Friday, December 31, 2010

Industry mining cash with HST remissions and record high prices

Remember when the BC Liberals told us that industry, saving billions through elimination of provincial sales tax, would pass along price savings to consumers. Guess what? The mining industry has never done better in British Columbia. They pay much less tax to the Province of British Columbia and commodity prices have risen dramatically. Now tell me how the mining industry helps consumers gain from HST.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't hold your breath

News item:
"[Following the April 2010 drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico] cleanup, government fines, lawsuits, legal fees and damage claims will likely exceed the $40 billion that BP has publicly estimated, according to an Associated Press analysis. But they'll be far below the highest estimates made over the summer by legal experts and prominent Wall Street banks, such as Goldman Sachs, which said costs could near $200 billion."
News item:
For spills under the [Canadian] National Energy Board’s jurisdiction in Arctic waters, liability is capped at $40 million. For Atlantic offshore oil areas regulated by federal-provincial offshore petroleum boards, the liability limit is $30-million.  . . . an offshore oil company may invoke a “due diligence” defence to shelter itself from liability above the cap.
If BP's ultimate liability for the Gulf of Mexico spill is $40 billion, that is a thousand times more than it or other oil companies would face in Canada's arctic or Atlantic. Can BP afford the financial hit and survive? Yes, it can. The company has little debt and its global enterprises should generate $26 billion next year in cash flow from operations.

Are there logical reasons for taxpayers to provide insurance to the oil industry protecting them from spill consequences? Should they do that for the highly profitable multinationals but not, for example, provide insurance to middle class owner/operator drivers trucking fuel to gas stations?

Will the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Fraser Institute and other phony guardians of the public purse issue press releases decrying the public's financial exposure? Don't hold your breath waiting.
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Rewarding work, if you can get it and keep your day job - Rerun

I rerun this piece again because a month has passed and I've heard nothing from Elections BC nor has the NDP Official Opposition replied to my request for comment about Mr. James apparently illegal status. Perhaps, each of us will be allowed to choose which rules and laws (income tax anyone?) apply to us. It seems elements of the BC Elections Act do not apply to Craig James.

* * * * *

Section 5(3) of the British Columbia Elections Act says:
The chief electoral officer must not
(a) hold another office or engage in other employment,

Craig James, Acting Chief Electoral Officer, in a letter dated October 7, 2010 to MLA John Horgan, boasts:
  • "[I perform work] for the World Bank and Canadian Comprehensive Auditing Foundation (CCAF, Inc.)
  • "I have been engaged with the Bank in a variety of tasks. . . It has taken me to places such as Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and El Salvador, to name a few. . .
  • "The Turkish Government has asked me to assist them with a strategic plan . . .
  • "The World Bank continues to rely upon me for assistance. . . 
  • "As for the CCAF, the Advisory Board meets regularly in Ottawa to discuss matters of financial import . . . and corporate structures generally. Again, this is very rewarding work.
  • "The World Bank has asked me to lead a seminar in Bangladesh in December, while the CCAF has asked me to attend a planning session in Ottawa in November.
  • "I am also the Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees and have been since 1985. 
  • "I occupy a number of other positions, such as the Deputy Chair of the Editorial Board of the Canadian Parliamentary Review."
Being as busy as he is, doing "very rewarding work" outside his role as Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. James apparently has not had time to read the Act of the BC Legislature that defines his job.

Letter to John Horgan From EBC

H/T to G.West, a citizen who pays attention to details and Kim who initiated communication with John Horgan.
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The Vancouver Sun and the CTF response, part 1

I emailed writers and editors of the Vancouver Sun, reiterating the claim of inaccurate reporting made in my article Never let facts affect the issue.

I received a preliminary answer today and the newspaper advises they submitted my comments to the CTF for examination. I have the Federation's initial response in which they admit a fundamental flaw in the calculation of medical premium assistance assumed for their mythical family. Since the premium assistance level is based on the prior year's adjusted net income, income increase in 2011 would not affect the family's premium rate in the current year. That merely strengthens my argument of inaccuracy.

My specific complaint to the Vancouver Sun is not yet addressed. Here it is:
". . . I'm not sure that CTF is the appropriate party to determine if your published article was accurate or not. Surely you had a responsibility to do independent analysis. I do not expect a response to my argument about CTF's motives; this is the crux of my complaint to you:
It is dishonest and foolish to choose one very specific situation and claim it can be extrapolated to report, as the Vancouver Sun did, "British Columbians will see their after-tax income shrink more than anyone else in Canada."
I give credit to the Vancouver Sun for examining this issue. The BC Press Council requires the newspaper be given opportunity to respond and that discussion has been initiated. The newspaper and broadcasting industries have codes of journalistic conduct but their record of living up to the spirit of those codes can be legitimately questioned.

This release from the CTF has received broad distribution. Uncritical coverage is a fault that applies well beyond one misleading story and that drives the importance of today`s issue. Examine the relationships of Postmedia and its predecessors with the CTF, the Fraser Institute and other right wing advocates, and you will conclude those organization are too welcome to contribute unverified content that lacks balance.

