Thursday, July 29, 2010

America's permanent path to war

Read Washington Post "Top Secret America" and just about anything by Andrew Bacevich including his TomDispatch article "Giving up on victory, not war."

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. His most recent book is The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (Metropolitan Books, 2008). He is also the author of The New American Militarism, among other books. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, theAtlantic MonthlyThe Nation, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal. A TomDispatch interview with him can be read by clicking here, and then here.

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Truthiness will set us free

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.
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Substitute "Northeast BC" for New York

While industry ramps up environmental destruction, the British Columbia government moves to self-regulation while reducing royalties and increasing tax credits.  Worse than financial gifts to the energy industry are blind eyes turned toward ecological damage from new production techniques.  Check BC budget records, you will find that funding for the Ministry of Environment has been decreasing from year to year.

Read ProPublica's unmatched series "Buried Secrets"
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Some people don't give a fratteratterpeggaloomer

Forbes, a magazine popular with business people, ranks the happiest countries in the world:
"The five happiest countries in the world--Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands--are all clustered in the same region, and all enjoy high levels of prosperity.

"The Scandinavian countries do really well," says Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup, which developed the poll. "One theory why is that they have their basic needs taken care of to a higher degree than other countries. When we look at all the data, those basic needs explain the relationship between income and well-being."

Interesting. Canada's ruling political parties, mainstream media and business supported think tanks all claim that the way to a better society is less government, lower wages and reduced taxation. What are those Scandinavian countries doing wrong? Or, could it be that the higher purpose people in the North American ruling class don't give a fratteratterpeggaloomer about happy citizens.

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  1. Costa Rica
  2. Canada
  3. Panama
  1. Malawi
  2. Libya
  3. Botswana
  1. New Zealand
  2. Israel
  3. Australia
Forbes also provides Mercer's list of the World's 10 Best Places to Live:
  • 1.  Vienna
  • 2.  Zurich
  • 3.  Geneva
  • 4.  Auckland (tie)
  • 4.  Vancouver (tie)
  • 6.  Düsseldorf
  • 7.  Munich (tie)
  • 7.  Frankfurt (tie)
  • 9.  Bern
  • 10. Syndey
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Neverending stories never end, chapter n+1

From the Ottawa Citizen, September 2009:
The RCMP paid a firm in Arizona more than $44,000 for "executive coaching" and other training for its top official, Commissioner William Elliott, as part of ongoing efforts to improve accountability in the force.

Elliott spent three days in Scottsdale in July for development of a "leadership action plan" with Malandro Communication, the same company the Royal Canadian Mounted Police intends to hire on a $220,000 contract to coach senior executives in leadership and accountability. .
Sources tell us his golf handicap improved from 36 to 32.

July 27, 2010 Update
From The Toronto Star, RCMP chief under fire from senior officers:
The Prime Minister’s Office admits it has received complaints from senior RCMP members about Commissioner William Elliott allegedly being verbally abusive, close-minded, arrogant and insulting.

The complainants include some of the force’s top officers, including deputy commissioners Tim Killam and Raf Souccar, the CBC reported Monday evening.
Perhaps Kommissar Elliott needs another three-day $44,000 golf weekend in Arizona. The first executive coaching session on leadership seems not to have worked.

July 28, 2010 Update
Elliott said the pace of change within the RCMP was responsible for making people uncomfortable but, according to the Toronto Star, that comment infuriated officers who spoke to the newspaper. One source said,
"There is supposed to be zero tolerance in the RCMP for managers who harass their subordinates and yet Elliott epitomized the bully boss."
Toews & MA
The Conservatives hope an investigation will provide a way out of the potentially explosive mess. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said,
“We are doing an analysis to see whether these concerns are merited, and if they are, what we do in respect of them.”
Government said an independent adviser, not yet chosen, will conduct an assessment but that report will not be made public. Instead, it will be stored in the room for inactive files at the public archives, joining Justice McDonald's Commission Report,  David Brown's report on RCMP governance A Matter of Trust, Justice Major's Air India Report and countless pleas from former CPC Commissioner Paul Kennedy for changes in RCMP governance.

Toews told reporters that, since it is not yet 30 years since Justice McDonald's report, and little more than three years from Brown's report, it is premature to think government will soon embark on unplanned, haphazard changes to the national police force. Toews said:
"Conservatives are considering appointing a commission to review commission appointments and, until that measure is taken, Prime Minister Harper is not certain whether or not reports already on file should be read. There is a possibility that some information may be out of date and, besides,  the reports are awfully long and nobody bothered to highlight the good parts. However, we know our duty and do it well. We will look like we're doing something, even while we're doing nothing." 
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We may kill you, but only for your own protection

Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs Corespondent, Channel 4 News:
". . .  Systematic under-reporting of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Some of this is faulty reporting, some of it incoherent, some of it just incomplete. . . "
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crooked teeth and straight morals

At least, teenagers today have straight teeth. I don't know about the other part.

