Friday, 30 December 2011

Canada - The World's Energy Superpauper

I'm not going to bore you with the usual tiresome end of year rundown, best and worst, the year that was crap you're probably reading right now out of most quarters. Most of these are probably devoting the bulk of their time between rehashed political headlines and celebrity gossip chronicles to how "Occupy" changed the conversation about inequality and this will change the way things go next year. I'm dubious. I've realized that if governments and central banks have been able to lurch from day to day, week to week, and crisis to crisis printing money, printing bonds, and subsidizing the standards of living of most from the most decrepit housing projects to the poshest of neighbourhoods through their labyrinths of loopholes, write offs and entitlements, there's nothing that's going to stop them now. The numbers became outlandish and absurd long ago. Those of us who like to live in the real world and predict the end of this fantasy week after week are proved wrong week after week. Ultimately, when the day comes that we all have to admit that the debts can never be paid, the bonds can never be made good on, and the GDP can never grow again, we will start over, I think, without too much disruption. It's just a matter of actually performing some real accounting; and when that happens, we will just end the game of jenga we've been playing with the liabilities column but people, at least here in Canada, will stay in their homes, do their errands, go to the supermarket, take their kids to school etc.

There is one area, however, where we can't cheat accounting and where the chickens will come home to roost some day in the near future. The energy sector. Nobody knows when that day is, so any attempt at determining it is written off as false prophecy. This is probably how idiots like Daniel Yelgin in the Wall Street journal with their "We're just getting started" oil reserve forecasts make their living. But sooner or later, if you recognize the basic limitation of the planet supplying 90 million barrels a day of cheap oil to a growing population of 7 billion, the game is going to be up. And cheap energy, which all current and future economic activity and growth assumptions are predicated on, will become impossible to access.

In the meantime, there is a lot of money to be made and short term thinking rules the day. I hope Canada's Prime Minister lives to see the day of prophetic irony when he appears in history as the moron he is for declaring that Canada would become an "energy superpower". Because we are anything but. Canada is the only net-oil exporting nation that still imports almost 50% of its crude. And we can mock Saudi Arabia and Iran for subsidizing gasoline for their own citizens to the point where it costs pennies; there are not nearly as many people in those countries driving nearly as new cars (and cars are a very energy intensive product to manufacture) and commuting nearly the distances that we do.

These middle east backwaters, which the Prime Minister and Ezra Levant are insistent can only be avoided with "Ethical" oil from the oil sands even though we develop the oil sands and import oil from them simultaneously right now, will have to deal with the reckoning of their own short sightedness. We, however, have no such excuse for being so cavalier about our energy future. Canada is making money hand over fist from oil and gas but the profits are mostly going toward supporting suburban lifestyles in Alberta and Saskatchewan instead of high speed rail and bikeable major cities. Urban agriculture and non-petroleum reliant agriculture, meanwhile, are taking baby steps but will really need to become widespread in the wake of necessity, given the current stupor of cluelessness around this topic shows no signs of abating.

Boxing day, being the amped up annual spectacle of consumer carnage ten times that of the year before, was an indicator to me that society does not yet enjoy widespread awareness these challenges. I take comfort, however, knowing that there is constant growing awareness. Whether action will follow is anybody's guess

In the meantime, Canada will continue to behave like a department chair PhD making six figures, who owns a big suburban home and two vehicles and is in hock up to his eyeballs. For we have been operating in trade deficit for some years, which is crazy considering the amount of raw materials we export. The professor living high on the hog keeps up appearances, is arrogant because of his perceived success and academic achieveements, and gets on his high horse at parties, yet eventually has to sell the house and leave the neighbourhood because of his own vanity and recklessness. Such is an analogy that represents the way I feel my country is carrying itself at the end of 2011.

I wish you a great 2012! I will not be here on Lacking Credentials for awhile but trying to be successful on some other fronts - study, fiction writing, and work (Not to mention parenting). Someday I hope to have the luxury of coming back here and sharing my ruminations but for now its not a productive activity in terms of achieving these goals. Thanks for reading and see you sometime

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Language and Culture - English Only Supremacists Unlikely to Declare Absolute Victory in 2012

Hey brother, you don't look like you're gonna last too long in that job - got your TOEFL certificate?

If you don't know English, you must be an ignorant, stupid, backwater,
worthless individual

...Or so goes the official line from certain North American media outlets.

As a native English speaker, I must say the above perspective has
fascinated me for some time and I've been wanting to write a piece on
language and culture because of it. The Wall Street Journal declared
some years ago that English was the world's official language, the
National Post engaged in its favourite sport of deriding francophone
Quebecers for continuing to use and insist on French in its "Learn
English, Get Ahead" editorial and Neil Reynolds declared in the Globe
the other day (his headline) "The Anglosphere Reigns Yet Supreme".
These are articles that overtly address the issue; it does not take
much investigation to detect the same strain of impatient elitism and
barely concealed disdain toward foreign languages under the
faux-politesse veneer in Macleans, the Economist, the New York Times,
and just about any respectable periodical in the Washington, D.C.
think tank community.

Nobody with eyes and ears can contest the dominance and prominence of
English on the world stage, in popular culture, in business, and as a
tool for making non-speakers from different cultures feel elite and
sophisticated. That I am not ready to dispute with the unilingual,
middle aged, grey haired white men who wrote these articles. Yet if
it so, why do they feel the need to be so aggressive? In response to
what threat does their belligerence emerge? If they really are, as
North American English speakers, the crème de la crème of the world's
linguistic tapestry, shouldn't they be consecrating their time to the
civilized pursuits that are the bedrock of their linguistic supremacy,
like theatre, literature and film? Or even just making money. Why do
smarter, wittier, craftier, economically productive people, if that is
indeed what they are, feel the need to kick dirt in the faces of
speakers of "lesser languages", then smush those faces in the mud?

It is because the world is not ready to declare itself unilingual yet,
and these men who were born speaking English yet engage in the
ultimate hubris of believing that fact over which they had no control
makes them superior individuals cannot fathom how anyone can be
displeased with their imperious demands that all hail the supremacy of
the English language.

It is tempting to believe that a lingua franca - at international
political and banking summits, English is spoken, and every country
has an English language media outlet to broadcast news internationally
- is the death knell for all other languages. It is also a facile
inference that a world that has gone from 6000 to 2500 languages in a
century is on the fast track of paring the language of communication
among the speaking species that populates it - homo sapiens sapiens -
down to one. But this is hardly the case. Because if it was, we
would have collectively just said "fuck it", and everyone on earth
would have already seen the futility of speaking other languages and
abandoned them for English.

Consider exhibit A - the current coach of the Montreal Canadiens,
Randy Cunneyworth. For five days this man has been roasted in
Canada's French and English media for not being able to speak French.
Never mind that there are more francophone players on the Pittsburgh
Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Vancouver Canucks than on the Habs;
8 million Québécois know that team as Les Glorieux for a reason. It
is an institution.

English Canadians will weigh in with their usual responses - the
totally ignorant perception that they don't speak real French in
Quebec, it doesn't matter in 2011, what does it matter if 66% of
Quebecers and 100% of Quebec French media sports columnists can speak
English? It matters because this man is unable to do his job of
coaching a hockey team with this distraction! And if the fans wanted
the team to win and didn't care about being spoken to only in English
even though they can understand it, than maybe they wouldn't have
caused this distraction. The English-only supremacists cannot
understand that we are not playing a board game, some people have as
much attachment to their languages as the supremacists have to English
and English's current status does not mean "game over" for everyone
else. Look at how French Quebec still is today despite four centuries
of assault on its language and culture.

Exhibit B - English is not as easy as you think it is.

If these English-only people cared as much about English as they say
they do, they might complain about the generally poor level of the
language around the world which could be increased by improving its
own speakers skills, rather than demanding people who don't speak it
to learn it. A conversation can be carried on in English with a
vocabulary as low as 300 words. You can go to any country in the
world and find someone who speaks English, and while they may not be
at this extremely low baseline, there is a good chance they have not
passed the next level - 3,000 words. Taxi driver English.

The supremacists go to bed at night thinking the stats they use mean
the whole world is chucking at the jokes in Shrek and Woody Allen
movies, singing along passionately to a few Bob Dylan albums, then
reading a few thick Jane Austen novels and Shakespeare plays before
they go to bed. Never mind that the extremely limited version of
English that the vast majority of the world outside the anglosphere
speaks, if it speaks any at all, makes it impossible to have a
pleasant conversation, nevermind tell stories or jokes or have a
debate. The amount of people willing to take the pain of becoming perfectly bilingual on earth is small; much smaller than the
supremacist columnists would have you believe. If these guys ever travelled they might have experienced that first hand.

Exhibit C - Anglophilia

Some countries have leaders who are impressed by the vigour of the
supremacist columnists and think they are real decision makers who
mean business. And they studied abroad at English institutions
themselves. Now they aim to improve their shitty, third-rate
countries by making them English speaking paradises.

