Monday, February 28, 2011

A regulation story

While the Fraser Institute and its clones plot to restore laissez-faire capitalism devoid of government regulation, let us consider the experiences of Christchurch and decide if deregulation is what we need.

From the New Zealand Herald:
"Prime Minister John Key said today Treasury's early estimate of the damage caused by last week's 6.3-magnitude quake was between $10 to $15 billion - two to three times the $5b estimated cost of September's 7.1-magnitude quake and 7 to 8 per cent of the GDP, compared to Hurricane Katrina's one per cent impact on the US economy."
One of the most widespread forms of government regulation is building code enforcement, a subject of particular importance to areas with major earthquake risks. Although Christchurch was perceived to have had only medium exposure, its requirements for earthquake designs had been regularly updated, with the most recent change in 2008. Overall standards were high.

Until fairly recently, scientists believed that earthquakes would not produce ground accelerations greater than about 0.5G. However, while the Christchurch quake rated as magnitude 6.3, ground accelerations were as strong as 2.0G. For comparison, the devastation in unregulated Haiti was caused by a quake that peaked about 0.5G and a quarter million people died.

Had real estate magnates convinced New Zealand officials that building code regulations were unnecessary, the death toll in Christchurch would have been far above the 240 lives thought to be lost in 2011. Additionally, instead of combined earthquake damages of $20 billion, the economic loss since September might have been incalculable.

When politicians or think tanks claim that no regulations are needed to supervise conduct of business - that market forces and self-regulation provide adequate protection - think about building codes and this report from California:
"There are other buildings in California whose vulnerabilities in quakes are well-known, such as multi-unit condos and apartment buildings with tuck-under parking. They are vulnerable because their first floor lacks a wall that would help keep the building from toppling in a quake, [Susan] Hough [seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey] said.

"Los Angeles has enacted an ordinance that has required bracing of unreinforced masonry buildings, Hough said. But other municipalities haven’t enacted such requirements. . ."
Risk of injury depends on where one resides in the Los Angeles area and that risk is determined by the quality of regulation.
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A deregulation story

Deregulation, beloved incantation of economic libertarianism, is a concept that values individual rights before individual responsibility. The deregulation mantra is also popular among those aiming to exploit public resources who wish to do so with minimum constraints. We saw the effect in unregulated logging practices in British Columbia's early days. Forest high-grading was routine. Only profitable logs were removed from the forest, others were left as fuel for slash fires that routinely clouded autumn skies.

High-grading was largely eliminated when science began to rule forest practices. Small diameter logs and lower value species were harvested alongside the most desirable trees and little fiber was wasted. However, business longed for the more profitable days when companies set their own practices. Business friendly BC Liberal politicians were easy targets for industry lobbyists. So too were naive environmentalists grown willing to trade passions of former youth for generous consulting fees. Forestry regulations were reworked and made innocuous. Science was marginalized. Expensive political efforts cost much less than good forestry practices would have cost.

High grading of the forests returned, under the guise of selective harvesting facilitated through heli-logging. Contractors hunt for prime value cedar, spruce and fir and transport large logs individually by helicopter. Production costs are high but a single premium specimen is worth tens of thousands of dollars. The harvest is so selective that the forest looks untouched but there is no requirement on the companies to replant. So low grade timber such as hemlock fills in and the future value of the forest is greatly reduced.

Of course, deregulation allows greater harvesting profits today but the expense will be borne by future generations. In 2008, a Special Investigation of BC's Forest Practices Board produced a warning of the effect of high-grading on future forest quality. Industry was unhappy with the clear positions taken by the FPB and had government officials recalled the report for revision. However, while terminology in the new edition is considerably softened, the central conclusion remains unchanged.

This is but one example of how influence peddlers have gained authority over scientists in government decision making. Political choices are based on objectives of commercial interests. Government sees itself not as the custodian and caretaker of community assets but as a mediator whose role is to sell industry's programs to the public.

In British Columbia, the Campbell government has had a decade to remove oversight and regulation capabilities. The Harper government has moved in the same direction although its actions have been moderated, thankfully, by its minority position in Parliament. However, Harper has begun new initiatives reminiscent of the BC Liberal 2001 effort tasked with "reducing the heavy hand of regulation."

Harper's program is not an honest effort to improve efficiency. They don't even speak about deregulation, preferring use of the phrase "red tape reduction." SFU Communications Professor Donald Gutstein has written about how only "supportive stakeholders" are welcomed to the Conservative process while people representing public and consumer interests are excluded.

The New Deregulation Agenda
While Harper was busy setting up the Red Tape Reduction Commission, negotiations for the border agreement were kept secret from Canadians, except for those Canadians who were “supportive stakeholders,” like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Trucking Alliance. These Canadians were kept in the loop and all three organizations issued positive statements when the deal was finally made public.
Timber Sustainability
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Sunday, February 27, 2011


There are tens of billions at stake and this is one of the reasons the Obama Administration scares the uber-rich:

From the Financial Times:
A US tax evasion investigation that has prompted charges against several Swiss bankers has expanded to include Israeli and Asian banks, according to lawyers close to the probe.
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Behind the screen in the wizard's chamber, we have . . .

There is unusually heavy traffic here for a Saturday evening so I assume readers are looking for a reaction to today's anointment of The Progressive Group's selection as Premier.

I was already suspicious of the voting scheme and became convinced the result was preordained when Nova Scotia-based Intelivote Systems Inc. let it be known that a number of control and audit checks available in their system were disabled at the choice of party officials. Further, confusion over thousands of voter PINs created a scramble to issue last minute voting IDs to who knows whom. Votes once recorded could not be examined.

Was there a back room with loyal soldiers armed with PINs beavering away, creating the result desired? Strange it is that the province's highest political official is selected without public oversight. Even the newest council member of Silverton BC (pop. 185) is elected in a process with scrutineers and other long established controls. Votes are not accepted by Internet. Votes are not accepted by telephone. Ballots can be counted afterward and voter signatures examined.

The process selecting Christy Clark Premier is only legitimate if you trust BC Liberals. Have they ever lied before?

Mind you, the Liberals could have selected any of the four candidates and nothing would change. Gordon Campbell was no more or less corrupt than his close associates. The faces may change but little else will alter because the same people stand behind the curtain in the Wizard's chamber.

In Emma Goldman's words,
“If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.”
This from an earlier article at Northern Insights:
Ms. Clark, not to be outdone by Falcon's ante of Ryan Beedie, a Fraser Institute director, wagered her own director of the think tank that inspires BC Liberal policies. Gwyn Morgan, also a director of the Manning Centre, is the former president and CEO of energy company EnCana Corp., one of North America's largest natural gas producers. [Morgan is now Chairman of the Board of SNC-Lavalin.] He is but one among a team of rich folks backing Clark, including Patrick Kinsella, consultant and advisor to both buyer and seller of BC Rail. It is safe to assume that Kinsella is not helping Clark to gain access for himself to the Liberal Party's backroom. He is already the proprietor.
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Abrahm Lustgarten's Hydrofracked digital edition - free

A reader's comment on a preceding article linked to Amazon for a free digital copy of Hydrofracked. You don't need a Kindle reader, versions are available for other devices, including a PC. It is worth checking out. I did and indeed, the price was zero and the pc reader software works fine. Amazon provides access to free ebook collections, including popular classics.
Abrahm Lustgarten's book is currently free for Kindle on Amazon (note for non-kindle owners/users, Amazon has free kindle apps for pc, iphone/touch/pod, android et al.)

Amazon Kindle link

Amazon is unpredictable with how long books remain free, so if you are interested, download sooner rather than later. Also, be sure to check that it still says $0.00 before you download it.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Ottawa reinstates Murphy's Law

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Friday, February 25,
"When a plane of ours arrives, obviously we first board Canadians. If we still have room, we board others."
Harper said evacuation efforts will continue.

On Thursday, a plane chartered by Ottawa to retrieve Canadians was stranded in Italy due to insurance problems. A second chartered plane landed in Tripoli but failed to pick up anyone and flew out empty. Even as another aircraft was dispatched from Jordan, Foreign Affairs was urging Canadians through its website to stay away from Tripoli’s airport.

When asked Friday by the CBC how many Canadian citizens they had evacuated a Foreign Affairs spokesperson said,
"The number currently stands at zero.”

Murphy's Law:  Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.
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Disaster in the making

Danger to the environment of northeast British Columbia increases steadily as natural gas producers pump billions of gallons of water and billions of pounds more of sand and chemicals underground in what the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs calls "the world's largest natural gas extraction effort of its kind."

Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, A Fracking Disaster in the Making
". . . Fracture Lines, commissioned by the Program on Water Issues at University of Toronto's Munk Centre, now only sheds light on the scale of development from British Columbia to New Brunswick but highlights industry's largely unregulated water use.

"In the absence of public reporting on fracking chemicals, industry water withdrawals and full mapping of the nation's aquifers, rapid shale gas development could potentially threaten important water resources if not fracture the country's water security," concludes Parfitt.

In contrast to the United States, where U.S. Congress and state regulators have begun public policy debates about the shale gale, "neither the National Energy Board nor Environment Canada have yet raised any substantive questions about the shale gale or its impact on water resources."
Despite substantial growth in gas production, the province has been reducing gas royalties and increasing grants to producers under royalty credit programs and direct expenditures on service roads and other facilities needed by industry. In the current year, gas royalty income has fallen dramatically from the amounts originally budgeted. Royalties were to be $698 million in 2011 but the Finance Ministry's revenue forecast for the year is now reduced to $365 million.

Under the recent Budget and Fiscal Plan, the spending allocation for all programs under Environment, Forest Mines and Lands and Natural Resource Operations total $971 million for 2011. That drops to $751 million for 2012 and is reduced again in each of the two following years. Most of the remaining funds are not spent on environmental oversight but rather on administration and programs that directly benefit industry. Reductions in field resources eliminate public resource management; industry is left to "self-regulate"

British Columbia's greediest welfare bums are not the occupants of the Tent City outside the real estate sales office at the Olympic Village nor the ones staying in decrepit SROs on the downtown east side. The welfare bums of the oil and gas industry reside in luxury homes and do their business in buildings like Encana's $1.5 billion Canadian headquarters rising to be Calgary's highest building. Of course, in addition to Encana profiting from production subsidies and royalty reductions, its new Calgary home is created using a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), another welfare program for the wealthy that delays payment of taxes and provides that eventual taxation is more favorable than other investments. The oil and gas industry is a major funder of the right wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute and contributes heavily to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Yet, as they encourage privatization and elimination of programs for people, donors are feasting on the low hanging fruit of public subsidies and tax breaks.

We need to consider the sources of the vast amounts of water used in shale gas production. How does that impact on agriculture, municipal waters systems or on the entire ecosystem? We need to know the identity and impacts of chemicals pumped underground. Throughout North America, human and agricultural water supplies have been tainted. Companies like Encana have proven themselves unworthy of self-regulation in other jurisdictions.

ProPublica continues its series of investigations of gas production in North America. While there are differences from one region to another, the lessons learned by our American neighbors is that oversight needs to be substantially improved, not reduced.

By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, Hydrofracked? One Man’s Mystery Leads to a Backlash Against Natural Gas Drilling

There are few things a family needs to survive more than fresh drinking water. And Louis Meeks, a burly, jowled Vietnam War hero who had long ago planted his roots on these sparse eastern Wyoming grasslands, was drilling a new well in search of it.

The drill bit spun, whining against the alluvial mud and rock that folds beneath the Wind River Range foothills. It ploughed to 160 feet, but the water that spurted to the surface smelled foul, like a parking lot puddle drenched in motor oil. It was no better — yet — than the water Meeks needed to replace.

Meeks used to have abundant water on his small alfalfa ranch, a 40-acre plot speckled with apple and plum trees northeast of the Wind River Mountains and about five miles outside the town of Pavillion. For 35 years he drew it clear and sweet from a well just steps from the front door of the plain, eight-room ranch house that he owns with his wife, Donna. Neighbors would stop off the rural dirt road on their way to or from work in the gas fields to fill plastic jugs; the water was better than at their own homes.

But in the spring of 2005, Meeks’ water had turned fetid. His tap ran cloudy, and the water shimmered with rainbow swirls across a filmy top. The scent was sharp, like gasoline.

Continue reading at
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Care to buy a politician?

In A Democracy, Freedom Of Assembly Trumps “Free Enterprise” by Leo Gerard
Julia & David Koch

It’s illegal in America now to buy or sell a human being, but a recorded telephone conversation between a Republican governor and a guy he thought was a billionaire benefactor shows that it’s still possible to own a politician.

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t have time to talk to Democratic leaders or union officials about his anti-union legislation – a proposal that has incited protests by tens of thousands for more than a week in Madison. But he jumped on the phone for 20 minutes this week when told the caller was billionaire David Koch, who was Walker’s second largest campaign contributor, who provided $1 million to a GOP fund to attack Walker’s opponent and who bankrolls radical libertarian organizations and the Tea Party.

Continue reading

Also Covert Operations written by Jane Mayer at The New Yorker

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No news embargo in alternative media

Mainstream media throughout history has mainly reflected and promoted interests of the elites. Since ownership of media is concentrated in so few hands today, the statement has never had more strength.

One indisputable example of news distorted or embargoed involved the Nazi links of King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson, who passed secrets to her Nazi lover, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Even before he became King, Edward was immune from press criticism, by agreement of the press barons:
"[Those in the know] were aware that, as Prince of Wales, he had spent as little time as he could on the tedious official duties of a constitutional monarchy, preferring a hedonistic lifestyle of travelling, partying, nightclubbing, yachting, swimming, hunting and playing golf.

". . . Nonetheless, newspapers spoke generously of his 'versatility', his 'vitality' and his 'genuine interest in bettering the condition of his people'. They made no mention of his affairs with usually married women."
Today's lustful princes of industry, enticed by wanton promises, move about British Columbia fracking its citizens and landscape. Newspapers applaud this as a return to the good old days of naked capitalism and individualism when the minions knew respectful places. However, in early days of British Columbia, penniless pioneers arrived with ambition and dreams, built businesses, then empires, created wealth and arm-wrestled unions over rightful shares. They ended lives as philanthropists, returning assets to the very communities that enriched them, not adding to already deep pockets of right-wing foundations and their malevolent information infrastructure.

Wealth is now bound in paper not in tangible achievements. Accountants, traders, hedgers, economists, arbitrageurs, brokers, quants and others are more important than inventors and inventions. Ethics and morality are outdated concepts. Media pays deference to clients and sees no duty to tell truth, only duty to serve those patrons.

Of course, exceptions are found in the alternative press. From Gabriel Yiu, B.C. Liberals' contractual obligations hide magnitude of provincial debt
"I still remember that in the 1990s, the business community, the Fraser Institute, the taxpayers' federation, the media, and the pundits often raised a hue and cry about the increase in debt incurred by the NDP regime. And they spared no effort in slamming the government for it.

"They said such debts condemned our children and grandchildren to bearing the responsibility to pay for reckless spending.

"Today, we can see that compared to the B.C. Liberals, the NDP's increase to the public debt was merely child's play."
Readers of Northern Insights will recall:

Alibi for ignorance: All I know is what I read in the newspapers (Feb 14)
About debt and interest, public interest (Feb 19)
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Introducing tthe 35th Premier of British Columbia

I've hinted about the BC Liberal Government becoming porous as moral conflict rises among insiders displeased with its ethical standards. For the few individuals who gain, many others feel shamed by dishonorable conduct.

Right now Alex Tsakumis is publishing material that will kneecap the outsider perceived to be most popular among leadership candidates. However, contamination will spread beyond Christy Clark's coattails.  Collateral damage clearly wipes out Mike de Jong's already small prospects. As former Attorney General, he presided over the corrupt and incompetent Criminal Justice Branch that bought the Basi/Virk plea bargain and botched numerous prosecutions. The latest is against RCMP Cst. Geoff Mantler, caught on video booting the face of a compliant citizen against whom police finally admit they have no charges. Almost two months has passed and CJB still has not approved prosecution of the police officer.

Kevin Falcon, Gordon Campbell's junior varsity shadow, is clearly the choice of money people such as oil and gas magnates who are forced to deal with reduced royalties, eliminated provincial sales tax and lower corporate income taxes while prices for their products rise. Luckily for them, the people of BC are kicking in with hundreds of millions more through the infrastructure royalty credit program. Producers use the roads. They shouldn't have to pay for them too.

However, the Liberal effort to walk away from BC Rail scandals continues to fail. While Campbell wears that project most of all, Falcon, his closest associate among leadership candidates, will pay a price with ordinary party members. Unless the Liberal voting register has been thoroughly corrupted by party insiders, Falcon will finish strong on the first ballot but his support will not grow.

That leaves George Abbott as the likely victor and 35th Premier of BC.

I should add one further consideration. If Abbott's campaign team is blamed for the information leaks targeting Christy Clark, he may lose second ballot support from her people. That would give Falcon an opportunity.
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Multiple choice

BC Hydro is hitting consumers with three years of rate hikes to:
  1. pay for a $6 billion upgrade to aging infrastructure, or
  2. to meet an expected growing demand for electricity, or
  3. to help friends of BC Liberals do deals like the one that brought owners of privately-owned Cloudworks Energy Inc $ 185 million.
BC Hydro is forecasting a rate hike of about 10 per cent a year in each of the next three years with much more to come after that to pay more than $30 billion contracted for private power generated from public rivers.
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Odd couple - government and truth

New York Times reports a dodgy technician with a penchant for gambling wagered that Republican contacts, irrational fear of terrorism and dubious technology were cards for a winning hand.  Indeed, he earned millions and public officials are working hard and spending more to keep their folly secret. According to ProPublica, the U.S. is not even trying to recover funds or penalize the fraudulent contractor.
"[Dennis] Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs. . ."
The Bush Administration declared that details of the software were state secrets that could not be disclosed in court. Accordingly, federal courts shielded the classified information. Obama specified new criteria for invoking state secrecy  and preventing embarrassment and concealing inefficiency or error were not legitimate reasons. Nevertheless, government stayed tight lipped.

Montgomery's former lawyer says,
“If this unravels, all of the evidence, all of the phony terror alerts and all the embarrassment comes up publicly, too. The government knew this technology was bogus, but these guys got paid millions for it.”
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Globe & Mail writer Mark Hume responds

Honorable Mention Michener Awards
Mark Hume has had a distinguished career as a BC journalist and he certainly deserves fair treatment. After correspondence with Mark, I want to clarify statements about the Globe and Mail's coverage of Basi and Virk. Hume says,
"If I waited until all the evidence was in, I wouldn’t have written a thing about this case. . . I have to go with the best information I have at the time, and keep pushing for more. . . . it is highly likely that the only way the public will get the whole story is if there is a public inquiry."
Further, Hume defends the Globe and Mail, pointing out correctly they spent more time and resources than other newspapers in pushing to illuminate this case. After consideration, I think Mark Hume makes good points.

We must address politicians and the courts in seeking complete answers. It is not the Globe and Mail that blocks access to the whole Basi/Virk story; it is the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Crown Prosecutors. 

I'll be writing more about this subject but readers deserve to hear Mark Hume's words. I respect him for participating.
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From the highly principled world of business

News item from Financial Times
Hedge fund managers are hiring security firms to sweep their offices and homes for listening devices, security experts say, in reaction to the US government’s insider trading investigations.

“Over the past six months, there has been a really heightened interest in electronic sweeps for hedge funds,” said Christopher Falkenberg, founder of Insite Security, a security and risk management firm in New York. “They’re working harder at clamping down on their information security and making sure the telephones are secured and the offices aren’t being bugged. We’ve also been asked to sweep traders’ homes.”
My question:
Why not "working harder at clamping down on unethical and illegal behavior and making sure staff is honest, principled and working within the law?"
If an SEC investigation makes you tremble, your business practices are defective.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Unexplained blog layout problems resolved

Restored original format from my backup files, noon Feb 21/11. Blog layout template was corrupted on Google's host server. I asked them to investigate.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Accountable to no one, part 2

This is a question I directed in the last week to P. Kariya, Executive Director of the Independent Power Producers Association of BC, AKA Clean Energy BC.
"Does your organization have a policy that allows or prohibits payment of fees, honoraria or expenses to journalists who work for broadcasters or publishers but do consulting or make appearances at events of the IPPBC? If yes, do you see that as a potential conflict of interest?"
Strangely, the group prefers not to answer such questions.
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Accountable to no one, part 1

Before today, I sent out a few messages asking questions related to alleged journalists being paid to attend events sponsored by those associated with groups the journalist, or their colleagues, may cover.

For example, on February 17, I sent this to Gillian Shaw, columnist with the Vancouver Sun:
"At the blog Northern Insights, I have written about real and potential conflicts affecting journalists if they contract with industries that might be covered by their publication. I note that you have had appearances scheduled by the Independent Power Producers Association of BC. Certainly you are not alone among your colleagues but does this trouble you at all?

"This is a general allegation I raised here:

" 'Additionally, and perhaps most insidious, the independence of media personalities is compromised by inducements and incentives paid by industries that desire favorable coverage.' "
Gillian Shaw did not bother to reply.
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Friends help friends

In the preceding article, Motorcycle guy pointed us to the speakers schedule for a conference of the Independent Power Producers of BC, the savvy folks who changed their name to one that scored higher on a marketing survey: Clean Energy Association of BC. For convenience of readers, I added a pdf version to the blog.

The published schedule included one segment that promised:
"E-savvy stakeholders can be your best friend or your worst nightmare when it comes to sharing information and encouraging dialogue around clean energy project development. A diverse group of top local bloggers, tweeters and opinion shapers will share their views and demonstrate that a social media presence, no matter how small, can make a big difference in how your project will be perceived by a growing segment of society."
I discovered a pre-print draft of the promo piece for that segment. It provide a little more information about the speakers but the text shown in red was deleted before publication.

Moderator : Elisha McCallum, Director of Communications, Plutonic Power Corporation, a former BC Hydro officer who, like numerous other ex BC Hydro employees, preferred employment with power companies intending to sell power to BC Hydro.

  • Alexandra Samuel - CEO, Social Signal, a specialist that trains corporations and marketers to use social media, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. more effectively. For example, how you can pretend to be Joe Average citizen and sell your company's message as if you speak as the voice of the people. Learn to go beyond 'Anonymous', set up your own online personalities. Invent disguises because a flood is better than a drop.
  • Chris Hatch - Blogger, PowerUp Canada, Tzeporah Berman's husband, teaches how to be a green tinged environmentalist whose favorite green is 6 x 2.75 inches and comes in different denominations.
  • Gillian Shaw - Journalist, Vancouver Sun, teaches how a platform with British Columbia's leading daily leads to new opportunities to earn income from the industries your daily covers regularly.
  • Raul Pacheco-Vega, Principal, Hummingbird Strategy, a specialist in combining academic associates with industrial associates to maximize earnings opportunities for both.
  • James Glave - James Hoggan And Associates, demonstrates how to live with one foot in the world of extractive and exploitative industries while the other stands firmly with the altruistic advocates of a serene and protected wilderness.
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Green Day says "Know Your Enemy" - updated

IPPBC - Attendees by Company 2005                                                            

Panel Schedule 091031
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

About debt and interest, public interest

If you sold your house and put the money in your chequing account would you say you had a surplus? This is what the Liberals have done by selling BC Rail and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of schools, clinics, offices, courthouses and other public assets.

If you asked a friend to borrow money for a business venture and contracted to pay them over 30 years, would you say you had no debt? This is what the Liberals have done with Public Private Partnerships (P3s).

If you contracted to buy firewood for 12 cents per log for 30 years when you could only sell it for five cents per log, would you say you'd made a wise business investment? This is what the Liberals have done with private "run-of-river" dams.

The Liberals admit the debt has gone from $30 billion to about $54 billion since 2001, but that is only half the story. We are indentured for another several billion for P3s and "run-of-river" dams - called the "deferred debt" by the auditor-general who insisted they report it.

The Liberals cut taxes during a boom when no stimulus was needed. They failed to set aside money for a rainy day. They sold off billions of dollars worth of public assets to create the illusion that they were balancing government finances.

It is time to get real. British Columbians deserve a government that can manage our money without selling our future; a government that puts the long-term public interest first.

Jessica Van der Veen

Also see:  Alibi for ignorance: All I know is what I read in the newspapers
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Globe deserves this comment: "Cancel my subscription"

The Globe and Mail's western bureau has usually ranked ahead of Postmedia newspapers in its coverage of British Columbia politics although that is like winning a $500 claiming race in which the other nags are lame. Online writers, particularly Alex Tsakumis, have written concisely about the Globe's faulty analysis of the Basi Virk case (Llinks at BC Rail-Alities above) so I'll add only one small shot.

This is not journalism, this is advocacy. Despite faults being demonstrated to them, they made no substantial improvements. They consciously misinformed their readers. The Globe and Mail editors knew their report was outrageously wrong so they chose not to allow online comments to save embarrassment. Cowards.

Mark Hume, from a family with a tradition of excellent journalism, disgraced himself and tossed his credibility to the wind. Shame.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

She was really refreshed!

From my new favorite spokesman for the unwashed rabble, Mark Steel

If you enjoy that two minutes of audio, try this:

On the next video, at about 2:00, Steel begins a discussion of Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and The Age of Reason. Paine had amazing influence on politics of Britain, France and the USA.

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Susan Heyes press release - Canada Line Appeal Decision - Feb 18 2011

We have a Legal System here in BC – but do we have Justice?

On May 27th, 2009, after four years of litigation, BC Supreme Court Justice, Ian Pitfield, awarded $600,000 in damages to my company Susan Heyes Inc. as compensation for business losses caused by the construction of the Canada Line. The appeal of this ruling in my favour was heard April 15th, 2010.

Today, the decision was finally announced contradicting the findings of the lower court.

In upholding this appeal, the legal system has supported the confiscation of individual citizen’s livelihoods by government funded private, for profit ventures. This shocking ruling has failed to protect the rights of citizens, and has failed to uphold justice and fairness in a democratic society.

The Canada Line project was built on the backs of hundreds of blindsided small business people along the Cambie corridor.
The project chose the most disruptive of several methods of construction. This discretionary and confidential decision alone should have negated the defence of Statutory Authority which the Appeal Court Justices used today as the basis for their ruling.

Under the law, the defence of Statutory Authority can only be used when it is proven in court that no other less disruptive method of construction was available. Instead of the devastating cut-and-cover construction, a bored tunnel method was not only available, but it was the basis of all public consultations and years of engineering reports and studies.

This project was enabled by the strategic use of confidentiality agreements at every stage, leaving citizens and even municipal officials misinformed and out of meaningful consultation. The last minute secret switch from underground bored tunnel to cut-and-cover, was never approved by Vancouver City Council, as a decision making body. They had authorized the City’s Engineering Department to negotiate the agreement that provided access to Vancouver’s streets for the project in a vacuum. The engineers were forced to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from informing their bosses – City Council – of this critical switch.

I question the validity of any contract or agreement that allowed this project to proceed, that was obtained in the absence of the whole truth about the project and its impacts on citizens and small businesses. Compensation should have been factored into the business plan.

I am appalled that our legal system has failed to support the rights of citizens, and has attempted to provide a legal justification for the excessive harm caused by this P3 project. I further wonder how many tens of millions of dollars have been spent to legally defend the project, instead of fairly compensating the victims.

The May 27th 2009 ruling from Justice Pitfield must be upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. The outcome of this litigation will set a precedent for all small businesses across Canada. The precedent that it sets should be just and fair, and reasonable. When governments use their powers to confiscate value for the common good – individuals must be compensated.

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Falcon is prepared to "make the tough decisions necessary to manage"

The inevitable step when rights are suppressed:
[Republican] Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has declared war on state workers, almost literally.

First, he proposed a state budget that would cut retirement and healthcare for workers like teachers and nurses, and strip away nearly all of their collective bargaining rights. But even more significantly, he announced last Friday that he had alerted the National Guard to be ready for state workers to strike or protest, an unprecedented step in modern times.

This would be the first time in nearly 80 years that the National Guard would be used to break a strike by Wisconsin workers, and the first time in over 40 years that the National Guard would be used against public workers anywhere in the country. The last time was the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968, just before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
Read more at Salon's War Room

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Is he or is he not? REPLAY from 2009

A comment by a person known only as MONTY, titled "Mr. Campbell is not a well man", showed up on a Rafe Mair article published in The Tyee:
As a psychologist I can tell you he is exhibiting delusions of grandeur, of omnipotence as the Supreme Being in this province, of a remarkable inability to remember what he has said from month to month, an inability to understand what a democracy means, let us say politely, a loss of contact with reality. There is a history of mental illness in his family as his father, a doctor, committed suicide. Editor, please note: these are factual statements. If a parent has had the disorder it increases the chance of the disorder. A number of environmental factors in the childhood home, school, and community may also contribute to the disorder. Robins (1966) found an increased incidence of sociopathic characteristics and alcoholism in the fathers of individuals with antisocial personality disorder.
On the Internet, a contributor can be anything. I might truly be a youthful, lithe danseur awaiting stardom rather than the grizzled, pudgy ancient pictured on the profile here. Is Monty a real psychologist or is he manipulating his readers because he suffers a grandiose personality disorder that drives him remorselessly to name as psychopaths people who won't answer back?

Monty's comment though started me thinking. He is not the first to notice that common personality traits of psychopaths and political leaders overlap. Dr. Michael Craig, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, University of London provides this definition:
People with psychopathic personality disorders have a constellation of personality traits which typically means they are:
  • grandiose
  • egocentric
  • impulsive
  • manipulative
and they
  • experience shallow feelings
  • lack empathy
  • lack guilt or remorse in the ways of normal people
  • participate in anti-social behavior.
It's a constellation and extreme version of these personality traits that leads to people having a diagnosis of psychopathy. . . . The traits themselves don't necessarily lead to criminal behavior. What they do is predispose somebody toward criminality.
Other definitions related to psychopathy:
  • [Psychopaths] operate under the blinding inertia of unquestioning self-confidence, without a hint of self-examination or internal doubt - for the psychopath, emotions are simply used as a dramatic tool, in order to evoke pity, guilt, fear or self-doubt in others for manipulation purposes; and are completely lacking in connection to any deeper meaning.
  • Psychopaths are untalented narcissists who profit only on the work of others. And in a political environment, this can be disastrous.
One web writer I encountered speaks with uncommon certainty:
Psychopaths have played a disproportionate role in the development of civilization, because they are hard-wired to lie, kill, cheat, steal, torture, manipulate, and generally inflict great suffering on other humans without feeling any remorse, in order to establish their own domination.
Dr. Robert Hare, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia Psychology Department, is an international authority on psychopathy. With Dr. Paul Babiak, he wrote Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work,a book widely read by professionals and lay persons. Dr. Hare also originated diagnostic tools used throughout the world.

So, I return to the original point raised by Monty. We are accustomed to labeling serious criminals as psychopaths but the condition involves a continuum. Not every psychopath is criminal in a legal sense. Many are sub-clinical but they flourish because the very characteristics defining the disorder are actually valued in business and politics.

Is Premier Gordon Campbell a psychopath? Health Minister Kevin Falcon? Finance Minister Colin Hansen? Surely, not all three. Well, maybe two of them.

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Hospital in "serious decay" is also "unmatched in the province"

February 17, Global's News Hour showed an example of how real reporting gives way to messaging with another purpose. Brian Coxford, who usually handles the infomercials within Global's newscasts, spent moments near the top of the show selling a $600 million plan to renovate St. Paul's Hospital.

Coxford was assisted by Neil McConnell, St. Paul's Head of Renewal, and Bonita Elliott, VP Clinical Program. They were pleased to show aging portions of the building, including an easily repaired bit of broken plaster which is left as a photo op to display "serious decay."

An Intensive Care Unit of four beds was shown, a common configuration in North America. The commentary talks about overcrowding and implies there is insufficient room for each patient to be "on his own critical care equipment." In truth, ICU nurses have whatever equipment they need. Patients are not sharing monitors, respirators and other devices designed for single users.

Coxford showed the emergency power system which is appropriately configured to provide critical, desirable and non-essential routings for back up electricity. That too is typical of hospitals but Coxford implied it was inadequate. An electrical engineer would be uncomfortable if they had not prioritized emergency power, an emergency service required in hospitals by building code.

So as not to make current patients too nervous, Coxford asserted that critical care, emergency, operating rooms, acute care and ambulatory care at St. Paul's match any hospital in BC. Now, I'm not overly bright but even I can tell that Coxford related conflicting stories. If Lions Gate matches any hospital in the province on that list of services, there is not much left in its mandate.

St. Paul's has no excuse for not maintaining its physical plant or replacing vital mechanicals. What it cannot create within its space though is the comfort level desired by people who work there. It is clear that offices and some patient service areas like lounges and waiting rooms are inadequate. But Global didn't mention that at all. Better offices and lounges do not convince taxpayers that needs are urgent.

This style of report is usually part of a commercial arrangement between Global and the subject of the informercial. The client has an objective - in this case gaining public support for $600 million funding - and Global serves it up in its newscast as part of services to clients.

Keep an eye on so-called feature reports. They are usually included with an objective different than sharing hard news. One day, we might see the comfortable high-tech facilities of a private healthcare provider. Another day will feature a private power producer showing an ultra modern control room but none of the diversion tunnels, dams, pipes, roadways and dry creek beds.

This practice does corrupt news reporting though. Lines have grown indistinct as to what is reporting in the public interest and what is designed to promote commercial interests.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

The true north strong and fairly free

When Egyptian people rose against the ruling order, government response shut down the internet and cell phone networks. Nine Internet Service Providers (ISPs) out of ten were affected. Noor Data Networks was untouched because it services the country's largest financial institutions, businesses that needed access to international financial markets for important clients, like the Mubarak family.

According to The Telegraph:
The Egyptian government’s action is unprecedented in the history of the internet. Countries such as China, Iran, Thailand and Tunisia have cut off access to news websites and social networking services during periods of unrest, as Egypt did when it cut off Facebook and Twitter earlier this week.

The ongoing attempt by the Egyptian government to shut down all online communication is, however, a new phenomenon. It not only prevents ordinary Egyptian internet users from accessing any websites, it cripples Tor, an anti-censorship tool that technical experts and activists were using to circumvent the Facebook and Twitter blocks.

The action puts Egypt, temporarily at least, in the company of North Korea, which has never allowed its citizens access to the internet.
E-mail, texting, cellular, VOIP, electronic shopping, banking, payments, social networking, entertainment and  information services are indispensable to many Canadians. Personal pages and blogs provide the means for any dedicated person to express themselves readily. The barriers are low because little equipment is needed and net access is widely available. Almost 90% of British Columbians are wired to the Internet, a little higher than the Canadian average.

Canadian users wonder if the federal government is capable of shutting down the Internet and if it would take that action in a political emergency. The short answer is yes. For one thing, the process is simple because Canadian telecommunications are controlled by a cartel of corporations whose sinecures depend on government regulators. Harper Conservatives mirror Republican attitudes in purported matters of security and show sympathy to groups lobbying for political correctness and restrictions on content perceived as offensive.

Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins co-sponsored a bill in the American Senate this week that would give the president a "kill switch" to shut down the internet during a "national cyberemergency." Lieberman defended the proposal, saying more or less, "If China can shut down the internet, why can't we?" Under pressure he and co-sponsoring Senators revised the proposed legislation.

It is uncertain that China has the ability to stop all  traffic but the country routinely interferes with traffic, broadly censoring content critical of the state. For example, websites such as Amnesty International have been blocked. Critical articles or comments, even entire blogs, are quickly removed. These acts of oppression are common in states that suppress human and political rights. Unfortunately, they are not unknown in nations that claim to be free and democratic.

We have an example of censorship in British Columbia. The blog House of Infamy has been removed by Google for unspecified reasons. The site was written by Kootcoot, a regular commenter on this and other forums. He is passionate about the issues, particularly in his opposition to BC Liberals and criticism of mainstream media. Koot is direct and abrupt, certain of his own opinions and not always tolerant of different points of view. His criticism though should be welcome in an open society.

For House of Infamy to be targeted by Google for removal without warning is both sad and dangerous. Since it is not involved in spam and is not a large consumer of Google's resources, I presume it has been attacked for its political opposition to British Columbia's rich and powerful. That sends a serious warning to me and to other bloggers who aim to make authorities accountable or uncomfortable by discussion of public affairs.

Here is part of a message from Kootcoot published at Sister Sage's Musings.
Well, the forces of evil (the BC LIEberals and their cohorts) have really circled the wagons and upped the ante and unfortunately it appears the people are going to lay down and take it in whatever orifice they choose.

I guess they are really confident because they’ve apparently managed to shut down the House of Infamy. I’m currently trying to get some kind of explanation from Google as to why the House has disappeared and all I’ve managed to get so far is that there has been “suspicious activity” on my blog (this at a time when I haven’t posted since January 25) and that is must have been “disabled” due to “perceived” violations of their standards. Unless I get something a little more cogent than this nonsense Google will just naturally join Stephen Harper, the BC liaRs, and Republicans as one of my targets from a different platform.

However for the present I am giving Google a chance to respond to my questions and demand for an explanation – I am perfectly willing to believe that they have been gamed as well as myself. It wouldn’t hurt if anyone who used to visit the House ( took a moment to contact Google and ask them why in the Hell it disappeared. The last visitor was around 12:30PM on Tuesday, February 15 from PoCo, according to my visitor logs which are kept elsewhere and thus still accessible.

They say the pen (or the keyboard, today) is mightier than the sword, but sometimes I wonder if that might not just be another lie promoted by the forces of evil to protect themselves from the justified wrath of those they exploit. Tyrants always figure they hold all the cards, but eventually they always fall, once those they exploit have had enough, however much that is in any given situation.
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Breaking news from Alex Tsakumis

CTV and The Globe and Mail Had Documents in Advance of Hearing

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Madoff investors victimized twice

The army of lawyers and consultants helping to recover funds from Bernard Madoff’s fraud stands to earn more than $1.3 billion in fees, according to new figures that detail the cost of liquidating the huge Ponzi scheme.

Read more at The Financial Times

Read more at ProPublica

"A lawyer is a learned gentleman who rescues your estate from your enemies and keeps it himself."
Henry Peter Brougham

"Never waste a good settlement on a client."
John Laxton

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hansen - true to his word, sort of

Will McMartin notes the Finance Minister is unchanged,
"Hansen was true to his word -- he didn't set out any 'new directions.' A new direction for a BC Liberal finance minister would have meant, after all, honestly depicting the province's finances.

". . . Hansen's budget for next year contains a forecast allowance of $350 million, plus a whopping big contingencies vote of $600 million. Combined, the two measures of prudence add up to $950 million . . . The removal or reduction of these two spending items produces -- voila -- not just a balanced budget, but a surplus.

". . . individuals and families are paying an ever-increasing portion of the carbon tax. And that raises a final point: is the carbon tax merely an earlier version of the much-hated Harmonized Sales Tax?

Specifically, is the carbon levy just another way to shift the tax burden from businesses to individuals -- but under the guise of environmentalism?"
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Where is the media outrage over lies of political appointees?

In Alibi for Ignorance, I quoted Will McMartin, one of BC's few political journalists worthy of respect:
"The paucity of comment [over increased public debt] is in stark contrast to the 1990s when the NDP was in government. Then, nearly every rise in the province's debt sparked vitriolic diatribes by newspaper editorialists, open-line radio hosts, the business community, as well as the former legislative opposition, the B.C. Liberals.

This go-round nary a peep on the debt has emanated from the legislative press gallery. Newspaper editorial-writers have turned elsewhere to vent their spleens. Phone boards at talk-radio stations have been silent on the issue. Captains of industry are mute.
Mainstream media indeed operates with standards that favor a small segment of society, the same one served by Gordon Campbell's colleagues in government. The root of this is financial and philosophical.

Elsewhere, the newspaper industry is troubled. In British Columbia, it remained profitable despite problems at overextended head offices.  BC media is helped considerably by the government dole. Each year, tens of millions of public dollars flow directly through advertising purchases. Additional value is given in the form of background material prepared by the Political Affairs Bureau and sympathetic agencies. This reduces news gathering costs.

Additionally, and perhaps most insidious, the independence of media personalities is compromised by inducements and incentives paid by industries that desire favorable coverage.

Geo Bush, Nancy Lazar, Ken Lay
Earlier today, I posted The smartest guys in the room negotiate contracts, using the title of a book by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. They wrote about Enron and the larcenous acts of fraud against the public by energy traders. Those were facilitated by a compliant media, unable or unwilling to report truthfully as fortunes were assembled by crooks with influence. Enron was led by Ken Lay, or "Kenny Boy" as friend George Bush called him. Lay died or disappeared while awaiting sentencing after conviction on ten counts related to the Enron failure.

Today, both the captains of industry and the media in British Columbia are silent on many issues that subvert public interests. And, why not? Industry is rewarded through tax reductions worth billions in HST and corporate income taxes. Media is fully compromised as noted above.

My analysis of false claims by Partnerships BC is not based on complicated research. For example, the Liberal government's P3 promoters say this,
Risk Transfer: . . . Under public private partnerships – especially those in which the private sector commits to operate a new facility for a fixed period – the contractor, not government, is liable for those cost risks. . .
Today, we are reminded that government carries the risk on the Golden Ears Bridge. Accordingly, taxpayers pay the $63 million revenue shortfall experienced by the private operator, so far. When that P3 contract was written, government absorbed risk, the private contractor's profits were guaranteed.

So where is the media outrage about the false claims made by Partnerships BC and its $500,000+ bonus earning CEO?

Even the CBC is completely tamed. They reported absolute nonsense from Translink's Ken Hardie:
"By the end of 2011, we expect a $63 million gap, a deficit we will be able to cover through savings, through other capital programs and reserves. The key thing right now is that there is no exposure to the taxpayer. We're not going to come looking for more money to cover the gap on the Golden Ears Bridge," Hardie said.
CBC boldly states that taxpayers will not be on the hook for a revenue shortfall through tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge. That does not square with the facts; it is purposeful misinformation. Translink has one source that makes up its deficits and shortfalls: the taxpayer. Hardie is dishonest to pretend that shuffling money from one Translink fund to another Translink fund relieves taxpayers or in any way takes them off the hook.

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Public service is so, so rewarding

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada 2/16/11 (PennWell) --
Innergex Renewable Energy Inc announced it will buy privately-owned Cloudworks Energy Inc for C185 million (US187 million), expanding its hydroelectric power assets in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

The acquisition will help diversify the assets of Innergex, a small Canadian renewable energy producer, which operates run-of-river hydro projects and wind farms mostly in its home province of Quebec.

Cloudworks, which employs 30 people, owns a 50.01 percent stake in six run-of-river hydroelectric facilities with a combined gross installed capacity of 150 MW, news agencies reported.

Jackie Hamilton has held various positions with Cloudworks since 1998, including Regulatory Advisor, Vice President, Environmental & Regulatory, and now is focusing exclusively on Policy Initiatives with the Cloudworks Executive Team, including working on industry initiatives as Chair of the Hydro Committee of IPPBC. Her background is in various BC government environmental assessment and regulatory management positions, and, as a consultant, assisting with approvals and consultation for numerous major projects in BC. She obtained the approvals for ten Cloudworks projects, seven of which are in operation.

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The smartest guys in the room negotiate contracts

Since the beginning of time, the public built facilities in partnerships with private industry. Typically, government determined needs according to its priorities, hired consultants for design and tendering, awarded work to the lowest bidder and financed with its usual sources, typically the lowest cost borrowing available. As long as all phases were completed with competence, the project succeeded without surprises.

However, sharp operators with no expertise beyond influence peddling, were left out of the process. So they invented the public-private partnership, the infamous P3, and claimed for it special efficiency. Partnerships BC was created to  sell the concept to plain folks who pay taxes. That led to hiring of a CEO for more than $525,000 a year and appointment of a board room full of Directors, all loyal BC Liberal contributors who are keen to get back give back.

Partnerships BC justifies its existence. They claim timely delivery, risk transfer and innovation as public benefits of P3s. They also claim benefits through international investments and job growth through economic activity. However, if this is the best justification they can make, I have news: more than a million dollars in salaries is being wasted in the executive offices of Partnerships BC.

Financing costs for any project depend on numerous variables. Most are the same for public or private sectors although British Columbia borrows at rates below those of private companies and has more certainty of its borrowing ability. Indeed, we have already experienced P3s in need of public financing to replace collapsed private commitments. There is no intrinsic financing advantage to a P3 but there is a likely disadvantage.

Risk Transfer: In both public and private sector projects, risk is a matter of negotiation. The risk is held by the party to whom it is assigned through the bidding and contracting processes. In a fixed price contract, the contractor carries risk. In a cost plus contract, the buyer holds the risk. There is no certain advantage to a P3 although there is an advantage to the smartest negotiators.

Partnerships BC boasts that, "if the contractors don’t deliver, they don’t get paid." Yes, just like when the public sector tenders a contract. PBC also says "private companies that are fully responsible for overruns have a greater incentive to innovate at every stage." Yes, and so do contractors hired with fixed price contracts.

The silliest claims are about how P3s attract international financial investment, freeing up tax dollars for other priorities and how private sector activity creates jobs for British Columbians. This is not different from the old fashioned system where the Finance Ministry borrowed funds on the New York bond market and contracted a Vancouver company to build a project.

The last justification is that building infrastructure – such as roads and bridges – sets the stage for even more growth and opportunity. No argument there, except there is no advantage for a P3 in creating that benefit.

Certainly though, there are advantages to public private partnerships, at least to the private party. Notice that most P3 business detail is kept secret. Sunshine rules are eliminated. Since taxpayers know only what the contracting parties permit, there can never be an independent evaluation of honesty and fairness.

Let us work through an example. The old fashioned public process:
  • Government decides to build a bridge after staff determines needs and priorities.
  • Qualified local bridge designers are hired to develop a traffic plan and various engineering tests are completed and cost estimates made.
  • When all variables are determined, the job is put out to tender and awarded to the highest rated bidder.
  • Construction is completed according to the contract and the facility enters service.
  • Permanent financing is matched with the asset's useful life and debt payments are serviced from general revenue or tolls.
  • Maintenance and operational contracts are awarded to local companies with appropriate capabilities. These contracts are periodically re-tendered to ensure optimum service.
The new fashioned public private partnership:
  • Government decides to build a bridge after staff determines needs and priorities.
  • A public private partnership is sought from the handful of international infrastructure specialists interested in this work.
  • A private partner is selected. Since design details and project scope are unclear, engineering qualification do not apply so this is awarded to the nicest people.
  • The nice people hire qualified local bridge designers to develop a traffic plan, conduct engineering tests and make construction estimates.
  • When all engineering and design variables are determined, the private partner sits down with government and negotiates a deal.
  • The private partner takes that irrevocable deal to financiers and arranges money to accomplish the project. It will purchase a completion guarantee bond to satisfy the financiers and the province. It will pay dearly for that guarantee.
  • Construction is completed according to the contract and the facility enters service.
  • The private partner now hires local maintenance and operational contractors with appropriate capabilities. (The private partner is a developer not an operator.)
  • With construction complete and operational contracts in place, private partner will now sell its interest to a pension fund administrator like the BC Investment Management Corp.
  • At the end of the initial contract term, the public will purchase the asset for its then market value or will continue renting it for amounts based on its new value.  
It is that final flip that creates the best profit opportunity although every phase from the beginning is a profit making opportunity.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Get out your handkerchief - and your wallet

Gerry Hummel's full size piece about this BC Liberal enrichment program may be seen at The Common Sense Canadian.

While there, read BC Hydro Driving Rates Higher, the work of economist Erik Andersen who points out how BC Liberal policies have worked, particularly since 2008, toward destruction of BC Hydro. An example,
". . . for a unit of energy, the needed financial resources remained remarkably constant until 2008 when we see the “Hockey stick” curve develop. In a few short years it suddenly took about 40% more financial resources to produce the same or less GW hrs of energy needed by domestic consumers.
Rafe Mair adds more good reading about the BC Hydro fraud, The Numbers Don't Lie: We Don't Need More Private Power
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Monday, February 14, 2011

Alibi for ignorance: All I know is what I read in the newspapers

As protests targeting Hosni Mubarak`s regime mounted, broadcaster Bill Good said it was wrong for bloggers to babble about political corruption in British Columbia because wrongdoing in Egypt was so much worse. In fact, political power in British Columbia is also focused in one man's office, with his unelected helpers exercising authority over the entire operations of government, while elected legislators hold only nominal power. As proof, the BC Legislature was called into session this week after 256 days, with a plan to sit for only four days.

As in Mubarak's Egypt, Gordon Campbell's government has worked steadily to transfer public wealth and future income into the hands of a favored few friends. Taxpayers have been saddled with debt at unprecedented speed; speed that would delight any middle eastern despot.

Mubarak was President of Egypt for 30 years, Vice-President for six years and head of the air force for six more before then. His present family fortune is estimated at $40bn-70bn, which means between one and two billion a year were diverted from Egyptian people. And, that must be shared with Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, who have the costly tastes of young jet-set billionaires.

If we asked Mr. and Ms. Average Citizen to explain British Columbia`s financial position, I expect they would credit the current government with a record of sound fiscal management. After all, that is what the Liberals promised before they were elected and they have repeated the phrase constantly. It is still popular today because the promise of sound fiscal management is made by every Liberal leadership candidate. And repeated by friendly media types like Bill Good.

Is the claim true? No.

Even worse, BC Liberals hide billions more in quasi debt, the detail of which is hidden from public view. For example, notes to BC Hydro`s 2008 financial statements of BC Hydro show minimum future obligations to purchase energy from private power producers at almost $28 billion. The amount, which is growing, is not included as a debt liability on the provincial balance sheet.

The BC Liberals have done much off-balance sheet financing, from road and bridges to hospitals. They pretend future payment obligations are not debt and go about the province extolling their expertise in sound fiscal management. In fact, even though direct debt on the financial statements has grown, so too have contractual obligations, to $53 billion in 2010.

This occurs without criticism by the news media. Nor are Liberal assertions even mildly challenged by major Victoria based pundits. Will McMartin, a master of detail, has written about this for years in The Tyee,
"The paucity of comment is in stark contrast to the 1990s when the NDP was in government. Then, nearly every rise in the province's debt sparked vitriolic diatribes by newspaper editorialists, open-line radio hosts, the business community, as well as the former legislative opposition, the B.C. Liberals.

This go-round nary a peep on the debt has emanated from the legislative press gallery. Newspaper editorial-writers have turned elsewhere to vent their spleens. Phone boards at talk-radio stations have been silent on the issue. Captains of industry are mute.
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The fundamental principle is flexibility in all other principles

Newspapers Canada, an industry association, states high minded principles.
"A free press is essential to our democratic society. It enables readers to . . . make informed judgments on the issues and ideas of the time.

"The newspaper's primary obligation is fidelity to the public good. It should pay the costs of gathering the news. Conflicts of interest, real or apparent, should be declared. The newspaper should guard its independence from government, commercial and other interests seeking to subvert content for their own purposes.

"The newspaper keeps faith with readers by presenting information that is accurate, fair, comprehensive, interesting and timely. . .

"However, the operation of a newspaper is a public trust and its overriding responsibility is to the society it serves. The newspaper plays many roles: a watchdog against evil and wrongdoing, an advocate for good works and noble deeds, and an opinion leader for its community. The newspaper should . . . be accessible and accountable to the readers it serves, whether rich or poor, weak or powerful, minority or majority. . . "
The principles listed are noble but, unfortunately, not always observed. Newspapers in North America operate too much with the spirit of once powerful American politician Everett Dirksen,
"I am a man of principle, and one of my basic principles is flexibility."
In this province, we have seen much flexibility among those who present news, whether in print or by broadcast. This is unfortunate because the precepts listed are vital to preservation of democracy. Our media does not serve as a watchdog against evil nor is it accessible and accountable to those it serves, if they are poor or weak.

Robbie Burns in Stanley Park
My grandfather was proud of quoting Robbie Burns but my youthful ears were closed and I was unappreciative. However, I've grown mindful of Burns' wisdom. This is from his poem "Here's A Health To Them That's Awa"
Here's freedom to them that wad read,
Here's freedom to them that wad write,

There's nane ever fear'd that the truth should be heard,
But they whom the truth would indict.
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