Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why would Facebook want to kill NO BC HST - province's largest Facebook protest group - and anger members?

Mark Zuckerberg f8 Keynote
Facebook creator & CEO Mark Zuckerberg - is resistance futile?                         - Brian Solis photo

Facebook Aims to "Archive" One of Its Largest BC Groups

NO BC HST has 125,000 Facebook members, but not for long it seems

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours newspaper/The Tyee online column

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

By Bill Tieleman 
"The thing that we are trying to do at Facebook, is just help people connect and communicate more efficiently." 
- Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder
Why would Facebook want to kill B.C's largest Facebook protest group, with over 125,000 members, and one of the province's biggest Facebook groups overall?

Search me, it makes no sense. I created the group -- NO BC HST -- back in July 2009.

But today's column isn't about the Harmonized Sales Tax, it's about Facebook’s bloody-minded disregard for its users that's forcing many to bail out of the giant social network.

What Facebook is doing it calls "archiving" some groups but "upgrading" others to a new format.

Problem is, only Facebook gets to decide if you are eligible to upgrade and if you are archived, your group loses all its members. And Facebook is killing groups with as many as a million members.

In the United States, a Facebook group called "Barack Obama (One Million Strong For Barack)" has 989,421 members but is being archived.

As a result the group creators set up a Facebook "page" to replace it -- and currently just 1,784 people "like" it.

Changes like these may explain why in Canada in May alone Facebook lost 1.52 million users -- that's eight per cent of the still amazing 16.6 million Canadians who use the service.

Facebook also lost six million users in the United States, dropping from 155.2 million to 149.4 million.

And that was before this month's radical new design changes to Facebook that has generated outragefrom many users.

That Zucks!

So why does Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg keep getting in people's faces?

And will Facebook eventually turn into the online version of an 8-track tape? Already Twitter has become a powerful alternative and Google has just launched Google+, a new service directly aimed at disgruntled Facebook users.

Zuckerberg is a genius, no question, and worth $17.5 billion at just age 27.

Facebook claims to have signed up 800 million users worldwide since it launched in 2004 and has an estimated market value of a cool $50 billion.

But that doesn't mean Zuckerberg can't make huge mistakes. Just ask Enron or WorldCom, if you can find them.

Message from HQ

Back here in B.C., I have politely tried to convince Facebook not to "archive" NO BC HST since I found out about its plans in May.

At the top of NO BC HST was ominous news.

Clicking "Learn More" I found this friendly message:

"Things that will NOT be available in the archived version include:
• Recent news
• Group officer titles
• The info box under the old group picture
• The group network
• The members of your old group."

Oh, is that all -- just lose all your members. The message continued:

"If your old group has enough recent activity to make it a good candidate for a new group, you will see a message at the top of the group with the option to upgrade."

But no upgrade option was offered.

So Facebook was told that NO BC HST -- which I created to oppose then premier Gordon Campbell's plan to impose the HST -- went viral in B.C., growing at a phenomenal rate of more than 6,000 members a day to peak at over 136,000.

(That interest was further confirmed when I helped found Fight HST with former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, ex-Unity Party leader Chris Delaney and others to eventually launch the successful citizens initiative petition signed by 705,000 British Columbians.)

The current 125,000 members compares very favourably to other B.C.-based Facebook groups.

What appears to be B.C.'s biggest group -- though members could be anywhere in the world -- is the Vancouver Canucks Facebook page with 618,521 fans.

A page called "Beautiful British Columbia" but not connected to the magazine has 160,377, while the BC Lions official Facebook page has 37,158 supporters. Premier Christy Clark has a Facebook page too, with 3,942 fans.

Facebook was also made aware that NO BC HST is a very active group, with thousands of posts from members in the lead-up to the referendum vote and beyond.

(They may have already known that after NO BC HST disappeared completely for three days in Jan. 2010 and became a news story. Facebook then declined to talk to me but eventually told media here that it was merely a "technical" issue.)

