Sunday, 15 December 2013

Myths, Delusion and Pensions

Another day, another clarion call from a provincial premier or Canadian media outlet fretting about our "retirement crisis","savings crisis", "pension crisis" or "jobs crisis".  Today Thomas Walkom in the Star observed that Canada's two opposition leaders have made no concrete commitments to repair the country's "frayed social safety net", in line with a recent editorial I recall from his employer calling on the federal government to "shore up pensions".

It is clear that Canada, being a nation of conscientious, compassionate individuals, watches over its citizens with deep concern and a heavy heart as it wonders how they are possibly going to fend for themselves and maintain their standards of living.  To combat this scourge, the nation's enlightened minds have devised the solution of creating expensive, inefficient, hare-brained government schemes to somehow steal money from these same citizens and give it back to them in the form of...what? Promises to pay? IOUs? Tax credits for cable, SUVS, and cross border shopping?

The media and the politicians like to get all somber and stern when they're talking about pensions but you never hear them getting upset about black friday, 0% auto loans for 8 years, iphone 5s, soaring house prices, record-breaking box office hauls, or bidding wars on homes.  Canadians in any province are free to carry credit card balances at 19%, buy furniture, applicances and electronics at 29-32%, and use payday loan facilities at 36%.  They can also try their luck in an excellent array of proven money-making investments such as slot machines, race tracks, lottery tickets and video terminals on offer from their provincial gaming commission  And hey, if ever things don't go so well, you can always relieve the stress with alcohol and/or nicotine also sold by your friendly neighbourhood provincial monopolies with 100%+ markup.

Yet again today the Star was at it again, this time railing against "pinstriped bankers" and "smartypants columnists"  The Canada Pension Plan only is based on a maximum of 51,000 a year earnings, "leaving many middle class workers vulnerable".  It's really nice of them to behalf on all those 51-150k earners who lived beyond their means, never saved a dime, and for whom we are now expected not just to provide a pension income, but to maintain McMansion lifestyles

I have been antagonized by this debate because of the high level of intellectual dishonesty and pathetic victimization it has been characterized by.  The line usually spun by columnists like Cohn and parroted by comments online goes along the lines of "Bankers and speculators destroyed everyone's savings and crashed the economy in 2008 and now the government wants everyone to be a part of that risk to fund their retirement".  This line of thought reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the systems which govern the mechanisms (the market) that all of our money, assets, and liabilities, public and private, are a part of, whether you want them to be or not.

When someone tells you they "lost everything in 2008", what they mean is that they committed two ultimate amateur investor errors: They 1)Got scared, meaning they got overtaken by the emotion of fear and sold off what they had and 2) Bailed at the bottom of the market, providing a picture perfect example of what average people are experts at doing, buying high and selling low.  If one had merely tuned out the noise since then their investment would have recovered with a nice little extra upside, and if they had had the cojones to "double down" they would have made a nice little profit.  This is true following all of the market crashes that occurred in the 20th century.

But our tireless pundits on the hunt for free money to bail out the average Canadian who borrowed and spent for his whole life think that this whole sequence of events occurred in some sort of bubble which their sacrosanct "pensions" are somehow exempt from.  Missing in their passionate arguments is the behaviour the managers of pensions are forced to engage in to generate the returns required to pay benefits to their members.  Farmland in Saskatchewan, private equity, commercial real estate, mortgage backed securities, junior mining companies, commercial paper.  These are all risky and speculative investments, and they are all owned by our country's largest and most well-known pension managers.  The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board who managed the CPP has been snapping up farmland in Saskatchewan.  The Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, the 2nd biggest in the country, made a killing the last 20 years in private equity deals.  The CPPIB also owns office towers in New York, Chicago,and Australia.  The Caisse de depot et de placement du Quebec, which managed the 186 billion$ QPP fund, lost $40 billion in US commercial paper in 2008 and has a significant ownership stake in the Stornoway Diamond mine project, whose stock has jumped around all over the place between 50 cents and a dollar in 2013 alone.

So it is very clear that even if universal pensions were a panacea to save individual canadians from the repercussions of their own financial irresponsibility, they would continue to be exposed to the same market risks the pension beef up proponents decry as being somehow unfair.  I will explain to them now what nobody has clearly ever taken the time to: risk free returns do not exist.  If they did we'd all be billionaires.

The other argument is that investment on this level (with the CPP and the teachers, for example) is done on a mandatory basis which gives the funds huge asset bases and allows economies of scale which drive management and fee costs down.  Yet the government has made retirement saving and tax sheltered investing abundantly accessible to the average Canadian through RRSPs and TFSAs, but only some Canadians choose to take advantage.  The government has given tools to the average person to provide for themselves what we claim there is a lack of now, and the fact that they didn't is going to be solved by some new, expensive government program?

Pensions are also heavily exposed to a risk the average person isn't: demographic risk.  Even with their crack management teams and world-beating returns, CPPIB and OTTP have not generated anywhere near enough money to cover all of their future obligations: this is a nearly impossible task when people receiving benefits outnumber people contributing, which is already the case for most funds in the western world and the tendency is only going to accelerate.  In this instance, I don't care if you're warren buffett on steroids - demographics transform the world's best pension fund into a huge ponzi and there's nothing you can do to stop it.  

Management fees are another issue, as is the defined benefit versus defined contribution debate.  These subjects stir up passionate and heated debates amongst one segment of the population while making the eyes of the majority glaze over.  That's fine, but as long as people don't understand the forces involved allowing them to "enjoy a comfortable retirement" I sure as hell am not willing to hand tax dolllars over to sustain some utopian myth that money falls out of the sky when you turn 65.  At least the debate has started and the new books out by Fred Vettese and Jim Leech are a start but we need to continue the conversation, and young people especially need to speak up and make it known we are not going to have more of our tax dollars confiscated in some ill-advised government orchestrated scam to absolve the previous generations for their decades of abhorrent financial behaviour.

Merry Christmas everyone

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Stephen Harper and his buddy Rob Ford

You know, I remember this summer when Justin Trudeau admitted he had three puffs of one joint his friend pulled out at a dinner party at his house in Outremont.  Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I'm no fan of Trudeau; my feeling towards him has evolved from a deep dislike to a mild antipathy (I know he's a nice guy - I just think there are way smarter people available to run the country).  But I don't want to talk about my reaction to this incident - it frankly doesn't deserve one.  I want to talk about Stephen Harper's.

He said one sentence about this that revealed paragraphs about what a hypocrite he is.  He said the revelation "spoke for itself".  Just like that, an indictment.  A barrage of smug condescension, typical WASP-ish staid moralistic full-of-shit judgement.  That guy is flaky, he's dangerous, he's not to be trusted.  Look he did drugs, he killed his brain cells.  Would you want to trust somebody with such questionable morals? No you wouldn't, because you are a successful, self-satisfied, holier than thou tightass like me who has never touched drugs in your life.  A member of the part of the Canadian population that is not composed of worthless human beings.

You didn't need to say all that, Harper, and you didn't, because I just said it for you, but I heard that all loud and clear from you and all the tough on crime idiots in your party when you joyfully uttered that phrase.  Now I would just like to ask you something, I would just like to ask you how you square your beliefs that Liberals are morally questionable and badly behaved corrupt individuals not to be trusted, with the much more significant revelations surrounding your very close personal friend, a red-blood Conservative if there ever was one, the mayor of Toronto Rob Ford.

I don't need to re-hash the 24 hour train wreck on the airwaves, here is the best summary of it you will find anywhere.

So let's hear your answer in public: Do you still prefer a man who buys drugs, smokes crack, rails blow in the bathroom of Bier Markt, drives drunk, brings whores into his office, hangs out in crack houses, cavorts with known gangsters and criminals and is personally acquainted with people alive and dead directly implicated in drug and gun violence in Etobicoke, to a man who took three puffs of a spliff that he himself did not even go out of his way to obtain?

I think the public deserves an answer.

Remember, people have to have their social media profiles vetted by your staff just to be able to attend one of your campaign events.  You are obviously very choosy about the company you keep.  You don't do walkabouts - too much danger a real human might ask you a question that throws you off your robot script.  Your character judgement can be forgiven on your three ex-senator friends - their transgressions are so minimal compared to Ford's they don't belong in the same column - but you went and spoke in this man's backyard and praised him.  You went out of your way to vouch for what a great guy he was.

