Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Harper's Consservatives counting on the stupidity of young Canadians

From a "do whatever it takes" perspective you can't help but be awed by the audacity of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

After all, our Prime Minister has never let things like scruples or simple truth get in his way when it comes to his pursuit of electoral success. Taxing income trusts, stacking the senate, ignoring an impending global financial storm....Harper has often played to gullible Canadian voters too busy to read the facts behind his sound bytes.

Now we have his latest gambit, "the IPOD tax".

What IPOD tax you ask?

Well...there is none planned or proposed by any party. But never one to let facts get in the way of a good smear, the Conservatives are trying to paint the opposition parties as supporting one.

This tactic reminds me of George W. Bush's successful smear of John McCain during the 2000 southern primaries. Cars in church parking lots in places like the Carolinas had their windshields hit with flyers insinuating that McCain had fathered an illegitimate child of colour....THE HORROR!!!

Great lies have a little scintilla of truth, McCain and his wife had adopted a child of colour, and to ignorant trailer park voters who pay little attention to the news this probably played extremely well. "Yah Billy Bob...I heared sometin' bout dat, he's gots him a coloured little girl".

Students of Goebbels know that when it comes to propaganda, lies don't matter. The bigger the lie the better, just repeat it until it seeps into the collective unconscious of the great unwashed.

And now we have the IPOD tax. Because the Liberals have expressed sympathy toward artists and members of the recording industry concerned about copyright infringement, that means they're in favour of imposing a tax on devices used to swap intellectual property, they're not.

But it may very well work. The next election is going to be close, and polling indicates that Harper is flirting tantalizingly close with a majority. By targeting youth, a demographic that doesn't vote in large numbers, the Tories may have found that elusive wedge to push them over the top.

Even if just a few hundred twenty somethings who normally wouldn't bother voting show up at a polling station and mark an X next to the Conservative candidate...It could very well be enough to make the difference in some closely contested ridings.

It probably is good strategy. Instead of defending an abysmal record, Harper is forcing the opposition parties to defend themselves against a red herring, one that they can't afford to ignore.

Stupid people vote too, it looks like the Conservatives are counting on them coming out in increased numbers so Harper can finally rule without opposition.

Who says Canada has a housing bubble? Lots of people

Anyone who keeps an eye on economic indicators probably has an opinion as to the relative health of the Canadian housing market, and with good reason. Whether you're simply a home owner looking to build equity, a prospective buyer trying to decide if now is a good time to jump into the market, or employed in the building or selling of homes in this country....

There are a lot of people who's financial situation is very much tied to the health of our housing market.

We've all seen the ads with the couple in front of a bank employee, young and probably leveraged to the hilt with expenses at or near their income. What to do? The bank helps them free up the equity in their home, borrowing against it at dirt cheap rates of interest to free up their monthly cash flow.

You have more money than you think, is the message. With your house appreciating significantly in value you can pay off the line of credit and those high interest credit cards, and then go buy that new car and maybe hop on a plane for a nice warm destination this winter. Of course you'll own less of your home than you did before, but you're monthly debt servicing costs will be less, so what the hell.

In our hedonistic society all we need is an "expert" vindicating our decisions to indulge and we're good to go.

Then there's the real estate industry, selling new and resale homes to prospective buyers. Thousands of people's pay cheques rely on a steady stream of buyers entering the market, pushing prices ever higher. Within this same group I'd include the financial industry, always on the lookout for new ways to sell more paper...signed mortgage documents ensuring a steady cash flow and a tangible asset represented in the actual property.

With all these voices having a vested interest in seeing housing prices on a never ending up swing it should come as no surprise that talk of a housing bubble gets some people's backs up, but the voices are out there.

The last time oil was cresting $120 (USD) a barrel there were voices in the wind urging caution, but far louder were the shills spooking investors with fears of peak oil. Those who bought into oil at the height of that fear are still smarting, not as badly as when it crashed all the way to about $40. The smart ones of course waited until the bottom fell out before buying in.

But that's what smart money money waits for the herd to push prices to insane levels, and then scoops up the bargains when the bubble bursts and the bottom falls out.

Is that where real estate is heading? Are homes at or near a peak and due for a major correction? You won't hear any of the aforementioned vested interests promoting this idea. Cautious industry hacks are as rare now as bearish stock analysts were when Nortel was flying high, but there are voices in the wilderness...there always are, you just need to look.

