Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A hiatus, sort of

It seems only a short while since I began Northern Insights / Perceptivity but that was 17 months and more than 500 articles ago. Last week, when Sean Holman invited me do a guest segment with Laila Yuile on Public Eye Radio, he referred to us both as "veteran bloggers" and I took that as a compliment. I'm sure Laila did as well.

Years ago, after a few ski lessons, the instructor said, "Now, go and put on mileage." Writing is like that too and Northern Insights is the means to gain mileage for my scribblings. It's done that to my satisfaction and I've been honored by a growing audience. I don't expect readers to agree with all or most of my interpretations and opinions. In fact, I'm sure you don't. However, I try to be factually accurate, which means that even an article that is a quick read may take hours of preparation.

With the summer soon ending, Northern Insights is going on hiatus. It won't be complete since I'll be following the news and unlikely to resist commenting on breaking stories, especially if the good ship BC Liberal splits its keel suddenly. However, I plan time away from the blog. I promised to do a little clean up at home and I have a research project to pursue. Additionally, my wife and I signed up for a short immersion in language training. I have already a pathetic grasp of French - it was sufficient at least to recover an impounded rental car in Lyon - but now there is an urge to know a few words of Spanish. Since my capacity for multi-tasking has gone AWOL, attention to the blog will be minimized during September.

I remember words of Mark Twain from 1869:
What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!
- The Innocents Abroad
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Would an inquiry tell us things we don't wish to hear?

I think – or maybe hope – Vancouver Police leadership, taking an uncommon path, is trying to be forthright in its public dealing. Improvement in training and supervision is still needed as proved by the video of three callous officers on street patrol recently. Nevertheless, we see signs of Chief Jim Chu's continuing determination to make improvements. Those could lead VPD to be one of the best police services anywhere although some might argue that bar is set remarkably low throughout the industry. (To see how low, read the New Orleans stories at ProPublica.)

Unlike Social Development Minister Rich Coleman, I don't see VPD Deputy Chief Greg LePard's internal review as a mere exercise in finger pointing. It is an unusually honest report, not an exercise in self-exoneration.

Paul Willcocks writes that VPD offered the report, written four years ago and released after serial killer Robert Pickton's final appeal, to BC Liberal cabinet ministers involved in police issues. Inexcusably, the offer was refused. The provincial government apparently finds ignorance helpful in making policy and I suppose blank minds allow decision making to be less complicated. 

The RCMP, pretending they've never heard of the Pickton case before now, stated only that they wished the VPD had not released the report publicly. So much for their claimed acceptance of a new level of accountability.

CTV evening news in Vancouver broadcast an excellent 5-minute report on the Pickton murder cases. The report was first aired in 2002 and stands as a damning document of police failures. Lisa Rossington was the reporter and it began with Lynn Frey, mother of a victim. The woman talked about her family's dedication in searching while she also unsuccessfully sought assistance to find her missing daughter.

Cameras left the forlorn Ms. Frey on the streets in 2002 and cut to strutting press officers of the RCMP. They were announcing that "one of the largest coordinated police efforts in BC" had made an arrest "carried out quickly and peacefully" that day in 2002. 

Frey mirrored both anger and sadness talking about how she heard stories from women on the street while she searched. They told her the missing women would never be found alive. "They're gone." She persisted in her investigation and learned that a pig farm 40-minutes from Vancouver was involved.

Mohammed Khogaini also heard stories of the pig farm killing fields as did Joyce Lachance. Both lost friends. Lynn Frey took her knowledge to the Vancouver Police. She called back months later and was told the VPD had investigated and there was nothing to be said. By then Pickton was well known to police. Two years before he had been seriously injured while attempting to murder a woman who survived to give police a full report. Charges against Pickton were laid but stayed because prosecutors did not trust a victim from the streets.

Coquitlam RCMP Sargent Mike Connor entered reports in the police data base and pressed for a larger investigation of Pickton. Vancouver Police profiler Kim Rossmo knew about Pickton as well but he was stymied by jealousies of colleagues who disliked scientific methodology. Through many years, the Vancouver Mayor minimized reports of the missing women and supported the views of senior VPD officers. No one at the top wished to admit to a serial killer or that the woman had done anything more than change addresses and lose contact with friends and family. 

Doug Mackay-Dunn, VPD Sargent for the DTES was pressed by patrol constables for greater effort on the missing women files. Mackay-Dunn had asked Kim Rossmo to examine the statistics and that led to formation of a working group who believed a serial murderer was operating. That committee died because senior command officers dismissed the analysis.

Deborah Jardine, mother of another victim, filed an official complaint about the lack of investigation into her daughter's disappearance. She said, "They did nothing, nothing at all." It was years later before the pig farm became the subject of intensive searching. This was despite an additional report that a witness spotted a woman's dead body at the Port Coquitlam farm.

Lynn Frey said authorities didn't care because

"these sex trade workers were treated like garbage. . . But damn it, they're human beings, they have feelings, they have emotions and they all have families that love them."
The VPD claim to have learned from this sad, sad case. The RCMP and Criminal Justice Branch prosecutors prefer to say nothing. Enabling do-gooders on the DTES continue to call for richer social programs as if throwing cash into a cesspool will make it sweeter. Rich Coleman now says there will be some form of review. You can bet it will be limited because the Liberals are unwilling to fund a radical examination, especially when it involves self-examination. 

The issues are many and some are near irresolvable human issues related to drug policy and addiction treatment, housing and social services, healthcare, education and employment. As Churchill might have said about social justice when associated with poverty and crime: It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Lying then or lying now?

