Sunday, January 31, 2010

As others see it

The Guardian, Vancouver's Olympics are heading for disaster
This titanic act of fiscal malfeasance includes a security force that was originally budgeted at $175m, but has since inflated to $900m. With more than 15,000 members, it's the largest military presence seen in western Canada since the end of the second world war, an appropriate measure only if one imagines al-Qaida are set to descend from the slopes on C2-strapped snowboards. With a police officer on every corner and military helicopters buzzing overhead, Vancouver looks more like post-war Berlin than an Olympic wonderland. Whole sections of the city are off-limits, scores of roads have been shut down, small businesses have been told to close shop and citizens have been instructed to either leave the city or stay indoors to make way for the projected influx of 300,000 visitors.

Associated Press, Canada's Olympics city has notorious skid row
The International Olympic Committee's bid evaluation team did not see the Downtown Eastside when it assessed Vancouver's bid in 2003. When it came time to tour Vancouver venues, the IOC's bus took a wide detour around the neighborhood.
The bid evaluation team did see the scenic but treacherous highway from Vancouver to Whistler, host of alpine and sliding events. While about US$500 million has been spent on the road, the Downtown Eastside remains much the same.

Toronto Star, Are the Olympic Games really worth it?

Putting a dollar figure on the cost of the Vancouver Olympics is no easy task.

The bottom line is a moving target, with supporters saying the benefits of hosting the Games far outweigh budget numbers, and critics charging that the Olympics are a poor reason for governments and sponsors to overspend.

But ever since 2003, when Vancouver won the right to host the Games, the cost of putting on the events has kept rising.

The final costs of the Games won't be known for a long time afterwards – and maybe never. "Over time it may be answerable," said Robert VanWynsberghe, the lead researcher on the Games at the University of British Columbia. "For now we only have some of the data. It seems like the pre-Games economic forecasts are pretty ambitious and they tend not to be borne out in the overall impact of the Games."

A study released this week by the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business found little evidence of big economic benefits or severe busts in cities that hosted an Olympics.

Telegraph, Winter Olympics 2010

The International Olympic Committee has confirmed it has struck a deal with the Canadian border authorities for them to pass on information about drug smuggling involving anybody accredited for the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

But IOC president Jacques Rogge said on Thursday that it was up to the Canadian authorities whether there would be any police raids at Olympic venues, including the athletes' village.

The deal, which flies in the face of Canada's strong privacy laws, applies only for the period of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.


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Saturday, January 30, 2010

What's six billion ?

This tidy stack of $100 bills equals $1 million


$100 million fits on a standard pallet:


$1 billion takes 10 pallets:


What would $6 billion look like, you ask?














Let's put that another way. Suppose you took $6 billion to the middle of the Lions Gate Bridge and tossed $1 million into the ocean every day. Starting today, you would finish your task in 16 years, in July 2026.


Graphics from pagetutor.com
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Helpful volunteers

Responding to VANOC's plea for volunteers who are available before, during and after the 2010 Winter Game, a British police auxiliary known as The Space Hijackers offered to assist the Integrated Security Unit during Vancouver 2010. The anonymous volunteers would provide their own uniforms and safe transportation, an armored personnel carrier.

The group helped protect the Royal Bank of Scotland during last year's G20 protests in England. Their availability was recently confirmed when Crown Prosecution Service London dropped charges against them of impersonating police. The charges were laid after authorities wrongly assumed this was a group of mischief makers during G20 protests.

Integrated Security Unit Brigadef├╝hrer Bud Mercer has not responded to The Space Hijacker offer.

Further information.
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An ethics free environment - updated

Gordon Campbell indicated some time ago that BC would continue RCMP contract services in British Columbia after the present agreement expires in 26 months. Many critics believe that BC Liberals made the wrong decision and made it too early, without public consultation.

The RCMP has a lengthy history of misconduct and mismanagement, with one unfortunate event following another in British Columbia. This week, comes a new scandal threatening to contaminate the Surrey Six gangland murder prosecution. Intimately involved is Sgt. Derek Brassington who also investigated fellow members in the YVR homicide of Robert Dziekanski. And again, senior management of E District hides in their offices and sends out a spokesperson who, only six months ago, served in the Langley detachment. She was then promoted and moved to the Lower Mainland District Regional Police Services. Of course, her statement to the cameras mentioned an investigation being underway but she then minimized the likely impact of the problem. Again, we have an answer before the questions are complete.

This precisely indicates that senior command officers are detached and out of touch, incapable of managing a modern police service that has lost public confidence. After all the affronts to RCMP integrity and competence, the most senior officers should have been front and center demonstrating that this era of ineptitude and dishonor is finished. They could learn from Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu who took immediate control of a crisis and, within hours, spoke publicly about the incident and met with the family victimized by VPD officers.

Perhaps, RCMP bosses only venture out to give themselves awards. Incidentally, Superintendent Wayne Rideout, manager of the the Dziekanski death cover-up investigation, received another award from the force in late 2009, to add to the one given him by the Governor General in 2008, on recommendation of the RCMP Commissioner. Those awards were the RCMP putting its fingers in the collective eyes of Canadians. Will Monty Robinson be next to hang a ribbon from his chest?

Interestingly, while citizens learned about the Surrey disgrace by watching Global TV News January 26, so did the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Kash Heed. His public reaction was angry and near incredulous, saying, "It was incumbent on someone to let us know there was a significant issue out there that they are investigating. I was not made aware that something of the nature had taken place."

Former RCMP psychologist Dr. Mike Webster, the guy sent packing for criticizing policy and training, says this latest incident is an example of the RCMP policing in an ethics free atmosphere.

The absolute shame of this is it happening concurrently with the Ottawa funeral for RCMP Superintendent Doug Coates who died in Haiti on a mission to assist the poorest people in this hemisphere. He was eulogized for courage, tenacity and good character, qualities lacking in the highest levels of RCMP management.

Update, January 28, noon

The initial RCMP release regarding allegations of unprofessional behavior of an IHIT investigator was by Sgt. Peter Thiessen, E Division Senior Media Relations Officer. That was issued the evening of Tuesday, January 26 and it stated that Sgt. Thiessen would be available throughout the following day for media interviews. Sgt. Thiessen is highly professional but I thought it strange that such a significant story was to be handled by an NCO media person and not one of the senior command officers.

By Wednesday, RCMP brought forward Chief Sup't Janice Armstrong to make comments for media. As written above, I found that troubling as well. However, by Thursday morning, Assistant Commissioner Al McIntyre made himself available for a radio interview as acting commander of E Division. In the absence of Gary Bass and others who attended the Coates funeral in Ottawa, McIntyre was the highest level RCMP officer in BC.

