Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ethical performance lacking at bcIMC

Note, I bring this article to the top because it is drawing such heavy traffic.

B.C. freezes salaries, bonuses for Crown executives, CBC News, July 25, 2012
"The B.C. government is freezing the compensation paid to executives at its Crown corporations, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announced Wednesday morning."
Well, Kevin, maybe it did not.

I haven't gone through BCiMC's 2013 financials in detail but amazing information about executive compensation jumped out. The remuneration of the investment management corporation's five top executives jumped 50% between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013. (A commenter below correctly notes that return on investments declined significantly from 2011 to 2013. The corporate officers' take during the year ended March 31, 2013 was up 29%. Imagine if executive compensation levels had not been frozen.

Between 2008 and 2013, compensation of five senior BCiMC executives (they make no reports on salaries for eight additional vice-presidents) rose from an average of $50,000 per month to an average of $83,000 per month. Lincoln Webb, one of twelve VPs, had his remuneration increase from $42,000 a month in 2008 to $86,000 a month in 2013. This does not include expenses or remuneration Webb draws from organizations outside BCiMC.

According to PEI Media, Webb serves,
"on the boards of Open Grid Europe, the Corix Group of companies, and Thames Water Utilities Limited, Britain’s largest water and wastewater company. He is also a past director of Puget Energy in Washington State, DBCT Ports of Australia, Transelec S.A., Chile’s largest transmission utility, and Aquarian Water of Connecticut In addition to these past and present positions Lincoln is also an advisory committee member to a number of private equity funds including Advent International, TPG Asia, and Cinven, a leading European-based private equity manager."
He is a non executive director of Thames Water Utilities, the company that rewarded its CEO with a 2012 bonus of almost $700,000 despite "overseeing a drop in profits and ‘deteriorating’ satisfaction rates among its customers." According to The Guardian in June 2013,
"The UK's largest water company is accused of "ripping off the taxpayer" after revealing it paid no corporation tax and pocketed a £5m credit from the Treasury in a year when it made £550m in profit."
The driving force behind rapidly escalating remuneration for senior officers is this. They collectively hold hands while playing a figurative game of leapfrog. There is almost no one willing to say no, because, if they do, they'll no longer be welcome in the game.

Of course, the austerity discipline was applied a little more strictly for public servants not earning six and seven figure incomes.

The financial statements of BCiMC, audited by KPMP LLP, are not as revealing as they would be if accounting gibberish were eliminated. For example, read this statement from Note 3, Significant Accounting Policies, and then consider what new information you gain :
"The Corporation provides a retention incentive to employees in senior staff positions through a long-term incentive plan (LTIP). Eligible staff are entitled to their first LTIP payment in their fourth year of employment with the Corporation. LTIP is accrued for eligible employees at an amount equal to one quarter of the estimated aggregate pay-out for the current year and each of the following three years. The estimated payments for years beyond the next fiscal year are recorded as a long-term liability."
The following was first published in November 2012. All information gathered from official reports of the BC Investment Management Corporation. You'll find much more about BCiMC HERE.

Following first published November 7, 2012

I've been comparing the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation to the Washington State Investment Board. They're very similar in terms of purpose and goals. Here are a few key stats:

  • managed $92 billion as of March 31, 2012;
  • earned a return of 10.8% in fiscal 2011;
  • paid top five executives $4.1 million in year ended March 2012;
  • employed 175 people at a cost of $36.1 million;
  • pays (the Jawl Family) about $110,000 a month in office rent.
  • managed $85 billion as of March 31, 2012;
  • earned a return of 21.1% in fiscal 2011;
  • paid top five executives $1.2 million in year ended December 2011;
  • employed 79 people at a cost of $9.5 million;
  • pays about $20,000 a month in office rent.
Management of public pension fund investments is a lucrative situation in British Columbia but the direct financial cost of doing business is only part of the equation used to evaluate work of financial managers in the public sector.

A while back Swiss research firm Covalence released a ranking of twelve corporations rated worst in ethical performance among multinationals. I wondered if bcIMC was supporting any of those companies. Turns out, they were; all twelve of them. Our public pension plans have more than $1 billion dollars invested with the worst companies in the world.

I previously noted that bcIMC is a substantial Enbridge investor ($657 million) and holds major positions in the world's nine largest tobacco sellers ($553 million). Today, I checked bcIMC's investments in arms dealers and determined they have spread over half a billion dollars among almost every one of the top 20 public companies involved in the international arms trade.