Back at the end of the summer (Aug. 31/2010) David Macdonald of the Canadians Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote a paper entitled:

Canada's Housing Bubble An Accident Waiting to Happen (LINKED)

It got some play in the media, but not nearly as much as reports done by industry players and major advertisers such as Remax. Here's one which paints a far rosier picture:

Real estate picture improving: Re/Max (LINKED)

So who are the voice in the wilderness? Beyond the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are there others cautioning about the potential for a significant devaluation in house prices?


Foremost would be Garth Turner with his blog GREATER FOOL (LINKED). This former 'loose cannon' politician and financial commentator pulls no punches and writes in a very engaging style that most I think will enjoy. His credentials also include many years working as a financial reporter/analyst for some of this country's major media outlets.

You can even find a full site dedicated to Canada's housing bubble at the aptly titled: Canada's Housing Bubble (LINKED)

A fellow blogger commented on an earlier post and mentioned that he has set up his own blog specific to the overheated Vancouver market: Vancouver Property News (LINKED)

When someone has a vested interest on one side or another of a debate, it can be hard to look past a firmly entrenched bias. For those still unconvinced of the storm clouds on the horizon, (clouds just waiting to be seeded by simple one or two point jump in mortgage rates) I invite you to read THIS ARTICLE: Housing bubble a danger - expert (LINKED) about Dean Baker, one of the first economists to predict the crashing of the US housing market.

Once mortgage rates start climbing I don't think it'll be long before signs like this become commonplace.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Stephen Harper's Night Before Christmas - A Holiday Poem

Last year at this time I did what many have done before me, I wrote a poem butchering the Christmas classic 'The Night Before Christmas", it was entitled 'The Porogued Night Before Christmas.

I think I have the makings of a tradition here, as I've done the same again with "Stephen Harper's Night Before Christmas". So without further adieu here it is, have a happy and safe holiday season and a peaceful 2011 all.

Stephen Harper's Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas in old Ottawa town
And Stephen was pouting and wearing a frown
Everyone was out for some holiday cheer
While Harper stayed back, plotting moves for next year

Minority minority, that's all I can get
I'm doing all that I can, racking up a huge debt
So Stephen sat, he stewed and he brooded
Over majority rule, that so for had eluded

And then in a flash an idea did spring forth
As Harper looked out and did turn his gaze north
Santa, Saint Nick, that gift giving fool
For Christmas I'll ask for majority rule

So Harper sat, with his pen at a table
And wrote Father Christmas, the best he was able:

Santa the gift that will most make me drool
Is a right wing majority so I can finally rule
I have to compromise, to discus, its no good
With most of the seats I could rule as I should

Big tax cuts for business, the one's that make money
No cash left for Health Care? Now that would be funny
Big planes and big guns, our Forces will need
Social spending programs? They slowly can bleed

I don't ask for much, Dear kindly old elf
I'm thinking of Canada, not of myself
Please grant my wish, for this gift and with haste
I've been PM too long, there's no time to waste

No sooner had Stephen put a stamp on his letter
When Santa showed up, this couldn't be better
You see Santa's alive, he isn't on ice
He always has an eye out, for naughty and nice

"Oh Stephen I'm sorry. Did old St Nick say
"That isn't a gift I can put in my sleigh
Beside on my list of good boys and of bad
The things you have done have not made me glad

You've lied and played meanly, much further I could go
But to be fair you're not bad, when on piano
But even if you never, ever, ever had lied
This is a choice, and Canadian voters decide

Do what you will, seek wedge issues and such
Do all that you can, I know you'll do much
Mud sling and smear, your team is much skilled
You have deep pockets, your war chest is filled

As for me, to the Pole I must hurry straight back
Good children need toys coming out of my sack
You won't see me again, but you may yet reach your goal
Oh I almost forgot, here's a big lump of coal".

Again, a happy and peaceful season all. See you in 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stephen Harper finally delivering - Canada becoming the 51st state

For long time followers of Stephen Harper it will be gratifying to see him finally delivering on at least one long held belief. After so many broken promises and compromises in an attempt to broaden his electoral appeal, our Conservative Prime Minister is now poised to hand over key decision making powers to our southern neighbours. You can read about it here: Globe and Mail here: All Voices and here: Toronto Sun.