But it was all to no avail. Facebook wasn't listening or helping "people connect and communicate more efficiently."

Facebook's official response was -- too bad.

Face the Wall

"We are currently migrating various Facebook Groups into a new format that makes it easier to communicate with smaller sets of people. During this process, some groups will be given the opportunity to upgrade into the new design while others will need to re-create their groups," said a June 1 email from Kelly Ornelas, a Toronto communications consultant working for Facebook.

"We determined what groups to archive based on a number of factors, including the amount of recent activity. We encourage people who are trying to engage with large numbers of people to create Pages," Ornelas wrote.

But there was some good news, at least from Facebook's twisted perspective.

"However, the HST referendum vote is scheduled for June 24, which is before the Group is scheduled to be archived," Ornelas concluded, referring to the original balloting end date that was later extended.

Well, thanks for that. I had explained that Facebook killing NO BC HST during the vote would be a really big story and appear to be an intervention on one side of the referendum.

In a telephone call June 15, Ornelas suggested that I could: "Post a message on your Wall telling members you're starting a new group."

Sure, that will work well. See what happened to Obama's group!

Or perhaps I could ask Zuckerberg to next invent a time machine so I can go back to July 2009 and set up a non-Facebook page that won't be subject to his whims.

And to pour salt in the wounds, the pro-HST group YES BC HST with all 408 members, including several BC Liberal MLAs -- isn't being archived. They got picked for the upgrade.

You will be assimilated, er, archived

But at least I'm not alone in being totally frustrated that Facebook, which is a great social network despite itself, is intentionally alienating group creators and members for no obvious benefit.

One huge Facebook group is sending Zuckerberg that message. Called "We Hate The New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!!", it was set up in 2008 when the first annoying set of tweaks was introduced and now has 1,541,806 members.

I would suggest that you join up but guess what? It's also being "archived" and those members will disappear shortly.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Premier Christy Clark shrinks The World Accorded to Bloy - Harry Bloy out as Social Development Minister

"And he's back to selling Christy for leader yellow T-shirts"
Premier Christy Clark has taken The World Accorded to Bloy and shrunk it considerably.

Harry Bloy's reign as the hapless Minister of Social Development is mercifully over after Clark did the obvious - demoted Bloy after a series of errors and failure to learn on the job.

It went on longer than it should have because, after all, membership has its privileges and Harry Bloy was the only BC Liberal MLA to be in the "I Support Christy Clark for Leader" club during the party leadership battle.

And he stays on as Minister of State for Multiculturalism, a junior job that still leaves Bloy room for creating and international incident or two.

It's a reminder that politics is a tough game and even the premier's patronage has its limits.

Bloy is replaced by Stephanie Cadieux, who is replaced as Labour Minister by Margaret MacDiarmid - the BC Teachers Federation will be thrilled at that appointment!  MacDiarmid as Education Minister was at loggerheads repeatedly with the BCTF, as well as the Vancouver Board of Education.

A BCTF news release in January 2010 gives the flavour of that relationship:

“As news comes in from around the province about potential teacher layoffs, school closures, and dramatic budget shortfalls, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid is in denial about her government’s role in these devastating cuts, BCTF President Irene Lanzinger said today.

'From the Lower Mainland and the Island to the North and Interior, school districts are speaking out about devastating cuts they will have to make because of government cutbacks and underfunding,' said Lanzinger. 'Instead of taking the warnings seriously, the minister has been busy denying the problem, making up excuses, and blaming school districts.'
Now Lanzinger is the BC Federation of Labour Secretary-Treasurer.  Should be a swell meeting next time - say, during a BCTF job action?
Some parliamentary secretaries were switched around as well but there was really only one move - Bloy out the door.

Clark seemed a little testy in speaking to reporters today about the, err, non-demotion.

“It’s a refocusing of Harry Bloy’s responsibilities,”  Clark said. “You’ll interpret it how you like.”

