Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Catholics Say "Screw Rome" On Abortion

If you've read any of my previous posts about religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular, then you'll know I'm no big fan of that particular faith. You'll note I typically use the somewhat pejorative term, "Roman Catholic" as opposed to just Catholic. There's a reason for that, Catholic simply means universal and it can apply to many Christian churches...including the United Church of Canada in which I was confirmed. My certificate of baptism in fact says that I was baptized into the Catholic church.

I can't stand Rome and her authoritarian ways...trying to put herself between mankind and the divine. The RC stance on birth control and abortion is a joke, actually their entire history on the issue of sexuality is just flat out wrong. So it was with great joy that I read about the attitudes of American Roman Catholics vis a vis their views on abortion as well as other moral issues.

Here's the data:

Roman Catholics are lock step with the rest of the U.S. population, with 40% viewing abortion as morally acceptable as compared to 41% of non-RCs. And when it comes to other moral questions, they're even more liberal than non-RC citizens on issues like premarital sex, divorce, children outside of marriage, gambling and homosexuality.

I don't need the last rites to go to heavan, reading these polling results...I'm already there. Church affinity is simply a matter of tradition and culture for a lot of people, so the Priest can stand at the pulpit and spout whatever garbage he wants...its obvious that the many of the people sitting in the pews aren't listening. Church hymns can be soothing and nice, good music to sleep to.

Of course LIFENEWS.COM couldn't leave this alone, they had to turn around and refute Gallup's finding with a poll of their own. They point to a 2008 poll done by Marist College as proof that American Roman Catholics do in fact oppose abortion with almost two thirds against. Almost two thirds? WoW!!! And how did this Roman Catholic university reach that number? By combining those opposed to abortion in all cases (Rome's official view) with those who would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest as well as those who believe its okay when a woman's health is in danger.

Well Pope Benny...there may be asses in the pews, but its obvious American Roman Catholics aren't as susceptible to brainwashing as you'd like. Why not just go back to teaching everyone that the Sun revolves around Earth again, it doesn't matter what you teach...smart people aren't listening anymore.

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Mike Harris To Announce He's Running For Ontario PC Leadership

Normally I'm not one to simply copy and paste an entire news story on my blog, I prefer to offer some commentary. But at the moment I'm too floored to digest this just now.

"Former Premier Mike Harris intends to announce his intention to run for the leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party later today according to party insiders. Speaking on condition of anonymity a Harris confidante said the former PC party boss has been contemplating this move for more than a month. "Mr. Harris has been keeping close tabs on events at Queen's Park, and sees remarkable similarities between the current political climate, and 1990 when he last took the helm of the party." the source said.

After stepping down as Premier the now 64 year old former politician joined the Fraser Institute as a Senior Fellow, and has served on the Board of Directors for Magna International. Ontarians will remember Mike Harris for his 'Common Sense Revolution', a reformist agenda which sharply cut social assistance and other social program spending. He led his party to consecutive majority governments between June of 1995 and April of 2002. The Progressive Conservatives swept to power after the previous NDP government had racked up record deficits during the recession of the early 1990s.

An official announcement is expected later today at an as yet unnamed Toronto location".

Lord help us all....Link To Story Here:

If you use Twitter you can add me...CanukGord: 15 followers so far, goal is 100.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Advice For My Favourite Newspaper - The Toronto Sun

I've posted my thoughts about some newspaper columnists recently, specifically about those who whine on endlessly about bloggers as though we're the reason print media is in so much trouble. Newspapers need to get their heads out of their collective posteriors, every blogger in Canada could stop posting and it wouldn't help circulation or their bottom lines one iota.

Living in the Toronto area I'm guessing that I reside in one of the most saturated media markets in North America (if not the world) as far as newspaper penetration is concerned. For those who enjoy a daily paper, Toronto has four: The Sun, The Star, The Globe & Mail and the National Post. If that's not enough there are two free 'commuter papers', Metro and 24 Hours, greatly condensed little rags but okay for a quick read. The competition is so fierce its not surprising that profitability is suffering.

I'm a big fan of newspapers, in high school I would sit in home room with my copy of the Toronto Star, going through the sports pages. That was over 20 years ago however, and I suspect that most 20 and 30 year olds have found alternative sources for news and information in our digital age. I'm still a big reader of the sports section, but I've long since moved onto the Toronto Sun...given that their sports coverage kicks the tar out of any other paper in this city. And as I've grown older and as my interests have expanded....so too has my consumption of news. I'm no longer content with just the sports, I'm also doing the daily crossword puzzles and reading columnists, among other things.

Being born in 1966 I find myself in an interesting demographic nexus. According to population experts I was born in the last year of the baby boom, although I find I have little in common with the bulk of this mass who are now in their late fifties and early sixties. That's not to say I don't share some affinity with this age group, actually I see myself as having a foot in two camps. I can see things from a boomer perspective, but I also understand what the younger generation is about too.

The challenge facing newspapers...How to attract new tech wise 20 and 30 somethings, while not alienating older readers? I used to play basketball with a guy from the Sun's finance department. While shooting around during warm-up I'd often give him my thoughts on the paper and some of the writers, "love your paper John" I'd often say. "That's great Gord" he'd frequently reply, "but we need more of you".

So Toronto Sun, here are some suggestions...take them for what they're worth. Some will be lame perhaps, but I'm pretty sure there will be at least a couple of gems worthy of consideration.

Firstly, put the Sunshine Girl back where she belongs...on page 3. I realize the move to the back inside cover was, (at least in part) a concession to political correctness, well forget it. The Sun has never been a politically correct paper, that's a big part of its charm. Do you guys still have a Sunshine Boy? If not bring him back and stick him on the back inside cover. I'd be willing to volunteer my services, but...well, that would probably hurt circulation among female readers.

What's that? People will complain? Is there something wrong with that? PT Barnum put it best, there's no such thing as bad publicity...as long as they spell your name right. Putting a bikini clad (the skimpier the better) cutie back in a place of prominence might just garner you some coverage with other media. I don't care if a reader is 20 or 60, there's nothing wrong with a daily hormone check. Your older readers might just be inspired to refill their Viagra prescriptions.

Now...onto the news. Take a tip from the free commuter papers, shorter is better. Monday's edition of The Sun (pg 7) had almost a half page devoted to news on the on-going saga in the auto sector. News flash, those who are interested have already heard about it on radio and seen it on TV. If we want more there are tons of on-line resources we can turn to. I'm not saying ignore it, but cut it down to the basics...who, what, where...you get the point. In today's hyper fast world people want to be informed, we don't want to be experts.

Engage the digital set, the blackberry crowd. Take the hottest most controversial news story out there and post a daily question. Ask readers to respond using their handhelds or via email, using just 10 words. Then publish the best 'Reactions' the following day complete with their names....you could fit a shit load on one page. People love seeing their name in print, and will tell all their friends and family. That's why people write letters to the editor. You'll probably recall the popularity of a recently published book, where people were asked to compose a 6 word biography. If not check this LINK: 10 words is plenty, you could ask people: What's Your Take On The Auto Sector? I'm just spit balling here, I'm sure you could come up with at least one good question a day. You have a lot of sharp readers and I'm sure many of the reactions would be hilarious.

