Monday, December 23, 2013

Dis·in·gen·u·ous — [dis-in-jen-yoo-uhs]

Vancouver Sun Editorial Board Considers the Issues
Earlier this month, the Vancouver Sun published an editorial titled, BC Jobs Plan figures don’t signal success or failure yet. In case you fail to understand that titular assertion, a sub-heading adds "it’s premature to declare jobs plan a bust."

I understand Postmedia editors are working on another piece explaining that it's also too soon to determine if Bernie Madoff's $50 billion fund will meet its investors' long term goals.

In an effort to deflect potential critics of the Liberals' BC Jobs Plan, the newspaper suggests readers dig a little deeper into jobs data because headlines "don't tell the whole story." After my first paragraph, how could I argue that?

However, the Sun ignores its own suggestion and makes no constructive effort to dig into anything. Instead, it implies that declining employment numbers are not a bad thing if fewer public servants are on the job. The editorial also provides this sophism, "Besides, unemployment across B.C. was not uniform." They could have added that not all families in the province have unemployed members and not all families suffer economic deprivation. That might be true, but how would it be related to this costly program?

In fiscal 2012, $33.4 million was allocated for the BC government's discretionary advertising and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training was the biggest spender. Undoubtedly, the bill for misleading and politically partisan communications related to the BC Jobs Plan has grown substantially in the last 21 months.

Postmedia claims we don't know if the job creation program is a success or failure. They are disingenuous.

The employment rate is the percentage of residents doing paid work. During the 26 month term of the BC Jobs Plan, British Columbia ranks last among ten provinces in the rate of change in this vital statistic. The decline in percentage of people employed is double that in Manitoba, the ninth ranked.

This is another view of the numbers:

In its 24-Month Progress Report, the government claims 44,900 jobs created. According to Statistics Canada CANSIM 282-0087, the number of jobs created during the term of the BC Jobs Plan, to November 2013, is 1,800, about 1/25 of the number promoted by BC Liberals.

Considering the Ministry of Jobs, Training and Tourism spent about $400 million during the term of this controversial program, it seems not too soon to judge its success or failure.

* * * * *
Reading through the government's long promotion of the BC Jobs Plan, I was struck by the complete disregard for developing economic activity by stimulating consumer demand. The vast majority of people in the province are faced with stagnant wages but steadily rising costs of living. The largest businesses in this province are doing well; commodity prices are strong, taxation is down, land development is unrestrained, environmental and other regulations are disarmed and executive salaries are not restrained.

Times are good for the lucky ones but the vast majority are crippled by declining disposable income. As the centrist Brooking Institute declared,
"The immediate problem facing the economy is weak demand. Recovery is under way, but it continues to be slow and it could falter..."
British Columbia's provincial government is not interested in creation of jobs for ordinary citizens. It aims to advance the interests of a much more select group of citizens. As noted in comments below, the Washington Group is not working to train tradespeople to build ships, its Seapan division is in England looking to recruit foreign workers. None of us should be surprised.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Propaganda presented as credible news

Were I a new arrival in Canada who relied on major media, I would believe, as Canadian Press reported, Northern Gateway is a project that,
"...will put billions of dollars into the coffers of Alberta, Ottawa and other provincial governments..."
Further, I would believe that the NEB's Joint Review Panel decision today is definitive. As CP reported,
"Much hangs in the balance."
I would be completely ignorant of the reality that the NEB is not an independent body but is an adjunct of Canada's energy industry, with every member long immersed in the business.

I would be unaware that the NEB is appointed and directed by the federal Conservative government, which intends to have Northern Gateway approved and has power and will to amend, annul or disregard any JRP decision.

Nor would I understand that the only adjudication that truly matters is the one the Supreme Court of Canada will make when it considers the near unanimous opposition to Northern Gateway of British Columbia's First Nations people.

It would take some time to realize that the mainstream media simply pretends the Northern Gateway review process is something other than window dressing.

From a reader:

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The decline of journalism...

"...It's a fundamental existential problem for every society on earth today."
That was in the opening comments of Dr. Robert McChesney when he was interviewed by Ian Jessop of CFAX 1070 radio. The professor of communication at the University of Illinois ended his weekly show Media Matters last year, after a decade of broadcasting conversations with experts about economics, journalism and other important social issues. Many are available at the linked website.

