Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not enough to save Canwest

and it barely moved the stock. But is this a big enough financial kick in the teeth to kill the Chicago Sun-Times, the tabloid No. 2 paper of Chicagoland?

Sun-Times owner ordered to pay $42 million
Recommend (3) Comments

January 29, 2009

BY DAVID ROEDER droeder@suntimes.com

The owner of the Chicago Sun-Times said Thursday it has been ordered to pay about $42 million to settle a five-year old dispute with a Canadian company.

An arbitrator rendered the decision against Sun-Times Media Group Inc. in a case involving its 2000 sale of newspapers to CanWest Global Communications Corp. The award was $51 million in Canadian dollars, or about $42 million in U.S. currency, and does not include interest and costs still to be determined.

Sun-Times said it has escrow accounts that as of Sept. 30, 2008, totaled more than $30 million. The company also said it held about $99 million in cash as of that date, but that amount is now believed to be sharply lower because of continued losses due to a poor market for advertising.

Cyrus Freidheim Jr., chief executive of Sun-Times Media Group, said, ³We are evaluating our options with respect to the arbitration award, including the possibility of an appeal upon the completion of the arbitration, and we are in the process of assessing the likely impact of any final arbitration award on our financial condition.² The arbitration began in late 2003.

CanWest said Sun-Times has a right to appeal the decision to the Ontario Superior Court within 30 days of a final order. CanWest also said it will argue that interest costs should accrue as of Aug. 31, 2000.

The dispute dates from the practices of Conrad Black, who was imprisoned after being convicted of paying himself illegal bonuses when he ran the Sun-Times owner, then called Hollinger International Inc.

Sun-Times Media Group also owns major suburban dailies and weeklies throughout the Chicago area.

Today's little fact

If the national anthem is banned in schools for not being "inclusive" there's something deeply wrong with the country. The French version, with the sword and the cross stuff, is a part of the national heritage. The English version, re-written in by the Trudeau government to include God, could hardly offend anyone.
National anthems tend to have stupid words. "God Save the Queen" from what? And have you ever seen the now-dropped last verse of that anthem, with the nasty stuff about crushing the Scots? The US national anthem is a question that is not answered until the third verse (see below). You have to sing several versus until the writer's query is finally resolved.
But there's not a lot to bind the country together. I go to Montreal most days of the week and look with disgust at buildings flying only the Quebec flag. Outside Montreal, in the rest of Quebec, the Canadian flag is as scarce as the Star Spangled Banner.

UPDATE


Here's the text of the website of the principal who banned the anthem. The guy is a walking ad for private schools. Too bad for the good people of Hampton that this extremist is running their public school and playing with their kids' minds:


Erik Millett was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, raised in Saint John, New Brunswick and now resides in the Town of Hampton in the federal riding of Fundy Royal.

He is a graduate from Carleton University (B.A. Degree in International Human Rights), St. Thomas University (Bachelor’s Degree of Education) and the University of New Brunswick (Master’s Degree in Critical Studies in Education). He currently is employed as a teacher and school administrator for School District 6 at Belleisle Elementary School.

He has lived, studied and worked in the Ottawa area for about 15 years (1986-2000) and knows the national capital well. While in Ottawa, he worked as a community-based economic and social development consultant, a project officer with the United Nations Association in Canada and as a staff member of the national youth programme Katimavik. Also during this time Erik was a lobbyist and social activist on a number of important national and international issues, including: the anti-apartheid movement, the environment, homelessness, human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, the liberation of East Timor, nuclear disarmament, as well as being actively involved in the peace movement. Erik had the privilege of working with the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and current President of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta. He knows that he can utilize these experiences, knowledge and skills to be an effective Member of Parliament for the people of Fundy Royal.

Erik has also lived and worked abroad and these experiences in Indonesia and in the Republic of the Maldives have shaped his worldview to that of a “green internationalist.” No other political party in Canada compares to the Green Party, which exists in over one hundred countries, on every continent and Greens are in positions in government in a number of countries. We need political vision which can transcend traditional nationalistic boundaries; only the Green Party is positioned to offer this type of long term political leadership in a complex and interdependent world.