On radio Monday, BC Liberal spokesman Keith Baldrey may have launched a trial balloon when he talked of a possible strategy for dealing with the HST dilemma. He said that, after the government's business allies lost their court challenge, Colin Hansen again opened the door to further exemptions from HST.
"If they could pull off an agreement, . . . if they could open the agreement or bring in more exemptions, perhaps even knock a point off this thing, by the time we get closer to the next election, that may very well take the sting out of the impact of the tax for a lot of people."
Liberals assumed that public anger would subside once HST became effective, counting on support from media allies and a series of releases from business supporters, economists and party members posing as ordinary citizens. The hired guns stumbled badly though. The controvertible Fraser Institute issued a report favoring HST that was quickly and widely discredited. Economists the Liberals hired had to admit that price reductions from tax savings were uncertain, depending on competitive factors and industry pricing influences. The putative experts were seen as tax promoters, not explainers.

The government has been trying to sell stories with its credibility reserves exhausted. They wouldn't admit the tax change was a gift to business, mostly mega-corporations they had rewarded frequently already. Large distortions in the pre-election budget had been revealed and the Liberal claim that HST consideration began only in the days after voting was implausible.

More than anything, BC Liberals are suffering ling chi, death by a thousand cuts. The BC Rail story that they refused to address for years is escapable no more. The excessive influence of lobbyists is beyond denial and the focus of power within the Premier's circle has left the remainder of the Liberal cabinet and caucus looking inconsequential.The original aim of modest renewable energy projects has been overwhelmed by big money players, most from outside the province. The pretense of green policies is lost amid river and fishery destruction and an unprecedented push to build massive bridge, road and pipeline projects. Can a spanking new 10 lane super-bridge soaring over the mighty Fraser be the symbol of a green government?

The idea of tinkering with HST and playing for time to postpone Campbell's end is the strategy of a defeated group that remains unwilling to concede its failure. A reduction of one tax point will not impress anyone since it can be so easily undone. Granting further tax exemptions would only add to Colin Hansen's credibility problem since he made numerous declarations that further adjustments would not be tolerated by Ottawa. The voters could only ask, "Were you lying then, or lying now?"
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The Campbell Creed: promise more, deliver less

Auditor General John Doyle, MBA, CA, submitted his third report of the fiscal year to the Legislature, Conservation of Ecological Integrity in B.C. Parks and Protected Areas. Mr. Doyle is precise and unequivocal. He lauds the objective but faults the execution. The Liberals, who continually vaunt their skills as managers, again demonstrate that incompetence is the sad reality.
"The Ministry of Environment has a vision to, “create the best park system in the world” and a goal to be recognized for its leadership in the proactive stewardship of ecological integrity. Currently, the ministry is not successfully meeting this goal.
  • program plans are incomplete and lack adequate performance measures;
  • conservation policies are not being consistently upheld;
  • the parks and protected area system has not been designed to ensure ecological integrity;
  • management plans are dated and incomplete; and
  • little action has been taken to ensure the conservation of ecological integrity.
"We also found that the ministry is not publicly reporting on its progress in conserving ecological integrity in the province’s parks and protected areas system."
Indeed, this devastating report should result in the immediate resignation of Environment Minister Barry Penner, shown here with a staff member reviewing completion of the Phil Gaglardi memorial gardens in Oliver.

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Inadequate funding threatens property and lives

Given the heroic efforts of responders, this is not a good time to focus on fire fighting deficiencies. However, with a million acres burned, smoke hazing continental skies and the homes of thousands threatened, our observations should be retained. Later, those who obstruct preparedness must be held to account. Specifically, I mean Forest Minister Pat Bell, Finance Minister Colin Hansen and their boss, whatshisname.

The 2010 budget for fire-fighting in BC is $52 million, an amount barely able to fund a few weeks of efforts presently needed. Is 2010 an anomaly that caught the province by surprise? Not at all. In 2009, forest fire costs were more than six times the amount budgeted and the combined funding deficiencies since 2003 total almost $1 billion.

There are two reasons for low-balling the fire fighting budget. It allows the Finance Minister to headline more desirable deficit or surplus numbers and it lessens the risk of undesired spending in years with low incidence of fire. That is because of zero-balance budgeting under which civil servants exhaust each year's spending allocations, so that increases can be requested the year following.

The Liberal government says we should not be concerned about their budget methods because in the end, the province will spend whatever it takes to deal with emergencies. However, their policy is worse than inept, it guarantees sub-optimum fire response and endangers lives. It is undisputed that successful fire containment depends on quick response on the fire scene. That requires personnel and technology nearby, no matter where an outbreak is located. Unlike old days, there is almost no use for untrained labor. Sustained action fire suppression requires knowledgeable, experienced, physically fit personnel with skill sets appropriate to the particular fire activity. These people need transport, equipment, catering, accommodation, supervision and relief. Additionally, fresh teams must be on standby at fire centers throughout the province, ready to respond to new outbreaks.

These human resources do not wander in off the street or respond to job postings. Unique people are needed with highly specialized capabilities. In 2010, the BC Forest Service is scouring the world for firefighters and already relies on hundreds imported from other jurisdictions only available if their home regions continue to grant leave. In difficult years, which now seem commonplace, the lack of trained crews requires using workers below desired standards.

While ground crews are the true heart of fire fighting, air attack capability is important. An experienced water bomber pilot emphasized to me that the fire fighters' arsenal must include a variety of weapons, particularly for aerial suppression. Helicopters are often most available. They are maneuverable, can deliver crews and dump modest water loads with quick turnarounds and precision.  Fixed wing craft working fires in BC range from the ancient, but large, Martin Mars flying boats to single engine Air Tractors and others originally designed for agriculture or aging military or passenger aircraft converted for the use.

Many of the aircraft in use are based on designs created sixty years ago or more. For example, the Convair CV-580 water bomber that crashed with loss of two in BC this summer is a variant of a design that first flew in 1946. Equipped with turboprop engines, it was one of the more effective available in this province. Questions remain about safety and effectiveness of the entire fleet. The high capacity Martin Mars, designed in the thirties, is limited in areas that it can be safely used. STOL craft with loads of power and agility are desirable and probably the best all round aerial suppression machine in the world is the Canadian built Bombardier 415 SuperScooper.

