Monday, October 26, 2009

Why aren't YOU getting the H1N1 Vaccine?

Back on the 8th of October I conducted a highly unscientific poll, asking readers if they'd be getting the flu shot or not. Of the forty two people who identified themselves as being low risk, thirty one said no (74%). Even among the fifteen who said they were in a high risk group, ten out of fifteen said no (67%).

Those numbers match up pretty well with more reputable polling I've seen, and has left me wondering why.

The government and various media outlets have been conducting what I consider to be pretty much of a full court press in an effort to convince Canadians that just about everyone should be rolling up their sleeves. But unless the overwhelming majority of us are lying, most won't bother.

Why not? I think there are likely a number of reasons.

A lack of trust in government and the drug companies. For those of a conspiratorial bent you might enjoy reading what Rense.Com has to say, here's a snippet:

Some are concerned that the clinical trials aren't enough to ensure the vaccine's safety. The H1N1 shot has certainly been delivered at break neck speed, and some wonder if a few weeks is enough to properly gauge the potential for adverse reactions.

Still....I suspect that there's a bigger reason at play for the vast majority who will refuse to be immunized. Call it the "OW" factor. Let's face it, there are many who just plain don't like getting a needle stuck in their arm and will avoid it at all costs.

Here's another poll, let's see those reasons:

Why aren't you getting the H1N1 shot?
Lack of trust in government and/or drug companies.
Not enough testing
Ow!!! I hate needles!!!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Debate on global warming heats up - And misses the point

The global warming debate has been raging for a while now, with many arguing over the impact man made carbon emissions are having on the planet and climate. Those in the Al Gore camp contend we humans need to drastically cut our carbon footprint or face an environmental catastrophe. Others say the science is flawed and that any changes in climate are the result of normal cycles, periods of cooling and warming that this planet has undergone for aeons.

So which is it? I for one don't really care, I just want to see a cleaner environment for my children.

Has the planet's climate changed during my lifetime? There's no doubt in my mind. Growing up in the seventies my mother never worried about covering me from head to toe in sun screen when I was outside for fifteen minutes. Sunburns were de rigeur during my childhood summers. Newscasts were about fires and murders, not the shrinking polar ice cap.

Oh we were concerned about the environment back in the day, but not globally. We had more simple worries back then. You know, things like smog polluting our air, clean water, endangered species and contaminated soil. There were plenty of tree-huggers around reminding us about what we were doing to the planet, but they had trouble holding our attention. In our consumer driven society new cars and newer toys were a lot sexier than saving whales or pandas.

That all changed when the threat of global warming took hold. Suddenly words like 'clean energy' seeped into the collective vocabulary. People started worrying about going green, recycling and composting became the norm. Almost everyone was willing to do their part to stop us from frying ourselves and destroying the planet that is our home.

Now some are suggesting that our efforts may be useless, that this big green movement has been a hoax. Efforts to cut the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere are openly questioned, with many worrying about the effects on our economy.

And that's a shame.

Even if global warming is not man made, concern over its effects had people engaging in efforts that were reducing smog, cleaning up the water supply and eliminating contamination from our soil. I know I'd much rather live in a world with clean soil, air and water, even if there has to be a period of negative impact on our economy.

If Canada's woodland caribou had a voice in the matter I'm sure they'd be hoping for continued concern on the environmental front. I'll be writing later about the debate over allowing logging in Ontario's northern boreal forest, logging which could severely impact the 5,000 animals still living there.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy 30th Birthday to Hip Hop...damn I'm getting old

Hip hop, rap, house...hard to believe its been about 30 years. BBC is heralding this as the 30th anniversary of Hip Hop because it was 30 years ago when Rappers Delight by 'The Sugar Hill Gang' topped the charts.

You know you're getting old when the music you grew up qualifies as nostalgia. Enjoy the video, and just think...many of the people dancing are now collecting Old Age Security, and some are even grandparents.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mortgage rates creeping up, a sign of things to come...

