Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Get Rid of Catholic Schools, Dalton. It’s The Easiest Decision You’ll Ever Make

In Spite of the gold-encrusted throne, I think we can lower our amount of candidates for this job

This is going to the shortest posting in Lacking Credentials history.  Much eloquent and lengthy ink has been spilled on why it no longer makes sense to publicly fund religious schools in a modern western democracy; I don’t need to explain why.  The Catholic Church seems to have awakened a sleeping avalanche of antipathy towards it in its flat refusal to allow GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances, to protect gay kids from bullies by letting enlightened ones support them.  Strength in numbers) in schools.   The church claims religious diversity is threatened because their right to be intolerant toward sexual diversity on the public dime is being threatened.  Please look up the word Disingenuous at

There is no need to excessively attack the church because there is (excuse the pun) a snowball’s chance in hell of a competing massive wave of public opinion emerging to validate their views.  They are on the wrong side of history.  Like Mitt Romney’s wooden articulation of his line in the sand against gay marriage at a University commencement last month, the church’s posturing is nothing more than some blustery red meat and bones bluster thrown to a rabid but dwindling and increasingly irrelevant base.  Find me a reasonable person who cares about either issue.

For three decades since the ill-advised decision was made to publicly fund Catholic schools in Ontario, the declining church has relied on the good experiences and loyalty of former students (like me) to send their kids to Catholic school for no other reason than “that they went to Catholic school”.  There is no way people are going to continue to conscionably engage in such hypocrisy after the GSA controversy, which will go down as the straw that broke the camel's back.  Most of the religious substance in the system has already been removed, as has the requirement to belong to the Catholic faith to attend (that would be discriminatory).  This dilution of Catholic education happened more or less without incident.  Yet here is the church telling a government with gay cabinet ministers not to step on its toes, because it just can’t get over its own hatred of gays.

This is an institution that controls probably one of the top five fortunes in the world and pays no taxes.  This is an institution that has steadfastly denied, defended, and covered-up its child-molester perp staff members for decades.  This is an institution that took almost 400 years to admit that the earth was round.

But despite all that, let’s keep all the schools open.   We want to avoid ruffling feathers,   We don't need to provoke a fight with a group that claims to represent 40% of the Ontario population (Although with the amount of under-25 weddings, 10 children families and seminary enrolment we see in Ontario these days, I'm not sure what percent of that 40 takes the faith as seriously Archbishop Collins).  Don’t interrupt teachers and students.  And history is important, so let the schools continue to be called Holy this and Saint that and Our Lady of Perpetual Agony and Misery.   But merge the boards, sever the connection with the Archdioceses and the Vatican immediately, and don’t advance another taxpayer dime until this has been achieved.

In your endless desire to please everybody, Dalton, you’ll waffle and waver in the wind.  Don’t do it.  Get on the right side of history. We are 12 years into the twenty first century.  De-fund Catholic Schools.

Sincerely, an Ontarian who received an excellent Catholic school education

PS -  if I made you uncomfortable and you’re convinced people want publicly funded religious schools, man up and put it to a referendum.  Thanks

OK maybe this wasn’t that short.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Thomas Mulcair and Dutch Disease

Unfortunately, I haven’t yet received my Phd in economics, so I don’t feel that I am fully qualified to weigh in on the question of whether or not Canada is indeed suffering from “Dutch Disease”.

I do know that the argument that the tar sands are killing manufacturing in Central Canada is more or less irrelevant to me.   I don’t consider factories and plants to be owed anything by the state or anybody else.  I expected private companies to stand on their own two feet in 2008 when they got bailed out, and I expect them to stand on their own two feet now.

But for all the holes in the theory and the doubtful pertinence of it, I’m thrilled to see someone actually stand up to the prime minister for the first time since he came to power in 2006.  And standing up to the prime minister inevitably involves challenging some orthodoxy about the oil sands.  If this massive strip mining of bitumen was as innocuous as the Conservative party would have you believe, why is it in the news every day?

Many Canadians do not want to be identified with a damn the torpedoes resource bonanza to support SUV driving suburban lifestyles, tim horton’s coffee, and consumption of shitty goods from China.  This is in sum the status quo lifestyle in Canada and it has come to embody everything the Conservative Party of Canada represents.  Everything they do is in the unapologetic defence of all this, to the detriment of “losers” who don’t take part in it.  And anyone who doesn’t and voices their opinion is blasted with McCarthyist catcall screaming accusations of un-Canadianness.

So it is refreshing to see a leader of the opposition, finally, who clearly doesn’t give a shit about what anybody thinks of him.

The Liberals, under their Central Toronto smog-haze of delusion, somehow thought they could stake out this suburbanite-resource worker ground the Conservatives have had an elephantesque ass planted on for seven years.  They still do.  They think by opposing the Conservative political machine, but supporting all of their substance, they will have some kind of credibility with Canadians because they’re virtuous or something.

We saw how much success this approach had in the 2008 and 2011 Federal Elections.  Here is the recap of what happened to Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff in those elections:

Stephen Harper to Liberal Leader: “Roll over and die”

Liberal Leader to Stephen Harper: “Okay”

Michael Ignatieff’s result, the most pathetic in Canadian history, speaks for itself.  Dion’s a principled guy and an environmentalist but was ultimately unelectable as he ardently subscribes to  trudeau-esque bilingual utopic vision of the country that doesn’t exist anymore.

