Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Soapbox Predictions - The Year Ahead

Well, here goes. I’ve never written anything like this, but it seems the thing to do now that I’m publishing my very own blog. I’ll adjust my Nostradamus hat, jiggle my Magic 8 Ball, and weigh in on what I think the coming year has in store. Book mark this entry, unless I totally fall flat on my face, in which case forget you ever read it. But if I luck out and get one or two right, expect to see me posting about my genius prognostications.

Politics - Get Ready to Vote Again
You read it here first (unless you’ve already read it somewhere else) Canadians will be heading to the polls yet again, no later than the fall. Stephen Harper will spend much of the year putting out fires started by socially conservative members of his caucus. Backbench Conservative MPs, fearing their time in power is running out, will push to have issues like Same Sex Marriage and Abortion put on the legislative agenda. The opposition parties will sit back salivating as Harper’s minority government tumbles further and further in the polls. There will be no coalition, instead a new minority government will be formed with Liberal Michael Ignatieff installed as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister. With our base currency unit referred to as a “Loonie” its only fitting our PM should be called “Iggy”.

The Economy Worsens
I really want to be optimistic, but my Magic Eight ball won’t let me. I see the housing crisis worsening in the U.S. as fallout from the sub-prime mess spills over into the broader mortgage market. Inflation picks up steam, the result of the United States flooding the market with freshly printed pictures of Benjamin Franklin. Canadians are hit hard, but things are somewhat better here as the Loonie soars in value against the Greenback, once again moving well above par.

Sports - More Scandal
A major sports celebrity will be in the news for doing something incredibly stupid and illegal. This is a no brainer, and will probably be the only thing I get right.

Environment and Weather
Somewhere in Canada global warming guru Al Gore will be burned in effigy. “Effigy”??? “I thought you said he was gonna be burned in Canada”??? After being arrested, protesters will claim they were simply trying to keep warm.

Canadian Soapbox – Canada’s Number One Blog
Readers flock to Canadian Soapbox to read the sage and well thought out commentary of creator and publisher Gordie Canuk. Revenues from ads on the site soar, allowing Gordie to splurge on an expensive dinner, with everything Super-Sized.

Happy New Year All

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

U.S. Conservatives Under Attack – Barack the Magic Negro

The Repulbican party in the US in in the midst of an election, to elect a chairman to their National Committee. One of the candidates, Chip Saltsman, has been circulating a CD with the song "Barack The Magic Negro", a parody of "Puff the Magic Dragon" of Peter Paul and Mary fame. Its nothing new, Conservative icon Rush Limbaugh has been playing it on his show since March of 2008.

It's a tasteless parody with a white man singing and impersonating Al Sharpton. Sharpton is a black Baptist minister, a social activist and a former presidential candidate himself. Some are calling it a simple case of satire, and that it shouldn't be taken seriously. They're wrong!

I'm no idealist, I know that things like racism and intolerance are never going to be completely eradicated, not here and certainly not in the US. But that an icon of the Conservative movement, Rush Limbaugh, would give play to this kind of small minded racist drivel, it tells me we still have a long way to go...a very long way. And that an individual vying to be chairman of the Republican National Committee would distribute it, that is just utterly indefensible.

I can't believe this went under the radar for so long. This song was given zero atttention as Americans were fixated with Jeremiah Wright's "God Damn America" sermon, where the pastor has the temerity to take the United States to task over its treatment of American citizens of colour. Meanwhile this type of racist garbage is being aired and listened to by countless members of the American Conservative movement.

Liberal minded people in the US and elsewhere can no longer afford to be bullied by the likes of Limbaugh and other Conservative mouthpieces.

We need to get angry and combat this kind of garbage.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Conservative MP Wants Abortion Debate Reopened

Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, chairman of the Pro-Life Parliamentary Caucus, wants to reopen the debate on abortion. In a CP article published just yesterday he speaks of bringing “more value” to the lives of the unborn. Joyce Arthur, a coordinator for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, is quoted as saying the majority of the Conservative caucus is publicly ‘anti-choice’.

If the Conservatives had a majority government, without fear of facing the electorate for another 4 or 5 years, this might not be an issue. Stephen Harper could appease his socially conservative base with amendments to abortion legislation, with the reasonable belief that over the span of 4 plus years it would fade from the conscious of the electorate.

With an election likely coming within a year, this is the last thing Stephen Harper wants or needs. It harkens back to the days of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, when backbench MPs from his caucus were constantly grabbing headlines by making statements many viewed as intolerant. Harper is nothing if not an astute politician, and he knows that this is an issue Canadians would rather not face. It risks having the new Conservative Party of Canada tarred with the same ‘Intolerant’ label which spelled electoral disaster for the old Reform and Canadian Alliance brands in Central and Eastern Canada.

Click here to read the story as reported in the: Globe and Mail

If you want to read my earlier blog post about this click here: Re-Opening The Abortion Debate

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Afghanistan’s Pipeline – Canada’s War

As casualties mount from military operations in Afghanistan, it is important for Canadians to have access to all the information available with respect to our involvement. One key piece of information has been lacking from much of this discussion, the proposed construction of a massive natural gas pipeline.

John Foster, lead economist for Petro Canada from 1976-81, authored a comprehensive paper for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, it was published in June 2008.

“A Pipeline Through A Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, And The New Great Energy Game”

It provides an in depth look into the geopolitical implications of our presence in the region. Statements on Afghanistan emanating from Ottawa focus on the humanitarian side of our mission, while nothing is being said about the implications this pipeline will have. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India or “TAPI” pipeline is very pertinent to any discussion, as the proposed pipeline route cuts straight through Kandahar province, where Canadians are fighting and dying.

While our national media may not be focusing on this issue, it may very well be a case of news outlets catering to the demands of the Canadian people. The information is available to those willing to seek it out, but I suspect many are simply happy to ignore certain facts. At overpasses along hi-way 401 citizens gather to pay homage to soldiers killed in the service of our nation’s military, and rightfully so. Perhaps this is something Canadians simply prefer to ignore?

Our death toll continues to climb with two more Canadians being killed just yesterday, you can read about it on CBC's website: 2 More Canadian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

Any thoughts?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Harper Following Mulroney’s Lead

As most are probably aware by now, Stephen Harper has appointed 18 new members to Canada’s Senate, I wrote of it here on December 23rd. And while CTV broadcaster Mike Duffy is likely the most well known, it is the appointment of former Parti Québécois member Michel Rivard which is drawing a lot of the fire. M. Rivard is a former MNA, (Member of the National Assembly) for Quebec’s separatist Parti Québécois. He switched allegiances however, and started working for the Canadian Alliance back in 2000.