It's no longer a Bloy's World.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Memorial Facebook page set up for Zoe Miller - a life far too short, a loss far too painful

Zoe Miller 1989-2011
A memorial Facebook page has now been set up to celebrate the life of Zoe Miller, daughter of my close friend Kris Klaasen - who many of you know as a friend or as owner of Working Design.

This is a devastating time for Kris, Zoe's mom Joni Miller and sister Maia Klaasen, and all their many family and friends, as all of us can only imagine.  

UPDATE - The memorial will be held on Sunday October 2 at 2 p.m. at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre, 1611 East Hastings Street in Vancouver.

Your support is greatly appreciated by all.

My wife Shirley, daughter Erin and I are all stunned and saddened - we have known Zoe almost her entire life.

Our deepest condolences to family and other friends - you are in our thoughts at this difficult time and anything we can do to help, we will.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Attack Ads – how BC Liberals, Non-Partisan Association negative ads blew up like Wile E. Coyote

BC Liberal attack ad website targeting BC Conservative leader John Cummins
Wile E. Coyote - BC Liberal & NPA chief strategist at work

Why BC Liberals, NPA efforts blow up in their faces – but negative advertising can work

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

“Bad advertising can unsell a product.”
- David Ogilvy, advertising guru

Call it A Tale of Two Attack Ads – the story of two separate political parties both shooting themselves in the foot rather that their intended targets.

As a political strategist, I love negative advertising, even though voters say they hate it. 

When done right, it can change the course of elections, demolish opponents and actually inform.

But when done wrong – as two current examples amply demonstrate – it is like giving yourself an exploding cigar and lighting it up in front of a huge crowd.  Ka-pow!

The B.C. Liberals and Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association both have more black powder all over their faces than Wile E. Coyote failing to blow up that pesky Roadrunner in the cartoons.

The B.C. Liberals launched a pair of nasty radio ads and a website targeting B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins as an “unprincipled” politician that “you just can’t trust”.

The NPA have a radio ad attacking Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver councillors for supporting “backyard chickens” and “front yard wheat fields” and lacking the NPA’s “common sense”.

Political commentators are nearly unanimous in saying both parties’ ads are enormous mistakes.

Vancouver Island University political science professor Allan Warnke – himself a former B.C. Liberal MLA – told Victoria’s CFAX radio host Sean Holman  on Sunday that the Cummins’ ads are: “One of the dumbest things I’ve seen in a long time.”

And former federal Liberal Party activist Bob Russell added: “I’m almost speechless at how stupid this is – it’s the worst act of political judgement I’ve seen.”

When to go negative

 But as important as pundits are, the real test is simple – do they work?

The answer in both cases is no, because the attack ads fail a basic checklist about when to go negative.

Seattle Democrat political consultant Cathy Allen developed a handy test to help any party or candidate determine if attack ads are warranted.

Allen says negative campaigning could be – but not necessarily is – the “proper course' during political contests in the following situations:

    When you are taking on an incumbent;
    When you are being significantly outspent;
    When there is irrefutable information that your opponent has done something wrong;
    When your candidate has little name recognition.

There are other obvious circumstances – such as when the other side goes negative first and a response is needed – but this is a good summation.

Unclear on the concept

Unfortunately for B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark, her party’s ads fail on all four counts. And the NPA ad doesn’t do much better.

First, John Cummins is not an incumbent, not even close.  Cummins recently became leader of the B.C. Conservatives after a long career as a federal Conservative Member of Parliament but he has no seat in the B.C. Legislature, let alone being the incumbent in government.

The incumbents would be the people running the attack ads.

Second, the B.C. Liberal Party is not being outspent in the least – they have an enormous financial advantage over both Cummins and the New Democratic Party led by Adrian Dix.

In the 2009 provincial election the B.C. Liberals ran a full slate of 85 candidates and spent $12 million.  Last year they raised $9.5 million.

