Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#bced in my twitterverse

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The real news gets ignored - REPLAY

I wrote the following article 3½ years ago. It demonstrates how little has changed.

On the day George Abbott became the first Education Minister to speak at a convention of the teachers' union since Gordon Campbell's election in 2001, BC Liberal media focused less on the warm response from educators than on what they say is a coming confrontation.

TC columnist Les Leyne headlines, "a battle is looming." The Globe and Mail says "strike looms", Global TV News leads "Strike by school teachers in this province seems unavoidable." CTV's Jim Beatty led with "A teachers' strike is a good possibility."

Instead of aiming to be inflammatory, CBC offered a balanced report. The Canadian Press did as well, for example:
"Abbott told the teachers he will always listen to their views, even if they do not agree on the many difficult issues facing the two sides as they prepare to sit down and hash out a new contract for the 41,000-strong federation.

" 'We will have lots of things that will divide us in the weeks and months ahead there is no question about that,' he said. 'Labour relations alone will be an area that will be fraught with many challenges I'm sure on both sides of the table.' "
Leyne says that after his speech, Abbott was "peppered with" observations from two people,
"about how unsupported teachers are in dealing with special needs kids, sometimes violent, semiliterate, emotionally fragile, suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome problem children who populate many classes in increasing numbers.

About all he could do was nod in sympathy."
That should have provided the headline derived from Abbott's visit. Special needs children are there today, lacking resources. Instead, we get speculation of strike or job action that can not occur until the next school year and which everyone knows will result at worst in another imposed contract if mediation and conciliation fail.

Highlighting potential job actions might seem more dramatic but they are far-off and rather meaningless. In doing so, media downplays substantive issues that should be at the forefront of discussions. Do we want our education to be effective and accessible or, ultimately, do we want to turn our schools into American style guarded camps that worry more about protecting students from gun and knife violence than preparing them to be contributing citizens.

I disclose a bias in this discussion. Among my children and their partners, we proudly number three school teachers. These young people are well educated professionals (six degrees between them) who focus their lives on improving educational experiences of children in their care. Our relatives occasionally miss family events because out-of-school duties such as preparation, marking, writing reports, doing extracurricular activities and professional development consume time that is unseen by students and parents. Teachers spend their own money for supplies, field trips, computer programs and equipment and even for necessities and rewards to needy or deserving students.

I do not know the present salary levels of these three people. I did know the entry salary my son earned when he started teaching after two degrees and a number of years working as a scientific researcher. It was an appallingly low annual salary that started with the number three. I suspect some of our MLAs receive more in expenses. These young teachers, while not talking about salaries to us, do talk about the difficulties faced from crowded classrooms and about special needs students, about poverty and drug addiction and deficient parenting skills, etc.

I think media focuses entirely too much on the wrong issues in today's education. Much goes right with our schools as well. A few years ago, I had the honor of presenting scholarships to graduating high school students on behalf of the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association. At awards nights of secondary schools, boys and girls of outstanding achievements are recognized, not just in academics and sports but in an amazingly broad series of community and personal activities. Those teenagers accomplished more in a few years of maturity than others do in a lifetime. All deserve the best education we can provide.

Society benefits in the long run. The richest nations also have the best systems of education. That is not coincidence; one leads to the other.
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Sea to Sky Highway subsidy $12-$15 each vehicle

This item below from February is a good reminder of how behaviour of BC Liberals differs when it involves spending that is closer to their hearts and heads than education. This project is also a demonstration of what Liberals mean when they say "on-time and on-budget." It wasn't on budget for the public but probably was for the private companies hidden behind the Sea-to-Sky Highway Investment Limited Partnership.

Liberals are masters of public finance in one particular way. They deliver opportunities to deal makers and deal flippers, with details of all transactions hidden from view. It wasn't long before the first flip happened on the Sea-to-Sky project. This is from a 2010 press release,
"A consortium of Canadian investors led by Fiera Axium Infrastructure Inc. and composed of Fiera Axium Infrastructure Canada L.P., Régime de rentes du Mouvement Desjardins and Nova Scotia Pension Agency (the “Consortium”) today announced it has acquired 100% of the economic interests in the design-build-finance-operate (“DBFO”) concession rights associated with the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project (“S2S”)...from Macquarie Essential Assets Partnership (“MEAP”)...a private unlisted fund established in 2003..."
* * * * *
News item, June 10, 2005:
"VANCOUVER (CP) - The British Columbia government has signed a deal with a transportation consortium to design, build and manage improvement to the Sea-to-Sky Highway north of Vancouver.

"Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said the project is on time and on budget after he announced the $400 million agreement with the S2S Transportation Group..."
In a 2009 letter to the National Post editor, Falcon had more to say about "on time and on budget:"
"Re: Vancouver Should Pay, editorial, Jan. 13.

"This editorial incorrectly stated that the Sea-to-Sky Highway expansion is "behind schedule" and "over budget." The fact is that the $600-million improvement project is both on budget and on schedule..."
A 2012 report by the Auditor General noted the capital costs were $795 million and reminded that the public private partnership was responsible for building only part of the Sea to Sky Highway,
"...the Province (represented by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) entered into a P3 agreement with the Sea-to-Sky Highway Investment Limited Partnership (a group of private companies) to design, build and finance about two-thirds of the highway improvements and to operate and maintain the entire highway for 25 years. The ministry is responsible for managing the remaining one-third of improvements..."
We shall examine whether or not the project was "on budget" or slightly over the $400 $600 $795 million figure.

From B.C. Public Accounts:


Fiscal Year Payments Future Obligations Grand Total
2006 $ 7,104,157
2007 $ 25,369,209
2008 $ 36,364,125
2009 $ 53,795,523
2010 $ 58,293,523
2011 $ 63,003,619
2012 $ 66,140,676
2013 $ 58,173,389
2014 $ 51,000,000
2015 $ 50,000,000
2016 $ 50,000,000
2017 $ 50,000,000
2018 $ 49,000,000
2019 & beyond $ 535,000,000
Totals $ 368,244,221 $ 785,000,000 $ 1,153,244,221

From The Vancouver Sun, December 23, 2005:
The portion of the highway between West Vancouver and Squamish has the largest traffic volume, with an average of 13,500 vehicle movements each day.
The Squamish - Whistler traffic counted about 8,000 per day. Averaging the two segments over a full year suggests about 4 million vehicles using Sea to Sky Highway annually. With operating cost around $60 million a year, each vehicle movement costs taxpayers about $15. If traffic has grown by 15%, the subsidy would be about $12. However, the subsidy would be higher if we factored in the cost of the one-third portion of the Highway paid for directly by the province.

So, if you are a taxpayer paying tolls to cross the Fraser River or if you are using one of BC Ferries' profitable routes — Tsawwassen - Swartz Bay and Departure Bay - Horseshoe Bay — take satisfaction in the financial assistance you provide through subsidies to the poor folks headed for Whistler ski hills.

More than three years ago, Laila Yuile wrote excellent pieces on the Sea to Sky Highway. Click HERE to begin looking at her work.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beat reporters left the building

In 2010, the small city of Bell, CA was front page news nationwide. Over 17 years, the city manager and other municipal officials bilked tax payers out of millions of dollars. The LA Times won a Pulitzer for reporting on this story but it had paid no routine attention to this "cesspool of corruption" during the many years the fraud was active.

Deadbeats, the September 12 episode of WNYC's series ON THE MEDIA (available by podcast) examines the failure of journalists to hold the powerful accountable.

The entire program is worthy of your time because the same decline in beat reporting has occurred here. If, as some of us suspect, high level political and commercial corruption exists in British Columbia, it is a safe bet that the corporate media has no ability or interest in reporting the stories.

 The following is an introduction to the ON THE MEDIA report.

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Ferry innovation? Wazzat? (Updated)

Eighteen years after Norway committed to using LNG and CNG powered ferries, BC's highly paid fleet commanders are dipping toes into alternative fuels. Three ferries to be constructed in Poland will have duel fuel capacity: LNG and diesel.

However, innovators in Norway have moved beyond natural gas. Sustainability expert Bjørn K. Haugland believes that within a few years, most Norwegian ferries will be battery powered. Siemens, a multinational engineering and electronics giant, provides detail about a new vessel that is only a little smaller than those coming from Poland in BC Ferries' $252 million purchase.
"Together with the Norwegian shipyard Fjellstrand, Siemens has developed the world's first electrically powered car ferry. The 80-meter vessel can carry 120 cars and 360 passengers. The vessel currently serving the route uses approx one million liters of diesel a year and emits 2680 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 37 metric tons of nitrogen oxides.