In happy days of the sixties, I was transitioning from the Information about the learnerearner to the Information about the novice stage of the Graduated Licensing Programovice stage of being a teen and knew everything there was to know, or at least the parts I thought worth knowing. I could list every WW2 allied fighter ace, name the dambuster pilots of No. 617 Squadron RAF and engage a veteran for hours about the Battle of Britain. Strangely though, this vet was a lowly private, a tank driver, my uncle, original member of the Kangaroo Squadron. He wouldn't talk a word about the ground war. That death and destruction was too real, too personal. Instead, he gloried in air to air combat that he only watched, where men might give a respectful wave to the persons they aimed to kill.

I could instantly identify the make, model and engine option of any car on the road and recite, had anyone bothered to ask, up-to-date Vancouver Mounties baseball stats like Chuck Oertel's batting average, Howie Goss' Strikeout/Home Run ratio or George Bamberger's ERA. School was important mostly to visit friends and homework was for nerds, to be done only under duress and at the last possible moment. Getting a good laugh in class was always worth more than getting an A. I remember triumphant participation in a high school quiz-bowl on stage during a full school assembly. Afterward, a kid came up to me in the hall and said, "I. . . , I didn't know you knew anything!" I wasn't sure whether to be honored or insulted.

For kids in those days, radio was king. We were pals with the swinging men at 1410: Al Jordan, Brian Lord, Frosty Forst, Dave McCormick and Jerry Landa. At CKWX, Buddy Clyde did both morning and afternoon drive times and Jim Robson was the indefatigable sports guy, calling real or imagined baseball play by play until late in the evening but still at the microphone for scores and happy talk on the early morning show.  No Vancouver radio station today can measure up to the powerhouse legends of the sixties. And, they spoke directly to us; no adults welcome.

In the week of September 1960, when my pioneer grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I wondered how people could get to be that old. Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson was number one on the CFUN*Tastic 50 and number two on The Sensational Sixty at CKWX.

Reminiscences are fun, but in reality, the good old days depend mostly on faulty memory.  Most of the music was utter crap, junk that today's golden oldies lists don't include.  'Running Bear' by Johnny Preston, for example. And, who today would listen to a wave of other teen death songs. Maybe, Ray Peterson who was still singing 'Tell Laura I Love Her' on the oldies circuit a few years ago. Or, Marilyn Michaels, artist responsible for the sensational Laura sequel: 'Tell Tommy I Miss Him'.

Much of that music was painful. Happily, one trait of human nature is to dismiss painful experiences and focus memories on happy times. We recall trepidation preceding the first kiss and grope sessions but those joyful terrors are worth remembering. Real suffering, we put away in private places, and mostly just keep them there, to ourselves.

Indeed, Canadian society in the sixties was much different than today. In my town, there were few visible minorities, apart from little known people on the reserve a few miles beyond the last bus stop north of town. There were no gay people and we had few 'subnormals' in our community.  Handicapped or 'retarded' youngsters were mostly sent off to institutions, somewhere, where they could be better cared for while their families got on with life. A few lived at home but were strictly excluded from regular schools. Who knows, maybe Cerebral Palsy was contagious in those days.

Renovated and without window bars
Juvenile delinquents were occasional problems but they too got shipped out of town. There were dungeons for some at the Industrial School for Girls on Cassiar Street in East Vancouver. It housed female miscreants as young as ten and was called the House of Horror by the Vancouver Sun. The City Fire Chief repeatedly condemned unsafe conditions at the 1914 jail and officials were also persuaded by a riot involving 70 pre-teen and teen girls. At the start of the sixties, it was replaced by the slightly less oppressive Willingdon School for Girls.

Misbehaving boys, including one of my neighbors, could be deemed incorrigible and jailed at Brannan Lake 'reform school' near Nanaimo. Again, pre-teens mixed with older inmates. Children suffered all kinds of abuses: emotional, physical and sexual. Additionally, the lawbreaking skills that apprentice criminals lacked beforehand were quickly learned from more experienced offenders.

In truth, the good old days were good for already comfortable people, the folks well clear of society's margins. For those who didn't or couldn't conform with the ordinary, life was tough. In youth, and for years after, I never thought much about these issues. With age, I've lost a portion of my ignorance, at least, I hope, that willful disregard I used to avoid subjects that made me uncomfortable or allowed me to pretend I was not indifferent to others.
As a special to A Guy in Victoria, here is a link to one of his old favorites:

As was common in those times, successful novelty songs gave birth to sequels and responses. Here is one answer to Napoleon XIV (NY record producer Jerry Samuels) by Josephine XV:

A person, one whose identity I could reveal, left a comment proving my suggestion about crappy music. He still listens to songs from the sixties and uses the same hi-fi equipment he used 50 years ago.  This is it, along with part of his record collection. I kept saying, "Put those damn things back in their sleeves or they'll scratch." He never listens.