This is why trashing and mocking the Liberal Party is our new favourite national sport.  This is why it is exhilarating to see some competition with some BALLS.  Someone with the courage to challenge this douchebaggerific vision of Canada that the whole country is in danger of being monopolized by.  Dutch Disease is a tenuous thread to start that challenge with.  But when Mulcair dismissed Western Premiers Brad “Clean Coal” Wall, Christy “goofy” Clark, and Alison Redford as messengers of the PM, he showed the Canadian public he’s not going to be pushed around.  The media will tell him we can’t afford his principles.  But they still refuse to acknowledge the Canadian public’s repudiation of their fake Liberal party for the precise lacking in such principles.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Privatize EI!

We can only wish the Conservative government would get its mangy mitts off of EI (The Employment Insurance Program).  Sadly, it falls within their purview at the moment. And I regret to inform you folks, that their majority in the House of Commons means that the drunken teenagers have been handed the keys to the Corvette.

At Issue?  “Chronic” recipients of EI, who are on it year after year (Seasonal workers, fisherman, etc) have drifted into their government’s crosshairs, and they envision tightening the rules to require them to look for work within an hour commute, or at 70% of their pre-claim wage.  The government claims it can no longer allow these people to do this in this era when other parts of the country are experiencing labour shortages and foreign workers are being imported to pick fruit, flip burgers etc.

The government might have a leg to stand on if EI worked the way they would like you to believe it does, or the way they have deluded themselves, in their ignorance, to believing it does.

EI is not some generous, no strings attached government handout.  It’s an insurance policy, hence it’s name: Employment Insurance.  All Canadians who work are required to pay premiums into so that it is there for all Canadians when they need it.

The beautiful thing about this program was its simplicity.  Even a government bureaucracy couldn’t mess it up.  Because there are so many more Canadians working than not working at any given time, enormous surpluses accumulated in the plan.  In 2005, before the Conservatives came to power, there was a $54 billion surplus in the EI account!

Then we know what happened.  We’ve seen this nightmare movie before, and unfortunately, we still live it every day.  The Harper Conservatives came to power.

If you have any knowledge at all about insurance, you know that it involves setting rates for premiums so that they will fund a policy and make sure the money is there for when it needs to be paid out.  You also know that monies within a fund are managed by actuaries who project and document the policies short and long term sustainability based on its current financials.

Well, since 2009, Canada’s economic expert, Finance Minister “Big Jim” Flaherty, has refused to allow these rate-setters, who are still getting paid, to set a single rate.  The ministries in his government responsible for EI (Finance and HRSDC) have also ignored the annual reports of the chief actuary.  As a result, EI is now chronically underfunded, and the EI fund now sports a $8 billion deficit rather than a $54 billion surplus.

The $62B that is MIA is not only a result of muzzled bureaucrats and inaction.  The Conservatives have also been raiding the fund repeatedly for billions to fund…whatever.  Bailouts, Gazebos, Jails, Malfunctioning Fighter Jets - five figure taxpayer-funded junkets in New York and London - their priorities are manifold.  They are not the first government to raid the fund, unfortunately, and that misappropriation of funds to which the government is not entitled should be stopped by legislation immediately.

A world where that happens is a world where we dream in technicolour.

That's why we need to spin off EI into a crown corporation to save it.  We have a government who says they understand its importance but are intent on quietly starving it and strangling it to death because they really see it as people living on the couch, off of the State.  So take it away from these legislators who fundamentally misunderstand its purpose, and give it to an arms-length body who can be counted on to restore Employment Insurance to the great self-funded, non-discriminatory, non-humiliating program we've all got the peace of mind of knowing is there.

How many people do you know who have worked for decades and never collected?  The Conservatives' proposed reform addresses this in a way by creating three "tiers" of claims (frequent, intermittent and rare), but not really.  The people who've never been on it get the shaft for all the money they put in.  The regional disparities remain.   Worse, the financing of the program is not addressed at all.

There are a lot of things you could do to improve the efficiency of the program, such as removing eligibility for people who get a 2 years severance pay packet and go on it right after.  Doesn't the severance replace EI in that case.  Skiers, snowmobilers and cottagers unfortunately have all gained reputations for using "pogey" while pursuing their interests as well.  There's gotta be a way to let those guys slide for a year or two and not 25.

Overall, the program just needs to be simplified.  Uniform hours requirements, not the current unfair patchwork based on local unemployment rates.  Raising the rates for multiple claimants.  And raising everyone's contribution rate, which the minister has refused to do.  Get all that out of they way, forbid Harper ministers to ever touch it again, and the fund can be a cash cow money maker for all Canadians again within months.  We work enough and pay enough taxes to collect benefits when we need them without listening to bullshit from the government about why we're not picking fruit or driving for 90 minutes each way ($50) to make $84 ($10.25 an hour x 8) for a shift at Tim Horton's.  It's pretty sad when you would have more confidence in a private company administering EI than your own incompetent government.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Cult of the Startup

I wrote this nearly a year ago; a year later, it seems better than I remember it, so I am posting it for your enjoyment rather than letting it go to waste:

It was one of those articles that made you weep with shame at our nation's collective refusal to get off the couch.  A young, University of Waterloo educated webpreneur, head of Polar Mobile, one of the more successful companies in the eight million strong pool of application-web-social media startups in Toronto, told this line to a conference, which got my attention:

“I have not met enough Canadians who are getting on planes every single week and going out to chase business outside of our borders, where the budgets are bigger, decision timelines are shorter and the brands are bigger, says Gupta, who spoke in Stratford on Wednesday at the Canada 3.0 digital media conference and technology show.

