Friday, July 31, 2009

Thanks to readers

In April, I began blogging, mostly as an exercise to improve writing skills left too long unpracticed. I was also trying to sooth an occasional urge to rant about public issues. Unfortunately, the wife sometimes develops hearing deficits during moments of my best eloquence.

I first corresponded with political figures about issues that caught my attention but quickly gave that up. Mostly, it was like speaking carefully enunciated words to deaf people.

I scan many works in this blogosphere. Some contributors are prolific and ripe with intelligent commentary. Others are merely prolific. But, it doesn't take much time to sort through twaddle to find worthwhile missives. I particularly enjoy a few career journalists who blog regularly but still uphold the need for balance, fairness and thoughtful analysis.

Yet, I also admire those who focus near unrestrained passions on particular causes. Someday, that diligence may be recognized and rewarded. If certain events are proven as shadowy as they seem, many voices will claim recognition for raising the issues. In truth, credit will belong to a few blogging expositors who refuse to be silent. They have already shamed main media for the lack of inquiry into political and economic intrigues of Campbell's Liberal government.

Of course, what pleases any blogger most is readership. Happily, the number of visitors to Northern Insights has grown rapidly. July doubled the visitor count and almost tripled the page views, in comparison to June. Particularly to the regulars, I offer sincere thanks. I appreciate your emails and occasional comments.
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Highest and best use

In "Stream of aboriginal tradition hits a rocky patch," The Globe and Mail examines how the declining Fraser River salmon fishery impacts the traditions of people who for thousands of years relied on harvesting food fish. We present here an alternative that deals with present day and future realities by charting a new course for a major river system.

We should face the inevitable and act now to maximize the Fraser River's economic potential. Since the salmon fishery is moribund, harness the river for hydro power, using the Columbia River as a model. Admittedly, the Fraser is shorter but the Columbia has 14 major dams on the main stem and about 400 in the overall system. North Americans generate huge amounts of clean electricity on one river. Additionally, a major dam can be a powerful tourist draw, particularly when close to a city, nicely lighted and effectively promoted.

Under the current government strategy, private power producers entering the market are forced to commute to far away wilderness lands of the mid-coast and
the north. That seems inconvenient and inefficient when there are potential power generating locations closer to urban markets. Unlike the wilderness sites, the Fraser is already well served by modern roads and rail lines. Electrical transmission lines are in place or in planning so the profit potential of Fraser River power is far superior.

I haven't even discussed the gains from flood control and, without need to protect fish, we can eliminate expensive wastewater treatment and merely direct effluent into the river. It's mostly natural and organic anyway.

Along the Fraser, First Nations people could be guaranteed a reasonable allotment of canned salmon from Alaska or perhaps a share from coastal salmon farms that will be expanded once the wild fish are gone.

Sure the Fraser's landscape and ecosystem will change a bit but think of the wealth that would be generated for those well enough connected to acquire franchises to control the river. Premier Campbell would be celebrated in history for solving the power needs of British Columbia for years to come and for enriching a whole new generation of energy traders.
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

I wonder why

  • Two of us can fly on Air Canada tickets from Seattle to Paris, return, for $1,673 but if we fly Air Canada from Vancouver to Paris, return, we would pay $2,642, same days, same flight class, same intermediate stopover (Montreal) and same currency. After removing taxes, fees and surcharges, the passenger departing from Canada is required to pay 105% more by the same carrier.
  • Canon Canada wanted $286 to ship me a new battery and charger for a digital camera. I purchased the same items from a New York retailer for $128, including exchange, delivery, customs entry and taxes. The same Canon branded products cost 123% more in Canada.
  • Andrew Saxton, Conservative Party MP, mails a one page flyer throughout his North Vancouver riding that is merely an ad hominem attack on Michael Ignatieff. No policy discussion, no information for constituents, just a personal attack on a political rival. Of course, there is a response coupon marked "NO POSTAGE REQUIRED." What a waste of resources and an abuse of the parliamentary franking privilege.
  • The BC Liberals favor a regressive tax system that emphasizes tolls and flat rate levies as the preferred way of raising revenues for transportation. Why not use punitive gas taxes to encourage better fleet efficiency and raise revenues for transit. If the Liberals allow tolls on all bridges and a vehicle levy as desired by BC Transit, a person driving a Honda Insight rated at 72 mpg will pay the same as one driving a BMW M5 with its 500 HP engine delivering 13 mpg. Read the current story at the fine blog of Stephen Rees.
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Best faces forward

Word Precision - Enough Said department - from Craig Smith's Blog:
I'll give the "birthers" the benefit of the doubt and assume they're morons and not out and out bigots.
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First, they lied to the poor people

From July 2009, published here after the BC Liberals reversed a promise before the May 2009 election that HST was “not on the radar.”
First, they lied to the poor people
And I did not speak out
Because I was not yet poor.

Then they lied to the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they lied to the wild salmon fishers
And I did not speak out
Because I did not fish for salmon.

