Saturday, October 31, 2009

While you are distracted

The illusionist deflects your attention:
Look at the pretty flame, the famous athletes, powerful citizens and posh people. And, feel the ghostly spirits of games past. What an occasion! Greece was the birthplace of democracy. We must believe in the true spirit of democracy too, eh? Perhaps this connects us with history's giants. Perhaps, there is another possibility.

While you are distracted, they steal your wealth. New directions have gone to BCUC and a new hydro license to a massive multinational corporation is on the front burner. Will they sell or giveaway the Columbia River dams next?
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Follow the links

A $1 billion dollar expenditure for security requires perceptions of enemies. If they don't exist, we must provide them.

Hearings to be held for agents provocateurs
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Rod Mickleburgh says

Why is the government spending half a million untendered dollars to entertain select guests at the posh, private Terminal City Club during the 2010 Games?

Um … “If you look at the Olympic logo, it says ‘British Columbia, host province.' That logo says it all,” was Mr. Black's first response.

Then, the beat-about-the-bush minister said the money was needed to wine and dine (not his exact words) dignitaries, investors and “leading academics” from all over the world to generate “economic development.” Otherwise, he declared, taxes would dry up, and health care and education would suffer.

Why, those ungrateful teachers and ambulance drivers probably don't even realize that without all those tough, rigorous sessions at the Terminal City Club, they might not receive a paycheque at all.

Read FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER at the Globe and Mail.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Not good enough"

So said one of more than 300 people crowding a meeting at Sullivan County (N.Y.) Community College, many voicing the concern that they have little control over the drilling that seems destined for their region, even though they will directly feel its effects.

Natural gas. The clean fuel. Maybe not.

The whole story here at Pro Publica.

See our story from last week "Oversight or Undersight?"
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcome to the court of public opinion

Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun says:
Access to justice in B.C. is becoming more problematic for the less-than-wealthy and is a principal reason for declining confidence in the legal system.

Court fees are one barrier, but there are also substantial hidden costs making litigation in the province so expensive many people don't exercise their rights.
Dee Nicholson says at
Constitutional Challenges cost a great deal of money to pursue, which is in and of itself a violation of our right to face a jury of our peers and to use the court system to seek justice.

The court that is open to us all is the court of public opinion. These slime balls who abrogate rights to suit their own purposes, whether they say it’s to combat something else or not, are TRAITORS TO CANADIAN LAW.
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Perhaps, it's too late already

Drawing with permission (sans title) from Stephen Gilpin

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Billionaire Bailout Society

Here are its salient features:
  1. We promote accumulation of vast fortunes without limits.
  2. We shun progressive income taxes that could narrow the gap.
  3. We keep most of finance deregulated even after it has collapsed so spectacularly.
  4. We let the minimum wage atrophy.
  5. We discourage unionization.
  6. We let middle class jobs disappear.
  7. We allow a revolving door between public office and high paying private sector jobs.
  8. We let our public infrastructure deteriorate.
  9. We belittle government and public service.
  10. We promote private gain as the best way to promote the common good.
  11. We force our children to pile up debt in order to get an education.
  12. We live with a porous safety net.
  13. We encourage health care to be a profit maximizing enterprise.
  14. We allow institutions to become too big to fail.
  15. We bail out the largest financial institutions when they do fail, even if that means transferring trillions to Wall Street.
  16. We allow Wall Street to use its bailout money to lobby against the public interest.
  17. We let Wall Street keep its bailout-created "profits" and bonuses.
  18. We have no clue if the financial sector provides any real value to our economy.
  19. We permit financial hucksters to buy up solid companies, load them up with debt, take the cash, and then drive them into the ground.
  20. We bad-mouth as protectionist all efforts to keep jobs in this country.
  21. We don't have any serious plan for returning to a full-employment economy.
  22. We live in awe of billionaires.
Credit to Huffington Post and Les Leopold

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A lesson for BC consumers

Keen to reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy, Denmark committed significantly to wind power. The program has helped saddle Danish consumers with the highest home electricity costs in the European Union (EU).