I see this as a test for the new ownership of our newspapers. Are they willing to improve their journalistic standards, or not? We've seen positive signs recently that I've commented on here and one Postmedia writer, not at the Sun, told me there is still hope among staff that journalism will improve.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Never let facts affect the message - Updated

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is a 'citizens' group that advocates for lower taxes. In reality, it is another part of the right wing movement to defund government, privatize public services and eliminate social programs. Organizers of the CTF favor privatization of environmental oversight, public healthcare, education, transportation, public power and employment programs such as compensation, EI, CPP and other elements of the socioeconomic safety net. They aim to undermine taxpayer confidence with exaggerated claims of government excess. Any data they publish bounces quickly around Canada's right wing echo chamber.

Directors and staff claim to be non-partisan but come almost exclusively from the Conservative Party's right wing and founders included old bible-thumpers, Reform Party members and people allied with western separatist movements. Financial support originates with the usual mega-corporations, libertarians and social conservative spear carriers that also fund the:
  • Fraser Institute, 
  • the Manning Centre, 
  • Frontier Centre for Public Policy, 
  • Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
  • the Institute for Marriage and Family, 
  • Institute for Canadian Values, 
  • Cardus (formerly the Work Research Foundation), 
  • etc.
The Canadian Taxpayer Federation, like the Fraser Institute, is accustomed to having its reports published in the mainstream press without editing or fact checking. As an example, the Vancouver Sun printed the CTF claim that "British Columbians will see their after-tax income shrink more than anyone else in Canada" in January 2011.

The Vancouver Sun reports:
"According to the CTF, a B.C. family of four with a single-income earner who makes $35,000 a year — receiving a 1.8-per-cent raise to account for inflation — will pay $384 more for health, CPP and EI premiums in 2011, the biggest increase for this demographic."
In fact, if that family received a 1.8% wage increase, the amount would be $630 for the year. That would lead to higher contributions to CPP and EI of $42.40 on the increase plus $17.50 for an overall EI rate increase.  Those payments would give rise to higher benefit eligibility but, ignoring that and adding the $7 monthly increase for medical services results in the family paying $144 more for health, CPP and EI premiums in 2011, a far cry from the $384 claimed by the CTF.

Update, Dec. 29, 2010 9:00 pm

The Federation's so-called study is the direct result of statistical gymnastics aimed at deceiving readers. They are trying to choose income levels that would result in the mythical family losing part of its medical premium assistance because of slightly higher income. However, their example misses the fact that subsidies are based on "adjusted net income" which provides $9,000 in dependent deductions from the family's gross income. Whether the families medical premiums assistance changes or not requires a calculation specific to their individual circumstances.

It is dishonest and foolish to choose one very specific situation and claim it can be extrapolated to report, as the Vancouver Sun did, "British Columbians will see their after-tax income shrink more than anyone else in Canada."

I pointed out errors to the newspaper writers credited with this article, although it may have been prepared directly by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. As is the Vancouver Sun`s habit, they made no correction or acknowledgment. Nor did they defend their erroneous work. Perhaps, this is worth an inquiry with the British Columbia Press Council.  - Read update -

See additional information at The Exile, a blog to which you should subscribe.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yes Mr. Hansen, but . . . ( A rerun to keep our memories fresh)

Colin Hansen made a May 31 appearance on a question and answer forum conducted by the Globe and Mail. Hansen again complained that opponents were spreading misinformation about HST and Hansen then proceeded to spread more. Here are examples, taken from the transcript:

Colin Hansen:
"There will still be fewer things subject to the 7% BC HST than the GST."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but more things are subject to 7% BC HST than were subject to PST.
Colin Hansen:
"HST will be a big benefit for virtually all small businesses. Everything they now pay PST on will be 7% cheaper for almost all small businesses."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but it will not be a "big" benefit for most because they don't now pay PST on goods resold or on production machinery. However, the net amount they charge customers will rise if the product does not now attract PST. In reality, most of the $2 billion in business tax savings are realized by the very largest corporations, particularly exporters such as those in forestry, mining, oil and gas, whose customers pay no HST.
Colin Hansen:
"A glass of wine or a beer at a restaurant or other licenced est should be less as the tax on your markup goes from 10% to 7%."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but the province's liquor mark-up is rising by the same amount gathered by the extra 3% liquor tax, so the wine or beer at a restaurant will not cost less.
Colin Hansen:
"We has great communications staff. Our hands are a bit tied because of the Elections BC ruling. The Anti-HST groups are getting away with spreading a lot of misinformation."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but Elections BC only clarified a law for which you have had responsibility for a decade. You could have registered as an opponent of the HST petition. And, by the way, Liberals are the ones spreading misinformation as you are doing today.
Colin Hansen:
"The anti-hst voices are certainly played up more than those supporting the hst. One surprise I have is how unquestioning many people are when they get information via the internet and blogosphere."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but 80% of BC residents oppose HST. Is it surprising that their voices register more than the 20% who agree with you? In reality, questioning drives the opposition, that's why the official position of the government and big business groups has not succeeded. Ordinary folks understand the impact when you said, "The tax is revenue neutral but business saves $1.9 billion in the first year."
Colin Hansen:
"I have never said it will be revenue neutral _ another on [one] of the myths! I have pointed out that we will collect about the same $ under HST as we collect under PST."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but revenue neutral would mean that you collect about the same under HST as you collect under PST. Perhaps, you want to try that answer again if you want to dispel a "myth."
Colin Hansen:
"This info [full details and dates of correspondence between BC and Feds] has already come out thro FOI. There are some who are frustrated that FOI did not produce evidence of communications prior to mid May. That because there was none."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but most of the requested emails are blanked out, along with most of the rest of the 817 pages Access to Information officials identified in connection with the request.
Colin Hansen:
"For small business in border communities, hst is a big benefit as they can compete on a level playing field. (ie. no consumption tax that has to be built into their prices). HST means we will be able to attract job creating investment on the same basis as Alta."
  • Yes, Mr. Hansen, but those BC residents who live near the Alberta border will do their shopping in Alberta and avoid the HST. That is where BC's wine collectors stock their cellars already but that is because of Alberta having no PST and much lower mark-ups on liquor.
By the end of this, I concluded that Hansen, if that really was him at the keyboard, should submit his resignation as Minister of Finance. His defense was so weak that he is obviously not equipped to serve in this important ministry. The most telling point was his claim that all the communications between Victoria and Ottawa regarding HST had been released publicly. That is simply untrue. When the lie was pointed out, Hansen's response was, "I will take a look at it."
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Coming to terms with everything

Regular readers know that I am an admirer of Roger Ebert and have been for years. Actually, decades.

Despite medical difficulties, Ebert may be at his personal best. In addition to all the movie writing, he publishes a blog that is certainly one of the best anywhere, about any subject. Ebert modestly admits to over 100 million views of his movie site and his more personal Journal attracts millions more.

One of Roger's fun contributions to the journal is the Your Movie Sucks™ files.  I am sure that reading Ebert's trashing of hilariously bad movie releases (escapes?) would be much more interesting than time spent watching the actual flicks.  If Roger really views every frame of every movie, surely he has a disk player with a highly responsive fast-forward.

One of more than a thousand comments caught my eye. I share reader Wes Larson's thoughts:
"YES!!! Nothing I love more than reading really good critics ripping into really bad movies. AS Dave Barry once said, you make these movies sound so bad that I now want to see them."
I love Ebert's ability to make me smile but he can also bring me to a full stop with words. Maybe it is the images he often paints, the poignant admissions and naked revelations, his sympathetic and respectful humanity, his pride in friends, the unconditional love for Chaz and perhaps more than anything, his comprehensive self-knowledge that leaves no room for expression of self pity.

In November, Ebert wrote about loneliness. Not romantic solitude or the short-lived absence of friends but the withering emptiness of life untouched by loving companions. Ebert believes that lonely people have an affinity for the Internet although he warns it can be like, "Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship."

Ebert believes he did not experience loneliness throughout most of his life but admits to relying in early years on a dangerous friend:
"For many years I was an alcoholic, and I never felt lonely then. I could feel sick, I could feel despair, but I could never feel lonely. A drink would lift me up. I was never a morose drunk. Alcohol makes you feel better and then makes you feel worse and then remorselessly very bad indeed, but then alcohol will make you feel better again. It is the cure for the dog that bit you, and how easily you forget it is also the dog. . . Thank God I found sobriety."
The writer understands unmedicated loneliness more clearly now. He reveals:
"A few weeks ago, something happened. Chaz needed emergency surgery. There were two nights when I was alone and she was in the hospital, just as there were months when she was alone and I was in the hospital. And in the middle of the night a great fear enveloped me. If "anything happened" (as they say), I would be so terribly, terribly alone, and sad. I would miss her so much. This feeling came over me in a wave. I pulled the covers tighter around me. Then I would know what loneliness was.

"An illumination came into my mind, and with it the words of a song that has haunted me: Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got, till it's gone? Perhaps I wasn't lonely before because I didn't have it, so it couldn't be gone."
A week later, after studying hundreds of reader responses to his blog about loneliness, Ebert wrote: A meeting of solitudes. It adds much understanding and starts with this:
"So many of you were abused, physically beaten, bullied, called worthless, ostracized because you were gay, or the wrong color, or too tall or short or fat or thin or -- does it matter? The reasons for your mistreatment were not in yourself, but in the minds of those cruel ones hoping to hurt you. As a response, some of you have cut off, shut down, or isolated. From your lives you have learned the lesson to seek shelter."
Any time spent reading Ebert's journal and the hundreds of literate comments drawn for each article will be time well spent. I guarantee it.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

The USA's year in crazy

Now in its 16th year, online publication Salon covers wide ranging topics but examines politics and social issues with a liberal or progressive point of view. Salon publishes stories on culture, lifestyle, technology and encourages reader interaction through vibrant comments sections and Open Salon, a social and blog site with content provided by readers.