BCiMC investments in tobacco companies, including those BC gov't is suing to recover medical damages.

This is not a crown corporation in which I have any pride.

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Norm Farrell with Ian Jessop on CFAX1070

Tuesday, July 30, I was interviewed live by Ian Jessop on his afternoon program on CFAX1070. We talked about BCiMC for almost 30 minutes after 1:00 pm.

You can listen online or by podcast HERE.

I'll be on Ian Jessop again in the future. Perhaps the next update will look at BC Hydro's financial condition.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A changeup - on Major League Baseball

Mother Jones asks, Is Your Team's Owner a Major League Asshole?

Tim Murphy, Ian Gordon, Tasneem Raja, and Sarah Zhang provide information to help us judge. Here are a few examples:
  • Houston Astros: Jim Crane's company was forced to pay the federal government millions to settle charges of war profiteering related to contracts in Iraq, millions more after an investigation found rampant racial and gender discrimination at the company. Crane had told subordinates, "Once you hire blacks, you can never fire them."
  • Kansas City Royals: When he was still president and CEO of Walmart, David Glass was confronted by NBC's Dateline with evidence of child labor at a T-shirt factory in Bangladesh. His response: "You and I might, perhaps, define children differently."
  • Seattle Mariners: Hiroshi Yamauchi, former president and chairman of Nintendo, has been the owner of the Mariners for the last two decades, but has never once been to a game.
  • Atlanta Braves: Liberty Media chairman, John Malone, currently owns more land than any other American—2.1 million acres. Malone, according to a 1994 Wired profile, was "widely considered the Darth Vader of the infobahn" because of his insatiable push to conquer the industry. His Wall Street nickname is marginally more favorable: "swamp alligator."
  • Chicago Cubs: Remember the plan hatched last year by Cubs family patriarch Joe Ricketts to defeat the "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln" (a.k.a. Barack Obama)?
  • Colorado Rockies: From the family that brought you factory farms and coked-up cattle! Charlie and Dick Monfort helped run the eponymous Big Ag empire until 1987 when the family sold out to ConAgra, and the Monfort boys became ConAgra execs. Father Kenneth made his fortune by busting the union that served his workforce and replacing union workers with immigrant laborers—many of them undocumented. (At one point, the company's annual employee turnover rate hit 400 percent.) Also represented in the Rockies' ownership group is former GOP senate candidate Pete Coors, purveyor of super cold beer and brother to Joe Coors Jr., who once predicted that Armageddon would arrive in 2000. On video (HERE) Pete explained how poor people caused the financial crisis.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: Lead owner Mark Walter's financial house, Guggenheim Partners, is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over his ties to former junk bond trader Michael Milken.
  • Miami Marlins: Jeffrey Loria, the millionaire art dealer and Charlie Brown-as-philosophy author, is widely considered the worst baseball owner of his generation. The Marlins' boom-and-bust cycles were already diminishing the team's shaky South Florida fanbase when along came the Miró-inspired The Marlins Park, built last year with public financing, will end up costing Miami-Dade County $1.1 billion, has made Loria the second least popular person in South Florida (behind Fidel Castro).

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Profits before quality and safety

From RossK, The Gazetteer, A New Market For A New White Powder
" has become religion among conservatives to denounce regulation, saying it stifles business and hinders economic growth. But consider: At the turn of the last century, America was as riddled with scam artists as China is today. Snake oil salesmen — literally — abounded. Food safety was a huge issue. In 1906, however, Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle,” his exposé-novel about the meatpacking industry. That book, pointed out Stanley Lubman, a longtime expert in Chinese law, in a recent blog post in The Wall Street Journal, is what propelled Theodore Roosevelt to propose the Food and Drug Administration. Which, in turn, reformed meat-processing — among many other things — and gave consumers confidence in the food they ate and the products they bought..."
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We're "fed a constant stream of journalistic pap"

One of the most significant articles you'll read anytime is by John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, published in The Observer, July 28, 2013:
"Without [Edward Snowden], we would not know how the National Security Agency (NSA) had been able to access the emails, Facebook accounts and videos of citizens across the world; or how it had secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; or how, through a secret court, it has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users' data.

