Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A cautionary tale for bloggers (and politicians!)

Nathalie Lubbe Bakker probably regrets posting under her own name; hopefully Mr. De Crem is feeling a bit chastened as well:

Current Belgian Minister of Defense Pieter De Crem apparently stumbled into a Belgian bar in New York City on Monday evening with his entourage. Following his visit, bartender Nathalie Lubbe Bakker blogged about their visit (in Dutch), talking about how disgusted she was of how drunk De Crem was and how embarrassed she was about his behavior. Worst part, she wrote, was the fact that one of the politician’s advisors admitted to her that the meetings they were there for on taxpayer’s money were in fact canceled because the UN was meeting in Geneva (which is about 330 miles from Brussels). He reportedly told her they had decided to come to NY anyway despite being aware of the cancellation because the policital situation here was ‘calm’ and that he’d ‘never visited the city anyway’.

A couple of days later, someone from De Crem’s office had a telephone call with Nathalie’s boss, after which she was promptly fired. This was initially denied by the politician, and it remains unclear if her termination was a direct result of the call or the blog post in question.

From TechCrunch. I've been a bit nervous of this myself; I started to get paranoid about employers finding this blog at some point, which is why I've been periodically going through bursts of moving posts about my own life to my LJ.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

George Monbiot takes on Shaun Spiers on wind farms

Here's a nice interview where Monbiot corners Spiers, the head of the "Campaign to Protect Rural England", regarding that organization's focus on wind farms as a "blight on the landscape" even as it ignores open pit coal mining.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Investors betting against GM

The bailout may be too little, too late:
General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner said the biggest U.S. automaker got “what we asked for” with $9.4 billion in U.S. loans over the next 24 days. Investors bet that it’s not enough.

GM slid 6.8 percent today in early New York trading to extend yesterday’s 22 percent plunge. Credit-default swaps on the company’s bonds jumped 2 percentage points in a sign of increasing concern that the Bush administration’s bailout may end in a default.

The stock-price slide erased the 23 percent gain on Dec. 19, when Detroit-based GM received a federal aid package to help the automaker stay in business until March 31 while it crafts a plan to shut plants, shed brands and reduce debt.

“It’s almost impossible for a management that invested in the assets, that hired the people, that put forth the strategy, to change so dramatically in such a short period of time,” Edward Altman, a New York University finance professor who created the Z-score formula to measure bankruptcy risk, said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

There is a “high” likelihood of a GM bankruptcy, Standard & Poor’s said yesterday in reducing the rating on the company’s unsecured debt to C, or 11 grades below investment quality. Robert Schulz, an S&P analyst in New York, said creditors can expect “negligible recovery” should the automaker default.

GM has slashed output and won union concessions since saying Nov. 7 it may run out of operating cash by year’s end. The automaker said it would need as much as $18 billion in aid or face a possible bankruptcy.
From Bloomberg. No information about Chrysler, but then it's no longer publicly traded so they don't have to disclose as much information. Ford is apparently doing considerably better; they could well end up being the last survivor of the American automakers. But all of the automakers are hurting; even Toyota is facing its first operating loss in 70 years. The brutal truth is, cars simply can't continue to occupy the central place that they occupy in today's economy. The energy, environmental, and infrastructure demands are too great. They won't go away, of course (many people still live in areas where public transit is unfeasible) but they're going to have to be much more of a niche item than they are now. Which means a lot fewer people making their living building them.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some folks don't like getting their pictures taken...

... like cops, for instance:

I snapped another picture. The cops noticed this time. One of them strode directly over to me.

“You can’t take pictures of this,” he said. His tone was aggressive.

I slid my camera back into its case.

“Okay,” I replied.

“Erase it,” he ordered me.


“I said ‘Erase it’!” he said, “I work undercover and I don’t want my picture anywhere.”

I really didn’t want to erase my picture. Not unless I had to. Besides, if he’s so concerned about keeping his undercover identity secret, he shouldn’t walk around in a police uniform.

“Do I have to?” I asked.

“I told you, I don’t want my picture anywhere.”

“Is it the law?” I asked.

“I asked you nicely,” he said, but he didn’t say it very nicely. It sounded threatening to me.

“Is it the law?” I repeated.

“I asked you nicely,” he said menacingly as he stared down at me, “Are you refusing?”

I looked at him. Maybe if we were in a dark alley with no witnesses, I would have deleted it. But here? In broad daylight, surrounded by witnesses, with a tiny, bleeding, unconscious, handcuffed woman lying on the street? He was probably in enough trouble already.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m refusing.”

“Real nice,” he said in disgust, “Thanks a lot.”

And he turned around and started to walk back to the knot of officers and the unconscious handcuffed woman.

From here, via skdadl at pogge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seems the downturn is hurting all kinds of people...

... including drug dealers:

Sammad’s got a problem. The recent downturn in the economy means that he can’t drive his car; he’s racking up a ton of debt, and soon, he might lose his livelihood.

“Pretty soon I’ll have to get a regular job,” he says with a chuckle.

Sammad’s not the typical victim of financial turmoil; he’s not a factory worker or a car dealer; he’s a different kind of dealer.

Sammad sells cocaine from his apartment in the suburbs of Vancouver. What used to be a lucrative profession is going south for him and the economy is primarily to blame.

It might be surprising, but the saleability of Sammad’s product really does depend on how well the economy is doing, and in particular, how well males between the ages of 18–40 are doing in that economy. A lot of uneducated male workers are losing their jobs, and for Sammad, they are his prime clienteles. Compound this with police in the United States intercepting a major shipment from South America destined for BC, and you get a product with a skyrocketing price and a market that can’t afford it.

“A kilo of coke used to be 18 G’s, now it’s 42,” he complains. “I can’t even make a profit unless I sell these chinsy little bags. My half-grams used to cost $25; now they’re $40 and even then I only make, like, five bucks off each one.”

From here. Thanks to highryder in this babble thread for the link.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Harper hoping WTO kills wheat board for him

Remember how Harper was trying to stack the Canadian Wheat Board? Well, the farmers weren't buying it; they voted strongly in favour of directors who back the single-desk system. But Frances Russell warns that Harper may get what he wants anyway, courtesy of the World Trade Organization:

Harper has an out. He can abandon his dirty tricks campaign against the CWB and still "walk over" democracy by turning to the World Trade Organization. The WTO's Doha Round, if it survives, is more than prepared to dispatch the pesky marketing agency for him.

The day after the CWB director elections, Crawford Falconer, New Zealand's WTO ambassador and agricultural chair, released a new text that would declare the CWB illegal in 2013, the deadline for a new agreement.

The CWB is isolated at the WTO. The former Australian government abolished the world's only other single-desk wheat board. And the WTO draft text contains a footnote exempting New Zealand's kiwi fruit exporting agency from the CWB's fate.

Dustin Gosnell, the CWB's director of strategic planning and corporate policy, says the WTO "is one step closer to cementing language that would cause us to lose the single desk and how it's happening is really most discouraging. It's really the chair railroading it through."

National Farmers Union president Stewart Wells says the WTO is a "most undemocratic organization." Canada isn't even in most of the meetings involving agriculture. They are dominated by the U.S., European Union, Argentina and Brazil.

From the Winnipeg Free Press. I find it particularly galling that the Kiwis want to nail the CWB, but want to protect their own analogous agency. Not to mention the fact that Harper probably isn't even going to bring this up with the WTO.

A miracle - Mother Teresa cured woman of her theism!


Livermore describes the order as a sect and has written a book, Hope Endures, chronicling her experiences.

Mother Teresa's mistake, says Livermore, was in thinking that obedience was more important than compassion.

"That's not something that's widely known and not part of what the media says about her. It was dictatorial. I should have got out sooner," she says, shaking her head.

When she finally left, she turned to the medical degree she had spurned when she joined the sisters and became a doctor, working in Timor, the Northern Territory, the Congo, Sudan and

One casualty of her time with Mother Teresa was her religion.

