Friday, December 21, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh My God Dept: Reality TV is Faked?

By David Perel: "Yuuupp,” Dave Hester has filed a blockbuster lawsuit against Storage Wars, is reporting. Hester, one of the show’s best-known personalities, charges that the A&E hit show is fake and fired him in retaliation days after he complained about it to network and production company executives. The reality TV show picked up Hester’s contract option and then rescinded it for season four. Now, in the lawsuit, the show is accused of illegal activity and an ongoing pattern of outrageous behavior in deceiving the public. The suit contains numerous bombshell claims, including that that the network and producers regularly “salt” lockers with valuable items to add drama to the show, rig the bidding and even paid for a female cast member’s plastic surgery to add sex appeal! In the five-count multi-million dollar lawsuit filed in California, Hester makes detailed and explosive allegations against the show, which the network has previously defended as 100% real and not staged. He also says that cast members confronted executives at an in-person meeting this year and expressed their concern over the show being rigged. Hester says he was fired days after meeting with executives and subsequently asking to be indemnified by the show for any third party claims regarding “the authenticity of the auction process and the Series.” Hester charges:
Producers staged entire units and enlisted the cooperation of owners of storage facilities to do so.
The show pays for storage lockers for “weaker” cast members as part of the manipulation.
The show plants items in lockers after having them appraised weeks in advance.
The show obtains items to be placed in the units from a business regularly featured on air.
Interviews with cast members are scripted and scenes of bidding are faked to the extent that there are no auctions taking place while cast members and members of the public are shown bidding. “The truth is that Defendants regularly salt or plant the storage lockers that are the subject of the auctions portrayed on the Series with valuable or unusual items". Hester goes on to detail how the show was fixed from the beginning. Now he is seeking millions for breach of contract, wrongful termination in violation of public policy and three other counts."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fox News Bucks Murdoch on Gun Control

(by Gabriel Sherman at "At 7:58 p.m. on Saturday evening, gun control’s newest advocate took to Twitter to call for stricter firearm legislation. “Nice words from POTUS on shooting tragedy,” wrote News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, “but how about some bold leadership action?” Around the same time at Fox News, one of Roger Ailes’s deputies was sending a very different message. According to sources, David Clark, the executive producer in charge of Fox’s weekend coverage, gave producers instructions not to talk about gun-control policy on air. "This network is not going there,” Clark wrote one producer on Saturday night, according to a source with knowledge of the exchange. The directive created a rift inside the network. According to a source, one political panelist e-mailed Clark that Bloomberg was booked on Meet the Press to talk about gun control. Clark responded, “We haven't buried the children yet, we're not discussing it.” During the weekend, one frustrated producer went around Clark to lobby Michael Clemente, Fox’s executive vice-president for news editorial, but Clemente upheld the mandate. “We were expressly forbidden from discussing gun control,” the source said. Clark's edict wasn't universal: On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace talked with Democratic Senators Joe Lieberman and Dick Durbin about gun control, and later in the program, panelists Bill Kristol and Fortune editor Nina Easton weighed in on the issue. Certainly Fox’s decision to avoid widespread policy talk could be seen as an editorial impulse to keep the focus trained on the tragedy’s human dimension. But Fox’s coverage also highlights the growing chasm between Rupert Murdoch and Ailes. Gun culture is alive and well at Fox News. Roger Ailes and Sean Hannity are reportedly licensed to carry concealed handguns in New York City. Fox personality Eric Bolling is a vocal Second Amendment proponent on air. “Not only do they carry guns, they don’t allow an honest debate on TV,” a Fox News insider said. In the past, when Ailes has clashed with Murdoch on politics, Fox News's outsize profits have helped Ailes prevail. Earlier this fall, Ailes signed a new four-year contract, and he retains complete editorial control over the network."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Superstorm Sandy: a Harbinger of Migration?

Global Warming refugees?
"Anyone who lived through the life cycle of the baby boom knows two things about demographics. First, demographic cycles are slow but inexorable. And second, perhaps because they move so slowly, they are often ignored. It was obvious with the emergence of the baby boom post-World War II that over the course of the next five to ten years there would be a tidal wave of bodies coming into elementary schools, and that in 10 to 15 years that tidal wave would hit high schools, then colleges, then the housing market. Yet schools were not built to accommodate this boom, even though there was more than adequate lead time. (And many of the schools that did get built then were torn down once the baby boomers move past school age, just in time to miss the next demographic wave – the children of the baby boomers). Climate change will progress at an even slower, imperceptible pace. And unlike demographics, where the changes in birthrates are undeniable, climate change exists in a cloud of uncertainty. Even those who take it as a given cannot clearly project its course. The point is that we miss even the obvious risks if they move slowly enough, and the realities and effect of climate change remain less than obvious. And there are few risks that are as slow moving but substantial as those associated with climate change. The frog in the pot is the operative analogy.
Barbarians overran Europe as far as Scotland to the north and Portugal to the west; the land was carved up and administered by this new elite, with the original land holders displaced and the laborers becoming serfs. The Burgundians and the Visigoths took two thirds of their respective conquests, each Burgundian being housed as a “guest” with the former landholder now living in a small part of his former estate. The Vandals seized all the best lands in northern Africa, without any regard to the former inhabitants. The Lombards in Italy took one third part of the land. The Franks took possession of much of the land in France. The newly arrived became lords of their holdings, the previous tenants and farmers became their serfs. In the end this great migration gave us the Feudal Age, a social order that defined Europe for eight hundred years. What will appear a century hence after the great migration on which we are soon to embark?" Read more posts by Rick Bookstaber
Read more: Business Insider

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The "Planetary Alignment" Threat Debunked

"One of the most bizarre theories about 2012 has built up with very little attention to facts. This idea holds that a cosmic alignment of the sun, Earth, the center of our galaxy - or perhaps the galaxy's thick dust clouds - on the winter solstice could for some unknown reason lead to destruction. Such alignments can occur but these are a regular occurrence and can cause no harm (and, indeed, will not even be at its closest alignment during the 2012 solstice.) The details are as follows: Viewed far from city lights, a glowing path called the Milky Way can be seen arching across the starry sky. This path is formed from the light of millions of stars we cannot see individually. It coincides with the mid plane of our galaxy, which is why our galaxy is also named the Milky Way. Thick dust clouds also populate the galaxy. And while infrared telescopes can see them clearly, our eyes detect these dark clouds only as irregular patches where they dim or block the Milky Way's faint glow. The most prominent dark lane stretches from the constellations Cygnus to Sagittarius and is often called the Great Rift, sometimes the Dark Rift. Another impressive feature of our galaxy lies unseen in Sagittarius: the galactic center, about 28,000 light-years away, which hosts a black hole weighing some four million times the sun's mass. The claim for 2012 links these two pieces of astronomical fact with a third - the position of the sun near the galactic center on Dec. 21, the winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere - to produce something that makes no astronomical sense at all. As Earth makes its way around the sun, the sun appears to move against the background stars, which is why the visible constellations slowly change with the seasons. On Dec. 21, 2012, the sun will pass about 6.6 degrees north of the galactic center - that's a distance that looks to the eye to be about 13 times the full moon's apparent size - and it's actually closer a couple of days earlier. There are different claims about why this bodes us ill, but they boil down to the coincidence of the solstice with the sun entering the Dark Rift somehow portending disaster or the mistaken notion that the sun and Earth becoming aligned with the black hole in the galactic center allows some kind of massive gravitational pull on Earth. The first strike against this theory is that the solstice itself does not correlate to any movements of the stars or anything in the universe beyond Earth. It just happens to be the day that Earth's North Pole is tipped farthest from the sun. Second, Earth is not within range of strong gravitational effects from the black hole at the ce nter of the galaxy since gravitational effects decrease exponentially the farther away one gets. Earth is 93 million miles from the sun and 165 quadrillion miles from the Milky Way's black hole. The sun and the moon (a smaller mass, but much closer) are by far the most dominant gravitational forces on Earth. Throughout the course of the year, our distance from the Milky Way's black hole changes by about one part in 900 million – not nearly enough to cause a real change in gravity's pull. Moreover, we're actually nearest to the galactic center in the summer, not at the winter solstice. Third, the sun appears to enter the part of the sky occupied by the Dark Rift every year at the same time, and its arrival there in Dec. 2012 portends precisely nothing. Enjoy the solstice, by all means, and don't let the Dark Rift, alignments, solar flares, magnetic field reversals, potential impacts or alleged Maya end-of-the-world predictions get in the way." (by Francis Reddy
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Putting Price Per Ounce in Context