"Similarly, without Snowden, we would not be debating whether the US government should have turned surveillance into a huge, privatised business, offering data-mining contracts to private contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton and, in the process, high-level security clearance to thousands of people who shouldn't have it. Nor would there be – finally – a serious debate between Europe (excluding the UK, which in these matters is just an overseas franchise of the US) and the United States about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

"These are pretty significant outcomes and they're just the first-order consequences of Snowden's activities. As far as most of our mass media are concerned, though, they have gone largely unremarked. Instead, we have been fed a constant stream of journalistic pap – speculation about Snowden's travel plans, asylum requests, state of mind, physical appearance, etc. The "human interest" angle has trumped the real story, which is what the NSA revelations tell us about how our networked world actually works and the direction in which it is heading..."
Knowledge that Microsoft, Facebook, Google and other major communication and technology companies have joined in the U.S. government's snooping program should cause us to rethink our personal computer security. For example, if you rely on Microsoft Defender for firewall protection, you might as well turn it off. John C. Dvorak, long time writer on technology wrote this in his PC Magazine column:

Why We Can No Longer Trust Microsoft, July 12, 2013
"...Microsoft, despite denials, appears to be in bed with the NSA. Apparently all encryption and other methods to keep documents and discussions private are bypassed and accessible by the NSA and whomever it is working with. This means a third party, for whatever reason, can easily access confidential business deals, love letters, government classified memos, merger paperwork, financial transactions, intra-corporate schemes, and everything in between.

"With that said, do you really want to buy a Microsoft product?...

"...Curiously, we've all known about the possible links between NSA and Microsoft since the Windows 2000 era when odd DLLs began to appear, which observers surmised were some back-door codes..."

This slide describes what happens when an NSA analyst "tasks" the PRISM system for information about a new surveillance target. 

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tories choose Cargill and friends over consumers

The U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other cattle producers and meat companies have sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over country-of-origin labelling rules. Many consumers and groups such as Los Angeles-based Made in the USA Foundation favour the new rules but producers enjoy the benefits of mixing imported beef with domestic.

McClatchy reports a Canadian angle to the story in Cattle producers want to get rid of new meat labels, July 22, 2013
"The new labeling rules also could ignite a trade war with Canada, which is threatening to retaliate. Last month, the Canadian government called the new rules a “protectionist policy” that discriminated against foreign competition. Ottawa said it might respond by imposing tariffs on a long list of products, including pork, fruits and vegetables, pasta, chocolate, cheese, office furniture and many more."
It seems the Canadian government is willing to take a strong stand on behalf of multinational agribusiness. Trouble is, Ottawa intends consumers in this country to be the cannon fodder in any trade war.

I sense a touch of irony in Canada's response. The Chair of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association's Foreign Trade Committee is Albertan Dave Solverson. The CCA is lobbying "to ensure favourable access to international markets" and they don't want Americans informed by country-of-origin labelling. Yet, Mr. Solverson and his daughter Joanne were featured last year in advertising material that proclaimed McDonald's Restaurants of Canada used only beef produced in this country. Solverson had been recruited for the campaign by Cargill, a giant that Forbes rates the largest private company in America. Cargill Canada is the exclusive beef supplier to McDonald's Canadian restaurants.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I'm a regular online listener to BBC News Quiz, a panel show created by John Lloyd 36 years ago. It has been hosted by Danish/British author and presenter Sandi Toksvig since 2006. Each show opens and closes with cuttings sent in by listeners. An example from the current week:
From a package of Profusion Himalayan Rose Pink Salt:
"Mineral rich crystal salt from the foothills of the Himalayas. Formed over 250 million years ago from ancient unpolluted seas. Best before April 2018."
Of course, our southern neighbours sometimes provide brilliant examples of American humour. Here's one from the morning inbox:

NSA Says It Can’t Search Its Own Emails, Propublica, July 23, 2013
"The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.

But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology." (emphasis added)

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Harper channels Nixon

Harper's Audit-the-Enemy Strategy Fulfills Nixon's Dream, Mark Grandia, DESMOG CANADA
"...Not only do we now know that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office maintains a political enemy list, we also saw an extra $8 million dollars in new funding directed to Revenue Canada last year 'to audit charities suspected of receiving foreign funding to finance political advocacy beyond the accepted 10% of overall activities allowed under CRA codes.'