We are left to wonder about the process that resulted in McIntyre's public appearance and that result is laudable, if late. I noted that many visits to Northern Insights Wednesday came from Government of Canada web domains, many the Solicitor General of Canada. It's interesting that politicians don't admit the fact but they dedicate large resources to knowing what is said in the blogosphere. Sometimes, they react.

In a further development, RCMP announced fraud charges against another member of the IHIT team investigating the Surrey 6 murders. This relates to two disputed overtime claims submitted in July and August 2009. Dr. Mike Webster asserts these charges are deliberate distractions. Not only is the timing strange, so is the issue of overtime. RCMP members have long been pressured to contribute voluntary overtime to enhance their promotional opportunities. Turning up on days-off to complete files or demonstrate initiative is routine. The police force has extorted millions of dollars from its ordinary members and we can only hope the issue will arise at the fraud trial, if it every occurs.
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A lucrative dirty secret

A percolating story, one mostly ignored by traditional media, is the environmental risk from oil and gas activities in British Columbia's northeast. We discussed it HERE and HERE at Northern Insights, with information from ProPublica, the independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

Today, Chris Wood at straight.com provides Hydro-fracturing has a lucrative dirty secret. Wood demonstrates the active disinterest of BC Liberals who are blind to regulatory responsibilities. Despite escalating environmental impact, the provincial government has reduced inspection and oversight. They are also providing huge subsidies to the wealthy producers they should be overseeing.

Follow the link above and get the straight story.

A new ProPublica article discusses the frequency of toxic spills from gas well drilling on Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Only the news we want to print . . . - updated

Months ago, in "Careless or Captured ?" I questioned Vaughn Palmer's accuracy in reporting on private power initiatives in British Columbia.

This week's Ontario takes green energy lead while B.C. keeps blowing smoke is an odd explanation of how "Our initiative faltered when the premier's priorities shifted." In it, Palmer states that the provincial government commitment to Naikun Wind Energy and other clean/green power projects has been mostly of the rhetorical variety.

That is an outrageous misstatement. It pretends that granting water licenses and dedicating river systems to countless clean/green projects is of no value when it is one of two key public contributions that enable private developers to proceed. The second, of course, is the requirement that BC Hydro purchase output power, without regard to market needs and at prices that eliminate financial uncertainty for the producers. Risk is transferred to the public.

The Vancouver Sun columnist might have passed along this information from Northern Insights.
Logically, when a company such as Naikun Wind Energy Group announces a $2 billion project with $14.6 million of shareholders' equity and an accumulated deficit of $35 million (Sept 2009 audited financials), something strange is happening. Naikun Wind by the way has been known by other names during its history . . . :
  • Silver Butte Resources Ltd.
  • Silver Butte Mines Ltd. (Npl)
  • Uniterre Resources Ltd.
  • Consolidated Silver Butte Mines Ltd. (N.P.L.)
Naikun's equity ratio is a little like you, dear reader, purchasing a half million dollar home with no down payment, barely the cash to pay legal fees and no job or income.

Palmer briefly refers to the possibility that Ontario's wind power will have to be subsidized and would drive power prices upward. He fails to mention the failed wind experiment in Denmark and ignores other details that have been discussed thoroughly by online journalists, including your humble servant here:


Palmer's article in the Vancouver Sun could easily have been written by the Independent Power Producers Association of BC. On second thought, maybe it was.

January 27 update:

If you believe Palmer's column is faulty journalism, visit the Vancouver Sun website and leave a comment with the article. Oh, wait. You can't do that. No comments allowed. They also chose not to publish a Letter to the Editor on this subject. As Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger stated (see the front page of Northern Insights) this is an example of Canwest ". . . simply pushing the opinions of a few columnists out of the door and slamming it shut."
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A story of privatization


A friend recommended Irena Salina's award-winning documentary investigation into what experts label the most important political and environmental issue of the 21st Century - The World Water Crisis.

FLOW - TRAILER
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

S.I. checks out Vancouver 2010

Games promoters were right about one thing. They said the world press would focus on Vancouver.

Here is sportswriter Dave Zirin's point of view at Sports Illustrated Online:
As Olympics near, people in Vancouver are dreading the games
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Alexandra Morton wins another round in court

Interesting development in Alexandra's fight to preserve natural habitat on the west coast. Visit her blog for an update and add your signature to a letter addressed to Canada's Fisheries Minister, The Honorable Ms. What's-her-name.

Alexandra Morton Blog
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Can we be too cynical ?

Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail adds his voice in New RCMP watchdog is toothless:
Mr. McPhail's new job as chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is one of the most cynical and discouraging appointments this government has made in the past four years. The only qualification that the man seems to have for the job is the past work that he has done for the Conservative Party.

. . . I'm sure the Mounties can't believe their luck. Looks like they finally got their man.

I emailed my MP, Conservative Andrew Saxton, asking, "Are you happy with the progress in reordering the RCMP and its oversight?" I expect a response sometime in 2011.

One person left a comment at the Globe and Mail. It's too good to let pass:
Given the numbers who die while in RCMP custody, having an RCMP watchdog who specializes in wills and estates seems entirely appropriate.

Also read: Slow down, you move too fast, NOT !
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Monday, January 25, 2010

Where goes journalism

Hugh Cudlipp was one of Britain's greatest newspaper editors. He is commemorated by an annual lecture delivered at the London College of Communication. In 2010, that was by Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger. The full text of his speech is published HERE and it is a brilliant analysis of journalism today. It is lengthy but this short excerpt provides some of the flavor.

[Newspaper editors of yesterday] lived at an age where, if you got the editorial product right, money was usually not the burning issue. There was cover price and there was advertising and there was no great mystery about where revenues came from. Secondly, they didn't see that as their job. Their job was to edit great papers: other people worked out how to pay for it.

Yet the most common question most editors are now asked is: "What's the business model?" . . . We are living at a time when – as the American academic Clay Shirky puts it – "the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place".

. . . If you think about journalism, not business models, you can become rather excited about the future. If you only think about business models you can scare yourself into total paralysis. . . .

If you universally make people pay for your content it follows that you are no longer open to the rest of the world, except at a cost. That might be the right direction in business terms, while simultaneously reducing access and influence in editorial terms. It removes you from the way people the world over now connect with each other. You cannot control distribution or create scarcity without becoming isolated from this new networked world.

. . . journalists considered themselves – and were perhaps considered by others – special figures of authority. We had the information and the access; you didn't. You trusted us [to] filter news and information and to prioritise it – and to pass it on accurately, fairly, readably and quickly.