"When it comes to commodities priced "per ounce", the two most quoted products are silver, and of course gold. But in a broader context are these prices a lot or little? How do some other less known commodities stack up to the world's two most precious metals. Here are the prices for a wide universe of other compounds which are also priced on a "per ounce" basis...
Copper: $0.24/oz
Silver: $33/oz
Beluga caviar: $345/oz
Gold: 1,700/oz
Carbon 60: $2,495/oz
Cocaine: $4,791/oz
Namibian uncut rough diamonds: $98,490/oz
Plutonium Oxide: $165,500/oz
Soliris (anemia drug): $533,000/oz
Human eggs: $157 trillion/oz
That said, we doubt any of the above have the wealth and capital preservation capabilities of those two most popular shiny metallic objects which may or may not be edible, but have survived the rise and fall of nearly 3000 paper currencies over the ages." (Source: Wired via Zero Hedge)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

So That's What You've Been Doing In There!

"It’s no secret that more and more holiday shopping is now done online, but apparently many Americans buy loved ones gifts while on the toilet. Some 16% of mobile-device owners do their holiday shopping in the bathroom, according to a recent survey by CashStar, a digital gifting company. The survey of 2,000 adults, which was taken by polling company Harris Interactive last month, found that the shop-til-you-plop approach was more prevalent among men than women. “Smartphones and tablets have enabled consumers to shop and gift on the go in more ways and places than ever before,” says David Stone, co-founder and CEO of CashStar." (The Drudge Report)

YouTube: 80+ Alan Simpson Has it Right!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The "Nail House" Phenomenon in China

What Does an Employer See?

From The Business Insider:  According to heat mapping of eye movements, "In the six seconds they spend on a resume, recruiters focus on name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education." That's it folks, so keep it short!

Friday, November 30, 2012

No Wonder Their Cars Are So Small!

Via Bloomberg Businessweek, "Investors reacting to the Hong Kong government’s campaign to curb home-buying in the world’s most expensive market are shifting money into parking spaces, pushing up prices that in high-end neighborhoods can match the cost of two U.S. homes. The average price of a previously owned parking spot in residential complexes rose 6.7 percent to US$82,600 in the third quarter, the second highest on record, from the prior three months. A space in the exclusive Repulse Bay area sold in May for US$387,000, the most for a single transaction and more than double the median U.S. home price, according to, a website that tallies parking-spot information. “There’s just too much liquidity in the market,” said Simon Lo, at property broker Colliers International. “The government has set up a firewall for residential properties, but all this money still needs to find a place.” Most parking spaces in Hong Kong, including those inside residential complexes, are freely transferable with separate ownership titles from the apartments. Hong Kong banks normally lend a maximum 50% of a parking space’s value, compared with 70% for residential properties. A parking space at Lohas Park, a middle- to low-end residential project in the city’s northeast, sold for HK$910,000. The space is being leased for HK$3,300 a month, equating to a yield of about 4.4 percent. By contrast, a 900-square-foot apartment in the same project is being sold for HK$5.18 million. With a monthly rental of HK$15,000, the yield is around 3.5 percent. There were more than 8,300 parking space transactions in Hong Kong in the first 10 months of this year, accounting for 8.9 percent of all property deals. That percentage is the highest since records were first kept in 1997. “The numbers suggest there’s a negative correlation between parking spaces and homes,” said Buggle Lau, chief analyst at Midland. “The taxes have driven investors away from buying apartments.” Borrowing costs in Hong Kong are almost at record lows because the Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the U.S. currency ties monetary policy to the Federal Reserve’s even as the economy is driven by China’s growth. The city’s biggest lenders charge an average 2.15 percent on home loans, below the city’s inflation rate of 3.8 percent. “At this interest rate nobody wants to leave their money in the bank,” said Wong Leung-sing. “When you try and stop people from investing in homes they have to find something else."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is Kokanee Brewery On To Something Big?

According to a press release by DNA Diagnostics Inc., a study conducted by a team led by Dr. Melba Ketchum of Nacogdoches, TX., has confirmed that Bigfoot is a relative of the human species that arose about 15,000 years ago. The press release describes Ketchum as a veterinarian with 27 years of experience in genetics research, including forensics, who has previously been published as a participant in mapping the equine genome. The release says she began testing the DNA of purported Sasquatch hair samples 5 years ago. The release reads: "A team of scientists can verify that their five-year-long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called 'Bigfoot' or 'Sasquatch,' living in North America. Researchers' extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species." Dr. Ketchum said: “Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens." Ketchum claims that Sasquatch nuclear DNA is "incredibly novel" with "distinctly" non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. Ketchum described the DNA as "a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence." Ketchum claims that their test has ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to the purported Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA. Ketchum said: "The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual." Ketchum suggests that the "males of an unknown hominin species" had sex with modern human females and produced the North American Sasquatch. The Register reports that Ketchum said the samples used came from researchers tracking Bigfoot. Read more:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Calgary Sun Exposes The Real Justin Trudeau

"OTTAWA - In the wake of Liberal MP David McGuinty's anti-Alberta comments this week, a 2010 interview with Liberal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau raises the issue about whether that attitude is baked into the DNA of the federal Liberal party In November 2010, Trudeau told a Quebec television show that he was tired of Albertans running the country and that, whether it was Jean Chretien or Brian Mulroney, Canada is better off when Quebecers are running the country.
"Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work," Trudeau said in French to interviewer Patrick Lagace on the Tele-Quebec program Les francs-tireurs (The Straight Shooters).  Lagace then asked Trudeau if he thought Canada was "better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans?"
Trudeau replied: "I'm a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes. ... This country - Canada - it belongs to us." “This is another reflection of the arrogance of the Liberal Party, its divisiveness,” Immigration Minister – and Alberta MP – Jason Kenney told reporters outside the House of Commons Thursday.
“It brings back for many Westerners the kind of arrogance of the National Energy Program which of course devastated the Western economy.” Linda Duncan, the only NDP MP from Alberta, said it gives voters in her province another reason to reject the Liberals. “I just find it unbelievable that an elected official could say that and have that kind of an attitude about our province,” Duncan said.
On Tuesday, McGuinty accused Conservative MPs from Alberta of "shilling" for the Alberta oil and gas industry. "They are national legislators with a national responsibility," McGuinty told Sun Media in an interview Tuesday, "but they come across as very, very small-p provincial individuals who are jealously guarding one industrial sector ... the oilsands business specifically, as one that they're going to fight to the death for. "They really should go back to Alberta and run either for municipal council in a city that's deeply affected by the oilsands business or go run for the Alberta legislature." On Wednesday, McGuinty apologized for his comments and resigned his position as the Liberal natural resources critic. -with files from Jessica Murphy and Daniel Proussalidis" This article has been edited by The Balf.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes Dept.