Ian Jessop is doing fine work on the Victoria radio station. When we talked a few months ago, Ian said he aimed for guests from outside the common pool, people whose informed ideas represented diverse points of view. I'm proud to be one example, McChesney is another. He's an undisputed expert but he speaks more than a few truths that can make corporate journalists uncomfortable, particularly the ones who don't have time or intellectual curiosity to look beyond press releases and talking points.

"...The number of working journalists has fallen, in some cases sharply. There may be 10, 20 or 30 per cent of the number of working journalists there were a generation ago ...

"The balance of power has shifted to the public relations industry, which generally represents commercial clients who want to place stories. It also works for governments who want to place stories in the news...

"Over 80% of the stories that appear as news stories, original news stories, not just repeats, come from press releases or some sort of public relations work, or, they're just uncritically printing something that someone in power said, without any actual reporting or journalism going on; just simply stenography. This is a dramatic increase from a generation ago.

"It used to be that a much lower percentage of the news stories were just simply public relations spin masquerading as news. There was much more original digging and reporting going on. This is the great crisis that happens when you no longer have many reporters to cover communities. They simply publish the spin that public relations industry give them....

"...The ratio of public relations workers to working journalists in 1960 was roughly one to one. For every working journalist and editor, there was one person trying to secretly or surreptitiously plant a news story. In 1980, the ratio was two to one...

"Today the ratio is over four to one and it's climbing rapidly because there are so few reporting positions left. People end up going into public relations where there are lots of powerful commercial interests that very much want to influence what people know about them. If they can write the news stories that people see about themselves, that puts them in a pretty good position..."

"They've go so much work to do and it becomes second nature to run whatever comes along without thinking very critically... We're getting slipshod stuff passing itself off as news. ...public relations firms prepare TV news stories and hand them ready to run to local TV news broadcasts... Pure propaganda gets presented as a credible news story...

"...It's not that we are without great reporting.. There's not enough of it and is being done in media that is fairly obscure..."
Dr. McChesney is a co-founder of Free Press, an organization involved with protecting internet freedom, promoting diversity in media and encouraging public media systems to inspire, educate and inform. He talks mostly about the American experience but would probably find the state of journalism throughout Canada is on the same downward trend, for the same reasons.

We have a stronger public broadcast community but lack positive activism in the moneyed class of Canadians. They prefer to fund the Fraser Institute and other think tanks that promote narrow commercial and private interests.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Eyes still on the issues

Thanks for the good wishes these past few days. Surgery on my left eye went well and the doctor's follow-up exam indicated a good result. In fact, within 24 hours I could see more out of the subject eye than before. Because of amblyopia, that's always been a bad eye so, when the right one has its cataract removed in February, overall vision will be much improved.

Today, if I close my right eye, the page I see with the repaired eye is stark white. With that closed, the right eye sees a yellowed page, distinctly off-white. Of course, cataracts don't merely affect brightness or colour perception; opaque lenses result in blurriness and other vision defects. The vision fault is often age-related but studies show that cataracts are at least in part dependent on the dose of ultraviolet light received by the lens. I choose to blame my childhood days living on the waters of Malaspina Strait.

Sometimes, we talk much about healthcare costs and forget the marvellous outcomes routinely available to many. We are fortunate but, collectively, we deserve the best medical system possible. It's an industry that employs hundreds of thousands in BC, most at good wages, and improves lives of citizens without regard to social standing. The BC government will bend over backwards to subsidize coal mining and gas production but disregards and regrets the valuable economic activity that occurs routinely in healthcare.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Blogs, bloggers and blogging

My December 9 session with Ian Jessop on CFAX 1070 covers the why and how of Northern Insight with a short end comment about BC Ferries.

In case you wonder about the name of this site, my early intention was to write more about North American issues. In the end, the focus stayed on issues in my home province so the blog probably should be called Western Insight. However, Ms. Capulet suggests that names don't really matter too much.

BTW, I'm working on a number of items including more on BC Ferries and a review of Global TV News' formal responses following my September complaint to the Broadcast Standards Council. After I rejected Global's initial effort, it was scheduled for examination by the BSC. However, the network's national VP of News provided an appropriate response and ordered an on-air correction. This was my third formal complaint about the work of television broadcasters. My record is 3-0.