Okay...now onto the columns. Its time for you to find the next Rimstead, Lautens or Dave Berry. Warmington is okay, but he's too serious a lot of the time...which is fine, he has his niche. But people need a daily dose of humour. Search the blog sphere if you must, there's gotta be one out there among the GTA's millions. You might not even have to look that far, there might be someone already on staff.

One of your sports writers, Steve Buffery...he was doing a weekly bit called "Its a Living" for a short while, but it was in the sports section which made zero sense since it was a 'slice of life' column. Personally I found a lot of his thoughts great for a chuckle...and if the column had appeared closer to the front I think he could have developed something of a fan base. Whatever the case, if you take up this suggestion, it would need to be something published 2 or 3 times a week...Mondays and Wednesdays or Tues/Thurs/Fri. Worthington would be another great choice, I loved reading about his hair cutting machine, and his parking ticket battles...but I suspect he still likes to weigh in on meatier subjects in the comment section. Maybe you could find 2, one for M/W and the other for T/Th/Fr?

Alright, so there's 4 suggestions for you:

  • Putting the Sunshine Girl back on page 3.
  • News stories that are short and concise.
  • A reader reaction page.
  • A humour column or two on a dedicated page near the front of the paper.
These suggestions are probably very cost effective in that they wouldn't involve any major overhaul, in fact you may be able to save on the news side of things. I know that kind of sucks, but the world is changing. If there are savings and you're looking to invest, try bringing back some of the more popular comic strips. I don't read the comics much myself, but I know there are a lot of devoted fans out there. I read about how you axed most of them...and how people complained. That spurred me to take a look, and frankly the new comics....they suck.

The rest? Leave it, especially your outstanding team of columnists...Blizzard, Sa, Coren, Mansur, Margolis, Goldstein...I read almost all of them. Oh yeah, and don't dare touch the sports section.

Oh...if you have some staff that want to add me on Twitter, I'm CanukGord. I'm gonna keep plugging Twitter until I have at least 100 followers. Right now I'm at 14.

Comments are welcomed and feel free to pass this along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share’ icon below.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Economic Recovery - Paying Crooks to Clean Up Their Mess

As people try to digest what's happening in the global financial markets, and to make sense of where things went wrong...a common refrain is: "They'll think of something". Ah yes, the omnipotent "they", like Adam Smith's invisible hand. We expect some wise and all knowing "they" to stave off disaster and put us back on the road to growth and prosperity.

The irony is, while looking both for answers and for whom to blame, we're looking at the same individuals. The very crooks who orchestrated this mess are either closely aligned with those responsible, or directly responsible themselves. And now after they've destroyed people's retirement savings, decimated entire pension plans, wreaked havoc with the entire global economy...now we're asking them to fix the problem. And in yet another ironic twist, we're paying them major bucks to do it.

Imagine hiring someone to look after your house, paying beaucoup de l'argent to ensure the pipes, electrical, roof...everything, to make sure all is in proper order. Instead though this individual drills holes in the foundation, short circuits the wiring, reworks the plumbing in such a way that nothing makes sense. Then when you discover your house has been almost totally destroyed, this same person charges even more to fix the mess he's made....because after all, nobody else can even understand what he's done.

How did we get in this hole? In point of fact, we're all partly to blame. Our society is built on the notion that growth is a never ending reality, with only temporary pauses needed until we're back and growing larger and larger. Who wants to accept a reality where things are going backward? Where income and prosperity are in decline? Not I , and certainly not the politicians we elect. Imagine running a campaign with the slogan: "Its All Downhill From Here"!!!

Individuals loan money to financial institutions, and in return they expect a return. Banks, insurance companies, investment houses and the like put that money to work, seeking out greater returns so that they can pay for their operations, the salaries of their employees, interest to their depositors, as well as dividends to their shareholders. How can you do that in a marketplace that's dominated by people entering retirement? Fifty and sixty year-olds aren't starting businesses or buying homes, not the vast majority certainly. In fact they're the ones handing their money over, and demanding ever increasing returns on their investments....and if institution A can't deliver, they'll move their money to institution B.

So how do geniuses of finance create even greater wealth in a shrinking market place? The same way a hustler makes money when he asks you to guess which shell the pea is under.

Metaphor is a useful device when trying to paint a picture of something incredibly complex, in this situation it helps to liken the business of finance to building a house. Before pouring the footings a survey of the land is needed to determine whether or not the terrain will be able to withstand the weight of the planned structure. In the case of finance, before a bank puts money into something like a mortgage it "surveys" those borrowing the cash to determine if they'll be able to hold up under the weight 0f the interest payments.

Herein was a major obstacle for lending institutions. With boomers paying off their mortgages, the number of credit worthy borrowers seeking capital was shrinking, it still is in fact. The problem is mortgage lenders were sitting with all this capital on their balance sheets, money they're paying interest on...that's not delivering any return. How could they get that money working? The answer was as simple as it was stupid. With not enough credit worthy individuals to lend to, mortgages were given to people who were proven bad risks. We Canadians can drop the illusion that this was purely an American problem, 40 year amortizations with zero down were the Maple Syrup version of sub-prime lending.

The footings of our mortgage financing house were now being poured onto very unstable ground. Maybe we could have gotten away with it, if we kept the houses to just one story. But no...the need to garner even greater profits, bigger bonuses and heftier dividends compelled our wizards of finance to build another story on this weak foundation.

Lending institutions were now stuck with a bunch of crappy paper, mortgages given to bad credit risks. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was some way to make a market for this toxic debt? As the old saying goes, where there's a will... Which brings us to the CDO, or collateralized debt obligation. You've heard of Rumpelstiltskin? The dwarf adept at spinning worthless straw into gold? He had nothing on the alchemists of Wall Street, in fact they could probably have taught the little guy a thing or two.

Ahhh the collateralized debt obligation...think of a CDO as a big envelope stuffed full of bad mortgage paper. Actually stuff any crappy debt into this CDO envelope, credit card debt, consolidation loans...whatever you like. Let's say you have a hundred individual pieces of crappy debt sitting in this stinking envelope. Think it smells like shit??? No no no emperor, that's not shit you're smelling...its roses. Now let's assume that each debt obligation is for $1,000 and that interest payments on each is $100 a month. That means that this lovely envelope "should" have $10,000 flowing into it every month.

Okay, okay...I hear what you're saying, obviously with all these debt obligations coming from bad credit risks, that some payments will be missed. Yes, you're right. But, they're not ALL going to default in the same month...I mean that would be a one in ten thousand shot. So that means this envelope full of crap will always have money flowing into it. As a matter of fact a magical formula was invented to trick the skeptics at rating agencies like Moody's and S&P. Since money would always be coming in...a certain portion of this envelope should be rated AAA. And since that certain portion or "tranche" was rated AAA...bingo, the entire envelope goes from being a pile of manure to pure and solid investment gold because they're all bundled together.

And thus the second story of our house with the lousy foundation was built. With these toxic assets rated AAA, market players like pension fund managers could be brought into the loop. Institutional investors like insurance companies, precluded from engaging in risky strategies...they now fell victim, with their depositors and investors on the hook.

Think we should stop now? Don't think the swampland we've built two storeys on can withstand a third? Too bad...the market has to keep growing so the house has to climb even higher.

Everyone needs insurance don't they? We insure our homes, our cars...our lives. If something has value there's typically an insurance product on the market to cover it. Why should CDOs be any different?