The magazine features prolific political writers Joe Conason and Glenn Greenwald. New Yorker Conason targets those he calls corporate jet conservatives. In 2009, constitutional lawyer Greenwald earned a journalism award named for famous commentator I.F. Stone, for "pathbreaking journalistic courage and persistence in confronting conventional wisdom, official deception and controversial issues."

Salon, like many journals, offers a few year-end top ten lists and I recommend Year in Crazy: The Top 10. A few morsels:
  • ". . . as part of her sales pitch for Arizona's oppressive anti-immigration bill, [Arizona Gov. Jan] Brewer had to convince people that immigrants were really, really hurting Arizona. And so she began to spin a fantastical tale of Arizona as a war-torn battleground.

    "Brewer's Arizona, as described in national television appearances with friendly Fox hosts, is an ultraviolent, post-apocalyptic Road Warrior hellscape, with bloody human heads littering the unforgiving desert and drug cartels kidnapping thousands of Phoenix-area children to act as mules. She told Fox News viewers just how bad things had gotten, with "the crime, the drugs, the kidnapping, the extortion, beheadings, and the fact that people can't feel safe in their communities."
* * * * *
  • "Poor [BP CEO Tony] Hayward wants his life back. Then again, can you blame him? That life he wants back is pretty cushy. BP paid Hayward $6 million last year — a 41 percent raise over the year before, even though the company's profits fell 45 percent.

    "Every penny of which he must feel he earned. After all, despite a safety record far worse than any of its major competitors, BP somehow pulled off a cynical greenwashing ad campaign, marketing itself as environmentally friendly and declaring itself "beyond petroleum." So what if it turned out the only thing green about BP was its flowery logo? Hayward, CEO since 2007, had steered the company into a new, Orwellian branding strategy, where merely saying it was taking precautions against accidents and spills was enough.

    "That magical thinking apparently carried over into the way he processed the spill. Well after scientists had started saying the Deepwater Horizon explosion was already the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history, Hayward tried to minimize the whole thing. The spill wouldn't be so bad, he declared, because the Gulf is a "very big ocean." In fact, it would likely turn out to be a "very, very modest" disaster. (Besides, haven't you seen our logo? Of course we're not responsible for the biggest oil spill the U.S. has ever seen!)

    "Still, it's one thing to lie about how much oil your company is dumping, and it's another thing altogether to make yourself seem like the pitiful protagonist of the whole story. And sure enough, by the end of the week, BP's new PR armada had realized Hayward was making things worse."
* * * * *
  • "It's been a rough couple weeks for the man who wears the pointy hat. He's been slapped with a lawsuit. He's been excoriated by Sinéad O'Connor. And in a (pardon the phrase) utterly damning series of New York Times stories, he's been implicated in one of the worst sex abuse coverups in the Catholic Church's not-too-shabby history of sex abuse scandals. . .

    "But being the front-line guy for an organization that's harbored a truly outstanding number of child rapists can take a toll on a person. And so, as Catholics around the world began the Holy Week sprint toward Easter, the 82-year-old pontiff was sounding a tad defensive. In his Palm Sunday sermon, he took a moment to speak about "the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion." Hey, pope, not to tell you how to do your job or anything, but really, when your business is looking at thousands of sex crimes -- not a good moment to trot out the word 'gossip'."
* * * * *
  • "This week, though, as if he knew that his usual conspiracy-mongering, fake tears and suffocating paranoia just weren't cutting it anymore, [Glen] Beck aired a series of shameless attacks on George Soros that seemed ripped from the pages of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

    "The message? Financier and philanthropist George Soros is a "puppet master" secretly at the center of a vast conspiracy that aims to destroy our economy and take over the nation through deceit. The proof? A lot of selectively edited quotes, wild innuendo and the fact that Soros "collapsed regimes" in "four other countries."

    "Beck knows full well that Soros dedicated his life to promoting democracy in Communist nations, which an avowed anti-socialist like Beck should theoretically be championing him for. But Soros is a progressive, and in the Beck world, progressives are socialists are Maoists are Communists are totalitarians, so any enemy of Soros is a friend of Glenn Beck's. Insanity makes strange bedfellows.

    ". . . people who read secondhand accounts of the specials -- or even those who read the transcripts -- can grasp how weird and shameless the entire spectacle was. There were puppets strewn about the set. The camera always watches Beck watching whatever we're supposed to be watching. Beck blatantly flirted with classic anti-Semitic tropes, knowing he'd be called on it but confident his friends would have his back. . .

