “injecting in public”. Anybody walking down Hastings may disagree.

The annual operating cost for the injection sites alone is $ 2,948,101.

The injection sites define “saving lives” and count those that have been treated by “agonist treatment” or “opioid replacement” treatment where the people get put on a methadone program.

Meanwhile those running the Needle Exchange program say that Insite is exaggerating the numbers.

In 2017, 60,000 naloxone kits were distributed. At roughly $70 apiece that works out to about $4.2 million this year just on the kits.

Health officials claim that through their services that they have saved “hundreds of lives” but the numbers often vary according to the individual study quoted. The dearth of agreed upon results and the fact that there is a lot of self-reporting remains one of the major roadblocks to any comprehensive study.

But the fail safe fallback to any counter-argument is the oft quoted maxim that “even one life saved” means that their programs can be deemed a “success”.

On the negative side of the ledger.

Calls to Oppenheimer Park in 2019 for the Vancouver City Police have increased over 50%. Shots fired calls have increased over 800%, weapons calls have increased 300% and assaults in progress are up over 17%.

Vancouver City police estimate the policing costs for Oppenheimer park encampment are over a million dollars so far this year. That is for an encampment of about 100 people in amongst the 2700 estimated homeless in the area.

Meanwhile the BC Centre for Substance Abuse and the University of British Columbia in a recent study argued that the police need to stop policing the DTES because it leads to drug users fearing the police, intimidated, and being harassed by the police.

How did they come to this conclusion: they interviewed 72 persons in the DTES and spent 200 hours hanging around overdose prevention sites. They feel police shouldn’t be checking for drugs, or running persons for warrants and such minimal breaches of the law.

What is not answered is how do they propose that we “de-criminalize” if the people are still doing criminal acts?

In the last five years the number of break-ins to vehicles has doubled to 6538 incidents in the Strathcona area alone.

Vancouver City Police records show in 2018 there were 666 assaults and 68 robberies in the Strathcona area.

In the single month of June 2019 in this small geographic area there were 70 assaults, 106 thefts from vehicles, 11 robberies and 31 break-ins to businesses and residences.

To add insult to injury the number of homeless has increased from 2181 people last year to 2223 this year.

Like the war in Afghanistan over 18 years have now gone by since Mr. McPherson’s study in 2000.

Does anyone doubt that during this time there have been misuses of funds, fraud and corruption? Does anyone believe that governments are providing a full accounting of the costs?

Maybe, just maybe, government spending for more counsellors, housing or drugs is not the answer.

Maybe, it is unjustifiable, or maybe an alternative to a policy of more of the same is out there somewhere.

However, it is difficult to contemplate any alternative which does not include forced rehabilitation; or removal from the core (sorry Pivot Legal Society).

The only way to honestly answer is to see the entire package of funds and resources which have been expended over the many years; the layers of government action and in-action; the levels of bureaucracy; the levels of private industry and the number of social housing models which have been proposed and tried over the decades.

The results may be shocking, but nothing less than a Royal Commission level of study is needed. Just as importantly, it must all be seen by a fresh set of eyes–eyes from outside the DTES, eyes with no vested interest in the promulgation of the current norm.

The first thing is the most difficult admission, especially for those that have toiled under the most trying of circumstances with the best of intentions, is the admission that as of today, it has all been a massive failure. On a small scale, this may be our Afghanistan.

*All crime statistics are from the Vancouver City Police records, as reported by the Vancouver Courier.

Photo courtesy of Dan Toulget of the Vancouver Courier – Some Rights Reserved

And then there were none….

Last night I re-watched the 1976 movie “All the Presidents Men”; the story of an investigative journalistic effort that led to the discovery of the illegal activities of The Committee to Re-Elect, and then to President Richard Nixon himself. In the end there were many guilty pleas, and the resignation of the President himself. The two year long investigative reporting was unprecedented, and may be never duplicated in our current climate as we head forward, where we seem to only want news fixes, like a junkie in the alley looking for a cap of heroin. We want this short burst of adrenalin laced news feeding our eyes and not our heads, before we duly nod off.

The parallels to the situation in the U.S. in 1974 to today, become obvious upon review, almost startling. The Trump presidency is difficult to even fathom, but in no way do I think that Trump and the family lackeys who are already proven liars, are not capable of further deception, not capable of illegalities, in order to maintain their power.

The positive side of this, in some backward fashion, at least in the short term, has been the rejuvenation of an active and determined group of journalists who have now tasted blood. They have the resources, and the experience to both confront the administration and write about it. Even more importantly, they seem to have the backbone necessary to withstand the onslaught of government power run amok, who try to bend, or deny each and every story with a spin that is both dangerous and sometimes laughable.

The Washington Post and the New York Times seem to be the central figures in this relentless daily battle with the truth. Both are decorated newspapers. The Washington Post with Woodward and Bernstein were the central figures in the Watergate matters in 1974, which brought down Nixon. And here again the Post is providing in-depth laudatory coverage of the daily crisis, which is the Trump Whitehouse.

Before Trump, both newspapers were in financial trouble, both cutting personnel and funding. Since Trump, their subscriptions have increased and they have been given a temporary respite from the unenviable and seemingly inevitible dwindling of subscriptions.