"I ended up an agnostic," she says. "I just couldn't believe it any more but if, as when I was in Timor from 2000-2003, you can do something for the kids, then for some people at least, you can make a difference."

Livermore blames no one but herself for what happened.

"After all," she says, smiling, "no one handcuffed me. It was my own silly choice. My mother told me I was a drongo but once I was in there, I couldn't get free.

From the Brisbane Courier-Mail.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marines Establish Military Presence in San Bernardino County, California

Most peculiar:
Branson Hunter, writing for the Big Bear Observation Post blog, reports that the Marine Corps Air and Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) and the local California Highway Patrol will be working together over the holiday “in a joint effort to reduce accidents and drinking and driving” in San Bernardino County.

Hunter contacted Corporal Knuesn of the MCAGCC Provost Marshal office and MCAGCC Public Affairs Chief, Gunny Sgt. Chris Cox. Both confirmed the USMC will be present on public roads in order to setup a military presence during routine DUI check stops. “They will be working closely over the month to cut down of traffic accidents,” said Cox, “the Military Police will observe DUI check points and watch for their own guys. The intent is to have military presence out there.”

Infowars attempted to contact the MCAGCC Provost Marshal office and MCAGCC Public Affairs to confirm the story but we were unable to reach them.

Dispatching Marines on California highways is an obvious violation of the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385) passed on June 16, 1878. The Act prohibits members of the federal uniformed services, including military police, from working with state and local police and law enforcement.

However, since September 11, 2001, the federal government has increasingly ignored Posse Comitatus. On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Army announced its 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team will be under the day-to-day control of the Northern Command, ostensibly “on call” to respond to emergencies and disasters.

“They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack,” the Army Times reported on September 30. “Training for homeland scenarios has already begun at Fort Stewart and includes specialty tasks such as knowing how to use the ‘jaws of life’ to extract a person from a mangled vehicle; extra medical training for a CBRNE incident; and working with U.S. Forestry Service experts on how to go in with chainsaws and cut and clear trees to clear a road or area.”

It is not explained how assisting in traffic accidents falls within the purview of Homeland Security and the military. It appears that the Marines are using this very pretense in San Bernardino County to “cut down of traffic accidents,” a task normally reserved for local law enforcement.
Indeed. From Infowars, via Rattlesnake in this Kitco thread. What can be the reason for this? You have to wonder if Awakened1, in the same thread, is right in suggesting that it's "just another case to condition the people to seeing a military presence in the public". Can anyone think of a better reason for US Marines to be used to find drunk drivers?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fed Refuses to Disclose Recipients of $2 Trillion

Seems a lot of money to hand out in secret, no?

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act requesting details about the terms of 11 Fed lending programs, most created during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information. The institution confirmed that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to some of the requests.

Source. You'd think it would be in the public's interest to know what the government is doing with that much money, wouldn't you? I mean, it's not a matter of national security or anything, is it?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq

Purple Library Guy at pogge has located this:
On November 27 the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favor of a security agreement with the US under which the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will withdraw from cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009 and from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks time. Private security companies will lose their legal immunity. US military operations and the arrest of Iraqis will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. There will be no US military bases left behind when the last US troops leave in three years time and the US military is banned in the interim from carrying out attacks on other countries from Iraq.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt which began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had furiously denounced the first drafts of the SOFA saying that they would establish a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says blithely that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum. This is a sure sign that Iran, as America’s main rival in the Middle East, sees the pact as marking the final end of the US occupation and as a launching pad for military assaults on neighbours such as Iran.
So it's all over -- except for the tiny fact that lots more Iraqis and Americans are going to die senselessly in the next three years, and the US will continue to accumulate more debt as well as more antipathy from the rest of humanity.

11th hour salvation for automakers?

It would be "irresponsible" to hurt the economy by letting the Detroit Big Three automakers fall, a White House spokeswoman said Friday following the Senate's rejection of a massive auto industry bailout.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, press secretary Dana Perino said the White House is considering using money from the $700-billion US Wall Street rescue fund to support the domestic automakers.

Perino said the administration would not typically make such a move, but said the White House would consider the option due to the economic distress confronting the United States.

"While the federal government may need to step in to prevent an immediate failure, the auto companies, their labour unions and all other stakeholders must be prepared to make the meaningful concessions necessary to become viable," Perino said.

From the CBC. Whether this will help in the long run is hard to say; some are saying it's too late for GM. One thing is clear, though, the unions are getting a disproportionate amount of the blame for the automakers' troubles. For instance, ever hear that "$73 an hour" figure, about how much money the auto workers supposedly make? Well, it's misleading to say the least, according to no less authority than the New York Times:

Seventy-three dollars an hour.

That figure — repeated on television and in newspapers as the average pay of a Big Three autoworker — has become a big symbol in the fight over what should happen to Detroit. To critics, it is a neat encapsulation of everything that’s wrong with bloated car companies and their entitled workers.

To the Big Three’s defenders, meanwhile, the number has become proof positive that autoworkers are being unfairly blamed for Detroit’s decline. “We’ve heard this garbage about 73 bucks an hour,” Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said last week. “It’s a total lie. I think some people have perpetrated that deliberately, in a calculated way, to mislead the American people about what we’re doing here.”

So what is the reality behind the number? Detroit’s defenders are right that the number is basically wrong. Big Three workers aren’t making anything close to $73 an hour (which would translate to about $150,000 a year).

But the defenders are not right to suggest, as many have, that Detroit has solved its wage problem. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler workers make significantly more than their counterparts at Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants in this country. Last year’s concessions by the United Automobile Workers, which mostly apply to new workers, will not change that anytime soon.

And yet the main problem facing Detroit, overwhelmingly, is not the pay gap. That’s unfortunate because fixing the pay gap would be fairly straightforward.

The real problem is that many people don’t want to buy the cars that Detroit makes. Fixing this problem won’t be nearly so easy.

Get it? It's not because the Detroit Three are being bled dry by the unions. It's because too many of their cars suck.

But now for some good news. Not all vehicle manufacturers are doing badly:

New Flyer Industries has racked up more than $1 billion in orders over the last three months, driven by the recent spike in fuel prices and concerns about the economy.

It is the first time the Winnipeg bus maker has reached the $1-billion sales milestone during a quarter. The value of its order backlog has ballooned by 50 per cent this year.

The company said Thursday it is further evidence of the recession-resistant nature of the business.

Glen Asham, New Flyer's CEO, said the strong sales are a result of increased ridership throughout North America, spurred on at the beginning of the year by sky-high fuel prices and more recently by economic concerns.

"I would suggest the current recessionary environment we are in is causing people to watch their cash flow," Asham said.

The largest of the new orders was from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) which is purchasing up to 900 60-foot diesel-electric hybrid buses. Since 2002, CTA has ordered a total of 1,258 buses from New Flyer.

From the Winnipeg Free Press. Let's hope this last trend continues; maybe New Flyer could buy up some of those shuttered auto plants in southern Ontario and put some of the people back to work making vehicles for the 21st century rather than for the 20th.

"Is it true that the Americans used to make cars, Grandpa?"

The likelyhood that grandmas and grandpas of the future will be asked that question has increased significantly over the last 24 hours:

A planned $14-billion US federal bailout of the Big Three carmakers died Thursday on the U.S. Senate floor after negotiations between Democrats and Republicans collapsed over a dispute about wage cuts for autoworkers.

The Senate rejected the bailout 52-35 on a procedural vote — well short of the 60 votes needed to pass the plan.

Ahead of the vote, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was "terribly disappointed" to see several hours of unprecedented private talks in Washington with Senate Republicans, representatives from the country's auto industry and labour groups come to naught.

"There's too much difference between the two sides," Reid said from the Senate floor.

Asian financial markets fell sharply Friday as news of the failure emerged, with the Nikkei and Hang Seng both down more than five per cent. Reid could only speculate on the potential fallout when North American stock markets opened.

