Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Paradise City

So you won the Toronto mayoralty, Mr. Ford. Congratulations. You did it. 383,501 people and you are all very happy today. And I am not sad that your opponents lost, because let's face it, none of them really deserved to win.

What I have now is a confirmation and a validation of what ails my hometown. And why political, public debate there and all over Canada is so stifled, so limited, and so utterly devoid of substance. It is that a clear majority of people have been trained to define themselves first and above all as "taxpayers". Not citizens. Not residents. Not humans. Not people. Not stewards of the earth for future generations. Taxpayers. Your successful capitalization of this group of people has resulted in your election.

Defining yourself as a taxpayer does not of course involve you paying taxes while others do not. There already is a taxation system in place that makes everybody who needs to be paying taxes pay them. It simply involves you being arrogant and selfish enough to put yourself on a pedestal and think that you carry an ungrateful society on your shoulders by paying your taxes. This backward thinking is why bogus groups such as the "Canadian Taxpayers Federation" exist. Most people pay taxes, yet paradoxically most people don't belong to such a group. Rather than let the loudest, most belligerent people monopolize the title that rightfully belongs to most of us to complain about what matters to them, why don't we take back the "taxpayer" label and assign them a "people who complain non-stop about taxes" label. Canadian People Who Complain Non-Stop About Taxes Federation. There we go.

Rob Ford: Respect For People Who Complain Non-Stop About Taxes. There we go.

Oh, but you say, you are just an eco-communist, a liberal elite left shill. City expenditures have risen 47%, Miller spent the city into oblivion, mostly on hiring new workers.

I know the numbers. I know they are unsustainable. I know there are incredible amounts of waste. And I am a major proponent of getting tax dollars diverted to building 21st century infrastructure and away from parasitic union cartels. I am as against the outsize benefits and pensions enjoyed by city workers as Mr. Ford. These things represent a scourge on all three levels of government and our country will not remain solvent unless they are addressed. Any thinking person can see that. And the two worst cartels that drain the most money are the police and firemen, who have negotiated ballooning increases year after year and are given whatever they demand by the government with nary a peep from any politician, including self styled taxpayer champion Ford. Instead of taking them head on, he won't touch them with a ten foot pole, which the Globe astutely pointed out. If the main critique on public sector employees is that there is no value added in paying someone who can barely use a computer 70K a year with full pension and benefits to be an admin assistant, then I believe we need to have the same honest conversation with people who drive around in crown victorias drinking tims and sit around waiting for fires to happen about what value they add to society for what they're paid. Sorry, I know they put themselves in danger from time to time, but its not 150K+ a year, even after they stop working until they die danger. At least doctors and crown attorneys had to study in highly competitive environments for 7-10 years to earn their buck, not 18 months in a community college.

And therein, ladies and gentlemen, lies my first principal critique of the "taxpayers". Their position always amounts to a bunch of incoherent nickel and diming that fails to address any real problems. They will thunder on about 12,000$ on a retirement party here, 4 grand in expenses there, a couple hundred thousand back over here in pork barrel subsidies. These things are morally indefensible, sure, but they are exaggerated to create a portrait of look-at-all-this-waste-and-people-living-high-on-the-hog-that's-where-your-taxes-all-go-vote for me and I'll get rid of it and you won't have to pay anymore to attract the average citizen (or, I’m sorry, taxpayer).

But of course everyone will have to pay. Always more. A favourite campaign moment of mine, not that I had much of a stomach to really follow this campaign, was when Ford bragged to Gord Martineau on city news that former Toronto Police Chief and current conservative candidate in Vaughan Julian Fantino bragged to him that they could save upwards of $7 million on the people who clean the police stations. Upwards of $7 million. Not bad. But also especially rich coming from a guy who was police chief of London, police chief of York Region, police chief of Toronto, police chief of the O.P.P., a cop for 42 years, and now at 67 is running to be an M.P. at 155,000$ a year (all travel, bennies, and pension on top) and will probably manage to scam a senate appointment at another 165K a year with full pension before the end of it. I know, my head is spinning too, because police chiefs make at least 300K, but think hard that his pension from all those jobs has got to be in the millions by now. This will be going to go to pay a guy in his seventies, eighties, nineties, and if all goes well, hundred to sit on his ass while the provincial economy implodes. But I’m of course not to begrudge him for it because he earned it all in “public service”. And he’s also a guy gravy train de-railer Ford is proud to count among his close personal friends. When this province finds itself a couple more years of record deficit down the road and is in serious dire straits with its entire fiscal existence in question, I wonder how many of these lifetime hogs, who number in the tens of thousands and of whom Fantino is just the most egregious example, will be coming forward to renounce some of these fat perks. You know, if they have any energy left to “serve” the public some of its dollars back.