    "But the craziest bit of the entire thing came when Glenn Beck accused Soros -- a 14-year-old Jew in Budapest attempting, during the war, to survive the Holocaust -- of collaborating with the Nazis and "helping send the Jews to the death camps." Yes, that happened. Repeatedly. . ."
* * * * *
This one did not make Salon's Top Ten but it is one of my favorites:
  • "Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, opposes the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the military's long-standing ban on openly gay service members. On the whole, the Marines are less receptive to the idea of lifting the ban than most other branches of the armed forces, so his opposition makes a certain kind of sense. But he can't really come up with any good reasons to oppose lifting the ban. His most recent justification for discrimination: Gay people will cause Marines to lose their legs!

    ". . . OK. He obviously thinks highly of Marines, if he thinks that the mere knowledge that one of his colleagues is gay will distract a trained, professional Marine so much that his legs will fall off.

    "That's what he thinks is going to happen, right? A Marine will just be so inattentive that he'll forget to keep his legs attached to himself? Because that interpretation is actually less insulting to the Marines than thinking that gay people will make them less effective in actual combat situations.

    "(I'd guess that Amos' opposition to lifting the ban is informed less by realistic concerns about the safety of his Marines than by his particular brand of born-again Christianity. And the fact that he's crazy.)

    ". . . Marine Corps Infantry Capt. Nathan Cox -- not gay, by the way -- respectfully destroyed his commandant's reasoning in a Washington Post Op-Ed on Thursday, writing, "[in] the end, Marines in combat will treat sexual orientation the same way they treat race, religion and one's stance on the likelihood of the Patriots winning another Super Bowl."

    "And Cox added a fact that Amos would probably deny: Some of the Marines at Bethesda Naval Hospital -- and some of them buried at Arlington -- are almost certainly gay. And they all served honorably, even though American politicians were too cowardly to allow them to serve openly."
* * * * *
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Perhaps this comes from mice while cats are away for the holidays

Editors of North Shore News, a free community paper owned by Postmedia Network Inc., finally paid close attention to the Basi/Virk BC Rail scandal December 26. This is an editorial that opens:
"Alex Tsakumis, freelance commentator and former Socred operative, . . . managed to get his hands on some big greasy chunks of political coal. Call them the Basi leaks . . .

". . . Tsakumis' revelations do settle one question once and for all: the people of B.C. were denied their day in court and this sordid story needs to be told. We need a public inquiry."
Is this one more tributary forming an indisputable stream of demand for a formal inquiry or small scale conscience soothing by a media corporation that routinely spiked reports associating fraud and the government's sale of BC Rail. Perhaps Postmedia wants to be able to say:
"This is proof that our newspapers did not treat BC Rail with one centrally imposed viewpoint."
Live link to Elizabeth James column in North Shore News, referenced in comments by "North Van Grumps."

I don't know if PostMedia is publishing Elizabeth James in other community papers but they should. Her column of independent thought is always worth reading. This one, for example.
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Friday, December 24, 2010

Again, the non-story that mainstream media ignores

Remember when Dave Crebo, the PABster speaking for the Ministry of Transportation, insisted to Laila Yuile we pay no shadow tolls to ease the passage of snow bunnies headed for Whistler? I am not aware if they ever apologized to Laila for serving up bull crap when accurate information should have been forthcoming. I suppose if being untruthful is one of your regular duties, it comes easier than it would otherwise.

Regardless, shadow tolls are well understood by money people as evidenced by this recent publication issued by the Boston office of RBC Global Asset Management (of course, the initials stand for Royal Bank of Canada). It discusses the appeal of very low risk, long term investments to institutional investors who seek assets to match their long term liabilities. The document also covers different repayment methods.
"Shadow tolls – With a shadow toll, the government makes a payment to the investor at a rate based on the number of cars travelled, but there is no physical toll booth on the road. Motorists avoid congestion, and there is no collection cost of operating the booth. Often the government funds the payment through fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees or other charges not directly based on who actually uses the road. In some cases, the government is willing to provide a floor of how much it will pay, so there are characteristics similar to an availability payment and revenue, therefore, is not purely driven by the number of cars."
Of course, this is exactly the kind of investing in infrastructure that institutions have always done.  Government bonds, largely sold to institutional investors, funded projects including roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other capital work that served the public over long terms. Government employed its own professional staff who supervising capital projects, arranged construction through competitive bidding by private contractors and financed the projects through direct government debt.

The difference today is the insertion of a layer of shadowy matchmakers. Their main skill is in gaining influence over decision makers, convincing them to discard competitive bidding in return for the RFPs (Requests for Proposals), followed by negotiated design-build contracts. Whether a project is a formalized Public Private Partnership or an extended term operating agreement, government takes almost all risk and financing sits ultimately in the hands of long term investors.

Costs of projects rise of course so that dealmakers, who no longer work for government, take large profits out early. Political operators get rewarded financially. Public information about deals and details is minimized because of 'privacy concerns' for private companies. Government exchanges direct debt for future payment commitments and they can more easily mislead voters about real financial positions. Institutional investors do what they have always done which is to minimize risk.