Proponents of wind power boast that 20% of Danish electricity is generated by wind. However, more than half of that over the last five years was created when unneeded. Since it cannot be stored, resulting surplus power was exported to Sweden and Norway at substantially less - sometimes zero - than prices guaranteed to Danish wind operators. Good for Swedes and Norwegians; bad for Danes. Good for power operators; bad for consumers.

When the wind wasn’t blowing according to needs, Denmark imported balancing power from Norway and Sweden, at substantially higher costs.

If this sounds familiar, it fits the scenario painted by Rafe Mair and others about Run of River power agreements foisted on BC Hydro by the Campbell Crime Family. Damien Gillis of the Save our Rivers Society wrote:
. . . the majority of the power these private river projects produce comes in spring - when our public dams are full and demands at their lowest, meaning that all this private power will be for export. Only here's the kicker: since we're being suckered into paying two to three times the market rate for this power, we will have to flip it to our neighbours at a loss, driving up our power bills and taxes as BC Hydro goes from making a profit for the people of BC to being a drain on our province and economy.

Good for Americans; bad for Canadians. Good for power operators; bad for consumers.

* * * * *
From the report: Wind Energy - the Case of Denmark

Costs of balancing wind power across the inter-connectors

Earlier in the document, we discussed how the stability of the Danish grid is maintained by the constant use of the “electricity storages” of Norway and Sweden, as electricity flows through the inter-connectors, keeping the balance between supply and consumption constant within the Danish systems.

Each MWh of power generated from wind turbines that gets exported, carries away the subsidy that caused it to be generated. The price obtained for this by the Danish generators is, on average, the spot price. Any difference between the real cost of generating and its sale on the spot market is not a material consideration for the wind generators who are compensated retroactively when the spot price is low.

But for the Danish householder who is paying the subsidy in order to save imported fuel and CO2 emissions, the subsidy so exported brings no direct benefit at all. The total probable value of exported subsidies between 2000 and 2008, was DKK 6.8 billion (€ 916 million) during this period.

* * * * *
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If we ain't broke, don't fix it

I won't admit to learning about this first on Global TV. Let's say that I stumbled on it during newsgathering. You should too.

Billionaires for Wealthcare

A few members of this organization:

  • Bill M. Moore
  • Billie O’Nair
  • Frida Market
  • Lou Pole
  • Phil T. Rich
  • Z. Roe Compassion
  • Dee Regulation
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ground-beef or slaughter house trimmings?

A while ago, Gwen and I decided to change our food buying habits. Wherever possible now, we buy as close to the producer as we can and we select ethically grown products. We're not fanatics about a 100 mile diet. Life would not be worth living without tea, coffee, German Riesling, olive oil and other essentials.

The easiest change to make is the buying of meat. That's probably the most important change a family can make because factory techniques can be reprehensible. Examine this article from Michael Moss and the New York Times. An excerpt:
The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Living on Vancouver's North Shore, we shop at 3P Natural & Exotic Meats or Sebastian & Co. Fine Organic Meats, both owner operated small stores with incredible commitment to safe and healthy products. Do you want to know which farmer grew the meat in your package? Just ask. It will have been prepared in-store, from one segment, from one animal, from one farm and that farm, probably family owned like these, is dedicated to the highest levels of husbandry. That is a fundamental requirement of being a supplier to Paul or Sebastian.

Does this cost a consumer more? Of course it does. But, when you factor in quality and lack of waste and shrinkage, the advantage changes. And, switching to ethical choices allows you to feel superior to the person you used to be.
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Oversight or undersight?

The David Suzuki Foundation gives natural gas a higher score than coal and nuclear fuels but still finds its use problematic. Combustion emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain and smog but the DSF worries even more about fine particulates:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 77% of particulates from natural gas plant are dangerously small. These fine particulates have the greatest impact on human health because they by-pass our bodies’ natural respiratory filters and end up deep in the lungs. In fact, many studies have found no safe limit for exposure to these substances.