The airplane has exceptional low-level, low-speed manoeurability with steep descent and climb capabilities. It can scoop over 6,000 liters of water in 12 seconds. Outstanding turnaround times result in delivery of  more water, with greater accuracy, than much larger craft. This is the one aircraft specifically designed for fire fighting. Besides unmatched efficiency it offers outstanding safety and appears to be ideally suited to British Columbia. However, a fleet of six, with spares, would cost $180 million.

For once, this would be a perfect project for a private-public partnership. In the months these STOL craft are unneeded for fire fighting in British Columbia, they could be used in the south for fires or reconfigured for transport, search and rescue, air ambulance or humanitarian relief. Newfoundland is soon to take delivery of four Bombardier 415s while there are none flying in BC.

To return to my first point, the provincial government dedicates so little in the usual initial budget that planners are unable to prepare for what has become a normal fire season. They must rely on crews that are too few, on workers from other jurisdiction who may not be available, on inadequate numbers of fire centers located strategically around the province, on too few highly trained managers and inadequate equipment, from hand tools and vehicles to aircraft. Higher base funding could change the fire suppression effort completely.

It is morally wrong to ask pilots to fly in ancient aircraft not designed for fire fighting and, by not acquiring modern machines, we expose flyers to unsafe conditions and obtain sub-optimum results. That leads to unpredictable economic losses and unnecessary threats to human safety. As fire fighters in BC's Cariboo told news reporters this week:
"We'eve had a lot of fires that, once we got to them, there was not a whole lot we could do. The only thing stopping these massive fires now is mother nature."
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

HST hit is serious for many investors

Reading through comments at various online sites, one finds occasional statements supporting the BC Liberal's surprise imposition of HST. Those not commissioned by our big business friends, I suspect, come from the $4,000 a month media monitors at the Public Affairs Bureau in Victoria. It still surprises me when comments downplay the new tax as unlikely to make a difference to individuals.

Personally, I think any revenue neutral tax measure that annually saves business $1.9 billion is going to cost consumers precisely $1.9 billion, which means over $1,860 for an average BC couple and their 2.4 children.

Here is one of those little talked of issues related to HST.  Under rules laid down by BC Liberals, HST will apply more broadly than the old provincial sales tax. Investment management fees will be subject to HST and British Columbia has never before taxed those services. For example, mutual fund investors pay annual fees for management of financial assets.

By the way, in Canada, we pay the highest fund management fees in the world because laws protect the financial industry from low-cost competition and allow high domestic prices to be maintained. One survey showed Canada's average asset-weighted expense ratio for equity funds was 2.56%, compared to 1.11% in the USA. So, don't hold your breath waiting for lower fees because investment managers save a few dollars provincial tax on bathroom supplies.

Suppose you are 45 years old and deposit $200,000 in an RRSP retirement account. At 2.56%, the annual fund management fee would be $5,120 plus $614 HST. Since you paid GST under the old system, the new BC share of tax is $358. Ignoring increases from fund appreciation, the $358 would be payable in each of 20 years by the time you retired, or $7,168.

Nice, eh?
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He's come undun - brought forward from June, seems more apt now

We didn't know what he was headed for
And when we found what he was headed for
It was not too late
He's come undun
He found a mountain that was far too high
And then he found out he couldn't fly
It was too late
He's gone too far
He's lost the sun
He's come undun
We wanted truth but all we got was lies
Came the time we realized
It was not too late
He's gone too far
He's lost the sun
He's come undun.
Read the comments to Justine Hunter's Globe and Mail article, Business coalition asks court to quash anti-HST petition.

Sense blowback developing?

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Gyotaku salmon

Visit Alexandra Morton for original prints in the traditional Japanese gyotaku method  (a print is made from a fish).
Check out the Paddle for Wild Salmon at Wild Salmon are Sacred
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Friday, August 20, 2010

When big business rules, we get rules for big business

The title is reworked from economist Dean Baker's offering today at Huffington Post. His title: When Wall Street Rules, We Get Rules for Wall Street. Fairly clear what that article explains, eh?  For those not familiar with Dr. Baker, he is one of the few economists who predicted the recent meltdown and he is a vocal critic of financial regulators and politicians whose incompetence and massive conflicts guarantee regular economic calamities. He tops my list of economists worth following.

Baker's article relates well to recent writing in our blog world about results of the 'government capture' orchestrated by business forces in BC. That began years ago, in the nineties, when the NDP was in power and Gordon Wilson led the BC Liberal Party. The money folks had different plans. They turned first to Jack Poole as choice for next Premier but Poole declined the offer. Gordon Campbell was second pick to lead the Liberal Party, which was intended to become the opposite of what its name described.

The arrangers put up plenty of cash and organizing resources. A cooperative media was especially helpful and the maladroit NDP provided plump pickings. After the 2001 election, the direction has been continuous. As we in BC have learned and as Dean Baker writes, those that manage power, inevitably manage it for their own benefit.

But hey, these guys worked at the plan for years and put good money on the line. They think they deserve whatever they get as bought and paid for. But, they're also thanking Gord; he's been a loyal mercenary.
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Colin Hansen, your pants are smokin'

British Columbia's Auditor General John Doyle says the Liberal government is not following generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and understated the 2010 deficit by $73 million. Finance Minister Colin Hansen downplayed the news and stated this was merely a simple disagreement over methods of accounting. He said that Mr. Doyle, having last worked in Australia, has inadequate understanding of Canadian ways of business. That is untrue and Hansen is fully aware he talked nonsense in claiming that John Doyle does not understand GAAP.

The government chooses to misreport disputed financial information because it does not want to admit the policies in play. Particularly, that, at the very time it was slashing public programs, it was gifting hundreds of millions of dollars to wealthy gas and oil producers and making deals in secret with favored contractors to build more than $4 billion of highway and bridge projects in the lower mainland.