 I actually grabbed a photo from his record library, which proves not only that the song exists but he owns one of the few remaining copies in the world:

Listen to it here.
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Global News and stealth advertising

Has anyone noticed that Global TV's Brian Coxford, formerly an award winning investigative newsman, is now doing infomercials in his reports for the News Hour?  Finished the recent series for Kevin Falcon and private healthcare providers, Coxford is now putting roofing materials under scrutiny.

I watched News Hour Final expecting to learn about a small forest fire near North Vancouver's Northlands Golf Course, a few kilometers from home. Instead, we were treated to a story that mentioned the fire but switched almost immediately to become a segment on roofing material choices, complete with a torch wielding demonstration by the head of Penfold's. Ken Mayhew, the biggest advertiser in the local roofing business, was promoting their 'EcoRoof' product. It's called stealth advertising.

I wonder what it costs for a three minute infomercial on BC's highest rated newscast. I suppose that Global has high standards and doesn't do news-like material for advertisers cheaply. This is, after all, Canada's third largest market and Global is not like some small-market plodder trying to make ends meet.

Seriously though, this bunch has truly lost the direction that once classed it among the best local news operations in North America.
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Are we there yet?

Remember that BC Liberals promised us a rose garden. The pain-free HST would amp up the economy, create thousands of new jobs and lower prices through elimination of cascading taxes, greater business efficiency and reduced bureaucracy. I'll allow that it has barely been four weeks but has anyone noticed any price reductions?

A friend sent a note that demonstrates a price outcome slightly different than that promised by Assistant Chief Fustilarian Colin Hansen:
"Just thought you might be interested in another example of the bs about the HST having a positive effect for business.

"Before HST, the SeaWest Lounge was $10.00 to enter when traveling [by BC Ferries] between Schwartz Bay and Tsawwassen.

"I just paid $12 and the person behind the counter said, well, it was going to cost $10.70 so I guess they just took the opportunity to raise the fee!!!!!!"
I suppose it is win-some, lose-some for consumers. The Vancouver newspapers assured us that businesses would pass through saving through elimination of the old retail sales tax so at least those prices went down. Right? No, the single issue price went up 25%. What a surprise.
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Friday, July 23, 2010

I shall fear no evil, because I am the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley

Vancouver City Police face a difficult challenge policing in the Downtown Eastside. For as long as anyone breathing today can remember, the DTES has been a receptacle of misery. The reasons are many: alcoholism, drug addiction, physical disability, mental illness and incapacity and abject poverty, the one condition shared by almost all.

The VPD has been shamed by momentous failures in recent history. The 100 or so missing and murdered women collectively is the worst policing breakdown in the city's history and the inexcusable death of Frank Paul was probably the next most egregious. The man, a chronic alcoholic, was dragged by police out of the city jail and dumped in a dark wet alley to die of exposure. Compounding the negligence leading to death was the sustained effort of senior VPD officials, Chiefs Terry Blythe and Jamie Graham among them, to evade responsibility.

Those situations had one thing in common. Disrespect. Worse, racism. A large number of the dead and missing women were aboriginals. Frank Paul was Mi'kmaq. Many dispossessed of the DTES are First Nations people. This video demonstrates disrespect more than any single thing.

I believe that under the leadership of Chief Jim Chu, the VPD has made progress toward building a modern force that can be trusted by the entire community. Much is left to be done as evidenced by this video released by the BC Civil Liberties Association. Incidentally, someone is trying to have the video suppressed so I include screen captures in case the video disappears again.

I heard one retired police officer say that he was offended by the failure of the three officers to lend assistance to the fallen woman after she had been pushed over. I found the beginning of the clip most troubling because the three VPD officers, armed and armored, swagger down the street demanding that everyone clear the way. The victim in this piece, disabled with cerebral palsy, couldn't easily change directions so she was an irritant to be slapped away. What kind of attitude are the police trying to convey to street people? Are the egos of these officers so poorly developed they need to parade down a busy sidewalk intimidating or pushing aside any unarmed weaklings that get in the way? If constables behave maliciously in public, what might they do in private?

The behavior shown here lead some to wonder if there is a culture of steroid abuse among young male police officers. It is something for managers to consider as an explanation for hostile behavior. The constables involved here should be publicly identified and Chief Chu owes a full explanation of what he is doing to eliminate inappropriate violence against citizens, even those dwelling in the city's squalid corners.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our family grew by one Wednesday

Almost four, grandson Shay points to his brand new baby brother, Tye, minutes after arrival. Twenty-month old Odin would rather be riding his bike. My babysitting job just got more ah-cute.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Guilty, even if proven innocent presents a story by Jody Jenkins after innocent pictures taken on a family camping trip near Augusta Georgia were interpreted by an untrained photo clerk as child pornography. Jenkins said what followed "entailed a profound searching, an almost paralytic invasion of our deepest privacy." He says dozens of similar cases have been documented, including this:
A 33-year-old woman was charged with "sexual performance of a child," a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison, based on a picture of her breast-feeding her 1-year-old son. Although the district attorney dropped the charges in the case, the parents had to fight for weeks to get their two children back from the Dallas County Child Protective Services.
In cases such as that against the Jenkins family and their friends, despite evidence showing that no abuse of the children had occurred, records of the accusations and investigations will be kept on file for years.