If you've been listening to the news then you know that posted mortgage rates at some of Canada's biggest banks have edged up .35 %, you can read about it HERE AT CTV. To put it in more tangible terms that equates to about a 7% increase in carrying costs as compared to current rates.

Our fragile economic recovery hinges on the ability of consumers to take on debt, and with rates climbing that means more money going to interest payments and less circulating in the general economy. In layman's terms....this ain't good.

Where do you think housing prices will be next summer in a climate of increased taxation (hello HST) and higher mortgage payments? The U.S. economy started its slide as many American homeowners woke up to find themselves owing more on their homes than they were worth. The technical term is negative equity...more common language used by underwater property owners is "holy sheet, we're screwed".

Canada's real estate markets are just coming off a steriod induced buying frenzy the past 6 months or so, with bidding wars taking place among frantic buyers worried that they would be missing out on the buying oppourtunity of a lifetime. Not much different from people who invested in oil last year at over $100 a barrel or the tech stock geniuses of the late nineties.

Interest rates don't have to climb into double digits for our housing market to take a nose dive, even a modest climb to just 6% will have 'For Sale' signs popping up like dandelions. A mere 10% drop in equity will have a significant number of home owners owing more on their homes than the property is worth.

Higher taxes, higher debt payments, higher might just be time to legalize marajuana, at least that's a high that can be enjoyed.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Taking the time to give thanks...

The harvest is in, the food stored up for the approaching cold, and so we reflect and give thanks. Thanks for the bounty we’ve enjoyed, and thanks for that which has been put aside to sustain us through the coming dark days of winter.

I’ve often thought that an essential part of the Canadian character is our propensity to complain. We complain about the weather, about our governments, about our hockey teams…especially those of us who cheer for Toronto’s blue and white.

We have so much to be thankful for, both individually and as a society. But perhaps it is our vast wealth that spoils us. Having so much we crave even more.

Those with strong family ties think little of the countless people on this planet whose families have been torn apart by famine, disease, conflict and poverty. We moan about the coming onslaught of winter, forgetting that the change of seasons gives us brilliant fall colours, the sweet smells of spring and the languid days of summer. We may not like the people who govern us, but our leaders are chosen from among us, and we have the right to replace them unlike many corners of the globe.

We have lots to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for my children, a son and a daughter who brighten my days. For a father who has always been there for me, and who always will be. For a recently passed mother, the memory of whom has sustained me through many a dark hour. I’m thankful for my sister and brother and their spouses and their children, my niece and my nephews. I’m thankful for my family, a circle that grows stronger as it expands.

I’m thankful to my special lady and to my friends. We live in a busy world, and often there isn’t as much time as we’d like to have together. But the time we do have is cherished, and for that I am grateful.

I’m thankful for this country. We have peace and we have prosperity, and where’s there’s conflict and want we have people working to see these blessings extended to all. I’m thankful to the people who stand along the 401 when fallen soldiers pass by, even though many are opposed to the conflict in which this nation is engaged, we honour their bravery, commitment and sacrifice.

I’m thankful for all that has kept me going, and all that has been stocked up for the journey ahead.

Enjoy the feast, enjoy your family and enjoy your friends. And when gathered together, if conversation turns toward some complaint or minor grievance, don’t forget to also give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Will you get the H1N1 vaccine? (Poll Question)

Reports are out telling us that the much discussed H1N1 vaccine will be out in November, the question remains though, will Canadians be rolling up their sleeves.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, is reported as saying that approval is expected later this month, with clinical trails being done to determine whether one or two doses will be needed. And we're still waiting for confirmation that the regular seasonal flu shot may actually increase a person's risk of getting Swine Flu.

So, when it comes to the H1N1 vaccine...will you be getting the shot?

I won't, but then I'm one of those guys who typically avoids trips to the doctor unless its absolutely required. In fact I don't think I've ever had any sort of flu shot, not in the last twenty plus years anyway.

I'm also something of a contrarian thinker, meaning efforts put into convincing me to do something tend to have the opposite effect. If health officials really want to persuade people like me, they'd do better with a little reverse psychology.

