Postmedia stock trade shows company has lost 87 per cent of value

So what�s Postmedia worth?
A rare big stock trade last week offered a useful indication, and it�s not pretty.
When the company stock started trading in June 2011, the price was around $13 a share. Multiply that by the number of shares - about 40 million - and you have a value of $524 million. 
The trade last week was at $1.65, suggesting a value of $67 million. Which means the company�s value has fallen by 85 per cent in a little more than two years.
The trade mattered because it was large. The stock is mostly held by the big lenders who financed the acquisition of the newspaper company and Postmedia daily trades are too small to give any real indication of value.
But last Thursday, about seven million Class B shares traded hands in a single transaction, almost 20 per cent of the total outstanding.
It�s unclear who was selling or buying. The Class B shares are reserved for foreign owners as part of Postmedia�s strategy to qualify as a Canadian company. That�s critical; businesses can claim the cost of advertising in Canadian-owned newspapers and magazines as a tax deduction.
The sale, one month before the company releases its next quarterly results, at least raises questions about whether one of the original lenders that financed the deal has decided to abandon ship.
 For earlier posts on newspapers' woes, go here.
Footnote: Class B shares, foreign-owned, represent about 97 per cent of the stock, but are limited to 49.9 per cent of the votes in any matters to be decided by shareholders. It�s not credible to claim the company is really Canadian-controlled when Canadians or Canadian institutions own three per cent of the stock, and foreign lenders hold the debt, but the structure meets legal requirements.

Housing allowances show MLAs' rich sense of entitlement


This Times Colonist story on MLAs' housing allowances should make you angry.
Especially the arrogance.
Rob Shaw reports that MLAs are on track to claim $1.1 million in accommodation costs this year - $14,100 each - even though the legislature will sit just 36 days.
That�s simply wrong.
But what�s infuriating and shameful is the sense of entitlement, embodied by Liberal caucus chair Michelle Stilwell.
She told Shaw MLAs still end up spending some of their own money because the $1,000-a-month taxpayer allowance isn�t enough. (MLAs can claim $1,000 a month without providing any receipts, or $1,580 if they provide evidence they use the money for housing. Most choose not to provide receipts, which raises other questions about whether housing allowances are actually paying for accommodation.)
�You�d be hard-pressed to find somebody who isn�t spending over and above that,� said Stilwell. �Most of them are paying out of pocket.�
So why do Stilwell and her government think a disabled British Columbian should be able to find accommodation for $375 a month? Or that a family on income assistance - a parent with two children - should get no more than $660 a month?
There is a sentiment that life on income assistance should be horrible so people are desperate to get any kind of job - the �make-them-suffer� school.
But many people on disability assistance aren�t likely to make a quick transfer to paid employment. Neither are many of the people on income assistance these days, as they have serious problems that make them unlikely to be hired. (Persistent multiple barriers to employment, to use the government�s term.)
There are about 94,000 people in those two groups.
And there are about 35,000 children living in households on assistance, who the government has decided should grow up in poverty and substandard housing. The research is clear that childhood poverty greatly increases the risk of a lifetime of problems and costs for the individual and society, from illness to unemployment.
Stilwell says it�s impossible for MLAs to find a second apartment for $1,000 a month. 
But she also says people income assistance should be able to house themselves, and their children, for a fraction of that amount.
It�s a glaring example of a sense of entitlement, and MLAs belief that they deserve much better treatment - taxpayer-paid - than the citizens they represent.
MLAs gave themselves much richer allowances in 2007, when they also raised their pay and created a pension plan most citizens could only dream about. 
Under the previous system, they could only claim housing costs when they were in Victoria. (Capital Region MLAs are ineligible.) The result is that most will receive at least twice as much this year as they would have under the old system.
Another result is that about 25 per cent of MLAs from outside the capital region now own second residences here, which look much liked taxpayer-subsidized investments.
The system needs reform. MLAs deserve to be compensated for living expenses when they are required in the capital, but they should be reasonable, justifiable and transparent.
Much more urgently, MLAs need to explain why they think people on income  or disability assistance should be able to find housing in Victoria for $375, when MLAs can�t do it on $1,000.

Footnote: Average pay for a B.C. MLA is now $118,000, putting them in the top four per cent of tax filers in the province. This old post explains how they got there. It's not pretty.

9/11: A licence to extend the state's power

This is the my Vancouver Sun column on the first anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre. More than decade later, I think it stands up well.