Wow Mr. Gupta. 25 years old, CEO, and jetting around the world non-stop.  You're like, seriously my hero dude. So what you're telling me is this is a really hot time to get into a business in Canada developing, say, social media smartphone apps.  That market is what you would call "emerging"; it's not saturated or in the vernacular, "played out", at all.  We could really kick this nation of ours into high gear if we all emulated what you do.

If we did that, how would we cook, take our kids to the park, play guitar or drink cocktails on the summer patio?  Do you engage in this phenomenon known as "everyday life"? Since you're so busy, I'm willing to bet (but not assume) that either you live in a barely furnished condo in downtown Toronto on a steady diet of takeout and TV dinners when you're home, which is never, or that you haven't got around to changing your permanent address from your parent's house in Brampton where your mom still has hot meals and folded laundry ready for you on whatever occasion you manage to show up. 

But I'm not here to speculate on the levels of balance in Mr. Gupta's personal life, and whether either of those scenarios reflect his actual life it is irrelevant; he is perfectly entitled to live his as he pleases in our free country.  I'm merely asking him what business he has demanding us to sacrifice ours.  However well he might know his digital media business, his logic is outdated and flawed.

For the sake of future generations, which as a person in his twenties he is eligible to contribute to the spawning of, he might have an interest in knowing that jumbo jets consume an enormous amount of an increasingly rare resource (petroleum) and burn it high in the atmosphere, where it has a strong and immediate effect of increasing carbon dioxide, which increases the temperature on earth (record high and rising).  This is in the goal of pushing business which requires ever more phones and laptops to serve as a platform, and these devices require combinations of quite rare minerals, compounds, and precious and heavy metals for their manufacture (already scarce and more sought out than ever).  While these devices are alive, they must connect with each other on the Internet (10% of global energy demand and rising) and when they are dead, they will secrete their heavy metal lithium ion batteries into the water and soil (already contaminated and getting worse).

Of course, people do not respond well to negativity and he is preaching a positive, "can-do" message, while I am relaying depressing, "doomsday" information.  So since he is a "dynamic young entrepreneur proposing solutions" and I am an "irrelevant cranky obscure blogger", let's follow his logic.  We all get on planes to promote our tech business so the demand drives tech stocks up, drive oil prices up, drive our productivity up, drive our dollar up, drives housing, gas, and food prices up, lowers the birthrate, and prematurely ages the population.

I've wanted to get this off my chest for a long time. There is more to economic success than tech startups. If we all worked for them, the consequences for society would be disastrous. Unfortunately, our country's economic and political establishments, with their myopic obsession with greed and growth, don't see much else of value worth promoting anything else any more. They are in the midst of a project to import millions of people like Mr. Gupta into Canada so that they will dominate our society, which will then have to live and die by the sword of his misguided words. More on that next time.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fat Tax? Fat Chance!

An interesting news item that made the headlines today was a report that came out of the U.K. It suggested that Western developed countries grappling with soaring obesity rates and mulling “fat” taxes on junk food would have to set these taxes as high as 20% for them to become effective in their goal of penalizing and preventing junk food consumption.

The reasoned forum for debate around issues affecting North Americans followed its usual trajectory on the comment boards.  The “left” stressed the need for action, lest we further expose ourselves to the perils of rampant diabetes, heart attacks, depression, and Segway ridership.  The “right” then weighed in with the requisite vitriolic anti-nanny state howling and libertarian chest-thumping.  Economist nerds then interrupted them with their correct reservations about the unintended consequences of blanket legislation and regulation, the irrational behavior of consumers, and the laws of supply and demand.  You know, they were all right.

It has already been irrefutably demonstrated that humans in developed countries have easier and cheaper access to fatty, sugary, salty processed foods than at any other people have at any time in our species’ history.  Scientists have also sensibly posited that humans, when faced with these calories, are not inclined to turn them down.  In fact, the scientists demonstrated that humans are physiologically prevented from turning them down.

Scientists and economists, bleeding hearts and heartless bastards all have their ideas on what to do about this issue.  But I will tell you why it all amounts to hot air.  The most observant comment I read about a hypothetical fat tax was that it is not a tax on obesity, it’s a tax on laziness.  And we all know how lazy people are in our convenience-obsessed society.

Consider the work in going to the supermarkets, farmers markets, and the dirt patch out back to procure good food.  Is there good affordable food out there? Of course there is!  But you have to know where to find good produce, and buy it when it is in season/on sale so you don’t lose your shirt.  At my house, we do a weekly run to the farmer’s market which, where we live, is on par with or cheaper than the grocery store, plus assorted runs throughout the month to five different grocery stores, a drug store that has cheap grocery items, two Asian food stores and three bakeries.  None of them are more than 3km from our house, but all make it into the rotation when trading off quality, price, and variety.  When we get home, planning, storing, preparing and cooking the food takes on average I would say at least 70-90 minutes a day.

Is it worth it? You bet it is.  I feel nourished, buoyant, and productive, most of the time.  Every day, most people at my work are eating slop from the cafeteria, or greasy takeout (which I don’t mind once a month), or those wretched frozen dinners, while I have my high quality leftovers I’ve brought with me.  This alone saves me thousands per year, not to mention I can actually look forward to lunch hour.  But is it easy? Not really.  Good food is not expensive, but you do need to spend time on it if you want to feed your family properly.  This was considered a normal aspect of human existence that nobody thought twice about until twenty years ago or so, and now even healthy recipes with real ingredients in calendars and parenting magazines take pains to stress how “quick” and “easy” they are for “families on the go”.  I’m sorry to burst their marketing/good intentions bubble, but cooking dinner from scratch does not take 10-15 minutes no matter what they tell you.  It takes an hour.

