Failed State of America

It is February 15th 2018 and the United States has had 30 mass shootings since January 1st. The usual battle lines are being drawn on why it happens despite ignoring data such as this in the New York Times last year. As an outsider it appears that the right to life and security of the person have been completely abandoned in the United States. Is gun violence a symptom of America’s failure?

The first set of factors to determine a failed state are:

  • loss of monopoly on the legitimate use of force
  • erosion of authority to make collective decesions
  • inability to provide reasonable public services
  • inability to interact internationally

The first of the above factors I’m taking as a given in the United States. The second is also evident in the hyper partisan, winner take all politics. Flint Michigan is a prime example of a nation not being able to provide basic public services. There are various reports a US diplomatic service in chaos and shortages of key diplomatic staff. Also, the contradictions coming from the current administration of foreign and trade policy make relations difficult.

More comprehensive checklists are available in the above article. The US hasn’t many of the social indicators until the economic inequality factors. The US has one of the highest infant mortality rates in advanced economies, poor education results, and certain groups suffer more deprivation than others based on ethnicity, orientation, or gender. The recent shutdowns of the US government is an example a state failure to fulfill obligations.

The first political indicator is criminalization and/or delegitimization of the state. This has been happening for decades in the US. Corruption disguised as campaign contributions, diversion of public resources to private companies, and defunding regulators all contribute to this. Much American media adds to the attack on government legitimacy with anti-government heroes promoted as pundits or in fiction. Holding government to account is difficult because of gerrymandering and the vast amounts of money required to run in politics.

The US public service is deteriorating, I mentioned Flint and the 30 mass shootings this year. There are many more examples where essential services for Americans are suffering a lack of services or terribly funded services. The wealthier an American is the more services are made available for them. When school teachers in poorer areas have to pay for supplies out of pocket it is a sign of failure.

Every country has a human rights problem at some level and the US is no exception. In my life we’ve gone from having to remind people Black is Beautiful back to Black Lives Matter. The militarisation of US law enforcement, the under siege mentality of US law enforcement, and the prison industrial complex are other factors pointing to America’s failure. Political violence against the state isn’t as common but does take place such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

The state within a state indicator is also met by the United States. Private security and intelligence services have been given access to state resources without the same stringent oversight. The weaponization of US politics hasn’t begun quite yet but threats of violence and radicalization of violent people has. There are plenty of armed groups eager for the next civil war to break out.

The American Revolution replaced a distant aristocracy with one down the dirt road. American bipolar, partisan politics still has elites and aristocrats controlling politics. Democrats fund one institution and Republicans are obligated to destroy that institution once back in power and vice versa. Both populi and optimi hide behind national symbols and patriotic rhetoric. Such extremism denies debate, progress, compromise and America’s existence.

There is currently an investigation into Russian involvement in the last presidential election. Any foreign government to pay for access to US policy makers. There alleged Russian connections to the National Rifle Association, which controls much of Congress. The above article mentions military/paramilitary not mere financial influence peddling but the money is destabilizing Americans ability to control their representatives.

Both KGB by Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, and The Mitrokhin Archive by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin mentions KGB plots to destabilize the United States from within. Conspiracy theories, false information, financing armed groups, and feuling paranoia were tactics to weaken the Western Democracies. America may wish to look deeper into ties of extreme right wing groups and their Russian counterparts, it may lead to Russian security services involvement.

The United States is not a failed state, but it is not a stable and functional state either. Maybe fragile state is the best description right now. Blaming Russia, Mexico, the other faction, or whatever for America’s situation as every American is to blame and responsible for reversing these trends. Maybe Americans are happy living in a state that fails so many and are comfortable watching neighbours die for lack of care or security. Maybe Americans are waiting for United Nations intervention.


Which Way London? #Ldnont

In a recent opinion piece on the London Free Press site mentioned London is halfway between Toronto and Detroit. I think the person was trying to sell that as London’s selling point as justification for better rail service at the expense of local rapid transit. I disagree about delaying rapid transit but agree London needs better travel to areas beyond the city’s bubble.