We can talk about real wastes of money all day but there are also real ways to make real money for a city outstretched far beyond its means. Road tolls, as there are in every other city of comparable size on earth would be a start. A really good start. The real backbreaker in the city these days is the traffic, congestion, smog, and especially the damn traffic. This would reduce it and give the city the money it needs to construct the transport network it needs to serve a population its size. And override the TTC unions and hire workers to build it at half the price, please. But it won’t happen, with Ford or any of the other current crop. The main problem with the city’s finances, as with most public finances, are the stupendous percentage of them that are used to pay public worker wages. All this stuff people rant and rave about is drops in the bucket. I will say this once so I never have to say it again – Until they address the unsustainable wage growth in public sector salaries and the systematically discriminatory, two-tier caste society they have created between the public and private sectors, every government at every level in Canada that talks about belt-tightening and fiscal restraint is blowing smoke.

That’s for the elected folks to deal with, and it won’t happen for awhile as long as enough people are still comfortable with the status quo. We do see growing anger with the status quo now but it is not productively being directed towards solutions, its being directed towards “angry” people like Ford. The city would be a whole lot more harmonious were it not for lack of vision and shortsightedness is the problem on the primary issue of importance: transit.

The city is a great city. It doesn’t have as many problems as the commentariat like to rag on about. But everyone can agree that getting around is a major woe whatever method you choose. Ford’s common sense solution is to add more subways (which he has no power to raise money for) and more buses. This “more buses” promise was brilliant because it allows him to pay lip service to transit and vaguely pretend that he cares with his traffic gridlock loving suburban core who don’t give a shit about transit anyways. If you look underneath it, you see the subtle message. What’s that? Well, I’ll tell you straight up, taking the bus sucks. It is no way for a dignified person to get around. I do it, and everybody inside looks to be in agony. Why? Well, let me count the ways. You’re stuck in the same bullshit traffic as cards. They’re never on time, or they skid away while you run up to catch them. They’re steamy and smelly in the winter. They’re slow, and even slower when the driver decides he has to take a dump or have a smoke or grab a tims. That’s only if you have to take one bus. More often you have to take 2 or 3 at which point all these factors take on an exponential quotient. Buses suck. Which is why everybody on them is either 1)too young to drive 2)too poor to drive 3)too old or disabled to drive 4)something went wrong and they’ll be driving as soon as they can or 5)insane like me

The hidden message is “Stop taking the bus like a bum and get a car. You only need to make fulltime minimum wage to lease one now anyway.”

In Hong Kong, Paris, and Amsterdam, people don’t take transit because they’re “eco-fascists”. They take transit because the system is superior to a car, from a cost, time, and convenience point of view. Imagine that. But you can forget about transit that you’d actually want to take now, so you could leave your car at home and save on parking and fuel and tolls and headaches. To all the taxpayers who are about to revel in gridlock for four more years because their city “can’t afford” it, I ask them to look at this thing the Chinese are building and ask “how can we afford not to have vision like this?”

A little vision would bring us closer to a paradise city. Transit needs of course grow with population growth. More on that subject in the next lacking credentials.

In the meantime, Toronto, have fun in your taxpayer paradise...its gonna be a whole lot uglier four years from now.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

This Week In Tech - Tech Wars

Have you ever found yourself watching two adversaries beat the pieces out of each other and stoop to new lows of insults and trash talk every week? If you follow politics, professional sports, or celebrity feuds, I believe you may be familiar with this phenomenon and may even openly or secretly enjoy it. Well, don't look now, but a high-profile, high-level enemy rivalry has spread to a new sector: there's beef in the tech industry. It seems that the stakes for smartphone supremacy have never been higher, judging by the trash talking going on between Apple and RIM. The CEOs of these two firms are getting so nasty with each other, so public about their disdain and dislike toward their respective rivals that I think the public may soon need a fight that settles Jim Balsillie and Steve Jobs' differences once and for all. Like a cage match, geek version 2.0. Maybe they can square off over seeing whose smartphone screen light shines brighter by having a draw. Ten paces, then turn around and reflect it off their bald pates and into each others’ eyes, to see who can blind the other guy first. Or maybe they can have a masturbatory faceoff, Jobs on his iDick and Balsillie on his blacktool, to see who is truly the king manufacturer of awful, self-aggrandizing devices.