This is why I cannot unequivocally support a fat tax.  Not only does junk food benefit from the perception that it is “cheaper” (it’s not, in the final analysis), it is faster, more convenient, and addictive.  Canada’s Food Guide, The Food Network, and common sense can’t convince people to eat like normal humans, and you think punishing them with a tax will?  I have a slogan for you: the lord helps those who help themselves.

If people have never cooked, don’t share meals, avoid actual food items in the supermarket and go straight for the snack shelves and freezers, and think a rotation of McDs, BK, Wendy’s, KFC and pizza is a balanced diet, they’re pretty much already screwed.  We can chalk up these behaviours to class, culture, upbringing, and a whole other host of “socioeconomic factors”, but the bottom line is there’s no evidence that introducing a fat tax would improve these people’s health or make them see the benefits of changing their habits or lifestyles (as in, they can’t f------ see them now?!)

Smoking has been public enemy number one for years.  As a result,  the amount of smokers in the general population have fallen from 49 to 17 percent over fifty years.  And yet those 17% are still going strong, despite rising prices, social stigma, and a universal societal consensus that it’s pretty much the dumbest decision you can make for your health.  Do we need a new battlefield against the obese to make them feel sub-human too now, aware as we are of the tenacious persistence of stupidity in the face of overwhelming evidence?

Obese people are already shamed into living marginalized, isolated existences. In the mid-sized Ontario city where I live, I see people driving through the McDonalds drive through in the morning (as I ride past on my bike) who look like they can barely fit between their seat and their steering wheel.  I’m not exaggerating.  You don’t see these people out on the street, in shops, at the park with their kids, at concerts or festivals or community activities.  Obesity is not a problem because it’s a hidden problem.  Out of sight, out of mind.

If such people are persons of prominence (which they rarely are), or have designs on becoming one, they know that the path to freedom from their onion-ring chains passes inevitably through potato chip and big-gulp free zones, with a forced ass-removal from the couch and a plunk into the chair of a personal trainer’s office.  People at the gym will look at them with nothing but respect for showing up and deciding to break the shadowy cowardice of their living rooms.  However, deciding to take this very important step, which thousands do every year, is a personal decision, whether the government is profiting off your misery or not.

You can’t stop people from stuffing themselves any more than you can stop them from procreating.  Which brings me to sight #2 in my town that made the source of the whole obesity epidemic abundantly clear to me.  It happened at the bus terminal – a young, overweight lady, no older than 22, who was smoking, texting, and obviously poor, was waiting for the bus with her daughter, no older than three.  She was sitting in a stroller, drinking a 600 ml of Coca-cola from a straw, being paid no attention by her mother.  The cycle of obesity, poverty, and ignorance on full display.  That’s what a toddler needs to get a head start on life, hundreds of empty calories and carcinogens.  And society is totally powerless to intervene in this situation.  This poor child, defenceless against this trashy-life conditioning, will be standing their like her mother with her own child some day.

Meanwhile across town, two six-figure earning, graduate degree holding forty-somethings wince and cross their fingers as they prepare to drop another fifteen grand on rolling the in-vitro dice.  Their granite-countertopped kitchen and stainless steel fridge are packed with organic dairy products, heritage grains and oodles of arugula.  There are, however, no kids around to eat any of it as Mr and Mrs type A spent all their childbearing years stacking big bucks.  Which are now coming in handy for these IVF treatments.  It's a fictional scenario, but no one can deny that IVF treatment is booming.

My point is, our incredibly advanced and evolved society has produced all kinds of post-modern conundrums and unintended consequences.  The last thing we need is punitive and nuance-lacking rules to produce more of both.  I happen to have ice cream, chips, and cookies at my house right now.  Since these things are all capable of sitting around for days and weeks past when they arrive, I don’t feel I should have to pay more for them.  If these treats were enjoyed in moderation, their purveyors' margins would be greatly squeezed, which would compromise their ability to spend billions on advertising.   That would free up our government' time spent on debating whether to ban "junk food advertising" to focus on more important things.  People who take care of themselves shouldn't be subject to a tax that is blind to their normal body mass index when they want some well-deserved dessert.  Who could forget the Simpson's episode when cantankerous old Monty Burns confided in Smithers how happy he was from the first taste of "iced cream" he experienced in his miserable old age?

A government that is planning on building a massive casino where Ontario Place used to be sure won't have a leg to stand on if it talks about introducing "sin" taxes on junk food.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

This Week In Tech: Facebook IPO is Massive Ponzi

         White sans-serif on blue.  It sure isn't a swoosh, a siren, or an apple

It's the biggest cultural and technological phenomenon of its generation.  Mark Zuckerberg is the most extreme, hoodie-wearing, 27 year old tech CEO in the world.  One in three people on Earth has a facebook profile.  And in two weeks, Facebook will sell stock, real publicly traded shares, for the first time in the biggest IPO (initial public offering) in human history.

And the results are in...I'm opening an envelope...WHO CARES?!

Oh don't worry.  I know.  This is all over the media and it will be for at least a few more weeks or months, hitting a fever pitch in the days after May 27.  Media, myself included, has a job of attracting eyeballs, after all.  And Facebook is very popular, there's no doubt about that, just like other huge wastes of time such as Angry Birds, Sudoku and Canada's Got Talent.  The reasons why this public offering will be a huge flop are not complicated.  You don't need to be a ticker-obsessed, sleep deprived market maven to figure it out.