It is understandable that Georgia and Rwanda have had troubled
histories and discarding the languages from the colonial past that was
a main factor in troubling the histories (Russian and French) is a
logical step toward healing and catharsis. But these countries have
perfectly good languages of their own (Georgian and Kinyarwanda) that
they could revert to, and the unilateral decision to abandon these in
favour of English made by these tin-pot autocratic pro-American
leaders is truly pathetic. It will be praised by Time Magazine, of
course. Hopefully people in these nations will become angry about
their rich cultural heritages and ways of communicating being thrown
in the garbage by a couple of padded elite Harvard wannabes like Mikhail Saakashvili and Paul Kagame before its too late.

Other countries like France and Italy manifest their anglophilia by
peppering their vocabularies with a mishmash of Anglicisms lifted
from advertisements and business school textbooks that just make them
sound like idiots because they don't know how to use them properly.
It also probably doesn't help that they are being used on
advertisements that don't make any sense (in France - "Go for the
benchmarking". What the hell is that supposed to mean?). At least
when English ads use French it is usually in context (for areas in
which the French have an edge, fashion, cuisine, etc).

Some knowledge of English never hurt anybody, and I would encourage
people to explore the depths of this rich language I of course have a
deep emotional and practical attachment to. But knowledge of another
language never hurt an English speaker either. If English has
universal second language status, that second language level, if it
does not work to cheapen and degrade real English, will probably never
live up to it either. Anglophones, meanwhile, should remember that
learning Mandarin, Russian, German, or even French will open enormous
doors to them. Besides the exposure to rich literary and film
traditions and different perspectives and cultures, something else
that you could (not that you couldn't as an English only speaker) is
go to the countries where these languages are spoken and do business. these places still operate in their own languages. Yes, the language of "international business" is English and business people in those countries may try to make you feel comfortable by speaking English (or they may not), but learning someone else's language would allow you to hear what they are saying to each other and what jokes they are telling about you (which stop once they know you get it) and not feel
like an excluded douche bag. Or like Randy Cunneyworth (sorry man, but as a
Leafs fan I want your team in as much disarray as possible). Merry

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Filled in guest post - Canadian fascist checklist

Taken without permission from - The 14 Characteristics of Fascism
by Lawrence Britt
Spring 2003
Free Inquiry magazine

Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt recently wrote an article about fascism ("Fascism Anyone?," Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, page 20). Studying the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. He calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. The excerpt is in accordance with the magazine's policy.

The 14 characteristics are:

Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. - Hmmm, lets see. Demanding a portrait of the queen be placed in all embassies, suspending parliament for the olympics, and passing legislation that makes someone who prevents someone else from flying the Canadian flag on a balcony apartment building eligible for jail time? I think point one deserves a check

Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. - By flatly refusing to allow one of the country's own citizens home from an illegal international prison where he has been tortured for crimes committed while he was a minor, check

Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause

The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. Well, judging by the last seven years of attack ads and robocalls telling slander and lies to a sitting Liberal MPs riding five months after he won his seat in a majority government (as in, that seat is not up for grabs for at least four more years), not to mention the blocking of a legitimate democratically electoral coalition on the basis of scaring the population into thinking the "socialists and separatists" were dangerous, yes I accuse the Cons of treating all other parties as enemies by addressing them all with nothing but dirty tactics and epithets and I give them a check.

Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. Hmm, do I even need to say anything. Let's just say the most expensive purchase that is about to be made in Canadian History ($36 billion) is for some jets that haven't even been built and won't necessarily function properly yet. It's from a quasi-private US government supported crony capitalist outfit Lockheed Martin, and against the public advice of several former top military brass and the private advice of the acting leadership, the government is pursuing this without opening the procurement to a competitive bid. They're going to need something to top all those Tim Horton's photo shoots in Kandahar. Plus the defence minister taking a military aircraft ($32,000 an hour) on a fishing trip. Check

Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. The former Reform wing of this party was mostly made up of fundamentalist and evangelical "christians" and adhered to all of these values consistently and publicly. To get in government, Harper made them dial it down. I'll give them a half-check on this one since I know its how they want to act but abortion and gay rights are not seriously impaired or threatened in Canada at the present time.

Controlled Mass Media

Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. Ha ha ha. Except for the CBC, which they would love to stop funding, the conservatives have a 24-7 partisan wackoff session with the Canadian media! They have two newspapers which are openly and loyally outright supportive (The Post-Canwest Chain and the Sun chain), a sometimes critical but mostly feeble and acquiescent highbrow daily (The Globe), and one supportive national magazine (Macleans), whose owners also own all three biggest private channels on TV (Global, CityTV, TVA, CTV, Rogers, Vidéotron) and all of the home phone, mobile, and cable and internet business in Canada. And as of yesterday, the most cash cow sports franchise on earth, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Are you f----- kidding me? Except for the hostile Toronto Star (read by a few million GTAians) and the mainly antipathic Quebec media (read by 8 million French people - guess what? The country has 26.5 million other people who've never looked at that stuff in their lives.), the Conservatives are very friendly with, and thus covertly control and influence, the vasy majority of this country's media - so check!

Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
There is an urgent need to merge our border and security apparatus with the United States for no other reason than complete stupidity since their legal system allows them to now do pretty much whatever the hell they want (Like torture you in Guantanamo Bay for watching youtube videos - see copyright legislation worming its way through congress). Plus all the "cracking down on illegal migrants" who, if they are indeed here, anyone has yet to experience difficulties with. Check

Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions. "God Bless Canada" after every election victory speech. I respond in my head to the Prime Minister every time - "Fuck off!" Check

Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. Of course it is. Just ask any of the big five banks on bay street or give a call over to Suncor or Enbridge in Calgary. Check-er-oo

Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . Well, ok its not that all the unions that got forced back to work (Air Canada, Canada Post, Fed Public Sector) are overpaid for doing either the physically draining or mind-numbingly boring work that they do, its just that the entities they are working for are broke, b. Air Canada and Canada Post would be bankrupted into oblivion the minute they lost their "crown corporation" status. So I would buckle down and carry on if I was them (which they have). But the government musing about making "the economy" an essential service? That earns them their ninth and a half "check"!

Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. "Yes. Everyone who cannot afford an $11,000 taxpayer-funded junket to Boston to watch game 4 of the stanley cup final like the Prime Minister should just stay home listening to his friends in Nickelback or watch youtube videos of him singing Beatles songs" - check

Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. See Greg Weston's article on from today about how the Conservatives created a $1 million lobbying watchdog and the RCMP is yet to enforce a single complaint that it has received, closing every single file without laying any charges. Even ones containing clear evidence of breaking the rules and wrongdoing. Not to mention this tough on crime omnibus bill fiasco, which is too depressing to even get into. Big fat check.

Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. Mines, oil, metals, wood, water. Whoever's taking all that stuff from us now, its their's for the taking and no one in power has any damn intention to alter that arrangement in any way whatsoever. The windfall to the Canadian public on that stuff, given its value, is a joke. Check.

Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections. The CPC is a beneficiary of A)At least 40 overrepresented, sparsely populated rural ridings, and another 40 overpopulated underrepresented urban ridings, and is guilty of at least 1 case of election fraud (the in and out scandal) which was settled out of court. The conservative party uses taxpayer funded propoganda (either direct mail or tax-deductible individual donations) to fund its powerful spin machine. Then the mainstream media gives a huge boost. But elections Canada is a very reputable bureaucracy that thus far has maintained its independence. We'll be generous with half a check.

Wow, let's tally it up. Final score 13 out of 14. Great job Conservatives! 92% You have officially received an "A" grade in your quest to transform Canada into a fascist state.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Policy Solutions - Vaz Oxlade for Finance Minister

Another Friday, another instance of Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty running up to the first podium he finds to pretend he's a doctor desperately and single-handedly trying to cure the ailing global economy's woes.

He said Europe is in a dire situation and needs to take urgent action. What a surprise! How original - only the deep intellect of a bay street lawyer could have produced that statement. Actually, meaningless and par for the course. Conservative minister talking points are always based on soundbites they think people want to hear. Never mind reality or worse, unpleasant truths. Let's pretend we're the stern moral compass of a lazy, disorganized, bureaucratized European continent and people will eat it up. Forget that Canada is hardly in a position to talk or that there is nothing to be done at this point - indignation makes the minister look like he's working really hard, or something. Well, Jim, don't apply for that stress leave just yet because I'm going to make your job, this international fake superhero of finance part of it anyway, easier for you. Bailout or no bailout, the whole European continent is on the fast track to DEE-FAULT, and you would think a guy who takes himself for a serious economist would talk to more real serious economists, who are by now all pretty much in agreement on that.

A little more complicated is the domestic front. Jim said when lecturing Europe: "individual households don't live like this." He must not have been referring to Canada.

Jim, meet Gail. Gail, meet Jim.

Gail Vaz-Oxlade is the host of tvs popular "Till Debt Do us Part", where she educates hopelessly indebted households on the ways to get out of the stupendous financial holes the Canadian financial system is only too happy to aid and abet their falling into. Pay down debt, cut expenses, make tough decisions, start saving. She has plenty of content to draw from week in and week out because this is a huge problem in Canada. All the smug idiots in the Conservative cabinet who love bragging about the "stability" and "strength" of Canada's economy continue to ignore the record household debt, record debt to asset ratios, and record bubble real estate prices in Canada, all of which have passed 2006 pre-bubble U.S. levels. Maybe if Jim sat down with Gail more often instead of the CEOs of the financial institutions fuelling this debt maelstrom, he would think twice before making the illusory common sense proclamation that "households don't live like this."