Sorry if the last analogy is a little crude. But I couldn't resist the irony of adding phallus envy to the feuding between the heads of firms that manufacture devices that encourage people to reside in addictive and insulated bubbles that in many ways represent the technological apex of narcissism. And I do feel bad for Balsillie, as bad as one can feel for a billionaire, because at least he turns some of his energies towards semi-interesting things like buying bankrupt southern U.S. hockey clubs and bringing them to Ontario and starting a schools of international affaires, and I don't think he honestly wanted to get drawn into something as ridiculous as this. Jobs, on the other hand, seems to focus most of his time maintaining the pathetic cult of personality investors and a hardcore community of apple users (let's call them "applephiles") have built around him. This is not the first time his words have taken on religious characteristics, by him basically calling his rivals (and by extension, their users) heretics for not giving up and bowing at his altar. These criticisms are then repeated by millions of applephiles and regular consumers on forums and in the media, making Jobs' ego skyrocket to ever higher proportions. Apple technology does raise your raise eyebrows when you use it and impresses with its smooth intuitiveness, no doubt, but this man claims 100% personal responsibility for that when there is a whole company/machine toiling under him. He is the face of this multibillion dollar corporation, and its success is disproportionately linked to him, if you notice how the stock price follows his calculated actions/pronouncements. This is because every business news channel and publication pays close attention to his ridiculous larger than life presentations during which he talks about himself and his company, portraying himself, if not as divine, then definitely as several cuts above the ordinary citizen, who he belligerently demands be in awe of his genius and buy his awe inspiring products.

But what is this war really about? Why did he go pick a fight with RIM? And why is so much ink and analyst breath, including my own, being wasted on it? It's because this is a big deal. This is literally a fight to the finish to see who can finally triumph and have 100% of the disposable income-possessing, time waste-searching segment of the population walking around all day with their heads down, pressing little buttons, being 20-30% present in real human conversations and interactions, staring at miniscule screens, and messaging on facebook and BBM every two seconds. When I go out in public, that's all I ever see anybody doing anymore anyway, but clearly these gents sense that there are still enormous anounts of ground to be gained. Even though some of the heavy metals required to make their devices were quite rare to begin with and are now bordering on scarce, the business community obviously backs the companies and also feels that the growth possibilities are limitless. No wonder. If two percent of the population is important and in high enough demand to need these devices, the other 98% just needs to be sold on the idea of pretending they are that important. There you have the explanation for the non-stop growing demand for these machines. And analysts/investors/mainstream media commentators’ pathological searching for growth means that this demand trumps far and wide any feeble concerns such as the aforementioned ones of materials and social effects. How could a world of six billion people distracted by constant buzzing, ringing, messages, dinging, tapping and clicking not be in everyones best interest? In meetings, on the bus, crossing the street, driving the car, on the crapper, in exercise class and at Christmas f----- dinner, the smartphone knows no boundaries and has made people who can still get by with a simple call, a simple text, or turning it off and letting it go to voicemail an obsolete and dying breed.

What is in fact obsolete and dying is this pathological and frenetic search of markets for profits and growth. A firm like Apple that has built itself up to titan status and can now swagger and bully its way around the industry with led by pontifications of its CEO is actually in early stage decline because it stock price can go nowhere but down This is normal, and as we are going to find out soon, no company or country can grow forever. You can see the most optimistic market gurus hitting that wall of logic right now on BNN, but like a stranger in a foreign land they keep retreating into the only word that exists in their language, but is not going to save them this time: GROWTH. Even if they got their wish and every single person got one of these gadgets and clutched it like a PFD 24-7, where would the company grow into from there? Nowhere but down. But why do we insist on pushing everything to that point in the first place?