As a public figure, you deserve to be held to account for your horrible misjudgement of character in associating yourself with the mayor.  I think your history with him - phone calls, barbeques, fishing trips - speaks for itself.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Senate Scandal

Let's just take a moment to talk about how this is playing out.  Stephen Harper is reeling.  There is infighting and mud slinging and back-biting all over the previously unified, iron disciplined conservative caucus.  And it is because, for the first time in public, the robot is short-circuiting.  The broken record has actually broken and started to make awful scratching noise.  And the damage will be continue to be done as the record (the Prime Minister's voice) now plays on a grating, awful-sounding negative feedback loop.

The Prime Minister was always such a smug guy because he knew he would never preside over anything, personally or as government leader, as damning as his predecessors.  If a Canadian Prime Minister could go down in a history as a respected guy despite accepting brown paper bags of cash bribes from a shady criminal German businessman, or defrauding taxpayers of a billion dollars to covertly fund Canadian flags and Canadian propaganda in remote regions of Quebec, or dixtupling (yes - multiplying by ten) the national debt while presiding over years of double digit inflation, the bar was set pretty damn low.  In consequence, how could the Canadian public hold Stephen Harper in any regard other than pretty high, given that he would never do anything as brazen or crazy as these three guys.  Are we really going to put him on the same footing over $90,000 of improperly claimed fucking housing expenses??

Yes, because the only worse thing you will do than being smug to a public that didn't really care for you and your smugness to begin is get caught being a liar.  And this story, which started with three Senators behaving in a way (entitled) that was to be entirely expected of them, has come to haunt the Prime Minister not because of $90,000 but because it has forced him to lie, then lie again, then lie again, then...oh, everyone sees you've been bullshitting from the start.

"Mr Speaker, it was my understanding that Mr Duffy reimbursed those expenses once he found out they were ineligible from his own personal resources."

"Mr Speaker our government does not tolerate misuse of public funds and I ordered Mr Duffy repay those expenses"

"Very few people in the Conservative caucus knew about that cheque"

"Mr Wright deceived me and when I found out about that cheque, I dismissed him."

So what was the timeline?  What were the dates? Who knew what when? You don't need to be an investigative journalist to figure out there's some bullshit in there somewhere and probably everywhere.  This party used to owe its success to its ironclad loyalty: these three Senators were conservative partisans and fundraisers, well-known to Canadians, and Harper appointing them to the Senate was a no-brainer.  Except when they embarrassed him by claiming expenses to live in places where they obviously did not live, they became huge liabilities.  The man is a ruthless calculator, and has disposed personally of people for far less.  Ask Helena Guergis how her political career has turned out.

Except that this time, he bet big.  And no matter how good a tactician you are, you can never win all of your bets.  Pamela Wallin is a sideshow and a joke.  Giving some teary-eyed speech about how the "mean girls" in the Senate had it in for her? Give me a break.  This is a person who writes an op-ed in the Globe and Mail titled "Wadena, Saskatchewan is my home" a week before it is discovered that she has an Ontario health card and a condo in Toronto, the city where she was a broadcaster for decades.  The Prime Minister would have no problem "throwing under the bus" (her words, although my previous sentence clearly demonstrates that she threw herself under the bus) someone willing to forego their credibility that easily, and ever better, all he could be faulted for is an error in judgement in appointing her.  She lived high on the taxpayers hog all by herself.

But Duffy.  This was the "hit me" that made the champion black jack player go bust.  Give him credit for not embarrassing himself.  He never came out with any shitty faux-indignant lash-outs about how he was a genuine,honest to god prince edward islander.  In fact, he's scarcely been heard from or seen since this all started.   All he did was release one small sentence about the rules "not being clear."

Until the Prime Minister tried, as it were, to throw him under the bus and strip him of his pay and title.  Then he forgot he was mixed up with a guy whose job used to be blabbering on CTV.  So the eggs started falling on his face.  Yes, the Prime Minister knew about the cheque.  Not only did he know about that cheque,but there was a second cheque from the Conservative Party to cover legal fees.  Talk about a drive by.  And now, how will the Prime Minister change the channel since anytime any reporter or politician gets near him there will be questions about what he knew, what he did, what he authorized.

This government had a cruising altitude for the first 7 years of its existence.  No criticism stuck to it because no criticism was specific.  The government is autocratic, the government is incompetent, the government is doing enough about climate change, the government doesn't care about poor people.  It all passed through the public consciousness like a thief in the night.  The government's modus operandi literally was on auto-pilot "Focus on the economy, roll the attack ads", and it worked like magic.

Now watching the government try to recover from this is like watching a pilot frantically push flashing buttons on the plane about the crash into the mountain. Does that mean they will lose the next election? I wouldn't get that excited with the divided opposition and fractious polls we have now.  But one thing is certain - this cover-up surrounding ninety thousand bucks has damaged the Prime Minister's credibility way more than seven years of persistent, pointed attacks by opposition leaders.Which, by the way, says as much about them as it does about him. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Celebrity Conscience Rehab

Russell Brand, the British actor you may remember from "Get him to the Greek" (whose on-screen acting performances are virtually indecipherable from his appearances as his real self on tv, and to this end make me think it is quite generous even designating him "an actor") has become the latest celebrity to embrace progressive activism and take the risk of exposing himself to loud ridicule and accusations of hypocrisy.  He guest-edited a publication called "The new statesman" and said voting was a waste of time, slammed and dismissed capitalism, bankers, and politicians, and pleaded for environmentalism and the need for a new paradigm.  I don't necessary disagree with any of that and don't think I need to write "Shut up, you have lots of money, you're an idiot and a hypocrite" as you can find those comments in the hundreds below any article but I would like to take Mr. Brand to task on one thing.  As a celebrity, just because you have a soapbox, doesn't mean you are required to use it.  And nothing is more lame, more trite, or more already been done than using it to fuck the system and we need a revolution and all this kind of stuff.  The media (well, specifically Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe) latches on to something like this and gets us all apprehensive about youth unemployment and youth voter apathy and tells us this message is really indicative of some new, bold, brave movement that is going to turn everything upside down.  The youth in Western countries today have even less in common with each other than the youth of previous generations that experienced these same type of "collective consciousness mobilization" moments, and Mr Brand himself uses these moments as examples.  I just don't understand how he cannot grasp or understand the complexity of the world as it exists today and instead delivers himself to the same irony of some of the examples he uses.

He cites a time in 1967 when Mick Jagger told a TV host that kids in Britain were "looting and burning" because there was nothing in society, in the workforce, in the government for them and so this type of behaviour wasn't surprising.  It was around the same time that craggy, scrappy voice of the prophet from Minnesota ('65 or '66? But don't quote me on that.) admonished the old fogies and put them on notice that indeed "The times, they are-a-changin'"

Now at the time Messrs. Jagger and Dylan were young, edgy rock stars in their prime, 25 or 26 years old, and I don't intend to diminish anything that either of them accomplished or their originality and cultural significance at that time.  But today these men are around 70.  Bob lives in Malibu, Mick has a spread in Wimbledon and probably others; both are worth upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars.  They both have continued to tour well into their senior years, pocketing millions more each time.  What is my point? That personal interests have this weird way of trumping idealism, and I have no wish to pick a fight with rock and roll gods today other than to use them as an example to show Mr Brand why his wholly unoriginal diatribe is not helpful.

It's why if you read Bono's wikipedia page, you are almost certain to be annoyed with his arrogant lecturing of common people on the plight of Africa.  Again, this criticism is of course not withstanding of his musical accomplishments, but the man is obviously a brilliant capitalist whose network now extends well into Davos and the executive offices of Western nations, so why should you feel like shit because of somebody like that.

Celebrity after celebrity after celebrity falls into this category.  They hate poverty, they hate war, they hate pipelines, they want to send little girls to school in africa, they want peace in Israel and Palestine and why have they had to use their public profile to advance these causes? Because you, joe schmo six pack, are not engaged or committed enough, or else we wouldn't be having these problems.  I actually appreciate nine figure guys like James Hetfield or Keith Richards more who have the discretion to say in an interview "You know, I don't want to talk about that.  Celebrities, politics, the environment - I'm not interested in discussing any of that with you" THANK YOU for not making your position known.