I don't want to use Ms. Vaz-Oxlade as a prop in my column. I greatly respect the work she's done over the years, especially publishing The Canadian Woman's Guide To Divorce in the early 1990s, a time when our society had considerably less resources for divorced women and considerably more patriarchal baggage than it does today. I mention her work because it is comprehensive. Staying financially healthy might seem simple when you consider it just a matter of not letting more funds go out than you take in, but as any student of economics will tell you, there is much more to it than that. Trade-offs must be made and priorities must be set because, as the golden rule of economics states, there is no such thing as a free lunch. There used to be financial barriers to entry around BMWs and home theatres. There still are, but our society of late has evolved from the free lunch doctrine to one resembling "You can have everything you want at the all you can eat buffet and more at Prime minus a quarter". Enter the market for a show like Till Debt Do Us Part.

Which is why I implore Jim to quit his weekly media bellyache over Europe and maybe do his job and focus on his own government's finances instead. He is presiding over the same financial wreckage at a nation-state level as one of these basket case couples on the show does at the household level. Not only are there not plans to cut Ottawa's current fiscal deficit, the minister is likely unaware and certainly uninterested in the infrastructure defecit, which is that Canada's infrastructure needs something like $80 billion in upgrades in the next five years just to stay functioning as is, plus $150 billion in upgrades to properly service the futurepopulation. There's a great interactive map on the CBC about this here. Under this government we will watch this crumble and do nothing, because as Jim Flaherty's stated in the past, "Ottawa is not in the business of fixing potholes." Even though Ottawa collects the majority of our taxes, and every province and city is broke.

About those provinces and cities, their debt plus the Federal government debt puts us, the Canadian nation, at a higher level of indebtedness than these countries, like Italy, Greece and America, that Jim takes it upon himself to lecture.

The advantage of having Gail for finance minister over Jim is she does two things he won't do - she looks at all money coming in and going out and she makes people plan for the future. With the revelation that this government is indebted like all the others and the minister saying himself in his speech that this is no time for "risky" and "dangerous" new spending, why is the government spending $33 billion on warships, $35 billion on fighter jets, $2-5 billion to start on new prisons and mandatory minimum sentencing, plus tens of millions on new MPs, and who knows what else on various private-sector subsidizing boondoggles and endless "Economic Action Plan" pork-barrel scams (Read of the week - Andrew Coyne's hilarious column on innovation and "grantrepreneurs"). The finance Minister doesn't mention these things, because as usual he is more interested in being a financial maven poser than talking about his own government's record, a government that is hell-bent on driving this country to financial ruin and ignoring any facts or reality that get in its way. Individuals have Gail Vaz-Oxlade and thousands of not-famous people like her to pull their heads from the sand - but who will perform this task for our delusional minister?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Culture Club - Are things as bad as they say they are in Italy and Greece?

They've been dominating the front page and business section for several weeks. So let's start out today with some conventional wisdom on the two Southern European Mediterranean countries called Italy and Greece.

You may know by now that their birthrates are in the bottom five of all countries worldwide (both hovering around 1.2, well below the 2.1 population replacement rate). You may know that their debt to GDP ratios are among the highest of all nations on earth. You may know that their borrowing costs and public finances have become catastrophic to the point of causing two elected prime ministers to resign and be replaced by unelected, European financial-industry technocrats in the past week. Yet even if you do know all this, it remains unclear how these leaders will right their nations' fiscal ships at the pace needed to restore "confidence" in the euro zone. The governments of these places are rife with corruption, collect few taxes, and continue to fund expensive state run apparatuses (military, health care, etc). Unsustainable spending and social programs in both places have wrought havoc on the euro zone, made its common currency vulnerable to collapse and threatened to bring down the whole global economy, but the structural flaws I mentioned will still never be called into question. Rather, even more debt will be piled on by the IMF and other parasitic institutions under the ridiculous pretext that these economies are going to rev up and fire all cylinders soon.

Whether you were aware of the numbers or not, they are all national statistics and mainstream media facts which you could have gleaned from looking at the headlines and reading news articles over the past few weeks. And the phenomena are just as applicable, for the most part, to Japan. The ugly demographic and economic pictures don't tell the whole story, though. What do shitty economies actually mean to the people of these nations?

If you're young and urban, it may very well mean voting with your feet, as millions of Italians and Greeks have done for decades. The descendants of these folks make up a large part of North American society now, including yours truly. This would be nothing new for the wanting-to-be-upwardly mobile, bourgeois section of these societies; there is scarcely an elite (doctor, lawyer, press, finance, economist) within them who has not received all or part of his education at some prestigious, English-speaking institution abroad (I know immigrants used to be poor with that dime a dozen "Came here with $20" story, but immigration for poor people effectively ended in North America decades ago). Take the highest level example: deposed Greek prime minister Papandreou and opposition figure were former roommates at an Ivy League university.
I remember travelling in London a few years ago and meeting an upstanding young Greek man under 30 who was doing his master's or PhD, I can't recall, but what I do recall is how incredulous he was when I wondered aloud why he might not study in his country or, god forbid, his language. The point is that these countries have suffered a brain drain amongst their well-heeled who, for many reasons, prefer the anglo-saxon way of doing things to their native lands'. Unable to reconcile the two, they have left and continue to leave for the shores of North America, UK and Australia.

Other people have stayed back. And I wouldn't worry about most of them, despite their greying character. I heard two things in the last week that made me remember how incompatible modern, digital, up to the minute news driven society and the flashy, skyscraper, benz and suit character of modern ponzi scheme capitalism are with the idyllic mediterranean countryside. In the comments of one article a gentleman remarked how he recently ate at a Greek restaurant in North America and asked the Greek waiter, as a joke, when he was going back to Greece. The waiter surprised him by explaining his parents had a house, a garden, land, goats, and made everything from wine to cheese themselves, and whatever happens in Athens doesn't mean a damn thing to them. I'm sure they used drachmas to purchase what they needed for decades and wouldn't bat an eye at using them again. Such people generally don't have time for the hyperbole and noise of 21st century debt-bubble capitalism on steroids and the 24 hour tripe cycle on the interwebs.

As I'm sure it is for the good people of Sardinia as well. I was reading in a publication last weekend (a circular for Italian Canadians living in the GTA, actually) that this island, the 2nd biggest in the Italian territory, is one of the rare "blue zones" in the world. This designation comes from the UN which monitors population statistics and health indicators and gives the "blue zone" label to people such as the Sardinians who live to 100 much more frequently than average. Chalk it up to moderation, a healthy localised economy, and the olive oil, low meat mediterranean diet. I'm sure more heart attacks about Italy's economic situation have occurred on trading floors and in front of computers and TVs around the world than in Sardinia.

So there's today's bit of unconventional wisdom. Instead of clinging to the mainstream media's depiction of these countries as basket cases and economic clowns, maybe you should go visit them and see what really goes on outside the capitals. You will find millions of people who are opted out of a destructive system on many levels - because they were anchored enough in a healthy and traditional lifestyle that it never made sense for them to buy in to begin with. These are people whose lives will probably not change very much when their countries' economies collapse and the rest of the world is plunged into chaos with defaults, bank runs, and 2012 social unrest that will make Occupy Wall Street look like the Santa Claus Parade.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Key To Success - Set a Goal and Stick To It!

As the cold weather sets in, municipal governments lose patience, and mainstream media's fascination turns into scorn, the Occupy Movement risks sliding into total obscurity and irrelevance. Rather than further alienating people with what's become an incoherent grab bag of vague causes and issues (native rights, police brutality, 'inequality', the death of the middle class, climate change) that no one person can act immediately to change anyway, I suggest they regroup. Pick something strong, one thing, that is meaningful, important and resonates with people, and drive the point home relentlessly. Tell everyone else to leave their cardboard, tents, freakshows and urine at home, or start their own protest and take it there. I'm really annoyed with the amateur behaviour and ignorant declarations coming out of certain occupy canada locations. Starting with the fact that church lawns and art galleries are not Wall Street, and your vagrancy of these valuable community properties is proving nothing.

Indian activist Anna Hazare has accomplished something - by going on hunger strike and demanding that the parliament of India create an ombudsman to police runaway political corruption. He has succeeded. Ontario Dairy farmer Michael Schmidt almost died on his hunger strike asking premier Dalton McGuinty to meet with him over the right to drink raw milk, and although the premier didn't budge, Schmidt got his meeting and the chance to eat again. Which means he got closer to an elite figure than any of these rag tag losers ever will, because he had a specific question.

How could you let your movement run away from you and be co-opted by people demanding an official inquiry into 9/11? This is supposed to be about fixing capitalism, which, in case you haven't noticed, is not happening with your "occupation". The fact is that you made a drum circle and failed to make any specific mention of, say, Joe Cassano. In case you didn't know, that's the guy who invented the credit default swap at AIG and who is possibly the biggest financial terrorist of all time. He continues to sit in London on the 400 million dollars he made at that bailed out institution. He has faced no criminal charges which tells me that real wrong that has been done. Injustices like these abound, and there are untold untapped reserves of anger and frustration out there that your movement could have tapped into by calling them out, but you've failed to do so.