"The audit funds became available after the Harper government named environmental groups and First Nations as 'adversaries' in a campaign to increase exports of tar sands bitumen to Europe and after an open letter from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver characterized prominent environmental groups and citizens as 'foreign funded radicals' and ideological extremists.

"Today full-blown audits are being executed against environmental and progressive organizations - the same groups that have been critical of Harper and his government policies. Right-wing, industry friendly groups, like the Fraser Institute, who receive large sums of cash from US sources have not been the subject of audits by Revenue Canada.

"These Revenue Canada audits have had their intended effect and are bringing groups who oppose Conservative government policies to a screeching halt with endless amounts of paperwork and information requests from Revenue Canada staff. Groups subjected to an audit also experience a chilling effect and are reluctant to speak out aggressively against the government for fear of being audited again.

"Almost 40 years after Nixon resigned his presidency, Harper is picking up where the disgraced US president left off."

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

BC Liberal Whac-A-Mole

Premier Photo Op's deputy chief of staff resigned over her role in the Liberals' ethnic outreach artifice. The Liberals and their faithful media partners emphasized that Kim Haakstad took no cash on her way out the door. Clark said,
"She… didn’t take a penny of severance…"
Of course, this is Whac-A-Mole and, shortly after, Haakstad was working on Clark's campaign in Vancouver Point-Grey. Soon, she'll pop up in a new sinecure, lobbying for a government dependent industry group, headquartered on Easy Street.

Anyone paying attention to election coverage repeatedly heard the "no-severance, no-rewards for Haakstad" claim. However, I was cynical, expecting the Premier's fidus Achates could and would gain rewards in numerous other ways.

My cynicism seems justified by what Bob Mackin called an alleged bribery attempt uncovered in nearly 8,000 pages of not-entirely redacted documents. The person who Liberals wanted to keep silent was a taxpayer paid staffer with a role in multicultural outreach.
"Assess her response and advise… If need be, offer x dollars per month to do non public work up to election…"
Her knowledge was so dangerous that one of Christy Clark's underlings was trying to determine the amount of cash that might keep her mute. At the same time, John Dyble, Clark's deputy minister, was "investigating" the outreach affair but never contacted the woman.

Dyble's paper on the multicultural strategy was already suspect. Hardly objective, given his position at the apex of the BC Liberal government, he restricted what he would review and report. A great many of the 8,000 documents released by Dyble were heavily censored, which of course raises suspicions about embarrassments that would be revealed if complete records were available.

Dyble will be rewarded for his loyalty but those will come at the cost of his reputation. Given past activities, particularly regarding BC Rail, at least Haakstad didn't have to worry about her reputation being degraded by ethnogate.

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Corporate crime and failure of oversight

With the death toll at 35 42 47 and rising, Quebec's Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster is not just tragedy, it is corporate crime. At the root is eagerness of big business to take ever greater risks in an interminable search for higher profits. The facilitators are captive governments that consider stringent safety regulations to be unacceptable interference with enterprise. To sell this position, Canada's largest corporations invest generously in think tanks and private public-interest groups such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Gerry Angevine, Fraser Institute senior economist, issued a press release that said government agencies appear to be oblivious to the commercial and economic costs of regulatory procedures. Yet the evidence is clear that Canada's Conservative Party is committed to reducing independent review and oversight, preferring instead to tolerate open season on citizens put at risk.

The equation of a disaster: what went wrong in Lac-Mégantic, Brent Jang, Globe and Mail:
"MM&A [Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd.] received approval last year from Transport Canada to operate with a one-employee crew. In the 1970s in North America, some freight trains had as many as five employees for each shift. The engineer would focus on operating the locomotive. Others on board were the conductor, an engineer’s assistant (called a fireman) and two brakemen – one for the front and the other for the rear. At the end of the train, there used to be a caboose, which served as spartan shelter, but the caboose was phased out in the 1980s. Crew sizes gradually shrank over decades.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

NDP insiders need to go

Failed NDP candidate Matt Toner provides commentary: Let's reboot the Old Democratic Party into something new for the 21st century.

Toner would offer much as an MLA and I'm surprised that voters selected a Liberal lightweight instead. However, the keys to his rejection might be revealed by words in the Georgia Straight. I suppose no digital media entrepreneur can write anything without a heap of cliches and Matt is a digital media man, through and through.