"I dread looking at Wall Street tomorrow," Reid said late Thursday night. "This could be a very, very bad Christmas as a result of what takes place here tonight."

From the CBC. Expect the pundits to be pouring blame onto the UAW, while ignoring management salaries and benefits (not to mention the fact that the Big Three have been making a lot of shitty and/or impractical cars of late). There's a thread about this aspect of the story on babble. Of course, there's still a chance that they'll go back to the table, and some or all of the automakers may be saved (for now at least). In the long run, though, the auto industry is going to have to contract a fair bit regardless; we use too many cars in our society.

Note that even before this happened, some (such as the folks at iTulip) were predicting unemployment rates of 25% or more among American men between 18 and 25. As Fred points out in the linked thread, unemployment in that demographic in Greece has been in that range for several years, and we've seen where that can lead.

As an interesting side note, the price of platinum group metals is dropping significantly, presumably owing to a likely reduction in demand for catalytic converters. Indeed, platinum is actually slightly cheaper than gold as I write this, according to Kitco:



Platinum isn't the only thing falling either. The price of recyclable materials is crashing, according to the Waterloo Record:

Last summer, our garbage was suddenly worth its weight in gold.

Today it's priced like garbage again and probably even less.

Blue box revenues have fallen through the floor since July, mirroring the price collapse for oil and other commodities.

* Newsprint has dropped from $190 per tonne to $35. It's the biggest waste stream at 13,400 tonnes.

* Cardboard has dropped from $130 per tonne to $25.

* Aluminum has been slashed from $2,000 per tonne to $1,000. It's the most lucrative waste stream at 420 tonnes.

* Scrap metal has dropped from $310 per tonne to $40.

* Plastics are down from $800 per tonne to $400.

It's a roller-coaster plunge but Jim Archibald, regional director of waste management, isn't fretting about taxpayer impacts.

If garbage prices stay low, the region will dip into savings and rely on an industrial subsidy to cushion impacts, he said. But Archibald expects prices to recover to more reasonable levels next year.

"It has dropped significantly since the summer but those prices were ridiculous," he said.

Residents generate 36,000 tonnes of blue box waste a year.

It's good that their committment to recycling remains strong; let's hope other municipalities don't decide to cut corners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

China's future darkens

The boom seems to have ended there:
China’s exports fell for the first time in seven years, more evidence that recessions in the U.S., Europe and Japan are driving the world’s fourth-largest economy into a slump.

Exports declined 2.2 percent in November from a year earlier, the customs bureau said in a statement on its Web site today. Imports plunged 17.9 percent, pushing the trade surplus to a record $40.09 billion.

China’s leaders pledged “more forceful measures” to help small companies and create jobs in statements within hours of the trade report. The export collapse intensifies pressure on the government to add to last month’s steepest interest-rate cut in 11 years, extend a 4 trillion yuan ($581 billion) spending plan and let the yuan depreciate.

“The figures are horrifying,” said Lu Zhengwei, chief economist at Industrial Bank Co. in Shanghai. “Plunging imports show that on top of faltering global demand, domestic demand is also shrinking as the economy cools.”
From Bloomberg. The long term situation may be far worse, though, if this story is accurate:

Two new reports – one from the Chinese government, the other based on criteria developed by the United Nations – should be enough to scare every government, economist and investor in the world about the future of the Chinese economy, currently the one global bright spot.

The underlying question raised by these reports is this: How can a nation’s economy grow when its soil is rapidly eroding and its water is rapidly becoming so polluted that it isn’t just unsafe to drink. It’s even unsafe for fishing, farming and factory use.

In short, how can a nation’s economy grow when its ecosystems appear on the verge of collapse?

As reported late last month by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, “A three-year investigation reveals almost 40% of China’s territory, or 3,569,200 square kilometers of land, suffers from soil erosion.” Reuters news agency put it this way: “Over a third of China’s land is being scoured by serious erosion that is putting crops and water supply at risk, a nationwide three-year survey has found.” The survey reportedly was carried out by China’s bio-environment security research team.
Thanks to meatball in this Kitco thread for the link. What will the consequences be for the rest of the world when a country with over a billion people (not to mention a substantial nuclear arsenal) finds that it can't feed itself?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Be wary of gift cards

Just another sign of the times:

Experts are issuing buyer beware warnings advising consumers to avoid buying gift cards this year.

With a growing number of retailers going under from the strain of the recession, holiday gift cards run the risk of not being honoured with companies in the midst of “restructuring.”

“We’re not crazy about them in general, but, particularly this year, until merchants become serious about protecting their funds, buy a real gift,” said Anthony Giorgianni, money advisor for Consumer Reports.

It’s a warning that also stems from an e-mail that’s gone viral in cyberspace. The e-mail, of unknown origin, advises consumers to avoid buying gift certificates at several major retailers because they’ve either filed for bankruptcy or are on the brink of going under.

From the Portage Daily Graphic. Makes a certain amount of sense, for sure. The stores singled out in the email will no doubt be desperate to suppress this story, because it will further cut into their revenue stream, but likely to no avail. I say it serves them right for introducing expiry dates.

Regarding the economic crisis in general, I don't know enough to say whether this will be the next Great Depression or just a nasty recession like we've had a number of times in the postwar era. I also don't know if anything good will come from this, but it's possible; the public works programs that have been announced in the US were overdue already, for instance, and if they spend a lot on developing clean energy sources, the world could come out ahead on the deal. George Monbiot thinks that the environment might also benefit simply from the decline in industrial activity, though others think that the lack of availability of credit might hamper the development of green energy by the private sector. But this is a perfect example of why we need a public sector. Thank goodness that Manitoba Hydro, for instance, is around to do stuff like this.

And then there are the more unpredictable benefits. Consider what happened in the last Great Depression:
On Dec. 5, 1933 — nearly 75 years ago to the day — America was buried in the Great Depression. A quarter of the workforce was unemployed, industrial production had halved, and the Dow was more than two thirds below its 1929 peak. There was, however, something to celebrate.

At 7 p.m. that evening president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the ratification the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which nullified the Eighteenth, making drinking alcohol legal once again. The event was celebrated in New Orleans with a 20-minute cannonade, and in New York cargoes of premium spirits owned by Joseph Kennedy, Sr., were unloaded from ships that had been waiting for the announcement just offshore. Prohibition — what Herbert Hoover in 1928 had called a “great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far reaching in purpose” — was over. The writer and social commentator H.L Mencken compared its effects, in terms of the suffering it had caused, to the Black Death in Medieval Europe and marked its passing with a glass of water — “my first in 13 years.”
From the New York Times. Curiously, the story doesn't discuss the new prohibition that the US introduced a few years after and then forced the rest of the world to agree to (though several of the posted comments bring this up), but one has to wonder if the legalization of some prohibited drugs (at least marijuana) might finally be possible. Massachusetts just decriminalized it, after all, and some jurisdictions are likely to recognize that they could collect an awful lot of badly needed tax revenue if they went a step beyond and actually legalized it. Are you reading this, Barack?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Don Newman schools John Baird

Perhaps "shreds" would be a better word:

Baird may be a bit more worldly than some of his colleagues, but he isn't any smarter than most of them. Which will create a problem for the Cons when Harper passes his "use by" date (which may have happened in the last week, though it remains to be seen how much damage this episode will do him). Because really, who in that party, besides Harper, has any brains? Belinda Stronach and Scott Brison are not stupid, but then they're no longer Cons either. Peter MacKay, perhaps? Doubtful, given that the whole country has seen him backstab David Orchard. So who does that leave? Inky Mark? Cheryl Gallant? Maybe Tony Clement or one of the other former Harrisites could pull it off, but their entire claim to fame is the economic model that is now unravelling at the seams. No, I think that the Conservative Party will spend quite some time in the political wilderness after Harper's reign ends. And that, my friends, is a Good Thing.

What's wrong with this picture?