He has had an interest in the Green Party since 1984 and has been involved with the Ontario Provincial Green Party in the past. He ran as a Green Candidate in the previous two federal elections in the riding of New Brunswick South-West. He recently served two terms on the Green Party of Canada’s National Governing Council with former leader Jim Harris and current leader Elizabeth May, as the New Brunswick Representative. He feels that the policies, principles and values that make up the Green Party’s national platform are ones needed for a forward thinking, innovative, progressive and visionary government for Canadians in the 21st century.

In addition to being a teacher and administrator, he has recently been involved in the Basement Players Theatre Group, is on the provincial board of directors for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, is an Executive Member of the Fundy Royal Green Party Riding Association and recently trained in Montreal with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Al Gore as a presenter and facilitator of “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Erik can be reached at (506) 832-2465 (h) or by e-mail at millett@canoemail.com. If you are interested in finding out more about the Green Party and their policies, are interested in helping out with the campaign, would like to become a member of the Green Party, or make a donation, Erik would like to hear from you.


The Attack on Fort McHenry
(The Star Spangled Banner)

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


God Save the Queen

God Save the Queen (standard version)

God save our gracious Queen,1
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama's Comin'

If he likes Ottawa in February, he'll always like it.
President Obama's visit has been confirmed for Thursday, Feb. 19.
Meanwhile, the President showed today he's no wuss about winter. I agree with him. Every time there's a hint of freezing rain, Ottawa's school board cancels the busses.
But then, don't get me going about Ottawa's bus troubles. The whole city is going nuts over the transit strike, which is now into its eigth week with no end in sight.

The Best in Marketing Genius

No More Free Coffee, Freelancers

Date: January 23, 2009

To: All Canwest Publishing

From: Dennis Skulsky and Doug Lamb

Subject: Cost Control

As you know, our business is facing unprecedented pressure due to both the global economic downturn and challenges to our traditional publishing business. The recent voluntary buyout program and cost saving initiatives we have implemented are proving to not be enough to offset advertising revenue shortfalls. We are faced with significant advertising declines across the board but in particular in our employment, real estate and auto advertising categories. As a result, across our organization, teams are taking a hard look at how to affect the one lever we have absolute control over, our costs.

Following are a few initiatives underway and additional tactics that will contribute to our cost savings objectives:

A freeze on all hiring. All new hire requests – including replacement and backfill positions – must be approved by the appropriate publishing executive management committee member and the SVP People. Expenses for consultants, freelancers and contractors must be approved at the publisher/SVP level.

A freeze on salaries until the end of the fiscal year (September). Any exceptions must be approved by the President of Publishing.

A freeze on meals, catering and entertainment expenses. An immediate freeze on all food at meetings. This includes previously funded or subsidised coffee/snacks/drinks. Only expenses related to external customers and suppliers that are pre approved will be reimbursed. Approval for the expenses must be obtained in advance from a Publisher or SVP level executive.

Evaluation of marketing and promotional spends. All marketing and promotional activities will be reviewed and re-evaluated. Approval for the expenditures must be approved by a Publisher or SVP level executive.

Ceasing engagements with external consultants. Consultants should only be used for those limited instances where a specific expertise which does not reside within our organization is absolutely required.

A freeze on conference/seminar attendance. Attendance at any external conference must be approved by a Publisher or SVP level executive and is expected to be severely curtailed. At this time, all external training expenses are to be halted.

Equipment expense and capital purchases will be delayed unless absolutely necessary.

Limiting the use of mobile devices. All contracts are currently under review to ensure the appropriate service level with the objective of limiting data usage and reducing the number of units by 20-25%.

Reducing energy usage. Many companies, including our Network Ten in Australia have significantly reduced costs by better managing the use of energy and hydro.

Use discretion when printing. Whenever possible avoid printing unnecessary copies by reading on your desktop. Colour printing should be used only when necessary. When printing multiple pages, set printer defaults to double-sided output.

Subscriptions. Cancel those subscriptions which are not essential.

In addition, we are announcing a Voluntary Vacation Leave program. Any employee may make a request for unpaid vacation days between now and August 31st to their manager. Approval is at management’s discretion and based upon impact to the operation. This voluntary program will allow employees to take unpaid days in addition to their allotted paid vacation days for longer holidays or family time. Details of the program will be communicated next week.