Truly, the nanny state gone mad.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Government helps fund anti-government campaigns

Columnist Don Cayo is one of the Vancouver Sun's advocates for big business. In the nineties, he ran the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a corporate-funded charity operating as a think-tank based in Halifax. Along with umpteen sister "charities" such as the Fraser Institute, Fraser Institute Foundation, Frontier Centre for Public Policy Inc. and the Canadian Constitution Foundation, it campaigns steadily for elimination of public health and other services and reductions in government spending and lower taxes, at least for higher income folks. Of course, while doing this, charitable donors supporting the voices of big business take advantage of generous tax rules that return millions of dollars in refunds. Bizarre, eh? Anti-government campaigners subsidized by government.

Think-tanks claim that markets, free of  government regulation or interference, are the most efficient managers of economic resources. However, careful reading of their polemics demonstrates the call is for free markets, not competitive markets. Competition is destructive to business interests; it drives prices down, increases quality and improves service. Consumer needs may be served but those aren't the needs of business. The purpose of business is wealth creation and happy shareholders executives, not cheerful customers.

Cayo sees good news in recent newspaper deals. Postmedia Network Inc. is the new owner of the Vancouver Sun, the Province and other former Canwest Newspapers. In addition, Black Press acquired 11 publications from Glacier Media and gained ownership of the Red Deer Express in exchange for its papers in Canmore, Alberta. The move allows Black to immediately close five of the new properties in a move to reduce competition for Black's existing properties.

Cayo quotes John Hinds, who as CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association is paid to be optimistic. Hinds says:
"Canadian newspaper markets tend to be more competitive than in the U.S., so Canadian media companies are more skilled at adjusting to change.
"The economic downturn seemed to enhance Canadian newspapers' role as a-reliable source of information. Readership is generally trending up after a period of decline."
Had I been asked, I would have said:
"Canadian markets tend to be less competitive than in the U.S. and newspapers here don't worry as much about radio and TV stations because, through concentration of control and cross-media ownership, advertising prices are kept artificially high in broadcasting. Canadian companies have been more skilled at gouging advertisers and reducing readers services so there is less need to change.
"An enhanced role for Canadian newspapers as a-reliable source of information? Oh, really?
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Refudiate this!

Yesterday, Sarah Palin offered her opinion on a proposal to build a mosque in the vicinity of the September 11th site. Her words:
“Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”
This tweet is a pundit’s dream, a perfect storm for mud-slinging, flak, fuss, hurrahs, miffs, polemics, rows, rumpuses, and maybe some discussion.

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My to-do list for last weekend

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

‘And at length when ye complain
With a murmur weak and vain
’Tis to see the Tyrant’s crew
Ride over your wives and you—
Blood is on the grass like dew.

‘Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood—and wrong for wrong—
Do not thus when ye are strong.

Peterloo Massacre

Mask of Anarchy
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Alternative voices

More at The Real News Other videos
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Bigger, better and largely empty - UPDATED

After the folks at Pavco completed the gold plated Vancouver Convention Center and kept the budget overruns down to a few hundred million dollars, they rewarded senior executives with bonuses and "incentive pay." That is unlikely to change this year despite the 2010 fiscal year seeing losses before government contributions rise from $16.9 million to $61.1 million.  These folks always do a fine job. And so might you, if you got to write your own targets. For example, instead of only reporting actual usage, they report the percentage that a facility was used compared to a target number.  So, if you target ten days use and sell five days, that's 50% utilization.

Sean Holman adds interesting information to the mix with his Public Eye article titled Maple Story. It discusses the compensation for the Convention Center General Manager position. 
When Barbara Maple left that job in April 2008, she was making $130,500 per year. By comparison, her successor Ken Cretney - the former general manager of the Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel - is making $205,400 a year, as well as having received a $100,000 incentive payment in fiscal 2009/10. That pushed the total value of his compensation package up to $335,347.
Original article published July 9, 2010:

Premier-in-waiting Gordon Campbell - and many voters - wanted an anchor chain hung around the NDP's collective neck in 2001. Campbell would have ensured that three tarnished aluminum ferry icons were made fast to the links. With delays, cost overruns and break-in difficulties, the high speed catamarans were political hot potatoes drawing negative attention to the NDP government.