Seems the folks at AIG have found something to do with the money that American taxpayers have kindly given them:
American International Group Inc., whose bonuses and perks drew fire from lawmakers after the insurer accepted a federal bailout, will make special retention payments that more than double the salaries of some senior managers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Some executives among 130 recipients will get more than $500,000, about 200 percent of their salaries, to stay through 2009, said the person, who declined to be named because the information hasn’t been publicly disclosed. An undetermined number of lower-paid employees will also get cash awards to dissuade them from quitting, the person said.

“It seems like more than what you’d need to pay to get people to stick around,” said David Schmidt, a senior consultant at executive pay firm James F. Reda & Associates. “Nobody’s hiring, so where are you going to go?”

Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy is encouraging top employees at AIG subsidiaries to remain so the units retain their value while he seeks buyers. The New York-based company is selling businesses, including its U.S. life insurance and retirement services operations, to repay loans in a $152.5 billion government rescue of AIG, which had a record $37.6 billion in net losses so far this year.
From Bloomberg. They don't blush easily, do they?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cisco, Dell Risk Losing Sales as Recession Fuels Grey Market

This is long overdue, really:
The remnants of businesses crushed by the economic slump now sit in Liquid Technology Inc.’s warehouse by the Hudson River in New York’s Chelsea district.

Hundreds of servers, personal computers and routers -- some shrink-wrapped, some on pallets, some tossed in a cardboard box to be made into scrap metal -- fill the 11,000-square-foot warehouse of the company, which buys liquidated technology and sells it for pennies on the dollar.

“There’s a lot of bad news driving the business,” said Richard Greene, Liquid Technology’s vice president of operations. “It’s the first wave of the tidal wave.”

The wave may sweep away sales of new systems from companies like Cisco Systems Inc. and Dell Inc., which are already suffering amid the recession and increasingly competing with sellers of their own used products.

From Bloomberg. Myself, I don't see this as a bad thing; it might keep old hardware out of landfills. Tough for the manufacturers, though.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Harper shuts down Parliament to avoid non-confidence vote

A lot of people say Canadian politics is boring. The events of the past week certainly give the lie to that belief, though. Our current political crisis is attracting substantial attention from the international media; interestingly, they're a lot more upfront about the situation than our own news outlets:

Canadian Parliament Closed in Bid to Keep Prime Minister in Power (New York Times)

Canada's PM clings on to power as parliament suspended (The Guardian)

Canadian PM suspends Parliament to avoid defeat (People's Daily)

It's pretty obvious to foreign journalists what Harper's real motives are. Of course, the domestic press wants to seem impartial (except the Sun Media papers; Winnipeg's example had the screaming headline "NO! NO! NO!" the other day).

The Economist has a nice piece on this. It's a reasonably fair summary; if I have any quibble it's that their treatment of the Bloc is a bit one-dimensional (yes, they are sovereigntists, but there's more to them than that).

Meanwhile, Sean in Ottawa, with a bit of help from josh, has this to say on babble:

Stephen Harper wants to shut down Parliament just because he does not agree with it.

Some say this is unprecedented.

In fact, Harper is following parliamentary tradition. Consider the following precedents:

1629: King Charles I in England
1799: Napoleon in France
1913: Victoriano Huerta in Mexico
1933: Adolf Hitler in Germany
1936: Fransisco Franco in Spain
1939: Benito Mussolini in Italy
1973: Augusto Pinochet in Chile
1975: Indira Gandhi in India
1999: Perez Musharaff in Pakistan
2008: Stephen Harper in Canada.
Maybe Harper should consider what happened to many of those leaders. In a similar vein is this video, courtesy of The Harper Dictatorship:

My suspicion is that over the holidays the Cons will temper the budget a bit, and the Liberals will get nervous and chicken out come the resumption of Parliament in January. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing; the budget will be less harsh than it would otherwise be, and the Cons will thus be in power just long enough to be blamed for the hard economic times that we're in for.

Canada isn't the only country facing a parliamentary crisis, though:
Politicians in Australia’s most populous state could be breath-tested for alcohol before voting on laws after a series of late-night incidents that have embarrassed the centre-left government.

New South Wales state lawmaker Andrew Fraser resigned from his conservative opposition frontbench role after shoving a female colleague at the Christmas party celebrations.

“Breath test this mob,” said a front page headline in Sydney’s mass-selling Daily Telegraph newspaper. State police minister Matt Brown was dumped from his portfolio in September after allegedly “dirty” dancing in his underwear over the chest of a female colleague after a drunken post-budget office party.

Conservative opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said he would support alcohol breath tests for drunkenness for lawmakers before they entered parliament, while Green MPs John Kaye and Lee Rhiannon also backed the plan, along with the parliament’s speaker.
From the Times of India.

Skeletons tumbling out of Tory closets

The pot has been calling the oregano green yet again, it seems:
The separatist Bloc Québécois was part of secret plotting in 2000 to join a formal coalition with the two parties that now make up Stephen Harper's government, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The scheme, designed to propel current Conservative minister Stockwell Day to power, undermines the Harper government's line this week that it would never sign a deal like the current one between the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Bloc.

Bloc officials said that well-known Calgary lawyer Gerry Chipeur sent a written offer before the votes were counted on election day on Nov. 27, 2000.

From the Globe and Mail. No big shock here. The Tory apologists, though, are getting desperate, as evidenced by some of the comments:
Why can't people understand the difference between making contingency plans and actually putting those plans into action?

Secondly, I don't see what the relevance is of plans made by the former leader of a now defunct party.
Right. The "defunct" party has nothing to do with the present party - it changed its name when it took over the PC party! Why can't the "liberal media" see this? And Stockboy is just a cabinet minister now, not the head honcho! Well sure, whatever you are inclined to believe I guess...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do the Tories have another trick up their sleeves?

Andrew Steele thinks they might:

"We will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.

Here are the ten options the Prime Minister is likely reviewing:

1. Preemptively Remove Michaëlle Jean

This is the true nuclear option for Harper: a preemptive strike against Jean to remove her from office, and replace her with a governor-general sympathetic to the argument that the people should decide in an election.

The roots of this option are found in the last major constitutional crisis in a British Parliamentary democracy, the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

I'll let you review all the background in this excellent Wikipedia article, but the key passage for our purposes is this:

"(Governor-General) Kerr was unwilling to warn (Prime Minister) Whitlam that he was contemplating dismissing him, fearing that Whitlam's reaction would be to advise Elizabeth II, the Queen of Australia, to remove him as Governor-General instead - advice the Queen would be compelled by convention to follow. Though this might appear to be an unlikely proposition, it was constitutionally possible, and in the peculiar circumstances of the crisis could not have been ruled out."

Interesting, and worrisome. Could they actually put their own stooge in place of Ms. Jean? That wouldn't look good on them in the long run, of course, but it would force the opposition to reconsider their short term options.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Twilight of the Tories

It really looks like it's happening:
The Liberals and New Democrats signed an agreement on Monday to form an unprecedented coalition government, with a written pledge of support from the Bloc Québécois, if they are successful in ousting the minority Conservative government in a coming confidence vote.

The accord between parties led by Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe came just hours after Liberal caucus members agreed unanimously that Dion would stay on to lead the Liberal-NDP coalition, with support in the House of Commons from Bloc MPs.

From the CBC. The full text of the agreement is here. The Reformatories are now panicking, of course, but I really think they went too far when they covertly taped an NDP conference call. That sort of shit tends to undermine any remaining credibility they might have had.

So what now? A coalition is an interesting prospect; the new government will face big challenges, though:
The benchmark TSX index took a record dive Monday, dropping 864.41 points, or 9.3 per cent, to 8,406.21.

The percentage drop was the second-biggest on record, after the 11.3 per cent plunge on Black Monday, Oct. 19, 1987. The TSX point fall broke the record set on Sept. 29, when it fell by 840.93 points.

The Dow Jones industrial average also plummeted, falling 679.95 points, or 7.7 per cent, to 8,149.

