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1st demonstrated by Georges Lakhovsky and Nikola Tesla. Adapted by Dr Dino Tomic.

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in this issue

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Covid-19 tests: shades of grey B. Smallwood Agony of Julian Assange John Pilger interview

What we don’t know about vaccine safety Robert Kennedy, Jr

Vancouver Plan a sham Elizabeth Murphy

600 Belgium doctors say no to lockdown

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Shocking strata insurance cost increases Suzan Law

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Clean LNG is a myth Eoin Finn

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The thing behind your screen Geoff Olson

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Stand up for freedom Ted Kuntz Publisher & Senior Editor - Joseph Roberts Accounting - Maggie Si Layout & Production - Two by Four Media Contributors: Eoin Finn, Rocco Galati, Robert Kennedy Jr, Ken Kuntz, Suzan Law, Elizabeth Murphy, Geoff Olson, John Pilger, B.Smallwood Resource Directory Suzan Law | Tel. 778-846-2175 suzan@commonground.ca

Who is Rocco Galati? Constitutional Rights Centre

Editorial & Distribution Inquiries Tel. 604-733-2215 Toll Free 1-800-365-8897 Fax 604-733-4415 joseph@commonground.ca Advertising & Management Joseph Roberts | Tel. 604-733-2215 joseph@commonground.ca Suzan Law | Tel. 778-846-2175 suzan@commonground.ca Cover image by Geoff Olson

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There’s reason to love a minority government Joseph Roberts

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5000 shades of grey

by B. Smallwood

You think a Covid-19 test is black and white? Think again. The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again! – Mark Twain

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photo © Edwin Hooper Unsplash

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he place to start is the test. For without a reliable test to determine who is or isn’t infected by a pathogen that’s circulating the world, shutting down societies and economies, and paralyzing normal existence, then we’ve got nothing. But what do we know about the test that determines whether the virus, SARS-CoV-2, causes the respiratory disease, COVID-19? And further, is that test reliable and being used responsibly enough to support the world’s massive response to this pandemic? It all starts with a simple question: Does x cause y? A set of rules known as Koch’s postulates, established in the late 19th century, basically states that if a particular bacteria is the cause of a given disease then the following must be true: the bacteria must be present in every case of the disease, and be able to be isolated from the host carrying the disease, and grown in pure culture. When you put that bacteria into a healthy host, it must reproduce the specific disease and the bacteria must be recoverable from the experimentally infected host. Four simple rules right? How do they apply? Only with serious mental acrobatics can you say that COVID-19 follows these principles. The problem is that we live in a world with lots of viruses and lots of coronavirus as well. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, no one has produced sufficient evidence to show the so-called “novel” coronavirus satisfies all (or even any) of Koch’s rules. We therefore have no certainty that this virus causes this particular respiratory disease. Apparently this doesn’t really matter because the world’s public health leaders have almost universally agreed that SARS-CoV-2, causes respiratory disease and sometimes death. End of story. The result is a program of testing, tracking, tracing and isolating to keep those infected from infecting others. So it comes down to the test The test currently in use in most places in the world is called RT-PCR which uses an enzyme called reverse transcriptase to take a piece of RNA and turn it into a piece of DNA. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can turn that DNA into billions of copies of the sample. A fluorescent signal attached to it, if amplified enough, shows up as a positive test. To amplify the samples so they can be detected, they are heated and cooled in cycles. A cycle threshold, or Ct value, is the number of cycles performed that allows the fluorescent signal to be detected. (For details check out

this paper (https://bit.ly/2Flheqh) from the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine. A person gives a nose swab, and that sample is sent off to the lab and the lab comes back with one of two answers: yes – a positive test, or no – a negative test. It’s that black and white. It is certainty. It is the basis of the entire regime of public health measures being employed around the world. The problem is that there is no black and white, only shades of grey.

Problems with the test The first problem is that we might not be testing the right thing. Researchers around the world were given the RNA sequence of the virus from the Chinese right at the beginning of the pandemic, but is it possible that they didn’t hand over the right thing? Sure it is – and numerous things could also have contaminated that sample along the testing highway. Then there is the problematic issue of the cycle threshold (Ct). At what point do you draw the line to determine

ɶɶ The test doesn’t reveal the one thing you really need to know: does this person’s nose swab tell us anything about how infectious that person is? a positive test? At 25 cycles? At 30 cycles? At 45? In BC, much like other jurisdictions, they run the sample through about 35 cycles, and sometimes more than 40. The problem here, identified by molecular biologists, is that doing this many cycles creates background flourescences. When the virus is discovered at a lower number of cycles it is likely to mean a person is more infectious.