London is halfway between Detroit and Toronto, and I don’t mean geographically but halfway between decay and success. Detroit used to have a world leading trolley focused transit system which was profitable. The rolling stock would still be running today if it hadn’t been destroyed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Detroit nationalized the profitable private system then converted it to buses as part of a car focused transportation system. Toronto about the same time built a subway line and extended streetcar/trolley service with abandoned rolling stock from Cleveland or Cincinnati. Which is the more successful city today, Detroit or Toronto?

Toronto loves cars as much as Detroit or London yet recognizes that it can no longer afford to focus solely on cars for transportation. It is estimated the Greater Toronto Area, Canada’s main economic engine, loses $11 billion annually in lost productivity due to cars being congested. Toronto alone loses $3.3 billion in productivity because of its inadequate transportation networks. As younger generations reject the car for more efficient and cost effective transportation methods it will be the GTA and Hamilton that will attract people and not cities building wider roads or second class alternatives.

London’s current choice is bus rapid transit focusing on the centre of the city only. It is a flawed plan, an incomplete plan, a plan with many problems. Having seens some of the city and LTC’s supporting documents it is the information that is missing that sticks out. Metreolinx has some in depth studies showing how expensive the status quo or further automotive infrastructure could cost billions more. London makes vague statements about progress and attracting investment but I’ve yet to see anything with the opportunity costs of doing nothing or the justification for the plan as is. Even the two websites show how far behind London is, if you can get to LTC’s website.

London lives in its own little world, it is unable to learn from other cities mistakes or successes. The danger is London, or as I’m beginning to call it Ditherville, will not survive without bold transportation reforms and an end to the automotive monopoly in transportation. The disconnected walking paths, cycle routes, poor transit to anywhere not the downtown all leave London rather unlivable outside a few downtown areas. These disconnects are costing London, most likely far more than the cost of fixing them.

How much is the car costing London in lost productivity, as a barrier to employment participation, in increased policing costs, in health care costs, environmental damage, and lost investment opportunities? As the rapid transits argue London residents are paying for better transit, just not their own. Many other communities are looking to take the money if London doesn’t spend it. I agree with the “Not Yet” person in the opinion piece that London does need to connect beyond city limits. Which would be pointless if most people can’t get to where those connections are made.

London needs a grid transit system, with two rapid transit corridors north/south, and another two east/west. It needs to spread the transit system to all areas of the city and plan for future integration with a regional system like Metreolinx and the possibility of high speed rail, which won’t stop for buses. It needs to work with the rest of the province to have a single smart card paying system that works on any Ontario, and possibly any Canadian, transit system. It needs cycle and walking network that extends beyond city limits and is accessible from any point in the city. It needs to slow investments in auto infrastructure until the other systems catch up in funding.

How does London compete in a world where economics is shifting back to Asia? Can London survive using the status quo? Nothing says London has to be anything but farm fields and ruins in a century. Working against the rest of the region, province or country will certainly make London like Detroit or cities that require trowels to see. While we’re waiting for lights to change or travelling at 60km/h in our horseless buggies the rest of the world is getting places at 200-500km/h. We still haven’t separated bulk, fast freight, and passenger service to dedicated tracks, slowing all of them down. But at least we have a six lane highway to Detroit and Toronto, that’ll compete with China’s 20,000+km of high speed rail.

My Shift epiphany #Ldnont

Laying in bed Saturday morning it dawned on me, the London bus rapid transit plan has nothing to do with growing a vibrant 21st Century city. Shift, like all major political decisions in the past seven decades is about BabyBoomers. Once I realized that I learnt to accept the very flawed plan as it currently is.

