The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Why does the CMHR need $2 million by May 30?

There's something fishy going on with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and we can't put our finger on what it is.

Let's start with the bogus "news" story in the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the CMHR, that Canadian realtors "have come up with a $2 million donation."

There's no byline so we don't know who wrote the story, but whoever it was,  he or she had to struggle mightily with the facts to devise a story that implies something false without lying outright.

Someone with only a cursory interest in the CMHR would read the story and come away thinking the Canadian Real Estate Association had raised $2 million and donated it to the still-unopened museum. 

That's what the Free Press wants you to think.

But reading a little closer you see that the realtors' fundraising campaign started in 2008. In truth, then, it took them six years to raise $2 million. And their donation is not new money. It's been on the books for years.  The FP wants you to believe Gail Asper just raised $2 million for the museum, when its not true.

Way back in the summer of 2012, the Friends of the CMHR newsletter carried this update:

"Individual REALTORS, brokerage firms, boards and associations across Canada have
joined forces to support the CMHR, contributing an impressive $1.69 million to the
FCMHR. The REALTORS campaign fundraising goal of $2 million is now within reach!"
The real story is that the 97,000 realtors and related groups raised only a pathetic $310,000 in the last two years.  That's a whopping $3.18 per person, or $1.59 each a year.  That penny-ante support is the true measure of public support for the CMHR.

So why would the Winnipeg Free Press trumpet a donation that's little more than pocket change?  

We've referred to Gail Asper as Winnipeg's biggest panhandler, but until now we didn't know how literal that description was.  Earlier this year, Gail Asper's  Friends of the CMHR was actually begging people for spare change in St.Vital Centre. 

Here's how they proudly described their panhandling efforts:

"In March, St. Vital Centre asked customers to demonstrate their support for the CMHR by turning their loose change into St. Vital Centre Giftcards using the centre’s coin counter machine. St. Vital Centre then matched the total amount and donated the proceeds from the campaign to Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In total, they raised more than $10,000 for the Museum in just over one month!"

The CMHR has been reduced to competing with  bums for beer money.  Its obvious they're scrambling.  This year, for the fourth year in a row, the CMHR has failed to produce a financial report for the first quarter of the year (January to March), hiding its dire financial situation into the fall, at least.
The Friends of the CMHR have issued a desperate plea to Canada's Chinese community for $2 million by May 30, 2014.  This is the first time we've ever seen a request for money with a deadline attached.  What's the significance of May 30?

Is the phony claim that they've raised $2 million and the hope they can raise $2 million by June related to a loan application for which they have to prove they can make the payments?

Any financial institution dumb enough to loan the CMHR money should look at a calender. 

May 30 is one month before June 30, also known as the deadline to pay city taxes. 

The CMHR is already $4 million in arrears,  and, like you, has received its 2014 tax bill.  That should be for another $4 million to $5 million which they don't have.

At the end of last year, the CMHR received the last of the $145 million the federal government has paid into the project.  That means anything they've spent this year (2014) is paid by IOU's and whatever pennies they can pick up.

It's May 24, or what's known in our office as three months to come up with an excuse why they can't open the museum on time -- again.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pitching Hicksville in New York. Winnipeg Symphony supplies the soundtrack.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra headed for a concert at New York's Carnegie Hall with all the hype and hoopla of the Titanic leaving port on its maiden voyage.

Bon voyage!

The WSO was one of six North American orchestras invited to perform at this year's  Spring For Music festival.  Here's how the event pitches itself:

Spring For Music provides an idealized laboratory, free of the normal marketing and financial constraints, for an orchestra to be truly creative with programs that are interesting, provocative and stimulating, and that reflect its beliefs, its standards, and vision. Spring For Music believes that an orchestra’s fundamental obligation is to lead and not follow taste.

Okay. Whatever. We're in.

On Saturday, the Winnipeg Free Press devoted a full page and a bit to recap the WSO's May 8 appearance in The Big Apple.  As we peeled away layer after layer of hometown hooey, we thought can it get any sadder than this?

Reporter Mary Agnes Welch laid on the spin as gently as possible.  But that's like saying the food service on the Titanic was a once-in-a-lifetime experience---which it literally was because the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean right after supper.


This time the ship reached port with horns blaring, banners flying and fireworks lighting up the sky.

* "A night to remember at Carnegie Hall" was the headline in the next-day review in the Winnipeg Free Press  (The unfortunate headline is not ours.)