It seems obvious that Stephen Harper is once again back to the game of wooing soft separatist support in La Belle Province. Some had speculated that Harper was burning bridges in Quebec when his government was on the brink of defeat, faced with the prospect of being replaced by a coalition of Liberals and New Democrats supported by the Bloc. In English he lambasted the legitimacy of a government drawing support from a separatist party. In French his rhetoric was far more subdued, and he used the more gentle term ‘Sovereigntist’ when speaking to Quebec’s media.

Stephen Harper realizes, like most successful Canadian politicians, that in order to achieve any success in forming a government, that it is very difficult to do without electing a significant number of MPs from Quebec. For the majority of Canada’s history Quebec was a wasteland for the Conservatives, voting almost exclusively Liberal in election after election. It was this stranglehold which enabled the Grits to attain the status of Canada’s ‘Natural’ governing party.

Brian Mulroney was finally able to break their grip by inviting soft separatists into the Conservative fold with the promise of constitutional renewal for Quebec. When his efforts failed with the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, the Bloc Québécois was born, created by former friend and cabinet minister Lucien Bouchard. But Mulroney had shown the way for Conservatives wishing to win votes in Canada's second most populous province.

Stephen Harper had deftly played to the soft separatist constituency with his recognition of Quebecers as a ‘nation’ within Canada. Most were expecting the number of Conservatives elected in Quebec to double to around 20, likely resulting in a Conservative majority government. That was until Harper announced proposed cuts to arts and culture along with a tougher stance on youth crime, neither of which played well in Quebec.

I’ve traveled far and wide in Quebec. I’ve often visited Montreal and Quebec City, and I’ve twice been out to the Gaspe Peninsula, as well as up to the Ville Marie area in the northeast. Quebecers in my view are Canada’s most liberal and socially minded citizens. Union membership is higher per capita than in any other province, hardly anyone under the age of 70 goes to church, and arts and culture are high on the priority list for many. They’re also uncomfortable with labeling a teenager ‘felon’ for what may be a simple matter of youthful indiscretion.

And just as they’re willing to forgive a teenage offender his or her crimes, they will also be more than willing to forgive Stephen Harper. The appointment of Rivard will be well received by those who view separation as an option, as opposed to a religion. The hard core separatist vote will still go to the Bloc of course, but in my opinion that constituency only represents about 20 per cent of the total population.

Even if the Conservatives manage to survive when this suspension is lifted, (and I do think they will) Harper knows that Canadians will probably be headed to the polls within a year. The Liberals seem rejuvenated under the leadership of Michael Ignatieff and Harper knows that the next election will not be as easy as the last two. If he’s to hold onto the keys of 24 Sussex Drive he’ll need all the seats he can get in Quebec. With the Liberals attracting most of the staunchly federalist vote, Stephen is left to follow in Brian’s footsteps, attracting wavering separatists.

Comments as always are welcome.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas From Canadian Soapbox

Tis the day before Christmas, and in keeping with the spirit of the season, please accept my wishes for a happy and joyous Yule, and a peaceful new year. With a troubled economy facing us, here's hoping many will come to find pleasure in simple pursuits...and that those who do struggle, that they will be able to draw strength from friends and family.

This blog isn't yet a month old, so I don't know how many people are actually reading this...hi to all 4 or 5 of you. In the salad days of teenage youth I fancied myself a fair poet, so allow me to be the millionth or so writer to butcher that Christmas classic,
'The Night Before Christmas' in a CanadianSoapbox vein.

The Prorogued Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, And on Parliament Hill

No one was stirring, Or penning a bill
The House was shut down, Or prorogued if you care
A vote of non-confidence, Hung in the air

And Senators too, All snuggled up tight
Eighteen new members, Not from left but from right
And Iggy and Jack, And that Bloc guy Gilles too
Sticking out tongues at PM, You know who

While out on the internet, Fingers did madly clack
Bloggers and columnists, On the attack
And readers and posters, On bull boards galore
Did all join in, For a loud mighty roar

‘Three stooges, usurpers, You gang on the left
You will not succeed, Your justification’s bereft’
‘Oh shut up dumb Tories’, The lefties did vent
'You don’t speak for all, Just thirty eight per cent'

Amid all the yelling, And shouting so loud
Came a jolly old elf, Who soon settled the crowd
‘Calm down and talk nice’, Did old Santa Claus say
'Or no one gets presents, Coming out of my sleigh'

So the crowd settled down, For they knew they’d been bad
And Old Saint Nick smiled, For the peace made him glad
‘C’mon you’re Canuks, And everyone knows
Canadians only get mad, When it snows’.

And so with the people, All nice and forgiving
Saint Nick called the leaders, For this was their living
‘I have presents for all, But first to you four
I’ll hand out some coal, You deserve nothing more'

'These people this crowd here, They voted you in
The way you’re behaving, Is truly a sin
You must work together, Compromise and be kind
Having to vote every year, It's a grind'

Then from way in the rear, Did a snowball appear
And whistled and flew, Hitting St. Nick’s left ear
“Who threw that, own up now”? Did Old Santa say
But the people looked down, To the side or away

“St. Nick’s with the Tories”!!! A voice did shout out
“He won’t let the coalition team, Throw them out”!
“No, he’s a Leftie”!!! Did another retort
“He’s giving out freebies, He’s a communist sort”!!!

And how did old Santa, React to all this
The old elf bent over, Showing his ass for to kiss

“I’ve had it with you, I will never come back”
“No presents for you, I’m no political hack”

He jumped on his sleigh, And his reindeer took off
And as he departed, I did hear him scoff
“I’ve had it with Ottawa, Too loud and too raucous"
“If you come to the Pole, You can sit on MY caucus”.

Merry Christmas all - Gordie Canuk

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Note To Stephen Harper - This is Canada Not The U.S.

Stephen Harper, long an advocate for Senate reform, should have to undergo drug testing for his performance in the game that is patronage politics. In appointing 18 Senators our Prime Minister has broken a record, never before has a Canadian Prime Minister stuffed this many bodies into our Red Chamber in a single day. Congratulations Stephen, now please go behind that curtain and pee in a bottle.

Filling these vacant seats allowed Mr. Harper to take yet another swing at the potential coalition government waiting in the wings. According to the Prime Minister: "If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for."

I’m not sure the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party knows which country he’s governing. In our system of parliamentary democracy we don’t get to vote for any particular form of government: minority, majority or coalition. We don’t even get a say when it comes to picking a Prime Minister. All we have is one vote each, (and over ten million Canadians didn’t even bother using it) to cast in our local ridings. We vote for whichever candidate we choose, and then after all the winners assemble in Ottawa a government is formed among the party with the most seats in the House of Commons.