With eye surgery at Lions Gate Hospital scheduled for December 10, the timing of work in the next few days is unpredictable. Stay tuned.

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Lies, damn lies and statistics

In late 2012, BC Ferries published a 14-page self-promotion titled Fuel Strategies. It discussed alleged savings in fuel consumption achieved by BC Ferries' brilliant managers.

A centrepiece was this chart:

 I added the above version in response to a comment by Ms. Anonymous, December 10, 2013 at 9:36 PM. The original version remains below. Obviously, it is not much different.

Looks pretty good. Maybe worth another bonus or two. Except, here is the same information portrayed differently.

Not quite as impressive. But wait. BC Ferry's traffic has been steadily declining. In 2013, vehicle and passenger movements were 27.7 million and in 2004, the total was 31.3 million. So, if we look at litres of fuel consumed for each unit of traffic, changes in fuel consumption look like this.

Indeed, the quantity of fuel expended to haul one vehicle or one passenger on a BC Ferries route increased, on average, by 9% since 2004. Truth, my friends, is opposite of what the ferry corporation and its media echo chamber wants you to know.
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RCMP mess needs sweeping - REPLAY

This is the first article I posted at Northern Insight, written in April 2009. By the time the fifth anniversary rolls around, the article count will be about 2,000. I had another look at this first entry  because I talked with Ian Jessop on CFAX 1070 today about the beginnings of this blog and how the effort has proceeded and evolved.

Interestingly, the subject that caused me to begin almost five years ago remains topical. The specific Dziekanski issue is not finally resolved and I don't think the RCMP has improved accountability in any significant way. Maybe that only demonstrates that we need more citizen voices in conversations about public policy.

* * * * *

The Braidwood Inquiry resumes and this make-work project for the pecunious - It was shovel ready! - goes forward with everything except the cost meter grinding slowly.

Robert Dziekanski's homicide remains shocking. Even worse is the RCMP's continuing failure to admit its blunders and take responsibility for the hapless man's death. Instead, they focus on smearing the victim and concealing the misdeeds of those swarming officers. The RCMP even sent six people to Poland to snoop through Dziekanski's life. We can only wonder how youthful behaviour decades ago might have affected that critical thirty seconds between arrival of police and the first of five taser shots. Would a 1979 schoolyard incident justify Corporal Robinson hindering resuscitation of the unconscious man in 2007?

Rejecting accountability is a considered act, over much time, by the highest levels of that police force. Outrageous. Canadian taxpayers are paying lawyers - at least fifteen, plus countless support staff - to defend the indefensible at the Braidwood Inquiry. Had the force dealt honourably from the beginning, they would have admitted to error and ensured that future procedures were corrected. Dziekanski's death would remain unfortunate but system changes might have prevented other needless deaths from unrestrained applications of force.

It is not enough to charge the killers with manslaughter or criminal negligence. We should demand removal of every senior RCMP official that aided and continues to assist the evasion of responsibility. The first resignations should be Assistant Commissioner Peter German and Deputy Commissioner Gary Bass, the two most senior officers in western Canada. Next should be Superintendent Wayne Rideout, the supervisor of the "investigation" who decided that misinformation given to the public by the RCMP following the killing should not be corrected.

Strangely, a few months later, Rideout was invested into the Order of Merit of the Police Forces by Governor General Michaelle Jean. On that same day, Assistant Commissioner German was made an Officer of the Order. These Honors for the Dishonorable were recommended by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, another worthy candidate for retirement from public service.

Gentlemen, with authority comes responsibility. Do the right thing. Leave now.

Vancouver writer Crawford Killian gets it right when he declares it is Time to Disband the RCMP. Worthy reading.

Thanks to Greg Perry of PerryInk for the inspired image shown above. It is copyrighted with all rights reserved.
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"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall." - Larry Wilde
For a handful of years, three generations of our family has been travelling to Frosty's Christmas Tree Farm in Langley to peruse and select perfect specimens. The vital effort is now complete; excitement of the little people begins to mount. Except for the 1-year old; she's just watching, and wondering.