Then they lied to the healthcare providers
And I did not speak out
Because I was healthy.

Then they lied to the educators and students
And I did not speak out
Because I was finished with schooling.

Then they lied about my pension plan
And there was no one who would
speak out for me.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Unswerving devotion to being perverse

Let's hope they know more about managing investigations of crime than they do about managing public relations.

July 23, Thomas Braidwood issued his report recommending severe restrictions on the use of conducted energy weapons. That is, he issued it to the public. Before that date, the report had been delivered to the Province of British Columbia. That enabled Solicitor-General Kash Heed to review and immediately announce the government's acceptance of every recommendation of the Braidwood Commission. He said the policy applied to every police force in the province, regardless of uniform color. No pussy footing. No back pedaling. No self-serving delays and rationalizations. Heed, as the Minister responsible, spoke directly to the public, clearly and succinctly.

Deputy Chief Doug LePard announced the same day that Vancouver City Police was accepting and implementing the Braidwood recommendation fully and immediately.

RCMP spoke out publicly too. Not through the Commissioner, nor one of the eight Deputy Commissioners, nor one of 25 Assistant Commissioners, 62 Chief Superintendents or 168 Superintendents or 380 Inspectors. No, they sent out a Sergeant from media relations to give the RCMP's response to Braidwood. An officer ranking somewhere about number 3,000 on the command list, spoke but about nothing substantive. Tim Shields said, "It's too early to say whether the RCMP will comply with the directive to adopt Braidwood's recommendations."

Hands up all those who think the RCMP learned about Braidwood's recommendations on the same day as the public release. I do not. Like other police forces in British Columbia, they were aware of the Solicitor-General's related directions. And, even if they had no advance copy of the report, they heard every bit of evidence placed before the Braidwood Inquiry. That tilted directly toward the conclusions drawn by the Commissioner. No objective person who listened attentively throughout the Inquiry was surprised at the Judge's findings.

A day after the release of Braidwood's report, Premier Campbell publicly stated RCMP Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass had assured him that the recommendations would be implemented fully. Why did the police force miss the opportunity to send a senior officer before the public to say and do the right thing without a puerile exhibition of reluctance?

The Alberta RCMP bunkhouse ensured that nobody missed their calculated disdain for the Braidwood Inquiry. Alberta Division's first comment was issued by a lowly Corporal who grandly stated that the Inquiry's finding applied only in B.C. That will be a difficult position to argue before the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta when the next wrongful death action is filed.

Braidwood hired medical and technical experts to examine the weapons issue. He listened to use of force experts and other police officers, criminologists and behaviorists. Braidwood has a lengthy and honorable career as a high court judge. He has no financial or personal interests at stake and he assembled a highly experienced and skilled staff to assist him in making the conclusions. In short, this is the most thorough and credible examination of conducted energy weapons held anywhere, anytime. Contrast that with the RCMP's acquisition and deployment of model X26 Tasers with no credible independent testing and very little internal analysis.

Commissioner Braidwood's report was accepted fully by the elected government responsible for policing in British Columbia. Ultimately, the RCMP work according to directions of the BC Government or they withdraw from contract policing in this province. Why did they not embrace the inevitable, congratulate the Inquiry Commission for its outstanding work and have the Deputy Commissioner announce they would fall in line with every other police force in BC regarding Taser use.

Throughout this entire Inquiry process and the initiating tragedy, the RCMP acted regularly in their worst interest. Whenever called upon to make a decision, they made the wrong one, beginning from the day of Robert Dziekanski's death. There is no award for consistency in being wrong but if there were, the RCMP would win it hands down. Not a record of pride for anyone.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

When 2 + 2 = 8

British Columbia Premier Deceiver Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced a plan to combine PST (provincial sales tax) and GST (goods and services tax) into HST (harmonized sales tax).

The new tax rate is 12%, which appears logical when a 7% and a 5% tax are added together. And, Deceiver Campbell says the move is "revenue neutral."

But wait, he also says, "Business will save $1.9 billion by this move." In my world, when someone wins, others lose. The revenue neutral tax change that saves business hugely will cost consumers dearly, somewhere about $1.9 billion.

You ask, "How do they do this?" Business saves because PST now paid on equipment and consumed materials will become a tax credit and be refunded to that favored class, especially machinery intensive operations such as private power producers and railways. Consumers will pay more because the tax will apply more widely, including real property, services, meals, used clothing, etc., etc.

Did those river rapers make another huge gain?

Are we using the tax system to encourage greater automation when employment taxes (EI, CPP & MSP) are soon to rise significantly. Next step: employment opportunities head south.

"Drummer" comments at Public Eye Online:
Ah yes, I remember the extensive debate on this from the governing party during the recent BC election campaign....