The sourcing of their stories, and protecting those stories is relentless. Anybody with an interest in how to conduct, and source investigations should take note. This is not an easy undertaking, their jobs are often on the line should they misspeak or be wrong in any of their reportage.

Where is television in all of this?  Unfortunately, in the last few years, it is trying to re-invent itself, it has become a medium, not a message. They are consumed with banner headlines, breathless “breaking news” but make no mistake, and they seem to have abandoned the time and effort needed for investigative reporting. Their  “news” is no longer journalism.

In an effort to capture the attention of the latest generation, they have come to believe, maybe correctly that this generation is only capable of 30 second attention spans. Therefore anything on video, twitter, Facebook, or trending on YouTube is re-invented as the news regardless of its worth. A good video of a cat up a tree jumps the news queue and becomes headline material. It is cheaply available, and citizens with their phones have become their “stringers” in the field, at no significant cost.

In covering Potus, the TV news groups; CNN, Fox, CBS etc. are for the most part reporting what the newspapers are writing, then putting a lot of talking heads around a dais to pontificate about it.  The more outrageous the talking head, the better the chance of capturing the eyes of the viewing public so we get the likes of Kelly-anne Conway spinning ludicrous analysis and misinformation about the latest Presidential gaff posing as policy.

In many ways, this President has mastered Twitter and the wants of the new age, and has reduced governing to a sitcom. His statements, such as the one where he talks about grabbing women by the genitals, is outrageous, but it goes no further than that, the outrageousness is the news, not the meaning or the implications.  The United States reputation around the world is now tarnished, and may not recover for some time. The United States is now reduced to being a large military with an unstable leader. Sound familiar?

Of course this lack of investigational interest is all applicable to Canada, with its smaller population concentrated around the cities and the borders with the U.S., our television is a smaller mirror image of the U.S. It is astonishing to see how much the CBC National news coverage now revolves around the U.S. trending stories. In  the last couple of days, hours of repetitive footage of the hurricane stories. Here they are able to rollick in the abundance of 10 second videos that are available showing  bent over palm trees, shot through a rain covered lens;  and of course always maintaining a look out for  a “Canadian” located in the centre of the storm to give them some relevancy to Canada.

I am not saying this big story should not be reported, but it should not be all consuming. Are there no issues in Canada worthy of some form of journalism? Of course there are, but they are hampered by this new age of video at all costs, and dwindling funds to conduct those stories. A journalistic Catch-22.

As I opined before, television should be written off as a model of investigative journalism as it simply does not exist at any measurable level, nor is it even possible in their new corporate mission statements.

Newspapers in Canada are in equally dire straits, The Globe and Mail, although business oriented still is the bell-weather of Canada’s newspapers, today they announced a couple of further layoffs.

But the other problem, although we are a highly literate country, is that we are no longer reading.

The newest generation has fallen prey to the love of convenience, wanting summaries, not depth in their reporting. Coles Notes versions, not the details. They need to be constantly fed only enough for them to form an opinion in a few seconds, and damn the details.

Of course, the devil has always been in the details.

This leaves us susceptible to being victimized by misleading or downright false reporting. We are often misled by the headlines, and only when one chooses to read the whole article does it make sense, and it is usually a more calm explanation than advertised.

We are manipulated as a result. Our own governmental agencies have learned that if they issue singular statements of little meaning, it goes unquestioned. The reporters can not be bothered to check the truthfulness of the statement as they are being pre-empted and diverted to a story which may have caught the attention of YouTube and the assignment editor. If you don’t believe me, check out what is currently trending on Youtube, or what the top 10 stories are on Reddit.

Justin Trudeau gives speech after speech making generalized statements of fixing this problem or the next. It goes un-examined for the most part, but we will get pics or video of his latest selfie canoeing, or of him photo bombing a wedding. It makes me think that Trudeau may be a Canadian version of Trump, one who has mastered social media, but but not the relevant issues, but he is young, photogenic and polite. The left in the United States think he is god like, as they too are only reading the headlines. He is a former high school drama teacher, born with a famous name and reputation, how could we not be concerned about what he actually understands.

As experienced journalists are being replaced by the young, the photogenic, who stand in front of endless monitors and fast-moving graphics (I assume it is their attempt to show they are on the cutting edge of technology), and push buttons which play the latest newly trending video.

And now the Americans have confirmed that the Russians and other intelligence agencies have figured this out. You just need to put out the headlines, no need for details, nothing gets checked.

Facebook just revealed the confirmation of false ads, a total of 3000 from 470 “dark accounts”, during the American election, in-directly tied to the Russians, and aimed at altering the election to a candidate they feel they can manipulate. Despite some intrepid reporting a few months ago which Facebook initially denied, it was not until two days ago that Facebook admitted to the problem. The New York Times summed it up by saying “we are in the midst of a world wide, internet-based assault on democracy”.

None of this sounds good, or leaves much room for optimism.

Will we go back to newspapers, unlikely?  Will television be simply a stopping off point where they re-package video? Likely.

There is no immediate answer to these changing times, but this generation does need to question, and it needs to go deeper than Twitter; our democracy depends on it, and we will lose faith if truth becomes the first casualty.

Photo Courtesy of : Razvan Orendovichi via Flickr Creative Commons licence