Which side do we believe in this variance? Well, Colin, there ain't no way to hide your lyin' eyes. Your record of disrespect for truth is clear.

The position of Auditor General is designed to be worthy of trust; the position of Finance Minister is not. The A-G is selected by all political parties and does not answer to the Civil Service, Premier, Cabinet or any partisan authority. John Doyle is an officer of the legislature, responsible to work without partisanship. This independence is not shared by the Comptroller General who takes direction from senior government officials as recently demonstrated in the politically purposed attack on the Vancouver School Board.

In the absence of material difficulties, auditors ordinarily express an opinion that financial statements fairly present a financial postion according to generally accepted accounting principles consistently applied. Withholding of a "clean audit report" is carefully considered and extensively discussed with top officials of the enterprise under review. Except for cheaters, corporate accountants never face a reserved audit opinion. It is a near universal sign of dishonesty and intent to mislead.

Of course John Doyle, like every other designated professional accountant working in Canada understands GAAP. Even junior accountants on his staff are thoroughly conversant with current standards. For Hansen to state that Doyle lacks appropriate knowledge in this area is to accuse him of a serious professional failing. Similarly, he slanders Mr. Doyle's colleagues who, incidentally, did not come from Australia:

Audit Team:
  • Bill Gilhooly, Assistant Auditor General
  • Peter Bourne, Executive Director
  • Geoff Stagg, Manager
  • Phil Hancyk, Auditor
  • Albert Law, Auditor
Auditor General Doyle says the province's deficit should be higher by $73 million and he says that taxpayer supported debt is understated by $544 million because the government is not accounting properly for the Transportation Investment Corporation.

He also warns that pending changes in accounting standards affect how BC Hydro operations are consolidated. The deficit for 2010 would increase $705 million under the proposed principles. Another shocking revelation in the Auditor General's report is that BC Hydro has over $1.7 billion in expenses that have been incurred but will not be recognized in financial statement until some time in the future. Essentially, they are worthless assets, already consumed with zero liquidity. Some argue the amounts should be shown as an increase of the deficit.

Clearly the Liberal Fudge-it Budget is now more completely revealed. Will mainstream media pundits bother to report the information or will it be undisclosed like other Liberal malfeasance?
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Elections BC action is "nonsense"

From  BIV Business Today:
Acting chief electoral officer Craig James was mistaken when he decided not to send the citizens’ initiative petition against the HST and its accompanying bill to a legislative committee, according to one of Canada’s preeminent and most experienced constitutional scholars.

“[James’] statement [relayed via petition organizer Bill Vander Zalm] that it would be disrespectful of the courts for him to pass the petition to the legislative committee is just nonsense,” said 86-year-old Ted McWhinney, who has advised Canadian prime ministers dating back to John Diefenbaker as well as various premiers, foreign heads of state and the United Nations . . .
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False accounting hides Liberal gifts to oil & gas multinationals

The Auditor General of British Columbia has given a qualified audit opinion on the Summary Financial Statements because the statements do not comply with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). All three of this year’s reservations were also included as reservations last year.
  • Oil and natural gas producer’s royalty credits are inappropriately being netted from revenue rather than being reported as expenses.
  • Government is not recording liabilities for deep-well credits owed to oil and gas producers.
  • The third reservation is the improper consolidation into the Summary Financial Statements of the Transportation Investment Corporation (TIC). Consolidating the accounts of the TIC using the modified equity method rather than the line-by-line method results in significant differences in the financial statement balances.
The Liberal avoidance of honest accounting for money owed oil and gas producers is because they don't want to admit in public to another massive give away to mega-corporations. It is not only HST that transfers huge sums of money to powerful multinationals.

Another issue, not covered by the Auditor General, is the elimination of environmental oversight at precisely the time it is most needed. Oil and gas producers now routinely use hydraulic fracturing, with a multiplicity of chemicals that can poison groundwaters wherever they are used. The BC Government slashed both staff and budget allocations over the last few years, relying instead on "self-regulation" for protection.

Keep in mind that the concept of self-regulation was behind the massive BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. To encourage this agenda energy companies have spent millions on political contributions, lobbyists and, of course, funding of the Fraser Institute.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Indeed, power does corrupt

Nearly four decades ago, TIME Magazine published a special report: Poor vs Rich: A New Global Conflict. It examined potential struggles between rich and poor nations and predicted the developing world would inevitably claim a greater share of world resources. TIME supposed that radical poor nations might one day blackmail the rich by threatening nuclear holocaust and the magazine warned of more certain risk that lesser conflicts could destroy the economic system on which world stability depends.

In many ways, the world economy has changed since the 1975 report in TIME. China is probably now the second most powerful economy. Brazil, Russia and India are poised to move past Canada in GDP rankings with Mexico and South Korea likely to advance similarly within a decade. But there is another element of income distribution with potential to encourage strife, in North America and elsewhere.

In the same way that economic factors have contributed to international warfare throughout history, matters of wealth distribution within a country have been integral to domestic disputes and civil wars. Whereas there is a shuffling of nations deemed to be among the developed elite, vast majorities in rising economies continue to live in dire poverty. That has always been a root of unrest and the greater the disparity between elites and average citizens, the greater the potential for conflict.

Throughout time, elites have commanded portions of national economies that are disproportionate to their numbers within the populations. Of course, that is an inevitable result of different capabilities, opportunities, risk tolerance, dedication and fortune. The distribution of wealth and influence will never be equal but if the imbalance grows too large, particularly if opportunities are class restricted, a civil society will not function. The elites may hold dominance for a period through force but history demonstrates that order will disintegrate in a society of severe inequality.