Awhile ago, on a trip home from visiting a friend, I listened with some interest to two gentleman debate on the radio about the future of RIM. One said it was going to be gone in ten years and the other said it would be an even greater Canadian “national champion” than it is now. There really is no way of knowing or predicting the future on a subject like this. The guy who said they were toast said it was because they were a one device company, and this is what Apple seems to beat up on them for as well. The other guy mostly pandered to cheap nationalism. The real question is not where these companies will go from their peak of the last couple years but why they suscite such intense fascination right now. I believe it is because they have played a major role in evolving our species much too quickly down paths it was maybe not ready to go down i.e., being unable to tear our eyeballs away from tiny little screens even though possession of them gives us “connected” and “important” status (And just status. Do you know what the monthly bill on one of these things is?) And their hubris shows their intention to prolong their day of reckoning as much as possible.

I think the idea of a world of collaboration, exchange and interconnectedness that was predicted at the dawn of the internet era in 1996, and is reprised with the arrival every new or improved technology, especially smartphones, has not materialized. And that is because these devices’ principal audiences are people who think they are important and the applephiles / tech geeks. When they see Steve Jobs up on stage, doing his own more serious take on the hilarious and ridiculous Steve Ballmer rants of yesteryear, it is either the savvy daring entrepreneur they wish they were or the ubercool tech savvy male role model lacking in a life filled with writing code and playing call of duty or world of warcraft. Tech workers are mostly male and mostly make good money, understandable given they represent the 5% of the population who actually understand how the machines 100% of us use work. Yes, those are generalizations, but the men take the stage with such a pretension of supremacy that you can’t help but feel that they are the generals for an army of tech soldiers who are ready to defend their chosen company’s products, brands and accomplishments to the death. They are also blindly and fiercely loyal enough to mimic the leader and deride the opponents’ technology as moribund, inept, and crappy, in one of these manufactured “wars” where you have to pick a “side”. The war of words between tech CEOs is insignificant compared to the real wars that are happening in the world. But as of this week, it gets treated like one.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Sputter, Stall…Stop?