Let me give you something to help you the next time around (which will be soon): this resolution I've come up with. It won't solve all the problems you're upset about (and nothing will), but I suspect it will be a good start in taking some of the power back and addressing the issues the more clear-headed among you might be trying to affect change on.

"Let it be resolved that we are living in a free-market, capitalist society and as such all firms are fully responsible for the risks and decisions they take. Let it be resolved that we require the constitution of our country to be amended to criminalize and outlaw corporate bailouts in all their forms. Let it be resolved that no corporation, business, or publicly traded entity is "too big to fail" and regular bankruptcy and winding up laws will apply to all failed companies no matter their size or the economic consequences for society. Not another cent of taxpayer capital is to go toward the subsidizing of corporations, as it only delays these institutions' inevitable failures, and the taxpayer sees no dividend or benefit when these corporations are profitable."

Stick to that and see how far you get. And because of the focus and coherence, I'm sure that moderates and hordes of new unemployed will be right there with you. Finally, take the fight straight to the banks this time and demand to meet the CEOs - the small businesses, residents, and thinkers who are increasingly getting caught in the crossfire of this "occupy" stunt don't deserve it, because this isn't about them. Occupy Wall Street was invented by the Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine. How ironic that it is in that same city where the movement has deviated the farthest from its initial innocence and serious intentions - Occupy Vancouver building its reputation on such commendable actions as a tragic drug overdose and the dumping of a bucket of urine on a city worker's head. Next time, lets skip all this sideshow crap and cut straight to the heart of the matter - the bottomless trough of taxpayer capital corporations believe they have unconditional access to - and stay there until we get what we want. This started out with good intentions but has turned into a stupid punk rock looking, big dog wielding, anarchist wannabe dirty hippie street party joke.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Call To Arms - An End To Seriousness

Lacking Credentials has been silent for at least a week. And today, the reason for this hit me like a hard punch. I'm not suffering from windswept autumn fatigue or running out of ideas. I just haven't taken to the blogwaves with fire in my belly lately because writing about everything suddenly seems so...redundant.

All my favourite blogs, Zero Hedge, James Howard Kunstler, Charles Hugh Smith's Of Two Minds, Dmitry Orlov - have basically published the same article this week. This is not a criticism of the excellent work by these four men. It is not their fault that there is nothing left to document in the grand scheme of things and there only remains one conclusion to be drawn. The jig is up, and the lies of the establishment are apparent: Western countries' economies cannot grow meaningfully ever again. This is not a bad thing. Greece's default is no longer a matter of if but a matter of when, and when it happens, banks and nations around the world will follow in not becoming insolvent, but admitting that they have been for some time. Nobody knows what that will look like and it will be painful in some ways, no doubt. But it will be an enormous relief, too, to be finally be rid of the pretentions of the elite and this bullshit of theirs we've been sold as the only viable paradigm: Constantly rising economic growth into infinity, fuelled by bottomless resource inputs. All the finance ministers and central bankers in the world can brandish their MBAs from Harvard and pHds from the London School of Economics in my face and call me a know-nothing doom sayer until they faint - they're the ones who think piling extra trillions of public debt on countries that will never register a positive growth quarter again is necessary because "failure is not an option". Sort of sounds like the name of a tour a certain delusional and mentally ill ex-sitcom star went on a few months ago, doesn't it?

So it was settled that I couldn't think of any analysis on the international economic situation worth doing. Yet this same situation was eclipsing many of the trivial subjects I might be otherwise inclined to write about. I asked myself what I could do that was worthwhile? After all, this blog is almost two years old, and I have been flat lined at 350 readers a month and 7 followers for as long as I can remember. What really matters to me? Why am I doing this on here?

I'm doing this because, as I've explained on multiple occasions, there are three levels of government in Canada lousing up their work so bad it literally keeps me up at night. Since they are rewarded by a media that fawns over them and coddles them, acting like their stupid ideas are the wisdom flowing out of infinitely wise oracles, this web log's mission has formed over time from a desire to hold them to account. The mainstream media fails to do this. Whether its the "serious" Globe smacking the wrist of the federal government in every editorial while failing to grasp the irony that they told people to vote for this same federal government in a previous editorial, or the "blue collar" Sun chain's ignoramus Don Cherry-style partisan cheer leading, this country's "fourth estate" is guilty of severe dereliction of duty, and the situation has gone unaddressed for too long.

An example of this was Globe and Mail "political" columnist Jane "TMZ" Taber going on CTV last weekend and getting pretty excited about the possibility of a third Harper prorogue in three years. Since with his majority he is now able to ram through all the idiotic legislation a minority prevented his government from enacting (tough on crime omnibus bill, F-35 fighter jet deal, long gun registry and wheat board abolition, etc.), she seems to agree with him that there is little reason from parliament to sit, at least through the winter before summer vacation starts, once all this legislation is said and done. When the host asked her what legislative priorities his government might want to pursue whenever they got around to getting back to work, Jane giggled giddily and seems almost ecstatic to report (I quote) "Oh, you know, status quo!"

How inspiring. We are in the early years of a new millennium. If this new millennium had to be described in a single phrase, that phrase would probably be "The status quo is not sustainable". And yet, one of our country's top political correspondents who is supposed to be informing us is instead climbing on the highest roof top, jumping for joy, and shouting as loud and proud as she can that our government worships at the altar of the status quo. That is probably when I realized I was going about this all wrong. Do you know why?

Because I know that every day, strongly worded and powerful letters by people much smarter than me are mailed to our political leaders. Well researched, well-written, reasonable advice, opinions, reports, statistics, and facts, compiled by field-leading experts and delivered in reports, recommendations and open letters. Economists, geologists, physicians, professors, former political leaders, and businessmen have all tried to reach the mayor of Toronto and the Prime Minister of Canada, among other arrogant incumbent politicians, without success. They have tried to advise them on transit, on public finance, on resources, on planning for the future, and on economics. What impact has it made? Zero. You might as well be talking to five year olds singing "I'm the king of the castle and you're the dirty rascal".

If the opinions of geniuses, experts, and highly accomplished people mean nothing to our political leadership, what impact can I expect my long, poorly edited, not always easy to read articles to have? I am trying to publicise the same things that the more visible people are admonishing the leaders are, in the name of common sense. But if I'm to go by the actions of these leaders, I am wasting my keystrokes.

Here's the final straw though. John Doyle, Globe TV critic, made me realize some things with his observations of Canada's media-political sphere upon return from visiting his native country, Ireland. Well, actually one thing. That our leaders are not only arrogant, ignorant, belligerent individuals, but that they demand respect and devotion at all times. And we Canadians, highly educated, not-suffering-fools-gladly people, just give it to them!

No more. I have greatly enjoyed working here on Lacking Credentials but my days of serious long essays are over. If I do write them it will be in the form of letters addressed to the people they actually concern on my other neglected blog, No, Lacking Credentials is getting a new style, a new address, makeover, audio and video, and I won't post until I'm back with it as promised. If I can't count on a single channel or media outlet to hold the government to account in a way that doesn't bore people to death with details and beat them over the head with doom, then I am going to be it. We can't rely on corporate media, and better though flawed as it is, I don't think we'll be able to rely on our public broadcaster much longer either. Welcome to Guerrilla media 3.0 heading into 2012 and beyond, Lacking Credentials 3.0 leading (I hope) the way (very soon).

Saturday, 22 October 2011

What is Fair and Whose is Whose Final Instalment - Occupy Yo'self

"If you not rich, if you don't have a job, don't blame the big banks, don't blame Wall Street, blame yo self!"
-U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate and Former CEO of Godfather's Pizza Herman Cain

Can you bring some free pizza down to the protest?

Call Cain's remarks folksy, simplistic or misguided if you want. But they sure are funny.  At least you know where he stands on the issue that has dominated the airwaves in the month of October.  The Occupy Wall Street protestors don't claim to all be there for the same reasons or have a unified agenda.  Most mainstream Newspaper columnists present a token acknowledgement of forces at work in the world (stagnating and declining real wages, soaring executive pay, high unemployment despite record corporate profits), then dismiss the protests as disorganized, unrepresentative of society, and irrelevant (yet, they chose them as a subject for their columns).  The movement and its chances for having any long term impact are totally up in the air; what's astounding is the amount of coverage it has received despite these complaints about its flaws.  What is so intriguing about this anger if nobody other than Mr. Cain can agree on what it has coalesced around?
There have been no shortage of musings  from prominent individuals weighing in on that question.  Two influential global, ex-Goldman Sachs big bankers, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney and soon to be European Central Bank Governor Mario Draghi, surprised everybody by calling them "constructive" and saying that the anger was "understand(able)", respectively.  Less surprising was the disapproval and sniping by middle-aged, MSM columnists like Wente at the Globe and Mail and Brooks at the NY Times, whose main argument was that the North American middle class was busy re-aligning  and  re-building  itself , and going about its business in a  grown-up,  quiet, dignified way.  While the issues affecting this amorphous demographic are real,  they said,  it had no time for a group of fringe extremists who had received far too much attention already.  Getting behind their cool dismissive stance is tempting, especially when individual stories coming out of the occupy crowd in these columns reveal educated, out of work 20-somethings who've never experienced real hardship, and comments are being made below their article include somebody "seeing 24 people at Occupy Calgary and 24 Help Wanted signs the same day".  Is the occupy movement as simple as much ado about nothing
The  mainstream consensus gravitates toward yes.  The  most academic and statistic-based spelling out of the yes was perhaps in  the other day's  Globe, in which a Wilfrid Laurier economics prof argues that the now-infamous "99%" is more like "30%", and in the interest of transparency the occupiers should admit this.  The argument of her and everyone else before her is that the occupiers are nothing more than a hodgepodge of tenured Marxists, lazy college-educated kids who expect 80k out the graduation gate, ex-manufacturing nouveau-poor, and typical union hacks.  Economists like to point to the good news, like that extreme global poverty has been halved and here in Canada the bottom 20% standards of living have actually gone up.  There have been other reactions as well.  Chantal Hébert parsed in the Star that if the 18-35 demographic is so up in arms maybe more of them should cast ballots.  Funniest of all perhaps was Jim Flaherty's befuddled performance  on CTV in  which  he claimed something like "I just don't understand what this is all about"  The biggest media whore politician in Canadian history who is in the papers every day pretending to be a finance and economic sage is suddenly Mr. "Naive . 