And that brings us to the CDS or 'Credit Default Swap'. Now we had insurance companies like AIG providing insurance to holders of CDO's. Sure its like underwriting a life policy for someone with terminal cancer...but look at those premiums flowing in. So long as the housing boom keeps going the money train will never stop.

Of course we all know what happened. Nothing booms forever, and the housing bubble collapsed....the swamp finally gave way and all those lovely 3 story homes disappeared into the muck.

And who are we calling on to fix the mess? The same guys who decided to build on the swamp, and then insisted on building higher and higher.

Of course we could tell these shell game artists to take a flying leap, and let each of them be crushed under the house of cards they built up. But the end result would a depression, one which would rival the Great Depression of the dirty thirties. Instead we're paying them trillions (not billions, probably gazillions actually when you factor in the initiatives of the US Federal Reserve) of our great great great grand children's money. No...not our money, not our kid's money and not our grand kid's money, we borrowed that ages ago. The money we're borrowing now is from descendants who won't be born until sometime around the year 2300.

Who wants another Depression anyway. Sure most of us could handle it, the great unwashed would muddle along as we always have. But a depression now would devastate the finances of the uber-rich, and we certainly can't have that. The bulk of the tax burden will fall on the middle class as it always has, but at least Wall Street movers and shakers will get to keep their private jets.

As Bernard Berenson said long ago of governments:

"Structures that will last as long as the under-taxed can defend themselves against the over-taxed".

Yeah, I know this is a little heavier than a lot of my regular blogging. When you read articles like The Big Takeover, it makes observations about things like Twitter seem inconsequential. By the way, I'm up to 12 followers (from 2 on Friday) so feel free to add CanukGord if you're of a mind and tweet away.

Comments are welcomed and feel free to pass this along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share’ icon below.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Newspapers Columnists Tiltling at Bloggers - Pointless

Hardly a day goes by that I don't come across a newspaper columnist whining about the sad state of print journalism, and about how bloggers are a parasitic menace that threaten the very existence of the newspaper industry. Cry me a river guys. The way newspaper Op/Ed writers go on you'd think the demise of print journalism is threatening the very fabric of western society. The most recent diatribe I came across was from Barb Shelly of the Kansas City Star.

In her little rant she complains bitterly about the Huffington Post, which she says 'shamelessly cribs notes from the mainstream media'. Yeah....so? That's what newspaper columnists do, and bloggers are no different. She ends her little crying fit with the rhetorical question: What will bloggers will do 'when the tap of actual reporting runs dry'.

Do employees of newspapers actually think they're the only source for news? In point of fact newspapers provide very little in the way of timely reporting. When the Fox network aired that tasteless segment on 'Red Eye' ridiculing Canada's military, bloggers were all over it long before a single print story hit the streets. I blogged about it on Sunday March 22nd, a full day before anything appeared in a newspaper on the subject. Pity the poor hack whose column appears on Thursdays...many continued commenting on Fox's tasteless show long after the subject had been beaten to death.

Do newspaper columnists honestly think they're the only people who should be allowed to comment on things like politics and current events because they gather news? By the time papers hit the newsstands the "news" has already been reported via TV, on radio and across the Internet. Instead of constantly whining and crying about bloggers, newspapers need to do some serious thinking about how to make their businesses viable again.

I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of fourth estate, in fact I typically read 2 or 3 different Toronto dailies each week, with my favourite being The Sun. But its time newspapers woke up to the fact that their "reporting" of news is almost totally redundant in this digital age. People enjoy newspapers for things like the crossword puzzle, the comics...and yes, columnists. But news??? Print can't compete with television, 24/7 radio news stations and obviously the Internet. So why bother trying?

I'm sure there were a lot of ticked off Town Criers around when newspapers started hitting the streets, leaving them to find a new profession that called for the ringing of a bell . Newspapers will have to learn to adapt or they'll join the yellers of 'Hear Ye, Hear Ye' on the trash heap of history.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

You Will Be Assimilated - Tweet Tweet

I'm guessing that most people reading a blog already know about twitter.com, the on-line service that let's people announce what they're doing with "tweets", messages up to 140 characters in length. Barack Obama tweeted all through the U.S. Presidential elections and has over 516,000 followers , Michael Ignatieff tweets to his 4,435 twitter fans...even Ashton Kutcher tweets, posting pictures of wife Demi Moore's lovely backside.

I think I first heard about twitter during the October election here in Canada, but didn't give it much thought. I'm already on Facebook, and figured it was basically the same thing as their status updates. Hence the reason I was surprised to read today that Twitter's user base expanded from 6 million to 10 million in just the last month.

I'm 42 and have finally come to the conclusion that I am old. Sure I'm blogging, but dammit I strive to spell things properly and fret over mundane matters like syntax. Hell, I hardly even swear! Incidentally, hell doesn't count as profanity in my book, how could it when it's certain to be my future address. The blackberry revolution has passed me by, which is something I'm increasingly grateful for.

What good is twitter to a Luddite like me? I don't have a handheld device like a blackberry, so I can't announce to the world when I'm heading to the can. This is actually a good thing, as you get older time can be a precious commodity...especially with respect to certain bodily functions. I'm not about to log-on to a computer when the urge to make toast and coffee hits me. There's probably a way I could tweet using my cell phone, but someone would have to explain it to me.

What I find curious in all this is how young people seem very concerned about civil liberties on the one hand, while jumping on every new technology no matter how Big Brotherish it may seem. Back around 2001 or 2002 I read about a a company called ADS. They created a technology called Verichip, a microchip designed to be implanted into a child's arm. The idea was to be able to track your precious little treasure with GPS technology, and never having to worry about locating a missing kid ever again. It never took off though, probably too Orwellian for most.

Now here we are just a few short years down the road and people are signing up to services like twitter in droves...posting their thoughts, activities, and whereabouts 24/7. Why bother with something as intrusive as an implanted chip when nobody goes anywhere without their cell phone or PDA? Everyone is joining the collective consciousness via new technologies, with many calling it addictive.

I can understand the voyeuristic attraction in following a political figure or a celebrity...that's part of human nature. But am I really that interested in knowing every boring detail of my friends' lives? A celebrity broadcasting his or her 'tweets' to adoring fans worldwide? Okay, that makes sense. But does anyone really care that I'm about to go and make myself a cup of coffee and toast a bagel?

If you do care, you can follow me: canukgord on twitter. I only have 2 followers and I'm so lonely. Yeah I know all that stuff I said about Orwell and 1984, but at the end of the day I guess I'm just like a lot of other people out there, an attention seeking cyberslut. Besides, maybe I can use it to drive more traffic to my blog.

Comments are welcomed and feel free to pass this along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share’ icon below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The World Has Gone Crazy...I'm Going To Work For AIG

Is it just me or does the entire world seemed warped beyond all recognition lately? I realize that there are always things happening that don't make a lot of sense, its just that now things seem even more insane than usual. I started this blog back at the end of November for that exact reason.

You'll recall back then that Stephen Harper was busy telling Canadians that there was an attempt being made to overthrow the government. Of course the "coup d'etat" to which he was referring involved elected members of parliament from the other three parties...in other words, our government was overthrowing our government. We have a PM who equates our House of Commons to the Electoral College in the United States, and as such he thinks Canadians voted for him as Prime Minister. Sad that the leader of the party currently heading the government of Canada doesn't understand the simple basics about our democracy. About the only thing that makes sense is that many brain dead Tory supporters don't understand it any better.