The other day I was in a Chapters bookstore, the great big box temple of knowledge on the fringes of our suburban enclaves where you can pay your homage to this benevolent corporation, who by being present in the superstore milieu ensures that a segment of the Canadian population, within the very large segment of it that spends much of its free time there, still reads. To help its success in this endeavour, it greases your gears with too-strong dark roasts and syrupy lattes from starbucks, while you ponder your sophistication staring at glossy bookcovers and serenading to 1950s jazz or 1990s ultrahip vintage. While I was in line there, it was confirmed to me, of all places, on the cover of The Economist. The world economy’s “recovery” from this “recession” is not being taken seriously by anybody who is seriously thinking. The awareness and the acknowledgement of the “global” economy’s vulnerability and dubiousness has officially left the blog-and-documentary sphere and landed on the cover of a magazine whose weekly publication is equivalent to the capitalism version of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. But I’m not trying to give the London-based publication ideological kicks with my Bolshevik Doc Martens out of anger. In fact, I enjoy it for what it does as a magazine, which is analyze economic data and provide rigourously researched commentary on current, medium, and long term trends in politics, media, war, and current events. I’m more asking myself why, with its sterling reputation of being a distinguished and informative source for business people and interested observers alike, the magazine put a headline that says (or should we say screams in frustration) “Grow, dammit, grow!” to the world economy on its front page, if not to tell me that several things must be seriously amiss. This magazine of almost religious significance to international businessmen and ambitious political science majors, not to mention its classified section entirely comprised of postings from 5-6 figure tuition-charging “international” business schools, must have had an epiphany to let its guard down this much. You would think it could throw something more vanilla on the cover, and restrict its analysis to the traditional prescription for success: “lower taxes, less regulation, less unions, and more consumption, please” as a cure to the ills causing the anemic or negative growth currently being experienced by economies around the world. Yes, these are challenging times in the press industry like in many others, and resorting to ever more sensational headlines to move copies may be a viable strategy for magazines to deploy in search of readers (see Macleans “F--- you Quebec!” cover last week). But this is a magazine whose covers grab your attention with their cleverness and sense of humour, not panic and hysteria.
The cover had a special significance to me because there is tendancy on blogs and in alternative media when discussing deep structural problems and severe fault lines in a system that, when you look just a bit more closely, is clearly broken, to talk about problems as being final and imminent. And yet they are not. Day after day, the highways are packed with traffic, payrolls are made, welfare, unemployment, and child tax benefits are delivered to recipients on time, shipments arrive, inventory is sold, concrete is poured, and poo goes down the sewer. Most of the developments in the core of Toronto and yes, even Waterloo have yet to become even holes in the ground but are surrounded by signs advertising “Five Exclusive Sumptuous Residences…from 2.75 million to 9.75 million” “Exclusive Sophisticated Community…starting from the low 500s” “Distinguished Living…from 1.5 million…Construction starts in Fall 2012.” If the Economist is right, nobody told the developers of Southern Ontario, a place where they are counting on silver haired, white wine sipping, handful of pearl necklace-wearing Yorkville residents shown on their billboards to come forward with real life wealth and buy the prestige of a particular street corner when their shining Versailles get off the ground at some future date. Because it is still a place where the economy still “sucks” in relative terms when you look at the data, as no commentator has been able to deny. This example is to contrast the two universes in which parallel segments of Western society seem to dwell these days: Those who marvel at society and the economy continuing to lurch forward, despite their awareness of artificially low interest rates, reduced demand, fiat currency wars, trade deficits, and structural unemployment, and those who never give a thought to anything related to the economy other than its unfailing obligation to serve them. We can definitely place the developers in the latter category, along with everyone else who expects cheap food, cheap gas, living wages, cheap energy for their homes, and taxes in the low-non existant range forever and ever.