   That the mainstream media, political, and business establishments has refused to take the movement seriously  should surprise no one: after all, it wields no real power.  It also does not speak their language of PR, spokespeople, and bullet points.  I think things have slightly progressed in that the protestors have generated some curious observation and sympathy from certain quarters of the establisment.  I have not been out to a protest myself, not because I disagree with their message or am silly enough to believe that we live in a non-stacked deck meritocracy, but because I know that almost everyone instinctively knows what the demonstrators are saying: "Society's unfair!" "Capitalism is a ponzi scheme!".  Sure, there is much that can be done collectively to take down powerful interests; but I think these protests are more symbolic than concrete.  They may "change the conversation", as the Rev Al Sharpton said this week on Jon Stewart, but they in and of themselves do not threaten the status quo.

But  that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about social justice, which is why  the person we should focus on, the person who has disappointed me most in all this, is President Obama, who dismissed the protests as "Lacking a clear agenda".  I've harped on the man here a fair bit, and  let me tell you that now more than ever it pains me to do so, as I recently read his book Dreams From My Father.  This guy was raised by stoutly lower-middle class people and knows all about the pains of trying to organize poor people to get together and demand better lives in the face of their own communities' profound ignorance and indifference. Whether the explanation for the change of heart is the short one (power corrupts), or the long one (ageing is making him losing his idealism and crusade), I hesitate to say that he's not the same person anymore.  The book is so witty, so earnest, and has such a nuanced and well-meaning understanding of humanity's problems that I can't bring myself to believe he doesn't see through the hypocrisy and cowardice present in so many of his administration's policies.

The problem perhaps is  he is a prisoner in his post, or maybe being constantly present in the high arenas of the elite causes their ideas to leech into even the smartest people's brains through osmosis.  Yes, the protests attracted a rag-tag bundle of signs, and no, the movement doesn't have a "platform" or "spokespeople" , but to discredit and run to wall street's defence shows unbelievable condescension on the president's part.  The guy I read in that book would have been talking about the tent-car city in California where a shower truck passes by once a week, or the financial inability of Topeka, Kansas to legally enforce action against domestic violence.  And the federal government, adding 250$ billion of new debt every couple of months, is only going to be in less and less of a position to address the panoply of ills 2011 America is stricken with.
Yet when you're surrounded by people like Larry Summers, spouting chest-thumping drivel like "Predictions of America's decline are as old as the republic. But they perform a crucial function in driving the kind of renewal that is required of each generation of Americans. I submit to you that as long as we're worried about the future, the future will be better. We have our challenges. But we also have the most flexible, dynamic, entrepreneurial society the world has ever seen.", I can understand how you can become cold and indifferent, ensconced in your White House bubble.  After all, this guy was your chief economic adviser.  Let's look at his experience on his resume , all in his native country of America, where millions of resumes get tossed in the garbage every single day.  He went from being an adviser to Clinton, to dean of Harvard (whose financial running into the ground he presided over - see VF article), back to the Obama white house, and now onto the boards of Facebook and several silicon valley companies  who are making shitloads of money in one of the richest areas in America.  Yeah, Larry, with the uninterrupted stay you've had in the black escalades that shuffle the elite to and fro between the various bubbles they inhabit, I could see how you think you live in the greatest flippin' place ever.  Unfortunately its not the case, and even the ipad (made in China) can't save you.  Silicon valley firms are too busy creating mini-gods out of each of their employees to bother with a bunch of people they'd no doubt scornfully dismiss as dirty hippies, the same ones you pleasantly dismissed as "challenges".
I have been deeply concerned for a long time about the rigged system that caused the resentment which exploded in 951 protests around the world on Oct 16.  But these people will all go home, shower, eat, go back to work, inevitably go out and buy groceries again at some point.  There is no point in manifesting your dislike of the elite in the form of non-violent, polite demonstration.  They will emerge from their enclaves, smile, make empty promises, and then do the timeless act immortalized by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby, page 9 - "They were careless people...--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money...their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
This is what Barack did when he invoked the spirit of Martin Luther King and said not to demonize Wall Street employees. - retreated into a cheap, moralizing civil rights discourse and alluded to the modernized circumstances that allowed him to become president instead of addressing the issues at hand.  There is no reasoning with people at the top.  If you want to occupy something occupy your own life; if you do it the right way you will engage in collective action much more powerful than any demonstration (which just increases taxpayer burden in the form of overtime police pay).  I happen to have some ideas about occupying your own life which may be more effective than freezing your ass out on Wall Street all winter, if you have a minute to listen to me.
If you live where you depend on a car, move.  Sell the car, break the lease, and quit complaining about auto bailouts and big oil.  It's called opting out.  Stay out of shopping malls, strip malls, and department stores: Walmart, Kmart, Dollarama, and the whole lot of them.  Plastic crap from China is filling your house with junk, its filling out landfills with crap, and it saps untold productivity and resources from our economy.  Make do with the electronics you have instead of buying into industry's planned obsolescence every few months - every TV, every computer, every iphone and ipad needs a shit-ton of rare earth minerals which are disappearing off the earth.  Don't use credit or credit cards unless you pay all your balances (and even then, its questionable because you penalize small independent merchants) every month, if you have debt or lines of credit, pay it down and stop.  Take as much of your money out of the stock market as you can afford to and move into cash and gold as much as you can.  Finally, if you can make, grow, sew, fix or cook something for yourself instead of paying someone else, do it.  Don't throw things out until they're absolute toast.  If we can occupy our lives by reclaiming these ancient values that have been scuttled away in the 20th and 21st centuries due to big capital and big cartels manipulating our minds into thinking it was necessary to ditch them in the name of "progress", we won't need to protest in the street.  I have a feeling a lot of the protesters, besides the young, easy target “hippies”, were self-identified "average folks" who just "can't get ahead" and "don't see how the middle class can take it any more".  Stop commuting, stop spending money you don't have, and stop thinking you're entitled to be in the "middle class" just because you were raised with the mindset of one that doesn't exist anymore.  You've only got one life to live and one self to live it with - occupy yourself!

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Wrecked Economy - What's Fair and Whose is Whose Part 2

" got that $600 trillion in your back pocket, right? Otherwise we're all going to look really stupid."

Two columns ago, I came out against some of the tactics and gaps in logic used by certain public sector unions and I would like to clarify those remarks in case they left anybody thinking I’m a callous or belligerent rich person. Something happened after the fact which has bothered me since and I just need to clear the air. I was speaking with somebody whose 13 member union was busted and locked out this year because the services they provide are for a student body and as such, the student government is their board they have to negotiate their contract with every year. Well, this year the student government is a bunch of grinning, frat boy business student Kevin O’Leary wannabes who claim the money used to pay people to run 200+ student programs is better spent on beer at the pub. They have taken to the twitter sphere regularly to brag about this while making it impossible for the 13 employees to make their living by refusing to negotiate at all. I just wanted to strike down any perception anybody may have had that I identify in any way, shape or form with douche bags like the ones the current Simon Fraser University student government is composed of. The difference between this case and the well-funded, PR-deploying teacher, cop and firefighter unions in Ontario who make up a nouveau-elite slice of our society is enormous, and I don’t like the way that these powerful guys cynically try to lump their interests into the broader “us against them”, “99% vs. 1%” argument with those of impoverished or disadvantaged people, or the masses upon masses who’ve got a patently raw deal.

I will not take part in the professional left’s endless bellyaching about the middle class and jobs, and the sneering of the right wing/business cabal at the Occupy Wall Street movement is a lesson in false pride if there ever was one. We are living in strange times and if we have a common enemy it is dogma. We need to understand what is happening in our world. Europe is, economically speaking, boiling over. While North America rushed to the aid of the old continent in other decades of the twentieth century because of ethnic fighting and warfare, the bill that has come due this time is not one of reckoning over broken treaties, nationalist tensions, or genocide. It is an actual, physical bill that needs to be paid. The world has realized that it was economic suicide to have countries with low birth rates, generous social programs, and little work (Greece, Ireland, Italy) share a currency with exporting, fiscally responsible countries that could actually afford their generous social programs like Germany and, to a lesser degree, France.