His prattle in the Straight calls for a "deep and searing" reboot "to strip away stale elements" and he says, "we need to do more than just restate our social democratic principles with fresh buzzwords." That's followed by buzzwords and advice to "concentrate on those core concepts that are unique to our philosophy [and] challenge ourselves to pivot from this foundation into the 21st century."

Sure, that'll do it.

Toner claims the NDP had good leadership in 2013 and says those who call for change misunderstand the challenges faced. Alternatively, I claim party insiders fail to grasp reality and have grown too comfortable in the perpetual role as opposition. If I may use my own cliche, these clowns snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Their strategies failed so thoroughly that wholesale change is necessary. The sooner the better. Dix should slide down the bench and practice presentation skills until he can effectively support the party's effort. Sihota, Zirnhelt and O'Brien must depart because, beyond years of demonstrated incompetence, their presence reinforces claims that today's NDP is still the old bunch from the nineties.

I've heard from numerous NDP members who complained that, in the year leading up to this election, they were solicited a hundred times or more for money but never once to contribute or react to policy and platform ideas. A party that once prided itself on grassroots development of issues disrespected its members and left a corrupt government in place to further enrich supporters.

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David Hardon, R.I.P.

An old friend passed a while ago. I'm sad about that and full of regret that we went separate ways long ago and never reconnected.

Dave Hardon wasn't famous outside the film industry but, in British Columbia, he truly was one of its most significant builders. He was a film lab manager in Toronto until 1975 and had a reputation for excellence, something no Vancouver film lab manager could match. I spent a couple of decades in the business and still believe that my largest contribution was bringing Dave to Vancouver.

When he arrived to consider the job offer, it was our company, not Dave, that needed scrutiny. I had done extensive due diligence and was confident he was the best candidate. But, our operation was an ugly bride. We needed a skilled technician from a different environment because the company had suffered repeated operational difficulties and deficits of leadership. Our reputation reflected those facts.

My strategy to sign Dave included a long dinner at Hy's at the Sands, followed by an hour or two or three at Gary Taylor's show lounge. The pitch resumed next day, a sunny one, on a cabin cruiser in English Bay. In total, I thought it was an irresistible showcase of Vancouver. Sure, we also had to promise him the supports needed to succeed and convince him that a move was worthwhile. Dave later confessed that he didn't need the entire sell job since he was keen to relocate and take up the west coast challenge.

A few years later, Alpha Cine was one of the most respected motion picture film laboratories anywhere. International producers, and their insurance companies, were not at all reluctant to have high budget film work done in British Columbia. We had a steady stream of famous filmmakers through our doors and I cannot recall one director or cinematographer who was less than fully satisfied. Many went out of their way to laud the service that Dave and his team provided.

Of course, BC always had glorious scenery but it didn't have a significant film industry until surfeits of technical and human resources were in place. Dave was tireless in helping make that happen. I knew times when he slept in the lab because one day ended as the next one began. His focus was always on getting work done and getting it done well. He didn't care much about maximizing profits on any one job, he knew long term results would be there if work was done properly and all needs of customers were anticipated and satisfied.

Dave did not only give attention to the big names of movie making, he wanted everyone to succeed. Young Philip Borsos became a sort of company project. Phil was an enthusiastic filmmaker with almost no track record and little money. We employed him and helped him along, beginning with short films Cooperage, Spartree and Nails, until he put together The Grey Fox, a fine Canadian feature that made 60-something Richard Farnsworth a star. Sadly, on his way to greater success, Philip Borsos suffered illness and died, aged 41.

Another person Dave treated with professional generosity was the founder of Adbusters Media Foundation. Kalle Lasn had been a documentary producer but was transitioning into a role as social agitator. Two years ago, Linda Solomon called him the "flawed genius" behind Occupy Wall Street. Adbusters was always short of money and looking for assistance on whatever film work they began. Dave obliged but, as the business guy, I was never pleased. I asked Dave if he thought anti-commerce people should be expecting deals from businesses they wished to overthrow. Dave yawned and said he didn't make judgments about content, he simply helped filmmakers.

Dave and I occasionally disagreed about tactics but he always set the course that mattered to him. Mostly, he was right and he was incredibly loyal to associates. Control of our company fell into the hands of a person whose primary wisdom was that any company could fire a large proportion of its workforce and maintain capacity by forcing overtime on remaining staff. We believed the strategy was inappropriate for a highly profitable company that depended upon specialized skills that could not be replaced readily. The struggle was constant; managers had to convince the owner to not destroy his own company.