That Harper admires the United States, and especially the conservative element therein, is no secret. Back in 1997 he made this now famous quote to a visiting American think tank:

Well Stephen, its about frickin' time!!! Maybe now Canadians will finally see fit to give you a majority mandate so you can pursue your Libertarian ideals without having to concern yourself with a meddlesome opposition. You'll be able to treat Parliament as a whole the way you treat your own Conservative caucus, as a prop.

The House of Commons is, after all, nothing more than a pale imitation of the US electoral college as you have stated before. The job of the electoral college in the US is to elect the US president based on the results of a federal election, and then they can basically screw off for another 4 years.

We can have an election, Conservatives will have a majority of the seats thus giving you, their elected leader, the Prime Minister's office. And with your centralized leadership style you'll be free to reign in much the same fashion as a US president. Should another war like Iraq come along, you'll be free to commit Canadian troops as you would have done when GW Bush was asking for Canada's involvement.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Great video of soldiers keeping up their morale

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Sibling rivalry over the merits of French Immersion

My brother is a high school teacher in Guelph, he also writes opinion pieces on occasion for ther Guelph Mercury newspaper. He just offered his thoughts on whether or not to enrol a child in French immersion, something I blogged on a while back. His conclusions are differently different from my own, so in a bit of cyber sibling rivalry I thought I'd take him to task.

You can view his column HERE.

Summarizing his main points:

-4 years old is too young to determine if a child has the requisite language skills and intelligence.

-The quality of teachers in the available hiring pool for FI is too small compared to the English stream. Thus regular streamed students will get better teachers, and teachers are the most important factor in a student's academic success or failure.

-Having children attending a school out of their immediate (walking distance) area.

-That there's more diversity in the regular stream than in French Immersion.

Well Greg, I don't think you could be more wrong.

I for one think that most parents will have a decent grasp on their children's' capacity for learning at the age of four. I do not think French Immersion is for every child, far from it. But for parents who find their child very eager to learn new things, I believe its a wise choice. Children who enjoy reading and word play games are going to be more challenged and more engaged in a French Immersion environment.

Now, the quality of teachers....ugh. Greg, you have to be kidding me.

Everyone knows there are dullards in the regular stream. Thankfully there are many excellent teachers too, and its exactly the same in French Immersion. I've found the teachers at my children's school to be excellent! Perfect? No, but in my humble opinion Buddy and Raspberry's teachers stack up amazingly well against any school's staff in the province of Ontario.

And as for teachers being the most important factor in determining a child's academic success or failure, BUNK. Its the parents! Studies have shown that children whose parents went on to post secondary education are more likely to move on themselves. Motivated students excel regardless of whether their teacher is Mr. Holland or a 20 year veteran just hanging on so he can max out his pension.

I'm not suggesting there are not some amazing teachers out there in the regular stream, ones capable of taking a socially and economically at risk kid and helping him or her achieve great academic success. I'm talking about the norm.

And more diversity in the regular stream??? Puhlease. Again, from experience...your niece and nephew's school is incredibly diverse. White, Black, Asian, Arab, Muslims, Christians, runs the gamut. How diverse a child's school is will be largely dependent on the diversity within the school's enrolment area. Why? Because recent immigrants are often very concerned about giving their children every conceivable advantage in our hyper competitive society.

I made the point in my original blog on this topic, that parents who put their kids in FI are likely far more engaged in their child's education than kids in the regular stream. That's not to say kids in the regular stream have parents who are out to lunch. But as an educator I'm sure you're aware of lots of parents who really don't give a rip. I'm suggesting that on balance parents who enrol their kids in FI are more likely to be involved in their child's education.

The only point you make that has merit Greg is that of geography. If your kids can come home for lunch, and the local school doesn't offer FI, then I can see the validity of that point. It comes down to values and I wouldn't diminish any one's desire to sit down with their kids at lunchtime.

French Immersion is a wonderful program, but granted its not one for everyone. Paramount is that the child must enjoy it, if they're struggling and not enjoying school...then I would whole heartily agree that a move to the regular stream is in order.