It is easy to get fooled by the pronouncements of people who pretend they know what they are talking about and are predicting the future based on solid data. Example: The IMF, who typically over the last couple years has stated the Canadian economy shrunk 0.1% last quarter, grew 0.1% this quarter, but will return to (their favourite phrase) “robust” growth of 2.7-3.5% next quarter. How do they know? Well, they don’t. They are assuming that companies will start up, employ people, innovate, which will make them profitable, so they can pay their employees well, so these employees feel safe and secure about their long term prospects, and spend money like its going out of style. If only. If only, if only, if only.
What if people save their money in the bank? What if people only buy what they need? What if companies only hire the people they need, or have to reduce payrolls due to falling demand? What if more people realize that the government has been cheating at free market economics and keeping interest rates artificially low to fuel this elusive “growth”, which has as a result occurred entirely on the back of a real estate bubble that has made it more logical to rent? I know many people do that, but what if everyone did that These scenarios are just as, if not more likely to take place with increasing occurrence long term. After all, who will want to be held hostage to the tune of $1,500-5,000 a month for mortgage, maintenance, property taxes, and utilities (and these last two are only going to shoot up as cash-strapped municipalities and power monopolies squeeze their only remaining asset) when the illusion of “No dude, it only trends upward” finally comes back down to earth? Especially when you can pay a nominal sum to just live somewhere and not really notice much of a different in the substance of what you’re doing, which is sheltering yourself from the elements)
The confidence we’ve has up until now is due to the wide swaths of the world we’ve witnessed developing led by the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) but most of this growth on steroids was to meet the world’s largest economy’s growth on steroids, which, as we all know now, was fuelled entirely by speculation, fraud, and debt, as well as the assymetrical rules of international finance which dictate that its currency, the U.S. dollar is “gold standard” even though the nation has been technically insolvent for some time. The growth in the “BR” was in raw materials and in the “IC” in shitty outsourced jobs. Now that the U.S. Consumer is tapped out, there is no ostensible source of consistent demand to give the Economist, and economists, the sustained 2-3% growth they are clamouring for. People who don’t pay attention to the economic news of course will continue to max out at retail stores and lease brand new Chevy Tahoes, but a worsening environment will catch up with this behaviour before awareness does. This is because demand will undoubtedly sputter now as the endorphins from the brief makeup sex the North American population had with modern crony capitalism wear off.
We are going to hit a stall when the “stimulus” (fake money printed by the most debted governments of the world to “stimulate” confidence in the economy) wears off. Jim Flaherty for one has been very adamant that the “private sector must fuel the recovery” but what if the private sector is feeling as tight fisted as the consumer suddenly is? A market economy is based on confidence, which is why his and every other finance minister and central banker’s predictions and reassurances are pure hubris, because it is not something that can be “injected” or “manufactured”. This stall is literally going to be our “dammit” moment, because when there is a drop in confidence it is going to be a precipitous one.
Finally we will arrive at “Stop”. Overly pessimistic? Well, just look at how markets went up the other day when the prospect – the mere prospect of a second stimulus was evoked by the Federal Reserve-U.S. Treasury greenback printing factory. The markets and their greed (they operate on the same principles as a casino) now, because of the TARP precendent, hold governments hostage, permanently on the hook to “guarantee” and “backstop” the economy and every last devalued dollar in it. But when the government gets at the point of offering yet another transfer of fake wealth to financial institutions for them to speculate with for the second time in less than 3 years, we will really see some dominoes fall. Nothing will come back without confidence, and people will suddenly wonder when we tied up our whole fates in this bill of goods of rising inflation, new development, mass unemployment, and rewards for speculators. I can’t say if the U.S. government “stimulating” its way out of trouble every two years will work or not. But it’s not been long that it’s been living so dangerously, and history tells us that empires attempting to bleed their way out of financial crisis (in America, its to the tune of 2 trillion a year) end up insolvent. Were living in strange times and its impossible to predict what will happen with exactitude, but all I can say is it’s a long way from “grow, dammit grow”