Glen Clark's government intended the catamarans to serve needs of BC Ferry Services and stimulate the marine construction trade in BC. Instead, they became symbols of misdirected and incompetent public enterprise. Feeling the heat and already suffering at the polls, Clark's successor Ujjal Dosanjh removed the vessels from the fleet and offered them for sale. That played into the hands of a cynical political movement willing to burn hundreds of millions to snap shut the trap into which their opposition had stepped. Gordon Campbell and his handlers were people prepared to poison the community well for political advantage.

Indeed, the ferry construction project was a disaster owned largely by the NDP government of Glen Clark. Ujjal Dosanjh's cabinet offered the ships for sale, a decision based on expert advice. They expected to realize more benefit from a sale than the next favored option, which involved modifications to reduce speed and improve fuel efficiency so the ships could be assigned to Langdale runs and supplemental service on the Nanaimo route. Consultants predicted that a sale would take two years.

However, the new Liberal government didn't want to sell the vessels on the international market or to modify them and put them into service. This was one disaster from which they didn't want citizens making a recovery. Leaving the ships idly displayed on the Vancouver waterfront as sharp reminders served a political purpose worth more than any alternatives. For that, Liberals needed cooperation of the Washington Marine Group who controlled berthing facilities in North Vancouver, a place with great visibility, especially compared to BC Ferries' own Deas Docks in Richmond.

Instead of allowing the sale process to run the recommended course, the Liberals sold the aluminum catamarans to Washington Marine, completing the sale little more than a year after the Wright report that counseled patience. WMG, owned by Montana based multi-billionaire Dennis Washington, paid under $20 million, less than the ships' scrap value. Naturally, the Washington family are large contributors to the BC Liberals. WMG sold the ships to the giant Abu Dhabi Mar Group for service in the Persian Gulf between the United Arab Emirates and Quatar.

Had he been advising Premier Clark, Sir Humphrey Appleby would have said the original fast ferry plan was courageous. Every ex post facto expert review concluded that while its execution was inept, the initial program itself was ill conceived. This is from the report by Fred R. Wright, FCA:
“Construction of the fast ferries started before the scope, schedule and budget for the ships was firmly established. Indeed, these critical elements of ship construction were not managed in a disciplined way throughout the project. It seems self evident, at least in hindsight, that first-rate project management techniques that mitigate risk are essential on any project of this magnitude.

“Additionally, the principles of project management are most needed, and most valuable, at the 
genesis of a project. A clear recognition of how scope, budget and schedule interrelate, together with appropriately precise estimates of these three elements, are essential to sorting out potentially successful projects from superficially attractive ideas that have little potential for practical success.

“Proven project management practices [should] be used on all significant capital projects.”
Perhaps readers are wondering where we are going with this old story. I think it is important because it demonstrates how little politicians remember from days in the wilderness, once they enter plush lounges of power and sit in swivel chairs behind the desks.

I've written here before about my former admiration for Finance Minister Colin Hansen. When he was Liberal opposition critic of the ferry services, he spoke about the need for transparency, accountability, consultation and systematic risk analysis. He talked extensively about the NDP failure to complete a comprehensive Business Plan before beginning ferry construction.

The 2001 Wright Report reminded the Liberals about these almost universal principles, including those shown above. So what happened when the Convention Centre budget spiraled out of control, growing massively from under $500 million to almost $1 billion, a growth even greater than the entire fast ferry program cost.

It turns out that the convention centre got built, like the ferries, without any comprehensive examination of underlying business assumptions. My own analysis may sound familiar:
  • Critical elements of construction were not managed in a disciplined way throughout the project. It seems self evident, at least in hindsight, that first-rate project management techniques that mitigate risk and are essential on any project of this magnitude were not employed.
  • Additionally, the principles of project management most needed, and most valuable, at the genesis of a project were disregarded. A clear recognition of how scope, budget and schedule interrelate, together with appropriately precise estimates of these three elements, are essential to sorting out potentially successful projects from superficially attractive ideas that have little potential for practical success.
  • Proven project management practices should have been used on this and other significant capital projects.”
That explains the almost $500 million cost overrun and also the failure to evaluate the changing market for North American convention facilities. Without doubt, the Vancouver Convention Centre is gorgeous. It is bigger and better but largely empty.

Here is the centre's bumf:
With our expansion complete, we’ve tripled our size to cover 1.1 million square feet (or four city blocks) for a combined total of 466,500 square feet of pre-function, meeting, exhibition, and ballroom space. The Vancouver Convention Centre now offers the ability to hold multiple simultaneous events, each with their own separate access and function spaces.
Built over land and water, with floor-to-ceiling glass throughout that treats guests to phenomenal harbour and mountain views, our new West Building is a masterpiece of design, inspiration and sustainability. Our commitment to green technology can be found in every corner: the “living roof,” seawater heating and cooling, on-site water treatment and even fish habitat built into the foundation.
All well and good. Sounds great but where are the customers?  Here is a calendar showing the convention centre's availability. Days in red show the times that no events are scheduled and announced. Rather than hosting simultaneous events, they appear to be occupying the most costly empty space in Canada. Listings are from the Events Schedule published by the Convention Centre July 9, 2010.

