Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Canso Spaceport

Reading Joan Baxter’s account of the correspondence between Maritime Launch Services (MLS), the proponents of the Canso Spaceport, and public servants with the Municipality of the County of Guysborough (MODG) reminded me of the correspondence between Chris Skidmore, the proponent of an RV park in Big Pond, and the public servants at the CBRM.

Writes Baxter:

The emails tell the story of how people on the public payroll became close allies of and worked very hard to advance the interests of a handful of men and companies from the US and Ukraine, in this case those behind the MLS project.

Hanna-Barbera characters in a rocket

For some reason, whenever I hear “Spaceport,” I picture this.

Sound familiar? I mean, if you substitute “developer from Calgary” for “handful of men and companies from the US and Ukraine?”

MLS wants to “launch Ukrainian-made Cyclone 4M rockets into space from Canso.” Baxter says Guysborough public servants seem to have been won over to the project after “seeing a 2016 MLS project description, which said there would be 30 full-time employee/contractor positions on site when the project went into operation in 2019, rising to 150 by 2028.”

Why is it always 150 jobs? I feel like at some point some PR firm ran a whole bunch of jobs figures — 3! 14! 86,000! — past a focus group of elected officials and bureaucrats and discovered that 150 is the sweet spot at which they lose all critical perspective.

Baxter went through 1,728 pages of correspondence between MLS and Guysborough (released as the result of a FOIPOP by Canso resident Marie Lumsden of Action Against Canso Spaceport) and another 1,000 pages of spaceport-related communications from the provincial government (released to the Ecology Action Centre under another FOIPOP request) and reports on what she found in detail.


Baxter’s article is just one example of the fine reporting done by the Halifax Examiner — reporting that can be yours for the low, low price of $15 a month. Be the first news junkie on your block with a joint Spectator/Examiner subscription. Don’t delay! Subscribe today!

We now return you to Fast & Curious, which is already in progress…

It’s a good read with all kinds of interesting twists — like, how MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier got meetings with the premier to promote his project without registering as a lobbyist, and how Janet MacMillan of National Public Relations can’t tell her left-wing from her right-wing (identifying the Halifax Examiner as both), and how MODG’s CAO took a CBC reporter to task for daring to quote a — gasp — political scientist!

Good stuff.


How Rude

Some people, when they don’t like the coverage they’ve been given by a media outlet, email the reporter to complain (see: the previous item). Others buy the publication and forbid columnists from writing about them (see: Sheldon Adelson and the Las Vegas Review-Journal). And some sue the publication into oblivion (see: Peter Thiel, the American tech billionaire who settled a grudge against Gawker Media by backing Hulk Hogan’s libel suit against it and successfully driving it out of business).

I was thinking about the Thiel Effect this week after reading about a couple of similar cases — this one, which has seen the aid organization Planet Aid drag Reveal, a publication of The Center for Investigative Journalism, through the courts for three years for asking questions about whether funds from the US and other governments were actually reaching the people they were intended to help:

The legal cost of defending against this suit already has exceeded $7 million, which we would not have been able to sustain without the excellent pro bono representation of Covington & Burling LLP and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. Our newsroom owes its continued existence to their work, and specifically to Thomas Burke at Davis Wright Tremaine, Ethan Forrest at Covington & Burling and our own general counsel, D. Victoria Baranetsky.

And this one: a Washington Post story I’d read earlier this month about a small town Iowa newspaper that reported on a local police officer who was “having inappropriate relationships with teenage girls.” The cop quit just before the stories ran, then filed a libel lawsuit which “the newspaper handily won.” But the resulting legal bill — $140,000 — has put the paper’s future in jeopardy.

Ambrose Bierce, Dorothy Parker, H.L. Mencken.

Ambrose Bierce, Dorothy Parker, H.L. Mencken.

But just as I was reflecting on the threat posed to independent media by deep-pocketed litigants (a real threat, no question), I read this Alex Pareene essay in The New Republic in which he puts his finger squarely on what may be an even worse threat — those who want to civilize media out of existence.