We live in a world where everyone wants a "One Size Fits All" solution to complicated questions and issues. Real life isn't like that. I respect your decision to not put your kids in FI, that is a parent's prerogative.

But to flippantly dismiss the value of the entire FI system is in my view somewhat irresponsible.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

$3 million later Feds might have plan to discourage smoking. Bigger warning labels

No wonder Stephen Harper is having difficulty keeping his fiscally conservative supporters happy, stories like this just keep cropping up.

In this Canadian Press wire story its reported that the Feds have spent over $3 million dollars with an eye to requiring cigarette packages to have bigger and more explicit warning labels, or maybe not. It seems the decision is still pending, with the Health Minister denying claims that the labels have been shelved.

$3 million!!! And they really think warning labels will convince smokers like me to quit??? Time for Stephen Harper's government to take $1 million out of petty cash and buy a clue. Warning labels do nothing. Reading stories like this has me wondering what Stephen and his merry band are smoking themselves, and I don't think its cigarettes.

News flash guys, smokers...we know smoking is bad. You can print all the warning labels you want, its not going to work. In the same article it talks about using social media like Twitter and Facebook to discourage smoking. How much is that gonna cost?

Everyone who smokes has heard how bad it is, got it. There might be a Saskatchewan wheat farmer who's been glued to his tractor for the last 40 years who hasn't heard, but I'm betting he doesn't use Twitter.

You can tweet and poke all you like guys, and spend countless millions more. I guess the government isn't really worried about the record setting deficit it just racked up, its business as usual in Ottawa.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why won't Canadians trust Harper with a majority?

The latest poll numbers are in, and once again Harper's Conservatives are tantalizingly close to that elusive majority. Looking at the Canadian political landscape from a Tory perspective, its hard to believe that Harper has thus far been unable to crack that elusive 40 per cent barrier. One that would put his party solidly into majority territory.

Back when Jean Chr├ętien was romping to back to back to back majority governments, the right wing vote was split between just two parties: Reform and Progressive Conservative. Ever since the merger of those two aforementioned parties, the left has splintered into three different camps in English speaking Canada. With the Liberals having to battle with the NDP and nascent Greens for support among the majority of Canadians who typically vote left of centre.

So why won't just 4 out of 10 Canadian voters support Stephen Harper and his Conservative party?

I think there are a number of reasons.

While our collective attention span may be short, it is not totally bereft of the ability to recall Mr. Harper in his former role with the National Citizens Coalition (NCC). Many are aware that the NCC was formed to battle against the attempt to bring in state run Health Care in this country back in the sixties. And Harper's future political aspirations were not helped with his speech to a Neo-Conservative think tank called 'The Council for National Policy" in Montreal back when he was Vice President of the NCC.

For many in the Anti-Harper camp, THAT SPEECH is used as a sign post when talking about 'The Real Stephen Harper' and the so called secret agenda. In it were many quotes which will be familiar to keen political observers. Among them was this little bromide about the former Progressive Conservative Party:

They were in favour of gay rights officially, officially for abortion on demand. Officially -- what else can I say about them? Officially for the entrenchment of our universal, collectivized, health-care system and multicultural policies in the constitution of the country.

Of course that speech is now over 10 years old, so I don't think it represents a primary reason why Canadians haven't seen fit to reward Harper with majority rule.

Other reasons likely have to do with his numerous broken promises, among them to protect the nest eggs of retirees by leaving Income Trusts tax exempt. Then there was his promise not to stack the senate, before becoming the all time patronage king by obliterating the single day record for appointments to the red chamber.

And of course there's the economy. When the last election was on, and the US economy was first showing signs of going into a severe recession, our economist PM was forecasting balanced budgets and continued growth. Even after being elected to yet another minority, the government's first budget of the new session didn't even acknowledge the threat of a weakening economy. Only under threat of being voted out of power in the house did the PM and his party agree to stimulus measures.

A majority may yet come to pass for Harper. The Conservative machine seems to be constantly searching for any wedge that will push them into that magic 39-40% area code. Many pundits see them working hard to convince the suburban voter to support them on law and order issues while shoring up their rural base over issues like the long gun registry.

The Liberals are listing under Michael Ignatieff's leadership, the NDP seems incapable of broadening their appeal into the mainstream, and the Greens look like they've fallen off the map. With the board stacked heavily in Harper's favour yet again, it likely will come down to a matter of trust in my opinion.