Not an easy task governing the country under circumstances like this. The new government will indeed likely have to go into deficit if they hope to significantly soften the economic blows we're likely to be taking in the next few years.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Harper running scared

He's now postponing the confidence vote:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has temporarily stymied a Liberal plan to bring down the government and propose a governing coalition with the New Democrats, delaying the opportunity for a no-confidence vote by one week.

In an address delivered from the foyer of the House of Commons on Friday, Harper said the government should be empowered by Canadians — not through deals negotiated in the shadowy halls of Parliament.

"While we have been working on the economy, the opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters. They want to take power, not earn it," Harper said.

The prime minister has cancelled Monday's opposition day, which the Liberals intended to use to introduce a motion to topple the Conservative government on the grounds that it has failed to recognize the seriousness of the economic downturn.

Harper said the next opposition day will be set for Dec. 8.

From the CBC. I guess he figured the Liberals would never bring down the government for fear of precipitating another election... but it seems he was wrong.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bye bye Steve?

Let's hope so. It could happen:

Canada's opposition parties said Thursday they will vote against the Conservative government's fiscal update, sparking speculation the country could face another election in the midst of a global economic crisis.

The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois said they would not support the update introduced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty because it contained no stimulus package to spur Canada's slumping economy and protect Canadian workers during the crisis.

The update is a confidence vote on Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government and could be voted on as a ways and means motion as early as Monday evening.

From the CBC. Now I don't want another election any more than anyone else, but contrary to popular belief it doesn't have to happen, even if the fiscal update is voted down. If the opposition parties can convince the Governor-General that they can form a government, power could shift without having to go to the polls again. It happened in Ontario, when Frank Miller's minority government was defeated in 1985. I say bring it on.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

And it continues...

So now the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan's planned takeover of BCE may not go through, because BCE can't prove they're solvent:

Shares of telecommunications giant BCE Inc. remained deep under water early Wednesday afternoon, after plunging 40 per cent at the opening bell following a warning by the company that its massive planned privatization is in jeopardy.

The shares were trading at $25.09 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down $13.26, or 34.6 per cent, from Tuesday's close, having earlier fallen as far as $23, or 46 per cent below the $42.75 price the would-be buyers, led by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, agreed to pay in June, 2007.

The rout followed a pre-opening warning from BCE that its planned $35-billion privatization was in doubt because it had failed a preliminary solvency test conducted for the would-be purchasers.

So the biggest telco in the country, which you'd think would be bulletproof, is in trouble. Seems absurd, given that it seems like a can't lose business. After all, people don't stop making phone calls (or, hopefully, reading this blog), and BCE's flagship subsidiary, Bell Canada, is the gatekeeper to the phone and internet network in Canada's two largest provinces. MTS, their counterpart here, is doing fine (their stock is only slightly below where it was a year ago, though they had a temporary dip today while BCE's stock was crashing). Nevertheless, if they've invested gambled on those absurd securities in a big way, this isn't a big surprise. Strangely, the TSX is actually up today despite this (I'd have thought BCE would represent a substantial chunk of the value of the TSX).

Interesting things are arising as a result of all this chaos. Canadian Silver Bug has found an interesting site, the Free Lakota Bank:
The Free Lakota Bank is the world's first non-reserve, non-fractional bank that issues, accepts for deposit, and circulates REAL money...silver and gold. All of our deposits are liquid, meaning they can be withdrawn at any time in minted rounds.
I have mixed views on this. I like the idea; it's great to see the Lakota nation reclaiming control of their economy (and I imagine that the Mohawks and others are watching this closely). And I do see some merit in the way they're doing it; fiat currency isn't looking particularly good right now. But I can't help but thinking that if full reserve banking worked as well as many precious metal enthusiasts think it did, someone would already be doing it. Not to mention,
seeing them quote Ayn Rand sort of dampens my enthusiasm for the whole thing.

Then again, if you are going to try this, it's a very good time. Precious metals are down considerably from earlier this year, but I tend to agree with those who think they will increase dramatically in value as the US dollar devalues again.

More economic and labour news

The doomsaying continues:

The global financial crisis could increase jobless numbers in OECD countries by eight million people, hit Canada with a recession and boost the country's unemployment rate to 7.5 per cent, according to a report.

The latest Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development outlook said Tuesday the world is entering the worst economic downturn in decades.

"We project that 21 out of 30 member economies of the OECD will go through a protracted recession of a magnitude which has not been seen since the early 1980s," said Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel, the OECD chief economist.

The gloomy outlook predicts Canada's economy will shrink in the fourth quarter by 1.6 per cent and in the first and second quarters of 2009 by 1.4 per cent first and 0.3 per cent respectively, meaning the country will be in recession.

From the CBC. The OECD thinks, however, that other countries will have a harder time of it. The situation in the UK, for example, is not looking good:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned of a "severe" economic downturn in the UK in 2009.

The Paris-based body has predicted that economic output in the UK will fall by 1.1% next year, more than any other major G7 country.

Unemployment in the UK is predicted to rise significantly to over 8% by end of 2009 from 5.5% in 2008.

Mr. Brown certainly has his work cut out for him; here's hoping his bold moves help. On the other hand, it looks like the "lucky country" may continue to be lucky for a while:
Australia will avoid a recession next year, one of only a handful of developed countries whose economy will continue to grow, a leading global think tank says.

As financial markets wrestle with the meaning of the latest last-ditch US bail-out - a $500 billion prop for the ailing banking giant Citigroup - the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts the richest economies in the world will shrink by a collective 0.4 per cent next year.

"Many OECD economies are in or are on the verge of a protracted recession of a magnitude not experienced since the early 1980s," the chief economist, Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel, said.

"As a result, the number of unemployed in the OECD area could rise by 8 million over the next two years."

Australia's economy is likely to grow by a relatively healthy 1.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, a Wayne Simpson, an economist at the U of M, is being interviewed on CBC Radio as I write this. He thinks Manitoba is better poised than just about anywhere in the world to weather the downturn, because we have a fairly diversified economy that doesn't have big boom and bust cycles. He thinks we may be in for a mild recession (particularly the resource sector of our economy; have you checked commodity prices lately?) but nothing compared to most of the developed world. Of course, any or all of these claims may turn out to be nonsense; it is, after all, economists who are making the predictions.

On another note, some of you may know that CUPE 3903, at York University, is on strike. Unfortunately, the domain name they wanted to use is being held by a cybersquatter, and they need the hits to go to the right place, obviously. So here's my shout out to them. Facebook users can also show their support here. Apparently they want to link the phrase "York University Strike Information" to their site, so here it is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gordon Brown's approach to the economic crisis

He's taking a decidedly Keynesian direction:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown swept aside three decades of economic orthodoxy with tax increases on the rich and plans that will double Britain’s national debt.

Brown’s proposals yesterday to mitigate fallout from the global economic slump would cost 25.6 billion pounds ($38.7 billion) in the U.K.’s biggest round of stimulus since 1988.

The plan, which will result in the largest budget deficit among the Group of Seven industrialized nations, represents a retreat from policies that have shaped the British economy since Conservative Margaret Thatcher’s 12-year tenure that began in 1979. Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair called himself a proponent of “New Labour” and advocated policies Thatcher had promoted, including spending restraint, low debt and tax cuts for the rich.

“It is back to the 70s,” said Bill Jones, a political scientist at the University of Manchester. “It’s a return to the two-party divide and a temporary end to consensus politics. It’s like Labour has suddenly burst out of its straitjacket.”

Labour’s traditional union supporters backed the proposal by Brown, 57, to impose a new 45 percent tax on those earning more than 150,000 pounds a year, while opposition Conservatives accused him of irresponsibility for running up debt that will exceed 1 trillion pounds by 2014.