From Zero Hedge this morning: "Recently in Spain it was reported that a teacher asked one of her students what his father did for a living. The little boy said his father did a striptease in one of the clubs in Madrid. The teacher was shocked and asked if this was true. The young fellow said, “No, he is the head of corporate credit for Bankia but I am too embarrassed to tell anyone.” "

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ron Paul - What Could've Been

Libertarian Ron Paul is very conservative.  On immigration, he favors ending birthright citizenship and reducing the number of newcomers until the welfare state is dismantled.  He says abortion law should be settled at the state level, but introduced the Sanctity of Life Act to define life as beginning at conception.  He champions the Bill to Audit the Fed and would like to fire Fed Chairman Bernanke.  Unlike Obama, Romney, Ryan and Biden; he served in the military.  He wants military spending cuts, yet still raised more money from active military personnel than all his competitors combined.  Ron Paul's popularity among younger voters - he’s called a “rock star” on the college circuit - stems from the idealism of his politics. Kids rally behind his faith in the future, belief in the individual and confidence in bottom-up decision-making.  Had Romney picked Paul as his running mate, Obama’s youth voter outreach would have imploded.  It would take 77 days to watch all 221,595 election TV ads aired in Ohio, but the data indicates that there was no return on either party’s investment.  Had Romney named Ron Paul as his running mate and Paul picked up just the number of primary votes he received; Romney would have won Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire.  Ron Paul’s viral support among college students and singles would have also registered millions of new Republicans, generated volunteers to man thousands of more campaign Republican Headquarters and probably sent Barack Obama into permanent retirement.  Republicans have been humiliated again and are being forced to go through the painful self-reflection that they have no one to blame except themselves for losing to Obama.  Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes and revive a very effective community organizing strategy for youth around Ron Paul’s Libertarian beliefs that standing for freedom brings people together and Liberty is popular.  (adapted from a Testosterone Pit article by Chriss Street)  OF COURSE, WE'LL NEVER KNOW IF RON PAUL WOULD'VE ACCEPTED.  (I doubt that he would have.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Are Muslims So Backward and Powerless?

Dr. Farrukh Saleem
Dr. Farrukh Saleem is a Pakistani journalist, freelance columnist, and political analyst. Originally a financial professional by occupation, he managed an eight figure equities portfolio invested in the New York Stock Exchange between the years 1988 and 1994. Saleem has been a columist for The News International, Pakistan's largest English-language daily, for over 5 years. Prior to that, he wrote weekly columns for the Dawn newspaper in 1996. Throughout 1996, he also worked as a correspondent on issues related to Pakistan, India, and Iran for the Vancouver Sun, a Canadian newspaper. Farrukh Saleem has additionally been a guest columnist for the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review. He has served as the CEO of Dominion Stock Funds Limited, a KSE-listed company, and currently lives in Islamabad. He is the Pakistani Executive Director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank established in 2007. This article originally appeared in 2009.
     We Muslims must wonder why is it that only Muslim States like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are being attacked by the Christian West. Why do we get pushed around by them with the former President of the US George Bush calling it a crusade? Why is it that Muslim States often depend on the West for survival, even Saudi Arabia, the epicentre for Islamic fundamentalism (i.e. Wahabism) is dependent on American largesse for their survival? While they preach Wahhabi Islam all over the world, they allow American bases within a few hundred kilometres from the Holiest Shrines of Islam. There are an estimated 1,476,233,470 Muslims on the face of the planet: one billion in Asia, 400 million in Africa, 44 million in Europe and six million in the Americas. Every fifth human being is a Muslim. For every single Hindu there are two Muslims, for every Buddhist there are two Muslims and for every Jew there are one hundred Muslims. Ever wondered why Muslims are so powerless? Here is why: There are 57 member-countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), and all of them put together have around 500 universities; one university for every three million Muslims. The United States has 5,758 universities and India has 8,407. In 2004, Shanghai Jiao Tong University compiled an 'Academic Ranking of World Universities' and intriguingly, not one university from Muslim-majority states was in the top 500. As per data collected by the UNDP, literacy in the Christian world stands at nearly 90% and 15 Christian-majority states have a literacy rate of 100%. A Muslim-majority state, as a sharp contrast, has an average literacy rate of around 40% and there is no Muslim-majority state with a literacy rate of 100%. Some 98% of the 'literates' in the Christian world had completed primary school, while less than 50% of the 'literates' in the Muslim world did the same. Around 40% of the 'literates' in the Christian world attended university while no more than 2% of the 'literates' in the Muslim world did the same. Muslim-majority countries have 230 scientists per one million Muslims. The US has 4,000 scientists per million and Japan has 5,000 per million. In the entire Arab world, the total number of full-time researchers is 35,000 and there are only 50 technicians per one million Arabs. (in the Christian world there are up to 1,000 technicians per one million). Furthermore, the Muslim world spends 0.2% of its GDP on research and development, while the Christian world spends around 5% of its GDP. Conclusion: The Muslim world lacks the capacity to produce knowledge! Daily newspapers per 1,000 people and number of book titles per million are two indicators of whether knowledge is being diffused in a society. In Pakistan, there are 23 daily newspapers per 1,000 Pakistanis while the same ratio in Singapore is 360. In the UK, the number of book titles per million stands at 2,000 while the same in Egypt is 20. Conclusion: The Muslim world is failing to diffuse knowledge. Exports of high technology products as a percentage of total exports are an important indicator of knowledge application. Pakistan's export of high technology products as a percentage of total exports stands at 1%. The same for Saudi Arabia is 0.3%; Kuwait, Morocco, and Algeria are all at 0.3%, while Singapore is at 58%. Conclusion: The Muslim world is failing to apply knowledge. Why are Muslims powerless? Because we aren't producing knowledge, diffusing knowledge, and applying knowledge. And, the future belongs to knowledge-based societies. So, why are Muslims so powerless? Answer: Lack of education.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bowman's Porch Climber

It's a beautiful thing.
With the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer rapidly coming to an end perhaps there's time for just one more weekend camping in the bush or frolicking at the beach - which means (of course) that you'll get thirsty.  My friend Mark's solution: The Porch Climber.  Yes, I know there are lots of recipes for this little beauty out there, but this one comes on the original StarLite stationery, dated 2004, and signed by Mr. Big Pipe himself. I remember it being concocted in a cooler and ladled out as needed, but that's about all I remember.  Be careful out there.  Drink responsibly.  As requested, here it is:

26 oz. Canadian rye whiskey
8 beer (no more, no less, cheaper the better)
2 cans of frozen pink lemonade
2 litres 7-Up
1 bag of ice
Stir it up, and prepare to get stirred up.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


It's been awhile since I've been inspired by anybody other than my wonderful family - and certainly awhile since I put digits to word processor (for those who hadn't noticed) - but yesterday that all changed.  A beautiful day outside, and a boring day in the markets, was interrupted by a text message that a friend and neighbour had succumbed overnight to recurrent cancer.  For some reason I thought about this fellow all day, a man I've been acquainted with for over twenty years but never spent much time with.  He was known as a crusty character both professionally and personally, yet in that time he had obviously built a considerable following that highly respected him. The thing that struck me (and that many locals don't realize) was that this man rebuilt his personal life and professional career from what must have been a very low point two decades ago.  Divorced, cancer-stricken, and re-located from the city to a rural hamlet near here, he was at a low ebb when I first met him.  But over the ensuing years he began working again, met and married a wonderful local lady, and seemed to have the Big C beaten.  In fact, he didn't just survive - he thrived.  I give a lot of credit to his wife and his business partner for helping him turn things around, but in the end it was rightfully his comeback.  Some might find him an unlikely source of inspiration.  Not me.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

OH2 Goes Into Summer Mode

(Yes, that's me at bottom right)
Summertime, and the livin' is easy, fish are jumpin', and The Balf's takin' a break ... Out Here Too is going into vacation mode folks, that means daily posts will become "occasional posts" for the rest of the summer.  But don't worry.  The global financial meltdown will proceed (albeit erratically), and China will continue to flex it's might as it tries to placate its masses.  Ron Paul will be proven to be right, and Mitt Romney will stumble through gaff after gaff as he hands the election to Obama.  Iran will be taken out sooner or later, and the U.S. "fiscal cliff" will loom ever more ominously.  The universe will unfold - although perhaps not as we would like it to.  Still, there will be lots of local joys.  Reunions, graduations, days at the beach, sailing, rodeos, hikes, and picnics, things like that.  Here's hoping all of our readers have a great summer, and give us a look in September.  To be updated in the meantime just put your email address in the box below at left.  Needless to say, it's safe with OH2.  You can also check out Jewel Of The Canadian West if you're interested in Western history, people, places, and humour.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Flame: A U.S. Cyber Spy Detected?