Disparity has been a dilemma always. In 1832, seventh US President Andrew Jackson acted against the only nationwide chartered bank because the private institution exercised unmatched economic power for the benefit of elite commercial interests and the detriment of most citizens. The prescient words in Jackson's veto message remain meaningful:
It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society--the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.
In British Columbia, Gordon Campbell's government has accelerated the granting of privileges to make the already potent more powerful. Largest is the massive HST transfer that relieves business and burdens consumers. Consider also the billions of dollars to be stripped from consumers under the insane take-or-pay private power contracts that force premium cost electricity on BC Hydro without regard for declining domestic and export markets. Or, compare the billions spent in the lower mainland for Olympic facilities, the Whistler highway, convention and stadium facilities, mass transit, bridges and roadworks while the hinterlands are decimated by declining fishing, forestry, tourism, highways and negative industrial investment, excepting the northeast gas fields.

Worse than the imbalance of spending between the lower mainland and the interior is the Liberal policy that eliminated open tendering of large contracts. Instead, exclusive arrangements are made by negotiations conducted behind closed doors with pre-qualified consortia that routinely add and delete participants without requalification. Browse through Laila Yuile's website for the remainder of these stories and ask yourself why secret negotiations have replaced open bidding.

Essayist Paul Graham has written intelligently about inequality and connections between wealth and power:
The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. . . We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power. And there has been progress on that front. . . But what's changed is not variation in wealth. What's changed is the ability to translate wealth into power.
How do you break the connection between wealth and power? Demand transparency. Watch closely how power is exercised, and demand an account of how decisions are made. Why aren't all police interrogations videotaped? . . . Why don't government officials disclose more about their finances, and why only during their term of office?
A friend of mine who knows a lot about computer security says the single most important step is to log everything. Back when he was a kid trying to break into computers, what worried him most was the idea of leaving a trail. He was more inconvenienced by the need to avoid that than by any obstacle deliberately put in his path.
Like all illicit connections, the connection between wealth and power flourishes in secret. Expose all transactions, and you will greatly reduce it. Log everything. That's a strategy that . . . doesn't have the side effect of making your whole country poor.
Before Gordon Campbell formed government, he promised accountability and transparency. He said his government would be the best ever on this count.  Instead, he hired Martyn Brown who apparently has never maintained a note, a file or a memory. Perhaps Campbell's was a false promise from the beginning. Perhaps his views quickly evolved, corrupted by his greed and enjoyment of power and the ability to reward friends. Nevertheless, accountability is non-existent, secret administration has become the manner of public business in British Columbia. Citizens are routinely deceived, legislators are demeaned by exclusion and influence is exercised by the Premier's coterie and a handful of lobbyist associates. The BC Liberal Party has become expert in graft, exchanging privileges for cash and allowing a favored few to move unimpeded between government and business, often double dipping, triple dipping and worse.

Almost three quarters of British Columbians have concluded that corruption is rife in Campbell's government. The remaining quarter is blind by ignorance or design. Those riding the gravy train simply want it to continue unimpeded.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When thieves hold keys to the public vault

Must reading from The Common Sense Canadian by economist Erik Andersen:

Sinister Financial Vectors at BC Hydro
  • From 2007 to 2010, there has been a $628 million reversal of net operating income.
  • The total volume of domestic (inside BC) sales went from 52,440 GWhs in 2006 to 50,233 units by 2010.
  • Debt-to-equity ratio has typically hovered around 70/30 but now is 89/11.
  • In fiscal 2007 about $236,000 of capital was used to produce one GWh. By 2010 it took 38% more capital to get the same quantity of energy for domestic customers.
  • A December 2009 report from Price WaterhouseCoopers projects that IPP projects will deliver 35,470 GWhs by 2020. The estimated total capital deployed would be $26.144 billion. That translates into $737,074 of new capital to produce one GWh.
  • With growth in domestic demand slowing and reversing, BC Hydro embarked on aggressive contracting for energy from IPPs. 
  • Sales to outside of BC customers have collapsed, leaving only the captive domestic customers to carry the growing financial burden.
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Consumer action on HST

HST shifts cash from pockets of individuals to coffers of business. Lack of competition and world prices guarantee that tax savings will increase business profitability. Mega-corporations shelter money in overseas havens while small business and consumers pay tax without relief. Big business enjoys our nation’s privileges. They should pay a fair share. Repeal HST and restore fairness to the British Columbia tax system.

A few experienced BC bloggers will use Honestly Shared Taxation to provide information about HST in British Columbia. We support the immediate withdrawal of HST and believe the people have already spoken clearly. The initiative that gathered signatures in every riding of the province was successful but a representative of Gordon Campbell's government sidelined the measure. We must demonstrate that BC Liberals cannot continue to ignore the clear will of its citizens.

This week a coalition of big business groups who have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the B.C. Liberal Party will be in B.C. Supreme Court in a legal action that could invalidate the Fight HST citizens initiative petition signed by 705,643 voters.

It is our intention to identify corporations that actively work to oppress public sentiment and encourage the government that imposes HST without voter mandate. That includes the Council of Forest Industries, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the Mining Association of B.C., the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Coast Forest Products Association and the Western Convenience Stores Association.

We invite citizens to withdraw from business dealings with those who encourage BC Liberals taxation policies. Most of the large corporations of this province are financing court action in opposition to the citizens' initiative. We will go beyond the front organizations and list their funders. That means that every member of the BC Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates must feel the economic wrath of consumers through boycott.

Have a look at Honestly Shared Taxation, a new group blog to identify and list companies that fund and support BC Liberal actions to impose HST.

Laila Yuile and I started this group blog and invite others to participate.  You can comment at the site or send an email to
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Monday, August 16, 2010

The not so genteel face of racism

Joseph Brean, National Post, August 15
Paul Fromm's efforts to rouse public opinion against the Tamil migrant ship began last month from his home in Ontario, with impassioned messages posted to, the Florida-based neo-Nazi website of which he is a "sustaining member" and radio host.

It continued last week in Calgary, when he led a group of Aryan Guard skinheads to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's constituency office, and so terrified the receptionist that she locked the door and would not accept Mr. Fromm's delivery of a letter until police arrived.

But for Canada's best known racist agitator, things did not really get going until he reached the Pacific shore at Esquimalt, B.C., on Saturday, where the boat was docked.