From here. The extra tax on the rich is long overdue; I can't comment, though, on his debt proposal. It might be a good idea, but it might also be a very bad idea, and whether it's good or bad depends partly on what international investors think. As noted previously, I suspect part of the reason why the US has gotten away with running up huge debts is that said investors are reluctant to bet against the US dollar; the fate of the pound, though, is a lot less critical on an international level, so they might well just pull the plug on the UK. On the other hand, anti-Keynesian sentiment may have declined somewhat since Bob Rae tried this approach in the early 1990s, and it might significantly mitigate the worst effects of the crisis on Britain's population. The situation definitely bears watching; the world economy is in very bad shape indeed, and if Brown can mitigate this to a noticeable degree, a lot of people will want to follow his lead.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jewish youths jailed for neo-Nazi attacks in Israel

I think these people must have a bit of an identity crisis:

A gang of Jewish teenagers were today jailed by an Israeli court for a 12-month campaign of neo-Nazi attacks.

The sentencing in Tel Aviv, which comes over a year after the arrest of the eight youths, closed a case that has sparked revulsion across the Jewish state.

The judge, Zvi Gurfinkel, sentenced the teens, aged 16 to 19, to between one and seven years in prison for a "shocking and horrifying" year-long spree of attacks that focused on foreign workers, gay people, ultra-orthodox Jews and homeless men.

The ring posted pro-Hitler video clips and recordings of their attacks on the internet. Its members also planned to attack Arabs.

They were arrested in September 2007 and reports said that searches of their homes unearthed Nazi uniforms, knives, guns and the explosive TNT.

Gang members had tattoos popular with white supremacists – including the number 88, code for "heil Hitler", H being the eighth letter of the alphabet.

From the Guardian.

The bailouts continue...

...this time, Citigroup:

The U.S. government unveiled a bold plan Sunday to rescue troubled Citigroup, including taking a $20 billion US stake in the firm as well as guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky assets.

The action, announced jointly by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is aimed at shoring up a huge financial institution whose collapse would wreak havoc on the already crippled financial system and the U.S. economy.

The sweeping plan is geared to stemming a crisis of confidence in the company, whose stock has been hammered in the past week because of worries about its financial health.

"With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy," the three agencies said in a statement issued Sunday night. "We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions, and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks," they said.

It is the latest in a string of high-profile government bailout efforts. The Fed in March provided financial backing to JPMorgan Chase's buyout of ailing Bear Stearns. Six months later, the government was forced to take over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and throw a financial lifeline — which was recently rejigged — to insurer American International Group.

From here. Just how long can they keep this up? It bewilders me that the US still has an AAA credit rating; the Rae government in Ontario was nowhere near as far in debt as the US is, yet its AAA rating was taken away early in their term. Of course, there's a difference; if the US defaults, the result could be a bigger devaluation of the US dollar than foreign investors are prepared to cope with. So maybe the bond rating agencies are reluctant to act even in the face of mounting evidence that the Yanks aren't worthy of such good credit, for fear of toppling the world economy into an even bigger mess than it's already in. It's noteworthy, though, that there may be limits to the agencies' patience:
The United States may be on course to lose its 'AAA' rating due to the large amount of debt it has accumulated, according to Martin Hennecke, senior manager of private clients at Tyche.

"The U.S. might really have to look at a default on the bankruptcy reorganization of the present financial system" and the bankruptcy of the government is not out of the realm of possibility, Hennecke said.
From here, via the Huffington Post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bullion dealers running out of stock

As most of us know, gold has a reputation for being the investment of last resort. There's a good reason for that, of course; although its value is as dependent on people's perception of value as is fiat currency, there has never been a time in recorded history when gold has not been seen as valuable. So in times like this, people tend to go for gold. Well, it seems a lot of dealers are caught unprepared:

FEARS of the unknown long-term effects from the global financial crisis have sparked a new gold rush.

With retail and wholesale clients around the world stocking up on the precious metal, the Perth Mint has been forced to suspend orders.

As the World Gold Council reported that the dollar demand for gold reached a quarterly record of $US32 billion ($50.73 billion) in the third quarter, industry insiders said the race to secure physical gold had reached an intensity that had never been witnessed before.

Perth Mint sales and marketing director Ron Currie said the unprecedented demand had forced the Mint to cease orders until January, with staff working seven days a week, 24-hour days, over three shifts to meet orders.

He said Europe was leading the demand, with Russia, Ukraine, Middle East and US all buying -- making up 80 per cent of its sales. One European client purchased 30,000 ounces for $33 million.

"We have never seen this before and are working right at capacity. And we are seeing it from clients in the shop buying one ounce, right up to 30,000 ounces from overseas clients," Mr Currie said.

Robert Jaggard, manager of bullion and rare coins dealer Jaggards, said business had picked up strongly and he expected it to increase further.

"All around the world there has been a heavy run on physical gold and there is a shortage of supply," he said.

Via audrey_girl in this iTulip thread. Some might wonder if gold really is such a good investment right now, since although gold does well when inflation is high, many of the pundits are now talking about deflation. And under deflation, the price of everything tends to drop - including gold. However, the party line at iTulip is what they call "Ka-Poom theory" (I shit you not). The basic thesis is that the present economic crisis will unfold with, first a deflation, and then a spectacular inflation. If their theory is true, buying precious metals is a great idea, because the "ka" gives you the opportunity to buy them cheaply, and when the "poom" comes you'll be sitting pretty. Whether their thesis is more plausible than the pundits who fear a deflationary spiral, I can't say.

Of course, the tinfoil hat crowd are saying that prices are being delibrately manipulated by the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, or some such organization (and I'm not exaggerating; try googling site:kitcomm.com "elders of zion" some time and see how many of the folks at that site take the Protocols seriously). Apparently the wicked conspirators first pushed the price of gold down by shorting gold-backed securities, then bought all the gold in bulk so there's none left for the rest of us. Or something like that. I tend to figure on something much more mundane - like, the bullion wholesalers were taken by surprise as much as anyone was by the direction the economy has taken, and as a result they didn't have enough supply built up to take advantage of the opportunities. The sociological corollary to Ockham's Razor - never invoke conspiracy to explain that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

America continues her downward spiral

The situation with the US automakers is looking more dire than ever:
U.S. lawmakers deadlocked on a plan to bail out the Big Three automakers, leaving General Motors Corp. facing the prospect it could run out of cash before a new Congress can come to the rescue next year.

Democratic congressional leaders disagreed with Republicans and President George W. Bush's administration over how to provide $25 billion in aid to GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. Only two days remain in a lame-duck session for lawmakers to resurrect a compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, suggested yesterday the situation was dire and refused to set aside time today to debate a compromise proposed by Senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican. Reid said Bond's plan hasn't been put in writing and the House of Representatives is about to adjourn.

``We have to face reality,'' he said. ``The reality is that we tried a number of different approaches.''

Bond and fellow Republican George Voinovich of Ohio insisted they weren't giving up on their proposal to speed up and broaden access to $25 billion already approved for fuel- efficient vehicle development that was a compromise.

``We've made great progress,'' Bond said. ``We are down to the point now where wording challenges are about the only remaining things to deal with.''

From Bloomberg.com. Of course, Obama's inauguration (along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress) might change the situation, but some fear that GM, at least, might not even survive that long.

This illustrates just what Obama is up against. After his honeymoon period ends, he's going to be facing mounting criticism as the US economy sinks further. Unless he is able to work miracles, he could find himself vulnerable in the 2012 election. A Nehemiah Scudder type (like, say, Mike Huckabee) could be a real threat; these people, for instance, would undoubtedly be enthusiastic backers of the likes of Huckabee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Vice-President Dick Cheney indicted in South Texas


McALLEN, Texas -- Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county.

The prisons have been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor.

The indictment has not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken until that happens.

The seven indictments issued in Willacy County included some targeting public officials connected to District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra's own legal battles.

Guerra himself was under indictment for more than 18 months until a judge dismissed the indictments last month.

Guerra's tenure ends this year after nearly two decades in office. He lost convincingly in a Democratic primary in March.