Flame: A Glimpse Into the Future of War by Elinor Mills at "A new 'worm' that's been spying on computers in the Middle East appears to be nation-state sponsored. We have Stuxnet, Duqu, and now 'Flame'. Stuxnet (and likely Duqu) was developed by the U.S., probably in collaboration with Israel. (Israel has denied involvement in both Stuxnet and Flame, while the U.S. has not outright distanced itself from either.) And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declined to answer questions about Flame, which has been called "the most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed." Infections have been concentrated in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, and seem designed mostly for spying. Flame can be instructed to spread itself via USB thumb drive, network shares, or a shared printer spool vulnerability. It has at least 20 different components that do things like sniff network traffic, take screenshots, record audio conversations, log keystrokes, and gather information from nearby Bluetooth devices. Experts believe more modules are in the wild. There are more than 80 command-and-control servers being used to send instructions to infected computers. The malware isn't an entirely new beast really, and the individual functions aren't uncommon. But the size of the program, the fact that it has so many different functions, and its modularity make it unique. An attacker can mix and match components at will. Flame's emergence isn't game changing necessarily, but it does give an indication of how far geopolitically-motivated malware has come and who might be ahead in that "arms race". "This is confirmation for the public that very sophisticated attacks are prevalent," said Stewart Baker, formerly at the DHS and now practicing cyber law in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson. "This is bad for countries that have secrets to protect, like the U.S. and Western Europe, and for the Chinese and Russians too. And it's probably good for countries like North Korea and Iran that are going to go to school with this tool." "... Flame suggests we're in a new era here," agreed Scott Borg, director of the nonprofit research institute U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit. Even before Stuxnet hit the news two years ago, he made prescient remarks to the effect that Israel's weapon of choice would be malware that would give the country the ability to interfere with Iran's nuclear program without launching a massive military strike. According to the NY Times, the Bush administration turned to malware as an alternative to launching a military strike against Iran and the Obama administration continued with the operation, code-named Olympic Games. However, while malware might save lives in the short term, it doesn't mean it's safer in the long run. "Cyber can be a much better alternative," Borg said, noting that the Russian cyber campaign against Georgia in 2008 targeted communication and media sites with Distributed Denial of Service (DDS) attacks and spared them from air strikes. But there's nothing to stop an aggressor from using both online and offline attacks. "If you are planning drone strikes, what better intelligence could you ask for than a tool that will turn on a camera and microphone of a machine in your enemy's possession to let you know who is there and what is going on?" One big problem with Flame is that the malware authors didn't use code obfuscation, which means it can easily be dissected and re-used by any organization with some advanced programming skills and experience, which would include a large number of nation-states and terrorist groups, according to Borg. "That's a terrible mistake" on the part of the creators, Borg said. "This is not a good thing to have released into the world in a form that is decipherable." Even though Flame doesn't initially appear to be designed for sabotage, there may be components in the wild that would give it that function. "If it's that sophisticated, it can probably have physical manifestations as well," said Greg Garcia, of Garcia Cyber Partners consulting firm and formerly of DHS. "It could have consequences that are even broader and potentially more deadly than a drone strike if you think about infiltrating and corrupting control systems that are managing electrical grids, water purification, or transportation systems." Borg declined to speculate which country is behind Flame but said he suspects it was created by "friendly forces." "The countries capable of writing these kinds of tools? China, Russia, U.S., Britain, Germany, Israel, and probably Taiwan," he said. The code, which at 20 megabytes is huge compared with Stuxnet, most likely required hundreds of people to be working on it for many months. Don't expect the Stuxnet-Duqu-Flame triumvirate to scare anyone straight though. The perception of threat or possibility for danger in cyber security hasn't been enough in the past to merit much action on the part of responsible parties, be they electricity providers or the untold corporate networks that are hacked daily. "There is no shortage of information that says we have a problem," said Herb Lin, chief scientist at the Computer Science and Telecom Board at The National Academies. "But there have been a lot of other wake-up calls and people just put the snooze button back on."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Don't Write Off Toronto Yet

(Toronto Star photo)
Reports of the total demise of T.O. lately are greatly exaggerated.  (I've been there.  The airport is still functioning.)  Toronto has not become a cesspool of punks, anarchists, and gang violence.  It is still possible to go shopping in Eaton Centre safely during daylight hours.  T.O. is not going the way of Detroit: guns, drugs, and crime.  All decent, law-abiding Torontonians are not moving in droves to Montreal.  (Living with the Mafia in Montreal is not that much easier and safer than the out-of-control punks not running rampant in Toronto.)  Don't worry, Rosedale is still beyond the reach of anarchists.  Toronto's black eye from the G-20 violence is not affecting tourism.  No, Toronto is not getting worse.

Hayek On The Need For Rules in Government

Friedrich A. Hayek
From the WSJ:  Rules for America's Road to Recovery (by John B. Taylor):  "As Hayek taught us, predictable policies help restore economic prosperity and preserve freedom. America's economic future is increasingly uncertain. A reform strategy built on predictable, rules-based fiscal, monetary and regulatory policies will help. As they undertake changes, reformers should pay close attention to what the great economist and philosopher Friedrich A. Hayek wrote in the last century. Hayek argued that the case for rules-based policy goes beyond economics and should appeal to all those concerned about freedom. He wrote in his 1944 book, "The Road to Serfdom," that "nothing distinguishes more clearly conditions in a free country from those in a country under arbitrary government than the observance in the former of the great principle known as the Rule of Law." Hayek added, "Stripped of all technicalities, this means that government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand - rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan one's individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge." Rules make the economy work better by providing a predictable policy framework within which consumers and businesses make decisions. But they also protect freedom, a concept Hayek developed in his 1960 book, "The Constitution of Liberty." Hayek traces the relationship of the rule of law to freedom back to Aristotle, and then to Cicero, about whom he wrote, "No other author shows more clearly ... that freedom is dependent upon certain attributes of the law, its generality and certainty, and the restrictions it places on the discretion of authority." Hayek also quotes from the Second Treatise of Civil Government by John Locke, the father of classical liberalism who had a profound influence on America's Founding Fathers: "The end [purpose] of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom ... where there is no law, there is no freedom." But skeptics ask how a system of policy rules can work when politicians and government officials want to "do something" to help the economy. A rules-based system with less discretion sounds good in theory, they say, but rules mean you do nothing, and that is impossible in today's charged political climate and 24-hour news cycle. Hayek had an answer to this. In "The Road to Serfdom" he wrote that it was wrong to say that the "characteristic attitude [of a rules-based system] is inaction of the state" and presented a counter example to this common view, saying that "the state controlling weights and measures (preventing fraud) is certainly acting." Consider other examples. Rules for monetary policy do not mean that the central bank does not change the instruments of policy (interest rates or the money supply), or provide loans in the case of a bank run. Rather they mean that they take such actions in a predictable manner. But in the years immediately preceding the 2008 financial crisis, monetary policy deviated from predictable rules-based policy that worked in the 1980s and '90s, i.e. the Federal Reserve held rates too low for too long. Moreover, government regulators did not enforce existing rules on risk-taking at banks and other financial institutions, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Then came the discretionary stimulus packages and exploding debt, the regulatory unpredictability associated with ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank, which includes hundreds of rules still waiting to be written, and the unprecedented quantitative easing through which the Federal Reserve bought 77% of new federal debt in 2011. The U.S. tax code has become particularly unpredictable. The number of provisions expiring has skyrocketed to 133 in 2010-12 from 11 in 2000-02. And now the epitome of unpredictable policy is upon us in the form of a self-inflicted "fiscal cliff" where virtually the entire tax code will be up for grabs by the end of this year. It is deviation from a rule or a strategy that creates uncertainty and hinders prosperity. Thus, regulators who decide not to act when financial institutions take on risk beyond the limits of the rules and regulations are not being faithful to the law and indeed to the rule of law. What can citizens do to achieve a more rules-based system? Here Hayek issued a warning. In a chapter in "The Road to Serfdom" called "Why the Worst Get on Top," he argued that there is a bias against individuals in government who firmly believe in rules-based policy. People who have the ambition to get to the top frequently have a bias toward interventionism. Some will claim, of course, that crises force policy makers to deviate from predictable rules. One can argue that bailouts and other discretionary interventions were needed during the panic of the fall of 2008, and perhaps they prevented a more serious panic. But that is like saying that the person who set fire to your house should be exonerated because he helped put out the fire and saved a few rooms."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bill Gross Warns the 1%, Part 2