Oh well. By not discussing this during the election campaign way, way back, two months ago, it's not like they are breaking a promise. That might have been unethical.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chat with the Globe's Mark Hume

Title: Mark Hume discusses corruption probe in B.C. politics
Date: Wednesday July 22, 2009
Time: 12:00PM PDT

Mark Hume of The Globe and Mail British Columbia bureau takes questions on the political corruption trial that is reaching all the way to the office of Premier Gordon Campbell.

Update, July 22, 2009:

A journalist with another organization, explaining reluctance to participate in online comment forums:
I’m not interested in sparking some sort of “discussion” that invariably features “anonymous” commentators on blogs, who engage in character assassination and spew uninformed myths and drivel in the guise of serious debate.

Preferring civil discussions most of the time, I think that is not unreasonable. However, I suspect for some seasoned members of mass media, drivel aggravates much less than reasoned arguments about journalistic failures.

Regardless, congratulations to Mark Hume and The Globe and Mail for providing this two way experience in communication. Most of the ground covered was familiar but one comment by Hume was uncompromising:

At this point I don't really think the Premier can answer questions about this with any credibility. What we need is to see the government record....the emails and documents surrounding the BC Rail deal, and the evidence gathered by police during their investigation. The best hope to clear the air is that this case goes to trial.

The Globe and Mail BC Bureau opened the Liberal's closet door and started rattling the skeletons. Gary Mason is on top of this story and today writes All right, Campbell, time to talk about the e-mails. He says, "Government's handling of this matter is disgraceful and shows nothing but contempt for the concerns of B.C. citizens." Don't miss it.
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Self interest before public interest

An earlier post "Power from the powerful" listed the following political insiders and their connections to private power production.
  • Geoff Plant, former BC Liberal Attorney General, now chair of Renaissance Power.
  • Mark Grant, BC Liberal executive director, resigns December 12, 2008 to join Rupert Peace Power.
  • David Cyr, former Assistant to BC Liberal Minister Mike de Jong, is now a director at Plutonic Power.
  • Robert Poore, recently worked under the Provincial Revenue Minister of the Province of BC, now is a senior director at Plutonic Power.
  • Tom Syer, who has held a variety of senior positions in the BC Government including Gordon Campbell's Deputy Chief of Staff, is now a director at Plutonic Power.
  • Bill Irwin, after holding key positions in the BC Ministries of Land and Water, and Crown Lands, now is a director at Plutonic Power.
  • Bruce Young, has held several high profile positions with the BC Liberal party and lobbied his own party on behalf of Katabatic Power is listed as a director of Atla Energy.
  • Stephen Kukucha, former senior policy advisor for the BC Ministry of Environment, is now president and CEO of Atla Energy.
  • Paul Taylor, after his work as President and CEO of crown corporation ICBC as well as high level positions in the BC Government, is now President and CEO of Naikun Wind Energy Group.
  • Michael J. O'Conner, former President and CEO of Crown Corporation BC Transit, now holds senior positions at Naikun.
  • Jackie Hamilton, formerly held various BC Government environmental assessment and regulatory management positions, is now a VP at Cloudworks Energy.
  • And last but not least, Bob Herath, former Assistant Regional Water Manager for the BC Ministry of Environment is now with Syntaris Power. Bob Herath signed water licences in 2006-7 that are now owned by the same company he left gov't for in 2007. Syntaris Power
Common Ground in Stolen Rivers names additional associates of government or government entities who serve or served private power producers:
  • Patrick Kinsella, Co-chair of 2001 and 2005 BC Liberal provincial campaigns, has consulted for Alcan, Accenture and now Plutonic Power. Alleged to have worked for both CN and BC Rail as BC Rail was being sold to CN.
  • Doug Bishop, formerly 32 years with BC Hydro and its subsidiary Powerex, now with Plutonic Power/GE.
  • Bruce Ripley spent the last 2 of his 16 years at BC Hydro as VP Engineering, now President and COO of Plutonic Power/GE.
  • Elisha McCallum (Moreno), after 7 years with BC Hydro as a media relations manager, moved to a directorship with Plutonic Power/GE.
  • Michael Margolick, held positions in resource and strategic planning at BC Hydro, now is the Vice President of Power and Transmission planning at Naikun Wind.
  • Robert Price, after a 30-year career at BC Hydro and Power Authority which culminated as the utility's Vancouver Island transmission line construction, supervision and operations manager, now a member of the Hawkeye 'team'.
  • Paul Adams, after a 33-year career with BC Hydro in which he held senior management positions, now is another 'team' member at Hawkeye.
  • Ron Monk, former BC Hydro Engineer, now employed by Kerr Wood Leidal engineering firm used by IPPs.
  • Wayne Chambers, a former BC Hydro power plant and substation operator, now a manager at Cloudworks.
  • Alexander Kiess, after long career with BC Hydro in management, now works as a consultant to Syntaris Power.
Save Our Rivers Society needs help. Support them financially, if you can. Read about the issues at their website.