Don't bother with the flu shot, you probably don't need it.
-Now that would get me thinking -

Of course this isn't the regular old run of the mill flu, or so we're being told. For regular influenza high risk groups typically include seniors, those under five years of age and people with underlying health conditions.

With H1N1 we're being told that older individuals may have a built in immunity. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control is saying that people aged 6 months to 24 years are actually higher risk for H1N1 than seniors.

Health officials are trying to combat many of the fears concerning the Swine Flu shot, a major concern is the speed with which its being developed. That has some worried that public safety could be comprimised. And of course there's the conspiracy crowd who are suspicious of any government controlled program being foisted on the general population.

I'm interested in reading as many comments as possible, and in seeing the results of the poll. According to CBC news those at high risk are:

-People with chronic medical conditions under the age of 65.
-Pregnant women
-Children six months of age to under five years of age.
-People living in remote and isolated settings or communities.
-Health-care workers involved in pandemic response or who deliver essential health services.

Will you be getting the H1N1 vaccine?
I'm in a high risk group - YES
I'm in a high risk group - NO
I'm in a low risk group - YES
I'm in a low risk group - NO
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Remembering the bad old days of balanced budgets and a growing economy...

Attention spans aren't what they used to be, anything that happened 24 hours ago is already old news. You see it everywhere, people have trouble remembering a conversation from just ten minutes earlier. When I go to Tim Hortons and order an UNtoasted bagel, I pull away and check the bag to find that...yeppers...its been toasted.

Now all of a sudden Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are sound managers of the economy. Our economist PM, (who incidentally has never worked one day as an economist) bloats the size of government to its largest size ever, racks up the biggest debt in the nation's history, and can't provide a budget forecast that stands up to scrutiny for more than 5 minutes.

This is sound economic policy?

What are the solutions to a recession wreaking havoc with the economy and government coffers bleeding red ink? Red ink that at least partially resulted from increasing government spending while systematically reducing government revenues while times were still good.

Borrow, borrow...and then borrow some more people, just like your government.

Interest rates are set at historical lows, meaning consumers can load up on cheap debt to buy houses and finance expensive home renovation projects. Take your old car and get a new one with wads of government cash as an incentive to rack up even more debt.

Who cares that in the coming years many individuals debt servicing costs are going to climb higher and higher. Instead of having money for things like groceries or vacations, Canadians will be seeing more and more of their $$$ going toward paying off mortgages and loans as interest rates climb.

Just look at the recent news from Australia.

What's that future Canadian, leveraged to the hilt? Your mortgage is up for renewal and your carrying costs have doubled? Thank the Harper government of a few years back. What??? You don't remember Stephen Harper? I'm not surprised.

In a few years time the concept of discretionary spending may very well be joining 8-Track tapes on the trash heap of history.

Our dollar is again climbing sky high, meaning our manufacturing sector will continue to bleed jobs. More people in the labour market means more concessions from employees, and lower wage demands in an increasingly competitive job market.

And all this is happening as retirees worry if their pension funds will be able to sustain the mass exodus of baby boomers from the work force.

Oh yeah...Stephen Harper and his gang are doing a great job.

Hard to believe that just a few short years back we were paying down the accumulated debt, not adding to it in record numbers. Does anyone still remember when our Prime Minister was busy pursuing increased trade with emerging economies like China, instead of doing interviews for U.S. media outlets? Are there more than a dozen people out there who can recall our period of unprecedented economic growth, when unemployment was half of what it is now?

Thank goodness we came to our senses and switched direction.

If there is any justice in this world Stephen Harper will be manning the window at my local Tim Horton's in a few years time. And I just know he'll toast my bagel, the same way he's toasting Canada's quickly fading prosperity.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

U.S. facing a bigger threat than terrorism - Oil trade moving to other currencies

There can be little dispute that in the post WWII world, the United States has been the world's preeminent economic power. Its no coincidence her economic strength came in tandem with military might, empowered to ensure the protection of American business interests around the globe.