Eventually, our owner got opportunity to cash out and he made a deal with a faceless operation out of Los Angeles. Dave and I headed down the road with a few others and established a new motion picture film laboratory. Associated with Vancouver's finest video post production people, we created Gastown Film Labs, a well designed film processing and printing facility that succeeded immediately.

Not too long after opening, Dave's birthday was approaching. For an honouring treat, I arranged with a person in Los Angeles to phone Dave and ask him, as a favour, to meet with a young woman who was "moving" to Vancouver and very anxious to become involved in the Canadian film industry. Of course, Dave said sure, happy to do it. A prim and proper lady arrived but she was a cast member in the plot. The idea was that she would do anything - yes, anything - if Dave would help her gain a place in the movie biz. His reluctance to commit resulted in more aggressive pleadings. Those may have involved offers of certain favours because her clothing started coming off. The poor man, not by nature a shy guy, was left wordless, not knowing how he could extract himself from the situation. After a few moments of high tension, we rescued him and offered an indecent birthday cake and a cold beer.

I had my own embarrassment about then, although one that was accidental. The film lab had a comfortable screening room for production dailies, complete with popcorn wagon and drinks cooler. There was a weekend I invited my 12 y.o. son's hockey team (this was before DVDs) to see the movie Slap Shot projected onto a big screen. The boys enjoyed the soda pop and popcorn but they really loved the risque situations and dirty language. Having only seen bowdlerized TV versions of the movie, I was astonished by the unexpurgated content and not a little fearful of the reactions of hockey parents whose darlings had been exposed to gambling, nudity, obscenity, violence, male striptease and other offences. I survived by pleading ignorance.

I used to joke about life's stages. First, your friends start to get married. Next, your friends begin to have children. A few years after, they're getting divorced and remarried. Later, their children are having children. Then, the friends begin to depart. Inevitable, but sad. Even more sad when we fail to keep connections to individuals who really mattered.

People, reach out and touch the ones who have been and are important to you. Soon, connection will be impossible.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tall tales in the post-truth era

I've often wondered why Grouse Mountain's single wind generator sits idle, even as the breezes blow.

Talking about the wind machine standing above North Vancouver, BC Hydro’s CEO said,
"Grouse Mountain is not only starting down the road to energy self-sufficiency, but is also providing a tangible example of the kind of strong working relationships BC Hydro enjoys building with partners committed to clean and renewable energy."
The resort's PR pieces claim the windmill could create enough power for up to 400 homes. Truth though suggests enough power for 12 homes. In fact, the project
"is a tourist attraction whose attractiveness is dependent in part on greenwash advertising sanctioned and amplified by the provincial government and BC Hydro."
According to Jon Petrie, the Gastown Steam Clock, an emblem of Vancouver is also less than claimed,
"That little green steam engine with feverishly moving parts, apparently the source of power for lifting the ball weights, has no steam running through it -- the engine is powered by a belt connected to a hidden electric motor -- electric power has driven the clock’s time keeping mechanism since the mid-1980s."

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What, me worry?

The Salt Spring Island Forum holds programs for people interested in learning about issues important to the world. At one of their events, we met Bill McKibben, the man Time Magazine called "the planet’s best green journalist." (Western Canadian Andrew Nikiforuk ranks there too.)

When you think about the climate change deniers, think also of the folks who once claimed that underground sewage removal was too expensive and that the links between ill health and shit on the streets were unfounded. Hand washing by doctors who conducted autopsies, then delivered babies, was also thought to be a wasteful exercise.

By the way, subscribe to the Salt Spring Forum HERE. Attending any event also offers you opportunity to visit a wonderful place in British Columbia. Just don't stay at the Blackberry Glen Bed & Breakfast. It might be one of the best anywhere, with 96% of Trip Advisor reviewers giving the highest score possible, but we don't want it filled on the days we plan to go.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are public facilities really for the entire public?

I've been out and about with grandkids this week but it is not something I can afford to do regularly. Our trip to Science World was an example. Admission, including an Omnimax presentation, for two adults herding four children, aged three to seven years, is $157.00. Allow for transportation, parking, juice and hot dogs and the cost for grandma and grandpa nears $250.