That was just the start of the silliness unfortunately. Our finance minister finally crawled out from under the rock he must have been living under for the past 6 months and realized Canada was not only heading for recession, in fact we're in one. Michael Ignatieff proclaimed himself as Canada's probation officer, pledging to keep the Harper government on a short leash...but really he was just kidding. After insisting the government provide details about how it was planning to spend a $3 billion dollar "slush fund" left over from the last budget, he has since folded faster than a riverboat gambler holding a 7 high.

Now we have British MP George Galloway being told he won't be permitted to speak in Canada, a decision our heritage minister Jason Kenny says he won't interfere with. It seems Galloway made the mistake of donating ambulances and medical supplies to Palestinians living in Gaza. Gaza as most know is ruled by Hamas, so the brainiacs at the Canadian Border Services Agency decided to bar him on the basis that Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization. Hello!!! Hamas is the elected and governing authority in the Gaza territory. Does Kenny think Hamas is going to start launching rocket propelled ambulances now?

The more logical reason for barring Galloway is that he is planning to embarrass the Harper government by speaking out against our mission in Afghanistan. What's the big deal? Harper already embarrassed himself by proclaiming the war un-winnable. Does that mean we're leaving? Of course not, that would make sense. Instead we're told we need to change the definition of winning. That way when our brave soldiers continue to make their way down the 401, (appropriately called the Hi-Way of Heroes) with flags draped over their coffins, we can point to the "victory" we're achieving on the other side of the world...to make the ultimate sacrifice of our best citizens somehow seem worthwhile. Guess what Maple Leaf fans, if Stephen Harper was running the Leafs we'd all be celebrating another winning season!

And if that's not enough to leave this blogger pulling out what's left of his hair, then we have this whole global credit crisis going on.

Companies like AIG (among many others) engaged in financial transactions which were beyond ludicrous. Not only were financial institutions providing mortgage funding based on NINJA qualifications (No Income, No Job, No Assets) they then turned around and started inventing complex schemes to have this toxic debt rated "investment grade". That allowed them to peddle these toxic "assets" to pension funds and other institutional investors. The result? The near collapse of the entire global financial system.

And what's happening to the individuals found responsible for these larcenous activities? What is the punishment for bankrupting the companies for which they work? How many years will they spend in jail for decimating the retirement plans of millions? How heavy are the fines being levied for bringing the global financial system to the brink of collapse?

Punishment? Fines? Imprisonment? Pfffffffft, they're getting bonuses in the millions of dollars. The U.S. government is currently engaged in spending of Biblical proportions to keep companies like AIG afloat. But don't you worry, those responsible aren't getting off scott free. Oh no! Not by a long shot. The U.S. Congress is enacting legislation to tax back 90% of the bonus money these crooks will be receiving. So instead of getting, say a $2.5 million bonus, instead that amount will be pared all the way down to $250,000. That'll teach them for destroying the lives of ordinary hard working people...just see how long a quarter million lasts!!!

Of course these bonuses are needed, because well...they're retention bonuses. I mean these guys who seemingly did everything in their power to wreck the world's economy, well...We sure wouldn't want them quitting now would we?

I guess I'm just out of touch. I figure that if I were to engage in transactions which threatened the very survival of the company I worked for, I don't know...I somehow think I'd probably get fired. Of course destroying one company is small potatoes, these guys were building houses of cards supporting the worldwide economy. Maybe I can get a job at AIG? I'd probably get fired for being responsible.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fox Talk Show Ridicules Canada's Afghan War Effort...

I just had the misfortune of watching a youtube video on a Fox talk show called "Red Eye". In this snippet they use Canada's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011 as a springboard to belittle not only our efforts in that country, but also to belittle the very lives of the 116 Canadians who have died fighting in this conflict.

I've often wondered how seemingly educated and advanced countries like America and Canada can have citizens so easily duped into believing thinly veiled propaganda such as the so called justifications for our invasion of Afghanistan. After watching this video however, its obvious I'm giving our societies far too much credit.

For those who believe we're really there for humanitarian reasons and to prevent the spread of Islamic terrorism, you'll lap this up. In fact you may want to start spouting off on world issues at the local trailer park, I hear Fox is looking for more on air talent to provide "funny" commentary on other serious issues.

Fox...providing brain dead hicks with news, commentary and new careers. Ugh.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Time To Declare Muslims Second Class Citizens

Canada proudly proclaims itself to be a country which follows the 'Rule of Law'. What does that mean exactly? How does Canada define the "rule of law"? Our own Parliamentary Website defines it as meaning that all are subject to the law, with no one...regardless of power, wealth or position, being beyond its reach. It goes on to say that the courts serve as protection for citizens in ensuring that various authorities are not allowed to operate above the law. In fact the same Parliamentary website contains these sage words:

"If anyone were above the law, none of our liberties would be safe".

In 1981 Canada proclaimed our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, assuring citizens access to due process. According to the Charter, an individual is protected against being detained without being informed of the specific offence. It goes further in guaranteeing that individuals are to be tried 'within a reasonable time'. Our Charter precludes the state from discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. It all sounds so wonderful.

In short our democracy makes it unlawful to detain any person without providing legal justification and it ensures the accused the right to an impartial tribunal wherein the individual is allowed to confront the evidence against him or her. These are fundamental rights celebrated throughout much of the civilized world, with principles such as Habeas Corpus at the very heart of so called western democracy.

And yet, in spite of all these high minded ideals, for Muslims they are merely empty words on parchment. How can Canada proclaim itself a nation of law, when it violates those very same laws with some adherents of the religion that is Islam?

Everyone knows the story of Omar Kadar, the 15 year old who was taken to Afghanistan by his father to fight against the U.S. led invasion of that country. The allegation against this child soldier is that during a battle with American forces he threw a hand grenade which resulted in the death of a U.S. serviceman. Since that time he has been held in Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant, and is still awaiting trial. Some excuse this abhorrent disregard for western principles of law by pointing out that Canada must respect American jurisdiction in this matter.

But why should we protest at all when our own justice system ignores the foundations of our legal system here within our own borders? Mahmoud Jaballah is among many Muslims in this country who has been detained without charges being laid for several years. It is alleged that Mr. Jaballah is a senior member of a terrorist group, al-Jihad, an allegation he apparently denies. He has been held since 2001 and is still waiting for the authorities to show any evidence to back up their allegations.

Another Muslim accused of terrorist connections, Mohammad Mahjoub, recently decided to return to jail...rather than continue living with onerous bail conditions. Conditions which saw his children's new Wi game confiscated because it could be hooked up to the Internet. Under what authority is this man being held? He is held by the power of a "National Security Certificate", a legal instrument our own Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in 2007.

So, how can Canadians continue to proclaim ourselves as a nation which observes the rule of law, and yet allow our Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be used as toilet paper by the authorities?
Obviously our elected officials have no interest in protecting our Charter, which shames all Canadians and makes us no better than so many of the countries we chide for human rights abuses. Rather than endure ridicule for our obvious hypocrisy I have a modest suggestion to get us out of this legal conundrum.