Oddly though, I find little attention paid by this celebrity rich foundation to the massive expansion of natural gas production from shale fields in BC's northeast. Apparently, the DSF leaves examination of these major energy projects to lower profile analysts.

Much has happened there in recent times. In 2009, despite a growing deficit, BC Liberals announced an incentive program to reduce royalties and increase tax credits for exploration and production. This counter intuitive move came after enormous reserves of recoverable shale gas were discovered. Logically, exploration incentives are provided when the risk of failure is high or uncertain. Instead, the Government was rewarding a successful industry at cost to the public treasury. A spokesman for EnCana, the largest natural gas producer in North America, found BC's tax reductions satisfactory and pronounced the timing as, "Ideal."

EnCana is constructing the massive Cabin Gas Plant 60 kilometers NE of Fort Nelson, to process natural gas from shale in the Horn River basin. The plant's initial capacity is slated at 400 million cubic feet per day, twice as much as the province's largest natural-gas processing plant. It is scheduled to double production in following years.

Regular readers Of Northern Insights might be aware that Victoria power broker Gwyn Morgan, Vice Chair of BC Liberal mentor The Fraser Institute, is a Director of EnCana as well as other corporations doing business with the BC Government.

Environmentalists note the huge potential for pollution arising from northeast BC gas production, compression and processing. Yet, despite substantial revenues realized by the provincial government in the area, little is spent to understand and monitor risks. The BC public has almost no capacity to enforce even modest production standards. We rely entirely on trust and, given the records of international energy companies, that is, at best naive. At worst, the situation is one more artful deceit by the BC Liberals.

Examination of a Texas town's experience in the midst of shale gas production may enlighten. This small bedroom community hired environmental consultants to measure pollutants and identify the sources. This is from the summary of their recent report:
The Town of DISH Texas has virtually no heavy industry other than the compression stations. There is no other facility with the capability to produce the volume of air toxins present within miles of the Town. Fugitive emission sources of hazardous air pollutants emanating from the oil and gas sector include emissions from pumps, compressors, engine exhaust and oil/condensate tanks, pressure relief devices, sampling connections systems, well drilling (hydraulic fracturing), engines, well completions, gas processing and transmissions as well as mobile vehicle transportation emissions. Along with hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and known carcinogenic compounds, air toxic compounds that contribute to smog formation were identified and are a known emission of gas industrial exploration, compression, processing and distribution.

In the US, the Marcellus Shale formation is attracting attention as a significant new source of natural gas production. It extends from Ohio through West Virginia and into Pennsylvania and New York. The Department of Environmental Conservation of New York recently reported on environmental risks posed by natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale. It names 260 chemicals used in the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. Read more at Pro Publica.

Industry works to convince us that natural gas is the clean fuel and by comparison, it is, when burned. However, in addition to dangers from products of combustion, recovery and processing creates immense risks of airborne pollution and groundwater contamination. This is particularly true in gas production from shale where the use of horizontal drilling and chemical well stimulation technologies enable recovery.

US Congress is considering a bill that aims to protect water resources from hydraulic fracturing, the process in which fluids and sand are injected under high pressure to break up rock and release gas. But the industry opposes environmental regulation as unnecessary.

Meanwhile, federal EPA officials investigating drinking water contamination in Wyoming found that water wells contain a chemical used in the natural gas drilling process of hydraulic fracturing. Scientists also found traces of other contaminants in about 25% of fresh water wells tested there since March. EnCana, which has liability for most of the area’s wells is either supplying fresh drinking water to the residents or has purchased the land.

Louis Meeks’ well water contains methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results. When he drilled a new water well, it also showed contaminants. The drilling company Encana is supplying Meeks with drinking water. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

As to who is paying attention to British Columbia's northeast gas fields, the answer is virtually no-one, other than government and industry. The following from refers to the environmental assessment of the Cabin Gas Plant:
The public comment period on the environmental assessment expired on August 21. Four, that's FOUR, comments were received. Ignace Burke made the point that he and his family live only 5 km from the plant site, but that "nobody mentions that to you people." Karen Campbell and Matt Horne of Pembina Institute submitted the only substantial comment.
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Warning issued

New Face of Community Policing

Dr. Mike Webster, interviewed by Global TV News, warns that all is not well in the Olympics militarization team with its $1 billion budget. He is worried because, he says:
RCMP operates in an ethics-free environment.