No generation in history has or will have the automotive usage patterns of the BabyBoomer. The bulk of Canada’s wealth is held in the hands of BabyBoomers, as is the bulk of the private automobiles. We still build automotive infrastructure thinking the average BabyBoomer just turned 16 and has the Dad’s car keys. The reality is within ten years BabyBoomers start turning 80 and must start having driving tests every two years. Even before 80 doctors can revoke licences if the patient is deemed a driving danger.

The bulk of the BabyBoomer generation are hitting retirement age in greater numbers. They are already downsizing homes and going with hassle free condos which in London will supposedly be along the BRT line, at least that is the plan. This explains to me why the routes are where they are. Two major hospitals and two major malls are within the core of the plan. Translation, convenience to medical appointments and a place to walk when the sidewalks are icy.

So now that I realize the aging Boomer is the focus of the plan my only complaint is the blatant dishonesty on what/who it is for. Selling Shift as a progressive plan to make the London of tomorrow is false, if it were then connecting Fanshawe/Western students to courses on the other campus the route would stick to Oxford and not meander through the downtown. If it were for the growing tech industry it would connect to the airport so the tech companies could connect with the world of customers. If it were for lower income London it wouldn’t focus on a few areas that gentrification will make for the affluent only.

The LTC in the last while has made progress on correcting some silly routes and making improvements on hours of service. There are still areas of London, mainly lower income, that have poor or no service. Most of the industrial areas are not serviced at all, including the areas the city is spending to attract new industry to.

The longer the commute, the lower the commuter’s productivity. Routing commuters from the suburbs through a central point of failure in a downtown intersection built for horses will lower the productivity and health of London. The focus of the city and LTC on the downtown focus appears to be coming at the expense of satellite areas of the city. Many London commuters will have to use automobiles, especially poorer people in the ignored areas or people who work in industrial areas. The long commutes or unhealthy means of commuting make London unattractive to investment, and Shift is doing nothing to correct this.

Shift is best viewed as a boon for the serviced area and the affluent seniors most likely to be able to downsize to the serviced area. Shift is itself left vulnerable to reactionary politics that will make BRT lanes into HOV lanes and then freeze funding so LTC is forced to cannibalise satellite routes to keep BRT running. If someone has seen concrete guarantees to keep this from happening please show them to me.

Some research to consider:

Human Costs of BRT #Ldnont

So we have a smog advisory in effect today, meaning our air quality is potentially deadly, especially for children and the elderly. The focus of the rapid transit debate has been on financial costs. Yes, upfront costs may be cheaper with buses over light rail but the health and environmental effects of buses are similar to cars. From my scan of the business plan the financial data does not include prices on carbon, which the Ontario has committed to.

In March this year Health Canada released a study showing diesel fumes are significant contributor to pollutant levels. In 2015 diesel cost Canada hundreds premature deaths and billions in lost productivity. Using diesel also increases health care costs, reduced activity days, and chronic respiratory problems. Not just the Canadian government is concerned with this the UK, and the US are also moving to reduce diesel emissions and use. In fact the CDC has been concerned for nearly thirty years. With recent revelations about the auto industry falsifying emission results we will have additional costs of retesting emissions for accuracy.

Using natural gas provides higher infrastructure costs from production to consumption and the environmental impacts are not significantly better. Burning natural gas locally will be cleaner for London’s air but will lead to lower air quality along the production and supply chain. The European Commission and the Union of Concerned Scientists see little benefit in using natural gas for transportation.

Safety is another issue that is not found in the business, at least I didn’t find it. Road travel is the most dangerous ways of travel. The most recent statistics for Canada are for 2014, my rough math suggests we had almost a September 11th level of fatalities on Canadian roads two years ago. Transit has lower accident and crime rates than automobile usage as shown in this report.

LRT is more likely to attract new ridership than BRT, which reduces car usage. As analysis in this article suggests more transit use decreases the accident rate amongst other transit. With LRT’s lower operating costs service could be extended to last call, thus reducing drunk driving incidents. Having LRT track means trolleys could be used in off peak hours when bus service is more expensive.