In that same election, before Cummins was leader, the B.C. Conservatives ran 24 candidates and spent $18,000.  Last year they had donations of $61,000.

So in the 2009 election they were outspent by the B.C. Liberals by a ratio of 667 to 1 and last year were out fundraised by a ratio of 156 to 1. 

Strike two against using attack ads because your opponent is outspending you.

Third, what has Cummins done that is “irrefutable” and “wrong”?  Well, he did something that 42 per cent of other British Columbians did in the 2009 election – he voted for the NDP candidate!  Sinful! Wicked!  Unforgiveable!

Cummins is also – shudder – actually collecting his pension as a federal MP after serving in Parliament for 18 years.

More infamy!  Who does he think he is – ex-B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell, now serving as the highly-paid High Commissioner to London? 

And he opposed Clark’s increase in the minimum wage!  What is he – some kind of conservative? 

Oh, but he’s an “unprincipled” politician who says one thing and does another – unlike say, Christy Clark’s flip-flops on the fixed election date, the Harmonized Sales Tax, Senate seats for B.C., the gas tax and more.

Or the B.C. Liberals, who promised not to introduce the HST or sell B.C. Rail or rip up hospital workers’ contracts and then did it post-election, for example.

While some voters may not like that Cummins voted for NDP MLA Guy Gentner in North Delta, others will say that shows a politician who isn’t rigidly ideological and will vote for the best candidate regardless of party.

Or that the B.C. Liberals were so bad under Campbell that even a Conservative MP couldn’t stomach voting for them.

Free publicity for Cummins

Fourth, does Christy Clark lack “name recognition”?  Err, no.  A final strike against the attack ads.

In fact, it’s Cummins who may be a stranger to many – but he soon will be well known, thanks to B.C. Liberal ads.

What’s worse, the ads give Cummins serious street credibility with voters.  After all, the B.C. Liberals aren’t running ads criticizing their main opponent, NDP leader Adrian Dix. 

No, the B.C. Liberals clearly see Cummins as a huge threat to their political existence.

And that may be correct.  A split in the right wing vote alleged allowed the NDP to win elections in 1972, 1991 and 1996.

But it’s also true that B.C. voters on the centre-right weren’t happy with the choices of an aging W.A.C. Bennett versus a populist Dave Barrett in 1972, a disintegrating Social Credit led by Rita Johnston in 1991 [ironically Johnston is now a B.C. Conservative advisor] or an underwhelming and slightly scary Gordon Campbell in 1996 versus an energetic Glen Clark.

Perhaps more problematic is that most British Columbians are finding out about Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives from the B.C. Liberal ads – but they don’t necessarily trust the source on what they hear.

That will backfire with many, who will remember the name and try to find out about Cummins, just not from the B.C. Liberals.

Vancouver's NPA plays chicken

The Vancouver Non-Partisan Association ad can be put to the same four-point test.

First, it is true that they are taking on an incumbent, although NPA mayoralty challenger Suzanne Anton is also an incumbent long-time councillor.  We’ll charitably give a modest passing grade.

Second, is the NPA being “significantly outspent” in the upcoming November election?  No.  At this point, the NPA ads are the only ones being run. 

Vision spent $1.9 million in the 2008 election while the NPA spent $1 million.   Not quite the ratio of B.C. Liberal spending compared to B.C. Conservatives.

Third, what has Robertson done that is irrefutable and wrong?  Egads – he’s promoting urban farming! 

Imagine growing edible wheat instead of neatly manicured green grass on your lawn!  Think of having chickens in a coop in your back yard!  Just like you can in New York, Chicago, Seattle and other major centres.  Cluck, cluck.

Unfortunately for Anton’s attack dogs, their own former 2008 mayoralty candidate Peter Ladner agrees with Vision,  not the NPA, on this one.