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Tar Sands – Everybody’s Fault But Ours

I cannot believe that Ezra Levant wrote a book about the oil sands called “Ethical Oil”. But I guess he has to make a living like everybody else, and what better way to get attention for a few days and sell your book than by being a good old-fashioned provocateur?

“It was about time the oil sands had a champion,” explained Rex Murphy in the National Post, “because Alberta premier Ed Stelmach, despite his vigourous defence of them, has about all the character and pizzazz of an expired can of Aylmer tomatoes” (Not a quote - My paraphrasing) And because his government’s blatantly misleading, if not shamefully bold-faced lying, full page newspaper advertisements and internet banners trumpeting the necessity and virtues of the sands, and the “carbon capture investments”(a bogus and dubious non existant technology) being made to mitigate them, have failed to stem the tide of awareness and opposition rising up against them (My sentence).
Dear reader, I have been pumped and gearing up to write this post for a long time. There is almost nobody I would rather critique on here than Ezra Levant, but look at the softball he lobbed us. “Ethical” Oil? It’s so easy that it almost takes the joy away. But this, my friends, this today will be a posting of substance. I will stick to the facts and will not stoop to caricaturing, insults, and personal attacks. When you look on comment boards on the Globe or the Post or the CBC below articles related to petroleum, the pro oil / anti-environmentalist arguments (and these do dominate, I can assure you) usually consist of careful, reasoned weigh-ins, such as only a tiny minority of “elite latte sipping downtown toronto liberal lying elitist scum” oppose mass and reckless burning of fossil fuels, or that any attempt to have discussion outside this paradigm is a “boondoggle socialist carbon tax eco fascist loony left anti capitalist conspiracy theorist debacle” It is difficult not to sink down to this level and swipe back. Not because I’m personally offended, but rather annoyed that anyone is stupid enough to apply such irrelevant and outlandish labels to anyone else who uses their brain and does some basic math, in order to demonize them as a cartoon character who they’ve been trained to hate with all their hearts . I guess they’re passing out of their “denial” and into the “anger” part of the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross trajectory. No need to give them fodder by insulting them back in kind with equally broad stereotypes. Instead, let’s take the high road address the issue head on. There are four questions I must deal with today. They are: 1) Who is Ezra Levant (briefly)? 2) What are the claims made by the book that the oil sands are ethical? 3)Why are the oil sands, as well as those arguments, nonsensical? 4) Why does globalized media and society make discussing a subject like this cumbersome and unmanageable?
1) Ezra Levant is a Calgary lawyer who has been a leading figure in the Reform Party movement since its inception. He is a conservative, libertarian, pro-Western Canada, anti-Eastern Canada writer who gained widespread fame in Canada for publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons in his defunct Western Standard newspaper. A fight with the Alberta humans right commission ensued, and he and Mark Steyn have been ardent critics of the human right’s commission system, possibly due to encounters with it over critiques of islam. Needless to say from his geographical and political backgrounds, not to mention his 2002 book Fight Kyoto: The plan to protect our economy, he advocates unlimited and unfettered access to and use of petroleum to drive the economy. Petroleum is quite literally the backbone and lifeblood of our economy at present, so at this juncture I believe we can safely assume that Mr. Levant is opposed to it being otherwise. That allows me to call him a staunch defender of the status quo.
2) Now that we know discussion on whether it is a good idea to A) burn through the world’s remaining petroleum in the form of plastic bags, commuter traffic jams, and just about everything else we do that we have so wisely made ourselves completely dependent on it for, or B) take carbon-based fuels out of the ground and burn them into the atmosphere and dangerously tamper with the temperature and chemical makeup of earth (but I’m just mentioning B in passing, since it is obviously an Al Gore-UN scam) is firmly off the table from the get-go, we can delve into the meat of Levant's magnum opus about the oil sands. It consists of him talking about…everything but the oil sands. If you think this guy is a genius, read the book and correct me if I’m wrong. The argument is, well, we have to get our oil from somewhere. Lots of it, more and more all the time. And there is no reason for us or for America to deal with that socialist thug Hugo Chavez, the holocaust denier Ahmahenijad and his ayatollah manipulators, or those conservative muslim terrorist-financing douche bag saudis anymore. We got all the oil we need, right here in the bitume fields of this modern, free, prosperous bourgeois democracy. If Greenpeace and the Sierra Club really cared about oil and its impact, they’d go hold demos in those OPEC countries except that…they can’t. Internal dissent is not tolerated in those places and it is doubtful that it would be if it was done by some dirty western hippies. But it is not just that they can’t, they won’t protest in those places, because it is so much easier for them to do it in peace and safety and make themselves feel superior in North America. What they really hate is our standard of living and our freedom. It is proven in the book: the greenies have deliberately turned a blind eye to China’s dismal environmental record while complaining non stop about the sands. Now the world is all up in arms about the oil sands due to their Canadian location, and because we’re the envy of the world, everyone wants to make our lives miserable over them. Well guess what world, here’s the back of Ezra Levant’s hand, middle finger leading the charge, bitch slappin’ yo face! Oh and by the way, he adds, I got stats for you environmentalist fascists, since you insist – only 2.2% of the land area the size of florida or britain everyone talks about is being strip mined. And Canada produces 2% of the world’s emissions, and the oil sands are only 4% of those, which means their global environmental impact is practically nil. So this is nothing more than a conspiracy against Canada, aided and abetted by internal enemies like Greenpeace, which has now obviously been exposed as a dubious and baseless entity. Right?
3) Thanks, Ezra. I really needed you to explain to me that oil states are corrupt and NGOs are corrupt. Honestly, I never knew that. I was out my front door ready to wage enviro-jihad with Greenpeace but your calm voice of reason has pulled me back into the bosom of my consumerist suburban dreamworld. It was those bad guys who clouded my thinking and prevented me from realizing that there is cheap, abundant, no strings attached energy right here under our nose, and we never need to take personal responsibility or be conscientious of our habits ever again.

If that sounds sarcastic, it's because I wanted it to. All oil on earth is not created equal. It takes on many forms and is good for different things depending on its grade. The best oil for gasoline and plastic is called light sweet crude, and it is at the top of the 1-9 scale for refining ease, versatility, transportability, and convenience. This kind of oil is not found much anywhere anymore, and certainly not in the oil sands. The oil sands are rightfully called (and I will henceforth refer to them as such) the tar sands because they are at the opposite end, the very bottom, of this 1-9 scale. This is not oil in the ground. This is the heaviest kind of oil in existence, called bitume, trapped in sand. Together, they have the consistency of peanut butter. To get oil from it, this sand is strip mined and placed into the largest trucks in the world, taken to a nearby refinery where enormous amounts of fresh water from the Athabaska river are used to separate and steam the oil out of the sand, and finally refined into regular petroleum, requiring the most arduous and costly refining techniques available, logical considering this is after all the least desirable type of petroleum to oil companies based on our scale.