Finally the quality of life benefits of LRT also need to be looked at. Efficient LRT service allows more money for better quality food, more encouragement to be active physically and socially, and decreases the levels of pollution exposed to. Buses to little to reduce the need to decide between filling the gas tank and filling the fridge. Faster LRT will lower people’s commute times and may increase London’s productivity.

London should remove BRT as an option because it does nothing for our role in reducing greenhouse gases, carcinogens, or the city’s overall safety. LRT is more expensive at the beginning but the financial savings of reduced health care costs and safety costs more than make up for it.

London Bus Grid #Ldnont

The current London Transit system is not very effective unless you are getting downtown. So with a Google map of the city and some knowledge of where work is located I came up with a rough grid/point to point system that should solve congestion on the current routes. I’ve been told by LTC that London is ill suited for a grid system but I disagree. Tallahassee Florida has already made the conversion which was more effective and cheaper than using rapid transit on existing routes that leave much of the city uncovered.
The city’s shift plan has given us various versions of the status quo without telling us why the status quo must be kept. I’ve heard the downtown arguments, I’ve also experienced a mass of people on narrow sidewalks waiting to leave downtown whenever the connection bus arrives. How does it benefit downtown to have sidewalks blocked by waiting transit riders?
  • This should put the vast majority of city within 500m of transit
  • Many connecting routes and local loops would only require a single bus during non-peak times
  • Requires more transferring but should increase overall speed of travel
  • Local loops connecting Malls, Fanshawe, University, industrial parks etc
  • Timetables should reflect shift work, rail, air arrivals, etc
  • Regional service should eventually be added to replace loss of for profit service
  • London can learn some lessons from Tallahassee and other cities to better make a transition
  • Tried to have single routes connecting airport to main hotel districts
  • Express routes adopted as needed, the grid my point to routes being needed that aren’t envisioned here or with shift
  • This would have been easier if I could find a population density map of the city “Service unavailable” at StatsCan’s GeoSurvey
Potential Express and/or LRT:
  • Gold Line: From Masonville Mall along Fanshawe Park Road to Wonderland to White Oaks Mall
  • Grey Line: From Masonville Mall along Richmond Street to Central to Wellington to White Oaks Mall
  • Green Line: From Masonville Mall or airport along Fanshawe Park Road down Highbury Avenue to Bradley Avenue to White Oaks Mall
  • Red Line: From Byron Baseline Road along Boler Road to Sanatorium Road to Oxford Street to London Airport
  • Blue Line: From Byron Baseline Road to Springbank Road to Horton Road to Richmond Street to Dundas Street to Clark Road to Oxford Street to London Airport
  • Pink Line: From Boler Road along Commissioners Road to Highbury Avenue
Main Routes:
  • Wonderland from Fanshawe Park Rd to Southdale Rd
  • Oxford St from Commissioners to London Airport
  • Richmond/ Wellington from Fanshawe Park Rd to White Oaks Mall
  • Riverside/Dundas from Sanatorium Rd to Veteran’s Parkway
  • Springbank/Hamilton starts on Byron Baseline connects main routes along Horton ends at Clarke
  • Highbury from Fanshawe Park Rd to Wilton Grove Rd
  • Commissioners main from Oxford St W to Jackson Rd
  • Commissioners alternate from Oxford St W to Warncliffe, Baseline to Thompson to Pond Mills
  • Adelaide from Fanshawe Park Rd to Commissioners and Wellington
  • Western/Warncliffe with Masonville to Lambeth and Masonville to White Oaks Mall options
  • Fanshawe Park Rd from Hyde Park to Highbury
  • Southdale Rd from Boler Rd to Pond Mills
  • Clarke Rd Huron St to Hamilton Rd
  • Hyde Park Rd from Fanshawe Park to Riverside
  • Sarnia Rd from Hyde Park to Western University Hospital
  • Windemere Rd from Medway Heights to Kipps Lane to Huron and Highbury
  • Regent St to Huron to Clarke Rd
  • Cheapside from Richmond to Clarke Rd
  • Veteran’s parkway from Airport to Bradley over to White Oaks Mall
  • Talbot/Rideout Oxford to Bradley, looping behind White Oaks Mall
  • York/Wavell using Florence, Egerton and Brydges to end at Argyle Mall
  • Trafalgar from Adelaide St looped to Hamilton Rd to Veteran’s Parkway
  • Colonel Talbot Dr from Byron centre to Lambeth
  • Colborne from Western University Hospital looping through downtown using York and King
  • Pond Mills from Hamilton Rd to Wilton Grove Rd
  • Whatever I’ve missed