Because the Conservatives won the most seats in the last 2 elections, Stephen Harper gets to be Prime Minister. Not because Canadians voted for him, but because he is the leader of the ruling party. Even voters in Mr. Harper’s riding of Calgary Southwest didn’t elect him as the PM, they elected him as their local MP. If Mr. Harper should decide to resign, or is replaced as party leader…then Conservative Party members would decide who becomes Prime Minister, as has happened previously under both the Liberals and Conservatives with John Turner, Kim Campbell and Paul Martin.

Someone needs to remind our Prime Minister that this isn’t the U.S. and that he didn’t win a Presidential Election. I know that some Canadians voted for the Conservative candidate in their riding because they wanted Stephen Harper as this country’s senior elected official. But some also voted based on the individual candidate. It’s a conundrum for many voters, if the candidate representing the party, (or party leader) you like is a total ass...What do you do? That’s our system.

If this were the U.S. then Stephen would have cause for concern, with the Toronto Star reporting that he and Michael Ignatieff are in a virtual tie when it comes to whom Canadians want to lead this country. Canadians have barely had a chance to get to know the new Liberal leader, and yet many are already ready to embrace him. Or possibly it’s not so much a matter of liking Ignatieff, but rather disliking Harper?

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and I welcome your comments, I read them all. If you think this piece would be of interest to anyone you’re most welcome to pass it along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share This’ icon below.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Penny Stocks - Playing With Fire

In an earlier entry I wrote about the dangers of investing in penny stocks, expressing the opinion that Lottery Tickets represent a better risk-reward play.

Need To Make $$$ Fast? Beware Stock Promoters

With that being said I also know that there are many who will be convinced that they can beat the system. With that in mind I thought I’d give you a bit of a road map into some strategies which I’ve found successful in the past. I won’t be making any recommendations about particular stocks, there’s plenty of that out there already. At the bottom of this post I’ll include a couple of links that you can use for research, but no stock picking sites. I can't emphasize the risks here enough, while I do think its possible to make some winning the long run I think the vast majority of players will lose. I also know that when times are hard people will often take major risks, and hopefully this will help those who are bound and determined to try anyway.

Realize firstly that almost all penny stocks are fundamentally garbage. They don’t have a history of ever making money from anything other than printing shares and dumping them into the market. As such throw out all the rules about fundamental and even technical analysis, because penny stocks move on one thing…promotion, often referred to as ‘Pump & Dump’.

Picking A Penny Stock
You’ll want to avoid anything that is currently being hyped, or has recently been promoted. As such I recommend looking at stock sites which show a graduated list by volume, and I’ll suggest you go right to the bottom looking for those stocks trading thinly or not at all. I realize this runs counter to what many will suggest, but you’re looking for stocks that are good candidates to be pumped in the future.

Check how many shares are issued versus the number authorized. You’re looking for stocks that have a large number of authorized shares that have yet to be issued. You can be pretty darned sure that when those authorized shares are dumped into the market it’ll be at a time when there’s lots of promotion and hype. If you see a stock with around 100 million shares outstanding and say 300-500 million authorized, I suggest that would be a good candidate.

Avoid stocks that have been putting out a lot of press. If you’ve zeroed in on stocks with little or no volume then this shouldn’t be an issue, but check nonetheless. A good method I found was to type the stock symbol into google along with the word “disclaimer”. If the stock has ever been pumped by a popular touting outfit it should show up as most have to disclaim that they're being compensated and how. Reading these 'toutsheets' will give you an indication of how long it’s been since the last pump. As a rule of thumb I’d stay away from any stocks that have been hyped in at least the past 12 months.

While I don't reccomend ever buying a stock you see advertised, its good to know what's being hyped. It is worthwhile in my opinion to check out Websites and such that promote "Sure Winners", "5 Stocks You Have to Own" and the like...but not for buying purposes, rather as an avoidance technique. You might think you're missing some gainers, but the idea here is to avoid ending up as a bag holder, and when stocks are in the process of being hyped there's a very good chance of that.

Buying In
Once you have identified a thinly trading stock, one that hasn’t been promoted for a long time, with a large quantity of authorized but not yet outstanding shares…now comes the hard part, buying in. I will strongly suggest that you don’t get greedy, because no method, (no matter how good) is 100% full proof. In my opinion no more than a few hundred dollars should be risked on any one stock, and only if you can afford to lose it all. The best method in my opinion is to pick 3 or 4 stocks that fit this profile because you may be waiting a while for the pump to happen.

Another reason not to get greedy is because you’ll be buying shares through a Market Maker Broker Dealer, commonly referred to as an MM. Penny stocks that are trading very light volume are often tightly held, that is to say ‘the float’ isn’t actively trading. MMs still have to make a market for the stock which means when a buy comes in they may very well be forced to go short in order to fill an order.

MMs are in business to make money for themselves, not for individual traders. Don’t be surprised to see a stock you just bought suddenly become very volatile. This is sometimes referred to as ‘shaking the tree’. Market Makers are well aware of the fine art of psychology and they know penny stock players are both greedy and nervous. Your order might be filled in a nanosecond, in an effort to have you think, ‘shit that was too easy’. Delayed fills with stocks being pumped by contrast are fairly common, making the trader think MMs are short and don’t want to sell.

Hold And Wait For The Pump – AND SHUT UP
I can’t emphasize this enough, as this was an area I was not disciplined enough about. Once you have your stock or stocks, sit back and wait and AVOID MESSAGE BOARDS!!! If you’ve chosen well the boards for your stocks are going to be either dead or subject to heavy bashing. Tuck your ego in your back pocket and watch but don’t say anything. If you start trying to hype the stock or to argue with bashers you’re only giving aid to the enemy. Industry hacks work the boards much harder than individual traders so don’t give them any ammunition. If the stock(s) you’ve chosen is due to be pumped it will happen on their timetable, not your’s. Try to pump it all you want, but its the MMs who set the bid/ask...not you.

Sell Into The Pump
Now the hardest part, selling. I’m not going to suggest a percentage or a specific amount. Obviously you’ll need to cover your trading costs, both in and out…and the realization of a decent profit. Once you determine what that figure is, stick to it. Check out the charts for otcbb volume leaders to get a feel for a reasonable profit and take it. And if the stock keeps going higher, oh well, too bad so sad, take your money and move on. If the stock keeps moving higher then chances are there are MMs with inventory (shares) they’re looking to dump. Industry types like MMs know that traders plying their trade in penny stocks hate seeing a stock they’ve sold for a dime keep climbing to a quarter or 50 cents. Realize this though, you’ll never lose money by taking profits and if you buy back in you’ll run the risk of being left holding the bag.