Even the prime minister of Canada, who gets dismissed as a one percenter and an elitist will only get a $256,000 a year pension when he retires.  That rate does effectively make him a one percenter in this country.  But if that makes you outraged which I'm sure it does ask yourself why you feel so much less outraged about Bob Dylan's $180,000,000 fortune (over seven hundred years of a Canadian prime minister's pension). 

I'll tell you the one celebrity fact which actually impressed me in my entire life.  Pope francis, before he became pope, lived in an apartment and took the bus.  You know, like millions of people on earth do every day, millions of people like this who have to endure lecturing and browbeating and guilt tripping by people who live in the Hollywood Hills or their equivalent, possess amounts of money that require several dozen employees to manage, and whether they get around by bugatti, suburban or private jet, sure as fuck don't take the bus.  I don't care how much money you made or continue to make making music or movies or iphones or whatever but just quit with the sanctimony that the millions of ordinary slobs who continue to buy your shit that you put out are somehow scourges that earth needs to get rid of.

There's a nugget of wisdom that I would like to share that I've acquired in the last few years since the time where I used to be quite vulnerable to being manipulated by these celeb consciences.  It's that people gotta live somewhere, and they got to get around somehow.  They also got to make a living.  These three undeniable truths are why the collapse, radical change, paradigm shifts and great resets have not occurred.  Yes there are too many humans on earth, 7x more than a century ago, but what living person can be faulted for that?  If we outstrip earth's capacity and all have to die well, we just have to learn to accept the risks of life at the macro level.  In the meantime, if we could all agree to live in apartments and take the bus, the falling level of stench of celebrity self-righteousness would surely do to lower global temperatures back to more sustainable levels.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Drainville - Le symbole ostentatoire de l'incompétence totale

Bernard Drainville était longtemps journaliste chez Radio-Canada.  Le journalisme, c'est un métier qui éxige un soif constant et acharné pour la vérité, la volonté de la trouver ou qu'elle soit, mettant tout son charme et sa perspicacité au travail dans ce but.  C'est drôle que cet homme a longtemps exercé ce métier parce qu'il n'y a rien de plus honteux, de plus pathétique, de le voir tous les jours maintenant défendre son merveilleux projet de charte de valeurs québécoisssses devant les même médias dont il faisait partie autrefois.

Comment un gars aussi instruit et expérimenté peut-il avoir cette obsession folle à dire aux gens ce qu'ils ont droit à faire?  Il se prend pour qui, notre guide morale? Le leader spirituel de la société?  Je n'ai jamais vu de démarche gouvernmentale si incohérente, si remplie de délusion dans l'occident, que cette charte de valeurs, à l'exception des lobby pro-life convaincus de certains états américain.  Le message de Drainville est clair: Nous, les blancs, francophones, d'héritage catholique, on est majoritaire.  Fait que nous, on en veut pas de ton hijab, de ton yarmukle, de ton turban.  Si tu veux porter ça, tu peux le faire à l'interieur de chez toi dans ton espace privée, un peu comme la défécation ou la masturbation.  Personne ne veut le voir.  Et mon espoir sincère c'est qu'eventuellement tu ne pourras même pas te trouver un job dans le privé car toute l'industrie privée du Québec aurait suivi l'exemple de Drainville l'illuminé et interdit ces signes réligieuse "ostenenatoires" (C'est lui qui a souhaité ça publiquement je mets pas les mots dans sa bouche).

Si tout ça n'a pas été fait dans le but de mettre du gaz sur les flammes de la xénophobie aux fins éléctorales, ce que le gouvernment nierait fermement, peut être Drainville pourrait m'expliquer dans quel but il veut empêcher un enseignant juif ou un infirmier sikh, tous les deux les membres honorables, travailleurs, CONTRIBUABLES QUI PAIENT SON MAUDIT SALAIRE, de notre société, égals à tous les autres HUMAINS qui vivent aujourd'hui au Québec, a travailler pour l'état.  Et quel droit pense-t-il avoir à imposer ça?

Moi je travaille avec les femmes qui portent l'hijab et je peux vous assurer qu'elles représentent bien plus d'utilité à la société québécoise qu'un ministre et son clientèle éléctorale d'intolérants qui veulent les faire fuir.  Ou les humilier si elles restent.  Pensent-ils vraiment que les citoyens canadiens ont à subir une telle humiliation?  Lundi matin tout le monde arrive au travail "oh regard, Mme X a enlevé son hijab. Elle a voulu rester ici donc elle a écouté Drainville.  Elle ne savait pas en débarquant ici que Drainville allait lui faire une leçon, c'est lui le boss (qui, en passant, garde le gros crucifix dans son travail a lui.  Parce que si le message n'était pas assez clair, c'est lui qui décide que ta réligion et ta culture sont inférieures, de seconde classe.  Les crucifixes, les messes dans les CHSLD, les prières municipales, ça reste.  Nous on était ici devant toi, donc il y a deux règles: Les règles pour nous et les règles pour toi).

La "neutralité" de l'état.  Quelle foutaise! Avez-vous des enfants M. Drainville? Les avez-vous elevés avec tant d'hypocrisie? Je pense que j'ai droit à me poser la question compte tenu tout ce que je viens de décrire.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Debating Keystone XL