A while ago I was reading an article along the lines of "The Nine Keys To Success" in Fortune or Success or one of the other Gold-tie wearing, corporate fist-pumping periodicals.  I only retained the one that is relevant for our analysis here today: ship.  That's right.  People who are successful in business ship.  You can talk about synergy and deal-making and hot money all you want, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't ship, which is just a bad-ass way of saying do you have a profitable product or service going out the door of your company.  Any company that is preparing to go public and have to answer to shareholders and the media on the quarterly basis on how its generating revenue thus must answer: Do you have something to ship?

The answer, in Facebook's case, is an emphatic no.  Not only do they have no sustainable revenue to attract shareholders, they have no interest in gaining any.  Facebook's revenue currently is made up of the random ads you see on your page that do not motivate you to buy anything (87%) and royalties from those stupid games people play (Farmville, Mafia Wars - 13%), who themselves earn revenue from the tiny percentage of users dumb enough to pay for enhancements.  Even they have a sounder business model than Facebook

So to talk about Facebook as the latest "tech giant" in the mold of google, microsoft and apple is totally ridiculous.  One of these things is not like the other.  Hint - it does not ship.  Microsoft, love 'em or hate 'em, made the first mass-produced operating system and licensed it out for a fee, a business model that is still their bread and butter today.  Windows packages shipped and transactions processed year after year.   Apple said that other manufacturers could go screw themselves and they weren't licensing anything - it was their hardware and software end to end or the highway.  It earned them a small amount of devoted followers and some niche clients and nearly killed them until they came up with some killer products and became the biggest company in the world.  Google made the world's best search engine and found a way to monetize all the traffic, clicks, ads and page clicks on the Internet.  It's hard to do business on the Internet now without talking to them - there's your sustainable revenue.  Results and customers shipped to e-commerce people.

What has Facebook done other than cause real drama in the lives of teenagers and fake drama in the lives of baby boomers who are using it to relive their teenage years?  Nothing.  And what did Facebook get paid for these drama-causing services? Nothing. 

We must acknowledge the possibility, however, that with Facebook's high profile there must be a few people who know some basic things about business around Zuckerberg.  We can admit at the very least, that Facebook could use its resources to develop a killer product.  Look at Samsung.  How do you go from TVs and washing machines and no smart phones to #2 in the smart phone market?  A market in which RIM went from being #1 to foundering in. The point is that the cycle of business is topsy-turvy and cutthroat indeed, in tech more than any other sector, and we cannot definitively say which end of it Facebook will come out of.

More than likely, though, it will end up not with the Googles, Apples or Microsofts it considers its colleagues but in the trash heap with former "hot" tech companies that are now jokes because they had no sustainable business model or, in more concrete terms, something to ship that would bring in money.  Remember when fox bought Myspace for $800 million in 2005?  They were trying to unload it last year on some poor soul for $35 million.  Or who could forget the Vanity Fair headline "Is the Groupon the next Facebook?" after the company's value increased 2600% in a very short period of time.  The company is already in trouble since it has been discovered that people actually don't buy spa-salon packages and $79 Hotel weekends every day and the day they do isn't necessarily going to match the day they want to save three bucks doing it.  I'm sure the founder still got rich in the interim and I'm poor so hey, what the hell do I know?  But you can't look at all these facts and deny that before 2012, the VF headline could very well be ironically reversed: "Is Facebook the next Groupon?"

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Memo To Globe And Mail - You Ain't The New York Times

I was bemused to find out today that the Globe is going to start allowing only a few free articles a month to its online readers, after which they will have to pay a charge, à la New York Times, starting this fall.

Unlike many red-meat eating conbots, I’m not going to accuse the Stephen Harper- endorsing Globe of being a worthless Toronto commie rag that is beneath me to read.  I admit that I probably spend 20-30 minutes a day on, to my own great discredit.  I feel a bit prouder saying that than I would saying I read the National Inquirer or People, but not by much. The Globe and Mail is, excuse my language, a shitty newspaper that is insulting the intelligence of its readers by asking to charge them.  It is undoubtedly the most uncritical, bland, substance-free corporate mouthpiece newspaper in Canada.  This will not end well for the Globe.  It’s readers will agree it’s entertaining at times.  Nice diversion to waste time with at work. And yes, they do have pretty catchy headlines.  But why would a newspaper that doesn’t actually report anything feel entitled to charge for its services?

You know that big, beefy front page section of the Globe filled with articles on politics, world news, and current affairs?  Look where the articles come from:  Reuters, Canadian Press, Agence France Presse, Associated Press.  Anything but actual stories by reporters.  On a given day’s important news story, most times the Globe doesn’t report anything!  The Globe website does exactly what free news sources like the Metro and the Huffington Post do, which is aggregate the wire services and let their readers read them for free.

Why anyone still pays $2 for a physical Globe newspaper is thus a mystery.  But some people prefer the paper format.  I get that.  What I don’t get is, if you are reading it online, why would you pay for content that you can get for free in all these other places?

There are some things exclusive to the Globe.  Because no actual newspaper reporting is done at the paper, most people read it for the editorial content.    And entertaining as that may be, editorial content does not take the hard skills of investigative reporting and fact finding that journalism does.  We know that John Ibbitson, Lawrence Martin and Jeffrey Simpson are very knowledgable about federal politics, and that the people on the Toronto politics and Ontario politics beats (Gee and Radwanski) know their stuff about City Hall and Queen’s Park, but they’re not reporting news.  They are basically writing opinion pieces.  Even if their pieces are well-written, the substance of them is armchair quarterbacking.  In other words, the Globe’s battalion of columnists is essentially a pool of glorified, overpaid bloggers.