Living in the shadow of the world's only current superpower, (with China quickly gaining ground) our news often lacks a truly global perspective. Such is certainly the case with reports about Arab nations teaming secretly with China, Russia and France to move away from the US dollar for trading in oil. You can read about it HERE in the UK's Independent, I haven't seen anything on CNN, ABC/NBC/CBS or CBC/CTV.

Those who might be quick to dismiss such news don't fully grasp the significance of global money markets and the potential for a seismic shift in the world's balance of power should such a move come to fruition.

Because almost all of the world's buying and selling of oil is transacted in US dollars, the greenback's valuation has an almost iron clad backstop against catastrophic devaluation. Countries trading in oil must keep huge deposits of US dollars in reserve. Moving to other currencies, (the Euro, Ruble or Yuan) would mean nations divesting themselves of Benjamin Franklins on a massive the trillions of dollars.

What effect would this have on the US dollar?

The results would be devastating. Contrary to the knowledge of many, there is no gold or silver standard backing up the valuation of America's currency. There are no underground vaults with stores of precious metals, no concrete tangible commodity...nothing holding up the currency's valuation aside from the normal pressures of supply and demand. The U.S. dollar, and the Canadian dollar for that matter, are "fiat" currencies.

With just about all the world's oil trading being conducted in the greenback, this assures there is always plenty of demand for American money.

It should be noted that prior to the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had started demanding payment for Iraqi oil in Euros or Rubles, not US dollars. Iran as well has announced that it is moving its cash reserves from dollars to euros, this after opening their "Oil Bourse" for the trading of petroleum products based mostly in the European currency.

For those who believe that almost all conflicts between nations are borne out of economic considerations, this should provide extra food for thought with respect to both the Iraq war and the current sabre rattling in the direction of Tehran. It certainly lends credence to a view expressed very well by Eric Margolis, that the U.S. is being less than honest about the discovery of Iran's "secret" uranium enrichment plant near Qum, a plant that has been a known quantity for more than two years. (READ ERIC MARGOLIS' COLUMN HERE)

The economy of the United States is already under severe stress, a mass dumping of U.S. dollars on the world's currency markets could very well be seen as a fatal blow. With a massive trade deficit, all the products Americans currently import would very quickly succumb to hyper-inflation. Of course the products Americans sell abroad would dive in price, but therein lies the problem...the U.S. has not been a net exporter for ages.

This is definitely something to keep an eye on, but it requires looking beyond corporate American media. A quote from the above linked article by a Chinese bank official says all we need to know about the significance this move could bring:

"America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate."

The denials are already out, here's one from Bloomberg.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Like it or not, Harper is on a roll....

Those who took great delight in the travails of Stephen Harper over the summer are likely none too pleased with more recent developments. The blogosphere tends to be extremely partisan in nature, and objectivity is often a scarce commodity.

But love him or loathe him, the fact is Harper is on something of a roll.

I'm not going to suggest that a run of good press and good optics is going to suddenly convert legions of detractors into fans....the news hasn't been that good. But for the majority of Canadians who are more interested in hockey and reality TV shows than politics, recent events likely have them feeling at least a little more warm and fuzzy about Canada's Prime Minister.

Back in July I wrote about Harper's Summer of Discontent, detailing the numerous blunders and scandals that were plaguing the Tories. Wafergate was hardly anything major, but it did cast the Conservative leader in a negative light. More damaging was the mess over the funding of GLBT -Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender- events across the country. It harkened back to the days of the "scary" Reform/Alliance parties. Soon thereafter Harper was going all pitt-bull over a quote misatributed to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff while on the world stage at the G8 conference in Italy.

Then, to top it all off, came news from Parliament's budgetary watch dog Dale Orr that Jim Flaherty's budget projections were totally out to lunch...again. Others like Kevin Page of Economic Insight, supported Mr. Orr's numbers, while dismissing the Conservative Finance Minister's forecasts.

Of course all that happened during the summer, when people are at the cottage or the trailer. I don't know that its yet been scientifically proven, but I strongly suspect that the smell of meat on a BBQ greatly diminishes the ability of the average citizen to digest any meaningful news.

So what has changed for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the past few weeks, as summer faded into fall?