The Games MMs Play
When an industry player has a large volume of shares he/she wants to dump into the market, they don’t do it sitting at their desktop hitting the sell button. They hire a professional, a Market Maker Broker Dealer. The U.S. Department of Justice has investigated numerous cases of manipulation, one of which is called a “Move on Request”. Basically it involves two MMs working in concert, with one asking another to move the bid/ask up or down on a particular stock depending on which way he needs the price to move. It’s a "quid pro quo" system where MMs scratch each other’s backs, because the MM making the request will probably be asked later to help out another MM when he has a stock he needs manipulated. Push it up when long, take it down when short...not something an individual trader has the power to do.

Looking at it from the perspective of industry insiders here's the game:

1) Lock up as many of the outstanding shares as possible (the float).
2) Engage the services of MMs to dump authorized shares into the market.
3) Hire promotional outfits and toutsheets to talk up your stock.
4) Sit back and hope the MMs and touts do their job well, maximizing your profits.

So there you have it, a system I believe is superior to most being punted by industry hacks and insiders. They want buyers for the stocks that are “in play”, in other words the ones that are being promoted and making them $.


For the DOJ article on “Moves On Request”

OTCBB Website for Volume and Authorized vs Outstanding share counts. For share counts (authorized and outstanding) type in the ticker symbol in the box at top left, then look at the top right of the page under “Related Items” and pick Company Profile:

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Harper's Economic Solution - More Politicians

Canadians concerned about the government being out of the office during these troubling economic times needn't have worried. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hard at work looking for candidates to fill seats in Canada's Senate. There are 18 of these plum jobs available, with pay packages superior to those earned by long serving GM employees with no concern of ever having to go on strike. But if you're interested you better hurry, its being reported that one of those seats is already earmarked for Irving Gerstein, chief fundraiser for the Conservative party.

It seems Stephen Harper, long a champion of a 'Triple E' Senate, (Elected, Equal, and Effective) has given up on efforts to reform our often derided chamber of sober second thought. There's certainly no shortage of interest in these patronage positions which pay over $130,000 per year with no requirement to retire until the age of 75. But for those unable to curry the Prime Minister's favour there may be another option. Harper is also planning on introducing legislation in the spring that will increase the number of MPs on Parliament Hill by more than 30.

If there's anything Canada does not need, it is more politicians.

With just about every sector of the economy suffering, politics may be Canada's only growth industry. If there's anything Canada does not need, it is more politicians. We have to be one of the most governed nations on Earth! Think about all the different levels of government we have in this country. Canadians have to elect representatives for: School Boards, Municipal Councils, Regional Councils, Provincial Legislatures and The House of Commons. Is it any wonder Canadians get confused about who is responsible for what? And if anyone complains about a lack of Canadian productivity, tell them we don't have time to be more productive. We're too busy deciding who to vote for and casting ballots in all these damn elections!

Politicians and their mouthpieces are applauding this move, calling it more democratic. What a load of BULL! In this age of jet travel, cell phones and blackberries, politicians are more connected to their constituents than ever. If anything we need fewer elected officials not more. The United States has roughly ten times our population, and they get by with 435 congressional seats in their House and 100 Senators. Why do our elected bodies need to be of similar size? Do we really need more back bench MPs sitting on their asses and pounding their desks when someone from their party fires a childish zinger across the floor? Maybe if we attached some type of generator to their arms we could close a few coal fired power plants and at least clean up the environment a bit.

And while I'm in full rant, how about a massive tax cut Mr. Harper? I'm not talking about crisscrossing the country throwing nickels and dimes at Canadians with another meaningless 1% cut in the GST. You inherited a nice big surplus from the Liberals a couple years back, totalling something like 15 billion dollars. Now thanks to initiatives like that piddly little 2% reduction in GST the cupboard is totally bare, just when you're being called upon to inject tens of billions of dollars into the economy. Instead of bureaucrats deciding where to invest all that cash, give a good chunk of it back to us in the form of income tax cuts. Keep 10 or 20 billion for needed infrastructure programs and let Canadians spend the rest. If you're worried about lost revenue take the GST back up to 7%, I don't mind paying a couple extra pennies when I buy my Tim Horton's coffee.

At least with consumption taxes like PST and GST governments collect some money from drug dealers and others engaged in illegal activity. I have never heard of a crook who gets taxes deducted at source. We live in a consumer driven economy Mr. Prime Minister, and the more do-re-mi Canadians have in their pockets the more we'll spend.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, comments are welcomed...I read them all. If you think this piece would be of interest to anyone you’re most welcome to pass it along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share This’ icon below.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Proof The Liberals Chose The Right Leader? Tories Pissed

There’s a lot being said and written about the manner in which Michael Ignatieff has ascended to the leadership of the Liberal party. Interestingly most of the negative commentary I’m reading and hearing is coming from Conservatives. In fact according to a Canadian Press/Harris-Decima survey, over two thirds of Liberals polled had a positive impression of the switch in leaders, whereas those most likely to disapprove reside in the west.

Why are Conservatives so worried about how another political party selects their leader? In an earlier blog entry I equated the struggle between Harper and Ignatieff to a chess game, and the analogy works equally well in this case. Liberals should be pleased to see consternation among Conservative ranks, it means they made a wise
decision. Like a chess player befuddled by a strong move, Tories are angry. Any chess player worth his salt knows the last thing you want to see from an opponent after you remove your hand from a piece, is a smile.

For those familiar with the publication, you may be surprised to find out I’m an avid reader of the Toronto Sun newspaper. Surprised because while my politics do tend to list to the left, the Sun is perceived to be very right wing. But you don’t learn anything by only exposing yourself to views with which you agree. And besides, I find the Sun far more balanced than publications such as the Toronto Star, which doesn’t even pay lip service to the Conservative point of view in my opinion.

Earlier this week there was a column in The Sun by John Snobelen, a former Ontario cabinet minister under Mike Harris. In it he derides the Liberals as undemocratic and expedient. How anyone can call a decision supported by more than two thirds of a party’s members ‘undemocratic’ is beyond me. If getting 38% of the popular vote is enough to garner a Prime Minister a strong enough mandate to govern, well then surely 69% support for the process of replacing a party leader is an overwhelming endorsement.

Its only logical to assume the Conservatives were hoping for a drawn out and costly battle between Monsieurs Rae and Ignatieff. And I’m quite certain that a substantial number of the Harris Tories in the Conservative party were licking their chops at the prospect of Bob Rae ending up on top. Rae may be a very skilled politician and an effective campaigner, but his name is still mud with many in seat rich Ontario.

The Conservatives are not in an enviable situation. In the just completed election they ran on a bare bones platform, one they didn’t even bother publicizing until after the closing of advance polls. In a booming economy many Canadians see government as intrusive, and are all to happy to see Ottawa take a hands off approach. But now with the economy in recession and even darker storm clouds on the horizon, many are looking for Ottawa to play a very active role.