Attawapiskat State of Emergency #Cdnpoli

So it was revealed today Attawapiskat is having another emergency, this time a wave of suicide attempts Saturday and today. This is far too common in Canadian First Nation communities. The previous emergency that made global headlines, the shelter and food crises, ended up with its own Tragically Hip song. Back then everything was supposed to improve for these remote communities.

Maybe a picture of a child suicide will motivate Canadians to help First Nations the way a dead toddler motivated Canadians to help Syrian refugees. Not that a quick, sensational headline and picture is going to fix anything. Perhaps a mandatory look at the inhumane conditions we keep people in will wake people up. Coincidently, my iTunes library started playing Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, a song written in the 80s about injustice towards Indigenous Peoples. My how little has changed in three decades.

The current crises is a mental health crises, but how can you fix the mental health crises without dealing with the physical health crises, or the economic crises? The fact this whole situation is artificially created by our indifference, our failure to live up to our side of the Treaties, and our active policies of genocide. Seriously, the Reserve system of North America inspired the British concentration camps in South Africa which lead to Nazi death camps. Throw in the abusive residential school system to reprogram and Canada has nothing to be proud of.

Maybe this time we can get past our failed policy and try something radical, like developing a national mental health strategy with maximum wait times for treatment and shifting resources across the country as needed. We shouldn’t care which level of government is reaching into our bank accounts to pay for it as long as people get the help they need. How much is the current system costing Canada for such terrible results?

The cost of eating healthy in remote communities makes junk food cheaper than healthy foods. Instead of keeping remote communities hostage to oil prices and other air or shipping costs let’s build each community a hydroponics facility. We could use it as a model for space exploration. Heating these facilities with geothermal, and powering the communities with wind, solar and other renewables could help Canada’s remote communities be the first to evolve past the primitive fossil economy. At very least it will create a few jobs. Throw in 3D print on demand technology and the corresponding training and these communities will become more independant.

A greater use of remote technologies to access education will also provide hope and economic activities. For places like Attawapiskat having a terabyte internet service for $25 a month could transform the local economy. Let’s set a deadline of June 2022 for every remote community in Canada having such a service available. That gives us six years to do it, any longer it will be neglected, any shorter it will result in over payments.

It isn’t a coincidence that Germany has free education and is usually one of the first economies to recover from economic downturns. Easier access to higher education will do more for Canada’s economy than million kilometres of pipeline or road. Remove the tuition barrier once and for all in Canada and the small minority who would abuse such a system are not enough to justify punishing everyone else with ever increasing fees that leaves people a hostage to creditors.

We don’t need another round of reports, commissions, tribunals, or discussions in Canada, we need to read the results of all the previous ones and actually implement recommendations. It is a Canadian failure that we discuss things to the point where the status quo is all we’re left with. Then another crises gets noticed and we rehash the discussion points again until the herd loses interest.

It is easy to feel hopeless when malnourished, inactive, ignored, and trapped by barriers created to divide and rule society. Unfortunately the chances of this crises changing anything is slim to none. We’re so encultured to focus on the short term fiscal bottom line we seem to have lost the ability to count the costs in lives.