There, accompanied by Doug Christie . .
Read more at the National Post.
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Retributive justice still unserved, families owed more - UPDATED

Following denial of serial murderer Robert Pickton's final appeal, the BC Supreme Court released a mass of evidence previously banned from public view. Contained are shocking disclosures that emphasize how authorities botched investigations of the DTES missing women.  Victims' families have said for years that many lives would have been saved had police and prosecutors acted with greater diligence. Those accusations gained new weight when lifting of the ban revealed documents showing police had reason to target Pickton for arrest much earlier.

The most egregious information we learned is that a sex trade worker suffered a near mortal assault at the pig farm in 1997. Stabbed by Pickton, she fought off the attacker and called police. Crown refused to prosecute the case because the victim was a criminal drug addict and considered an unreliable witness. Police failed to connect the incident and Pickton to missing women.

Ernie Cray, whose sister disappeared three years later, was told only last Friday the details of where his sister's DNA was found on Pickton's farm. Cray said:
"They had him cold. They had him in their hands. But, someone made a decision not to charge him in the case of that terrible assault on that woman who escaped his murderous clutches.
In 1999, police were adamant that a serial murderer was not active in Vancouver's downtown. Spokesperson Sgt. Anne Drennan spoke for the VPD when she said at the time:
"We don't know that they've met up with foul play. They are simply missing."
CBC News says many families and even the police are calling for a public inquiry and accountability. However, this was Gordon Campbell, speaking from Winnipeg where he is holidaying with other Premiers:
"We wanna meet everyone's needs as we go through this. We wanna make sure that it's productive and its a useful process. Ah, but, the cabinet will make the decision in a couple of weeks."
According to CBC's Alan Waterman:
"The government has said that it would call an inquiry once a Vancouver police review is released. Today, Vancouver Police say that they will release that review after an inquiry is called."
  • 1978, first known victim disappears from DTES.
  • 1991, with growing list of victims, families and advocates demand improved police action.
  • 1998, police establish task force because list of missing has grown to 40. Police doubt the cases are related or that these woman have met with foul play.
  • 1999, police accept the possibility of connection between victims beyond lifestyle and offer a reward for information.
  • 2001, amid continuing disappearances, VPD interviews Green River killer who has been associated with 49 missing women near Seattle.
  • February 2002, missing Vancouver women list grown to 50. RCMP enter Pickton's Port Coquitlam farm on a firearm warrant and the missing women's task force soon begins searching on another warrant.
  • February 2002, the first murder charges are laid against Robert Pickton.
  • October 2002, the official list of missing has grown to 63, the number of murder charges to 15.
  • July 2003, Pickton committed to trial after preliminary hearing.
  • May 2005, 12 additional murder charges.
  • June 2005, pre-trial hearings begin.
  • January 2007, jury trial begins.
  • December 2007, Pickton found guilty.
  • June 2009, BC Court of Appeal denies Pickton appeal.
  • July 2010, Supreme Court of Canada denies appeal.
After families warned of a serial killer, 11 years passed before charges were laid and more than eight years further before courts finished their work on the Pickton file. During much of that time, the VPD was crippled by an internecine feud as old guard officers fought modernizers viewed as unacceptable outsiders. The wounds were exposed during legal action by geographic profiler Kim Rossmo, following his dismissal because he spoke publicly about a serial killer working the streets of the DTES.

Despite having already promised to appoint an inquiry into the justice industry's woeful performance, Premier Campbell remains non-committal:
"Ah, but, the cabinet will make the decision in a couple of weeks."
The Premier's shameful record of broken promises continues.
The above was first published August 5.

My statement about an internecine feud preventing Vancouver City Police from focusing appropriately on the DTES missing women cases is confirmed in a Globe and Mail article, Internal police strife delayed Pickton arrest, former officer says. Remember this story when you hear reports that a former Mayor, who also headed the Vancouver Police Board, says that we don't need a public inquiry.

How about this for an alternative to a Commission of Inquiry. Ask Justice Thomas Braidwood to field a small inquiry staff for 90 days or so with a reasonable but not extravagant budget that would allow them to write a meaningful report based on interviews and document reviews. This doesn't have to be a long drawn out affair with scientific evidence. No crimes are alleged, only negligence, carelessness and bad case management. A respected outsider has to examine what went wrong and provide public confidence that permanent improvements are in place.
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Monday, August 9, 2010

Another worthy adventurer departs - update

Michael's Blog, August 7 - Day 5
"I took the ferry from downtown Seattle to Bremerton and then cycled out into rural Washington.

"No SAM intellectuals here, this is the American hinterland, in the middle of August heat and during a mean and nasty recession none the less. All of these people are fine folk, I am sure, it’s just that, well, I don’t belong here.

"‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Property’ signs everywhere. I am waiting for the ‘Violators Will Be Shot’ sign. I know it has got be around here somewhere. Then again, maybe the gun laws are too tight in Washington. Heck, I bet I’d find one no prob in rural South. I wonder if this is the utopian Canada that the Fraser Institute dreams off when they say that every bit of land, river, and lake should be privatized. No one welcome."

A few friends in the blogosphere believe bicycles are mainly for spins in the park on sunny Sundays. Vancouver school teacher Michael Schratter is cycling for a more serious purpose.

He's leaving August 1 on a world journey, intending to pedal 40,000 km across six continents to focus attention on the stigma surrounding mental illness. He rides for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA BC) and proceeds will benefit CMHA BC and their youth and adolescent educational initiatives.

I invite you to visit Michael's website

Physical ailments carry little stigma but our views about mental illness might be shaped by insensitive or uninformed cinematic and literary depictions. Think about Joseph Conrad's Kurtz, Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre or the sweet eccentrics of Arsenic and Old Lace. The reality is that most people with mental illness function well from day to day, holding down jobs, raising families and behaving like you and me. Yet, even high functioning people fear discrimination if their mental disorders or emotional conditions are disclosed completely. Unreasonable shame or guilt leaves some under-treated, even untreated, because they fear the consequences of needing help.