The reality is that dealmakers are allied closely with decision makers and profit shares always find the proper home. That is the attraction to a very small group who set self interest above public interest.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beginnings have many parents, endings rather few

I don't review community newspapers throughout the province but I would be willing to bet this scenario is repeated in all regions.

Grand openings, ribbon cuttings, rubber chicken dinners, charity fundraisers and announcements of pretty much any public business or project must be accompanied by fatuous self-congratulations attributed to any BC Liberal politician in the region. So it is in this example, where funding of energy retrofits at North Vancouver's Capilano University becomes a political news item worthy of praise by all three North Shore Liberal MLAs.

Of course, this is the work of the Public Affairs Bureau, part of the $600 million a year Ministry of Citizens' Services. Jane Thorthwaite (awaiting dismissal of her impaired driving charge), Naomi Yamamoto (Chamber of Commerce representative and, ahem, Minister of Building Code Renewal) and Joan McIntyre (Evi Mustel's partner who served under a year before being dropped from Cabinet) are keen to share good news.

There is a custom in politics that good news should be claimed widely and repeatedly while other news is best ignored. Therefore, the beginnings of all projects are greeted with proud acclaim while nothing is heard again about those that end in failure. As JFK said, "Victory has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan."

Politicians aplenty were on hand years ago when Capilano College announced a reduction in its energy footprint by collecting and using methane gas from the nearby Premier Street sanitary landfill. It was a unique, ground breaking effort intended to save money and reduce greenhouse gases. Few dignitaries visit the facility today.

A while back, I talked with North Van workers doing maintenance at the old dump site. I wondered if they were working on the methane collection system. The response was a laugh and the suggestion that I examine the high tech gas facility for myself. This is it, the final point in ensuring efficient venting of landfill gases to the atmosphere. It appears to be working although perhaps not as originally announced.
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Not my work, I merely pass it along

Prices are quoted in US dollars per gallon for regular unleaded.   April 2010
Oslo, Norway $6.82
Hong Kong $6.25
Brussels, Belgium $6.16
London, UK $5.96
Rome, Italy $5.80
CANADA $5.36
Tokyo, Japan $5.25
Sao Paulo, Brazil $4.42
New Delhi, India $3.71
Sidney, Australia $3.42
Johannesburg, South Africa $3.39
Mexico City $2.22
Buenos Aires, Argentina $2.09
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia $0.09
Kuwait $0.08
Caracas, Venezuela $0.12 
Gee, if only Canada was an oil producing nation.....   
Hey, wait a minute!!!
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Get ready for another spin cycle - updated

Angus Reid showed BC Liberals and NDP tied in voter support, each with 36% decided and leaners. That survey was conducted December 7 to 8th. In a poll released December 15, Mustel Group measured support at 41% to 36% in favor of BC Liberals.

Poll results put politicos of all stripes into full spin cycle and they came through, satisfying at least those already in their camps. No matter what the bad news, spin doctors can always find something good but NDP partisans had to work hardest to colorize poll results that seemed distinctly black and white.

With two leadership campaigns now started, Angus Reid is polling again December 20 and 21. The result should be interesting but never before will we have had so many divergent groups waiting for the results. Rotational medics, stay ready. You will be needed like never before.

Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010 - The results are in and the Angus Reid poll reports BC Liberals and NDP enjoy equal support among decided and leaning voters. Christy Clark and Mike Farnworth lead the parades for leadership of their parties.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guidelines are for regular folks

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is my nomination for the bravest public servant in BC. To do her important work, she asked for a budget increase for 2011 that would fund 5 additional positions in her office. They were needed, she says, because of the high workload advocating for kids and investigating deaths and critical injuries of children in care of the province. The BC Liberal dominated committee reviewing budgets of independent officers refused the request, leaving Turpel-Lafond's request short by $432,000.

Denying the Independent Children's Representative money needed to conduct her business makes political sense. By the nature of the work, she often criticizes ministry officials and that is inappropriate because she forgets her main objective should be to make Children's Minister Mary Polak look competent. Although that is not an easy task, she deserves no more money. We have more important ways to spend money than hiring 5 people just to protect children. After all, they are not ferry boats, so we have better uses of taxpayer funds. Besides which, Ms. Turpel-Lafond seems just too interested in protecting powerless people instead of those of us who live in fine houses.