Will just four out of every ten Canadian voters trust Harper when the next election rolls around?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Is eleven too young for a cell phone?

Ah Christmas, when children across this country will be badgering Santa Claus and their parents for all manner of gifts. The eleven year old referenced in the title to this blog entry is my son who will actually be twelve in another couple of months. Like many kids his age he wants a cellular phone, its not something he needs, but then all his needs are well looked after and Christmas for kids does tend to be about wants.

Back when I was his age, the Christmas when I too was 11, the gift I wanted above all else was Matel Electronic Football. Having asked for it my parents told me it wasn't going to happen, my father was leaving his position and we were going to be moving from Portland Oregon back to the Toronto area. In short money was tight and the game was too expensive.

On Christmas morning after all the presents had been opened my Mom asked the same question she asked every year. "Was this the best Christmas ever"? Although my most cherished gift had not been under the tree I, along with my brother and sister, responded in the affirmative. Then my Dad noticed one last small package way back under the tree against the wall and asked my sister to retrieve it. "Its for Gordon", she said handing me the gift. Thinking it was socks or underwear or something equally useful and unexciting I unwrapped it. You guessed it, it was the game I'd be dreaming about owning for months. I jumped around like a kangaroo on bennies.

That's part of the reason I'm thinking of giving in and getting my son a cell, but its not the only reason.

I recently read an article about how this digital age we're living in is 'rewiring' our brains. Children growing up now are apparently capable of extreme laser like focus, but only in very short bursts. Being able to compete and thrive in our brave new world means being able to adapt easily to new technologies and to assimilate tons of information in a short period of time.

If I do go ahead and get him one it will be with certain restrictions. I will only get him one provided I am able to limit the phone numbers he is able to dial. There would be no long distance permitted, but I would allow him to text. I'm fairly certain that my cell provider (Rogers) will be able to meet those demands, but I'm not 100% sure I'm going to give in just yet.

Am I spoiling him? Kids do tend to get spoiled at Christmas regardless, its really just a matter of degree and perception I think.

On a final practical note, it would be nice to know that no matter the circumstance or situation buddy would be able to call me or his mother.

Any thoughts from parents who've been hit with similar requests?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Do Canadians have an inferiority complex regarding the U.S.? I sure as hell don't

Although I'm precluded from viewing any of the WikiLeaks material dominating much of the news lately, I do of course read and hear about it in mainstream media like the Toronto Star.
Thursday's paper quoted a cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa to Washington lauding President Obama's decision to make Canada his first foreign destination. And it went on to say the visit would diminish "Canada's habitual inferiority complex vis a vis the U.S.".


That's news to me. and this is coming from the perspective of a person who spent the majority of his youth, (up until the age of 12) growing up in the land of the free and the home of brave. When I was a kid I thought New Jersey was THE PLACE to be. I know, I're saying "New Jersey....WTF"!!! Gimme a break okay, I was only in grade 4 at the time, and had lived there half my life.
I do think there was probably an inferiority complex back in the 70s and before....but certainly since the 90s I think Canadians have tossed that feeling aside and we've really found our legs as a nation of the world.

While our American cousins wallowed in bloated deficits Canada's government finally got its fiscal house in order, ensuring the continuation of our much loved national health care. When we were racking up huge deficits year after year it looked like groups like the National Citizens Coalition would finally get their wish for private medicine in Canada, but it didn't happen and won't so long as we restore fiscal balance by ensuring that tax revenues meet or exceed costs.

We're the best hockey country in the world, sure we always were but it took a couple more Olympic golds for our men and women's teams to get us really jazzed up about our national sport....sorry lacrosse, but you know its the truth.

We know about our country and we know about the world, we're Canadians and we're proud of it. Sure we might be jealous of some countries over this and that, like a warm December in Australia....but inferior to the U.S.?!?!?
Get a grip.

We're liked around the world because we don't stick our nose into every corner of the globe. But when called upon? Canadians are always there to help.

I could go on and on...reading someone say that Canadians habitually view this country as being inferior to the U.S. really got my goat. Sweden, Australia....okay, maybe a bit, especially the Aussies....but not the United States.

What do you think eh!!!