“Thar she blows,” screamed Captain Ahab, and similarly intentioned debt holders may soon follow suit, presenting the possibility of a new global monetary system, or if not, one which is stagnant, dysfunctional and ill-equipped to facilitate the process of productive investment. While all monetary systems are a balance between debtors and creditors, absent voluntary defaults it is usually creditors that establish the rules. Such was the case in the late 1960s as France’s de Gaulle threatened to empty Ft. Knox unless a new standard was imposed. Now, with dollar reserves widely dispersed in Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian and other surplus nations, it is likely that there will come a point where 2% negative real interest rates fail to compensate for the advantages heretofore gained in buying sovereign bonds. China, for instance, may shift incremental Treasury holdings to higher returning commodity/real assets which might usher in a gradual (or even sudden) reconfiguration of our current dollar-based credit system. Having a reduced incentive to purchase Treasuries and curtail Yuan appreciation, the Chinese and their act-alikes may look elsewhere for returns. In addition, previously feared but now tamed private market bond vigilantes like PIMCO have similar choices, if clients broaden their guidelines. Together, there is the potential for both public and private market creditors to effect a change in how credit is funded and dispersed – our global monetary system. What that will look like is conjectural, but it is likely to be more hard money as opposed to fiat-based, or if still fiat-centric, less oriented to a dollar-based reserve currency. In either case, the transition is likely to be disruptive and an ill omen for investors. This transition continues to point towards higher global inflation as a solution to overextended debt-ladened balance sheets. Investors in general will be hard pressed to repeat the performance of the past 30 years, an era based on excessive credit expansion. Deleveraging economies and financial markets present a different and lower-returning kettle of fish. That is because historical leverage was almost always applied by borrowing at a short-term rate and lending longer and riskier at a higher yield. That “spread” practically guaranteed levered returns over and above the policy lending rate during the past 30 years. No matter whether it was at 10%, 5% or eventually approaching 0% the lending spread at a higher yield was threatened only on a temporary basis during cyclical economic contractions brought about by temporary periods of tight money on the part of the Federal Reserve. As long as the economy bounced back, credit extension and its profitability were never threatened. All of that changed, however, as de-leveraging produced narrower yield margins, asset price exhaustion, and a reluctance on the part of lenders to lend (and in many cases, borrowers to borrow). Combined with now negative real interest rates of 200–300 basis points on the front end of the lending curve, the ability to successfully lever financial market returns has been jeopardized. Bond, equity and all financial assets which are structurally bound together by this dynamic must lower return expectations. The world’s financial markets currently seem obsessed with daily monetary and fiscal policy evolutions in Euroland. Euroland is just a localized tumor however. The developing credit cancer may be metastasized, and the global monetary system fatally flawed by increasingly risky and unacceptably low yields produced by the debt crisis and policy responses to it. Investors should sail carefully and the Wall Street 1% should put on their life vests if they expect to weather the inevitable storm that may threaten the first-class cabins they have come to enjoy." - William H. Gross

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bill Gross Warns the 1%, Part 1

"The Wall Street Food Chain: Soaring debt/GDP ratios in previously sacrosanct AAA countries have made low cost funding a function of central banks as opposed to private investors. Both the lower quality and yields of such debt represent a potential breaking point in our global monetary system. Innovators such as Jobs and Gates are rare within the privileged because the 1% feed primarily off money, not invention. They would have you believe that stocks, bonds and real estate move higher because of their wisdom, when in fact prices float on an ocean of credit, a sea in which all are now increasingly at risk because of high debt and its consequences. Still, as the system de-levers, there are winners and losers, a Wall Street food chain in effect. These economic food chains depend on lots of little fishes. When examining the wealth distribution triangle of land/labor/capital, the Wall Street food chain segregates capital between the haves and have-nots: The Fed and its member banks are the metaphorical whales, the small investors earning .01% on their money market funds are the plankton. Similar comparisons can be drawn between capital and labor. Profits and compensation of the 1% dominate wages of the 99% and the imbalances between the two are as distorted as those within the capital food chain itself. Wall Street and Newport Beach whales like myself don’t have to worry as yet about being someone else’s lunch. Yet the whales' environment is changing – for the worse. The global monetary system which has evolved over the past century, always in the direction of easier, cheaper and more abundant credit, may have reached a point at which it can no longer operate efficiently and equitably to promote economic growth and the fair distribution of its benefits. Future changes may not be so beneficial for our ocean’s oversized creatures. The balance between financial whales and plankton – powerful creditors and much smaller debtors – is dependent on the successful functioning of our global monetary system. What is a global monetary system? It is basically how the world conducts and pays for commerce. Historically, several different systems have been employed but basically they have either been commodity-based systems – gold and silver primarily – or a fiat system, paper money. After rejecting the gold standard at Bretton Woods in 1945, developed nations accepted a hybrid based on dollar convertibility and the fixing of the greenback at $35 per ounce. When that was overwhelmed by U.S. fiscal deficits and dollar printing in the late 1960s, President Nixon ushered in a new, rather loosely defined system that was still dollar dependent for trade and monetary transactions but relied on the consolidated “good behavior” of G-7 central banks to print money parsimoniously and to target inflation close to 2%. Heartened by Paul Volcker in 1979, markets and economies gradually accepted this implicit promise and global credit markets and their economies grew. The global monetary system seemed to be working smoothly. The laws of natural selection and modern day finance seemed to be functioning as anticipated, and the whales were ascendant. Functioning yes, but perhaps not so moderately or smoothly – especially since 2008. Policy responses by fiscal and monetary authorities have managed to prevent substantial haircutting of the $200 trillion or so of financial assets that comprise our global monetary system, yet in the process have increased the risk and lowered the return of sovereign securities which represent its core. QEs and LTROs totalling trillions have been publicly spawned in recent years. In the process, however, yields and future returns have plunged, presenting not a warm Pacific Ocean of positive real interest rates, but a frigid, Arctic sea when compared to 2–3% inflation now commonplace in developed economies. Both the lower quality and lower yields of debt therefore represent a potential breaking point in our global monetary system. Neither condition was considered feasible as recently as five years ago. Now, however, with even the U.S. suffering a credit downgrade and offering negative 200 basis point real policy rates for the privilege of investing in Treasury bills, the willingness of creditors to support the existing system may soon descend. Such a transition occurs because lenders either perceive too much risk or refuse to accept near zero-based returns on their investments. As they question the value of much of the $200 trillion which comprises our current system, they move elsewhere – to real assets such as land, gold and tangibles, or to cash." - William H. Gross