David Hahn, CEO of BC Ferries joined the ferry company after presiding over liquidation of troubled Ogden Corporation's aircraft maintenance assets. Ogden took on the new name of Covanta Energy Corp. in 2001 and filed for bankruptcy protection a year later. During the aftermath, Hahn fled to BC Ferries. According to The Tyee:
[Terry] Glavin, citing an article in the Troubled Company Reporter, says as part of his settlement upon leaving the company [Hahn] was paid a $30,000 a month consulting fee, which extended through his first year of employment at BC Ferries. In addition, he received more than $200,000 in other payments.
In 2004, his first full year with the ferry corporation, Hahn earned $526,760. Had BC Ferries followed guidelines for pay increases used for most public service employees, he would have earned these amounts:
  • 2005:   + 0%                    = $    526,670 or $ 10,130 weekly
  • 2006:   + $0.63 per hour   = $    528,070 or $ 10,155 weekly
  • 2007:   + 3.0 %                = $    543,913 or $ 10,460 weekly
  • 2008:   + 2.5 %                = $    557,510 or $ 10,721 weekly
  • 2009    + 2.0 %                = $    568,661 or $ 10,936 weekly
  • 5 year total                     = $ 2,724,914
For some reason, BC Ferries acted with a spirit of extraordinary generosity and this is what Mr. Hahn actually earned:
  • 2005:   + 10%                  = $    579,185 or $ 11,138 weekly
  • 2006:   + 17%                  = $    677,225 or $ 13,024 weekly
  • 2007:   + 32%                  = $    894,926 or $ 17,210 weekly
  • 2008:   + 20 %                 = $ 1,071,444 or $ 20,605 weekly
  • 2009    -  8 %                   = $   984,248  or $ 18,928 weekly
  • 5 year total                     = $  4,207,028
Don't regard Mr. Hahn as unusually greedy though. His office mates in the executive suite of BC Ferries, at least the high ticket ones, were treated with almost equal generosity, along with the political hacks sitting on the Board of Directors., the ones charged with protecting the public interest.
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One segment of the economy is growing quickly
BC leads Canada in striving for an economy based on inequality but, at least poverty mostly affects the poor and minorities, not the rest of us.

Also, read Northern Insights' Striking it richer.

From the American Working Poor Families Project:

 There were more than 10 million low-income working families in the United States, an increase of nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

 Forty-five million people, including 22 million children, lived in low-income working families, an increase of 1.7 million people from 2008.

 Forty-three percent of working families with at least one minority parent were low income, nearly twice the proportion of white working families (22 percent).

 Income inequality continued to grow with the richest 20 percent of working families taking home 47 percent of all income and earning 10 times that of low-income working families.

Working Poor Families Project 2011
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blog Borg Collective: CIBC Historical Effective Prime Rate, another nail in the coffin of the BC Rail trial

Blog Borg Collective: CIBC Historical Effective Prime Rate, another nail in the coffin of the BC Rail trial

Subtle but important evidence, worth repeating. This does not come from the Public Affairs Bureau so it won't be featured in Postmedia or on Global TV or Corus Radio.  Thanks to North Van Grumps, a person who tests stories with facts.
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Wood carver John Williams, R.I.P.

Seven seconds to the death of a deaf wood carver 

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Think media is bad now, wait until the CBC is crushed

New Style Public Broadcasting
FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, a volunteer group, advocates for Canadian content in radio and TV broadcasting. The group is worried about the Harper Government's intentions. Rightly so. Commercial broadcasters lobby government regularly, seeking ways to increase profitability. Those ways usually involve eliminating original domestic programing and replacing it with foreign content. In radio, local on-air staff is becoming rare as stations turn to syndicated material and robo-jocks, computerized voice track systems.

Because media barons control access and politicians thrive on exposure, broadcasters usually receive generous treatment from regulators. In Canada, the CRTC is under constant pressure from the Harper Government to reduce 'burdens' placed on broadcasters. Previous Liberal governments were almost as generous as today's Tories. As a result, 5 of the 6 richest families in Canada owe their fortunes to media, at least in large part. Numerous more media magnates make the 2010 Rich 100 list published by Canadian Business. No other segment of the Canadian economy receives such diligent wealthcare.

A prime target of private radio and TV broadcasters is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. CBC has been under threat for years and, long past the point of cutting fat and excess, the national broadcaster is now unable to fulfill its mandate. As a result, it looks and sounds like the Toronto Broadcasting Company.

Ian Morrison, spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting sent out this email recently:
Something very alarming has come to my attention which I want to share with you on an urgent basis.

Stephen Harper’s secret plan for the CBC was revealed on November 23rd when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage mused publicly about killing our public broadcaster!

Dean Del Mastro floated an extremely dangerous trial balloon at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage meeting by asking whether the government should“get out of the broadcasting business”. As shocking as it may seem, a senior member of the Conservative caucus blurted out that the government is considering cutting ALL funding to the CBC! You can listen to his comments for yourself here.

As you know, Harper exercises absolute control of his government’s messaging. None of his Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries or MPs speak out without prior approval from the Prime Minister’s Office. That’s why Mr. Del Mastro’s comments about cutting the CBC’s entire grantare so sinister.