If you followed closely, you will have discovered what each of the steps of this process have in common with each other – they all require oil. Not oil from the tar sands – regular, processed oil, ready and available to use. Oil to build and power the biggest trucks on earth. Oil to power the machines that waste all that water. Oil to power the most intense and laborious refining process known to man. That’s not to say bitume is useless – it is good, for making asphalt. But Husky, Halliburton, Suncor, and BP were not in the asphalt business last time I checked. So this continues, day in and day out. The Athabaska river is already half drained from the activity and the run off from it is poisoning what’s left, but the Alberta government will be damned if it lets ten thousand lousy natives get in the way of billions of new consumers in energy-hungry emerging markets. It even fired a doctor it hired to independantly research and confirm the effects of the sands on local aboriginal communities in Fort Chipweyan when he told them the opposite of what they wanted to hear. But back to the “ethical” sands. The thing Ezra doesn’t seem to realize is that we are using 7 barrels to get 8 barrels. Financially, the sands are only profitable if oil is over $65 a barrel. What if oil goes up to $300 a barrel? We are going to use $2100 of oil to make $2400 of oil. Mr Levant, you’re a fiscal conservative, you’re opposed to government entitlements, and you’ve laid out compelling arguments in this regard. Where is your living within your means logic? Has your frugal and prudent vision of the state abandoned you in the energy sector? Do you have family members? If you had a family member who was just about maxed on all his credit cards, and was juggling billing cycles to max on one to make a minimum payment on another, what would your advice to him be? Because this type of behaviour is precisely what I see in an operation that can only see the one barrel its netting and not the 7 its source is engulfing to get that barrel. Just like that compulsive borrower who lives to elude bankruptcy another day.

And the river, well, that’s easy. Just suppose this same family member is a heavy smoker and drinker. In fact, the constantly rising costs of those two vices are driving the debt as well as deteriorating the liver, heart and lungs. Well, there’s your river. Your cancer filled river, once one of Canada’s most mighty. I hope it was worth it.

4) Ezra’s defence of the oil sands is thus that our government is better than OPEC governments, and NGOs and celebrity advocates are manipulators and hypocrites. As he said on his blog the other day “When you invent solar powered planes and wind powered cars, let me know. Until then, let’s deal with reality and not science fiction”. I’m more of the opinion that our current reality, which was science fiction 150 years ago, will not pass on to some golden green world where renewable technologies power our current system of global capitalism. You will not find an alternative to petroleum, and so its eventual total depletion will result in a return to 17th century village life with subsistence farming and week long journeys by foot to travel. Nobody wants to hear this, and I don’t claim to know when it will happen, but it is pure hubris to pound the pulpit over remote and illogical energy sources like the tar sands or worse, ANWR, like you’re some kind of people’s saviour against the satanic eco-fascists. These “drill baby drill” clowns receiving the media attention and holding the political positions of power they do in North America reveals to me our incredible small-mindedness and immaturity as a civilization. They get short shrift elsewhere. But maybe the problem with this debate, and specifically with Ezra’s book, is our tendency to always factor in the “elsewhere”, when in fact we should look at the issue “right here”, as I attempted to do today.
The problem with globalization and the internet, god bless ‘em, is that they’ve made us aware of too many things going on in too many places at once. It makes life interesting because it fills it with interesting facts, but I do believe this is beyond the scope and scale the human brain is meant to operate on. It gets confused, and it takes what it sees elsewhere and applies a mix-mash of facts to the situation at hand rather than looking at it with regular, unbiases eyes. Thus a book about the oil sands actually turns into an excuse to bash targets like the leaders of Venezuela and Iran who were already anathemic to most North American conservatives who will dig this book anyway. Arguments against climate change and resource depletion are rebutted by deniers (as Ezra recently did on his site) pointing out that James Cameron and Al Gore fly around in private jets and where does the energy come from for that? Hey, they’re not taxpayer funded jets and did you ever consider that they probably take private jets anyway so it can’t hurt to use their visibility for this reason? China’s coal is worse than the tar sands. Ontario and Quebec complained about the tar sands at Copenhagen yet their personal vehicle fleets are far worse in terms of emissions. And on and on and on.
When the pro tar sands crowd calm down and don’t employ the straw man personal attack arguments I tried to depict at the beginning of this posting, they resort to red herrings like these. Issues, places, people, trends, phenomena around the world that have nothing to do with the tar sands and are not happenning where the tar sands are happening. I have no agenda and I hope that I kept it above the belt today. But if you’re going to write a book on how great the tar sands are, maybe you should actually write about the subject itself. The tar sands are not ethical by virtue of you finding them ethically superior to unrelated tendencies and actions you have observed in their opponents and around the world.