Sure, these guys may occasionally shift in their chair to phone somebody important for a quote to put in their piece, but they only get this access because of the (former) reputation and prestige of their employer that they’ve built their careers on.  Most of the time they don’t bother.  Someone at the Globe who is always sure to validate her idiotic opinions with a phone call to a professor in the States or two, on the other hand, is the pseudo-intellectual claptrap writer Margaret Wente.  Does the Globe think its online readers are ready to type a sixteen digit credit card number to read an otherwise ignorant ninny like her?

It’s not all dreck.  Report on Business is, of course, a good business section.  And there’s no denying that Shoalts, Mirtle, and Brunt over in the one page sports section are well-versed in their hockey stuff.  But nowhere is the Globe more offensive, more pathetic, and more insipid than in its Leisure/Life/Entertainment content.  These glossy sections are filled with nothing but inane, condescending, snooty bourgeois crap about red wine, granite countertops, helicopter parenting, latest health craze pumping in the anti-oxidant/gluten-free type vein, and 2012 Subaru WRXs, to note a few subjects  they’ve dealt with.  In other words, sections written by people who couldn’t live anywhere but midtown Toronto for people who live in mid-town Toronto.  Yeah – nice 186 year old national newspaper you got there.

At least at the Post they have some columnists like Coyne/Ivison who are willing, even with their right leanings, to take the Harper government to task on occasion.  At the Globe, Jane Taber brings about as much reporting acumen to covering Parliament Hill as Ben Mulroney does to covering celebs on Etalk! Daily.   At least at the Star breaks actual stories sometimes, despite its often whiny and badly written editorials.  The Globe, meanwhile, provided most of their analysis of the ORNGE fiasco based on the reporting done by the Star.  And yet it was the Globe, this Canadian newspaper equivalent of the Slice TV channel, that decided it deserved your money for reading its online content first.  I guess their corporate strategy is based on the saying “A fool and his money are soon parted”

PS – As blog dogs have already astutely noted, there actually is no 10-20 article limit on sites that already charge for their articles (that can actually justify it) like the Wall Street Journal and NY Times.  Once you’ve reached your limit, just access the title of the article through a google search.  Looks like I’ll be torturing myself with Wente for yet another day after all

PPS – This is what happens when you let your government let two telecom giants control all your country’s media! Bell ran what used to be a great paper into the ground!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

This is Way Bigger Than a Stupid Tuition Protest

Andrew Coyne, (always a great read, I do give him that), has devoted his last few columns in the National Post to the English Canadian media's new favourite sport, which is calling the student strikers in Quebec either pathetic losers, dangerous terrorists, violent extremists, or spoiled children, take your pick.

The three month strike finally is winding down.  Premier Jean Charest now will of course have to be vilified in his turn, for "capitulating" to "intimidation".  He should have stood firm and showed those rotten little entitled scoundrels who is boss, the sheep agree.  Except that no one really paid attention to what the protesters were saying.  It wasn't "Give us what we demand right now!"  It was "Why do you have oodles of money for nonsense like x, y, and z, yet think you can get away with scamming this couple hundred million out of our pockets?"

And the Premier knew, as anyone who understands Quebec's economy knows, that faced with this argument, he was standing on some pretty shaky ground.  Quebec, in the grand francophone tradition, is a dirigiste economy.  That means a crony or oligopoly-based economy in English.  The dirigistes who benefit from the operation of the economy are your usual suspect captains of industry and hotshot CEOs, yes, but they are also whoever has the government's ear at a particular time and manages to convince them that they will invest in an area, create jobs, etc.  The same promises that the usual suspects brandish in the government's face whenever they need money/grants/preferential tax treatment, and the like, get any businessperson what they need in Quebec: taxpayer money.

As a result, la province du Québec subsidizes everything from construction sites to asbestos mines, from arenas and amphitheatres for billionaires to video game companies, up to plane engine factories and down through electric cars and film and television studios.  I am not kidding.  So why should students pay 131$ million to a government that is also willing to hand $59 million over to keep an asbestos mine open here, or $400 million to build an amphitheatre in Quebec City there, with a guy (PKP) whose personal fortune is estimated at $521 mil?

You see? In a society more inspired by Ron Paul or Friedrich Von Hayek, the protesters would elicit less sympathy because everybody would be self-made.  In a  society where most people's standards of living are due to one form or another of government pork, the con-job is buck naked for all to see.  So the students basically said, "Oh, so all these people in these diverse sectors who got their free training and safety net and bread and butter from the government guaranteed forever now want us to pay more because they f------ up.  The interest group that gets picked on is the one with the least economic clout and the least political leverage  Well, isn't this just so convenient and great for us.  Actually, no. F you, Charest."

Before you jump on your high horse, dear reader, and insist that the English language we share instills an economic superiority within us that ensures our English Canadian society would never tolerate such dirigiste shenanigans, let me remind you that we, too, live in a dirigiste economy.  Me and you, English Canadian friend.  As such, in my fine province of Ontario, there are three supermarket conglomerates that control about 75-80% of the grocery market: Loblaws, Metro, and Sobey's.  There are two Drug Store chains with decent market share: Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall.  Wal-Mart and Costco, two more US-based retailers, combine these drug store and grocery services with department stores to elbow the shit out of the Food/Drug oligopolies' margins as well as crush what's left of our pathetic department store market (Zellers and the Bay, both owned by Americans).  There are four insurance companies based in Ontario that control over 75% of the Canadian market.  There are five banks ("chartered" to steal money by the Bank of Canada/Fed Gov) based in Ontario that have approximately 95% Canadian consumer banking market share between them.  Media is the saddest example. Two companies, Bell and Rogers, control 99% of the Phone service, Cable/Satellite service, Personal and business internet service, Mobile/Data phone networks, TV Stations, Radio Stations, Newspapers, and Sports teams in Ontario.  Telus is here too, but whatever.  The CEOs of all these companies, who are so profitable because the government ensures there's no competition, make millions of dollars in salaries each year.