NEW YORK -- There could be no mistake: The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra took Manhattan by storm one explosive note at a time...

*  "... on their own terms, they may be the best orchestra to appear in the week’s worth of concerts." wrote reviewer George Grella for Classical Review ("Winnipeg Symphony brings surprising and spectacular music from the North" May 9, 2014.)

*  "Call me a fan of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid."  blogged Pittsburgh reviewer Elizabeth Bloom.

So, what's so sad?  This sounds great.

It does until you dig deeper into the Mary Agnes Welch story.

Nearly 1000 Winnipeggers came with the WSO to New York, she said. Great, except that the concert attendance was only 1,800, which means more than half the audience was from Winnipeg or ex-patriot Canadians.

 "...dominated by a hometown crowd."

"...a largely Winnipeg audience, made larger by their exuberance."

So you're showcasing the orchestra to yourselves? And acting like the worst homers in history?  "The crowd gave the musicians a standing ovation before they'd even played a note."  Not cool.

The orchestra was accompanied by Winnipeg pitchmen and promoters who just came across as the biggest rubes in the city.

Gary Doer, former premier and current ambassador to the U.S., recited the checklist: zzzzzzzz new human rights museum (to the city with museums up the yingyang), zzzzzzz history of tolerance and equality (to the city that hosts the United Nations), zzzzzzzz community spirit that helped rescue the WSO during some financial turmoil (you want financial turmoil, go to Wall Street and yell Lehman Brothers). 

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce pitched Manitoba`s cheap hydro (about to double in less than a decade), competitive tax structure (unless you pay income taxes), skilled workforce (negative job creation in the past year), and `commitment to major trade infrastructure (or in layman's terms, we build roads)."

Oh, and tourism hucksters touted 'our arts and culture' (bwahahaha. New York is the Centre of the Universe, like they care what`s happening in Winterpeg), polar bears and belugas (yeah, that`s how to say we`re a modern city, tell them about the wildlife just outside our doors), and, of course, the iconic CMHR (to a city with the Empire State Building, the new World Trade Centre, the Statue of Liberty, need we go on),.

`We`ve built enough assets here in Manitoba that you can stay for a few days and not get bored,`` Gary Doer told tour operators, according to the Free Press.

Really?  That's your best shot? Did we say you couldn't get sadder than this?

But the WSO walks away okay, right?   Uhhh....

The Spring For Music festival wants its participants to be provocative and stimulating.  Winnipeg was that.  It was a geek show straight out of Colonel Parker's back pocket.

The WSO presented pieces highlighting an Inuit throat singer and a deaf percussionist.  Er, that's different.  Different as in who the f--- gives a damn.  That's probably why tickets were only $25 and they still couldn't give them away to New Yorkers.

You want to know how the regular schmo classical music enthusiast reviewed the WSO? A commenter on the Pittsburgh blogger's site:

Bill Gapen
THE WSO Carnegie Hall performance was 'interesting'. . Yes - they are unique - yet I am not sure I will be playing their performance as I drive down the road. 
Music - it takes a unique ear to enjoy unique sound. I would not go as far as to call it music.. more sound and creativity. 
Orchestra - the strings were in very good shape. The horns section though were sometimes out of pitch and there were a few wrong notes here and there from some. 

Throat singing is very unique - although perhaps for a select audience 
Percussion with Dame Evelyn Glennie OUTSTANDING.
Audience - a very large contingent from Winnipeg who flew in for the concert. Base on the number of people waving their red kerchiefs and my discussion with attendees. I would hazard to guess the hall was about 70% composed of Winnipeggers. past or current. 
While the spirit is live and thriving - one needs to question whether it was a New York performance or a Winnipeg pep rally using a NY venue. For an orchestra to excel with global recognition - wouldn't one want to say that people from all over the world came to witness and enjoy an orchestra? Perhaps it goes back to that unique sound.. yes certainly unique but does it draw an international appreciation ?

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Running on Empty. The Brian Bowman campaign for Mayor.

Brian Bowman is a true son of his generation.

Without a lick of experience at City Hall, this Gen X-er believes he should start at the top, as Mayor. To compensate for knowing nothing about the job he wants, he says he will provide the city with "leadership."  
Now, ordinarily this would be greeted with oohs and ahhs from an electorate that's seen the city reel from one scandal to another under Mayor Sam Katz and those councillors who blindly support him on executive policy committee.