What is also really interesting is that if you do over 30 to 35 cycles, you can’t culture a live virus from the sample. Back to Koch’s postulate: if x causes y, there is a causal connection enabling you to reproduce the disease from the sample. Using such a high cycle threshold means you’re likely finding fragments that are meaningless and say nothing about the infectivity of the patient. The PCR test amplifies any viral material, including particles that aren’t viable, or capable of being transmitted, or capable of causing disease. So a person with a positive test but no symptoms is, contrary to what most people believe, unlikely to infect others. They are what you call a “cold” positive. They might have had contact with the virus, but they aren’t themselves infectious. Yet, by setting the Ct at such a high level, the tests are likely spitting out mostly false positives, resulting in directives to isolate and quarantine, and otherwise telling healthy people that they are sick and a risk to others. A recent systematic review (https://bit. ly/30TMg0c)from the UK challenged the value of the PCR test. It said that without routinely testing it against reference and culture specimens, no one really knows how reliable and useful it is. The test doesn’t reveal the one thing you really need to know: does this person’s nose swab tell us anything about how infectious that person is? Currently there is no viable international standard of reporting how well the tests are working and whether those stamped as positive are actually infectious or not. And yet we are shutting down whole societies on the basis of this test. Let’s face it. BC has very little of the COVID-19 virus, but we are testing a lot. Back in July, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer told the media: “If you are testing in a population that doesn’t have very much COVID, you’ll get false-positives almost half the time. That is, the person actually doesn’t have COVID, they have something else, they may have nothing.” Yet everyone wants to get tested, and as we ramp up testing, and label more and more people as positive we may not be doing ourselves any favours. Regardless of whether you ascribe to the second wave theory, the current epidemic of testing is scaring the bejesus out of the population with a test delivering false positives or positives that aren’t actually infectious to others. This is what you’d call a casedemic, not a pandemic. There are thousands of shades of grey about this virus, but is it not possible that all the extreme measures we’re taking – the physical distancing, hand washing, mask wearing and locking down communities – is little more than an anaphylactic reaction to a virus? j B. Smallwood is a pseudonym for a BC health policy researcher.


Eyewitness to the agony of

Julian Assange

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First published in Arena (arena.org.au) Oct 2020 least an hour and a half. That’s a minimum of three hours being jolted through snail-like traffic every day. He was led into his narrow cage at the back of the court, then looked up, blinking, trying to make out faces in the public gallery through the reflection of the glass. He saw the courtly figure of his dad, John Shipton, and me, and our fists went up. Through the glass, he reached out to touch fingers with Stella, who is a lawyer and seated in the body of the court. We were here for the ultimate of what the philosopher Guy Debord called The Society of the Spectacle: a man fighting for his life. Yet his crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. His creation of WikiLeaks and its failsafe protection of sources revolutionised journalism, restoring it to the vision of its idealists. Edmund Burke’s notion of free journalism as a fourth estate is now a fifth estate that shines a light on those who diminish the very meaning of democracy with their criminal secrecy. That’s why his punishment is so extreme.

ɶɶ His crime is to have performed an epic public service: revealing that which we have a right to know: the lies of our governments and the crimes they commit in our name. The sheer bias in the courts I have sat in this year and last year, with Julian in the dock, blight any notion of British justice. When thuggish police dragged him from his asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy—look closely at the photo and you’ll see he is clutching a Gore Vidal book; Assange has a political humour similar to Vidal’s—a judge gave him an outrageous 50-week sentence

in a maximum-security prison for mere bail infringement. For months, he was denied exercise and held in solitary confinement disguised as ‘heath care’. He once told me he strode the length of his cell, back and forth, back and forth, for his own half-marathon. In the next cell, the occupant screamed through the night. At first he was denied his reading glasses, left behind in the embassy brutality. He was denied the legal documents with which to prepare his case, and access to the prison library and the use of a basic laptop. Books sent to him by a friend, the journalist Charles Glass, himself a survivor of hostage-taking in Beirut, were returned. He could not call his American lawyers. He has been constantly medicated by the prison authorities. When I asked him what they were giving him, he couldn’t say. The governor of Belmarsh has been awarded the Order of the British Empire. At the Old Bailey, one of the expert medical witnesses, Dr. Kate Humphrey, a clinical neuropsychologist at Imperial College, London, described the damage: Julian’s intellect had gone from ‘in the superior, or more likely very superior range’ to ‘significantly below’ this optimal level, to the point where he was struggling to absorb information and ‘perform in the low average range’.

This is what the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, calls ‘psychological torture’, the result of a gang-like ‘mobbing’ by governments and their media shills. Some of the expert medical evidence is so shocking I have no intention of repeating it here. Suffice to say that Assange is diagnosed with autism and Asperger’s syndrome and, according to Professor Michael Kopelman, one of the world’s leading neuropsychiatrists, he suffers from ‘suicidal preoccupations’ and is likely to find a way to take his life if he is extradited to America. James Lewis, QC, America’s British prosecutor, spent the best part of his crossexamination of Professor Kopelman dismissing mental illness and its dangers as ‘malingering’. I have never heard in a modern setting such a primitive view of human frailty and vulnerability. My own view is that if Assange is freed, he is likely to recover a substantial part of his life. He has a loving partner, devoted friends and allies and the innate strength of a principled political prisoner. He also has a wicked sense of humour. But that is a long way off. The moments of collusion between the judge—or magistrate, a Gothic-looking Vanessa Baraitser, about whom little is continued p.15…