Red marks days with no booking.
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"This guy rants and raves. . . "

All we know are the facts, ma'am
The esteemed Columbia Journalism Review, published bi-monthly by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, gets involved in examining how Canadian media has addressed the G20 demonstrations and police counteractions.  Craig Silverman writes Canadian Media in Crisis, including:
The media are also facing criticism for the quality and accuracy of their G20 coverage. The most common complaint is that reports—from TV news, in particular—focused on images of burning police cars instead of peaceful demonstrations, on episodes of violence rather than the widespread arrests of people, some of whom did nothing more than leave their houses at an inopportune time. . .

The criticisms of mainstream media coverage are, for the most part, not being met with official responses. Just as some members of the public feel as though those in charge of the planning and security of the G20 are not being brought to account, there is a segment of the population who express the same sentiment when it comes to the press. That lingering resentment found a focal point this week when bloggers and Twitter users accused Drolet and Global National of inserting misleading footage into a G20 report.
Silverman, being fair and balanced, quotes some of what I've written at Northern Insights and provides Mike Drolet's measured response on being held to account for Global work:
“This guy [Farrell] rants and raves like I’m trying to make it look worse than it was.”
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To serve and protect

Munch !!

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Satire, ridicule or ?

BC Mary's The Legislature Raids presents Democracy under attack in Canada by Robin Mathews
". . .   As if writing a satire or a piece of straight-faced ridicule, Globe and Mail writer Bill Curry , (front page, July 12) , for instance, reported on the search made by Stephen Harper to find a highly-qualified, ‘non-partisan’ (?) Governor General to succeed Ms. M. Jean. Curry’s report argues that the search was scrupulous and non-political.

"As Rick Salutin pointed out a few days earlier in his column, David Johnston, Governor-General-in-waiting, is a Stephen Harper hack. . . ."
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Global TV News will issue a "correction/clarification"

Northern Insights has been a modest blog about political issues affecting Canada's west coast.  So, it was a surprise two days ago when readers began arriving at an hourly rate measured in four figures. The draw was our catch of Global TV spicing a Toronto G20 report with footage taped too far away and too long ago. The story stimulating traffic at Northern Insights was passed around by Facebook, Twitter, bloggers and web referral sites. While not exactly going viral, it found a large Internet audience.

Through SiteMeter tracking, I see the locations of visitors, referring sites and pages reads, etc.  Recent visitors  have come from all over the world, mostly North America, but many from far afield. I am most intrigued when reviewing the referrals. Probably, the Global TV story is not about corporate POV but more about a news provider carelessly charging a report for dramatic effect.  Whether news is corrupted by intent, through incaution or overburdened staff unable to cope with deadlines doesn't much matter.

Small elements of news reporting are vital. Video and word selections distinguish professionalism. In addition to the Vancouver footage inserted in the Toronto report, I find fault with reporter Mike Drolet's description of people calling for an official inquiry into G20 policing as "hardcore demonstrators" for a cause that is losing followers. People peacefully calling for an inquiry are hardcore demonstrators? All of them? That is unfounded opinion and saying they are losing followers is probably an incorrect conclusion given the broad discussions underway, a growing Facebook site of more than 50,000 calling for an inquiry, opposition MPs demanding one, rallies throughout Canada for civil rights and a class-action lawsuit launched. Drolet was a reporter, not an editorialist; he should be cautious of voicing unsupported conclusions based on his own point of view. That is not the role of a reporter.

Issues of media access, fairness and balance engage citizens of all political persuasions. When I go to web sites that are linking to my Global TV story, it is apparent they come from all sides and the non-political middle ground. Linking blogs are those of conservatives, progressives and even anarchists. Many are troubled by this example because their level of mistrust in media is high. The profession probably doesn't help because it tends to be defensive, self-protective, inattentive to mistakes and oblivious to lack of balance. More importantly, its editorial decisions often defer to commercial interests.

Some believe there is less a problem of left leaning bias or right leaning bias and more of an inclination to favor corporate goals. Modern business management is measured by relatively short term results. That means willingness to sacrifice long term values such as reputation and capability for quick gains in current period profitability.

This Global News story here was an undeniable error, even accepted by the broadcaster as a mistake. They pulled the offending newscast from their website and said, "We will also issue a correction/clarification to our viewers during our newscast on Saturday, July 17 and on our website." 

I can't resist saying that correction/clarification is interesting wording. I guess the first is admission of a mistake by the broadcaster, the second admits only that the audience may have been too dull to understand so the TV guys will explain again.

Suggested online reading: What causes media bias.