We have also decided to suspend a number of our national employee events for this year including the Hockey Tournament, Sun Run, Slo-pitch tournament, Enlightened Leader sessions and Leadership Forum.

These critical measures must be taken to weather the current economic climate we’re doing business in. We appreciate all the efforts that have been taken by everyone during these difficult times.

Corporate and Broadcasting are taking similar measures, and in the coming week, your manager will be following up with you to discuss any further cost-control measures specific to your department.

The above list of measures is by no means exhaustive and we are sure there are many other measures that can be implemented to help reduce operating costs. Please feel free to share any additional ideas or thoughts you may have in this regard by e-mail at reducingcosts@canwest.com. Just think, if every employee could save $1000, the collective savings would amount to 10,000,000!

Our overarching goal is to come out of this with stronger businesses that best position us for the future. Your involvement, support and hard work to maximize our cost savings initiatives are sincerely appreciated.

Dennis Skulsky President and CEO, Canwest Publishing

Doug Lamb Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Canwest Publishing

ht: The Tyee

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quote of the Week

"Excellent black people have always been compensated for excellence.
Always. The real equality is when we can have a black
president as dumb as George Bush. That's when we're really equal. That's
when the dream has come true."

--Chris Rock

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stephen Harper on Coalition Government



AND FROM ONE OF THE CBC'S PAINFULLY UNFUNNY 'SATIRE' SHOWS:




I don't agree with the Youtube headline. It's not a matter of hypocrisy, because hypocrisy involves beliefs. In today's politics, no one believes anything. It's all psychopathy, the grasping for power and the triumph of ambition by whatever means possible.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boy, now that all the excitment's over...

...it's time for Canada's Parliament to come back.
I plan to seriously beef up Hill coverage here, especially after the end of the university school year. That means some live-blogged stuff, many of the always-popular scrum transcripts, and much more analysis of what's really going on.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Maher Arar and Khadr

This is an interesting piece of testimony in Omar Khadr's trial at Guantanamo Bay. A lot is left unanswered. The most important question, of course, is whether Khadr's ID of Arar was really done without prompting. And if this intelligence is solid, did the Canadian government know about it when it gave Arar over $10.5 million in compensation? If the US did not share this information, why did they hold back? Don't they trust Canada's security agencies?
Hopefully, counsel in Khadr's trial will return to this evidence.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration's decision to ignore American rules of interrogation and due process put such a taint on all of this that we'll never have a definitive outcome.
Judging by Khadr's classification as a compliant prisoner, it looks like the kid might actually be salvagable. In my view, this was always a case of abuse, not by the Americans but by Khadr's terrorist father, his jihadist mother and his bloodthirsty sisters.

In this National Post story, it turns out the FBI or CIA showed Khadr material on Arar from American intelligence agency files. That makes the case much more interesting. Now it doesn't matter whether Khadr was tortured or if he was prompted to ID Arar. Keep this in mind: Canada settled with Arar because our government believed it was Canada's bad intelligence that got Arar arrested and shipped off. Now it turns out the US had been tailing Arar since the time he lived near Boston, and may have had their own reasons for committing what is still a despicable act, shipping him to Syria.
That means most of his beef is with the US, but Canadians have paid the price.
And, in the end, some of the Americans' reasons for doing what they did may have come from Omar Khadr.
Small world.

UPDATE

It's becoming pretty obvious Khadr's interogation was botched and the Arar information was bogus. The Americans claim Arar told the Syrians Arar was in Afghanistan in 1993, when Khadr was six years old. The prosecutors at Guantanamo say Arar was in Afghanistan around time of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a time when Arar has a solid alibi in California and Canada.

Leaving aside the obvious problems with Khadr's statements -- none of which would get anywhere in a real court -- the central issue remains: the Americans were very active on Arar's case on their own, and the claim that Canada was the main source of intelligence data for Arar's arrest in New York and "rendition" to Syria now seems very weak. And that was the basis for Canada paying Arar a very large settlement.