Pareene is writing about the demise of the sports site Deadspin a Gawker Media remnant whose writers all quit last week when they were told by their new owner to stick to sports. But he puts it in the context of the death of what he calls “rude media,” which he defines as far more than simply publications that swear (although many are publications that swear):

Rudeness is not merely a tone. It is an attitude. The defining quality of rude media is skepticism about power, and a refusal to respect the niceties that power depends on to disguise itself and maintain its dominance.

Pareene goes out of his way to remind everyone that this kind of rudeness pre-dates the internet:

The Village Voice in its heyday was rude as hell. Rolling Stone was often rude, except to Jann Wenner’s friends. Mad was so rude that it only survived comic book censors by becoming a magazine. Some of America’s greatest journalists and critics, from Ambrose Bierce to H.L. Mencken to Dorothy Parker, were decidedly rude.

He also makes a very helpful distinction — which I had understood, viscerally, but couldn’t put into words  — between “rude” media and “anti-PC” media, it’s all down to whether you punch up or down.

But if there’s one paragraph from the piece I’m tempted to print out and hang above my desk, it’s this one:

If your local media has no place for people who voice contempt for your city’s police chief, say, or your state’s attorney general, or the publisher of your city’s largest newspaper, all of those people will feel more comfortable in abusing their power. They will grind you down, and in the process, they’ll tell you to be civil about it.

What he said.


‘Colossal threat’

One of the advantages of editing the Cape Breton Spectator is that I get to read Sean Howard’s monthly War & Peace columns, as a result of which, I have become much better informed on all disarmament-related issues.

And one of the side effects of this is that I now note events like this one — the BBC’s 4 November 2019 interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, now 88, doesn’t mince his words when asked about the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons

As long as weapons of mass destruction exist, primarily nuclear weapons, the danger is colossal.


I also noted this great tongue-in-cheek Counterpunch piece congratulating the mainstream media for successfully ignoring the case of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. The author, Susie Day, writes:

It would have been highly unprofessional if even one of you had paid any serious attention to the hackneyed, been-there story of seven geriatric Catholic Worker activists who chose April 4, 2018 – the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination – to cut through a fence and enter the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, where they threw bottles of their own blood onto military plaques, hammered statues of nuclear missiles, and spray-painted twee little messages like “Love One Another” on sidewalks…

Of course, Mainstream News Media, your decision not to pay any mind to this Plowshares thing goes far beyond your disinterest in these seven nerdly peace-mongers. Although you may still be confused about how to cover “climate change,” you at least have come to the realization that the prospect of nuclear annihilation – a prospect that has only increased since the first atom bombs were dropped in 1945 – has simply become OLD NEWS. Unprofessional. Too boring for words.

The Spectator actually hopes to publish a firsthand account of the trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 in an upcoming issue.


Expense reports

Mayor Cecil Clarke posts expense reports quarterly. They’re not very detailed expense reports — they will tell you, for instance, that he was in Montreal for “port meetings” on a certain date (sometimes he doesn’t even tell you where he went for his “port meeting”):

Source: Mayor's expenses

Source: Mayor’s expenses

In 2019, though, the mayor has only posted expense reports to end-March, that is, the first quarter, even though we’re are now well into the fourth quarter of the year. I wrote his spokesperson, Sheilah MacDonald, to ask when I could expect to see the Q2 and Q3 reports and she replied:

Our internal process in the Mayor’s Office was to post Mayor Clarke’s travel expenses within 30 days of the previous quarter.

With the switch to the new Open Data por[t]al, the IT department was following a guideline which would have them post the expenses within 3 months of the previous quarter. As we are in a transition period with the new system, we were not aware of that difference in reporting.

The Mayor’s Office has asked that the department make the Mayor’s expenses public within 30 days of the quarter end, as was our practice.