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday Lunch After 25 Years, Or So

I've been having lunch once a week with the same bunch of six or eight guys for I don't know how many years.  I'll estimate twenty-five.  The Lunch was first launched when a close buddy of mine told me he was having marital problems, and needed an ear to bounce stuff off.  (Mine.)  We met weekly, and while his marriage unfortunately didn't last, he and I decided that we liked our Wednesday $4.95 steak sandwich tete a tete.  We vowed to keep them up.  In fact, we decided to invite the other guys we skied and golfed with.  Twenty-some years later here we are.  The Lunch has become an institution, second nature to all of us.  Not everyone can always make it, in fact some of the original cast have moved away from the area.  But it's a testament to the friendships we've made that, after all these years - though our jobs, schedules, and circumstances have changed - everyone still makes it a priority to "do lunch" every Wednesday if they're in town.  I can't remember the last time our weekly lunch didn't happen.  It gives us an opportunity to discuss, argue, and learn from each other, find out what's coming up the next week (and more importantly, next weekend), and meet guests who happen into town.  Once in a very rare while we'll even have our ladies join us (for example, the week before Xmas).  Venues and menus change - that steak sandwich is now $16.95, and is often replaced by heart-healthy salads, without croutons, please - but just like the Energizer bunny, we keep going and going.  Yesterday was a case in point, a "special" routine lunch.  One of our regulars who had long ago moved to the city, and has been battling a particularly pernicious form of cancer, road his motorcycle out to have lunch with us.  He probably doesn't know how often his name comes up at our weekly get-togethers (until he reads this), but to see him in remission yesterday, hair and Harley back, was truly something special.  And guess what?  He's going to try to make it out here for our weekly lunch as often as he can from now on.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fukushima "Fallout": California Bluefin Tuna

Future can of flaked white tuna?
Tuna is, and always will be, absolutely one of my favourite fish.  Tasty, cheap, plentiful, and it comes out of a can.  It might still be number one if west coast wild salmon hadn't won me over several years ago.  Now I suppose both might be endangered as candidates for my plate and palate:  “Absolutely Every One” (15 Out of 15) Bluefin Tuna Tested In California Waters Contaminated with Fukushima Radiation: Fish don’t stay still. For example, The Telegraph notes that scientists tagged a bluefin tuna and found that it crossed between Japan and the West Coast three times in 600 days. That might be extreme, but the point is that fish exposed to radiation somewhere out in the ocean might end up in our waters. CNN reports: Low levels of radioactive cesium from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident turned up in fish caught off California in 2011, researchers reported Monday. The bluefin spawn off Japan, and many migrate across the Pacific Ocean. Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor by-products cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources. The Wall Street Journal quotes the studies’ authors: 'The tuna packaged it up and brought it across the world’s largest ocean,' said marine ecologist Daniel Madigan at Stanford University, who led the study team. 'We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.' 'We found that absolutely every one of them had comparable concentrations of cesium-134 and cesium-137,' said marine biologist Nicholas Fisher at Stony Brook University in New York state, who was part of the study group. The bad news is that is is only going to get worse. As Reuters points out: 'Unlike some other compounds, radioactive cesium does not quickly sink to the sea bottom but remains dispersed in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor. Fish can swim right through it, ingesting it through their gills, by taking in seawater or by eating organisms that have already taken it in.' As CNN notes: 'Neither [of the scientists who tested the fish] thought they were likely to find cesium at all. And since the fish tested were born about a year before the disaster, “This year’s fish are going to be really interesting,” Madigan said. “There were fish born around the time of the accident, and those are the ones showing up in California right now,” he said. “Those have been, for the most part, swimming around in those contaminated waters their whole lives.” In other words, the 15 fish tested were only exposed to the radiation for a short time. But bluefin arriving in California now will have been exposed to the Fukushima radiation for much longer.
As KGTV San Diego explains: 'The real test of how radioactivity affects tuna populations comes this summer when researchers plan to repeat the study with a larger number of samples. Bluefin tuna that journeyed last year were exposed to radiation for about a month. The upcoming travelers have been swimming in radioactive waters for a longer period. How this will affect contamination remains to be seen." One of the studies’ authors told the BBC: "The fish that will be arriving around now, and in the coming months, may be carrying considerably more radioactivity and if so they may possibly be a public health hazard." Japanese and U.S. officials, of course, are pretending that the amount of radiation found in the bluefin is safe. But the overwhelming scientific consensus is that there is no safe level of radiation, and radiation consumed and taken into the body is much more dangerous than background radiation." (by George Washington, ZeroHedge)  The Fukushima disaster will haunt us for years to come.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How Facebook Could Destroy The Market

Too-big-to-fail mentality replays the dot-com bubble. (By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch) "Facebook (FB) just joined a “troubled club,” warns The Economist. Now it’s just another “endangered public company.” Yes, endangered. What’s going on? Facebook’s in trouble, that’s what. The Facebook mystique is so powerful today that in our minds it is too big to fail. FB will just keep growing indefinitely, at rates that remind us of the old dot-com mind-set of 1999. And that’s exactly why Facebook is the ultimate economy killer. Could Facebook really bring down the economy? Be a global economy killer? Yes. Facebook has now been added to my list of global macroeconomic triggers that the denial system driving the collective brain of American investors will simply tune out until it’s too late. Until a crash takes the economy down again. Yes, folks, Facebook is that dangerous to not only our economy, but the global economy. FB is now one of my top 12 economy-killing triggers, any one of which could ignite a firestorm: euro-zone ills, overpopulation, China, climate crisis, peak oil, the Fed’s cheap money, the 2012 elections, austerity vs. growth, high-frequency trading, extreme capitalism, and the black swan nobody ever sees coming until it hits - you know, like the 1914 assassination of a relatively unknown archduke that ignited WWI. In behavioural economics, extreme denial creates an illusion that misleads us by minimizing risk in our brains. Remember Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s classic remark before the 2008 meltdown, that he was witnessing the “best economy in my career.” But seriously, does our beloved too-big-to-fail Facebook really have that kind of economy-killing power? You bet. Our too-big-to-fail banks like J.P. Morgan have trillions in hard assets, hundreds of billions in capital, and huge leverage with the Fed and Treasury. But Facebook is just the opposite: it is too big to succeed. Its cash value is now in the pockets of the insiders who are cashing out with the IPO. The “value” is in the minds of a billion "friends", a collective illusion that must be kept alive with future cash. There’s a huge possibility FB will lose big in the aftermarket, and eventually our love affair will evaporate. When the euphoria wears off, please remember the following remarks from Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago lawyer and investor advocate: "The Facebook IPO poses huge risks for retail investors. FB may have millions of users worldwide and plenty of investment sex appeal, but beyond the sizzle I can virtually promise you there will be thousands of small investors that get burned bad on Facebook. How? Market orders like the ones so many investors made back “in the early 2000s “ by “people who made that error in hot tech stocks.” Stoltmann sees through the dark veil of denial that shields most of America: “Virtually any slip-up in performance by Facebook and the stock will crater.” Yes, “crater,” as in bottom, crash, meltdown. “If Facebook is valued at $100 billion, its valuation would be 33 times its advertising revenue, compared with 5.5 times for Google. To sustain its value, Facebook would need to grow its revenues by 41% percent per year for the next five years. That is very hard to do for any company, especially one of Facebook’s size. Even a minor hiccup in the business model could lead to significant losses for purchasers. Facebook operates in an extremely competitive industry with many major, deep-pocketed rivals, including experienced, well-financed rivals like Google.” Remember 2012’s hot dot-coms, Groupon and Pandora? Their shares fell 48% and 41%, respectively, from their IPO prices. Now that Facebook has a thousand new millionaires, Stoltmann’s expecting “thousands of retail clients with significant losses in Facebook in the next three months ... This could get very ugly.”