There's something at once wrong and frightening about the fervent celebration of the attacks on the United States one year ago.Wrong, because it rests on the false pretence that Sept. 11 was a defining moment that changed everything, for everyone.
And frightening because it is being used to justify mindless conformity, an erosion of individual rights in favour of the state -- and even war.
It was a terrible day. But most people have placed that devastating event into some appropriate place among the other terrible and joyous moments that define a life. About 40,000 children were born in B.C. last year. For those families, 2001 won't be the year the World Trade Center was destroyed; that pales beside the wonder of a new life beginning. About 315 British Columbians killed themselves last year. For those families, it will be the year that someone was lost, and something in them died, too.
The attacks were terrible. But they were not different in purpose or effect than the decades of horrors that the current generation has witnessed.
Even their scale is not beyond comparison. Some 3,000 people died last Sept. 11. Twenty times as many died when the second bomb fell on Nagasaki; twice as many died in Bhopal after the 1994 Union Carbide disaster; about the same number of Africans will die of AIDS while you are at work today.
Last Sept. 11 was an awful day, but everything didn't change because of it. We still go to work, look for happiness, slide into despair. We raise our children. Just like always. And one year later, I am much less frightened of a terror attack than I am of the governments supposedly on my side.
The state -- Canada or Afghanistan, America or Iraq -- always wants to increase its power over the people. It's not sinister; if you are in charge of keeping order, then you will want to make that task easier -- surveillance cameras on every corner, fewer legal right for citizens. But it's an imperative that means citizens must always be prepared to push back.
For a year governments have been using Sept. 11 as a licence to extend the state's power. And an uncertain public has failed to push back.
Airport security may have needed upgrading, perhaps through improved training. But a $24-per-ticket surcharge is taking $400 million a year from travellers' pockets and has wounded regional airlines and the communities they serve. The take from Vancouver alone is enough to hire more than 600 extra security staff; the need has never been demonstrated.
The federal government likewise made no effective case for $8 billion in increased security spending over the next five years, money it could never find to help Canada's poorest children or reduce the tax burden.
And now the U.S. is pressuring Canada to spend more on defence, even after a 10-per-cent increase this year. (The Americans spend $400 billion a year on their military, more than the next 25 countries combined. To match their level of per-capita spending, Canada would have to more than triple its defence budget.)
Sadly, it's not just about money. The Bush administration quickly passed the "USA Patriot Act" (the name, commanding mindless acquiescence, should sound alarm bells.) Americans lost rights they had treasured for 200 years. The right to legal representation, to a speedy and public trial, to protection fromunjustified searches -- all gone. Americans can now be jailed indefinitely and secretly, without a trial.
Canada didn't go as far. But the prime minister can now outlaw groups based on secret evidence. Police gained the right to arrest someone who has broken no law on the suspicion that person is involved in terrorist activities. You can now be jailed for refusing to answer police questions.
And then there is war. Canada fought in Afghanistan, to little obvious effect. And now we are being asked to fight in Iraq, not because of anything that nation has done, but because the U.S. believes Saddam Hussein may some day do something. This is not a war on terrorism; it's a beating for a nation the U.S. simply wishes had a different leader.
Enough. Everything did not change in a few terrible hours one year ago. We have rights and freedoms and values worth defending, and a commitment to the rule of law that should not be abandoned when a government finds it convenient.
We will betray our past and our future if we allow ourselves to be defined by a single day of terror.

Poll shows Hondurans really, really unhappy with country's direction

Hondurans are ferociously gloomy about the state of their country, according to a new poll this month. 
The poll, by CESPAD, a citizen�s pro-democracy organization, looked at voter preferences. The national elections are now a little more than two months away.
It also asked about attitudes toward government, the state of the country and democracy.
The results were grim. Only 3.2 per cent of Hondurans think the country is progressing.  Only 18 per cent think their families� economic situation is even a little better this year than last.
The poll asked whether the current government was helping to resolve problems, making no difference or actually make things worse in the country.
The last option won - 47 per cent think the government is making things worse. Only 9.3 per cent believe the current National Party government is helping to deal with the problems.
Those are really bad numbers. It�s hard to imagine people putting up with such an unhappy situation indefinitely.
Which makes a couple of the other questions in the poll. CESPAD asked if people were satisfied with the way democracy was working. Almost 78 per cent said no; only 22 per cent were satisfied with Honduran-style democracy. (The 2009 coup is likely a factor, along with corruption.)
Three out of four favoured a national assembly to write a new constitution.
The poll also asked what kind of change is needed - how radical or sweeping.
And 73 per cent said radical changes in all areas are needed. Thirteen per cent though gradual change in all areas is needed and 12 per cent thought change was only needed in the most problematic areas.
It�s very tough to interpret those last responses.
Almost three out of four Hondurans believe radical change is needed in all areas.
But it�s not all clear what they mean by radical change. 
Radical change could be a return to a state run by the military, or socialism. It could be raising taxes and cutting spending, or it could be higher minimum wages and land re-distribution.
Or, nothing could happen.
I�ve steered clear of writing about Honduran politics. What do I know.
But the Nov. 24 elections are going to be fascinating. Voters elect the president, regional representatives to congress and municipal officials on the same day.
The CESPAD poll puts Libre and its presidential candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya slightly ahead, with about 28 per cent of the vote. (She is the wife of Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in the coup.) Libre is generally seen as to the left.
That�s a huge change. Honduras has had a two-party system since democracy was restored in 1981. (Zelaya was elected as a Liberal.) it�s hard to know what the end of that traditional political structure will bring.
The National Party and presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hern�ndez are a close second.
Hondurans might be divided on their choice for the next government.
But they are sure in agreement that the country is stalled, and big change is needed.