"Politicians and candidates be warned: Ridiculing urban farming is a no-win strategy," wrote Ladner in his Business In Vancouver newspaper column last week, just a day after the NPA negative ads hit radio airwaves. "Food security is marching up the priority list in cities around the world, and Vancouver should be leading, not resisting, this movement.”

Ladner wouldn’t say his column was a counterattack on the NPA negative ads – he didn’t need to.

The NPA fails the test badly when even your own side says what you claim is dead wrong is actually absolutely right.

Fourth, does Suzanne Anton lack “name recognition” as a reason to go negative?  No.

As the only opposition councillor at city hall, Anton has received the lion’s share of publicity compared to anyone but Robertson.  She has been an NPA councillor since 2005 and a park board commissioner before that.

That means the NPA fails on at least three of the four criteria for attack ads.

But even though both the B.C. Liberals and NPA made a huge mistake in hiring Wile E. Coyote as their chief campaign strategist, blowing themselves up instead of the Roadrunner, don’t expect the attack ads to end.

Because can you trust the B.C. Liberals and NPA to do the wrong thing?  Oh, don’t be so negative!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BC Liberals "Chicken Little" act falls flat on claims that killing HST costs causing sky to fall

Sky's Not Falling Just Because the HST Fell

Ex-Premier Gordon Campbell and
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon

Time for the BC Liberal government to stop its Chicken Little squawking

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday September 13, 2011 
By Bill Tieleman
"Oh go and tell the king that the sky is falling in/But it's not." 
- Radiohead, "2 + 2 = 5"

The B.C. government is playing Chicken Little with the Harmonized Sales Tax -- but the sky is not falling, just their credibility.

Where to start when there's so much misinformation?

First, if the HST was "revenue neutral" as the BC Liberals constantly claimed for 22 months, then the $1.6 billion one-time grant from the federal Conservative government would be the only major debt incurred.

Of course, we now know that the HST is not revenue neutral -- that was proven a complete falsehood by its own government-appointed "independent panel" when they discovered that B.C. would gain $820 million more a year in taxes from the HST.

To get up to Premier Christy Clark's claimed financial deficit of $2.8 billion you have to include the lost extra revenue that came from gouging taxpayers with the HST. Oops.

Remember, Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't give the $1.6 billion because he loves B.C. -- it was a massive bribe that would have paid off in spades with increased federal revenues forevermore.

Federal governments don't just give away money to provinces for free -- there's always a price.

Tall, tall tales

This isn't a Jack and the Beanstalk deal either. The HST is an enormous tax shift taking $2 billion a year paid primarily by big business and putting it onto ordinary taxpayers.

That's why we're now paying an extra seven per cent more on restaurant food, haircuts, gym membership, domestic airline tickets, etc. Fortunately the deal just got cancelled after Fight HST, the group I helped form, forced a referendum vote through a citizens initiative petition.

Who would give up $2 billion a year forever to get $1.6 billion once? Other than the BC Liberals and big business, which financed a multi-million dollar ad campaign to try and rescue the HST, that is.

We gave governments a cash cow for a few beans that weren't magic.

And remember the old slogan -- "there's only one taxpayer." The federal money came partly from your own pocket.

Second, while $1.6 billion is a large sum, B.C.'s annual budget is $42 billion this year. That means over a five-year budget cycle, the federal HST grant amounts to under one per cent of total expenditures.

And, as the BC Liberals love to boast, the province's capital spending since they took office in 2001 has gone up by $45 billion -- that's $4.5 billion every single year, on average.

If Finance Minister Kevin Falcon can't find $1.6 billion without slashing public services he just doesn't want to. Of course, cutting capital spending would hurt the BC Liberal Party's big financial construction industry donors, like the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

Pecking away at $1.6 billion

Third, the repayment of the $1.6 billion should be offset by 40 per cent to account for the two years the HST will have been in place before its extinguished -- that's $640 million off the tab, please.