On a summer Sunday, we were joined in the Omnimax theatre ("one of the three largest in the world") by about 20 other people for a 44 minute presentation that was mediocre, at best. Science World is undergoing renovations but, in total, is a tired facility that charges way, way too much.

That is not likely to be noticed by the Board of Directors. They're not exactly ordinary people. For example, the Science World Chair is Walter Segsworth. He is, according to Forbes, also Director of Great Basin Gold Ltd.; Chairman of Plutonic Power Corporation; formerly Chairman of Centenario Copper Corporation and of Cumberland Resources Ltd.; and formerly Director of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., UEX Corporation and Yukon Zinc Corporation.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Segsworth is joined at board meetings by a collection of wealthy executives and academics. There is not a single director who represents citizen or community groups.

Science World would be greatly improved if it were managed by a group more representative of BC citizens.

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If you read anything this week, it should be Mair and Willcocks

I add to a piece from a few days ago because Rafe wrote what amounts to Part 2: "Why Rafe Mair is Cancelling his Sun, Province Subscriptions"

This part I appreciate particularly:
"If I don’t want a critical look at fish farms; if I don’t want a critical look at highways tearing up farmland; if I don’t want sharp investigations into the private river power policy that has driven BC Hydro to the brink of bankruptcy; if I don’t want an evaluation of what is called “fracking”; if I don’t want a sharp-eyed evaluation of pipelines; and if I don’t want a careful and questioning evaluation of tanker traffic, then I don’t need to pay you for not getting these things when I can sit in front of my turned-off computer and not get the same non-coverage for free."
What a clear headed analysis Rafe provides. It stands in contrast to the whining of mainstream media participants who shield eyes from inevitable truths.

Paul Willcocks adds to the debate with an intelligent series that, in part, examines Postmedia's gradual corporate suicide. His series "How I killed Newspapers" should not be missed. About the Vancouver Sun:
"There is no arguing with the need to cut costs. But the departures include David Baines, the skilled, experienced reporter who exposed investment scams and regulatory incompetence, Scott Simpson, an exceptionally knowledgeable energy reporter, and Craig McInnes, whose columns were smart, fact-based and untainted by conventional wisdom or cheap contrariness.

"It’s hard to ask people to pay more when you are giving them less."
Removing those writers destroyed much value in the Vancouver Sun franchise. And then, they asked us to pay more. The response of readers should be mass cancellations.

* * * * * *

An illustration of why corporate media is in a death spiral
"...Modesty is not my long suit and I believe that had I stayed, the general public would have been infinitely better served on environmental issues.

"A Judge once said to the great Lord Birkenhead, 'I have read your brief but am none the wiser.'  Birkenhead replied, 'Perhaps not, Milord, but much better informed.'

"...CKNW as a station now has about a 9 share of the market (meaning, on average, 9% of the market's radio audience is listening to the station at a given time), with Bill Good at 6 in my former slot. Over the years I was there the station was consistently in high teens and I was often over 20.

"To combine a book by Mike Smyth and Vaughn Palmer on the slow but certain death of BC Hydro would be unprintable, not because of the nature of the comment, but because neither of them has written a real word on the subject..."

Rafe Mair on Mainstream Media a Decade after Leaving CKNW..."
The man still inspires. His body may not remain among the strongest, but his thinking is crystal clear.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Can we start again?

I's bin livin my life wrong for three score and more years. I shoulda listened to that fire and brimstone Baptist preacher when I was a kid in East Vancouver. Instead Bobby Givens from Begbie School traded marbles with me, at least he did when his mom wasn't lookin.

Had I paid early attention to fundamentalist hollering, I mighta learned all this:
  • "[If] no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death..."- Deuteronomy
  • "...wives should submit to their husbands in everything." - Ephesians
  • "...the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence." –Thomas Aquinas
  • "...the word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes." – Martin Luther
  • "Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband... The second duty of the wife is constant obedience and subjection..." - John Dod, Puritan Guidebook
  • "Women are made to be led, and counseled, and directed..." - Heber C. Kimball, LDS apostle
  • "A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband..." – Official statement of Southern Baptist Convention, 1998
  • "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." - Pat Robertson, Southern Baptist leader
  • "Women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands." - James Fowler, 1999.
Now, as soon as my wife of 44 years gets home from work, I'm gonna talk to her. We been doin this all wrong.