That's "Dr. Asshole" to you

I passed my PhD oral defence today, the last hurdle in the doctoral process. I find it a very humbling experience even though the session went very well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

You Read it Here First

Globe and Mail columnist describes Canwest as "in its death throes", while an analyst he quotes says Bay Street expects (among other things) restructurings, asset sales, and lobbying for regulatory relief. The only regulatory relief that can help this company dodge bankruptcy is to drop foreign ownership rules related to media companies. Harper's dropped some big hints that he's willing to think about it, and the Aspers -- and their media -- have firmly latched themselves to Harper's star.

Turning straw into gold

There aren't enough heroes in the world.
But when US Airways faced the ignominy of having one of its planes end up in the Hudson River yesterday, it also had the great good fortune of having Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger at the controls.
In a media-drenched city that's gun shy about any kind of airliner weirdness after 9-11 and the Brooklyn crash in 2002, I expect Mr. Sullenberger's life is about to take a remarkable turn for the more interesting.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Canwest on the canvas

The Globe and Mail quotes an expert who analyzes Canwest debt. He came to a conclusion everyone already knows: Canwest has been bleeding Canadian newspapers -- the dominant papers in almost every market in Canada -- to keep the bankers at bay.
The result: a downward spiral in Canadian journalism as bureaus are closed, local reporting weakens, and canned national filler takes up more space in what were once the country's leading papers. Readers aren't stupid. They gave up on newspapers that tried to charge more for less.
There are other problems, including the chain's inability to find and keep talent, especially at the managerial level. The result is newsrooms run by timid sycophants. Talented and experienced journalists had been leaving for years, mainly to the Globe and the Toronto Star, and, more recently, to Maclean's. Then the layoffs and buy-outs started.
Canwest papers' opinion pages are dismal. Their news analysis, other than material purchased cheaply from US sources like Salon and Slate, is a joke. Most of the feature articles are stale, predictable, pretentious, timid and boring.
Here in Ottawa, most city news is written by interns, bright recent college grads who work on a one-year contract before being replaced. Canwest has lost most of its good Hill reporters and the rest live in fear that the National Post will be killed, resulting in even more cuts.
Canwest, in another cost-cutting that backfired, pulled out of the Canadian Press news co-op and now finds itself regularly being beaten by CP staff and by non-Canwest reporters whose copy moves on the CP wires.
All in all, this is the great reckoning. Just over two years ago, I wrote on this blog that Canwest was one recession away from a break-up.
Well, it's here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Canwest death watch

Today, Canwest posted profit numbers that were about 25% below analysts' expectations. It's interesting that in the press release and subsequent coverage, there's almost nothing said -- bad or good -- about Canwest's newspaper holdings. Leonard Asper is quoted in several of the linked pieces explaining that he believes the company's potential for growth lies in specialty cable channels and web sites. More ominously, the company warned that it is having serious troubles with its debt. Reuters goes into that in much more detail than the Canadian media, and reports Canwest might sell assets and make other moves to stop the bleeding.
So far, Canwest's answer to its newspaper management problems has been to nickel and dime its journalists with buy-outs and layoffs and to send self-syndicated pap from its Ottawa newsroom to what were once great metropolitan newspapers. Canwest blames the economy, not its own management and quality problems, for its troubles.
The stock went from a low of 34 cents in early December to about 90 cents at Christmas before settling around the 80 cent mark lately. There have been some high-volume (for Canwest) trading days lately, and it will be interesting to see if the trades were made by Prem Wata, who now owns about 20% of the stock. I suspect they were trades made by the people who were smart enough to short this stock. Last summer, Canwest was one of the most heavily shorted stocks on the TSE, which meant the investment community was betting against it.
There's a conference call today between Canwest and some business reporters. It should be interesting to see what comes out of it and how the stock moves today. As of 9:50 a.m., there hadn't been any reported trades.


UPDATE

In the first 40 minutes of trading, Canwest went from 80 cents to 52 cents, a 35% drop. As of about 3 p.m., volume was about one million shares traded. In the recent run-up from 34 cents to 90 cents, volume was usually only about 50,000 shares a day.

Like I said below, last week was a good time to sell.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The New Reform?