But seeing as how all the mayoral candidates will likely play the leadership card, how does Bowman stand out?

Tuesday morning, before filing his papers to run for mayor, 42-year-old Bowman, a lawyer, showed up on Charles Adler's morning talk show where he expanded on his idea of leadership. 
One word.

Yep, Bowman is running on the vision thing. 

 'Vision' is the code word among the Ivory Tower elite for the rich man's burden.

'Vision'  means the airy-fairy mega-million dollar projects that are, surely you understand, beyond the limited knowledge and imagination of the scrabbling masses.  But not their wallets.

Can you believe that city council has been debating a rapid transit line that runs barely 10 blocks, Bowman snorted to Adler. He, on the other hand, wants to look ahead, far ahead - to 2035 - when Winnipeg is predicted to have a million people. Bowman wants to build public transit for that city, not the grubby city we live in now. 

That, people, is vision.

That, people, is also delusional. 

It demonstrates that Brian Bowman has no understanding how city council works. Winnipeg, in a nutshell, is run by 16 monkeys---a mayor and 15 councillors.  Everyone has an equal vote. The mayor's only power is to appoint councillors to executive policy committee. Currently, the biggest toadie on EPC is another lawyer (ptui).

Intelligence and competence play no part in who gets elected and what role they play on council. But when people have a problem, they have their councillors' phone numbers and they're not shy about giving their councillors an earful. Those councillors then bring those problems to City Hall. 

City Hall is dealing with garbage pickup in back lanes, not designing where to put charging stations for hydrogen-powered hovercraft buses for the city-of-the-future. 
That is called representative democracy.  They used to teach it in school. 

Bowman's only experience with leadership is his time at the  Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce (one-term chairman) and the Art Gallery (a board member).  Make big plans, lobby politicians, go for a power lunch.  The press snapping at your kiester?  Call security.  Say, what's the theme of this year's fundraising gala going to be? Pink or powder blue?

As a privacy lawyer, Bowman couldn't be more removed from the day to day concerns of citizens.  How often have you consulted a privacy lawyer?  A criminal lawyer, a divorce lawyer, maybe. But a privacy lawyer?  How la-de-da can you get?

Bowman actually told Adler that one of his major election planks would be to improve transparency at city hall. 

Not snow clearing , potholes, mosquitoes, or gangs. 


Wow. Is this guy in touch with the issues or what? 

Bowman wants to talk about "moving forward."  Forget those niggling problems of the past, that firehall thing, the police station  thing, the stadium thing. It's hard to keep those things straight.

Gen Xers don't like hard.

Focus on infrastructure. Yeah, love that word. Infrastructure. Everything you build is infrastructure, so everything you build is good. Who can object to paying for the greater good?

Not you. That's why you're going to be happy to pay higher taxes, Bowman believes.  Yes, a tax increase each and every year to pay for his "vision."  At the rate of inflation.

He told Adler he's very proud of the big ideas that the Chamber under his watch brought forward to politicians under a campaign called Manitoba Bold.

Let's see how much he talks about the BOLD idea for a separate city sales tax.

Somebody might remember that Sam Katz used to talk about vision. Remember when he brought former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani to Winnipeg to pitch his broken windows theory on reducing crime?  Nobody else does.

Or Katz's excitement at the plans of hippie city entomologist Taz Stuart who was going to replace mosquito foggging with holistic eradication methods?  One morning Taz was gone but the fogging trucks weren't.

Bus Rapid Transit was out, then in, then on the shelf for Light Rail, then back in, then in limbo, and now in again, coincidentally with a slight detour that benefits Sam Katz's friends. 

That, also, is somebody's vision.

Brian Bowman has Sam Katz's smile (the one from the early days, not the forced one Katz slaps on today). But in this mayoral election he's Kaj Hasselriis, not Sam Katz

Nice guy if you were electing a class president in junior high, but being mayor of a city is not a starter position with benefits.

Postscript:  Judy Wasylycia-Leis also ran on 'Vision' in the last mayoral election. Here's what we had to say at the time.  It's still relevant, obviously:

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Monday, May 05, 2014

The climate change choir: Tunes from the past

We're baaaaaaack.

Where were we? 
We went where no reporters have gone before -- back in time.

And we returned with the scoop -- the truth behind the real causes of climate change and the cause of the climactic havoc that's engulfed the world.

"Freak storms, massive droughts, killer hurricanes..."