Farrell Complaint Response From Global TV

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oh, the irony

Reddit, an Internet referral site, brought thousands of readers to Northern Insights in the last 24 hours to read about the Global TV News story. Reddit allows readers to comment about any referenced story. Many viewpoints are expressed, this one about the Global item made me smile:

  • It would be nice if the media was self-correcting. Unfortunately there is very little competition in the mainstream and the only people striving for truth are on the comedy station.
  • Funny how that is.
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An error by Global TV News or part of a pattern?

Bene Diction Blogs On pulled out the requirements to be met by our mostly self-regulating broadcasting industry:
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics (Clause 5 – News) states:
It shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. Broadcasters shall satisfy themselves that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. They shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial.
News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be formulated on the basis of the beliefs, opinions or desires of management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.
The RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors) code:
Article One – Accuracy
Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.
The CSBC has ruled in the past that insertion of  misleading footage, even if the broadcaster didn’t intend to mislead is a breach of Article One.
Article Seven – Corrections
Errors will be quickly acknowledged and publicly corrected.
I raised the issue about Global TV carelessly or deliberately (choose one) spicing its national news report about G20 demonstrators with video showing Vancouver Olympics vandals in action because I see it as part of a pattern. Sometimes through carelessness, other times through intention to shape the message, the news is distorted. Neither is tolerable. Democracy depends upon a free and accurate, unbiased press.

In British Columbia, Global TV News and Corus Radio are frequently partisan in favor of BC Liberals, as is the Vancouver Sun editorial board. They have squeezed reporting resources so completely that broadcast staff now read press releases to fill their newscasts.  As I write this, Corus radio reported Health Minister Kevin Falcon's self-congratulation about congestion reducing as much as 25% in hospitals because of revised "patient focused funding." The truth is that congestion is less because surgery schedules have been slashed and patient care staff laid off because of financing shortfalls since the last fiscal year.

That reminds me of the 'Yes Minister' episode 'The Compassionate Society' that depicts a hospital with five hundred administrative staff but no doctors, nurses or patients. The series creator recalls that "after inventing this absurdity, we discovered there were six such hospitals (or very large empty wings of hospitals) exactly as we had described them in our episode." Those places too were not congested.

Because broadcasters use exclusive licenses to the airwaves, they have a particular responsibility for fairness and accuracy. That means giving voice to a spectrum of ideas, not simply the single interpretation favored by corporate owners.

As consumers and as citizens, we have a right, perhaps a duty, to hold the news media to account when they fail to meet the standards stated above. We need to use the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to voice our concerns and, if that is fruitless, demand better oversight from the CRTC.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Global TV News caught cheating - updated with video link

Global TV caught cheating again in January 2011.

Here is a link to the original Global TV News report, safely archived by reader Justin. With almost 60,000 Canadians Demanding a Public Inquiry into Toronto G20 at Facebook, it is a mistake for authorities to think protesters are losing momentum. On the contrary, it is being gained.

Pay attention to the final sentences of Mike Drolet's report. Who expected 5,000? Who counted fewer than 2,000? Did Drolet pull numbers out of thin air to deprecate the protest movement?
"The hardcore protesters are still yelling.  But, are they starting to lose their followers? Over 5,000 were expected for this rally. Fewer than two showed up."
July 10, the Northern Insights posting I'm wondering related how Global TV salted its report by adding unrelated footage to its video report on the Toronto G20 demonstrations. People trust TV news in Canada to be honest and video should reflect reality not fiction.

Some readers indicated that I must have been mistaken, they could not believe that a national news service would broadcast a fake video report. Therefore, it is important to publish the evidence. During the live newscast, I recognized footage that originated in Vancouver during the Olympics when vandals broke a few windows and tipped over newspaper boxes. As you will see in the photos, captured from Global TV's July 10 5:30pm national news, one of the newspaper boxes being tipped was The Province. This happened on a Vancouver street February 13, 2010. In a case of yellow journalism, Global was trying to make the Toronto demonstrations more dramatic by spicing it with extra footage.

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What else do they fake?

Anyone who reads through Northern Insights finds numerous articles where I criticize Global TV News for their biased coverage of British Columbia politics. Global routinely serve as an outlet for the BC Liberals, presenting pro-government spin without independent verification.

By selectively reporting news that favors the BC Liberal government and ignoring or softening adverse information, they serve Premier Gordon Campbell's political interests. Keith Baldrey, the Global TV political reporter in Victoria, has appeared as a speaker at events hosted by Liberal supporters and even as a seminar speaker for the province. His spouse is occasionally employed directly or indirectly in government related affairs and has been contracted by the province. Regardless of her skill set, that is a potential conflict that deserves public exposure.

A common assumption is that Global TV, under direction of its corporate leaders, is partisan in its political coverage and takes, as a matter of policy, a reporting viewpoint that shills for wealthy corporate interests. Their support for the BC Liberals or the two headed monster in Ottawa, the federal Liberal/Conservative coalition is practical demonstration.