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ournalist John Pilger has spent the last three weeks watching Julian Assange’s extradition trial at London’s Old Bailey. He spoke with Arena Online’s editor, Timothy Erik Ström: Q: Having watched Julian Assange’s trial firsthand, can you describe the prevailing atmosphere in the court? A: The prevailing atmosphere has been shocking. I say that without hesitation; I have sat in many courts and seldom known such a corruption of due process; this is due revenge. Putting aside the ritual associated with ‘British justice’, at times it has been evocative of a Stalinist show trial. One difference is that in the show trials, the defendant stood in the court proper. In the Assange trial, the defendant was caged behind thick glass, and had to crawl on his knees to a slit in the glass, overseen by his guard, to make contact with his lawyers. His message, whispered barely audibly through face masks, was then passed by post-it the length of the court to where his barristers were arguing the case against his extradition to an American hellhole. Consider this daily routine of Julian Assange, an Australian on trial for truthtelling journalism. He was woken at five o’clock in his cell at Belmarsh prison in the bleak southern sprawl of London. The first time I saw Julian in Belmarsh, having passed through half an hour of ‘security’ checks, including a dog’s snout in my rear, I found a painfully thin figure sitting alone wearing a yellow armband. He had lost more than 10 kilos in a matter of months; his arms had no muscle. His first words were: ‘I think I am losing my mind’. I tried to assure him he wasn’t. His resilience and courage are formidable, but there is a limit. That was more than a year ago. In the past three weeks, in the pre-dawn, he was strip-searched, shackled, and prepared for transport to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, in a truck that his partner, Stella Moris, described as an upended coffin. It   had one small window; he had to stand precariously to look out. The truck and its guards were operated by Serco, one of many politically connected companies that run much of Boris Johnson’s Britain. The journey to the Old Bailey took at

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Vancouver Plan is a sham

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idway in the civic election cycle, Vancouver continues the policies of the decimated Vision council in spite of the current Council’s attempt to steer a new direction through a city-wide plan. The Vancouver Plan has been hijacked as a COVID recovery program to advance unrelenting spot rezoning for the foreseeable future, without proper planning. Housing affordability is the main issue in Vancouver. But staff ranked it as the fifth of ten goals in the Vancouver Plan, based primarily on input from special interest groups. The first goal is reconciliation through decolonization, even though reconciliation is a federal responsibility. Start perhaps with decolonizing the American takeover of city hall. Gregor Robertson was an NDP MLA installed as the Vision mayor in 2008 by American investor Joel Solomon and the developer lobby. Senior city staff have since been dominated by American recruits, such as city manager Sadhu Johnson. The major turnover of staff in the last decade has resulted in loss of institutional memory. This has been particularly problematic in the planning department, as the formerly renowned high standards for urban design and liveability are being targeted and dismantled as impediments to unlimited redevelopment. An example is our built heritage, which is most of the older more affordable buildings. As these are demolished and replaced by more expensive new construction that displaced people cannot afford, it inflates land values, which in turn increases unaffordability and homelessness. Redevelopment also increases the ecological footprint. Current policies will exacerbate affordability and environmental issues as heritage and character buildings are now being framed as part of a colonial past to be conveniently eliminated for more unimpeded redevelopment. While staff are stalling on data requested by Council to recalibrate the housing targets as part of Vancouver Plan, available census data shows there has been more new dwellings produced than household growth since 2001. There are enough new projects in application for the next decades of projected population growth to come. Therefore, there is no legitimate reason for the city’s current rush to rezone without proper planning. Population growth has been about one percent per year, or 5,500 people. That would justify 25,000 units per decade. However, the city’s aspirational housing targets are 72,000 per decade, almost three times actual growth rates. All of this rush to overbuilding is increasing the city’s greenhouse gases. A 2017-18 study by UBC professor Joseph Dahmen concluded that “The average carbon dioxide emission payback period of 168 years for a typical high efficiency new home renders it unlikely that emission savings will be realized before it is replaced.” This reflects how much redevelopment affects the environment. In order to address the climate crisis, it is important to consider how we can do more with what we have. That includes the three ‘Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle our largest consumer item of homes through adaptive reuse. Ann McAfee, former City of Vancouver director of planning, has identified that it is “time for cities to pause and pivot”. Major planning initiatives that are impacted by COVID-19 and fiscal constraints at the civic and regional levels, should address working from home that has had a dramatic impact on housing, office and transportation needs for these plans to reconsider. The pack-and-

by Elizabeth Murphy

stack model of SkyTrain, with tower development at stations, is looking like a typology of the past. However, controversial rezoning public hearings have set a record pace through this COVID period. This included the 28 storeys at Birch and Broadway that was approved, and rezoning all neighbourhood C2 shopping areas city-wide that was referred to this fall. Also this fall are other rental incentive spot rezonings for arterials and side street transition areas, as well as large rental buildings such as the 14 storey tower at Alma and Broadway with a public hearing coming within weeks. The NDP’s “independent” Mayor Stewart proposed a spot rezoning policy for multiplexes citywide as a surprise amendment, similar to what former mayor Gregor Robertson did right before the NDP’s civic Vision party were wiped out at the last election.