We can once again proclaim Canada a nation that upholds the rule of law by simply changing our legislation. Specifically we can make legal our currently illegal treatment of certain Muslims by depriving them of their Charter Rights by virtue of their religion. It is not without precedent, Canada already distinguishes between the rights of Aboriginal peoples and everyone else, we merely need to create another class of citizenship for members of the Islamic faith.

We need not stop with stripping Muslims of their Charter and Constitutional rights, Canada could go even further. The next logical step would be to legislate against Muslims being allowed to hold jobs in our civil service. Later we could restrict or limit participation in our system of education and/or deny access to our universities. To safeguard against legal challenges Muslims could be prevented from working in the legal profession.

Obviously we would need legislation which would define what it is to be Muslim. It would probably be best to go back to each individual's grandparents, establishing Muslims as those who have 3 or 4 Islamic grandparents. Those with just 1 or 2 could be determined as half Muslim, and have rights assigned accordingly.

I realize there are many bleeding hearts who will decry these suggestions, proclaiming that all individuals are equal before the law. But it is obvious that Canada long ago abandoned these principles, and along with them the notion that we are a nation of laws. By changing the laws we would at least provide ourselves with ammunition to confront those who accuse our nation of ignoring our own constitution and legal precepts.

Now...I will ask that you please excuse this humble blogger. I have an appointment with a doctor, my tongue has become so firmly embedded in my cheek that I require emergency medical attention.

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Equal Pay For Work of Equal Value? Not with Ontario's LCBO

Ontario's economy has been decimated by the current recession, everyone not living under a rock knows that. The manufacturing base is bleeding jobs, with Premier Dalton McGuinty talking a good game about supporting beleaguered industries hit hard by these economic times. There never seems to be a shortage of dollars available to help the auto sector, be it good times or bad. Ontario's government has often ponied up hundreds of millions in loans and grants to assist the automotive industry. Regardless now the very survival of companies like GM and Chrysler is in question.

Meanwhile the LCBO, an Ontario crown corporation, engages in labour practices which fly totally in the face of McGuinty's oft stated objective of bringing decent paying jobs to this province. Rather than providing full time employment, the LCBO is happy to employ busloads of temporary staff and pay them a paltry $10 per hour. This might be understandable if workers were only needed for short periods of time, say during the holiday rush. But such is not the case, in fact at their Durham distribution centre there are workers who have been engaged for years at a time through temp agencies.

The LCBO actually has four classes of workers: Full-time permanent, Seasonal, Casual and Temporaries. While the classifications of seasonal, casual and temp might suggest they're not working full time hours...in fact they are. The varying designations allow the LCBO to pay divergently different wages to each category of worker. Full timers earn about $25 per hour and have the most job security, seasonals earn in and around the 20 dollar mark, casuals are down around $13 with temps earning a pathetic $10.

Employees doing the same job side by side are not being paid equally for work of equal value, far from it.

While line workers employed by the big 3 continue to earn about $35 per hour (those lucky enough to still be employed) LCBO workers are forced to survive on as little as $10. And the LCBO, unlike North American auto makers, is a cash cow. Last year profits were reported at just over $1 Billion on revenue of roughly $4 Billion.

If Dalton wants to help out the auto giants, that's all well and good. But he should also remember charity begins at home. How can Ontario expect the private sector to treat its employees well, and to compensate them reasonably, when the province itself makes major coin on the backs of underpaid staff?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

My 100th Post - A Blogger's Journey

I started this blog back on November 26th 2008, during all the commotion about a potential coalition government forming. I'd always been pretty active on message boards and with FaceBook...so this just seemed a logical extension for an opinionated "cyber big mouth". I must admit to having been somewhat jealous of newspaper columnists, with their ability to both express and potentially influence opinion on a variety of subjects. Blogging has cured me of that jealousy, in fact I think it is journalists who are now envious of bloggers...if not outright fearful given the sad financial state of print journalism.

I'm still very much a newbie, and I am still jealous...but now of fellow bloggers, specifically those who are adept at things like javascript and html. I consider the lay-out of this blog to be pretty pedestrian, and I'm thinking about making some changes in that regard. The hard part is that no matter how pretty a blog site looks, it won't mean anything if the content doesn't attract readers. As with many things its a question of time. Do I take the time to continue writing, or let the writing slide for a while and learn some code to dress this blog up a bit?

Considering the short time frame, (less than 4 months) I do think things are going pretty well. Google has a number of reporting services available to bloggers, and most seem to be free...being of Scottish descent I'm not paying for ANYTHING.

Since I enabled the reporting features on December 20, 2009...6,373 pageviews coming from 4,521 visits as of yesterday with 2,878 being unique visitors. Average number of page views is 1.41 with the average time spent being 2 minutes and 33 seconds. A little over 80% of visitors leave without going anywhere else on my blog, with about 20% looking at other pages.

I enjoy seeing where visitors to this blog come from, and google provides those stats. The vast majority come from Canada, 3,617 visits from 206 different locations. All the biggies are there: Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton are the top 3 followed by Calgary, Kitchener, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Victoria and Don Mills (which is still Toronto in my books). Of course there are a slew of places I've never heard of, like Gravelbourg, Cordova Bay and Sparwood. It looks like I've covered all 10 provinces and 2 out of 3 territories, still waiting for my first reader from Nunavut.

I've also had readers from 53 other countries around the world, with most being Americans. I've had hits from 47 out of the 50 states, still waiting on my first visitors from Wyoming and Montana. Border states not reading a Canadian Blog??? Google doesn't tell you which states haven't visited, they just show a map...and I don't know what state is due west of Texas, but that's the 3rd one I'm still waiting on. New Mexico maybe? I'll check later, apologies to Mr. Hughes and Ms. Brydges my geography teachers in school, at least I knew Montana and Wyoming...but then I've driven through those two.

I can also see which content pages have generated the most hits, and its bad news for those who wish I'd shut the #### up on the subject of abortion. Number one is Penny Stocks -Playing With Fire with 822 pageviews, the next 5 though are all on abortion, and I've only written 9 posts out of 99 on that topic:
Actually most of my traffic is to the homepage, which isn't content specific...1562 pageviews.

Another interesting bit of reporting is finding out how the traffic is being generated. Most of mine comes from referring sites at 73.94 per cent. Canadian Cynic, a blog that doesn't want me writing about abortion has generated 751 visits to my blog, followed by Progressive Bloggers at 616. A total of 129 different sites have referred visitors in fact, including message boards and other blogs where I've posted comments.

Search engines have been responsible for almost 17% of the traffic, with google blowing everyone else away at 724 visits followed next by Yahoo at 10. Most are searching for "Canadian Soapbox" (68 visits) which means some people are remembering the name of the blog, but not the url.

That's enough of a state of the union for now, longer than I thought it would be when I started...but still shorter than Obama's Congressional address.

Hopefully readership will continue to grow, and with it some advertising revenue. I'm using google's AdSense and I hope the ads aren't too intrusive. The ads are supposed to be reflective of the content on these pages...which seems to be the case most of the time. Still any thoughts I had about quitting my job have gone out the window. In my new year's post I predicted ad revenue would be sufficient enough to allow me to pay for an expensive dinner out, with everything super sized. That's about where I'm at now, dinner for 2 at the Golden Arches...If this was my only source of revenue I'd be eating about once every 3 months.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let's Say Bye Bye Penny and Nickel - Hello $5 Coin

Rarely a day goes by that I'm not involved in some transaction that includes pennies. Typically a conversation ensues about how utterly useless this coin has become. I can not think of one case where someone has stood up in defence of our lowly one cent piece. So why do we keep them around? I know I'm not alone in my desire to see Canada eliminate this useless unit of currency, hell there's even a FaceBook Group advocating abolishment.