Finance minister Jim Flaherty has already taken an inherited surplus in excess of 10 billion dollars and whittled it down to zero in just 2 years. How comfortable will Canadians be with a political party advocating less government intervention, at a time of deep economic trouble? And now with their chief rivals having rallied behind Michael Ignatieff, who certainly appears to be a strong and effective leader…I don’t blame Conservatives for being pissed. Instead of striving to achieve his elusive majority whenever our next election rolls around, Stephen Harper may just be fighting to hold onto the keys of 24 Sussex Drive itself.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Need To Make $$$ Fast? Beware Stock Promoters

With the economy worsening and people seeing the value of their homes, pensions and investments heading south, many will undoubtedly be looking for ways to make a quick buck. Some may start buying lottery tickets, others might decide to frequent casinos, and no doubt a few will be lured into trading stocks.

There is no shortage of resources available to current and prospective traders, but I would caution anyone considering a foray into the world of buying and selling stocks to exercise extreme caution. The internet is plagued with promoters who will use almost any means necessary to lure investors into stocks of dubious value.

For the novice investor the first thing that must be realized is that a market involves two things, buying and selling. We’ve all listened to a business report and heard something along the lines of: “A wave of buying moved stocks higher today”. But obviously if there was buying going on there had to be an equal amount of selling. The question must be asked: Who was making the smart play? Was it the buyers or the sellers?

If you look around for newsletters, stock groups, or other on-line sources of stock trading info, then chances are you’ll be dealing with many of those sellers. The game is stock promotion and when individual investors-traders are buying, its often industry players who are doing the selling. All too often the stocks being talked about and promoted the most, they’re the one’s of least value. For those looking for big percentage gainers it will be hard to avoid the penny stock market. That doesn’t necessarily mean stocks trading for less than one dollar, typically it refers to any stock trading under $5.00. Usually that means stocks trading on the OTC (Over The Counter) or Pink Sheet exchanges but also sometimes on the Nasdaq or Amex.

Using sites like Yahoo finance or you should be able to get a quick snapshot of a company’s financial situation. And what you’ll find with the vast majority of penny stocks is that they’re losing money now and have been for a very long time. So how do they continue to operate you might ask? By printing and selling stock certificates and selling them into the market.

You might come across a company that is touting itself as having the nextest and bestest technology for say…converting garbage into something of value. If this company is looking to dump a bunch of shares into the market as a means of raising cash they’ll often hire a stock promoter. Stock message boards will suddenly be clogged by posters touting this great new play, newsletters will inundate inboxes, glowing press releases will come out. Its not unusual to see a stock mired at few pennies per share suddenly jump 500% or more in as little as one trading day on incredible volume, sometimes hundreds of millions of shares.

Where do these companies get the money to hire the promoters? By paying them in stock. If a stock is trading OTC or on the Nasdaq or Amex exchanges I would suggest a look at their SEC filings for two things, the number of shares issued and the number of shares authorized. What you’ll find is that many companies will have perhaps 100 million shares issued and outstanding, and authorization to issue tons more. With promoters being paid in stock they have extra incentive to do all they can to spur buying and push the price as high as possible.

Step by step this is how a penny stock promotion typically goes:

The Lead Up
During this time “bashers” will appear on message boards and do everything they can to convince holders that the stock should be sold. The industry players want to lock up as much of the float as possible because when the eventual promotion comes they don’t want to be competing with “Joe Trader” who decides to dump his shares into a run. After all there are only so many buyers that promoters can attract and they’re the ones who want to be doing the selling.

The Promotion
Emails and other promotional vehicles are used to hype the stock, volume picks up as investor sites and message board ‘pumpers’ appear. Often there’s some positive movement in the price.

The Spike
Although a glowing press release doesn’t always come out, it is fairly common. Lots of nervous traders have the stock on a watch list due to all they hype, but haven’t bought yet. Now they see the volume and price moving fast, so they rush in.

The Pull Back
There are many traders out there who are willing to take any profit, but before they can hit the sell button the PPS drops and they’re below their break-even point.

Sucker Rally
Volume and price start moving up again, and this time there’s usually a PR out. Some traders who made money on the initial spike will be lured back in, only to be trapped.

Down Down Down
With the promotion over the stock trends in an overall downward direction. Some traders will look to average down thinking another spike is inevitable.

Rinse and Repeat
With penny stocks many times you’ll see a reverse split, sometimes as much as 1 new share for every 100 shares. Someone who’d bought 10,000 shares at say $1.00 per, and watched the price plummet to .25 now has 100 shares worth $25 each. A $10,000 ‘investment’ has gone down to $2,500. Later, when the company decides to promote its stock again, the articles of incorporation will be changed to authorize more shares. Its not unusual to see a company change it’s name, and ticker symbol.

Extra Note – Read Those PRs Carefully
For those not skilled in the fine art of hyperbole, (meaningless words made to sound meaningful) I strongly suggest being as cynical as possible when publicly traded companies issue news. Many will look something like this:

CEO Mr. Sleeze announced the introduction of ‘Some Product’ to the marketplace and had this to say: “We at ‘Some Company’ are very excited about this launch, we’re anticipating significant growth this year and are expecting to see a measurable impact on our bottom line”.

How much growth is significant??? How much money equals ‘measurable’? Even a 1 cent increase can be measured. These are called ‘forward looking statements’ and as such do not constitute misrepresentation of fact.

It’s a mug’s game in my (not always so) humble opinion…and PT Barnum was absolutely right, suckers continue to be born every minute. This is a game I learned via the school of hard knocks, and while I was able to make some decent $ on occasion, on the whole it was a losing proposition. I investigated tons of information and learned the game as well as I could, but in the final analysis I realized the board is tilted against the individual trader.

Reading this you may think: “Okay, I’ll get in when things are quiet and dump when the spike comes”. If that’s the case, I will wish you luck but I still think you’ll end up losing in the long run. The risks are very high and the rewards in my opinion aren’t worth it. In fact if you’re looking for a good risk versus reward play I’d suggest lottery tickets. Someone thinking they might be able to make $10,000 on a penny stock, anticipating a spike of 1,000% or more would need to risk about $1,000. A lottery ticket can be had for $1 or $2 with the potential to return millions. Sure the odds might be astronomical, but compared to the reward it’s a far better play than penny stocks…better to lose one or two bucks in this economy than thousands.

***If you're still determined to try playing penny stocks READ THIS FIRST for some tips***

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Re-Opening The Abortion Debate

When I started this blog I did it with the idea that there would be no sacred cows, and no topics too controversial. Well there are few issues more contentious and more polarizing than that of abortion. A good many Canadians likely want to maintain the status quo and avoid any further discussion, content to let a sleeping dog lie as it were. But this is an issue that is not going to go away, no matter how quiet things appear at the moment.