One of the foremost political issues – the most foremost political issue of our time – in North America, I would argue, is how to proceed with the development of pipelines.  Specifically, the Keystone XL pipeline which TransCanada Inc. proposes to build for $7 billion to transport heavy oil sands crude from a terminal in Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast, the major heavy crude refining centres in North America.  This is all public information which has been repeated countless times in the media, and why so many?  Because it is a difficult issue to resolve.  There are dozens of firms operating in the oil sands and several would like to sharply increase their production in the next decade.  The issue is how to move all this oil to where there is capacity to refine it so it can then be transported abroad to energy-hungry markets.  Keystone XL is the easiest, simplest, cheapest, most obvious way to do this.
Lining up against the pipeline are several prominent American intellectuals, celebrities and at least one billionaire.  But I’m not here to take sides in the media’s fake polarization of the issue between the Hollywood High-horse cavalry and a bunch of profiteer oil companies hungry for new revenue and new markets, which is the simplistic way to frame it.  I have just realized, thanks to an excellent New Yorker article, what a big deal this actually is and thus, want to assess the probabilities and consequences in either scenario.
As a betting man, I’m thinking the President denies this pipeline.  The smart money was on him approving  it, a year and a half ago, until the republicans took back Congress and have made Obama’s failure their full time agenda.  Climate change legislation will not get nowhere, immigration reform is stalled, Obamacare, the signature health care reform legislation that the President would like to consider his biggest accomplishment, being attacked by all sides.  This is an issue whose approval is the exclusive jurisdiction of the State Department, an executive office under Mr. Obama’s purview headed up by former presidential candidate John Kerry, who would really like to be remembered as the 300 million dollar French speaking man who sold his $2.25 million worth of Suncor stock before becoming America’s top diplomat and denying them and all their competitors this crucial access to refining capacity in order to “save the world from climate change”.   Wow.  A fox news anchor would probably have a heart attack on air reading that.  All kidding aside, the President knows this is the one issue, the only issue around on which he can take decisive action for his legacy to be environmentalist trailblazer and not reluctant coward trying to please everybody.   You would think Stephen Harper, Alison Redford, and the oil patch’s lobbyists in Washington would realize that they are essentially saying the same things to Obama in nice sweet tones as the Republicans are screaming at him with expletives and thus not really endearing themselves to him, but they are literally defending their own constituencies bread and butter with passion more than being American right-wing lapdogs.  Harper and Redford were both elected by voters in constituencies of Calgary’s rich South-west suburbs, inhabited no doubt as well by many of the top executives of the dozens of Calgary-based oil and gas firms to whom Keystone would be a boon. 
Being pro-pipeline is a lot more complicated than being disgusted by the hypocrisy of private-jet owning environmentalist celebs.  It’s great to be for “reducing our dependency on fossil fuels” until you realize a) what this means for the average person and b) what this means for the broader economy.  I’m not talking about the convenience of one individual driving to Wal-Mart or hopping on a plane.  I’m talking about every farm, every mine, every oil rig across the land, every machine humming to get all that stuff we need out of the ground.  I’m talking about every manufacturer, every factory, every shipyard and scrap yard.  How are any of these goods going to be brought to market in the volume they are now, without petroleum?  Then there is the North American automobile fleet, with something like 1.6 cars per habitant.  This is the largest source of emissions globally.  Yet no North American politician, of any stripe, can prevent himself from proclaiming with sheer joy the speed at which North American auto plants are humming right now, churning out a record number of autos and making record profits.  Many of these politicians will, in the same breath, earnestly state the importance of “getting serious about climate change”  Does a whole continent not realize, improved fuel efficiency standards notwithstanding, the amount of energy required not just to power those vehicles on an ongoing basis but to build them and bring them to market? How about all the fuel and lubricants required to run all the crap found in the aisles of our national treasures, Canadian Tire and Rona or their US equivalents.  All the solvents, compounds, and dyes in our clothes, cosmetics, household products and electronics.  Where is all this energy going to come from, without petroleum.  Beets? Corn? Pixie Dust?
I know, I’m just stuck in the past.  I drank the oil companies’ propaganda.  Then the environmentalist will tell you about electric cars and Germany and Denmark until you realize that Germany and Denmark still run principally on coal despite their show-off windmills and “clean-burning natural gas” is only so when its easy to access – Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland highlights how the emissions intensity of the gas being extracted now from Shale plays all over the US makes it as bad as – coal.  So guess what.  I’ve looked into this, and you can’t get blood from a stone.  We can innovate, we can tweak, we can get more efficient, we can shave off bits of pollution here and improve biodiversity there – I don’t want to turn my nose up at the great work scientists all over the world are doing – but if the goal is truly avoiding the great catch phrase of our time “catastrophic climate change” – Keystone XL is about furthest thing from the panacea you can get.  I’m with internet bloggers like James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer – even former Canadian bank economist Jeff Rubin is kind of in this category now  -that any long-term hope in the future lies in the past, in the era before petroleum.  I do not see how these changes will arrive by choice – I am almost certain they will arrive by force
Of course I’m up to 1000 words now, and North America’s political class needs to sell things in one sentence or less.  Simply put, Obama understands the dangers of climate change – like most people – and knows that politically he has no skin in this and has nothing to gain by being the latest hapless politician to “kick the can down the road”.  It would send the message that the US is serious – we need to somehow, someway get off fossil fuels and carbon emissions.  It would be making a “moral” choice over an “economic” choice;  the last time a president did that, there was a civil war and it cost him his life.  But abolishing slavery was necessary to civilize the nation, and of course, the States with a vested interest in slavery fought the change tooth and nail and received an economic handicap from which they never really fully recovered.  The North was of course in a better position to withstand the abolition of slavery since it was already largely functioning without it.
Similarly, whether we choose to get off fossil fuels or are eventually forced to get off them by their scarcity, the societies which will adapt the best are those who are already functioning without it, i.e, Third world nations.  Canada, meanwhile, will suffer; up to one third of our economy may already be dependent on the oil sands.  Vehicle ownership is less popular for generation x and y but almost universal for boomers.  Millions of Canadians would simply not know what to say if you told them they could not drive to work, not because they are dumb, but because no other options exist.
As a Canadian I feel sort of morally obligated to defend Keystone.  We as an oil-producing nation that certainly pays for our energy in the form of taxes and regulations; Iran and Saudi Arabia give gas to their citizens for pennies.  At the same time I think powering down is the only real option and while I salute and support efforts to improve public transit, get us off of red meat, stop shale gas drilling, combat GMOs and Monsanto and overthrow corrupt and oppressive governments worldwide, I know we are just chipping away at a behemoth.  The 2013 citizen of earth knows he can have and wants fast internet, fast smartphones, real-time news, hummers, mcmansions, Costco and wal-mart.  I don’t want to uphold my personal choices like some virtuous ideal to be upheld but they exclude many of these things entirely or as much as possible and I think personal choices and personal responsibility are much powerful drivers of change than celebrities coalescing around the symbolic manifestation of a problem.  When there are shale plays and mountaintop removal going on all over the USA it seems a little hypocritical that they are turning their nose up at the 17% more carbon-emitting petroleum source that currently supplies 1/20th of their energy needs; however, what they may really be doing is dragging our asses into the future since no Canadian politician can really touch the oil sands with a ten foot pole since we are making tons of cash off them, like way too much to consider shutting them down, every single year.  Hmmmm.   
One thing that is clear is that the UN just released its latest report that should bring into line the last few deniers of climate change.  Come 2015 the Conservatives’ unapologetic belligerence about our 3rd-highest per capita energy consumption population on earth may not play out as well as it has in the past.  And then there is a very good chance of a keystone denial waking up the nation before then.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may be right about environmental improvements and progress made on oil sands development but it in the end their defence of their industry and the government’s obfuscation are no substitutes for leading by example and “getting serious”, so to speak.  If we pushed harder on transit, efficiency, building standards and R&D then we could probably get away with the oil sands and be exporting that shit like crazy.   As it stands, we have a bad reputation for strip mining bitumen (which is what we’re doing no matter what you dress it up with) and for that to continue we are going to have to dialogue and we are going to have to create.  The government muzzling scientists and accepting “mandatory motoring” as our nation’s inevitable destiny aren’t going to cut it.

So for or against the pipeline? It’s out of our hands.  And either way, there is no reason to continue with the status quo.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Fuck Off Government!

Or more specifically, fuck off with any and all your busybody, know it all, moralistic, finger-wagging, self-satisfied hypocritical BULLSHIT conceived with the sole purpose in mind of telling individuals what to do, legislating in the name of some vague, enlightened, imaginary, well-meaning majority with your endless tinkering and social engineering, wasting everyone's time starting fake "debates" about subjects which concern nobody but the people whose shit you are fucking with.  Fuck off.

I am willing for all my credibility to be discarded, wrapped in the words "expletive laden-rant", even though in our lightning-speed twitter verse nobody remembers anything from two seconds ago and the only way you get people's attention anymore is with precisely that.  Like anyone has the attention span left to read some well-thought out, erudite treatise on thousands of flashing blue ipad bulbs while text and instagram dings go off.  This is subject is too important for me not to douse my internal fire in curse word gasoline.  Any legislation that has to do with individual choices, individual freedoms, and individual preferences has to go down in flames.  Governments around the world need to take notice.  WE ARE F____ING ADULTS AND DO NOT THINK THAT WINNING OR STEALING AN ELECTION GIVES YOU THE RIGHT TO TELL PEOPLE HOW TO LIVE THEIR LIVES.

My indignation started today when I listened to this guest on Q, Doctor who cares on the line from Newton, Massachusetts, who went to testify in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom where Prime Minister David Cameron's government is proposing to BAN PORN on a NATIONAL BASIS and HUMILIATE adults by making them 'opt in' to view the banned stuff behind the firewall.  In other words, installing children's parental controls in a nation of adults.  Why? Oh because our poor children are being exposed to it with their fancy tech devices, and we need this big stupid inept government to solve the problem for us.  I've got an idea British government, why don't you GET A FUCKING LIFE instead of letting your mind be poisoned by sick people spreading lies.

You should have heard this woman go on to the absolutely toothless host (not Jian) in her choky little British voice about the "violence" and the "atrocities" and the "torture" being committed against women "on virtually all porn on the internet" (her words).  According to her, you have to search for an hour to find porn that does not contain these things.  And this woman has a phd.  I've got news for Doctor who cares: consensual sex of any kind between any two adults is legal.  If they agree to both do it on camera this is also legal.  And if a 40 year old 400 pound guy who can't leave his house or get any uses his credit card to pay to watch this to satisfy his human needs, this is also legal.  This goes on every day, and its perfectly fine.  Rape is illegal, forcible confinement is illegal and engaging in porn making or purchasing while a minor is illegal.  Now if doctor can provide me some current examples of laws being broken with internet porn, instead of inflaming a non issue with incendiary rhetoric because current levels of permissiveness offend her prudish sensibilities, I will stand to be corrected.  The thing is, I know she can't, and I don't care, but she's brainwashed British lawmakers and at least one Canadian one in the process.  This fascist suggest we go as far as Iceland which is considering not allowing men to purchase porn with Icelandic credit cards.  Sorry, but what works for a country that is basically a giant inbred village should not be scaled up to make the world a global creepster fascist internet.