Oh Oh. Webster has a record for being correct when talking about this organization. And, his warning follows the disquieting Tyee series by Geoff Dembicki and Bob Mackin about a terrorist force willing to use explosives, gunfire, violence, pepper spray and false arrest to impose their version of an orderly society. Hell, they even shot a Labrador retriever that was running away from the truck they blew up with an IED.

The genuine Canadian police shown here learned a lesson:
Change your boots when working as a provocateur.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Apologies come after the Games

Lately, I've been thinking of Network, a great Sidney Lumet movie written by Paddy Chayevsky. It makes we wonder. Is it, finally, time to be angry? Will even that question result in a visit from the RCMP? As Howard Beale said:
We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'

. . . get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'

Ok, you ask, "Now what's happened?"

Hudson's Bay Co. approached Cowichan Tribes in 2008 about producing up to 750 traditional Indian sweaters for Olympic team members. The community developed a proposal and arranged knitters of Cowichan descent to create the garments. However, instead of responding to the Coast Salish presentation, The Bay went elsewhere. They arranged production in eastern Canada of sweaters that resembled the Cowichan product — a “knock-off” design according to Chief Lydia Hwitsum:
Choosing a knit sweater that is both similar in colour scheme and design to our traditional Cowichan Indian sweater disrespects the fact our sweater is a unique piece of art recognized around the world and is a registered exclusive trademark of the Cowichan people.

Dianne Hinkley, an admirer of First Nations' textile crafts, is not happy that Olympic athletes are to be provided with ersatz versions of the world famous Cowichan sweaters. She stated publicly that Cowichan's Spirit Drummers - arranged to entertain at an Olympic torch run - may show their displeasure when the torch passes through Duncan Oct. 31.

Hinkley wildly suggested people support the First Nations knitters by wearing authentic Cowichan sweaters, vests and tuques to the torch parade. For that dangerous effort at rabble rousing, Ms. Hinkley was interrogated by the RCMP.

Of course, this is only one of many such visits mounted by the unprecedented force of arms marshaled to secure our nation from violence or, more likely, dreadful national embarrassment if anti-Olympics protesters appear on TV.

We remember 73-year-old Surrey resident Peter Scott being visited by RCMP after he mailed an irate letter to VANOC regarding a games issue described by a newspaper. Also, UBC Opthamologist Chris Shaw, his students, neighbors, ex wife and various personal and business associates have been questioned by police. An RCMP spokesperson explains that Dr. Shaw "is probably the most vocal anti-Olympics person out there."

Jesse Lobdell of the BC Civil Liberties Association quotes RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer - COO of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit - about preparations:
The spectre of violence, according to Mercer, not only justifies the epic security budget but also a program of relationship-building visitations with suspected protesters. These visits are followed up by an interview with a suspected protester’s family, friends, neighbours and employer. This deep level of contact, according to Mercer, is done so that the police can help suspected protesters plan a lawful and peaceful protest.

Rafe Mair reminds that The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states in section two:

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
  • freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  • freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  • freedom of association.
Military and paramilitary forces gathered at costs in excess of $1 billion to do we know not what. At a minimum, they intend to intimidate potential protesters, their associates and old men who write letters to public officials. Consider Chris Shaw's charter rights in light of the RCMP statement justifying intensive harassment because he "is probably the most vocal anti-Olympics person out there."

Is Dr. Shaw allowed freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression? Am I? Or, you?

In a Pig's eye.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Credible conclusions

Doug McArthur, from SFU's Public Policy Program, wrote comments here about Jessica MacDonald's disconnection from levers of power in Victoria. The Prof is qualified to speculate about whether or not MacDonald jumped or was pushed. He served his own stretch in that job, as senior deputy to two British Columbia Premiers during the nineties.