Fourth, while the BC Liberals have petulantly put the entire $1.6 billion grant back into the debt column for this year's budget, the reality is that they will try to negotiate flexible, longer-term repayments. And Harper doesn't want to be reminded come next federal election of how he stuck it to B.C. after a democratic referendum rejected the HST.

Fifth, threats to cut public services and freeze government workers wages to punish voters for ditching the HST are among the more laughable attempts at intimidation B.C. has yet seen.

Start with B.C.'s spending on health care -- the second lowest per capita in Canada at $5,355, ahead of only Quebec, below the national average of $5,614 and far behind Alberta's $6,266 and Manitoba's $6,249. Is Falcon's threat to make B.C. the lowest spending province on health care? That would go over big.

It's also not like B.C. was planning on giving wage increases to teachers, doctors, nurses, health care or government workers anyway.

And with B.C. unemployment continuing to rise under the HST -- figures from Statistics Canada show the province lost 12,500 full time jobs in August while gaining just 6,500 part time jobs, for a net 6,000 jobs lost -- it means financial pressure on the government was inevitable.

Kind of hard not to blame the HST but it was supposed to -- according to the Jack Mintz report -- create 113,000 new jobs over 10 years, or then just 24,400 according to the "independent panel" study.

What about those promises, Premier?

Most importantly, Clark and Falcon had desperately promised in the HST referendum to cut the tax to 10 per cent by 2014 -- a move that would have cost the government billions in lost revenue. Where was that money going to come from, growing the magic beans?

In fact, they continue to make outlandishly wrong-headed claims still, including a gross exaggeration of B.C.'s financial picture today.

As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives rightly points out, last week government's scare tactic, estimating the cost to extinguish the HST and return to the GST and PST of $2.3 billion and a loss of $2.8 billion over three years, is ridiculous. The actual cost is $1.5 billion, while B.C.'s own contingency and forecast allowances for budget variations total $2.5 billion during that same time period.

Problem, meet solution.

What really went down

The reality of what happened with the HST is simple.

An absolutely panicked then-premier Gordon Campbell signed a deal with the federal devil in 2009 to help offset a deficit of $2.8 billion -- six times larger than the $495 million he swore it wasthrough the entire election.
Campbell and ex-finance minister Colin Hansen went "blood simple" -- the term used by detectives when even in the most meticulously planned murder, the killer makes mistakes and leaves clues when they actually see the victim's blood all over the floor.

Given that Campbell's BC Liberals had destroyed the then-NDP government over a deficit of only $350 million rather than a claimed $87 million surplus before the 1996 election, he knew the consequences of the books being out by $2.3 billion would be politically fatal.

What they couldn't see in their haste was that the HST was a non-starter in B.C. Every government to date that has introduced an HST -- federal and provincial -- has been defeated in the next election when angry voters could seek vengeance. Polls and protests showed how unpopular the HST was, but the government wouldn't admit it.

Campbell and Hansen arrogantly thought British Columbians would grumble and put up with yet another tax shift from corporations to individuals, even after 10 years of increasing the burden on families with moves like higher Medical Services Plan premiums.

They also counted on their broken promise to make B.C.'s unique Recall and Initiatives legislation more effective would render opposition futile. 

And they laughed at the idea of a former Social Credit premier -- Bill Vander Zalm -- leading the charge against them, not even bothering to register the BC Liberal Party or big business as opponents to the first-ever successful initiative petition.

Champagne and hellfire

Now the HST has become history.

So if the sky is truly falling because the HST has been voted out, it can come down on the new B.C. Place Roof -- built at the enormous cost of $563 million -- or the equivalent of 40 per cent of the HST grant.

Of course, all the worried business and BC Liberal worthies who are telling voters they were boneheads for rejecting the HST and that public services are doomed to hellfire and brimstone will still be drinking champagne at the grand opening this month and praising Campbell for building the outrageously expensive umbrella.

In British Columbia the sky isn't falling and we aren't doomed. But the HST is.