The average Ontarian, making 50K if he's lucky, forks over hundreds a month to the dirigiste cause in car insurance (highest in the country, thanks to insurers' cozy relationship with government who lets them raise the rates).  He spends hundreds for telecom packages that have the highest rates in the world for the services included.  He pays bank fees to the bank oligopoly making record profits every quarter.  He can scarcely buy food/drug/retail goods without stepping into the oligopoly matrix.  And of course, Visa and Mastercard do pretty good business skimming fees from consumers and merchants on all of this (no competition there either).  Suddenly you understand where all that 1% vs. 99% talk came from last summer.

And where does this tie in with tuition? Well, in Ontario we have the highest tuition in the country.  Does that sound like a coincidence in the society I just described?  I graduated in 2006 and tuition has already jumped almost 50% since then.  What do people in Ontario have to say about that? Absolutely nothing, of course.  We've all got to roll up our sleeves and do our part in Uncle Dalton's austerity world.  Doesn't matter that Dave Johnston collected a cool million a year for being president of the University of Waterloo, then was on the sunshine list for a $600,000 salary at UW last year even though he wasn't working there any more.  He had already moved on to his next job of Governor General of Canada, which also pays $600,000 per year tax free.  Ah, the vice-regal.  But his lectures full of empty bromides on the nobility and benefits of public service are sure worth it, and now you know why.  He should know more than anybody!

Derwood McSquinty, to his credit, rolled back the tuition with a 30% tax credit, something he was admonished for by austerity-architect Don Drummond.  Still way out of line with what Quebec students are being asked to pay, though, after rebates, and here there's no turmoil.  So what gives?

An incredibly underwhelming answer, I'm afraid.  It's the other main point brought up often by the anti-strike folk in the media, which is that two-thirds of the students aren't even striking.  So it is not the whole province's student body causing trouble, but rather a minority of anthropology and sociology-studying miscreant deluded marxist-lites, scared by their lack of job prospects in the future.  They are right about the minority part.  Because most Quebec students are not all that different from Ontario after all.  Sure, raise my rates, they say.  Just please leave me alone so I can go about my business of watching stupid crap on tv and becoming a debt slave and bring addicted to weed, booze, cigarettes, and painkillers, because I can't face what a sad insignificant powerless cog I am in this oligopoly/capitalist system. Not the global one, the one in Canada, the "best country on Earth", that says I'm very nice and gives me rights and freedoms and hospitals and schools and all that, while grabbing me by the throat and telling me these things are why I am not allowed to complain about being the government/crony/dirigiste cartel's personal ATM.  Yes.  Quebecois people, on the whole, are passive, consenting, subservient proles of the state just like the rest of Canada.  Except not quite as much.  Which is why we say "Holy shit, they've got $7 day care! Why can't we have that?  Oh, nevermind, I just felt the government stamp on my fingers."

Rob Carrick did a series in the Globe this week about how median incomes have barely risen since 1984 (My wife and I, two university educated parents, make less than the Canadian median family income in 1984), yet inflation has at least doubled everything and house prices have sextupled (Yes. Sextupled) in Canada since then.  I wouldn't care about the low income if everything wasn't so damn expensive.  Yet here we are, generation Y, in for the biggest economic con-job of our lives.  Our parents protested war and racism (good for them), but with their high wages and low levels of education failed to grasp economic matters.  As such, they thought a senile eighty year old actor spouting such economic wisdom as "Deficits don't matter" was a political and macroeconomic genius, so much so that he is the saint whose memory the USA Republican Party is praying will lead them to victory in November.  What happened in the USA happened in Quebec and Ontario: The Baby Boomers, who outnumber us by about 3:1, have their health care, pensions, and bubble priced real estate.  Our lives are okay for now if we don't compare them to theirs, but they won't be when we're being asked to make good on this ponzi.

So the Quebec students, in their naiveté, in their offensiveness, in their stubbornness and extreme intransigeance, at least stuck their thumbs in the eyes of the baby boomer establishment for three months straight.  I know the student union leaders are political opportunists.  I also know many of my fellow 20-somethings in this country who should have their eyes wide open and be living within their means are instead aspiring to the boomer ponzi of suburbia and car-loans, 100% compound-interest funded by the big bank cartel.  I'm way madder at them then at boomers; we have huge challenges ahead and need all hands on deck, not occupied with debt slavery.  In the end, it comes down to one thing: We will only have true freedom and personal responsibility again when this bloodsucking dirigiste system is weaned off the government teat and forced to fend for itself.  With McGuinty's musings about throwing more public money away on the auto sector today, the charade is showing no signs of coming to an end in Ontario.  Quants aux étudiants, je salue votre audace

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Conrad Black Should Get His Citizenship Back...

...once he deals with all of the bureaucracy, snags, fees, and endless waiting that a normal applicant from the U.K. who has never applied before would encounter if he applied to immigrate to Canada today

Don’t get me wrong. I respect Conrad Black. He has an enormous intellect, interesting perspectives, and has written some great stuff (if he doesn’t let his pompousness get the better of him – he’s also written quite a bit of breathless blustery blather). I’m not one of these people who thinks he should be banned from Canada because I disagree with some of his views. But in all fairness, given his current situation, he should be deported back to the country where he has citizenship right now (the U.K.), and follow the same lengthy, convoluted process to enter Canada from the back of the immigration queue like everybody else.