An aging population creates ever increasing demands for healthcare but budgets are focused mostly on physical ailments. Government responds first to needs and demands that are undeniable. They do not dedicate resources based on speculated needs so, in a field where sufferers are reluctant to come forward, the mental health sector is perpetually under-serviced. Patient reticence and inadequate treatment facilities go hand in hand. When Michael Schratter talks about erasing the stigma of mental illness, his goal is as vital as those pursued by advanced neuroscientists.

Michael says:
If we talk about the absurdity of mental illness stigma it will begin to disappear.  If we can share the common story of how mental illness affects our lives, we will see it for what it is — a variation of the human condition. To harbour mental illness stigma is to harbour a stigma against humanity.

Photo by eric tuason
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Saturday, August 7, 2010

"It's like the damn planet of the apes!"

My father was born in Oregon and his father and grandfather in Arkansas, although the working class family fought for the Union side in the Civil War.  For years, in work and other activities, I've had much opportunity to interact with Americans. The differences are so broad that we cannot visualize one collective individual representing an average citizen of the USA.

Stand on a hilltop with a Montana rancher proudly showing his spread, talk with a South Los Angeles cabbie, an orthodox rabbi in Brooklyn or a server in a New Orleans jazz club. They are from different worlds so we are usually mistaken to generalize aspects of particular Americans. Nevertheless, one segment of predictable strangeness seems rightly personified by Glenn Beck. I realize he is an actor playing a role lifted from a Paddy Chayefsky screenplay, a theatrical character designed for dispossessed, irrational souls who operate on gut emotions. However, to many hopeless viewers, he is real.

One online journalist gained a sense of race-baiter Beck's desired view of society when he noted that Beck's Twitter page identified a "White Nationalist message board" as a favorite, a link that disappeared soon after it was reported. Salon writer Joan Walsh did a double take when Beck compared Obama's administration to the Planet of the Apes. More than one of Walsh's readers shared this reaction in comments:
When up to one-third of your fellow citizens are kindred souls with Glenn Beck, and the plutocrats who own Congress and the media and everything else play them like puppet masters, what do you do other than pour yourself a stiff drink and watch as your country goes slowly but surely down the drain?
To understand the ape reference, we need a little historical context and, believe me, this review could be much longer:
  • FL commentator Howard Cosell referred to African-American wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a "little monkey." Cossell was widely denounced and he claimed his words had no racial meaning.

  • Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker called black teammate Randall Simon a "fat monkey" in a Sports Illustrated interview. Simon was not amused. Rocker was ordered by Major League Baseball to undergo psychological testing.

  • New York Post was roundly criticized and forced to apologize for a cartoon referencing the racist notion that African-Americans are synonymous with monkeys. The editorial item followed President Obama's first legislative victory when his stimulus package was passed by Congress.

  • A Sarah Palin tea-partier in Pennsylvania was clearly aware of the charming association between a black man and a monkey.

  • A Utah company introduced the Obama Sock Monkey, no offense intended, of course.

  • Republican Senator George Allen, campaigning in Virginia, referred to a non-white Democratic campaign worker as 'Macaca', a racial epithet derived from African macaque monkeys.
  • Republican Congressman Roy Blunt, describing Obama's Washington DC, "You have to play the ball where the monkey throws it. And that is the rule in Washington all the time."

Against this background, comes the modern day urban nut cake, Glenn Beck, raging about Obama's America as Planet of the Apes.  This is not an accidental association and this contention is demonstrated by an academic paper, Subconscious mental connection between blacks, apes may reinforce subtle discrimination:
"Historical racist images and books dehumanizing African Americans in the 19th and early 20th century relied heavily on the Negro-ape metaphor, which was used to stereotype Blacks as lazy, dim and aggressive," said lead author Phillip Atiba Goff, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State. "Such dehumanization and animal imagery have been used for centuries to justify violence against many oppressed groups.

"The images have disappeared from popular culture and from most people's memory," he added. "However, after completing six studies, we found strong evidence that Black-ape linkages still influence people subconsciously and impact their judgment particularly in the case of African American suspects and defendants."
It's like the damn planet of the apes!
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Discovering ways to meet future needs of every student

Tulani Ackerman asks, "What do we want for our next generation of learners?"

She formed an organization to promote communication between students, provincial government, parents, teachers, administrators and community members and hit the road to walk and bike throughout British Columbia. Tulani aims to gather stories and ideas regarding the challenges faced by our provincial education system.

She is in the lower mainland this week. Follow her story at StEps for Students.
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gay marriage not banned in California

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," [Reagan appointed Judge] Walker wrote. "Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."

California court overturns Proposition 8 bar on gay marriage
Read more:

An interesting result in California, not entirely unexpected since the Northern District of California court has a record of interpreting civil rights more broadly than other United States District Courts. The findings of Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker are certain to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Walker issued a temporary stay Wednesday against his own judgment striking down Proposition 8 and will take arguments Friday about lifting or continuing the stay. Opponents of gay marriage, as expected, filed an appeal of the decision that declared the ban unconstitutional.

A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial Equal under the law suggests the ultimate result is likely clear:
Walker has decades of Supreme Court case law on his side: In 1967, the court overturned prohibitions of interracial marriage; in 1978, it declared unconstitutional a Wisconsin law preventing child-support scofflaws from marrying; in 1987, it struck down a Missouri law that said imprisoned felons couldn't marry; in 2003, it ruled that states could not outlaw consensual homosexual activity.

"Decisions of this court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals," the court wrote in 1978.

Thus there will be a high hurdle for those who seek to reinstate California's ban. There is not much from their side for higher courts to review, as they called only two witnesses. "Proponents' evidentiary presentation was dwarfed by that of plaintiffs," Walker noted in his opinion.