ɶɶ In order to address the climate crisis, it is important to consider how we can do more with what we have. That includes the three ‘Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle our largest consumer item of homes through adaptive reuse. Except Mayor Stewart personally promoted his proposal election style. Through his personal Nation Builder software campaign website, it mined personal data from the public, had a letter generator form to lobby Mayor and Council, and asked for donations. This website was even being promoted by the City Clerk’s staff. Using city resources to promote the mayor’s re-election campaign while data mining is outrageous. Rather than politicizing and undermining the planning process, the city should be doing proper neighbourhood-based planning through the Vancouver Plan. Genuine meaningful involvement of the local community in each neighbourhood would allow for accommodating growth, based on real data, that suits the scale and character of each neighbourhood. Urban design and livability are an important part of sustainability and should not be sacrificed for expediency. While the NDP mayor and Vision city staff continue the policies set by the former council, many involved in Vision are now in other positions of influence. Former Vision councillor Geoff Meggs is now the Chief of Staff to NDP Premier John Horgan. Raymond Louie lobbies for developers to Mayor Stewart. Andrea Reimer and Joel Solomon are on the UBC Board of Governors advocating for subway extension to UBC. Others are in Ottawa. After a decade of increasing the affordability crisis, homelessness and the city’s environmental footprint, they are still at it. j Elizabeth Murphy is a private-sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing and Properties Department and for B.C. Housing. For more information see elizabethmurphy.ca and cityhallwatch.ca


Shocking strata insurance cost increases Insurers are insuring themselves rather than the people they are insuring by Suzan Law

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know many family members and friends who live in condos. I own a condo myself. I am a low-income owner of a property which has been my home for 30 years. My adult children, who are now renting, are hoping to one day own a home themselves. Buying into a strata is the only feasible way for them to do so, but it is becoming increasingly unaffordable these days. You might know at least a handful of people who also reside in condos. This issue of increasing strata insurance cost will ripple through to all of us when landlords try to make up for their added costs by charging more in condo fees, making our houses and homes in BC even less affordable. After digging around, here is what I found: • premium increases: 40-750% • deductible increases: $50,000-$800,000. e.g., deductible for new Brentwood Towers: $250,000 • over 10,000 strata corps in B.C. are affected • price pressure will continue • insurance categories will change adding to premium costs • currently only 3 main strata insurers • insurers are not obligated to provide insurance to us • insurers’ rates are self-determined and unregulated • insurers can exit the market freely.

Stop the FIRE

Now is the best time for compassionate defiance. Call for government to step up and reliably regulate. The Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) industries & government have a role to play to return the strata insurance market to a healthy state. Let’s pressure our government to stop unaffordable housing and stop the shocking strata insurance cost increases! The term “FIRE industries” was coined by Michael Hudson, a renown economist, professor and government financial consultant. He clearly explains the game played by global financial powers, and tells us that our struggle for people-focused public policy is being overwhelmed by corporate interests. We need to beware of monopolies and be proactive in creating people-focused options. There is so much more our governments and leaders can do. There is much each of us can do as people of BC.

Cut out or print this page and place it on your strata notice board for all to see. Talk to at least five people about the points made here. Send this to your family and friends over the internet. If you come up with new points or questions, let us know. To build our community of shared insurance concerns/solution, send your name and contact information to strataownersconnect@gmail.com (subject heading: Strata Insurance). Phone or text 778-820-0477.

DEDUCTIBLE FOR NEW BRENTWOOD TOWERS

Effects of the increases

In particular, the increases affect fixed-lowincome owners whose singular property is their home. The increase also affects investor-owners, landlords and tenants. Mental and physical health are affected due to fear regarding unstable and unsustainable increases of premiums and deductibles; being rejected for strata insurance renewal; going with less than 100 percent coverage or with more than one insurer; being given short term coverage at high rates; and the possibility of bankruptcy. Other concerning issues include: • One or a combination of strata fee increases, large special levy or borrowing against contingency funds. • Responsibility for cost of losses or damages on the shoulders of owners. • Risk of another claim: payment plans can be frightening. • Forced to sell: bargaining power is down resulting in lower priced sale (good news for developers and those who stand to gain). • Hard sell / foreclosure: when your property is refused insurance renewal. • Limited choices to buy after selling: Strata insurance costs hikes and pressure will affect all stratas corporations. • Displacement of families to far off regions: senior owners who are not investor-owners will be hardest hit.