"There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child." - Erma Bombeck

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

CKNW Orphans' Fund Financial Recap

Based on T3010 reports filed by the charity with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)

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Fraying of social safety nets necessitates charity - REPLAY

First published in 2012:

I listened to parts of Friday's CKNW Orphans' Fund Pledge Day, wondering if they would be more forthright about shifting over $1 million from the charity to pockets of Corus Radio since 2006.

CKNW employees are now careful about saying "Every cent goes to the children." Instead, they allow on-air guests to leave the same impression. Examples from Friday's radio show:

Brooks Patterson — Safety Manager, Pacific Group of Companies
“There’s no admin fees, those are all picked up, so it’s a real easy charity to get behind. So, we’ve always been big fans."
John Daily, Global TV
“The administration is done gratis. It’s all volunteer. So you’re not looking at an organization that has a lot of overhead here. It’s got like zero overhead. The money goes to the kids and the families that need it."
Wally Oppal, BC Liberal Remittance Man
“My understanding is that there’s virtually no overhead involved, that all the money that’s given by the donors goes to the needy people. That’s great.”

By the way, NW's event involves a little deceptive counting. In the past, the station's claims for Pledge Day have exceeded the charitable receipts issued for an entire year. This technique, aimed at building prestige, involves announcing or re-announcing every actual or hoped for receipt on the day of celebration, regardless of whether the money has already been collected or may never be collected.

Repeated expressions about NW paying the charity's administration costs - as they did in pre-Corus days - are simply not true. So why are they made?

Because the Pledge Day event is mostly a seasonal orgy of self-congratulation aimed at promoting businesses. CKNW is the prime beneficiary. Their concern for social justice might be better demonstrated by encouraging maintenance of the social safety net and an economy with opportunity and fair wages for all.

Perhaps the worst example Friday was the Denny's restaurant chain in Vancouver appearing on Pledge Day to pat themselves on the back for delivering money collected from employees and customers. This is the company accused in a $10 million BC Supreme Court action of abusing low wage foreign workers:
"Fifty workers from the Philippines say they were hired to work at Denny's as cooks and servers through the Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program last fall.

"But they allege they were cheated out of wages and accuse Denny's of not paying back the recruitment and processing fees they were forced to provide in order to come to Canada.

" 'Very vulnerable workers that are being brought over under the temporary foreign workers program shouldn't be taken advantage of,' said their lawyer, Charles Gordon."
Throughout Pledge Day, I heard people saying that society's most needy are fortunate to receive charity, I'm reminded of a scene written by Charles Dickens. To gentlemen entering Scrooge's counting-house collecting for the poor, Scrooge responds,
"Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses - are they still in operation? Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course."
I'd prefer a year with 365 days worth of social justice, rather than one day of questionable generosity.
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CKNW charity boosts corporate profits - REPLAY from 2012

The article following this update was published Nov. 25, 2011 (the first chart is revised with 2012 figures). In 2012, I reviewed the most recent Registered Charity Information Return filed by the CKNW Orphans' Fund and my arguments of a year ago stand. In fact, the administrative burden placed on the CKNW charity has grown worse as demonstrated by these charts.

Corus Radio is not any more pretending that it pays all of the administrative costs of the CKNW Orphans' Fund. It used to make that claim as demonstrated in this quote from a businesswoman who is also a director of the charity:
New Westminster The Record, December 20, 2006
" 'I am very pleased,' said Susan Cartwright-Coates. 'It shows all that chipping away, year after year, can make a difference.'

Cartwright-Coates said there's a good reason why the business donates proceeds from the Canned Critters to the CKNW Orphans Fund.

" 'Every cent goes to the children,' she said. "There is no administration costs."
However, CKNW has not gone out of its way to be honest with donors. Its current promotion is less than forthright, failing to disclose the growing administrative burden faced by the charity:

----------------- The following was first published November 25, 2011 -----------------

Added: A 5-year recap of financial reports to CRA: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010

In early December, Corus Radio holds its annual pledge day, raising money for the CKNW Orphans' Fund, a charity started when Bill Rea founded the station in 1944. A Northern Insights reader suggested I look at how financial management of the Orphans' Fund had altered in recent years, changes made with little notice to the public.