Any final ruling of course will be bigger than one case in California. Thirty states have prohibitions similar to Prop 8, while five states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

If Walker's ruling is ultimately upheld, a host of difficult questions will have to be confronted. In particular, how will the rulings impact churches and religiously affiliated social-service agencies?

Best to start thinking through those issues now, because, as Ted Olson, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers said, "With this decision we are well on our way to an ultimate victory."
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Action on RCMP is overdue

RCMP S/Sgt. Bob Meredith, announcing his retirement, said:
"I’m going away with a feeling of great pride having served for thirty years in what is truly a great and iconic organization. The RCMP is a wonderful organization because of . . . exceptional individuals doing amazing work in a myriad of fields."
The Vancouver Sun's Ian Mulgrew has a quite different view of the force:
"We have heard nothing but criticism of the RCMP from inquiry after inquiry -- Air India, Maher Arar, Robert Dziekanski -- not to mention the apology that might not have been an apology, the internal pension scandal and related financial shenanigans.

"Every report on the force comes to the same conclusion: Overwhelming problems need to be addressed, the Mounties are the "poster boys of dysfunction."

"This is an anachronistic organization using outdated training methods and a paramilitary structure out of step with today's need for civilian oversight and accountability."
These irreconcilable views neatly describe typical internal and external appraisals of Canada's once iconic police service. The retiring officer dedicated his adult life to the organization and denial of dysfunction is an understandable defense mechanism. Admitting truth of the unpleasant characterization offered by Mulgrew would degrade Meredith's lifelong employer and, by logical extension, his own career.

Denial of inherent deficiency is pervasive among police insiders. The attitude guarantees continuation of difficulty and explains why little has changed despite intense scrutiny of RCMP governance and resultant prescriptions by organizational experts. Command staff think with one mind. People who don't accept the required conventions are simply not promoted to senior ranks. The RCMP hierarchy is entrenched and its collective code is entrenched. Only radical change will enable essential improvements yet the Harper Government lacks nerve to force a meaningful reorganization.

While the present civilian commissioner wages lonely wars with his command, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' orders another report. We don't need more reports; these have already been done. Today's problems are little different than what they've been for years. The Official Opposition is no help. Ignoring history, Liberal MP Scott Brison claims that appointment of a civilian "started this mess" and never-elected-to-anything Sen. Colin Kenny says, "It would be a mistake to appoint another civilian."

As Ian Mulgrew writes, "We need the force to be reimagined, restructured and its culture reborn." Stephen Harper appointed the civilian commissioner but William Elliott has played the game according to RCMP rules. He joined the effort to undermine CPC Commissioner Paul Kennedy and he's delayed and obfuscated important issues, initiated changes but allowed them to be sidetracked. Harper and Elliott need to show the public and the entire RCMP membership that things are changing. Start first by reforming the command after removing those sensitive souls who believed themselves treated impolitely.

Also read Neverending stories neverend, chapter n+1
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"vindictive, dishonest, disgraceful behaviour by senior police"

"One of the most troubling aspects of all of this is the imposition of a non-disclosure clause.

"This involved public funds paid out at the eleventh hour, and the clause was added for no other purpose than to ensure that vindictive, dishonest, disgraceful behaviour by senior police officers was hushed up.

"The fact that it falls just short of the legal definition of bribery or extortion is nothing to be proud of."

Read the entire article by retired VPD officer Bob Cooper at The Province: This was not the Mounties' finest hour
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wild salmon protection - add your name to the message

Dear Prime Minister of Canada - Stephen Harper

Your proposed Federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations were supposed to bring salmon feedlots into compliance with the Constitution of Canada, but instead you are attempting to remove the safeguards put in place by previous governments that protect the North Pacific from heavy industrial activity.

It is unacceptable you want to:
  • Issue federal licences without consulting First Nations
  • Expand the industry without environmental assessments
  • Licence salmon feedlots to "harm, alter, disrupt and destroy " the coastal North Pacific
  • Legalize destruction of wild fish attracted to the lights and food and trapped in the pens
  • Permit incomplete disease reporting
  • Tailor each licence to meet the needs of the companies with no public input
With this document the Canadian Federal Conservatives not only open the door to massive ecological damage, they depreciate the market value of BC feedlot salmon. No reputable retailer can afford to be seen with a seafood product raised under a license to HARM, ALTER, DISRUPT AND DESTROY fish habitat. This industry dumps over a ton a day per site of waste that includes disease, drugs and chemicals.

We call on you, as Prime Minister of Canada, to protect the North Pacific and remove salmon feedlots from the ocean into quarantine like all other feedlots.

In the name of future generations,
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Pogo was right - the enemy is us

This guest column in is worth reading. While written about Portland, I suspect the admission that too many cyclists flaunt the rules of safe riding could be made in any westcoast city.

Maybe not everyone.
Cyclists: We Have Met the Enemy -- and He is Us

One avid but mature cyclist says nearly all riders follow a code. The trouble is that each type of rider follows a different code. His categories for bikers include:
  • Eco-cyclists, who demand rights to use public roadways and think everyone should be using two wheels instead of four.
  • Cool-cyclists, easily identified by trendy shades, suits, and water bottles, care only about what is stylish, not what is practical.
  • Fitness-cyclists, are the ones wearing heart monitors and carrying a log book. They are also identified by pained grimaces.
  • Speed-cyclists streamline everything from helmet to shoes and codpiece. Like golfers who believe that trees are 90% air, these guys think that blowing a stop sign at the bottom of a steep hill presents little statistical chance of injury on any single try.
  • Stunt-cyclists don`t care about sharing the street, they assume a right to ride anywhere and are mostly concerned about creating a video that goes viral. They will bike across a raging river on a moss covered, rotting fallen tree but think the roads are too dangerous for cycling. They use an old panel truck to drive their four bikes to the trails, along with spare parts and a few rusty tools.
  • Recreational-cyclists are demeaned by all.
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