At the time of her unheralded departure, MacDonald circulated a letter of explanation to provincial staff. McArthur says the letter leaves him unconvinced that her leaving was voluntary.

However, another statement by McArthur interested me because it reinforces opinions I've written here, here and here about submissive reporting by our political news titans. Media coverage of the farewell letter is McArthur's subject:
The media has been amazingly gullible on this. Columnists have accepted and amplified her letter as if it were all true and completely transparent. Not one that I have seen has asked why such a letter was needed and what really went on with her leaving. Not that it matters that much, but that much gullibility by the media makes you wonder about its judgment on all of the other information the government feeds it. Might this be part of the explanation of why this government is able to get away with so little media scrutiny?

From me, one thing can be added. I stopped wondering about their judgment and concluded they too often provide ". . . sight without understanding, fact without truth."*

*Words from a story by Claire Armitstead about the extraordinary Carol Reed film "The Fallen Idol."
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ethics in science

Elizabeth Blackburn, of the University of California, San Francisco, shares the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine. She and others were credited with important advances in fundamental knowledge of cellular biology, with relevance to cancer and aging.

Ms. Blackburn was in the news a few years ago when she was fired from President George Bush's Council on Bioethics.

From the Scientific Activist:
In 2004, Blackburn was instrumental in revealing how politically-charged and dysfunctional George W. Bush's President's Council on Bioethics was. From 2001 to 2004 she served as one of only three full-time biomedical researchers on the 17-to-18-member council. In 2004, she was fired from the council, along with another member who disagreed with the administration's position on some of the relevant issues.

Blackburn spoke out about the Council of Bioethics, demonstrating that despite its written mission to be a body that monitors research developments and recommends appropriate guidelines, it was really just a tool for parroting the Bush Administration's positions on certain hot-button issues--particularly embryonic stem cell research. Thus, Blackburn played a central and important role in revealing the extent of the political interference in science that pervaded the Bush Administration.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Compounding regressivity

Lobbyists and media outlets, each serving special interests, push North American governments to favor regressive taxation. Unsurprisingly, the tax systems, rife with avoidance opportunities, burden the middle and lower classes more heavily than the rich and the super rich.

In 2007, Washington Post reported:
Warren Buffett slammed a system that allows the very rich to pay taxes at a lower rate than the middle class. Buffett cited himself, the third-richest person in the world, as an example. Last year, Buffett said he was taxed at 17.7 percent on his taxable income of more than $46 million. His receptionist was taxed at about 30 percent.

British Columbia is leading Canada in the shift away from a progressive tax system. Personal and corporation income taxes are decreasing while consumption taxes, tuition fees, permit and other user fees, medical premiums, road tolls, property, parking and carbon taxes and other regressive assessments rise. Little wonder because well funded advocates promote laws and policies that encourage growing disparity of income and tax burdens.

Trade and industry groups, political action committees, think tanks, foundations and lobbyists maneuver behind the scenes, acquiring political loyalties and manipulating media content to promote client agendas. Radical and alternative voices are discouraged from the public stage, as the RCMP security forces now demonstrate with its intimidation of 2010 Olympics dissenters.

Each regressive tax move compounds social damage to Canada. There is cumulative effect, too little considered. The British Columbia government, by imposing HST as it plans, takes $2.5 billion from the pockets of consumers and returns $2 billion to big business. By extending application of its consumption tax to a broader range of necessities, the Province adds burden to average and lower income citizens.

Liberal politicians claim that a "pass through" of business savings will result in lower prices but an unsupervised and uncompetitive supply side will not respond that way. Canada, as discussed here, has the weakest laws against price fixing and business corruption in the developed world.

It is interesting to note that, in a major American case, participants in an international agri-business price fixing case met in Vancouver to plot their actions because they worried about offending American laws if they dared to meet in the US. (This is the case underlying The Informant!, a current and factually accurate Steven Soderbergh movie.)