Down south, 40 years after roe vs. wade we still have renegade republican governors unilaterally passing anti-abortion laws and laws doing everything they can to humiliate, degrade, and make life difficult for young women needing abortions (because there's a group of people who have it too easy in this world).  Meanwhile in NYC, the irreproachable global capital of all that is cool, hip, intellectual, rich, fit and...irreporoachable, outgoing mayor Mike Bloomberg was unsuccessful in his bids to ban Big Gulps and smoking for the Tri-State area's 30 million residents.  Hard to believe a guy who made 27 billion on Wall Street doesn't understand the role of vice in the capitalist machine or that a few of those pennies haven't somehow slithered their way into Coca-Cola, McDonalds, or Philip Morris shares.  But no.  A poor old guy or lady on a fixed income whose main simple pleasures consist of those things, and I'm sure there are millions of them in North America, needs a lesson from one of the true members of the global elite, needs to put the smoke and the pepsi down and go for a jog and make something of him or herself. For the first time. At 57.

Every week I hear or read something, whether it's Hungary harassing artists not supporting its governments' new fascist revisionist history narrative, to Vladimir Putin and all his macho-men crook henchman harassing gays, to the less-publicized but equally life-ruining gay harassment that goes on in Jamaica and Uganda with the bullshit macho, pseudo-evangelical cultures these countries have that are the fallout from their colonizations, to China harassing Tibetans by banning them from speaking Tibetan in Lhasa, to Dalton McGuinty harassing pitbull owners, and today with the minority government here in Quebec deciding to harass people wearing bits of cloth that, all other factors excluded, prevent them in no way from acquitting themselves of their responsibilities as employees of the state - I come to the same conclusion after much reflection - just stop fucking with people`s shit! And guess who is fucking people over, in all of these cases? Government.

The government providing health care and education to its citizens or forcing banks to keep some money on hand so they don`t gamble it all away is not what I`m attacking.  Governments who single out people with the goal of making their life difficult are.  And unbelievably, these governments not only still exist in 2014, but the examples of them are manifold!

Stop thinking you know what's best for people.  Stop telling people what to do.  Go do something useful, like defend the integrity of private property and markets, or protecting the environment and biodiversity.

Fuck off government, everywhere!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Achievable Goals

What are we to make of Mohamed Morsi's ouster as President in Egypt last week? A country which went through a messy but fair democratic election to elect this man one year ago, after a year and a half of turmoil following its hard-fought deposing of its long-time dictator, tosses him aside and FUBARs his political career in less than a week.  As a westerner getting your info from CNN, BBC, and the like, you remember the high expectations and high ambitions of Mr. Morsi - securing that loan, drafting that constitution - and watching the country rip itself to shreds seems like a lousy alternative and not really a signal that things are going to improve.  The gunning down of 19 Morsi supporters by police today could be just the beginning.

Is it a fair outcome for Morsi? Could he really be expected to lift 80 million people out of poverty in less than a year? Of course not, but his fall reminds us of something that we have yet to live with in post-colonial North America: electoral results, even perfectly democratic, legitimate electoral results are worthless when you have millions of unemployed youth in the streets.

You can do an accounting of a politician's strategic errors and ask what might have been (Too hard line? Not tough enough? Should have compromised? Shouldn't have compromised because it made him look weak) but in cases like this revolution its splitting hairs.  The Egyptian spring ended as many a third world revolution has had to - in violence, disillusionment, disappointment, and failure.

North American and European politicians do not face such threats because their societies continue to  function on a basic level in the face of mismanagement, corruption, and economic stagnation.  These economies have the ability to basically borrow/financially engineer prosperity.  A third world country like Egypt does not.

Even if our politicians are held less accountable for failing to achieve goals or, for that matter, failing to set any goals at all, it comes down to a critical mass of people being more or less comfortable, having their needs met, and most importantly holding out some vague unrelenting optimism in the promise of the future.  Any politician in a country where these sentiments have some traction is probably okay.

And any politician in a place where people have lost hope cannot totally exclude the possibility of ending up like Morsi.  Is that right? Do singular humans, politicians and bureaucrats, really control the evolution of our societies and account forall of the effects being felt by the population at any given time?  Or, do we actually elect them to act as a conduit for our emotions and as the best expression of where we feel we are at as nations at a particular point in time?

I suspect the latter is true.  And it is because of this that any politician in a "prosperous" nation has no need to set any achievable goals, and any politician in a poor one who works to achieve any goals is still in danger, because it is unlikely any human could carry out the herculean work of reversing circumstances to the point of allowing a literal ocean of complacency to flood in and allow citizens to live the only life western citizens have ever known, the hardships endured by my compatriots in Calgary and Lac-Mégantic this last week notwithstanding (Sorry for your losses. Just awful).

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Quebec Soccer Headgear

The province of Quebec is about to get dragged through the mud again in the English Canadian media as being a shameful gulag of intolerance and resentment.  At issue: The Quebec Soccer Federation's ban of sikh turbans and hijabs in children's soccer.  Leading the charge in the globe and mail today was Huffington Post blogger (and Quebec resident) Supriya Dwiverdi, arguing that there are sets of rules that apply to white French-speaking Quebecois and others that apply to everybody else.  The subtext in most articles critical of Quebec like this is usually "Oh my god, we are struggling to survive in this barren, horrid, sclerotic place and then the government and the french people make it even more difficult with their bizarre behaviour.  When will it end?"  The question "Does anybody actually care?" is never asked.

In the real world, there are probably more important things we could be discussing than a nine year old being asked to take his turban off.  Yes, we could fumble over ourselves in a race to scream about our "inclusiveness" and "unity" from the rooftops, but the truth is, polls in Canada consistently show the average joe is tired of politically correct bullshit and is rather kow-towed into line on an issue like this under coercion from the media and political elites.

It is an interesting question for the heavyweight legal scholar crowd, representing probably 1-2% of the population who must wrestle with issues like this and come up with coherent opinions around what this affects, as they do with all legal matters.  Is there unfairness? Are an individuals rights being infringed upon? Is the matter causing duress and/or adverse effects on others? What are the consequences for the individual and for society?

In this matter, it appears that 1) An individual is being asked something different than the group, because the group are not wearing turbans 2) It is unfair to someone whose religious belief tells them they must never, ever remove their turban that they must remove it to play soccer, although I would invite them to adjust their religious views for the real world, as Catholics have on the matter of premarital sex 3) Is the matter causing adverse effects on others? Well, there is no "I" in team, and this is a case of special treatment.  I am not a huge soccer fan but I think half the goals I've seen on tv were scored with the head.  So if I'm on that guys team and he doesn't bonk in that sweet pass because he's scared of upsetting his turban or whatever the case may be, then this interferes with the team spirit and team objectives.  What are the consequences for the individual and society.  We already went through this turban BS with the RCMP.  The RCMP  hat, however, is part of a ceremonial costume and serves no real utilitarian purpose.

Those are the legal issues, precedent, and questions to be weighed.  Most people would just use their common sense.  Is this a big deal? No.

And therein lies the answer: somewhere between the two.  I really am past objections over any individuals behaviour that does not jeopardize their own or others' well-being.  After some years of discomfort, I realized burqas have zero impact on other people and they are a fashion choice, so I have no opinion about them anymore.  But Sikhs do have to wear motorcycle helmets and hockey helmets: earthly headgear is a safety matter sometimes, no exceptions.