This is not the specific reason why the bubble of capitalism is about to burst, though. It is just that this has caused "anxiety" in the global stock markets, which causes "confidence" to fall. The main thing people need to have confidence in for capitalism to function properly is the solvency of banks, in this case European banks, which like banks all over the world don't actually possess the assets on their balance sheet. In simple terms, if everyone went into the bank for their money at the same time, they wouldn't get it. Although this fact is public knowledge, easily accessible with a Google search (it’s called a fractional reserve banking system), it for some reason has not wrought serious havoc up until now. But it has started to the last couple years, maybe because of all the ponzi schemes being layered on top of ponzi schemes in America with ABCPs, MBS, and CDSs and the like. The bailouts of 2008 did not make these things go away; on the contrary, in the eyes of the elite they set a new precedent where even blatant fraud and economy undermining activity like this could be rewarded with taxpayer rescue funds.

Now, when it looks like there is going to be a run on a bank, its leadership, the government of the country it operates in, and international bodies like the G20 speak of the need to “re-capitalize” or even “nationalise” it. This is a euphemism for stealing a bunch of money from the taxpayers, who will be stuck with the bill for the re-capitalization in the form of compound interest debt, to create the perception that the bank has the money it is supposed to have. But if you followed the bank through the scenario I just described, it was clear that it never had all the money before the recapitalization and it doesn’t have it after it either; the only thing that changed is the future generation of taxpayer whose lives were mortgaged away. This, dear reader, is what you need to know when you’re trying to make sense of the cryptic declarations of your country’s politicians, the head of the IMF, and the Occupy Wall Street protests.

That’s why asking the G20 leaders to solve the same global "crisis" they presided over the manufacturing of is like asking an 90 year old man to be a sperm donor for a single woman in her late thirties who feels her biological clock ticking. He may get a "rush" of appearing like a hero when he's asked to perform the action of a hero, but sooner or later reality will sink in for both parties. His "stuff" will not get the job done, and the job will not get done until some real stuff can be obtained. “Real” in this case would be an economy based on reasonably valued goods and services based on organic supply and demand. What we have now is a “Performance-enhanced” economy where the “juice” is the trickery and thievery of permanent ZIRP (zero interest rate policy that robs savers), bailouts and subsidies, orchestrated by the highest levels of government and finance.

The group think practiced by diverse economic sages like NY Times columnist Paul Krugman and Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke: that piling on more debt, deficit, and stimulus to the record amounts that were produced from thin air in 2008/2009 will "kick-start confidence and growth" and "get the stalled recovery in gear", continues to be parroted by various media outlets, including the Toronto Star. The sad thing is, the lingo, the buzzwords, and the bluster are not cutting through to the heart of the problem anymore, and more and more people are realizing it. Further indebting the taxpayer to pretend that the economy is “recovering” and “growing” is a scam, and anybody can see that. That’s why these protests are starting to gain steam.

You’d never know it, though, with the speed the finance minister Jim Flaherty and other members of the Canadian body politic take to the airwaves every other day to assure us that everything’s fine and they’re out hectoring the world in its and our own best interest. Prime Minister Harper himself even wrote this gem for the Globe and Mail, I’m guessing on the back of a McDonald’s paper bag in the back seat of his limo judging by the amount of substance it contains. He and Flaherty both browbeat Europe non-stop on the need to take “decisive action” to “restore confidence and growth” and at the same time “get their deficit under control ASAP”. Because this article by Harper contains 100% rhetoric/adjectives and zero specifics, we can’t know what he's thinking when insisting a continent perform this physically impossible feat. We can only speculate on what he means when he says “Our challenges our great but our will to overcome them is greater”. But based on Flaherty’s demand to Europe a few weeks ago that the continent increase its bailout fund from 400 billion to a trillion Euros, I’m assuming the “will to overcome” is actually the will to demand the European Central Bank to put a new 600 billion euro debt on the heads of unborn Slovaks, Croatians, Lithuanians, Maltese, and the children of the other 23 nations of the great, old continent. Or to make this example more concrete, the Canadian Prime Minister and his allies all over the world - arrogant, dismissive, rich pricks like Kevin O’Leary - figure the silver haired banker guys in Europe who wear silk ties and fitted suits and live in their posh apartments in the toniest areas of Dublin and Paris deserve to maintain their standard of living. In their minds, if they snow the under classes living in high rises grappling with 40% unemployment on the fringes of these same cities, their victims probably a) won’t notice it or b) deserve it for being poor.

The two Canadian con artists in chief will have at least one staunch ally when they head to Europe for G20 negotiations in three weeks: British Prime Minister David Cameron. His country, whose currency, the pound sterling depreciated considerably after its government threw good taxpayer money after the bad housing bubble money at its banks, will put its collapsing economy shoulder to shoulder with Canada’s at the meeting. He and Harper seem to have made a secret agreement – Cameron to be the cross Atlantic “ethical oil” shill for the Tar Sands, Harp to do this bizarre and pathetic reframing of Canadian government branding and priorities around the Queen and the Royal family. Stay tuned for more antics from the Windsor family’s two new Stooge Twins in Chief. After Cameron’s recent aloud musing of needing a “big bazooka” to tackle his country’s debt, I don’t think you’ll have to wait long. The last public figure to use that word was then-U.S. treasury secretary Hank Paulson in 2008. He wanted his “bazooka” to be over a trillion; the bazooka being, of course, the $700 billion Wall Street Bailout that was tacked onto the U.S's then record 11 trillion national debt (it's now cracked 15 trillion).

That brings us to American Politics, and Wall Street, and its occupation. But rather than risk losing you here, I will devote to those subjects the detail they deserve – in my entire next column, because they are so crazy they really deserve all our attention right now.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Five Ways To Improve Voter Turnout Right Now

Unrepresentative democracy and undemocratic elections in Canadian society? Check

There are no nice ways to put it and no positive ways to spin it. Voter turnout is a huge problem. The good news is that it is one of the few problems we have as a society that is relatively simple to solve. I'm not interested in the "what" anymore; "Election fatigue", "Candidates promising little change" and "voter disengagement" are the latest lazy, unhelpful terms columnists are employing to describe the trend in public reaction to elections. That reaction was clearly, on October 6 in Ontario as it was in all other Canadian elections in recent memory, "I DON'T GIVE A F___!" How else to explain last Thursday's 49% voter turnout, meaning that a whole 18% of eligible voters in Ontario actually voted for McGuinty's "Major-Minority"?

That tells me that the state of democracy in this country is a travesty. Why? Because it allows politicians to strut around and act like they're legit and vindicated even though in many cases (like the October 2011 Ontario election) the voters who won a "majority" are those who didn't vote at all, which last time I checked constitutes...a boycott!

The time for cute antics and slogans like "Rock the vote" "Vote or die" and "Yes we can" is over. The gloves have to come off. Elections Ontario beefed up its offer to voters considerably this year by having twenty-eight days of advance polling, the first mail-in ballots ever, and a clear, visible, no-nonsense ad campaign explaining to people the voting options available to them. I had the privelege of participating in the Star's Speak Your Mind platform, which tried to offer local riding coverage and social media overlaps to reach voters and get them out, pointing them to their local race. And voters responded emphatically to all of this by not showing up. When I say gloves off, what I mean is I don't see the point of whining our faces off after the next election when, to everyone's great surprise, voter turnout will have dropped yet again. We've witnessed this outcome too many times and it's time to take steps to make our democracy a functioning one. Unless you want to read this kind of stuff for the rest of your life

And today, Lacking Credentials actually has solutions! Real, original, simple solutions. This is a problem about which I feel qualified to do more than complain and critique, because I actually have ideas that address it. This essay is a project I'm starting about voter turnout because I believe these ideas are necessary tools for raising it. Here they are:

#1 - Introduce Mandatory Voting - People who want to stay home from the polls on election day will be levied a $150 charge, non-negotiable, payable on their annual tax return. This will immediately plug the persistent gap between the unaware/uninterested eligible voters and the distressed citizens concerned about the illegitimacy and malaise that slowly creep into a democracies with such low turnouts.

It is absolutely insane that we allow every member of the citizenry the right to demand free medical care, public transportation, trains on time, lights that switch on and taps that run, but totally let them off the hook when the time comes to choose the people responsible for legislating these things. An indignant "Huh?" is what you get then; a deer in the headlights, don't know, don't care, why-are-you-bugging-me-about this reaction. Sorry folks, these politicians are making serious decisions about your tax dollars being spent and the regulations governing your life and it's not somebody else's problem. It's not an inconvenient telemarketing call during dinner. It's democracy and you will participate or else it will cost you this token sum to tell us you refuse to. And of course, I don't want to make invalids and bedridden old people and whoever else really can't move suffer - there would be a streamlined, lenient, less than 1 page, exception process. But everybody else is back on the hook. Don't tell me its not feasible or unrealistic. We do a crack job making sure every driver on the road has a valid licence and insurance, and that the parents of every baby born register the birth, and that anyone who wants to leave the country visits the passport office. Governments have decided these things are important, because they are, and they've created rules and fines to back them up. They've also decided mandatory voting isn't important, because its not - to them. Apathy and staying home help them stay in power. This rule would allow us to take the power back.