Guerra said the prison-related charges against Cheney and Gonzales are a national issue and experts from across the country testified to the grand jury.

From here. It's a start, anyway, and hopefully this won't be the last indictment issued against members of the Bush administration.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Insurers pull cover from suppliers to GM, Ford

This is not good news for the US auto industry:
Three big European credit insurers have removed cover from suppliers of troubled U.S. carmakers General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the Financial Times reported on Friday.

The withdrawal of credit insurance, which covers suppliers against the risk of the car companies failing, was undertaken by Euler Hermes, Atradius and Coface, which control more than 80 per cent of the world's credit insurance market, the newspaper said.

The three are refusing to write policies for suppliers trading with GM or Ford on credit, it reported, without citing sources.

From the Globe. If this is true (and in the absence of sources it's hard to separate facts from mere rumours) this is really big. Either a bailout or a nationalization seems inevitable; the US will not likely allow those companies to fail, and probably won't allow them to be taken over by Toyota or Honda either (assuming that those companies even want to make such a risky investment in this climate).

Blame China, say Paulson and others

Hank Paulson has an interesting take on the international economic crisis (from Bloomberg, via blazespinnaker in this iTulip thread):
In a sign the administration doesn't accept full responsibility for the world's woes, Paulson said yesterday that while the U.S. is ``well aware and humbled by our own failings,'' it wasn't alone in making mistakes. The ``lack of consumption and accumulation of reserves in Asia and oil exporting countries and structural issues in Europe,'' also hurt the global economy, Paulson said.
My emphasis. Right, so it's those lesser breeds without the law who are to blame, 'cuz they're not spending like drunken sailors the way good ol' Americans would when they come into some cash.

There seems to be a lot of "blame China" sentiment out there lately. Look at this one:

It wasn't that long ago that pundits were counting on China to rescue the world from economic calamity. Now, China may be poised to become a key source of the problem.

After a recent visit to China, Nobuyuki Saji, chief economist and equity strategist for Japanese investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, issued a report warning that China could be on the verge of pushing the world into a deflationary spiral. The problem? Swelling industrial overcapacity, which threatens to undermine prices both for China's exported goods and its imports of raw materials.

He estimated that China's production is running as much as 50 per cent below capacity, as many industries that have been expanding rapidly are now being hit by slowing demand both domestically and abroad. Based on his estimates, China alone represents 7 per cent of the global supply/demand gap.

"We believe that once Chinese companies start to fully factor in a 2009 recession in the global economy in terms of significant shipment and selling-price cuts, widespread global deflation will be inevitable," he said.

From the Globe and Mail, via bugsybrown. Expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama win spurs U.S. gun sales boom

Those crazy Yankees:

In John McCain's home state of Arizona, the recent economic downturn took its toll on The Don's Sport Shop.

Gun sales at the Scottsdale store slowed to a crawl last month, even as the state's hunting season rolled around. On an average day two weeks ago, shop owner Manny Chee was eking out only $2,000 or $2,500 in gun sales.

"The housing crisis has hit our state pretty hard," he said. "It was kind of like everybody's in limbo."

But Barack Obama is good for business. Last Wednesday, the day after Mr. Obama beat Arizona's own Mr. McCain to become the president-elect, Mr. Chee sold $30,000 worth of guns - mostly the semi-automatics the National Rifle Association claims Mr. Obama's administration will restrict.

"The election came, and now it's just a madhouse in here," said Mr. Chee, 31.

Between Nov. 3 and Nov. 9, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received 374,000 requests for background checks on gun buyers - 49 per cent more than the same time last year, CNN reported.

The NRA believes Mr. Obama would restrict handguns and raise taxes on ammunition, effectively quintupling the cost of bullets.

From here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

So it was 90 years ago today that WWI ended. It was supposed to be the "War to end all wars" but things didn't turn out that way. In recent years it has hit home harder for Canadians (and Americans), for rather obvious reasons. Until 2001, many would probably have called it "the day when we honour those who died so that we can have a holiday in November" (or in Ontario, not even that; almost everything there is open today, even schools). In the US it's called "Veterans' Day", and one can draw one's own conclusions about whether that reflects a difference in attitude between our countries. Tonight I'm going to watch my brother perform in Billy Bishop Goes to War, which is getting excellent reviews. All I know of it is the songs I've heard him play, but it sounds promising.

My own family were very lucky. My maternal grandfather was too young for WWI and too old for WWII, though he had a couple of brothers who were killed in action. My paternal grandfather might well have gone to war in WWII, had it not been for the fact that he was a tugboat captain on the Great Lakes, and as he worked in an essential service he was ineligible for the draft. On the other hand, the father of one of my friends fought in Korea while his mum and siblings pissed away the money he sent home. Despite this, he was never bitter about it, though he didn't talk about his combat experiences.

I'll leave off with the words of Charles Clarence Laking, one of the last veterans of WWI, who died in 2005 at the age of 106:

Monday, November 10, 2008

A clever lad, showing some independent spirit...

... though he'll get in trouble if he keeps this up:

Police in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, stopped a 9-year-old boy driving the family car alone to his grandmother's house Monday.

The boy had driven about 3 km — halfway to his destination — before being stopped, police said Thursday.

"I learned to drive by watching my father and at game arcades," the third-grader was quoted as saying.

As Monday was a national holiday, traffic was relatively light in the morning and the boy caused no accidents.

Police cautioned his parents to watch the car more carefully.

From here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mo. sixth-graders face discipline for 'Hit a Jew Day'


Several sixth-graders from suburban St. Louis are being disciplined for creating "Hit a Jew Day" and then hitting Jewish classmates.

Four or five students at Parkway West Middle School in Chesterfield could be suspended and undergo counseling for last week's incident, school officials told the Associated Press. Others who taunted Jewish students or encouraged others to participate face lesser punishment.

Officials said fewer than 10 of the school's 35 Jewish students were hit. One was slapped in the face and the others were hit mostly on the back of their shoulders.

"There is a mix of sadness and outrage," said district spokesman Paul Tandy. "The concern is a lot of kids knew about it and they didn't take action or say anything."

Via robbie_dee in this babble thread. It sounds like something from South Park, but unfortunately this is the real deal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

You might not like Obama's promises

Many Canadians were very pleased to see Barack Obama win the presidential election. I was among them, but only in a relative sense. You see, the US political scene is quite some distance to the right of its Canadian counterpart, and Obama is no exception, sadly:
He supports the death penalty for heinous crimes, while acknowledging that capital punishment is likely not a deterrent.

He is opposed to same-sex marriage, though noting that time may prove he's on the wrong side of history on this issue.

He wants more combat troops in Afghanistan, while vowing to take American soldiers out of Iraq within 16 months of assuming office.

He had himself baptized as a Christian in adulthood.

Barack Obama is not the Canadian version of a liberal politician, even while occupying the far left – as a United States senator – of the political spectrum. In Canadian terms, he'd barely qualify as a Red Tory.

From the Toronto Star. I'd still take Obama over Harper (or McCain or Palin, obviously), but in my mind Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, Elizabeth May, and even Stephane Dion are far more progressive than he is. Although, if Obama were running in Canada instead of the US he might have adjusted his platform to suit the electorate. Certainly I have little doubt that if Harper were running in the US he'd be taking clear and strident positions against same sex marriage, and possibly abortion as well, and endorse the death penalty.

On a completely unrelated note, this story caught my attention:
The main drag looked like a scene from a horror flick last night after a leaky truck spilled 4.5 metric tonnes of chicken blood down Queen Street.

The tanker truck, headed from Schneider’s poultry plant in St. Marys to Kitchener, was headed west down Queens Street at about 11:30 p.m. when a valve broke off.

“We got the call first from a citizen who said there was a liquid on the road,” said Const. Glen Childerly of the Perth County Ontario Provincial Police.

“When we went there, we discovered it was blood. . . . There was blood everywhere and in spots it was three inches thick.”