Children's soccer? I think we can agree there is no life-threatening risk posed by the turban, although I would imagine the more competitive the soccer the more the head must be fully available to make plays.  So what is the right answer? No easy one.  A blanket ban probably does make things easier but I would say just to calm everybody down let the refs evaluate it on a case by case basis.  I think the worst thing we can do in these situations is be dogmatic.  The second worst thing we could do is side with Justin Trudeau and the politically correct police who tell us that this is a major important issue and we are not entitled to our doubts and opinions.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Senate Residency Requirements

The easy part of analysing the ongoing scandal gripping Canadian senators' Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin that culminated in their decisions to leave the Conservative caucus over the last two days is condemning them as individuals.  These two people were Conservative appointees, appointees of a Prime Minister who in a previous life admonished the Senate for its uselessness, patronage, waste and culture of entitlement and who it turns out, through this saga, came to embody those very things.  The comment boards on line show a lot of booing, name-calling and righteous indignation, but there is no need to let our emotions get the better of us on this issue.  There is no debate to get fired up over.  These two individuals represent geographical regions they do not actually reside in, and so the multiple six figures of travel and housing expenses they have claimed over the last three years are invalid and bogus.  Simple.  And if you think resigning from the Conservative caucus means they quit their jobs or have somehow been punished, think again.  They will continue to sit in the Senate, collecting 168,000 in salary a year with impunity.  We as a nation are powerless to do anything about it.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, as the Conservative government stymied all attempts to hold it to account and make it admit wrongdoing with lies, obfuscation, defiance and insults on several occasions during the 2006-2011 minority years. In fact, I've never heard a Conservative party apology or admission of wrongdoing in my life.  That's how these guys roll: they're divine.  So don't expect any accountability now that they have a majority: bring on the next wave of patronage appointments of party-friendly hacks and the next prorogue.  Nothing else to see here, so save your negative emotions for more important things.

But while we're here, let's ask ourselves why does it matter that a Senator is a "full-time" resident of PEI or Wadena, Saskatchewan?  Does somebody (especially big important Senators who worked for CTV in Ontario for 40 years) really need to be in their little remote buttfuck community when they already spend over 150-200 days a year in Ottawa?  Can't property ownership, historical ties and regular visits suffice?  After all, it's not a requirement for Canadians to live where they work, including in instances with real economic consequences like overpaid city workers whose wages are indexed to the high cost of living in that city fuelling real estate bubbles in the suburbs.  It's a really badly kept secret that many MPs, including the two opposition party leaders who intend to make hay out of this Senate scandal, do not actually live in their ridings.  This is well known yet is accepted and does not dominate headlines.  Are we past caring where people actually live in our new "global village", in which it can be argued that location matters less than ever? I answered yes when I wrote about the mobility of labour and the impossibility of stopping it two days go.

In this case the answer is still no.

When it comes to a position that almost exclusively consists of privileges that are inherited from the times of the aristocracy, residency does matter.  You are getting paid a ridiculous amount of money to represent a region; it is an insult to people in that region and to Canadian taxpayers to not reside in it.  Residency, despite our advances in travel and technology, is not a passé requirement; there is no substitute for living in a community, supporting its businesses, having your kids in its schools, using its roads, parks, and medical facilities and knowing to see people who walk down its streets.  Everybody has to do this somewhere - I have done it many places - but its hard to think of another job it as essential for as politician.  Think of how hollow, vague, and corny the average politician's speech is, and then imagine it after you find out they don't even live in the district whose name "The people of..." they repeat with tourette's like repetitiveness.  Forcing politicians to live in the riding they represent would go a long way to ending the culture of entitlement so endemic in the Canadian political class; by forcing them to adhere to basic bureaucratic framework like everyone else (like living where you say you live), we eliminate one more opportunity for crass political opportunism.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Rob Ford is on Crack

That explains the last three years.

Do I need to say anything else?

Probably just that I have become so accustomed to this idiot that I had to read the headline in four different newspapers before it sunk in.  I have become so good at tuning out the daily dose of Rob Ford moron antics that it turns out he smoked crack and I was like "Oh yeah? Hmmm. *Yawn*.  First of all because its not surprising, second of all because it was abundantly clear to most people with a pulse that this guy should never have got within a telescope's view of the public eye from the get-go, never mind mayor.  Each passing day confirms that, to the point where a crack-smoking video surprises no-one and probably isn't going to change anything.

It just slightly eclispses his brother admitting he drinks 4 litres of chocolate milk every day.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Who Cares Where Stuff is Made?

In recent weeks, the issues of off-shoring, sweat-shops, and labour mobility have resurged to occupy the news headlines once again.  The collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh that left hundreds dead produced a temporary black mark on one of the eyes of the hydra of multi-billion dollar conglomerates that sources its garments in this part of the world.  Suddenly, twenty years after Kathie Lee Gifford cried on tv about her orphan-manufactured Wal-Mart clothes line (wow, I'm really dating myself here), there is collective shock and disgust that our clothes are still made in the third world.

Meanwhile in Canada, home of Loblaw Inc. who among others manufactured its own Joe Fresh line of clothes in that very factory that collapsed, much hand-wringing and griping has recently occurred over the issue of temporary foreign workers (or TFWs, as informed pros now calls them).  A haystack that was set fire to by one bitter obsolete employee at Canada's largest bank turned into a several-week long shit-storm during which it was revealed that not only this big bank but ALL the big banks, as well as politicians' office staff, lawyer firms, big telecom, and all the other six-figure earner employing, ridiculously profitable industries in this fair land were making use of the program.  In the face of all this anger, indignation, and angst at these two separate but related cases we must ask: Why all this uproar over what gets made or who does what where?

Please understand me: the title of this article, or that last sentence, do not mean I am an indifferent or callous to the plight of individuals trying to obtain economic security anywhere.  As sad as the deaths of 380 Bangladeshis are, I believe it is more constructive to pose basic questions than fall into righteous indignation, because I don't think they have been answered, and they provide more insight than righteous indignation.  You've probably already had more than enough of that in the mainstream media.  And the response to it doesn't allow us to cut any further to the heart of the matter: the anti-capitalist crowd sharpens its axes in preparation of marathon grinds and CEOs of multi-nationals hurriedly crowd-surf to podiums on their PR departments hands to reassure the world (and shareholders) that they are compassionate, well-meaning individuals.

The Globe and Mail, the virtuous paragon of humanity that it is, reminded us that deep down inside, we are all shareholders.  It asked the tough question days after the Bangladeshi disaster.  Something about the country being torn between this now crucial industry for its economy and the fact that, well, it's a dangerous and miserable occupation for all who do it and now the whole world knows that.  Okay, not that it didn't know before but its been reminded (humans have very short attention spans, and technology hasn't exactly helped the situation).  To put that in very impolite terms, what exactly do people in Bangladesh have better to do than sew $12 tank tops for 14 cents an hour?

I'm not sure, because I've never been to Bangladesh.  But I know there's a reason the clothes are being made there, and not in Central African Republic or Afghanistan (two dirt poor countries that come to mind).  Big, bad multinationals don't just walk into places they aren't wanted in 2013; they are aided by the tax deals and backroom handshakes of compliant governments, eager to get people earning incomes , paying taxes, and working 14 hours a day with no time to wonder how the government made their lives such shit.

The people of Bangladesh didn't ask for sweatshops, the government got them because it evidently made attracting them a top priority, and people didn't exactly turn their nose up at the work when it arrived.  North Americans' clothes have evidently followed a path of rising incomes through Asia, from Hong Kong to China down through Laos and Cambodia with extended stays in Phillipines, Indonesia and Vietnam.  All these countries have robust economies and excellent growth rates.

Does that mean the average person there doesn't still have an awful grind to get through to live day to day?  No.  But businesses will move anywhere or explore all options available to them to reduce costs and create value for their customers and shareholders.  If I draw the ire of some well-meaning "progressive" about promoting a "race to the bottom" then I reassure him or her that I would be interested in a system that rewarded people for their hard work and initiative and did not create instability and inequality at the same time.  The argument that this process also leads to worker exploitation and environmental destruction is, of course, irrefutable, but as the last five years in the wake of the widespread awareness of climate change have shown, people seem to be more interested in working to survive than figuring out how to solve really big complicated problems that involve coordinating the efforts of 7 billion individuals, millions of companies, and 192 sovereign states.  So nobody is really accountable to anybody and everyone just keeps telling themselves I'm just going to take care of business and do what I need to do until this cluster fuck all gets sorted out.  As of right now it seems pretty hopeless.