The deceivers sold off BC Rail and much of its vast land bank with agreements they still hide. They built the Whistler Highway without tolls to benefit friendly land developers who will subdivide and sell private property along the route including the former BCR lands in Howe Sound, north of West Vancouver.

We are losing wild rivers; we are losing wilderness lands. These are stolen from future generations while we stand aside, wait and watch.

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No, not a cult

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965):

"Civilization can only revive when there shall come into being in a number of individuals a new tone of mind, independent of the prevalent one among the crowds, and in opposition to it -- a tone of mind which will gradually win influence over the collective one, and in the end determine its character. Only an ethical movement can rescue us from barbarism, and the ethical comes into existence only in individuals."
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Railgate opens?

Gary Mason, The Globe and Mail, "A landmark ruling puts B.C. Premier in the hot seat", July 21, 2009:

. . . It's not a stretch to say yesterday's ruling by Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett of the Supreme Court of British Columbia could determine the future not only of a potentially explosive political corruption trial under way in the province, but the government of Premier Gordon Campbell as well.

. . . A court case that no one seemed much interested in just a few short months ago suddenly has all the attributes of a political spellbinder.
The parallels with Watergate become more eerie by the day.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

"The job's too big for us"

A decade ago, media companies were fat and so was their sense of entitlement. Newspapers and broadcasters were flourishing and to them, the Internet was an untapped lode, ready to be exploited. Convergence would add greater rewards, leading to unprecedented profitability. Business plans were bullet proof, or so the investors believed. Except reality proved different. There was no divine right of extravagant profits. Acquisition costs were extreme, savings from consolidation ephemeral, Internet revenue streams elusive.

Craigslist unexpectedly proved a web phenomenon; some characterized it an assassin of newspapers. With business lost to websites specialized in employment, automobiles and real estate, billions of easy advertising dollars disappeared from the print world. Lower revenue led to blander content, with investigative and analytical resources cut severely. Newspapers no longer set the agenda for public discussion.

Together, emergence of the Internet and decline of content meant that newspapers were no longer indispensable. Investor Warren Buffet says their pricing power was based on being essential and they were only essential to advertisers as long as they were essential to readers. Erosion set in rapidly, affecting even the largest publishers. Buffet says, "They have the possibility of going to unending losses."

New Yorker Jimmy Breslin once wrote, "Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.” Given its present troubled state, the newspaper industry seldom takes chances. In all but a few corners, there is little commitment to discovery, no interest in hard targets, limited passion and certainly, no rage.

A few journalists in British Columbia's major media could turn in their jerseys and take seats on the bench. These are the tired ones, people able to report only fully revealed stories, unwilling to step outside comfortable limits of polite inquiry. Investigative reporting is not dead everywhere but, in British Columbia's print and broadcast outlets, it is moribund. This is caused largely, but not entirely, by financial pressures. Some journalists, have simply grown indifferent.

On Bill Good's July 10 show, a caller said he thinks the Liberals have been getting a free ride from the media in BC and that issues such as BC Rail have not been investigated fully. As before, that comment brought a defensive reaction that suggested the newsmen were bewildered:
It’s difficult to report because all that’s out there right now are things that are said in court by the defence, who make allegations, make statements based on we don’t know what and there is nothing to really hang your hat on other than suspicions of what may or may not be true. The prosecution doesn’t say anything. The police don’t say anything. So you’ve got these things that are sort of unwinding in court without much detail behind it.

. . . The problem is that when it’s in front of a judge who’s making decisions on something like this, everybody takes the position, correctly from a lot of lawyers points of view, that until the judge rules and makes some rulings on various aspects of that case, there’s not very much for anyone to say or to even have the need to say anything. This is the problem that many reporters have. Where do you go on something like that?

I do not expect this journalist to win a 2009 Michener Award for outstanding public service.
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Not only cream rises to the top

Six weeks after a sexual harassment complaint was dismissed due to procedural errors, the RCMP officer at the centre of the issue was promoted.
Sgt. Tim Korman is currently stationed in Rosthern, Sask., but four years ago when he was a corporal in the Buffalo Narrows detachment he was accused of sexually harassing an officer under his supervision.
An investigation determined the allegation was well-founded, but a discipline process related to the complaint was terminated because the Saskatchewan commander at the time, Darrell McFadyen, botched the paperwork.
The rest of the story from CBC
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Do you care?

Radio talk shows are often wastelands of puffery, babble and prejudice. Well conducted programs, with knowledgeable listeners, occasionally break through with moments of simple passion.

One of those occurred recently on Bill Good's CKNW show. A Vancouver Island caller named Mike thought too much had been made of the Burrard Street Bridge bicycle lane changes. He said:
In Vancouver there, you’re are all high and mighty about getting off your cars and getting on bikes and walking around. You live in the biggest clear cut in Canada, in Vancouver. You don’t care about the fish, you don’t care about the damming of the rivers, you don’t care about the heart and the soul of British Columbia. You get what you deserve. So, if you want condos from coast to coast, you’re going to get it. Congratulations.