That state of affairs is now in tension with a world in which many (but not all) readers want to have the ability to make their own judgments; express their own priorities; create their own content; articulate their own views; learn from peers as much as from traditional sources of authority.

Journalists may remain one source of authority, but people may also be less interested to receive journalism in an inert context – ie which can't be responded to, challenged, or knitted in with other sources. It intersects with the pay question in an obvious way: does our journalism carry sufficient authority for people to pay – both online (where it competes in an open market of information) and print?

Depending on your point of view, you may find that vision of new ways of connecting and informing communities inspiring or terrifying. I think it is both – but it is a useful starting point to thinking about the value of journalism, in every sense of the word 'value'. And it is good to be forced to think at an even more basic level – about what journalism is and who can do it.

. . . continue
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David Eby says . . .

Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association writes a blog that should be read by every person who respects justice. Go there to read the rest of this entry from January 21/10:

We are in Vancouver, and in Canada, at a very important time.

We are here in a time:

When our favourite bike routes have been taken over by concrete embankments, six foot chain link fencing, security cameras, infrared spotlights and security guard booths;

When our favourite city has been taken over by an unaccountable organization

- that holds meetings without recording minutes of what was discussed,

- that burns through public dollars as if they were was so much lumber cut from cross country ski routes in the pristine Callaghan Valley,

- that makes no mistake that women are not equal to men even in 2010,

- and that could give a damn about the public good when a sponsor’s rights are in the balance.

We are here in a time when our favourite artists can only find financial support that’s attached to censorship clauses that require keeping critical comments to oneself about the largest public event in the history of the city, if not the country;

When our favourite artwork is painted over with progress, a progress that comes in a remarkably familiar and suffocating shade of blue;

When our favourite people are being visited by the police and described as security threat because they have spoken out about their concerns with spending over six billion dollars on a sporting event while people sleep and die on our streets for lack of services and housing;

When our favourite journalists are detained and interrogated at the border for our government’s fear that they will expose the dark side of Canada’s favourite international winter sporting mega event; and,

When our favourite community faces massive increases in police presence, ticketing, and arrests despite countless promises from every level of government that such a thing would never happen.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

When in doubt, turn to a party hack - UPDATED

A few days ago, I accused the Harper Government of suffering fear and indecision that prevents them from addressing management difficulties of the federal police:
Exactly no one outside of RCMP management believes the police force is adequately structured and commanded. Yet, the Conservative government is paralyzed by fear of change.

Before Harper pushed him out the door, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan made one timid step, appointing lawyer Ian McPhail as Vice-Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. That role has been vacant for more than a year. The position of Commission Chair remains unfilled.

New Vice-Chair McPhail has no experience in policing nor does he have the skill set of his predecessor Brooke McNabb who was a lawyer, Professor of Conflict Resolution Studies and had served four years with the Commission. What McPhail does have however, is a long history as a back-room operator for the Conservative Party, including service on the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

At a time when Canadians need dedicated effort to restore the reputation and capabilities of the RCMP, the Harper Government engages a political spin doctor. Clearly, the intent is not to resolve the problems but to discourage public discussion of any difficulties. This matches RCMP policy that is at the root of trouble. Admit nothing, conceal everything.

The perverse intent of the Harper Government is clear. Despite indisputable calls for improved oversight of the RCMP and changes to its organizational structure, nothing is achieved. Public Safety Minister Van Loan recently claimed that he was waiting for another external report before choosing a course of action. However, he was shuffled out of the portfolio January 19 so it is a safe assumption that change is not going to happen anytime soon. Additionally, the new Minister, Vic Toews, is expected to be a short-term appointment. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:
In May 2008, it was discovered that Toews wanted to leave politics and be appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench. He denied the story, but it was later confirmed he wanted out of politics altogether in the wake of a divorce and revelations he had a relationship with a Tory staffer.

Tories made this move at the same time that a Cape Breton family filed a civil lawsuit against the RCMP, arguing that police wrongfully entered the home of John Simon on the Wagmatcook First Nation and shot him dead. Police had attended the home after receiving a report that Simon was suicidal. Perhaps the ultimate irony, "To stop you from harming yourself, we're prepared to kill you."

There are questions unanswered about Simon's death. It was recently announced that no charges will be filed against the police shooter and the RCMP refused to answer questions or release the investigation report. Halifax police supposedly conducted the investigation but RCMP officers were closely involved in the "independent" examination. This came despite former CPC Commissioner Paul Kennedy criticizing the force for investigating their own members.

Police claim they cannot release the report because of privacy concerns. Simon's family was told they would have to file a Freedom of Information request for the report but the redacted version would be almost entirely blacked out. BC Civil Liberties Association claim the privacy excuse is used frequently to protect police from public scrutiny after a suspicious death or assault.

* * * * *
Update #1 Regarding John Simon Shooting

Cape Breton Post:
Chief and council of the Wagmatcook First Nation have ended their contract with RCMP and accepted a proposal from the Cape Breton Regional Police Service to begin policing the reserve on April 1.

The decision comes just over a year after fisherman John Andrew Simon, 44, was fatally shot in his Wagmatcook home by an RCMP officer who was responding to a 911 call.

. . . Simon’s family was told they could not see the full report due to Canada’s privacy laws.

“The issue around John Simon and his shooting death and the subsequent lack of transparency on the report ... caused a major concern for the family and for the community and the council,” said band director of operations Brian Arbuthnot. “There were some other incidents that have occurred that caused some concerns with the band and it was felt that a change would be appropriate.”

Update #2 Regarding Vice Chair Appointment at RCMP Complaints Commission

The Globe and Mail:

The new man in charge of holding the Mounties to account is a Toronto estate lawyer who describes himself as “collegial.” But his predecessors question whether a “neophyte” with that mindset is up to the job.

Ian McPhail, who has spent most of his career focusing on wills and real estate, acknowledges he has much to learn about the RCMP. While he has worked as a Conservative organizer and chaired Ontario government bodies, he has never before tried to police the police.

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We have the answers, now for the questions

A news report about Yao Wei Wu:
A 44-year-old man is recovering from numerous injuries in a case of mistaken identity by the Vancouver Police early Thursday morning, while they were investigating a domestic dispute. Police admit they didn't realize there were two suites in a house on Lanark and 49th and went to the wrong door. The VPD claims the man resisted by striking out at the [plain-clothes] police and trying to slam the door . . .

Vancouver Police have announced that a full and thorough internal investigation has been launched into the case by the VPD Professional Standards Section . . .

Another news report about RCMP shooting Matthew John Wilcox who:
. . . died on Sunday at 8:13 p.m. according to a statement issued by Vancouver Police Const. Lindsey Houghton.

The sole occupant of the vehicle, a 39-year-old North Vancouver man, got out of the vehicle and refused to comply with the officer’s commands. The [RCMP] officer made a decision to fire his service weapon,” said Houghton earlier. . . . "The man was shot in the torso area and was taken into custody,” . . .

Houghton said the VPD could spend up to two weeks interviewing witnesses before issuing a public statement.

Notice that the first statements issued by police after problematic incidents are exculpatory. While seldom represented as the whole story, initial reports usually justify actions of law enforcement officials. Media relation people see that as their default duty, an automatic effort to cover ass.

Examine the VPD response after Yao Wei Wu, a law abiding man, was beaten in the doorway of his home by two plain-clothes police officers who were at the wrong address. The first VPD statement claimed the man had resisted arrest and tried to strike the officers. What was the intended message here? Obviously, that the beating was justified by the man's lack of cooperation. His right to defend himself when lawfully in his home and confronted in the early hours of morning by two unidentified strangers, dressed is street clothes, is ignored. The clear implication is that the injured party deserved the treatment he received.

That initial statement, aimed at faulting the victim, was given to the public with notice that an investigation would be conducted. So, why was the VPD spokesperson issuing a statement justifying the actions of two police officers before the situation was examined?

VPD Chief Jim Chu deserves credit for taking a quick and direct role, apologizing to the victim and his family, retracting the first statements of his media officers and promising accountability for the incident. What a difference from the way the RCMP handles their blunders.

Police Chief Chu took the actions that an honorable man in his position should take. He responded appropriately in the early part of this situation. However, there are problems remaining that he should address.

First, the media relations office needs retraining or restaffing. Their job is to accurately portray police information to the public, not to serve up knee-jerk defenses aimed at minimizing misconduct of officers. Stop using loaded terms, such as "known to police" when hinting at a message you are not prepared to give explicitly.

Secondly, it is unacceptable to beat a man because officers consider him uncooperative. Violence should not be the first reaction, particularly in the absence of verbal communications. Do these and other officers need reeducation? Are assault charges pending?

In the RCMP shooting noted above, an unarmed person with mental illness was shot, not for attacking an officer, but for failing to follow commands. Nurses and psychiatric workers interact with troubled people regularly but don't resort to shooting anyone. It should be unacceptable for police to do so, particularly with no person under threat and in the first moment of contact. Nevertheless, because we tolerate it and do not train alternative responses, countless mental patients have been executed on the streets by police.

Regardless of the actual circumstance of the shooting, I object to the public statements made afterward by police, both RCMP and VPD media spokesmen. Again, the first comments were exculpatory. RCMP announced that the victim was involved in criminal behavior immediately before he was shot. They made no mention of the fact Wilcox was unarmed, mentally disturbed and not violent. The so-called criminal behavior apparently involved driving offenses, not capital crimes.

VPD, assuming the role of "independent" investigator, reinforced the incomplete RCMP statements and said the man was shot because he was unresponsive to commands. They could not know that independently because they were just beginning their examination of the circumstances. Clearly, the concept of independent investigation is a sham when it involves two police forces, especially when they are neighbors in the habit of swapping roles between being conductors and subjects of "independent" investigations.
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

More dogs, more fleas

Investigative reporter Andrew Jennings is not a popular man among international sport elites. This week, he writes a football story with parallels to our world where powerful interests aim to eliminate dissent about the cool sporting event that takes place in British Columbia between 2009 & 2011.

One difference though is that VANOC uses the power of police and government to quiet critical voices whereas the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) exercises its own muscle. Because football, soccer to most North Americans, is the most popular sport throughout the world, FIFA's muscle is considerable.

Jennings has looked at the dark side of athletics for years. He is author of The Great Olympic Swindle and Foul! The Secret World of FIFA. His website, Transparency in Sport presents many shocking corruption investigations including one that describes the attempt of FIFA honcho Sep Blatter to gag reporters:
As criticism of FIFA grows in South Africa over the huge prices being demanded for World Cup tickets, travel and hotel rooms, Sepp Blatter’s Thought Police are swinging into action, threatening to ban reporters who dare to write stories ‘bringing FIFA into disrepute.’
Canadian Olympic authorities are running heavy-handed operations. That is indisputable. The Berner Monologues provides another example of Olympic intimidation (AKA extortion), this time aimed at the charity Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance because of a long used logo that includes a heart-shaped flame.

The Vancouver 2010 High King has earned his crown. John Furlong learned well the business ways of international sport. A few years ago, he was directing Vancouver's Arbutus Club, which modestly bills itself "one of Canada's Premiere private Clubs." His VANOC role is a continuation of service to those at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy and experience will stand him in good stead to move next to IOC or FIFA.

* * * * *
Read more about Andrew Jennings and the Olympic Journalists' Association at our post Lying with dogs, rising with fleas.

For unique views on international sport, have a look at Play the Game.
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Smile, again

I don't know the original source but a friend sent it to me.



Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater.
If you give her some loving, she'll give you a baby.
If you give her a house, she'll give you a home.
If you give her food, she'll give you a meal.
If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart.
She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her.
So, if you give her crap,
she'll give you a ton of shit.
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Friday, January 22, 2010

Dissent unwelcome

After the RCMP were accused of intimidating anti-Olympic activists at a public meeting in Kelowna, BC Civil Liberties Association Executive Director David Eby said:
In the history of the Olympics, have any of the people who’ve engaged in violent acts held press conferences, held open meetings or gone to city hall to speak about their concerns? The people they are identifying as threats have never historically presented any threat except perhaps blocking a road or causing a delay.

The people that they need to be concerned about are the people who are not doing press conferences, who are not holding public meetings, the people who potentially would set off bombs or who would attempt to target athletes with violent acts.

Again, it appears that an important objective of the $1 Billion Vancouver 2010 security force does not concern public safety. It is about constraining criticism and quieting political dissent.
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Extortion ?

Canadian Olympic Committee claims the flame logo of this three-year-old small business infringes on its trademark. COC lawyers say desist and pay them $5,000 for legal expenses.

I'm quite certain this is absurd extortion but I will ask one of my grandsons. He is 3¾ but has a fairly well developed sense of justice, at least better than the folks at the Canadian Olympic Committee.

The demand for payment reminds me of the "phony invoice" scam that has been around small business forever. Shysters send out thousand of demands for payment, perhaps for "directory" advertising. They know most will go in the garbage but, if one person in 20 responds, the payoffs add up because of volume of the original mailing.

Maybe that's the approach of COC. At $5,000 each, it wouldn't take many responses to provide a healthy return. This entrepreneur says he'll fight the COC to the bitter end and pay nothing. Good for him.

Do you suppose the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit will investigate because extortion might be an Olympics related crime?

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Pigs at the trough, again

Time to bring this picture out of the archive, although I suspect we could link a story to it on many days.


Michael Smyth of The Province documents how BC Liberals are spending almost $1 million on tickets and comfy treats for politicians attending Olympic events. Smyth's article is B.C. government spends nearly $1 million on Olympic tickets:
. . . the Gordon Campbell government is spending on Games tickets for politicians and their guests: $940,680. That whopper-of-a-number is bigger than what the government admitted to earlier. And here's why the tab is so freaking huge: The government has gobbled up some of the priciest and most exclusive seats and suites available.

It includes $449,200 for executive suites at various Olympic venues. The deluxe suites, many featuring primo sight lines, private food and bar service and ensuite bathrooms, will be available to 1,052 government A-listers. The government is also spending $491,480 on 2,192 individual tickets to Olympic events. All told, the government is paying an average price of $290 for each of its 3,244 tickets.

Gordon Campbell and his minions play a dangerous game and they have played it too long. Populations can manage hard times if these are perceived to be unavoidable and shared by all. If they are not, history demonstrates that inequality slowly builds a social time bomb. The Vancouver 2010 games particularly emphasize British Columbia's civil disequilibrium.

The Olympics present the best and the worst of human behavior. Everyone admires dedicated youth who put elements of life on hold to pursue athletic excellence, most with modest opportunities for monetary gain. But, athletes are apart from the sustaining Olympic movement, particularly the national and international Olympic committees. These insular, self-perpetuating organizations tolerate, perhaps depend upon, unethical and immoral behavior. Hidden rewards including bribes, kickbacks and demands for near-endless indulgencies are commonplace.

IOC president Jacques Rogge will stay in a five-star waterfront Vancouver hotel suite, with servants and car at beck and call. His rooms must be equipped by VANOC with floor-to-ceiling banks of television sets with video feeds enabling simultaneous viewing of all events of the games.



Not everybody enjoys good times though. The BC Government is laying off hundreds of civil servants. Schools are closing all over BC and Vancouver School District advised 800 school teachers of pending lay-off. In days, many of 26,000 seniors in extended care face unconscionable increases in monthly fees. Some care charges are rising by 30% or almost $700 monthly. At the same time, nursing staff is being reduced and Registered Nurses are being replaced by less qualified personnel. Pay more and die sooner; that's the BC Liberal plan.

Justine Hunter says about the Finance Minister, "Every day Mr. Hansen sounds more like Eeyore, the gloomy donkey from the world of Winnie the Pooh."

Liberals also cut funding for transition houses and services for women and children who have survived violence. Today, NDP Health Critic Adrian Dix introduced a senior who has been waiting two years for hip replacement surgery and a younger woman whose reconstruction surgery following cancer a year ago is delayed because of the Olympics. One third of all elective surgeries have been eliminated in February and March because of budget pressures or the Olympics, depending on whose story you believe.

I would prefer that 91-year-old Barbara Roberts got her new hip without more delay. Maybe Jacques Rogge could do without a few television feeds or walk down to the bar or even ride his limousine to the Broadcast Center when he wants to watch an event on TV.

Michael Smyth again:
The government's near-million dollar ticket purchase is just the tip of this freeloading iceberg.

Other public-sector bodies buying Olympic tickets on your dime include: the federal government ($447,000); B.C. Hydro ($616,000); ICBC ($405,000); B.C. Lotteries ($396,000); City of Vancouver ($340,000); City of Richmond ($200,000); and City of Whistler ($37,000).

Total bill for Olympic tickets on the taxpayers' tab: $3.3 million. And the government has still refused to say who'll get 'em and which events they'll attend. They'll be easy to spot, though: They'll be the ones wearing Olympic-sized smiles.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Green Olympics

Because of warm weather and too little snow, Cathy Preistner-Allinger of VANOC says they will use wood and straw in place of snow on the Cypress Mountain venues. They also plan to bring in snow from elsewhere, using helicopters and other equipment to spread the imported white stuff.

They are not worried about the cost impact. They will save money because, with no precipitation on the mountain, they won't spend any money sweeping snow from the bleachers.
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Sweeping review or sleeping review ?

Global TV reports:
. . . The National Post published details Tuesday of a copy of a so-called "mandate letter" it obtained that had been given several weeks ago to Toews' predecessor Peter Van Loan. Mandate letters are issued from time to time to each cabinet member and contain what are essentially the minister's marching orders from the prime minister.

The report said Van Loan's mandate from Harper was to begin the most sweeping review since 9/11 of the country's public safety system — everything from the RCMP to border control to its intelligence agencies. . . .

The mandate issued by Harper is "to BEGIN the most sweeping review. . . " That confirms our observations that, in recent years, the Conservative Government has had no commitment to change at the RCMP, despite the hollow statements of federal politicians.

Could it be that Conservatives are finally hearing the voices of common sense from citizens. We want to be proud of our police institutions, not fearful.

National Post's John Ivison reports that Wesley Wark, a security specialist at the University of Toronto, expressed "skepticism about the prospects for reform of agencies that are resistant to change, unless there is a sustained commitment from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet."

We've seen that proved correct until now. Will it change under Vic Toews? Possibly, but only through sustained public pressure.


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Monday, January 18, 2010

On Sarah Palin

The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4, Jan 15/10
  • She's on Bill O'Reilly's show. . . Is she there to provide an informed balance to the views of Bill O'Reilly?
  • I looked on Amazon for her book, which is called Going Rogue, and underneath it, where it always says, "People who ordered this book also read:" There was nothing!
  • Fox host Bill O'Reilly welcomed [Sarah] Palin with the sentence, "You know Governor, the perception of you is that you're not very smart . . ." Palin smiled through it because she doesn't know what perception means.
  • On her facebook site, one fan said she wouldn't need luck because she was on loan from God. Please remind whoever borrowed her to return her.
  • Sarah Palin has signed on as a pundit for the Rupert Murdoch owned Fox News. Fox News is called Fox News because that's what it does.
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Friday, January 15, 2010

A personal view of Haiti

The Huffington Post, Amy Wilentz: Haiti and the Depths of Darkness:
And of course one reason there are so many dead in Haiti is that agriculture in the countryside was no longer providing a livelihood for Haitian peasants; they moved in the thousands to the capital, they built shanties on the sides of canyons; all gone now.

I won't go over the arguments against globalization for countries like Haiti here. Suffice it to say that Haiti, once the Pearl of the Antilles, once France's most valuable and productive colony, and still into the 19th century at least an important provider of the world's sugar, rum, and coffee, is now a net importer.


If you want to help, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is already working in Haiti.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Slow down, you move too fast , NOT !

Previously, I criticized the Harper Government for failing to protect public interests affected by the RCMP. The police organization has been dysfunctional for years and will remain so indefinitely because no fundamental problem is being addressed. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan is nominally in charge but he is just one more name in the long list of people purported to exercise control over the once iconic police force.

For the four years leading up to his removal, Complaints Commissioner Paul Kennedy pleaded for changes to enable effective review of the RCMP. The CPC never had funding to achieve its modest goals and, lacking legislated authority, it was totally dependent on voluntary cooperation from the police. The RCMP demonstrated repeatedly that it would not collaborate sincerely.

Ontario Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor, head of the Arar Inquiry, said in 2006 that the CPC should be given real teeth for its watchdog role. He recommended that include the right to examine all RCMP files and activities, and the power to subpoena related documents and compel testimony from any person or agency.

After O'Connor's report on the Maher Arar disgrace, Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, examining the brutal treatment of three other men in Syria and Egypt, found RCMP actions contributed to their mistreatment and torture. Two parliamentary committees and other experts also advised about the need to improve oversight of the federal police.

In 2007, appointed to examine problems with financial administration, David Brown described the actions of RCMP senior management as a breach of trust:
We need fundamental cultural, structural and governance changes throughout the RCMP. [It] is completely at odds with the reality of running a $3-billion enterprise.

In summer 2009, Peter Van Loan said the government was not prepared to proceed with any legislative changes and would wait for the final report of John Major who began his inquiry into the Air India bombing in 2006. No date has been set for publication of Major's final report.

Delaying for one more inquiry commission is a feeble excuse. That is like waiting for another repairman's diagnosis after five mechanics found the vehicle unsafe at any speed.

There are no opposing forces preventing changes to Canada's federal police. Exactly no one outside of RCMP management believes the police force is adequately structured and commanded. Yet, the Conservative government is paralyzed by fear of change. This is impossible to justify or explain. No rational voices speak publicly in defense of the current state of organization. Nobody sings to the Harper Government, "Slow down, you move too fast."

The following may illustrate why the federal Conservative government sits idle in this vital matter, confused about the path it should follow, if it ever decides to move. It took them 11 months to respond to a simple communication. Angered over the RCMP command's response to the Dziekanski homicide, I sent a message to my own Member of Parliament, Andrew Saxton. The result was like a pinball game in slow motion:
  • Feb 11/09 (Day 1) - Farrell emails Andrew Saxton, MP
  • May 15/09 (Day 93) - Saxton responds by email, saying he forwarded the message to Justice Minister Nicholson for response.
  • Jun 22/09 (Day 131) - Justice Ministerial Correspondence Unit responds, saying they forwarded the message to Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan for response.
  • Jul 28/09 (Day 167) - The RCMP's Ottawa Correspondence Unit emails to ask for Farrell's complete address so a response could be mailed by the Public Safety Minister.
  • Jan 12/10 (Day 335) - A letter from Peter Van Loan arrives. It is entirely unresponsive to the issues raised in the initial correspondence, almost one year ago.

Content of the exchanges after the JUMP
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Blue line strangles justice

The effort continues to prevent accountability for wrongdoing in law enforcement, including police involved homicides. Who is responsible? Mostly, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and the Harper Government with assistance of the Province of British Columbia.

The Conservative Party of Canada stands silent, allowing the RCMP leadership to continue its stubborn policy of defensiveness, foot dragging and disinformation. Harper's government disemboweled the watchdog agency that pushed the force to improve performance and accountability. Commissioner Paul Kennedy is dropped. His position remains empty as does that of the Deputy Commissioner. The complaints agency is rudderless, dead in the water, unwanted by its masters.

Yet, the CPC is needed as much as ever. The RCMP has proven repeatedly that it is not trustworthy when investigating itself. Moreover, assigning another police force to "investigate" police involved deaths is worthless. In the latest case, an unarmed mentally-ill man was shot dead by RCMP, a few miles from my North Vancouver home.

Vancouver Police major crimes unit took responsibility for reviewing the incident but announced the outcome before beginning the investigation. VPD spokesman Lindsey Houghton said the victim had been involved in a criminal offense, his car was stopped and he refused to comply with police commands. So, there we have it, another deadly shooting justified. The victim earned his outcome. Further details in 2012.

This is merely a continuation of standard policy. One police agency is as blind to faults of others as they are to their own. In the same way that police forces rally round to mourn the loss of a fellow officer, as took place in Ottawa days ago, they draw the blue line tight to protect against accusations by outsiders. It's like the old joke about why sharks won't eat lawyers, if given the chance. It's professional courtesy.

In the end, police care about police and politicians care only about politics. The RCMP claimed it was not involved in the court action to stop Justice Braidwood from from finding misconduct in the Dziekanski death. Yet, who paid for the lawyers that went into Supreme Court, and subsequently the Appeal Court, to argue that Braidwood should be silenced and his honest conclusions withheld from the public? These were the same lawyers paid by the RCMP to sit through each and every hour of the Commission hearings, seeking to convince that down is up and black is white.

As I read through the recent high court cases, I concluded the real purpose was not to prevent Braidwood from finding misconduct by the YVR four, it was to reinforce the principle that no action by RCMP management could be discussed or faulted in the Commissioner's report. Braidwood himself knew that his provincial mandate prevented him from reporting broadly about the federal police hierarchy so the court cases were designed to firmly seal those limits and remind Braidwood that he was not welcome to stray.

Of course, the subjects that Braidwood cannot discuss, ones that relate to actions or non-actions of police management, are the responsibility of Peter Van Loan and the federal government. If the Conservatives wanted the whole story on the table, they would have authorized Braidwood to examine the issues in their area of responsibility. But then, they are already sitting on reports calling for major changes in RCMP governance and, for reasons unknown, they choose to do nothing,
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

After careful consideration, we're screwed !

"BC Hydro is already on the hook for over $30 billion in long-term Energy Purchase Agreements for private power—with contract terms and conditions guarded in secrecy."

For unknown terms, but measured in decades, BC Hydro is forced to buy all the private power contracted on a "take or pay basis" for a multiple of its likely value, regardless of whether needed or not. Hydro will sell surplus power into the export market at fractions of cost during non-peak times.

Is this prudent management? Has the plan been considered and vetted by experts? Has the legislature or the general public been consulted and given consent?

Or, is this carefully constructed fraud, designed to survive the next ten Parliaments of the Province of British Columbia? Some laws can be undone with immediate effect but, when government gives away an asset or commits to a payment stream for near eternity, the damage can not be mitigated.

What if some new technology emerged in, say 2030, that made power generation convenient, inexpensive and innocuous? Would BC Hydro still be purchasing and selling high priced privately generated power? As that GOP wannabe President says, "You betcha!"

Logically, when a company such as Naikun Wind Energy Group announces a $2 billion project with $14.6 million of shareholders' equity and an accumulated deficit of $35 million (Sept 2009 audited financials), something strange is happening. Naikun Wind by the way has been known by other names during its history (check your old penny-dreadful stock certificates, you might be a shareholder):

  • Silver Butte Resources Ltd.
  • Silver Butte Mines Ltd. (Npl)
  • Uniterre Resources Ltd.
  • Consolidated Silver Butte Mines Ltd. (N.P.L.)
Naikun's equity ratio is a little like you, dear reader, purchasing a half million dollar home with no down payment, barely the cash to pay legal fees and no job or income. Well, not exactly that because Paul Taylor, Gordon Campbell's former associate, may have the power of the provincial purse standing behind Naikun, ready to guarantee promoters a lucrative return for whatever power they generate.

Please someone, explain to me how the core of the BC Liberal coalition continues to believe that Gordon Campbell is an able manager of anything, other than an affair and a scandal. Pollsters tell us the Liberal Party core is wealthy, well educated and mature. How can they be so easily befuddled? Mmm, maybe advancing age is involved here.

Perhaps the future creation of a new energy supply seems improbable. The Sunday Times, indicates that alternatives may be closer than expected, reporting about reactors that
are tiny, about the size of a shed. They will be buried 6ft underground, can run virtually unmanned for a decade and provide enough power for 20,000 people.
At least a dozen companies, from giants such as Toshiba-Westinghouse and General Atomics to start-ups such as Hyperion are working on plans to make mini reactors a reality. They vary from ones so small they could be put in the basement of a house to larger models that can be put into clusters of a dozen or so to give the output of a conventional power station.


Technology advances at an ever-quickening pace. According to Ray Kurzweil:
An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate).

Although nuclear power generation might be unacceptable to British Columbians, it is not rejected by our neighbors of western America. In fact, Oregon State University is a research leader in development of small, passively cooled, light water nuclear systems. Nuclear is already a certainty in the Pacific Northwest, California and beyond.

Power entrepreneurs in British Columbia, such as Naikun, Plutonic, Renaissance, Cloudworks and the other 700 or so applicants, know that future markets cannot be forecast over decades. The risk is too large for private capital. That is why there has been a race to sign up BC Liberal insiders, the people who can deliver BC Hydro as a customer with deep pockets. With a guaranteed, take or pay, long term supply contract, risk disappears, reward skyrockets.

Links to further information:
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Confluence of grifters

Andrew MacLeod writes, The Tyee headlines, It Stinks Like Garbage:
. . . the province's decision, made less than six days after it came before the ministers . . .

. . . will benefit a company The Tyee reported yesterday has been a significant donor to the B.C. Liberal Party. Belkorp companies have given nearly $100,000 to the party since 2005, according to Elections B.C.'s donation database.

Former finance minister Gary Collins is a senior vice president at parent company Belkorp Industries Inc. and Premier Gordon Campbell's former deputy premier, Ken Dobell, is registered to lobby for the company on solid waste management, though the province's lobbyist registry does not say who he's spoken to on the subject.

Also benefitting from the status quo is Arrow Transportation Systems Inc., the Richmond-based company that trucks garbage from the Lower Mainland to Cache Creek. The company gave $91,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005.

[Chief Robert Pasco, the chair of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council] said the tribal council will keep fighting the dump and when there's contamination everyone involved, including Metro Vancouver, will be held liable.

"It's a stacked deck against us but hopefully we'll get justice," he said.
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The rise and fall of CanWest

Sometimes, the right guys finish last.

Read A Creative Revolution (follow the link for the whole story):
So, despite the media love affair with conservatism, despite a consolidation to fast food journalism, despite a "decade of efforts by the Asper family to make many of Canada's leading newspapers a key part of their drive to turn what was once a small, Winnipeg-based company into a national powerhouse, influencing opinion across the country and beyond."

They are failing both financially, and ideologically.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Create your own reality

Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America, self-described "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani compared the Bush record against terrorism:

We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We've had one under Obama.

Remember Joe Biden's line during his presidential campaign:

Rudy Giuliani -- there's only three things he mentions in a sentence. A noun and a verb and 9/11.

George Stephanopoulos failed to challenge Giuliani's false statement or ask any follow-up question. He admitted on a subsequent blog entry:
All of you who have pointed out that I should have pressed him on that misstatement in the moment are right. My mistake, my responsibility.

Despite that dutiful admission, did Stephanopoulos err or merely follow a convention that has developed throughout the corporate media? It now seems fashionable for politicians to revise history and to do so publicly, with little or no challenge from the carriers of disinformation.

The ABC blog entry referenced above seems unequivocal yet another entry minimizes, almost excuses, Guiliani's distortion as a mere slip of memory. Stephanopoulos' blog readers are less forgiving and remind him of domestic attacks during the Bush regime, which include:
  • The 9/11 hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon;
  • "The anthrax attacks"of late 2001;
  • The JDL effort to blowup a California Mosque in 2001;
  • The 2001 shoe bomber attack by Richard Reid;
  • Hesham Mohamed Hadayet's shooting attack at LAX in 2002;
  • The 2002 DC sniper attacks by Malvo and Muhammad;
  • The 2006 attack at UNC-Chapel Hill by Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar;
  • The 2006 gun assault on the Seattle Jewish Federation;
  • Numerous attacks associated with anti-abortion and animal rights causes.
The Canadian Press says:
[Giuliani's statement] echoed a recent claim by former Bush press secretary Dana Perino. Republican strategist Mary Matalin also recently said the Bush administration "inherited the most tragic attack on our soil in our nation's history," implying that the 9/11 attacks resulted from mistakes by the Clinton administration.

Bush replaced Clinton in the White House on Jan. 20, 2001, or almost eight months before the al-Qaida sponsored attacks.

In the USA, Faux News and others invent their own versions of reality but even the "respectable" media are willing partners to spreading lies, large and small.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ostracized and blackballed

David Eby blogs about criminal charges, or, more correctly, the typical lack of criminal charges, against police officers accused of wrongdoing. Eby links to a CBC story that he calls remarkable. It reports on an Edmonton officer who claims she was the target of bullying and hazing:

"There was a code of silence," Prefontaine told the provincial Law Enforcement Review Board. "I was told that it was in my best interest to keep my mouth shut and let it go."

Asked what the code of silence was, Prefontaine said an officer was not to report inappropriate or questionable behaviour by another officer.

Out of fear of being "ostracized and blackballed," Prefontaine, then a 10-year-veteran, stuck to the code when she first joined the squad in 2003. She admitted under questioning that she did not make notes or file reports about any of the alleged misconduct she witnessed.

She said the code was enforced within the squad through "intimidation, bullying and outright punitive punishment, both direct and indirect.
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Beyond lies, nonsense and exaggeration

From Stephen Rees's blog, Why do I talk to the CBC?:
Gordon Campbell – like most politicians – loves being on tv. He enjoys the ribbon cutting moments, and always has a sound bite ready. And he is all about image. Reality, of course, is rather different. He likes to be seen in front of a hydrogen bus, because he likes people to think he is green. Actually his performance to date on the green portfolio has been worse than dismal. The huge expansion of oil, gas and coal exploration has been second only to Alberta. BC was the only province to increase its industrial greenhouse gas emissions in 2008. The carbon tax has had no measurable effect on car use – or indeed anything else. The pipeline from Alberta to the BC coast will be soon be built for the export of bitumen and the import of distillate, which means the prospect of oil tankers in the inside passage will soon be a reality. When that happens, expect the moratorium on off shore drilling for oil and gas to vanish. The increase in car use in the lower mainland will by then be seen as a minor contributor to BC burgeoning ghg production. There has not been a lot of green achievement so far – and the prospects for the near future look to be much worse

For the whole story, follow the link above.

Click HERE for more about $100 million wasted on hydrogen powered buses acquired as Olympic window dressing.
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Happy 350th anniversary

If you enjoy science, and particularly the history of science, visit From Curiosity to Knowledge for details.


Frontispiece to Sprat 's History of the Royal Society (1667). Engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar, design probably by John Evelyn for John Beale in about 1666-1667, and transferred to Sprat's book later. Boyle's revised version of the air-pump is in the centre-left background (see also figure 17). The three figures in the foreground are the president of the Royal Society, Lord Brouncker (left); the King (bust, centre, being crowned by Fame.); and Francis Bacon (right). (Courtesy of the British Library.)
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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who says no, when no needs to be said?

Buyers, when buying, love simple solutions. Sellers, when selling, are motivated oppositely because complex arrangements are so much more rewarding.

The concepts are indisputable. If you construct a tiny shed, the cost is small. If instead, you build a voluminous warehouse, costs rise dramatically. Which is OK, but only if that's what you need.

I had a vehicle rejected by AirCare for an exhaust difficulty. A national brand shop estimated $800 to repair so I drove to a small garage for a comparison. Five minutes and $20 later, I returned to AirCare for a pass. The minor weld fix still held three years later.

In everyday life, we make financial decisions regularly and, through focus on self-interest, they generally work out. But, when everyone involved in a project gains by escalating size and complexity, who manages the limits? Who says no, when no needs to be said?

Consider the budget for the 2010 Olympic security units. Originally $175 million, insiders knew this was wildly inaccurate but kept quiet for years. Even the 2009 estimate of $900 million was plastic with details hidden from public analysis. Will the amount escalate further? It already has and, with no effective controls in place and no willingness to deny any whim, it will grow more. There are no means of control. The kids are in the candy store without constraints.

In private business, the shareholders and financiers set limits and take concomitant risks. In the public sector, the issues of responsibility are less certain; risks, even more abstruse. Voters exercise theoretical control but infrequently and without precision.

As British Columbians learned in 2009, the party in power controls the flow of information and may feel no obligation to honest disclosure. That difficulty might be offset were there a vigorous opposition and an inquiring news media, both able to freely access information. These elements are not present in British Columbia so the BC Liberal Government suppresses accountability.

Transactions worth tens of billions, such as the private power commitments, are negotiated behind closed doors between current and former associates who can flip from buyer to seller on a whim. Detailed terms of the deals remain secret. Thousand year leases, agencies, crown corporations, P3s, publicly owned private companies and other vehicles of evasion are used to shield financial arrangements from public view.

Public tenders are used to buy paper clips but not hospitals, bridges and highways worth billions. Instead, Requests for Proposals are issued to friends and deals awarded without competition. Terms are secret.

How are citizens of British Columbia protected from massive financial fraud? Simple. We are not protected. Years ago, when I was learning financial systems, internal control and audit principles, one thing was clear. When opportunities for fraud are present without likelihood of timely discovery, it will occur. That will happen when small sums are at stake; it is even more likely when large sums are at stake.

So, who protects the public interest? MLAs are not allowed to speak except on behalf of approved party policies. News reporters are co-opted and rewarded for cooperation. Publications and broadcasters see lucrative government advertising as due compensation for friendly coverage.

And, of course, the bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy. Salaries escalate, benefits increase and the ultimate rewards - multiple dipping consulting contracts or employment as a key lobbyist - accrue to the most faithful.

Corruption expands to meet the needs of the corrupt.
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Monday, January 4, 2010

What's another billion

FIN alternatives, Jan 4/2010
An icy battle between a pair of hedge funds is casting a shadow over one of the central venues of this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Davidson Kempner Capital Management and Fortress Investment Group are sparring over the restructuring of Intrawest, the Fortress-owned resort company that owns the British Columbia ski resort set to host the Olympic’s alpine competitions. Davidson Kempner, which leads troubled Intrawest’s creditors’ committee, has balked at Fortress’s bid to keep a hand in the running of the company, despite the fact that its equity stake is all but worthless. Negotiations between the two sides are at an impasse, the New York Post reports.

Intrawest is currently late on a $254 million debt payment.

The Post reports that both sides may be waiting for the Canadian government to step in to avoid a bankruptcy filing prior to the start of the Winter Games, set for Feb. 12.

New York Post, Jan 2/2010

The owner of a ski resort that will play host to the Winter Olympics may be headed for a nasty spill.

Intrawest, a resort company whose properties include ski resort Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, is at the center of a spat between a pair of hedge funds over a restructuring plan for the cash-strapped firm -- and things may have gotten so bad that only the Canadian government can save the day.

The famous ski resort will be the venue for the Winter Games' alpine events, but worries about Whistler's financial parent have put the resort itself under a cloud, amid fears that Intrawest's problems will dampen the mood at the events.

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