Not to be left out of the right wing shift, Canada's Conservative Party plans a major contribution to regressive taxation by hiking payroll taxes.

Economist Dale Orr examines Employment Insurance premiums and deficit reduction. He notes the Harper Conservative Government, while pledging to "not raise taxes," is planning substantial increases to Employment Insurance premiums, collected from employers and workers:
An increase in EI premiums, from the employees’ perspective, is a tax on working. From the employer’s perspective, EI premiums are a tax on hiring. Over the longer term, higher EI premiums lead to a level of employment lower than otherwise.

An increase in EI premiums is not only one of the most economically harmful taxes, it is also one of the most perverse. It affects lower income workers relatively more heavily than higher paid workers since EI premiums are not collected on earnings over a threshold.

This is another considerable step of regressive taxation in Canada. We see it at every level: federal, provincial and municipal. The burden of taxation falls not on those best able to afford it, but on people with the least political influence. In our society that means the poor and the unexceptional middle class. These are also the people least able to shelter income from tax, by using credits, deductible savings plans, corporations, trusts, off-shore havens, etc.

Considering the decision to raise employment taxes gave me this idea. I make it available to Conservatives without demand for even a meager consulting fee.
  • EI premiums are collected from the employed to fund insurance that benefits workers who become unemployed. It is a relatively simple concept that forms part of our social safety net.
  • Someone might ask why corporations that are too big to fail, don't pay into a similar fund to provide benefits when their results falter.
  • For example, the Royal Bank - obviously too big to fail - could pay TBTF premiums against the day when its good fortune turns sour. So too could other favorites of Ottawa - the new improved auto companies, Ottawa advertising agencies and Bombardier come to mind.
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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What recession?

If you are not regular readers of Paul Willcocks at Paying Attention and Andrew MacLeod at The Tyee, you should be. They shine light on an expense payment of $167,342 to BC Innovation Council CEO Dean Rockwell, primarily for relocation expenses, and $80,469 paid to lobbyists to discuss BCIC's compensation of its CEO with Government. Yes, unbelievable as it may seem, government now hires lobbyists to talk to government.

The BC Liberals are restraining some expenditures but apparently not those involving comfort for friends and insiders. Lobbying in Victoria is BC's fastest growing industry so, no doubt, Jessica McDonald will soon be joining the ranks.

She is leaving the Premier's office and Gordon Campbell is lawyering up. Allan Seckel, a "non-partisan" deputy attorney general, has been protecting Liberal backsides in the BC Rail scandal. Now, he replaces Jessica McDonald as deputy minister to the Premier. He receives a base salary of $295,000, an increase of $63,000 over that paid to McDonald.

I find it interesting that Premier Campbell, needing a Chief Executive Officer to manage the 35,000 member civil service and almost $1 billion a week of public spending, hired a lawyer. Not a person experienced in general management of a huge enterprise - or a medium sized enterprise - but, a lawyer. And, not just anyone. This Premier, who some believe should be in court himself over the sham sale of BC Rail, selects the lawyer who has been overseeing the administration of justice in British Columbia. Hmmm.
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Facing naked truths, or not

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in September, an activist for secularism accused the Roman Catholic Church of covering-up and perpetuating child abuse. Keith Porteous Wood said that young victims were further abused when senior Church officials accused them of lying – even in the face of strong evidence.

Mr. Wood told the Council: “Clerics implicated in concealment have been permitted to remain in office.” He cited Bernard Law, former Archbishop of Boston, who still enjoys papal support as archpriest of a papal basilica in Rome and is still a cardinal. Mr. Wood also accused the Church of trying to minimize criminal sanctions and the compensation paid to victims.

In what the Guardian newspaper called a defiant and provocative statement, the Vatican lashed out at criticism over its handling of the abuse crisis, saying the Catholic church was "busy cleaning its own house" and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's permanent UN representative, claimed that fewer than 5% of priests were involved in child sex abuse and that abuse was far more likely to be committed by family members, babysitters, friends, relatives or neighbors, and said male children were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of other children. He also said that Protestants and Jewish communities too were quite often guilty of sexual molestation of children.