Anyway those same leftists are the ones pounding their chests in the media when Caterpillar closes a plant in London Ontario to move 500 km down the road to Indiana where wages are less than half, or when B.C. imports Chinese coal miners.  They are all about "protecting the environment" and "protecting Canadian jobs" which exposes them to be grovelling for the same working-stiff, joe six pack votes as all the other parties.  So the environment part is really just lip service.  Witness NDP leader Andrea Horwath this week in Ontario holding out her support to prop up a minority government over road tolls, badly needed to fund transit in a city choking worse than any in North America on its own traffic congestion.  It's so much easier for her (and so agonizing for everyone else) to blather on some bullshit platitudes about "families" and "ordinary folks" than to attempt to tackle a complex but urgent problem.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem of Canadians being alienated from and uninformed about where their "economy" that is the "most important issue" in every election actually comes from.  Corporations which employ Canadians and pay them good salaries have many operations abroad and make a lot of profits abroad.  And these companies and others import from abroad so that we can have cheap goods here.  Maybe it is not that simple but we could do a lot more to figure out how society should be run and be part of the solution instead of listening to idiot politicians constantly telling us that we are all entitled to good jobs and cheap goods and no pain because we are special.  If we were special we would be totally insulated and sell-sufficient; technology and petroleum have made that impossible.  Whether you think that is fortunate or unfortunate depends on your perspective, but what is 100% certain is that there is no turning back, and that's why I don't care who makes what and does what where.  I know there is still lots of work to do in Canada.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Middle Class State of The Union

In a sweeping bid to reassure markets (which are at 5 year highs), get the republican controlled congress on side (which it will never, ever be), and show all those enlightened people who entrusted their faith in him for a second term that he's more than just an inspiring pretty face, Barack Obama used his 12 page long state of the union address last night to pound and pound the thematic dead horse that politicos are convinced is in fact an electoral golden goose: the middle class.

The middle class.  If I hear this patronizing, meaningless, bullshit idiotic term one more time, I'm going to have to take to Lacking Credentials for a serious rant.  Oh, wait. Here I am.  Guess that was one time too many.

What possesses successful and mediocre politicians alike to so shamelessly, so blithely, and so frequently trot out this term? Why are we in 2013 witnessing the full-scale creation of a continent-wide mythology that lionizes this amorphous entity called the middle class, has us believing that there are legions of virtuous, well-meaning, salt of the earth (but obviously dumb as fucking dirt, if we listen to the speeches of those who claim to be carrying their torch) "hard-working folks" in North America, who were dominating the world and doing just fine until some vague mean and evil events which they had no do you hear me zero part in sent them for a shock and a ride from which they have never recovered.  An unwritten rule now exists then, that every North American political discourse, from the centre-left, "progressive" side of the ledger at least, must include this narrative and grab hold of it with a mission, a zeal, an evangelical conviction that middle class must be "rebuilt", that it must be "revived", that "good-paying, high value jobs" and "prosperity" must come back to North America.  Jesus Christ, you listen to these people and think we are standing in line waiting for soup before getting off our dust bowl farms and following the Joads to California.  Where is the context? Where is the perspective? Where are the facts in this middle class narrative?  And who is sitting around, thinking of themselves as middle class and complaining at the same time about how bad they have it? Is anybody really that pathetic out there? And if so, why would we be pandering to them? What should we make of politicians who do?

Answer: That they are know-nothing morons, or they sure do good jobs of playing ones on tv.  This is what one concludes from Justin Trudeau's cross-country campaigning, saying he learns in his travels that Canada's middle-class is its "backbone" and that it is "suffering".  What the hell does this guy know about being middle class, and who gave him the title of spokesman for them?

I'm just saying.  North America's political class members earn six figures for the theater work they do.  They own nice homes in nice neighbourhoods.  They receive pensions unheard of in any other professions.  Many of them are in demand, during and after politics, as authors, speakers, or highly regarded professionals in their fields.  These people know what money is.  They know what assets and educations are.  They know how the markets in North America work, how the tax system works, and they have highly qualified people managing their affairs in their best interests with respect to these systems.  Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama own very valuable properties in prime locations in very affluent areas of major North American centres.  So could they maybe dial down the "middle-class, joe six-pack" bullshit for a speech or tv?.

I used to work in collections, and although it does get tiring it is interesting work from a human psychology point of view, and unlike many hard jobs you can boil every single person you are dealing with into one of four categories: unwilling and unable to pay, willing but unable to pay, unwilling but able to pay, and able and willing to pay.  Similarly, I don't pretend that North America's social structure and institutions are perfect or that poor people are lazy and plutocrats deserve every penny, but it is simplistic and disingenuous to depict society as existing in three layers of poor, middle, and rich.  In fact all people's circumstances can be broken down in the same way as debtors receiving collection calls.

There are people who earn little and are unable to manage their affairs
There are people who earn little but are able to manage their affairs.
There are people who earn a lot but are unable to manage their affairs
There are people who earn a lot and are able to manage their affairs.

This is why I have a very big expletive problem with the vague, well-meaning, "middle-class" catch-all.  The middle class is made up of the two groups in middle, one of whom deserves to be there and one of whom we are supposed to feel sorry for when they meet the consequences of their own irresponsibility.  Instead of saving and investing the incredible wages the auto worker (or teacher, or government worker, or insert high wage earner with iron clad special interest group protection here) earned for ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty years and becoming prosperous, we are supposed to take for granted that they should automatically be entitled to earn better wages than ever this year.  Someone who put all their money in stocks, bonds, investments and rental properties is the same as someone who owns time shares, snowmobiles, a fifty thousand dollar truck and a trailer in florida.  Someone who made terrible financial decisions deserves the attention of progressive politicians because these politicians decided they are "middle class".

Creative destruction has been crushing jobs in North America since capitalism started and yet new jobs are created every year.  No amount of politician bleating is going to save any "middle class" person who got "left behind" because of decisions they themselves made in their life as an adult.  Who is so infantile or so naive to believe anything any politician says about making their lives better? Hint: I bet you 0% of successful people in Canada waited around for Justin Trudeau to tell them they should be better off or they should have more opportunities.  I haven't seen such sickening corniness since Bob Saget's character on Full House, and at least we know now that he was just acting.

On the CBC podcast Q last week Jian Ghomeshi interviewed a hungarian translator and poet who observed that a right-wing fascist-type political movement has taken over his homeland and is propogating an anti-semitic, nationalist, return to the 1930s type of ideology.  When asked how this could happen in a modern democracy, he said they were gunning on the hope that Nazi Germany also gunned on, that if you repeat something often enough it becomes true in the collective mind.  I feel the need to speak out and say that North America risks to fall even further into complacency, mediocrity and selfish infantilism if we allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the myth of the "vanished" middle class and remember that awareness, action and personal responsibility have been the only way to achieve success here or anywhere, at anytime in history.  I don't care how many votes they represent, there is nothing admirable or noble about workaday losers who have no energy left for politics after commutes, cable, wal-mart and costco, with their zombie kids barely looking up from the ipads purchased on their parents' credit lines.  That's what the middle class is.  These people don't need inspiration to achieve the North American dream; they already have, and it's a fucking nightmare.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Just for fun...

I registered on the Liberal Party of Canada's website this evening as a supporter.

Why? I have the opportunity to send a message to the party I have criticized at great length on this blog.  I have nothing to lose.  And they made it easy.

I have become very disillusioned with politics in general, especially in Canada.  I just finished the excellent BBC book Nippon: Japan, New Superpower since 1945  and one of the main themes of this book is how the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan has held on to power for 60 years uncontested despite shameless patronage, systematic corruption and entirely undemocratic, authoritarian tendencies.

Other than some allowances for cultural specificities and their natural inheritance of a feudal, communal society's power structure, what was the LDP's biggest asset in keeping power for so long? A weak and divided opposition.

So I will vote in this Liberal leadership contest, but it is going to be for a progressive person, preferably a woman with independent ideas and above all a realistic perspective.  By realistic perspective I mean someone who sees the writing on the wall. I have had quite enough of the NDP and old Liberal hacks and Elizabeth May all strutting around with their chests puffed out like roosters saying their party is cruising to a majority landslide in 2015 without a sniff of irony in their voices.  It's time for Canada's non-CPC political class to hear a very blunt message from this disengaged voter who hopes he represents the grassroots when he says None of your shitty, inflated egos are going to matter when the cons cruise to yet another victory in 2015.  So get to the bargaining table, call up the fellow opposition members and start negotiating.  Even if it means something really irritating, like Liz at the cabinet table.