"The ferry has been specially designed to accommodate the requirements of an electric drive system. As a catamaran with two slim hulls, it offers less resistance in the water than a conventional vessel. Furthermore, the hulls are made of aluminum instead of steel, which is conventionally used. Rather than a diesel engine, the ferry is equipped with electric motors to drive the ship's two screws. The new vessel weighs only half as much as a ferry of conventional design.

"The crucial feature of the new ferry is that it only takes 10 minutes to recharge the batteries. Hundreds of ferries link Norway's mainland to the islands off its coast and provide routes across its many fjords. Using today's battery and recharging technology, all crossings of up to 30 minutes in duration could be served by electrically powered vessels."
The following was published here in November of 2013 and it describes another vessel that was proposed for use in Norway:

With 20 directors on two boards and two well compensated ferry commissioners overseeing by far the highest priced ferry managers in the world, BC Ferries should be world leaders in innovation.

Not quite. Norwegian ferry operator Fjord1 has a dozen LNG ferries in service or on order, with the largest equipped to carry more than 250 vehicles. Now, they've announced the next generation vessel:
"Multi Maritime has, in close cooperation with the ferry operator Fjord1, launched a new green ferry concept. The ferry is a “plug-in” LNG hybrid, which incorporates several features to reduce the ferry’s environmental footprint. The concept has been developed as a part of Fjord1′s bid for operating the Lavik-Oppedal ferry link in western Norway.

The most eye catching feature is the two Flettner rotors which acts as sails. For the Lavik-Oppedal link, which has wind conditions suitable for the Flettner rotors, it has been calculated that the rotors contribute with minimum 12% of the ferry’s total energy consumption. The theoretical potential is significantly bigger..."
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Next we sell off naming rights for schools - REPLAY

This article first published September 2011 remains timely.

Private business promoters aim to eliminate public enterprises through privatization, contracting out and outsourcing. They promote the myth that delivery of services by private, often multinational, companies gains cost and service efficiencies. Thus, BC Liberals, obedient clients to business masters, degrade public agencies and support quasi-public mongrels such as Community Living BC, author of the Ridge Meadows recycling fiasco.

Accountability is unclear so politicians believe they are shielded from blame for failures. Agencies serve another political purpose because loyal party supporters can be rewarded at public expense with untendered contracts and lucrative sinecures outside the professional civil service.

Preference for services to be delivered to the public by private corporations is a matter of bias, often founded on selective evidence. There is no intrinsic reason why a global business with foreign headquarters and a shady history, Accenture for example, should be more efficient and effective than a crown corporation or public agency, provided the latter is not crippled by people or policies imposed for non-business reasons.

Private enterprises, perhaps because of their focus on maximizing profits, have been associated with wrongdoing in delivering essential social services. For example, ProPublica reported on:
"how two [Pennsylvania] judges there carried out a scheme in which they took $2.8 million in kickbacks from a private juvenile prison company in exchange for lengthy sentences."
The Economist examined the operation of private prisons in the USA and found:
"that firms in the prison business reap profits by billing government for rather more than their initial lowball estimates while scrimping in ways that may make prisons less secure."
A generation ago, public education was intended to provide universal access, allowing roughly equal prospects for betterment to citizens. Now, according to Christy Clark, the government's focus will not be on delivering the best possible education to learners, instead it will promote a market driven, for-profit education industry, recruiting wealthy students from overseas.

We already have substantial private initiatives in secondary level schooling. For example, West Vancouver School Board offers academic and sports programs to international students. Regular students may be subsidizing this effort through foregone services and attention. There is so little transparency that taxpayers can not be certain whether the focus on fees paying foreign students is hurtful to resident children. It is clear though that ancillary social costs for policing, transit, healthcare and other public services are excluded from WVSB's financial analysis, the burden simply left for taxpayers at provincial and federal levels to shoulder. Other school districts pursue similar commercial objectives.

This week Premier Clark announced that more BC students will be elbowed aside in a campaign to further commercialize our schools. She aims:
"to increase the number of post-secondary students from other countries studying in B.C."
The intended commercialization of schools is not a considered program of educators, it is a wedge, created for the future benefit of private entrepreneurs. It is the dream of some to covert British Columbia's public school system into an agency to educate only the poor and disadvantaged, the children of little commercial value, while the remaining children take taxpayer provided payment vouchers to private schools of choice.

Last year, Donald Gutstein, wrote in his Georgia Straight article War on public schools rages:
"Supporters of public education need to realize they’re in the middle of a war for its future, and they’re losing.