You should care. You should care about the fact we can’t take our kids fishing and catch salmon the way we used to right off the dock. You can’t get spring salmon 40 or 50 pounds anymore. That people are dragging the bottom and ruining the deep sea coral and sponges. We have nothing to pass on to our children. You should care. That’s what British Columbia used to be about. It’s what makes it special. It’s what makes it different and unique and vibrant. And you don’t care. All you care about is a fight over a stupid bridge in the middle of downtown Vancouver.

Mike struck a chord. I grew up on the coast near Powell River. At 10, I skippered an almost 8 foot punt with a powerful 2 HP Elgin outboard. We fished almost every day in summer and seldom came back empty, pulling in salmon, cod, dogfish and things with names we could only could guess. We shared the ocean with seals, seabirds and sometimes a pod of orca. We sunned and swam for hours most days from May until October. Every year, we could sit by the clear river that emptied into the ocean by our house and watch spawning salmon so thick they formed a barely moving raft, covering the river from side to side. Today that same river depends on a fish hatchery for its life.

Mike, I care. These little men are the fifth generation of our family to walk on this ocean beach. Will generations to come have the pleasure?

We hope.

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"... disclosure of documents (potentially thousands) ..."

Could there be other surprises about to surface in examination of the Dziekanski homicide? One has to wonder why the Inquiry anticipates soon receiving thousands of documents for examination. This was the time when Thomas Braidwood expected to be writing his final report.

Department of Justice lawyer Helen Roberts represented the RCMP at the Braidwood Inquiry, until recently. She was replaced by another DOJ lawyer after accepting responsibility for late disclosure of what may be significant correspondence between senior police officers.

However, Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb said Roberts is not entirely responsible for the disclosure problem. "The simple fact is the RCMP should have produced that document months and months before," he said.

Perhaps they have now discovered a few more records that should have been produced months ago.


Job Title: Temporary Research Assistant
Reports to Manager, Finance and Administration (Functionally reports to Legal and Policy Researcher)
Time frame: Full-time, mid-July to end of August (slight possibility of extending into September)

Job Purpose
  • This position was created to address an expected large disclosure of documents (potentially thousands) that will require detailed analysis and organization.
  • The position will work in concert with 2-3 other staff members to analyze, catalogue and organize documents for relevance, and to prepare for potential further investigation.
Duties and responsibilities
  • Read disclosure material carefully, capturing detail and noting relevant items.
  • Organize material according to multiple categories (relevance, subject, etc).
  • Communicate and coordinate with other members of the research team.
  • Summarize findings succinctly for head Researcher and Counsel.
  • Provide coverage and potentially coordinate research during team member holidays.
  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • Excellent reading and writing skills
  • Fast learner with sound judgment
  • Strong aptitude for research; organized and detail-oriented
  • High degree of initiative and able to self-supervise
  • Legal background and experience in due disclosure will be beneficial
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Freedom of expression, perhaps

For this post, I planned to review the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the BC case regarding advertising that discomforted our political establishment. In it, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority appealed against a loss in British Columbia's Appeal Court in their dispute with the Canadian Federation of Students and BC Teacher's Federation.

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision that reinforces the right to express political thoughts in public places. I thought I would condense a lengthy written judgment and show a few important paragraphs that clarified the rights of small groups to speak out against those who hold power. I believe this is an enormous issue. Freedom of expression ought not to be interfered with by political and commercial forces.

Yet, as I tried to deconstruct the wordy judgment, I could not condense it without losing some of its power. For that reason, I restrict my comments and invite you to read the judgment.
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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Citizen journalists and citizen critics

An American FCC Commissioner since 2001, Michael Copps opposes media consolidation. He believes it has gone too far and thinks 70% of Americans agree. Common complaints allege that concentration quiets the voices of diversity and that monopolistic operators are inevitably loyal to business interests ahead of public interests.

Various reactive movements try to balance the landscape and make media more accessible. Some, like Google Blogger, provide online publishing facilities to almost all comers. Others, like NewsTrust, provide opportunities for readers to examine, evaluate and rate the works of journalists.I am a founding member of NewsTrust and was fairly active for a time, particularly during the U.S. 2008 election campaign. I enjoyed the experience and learned from it. To write a credible review of a legitimate journalist's work, I had to be a much more attentive reader, aware of elements used by writers to massage, distort or report information. In fact, I gained respect for numerous main stream and new media writers who consistently present high quality work. Yet, there is a clinging miasma arising, occasionally from well founded sources, but mostly from the putrescent underbelly of right wing propaganda machines - and, yes, I include Faux News there.

NewsTrust examines journals from many parts of the world but its audience is American and the website reflects that fact. It is a noble experiment, providing opportunities for citizens to participate intelligently in the news media by evaluating and commenting on published work. It also helps serious readers winnow literary chaff that is presented endlessly throughout North America. I suspect a similar site, focused on Canadian media, would be worthwhile.