For those who identify themselves as Christians of the born again, evangelical or fundamentalist stripe the Pro-Life movement is more than a belief, its a crusade. And many were looking to Stephen Harper, a member of an Evangelical Protestant church1, to champion their cause. Mr. Harper though has left many of them disappointed and disillusioned.

There had been a private members bill put forward by Conservative MP Ken Epp. The bill would have ensured that a criminal would receive separate punishment for killing an unborn child in a violent attack on a pregnant mother. Members of the medical profession however protested, fearing prosecution for carrying out ‘legal’ abortions. The Pro-Choice lobby as well was up in arms, fearing that such a law would enshrine fetal rights and could later be used as a means to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion.

Mr. Epp’s bill however was superceded by a new bill introduced by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, one which would have bolstered penalties for those who assault pregnant women. But with the calling of the October 14, 2008 election all this is now rendered moot. I strongly believe the Conservatives want to avoid opening up this debate, especially when faced with a minority parliament and the prospect of another election at any time. Canada is after all a largely secular nation, and the imposition of any laws based on a particular set of religious beliefs is a political landmine nobody wants to step on.

The Conservatives have worked diligently to achieve electoral success in places like Ontario and Quebec, and to distance themselves from the ‘scary’ tag applied at earlier times to their Reform/Alliance predecessors. Opening up a debate on abortion, (with many Conservative MPs stridently Pro-Life) could hamstring the party’s ability to win seats in urban centers in and around cities like Toronto and Montreal. Perhaps with a majority in the house action could be taken early in a mandate, with the hopes that it would fade from the public’s conscious as the next election neared.

But talking about the political implications ignores the true debate. Is abortion right or wrong? I will state my bias here and now and tell you that I am Pro-Choice. While I do regard abortion as a negative choice, it is one nonetheless that I feel should be left up to a pregnant woman in consultation with her doctor. Anyone who thinks they can ban abortion totally is living in a fool’s paradise in my opinion anyway. If it is once again criminalized that won’t stop it from happening. Those with means will simply travel to a jurisdiction where it is legal, or go to a back room where the procedure will be done anyway…and most often in an unsafe and un-medically supervised manner.

Ideally we should be able to reach a compromise, one where a woman is still free to choose, but with certain limitations. My own opinion is that once a fetus has developed to the point that it can survive autonomous of the mother, that it should be given protection under the law. I don’t know what that point is and I can’t be bothered to look it up…but I would suggest we look at the earliest a preemie has survived and then add perhaps a month.

Obviously this would do little to satisfy those who view life as starting at conception, as well as those who favour abortion on demand. But isn’t that the quintessential Canadian solution? One which pleases neither side, but could perhaps be workable.
Any thoughts?


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Obama's Greatest Challenge

With the entire world anxiously awaiting the inauguration of Barrack Obama I’ll add my two cents to the meaning of his election as president of the United States.

There’s more at stake here than his being the first person of colour ascending to the most powerful elected position in the world. What’s at stake is optimism versus cynicism and hope versus despair. There’s only so much politicians can do in terms of policy and law making to affect change. True change has to come not from the president, but rather from the people he leads.

There are a multitude of people out there just dying to see Obama’s presidency stumble and fail. Not because they necessarily dislike the man, but because they’re looking for confirmation of their own cynical world view. And trust me on this, there are a ton of cynics out there, you can’t help but run into them everywhere you go. They regard themselves as smarter than the average Joe, and are strikingly condescending in tone:

“Obama makes it sound so easy, but our problems are too deeply rooted and too complex to be solved. Idealism is all well and good until the realities of the world come crashing down upon you”.

The implication is that anyone who’s supportive of Obama is woefully naïve. While thousands may have gathered at campaign rallies across the United States to shout out “YES WE CAN”, nearly an equal number were sitting at home shaking their heads and muttering, “no you can’t”. And when the inevitable bumps in the road occur they’ll be all too quick to point it out:

“See I was right, optimism is all well and good but smart people like me don’t ignore reality”.

And therein lies Barrack Obama’s greatest challenge. The United States is an incredibly divided nation. It’s red state versus blue, north versus south, rich versus poor and secular versus devout. Obama has staked his ground as a great communicator, one who is willing to try and bridge these gaps to find common ground and common purpose. It will not be an easy task as these divisions have been fermenting for years now, exploited for years by politicians and activists stoking the fires of dissension.

A house divided against itself cannot stand, and Obama will need all Americans pulling in the same direction if he is going to get the U.S. ship of state sailing smoothly again. There is a mountain of pain still waiting to be felt from the global economic crisis, of that you can be certain. Obama’s greatest challenge will be in bringing Americans together at a time when many will be looking to point fingers and apportion blame. But laying blame will do nothing to get the United States moving forward, if anything it will only retard its progress.

Is the economic crisis the fault of Washington or Wall Street? Does it really matter when thousands, perhaps millions of people are being displaced from their homes. Will the president be able to rally a people devastated by job losses and a severely depressed economy? I for one am optimistic, yes…I think he can. Much has been made of the fact that Obama lacks the required experience to lead, that he’s built himself up on words, words, words. But words are vitally important, because they can be used to unite or divide, to inspire or to bring about fear.

The world needs the United States to meet the challenges that are awaiting its people. Failure to confront the many obstacles would have far reaching ramifications all across the globe. As the world’s leading economy and only superpower there are many other nations waiting to step in and fill whatever void is left behind, be it the Chinese or the Arab world. And in our globally competitive world the United States cannot afford to have its citizens fighting amongst themselves while other nations eagerly wait to swoop in. That is not the kind of change Obama campaigned on, and its not the kind of change people in the western world want to see.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Harper Verses Ignatieff in Political Chess Match

I saw an interesting political cartoon in the Toronto Sun on Friday. In it Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff are separated by a river filled with sharks and alligators. Harper is standing in front of a fire he’s lit on his side, while on Ignatieff’s side he has laid out land mines, bear traps and broken glass. Both are standing in front of their respective obstacles with Harper extending a hand and saying: “See…I’m reaching out to the opposition”.

While there may still be a few political idealists out there, I suspect more and more Canadians are coming to a better understanding of the ‘blood sport’ that the game of politics truly is. Harper is king of the castle, and Michael Ignatieff is looking for ways to knock him off his perch. Harper knows this of course, and so what we’re witnessing is not true leadership but a game of brinkmanship with both Stevie and Iggy looking to score big with the kids on the playground…that is to say, us.