Note: Most of this comes from Valerie Tariko at Alternet: 20 Vile Quotes Against Women By Religious Leaders From St. Augustine to Pat Robertson

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Encouraging crime best way to fight crime?

"An investigative reporter who analyzed hundreds of FBI counterterrorism stings says the case of a Surrey couple accused of plotting to bomb the B.C. Legislature rings eerily similar.

" ' find these people who want to commit some sort of act of violence, they just have a general, vague idea of what they want to do, and then the FBI -- through the sting operation -- provides everything including the explosives' ..."

Read Bob Mackin for the whole story: What Role Did RCMP Play in BC Bomb Plot?
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Brave New World has arrived

In 70 plus years of the communist eastern bloc, elites exercised tight control of communications. Pravda and Izvestia were mouthpieces of USSR state agencies and censorship was pervasive, including management of radio, television, publishing, arts and other communications. Even copying machines were monitored and public libraries supervised. Writers and commentators who spread unacceptable information earned tickets to oblivion. We observed but believed that our democratic nations were different.

After collapse of communism, elites still control media in nearly all former Soviet states, particularly Uzbekistan, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Russia, where leaders intimidate and punish political opponents. In 2011, members of Pussy Riot, a punk rock collective, were jailed, essentially for criticizing Russian autocrats. A short while ago, St Petersburg police swarmed the home and offices of Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte, a social media website serving more than 200 million users. It had temerity to allow criticism of Vladimir Putin and his associates. We observed but believed that our democratic nations were better.

Heedless westerners imagine that we enjoy freedom of expression through electronic media and published material. Many claim our nations have moral superiority over states that routinely censor information. However, freedom of speech can be constrained without heavy handed state actions; it can be restrained effectively by less obvious actions.

American thinker Noam Chomsky described North American media:
"They naturally remain within the basic agenda that’s pretty much set by their owners and their market, which is other businesses. It’d be amazing if it departed very much from that. Also, [the media] is very closely linked to state power, and that gives you not literal censorship but constraints...

"Public broadcasting has always been very narrowly bounded. I mean, it pushes the edge slightly beyond commercial broadcasting, but not very much. There are a lot of illusions about that..."
One long promoted claim about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation concerns alleged political bias. Robert Hackett wrote about that at blog Policy Note:
"To anybody following CBC TV’s news and current affairs over the past five years, it’s no surprise that far from tilting leftward, the Mother Corp gives disproportionate access to Conservative politicians, as noted in Peter Stursberg’s book (see Charlie Smith’s article in the Georgia Straight). An even broader concern is how CBC is framing issues. For example, neoliberal commentators like Andrew Coyne have virtually free rein for free market fundamentalist rants...

"The myth of 'left liberal media' is relentlessly promoted by those with a vested interest in shifting the political goalposts further to the right. Democracies need strong independent public broadcasters, but CBC is not well fulfilling its mandate to represent fairly the political diversity of Canadians, including the nearly one-third of voters who made the NDP Canada’s official opposition last year..."
Canada's Conservative Party is moving to ensure the existing tilt moves further to the right. Under its budget implementation bill, the federal cabinet has, according to The Hill Times, taken authority to approve salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions for the CBC. Anyone committed to media independence should abhor this act of control.

Brought up on western propaganda following WWII, I felt in my soul the USA was an heroic preserver of freedom and democracy, principled like no other nation. My father was American and my childhood heroes were led by comic book characters like the Blackhawk Squadron. I have friends in that nation that I respect without limit but, I'm now wondering what the hell happened in America in recent years. The nation that led the fight for civil rights is now leading the fight to destroy them.

The next generations of not-Americans will have an entirely different view from the one I was exposed to in early days. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says American monitoring of friends is unacceptable and can't be tolerated. Propublica reveals that American authorities maintain records of most telephone calls and monitor vast amounts of the world's internet traffic. Technology companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook routinely provide access to or hand over customer information to government agencies. Electronic Frontier Foundation says “without a doubt” the NSA collects massive amounts of data about Canadian citizens.

German publication Der Speiegel, says Barack Obama is viewed as the embodiment of the very "Big Brother" once sketched by George Orwell, the unsrupuous dictator who spies on, monitors and controls every citizen. In fact, trust is broken between the USA and nations that should be its allies. It's both sad and scary when the self-styled leader of the free world chooses to lead the enemies of freedom.

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