The following paragraphs explain the organization's roots and are extracted from their website.

A nonprofit news network to promote quality journalism, NewsTrust helps readers make more informed decisions. The website features quality news and opinions, rated by members, based on quality, not just popularity. NewsTrust reviewers evaluate each story against core principles of journalism, such as fairness, accuracy, context and sourcing.

Founded in 2005 and based in Mill Valley, California, NewsTrust is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with an educational purpose. It was started to address growing problems of information overload, misinformation and mistrust on the Internet, caused by the rise of opinion news and amateur journalism, as well as media consolidation and newsroom cutbacks.

The NewsTrust community is growing rapidly and includes news consumers, experienced journalists, educators and students -- with over 10,000 registered members to date. Partners include leading media organizations like PBS, Scientific American, Huffington Post, Global Voices, Link TV, the Council on Foreign Relations -- as well as journalism teachers and students at Stanford University, Northeastern, Stony Brook, University of Nevada and Arizona State University.

NewsTrust has received a substantial multi-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation, to expand the social news network and bring it to a broader community. They have also received support from a wide range of donors, including the Sunlight Foundation, the Mitch Kapor Foundation, the Ayrshire Foundation and the Tides Foundation, as well as Craig Newmark (Craigslist), Doug Carlston (Public Radio International), Hap Perry, Fabrice Florin and other private donors.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Canwest Global reaching new levels

Vancouver's Province newspaper began daily publication in 1898 and the Vancouver Sun in 1912. Both were folded into Pacific Press in 1957 although initially that was a production and distribution convenience and editorial elements of each paper remained autonomous. Ownership shifted a few times and by 2000, resided with the Asper Family's Canwest Global Communications empire.

Media critics such as former Sun editorial board member Charles Campbell often criticize the Vancouver operation. Campbell said the "culture at the Vancouver Sun is incredibly poisonous." Writing in Adbusters, Sean Condon said:
. . . once CanWest Global Communications got its hands on the Sun in 2000, it slashed funding, silenced writers and allowed an inexperienced, and strangely insecure, management to take control. The paper has never been as irrelevant or dysfunctional as it is today.

It appears that new ownership may be in control soon as Canwest Global struggles to avoid bankruptcy.
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Changing scene of political commentary

Clearly, journalism itself is not dying. What is dying -- and rightfully so -- is the staid, establishment-serving, passion-free, access-desperate, mindless stenographic model to which establishment journalism rigidly adheres.

From Glenn Greenwald, lawyer, author, media critic, blogger at, wrote the linked article after the Washington Post termination of Dan Froomkin's online White House Watch. After five and one half years, Froomkin's online presence was the busiest part of the WAPO website and firing him led to an almost unprecedented uproar from readers. Some blamed The Post for wanting to eliminate its most effective progressive voice. Froomkin detracted from the Post's passel of war mongering necons and fossils who now fill their opinion columns. These include David Broder 79, William Bennett 66, Charles Krauthammer 59, and George Will 68.

Media critics, such as Greenwald, believe Froomkin's "practice of exposing the corrupt practices of establishment journalists (both by his words and deeds)" is what led to his demise. Nobel winner Paul Krugman blames movement conservatives who demand that right wing politicians and media figures be treated with respect.

Krugman writes:
Now, you might think that the way things turned out — the total failure of movement conservatism in government, and the abrupt, humiliating end to the Permanent Republican Majority — would lead to some soul-searching. But that’s not how human nature works. Instead, it became more urgent than ever to assert that those who didn’t get with the program were flakes and moonbats, not worthy of being listened to, while those who believed in the right to the bitter end were “serious”.

. . . (While convervatives were in power, Froomkin was) someone who attracted readers but didn’t threaten the self-esteem of the self-perceived serious people at the paper. But now he looks like someone who was right when the serious people were wrong — and that means he has to go.

Of course, it did not take Froomkin long to land in the new media. His notice to readers:
I’m delighted to announce that starting later this month, I’ll be taking on the duties of Washington Bureau Chief and Blogger for The Huffington Post.

. . . The extraordinary response to my departure from The Washington Post once again illustrated how much readers hunger for a new – or perhaps I should say old – method of political reporting: One that doesn’t rely on stenography or “splitting the difference,” but involves knowledgeable and trusted reporters calling things as they see them, speaking the truth -- and letting the chips fall where they may. We’ll also be finding new and exciting ways to work with citizen journalists to access their wisdom and knowledge.

I look forward to working with all my new colleagues to hold the powerful accountable, expose corruption, explain how Washington really works -- and write about politics and government not as if it were just a game, but recognizing that it matters profoundly to every one of us.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ready to invest in people?

Microfinance is the supply of small loans and basic financial services, enabling poor people to invest in tiny businesses, to accumulate assets and raise household income and welfare.

KIVA is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Kiva's platform allows internet lenders to connect directly with entrepreneurs served by microfinance institutions ("Kiva Field Partners") worldwide.