"The Fraser Institute’s school report-card program is merely the opening salvo in a campaign to strip public education of its funding and direct the resources to the private and nonprofit sectors.

"...Lost in the debate are the goals of universally accessible, publicly funded education, such as preparing children for citizenship, cultivating a skilled work force, and developing critical-thinking skills."
The next step in the BC Liberal plan may be to sell naming rights to school buildings and school programs. You won't send your child to grade one at Adams Road Elementary School. It will be to the McDonalds Introduction to School Program at the Walmart Family Education Center of North Cloverdale.
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The price we pay

Trailer - THE PRICE WE PAY - a feature documentary by Harold Crooks from Filmoption International on Vimeo.

Playing in Vancouver as part of the VIFF, International Village #9, October 4 - 1:00 pm and October 5 - 8:45 pm.

Nobles did not pay taxes, and apparently some people would like to keep it that way! In his latest incendiary investigative documentary, Harold Crooks (Surviving Progress) examines the sordid history of offshore tax havens and the dire contemporary ramifications of such malfeasance. It’s not just oligarchs (our new ‘nobles’?) that are the problem, but our shiniest corporations (Apple, Google, Amazon, etc.). The dollars involved are staggering and could go a long way to solving the world’s problems.

Originally created by City of London bankers in the 1950s, the worldwide web of tax havens now puts over half the world’s stock of money beyond the reach of public treasuries. Nation states are being reshaped by this offshoring of the world’s wealth into "competition" zones that battle for investment and jobs. By shifting the tax burden from big corporations and the wealthy—citizens of nowhere for tax purposes—to the middle class and poor, they are paving the way to historic levels of inequality. This story is told by crusading journalists, tax-justice campaigners and former finance and technology industry insiders now free to speak frankly.

Remedies proposed in Harold Crook’s (Surviving Progress) documentary include adapting tax rules to the novel ways Internet companies create wealth by exploiting their users, and financial transaction ("Robin Hood") taxes on the trillions of dollars churning through global financial markets—in what former Wall Street and UK financial insiders say is in large measure “socially useless” investment. The takeaway for viewers is this: in a world where corporate and financial wealth no longer has a fixed address, democracy can only be preserved by acting cooperatively beyond borders.

Variety review: Toronto Film Review: ‘The Price We Pay’

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Government serves insiders and elites

It is clear that BC Liberal strategy is to reward insiders and elites. That's been shown in countless ways, particularly since Christy Clark took office as Premier in 2011. Shortly after her return to Victoria, a handful of senior civil servants departed with millions in severance rewards, paid even if the ex-employees crossed the street and immediately gained equally rewarding work elsewhere, as all did. More millions of dollars were paid as severance to senior Liberals following the 2013 election, including almost half a million to the manager who steered BC Place to a steady run of losses.

However, people outside the Liberal orbit do not get the same generous treatment. Beverley Maxwell had been director of certification for the B.C. College of Teachers and was terminated in 2012 when the province eliminated the College. Her contract required payment of severance but government chose not to pay. Ms. Maxwell went to Supreme Court and was awarded $312,545. Again, Government chose not to pay. Despite a very weak case, Government filed an appeal, which they lost earlier this month.

Beverley Maxwell was not a Liberal insider; she was a professional educator who had worked 16 years for the College of Teachers. Therefore, to get the payment she was due, Ms. Maxwell had to wait two years and spend tens of thousand of dollars on lawyers and court fees.

Of course, the main issue in recent days has been government's refusal to negotiate or arbitrate with public school teachers, people who are clearly not insiders or elites. A Premier who sends her own child to an upscale private school seems not bothered that hundreds of thousands of children are out of class. The government that has twice had its efforts to legislate teachers' working conditions declared unconstitutional is now threatening to try a third time, even though numerous legal opinions state they are offending the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The official Liberal position is that educators are greedy and government has no additional money for schools. However, during recent years, budgets for post secondary institutions have kept ahead of inflation while budgets for elementary and secondary public schools have fallen behind, despite a greater load of special needs and ESL students. Instead of providing funds to deal with unique challenges, this government withholds assessment resources and pretends special needs students exist in fewer numbers than they do.

However, the Premier and her ministers have not had the same tight-fisted messages for private schools. Those operations have benefited from increased public funding. Here is a comparison of funding changes, showing public schools and select private schools.

Obviously, the individual schools here are ones that serve the province's economic elites. Perhaps that explains the unequal treatment.

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