Long story short, we expect April – June to be public via the portal soon but I don’t have a date for you at this time.

MacDonald is referring to the new Municipal Government Act (MGA) Code of Conduct and Expense Reporting Requirements which came into force as of 15 January 2019 and under which the CBRM must publish expense and hospitality reports for all “reportable” individuals within, as she notes, 90 days of the end of the fiscal quarter. I checked the Open Data portal and found reports for Q1:

NameFrom DateTo DateTravel ExpenseAccommodation ExpenseMeal ExpenseTraining
Amanda McDougall01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM243.8156.0100
Amanda McDougall02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM174.8165.1200
Cecil Clarke01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM1339.28481.56524.121004.88
Cecil Clarke02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM3604.5332.21661.130
Cecil Clarke03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM3284.67901.3505.10
Clarence Prince01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
Clarence Prince02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM520000
Clarence Prince03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM600000
Darren Bruckschwaiger01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM600000
Darren Bruckschwaiger02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM540000
Darren Bruckschwaiger03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM580000
Earlene MacMullin01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM1103.78000
Earlene MacMullin02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM118.68000
Earlene MacMullin03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM59.34000
Eldon MacDonald01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM1624.88000
Eldon MacDonald02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM560000
Eldon MacDonald03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM675000
Esmond Marshall01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
Esmond Marshall02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM560000
Esmond Marshall03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
George MacDonald01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM1604.88000
George MacDonald02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM520000
George MacDonald03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
Ivan Doncaster01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM3560.15141.74410.50
Ivan Doncaster02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM560048.150
Ivan Doncaster03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM752.25000
Jim MacLeod01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
Jim MacLeod02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM560000
Jim MacLeod03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM620000
Mark Bettens01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM2297.12574.93389.350
Mark Bettens02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM1450.56402.29381.550
Mark Bettens03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM2480.58402.88449.150
Bill Murphy01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM242.42000
Bill Murphy02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM157.32000
Bill Murphy03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM101.2000
Deborah Campbell Ryan01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM0067.60
Deborah Campbell Ryan02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM895.69316.72273.150
Deborah Campbell Ryan03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM524.930103.850
Gordie MacDougall01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM381.80103.850
Gordie MacDougall02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM0312.02188.50
Gordie MacDougall03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM00141.370
Jennifer Campbell03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM366.560125.450
John MacKinnon01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM1117.8780.05384.850
John MacKinnon02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM372.6312.02188.50
John MacKinnon03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM694.6067.350
Malcolm Gillis01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM149.04000
Malcolm Gillis02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM46.92000
Malcolm Gillis03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM80.04000
Marie Walsh01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM608.58624.04406.20
Marie Walsh02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM405.72312.02188.50
Wayne H MacDonald01/01/2019 12:00:00 AM01/31/2019 12:00:00 AM594.4489.15302.80
Wayne H MacDonald02/01/2019 12:00:00 AM02/28/2019 12:00:00 AM548.78191.11190.90
Wayne H MacDonald03/01/2019 12:00:00 AM03/31/2019 12:00:00 AM589.26185.26171.450

As you can see, they provide even less detail than the mayor’s quarterly reports and I had already FOIPOPed these expenses for Mayor Cecil Clarke, his executive assistant Mark Bettens and also for John Phalen, whose expenses were not posted to the data portal. (He may no longer be considered a “reportable” individual.)

But it is interesting to note that the mayor’s executive assistant had total Q1 expenses of $8,828.41 — higher than any member of council except the mayor ($13,978.02) and much higher than Councilors Eldon MacDonald ($1,281.80) and Darren Bruckschweiger ($1,720).

(You’ll also note not all councilors have posted expenses, I am assuming this is down to leaves of absence in most cases.)

You will also note that Mayor Clarke billed the CBRM $1,004.80 for “training” in January 2019. I asked his spokesperson (respectfully) what type of training he’d undergone.

As of press time, I had yet to receive a response.