The people you see on Kiva's site are real individuals in need of funding. When you browse entrepreneurs' profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.

The Kiva Fellows Program offers individuals a rare opportunity to travel abroad and witness firsthand the impact and realities of microfinance, by working directly with a host microfinance institution (MFI). The Kiva Fellow is an unpaid, volunteer based position designed to increase Kiva's impact and to offer participants a unique insider experience.

We enrolled our very young grandchildren and divert to Kiva part of the money that might otherwise be spent on toys and junk. Grandma and Grandpa make the choices now but the children will assist and eventually assume control of the lending. This is not big business or an investment scheme. We hope the young ones will grow up with appreciation for what they enjoy in Canada and feel empathy for those less fortunate. The oldest little one is only three but he takes an interest in looking at the people he is "helping." He certainly doesn't understand much about the whole process but he can relate to the idea that poor people need assistance so they can grow food for their own families.

As time goes on and we add to each child's Kiva fund, the kids will decide which "entrepreneur" they want to assist. Loans are small, usually $500 to $1,000 and single Kiva contributors donate $25. For example, last year a young farmer in Peru needed $250 to buy fertilizer for his small plot. Ten Kiva supporters from Canada and the USA paid $25 each and were repaid over the following 6 months. A woman in Jinja, Uganda, borrowed $900 to buy materials for her sewing and mending business. The loan was funded by $25 each from people in Canada, USA, Australia, Taiwan, Germany and Sweden. That money was lent in February and by July, 81% has been repaid.

Microfinance has been growing hugely around the world. Kiva is even starting a pilot project in poor regions of the USA. The system is not without critics as well so people should stay alert if they become involved. Our family heartily recommends the Kiva experience.

Update, July 11, 2009:
Kiva funds raised - $80,934,410 Entrepreneurs funded - 196,796 Repayment rate - 98%

Update, August 7, 2009
Kiva funds raised - $85,384,785 Entrepreneurs funded - 208,767 Repayment rate - 98%

More information
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Forget what they say, watch what they do

Pal, a relation, fled Hungary decades ago. He came to Canada a young adult without prospects or supports, but with great hope. He had chosen democracy and economic freedom over Soviet imposed Stalinism in his homeland. Despite origins in a landlocked country, Pal made his way to the Pacific coast and raised a family. Now, he resides comfortably in one of B.C.'s mid-coastal islands of paradise.

Pal understands the importance of civil rights and open government better than most. Before the last election, I spoke to him about my frustration with politicians who offer detailed platforms but feel no obligation to fulfill the promises. Even worse, they say one thing and do the polar opposite, without even slight contrition.

For example, during 2001 campaigning, Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberal Party, promised:
  • To manage public projects according to strict terms of fully vetted business plans;
  • To respect labor contracts and accept terms as negotiated or arbitrated;
  • To maintain public ownership and operation of BC Rail;
  • To improve Freedom of Information and run history's most open and accessible government.
The entire Liberal platform was published on-line. It was clear, concise and worthy of support. I voted Liberal. Of course, I had missed one thing about the promises. Many, like those above, were hollow - emptier than a crack addict's savings account.

In our conversation, Pal explained that I had wasted time reading platforms and promises. He said the only method of judging real intentions is to scrutinize a politician's finances. Banks don't lend money or put someone in charge of a vault without first examining those details. They want to know all sources of a client's income and particularly about the debts and obligations owed to others.

Pal said:
Give me a list of contributors and full details of a candidate's financial records. I'll know exactly what to expect without reading platforms or listening to promises. Tell me who a politician is beholden to and I can figure out what they are going to do.

Like most good concepts, Pal's is simple, uncomplicated. We only have to follow the money.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

That job belongs to the fringe media

Harvey Oberfeld is a retired news guy now expressing opinions without limits from editors or advertisers. His blog, "Keeping it Real. . ." is a sometimes amusing, always readable collection of thoughts informed by a long print and TV news career. Harvey believes that reporters, as agents of the public, should maintain uncomfortable warmth on the plutocracy's lower extremities. He understands the perilous symbioses between politicians and media members and worries that some reporters in B.C. have grown too comfortable with their subjects.

Oberfeld recently was the first guest on Simi Sara's new TALK1410AM morning show. He expanded on recent blog comments about questions surrounding the loss or destruction of e-mails between the Premier and cabinet members from 2001 to 2005. Harvey "rapped on the knuckles" of the B.C. media, complaining about their failure to follow up scandals arising from the sale of BC Rail. Along with Victoria political science Professor Dennis Pilon, he criticized media for lacking the zeal exhibited during administrations of Vander Zalm, Clark and Harcourt.

An interesting comment by Harvey was that some of his old news colleagues have been offended by these and similar comments. He mentioned no names but one might logically suspect long time practitioners of local political punditry. Of course, Canwest Global would be home to most suspects.