In this game of political chess you always have to be thinking at least 3 or 4 moves ahead. Our current situation is the result of what should be aptly called, “The Harper Gambit”. During the election Harper had failed to protect an important piece, Quebec. By leaving it vulnerable Harper lost the ability to check mate the opposition with a majority. The board still looked good, the Liberals were basically broke and stuck with an ineffective lame duck leader. They were also facing the prospect of a lengthy and potentially divisive leadership campaign. Harper could have sat back, perhaps even been conciliatory in soliciting input from the opposition…while leaving public funding for political parties alone. Instead the Liberals have taken advantage of the break their coalition ploy provided and regrouped. Instead of a costly and contested leadership race they’ve rallied behind Michael Ignatieff. While he’s untested as a leader, Mr. Ignatieff certainly has the required intellect and seems to possess the needed political savvy.

Both Harper and Ignatieff know that Ottawa has little alternative but to weather years of deficit spending. An economy in deep recession means increased expenditures at a time of declining revenue. No matter what measures are taken and no matter how many billions are spent there is going to be lots of pain to go around from job losses and decreased economic activity. Both Harper and Ignatieff want to cast themselves as the people’s champion, while castigating the other for being unresponsive to the needs of Canadians.

Knowing this Harper is looking for input on the coming budget from the new Liberal leader. That way when the inevitable pain hits he would be able to point at Mr. Ignatieff and say: “Well, I didn’t agree with most of the measures put forth by the opposition. But that’s what you get with a minority government.” Ignatieff though isn’t going to take the bait. No matter what the budget document looks like there’s no avoiding the fact that the Canadian economy is in for several years of trouble and he doesn’t want his fingerprints on any evidence that will later be used against him. He has wisely asserted that the responsibility of creating and presenting a budget rests with the Conservatives, and it is the job of the opposition to respond.

When the budget comes out Ignatieff will say that it doesn’t do enough, and that it is leaving too many vulnerable, on that I am willing to place a decent sized wager. And I will also wager an equal sum that the Liberals will nonetheless support it, while voicing their reservations. The result is that Harper will once again have the confidence of Parliament, albeit tepid. And he’ll be pouring over the chess board in the weeks and month’s ahead looking to invent another gambit to stymie his new and more politically astute opponent.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Washington Rejects Auto Maker Bail Out

Its just after 9 AM as I'm starting to write this and it appears the markets are going to take a severe hit as news of Washington's failure to bail out GM and Chrysler hits the wires. I'd written about this back on November 26th, "The Auto Sector - To Bail or Not To Bail", and it appears one of my comments is coming to fruition. In that entry I said this:

If the unions balk and refuse to accept substantial wage concessions? Then I think we should simply let the sector fail and hope that Honda and Toyota among others can step in and fill some of the void.

Well it appears that's what's happening, Republicans in the US Senate are justifying their rejection of the bailout based on this very issue. Their contention is that a bail-out can not move forward until the UAW is willing to accept wage parity with American auto workers employed by Japanese manufacturers. It strikes me as a reasonable request, and I suspect there are many who will agree...excepting of course both UAW and CAW workers.

I was listening to CBC radio this morning, and heard an interview with a CAW official. This union representative was giving no quarter when it came to the issue of wage concessions, and was speaking of 'catastrophic' consequences for the overall economy if companies like GM and Chrysler are allowed to fail. It occurred to me that we're witnessing a huge game of chicken going on, with the question being...Who's going to blink first? I don't believe the gentleman being interviewed is far off the mark in his assessment. If the auto giants do indeed fail there would be massive pain across all sectors of the economy. Already in Durham Region just east of Toronto its being reported that housing values are plunging as GM's Oshawa facilities slow down.

I can empathize with a worker accustomed to annual earnings of around $75,000 a year (and more depending on overtime) being angry about being asked to take a massive wage cut. It doesn't matter how much a person earns, typically they build their lifestyle based on that income stream. Its the old adage 'expenses rise to meet income' coming into play...I suspect that there are many auto workers asking themselves if they could get by making $40,000 or so a year...and I'm guessing the majority are likely saying, "no way in hell".

The difficulty here is that we're talking about tax contributed not just by auto workers, but by all sectors of the economy. How does someone earning $10 or $15 per hour feel about his/her taxes going to subsidize someone making $35 or more? And that is what's at stake here, government subsidies. Some will talk of the money being a loan, and that's all well and good...but governments will have to borrow the money first and that means deficits and future taxation.

Unfortunately in this situation there is no 'win win' scenario available. If no wage concessions are made and government assistance isn't forthcoming then everyone loses. Auto workers will lose their jobs and be forced into a job market at the worst possible time, and our economy will take a massive hit. If the government blinks and bails out the auto giants without first gaining wage concessions from the unions, then taxpayers lose. And its fair to ask how competitive companies like GM and Chrysler would be, with foreign based companies operating here in Canada paying substantially less in wages. We aren't hearing anything about Honda or Toyota begging for cash, but then their labour costs are substantially lower.

Even if the unions accept wage concessions there is still going to be pain, but in this case most of it would be borne by workers having to adjust from a lifestyle that costs 75K or more a year, to one affordable with yearly earnings of 40 or so thousand. On top of that our governments (that's everyone) would be on the hook in terms of subsidies and loan guarantees, but at least in theory GM and Chrysler would then be better able to compete with wage costs similar to foreign based competitors.

As I was saying, this is a huge game of chicken, with equally huge stakes. And I'm a GM guy, I own a Cavalier (my 2nd) and have owned other GM cars which I all found to be great, (with the exception of my vette, chevette that is) so I take no pleasure in seeing the company struggle. We can talk all we want about unfair trade with foreign competitors flooding the marketplace here...but that argument was over a long time ago. The reality is that we live in a globally competitive marketplace and we need to ask if companies like GM can be competitive when their wage costs are so out of sync with the global industry. I think we're seeing the answer right now, and the answer is least not without taxpayer help.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time To Talk About Afghanistan

With Canada's death toll in Afghanistan now at 100 I thought this would be an appropriate time to share my opinion about our mission there. I waited a few days because I can only imagine the heartache and grief being experienced by friends and family of the fallen, not just the most recent, but all 100. This past Monday I was listening to CBC Radio and heard an interview with the father of a soldier recently killed. He was retelling the story of the day the call came. It was gut wrenching hearing the emotion in this man's voice as he spoke of his wife taking the call, and hearing her pleading:

"Oh God please, tell me he's alright".

I have no first hand experience to draw on in this area, and cannot begin to comprehend the degree of anguish and pain that comes from hearing about a loved one being killed in a war so far away. The closest touch point I have is through my mother. She lost her older brother in the Korean War where he was serving as a stretcher bearer with the Princess Pats. I don't recall my mother talking about 'Uncle Alec' when I was young, but in later years she talked of him often. November 11th was always an emotional day for her, and she made a point of attending the Remembrance Day services each year at her church.