Polling has shown support for the Tories to be very resilient, with their numbers hovering in and around 35% nationally. While that doesn't quite put them in majority territory, it does suggest that the electorate hasn't fallen in love with either Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton. Given a summer of bad press, that had to be seen as a big positive for those on Canada's right.

I don't think its unreasonable to think those numbers might get a boost should news come out that Canada has been exempted from 'Buy American' measures as is widely speculated. The CBC, Globe and Mail and CanWest are all reporting that serious progress is being made in this regard. Its hard to see how developments in this area could have anything but positive results for Stephen Harper's Conservative government vis a vis their standing with Canadian voters.

And it would be folly to underestimate voter animosity toward Ruby Dhalla's private member's bill, proposing to shorten the amount of time immigrants need to be in Canada before qualifying for certain aspects of Old Age Security. On a personal level I have yet to encounter one individual who thinks positively about this proposed legislation, and that includes new-comers to Canada.

Finally, worst of all for those of us who would like nothing better than to see Stephen forced into a new career, comes the PM's touchy feely performance at the National Arts Centre.

Those who are quick to dismiss Harper's performance on stage, tickling the ivories while warbling not too shabily to the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" don't understand politics in this modern era of sound bytes and video clips.

Bill Clinton jammed on Johnny Carson with his saxophone, Obama danced with Ellen. While these antics have no inherent value...they do resonate with many voters. Harper's public personna has always been very stoney and contrived, and like it or not, his little turn on the piano will go a long way to softening that image.

Of course momentum in politics can be fleeting, governing during a time of increasing expenditures and declining revenues is not typically a time when sitting governments perform well with voters.

When the election writ is finally dropped, Harper is going to need all the help he can get.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Note to the Liberals and NDP, give it a rest

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Hypocrites calling hypocrites hypocrites, while the governing hypocrites sit back and smile. That, in a nutshell, is Ottawa these days.

Its all been said before, I'm just adding a little kindling to the fire.

The Liberals propped up Stephen Harper's for months, while the NDP chided them about forming a coalition with the governing Tories. Now the Liberals have withdrawn their support and are pointing fingers at the NDP for doing what they were doing for more than two years. Harper rails against alliances with socialists and separatists, conveniently forgetting his own wheeling and dealing with the same parties just a couple of years back.

Give it a rest guys, Canadians aren't stupid. We know this is all gamesmenship, so tone down the rhetoric and ease up on the hyperbole.

Here's a newsflash for Misters Ignatieff and Layton, polling still indicates that a majority of Canadians oppose the Harper government. With that being said, even with just 35% or so support of decided voters...that makes Stephen Harper king of the castle. All Mike and Jack are doing is pushing each other down the mountain, leaving the Conservatives relatively comfortable.

Jack and Mike don't have to work together, all they have to do is focus their attacks accross the aisle instead of on each other. We'll have an election when time and circumstance place the opposition parties on the same page, or when Stephen Harper decides to pull the plug himself...and not before.

Waiting things out a little longer may prove wise, given that cracks are already showing in our fragile economic recovery. A short lived spike borne of cheap interest rates, cash for clunkers and home rennovation tax credits is already losing steam. Take Harper and his cronies to task over their many failings, and leave each other alone.

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Will Tories get the flu today?

Speculation has been rampant as to whether the NDP will vote confidence in the government today, or perhaps simply have enough members absent to tip the numbers in favour of the Conservatives.

Another thought occured to me this morning. What if a significant number of sitting Conservatives called in sick and tipped the vote in favour of the Liberals? I don't know that it has any chance of happening, but it makes for interesting speculation.

Many figure that Harper is just itching for the chance to go to the polls, if only the right trigger could be found to push his numbers into majority territory. Engineering a defeat of a confidence motion might seem extreme, but I wouldn't put anything past our Prime Minister if it boded well for a chance at majority rule.

The Liberals could be blamed for forcing an unwanted election, with Harper going into full rant about this being the last thing Canada needs, even though its probably the thing Stephen most wants.

Just some idle speculation on the first day of October. Any thoughts?

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