Sex workers after Pickton, and something I wish the media would quit doing

Another excellent story by Sarah Petrescu in the Times Colonist on cuts to services for sex workers in Victoria, despite all the findings of the Pickton Inquiry.
It�s worth reading. 
PEERS, which provides a range of outreach and other services to sex workers and those exiting the trade, has been forced to slash services and close a daytime drop-in centre and employment readiness programs. 
The problem is that the program was largely funded under a provincial government employment contract. The government wanted fewer contracts, with more controls, so it opted to award the main job program contracts to a few big players, which in turn subcontract with organizations like PEERS.
But the one-size-fits-all contract simply doesn�t work for groups - like sex workers - who need more than a brush-up on resum� writing before they�re ready to get a job. More support, more flexibility are needed. But the results are worth it, for the clients and the community.  (Disclosure: My partner was PEERS� Executive director for three years.)
So what does the government say?
Nothing.
The Times Colonist story included this paragraph.
In a statement Tuesday, Social Development Minister Don McRae said sex workers would still have access to employment programs. �PEERS was a sub-contractor of the contracted service providers in Victoria, who have confirmed that there will be no disruption to services as a result of PEERS withdrawing its employment-related programs,� McRae said. He did not explain how such services would be provided.�
That�s false. PEERS programs are being cut and disrupted. Other agencies are not ready and able to provide job training to groups with challenges.
Politicians, corporations, individuals - they�re all being coached to avoid interviews, where they might have top answer questions, and issue written statements. 
The statements are self-serving, uninformative and deny the public real answers.
And tactic only works because the media plays along. 
The solution is simple. The media should just say no when offered an email response and report the government or organization would not provide the minister or anyone to answer questions. (If additional email answers are needed to provide technical information or detail, that's fine.)
McRae is the minister responsible, and taxpayers pay him some $150,000 a year to do the job. When there is a matter of public interest, he should be willing to answer questions and justify the government�s approach.
Come on media. Just say no to written non-answers.

Footnote:
Victoria police were quoted in the story.
"Officers might feel the effects of PEERS�s reductions in service, �as the [sex] workers may not be as well-informed, cared for and supported, potentially leaving them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse,� said Det. Sgt. Todd Wellman, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit.
He said PEERS acts as a conduit between sex trade workers and police, building a sense of trust. �With them, we�ve helped build a safe place for sex trade workers to report crimes.�
In a recent example, police knew that a sex trade worker, who was the victim of an aggravated assault, was hesitant to report it. PEERS encouraged the woman to come forward.
�PEERS supported the worker through the process and we actually conducted our interview at PEERS, whereas we would likely not have obtained a statement from the victim [otherwise] as she was not comfortable attending the police station,� Wellman said."
So there'a s a question for McRae. Police believe the cuts increase the risk of exploitation and abuse.
Why does McRae believe they are wrong?

The luxury of turning on a tap and getting clear, cold water

Safely back in Copan Ruinas after two weeks in Canada and the northwest U.S., and still thinking about differences between the countries.
Life is generally better in North America. Schools, health care, government, income, equality - everything works better, I told anyone in the north who asked. 
But then I usually warned them, too loudly, that they had to fight to make sure things stayed that way. 
Practically, water figured in two of the best things about being back in Canada. I could stick a glass under any tap and drink clean water, impossible in Honduras.
And I could flush toilet paper away, instead of placing tidily folded - I think of it as bathroom origami - offerings in a plastic bag, to be bundled up for garbage day.
Access to drinkable water is important. We buy bottled water, five gallons for $1, which I carry back from the little farm supply store on the next block. (So far, I estimate that I have lugged a little more than three tonnes of water into the house.) 
But most people can�t afford water, or can�t get the bottles up the trails into their villages. Many drink iffy water, accepting the various sicknesses that brings. (Another reason that about 29 per cent of Honduran children under five are stunted - significantly too short for their age.)
Partly, of course, that�s because Honduras is just too poor and the government too broke to pay for working water systems. Why it�s so poor, and the government so broke, is a whole other question. Corruption, inefficiency, tax evasion, dependency, failed policies - you can make a long list of problems. (Foreigners do help with water projects, especially in rural communities. But 50 per cent fail within five years, according to an engineer speaking at the Conference on Honduras last year.)
Almost anyone in Canada can turn on a tap and get drinkable water because we decided to make that a priority. We decided to tax people based on what they could pay, hire competent staff and build water systems that served everyone. (Almost everyone - First Nations� communities have dismal water services, and there are hundreds of B.C. communities on boil-water advisories at any time.)
People pay for water, but it�s affordable and available in their homes.
Not everyone in Canada thinks that approach is right. The less-government crew - or at least the extremists - would argue that the whole process of supplying water should be left to the private sector and the market. Those who can pay will get water. Those who can�t.... I suppose they will develop an understanding of life in Honduras.

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