A while back I came across something Mom had written about her experience:

By Ruth E. Cawsey
My story begins on my bed in Ottawa where I went to get away from everyone and hung on to the mattress for dear life
so I wouldn’t fly off in a rage and run outside and commit bloody murder. That’s how angry I was when I heard my brother had been blown to bits in Korea. I couldn’t even find Korea on a map a few months earlier and could have cared less about the war or who was there. That all changed when my brother was sent to Korea with the Princess Patricia‘s Canadian Light Infantry. His name was Alex but everyone called him Alec. Alex wasn’t perfect and even embarrassed me sometimes but he was as close to a hero as I could get at 15. At 21 who knows what was ahead for him but he never found out, at least in this life. I find it comforting to believe in an afterlife, but then I grew up hearing those verses from scripture about Jesus going to prepare a place for us. You see, My Dad was a United Church Minister and quoting from Scripture was second nature in our house. I’m sure there was a lot of Scripture quoting going on downstairs as friends and neighbors gathered to say they were sorry.

I fell asleep on my bed thinking about an after life and wakened to the on going confusion downstairs but felt strangely calm. All my rage had vanished. I don’t remember a dream but I do believe there was divine intervention. It was 1953 and I never understood my rage or the eerie calm when I wakened until several years later.

That's all she wrote, at least that I can find. I think she was intending to write more but she passed away in August of 2007, so I'll never know.

It was this experience that pushed my Mom into being a passionate advocate for peace. And it is a trait she passed along to me. I joined her at a peace rally once in Toronto, to protest cruise missile testing in Canada...we were marching as part of a United Church group and behind us were punks carrying "##CK WAR" signs. My Mom wasn't there on a lark, she was there because of her brother. It is in that vein that I wish to share my thoughts on our mission.

Language is an important tool when it comes to marketing, and equally important when it comes to framing a political argument. The beautifully crafted "Support The Troops" is a case in point. Who would dare not support those individuals who have put their lives on the line and are serving abroad at the behest of their nation's leaders?

The inference is that anyone who is against Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, that they're not supportive of the men and women in uniform. Canada's is a volunteer army after all, and by all accounts the men and women serving in Afghanistan believe that they are providing a vital service, both in ensuring Canada's security and in ensuring a better life for ordinary Afghanistan citizens. Call it "nation building" if you will, another beautiful turn of phrase. Still about half of all Canadians want our troops to come home according to recent polling numbers. Does that mean that half the population of this country doesn't support our troops? Not in the least. There are many who believe that the entire pretext for the invasion of Afghanistan was and is false.

Why do we have troops in Afghanistan and are the reasons legitimate? Those are two very pertinent questions. If our troops are over there for reasons other than what they've been told, or if the reasons given aren't legitimate then there certainly would be strong justification for ending the mission and bringing our troops home.

Initially the justification for the invasion was simple. I'm sure many people will remember George W. Bush's assertion that the reason was clear, to get Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive". It was Bin Laden's presence in Afghanistan, and the refusal of Taliban rulers to hand him over which provided the initial justification for invasion. If that is or ever was the objective, then the mission has been an abject failure. We are now told that Bin Laden is irrelevant and some even doubt he's still alive, video evidence and writings attributed to him notwithstanding.

Another oft cited justification is the so called "Bush Doctrine" of preemptive invasion. After the events of 9/11 the Bush administration has used that event to justify the invasion of foreign countries. We're told, and Bush recently reaffirmed this...that by taking the fight "to them", that we're precluding another attack at home. The argument is that its better to have the battle waged on their territory as opposed to ours. The difficulty with this argument is that we're not talking about traditional warfare, with armies opposing each other across a battlefield. Terrorists are shadowy enemies who strike in small numbers, often with the intention of dying themselves. Had the numerous warnings issued by FBI agents and US security agents been heeded instead of ignored, 9/11 never would have happened. Wouldn't it be better spending the billions of dollars our involvement in Afghanistan is costing on heightened security? Who would dare ignore warnings of potential terrorists training to fly but not land airplanes now? As subsequent attacks in Britain and Spain have shown, fighting the enemy on 'their turf' does nothing to ensure that terrorist attacks won't happen here. In fact some argue that our very presence in Afghanistan makes us more of a target.

Another favorite bromide is the treatment of women in Afghanistan, and this resonates much more than the argument of preemptive strikes in my view. Women have made enormous strides in the west when compared to their sisters in countries like Afghanistan. In the past 50-100 years women here in Canada have gone from being near chattel with no voting rights to full participants in society. There are those who would argue that we haven't yet achieved true gender equality here, but compared to a nation like Afghanistan, there's no comparison.

Is that the reason our troops are there? I find that hard to believe when we tolerate so many other nations with records every bit as bad in terms of their treatment of women. If you want an example of an oppressive nation, where women enjoy few if any rights check out Uzbekistan. Or what about countries like Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, they're hardly beacons of gender equality. Its disingenous to argue that you're fighting for human rights on the one hand while enjoying friendly relations with other nations that abuse human rights.

So, if not to get Bin Laden, or to ensure our safety by taking the fight 'to them', or to improve human rights? Then why?

Before answering I'll ask you to consider some recent history. 1980 to be specific when many western nations boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Why did western nations refuse to participate in a sporting competion in Moscow? The reason was because the Soviets had invaded and were occupying Afghanistan. In addition to financing, supporting and training the likes of Osama Bin Laden and his mujahadeen to combat the Soviets, the US and many of her allies refused to participate in the Olympics.

Why did the Soviets invade? Was it to get Osama? To hit them first before they attacked the Motherland? To improve human rights? No, the reason was then as it is now. Resources, specifically gas and oil.

How long will Afghanistan need to be occupied? From what I'm reading efforts to build a massive natural gas pipeline through the southern part of the country are being totally stalled due to insurgent attacks. My best guess is that we will see argruments for continued involvement until such a time (if ever) that military power is able to secure the area needed to construct this pipeline so that the natural gas can be moved through to Pakistan and India.

Imagine that, fighting a war over issues that are neither high minded nor altruistic. Hard to imagine morale and elistment soaring if that was the stated objective. Come serve your country, Risk your life, We need that gas!!! Of course in the game that is geopolitics or 'realpolitik' this is usually the case. Wars are fought for economic reasons, with the true rationale buried under a mountain of rhetoric and propoganda designed to get young men and women to lay down their lives and make parents proud when their children die in the service of their nation's military.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and I welcome your comments, I read them all. If you think this piece would be of interest to anyone you’re most welcome to pass it along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share This’ icon below.

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