Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Good Thing About Trump

The rise of Trumpism with all its anger, fear, wild exaggerations and other hateful negatives is a good thing.

Yes, a good thing  - in one respect.

Before I get to that, Canadians need to understand that Trumpism is not a U.S-only phenomenon. It has manifested itself in the U.K. Independence Party and the Bexit vote; The National Front in France, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and hyper-nationalistic groups in some other countries.

These political forces thrive by gorging themselves on peoples’ fears. People fear  changes they see occurring every day.

Economic uncertainty is prominent in their fears. Globalization continues to produce economic inequality that is upsetting individual lives, and political structures.

Middle classes are disappearing, leaving an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Ditto the gap between big cities and smaller cities and towns where boarded windows are replacing factories and other businesses.

Terrorism’s constant presence is deepening fear of strangers and certain groups of people. Combined with that are swelling streams of refugees increasing fears of both economic insecurity and terrorism. Strangers viewed by people who fear that if they are not here to drain a shrinking pool of jobs, they are here to kill them.

In all this is the realization that the pillars of our democratic society are doing little to help. Growing numbers of people distrust the justice system, the news media, their religious institutions, and yes, governments.

Governments trowel serious problems with fresh plaster, but the cracks keep returning. Declining job prospects, the growing difficulties of home ownership, infrastructure rot, drug addiction are just a few of the challenges overwhelming our politicians.

Ontario is a classic study. It has been decades since the province has elected a government, of any political stripe, that has done anything more than smooth over, instead of fixing problems.

Sadly, we have a leadership vacuum. The people we need to lead, and the people most qualified to lead, do not want to be drawn into the current political miasma.

So why did I say that the rise of Trumpism is a good thing, in one respect?

In the beginning, Trumpism in the U.S. was dismissed as clownish vulgarism. It was laughable. Now it is being taken seriously and increasingly is becoming the topic of thoughtful writing. The writing has turned from the man, to the factors that have brought Trumpism. And, that’s a good thing.

The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and others have done impressive pieces on social collapse and other factors contributing to Trump’s rise.

A book titled Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance also illustrates what has happened to the social structure of the United States. These works and others are helping Americans to understand the sicknesses in their democracy and help them to find the medicines and healers needed for cures.

This is not happening in Canada, although the same sicknesses exist here. If you don’t believe that, consider these random snippets: Factory workers who have been working 10 years as temps without any benefits, the nightly gunfire in Toronto, the 35,000 Canadians who are homeless every night, the nearly 500 people in British Columbia have died from drug overdoses this year, an increase of 60-plus per cent over last year.

Canadians are not getting much depth reporting about their big issue problems. The Canadian news industry is in ruins, falling apart because of corporate concentration, and dull-witted approaches to the digital revolution.

The industry plays defence against digital, instead of offence to learn from it, adapt to it and get ahead of it. Industry geniuses keep looking for profitable new ways to sell their news instead of how best to serve readers with quality content they are willing to pay for.

But why Canadians are poorly served with quality information about what is behind Trumpism, and what needs to be done to change that, is a story for another day.

Trump hopefully will fade from sight after the Nov. 8 presidential election. He’ll be gone but Trumpism, or whatever other names are attached to ultra-nationalistic movements, will be with us for years to come. 


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Content, Not Style

Like a lot of folks, there was a time when I never went to bed without watching CBC’s The National. Like a lot of people now, I almost never turn the program on.

The National began losing thousands of viewers many years ago when it opted for personalities and style over solid, serious journalism. It became a water-filled balloon that developed a pinhole. Viewers dripped away, then dribbled and squirted out until the pinhole widened into an escaping torrent.

Now it routinely runs behind the CTV and Global national news in audience ratings. Its ratings are somewhere in the range of a specialty channel.

The problem with The National is that personalities are more important than the story. And in journalism, there is nothing more important than the story – the fair and factual story.

The most important personality at CBC, of course, is Peter Mansbridge, aptly named Pastor Mansbridge by Globe and Mail columnist John Doyle. He has announced he is leaving The National but is not retiring from the Mother Corp. He is 68 and will show up doing something else at CBC, no doubt being paid his million-plus bucks.

Nothing illustrates the CBC’s cult of personality more than his departure announcement. His last broadcast of The National will be July 1 next year, Canada’s 150th birthday. How excellent! Two major Canadian events the same day: Mansbridge’s last broadcast of The National and Canada’s 150th. Which would you vote for as the most important?

The National lost touch with Canadians when it decided that its intellectual superiority makes it the best editor of what news the great unwashed should receive. It represents the Toronto left-leaning establishment and Peter Mansbridge is the voice of that establishment.

We’ve all seen the scandalous results of the personality cult developed during Mansbridge’s painfully long run at The National. The Amanda Lang scandal in which the National’s star business correspondent was accused of taking speaking fees from companies on which she reported. She had a too cozy relationship with the Royal Bank of Canada.