#2 - Introduce a "None of the above" option on the ballot. My first idea would be a big improvement - I truly believe that ignorance is the main source of these pathetic turnouts and it would stamp out a lot of it in a hurry. But why stop there and settle for forced voting? We can also make voting more interesting for all these new voters and throw another group driving low turnout, the "Those bastards have screwed me too many times!" crowd, a bone in the process. But there would be a condition to this "protest" vote, which is agreeing to participate in a local assembly if "None of the above" actually won the most votes in a riding. This slightly contravenes the sacred "secret ballot" principle, but you wouldn't be forced to show up - if anything you'd risk a room of your fellow constituents picking a random and sending him to the legislature, which I think would suit a lot of disgusted voters just fine.

#3 - Improve Political Education. Okay, my last one maybe has some logistics issues, but nothing that can't be hammered out by some intelligent folks in an evening. This one here is dead simple, and has been overlooked up until now because its not valued. And who decides what gets taught and what doesn't? You guessed it. Politicians, ministries and bureaucrats.

Why do most people leave school knowing how to add, subtract, read, write, and identify elements on the periodic table, but when you mention constituencies, candidates, majorities, minorities, ballots and riding associations they look at you like you're speaking a foreign language. All students should be learning 1) How to run for public office 2) How political parties operate 3)What the responsibilities of each level of government are and 4)How to vote. And I don't mean some crappy, half-credit online civics course that everyone cheats on like we have now. These basic things that all citizens need to know before they leave secondary school and reach voting age, two things which usually happen at about the same time, are clearly being overlooked when our children are being educated.

#4 - Add "Political Credit Scores" to the ballot. You hear a lot about not understanding "the issues". Or, your "choices". And I don't blame you. Requiring society to read 15-62 page platforms and bore through reams of newspapers every day is neither possible nor desirable. I want citizens to participate; I can't and shouldn't expect them to be extremely well-versed on the intricacies of fifteen or twenty issues.

How then do we cut to the heart of the matter? What is it about politics that really matters? Are we seeking the leader who most passionately and valiantly defends his/her ideals? The orator with the most stirring rhetoric and debate performance?

The politicians may think we are, but we don't have time to waste on this stuff. If you want stirring speeches, arguments and flourish, read Cicero. Or just watch Hollywood movies about sports. If you want to see how far oratory skills take a country, look at America's trajectory under Barack Obama. People think politics is about putting a suit on and making speeches. I wouldn't be writing this if that were true; in fact, I'd be less inclined to vote myself. The truth is, we elect politicians because they get to put their hands on the purse strings. They manage our money, we trust them with it. When they screw up, we have to pay. And when they do a good job, we save. That's pretty much all we can hope and expect all voters to know and understand.

So the question then becomes how to present this information to voters. I think a "credit-worthiness" angle would be most effective. When a person goes into a bank asking to borrow money to purchase a home or start a business, does the bank employee spend weeks looking through their shoeboxes of receipts and ask for a 40 slide powerpoint presentation, a speech, and a ten page essay? No. They look at the customer's financial situation and the credit score, and they learn everything they need to know. At the political level, everything we need to know can be found in the same pertinent questions a bank employee asks when granting credit. How much is coming in and how much is going out? What revenue will likely come in down the road and what is the risk that it won't? Most important, what does this person owe out there? Do they pay on time? Are they overextended? Have they let stuff go bad? Are they starting to?

You could develop a three-sentence, non-partisan credit report of each party, the last time it was in government, and how it managed public finances, to accompany each ballot. No BS, no spin, no judgement either way - just facts. Hard, proven numbers and time lines. Banks won't think of lending to an individual without this. Why should we treat politicians any differently? They are, after all, individuals too.

#5 - Clean up the discourse. I am all for free expression when it comes to private consumption and private production. But all of the strategies I've described above won't work unless we unplug what is driving the cynicism that is corroding the insides of our democracy inside the minds of voters and non-voters alike. Get rid of all these attack ads, partisan ads, partisan junk mail, radio ads, robo-calls - enough! Like Harlequin Romance novels, nobody will admit to having anything to do with these things, yet they do brisker business every year. This is the issue the political leaders are the most cowardly on: They'll never admit in public that they think misleading and frightening five people into voting for them is worth it if it makes forty people stay home - but they do. Their actions speak louder than words, and their silence on this particular issue is deafening.

So who's with me? Mandatory voting, None of the above ballot option, political education, political party credit scores, and an immediate end to all the toxic, partisan, substance-free junk. Simple and clear rules to correct this disgraceful voter turnout situation right away. If you have any doubts about any of it, I'd love to hear them and discuss with you.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Wrecked Economy - What Is Fair and Whose is Whose?

Dogma, rhetoric, pounding on the table, and evocation of dead leaders are all ways to convince your audience that you and them are in the same struggle

Well, it's thanksgiving Sunday and Ontarians have shown three days ago that they are evenly split on whose rose-coloured screened vision for the province they are opting into. An encouraging result is the McGuinty Liberals missing a majority by one seat, which means they will not have carte blanche over the next four years to secretly take out payday loans and shower cash on whatever public employee group is putting the heat on them this week. These various groups drove the McGuinty government to print an extra $100 billion dollars in Provincial Bonds (compound interest debt owed by Ontario taxpayers to the purchasers of them) over the past eight years because taxes collected weren't sufficient to cover their salaries, benefits, and pensions. The worst part is the Cash Store Liberal government claimed there was a "freeze" since 2009 but wages often still rose between 10-20%. Plenty of otherwise progressive, environmentalist, anti-poverty people who've been excluded from these back-scratching cartels didn't know who to cast their ballot for on election day since all three major parties committed more or less to the continued appeasement of these groups.

I'm not going to use the word "predictably", because it is "presumptuous" but more on that in a minute. For now, let's just say that understandably the Public Sector Union Machine has come out swinging and punching with a noticeably increased intensity the past few months. Serious financial resources have been deployed by unions to wage a PR war against public perception (and, perhaps, some of their own members misgivings over the incompatibility of these unions' actions and their so-called "social justice missions") about the inherent unfairness in the way the public/private wage split in society is currently structured. On TTC vehicles, CUPE ads portray their holistic, caring members (Hey! We're just giving seniors aquafit lessons and teaching yoga for peanuts. Don't blame us.), and on the airwaves the past few weeks you may have noticed the 8 million dollar "Working Families" ad campaign. Because it is heretofore and henceforth impossible for an Ontario politician to address a crowd without employing this label with tourette's-level frequency, even the unions figured that their message wouldn't get anywhere without it. But what provoked the hundreds of thousands of government workers to get so aggressive on the defensive all of a sudden?

Well, it's pretty simple. Despite Canada's "7.1%" "official" unemployment rate, people are wondering. Why are phds waiting tables and driving taxis? How many millions of people in their fifties and sixties that used to rake it in don't get included in this stat either because they've declared themselves officially unemployable or have resigned themselves to settling for walmart/mcjobs? How many people in their twenties can't find any decent work? There are literally millions of unemployed, underemployed, part time and poverty wage employees in Canada, and its been evolving that way for some years. It wasn't like this permanent "recession" state of mind flipped a switch and made things this way overnight.

So all these people struggling and utilising a ragtag patchwork of services, workshops, and re-education programs which are better than nothing but don't seem to be improving the situation on the whole wonder: Why is some 31 year old guy wearing a high-viz orange/yellow x t-shirt and driving a pick-up truck around all day making $29.74 an hour (+ 2.5x that on over time), with a 3.5% increase this year, a 4.5% increase the year after, and a 6% increase the year after that (which will be followed by an intense round of collective bargaining for more guaranteed increases) until he's fifty five? Wait, it gets better. At fifty five, when he's making $63.37 an hour, he can cash out the 30 years of sick days he never took at his current $165,000 a year salary, then retire earning this same amount while not working until he dies! Hmm, I wonder where all this backlash comes from against unions.

Of course, my example is extreme and may not necessarily describe the compensation package of each unionized, public sector employee. But the phenomena I've described are more or less standard in the majority of these packages. Now for my explanation of not wanting to use the word "predictable". Yesterday I read Robin Jones, director of CUPE BC say "Sadly, but predictably, the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business)'s solution is not to improve pensions for all workers but get rid of ours." He wanted to remind member that "Defined Benefit=Good" and "Defined Contribution=bad". In other words, don't hate us for having to maintain our standard of living, fight for your own.

Usually in these special-interest bromides, the union leadership of well-paid, unskilled lifers who own big cars and expensive real estate sanctimoniously remind us that they're just "the little guy fighting the fight" and we should turn our anger and attention to "bankers, bailouts, and tax-cutting governments" who "wrecked the US economy". Both of these groups which have nothing to do with the average citizen tell the average citizen "We add no value to your lives on a day to day basis and actually make your life more expensive but, you have to meet our demands just because - we "serve the public" or "keep the economy moving".