Through the years, CKNW provided administration for the charity without cost, proudly declaring that every dollar donated to the Orphans' Fund enhanced the lives of children. Others in the community helped because of the policy while the radio station gained only from goodwill generated in the community. Here is one example, another and another from a home products dealer who advertises:
"Nineteen years ago we started a tradition of making a charitable donation to the CKNW Orphan’s Fund. We chose this charity because CKNW absorbs the administration costs, so 100% of the funds donated go to help those in need."
The Corus policy quietly ended a few years ago and the Orphans' Fund now pays overhead, much of it directly to NW, of more than $200,000 a year, according to annual T3010 information returns available from CRA.

The change derives, I think, from attitudes in boardrooms of today's large corporations. The Vancouver radio station charity is small by itself but worth exploring as an example of modern business guided only by a desire to maximize profit. This attitude is an outgrowth of callous neo-liberalism, encouraged by Fraser Institute hero Milton Friedman who wrote that businessmen paying attention to social responsibilities such as eliminating discrimination or avoiding pollution are preaching "pure and unadulterated socialism."

Shirley Stocker, who managed the Orphan's Fund until her retirement, provided information in response to my inquiries. While the charity is membership based, it is not open to just anyone. Nor does it publish annual reports or make financial statements available to outsiders. According to Ms. Stocker,
"Members are admitted on the invitation of the President of the Society and the consent of not less than three firths (sic) of the members."
How the charity spends its funds and who it invites to join is not public information. That does not suggest improprieties; Ms. Stocker has been highly respected in Vancouver throughout her broadcasting career. However, I think Corus should not be the least bit proud of withdrawing its administrative support. Over $1-million has been diverted from children's programs, an unhappy situation in this province where child poverty, already the worst in Canada, continues to grow.

Corus Entertainment's aggrandizing press releases do not disclose the company is now pocketing money that used to go to the charity bearing the station's name. In fact, their promotional material would lead you to think the opposite.

By the way, when Corus stopped providing free administration to the CKNW Orphans' Fund, its annual revenues were $667-million. In fiscal 2011, during supposedly tough economic times, revenues had grown to $825-million, with income before taxes of $203-million, which is a thousand times the extra burden placed on the Orphans Fund. Good for the billionaire Shaw family, not so good for needy children.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Promises made, promises waived

From the 2013 platform of the B.C. Liberal Party:
"We need to do more to ensure coastal communities have access to a high quality ferry service that affordably meets the needs of the travelling public."

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Christy Clark arrest may be imminent

Sunday, RCMP announced arrest of Qing Quentin Huang for attempting to communicate knowledge of Canadian ship construction to China. Huang is employed by an Ontario based subcontractor of Irving Shipbuilding.

At a Toronto press conference, Chief Supt. Jennifer Strachan said,
"Sharing of information may give a foreign enemy a tactical, military or competitive advantage."
Larry Tremblay, another RCMP Chief Superintendent, added,
"It is about protecting Canadian interests and taking the steps we need to protect our Canadian sovereignty..."
According to the Globe and Mail, China regularly seeks information to help dull economic advantages held by the West. That security forces are vigilant on economic matters and prepared to move quickly to arrest suspected offenders sent a shock wave through parts of British Columbia. Christy Clark supporters fear she could soon be arrested.

Perhaps unaware of its designation as an enemy of Canada, the Premier offered recently to help China gain the competitive advantage of producing their own shale gas with use of drilling and fracking technologies from BC.

Speaking to CCTV reporter Liu Yang, Clark said the Chinese should,
"Come to British Columbia and see how we do it. We'd welcome the chance to show them... Come and see how its done and learn so they can bring that knowledge back to China."

It is possible that Clark has nothing to fear from the RCMP. Their resources have been stretched by the Huang investigation. According to police, they received a tip on Thursday, immediately initiated 'Project Seascape' and, by Saturday, arrested the mastermind of this "conspiracy of one." Sunday, officials arranged and hosted a press conference attended by every major news operation in Canada.

To begin and complete an espionage investigation in two days must have been punishing to police. The Senate expense examination has been going on for more than six months and election robocalls have been under review since May 2011. Of course, a cynic could suggest the spying case might be a convenient distraction intended to ease pressure on the Conservative Party's front bench during upcoming sessions of Parliament.

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