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Post this notice

$250,000

(Sourced from conversations with strata lot owners) Ban Best Term Pricing (BTP). BTP is when a number of insurers are in a contract. “Standard” contracts state that quotes are conditional and based on each insurer receiving the same terms, not different terms and premiums set by each insurer, or the average. This is price fixing or bid rigging to the highest rate! Until banned, demand full transparency that details insurer underwriting percentage and that allows examination of schedules (with full client disclosure) to see details of what each of the best term companies are doing to drive the price up. BTP practise is unacceptable, and what our government does will show us whether they are focusing on the people or on corporate greed, power and self interest. “Standard” contracts need to be examined by independent lawyers who are working for the people. Insurers need to be regulated so they insure strata corporations at 100 percent, especially with multiple insurers. Commissions for brokers and underwriters must not be based on premium costs. These create conflicts of interests. Cap all premiums & deductibles. Pressure government to take prompt action especially on this versus prolonged consultations/reviews. Property Amendment Act legislated to define “standard unit”. Clarity to all parties will help insurers gain confidence in pricing their policies. Humane $50,000 cap on loss/damage assessment coverage. Lower costs of materials and construction: Give incentives to local, sustainability-driven companies. Elevated costs of real estate and construction drives strata insurance premiums and deductibles up. Increase minimum building standards, including those for materials used, appliances and fixtures. Bring on liveable wages. When insurance and real estate costs are lower, businesses have more room to spend. Overall Happiness Index goes up. Bring in advocacy: especially for lower income home owners and senior owners (independent of Condo Home Owners Association). Consult with the lot owners and tenants i.e., the people affected. Pressure our province to consult with more than the “Strata Community Stakeholders” who are associations, bureaus and offices of the insurance, mortgage and real estate industries. Establish a non-profit crown owned insurer for real estate insurance. j

photo © Katie Nesling Dreamstime.com

Solutions

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“Clean” LNG

by Eoin Finn

a myth, a bridge to climate nowhere and a dangerous fossil fuel

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iquefied natural gas (LNG) is neither “green” nor sustainable. From drill-hole to burner tip, every tonne of this fossil fuel permanently pollutes millions of litres of water, consumes megawatts of electrical power, and releases about 4 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If BC is to meet its emissions targets, the gas must stay in the ground. LNG proponents like to tout their product as “clean”. When challenged to produce the science behind that claim, they retreat to declaring that the fossil fuel is “cleaner-burning” than coal and oil, and therefore useful as a “bridge fuel” in our overdue transition to relatively clean renewable energies. The former “clean” claim is pure spin. The difference is important if the public is to understand that there is no role for LNG in our urgent transition away from fossil fuel energies. Methane gas is mostly derived from a brute-force mining technique called “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing). Fracking injects a mix of water, fracking fluid and sand at high pressure into predrilled boreholes. This forces fissures to open and blasts oil and gas from underground shale-rock formations. Because drill holes deplete quickly, frackers must move every few years, leaving behind a pockmarked countryside and an environmental mess.

ɶɶ The “clean” claim is pure spin. The difference is important if the public is to understand that there is no role for LNG in our urgent transition away from fossil fuel energies.

Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA, is a Vancouver resident, a retired Partner of Accounting/Consulting firm KPMG and Research Director of My Sea to Sky (www.myseatosky.org), a people-powered environmental organization founded in 2014 to defend, protect, and restore Howe Sound.

Eoin Finn is a contributing author of All Fracked Up! (Watershed Sentinel Books), a collection of essays that take a clear-eyed look at the ballooning costs and climate impacts of fracking and LNG production in British Columbia. The book highlights the urgent need for evidencebased stewardship of our common resources – including taxpayer dollars – in the effort to “build back better”postpandemic. With contributions from experts including David Hughes, Maude Barlow, Ben Parfitt, Eoin Finn and Mitchell Beer. Colour photography by Garth Lenz. watershedsentinel.ca/books/

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Fracked gas is piped to a treatment facility, where it is refined to almost-pure methane. The unwanted bits – most of them potent greenhouse gases – are either flared off, or simply vented into the air. Fracking is an extreme environmentally destructive technique – banned in many countries but not (yet) in Western Canada. At around 4 million tonnes per year, the “Spectra” gas pipeline to the Lower Mainland is BC’s single biggest source of greenhouse gases. If all the gas mined in northeast BC was used in “cleaner burning” appliances, or cooled to its liquid form (LNG) at -1600C using grid electricity, the claim that the gas is “clean” might have some truth. But it isn’t. Besides the flaring and venting, there are leakages from active and abandoned drill holes, and from valves and compressor stations all along the pipeline route to your house, to the gas-powered LNG liquefaction plant, and from the 300-metre long tankers that take the liquefied gas to Asia, where burning it produces tonnes more greenhouse gases. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas packing 86 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide (CO2), so these invisible leaks are deadly for the livability of our planet. BC’s Oil & Gas Commission allows the gas industry to self-report its leakage estimates, which independent research has shown to be seriously underestimated. Proponents advance several arguments for continuing to mine,