Yellow journalism demonstrated by the July 10 report on a Toronto demonstration calling for an official inquiry is a perfect example. Global TV's Mike Drolet claimed that the call for an inquiry was losing public support. Their aim is to build public anger over the actions of protesters. To do that, they draw six month old footage from across the continent. Inexcusable.

Meanwhile, the important stories are ignored about people improperly arrested and imprisoned and denied legal rights without reason. Global pursues its goals, shielding the public from information and then claims that same public is unconcerned about the issues Global ignored.

Go to and watch this video: Toronto [Parkdale] Neighborhood Defends G20 
Activists. Watch the entire story, particularly the parts where lawyer Riali Johannesson discusses the abuses of constitutional rights.

I invite you to join this Facebook group. More than 50,000 member now.
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Broadcast Standards Council responds

After I filed a complaint, the CBSC response included this:
By copy of this letter, we are asking CHAN-TV to respond to the concerns you have raised and to hold a copy of the logger tape of the broadcast which concerned you.  This is always the first step taken by the CBSC in pursuing a complaint.  Broadcasters who are members of the CBSC take their responsibility to respond to audience concerns very seriously and the dialogue between broadcasters and members of their audience is a cornerstone of the CBSC's complaints resolution process. In fact, concerns are often resolved satisfactorily for all parties through this dialogue phase.  We hope that the response you will receive from  CHAN-TV within the next 21 days will resolve the issues you have raised to your satisfaction. 
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Monday, July 12, 2010

Ex-top dog turns to day time infomercials

Things must be getting tough at the Corus Radio flagship in Vancouver. They've long had a history of renting out blocks of weekend air time for commercial content vaguely disguised as news and information. However, hackneyed presentations have never been so pervasive. A list of NW infomercials:
  • Money with Joe Bowen
  • The Mortgage Show
  • Money Talks
  • Get Connected
  • Talk to the Experts
  • J.T. Foxx Show
  • New Reality Show
  • Muir on Money
  • Home Discovery with Shell Busey
  • Your Money Radio
  • GuildHall Wealth Management
The strategy of mixing commercial content into regular programing is less obvious in prime time but commonly used. I have written before about quid pro quo elements of broadcasting and it has certainly been on show in BC recently. For example, Shell Oil launched a series promoting heavy oil, in partnership with Canwest Newspapers and Global TV.  That TV news operation routinely runs press releases from the BC Liberals without naming the source, which might be reasonable if they reported that and had done independent verification. However, that would take effort and, to them, accuracy matters less than serving the commercial objective. The BC Liberal government, by coincidence of course, is one the province's largest television advertisers.

Today, I spent moments tuned to Bill Good in what used to be the go-to slot for news and information. Of course that was under famous hosts Webster and Mair. Of those, one is spinning in his grave while the other still denounces those plundering the province. I monitor NW occasionally but the programs before and after noon only provide objective news by accident. Good spent the first half of the 11 o'clock hour hearing from Richard Oliver of Suisse Gold Corporation. Oliver discussed how consumers can purchase many goods, even Canadian ones, cheaper in the USA than here. One animal product, made in Ontario, is sold in the USA for $4 a unit. In Canada, it is sold for $18.  Oliver also said he was purchasing gold and silver coins issued by the Canadian Mint. An American wholesaler provides these for 40% less than the Canadian distributor.  He also brought in a truck from the USA, met all requirements and saved thousands. Callers added further examples, comparing pricing for cell phones, clothing, truck canopies etc.

Oliver supposed that high Canadian prices related to lack of competition at the distribution level. That is true but one little understood issue is that Canadian distributors carry on strict "price maintenance" programs. If a dealer cuts the suggested retail price too much, the distributor will find reasons to pull the product franchise. American distributors can be in big trouble for doing the same thing.

Bill Good seemed incredulous at what his guest was saying. (Maybe he was wondering who booked the guest?) He is the same broadcaster who has been promoting HST with assurances that consumer prices will fall, tax savings realized by business will be passed to consumers through lower prices. It is impossible to believe that Good is so ignorant that he was surprised at the scenario described by Richard Oliver. Of course, he was quick to end the segment and switch to a promo for Cactus Club, featuring founder Richard Jaffray.

The exciting news is that a Burnaby Cactus Club made the final as one of five finalists in the contest to select Canada's best restroom, a highly esteemed award organized by Cyntas, the company that makes America's best restroom happen. Jaffray was excited, "I found out about it while I was away on vacation and I didn't even know we were up for it and here we got this big award..." Wow, breathtaking news, eh?

Jaffray was on message for other things too. Good didn't ask him if Cactus Club was reducing its prices because of HST but he wondered if it had affected business.  Jaffray said, "I haven't really heard much about HST. . . Business has never been better." Could he have said anything different since he is opening a 500 seat restaurant at the provincial government's new convention centre? After all, one hand washes another, eh?

But why worry about prices to consumers or HST when someone is in the running for Canada's Best Restroom award.
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