Loss Of Objectivity in Public Policy

Upon reading the Calgary Herald’s online comments to Rachel Notley’s letter to the editor today, I can’t help but feel dismayed by people’s vitriol. To preface this piece, I’m fiscally conservative and did not vote for Rachel Notley in our last provincial election and nor would I vote for her today. She has failed to act prudently with the public purse and public sector unions just as I had suspected. However; I do give her credit for adjusting somewhat when she took office to the market reality facing the oil and gas industry.

British Columbia has failed to honour its role in support of Canada’s industrial development. This mere fact underlies the basis which prevents the construction of increased pipeline capacity to the west coast. Ms. Notley has been an advocate of new pipeline construction. In fact, the taxpayer has now been exposed to the capital costs associated with preliminary pipeline construction because of British Columbia’s obfuscation and environmental idealism.

Unfortunately, when the electorate is exposed to politicians who have abused the public purse for their own benefit or witness politicians grand stand for social causes beyond the scope of their mandate, cynicism infiltrates objective debate thereby interfering with good decision making. People become so dug into their positions based on emotion as opposed to logic that coherent public policy is jeopardized.  The elicitation of a civil society is predicated by sound minds exchanging ideas, sourcing problems, contending with various interests, and ultimately planning and executing solutions. Canada in its size, its regional disparities, and its desire for satisfying everyone may in the end lose in global competitiveness. As a nation, we “stand on guard for thee” on Remembrance Day and on Canada Day, but do we do the same when critical industrial projects are on the precipice of deployment? Will we continue to operate from the premise that natural resources form the lifeblood of Canadian economic development or will we be naive enough to believe that service industries, computer gadgets, and the public sector will carry us all forward?

Could it be that your national government is simply reticent to thrust itself into a potential constitutional crisis over the jurisdictional rights of petroleum transport? Now that Canada’s federal government has taken an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline, I ponder how it plans to illicit the benefits of such in the face of a provincial government which has been uncooperative. Wasn’t it Mr. Trudeau’s father who was last seen addressing elements particular to our constitution? May he have missed something?                 

Tears In Oshawa

I’m going to say the unpopular because that’s what I do. I simply say what other people are thinking because without the voice of reason, society is destined for continued mediocrity.

Whenever I go to get my GM car fixed in a dealership, I witness indifference to my needs until I bark. I see snooty people without a post secondary education carving out agendas of mini power trips. I see checkout clerks unprofessionally dressed. I’m quoted over priced parts.  I see a laissez- faire modicum of operation. My car’s make and model steering mechanism had been deemed responsible for multiple deaths but its ultimate recall was delayed and only actuated after outrage from interested parties.

Workers in Canadian assembly lines of automobile manufacturing typically require no formal education in order to conduct menial assembly line tasks. Yes, some tasks require dexterity and on the job training, but an individual need not bring a mind equipped with astute analytical skills or a body of knowledge to deploy. Auto plant workers when factoring in benefits and pension plans oftentimes out earn those who have invested much more in professional development. 

The taxpayer has bailed out the automobile industry in the face of hardened union agreements. The Quebec based Bombardier has also benefitted dramatically from public funds.  When market forces and financial crises have struck non-auto, and non-airplane manufacturing sectors, these sectors succumbed to the market. Yet, your federal government has opened your wallet to the aforementioned two groups unabashedly. When other Canadians at times have been hit by unemployment, a system of Employment Insurance could be systematically deployed to their benefit. However; with the news of an Oshawa plant closure, it would appear that politicians are all too eager to expedite the waiting period or elongate the benefit period maximum. 

It’s an event like today with this news when we come to learn exactly where your federal government and opposition politicians stand within the framework of capitalism, individual responsibility, free markets, and the perviousness of the public purse.

My message to auto workers facing layoffs… get registered for the January session at your local community college and learn more about competing in the free enterprise system. Oh yes, you may need to put that boat or cottage up for sale as you invest in yourself.      

       

Shoegaze and Slowdive

Shoegaze music became a shadow or back seat genre of the grunge scene during the 90s. Typically played in the minor keys, the name came from lead guitarists’ fixation on their feet due to the operation of numerous effect pedals daisy chained on stage. Thanks to KEXP radio, I discovered Slowdive which may be the preeminent band associated with the genre. To the band’s surprise upon reuniting in 2014 after a long hiatus due partly to unflattering reviews, audiences hailed them dearly in London and Barcelona. Their return has been invigorated with a hot new album self titled “Slowdive”.

 My characterization of the music is “sombre mood”. If you’re willing to go into the darkness, you’ll shimmy in calm. Just make certain you come out while not over cooking your playlist with it. While the distinction of chord movement is oftentimes muddled given the heavy use of reverb, the unrushed melodies can be impactful and pointed.

Much of my attraction to Slowdive is the modest stage presence and obvious band cohesiveness lead by lead song writer and front man Neal Halstead. What his childhood chum Rachel Goswell lacks in vocal range – she makes up for in musicality on guitar and keyboard.  Her voice tonality is actually fitting to the eclectic ambience illuminating live performances. Critical to the sensitive nature of the genre, the rhythm section has a strong feel for dynamics with Simon Scott intuitively in sync with bassist Nick Chaplin. Christian Savill rounds out the troupe on rhythm guitar.                