Instead, the government is whisking him in through the VIP express line. There is political interference in this file that, despite the government’s insistent denial, has come straight from Harper and Kenney at the top. This is in keeping with the terrible culture of corruption and hypocrisy now commonplace at the highest level of the Canadian government. These comments from the Globe article today tell the story better than me:

 1) “Suppose Black is filling up the immigration questionnaire while in Jail.
Are you a Canadian Citizen: No
Have you ever been a Canadian Citizen: Yes
Have your Canadian Citizenship been revoked: Yes
Have you ever been convicted of a Crime: Yes
Have you ever been jailed: Yes
Have you ever served in the government of a foreign government: Yes”

 2) “"Mr. Kenney told reporters that when he learned of the application in February, he instructed immigration officials to handle it themselves." and Pigs Fly.

 3) “A criminal in the US, who gave up citizenship, applies for TR (temporary residence permit) while still in jail, in mid-March. And not only is it is approved, it is approved by May 1st? You are telling me this is the normal time it takes for every application processed by anonymous 'highly trained public officials?'” Right. Not only has this government personally intervened to refuse entry to Canada to people whose views it disagreed with in the past (U.S. media personality Amy Goodman, U.K. M.P. George Galloway), it has left Canadian citizens (Omar Khadr, Gary Freeman) who have not renounced their citizenship like Mr. Black outside Canada’s borders in limbo because, well, they’re not rich figures sympathetic to the conservative cause like Lord Black.

 Gary Freeman is not as well-known as Omar Khadr, but the leader of the Official Opposition mentioned his case “(NDP Leader Thomas) Mulcair compared Black’s case to that of Gary Freeman, an American-born man who has been denied re-entry into Canada because of a criminal record. The 63-year-old was involved with the Black Panthers, and was extradited to the U.S. in 2008 and pleaded guilty to shooting a police officer in 1969. After serving a 30-day sentence, he was denied re-entry to Canada, where his wife and four children live. “It is a clear case of a double standard, one for an American black man from Chicago, another for a British white man coming out of federal penitentiary,”

This is the latest idiotic move from the Harper government. You’d think that if George W. Bush (who would have been fully within his prerogative to pardon Black and wipe his slate clean with a presidential pardon upon leaving office in 2008) declined the Baron, fellow neoconservatives would understand this guy’s radioactive and giving him special treatment doesn’t pay political dividends. Bush left Black in the Coleman correctional facility in Florida, despite being friends with and having his speeches written by Black’s acquaintance, the Canadian-American pundit David Frum. Frum and Black both regularly take to the pages of the National Post, Canada’s conservative broadsheet that Black himself founded. Lo and behold, who is one of the first Canadian political figures to (positively) comment today on Black’s return? Dave Frum’s sister, Stephen Harper-appointed $165,000 per-year Conservative senator Linda Frum.

 And nevermind the Frums, who are total lightweights on the right side of the North American political ledger compared to some of the company Black has kept. In the past, he enjoyed lasting friendships with such American conservative icons as Henry Kissinger and the journalist William F. Buckley Jr. And Bush still had no interest in pardoning him. So what do Kenney and Harper possibly think they have to gain from this, other than helping out one of their fellow cheats and liars?

I have no problem with Black returning to Canada as a citizen. But he should be treated as a regular foreign citizen and receive the same treatment from the Harper government that any normal working stiffs in this situation would: Stone-deaf indifference, followed by some cricket chirps. Even dubya had the good sense to react this way to him. Kenney and Harper have proved nothing in this case other than Canadians can continue to except arbitrary actions and decisive injustice under the watch of them and their variable geometric moral compasses - guided by the Orwellian moral principle that all citizens are equal, but some are more equal than others. _________________________________________________________________________________

 I’m not going to devote another posting to ORNGE as I’ve already done one – and for the full details of this nepotism-riddled Ontario Government scam-fest, you’re really better off checking out the columns of Tanya Talaga at the Star, who should win a national newspaper award. I’m not knocking her abilities as a writer, but the details of this ongoing scandal are so juicy that her articles must practically write themselves. The facts that come out of the Queen’s Park committee on ORNGE (which is only, per the Liberal Government. allowed to meet once a week, to minimize damage control) just get more ridiculous by the week. The latest? CEO fraudster in chief Chris Mazza ordered one of his lobbyist friends to hire his waitress/water-ski instructor girlfriend as a consultant, complained to him when she was only being given admin assistant-type duties at the lobby (Pathway Group), then parachuted her into ORNGE from the lobbying group, where she quickly rose into an Associate VP role and collected a $90000 Ivey business school EMBA courtesy of the taxpayer on the way. Stuff like this reminds us that the “not what you know, who you know (blow)” phrase is sadly true in our modern enlightened present day society.

 It’s why I’m disappointed with usually astute Adam Radwanski at the Globe who said today that (premier) McGuinty and (health minister) Matthews had “too many other headaches” to look into this, giving them a free pass. Give me a break. This is better than movies or TV, if only it wasn’t our real life tax dollars flushed down the drain by the deluded crook CEO on his girlfriend. Mazza testifies before the committee May 16. Now that’s going to be interesting.

 PS – who broke this story? The Sun? The Globe? The Post? No, the ultra-left, Liberal-apologist, commie rag Star, which unlike the fluffy Globe, has not totally abandoned investigative journalism.