Shift or Shifty? #Ldnont #Ldnpoli

Full disclosure, I do not live downtown, nor do I live in one of the proposed satellite hubs. I am however a fan of a light rail transit system (LRT) for London, just not the proposed one. Slapping a rapid transit facade on London’s current public transit system transform the city, magically or otherwise, into a Twenty First Century player. To use Nineteenth Century theory and Twentieth Century technology will damage London Ontario. The hub and spoke approach is what London needed a hundred years ago, express buses are what London needed thirty years ago.

How about a hypothetical London by-law that told motorists travelling from one end of Commissioners Road to the other end that the must change cars downtown? Good idea, Commissioners is too insignificant to go straight through, right? Think of how downtown businesses would benefit. This same by-law could make any travel around the city go downtown before the final destination. In fact the Province and Federal Government should help insure such a system of travel couldn’t be altered regardless of requirements.

I suspect any politician that proposed the hypothetical by-law would be laughed out of office and have to emigrate from Canada to run again. If such a transit design is laughable for motorists, then why does London insist transit users take such meandering routes? Are transit users second class residents? Many of London’s existing bus routes look exactly like what not to do in the Provincial Guidelines for Transit.

In my limited research on hub and spoke transit systems the term Single Point of Failure came up. Or as London calls it Dundas/Richmond or Dundas/Clarence. North America’s cargo rail has a hub in Chicago which can take container six to twenty-six months to go through. I suspect under the Shift plan there are no promises that accidents, power outages, crime scenes, fires, or any other blockage will occur at London’s hub.

Another term I came across, also connected to Chicago, is Transit Desert. These are places where if transit exists at all it is slow and means commuting times are long. Inevitably as transit becomes the favoured option in a community the transit deserts become places of poverty. With transit unreliable these poor require cars to get around the city, not only adding to their costs but adding to the city’s congestion problems.

Without knowing the routes to feed the proposed plan in London it is difficult to say which areas will be left out. This lack of information is another reason to reject this plan until we see the full plan. My suspicion is they will be meandering routes that lengthen commutes, increase congestion for cars and buses, and are inconvenient to use. Is there a map that shows London’s jobs in relation to London’s transit routes and London’s underserviced areas? An example of what it would look like is here.

It is easy, and fun, to be critical but let’s be a bit constructive. As Chicago is cold this time of year let’s head to Tallahassee Florida, where in 2011 they replaced the entire hub and spoke system with a grid. When London does the same we should do it in the summer when students are gone. My suggestion is for six LRT lines in London, maybe not fully flushed out to begin with but covering the busiest sections of each area. I’m using colours based on the current, closest routes.

  • Gold Line: From Masonville Mall along Fanshawe Park Road to Wonderland to Exeter Road to White Oaks Mall
  • Grey Line: From Masonville Mall along Richmond Street to Central to Wellington to White Oaks Mall
  • Green Line: From Masonville Mall along Fanshawe Park Road down Highbury Avenue to Bradley Avenue to White Oaks Mall
  • Red Line: From Byron Baseline Road along Boler Road to Sanitorium Road to Oxford Street to London Airport
  • Blue Line: From Byron Baseline Road to Springbank Road to Horton Road to Richmond Street to Dundas Street to Clark Road to Oxford Street to London Airport
  • Pink Line: From Boler Road along Commissioners Road to Highbury Avenue

With these six trunk lines it should be relatively easy to add local grid systems to feed them and bypass them when needed. The hubs are still there but the system loses the single point of failure. In non peak times only six trains need to operate, one per route and they won’t have to go the full distance. In fact the outer north south lines could be looped together to reduce the number of trains even further, such as the last call specials.

Institutional orthodoxy tells us the Shift plan is the only plan that will save London and get people back downtown. That any other plan will hurt London and is anti-downtown. The downtown is my favourite part of London and bordering on agoraphobic I definitely do not want it to become one of those American hub airports full of frustrated travellers and lost luggage. Being a pessimist I suspect London transit riders will see more of this: