Friday, November 30, 2012

Angry reader says:

From a reader of Northern Insights:
"If only these soulless assholes could realise what they have done just to make themselves rich."
That comment, about BC Liberal insiders, comes after reading an old piece: Perception supercedes reality
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pirate alert

This a shameless plug, although unpaid. Two powerful elements of Vancouver's culture come together in the next short while and you ought to think about joining the experience.

To the uninitiated, at least in our part of the world, opera might seem a touch pretentious. Shakespeare might be thought the same, but, again, only to the uninitiated. People who immerse themselves in either come away enthralled.

Christopher Gaze, Western Canada's Shakespearian icon, is performing in the Vancouver Opera version of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. We've got tickets; you should have them too.

Just remember that the amount Christy Clark's government spends on self-promoting advertisements is three times what the province spends on arts, culture and sport. We rely on professionals like Christopher Gaze for cultural activities that match any in the English speaking world.
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Business genius talks

Warren Buffett, the world's third richest man, appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart along with Carol Loomis, senior editor-at-large for Fortune and author of Tap Dancing to Work. A few quotes:

Warren Buffett:
"In the last ten years, I have probably paid taxes, counting payroll taxes, at a lower rate than Carol has. It's wrong."

"Twenty years ago, the Forbes 400 had an aggregate wealth of $300 billion. Now, it's more than quintupled. That has not happened in the middle class."
Jon Stewart:
"Productivity of workers has doubled yet median income has stayed static."
Warren Buffett:
"Of the 400 highest incomes in the United States in 2009, the most recent year we have figures for, a quarter of the people paid taxes at a rate less than 15%... And six of them paid nothing at all. They were part of the 47%."
In “Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012,” Loomis collects Fortune's coverage of the influential business magnate's singular worldview.  Excerpts can be found HERE.
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Gentrification disrupts residents (of the garage)

Contractors are doing demolition of our our one story garage and family room, preparing to extend the existing second floor, to add sleeping and play space for three grandchildren now living here.

Of course, you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette and we're prepared for that. Perhaps, a little less prepared are the winged insects who took up residence in the rafters. Removing the ceiling drywall, we found two huge wasp nests.

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Not meaning what was said nor saying what was meant

Box of secrets revealed to Mike de Jong
In the opening cluster of advertisements on today's Global TV noon news, a message from the Liberal Government:
"BC is stable and growing. We`re balancing budget by controlling spending..."
Global News Headline:
"A look at the books for the second quarter reveals a less than rosy picture..."
Global News Top Story
"BC`s projected deficit is close to $1.5 billion and growing..."
Watch for a continuing round of substantial salary increases among senior bureaucrats in the next few months. Additionally, government is preparing large severance agreements for top paid employees and Order-in-Council appointments. Regular government programs may be subject to restraints but that policy does not affect the executive suites.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BC`s unethical investments not smoking hot

BC Investment Management Corporation may come to regret its rush to invest in big tobacco firms. After adding shares in eight of nine tobacco stocks in fiscal 2012, bcIMC had $237 million more invested in cigarette manufacturers. I can`t determine if they are still buying but eight of the nine companies in the portfolio have been less than smoking hot. Each of those lost per share value or stayed flat in the first six months of the current fiscal year. Those results may soon worsen.

Tobacco companies ordered to admit they lied over smoking danger, Reuters in Washington via The Guardian, November 28, 2012
"Major tobacco companies who spent decades denying they lied to the US public about the dangers of cigarettes must spend their own money on a public advertising campaign saying they did lie, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

"The ruling sets out what might be the harshest sanction to come out of a historic case that the Justice Department brought in 1999 accusing the tobacco companies of racketeering.

"US District judge Gladys Kessler wrote that the new advertising campaign would be an appropriate counterweight to the companies' "past deception" dating to at least 1964.

"The advertisements are to be published in various media for as long as two years..."

Note: value increases in fiscal 2012 result primarily from purchases of additional shares in the companies

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Taxpayers on hook for Liberal "campain" funding

BC Liberals and friends had better start worrying because Vaughn Palmer may be taking off gloves and blindfold. The pundit who has all the tools, and a toolbox, laid implements aside frequently during recent years but he now seems ready for action. Government failings don't particularly anger the Dean, but he is gaining an amused focus. For Clark's diehards, that renewed interest makes him dangerous.

Palmer is exposing taxpayer funded Liberal promotion and one particular component of the program,
"what the public accounts inadvertently characterized as 'B.C. Jobs Plan Campain Funding.'

"Yes, 'campain.' A typographical error, presumably. Or maybe a Freudian slip given all the agony this program is causing the Liberals."
In another column, Palmer lays out behaviour that displays entrenched contempt for ethics and political morality:
"While the B.C. Liberals plead poverty on any number of spending priorities, they’ve not exercised restraint on a government advertising budget that is poised to hit $64 million over Premier Christy Clark’s two years in office.

"Clark, on becoming premier in March 2011, straightaway presided over a major increase in the advertising spending."
Remember the government claim that "jobs strategy" advertising included an important international segment aimed at foreign investors? That was immediately suspect because even Jobs Minister Pat Bell had no idea of what advertising was underway beyond provincial borders, an indicator of the depth of planning behind the campaigns. Palmer provides the real story,
"Liberals have admitted that virtually every dollar went to domestic advertising."
Here's the columnist's closer,
"And for those needing a point of comparison, that [the $64 million of advertising] is twice what the government spends on parks in a given year, three times what it spends on arts, culture and sports, and half again as much as the annual funding for crime prevention and the victims of crime."
H/T to reader RS for the drawing shown above. Quite fitting too because the original Washington Irving character loathed 'profitable labor.' Sort of like BC journalists.

Reader KH forwards this photo, taken in Vancouver.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Campbell's wasted weekend with willy-wagglers - updated

One-percenters making changes. Anonymous reader provides interesting links in the comment section after a shuffling of deck chairs among Bilder-burglars. It's also worth bringing to the top because Paul Fraser has been in the news lately since his treatment of the Conflict Commissioner job as a do-nothing honorary position was challenged successfully.

The following was first published here in June 2010:

Chris Delaney asked BC Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser to investigate Premier Campbell's use of public funds for airfares to attend very private Bilderberg Group meetings in Spain. Fraser said he will not conduct an inquiry and, in fact, he said, he has no powers even to investigate the expense of $16,803. However, with logic understandable only in the political world, Fraser was still able to determine, without investigating, that Campbell did not act in a private capacity. His was an official capacity, representing the British Columbia Government.

Now, I would never argue with an esteemed and very high priced lawyer like Mr. Fraser. However, I do suggest he review his government web pages, particularly the part that says:
"[a] role of the Commissioner is to undertake investigations and inquiries . . ."
Fraser might also ask the Bilderberg boys to change their official announcement of the conference. It reads, in part:
". . . all participants attend Bilderberg in a private and not an official capacity."
However, I'm not suggesting any of us get too exercised about a Bilderberg conference. This plaything of the rich and powerful is an excuse to get together at opulent inns for exotic grub and wobbly pop. The Guardian newspaper calls it a weekend break for the global elite and you can read more below. We should be glad they didn't charge us a billion dollars for security as they did for that gathering of the rich and famous in Toronto.
* * * * *
Times Colonist scribbler Les Leyne opened his backpack and crayoned a note of praise for Gordon Campbell.
"Campbell's invitation [to Bilderberg 2010] is a tribute to his reputation -- at least in places other than B.C."
Leyne passed along the Premier's explanation of why he was invited to the conference:
". . . we are leading the pack in Canada and everyone expects us to be a major leading economy and province as we move into the 21st century."
Leading the pack? The only one that Campbell leads is a pack of liars and deceivers. Remember our item from a few days ago where we reported that, rather than leading,
British Columbia employment growth ranks ninth out of ten provinces during May 2010. On year over year performance in job creation, BC ranks fifth.
Leyne, of course, never challenges any assertion by The Boss but the trepid reporter is tough enough to duel with unnamed truth tellers.  He makes claims about reactions he found on the Internet regarding the Bilderberg Conference:
"So naturally, it's a focus for conspiracy theorists who see SECRET CABALS directing events from BEHIND THE SCENES. They see POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK, forces so powerful that some bloggers have to use all capital letters to express how profound the influence is."
Of course, Leyne cannot be bothered to give any useful information about the gathering, its significance or, frankly, its near complete lack of significance.  Had Leyne read Iain Hollingshead in the The Telegraph, he would have learned this and more:
"It is difficult to think of anything less real – or indeed less happening. The reality of these conferences appears to boil down to a group of willy-waggling old men comparing their security details and dreaming of past glories."
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Les democracy

"The only good farmland is former farmland" - J. Les
John Les made an appearance with Sean Leslie on Liberal house radio Saturday and explained that party leadership had to impose Darryl Plecas on the Abbotsford-South riding association because a majority of its members were about to select a nominee of their own choice.

Allowing ordinary members to select a candidate for election would be an unacceptable reversal of BC Liberal tradition. It is the plutocrats that control the party, not its members. According to Les,
"...there was an annual general meeting in that riding and Moe Gill and his people moved in and basically threw out the entire executive and, um, replaced it with people whose sole objective apparently was to put Moe Gill in place as the nominee. Ah, they didn't do a candidate search, ah, any, or any kind of democratic process. They didn't raise any money, they didn't do any election preparedness. Ah, so, ah, obviously that led to some concern and, um, so, ah...

"Moe and his people were at work for some time to try and corner the, the ah, nomination in Abbotsford South and, you know, that also is not a democratic way of going about things....

"And hopefully, after a wide open and democratic process..."
Andrew MacLeod wrote in The Tyee that
"Chilliwack officials were encouraged to see municipal and provincial laws as mere guidelines while John Les was mayor, according to a special prosecutor's report released today."
Apparently, party constitutions are also mere guidelines.

P.S. - Be certain to read Alex Tsakumis' definitive coverage of the Abbotsford-South nomination fiasco. Liberals are telling lies about the situation and Alex sets the record straight.
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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Clear messaging

As Enbridge explains, the Mokena Terminal had a "Line Release."
Nov 23 (Reuters) - About 900 barrels of crude oil leaked from an Enbridge Inc pipeline near Chicago late on Wednesday before the line was isolated, federal and state officials said.

The U.S. National Response Center said the crude was contained within a spill pad at the site near Mokena, Illinois, a pipeline hub where Enbridge's Line 14 from Superior, Wisconsin, ties into Line 64 to Griffith, Indiana. They have capacity of 318,000 barrels a day.
Of course, time will tell how large and how significant the "release" turns out to be. The energy industry has a poor record for honest disclosure.

With another spill by Enbridge and two ships suffering near disasters on the west coast, nature is sending us a  clear message. Are we paying attention?

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A government friendly to some businesses

H/T: R.S.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

"All bets are off"... or not

It's been a while since I complained about CBC pundit Stephen Smart but his 5pm news report today was egregious. He suggested the current Angus Reid poll indicates an important shift that gives new hope to BC Liberals. The claim was misleading and not backed up by fact. His words,
"Right now you've got 28% of people who say they think Adrian Dix would be the best Premier, Christy Clark at 16%. If you add up the undecideds and the people who don't like any of the options, you hit 48%, so almost half of the voters don't like any of the options, don't know. That's a huge room that is now left to manoeuvre, which means, really, all bets are off between now and election day."
All bets are off are they? First, let's examine what pollster Angus-Reid has been saying over time.

The words of CBC reporter Smart imply that a significant change in public opinion has been revealed. On the contrary, the political alignments in B.C. have been relatively stable, particularly because the margin of error (sampling variability) is +/- 3.5%. In other words, small changes are not necessarily meaningful from one period to another.

Christy Clark and friends describe politics in BC as a struggle between free enterprisers and unwashed lefties. I believe a more accurate description is of a contest between parties that represent economic elites and social conservatives versus two parties that represent pluralistic and egalitarian movements sympathetic to conservation of the natural environment and effective regulation of industrial activity.

During the last few months, the Liberals conducted guerilla war against the Conservative Party of BC. Supporters of the targeted party who lost faith in its leadership were more likely to migrate to the BC Liberals than to either of the progressive opposition parties. Angus-Reid reports little change in support either for the supposed "coalition of free enterprisers" and the groups that style themselves progressives.

Smart emphasized that 48% of voters expressed no opinion on the person best qualified to be Premier. However, that number is unchanged from the last Angus-Reid survey. Instead of breathlessly claiming that Liberals were back in the game, Stephen Smart should have noted that Angus-Reid shows that despite intensive government advertising, the voters aren't buying Christy Clark's message, even if they are paying for it.

Reader Will Hartman left a comment on Facebook:
"CTV did a similar fluff piece on their 6 o'clock news tonight. BC's MSM,still the loyal cheerleaders..."
I watched Keith Baldrey's report on Global TV and found it a fair report but I agree with Will Hartman that Rob Brown's CTV report missed the mark quite completely. I wonder if these news rooms are so understaffed, or badly staffed, that they rely on talking points provided by government insiders. The news readers simply echo words fed to them and don't have time or ability for independent analysis.

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Coastal safety

Second B.C. shipping incident in two days, Vancouver Sun, Nov. 23/12
"Dan Bate, spokesman for the Canadian Coast Guard, said Friday that the deep-sea cargo ship, Tern Arrow, lost engine power in heavy seas and 40-knot winds near Laredo Sound south of Kitimat on Thursday at 2:17 p.m."
Freighter runs aground off Prince Rupert, Mark Hume, The Globe and Mail, Nov. 21/12

"The grounding of a 278-metre container ship near Prince Rupert has raised questions about the risk of oil spills on British Columbia’s rugged coastline.

"...The 65,000-gross-tonnage freighter was inbound from Shanghai when, according to a port official, it manoeuvred to avoid a small fishing boat and hit bottom..."
An example of the inevitable from Wikipedia:
"The Prestige oil spill was an oil spill off the coast of Galicia caused by the sinking of an oil tanker in 2002. The spill polluted thousands of kilometers of coastline and more than one thousand beaches on the Spanish, French and Portuguese coast, as well as causing great harm to the local fishing industry. The spill is the largest environmental disaster of both Spain's history and Portugal's history.

"...The ownership of the Prestige is unclear, making it difficult to determine exactly who is responsible for the oil spill. Evidence is now pointing to a secretive Greek family who allegedly registered the ship to a front company in Liberia. Thus the sinking of the "Prestige" has exposed the difficulties in regulations posed by flags of convenience..."
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A Failed Experiment, Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, Nov 21/12
"Since the 1950s, the top federal income tax rate has fallen from 90 percent or more to 35 percent. Capital gains tax rates have been cut by more than half since the late 1970s. Financial tycoons now often pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

"All this has coincided with the decline of some public services and the emergence of staggering levels of inequality (granted, other factors are also at work) such that the top 1 percent of Americans now have greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent."

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

If BC Liberals lied before, can we believe them now?

In July 2009, Tom Fletcher of Black Press wrote about the HST announcement,
"Premier Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen announced the change in Vancouver Thursday, presenting it as a revenue-neutral way to simplify the system for business and encourage new investment.

"...Hansen said the implementation will result in a drop in revenues to the province initially, moving to a slight net increase in later years.
Of course, Campbell and Hansen spoke from extensive briefing notes prepared by the vast squad of minions employed by the Premier's Office and the Ministry of Finance. The statement that HST would be revenue neutral was a well considered element of the presentation.

We now can examine the correctness of the assertion. Since the politicians had unlimited resources to consider HST effects, they should have been reasonably accurate about the resulting revenue changes. If the numbers were close, say within a couple hundred millions of dollars, they might earn a pass. If the numbers show a distinctly different result, then either Campbell and Hansen and support staff were thoroughly incompetent or they were flat-out liars.

According to public accounts for the fiscal year ended March 31 2010, provincial sales tax revenue was $4.76 billion. In fiscal 2011, with nine months of HST, sales tax revenue was $5.51 billion. Rather than dropping as Colin Hansen predicted, it was up more than $700 million.

A year later in 2012, HST was $5.64 billion, an increase of 18%, almost $900 million from 2010.

Of course, one other factor to consider is tax incidence, the effect of a particular tax on the distribution of economic welfare. We were told that, by moving to HST, businesses in British Columbia would save about $2 billion a year. Since HST actually brings in substantially more money and business was largely relieved from paying the tax, the policy move added almost $3 billion a year to the tax burden of consumers. Because of ineffective competition laws, consumers are already paying prices substantially higher than paid by southern neighbours. The combination effect is considerable.

No wonder people say that BC Liberals provide a business friendly environment.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

To understand the RCMP:

Let me begin by quoting David A. Brown, QC Chair of the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP; you know, one of those “cake dwellers”. In the Task Force’s report of June 2007 (not much has changed since then) Mr. Brown wrote:
“During our consultation and analysis, serious problems affecting the RCMP were brought to the attention of the Task Force. Of these, the issues demanding the most urgent attention related to the impossible demands being placed on members and employees; demands that are compromising their health and safety…”
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Demand deficit

Fiscal Cliff Letter: Small Business Owners Urge End Of Bush Tax Cuts, Zach Carter, Huffington Post
"As businesses owners, none of us hire more employees simply because someone gives us a tax cut. We hire more employees when our customers demand more of what we have to sell," the letter reads. "When a teacher, firefighter, or construction worker building public infrastructure loses his or her job, many of us also lose a customer."
Increased Demand Gives Firms the Need to Hire, Center for Economic and Policy Research
"...Actually, an increase in the demand for goods and services forces employers to hire at the risk of losing business.

"If a restaurant doesn't have enough staff to serve its customers, it will lose customers. If a factory doesn't have enough workers to fill its order then it loses orders. Increased demand forces businesses to use more labor..."
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Propagandists in the service of the powerful

For more than half a century, the Soviet Union's news agencies were universally recognized as untrustworthy. Strict political controls ensured that content served interests of the nation's autocrats.

In the democratic world, most have been contentedly confident that a free press was a reliable guardian of the public interest. We assumed it was accessible so any reasonable person could impart information and ideas without barriers. However, not all people are as smug. Noam Chomsky maintains that today's mainstream corporate media manufactures consent in favour of unregulated capitalism and the political powers supportive of it.

Chomsky argues that the vested corporate interests controlling newspapers, television, and radio are propagandists in the service of the powerful. Political and financial interests ensure that media companies bias content accordingly.

Journalists used to talk about a "Chinese Wall" separating editorial and advertising personnel but the concept is now intermittent. Sometimes that's rather innocuous. On Global TV News last weekend, a commercial for Whistler Mountain lift tickets was followed by a two minute "news story" about the resort. It doesn't take a cynic to imagine the commercial fee ensured exposure in a news segment.

More problematic is the current blitz of advocacy advertising that viewers are presently experiencing. It comes from government and industry groups, particularly ones trying to promote controversial projects. There is historic evidence that investigative reporters and vigilant mass media have been associated with increased government accountability and lower corruption. However, when government becomes the largest advertiser, they buy protection for their political misdeeds. Media scrutiny goes away when the subjects are large advertisers.

The other night, I logged the commercials on Global TV late news. In almost 16 minutes of advertising, 25% of it was advocacy advertising by Northern Gateway pipeline promoter Enbridge and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association. The governments of Canada and British Columbia were responsible for six TV spots in one hour. Local business accounted for only 18% while national commercial accounts took up the remainder.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The other 47% watch

Willard Mitt Romney:
"...there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax….”
Romney likely to finish at 47 percent, Greg Sargent, Washington Post Opinions,
"When all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says new votes in from Maryland put Romney at 47.56 percent. He predicts with certainty that with all of New York and California counted, Romney will end up below 47.5 percent of the vote.

"Rounded, of course, that would put the final tally at 51-47. Anticipating this moment, Markos Moulitsas has inaugurated the “Romney 47 percent watch."
Further reading:
Memo To Mitt Romney: The 47% Pay Taxes Too, Janet Novack, Forbes
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Desperation on their own sinking ship

From Laila Yuile's blog, No Strings Attached:

Breaking news – Abbotsford South BC Liberal Riding Association Directors and President resign, citing ” Unfair, not democratic ” election of candidate Darryl Plecas.
"...Clearly, the powers that be running the show at BC Lib headquarters are bound and determined to demonstrate to the public that they don't even care about democratic process in their own den of inequity. Good grief. At least this riding association has some sense and walked.

"This comes on a recent scathing column also run in the Abbotsford Today highlighting some Pro's and... ahem... Cons of having Plecas as a candidate in which Mike Archer leaves readers with this line:

" 'It also speaks volumes as to the lengths to which the BC Liberals will go in their desperate search for candidates to join their own sinking ship...' "
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The real Welfare Queen

Walmart: America's real 'Welfare Queen', Paddy Ryan, Daily Kos, October 2012
" As many as 80 percent of workers in [U.S.] Wal-Mart stores use food stamps."
Inequality, exhibit A: Walmart and the wealth of American families, Josh Bivens, The Economic Policy Institute, July 2012
"Concretely, between 2007 and 2010, while median family wealth fell by 38.8 percent, the wealth of the Walton family members rose from $73.3 billion to $89.5 billion…In 2007, it was reported that the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or 30.5 percent of all American families.

"And in 2010, as the Walton’s wealth has risen and most other Americans’ wealth declined, it is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined..."

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Enjoying our factory foods

"A hot trend in food labeling these days is labels that boast 'blueberries' and feature images of the antioxidant-rich superfruit, but in fact contain no blueberries--and sometimes no fruit at all!

"...The ingredients in blueberry bagels sold at Target include 'blueberry bits,' which aren’t bits of blueberry but rather blobs of sugar, partially hydrogenated oil, and blue food dye. Natural and artificial blueberry flavoring show up later in the ingredients list; real blueberries, even later.

"And what about Betty Crocker’s Blueberry Muffin Mix? Hard-to-read print says: 'Imitation blueberries, artificially flavored...'

"The trend even extends to other popular fruits. A reader in Cummaquid, Mass., who was 'really hungry and in a hurry' bought packs of Quaker Multigrain Fiber Crisps Blackberry Pomegranate, showing a cut-open pomegranate bursting with seeds next to two blackberries. Only later did he notice the tiny type stating, 'Does not contain fruit.' "

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No sense of decency

In Liberals' memo shows party's delusion, Keith Baldrey takes aim at the government crowd and fires a cruise missile through the target. Actions of these minor league partisans suggest Joseph Welch's famous lament applies to the BC Liberal Party:
"Have you no sense of decency? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Baldrey seems amused and amazed by the mindless effrontery of people he calls rank amateurs:
Burnaby Hospital Community Consultation Committee
"For a glimpse of how manipulative and detached from reality many B.C. Liberals have become, one needs to look no further than a three-page memo written by party insiders that deals with the future of Burnaby General Hospital.

"...The memo was written back in December 2011, and reveals in fine detail how utterly politically partisan a committee created to plan the hospital's future really is and how it was created to save the hides of B.C. Liberal MLAs.

"The memo's authors are B.C. Liberal party insiders, including a former president of a Burnaby riding association for the party...

"Talk about delusional...

"The great irony, of course, is rather than using the hospital to win three seats in Burnaby, this whole episode has more likely cost the B.C. Liberals seats.

Or, in the words of the memo's authors, they've "sealed the deal."
For more Liberal outrages, read this offering from The Gazetteer: Re-Invasion of The PAB-Bots Snatchers... Fire Them All!

According to Cassidy Olivier at The Province, people involved in preparing the Liberal campaign to smear Adrian Dix were collecting regular cheques from taxpayers. One of them, Christy Clark's good friend Don Millar,
"currently holds a lucrative contract with Government Communications and Public Engagement allowing him to bill up to $10,000 a month for advisory services..."
Again, decency is absent. The money they waste on partisan government advertising is only the obvious part of a campaign to debase democracy.
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Talking real money

One indisputable dunce pursuing a nomination for the coming provincial election praised the B.C. Liberal government for its "prudent fiscal management." Obviously, that person pays no attention to reality. Oxford Dictionaries defines the adjective prudent:
"acting with or showing care and thought for the future."
Liberals under Campbell or Clark have done the opposite; they've been remarkably unwise and imprudent. The scale of financial follies has grown so large in this province that citizens are inured. Collectively, British Columbians shrug, unable to notice the situation described by Everett Dirksen long ago:
"A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money."
I've written here extensively about BC HYDRO, BC FERRIES, BC RAIL and bcIMC.

The opening this month of the new Port Mann bridge is merely one more piece of evidence. In January, The Journal of Commerce interviewed Gerrit Hardenberg, a senior structural engineer during construction of the five lane bridge that opened in 1964:
"Hardenberg was astonished when he found out about the B.C. government’s decision to replace the Port Mann bridge with a new cable-stayed structure that will open in late 2012 or early 2013.

" 'I consider the project a waste of money, firstly, because the present bridge has not come at all to the end of its useful life,' he said.

"...'I think that the final decision for the project is influenced by the desire to save the government the trouble of financing the whole scheme by cunningly replacing a free bridge with a toll bridge,' said Hardenberg.

" 'Politically, this transition seems easier if you go for a completely new scheme and remove the old bridge.' "
Indeed, the 1964 Port Mann bridge received extensive seismic upgrades in 2001 after which, according to highways engineers, its useful life had been extended to at least 2040. Of course, the decision to spend $3.3 billion for a new toll bridge and roadway improvements was about serving the real beneficiaries of BC Liberal rule: land developers and constructions contractors, especially Kevin Falcon's favourite: KIEWIT.

Does the Port Mann project reflect prudent fiscal management? Well, using the Bank of Canada inflation calculator, we can compare today's project with the one from 1964. The original $25 million bridge cost translates to $185 million in today's dollars.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

There's fish in the lake

Two unions are in court to overturn Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits that allow 200 Chinese coal miners to work in northern BC. The labour organizations claim the permits were based on improper and invalid Labour Market Opinions. LMOs are supposed to determine if there are permanent Canadian residents able to fill the jobs offered to foreign workers.

Jeremy J. Nuttall reports at The Tyee:
"Now, they want to have full access to the LMOs to see if the company cut corners in order to purposely disqualify Canadians from the jobs so it could use miners from China at a cheaper cost.

"Lawyers representing the government and mining firm don’t want to release the records for privacy concerns and said the unions were on a 'fishing expedition.'

" 'There’s fish in the lake,' said Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell..."
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Deep-seated seething fury is 2016 frontrunner

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Federal by-election polls

Forum Research, November 12, 2012

Perhaps because it was a significant issue in recent U.S. elections, Forum Research asked Canadians for opinions about the legality of abortion:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Did you know?

The Great Star Fleet

At the turn of the 20th Century, the Alaska Packers Association assembled the largest fleet of privately owned sailing ships in the world. It was an era in which the shipping industry was mothballing its sailing ships in favor of faster steam powered vessels.

The APA didn't need speed; it needed low cost cargo haulers to ferry men and supplies north to Alaska to can salmon each spring, and to deliver the non-perishable cargo south each fall in hopes it would sell at a profit. Ultimately, the APA acquired 19 iron and steel full rigged ships and called their armada The Great Star Fleet.

Their operations extended the age of working sail on the Pacific Coast by several decades. View the trailer to see the Star Ships under sail in this excerpt from John Sabella's 2001 documentary Sockeye and the Age of Sail.

Purchase Sockeye and the Age of Sail: The Story of the Alaska Packers Association, a film by John Sabella.
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Pro-media: watchdogs or lapdogs?

Katie Hyslop has a worthwhile piece in The Tyee about the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation. Teacher Decries Pension Plan's 'Unethical' Investments, The Tyee, Nov. 13/12
"[Paul] Hutcheson started researching the B.C. Teachers' Pension Plan in 1999 after learning the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan invested in Talisman Energy. At the time Talisman, an oil and gas company, owned Arakis Energy, a company with connections to oil and gas in Sudan. The government of Sudan, when not evicting residents from land for oil and gas development, was conducting a bloody civil war using this fuel to run its war machines.

"Disturbed, Hutcheson took a look at B.C.'s plan. He found not only investments in Talisman but in British American Tobacco, which in addition to manufacturing and selling cigarettes had suppliers in Malawi accused of child labour and abuse; Comcast, an American cable, digital phone, and Internet company which sells on-demand pornography; and other corporations he considers unethical..."
Ms. Hyslop focuses on investment policies related to teachers' pensions and that fits her education beat at The Tyee. However, while her contribution is worthwhile, it addresses only a small part of a larger story.

I've tried to interest corporate media in bcIMC but they prefer stories about four-star officers caught with pants at half mast. Those reports are more titillating than examinations of unethical investments and safer than covering self-interested actions of executives who hide behind well constructed barriers of secrecy, reinforced by endless legal and PR resources.

The Tyee is a news provider with one foot in the alternative stream and the other planted deeply in the mainstream. The online publication is brave in treatment of some issues - Andrew Nikiforuk's work on the environment for example - but timorous in other coverage.

I asked a person with long provincial political experience about my concerns over bcIMC. The response,
"From what I understand, unlike many funds, they make decisions without ethical or other considerations. You are right that there are a lot of opportunities for self interest and few if any people keep an eye on what they do, either from an ethical or personal self interest point of view.

"I for one was very surprised by the tobacco investments. That's not what a government and its entities should be investing in."
Any readers who agree this subject should be more fully explored should say so in every available forum. Introduce it on radio talk shows, on internet forums and in union meetings. Write letters to the media and to politicians and party hacks.

There is almost $100 billion at stake, spread around the world with little concern for the capital needs of British Columbia or the ethical concerns of its citizens.

Scroll through items here about bcIMC.
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Wazzup, ferry riders?

A few days ago, Mary Polak's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced the "B.C. coastal ferries consultation and engagement process". They invited,
"input on considerations to achieve $26 million in savings to 2016 and input on establishing a long-term vision for coastal ferry services in British Columbia that will keep our ferries affordable, efficient and sustainable."
Anyone else wondering if the current roster of flacks and politicos earn by-the-word bonuses?

Of course, had Ms. Polak and friends been regular readers of Northern Insights, this consultation would be entirely unnecessary. They would have captured 94% of the needed sum by reversing the $24.2 million second mortgage BC Ferries gave the Jawl Family when Messrs. Hahn and Corrigan decided ferry executives needed a larger playpen for their shrinking company.

A year ago, Luxurious new offices and enduring gratitude was in Northern Insights:
"In 2008, the company announced plans to move into 90,000 square feet of a building at 800 Yates Street then under construction by Jawl Properties. B.C. Ferries sold its long time head office building, 53,000 sq.ft. at 1112 Fort Street, to the Jawls for $11 million. By sheer good fortune, the new owners quickly found another tenant: Elections BC.

According to Note 12 on the BCF 2011 Audited Financials, the lease of new offices in downtown Victoria is for fifteen years, with four renewal options of five years each. The lease agreement includes payment of building operating costs and property taxes but other terms are undisclosed.

In addition to signing a long term lease before completion, BC Ferries lent the Jawls, developers of the $100 million property, $24.2 for fifteen years, secured by a second mortgage of the property.

What does BC Ferries get out of this? Certainly, it gets substantially more luxurious executive offices, almost twice the size of those in the old building. They also earn enduring gratitude of the influential Jawl family, people who style themselves as the largest private owners of premium offices and industrial space in the capital. Their properties include Cordova Bay Golf Course, Mattick’s Farm, Sayward Hill and Selkirk Waterfront. They are, of course, substantial contributors to the BC Liberal Party."
There is another, perhaps easier way, to find the funds Mary Polak says she needs from BC Ferries. That is to reverse the private company fiction that results in interest rates far higher than the cost of financing that BC taxpayers should be paying.

The long term debt of BCF at March 31, 2012 was $1.3 billion and the average interest rate on this debt was 5.56%. The Municipal Finance Authority 10 year rate in June 2012 was estimated at 3.11% The interest rate difference would be about $32 million a year, which is $127.4 million between now and 2016, five times Mary's goal.

Ferry users and taxpayers are expected to pay for the mistakes of an incompetent board of directors drawn mostly from Liberal Party lists. The current consultation is mere window dressing, lipstick on the pigs that have dined at the public trough.

I suggest you read Thumb in the eye of BC taxpayers. It gives the real story of executive compensation at BC Ferries.

Don't expect to read this version of reality in the mainstream media.
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A caution for Canada's Conservative Party

Six CPC members of Parliament may be deposed if the Federal Court accepts allegations of widespread voter suppression during the May 2011 election. This action, to be heard in December, is separate from the investigation of misconduct by Elections Canada. The CPC faces what one pundit calls "high-stakes drama" but the worst case outcome is not likely to threaten Stephen Harper's immediate hold on power.

However, the Conservatives, having adopted American style dirty politics, should prepare for a taste of retribution like that dished out by targeted voters in the 2012 U.S. election.

On Election Day, Republicans Suffered Consequences of Voter Suppression Strategy, Huffington Post, November 13, 2013
"Republican lawmakers and conservative activists undertook a concerted effort to keep minorities, students and those with lower or fixed incomes (including many of our seniors) from voting."

"...Yet the untold story of the 2012 election is not the efforts of lawyers or activists, but the unyielding determination of everyday ordinary citizens determined to cast their ballots.

"...When the dust settled, the very groups targeted for suppression and intimidation had voted in record numbers..."
In a similar vein, Andrew Cohen, contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for 60 Minutes, said this,
"Americans don't like it when their right to vote is threatened. The very people whose votes the Republicans sought to suppress came out to vote. In places like Akron and Orlando and Denver and Milwaukee, they came. They waited in long lines and endured the indignities of poll workers. Yet they were not cowed. Today is their day. A day when they can look at one another and appreciate that they are truly a part of the history of civil rights in this country..."
H/T G.G.
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

BC Liberal truthiness

We face 26 weeks of taxpayer paid pre-election advertising promoting the BC Liberals. They'll be using "facts" like this one, broadcast on Global TV November 9:
"We're ensuring British Columbians have the skills they need to be first in line for jobs."
October 16, CKNW's Sean Leslie reported:
"Premier Christy Clark is playing down a controversy over mining jobs in BC going to Chinese workers.

"Clark says the 200 Chinese miners are just doing exploratory work..."
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Conservatives use truthiness liberally

For people who care about Canadian veterans, truthiness of the Conservative government is cringeworthy. Harper's crowd claims to be,
"...unwavering in our devotion to making sure that Canadian veterans not only have the best resources available to them while they’re active, but that they have the support they need once they’ve transitioned to civilian life."
That's not fact, it's truthiness.

I published here in 2009 about the Stephen Colbert concept,
"Politicians rely on truthiness. They are expert in deception, distraction and obfuscation. They go before the public scripted and rehearsed, carefully coiffed and strictly supervised. Parties don’t want original thought, they want talking points memorized to be repeated without change. Ethics and honesty are nothing; loyalty and tractability are everything.

"Lies indicate cowardice. Politicians readily make easy statements but bite their tongues about hard truths. Individuals cast aside long held principles and go along to get along with party leaders and omnipresent apparatchiks. Veracity is so commonly avoided that public office seekers grow comfortable with lying..."
In veterans affairs, Conservatives focus spending on photo-op events for politicians. They lavished $28 million on advertising, recreations and presentations to celebrate the War of 1812 but they routinely refuse burial costs for indigent veterans.

Thomas Walkom of The Toronto Star wrote Ottawa glorifies veterans — as long as they don’t cost anything,
"Canada’s Conservative government is big on the symbolism of war.

"...This government may glorify war in the abstract. But it does not want to pay the price of war — or indeed much of anything else — in the here and now.

"...Disabled veterans had to take Ottawa to court once to stop it clawing back portions of their pensions. Now a separate group of vets is suing the government over another pension issue

"...Stephen Harper’s government spent $750,000 in legal fees fighting its own vets and conceded defeat only after the judge ruled Ottawa’s clawbacks blatantly unfair.

"...In 2010, Patrick Stogran, at the time official ombudsman for veterans, slammed the government for its efforts to stiff those wounded in battle.

"The government responded by refusing to renew Stogran’s appointment..."

Subscribe to the fine work of Ingrid Rice, HERE.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

SNC-Lavalin & BC Liberal commonality

A reader of the piece about BC Investment Management Corporation's holdings in unethical companies asked if the agency has a relationship with SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, it does. And, it has been a costly relationship. At the end of March 2011, the agency's shares in SNC-Lavalin were worth over $100 million dollars. A year later, despite acquisition of more shares in fiscal 2012, bcIMC's investment had dropped in value to $72 million dollars.

So, pension beneficiaries get the worst of all worlds. Their money is invested with a scofflaw accused of bribery, corruption and other ethical failures AND they take a financial kicking.

Of course, it is only coincidence that SNC-Lavalin chairman Gwyn Morgan is an important guru and financial backer of Premier Photo-Op and the BC Liberals. There is a certain similarity in their approaches to ethical matters.

Another reader suggests we read Canada Line foreign workers not paid after tribunal ruling:
"Three dozen temporary workers who helped dig the Canada Line say they still haven’t been paid after a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal awarded them more than $2 million because they were paid half what their European counterparts received.

"...In 2008, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled a group of Latin American workers were discriminated against when they were paid half of what workers who had been brought in from Europe were given.

"The ruling ordered the employers — SNC Lavalin and Seli — to pay each worker the difference between the salary paid to them and the salary paid to others, the difference in paid expenses, and an additional $10,000 for injury to their dignity..."
The contractor has refused to pay the amounts awarded and will try to overturn the four year old Tribunal verdict by arguing in court that they should be allowed to pay wages based on the workers' home countries, not the rates typically paid where the work is performed.

That's an important principle for today's multinational corporations. They want to import workers from low-wage economies and set pay rates at third world levels. That, of course, is a prescription for making Canada a third world country complete with a small layer of super-rich and a large pool of citizens competing for subsistence level jobs.
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Like Emily Litella, without the never mind

NBC anchor Brian Williams told election night viewers,
"Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and veered into something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight."

In the final result reported November 20, Obama leads Romney in popular vote by 3.5 million votes. Donald Trump deleted a number of intemperate calls for revolution, but says,
“I have no regrets.”
AS far as Trump is concerned, facts are whatever he decides them to be. It's an attitude shared with despots throughout history.
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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vertical integration of Chinese forest industry

The Wall Street Journal reports the China Investment Corp. will acquire a substantial stake in Island Timberlands, which owns about 254,000 hectares of forest land, mainly on Vancouver Island.

Soon, we may learn that Chinese workers are paying agents' fees for jobs in the British Columbia logging industry. That would make sense because the logs are headed to China for milling and its economically efficient for low-wage foreign workers to "explore" the forest for trees, fall them, set chokers, yard and haul timber and load foreign ships with raw logs.

Canadian forestry workers have grown uppity in recent times, demanding safer working conditions in one of Canada's most dangerous occupations. They've also been demanding that employers pay living wages for their efforts.

Importing Chinese workers will be good for the Canadian forest industry because businesses can avoid money wasting training and safety programs. Besides, even if the companies wanted to employ Canadians, everyone knows it takes at least five years to train a logger.
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Money speaks louder than words

According to a March 2012 Canadian Press report,
"British Columbia and five other provinces are teaming up to sue Canadian tobacco firms for health-care costs.

"B.C., New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are retaining a national legal team to help them prosecute Canadian tobacco companies.

"...Every Canadian province and Nunavut have adopted legislation that seeks recovery of medicare costs against the tobacco industry, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
While one arm of the BC's Liberal government is paying favourite law firms to plan legal action against the tobacco industry, in fiscal 2012, bcIMC, another arm of government, increased investment holdings in the merchants of death.

Similarly, while ethical investment fund operators like Vancity are dumping bad pipeline businesses like the proposed Northern Gateway constructor, British Columbia's investment agency increased its stake in ENBRIDGE by close to $300 million dollars in the last fiscal year.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Comparing investment returns WA & BC - REPLAY

First published June 18, 2012 (Click on the label bcIMC for more information:

My earlier article pointed out the vast difference in overhead costs for government investment agencies in British Columbia and Washington State. One of our readers asked:
"How did our group do compared to the Washington [State] group. Is our investment strategy so much better they deserve more money?"
A quick review of agency reports provides the information that follows:

Victoria, B.C., July 26, 2011
"British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC) today announced that it recorded a one-year annual return of 10.8 per cent, net of fees, for combined pension plans in the 2011 fiscal year. This exceeds a combined benchmark of 9.7 per cent and provides over $685 million in additional value, net of all investment management fees."
Message from the Chair, Washington State Investment Board, 2011, page 6
"...Now, after enduring the world’s most daunting financial crisis in recent history, I find myself once again reporting remarkable results for the CTF, which ended FY 2011 with a 21.1 percent rate of return. That is just two basis points shy of the high watermark of four years ago when this country was on the brink of nose diving into a pit of economic decline, loss, volatility, and uncertainty..."
Ouch! Apparently spending three times as much on senior executives does not guarantee better results.

Here is a list of bcIMC investments valued over $100 million as at March 31, 2011. These represent a little less than half of bcIMC's complete portfolio. Apparently, there is little regard for making ethical investments. Among other questionable choices, you'll find British American Tobacco, a company that boasts of selling its products in 180 markets around the world.

Mar 2011 Investments Over $100 m
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Take from the poor, give to the rich

Further to my comments about homeowners subsidizing industrial power, here is an extract from the blog of Vancouver lawyer Jim Quail, Site C and the Kitimat LNG Export Terminal: Christy Clark’s Program for Income Redistribution:
"...Hydro would sell that much power to one corporate mega-project, at industrial tariff rates of around $35 per megawatt hour. That same power would cost Hydro at least $80 per MWh, assuming they built one-and-a-half Site C dams for that purpose, or around $129 per MWh if they bought it from Independent Power Producers. So we’d pay for Site C, through our Hydro bills, to sell the electricity it produces for less than half what it cost us.

"And who would pick up that loss?

"You and I would directly subsidize the massive export of BC shale gas, for the purpose of generating colossal profits for the corporations who would operate the plants.

"And you want to know why BC Hydro rates for household electricity are on a course to double in about 9 years. . . . It’s because your Hydro bill has become an instrument of wealth redistribution – upward wealth redistribution – on a massive scale..."

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