Monday, May 28, 2012

Quebec and The Fairy Godmother

The Spoiled Children of Canadian Confederation
By Lisa Corbella of the Calgary Herald. "Today, let's have some fun and play Fairy Godmother to Quebec. Let's grant the province the wish it articulated in Copenhagen. Wave the magic wand and poof, wish granted. Shut down Alberta 's oilsands, except, since it's Quebec making the wish, we have to call it tarsands, even though it's not tar they use to run their Bombardier planes, trains and Skidoos. Ah, at last! The blight on Canada's reputation shut down. All those dastardly workers from across Canada living in Fort McMurray, Calgary and Edmonton out of jobs, including those waitresses, truck drivers, nurses, teachers, doctors, pilots, engineers, etc. They can all go on Employment insurance like Ontario autoworkers and Quebec parts makers! Closing down Alberta 's oil industry would immediately stop the production of 1.8 million barrels of oil a day. Supply and demand being what it is, oil prices will go up and therefore the cost at the pump will go up, too, increasing the cost of everything else. But lost jobs in Alberta and across the country along with higher gas prices are a small price to pay to save the world and not "embarrass" Quebecers on the world stage. Not to worry though, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Nigeria can come to the rescue. You know, the guys who pump money into al-Qaida and help Osama bin Laden target those Van Doos fighting in Afghanistan. Bloody oil is so much nicer than dirty tarsands oil. Shutting down the oilsands will reduce Canada 's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 38.4 Mt (megatonnes). Hooray! It's so fun to be a Fairy Godmother! While that sounds like a lot, Canada only produces two per cent of the world's man-made GHGs and the oilsands only produce five per cent of Canada 's total emissions or 0.1 per cent of the world's emissions. By comparison, the U.S. produces 20.2 per cent of the world's GHG emissions, 27 per cent of which comes from coal-fired electricity. The 530-square-kilometre piece of land currently disturbed by the oilsands (which is smaller than the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL, at 570 square kilometres) must be reclaimed by law and will return to Alberta's 381,000 square kilometres of boreal forest, a huge carbon sink. Quebec, of course, has clean hydro power, but more than 13,000 square kilometres were drowned for the James Bay hydroelectric project, permanently removing that forest from acting as a carbon sink. But Fairy Godmother is digressing all over the place. While the oilsands only produce five per cent of Canada's GHGs, it contributes much more to Canada 's economy. After all, oil and gas make up one-quarter of the value on the TSX alone. Alberta is also the largest net contributor per capita by far to Confederation (and there are only two more - B.C. and Ontario). Quebec hasn't made a net contribution to the rest of Canada for a very long time. This is not to be critical (after all, Fairy Godmothers never criticize), it's just a fact. In 2009, Albertans paid $40.46 billion in income, corporate and other taxes to the federal government and received back just $19.35 billion in services and goods from the Feds. That means the rest of Canada got $21.1 billion from Albertans or $5,742 for each and every Alberta man, woman and child. In 2007 (the last year national figures are available), Alberta sent a net contribution of $19.49 billion to the Rest Of Canada, or $5,553 per Albertan - more than three times what every Ontarian contributes at $1,757. Quebecers, on the other hand, each received $627 net or a total of $8 billion, money which was designed to help "equalize" social programs across the country. Except, that's not what is happening. Quebec has more generous social programs; like (nearly) free university tuition (paid for mostly by Albertans) and cheap provincial daycare (paid for mostly by Albertans). But in this Fairy Godmother world, poof, those delightful unequal programs have now disappeared! Quel dommage! The July 2009 Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) report states that between 2008 and 2032, the oilsands will account for 172,000 person-years of employment in Ontario during the construction phase, plus 640,000 for operations over the 25-year period. For Quebec, the oilsands will account for 84,000 person-years of employment during the construction phase, plus 292,000 for operations over the 25-year period. In total, the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to Canada 's GDP over the next 25 years. Wave wand and Poof! Jobs gone! So, now that the oil industry has shut down and left Alberta, Alberta has become a have-not province and so has every other province. Equality at last! Hugo Chavez will be so pleased. Meeting our Copenhagen targets suddenly looks possible, as most of us can't afford to drive our cars or buy anything but necessities, so manufacturers have closed their doors and emissions are way down. The dream of many Quebecers to form their own nation and separate from Canada has died at last. Alas, in Alberta, separatist sentiment has risen dramatically, citizens vote to separate, and the oil and gas industry returns. Albertans start to pocket that almost $6,000 for each person that used to get sent elsewhere and now their kids get free tuition. Fairy Godmother's work is done. Wish granted. Quebecers must now sign up for a foreign worker visa to work in Alberta to send their cheques back home so junior can start saving up to pay for college."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ignorant People Are ... Well, Ignorant

"Ignorance is bliss." How wonderful it must be to be blissfully unaware of how ignorant you are in the eyes of others.  Take the earnest bible-packing youth I saw who challenged passers-by to become "born again", and then spat on the sidewalk (awkwardly at that) when he thought no one was looking.  Or the otherwise efficient and attractive airline stewardess who, once finished servicing her charges and on a well-deserved nutrition break herself, proceeded to chew with her mouth open and smack her lips in plain view of the passengers.  (I nearly gagged.)  Or the dim-witted pair of twenty-year-old basketball fans seated behind my wife and I on the same plane from Chicago to Calgary whose every second word was f@#k.  All four of these young people obviously were clueless that their behaviour instantly marked them as ignorant of the most basic common courtesies, and that they are doomed to remain lower echelon employees all their lives because they are ... well, ignorant.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Tax Code Simplicity/Complexity

Yesterday I posted - without comment - a list of countries ranked according to the simplicity of their tax codes, more specifically termed the "ease of payment of taxes" in those countries, according to a study by the IMF and Price Waterhouse Coopers. My thoughts:  Most of the countries with the top ten (simplest) tax codes are a) tiny, b) oil-rich, and/or c) not democracies - all of which make taxation simpler, if not unnecessary altogether.  Ireland stands out from the others in the "top ten", its streamlined tax system possibly due to the country's dire need for tax revenue after the global financial meltdown of 2008.  Frankly, I was surprised to see Canada ranked 11th.  Our tax code has never seemed that simple to me.  If the Canadian tax code is anywhere near "the gold standard" for simplicity, I can't imagine how baffling some of the lower-ranked schemes must be.  The U.S. tax code (at #69) is, by all commentary, an abomination in drastic need of an overhaul - so much so that I believe its complexity is actually stifling badly needed tax revenue.  The UK's system at #18 is understandably close to Canada's, and the Scandinavian countries - ex-Sweden (#44), plus Switzerland - are all ranked in the top twenty-one.  New Zealand (#27) and The Netherlands (#34) apparently need to pull up their socks a bit.  Australia, at #52, really surprises me, but their immense resource revenue of late must have made their tax code more complex.  The fact that France, Iraq, and Afghanistan have simpler tax codes than the U.S. is not encouraging for our friends south of the border, and just as telling is the American tax code's proximity to Greece (#79), a total disaster about which much has been written in this space.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Which Country's Tax Code is Simplest?