Then Evan Solomon, once touted as Mansbridge’s successor, was fired when it was learned that he pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in secret commissions for art sales to people he dealt with as a CBC TV on-air host.

And Jian Ghomeshi, the CBC star who admitted a fondness for non-consensual rough sex and who was accused of sexual harassment and assault. He stood trial for sexual assault and was found not guilty. The CBC had to dump him.

Mansbridge and Rex Murphy, The National’s annoying know-it-all, both crossed journalism’s ethical boundaries by taking big buck speaking fees from companies or others who might be in the news. CBC management said it was disappointed anyone would think that taking large speaking fees would affect any on-air person’s journalistic integrity. Then it turned around and forbid on-air staff from taking paid speaking gigs.

What it should be doing is forbidding anything that nourishes its personality cult. Like Mansbridge accepting the Order of Canada, which should be for people who work tirelessly, often without reward, for the good of their communities.

Mansbridge’s semi-retirement is a huge opportunity for CBC management to return The National to its years-ago position as a powerful news source for Canadians. It is an opportunity to give the news operation back to real journalists who see the story more important than themselves.

A ‘star anchor’ to replace Mansbridge is not necessary. Let a variety of news people with on-air competency present the news stories that they are involved in.            
Aside from dealing with its inner cancers, CBC also must reshape itself to become relevant in the online world of news. Online news is a revolution that has brought incredible changes, with more to come. We no longer need to turn on the TV at 10 p.m. to find out what is happening in the world. We already know because we get online news every minute throughout the day.

All traditional news outlets are struggling with how to survive in the new and changing world of news. When it all shakes out, one longstanding axiom will still be there: Content, not style and personalities is the key to good journalism.


Thursday, September 15, 2016


Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

Sir Walter Scott had never heard of Ontario when he wrote that line for his play Marmion back in 1808. Ontario wasn’t even a province back then.

Wally didn’t know it then but his words were the perfect fit for the province that has become a Pinocchio factory. Wherever you turn, some political leader or captain of industry is twisting the facts, hiding the facts or outright lying.

A recent example comes from Hydro One, which is owed $105 million by folks who cannot afford to pay their outrageously high electricity bills.

Global News recently asked Hydro One to say how many people in each of the past 10 years have had their electricity disconnected because they did not pay their power bills.

A simple question. An important question because the answer would show how many customers have been hurt seriously by skyrocketing Ontario electricity rates.

Ten years ago, the off peak charge for electricity in Ontario was 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Today it is 8.7 centres per kwh. The mid rate back in 2006 was 7.5 cents per kwh. Now it is 13.2. Peak rate was 10.5 and now is 18.

The current numbers will go up again on Nov. 1. Plus, Hydro One has applied for a new set of increases for 2017 and 2018.

So it is reasonable for Ontarians to know how many people are being disconnected for non-payment. Especially considering that unpaid Hydro One bills now total more than $100 million.

Laura Cooke, Hydro One’s Senior Vice-President of Customer and Corporate Relations, did not think it was reasonable. She refused to give the number to Global News. She told the news outfit she reviewed the numbers herself and found no “appreciable difference” in the year-to-year numbers.

We are supposed to believe her. No appreciable difference in the number of people hurt by rates that have almost doubled.

That’s hiding facts that should not be hidden from citizens. Ms. Cooke, however, simply is taking her cue from the government lead by Premier Pinocchio.

Steven LeClair, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer, has said the Liberal government is keeping secret financial information on Hydro One and on the health care system and major infrastructure projects.
LeClair has said the government has refused to give him information on the financial effects of its move to sell 60 per cent of Hydro One. Or, how it came up with an estimate of the sale’s value. His calculations show that selling off part of Hydro One actually will cost Ontario taxpayers money.

He has said his office has to use other data and do its own calculations to determine the financial effects of government policies.

“Are Ontarians in the dark about it?” he told the Globe and Mail. “I’d say yes. What happens is, the government doesn’t reveal its underlying assumptions and forecasts used in the projections, so it leaves us having to create our own things because we’re not exactly sure where the government has got its information from.”
He also says that Ontario does not release fiscal information that would help us all determine if budget forecasts are accurate or pumped up.

The reason the government is withholding information from Mr. LeClair and its citizens has to be obvious: Ontario’s financial situation is much more dire than any of us suspect. The government has promised to balance the provincial budget by fiscal 2017-18. It looks like the only way they will be able to do that is by sleight of hand, which includes hiding facts and spinning out whoppers.

Meanwhile, we know from the Ontario Energy Board that the $105,583,215 in arrears that Hydro One was trying to collect in 2015 was owed by 225,952 customers. That is 1,750 customers more than in 2014.

That still does not tell us how many households have been disconnected because of arrears. My guess is that it is an “appreciable” number.

Just as important; what is the number of people who have cut back on groceries and other life necessities just to pay those outrageous electricity bills?