liquefy and export fracked gas. “If Canada doesn’t export the gas, competitors will” (a morally-bankrupt argument in a climate crisis); “Canada is a small contributor to global warming” (not true – at 17 tonnes annual GHG emissions each, we rank 11th, just below oil-soaked Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain); “Canada’s historical role is as a resource exporter” (no longer– being a highcost producer isn’t working for our forest or mining industries, and won’t either for a liquefied gas industry in which we have no experience other than a hard-learned aversion to boom-and-bust, foreign owned industries). A recent (April) editorial in the gas industry publication LNG Condensed put it bluntly. It criticized the industry for minimizing its environmental footprint, stating that “LNG is not green and it is not currently sustainable…Sitting around repeating the mantra that LNG is green and sustainable simply won’t cut the mustard. Get out there and convince the world that LNG can be made green and sustainable, preferably by deed as much as by word. Then, and only then, will the industry become a destination rather than a dispensable tool of transition”. Climate disruption is the existential problem – we all must learn new habits. The switch from fossil fuels like LNG to much-cleaner renewable energy can’t come soon enough. j

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great whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg said that Assange had personally redacted 15,000 files. The renowned New Zealand investigative journalist Nicky Hager, who worked with Assange on the Afghanistan and Iraq war leaks, described how Assange took ‘extraordinary precautions in redacting names of informants’. Q: What are the implications of this trial’s verdict for journalism – more broadly is it an omen of things to come? A: The ‘Assange effect’ is already being felt across the world. If they displease the regime in Washington, investigative journalists are liable to prosecution under the 1917 US Espionage Act; the precedent is stark. It doesn’t matter where you are. For Washington, other people’s nationality and sovereignty rarely mattered; now it does not exist. Britain has effectively surrendered its jurisdiction to Trump’s corrupt Department of Justice. In Australia, a National Security Information Act promises Kafkaesque trials for transgressors. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been raided by police and journalists’ computers taken away. The government has given unprecedented powers to intelligence officials, making journalistic whistle-blowing almost impossible. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Assange ‘must face the music’. The perfidious cruelty of his statement is reinforced by its banality. ‘Evil’, wrote Hannah Arendt, ‘comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil’. Q: Having followed the story of WikiLeaks closely for a decade, how has this eyewitness experience shifted your understanding of what’s at stake with Assange’s trial? A: I have long been a critic of journalism as an echo of unaccountable power and a champion of those who are beacons. So, for me, the arrival of WikiLeaks was exciting; I

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admired the way Assange regarded the public with respect, that he was prepared to share his work with the ‘mainstream’ but not join their collusive club. This, and naked jealousy, made him enemies among the overpaid and undertalented, insecure in their pretensions of independence and impartiality. I admired the moral dimension to WikiLeaks. Assange was rarely asked about this, yet much of his remarkable energy comes from a powerful moral sense that governments and other vested interests should not operate behind walls of secrecy. He is a democrat. He explained this in one of our first interviews at my home in 2010. What is at stake for the rest of us has long been at stake: freedom to call authority to account, freedom to challenge, to call out hypocrisy, to dissent. The difference today is that the world’s imperial power, the United States, has never been as unsure of its metastatic authority as it is today. Like a flailing rogue, it is spinning us towards a world war if we allow it. Little of this menace is reflected in the media. WikiLeaks, on the other hand, has allowed us to glimpse a rampant imperial march through whole societies—think of the carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, to name a few, the dispossession of 37 million people and the deaths of 12 million men, women and children in the ‘war on terror’—most of it behind a façade of deception.  Julian Assange is a threat to these recurring horrors— that’s why he is being persecuted, why a court of law has become an instrument of oppression, why he ought to be our collective conscience: why we all should be the threat. The judge’s decision will be known on January 4. j John Pilger, journalist, author and film director, has won many distinctions for his work, including Britain’s highest award for journalism twice, an American ‘Emmy’, and a British Academy Award. His complete archive is held at the British Library. He lives in London and Sydney.

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known—and the prosecution acting for the Trump regime have been brazen. Until the last few days, defence arguments have been routinely dismissed. The lead prosecutor, James Lewis QC, ex SAS and currently Chief Justice of the Falklands, by and large gets what he wants, notably up to four hours to denigrate expert witnesses, while the defence’s examination is guillotined at half an hour. I have no doubt, had there been a jury, his freedom would be assured. How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as ‘investigations editor’ and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardian ‘scoop’ that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand. Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court. However, the defence has succeeded in demonstrating the extent to which Assange sought to protect and redact names in the files released by WikiLeaks and that no credible evidence existed of individuals harmed by the leaks. The

T h e

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The thing behind your screen Digital addiction, algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence by Geoff Olson There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software. – statistician Edward Tufte 