Presented without comment, from a 2011 study by the International Monetary Fund and Price Waterhouse Cooper that ranked 183 total economies by "Ease of paying taxes":
Maldives 1
Qatar 2
Hong Kong, China 3
Singapore 4
Ireland 5
United Arab Emirates 6
Saudi Arabia 7
Oman 8
Kiribati 9
Mauritius 9
Canada 11
Kuwait 12
Bahrain 13
Luxembourg 14
Denmark 15
Switzerland 16
Kazakhstan 17
United Kingdom 18
Norway 19
Macedonia, FYR 20
Finland 21
Brunei Darussalam 22
Timor Leste 23
Vanuatu 24
Botswana 25
Seychelles 26
New Zealand 27
Malaysia 28
Jordan 29
Solomon Islands 30
Malawi 31
West Bank and Gaza 31
Rwanda 33
Netherlands 34
Tonga 35
South Africa 36
Cyprus 37
Suriname 38
Georgia 39
Spain 40
Lebanon 41
Zambia 42
Kosovo 43
Korea, Republic 44
Sweden 44
Croatia 46
Estonia 47
Ethiopia 48
Iceland 49
Chile 50
St. Lucia 51
Australia 52
Belize 53
Bahamas 54
France 55
Swaziland 56
Lithuania 57
Afghanistan 58
Cambodia 59
Iraq 59
Tunisia 61
Bhutan 62
Latvia 62
Lesotho 64
Djibouti 65
Mongolia 66
Taiwan, China 67
Samoa 68
United States 69
Dominica 70
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 70
Madagascar 72
Belgium 73
Portugal 74
Turkey 75
Fiji 76
Azerbaijan 77
Austria 78
Greece 79
Peru 80
Israel 81
Trinidad and Tobago 81
Slovenia 83
Bulgaria 84
Ecuador 85
Germany 86
Ghana 87
Grenada 88
Micronesia 89
Uganda 90
Dominican Republic 91
Colombia 92
Marshall Islands 93
Palau 94
Liberia 95
Comoros 96
Bangladesh 97
Thailand 97
Sudan 99
Namibia 100
Cape Verde 101
Russia 102
Papua New Guinea 103
Mozambique 104
Sierra Leone 105
Mexico 106
Syria 107
Morocco 108
Moldova 109
Puerto Rico 110
Nepal 111
Guyana 112
Yemen 113
Hungary 114
Montenegro 114
Haiti 116
Czech Republic 117
Bosnia and Herzegovina 118
Japan 119
Eritrea 120
China 121
Lao PDR 122
Guatemala 123
Burundi 124
Iran 125
Zimbabwe 126
Poland 127
Tanzania 128
Slovak Republic 129
Indonesia 130
Paraguay 131
St. Kitts and Nevis 132
Italy 133
Antigua and Barbuda 134
Philippines 135
Guinea-Bissau 136
Sao Tomé and Principe 137
Costa Rica 138
Nigeria 138
Honduras 140
Gabon 141
Niger 142
Serbia 143
Argentina 144
Egypt 145
El Salvador 146
Burkina Faso 147
India 147
Angola 149
Brazil 150
Vietnam 151
Albania 152
Armenia 153
Romania 154
Nicaragua 155
Belarus 156
Uzbekistan 157
Pakistan 158
Cote d'Ivoire 159
Uruguay 160
Togo 161
Kyrgyz Republic 162
Mali 163
Algeria 164
Congo, Dem. Rep. 165
Kenya 166
Equatorial Guinea 167
Tajikistan 168
Panama 169
Benin 170
Cameroon 171
Jamaica 172
Sri Lanka 173
Senegal 174
Mauritania 175
Guinea 176
Central African Republic 177
Gambia 178
Bolivia 179
Chad 180
Ukraine 181
Congo, Rep. 182
Venezuela 183

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A NY State End Run At Zero Hedge?

First Amendment be damned!
From CNet yesterday: "Proposed NY Ban on Anonymous Posts Comes Under Fire (by Greg Sandoval). Add anti-cyberbullying advocates to the growing list of critics who don't like proposed New York state legislation that would strip some people of their online anonymity. In an attempt to combat cyberbullying, some New York state legislators want people who post online to be prepared to identify themselves. A resulting bill, known as the Internet Protection Act (IPA), wouldn't stop with cyberbullying. If it became law, the legislation would also prevent people from posting anonymous criticism of local businesses or making "baseless political attacks," wrote James Conte, a member of New York's state assembly and one of the bill's sponsors. "With more and more people relying on social media and the Internet to communicate and gather information," Conte wrote in a statement, "it is imperative that the legislature put into place some type of safeguard to prevent people from using the Internet's cloak of anonymity to bully our children and make false accusations against local businesses and elected officials." IPA was introduced in the New York state legislature earlier this month. The bill would require authors to identify themselves when asked or else have their posts removed. IPA follows the earlier introduction of a separate anti-cyberbullying bill in the NY legislature. Dave Kravets over at, who first wrote about the issue, is skeptical that the bills can stand up to a First Amendment challenge: "Unless the First Amendment is repealed, they stand no chance of surviving any constitutional scrutiny even if they were approved," Kravets said. Even some advocates of stronger cyberbullying laws are critical of IPA. Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and founder of advocacy groups Wiredsafety and Stopcyberbulling, said stripping people of their Web anonymity would likely create more problems then it would solve. "One of the beauties of the Internet is that you can post anonymous comments," Aftab told CNET. "It allows kids who may be abused to reach out and get help and it enables people with unpopular political views to be heard ... we've been through this before. These are well-intentioned people looking for easy answers but who may not understand the unintended consequences." Aftab said that there are already laws on the books that allow people to learn the identities of people who post anonymously if they believe they are victims of crimes. People can also file civil suits and ascertain someone's identity from an Internet service provider as part of legal discovery."  And we all KNOW this is just a thinly-veiled attempt  to silence ZeroHedge, Out Here Too, and other anonymously-written blogs, don't we?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Their Royal Highnesses, The Adulterers

"How soon Canadians seem to forget, Cammy, you old cougar."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lobbyists Are a Scourge of Democracy

"Professional lobbyists try to influence legislation on behalf of whoever hires them. Lobbying is often spoken of with contempt, the implication being that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting the law in order to serve their own interest. However, minority interests too are defended against the "tyranny of the majority" by lobbying. At heart, the effort to influence legislation is a power struggle, with motives that range from predation to self-defense to fighting for justice. The "Revolving Door of Influence" has been described by UK Conservative leader David Cameron as "the next big scandal waiting to happen" and that lobbying had "tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money". The ability of individuals, groups, and corporations to lobby the government is protected by the right to petition in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Since 1998, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government to join the private sector have registered to lobby. In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama signed two executive orders and three presidential memoranda on his first day in office governing how former lobbyists can be employed in the government, and restrictions on lobbying once leaving the government. Lobbying has become a political fact of life around the world, and is now endemic in local, state and federal governments everywhere. In Australia, lobbyists must not only register, but a Parliamentary Pass must be signed by two parliamentarians. It is administered by the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) and has the enforcement of the Criminal Code Act 1995."  (Wikipedia)  Unfortunately the pass is valid for 2 years, when it should be for two hours.  That way statistics could be kept about the relative frequency of various lobbying efforts and which politicians are spending the most time having their ear bent by paid interests instead of the voters who elected them.  Australia at least seems to be dealing with the cancer of paid lobbyists.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ten Principles of a Free Society

by Dr. Ron Paul:
1. Rights belong to individuals, not groups; they derive from our nature and can neither be granted nor taken away by government.
2. All peaceful, voluntary economic and social associations are permitted; consent is the basis of the social and economic order.
3. Justly acquired property is privately owned by individuals and voluntary groups, and this ownership cannot be arbitrarily voided by governments.
4. Government may not redistribute private wealth or grant special privileges to any individual or group.
5. Individuals are responsible for their own actions; government cannot and should not protect us from ourselves.
6. Government may not claim the monopoly over a people's money and governments must never engage in official counterfeiting, even in the name of macroeconomic stability.
7. Aggressive wars, even when called preventative, and even when they pertain only to trade relations, are forbidden.
8. Jury nullification, that is, the right of jurors to judge the law as well as the facts, is a right of the people and the courtroom norm.
9. All forms of involuntary servitude are prohibited, not only slavery but also conscription, forced association, and forced welfare distribution.
10. Government must obey the law that it expects other people to obey and thereby must never use force to mold behavior, manipulate social outcomes, manage the economy, or tell other countries how to behave.