Economic times such as these permit governments to take decisive action on issues that might otherwise be left alone. Stephen Harper's Conservative government has already used the global recession as a means to ram through questionable legislation, such as eliminating pay-equity requirements and oversight for foreign takeovers of Canadian firms. Why not take this opportunity to do something worthwhile instead? Let's stop minting pennies, and while we're at it get rid of the nickel too.

In the case of the penny, it costs more than 1 cent to make this useless pocket clogger. And if we get rid of the nickel to boot everything can be rounded up or down to the nearest dime. Something costing 92 cents goes down to 90, an article priced at .95 goes up to $1. We can still have "virtual pennies" in our bank accounts, but for cash transactions lets get rid of them. A fifty cent piece would be a hell of a lot more useful than pennies and nickels.

I know some will cite inflationary concerns, afraid that retailers will rig their pricing to ensure most transactions result in rounding up instead of down. But so what?!?! Inflation isn't the concern right now, deflation is. It doesn't take a degree from the London School of Economics to know that inflation is a sign of a healthy economy, while deflation is a recipe for disaster. Any measure, no mater how small, that can be undertaken to encourage inflation should be adopted right now. Deflation was rampant during the Great Depression, and when prices are dropping people hold onto their cash and growth in the economy grinds to a halt.

To top it all off it will save the treasury major bucks, and with the way the Conservatives are handling the economy they need all the help they can get. And that's why we should get rid of the $5 bill as well and replace it with a coin to go along with our Loonies and Toonies. Paper currency doesn't even last a year in circulation on average, coins stick around for about 20.

One suggestion for the new $5 coin, put a fish on it please. Fives are typically referred to as "fins" already...so a Pacific Salmon or something else with gills would be ideal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Scammers Looking for Bargain Hunters...Beware

When the economy turns sour there are often people willing to dump possessions at a fraction of their true value, that's a sad but simple reality. Scam artists are already hard at work, trying to target those in search of a really good deal. In a way its hard for me to feel sympathy for someone who gets burned by trying to profit from another's misfortune, but regardless I hate seeing people get hurt and I know there are some out there simply looking to conserve cash.

A guy in the maintenance department where I work was looking into what he thought was a helluva bargain. He's looking for a used car, and wants to get as much as he can for as little as possible. Like many he turned to the Internet and found THIS LISTING. A 2000 Mercedes Benz with only 79,000 km, asking only $5,000. Here's the description:

This Benz is one of a kind since I owned it for new, I am a non smoker driver and there are no nasty smalls around the car's interior, I kept it very clean, it has black exterior with a black leather interior. No scratches and dents what so ever, everything check out on this car. I'll be waiting for any messages in regards to this offer as you are free to email me any time: carolstev5@gmail.comV8, RWD drive 9058566681

Bill, (not his real name) showed me the email he'd received back in response to his inquiry. I'd suspected it was a scam, and the email cinched it. Here's what it said:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding my vehicle. If you are interested you should know that it has never been wrecked or damaged, the vehicle is in excellent condition. The final price including shipping will be $5,000.00 CAD. The vehicle is absolutely perfect, it has a clear title, never been repaired, smoked in, never been involved in any type of accident or had any paint or body work done! I live in England now, where I just moved back with my parents, I was born here and I guess there is no need to explain that due to the financial and economic crisis I lost my job and I had to sell everything I owned in Canada almost at a price for nothing; my house, all my belongings and finally my car, but that's the situation, I'm going through really hard times right now. Any way, the vehicle will be delivered along with all the documents (the clear and clean title already signed off by me, owner's manual, 2 sets of keys, service records, and of course the bill of sale notarized and signed by me). I would like to use eBay for our both safety and comfort (they will take care of the shipping/payment).

If you are still interested just send me the buyer's name and shipping address, I'll open a case and the company will contact you with all the informations about our deal.

Jeez Lousie, this is almost as obvious as those emails everyone gets about helping out some widow who needs a few grand to unlock a multi-million dollar inheritance...almost. I'm tempted to play along with the scammer for shits and giggles. I could contact them as yet another buyer/sucker and tell them to send me the information about where I ship the money, in all likelihood some phony Ebay or PayPal site. Then once that information is forwarded I'd email them back saying I'll have the money to them as soon as the $1,000,000 I'm expecting from a Nigerian widow I'm helping comes through.

Chances are its the car seller and widow are the same person.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

In Honour Of Saint Paddy's Day - Danny Boy Video

Incidentally, this is even funnier if you're drunk on green beer. Enjoy, I'll be celebratin' me O'Malley heritage tomorrow dontcha know :-)

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Time For Ontario To End Funding To Faith Based Schools

Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives are using the economic crisis as cover for such policies as eliminating pay equity and removing government oversight into foreign takeovers of Canadian business. By wrapping these initiatives into the budget, and with the Liberals continuing to roll over and play dead, Harper is back to governing as though he had a majority.

While there's a strong argument to be made that Harper doesn't have a mandate for such initiatives, Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberals would have no such concern over eliminating funding for faith based schools. In the December 2007 provincial election the Liberals romped to a successive majority, largely because the Conservative platform included extending school funding beyond the currently funded Roman Catholic board.

Bill Davis was a popular Premier in Ontario from 1971 to 1985, but one of his last legislative acts before retiring was to introduce full funding to Roman Catholic Separate Schools...an act which some believe caused an erosion in the PC's rural Ontario base. Both the Liberals and NDP however supported the motion, afraid of the potential political fallout from Roman Catholic voters...especially with so many baby boomers having children of school age at that time.

The result? If you're Roman Catholic and wish to have your children attend a publicly funded school which reflects your faith, you have that option. However no other faith group has that choice available, its either the public system...or you can pay extra on top of your taxes for a private religious school.

I will give John Tory, soon to be former leader of Ontario's PC party, credit. At least his position on this issue was fair. If you're going to provide public funding to one faith group you must provide it to others. The idea of providing public dollars to only one separate school board simply reeks of hypocrisy.

Premier McGuinty now has a golden opportunity to right this wrong, and to act on the wishes of Ontarians who voted loud and clear just over a year back on this issue. Will there be fallout? Certainly, some will be upset at being forced back into the public system...or at having to pay to have their children taught in a school that reflects their Roman Catholic faith. I suspect though that many will be happy to see a government that acts on integrity over political expediency. Additionally it would come with a cost savings to the province, at a time when the province's treasury is stretched to the limit.

To those who argue about the constitutionality of such a move, in this case the constitution is an anachronism. The British North America Act, upon which Bill Davis' decision was justified, was enacted in an effort to reflect Canada's makeup at the time of Confederation. If the courts were later to declare the elimination of funding as unconstitutional, McGuinty (or any later governing party) would need simply invoke the 'Notwithstanding Clause'.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Want The Truth On Canada's Economy? Ignore Harper and The Conservatives...