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O

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ver the past decade, media commentators and academics have thoroughly mined the downside of social media dependency. Yet a new Netflix documentary manages to sift a few dark gems from an overworked seam. In The Social Dilemma, a conga line of higher-ups from Silicon Valley share their disenchantment with the business models and engagement practices of their former employers – even though some played a part in inventing them. These disaffected tech workers insist social media has largely devolved into algorithm-fueled influencer farms, tilled by users’ free labour and irrigated by online pissing matches. With every click, swipe, like and share, every search term, facial expression and social link, you are seduced into more “engagement.” What’s shoveled into your personalized “feed” – a fittingly barnyard descriptor – are all the things you, and others like you, are most likely to respond and react to, through dopaminedriven feedback loops. It has been said that “if you’re not buying the product, you are the product.” Author and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier alters this credo in the documentary. More precisely, it’s “the gradual, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product,” he insists. The Social Dilemma resurrects a clip of Napster co-founder Sean Parker explaining how he and his colleagues went about “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology…we understood this consciously and we did it anyway.” Since the last US federal election, largely gamed by the exploits of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, we’ve been well into a world of increasing political polarization, with solipsism winning over citizenship.  It’s well-known how YouTube’s recommendation algorithms push engagement by pushing extremes. Outraged by a video

about Antifa? Here’s a clip on the supposed Democrat-connected pedophile ring at a pizza parlour. Disgusted by a feed of Trump’s malapropisms? Here, you’ll love supposed proof of him being controlled by puppetmaster Putin. Intrigued by a clip highlighting weaknesses in the Big Bang theory? Get real, here’s a ninety minute doc proving Flat Earth theory! “Truth is boring,” says one tech higher up in the film, explaining how outrageous claims are incentivized and promoted because they get more clicks. However, one person’s manifesto is another person’s manure, and the tech industry is short on doggy bags. Cathy O’Neill, author of Weapons of Math Destruction, nails the problem adroitly. Google doesn’t know what the truth is, she says in the doc. “They don’t have a proxy for truth that’s better than a click.” A number of the wealthy whistleblowers in The Social Dilemma confess how they became addicted to social media platforms, even while completely aware of how they were being seduced. Of course, addiction isn’t a bug of social media, it’s a feature – and there are no restrictions or protections for the young shackled to their magic rectangles, as there are for sales of liquor and cigarettes. “There has been a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for American teenagers which began right around between 2011 and 2013,” says social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in one scene. The only mass change in society that correlates with this is the rise of social media and the availability of smartphones. Self-harm by teenage girls was stable until around 2010 and 2011, at which point it rose dramatically higher, with a 62 percent rise for older teen girls, and 189 percent for preteen girls. Worse yet, a similar pattern prevails for suicide in the same demographic. (One study suggests it is not social media per se that is responsible for this appalling pattern: it’s the actual time that obsessive social media “engagement” subtracts from moments of unmediated person-to-person contact. But the end result remains the same.)

The conscience of The Social Dilemma is Tristan Harris, a former Google “design ethicist”. In one scene, a bored-looking senior sitting next to Harris at a Chicago tech seminar objects that none of this is new. From automobile print ads to TV commercials, marketing has always been about shifting the behaviour of the consumer in a profitable direction. He has a point; capitalism’s time-tested tricks are still in play, with old-school salesmanship sharpened on the whetstone of behavioural psychology. But there is one key difference, which Harris recognizes: artificial intelligence (AI).

Harris uses a lab analogy: “We’re pointing these engines of AI back at ourselves to reverse-engineer what elicits responses from us. Almost like you’re stimulating nerve cells on a spider to see what causes its legs to respond.” AI tools aren’t just incredibly sophisticated, they are selfimproving tools. Other tools, like televisions and automobiles, may improve linearly year by year, but only AI re-engineers its own code to improve exponentially. In 2000, Wired editor Kevin Kelly put a question to Google co-founder Larry Page. Why, with so many web search companies out there, were Page and col-


league Sergey Brin getting into the game by offering search for free? According to Kelly, Page responded, “Oh, we’re really making an AI.” “Rather than use AI to make its search better, Google is using search to make its AI better,” Kelly explained in his 2010 book What Technology Wants. In other words, each user search instructs the company’s machine intelligence to sharpen its inventory of concepts. For example, image searches for “dog” teaches Google AI to refine the visual interpretation of the noun, independent of the breed, angle of view or lighting. “Our AI future is likely to be ruled by an oligarchy of two or three large, generalpurpose cloud-based commercial intelligences,” Kelly concluded. Brands with brains. Monopolies with minds, in effect. Even now, nonhuman bots join Internet trolls and sock puppets in divisive digital debates. By 2018, bots, scrapers and automated scripts constituted 38 percent of all Internet traffic, with 20 percent constituting “bad bots,” according to Distil Networks. A number of high-profile thinkers, from Elon Musk to the late Stephen Hawking, have expressed concerns that self-improving AI systems will scale up to a point where not only have they vastly exceeded human intelligence, but even our ability to understand their decision paths. What then will social media look like? There’s a sobering moment in The Social Dilemma when Harris stands before a screen displaying a chart with a line curving upward. One point on the line marks the predicted future moment when AI overtakes all our strengths. Yet there is a