"What's causing this crazy weather?" we asked, and so did Maclean's magazine. 
In its New Year's '66  issue. 
The one with the cover story Naming the Outstanding Canadians of 1965.

Sixty-five had been bad. Real bad. Ten inches of snow on Sydney, Nova Scotia (when they still had inches). Rainmakers called in to help the parched Ottawa Valley. New York City banning the "unnecessary" flushing of toilets to preserve water. But so much rain on Quebec that housewives, (when they still had housewives) formed societies against artificial rainmaking.

Ontario set all-time low temperatures in August. California had twice the normal rainfall. Hurricane Betsy was the most destructive storm ever.

"Since implications are tremendous for birds, fish, animals and plants---and therefore for our whole economy---North Americans were posing a basic and vital question when they asked," Is our weather changing?" Meanwhile, scientists were asking a question that is even more ominous. "Is it something that man is doing that is altering weather patterns?"

Like we haven't heard that before.

Maclean's, the voice of Canada, stopped at nothing to get the answer to those burning questions.

"Chief Walking Eagle, an aged Indian who has predicted the weather accurately for the past five years is certain of it. At Rocky Mountain House, Alta., recently, he explained, "The white man is getting too big and rich. Manitou does not like this and he gives bad weather."

Uh, right. 

Maclean's went to climatologists for a second opinion. That's where we twigged to the cutting edge of scientific thought on climate change (1966-style). 
Atom Bombs.

Yes, there you have it.

"In 1961 and 1962, the U.S. and the USSR detonated a series of nuclear bombs, one of them (Russian) exceeding fifty megatons---the biggest man-made explosions in history. The following winter was Europe's worst ever. Snow even fell on the French Riviera."

Dr.Walter Mitschfeld, head of the Department of Meteorology at McGill expounded on his theory of how A-bombs are responsible for changing weather.  It had something to do with electrifying dust particles in the upper atmosphere, upsetting "the delicate balance" of ultra-violet reaching earth, and radiating the Equator where cyclones and hurricanes are born. The only thing missing is cosmic rays and the Fantastic Four.

"The possible effects are enormous," declared Maclean's.

"We just don't have enough statistical data to know whether this is freak weather or a new trend," said M.K. Thomas, department chief of climatology at the meteorological branch of the federal Department of Transport in Toronto. (Now there's a title) "But we're not as certain as we once were that human actions could not be causing changes," he said.

How to tell?  Robert M. White, head weatherman for the United States government (now that's a better title), said that "computers" might soon answer those questions.  Hooray, mid-Sixties computers to the rescue!

But already scientists had detected global warming. Kinda.

"Between 1900 and 1935, the mean January temperature of Dawson City, Yukon, rose a startling ten degrees. (Oddly, however, it is now almost back to the turn-of-century low.)" said Maclean's.  
Yeah, odd.
You want odd? Well, "two eminent U.S. scientists", William L. Donn, geologist, and Maurice Ewing, oceanographer, said the "melting of Arctic ice would, ironically, precipitate a new ice age over North America."

Thick ice at the Pole blocks northerly winds, or something. "Therefore," said Donn, "the rapidly thinning six feet of ice over the Arctic Ocean is all that's saving us from another ice age."

Obviously, there wasn't yet the "consensus" about global warming. But already it didn't look good.

" could mean the virtual end of civilization. For, as the late British climatologist, C.E.P. Brooks has calculated, a worldwide rise of only two degrees in the annual temperature would melt enough ice to flood most of the world's coastal cities." warned Maclean's.

"Some of the hottest arguments between weather experts have arisen over temperature changes. Experts begin by agreeing there is at least one non-nuclear human activity that could be affecting the weather: the burning of plant-remains such as coal and oil."

Gasp.  48 years ago.  They knew.

A concentration of carbon dioxide and ozone, gases that absorb solar radiation, "could certainly raise the temperature." explained the magazine.

"Some U.S. physical chemists insist that the quantity of carbon dioxide in the air has risen by thirteen percent in the last century. By 2000 A.D., they claim, there will be enough to raise much of North America's temperature by as much as six degrees."

Oh no.
If we don't stop this madness by the year 2000 we're all going to die.

 Heed our warning.

 If you can't trust scientists and computers, who can you trust?

Just ask Manitou.
Postscript What? 2000 was 14 years ago?  And the world hasn't come to an end? And last year was the coldest winter in over a hundred years?  And we missed it?  Well, damn.