The blood trail spanned more than five kilometers through the centre of town.
And I thought Halloween was last week...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The night the grow lights came on in Massachusetts

Lost in the shuffle in the coverage of Obama's victory (either a squeaker or a landslide, depending on whether you're counting popular vote or electoral college votes) is the fact that virtually every US election is accompanied by numerous referenda on various issues. In Massachusetts, and Michigan, the term could be "reeferendum":

Michigan became the 13th state to legalise marijuana for medical use, while Massachusetts decriminalised possession of one ounce or less of the substance, making the offence punishable with a citation and a $100 fine.

"Tonight's results represent a sea change," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed the Massachusetts and Michigan ballot proposals. "Voters have spectacularly rejected eight years of the most intense government war on marijuana since the days of 'Reefer Madness.'"

Not every ballot initiative was so positive, of course. Final results are still pending, but it's looking like California may have the ignominious distinction of becoming the first US state to ban same-sex marriage after it was legal. Probably supported by folks whose preachers told them that they'd burn in hell if they voted No. Oh well, that's how America works, I guess.

Incidentally, remember those "militia" organizations that were so prominent during the Clinton years and faded into the background during the last eight years? (I use quotes around the word "militia" because really, as Chomsky points out, militias are raised by states; these are really private armies, or in some cases actual terrorists). In any case, expect to see these folks being a lot more visible in the next little while, because most of them are not going to be happy with Obama's win at all.

And bugsybrown reminds us that Bush will still be president for 76 more days from today, which gives him time to do an awful lot of damage.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Another reason to like NAFTA (not!)

Chapter 11 rears its ugly head:
A company that makes the commonly used herbicide ingredient 2,4-D is challenging the Quebec government under the North American Free Trade Agreement for banning its product.

The Canadian unit of Dow AgroSciences alleges the prohibition of the weed killer is without any scientific basis and in violation of the trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

"We are of the view that this is in breach to certain provisions of NAFTA," Jim Wispinski, president and CEO of Dow AgroSciences, said in a press release. "We don't welcome this step but feel it is necessary given the circumstances."

From here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is it really possible to die laughing?

In 1989 a Danish audiologist, Ole Bentzen, died watching A Fish Called Wanda. His heart was estimated to have beat at between 250 and 500 beats per minute, before he succumbed to cardiac arrest.
Reminds one of this classic, naturally. The catch is, I haven't been able to track down anything quite counting as a primary source (the Wikipedia entry on A Fish Called Wanda gives a reference, but the link is dead).

Monday, October 27, 2008

McCain says the "S" word

Of course, to call Obama, or virtually any of the Democratic team a socialist, is absurd, but that doesn't stop John McCain:
THE war of words between US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama for the votes of plumbers and other average Joes is a reminder of the nation's long-standing doubts about concentrated wealth – and its qualms about doing something about it.
Americans have long voiced concerns about putting too much wealth in too few hands, but the public's views also come with contradictions – there is concern also about the role of government and the individual.

"I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," Mr Obama told Ohio voter Joe Wurzelbacher – aka "Joe the Plumber".

The remark may have sounded pretty innocuous. But Mr McCain has lambasted his rival's words as sounding "a lot like socialism", and turned the criticism into a central theme of his campaign's final round. Mr Obama's remarks, Mr McCain says, are emblematic of a tax plan to confiscate wealth and give it to the poor that would make the IRS – America's tax service – "into a giant welfare agency".
From here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tires slashed during Obama rally

Those Repugnicans are getting desperate:

Someone slashed the tires of at least 30 vehicles parked outside the Crown Coliseum on Sunday during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, authorities said.

Sheriff’s deputies are investigating. The tires were cut while people were inside the Crown Coliseum listening to speeches, said Maj. E. Wright of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the damaged vehicles were parked on Wilkes Road. Representatives from Obama and Sen. John McCain’s campaigns said they were unaware of the acts.

From here, via Bad American and Talking Points Memo. Meanwhile, in Texas, Mock, Paper, Scissors reports that someone had her car severely vandalized for having an Obama sticker. Expect more of this as the election approaches.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sarkozy displeased with voodoo doll

So much so, in fact, that he's trying to get an injunction against its sale:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked a Paris court for an injunction to stop sales of a voodoo doll made in his image.

The doll's maker, K&B Publishers, has a hit on its hands and has turned down a request to voluntarily withdraw the doll from sale.

The doll with Sarkozy's face comes with a voodoo kit, including pins to stick into the figure.

From here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jaffer doesn't know when to quit

You've gotta love this:

Rahim Jaffer has been tight-lipped and out of sight since he refused to concede his loss to NDP candidate Linda Duncan in Tuesday night's federal election.

Some media outlets prematurely pegged the Conservative candidate, who held the seat for the past 11 years, as the winner in the Edmonton-Strathcona riding. Jaffer went as far as delivering a victory speech before the final polls were counted and Duncan was declared the new MP by 442 votes.

A wee bit overconfident, no? But then, Jaffer has always been a bit off. Remember this story?
Rahim Jaffer says he is working hard to put last month's scandal behind him.

Jaffer's personal assistant impersonated him on a national radio show while Jaffer attended the grand opening of his coffee shop. Jaffer initially lied to protect his friend, then confessed it wasn't him on the show.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Well, it's over...

... and surprisingly little has changed as far as the big picture goes. The Liberals got another shitkicking, yet the Tories remain scary to enough people (fortunately) that they weren't able to capitalize on it as much as they'd hoped. Some highlights:

Jack Harris took St. John's East with almost 75% of the vote! I suspect he's going to be a prominent figure in the party for some time to come. Especially nice given that Newfoundland has not traditionally been fertile ground for the NDP.

Elizabeth May failed to take Central Nova (or any other seat, for that matter). Whether she will live to fight again remains to be seen, but I suspect she will.

Once again, it took the Bloc Quebecois to save Canada from destruction. Happily, Thomas Mulcair held on to Outrement, which I believe makes him the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec in a general election. Contrary to what was said at a rally last week, though, he is not the first to win a seat in the province; Phil Edmonston did it in 1990. Unfortunately we didn't pick up any other seats in the province, though.

Disappointingly, Gerard Kennedy made one of the few Liberal gains this time round, at the expense of Peggy Nash. I suspect when the knives come out for Dion, one of them will be wielded by him.

Waterloo Region has turned solidly blue! This is a bit of a shock; although some had suggested that Karen Redman might be in trouble in Kitchener Centre, few could have predicted Andrew Telegdi's defeat in Kitchener-Waterloo. I'm happy to see Telegdi go, by the way, but not happy to see who has beaten him. And I would love to have seen his concession speech; I imagine him being bitter and angry.

The orange wave has swept northern Ontario, except for Kenora. This is not a surprise; the biggest surprise is that it hasn't happened for so long.

Shelly Glover slapped the cuffs on Ray Simard in St. Boniface. Niki Ashton has picked up Churchill, and can probably look forward to carrying her family dynasty for some time to come. She's one of those people who remind you of how little you have achieved (unless, of course, you were an MP by the age of 26).

Nettie Wiebe didn't quite make it in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar. A pity; she'd have made a fine MP (and agriculture critic!) Better luck next time. Things turned out a lot better in Edmonton-Strathcona; let's hope that Linda Duncan represents the start of a trend rather than a fluke.

Turncoat Ujjal Dosanjh held onto his seat in Vancouver South. He bleated to the media about how evil the NDP is for actually daring to contest an election, and blames us for the Tories forming another government. Gee, it couldn't have anything to do with the fact that his party sucks, could it? The turnout was low across the country (below 60%); many pundits are saying this is the result of prospective Liberal voters staying home. Maybe next time they'll actually find someone else to vote for? Like, say, the NDP?

So what does the future hold? Well, as hinted at above, I suspect that Dion is finished. I predict that by this time in 2011, Michael Ignatieff will be prime minister. You heard it here first.