second point lower on the line, indicating when AI has overtaken our weaknesses that is, the user’s ability to actively or passively resist the engagement algorithms of social media. Harris insists that AI has already passed this point. On one side of a digital device is a hairless primate with a wet, plodding brain that evolved at an Ice Age pace. On the other side of the device are hectares and hectares of server farms with algorithms moving at near-light speeds, programmed to keep the user attached to his or her feed. We call it “the cloud,” but it’s really the earthbound sandbox of a youthful and growing AI. It’s not what you’d call a fair fight. Most of us under the age of 60 will likely live long enough to witness the emergence of AI systems demonstrating autonomous, superhuman intelligence. Such systems don’t even have to attain consciousness (by whatever metric used to measure that spectral subjective state) to become problematic for human survival in our present state. They don’t even have to be all that visible, and for the most part they aren’t now. All AI has to do to “win” is out-perform human beings at all levels, including any strategized attempts to rein in its powers. But that’s in a possible future. As for the present, The Social Dilemma closes with some good near-term suggestions for policing both the tech monopolies and our personal habits. Yet none of them address the perverse incentives that have been with us well before cybernetic systems were a twinkle in Norbert Weiner’s eye, and Silicon Valley startups ballooned into sociallydistorting monoliths. The deeper problem

is touched on by Justin Rosenstein, a former engineer with Facebook and Google: “We live in a world in which a tree is worth more, financially, dead than alive. A world in which a whale is worth more dead than alive. For so long as our economy works in that way, and corporations go unregulated, they’re going to continue to destroy trees, to kill whales, to mine the earth, and to continue to pull oil out of the ground, even though we know it is destroying the planet and we know it is going to leave a worse world for future generations.” Having mined natural capital from the Earth like an invading alien force, corporate capitalism is now massively extracting private information from citizens across the globe. By altering us in socially and psychologically damaging ways – beyond our ability to effectively

resist – it is strip-mining our very souls. Does all this add up to a zero-sum game of silicon versus carbon? No one can say for sure at this point. But whatever weirdness is around the corner, we all prefer to believe a place will remain in the future for human dignity, creativity, curiosity, and face-to-face community. To say nothing of compassion and love. To preserve these non-robotic values, we’ll need to rethink some of our older, dumber and dangerous code, involving markets, profit, and “returning value to the shareholder.” The Social Dilemma is now playing on Netflix. And to read more on the promise and perils of Artificial Intelligence, check out Geoff Olson’s e-book, Machinations of Loving Grace, at www.books.Apple.com j mwiseguise@yahoo.com

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There’s reason to love a minority government

D

id you really want a snap election at this time? The premier said we did. But on the street many say otherwise. This stealth election was long planned and sprung to overpower the other political parties struggling, like the rest of BC, during a pandemic. The proverbial saying “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” conveys the opinion that, as a person’s lust for power increases, their moral sense diminishes. I like minority governments because they can’t lie as much. Plus minority governments are more likely to keep promises. Keeping one’s word engenders good faith when cooperating with other parties. But majority control or absolute power spawns impunity…at least until the next election. Minority governments, ironically, represent and protect the interests of the majority of voters. They collectively represent more votes cast. But that is irrelevant to First-Past-The-Posters who game the electoral system. The most outrageous burn is when FPTP gives a false majority and the popular vote loses. Minority governments require cooperation and more decency. Elected representatives must listen to and debate

issues with the knowledge that they must find common ground and survive. Minority government politicians have to serve with respect and share the power bequested to them. Oligarchs, despots, tyrant, monarch and bullies all go for concentrated central control. Majorities foster more arrogance, back room deals, graft, and ultimately corruption. We have seen this play out with past premiers and prime ministers. It’s the old-school political power grab. One group of people is not satisfied with their fair share of power so they go for it all. Mary Trump’s new book Always More, Never Enough tells this about her infamous Uncle Donald. So don’t believe politicians that say it’s for your own good. It is an attempted coup over cooperation. Like a predatory political animal pouncing at the chance to have total control of parliament they lust after 44 seats. For the people in BC who know in their hearts that this surprise snap election during a pandemic was uncalled for, unnecessary, and a waste of time, attention and our tax money, then consider the following. If you did not want an election called early, then do not vote for majority same-old power-hungry parties. Vote for a party or politicians who will work for fair voting via proportional

representation rather than FPTP manipulation. Vote for politicians that truly protect the environment, who won’t use our tax money to subsidize fracking, pipelines or other destructive projects. Don’t vote for self-serving political leaders who always want more power at

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the expense of the public. We want our politicians to do the honourable job of working for the public good rather than their party’s power. Vote to protect the environment. Vote to protect fair play. Vote to protect cooperation. Vote to make government honest. Vote for a minority government. Let those politicians besotted with power go back to the sandbox and learn how to share their toys with others. j

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