One blogger does not a political movement make, but watch as Harper's move to the centre leaves more and more neo-cons, right-wing Prairie populists, Western separatists, penticostal Christians, believers in a closed-door immigration policy, libertarians and opponents of the idea of Human Rights Commission jurisdiction over publications -- and these are not all necessarily inclusive or exclusive of each other -- feeling left out. And they may well react the way they did in the 1980s: by threatening to split the Conservative vote.
Stephen Harper's Tory party is a big and very shaky tent, just like Mulroney's '84 coalition. He's the only person holding it together. That's why you can pretty much forget the typings of columnists who mull the idea of him leaving in the near-future.

Not exactly "Little Big Horn"

From today's AP story on fighting in the suburbs of Gaza City the barebones story of a battle plan gone awry:

Hamas and the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad said they ambushed the Israelis, leading to some of the heaviest fighting since Israel sent ground forces into the coastal territory on Jan. 3.

Gunfire subsided in the early afternoon, with the Israelis in control of buildings on the neighbourhood's outskirts. Israeli tanks later withdrew from the area.

Palestinian medical officials said at least 20 Palestinians were killed in fighting by midday. There were no reports of Israeli casualties.


Meanwhile, deep in the story lies the seed of a ceasefire and maybe lasting peace, though both sides smell some sort of victory and won't -- for the moment -- seize the opportunity:

Hamas is demanding that Israel open Gaza's blockaded border crossings. Israel is unlikely to agree to that condition unless international monitors ensure the border is not used to bring weapons into the territory.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hitler reacts to news of the Ottawa bus strike

The "Steiner isn't coming" re-write has been done before, but, for us in Ottawa, this version is utterly side-splitting:

Friday, January 09, 2009

Conventional wisdom check

Everyone seems to think Harper's been chastised and this month's budget will flow with the milk of human kindness. But what if it doesn't? What if Harper pulls another nasty and forces the Liberals, Bloc and NDP to revisit -- and probably, under Ignatieff, back down from -- the unpopular coalition idea?
What then?
Harper's left with incredible renewed strength, plus there's the attraction, to him, of forcing his enemies to eat dirt.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Today's question

If the Israeli government pulled down its flag, discharged its soldiers, spiked all its guns and melted away, leaving the Palestinians in charge of the entire territory, what would happen to the Jews who live there?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Gaza

I don't blog much on the Middle East. I can sum up my beliefs very succinctly: Israel has a right to exist, the Palestinians have the right to their property and full civil and political rights, and extremists on both sides -- Israeli settlers, Hamas, Hizbollah and various other Jihadists -- have a strong stake in preventing a lasting peace.

Regarding the Israeli incursion, it appears Hamas' fighters have followed the lead of the Iraqi army and, after trying to scare off the enemy with blood-curdling threats, melted away into the civilian population.

The media can talk all it likes about fierce fighting, but when at least three brigades of infantry and armor -- more than 10,000 soldiers -- invade a very confined urban territory with 1.5 million inhabitants and dedicated defenders, you don't get just 21 fatalities, (most from artillery), you get Berlin in April and May, 1945.

Obviously, the pattern of provocation -- invasion -- guerrilla resistance, which worked well enough for Jihadists in Iraq, is being applied by Hamas in Gaza. The Israelis have invaded, Hamas has gone to ground, the Israelis will make some arrests and destroy some paramilitary infrastructure, and they'll either leave or be caught in the same grinding attrition faced by the US in Iraq and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

On the plus side, Israeli intelligence seems to be quite amazing. When you read all the coverage of Operation Cast Lead, look to see how the Israelis knew who the rocket makers were and had the information to make relatively surgical hits against Hamas military installations.

The ground forces going into Gaza will have that same quality of information, showing Mossad is much better at analyzing its enemies than the CIA was in Iraq.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Canwest

A great investment.
If you'd bought the turkey less than a month ago, when it was at 34 cents, you could have nearly trebled your investment.
Someone's buying. They're not picking up much, but they are edging the stock price up. Probably it's short sellers covering their position at year end, something that's driving the present sucker's rally before the market takes another hit when the Q3 numbers come out.
It will also be interesting to see RRSP investment figures this year. In fact, in about a month the banks will be driving us crazy with their dreadful, smug RRSP pitches.
If you did buy Canwest at 34 cents, sell it now.

Two weeks too late

One of Canada's "greatest public servants" missed out on a Senate seat, but his life has just taken a turn for the better nonetheless.