If the Conservatives are looking for a campaign theme song during the next election, I would strongly suggest "Three Blind Mice". Stephen Harper bills himself and his party as Canada's best choice to lead the nation during these troubling economic times...with Jim "Mr. Magoo" Flaherty as Minister of Finance. Yeah right!!! Enron Jim went before a Senate Finance Committee recently and told the assembled that "nobody" saw this recession coming...and he did it with a straight face. It was almost as convincing a performance as when Stephen Harper said a Conservative government would "never, NEVER" tax Income Trusts.

I want to believe Stephen Harper when he says Canada's economy is going to rebound strongly, I really do. I want to believe our PM when he says that our financial sector is better insulated from the credit crunch than our American friends. About the only thing I know with certainty is what an effective spin master Stephen Harper has proven himself to be. Harper could see his government defeated at any time, which means he's already in election mode...telling people what they want to hear, at the expense of the truth.

Back in August, September and October leading economists were forecasting a recession. How did Canada's freshly elected government react? Our finance minister went before parliament in November with an Economic statement that didn't even belong on a cocktail napkin. Now he's telling Canadians that "nobody" saw this coming? And he expects us to believe him???

Stephen Harper is touring the country telling Canadians that the lending practices of our financial institutions will buffer us from the worst of the global crisis. In the meantime the Globe & Mail is reporting on Canada's Dirty Subprime Secret, which talks about "a burgeoning subprime mortgage problem that many, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have insisted does not exist in Canada". Federal Conservatives are touting their handling of the economy, at a time when our job loss numbers are proportionally higher this year than what's happened in the United States according to the Canadian Press: U.S. vs Canada: One's Economic Slide is Longer, The Other's Deeper.

About the only thing that is clear is that Canada is badly in need of effective and honest leadership. Sadly the Liberals appear content under Michael Ignatieff to allow Stephen and his gang to drive the Canadian economy off a cliff before acting. The next election could very well see Harper and Ignatieff fighting over control of a car that's had its engine gutted.

Canadians don't need politicians to solve all our problems, we can do a lot of that on our own. What we do need are elected officials who can see the forest for the trees, and who aren't afraid to paint an accurate picture...even if it is ugly. Its hard to make informed decisions based on spin and outright lies.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Palestinians Following Zionist Playbook...

I've never blogged on the Israeli Palestinian conflict before, its not that I don't follow developments in one of the world's hottest conflict zones, its more a case of seeing neither side as having the moral high ground, far from it. Typically I find most commentators choose one side or the other, pointing to the wrongs of the group they oppose, while ignoring the atrocities of the side they support. About the best Op/Ed piece I've seen was written by the Toronto Sun's Lorrie Goldstein, its entitled: No Reason To Choose Sides

Goldstein touches on what many ignore, the history of the region. There is one thing he avoids however, and that is the tactics employed by Zionist groups in their effort to have the British relinquish control over Palestine so that the modern state of Israel could be created. There's no need to go back thousands of years to the Jewish Diaspora, something that took place intermittently over hundreds of years. Wars and conquests have led to the displacement of many peoples over the course of human history. If every ethnic group on this planet started fighting over ancestral homelands we'd have total global conflict 24/7.

Rather than going back hundreds or even thousands of years, we can look back just a few decades. Specifically to the events which led to Israeli statehood on May 14, 1948.

One Jewish terrorist group was Irgun, credited with carrying out the bombing of the King David Hotel in July of 1946. There was also the Deir Yassin Massacre which resulted in roughly one hundred Arab deaths (some accounts are higher), an atrocity accredited to Lehi and Irgun (also referred to as Etzel).

For those sufficiently motivated to do some research, there's plenty of historical information out there about this time period...after the end of WWII and leading up to May 14, 1948. Sadly what it typically comes down to is a case of justification. Machiavelli would have been right at home in the Middle East, because each side in this conflict believes their end justifies the terrorist means employed. While moderates on both sides decry the violence and bloodshed, hardliners in each camp view the use of terror tactics as justified in achieving what they believe to be the greater good. There are Palestinians who will not rest until Israel is totally defeated and wiped from the map, just as there are Israelis who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, those who continue to settle in the occupied territories.

The ultimate irony facing Israel is the use of terrorism by Palestinians in their efforts to establish a homeland. It was actions by Zionist terror groups such as Irgun and Lehi which led to the creation of the modern Jewish state in the first place. I don't see any resolution ever in this dispute. The extreme elements on both sides of the equation believe their actions have sanction from God almighty. Arabs believe they have Allah on their side, and Jews believe the land of Israel to be their God given birthright by virtue of them being a chosen people.

There are times when neither side in a conflict has moral superiority, which brings me to conclude the best reaction is the citing of a familiar bromide. A pox on both their houses.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bad Debt, Good Debt, Best Debt? How About...NO DEBT!!!

Debt seems to be something on a lot of people's minds these days, with many thinking about taking on additional obligations due to the low interest environment we're in. Others are more worried about eliminating debt, concerned with the downward trend in the overall economy. Either way attitudes toward borrowing money are changing, so I thought an examination of debt might be of some interest.

Leaving aside the question of the bigger economic picture for the moment, debt can be divided into three basic categories: Bad, Good and Best.

Bad debt is easy to identify, with the degree of "badness" determined by the interest rate. Bad debt can be categorized as any money borrowed for the purchase of something that will decline in value over time. A prime example would be a car loan. Fully financing the purchase of a $25,000 automobile results in an immediate loss of about 10%...within five years the vehicle is worth maybe $10,000 if you're lucky. High interest credit card balances are obviously the worst, with the purchases often related to goods and services with zero residual value.

Good debt by contrast relates to borrowing for the purchase of things that will increase in value over the years. The best example is of course a home purchase. Home ownership is a common goal in Canadian society, and one which makes a lot of sense. It costs money to occupy a residence regardless of whether you rent or own...so why not have that occupancy cost go towards building equity. For many people their home represents their greatest source of wealth, and a retiree with a paid off mortgage has a number of options available should the need for capital arise.

Best debt is a concept that will probably be foreign to some. Like good debt it relates to the borrowing of money for purchases which will increase in value...but with a kicker. With best debt the commodity being purchased qualifies the borrower to write-off the interest expense on the loan. For specifics you need to talk to a financial advisor, but it typically relates to the purchasing of equities such as stocks or even mutual funds.

You may have heard ads talking about 'the tax free mortgage', which relates directly to the concept of 'best debt'. As an example, a person who inherits $25,000 could use the money to pay down a mortgage, then turn around and leverage against the equity in the home to invest in the market...with the interest payments on the loan being tax deductible.

Now that I've covered off the three basic kinds of debt, its important to get a gauge of the general economy. For the overwhelming majority of people, (excepting those who were around in the 1930's) an inflationary environment has been the norm. Inflation encourages people to spend, because over time the money in our pockets decreases in value. Looking for a new car? The one you want will likely cost more next year, and if not next year then certainly the year after that.

While inflation may scare people, its actually a sign of a healthy economy...it encourages the circulation of money, which in turn creates wealth. We've been seeing public sector unions negotiate some pretty sweet contracts recently, in spite of the downturn in the economy. Part of the rationale is an effort by governments to stave off deflation, which is far more devastating to the economy than inflation.

Deflation is something being talked about more and more, and while our gut reaction may be..."Hey GREAT!!! Things are getting cheaper!" it is something we should actually fear. Falling prices discourage economic activity, and decreased economic activity leads to a spiral of job losses. When people fear for their jobs, and when prices are dropping...people hang on to their cash. While prices are dropping the value of the coin in your pocket actually inflates, its an inverse relationship. That $100 bill in your pocket will be worth more next week or next year than it is right now, so hang on to it.