I am really doing this to see if the Liberal Party really has changed like it says it has.  Because this is its one chance to prove it.  And deep down inside I am sad, because I know I will be disappointed, just like I always am.  Smart, accomplished, pragmatic women like Martha Hall Findlay and Joyce Murray who could breathe life into the party and renew it will be swept aside by the behind the scenes machinations of power brokers, that same elitist downtown toronto backroom boys cabal who brought you the roaring successes of Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, and the steady hand and managerial competence of Dalton McGuinty.  These guys are working around the clock as we speak to ensure we suffer the slow-motion train wreck that is known as Justin Trudeau.  At least they made it easy for me to go online and oppose it, before they prevail and I walk away once and for all.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Idle No More - Comments

It's an expression in our English lexicon, albeit a crude and pejorative one whose usage is usually restricted to a discussion between parties in reference to a third party they consider inferior: The Natives are Getting Restless. The five words, so drenched in disdain, yet so flippantly employed, developed meaning in a language whose speakers' world view was largely coloured by colonialism for over 200 years.  And when an occasion was given for this expression to be used, as it inevitably was sometimes, we turned our guns or whips or economic system or cultural superiority or whatever on them to put them back in their place.  Because what would happen if they got too restless and we just stood idly by?

I haven't written for a long time, and I'm not too fond of this subject because it's really complicated and touchy and I think it just caused me to use a bad pun.  I am glad that natives have forced themselves on the front page for several consecutive days and seem to be finally, really, genuinely fucking pissed off over all the fucked up shit we did to them.  Yet I know I don't have a hope in hell of being taken seriously writing this column, because I have already liberally used careless ethnocentrism - by lazily saying "we", I betray my white, middle-class, male, european-origin, urban, educated, bourgeois parasitism.  The days people like me could swagger around the world telling people what was up are over.  The natives of Canada, North America, who stood idly by while this country, as it exists today, was created without them, are idle no more.  They are demanding to have a conversation.

And for that, you have to commend them.  The first step to being relevant is refusing to be ignored.  Just like you had to commend Occupy Wall Streeters for their persistence, when faced with the reality of perpetual shit-eating grin sporters like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein strutting around New York with their 8 figure salaries thinking they deserve every penny while 99% of the nation was eating real economic stagnation shit.  Of course, 16 months later the campout is long gone and these two individuals are still running the banks they were then, but that's beside the point.  99 and 1% permanently entered the vocabulary.  The conversation was, if not changed, nudged in a direction where something was acknowledged that wasn't before.

But will that happen here?  Only if three questions can be clearly answered; as of yet, from what I've seem, they haven't been.

What do Canada's natives want?

Who speaks for them?

What can change?

My thing is, I don't see how anything can change because it cannot come from Stephen Harper.  It cannot come from the Canadian treasury.  It has to come from them.  The natives.

All over the world, things are getting better.  That doesn't mean that they're going to go well enough soon enough to stop the whole thing from going to complete shit, but people are starting to move around. Go to school. Get on the computer. Start businesses.  Unless were talking about some last few hellhole countries where poverty is endemic, women have no rights, and people still use livestock as currency and decapitation as law enforcement (I'm looking at you, Somalia, Niger, and Afghanistan), modernity is sweeping the planet and nations are taking charge of their destiny.  If I could, I would invest in just about any country on earth (other than the three above where my money would disappear in a cloud of assault rifles and beards) before North America, Japan, or Europe.  Why? It's 2013, and everyone pretty much understands, suddenly, all at once, what we are supposed to be doing.  Making something of ourselves, whatever that might mean.

I'm reading a book right about how Japan, a country that in 1945 had two nuclear bombs dropped on it and more than half of its major cities firebombed into ruins, became the world's largest industrial powerhouse and 2nd largest economy.  Today India, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, Tunisia, Egypt, and Uruguay are all on their way.  Even North Korea and Cuba are moving forward, glacially.  It doesn't matter if you were mismanaged, brutalized, or just not with the program for decades.  No better proof exists of that than China.  Look out for Iran and Syria if their poor citizens can ever overthrow the awful regimes that control them - the cultural richness and deep know-how of these populations is enormous.

My point is that all the citizens of earth have lived through trauma, death, suffering, disease, poverty, shame, backwardness, and shit.  A record number of people on earth, I believe, have decided to leave behind these pernicious forces that so severely restrain the human spirit.  It is time for native Canadians to stop focussing on the past, and start focussing on the future.  The future that they will define, what they want it to be.  But it cannot be the past.

What it will take is bravery and ingenuity on the part of aboriginal peoples to decide what part they want to play in this country's destiny.  Demanding to be heard is a commendable first step.  I'm for anything that embarrasses Steve Harper and gets him out of that smug, complacent "managing the economy" comfort zone which is all bullshit anyways.  But now that you've got him at the table, what do you think he's going to do for you? What are any of us going to do for you?

I'll tell you one thing - we're not going to build brand new ugly-assed, depressing houses in the middle of nowhere at prohibitive costs so we can continue a multi-generational cycle of poverty, misery and abuse.  I don't think it makes sense to live on the "land" of your "ancestors" because your ancestors didn't take planes to go the the doctor (or anywhere other than your isolated community) or pay $3.99 for 1 red pepper or $20 for tropicana orange juice.  Were your ancestors drinking 2 litres of coca-cola while they watched 42 inch Samsungs? I mean, people are living in communities you have to fly to, for christ's sake.  No roads. No railroads. And no economy.  And we are surprised there is no opportunity for "jobs, training or opportunities". The nearest cities to these communities are also buttholes. No wonder everyone goes back to the reserve.

I'm talking about an extreme example.  I'm referring to Attawapiskat, whose famous chief has been on hunger strike.  What about the natives living near Winnipeg, or Hamilton, or Thunder Bay, or Tsawawssen?  It's not so extreme there.

Let's get down to the brass tacks.  80% of the Canadian population lives in 9 metropolitan areas, add three more and I think you're up to over 90.  There are hundreds of thousands of first and second generation Italians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, Filipinos and just about anyone you can think of from anywhere in these cities who control diverse business interests making up massive swaths of the Canadian economy and control enormous amounts of wealth.  Why can't the natives be part of this? What is impeding them from sharing in our countries success?

Is it free health care? Free university education? An advantageous tax regime?

Or is it being isolated in ethnic ghettos, themselves dating from a time where a false sense of racial superiority led the white man to believe he could segregate what made him uncomfortable on a "reserve"?  Is it being fundamentally unable to confront the demons that fester in such an environment and rationalizing them as okay?  Why don't native people "idle no more" in the face of domestic violence, teenage preganancy, substance abuse, sky-high high school drop out rates, and communities that are so fucking depressing, barely a single non-native Canadian has ever set foot in one unless it was to buy contraband tobacco?  Because if all of the social ills I mention also plague all Canada's communities to varying degrees, the isolation and monotony of reserves can only continue to exacerbate them to the degree that it already has.

Of course white people know that we f------ the natives over worse than anybody.  But we can't go back to 1700 to try this again knowing what we know now.  We want to natives improve their lot and I am fine being reminded of my oppressive ancestors every day.  Disputes, however, only get resolved when collective responsibility is taken by both parties (ask a married man with a young child).  Until inconvenient truths about the way natives live in Canada are admitted and meaningful steps are taken by natives for natives to deal with them, this Idle No More thing is just going to be a lot of blown smoke.  Demanding to shove more millions down a rabbit hole with no strings attached is just going to play into Harper's hands and probably contribute to a 2nd majority.  We all have to change but natives, especially, have to change, by coming and joining society which will force them to change and us to change.  Banishing themselves to isolated, ethnically homogenous communities will only continue to the cycle of ignorance and misunderstanding - the Canadian urban majority building the nation, chasing its dreams while a dependent, embittered native population suffers, forgotten by people who want to see them succeed, and f----- over by their self-aggrandizing, crooked "leaders".