Consider for a moment: cutting CBC’s grant would kill CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, CBC Television and CBC NewsNet, leaving Canadian broadcasting entirely in the hands of the private broadcasters, and in the case of television, private broadcasters controlled by cable monopolies!
I read through Hansard to see if the Minister offered any comfort to people worried about the CBC. This is what I found:

Question by Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Lib.):
"Recently the parliamentary secretary to the heritage minister suggested that it was time we got out of the broadcasting industry, time to sell the CBC. What does the Prime Minister have up his sleeve for the CBC? Is he preparing to privatize it? If not, will he reprimand his parliamentary secretary, or better still, replace him with someone who supports public broadcasting?"
Response by Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, CPC)
Rule #1, Ignore the question and simply change the subject.
Question by Mr. Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier, Lib.):
Last year, at the height of economic crisis, the minister refused to help the CBC. As a result, hundreds of people were laid off and the CBC had to sell off $125 million in assets. And recently we learned that the government is cutting another $13.7 million from the budget.

Their dream has always been to either shut down or privatize the CBC. Are the Conservatives essentially doing indirectly what they cannot do directly?
Response by Hon. James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, CPC):
See Rule #1, above.
It is worth remembering that broadcasters pay almost nothing for their primary assets, exclusive broadcasting frequencies, regulated to ensure the industry stays among the most profitable in Canada. Strangely, the right wing never challenges huge subsidies that taxpayers provide broadcasters. The truth is that commercial stations pay almost nothing beyond the costs of regulation and that is conducted mostly to ensure that competition is not an obstacle faced by big broadcasters.

FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting ask this:

Sign the petitionFirst, sign the petition. When we have 50,000 signatures we will take it to Parliament Hill as an indicator of the support CBC enjoys from Canadians.
Email your friendsOnce you and all of your family members have signed, please circulate it far and wide to your own email contacts.
ShareThe third thing you can do is to share the petition on your website, your Facebookpage, or your Twitter account.
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More wealthcare - helping Mr. Rogers to $10 billion

From the Globe and Mail, Maclean's no longer worthy of public funding, says Senator:
"A Canadian senator is asking the federal government to revoke federal subsidies to Maclean’s magazine over an article on university enrolment that focused on Asian-Canadian students.
Did you know before now that the Toronto magazine Maclean's receives $1.5 million a year from the Canadian Magazine fund and additional funding through postal subsidies? In addition, titles like Canadian Business, Chatelaine, Flare, MoneySense, Profit and others earn Rogers Communication yet more millions from taxpayers.

Rogers Communications had operating income of more than $4 billion in the last year and the Rogers family enjoys one of the largest fortunes in Canada.

Who do you think is more deserving of public funds?

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Pleasure of expectation exceeds that from obtaining it

Garrison Keillor, modern day humorist of note, reviews a book in the New York Times. It is "Volume 1 of 'The Complete Authentic Unexpurgated Edition, Nothing Has Been Omitted, Not Even Scandalous Passages Likely to Cause Grown Men to Gasp and Women to Collapse in Tears — No Children Under 7 Allowed to Read This Book Under Any Circumstance.'

Mark Twain (1835-1910) spent his final ten years preparing 5,000 unedited pages for an autobiography he wanted published 100 years following his death. The title alone excites any admirer of Mark Twain but alas, Mr. Keillor deflates the swell of expectation through a succinct warning to authors :
"Think twice about donating your papers to an institution of higher learning, Famous Writer: someday they may be used against you."
Indeed, historian Laura Trombley has done that, writing that Twain's final work is "full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before."

Sadly, Garrison Keillor observes, "Boyishness cannot prevail, nor irreverence."
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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Et tu, Corky?

Rafe Mair puts out a few opinions on leadership candidates. His suggestion of Corky Evans as a possibility is particularly interesting for two reasons. Corky and Rafe spent time together recently and the subject came up once or twice between them. Additionally, Corky consciously returned to centre stage when he joined the fray pushing for Carole James to be dumped. So, perhaps the aging gent has fired up his ambitions again.

Two thing may bring Corky's pulse back to normal. First would be the Mustel poll showing a Liberal surge following Campbell's announcement of imminent departure. Second would be the letter Corky published in stoking the internal revolt. You can't praise the democratic structure of the party's Provincial Council and ignore its authority without appearing a tiny bit hypocritical.

To be sure the party's wounds are deep, as Rafe said:
"The biggest problem of the NDP is putting Humpty Dumpty back together again."
Mr. Evans is not a viable leadership campaign when many party members are saying:
"Eh tu, Corky?"
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Wealthcare for welfare bums

Bill Good is selling another load of codswallop today on CKNW. Something about the British Columbia film industry and HST being inseparable.

Don't believe it.

Film and video production in BC has been well established for years; it matured long before HST arrived. Also on the scene for years, and growing steadily, are tax credits, whereby BC citizens pay Canadian or international film and television production corporations to shoot here. Our subsidies must keep rising because we play leapfrog with other regions.

HST puts more money in the pockets of producers but, since they paid little provincial tax anyway, it is not a deal breaker, only another sweetener.

Bill Good and CKNW are simply doing what they have done from the beginning, which is trying to sell HST as a great device that allows citizens to subsidize corporations.

Today, I won't even discuss the fact that one of the biggest owners in the movie production services business is David McLean, railway tycoon, Liberal bagman and friend to Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark.
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