But I have to hand it to Mr. Jones, who relies on more than just a leap of faith and logic on why I should care about all his six figure pensioners. He says that "Fairness (is in) immediately doubling CPP, increasing OAS and GIS (Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplement, the three government income streams that assure basic needs for all seniors in Canada)...and passing legislation guaranteeing defined benefit public service pension plans". The first part is very flattering, of course, but as one sentence in a one page article is clearly lip service. Is CUPE willing to strike, picket, march, or walkout over granny's 1400 bucks a months to raise it to $2200? I thought not, and that's very telling. They're only willing to when its their swag on the chopping block, which it never is, but even the prospect that someday some of it might be is enough to cause "action". That's why he concludes telling his readership that they need to put a bunch more legal chains and padlocks on the ironclad megabucks they are already guaranteed to receive, to be spent however they wish: on boats, jet skis, cruises, Florida condos, RVs, and the property taxes and credit lines on their expensive big city real estate and Muskoka cottages.

Why else would anyone need to make $84,000 being an "admin assistant" for the city of x______ at 57 years old when they'd be lucky to get 13 bucks an hour doing the same work in the private sector? Why do "years of service" mean "oodles of more money". If anything, I've noticed that people who have been around the longest and make the most usually do the least work and have the least involvement in the actual day to day operations that keep an entertprise going. They have the art of doing as little work as possible while appearing to be indispensible down to a science. Ouch. A little marxist theory slap for our so-called "left" union leaders concerned about the "collective". In their perverse version of utopia, every worker now has a right to own the means of production for his own state-subsidized, bourgeois capitalist dream.

I am generalizing here, and I know that many people in the public sector have vital, life or death important jobs. But not all of them do by virtue of belonging to it. And we as a society are bullied and prohibited from scrutinizing how our public service sector operates and how dollars are spent. We are repelled with shouts of being "right-wing" "anti-labour, anti-union, and anti-worker" when members of the citizenry try to come to grips with the simple "why?" inside pertinent inquiries into public sector pay.

Occupy Wall Street is happening because people are waking up to the fact that these bankers downtown are not oracles, they're not experts, they're just snakes in expensive suits who pretend they have esoteric knowledge that we all owe them our livelihoods for. As people continue to ask why our Western "rich" societies are actually broke as shit and the majority of us "outsiders" are getting stuck with the bill and all of its nasty "order to pay" enclosed rhetoric, a look under the hood of these newly belligerent unions in surely next in line.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Presidential 2012 – The Elephants In the Room Seriously Lacking Heft

Ron? Ron? Where are you? I'm stuck in zombieland...

It has been a crazy month, and the flurry of covering the provincial election has spurned me, perhaps, to sneak in a post about something less redundant in these days of diminishing daylight. The time has come to stop writing about what a colossal flop Barack Obama has been as President, and start looking at who might be gearing up to replace him and survey if there is any wreckage left to, well, wreck.

Doesn't it just feel like yesterday that you were watching that inauguration in the office cafeteria? It was less than three years ago. But the 24 hour news cycle calls for non-stop coverage of...nothing, really, so the analysis for when this happens again in early 2013 has already begun in earnest. Nobody can figure out who will win out to take on the Wall Street lackey talk radio loves to call a black enviro-socialist muslim marxist-leninist president.

Well, I felt the need to inform you that the talent pool so far is looking pretty weak. Not that I imagine many of my readers are registered Republicans, but the candidates being discussed for the herculean task of defeating his royal virtuousness Barack Obama are serious pylons. In France they call the prominent figures in the opposition Socialist Party Les Éléphants. Presumably because of their personalities, which loom large over the party, as does the disproportionate amount of influence in it that they carry. Now, in America the logo of the opposition, the Republican Party, is an actual elephant. But none of the Presidential candidates in it are putting out a particularly elephantesque vibe. The only elephant in this room of candidates is how the media continues to cover them despite how terrible they all are.

When you watch Michael Douglas, or Harrison Ford, or Josh Brolin, or Martin Sheen play an American president, they know that to appear credible and match the grandeur the audience instinctively assigns to the role, certain traits need to be displayed. Earnestness. Optimism. Elegance and savvy with just the right splash of toughness. In short, they subtly effuse their recognition that no man ever got the role that has an impossible amount of pressure and expectations for a human being to deal with right, but at least the guys (the ones we remember) gave an acceptable effort. These candidates were dealing with right now? I'm not even sure they're middle management material.

Let's start our list with Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the two biggest textbook dickhead-in-suit, shit eating grin corporate glad-handlers I think I've ever seen. Look at those static, plastic grins. Are they in ads for Just for Men? Crest Whitestrips? Eddie Bauer? Are they approaching a lectern in a dreary hotel conference room to woodenly deliver worse then expected quarterly results? No, they're running for president, even though their faces belong in ads aimed at making stiff middle-aged men think its worth it to pretend they're in their primes again, or in front of audiences making stiff middle-aged men think they're gonna earn returns on their investments. Do I judge a book by its cover? Of course not. I know that Mitt Romney has cruised his whole adult life on the coattails of the business achievements and political acumen of his dad George. Rick Perry, meanwhile, in his last ten years as governor of Texas, has pursued the same evangelical, big oil, death sentencing, tough-talkin' agenda of his predecessor in the post, George W., and has presided over such shining achievements as having his state go from second worst to worst level of education in the State of the Union. I don't know why anyone pays attention to these idiots drone on about how they're going to turn around a bankrupt nation. Folks, we are heading into some dark days.

Will they beat Obama? Macleans had him walking off a cliff on the cover last week. He's trying to see just how many cartilages he can make the hordes of American left and progressive voters break in their noses while they hold them and vote for him. Let's go through his "change" checklist – 1)Close Guantanamo 2) End Wars 3) End Bush-era financial profilgacy and bailouts 4) Implement meaningful environmental policies 5)Broker mideast peace process, which is the latest to fall by the way side because “It's too close to election time and he's not gonna risk his neck over it”...Wow, a perfect doughnut zero for 5. And why were things so horrible under the previous administration again? Well, the fed shovelling endless trillions into Wall Street, two wars in far off muslim countries, and 40 million Americans with no health care, of course. The exact same state things are in right now under Mr. “Change We Can Believe In Himself”. If the American public realizes this, which they surely must as unemployment continues to rise and tent cities continue to sprout up from sea to shining sea, I declare this guy 100% f------ un-re-electable.

The problem with those first two republican guys I mentioned is that they're not candid. Who can relate to two lifelong pampered establishment figures in their mid-fifties? They just say whatever their people tell them to say and of course, oppose Obama for the sake of opposing him. This means they'll have about as much cred as the guys they resemble: Square middle-aged suburban dads. No, you need real, sexy outspoken heartland women to stand up to the demagogue in the white house and do him one better by breaking the final glass ceiling. That's why Congressman Bachmann of Minnesota is such a breath of fresh air from these two staid posers. Breathing fire about “homosexual lifestyles” and “Iowa tough-girl ness” will teach these newbies that less spine is not more and non-offensive is not the new black.

What remains to be seen is of course if she can stave off Miss “Too cool for school because I'm still in high school” Palin. The woman looms large and often silent over the media coverage, taking on Lord Voldemort “He who must not be named” characteristics. The high school reference is because she, due to already enjoying an extremely high profile, does not have to lower her notoriety factor by declaring that she's actually running. She prances around the halls of the nation, a gaggle of losers tugging at her skirt for attention while she retains her haughty expression and turned up nose. Such women in high school are not immune to the universal forces of age and decay, which continue to work away on them at an accelerated pace decades later when everyone has forgotten about them but they continue to be sustained by their powerful teenage status on the restaurant or retail shop floor. How many years will we have to watch Sarah's lustre dwindle over the jeopardy music of “Will she run? Won't she? Will she? Won't she?” Hopefully not past the next one.

Who knows. The sad thing is that there is a candidate, who consistently finishes first or close in the straw polls and primaries, and who is systematically ignored and snickered at by the mainstream media. His name is Ron Paul, and you've heard his name here before because he is maybe the only politician in North America who says anything true or real. Namely, that the federal reserve has bankrupted the country to the point where we have no choice but to return to currency that is verifiable because it is REAL (e.g., gold). He also says that U.S. should immediately end its wars and network of bases abroad because they are far too expensive. A 76 year old medical doctor, who because of thpse two sensible ideas that should be an instant landslide success, is instead dismissed as an old crazy nutbar.

Mr Paul enjoys support from a wide variety of people across the political spectrum who are tired of the lies, the malaise, and the bullshit of partisan politics and massaged strategy and messaging. In this way, he is the real elephant in the room. But the LCBO has an elephant in the room campaign too, in which they advise people not to let the drunk person who insists on driving become that elephant. Sadly, people still drive drunk. And republicans are probably determined to ignore this elephant and drive their party, and the country, into a solid tree at the side of the road.

If America and the Republican party had any sense they'd let Ron go kick this spineless poser of a progressive to the curb next year. But if they listen to stunned baby boomers like David Frum (who's considered an “enlightened” republican), they'll elect personality-less corporate robot whore like Romney who will duly bring the nation to its knees and then ride off in a helicopter with Wall Street bankers and the Koch brothers the same way Barack will if he gets re-elected.