Coincident with the UN controversy, Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey was charged Sept. 25 with possessing child pornography, allegedly not the first time his odd fascination had been noticed. He announced his sudden retirement as bishop in the diocese of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 26, saying he was stepping down "for personal renewal."

In August, Lahey oversaw a $15 million dollar out-of-court settlement of abuse allegations in the diocese dating back to the 1950s. At the time, he apologized on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, saying he hoped "to never again have to deal with such reprehensible behavior."

The charges of importing and possessing child pornography stem from images found during a random search of Bishop Lahey's laptop by border agents as he returned to Canada from a trip abroad.
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How to become a dominant retailer

Story from a book by Nelson Lichenstein:

Around the time that the young Sam Walton opened his first stores, U.S. Congress extended the minimum wage to retail workers but granted an exclusion to small businesses with annual sales beneath $250,000.

Walton was furious. The mechanization of agriculture had finally reached the backwaters of the Ozark Plateau, where he was opening one store after another. The men and women who had formerly worked on small farms suddenly found themselves redundant, and he could scoop them up for a song, as little as 50 cents an hour. Now the goddamn federal government was telling him he had to pay his workers the $1.15 hourly minimum.

Walton's response was to divide up his stores into individual companies whose revenues didn't exceed the $250,000 threshold. Eventually, though, a federal court ruled that this was simply a scheme to avoid paying the minimum wage, and he was ordered to pay his workers the accumulated sums he owed them, plus a double-time penalty thrown in for good measure.

Wal-Mart cut the checks, but Walton also summoned the employees at a major cluster of his stores to a meeting. "I'll fire anyone who cashes the check," he told them.

* * *
Read more at The American Prospect

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

ALC now a tool for developers

Drive along south-east Marine Drive in Burnaby today and notice that more farmland has disappeared under developers' sand piles, being readied for construction of new strip malls and warehouses. How long before all those mixed farms of South Burnaby are gone forever? We nibble away at lands that produced crops for generations until so little is left that defenders surrender.

Take a look at Google Earth or Google Maps satellite image. The area north of Richmond's Westminster Highway, east of No. 6 Road, running north to Marine Drive across the river, is steadily disappearing into the urban chaos. It is an island of green with steadily retracting boundaries. City folks who protest loss of old growth forests might look closer to home and start asking, "Who is protecting the lower mainland's remaining farmland?"

The Provincial Agricultural Land Commission was a 1973 creation of Dave Barrett's government. Today's NDP likes to remind us smugly that the legislation is so good, that even the piratical Liberals dare not eliminate it.

Of course, the truth is different. The ALC now serves a gatekeeping purpose for land developers. The profit potential of their product depends on scarcity of developable land. The ALC obliges by managing the shift of farmland to other uses, slowly divvying out allocations to maintain an orderly market for favoured associates, à la De Beers.

The ALC also erects a wall of beguilement that keeps amateurs off their doorstep. If a Fraser Valley farm family wants to sell land for "higher" use, the farmers will give up in frustration and eventually sell the farm to a politically connected operator who knows where to apply grease to move along the political process to exclude, subdivide or use land in the ALR for non-farm purposes.

Stephen Ree's Blog is an always interesting forum for information about land use and transportation. Sinking river delta could mean trouble along Fraser examines issues that illustrate how current road and land development strategies are mistaken.

The comments too are worth reading and Stephen offers numerous links for additional reading. The Tyee published an evaluation of flood risk that is worthwhile: Fraser River Will Surge over Dikes, Experts Find.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Preserving nature, in all the dimensions

Doug Pyper is a photographer and photojournalist with a passion for British Columbia's great outdoors.

Today, he blogs Rivers at Risk and provides links to both pdf and hard copies of an important report by the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee.

Visit Doug's site to read the WCWC paper but look around Photography and Similar Visions and enjoy the art and commentary.
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