Vaughn Palmer briefly raised an eyebrow when someone else "dug out the big news that the government-owned BCR paid Patrick Kinsella $300,000 in consulting fees." He's written too about massive investment losses suffered by the Northern Development Initiative Trust. Funded by proceeds from the railway sale, the Trust hid information during the election campaign by delaying financial statements from legally required disclosure. Palmer also admits that the railway sale has been "under a cloud" since 2003 and that the public liability to CN for tax indemnities has risen beyond half a billion dollars, with the meter still turning. Yet, Palmer's writing lacks passion or even minor outrage. He complains the whole BC Rail story is too complicated and therefore maybe not a real scandal. He notes that BCR fuels a cottage industry of reporting and speculation but sneers at citizen journalists, describing them as cult members.

Harvey Enchin, also writing for Canwest, has been onside with privatization of BC Rail from the beginning and continues reporting beneficial elements while downplaying negative details such as tax indemnities and other contingencies that may eliminate more than half the alleged sale proceeds. Disregarding the company's incredible land bank, he falsely declares that BC Rail's assets consisted largely of "rusty rolling stock, abandoned sidings and creaky loading facilities and Enchin called the BC Rail workforce bloated and overpaid. If being bloated and overpaid is an appropriate measure, shouldn't Enchin be calling for sale of the Premier's Public Affairs Bureau as well?

Victoria's most pervasive commentator may be its most insidious. Fallacy specialist Keith Baldrey, Global's legislative reporter, appears on radio and television and in print with columns published by Canwest community newspapers. Baldrey treads cautiously when discussing Gordon Campbell's Liberal Government. He is protective and tends not to criticize directly. Instead, often using a straw man argument, he allows that unnamed others raise issues or hold perceptions. For example, writing about secrecy and disappeared e-mails in a July 2009 column in community newspapers:

There is a bit of hysteria attached to some of the reactions to this news. Those who still think the police raid on the legislature almost six years ago will bring down the government any day now think the disappearance is yet another clue to the vast conspiracy that surrounds much of the BC Rail saga.

And there are those who think (wrongly) that all e-mails are automatically classified as "documents" that must be preserved forever as part of the public record.

It should be pointed out that hundreds of thousands of documents (including thousands of e-mails) have already been disclosed to the defense in the BC Rail raid case, so the notion that the disappearance of a much smaller number of e-mails is going to jeopardize the fairness of the trial sounds silly.

The truth is that unless they are specifically filed as a saved document by whoever received them, e-mails are automatically erased from the government computer server every 18 months, a policy that also exists in many private companies to, in part, create enough space for users to continue sending and receiving such missives. (Quick now, how many people reading this still have e-mails from 2005 in their inboxes.)

Note his methods. "Those who still think (straw man) the police raid . . . will bring down the government (hyperbole) now think the disappearance is yet another clue to the vast conspiracy (hyperbole and belittlement) that surrounds much of the BC Rail saga."

The straw man argument continues when he says "And there are those who think wrongly (who, where, when?) that all e-mails are documents that must be preserved forever (hyperbole). . ." As always, the straw man does not accurately represent typical criticism. No reasonable person suggests that every message must be preserved forever. We might fairly expect that every document of substance, including e-mails, letters, contracts, etc. should be preserved for a reasonable period. Government is quite accustomed to that principle. Baldrey could ask tax auditors to explain. As to the question about having e-mails from 2005 in my inbox, yes I do have copies of all important messages. In fact, I have multiple copies in various archive files in my backup system. And I don't conduct public business of any kind.

Baldrey discounts the significance of missing e-mails. He says thousands of other e-mails have been disclosed. So, where did they come from Keith? You said that e-mails are automatically erased. Some, not others? Here, the entire record is missing. Were none significant enough to be kept? Not one? Is it a paranoid delusion to be troubled by this?

My long ago training as an auditor emphasized that a party under review never selects the audit sample. Free access to everything is a necessity for accurate review of records. Turning over tons of irrelevant information never excuses failure to make all relevant documents available.

Baldrey notes that Campbell's Liberals promised to run the most open and accessible government in history. He then says that some (straw man, again) have accused Liberals of weakening FOI, perhaps even ignoring the spirit of existing legislation. Baldrey does not state that this criticism is valid, although it is; he says the thought is merely a perceived weakness that is tending to become entrenched among some. No doubt, those perceptions are held only by hysterical, out-of-step, unreasonable paranoids who believe that something is amiss and therefore, the world as we know it should end.

There is one amusing but sad anecdote demonstrating the abdication of main media from their role as investigative eyes and ears for citizens. ABC Nightline anchor Ted Koppel had been questioned about ignoring a particular political story. He replied, "People shouldn't expect the mass media to do investigative stories. That job belongs to the fringe media. . . We don't have the facilities, we don't have the time. I have only 50 employees. . . " When he said that, Koppel was being paid about $10 million a year. Last I looked, most bloggers work alone and earn exactly zero from their reporting.
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