So now its time to look at our crystal balls, tea leaves...or to consult the trusty Magic 8 Ball. If you're of the opinion that the economy is going to continue struggling for some time, then it isn't a question of bad versus good versus best debt. In periods of deflation the best option is NO DEBT.

Almost every expert and guru out there...they're all predicting that we'll eventually see things turn around and that growth with return to the economy. The question though is when. I know there are people out there anxious to jump in while prices are depressed, with an eye toward catching the bottom and quite possibly making a killing, be it in the stock market or with a home purchase.

I am going to suggest that the best strategy right now is to eliminate as much debt as possible, and/or saving as much as possible. That way when the ultimate decision is made to invest, the need to borrow will be, if not eliminated...at least reduced. One might decide that now is that time, and I wouldn't disparage anyone bold enough to make that call. But if the money being used to dive into the market is borrowed, and if this deflationary cycle continues...then there's serious potential for dire results to one's net worth.

The bull is hiding right now, hopefully he won't be away too long.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Desperate Real Estate Industry Says Now The Time To Buy...

Canada's battered real estate market got a jolt of good "news" today, in the form of a press release from Remax...at least that's the spin they're putting on recent industry numbers to boost confidence, suggesting the current market is ideal for 1st time home buyers to get off the fence. I heard about it this morning while driving into work and listening to 680 News.

Included in the radio report was the fact that home listings have jumped 17% in the GTA, and while listings are great for agents...they're not much good if there aren't sufficient buyers to soak up the supply. With all the recently reported job losses it stands to reason that there could very well be a glut of properties on the market in the coming months. And if the economy and job market are forcing people to sell, its reasonable to expect prices to dip significantly.

Talk to a broker and its always a perfect time to get into stocks, ask a hair stylist or barber if you need a trim and you'll likely be told 'definitely'...and ask a Real Estate agent if 'now' is the time to buy a house and the answer will almost assuredly be yes, whether the market is up or down.

Self serving "news" from industry insiders should be taken with a huge grain of salt. The same radio station has been airing Public Service Announcements proclaiming that the automotive industry employs thousands...and they're all saying 'now is the time to buy a new car'.
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Garth Turner, a former maverick MP as well as an author and market commentator has published a new book called "After The Crash". He was interviewed recently on TVO and had some interesting insights on the real estate market...insights that fly in the face of today's Remax "news". He actually says renting might be the best strategy for some, given the uncertainty in the overall economy.

Landlords are offering substantial incentives to entice potential renters, including free rent for a month or more, as well as paint jobs and renovations. For people concerned with sinking a substantial amount of cash into a shaky housing market this strikes me as good advice. The consensus opinion on the overall economy is that we're nowhere near the bottom yet, dissenting opinions from certain parties with vested interests notwithstanding.

The interview lasts about a half hour, I suggest giving it a listen when you have the time:

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Federal Politicians Should Adopt CAW Cuts...For Themselves

Canadian Auto Workers just renegotiated their contract with GM. The new deal would see them making significant concessions in a bid to help GM qualify for much needed government bailout money. Whereas public sector employees are typically seeing annual increases of 2-3% over the next three to four years, the CAW has negotiated a wage freeze until 2012 with no cost of living increases. Additionally workers would lose a $1,700 annual bonus and a week of paid vacation time. The deal also calls for workers to contribute more for their health care benefits, and that includes pensioners.

Some are arguing that it isn't enough, with the Toronto Star reporting that earlier this week Tory MPs on a parliamentary committee were "ridiculing" CAW President Ken Lawenza and economist Jim Stanford for the union's wages. Obviously GM is in serious trouble, with revenues insufficient to handle expenses...hence the need for the bailout. Its a situation politicians should understand well, given that Ottawa has just committed to spending almost $100 billion more than revenues will support over the next several years. The actual deficit figure is projected at $84.9 billion over 5 years, but with Jim "Mr. Magoo" Flaherty providing the projections...well pardon me for adding a bit of a cushion to Enron Jim's numbers.

Seeing as GM's fiscal state so closely mirrors that of our federal government, to say nothing of the provinces...perhaps our government could show some real leadership on this issue? How much do-re-mi are federal MPs willing to forgo in wages and benefits to help Canada weather this economic storm? Would members of parliament be willing to freeze their wages for the next 3 years? How about cutting back on travel expenses?

We have 308 MPs on the federal payroll. GM has cut their labour force by about 3,000, going from 10,000 to 7,000. Why not reduce the number of seats in The House by 10%? I'm sure we could get by with 270 or so MPs. We could cut back on pensions paid to retired politicians as well, and pare the number of Senators.
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GM workers do earn decent cake, no question. Their hourly rate of around $34 per hour equates to an annual salary of about $70k without taking any overtime into account. Still its not even close to what a backbencher in Ottawa makes, about $150,000 with additional compensation for committee work and a slew of perks. Some bristle at how well auto workers are paid, for a job that requires no special education or training...similar in a lot of ways to politicians. There are no special degrees or certification needed to vie for a seat in Ottawa either.

This global economic crisis is claiming a lot of victims, with hardly any industry or market segment being spared. About the only growth industry left is politics. Ottawa is planning on racking up a major debt load as it continues business as usual for those employed in the industry that is Canadian government. Perhaps its time for Stephen Harper to lead by example. It would seem the truly conservative thing to do.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Harper Getting Hit From All Sides Now...

Conservative fortunes under Stephen Harper seem to be tracking the broader markets. On a day when both the DOW and TSX closed lower yet again, Harper and the Tories were dealt yet another blow, this time in the form of an Op-Ed piece in the Toronto Sun.

Michael Taube, a former speech writer for Stephen Harper, penned a guest column in the Sun today entitled "Harper driving Conservatives the wrong way". Among his many criticisms was this little snippet:

No wonder Stevie is so anxious to force an election, provided he can pin the blame for it on the opposition Liberals. The Conservatives still hold key advantages over the Liberals should a snap election come to pass. Their organization is stronger at the moment, but more importantly they enjoy a substantial advantage in terms of their election war chest.
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Ironic that Harper's Conservatives came to power amid voter anger over Liberal waste and arrogance primarily under Jean Chretien. Now it is Harper who is trying to force an election over what amounts to a 3 billion dollar slush fund, money he wishes to toss around with zero accountability until after the fact.

Personally I think Harper is trying to be too clever by half. He knows Canadians don't want another election, so he is looking for any 'poison pill' he can find in hopes his government will be defeated. I'm sure his thinking is that with the $$$ advantage the Conservatives hold, that they would be able to control the message....And that message would be, "this election brought to you by the Liberals".

If it comes down to a vote on the Harper slush fund Ignatieff might do well to avoid taking the bait. The Liberal Party is still not battle ready in my opinion. While Dion appeared to be far more ideological in his approach, Ignatieff seems much more pragmatic. Perhaps it is best for the Liberals to sit back and wait for more friendly fire from Conservative papers like the Toronto Sun to do in Harper and the Conservatives.

That would leave Harper with a task similar to what McCain had with the Republicans in 2008, fighting on two fronts. Campaigning on one side to keep the choir singing, while at the same time trying to expand on that shrinking base of support.

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