Jose James Plays Calgary

It was a show in tribute to jazz icon Bill Withers last night at the Jack Singer. As you can see, I had a choice seat. I got to say that one of my highlights was witnessing the pure joy of an audience in awe of this rising star, Jose James. One particular young woman simply beamed in delight and in fact one memorable moment was our eyes colliding upon intercepting witty stage talk. Tracks “Who Is He”, and “Ain’t No Sunshine” particularly stood out along with the groovy closer which turned a classy looking opera hall into a speakeasy lookalike. This fellow, James, possesses a stage charm inviting onlookers into his act from the outset. His voice is stellar with a wide range and particularly appealing in tenor like phrasing.   

The band was strong with frequent solos from lead man Brad Allen Williams. The only pedal featured that I could see from my quaint corner spot during the evening was a wah brandished in “Grandma’s Hands”. All members had their solo spots. James’ admiration for Bill Withers was genuine and lucky for us all in the end, James encored with one of his own. 

 

       

Wynterland Band Review

With tickets sold out at the Blues Can last night, I headed over to Mikey’s Juke Joint on 12th Ave SW with a friend and enjoyed classic rock from Red Deer’s Wynterland.

This is an energetic cover band that does remarkably well at capturing popular riffs of yesteryear. I stayed for their first two sets and enjoyed classics such from Fleetwood Mac , Boston, April Wine, Pat Benatar, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Toto, and Journey among others less familiar. It’s a fun stage presence hosted by vocalist / guitarist Wynette Johnson. The biggest take away of the evening was song selection. I don’t know if they had kicked in all of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams, “Rhiannon”, and “Go Your Own Way” because of the news of FM’s concert postponement but if so, that was intuitive. Patrons obviously took to the rhythm section filling the dance floor from the outset. “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” from April Wine definitely had me reeling in Nostalgia as these guys delivered on this track pretty much note for note. 

When coming away from such an occasion, I reflect on the hard work that local musicians put into recreating popular songs for our enjoyment and the breadth of commitment required for band members to operate cohesively in this part time endeavour while maintaining full time careers. Although reduced …thankfully, Calgary has venues still available for these gigs. Go out and show your support. These bands need us.                

Karlovic Commends Calgary

The Challenger Tour’s inaugural stop in Calgary has culminated with a compliment from winner Ivo Karlovic. The 39 year old has become the oldest player in history to win a title on the Challenger Tour and in so doing has remarked that the Acadia Tennis Centre in Calgary is “unbelievable”.  Calgary should take great pride in this feedback given the number of establishments this man would have played in during his lengthy career.

I had attended early round matches this past week and can attest that the organization was excellent in the context of this being the first major event run from this facility. The quality of play was outstanding but attendance was lacklustre. Canadian top ranked players Filip Peliwo and Brayden Schnur graced the courts making an impact on the draw with early round wins. The 2016 junior player of the year, Casper Ruud, stood out magnificently with consistency and power from the ground. Borna Gojo may have surprised himself with a spot in the semis having come from qualifying. For those fans looking for free pro tennis, qualifying rounds served up incredible value. 

Next year I anticipate sponsors to follow up on their financial commitment by filling their boxes and showcasing the event. Local tennis enthusiasts who this year witnessed jaw dropping racquet skill and athleticism will next year undoubtedly share the merits of a ticket.       

Active or Passive Portfolio Management

I know, your broker is telling you not to worry, but had you purchased put options on any one of U.S. home builder stocks Pulegroup (PHM), D.R. Horton (DHI), Lennar Corp. (LEN), Toll Bros (TOL) or KB Homes (KBH), back in the summer, your trades would have experienced three figure percentage gains (yes, options give you this kind of leverage).  This is not the high flying darling sector of tech stocks but was one which has experienced particularly high volatility with guidance from the U.S Federal Reserve of rising interest rates. We all knew that higher rates were coming down the pipe.  This trade was not on the radar of your banker overseeing your portfolio.

When you head over and review that charts on these stocks, perhaps you’ll be thinking twice regarding the counsel from your banker and those lowly performing mutual funds in your portfolio.

The securities industry does not think that you have the sophistication required for trading in options. They may be right but with education and a desire to achieve a higher rate of net worth growth, you can acquire that education and discover those unique trades specific to any economic condition. You are responsible for your net worth growth. What are you doing about it other than showing up for work?

Facebook Unfollow Stats

You all have facebook friends you don’t follow in order to keep your facebook stream positive, fresh, and in line with your objectives of use. It’s a good thing. I’ve just run the stats on the percentage of facebook friends that I’ve unfollowed and it’s small but relevant. Here are criteria I use in order to determine if I unfollow someone:

  1. Is the platform being primarily used for commercial promotion or is there a surreptitious agenda?
  2. Do people actually sincerely share about themselves? Is it personal?
  3. Are the numbers of posts excessive and sometimes overly trivial?
  4. Can I learn something through the feed which is interesting which I wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere?
  5. Is vanity a theme?
  6. Is there a concentration toward political topics?
  7. Is the post original, a repost, or a re-circulated quote. If not original, is there context or has it been freshened with a personal addition?

Furthermore, people have the capacity for change and I’m still very interested in the lives of those few in which I’ve unfollowed of whom I may very well refollow. In fact, I’ve unfollowed one very good friend (LOL).

I suspect that most intuitively have similar criteria. Social media is evolving and frankly I’m fascinated by what I sometimes see. One friend here (you know who you are) was onto the social media bandwagon at its outset. In spite of facebook having security issues, people are resilient and continue to hang here which speaks to the power of the internet as a viable way of interpersonal connection.

Martin Armstrong’s Take On European Bonds

The thing I like about Martin is his dispassionate analysis of economic events possibly learned through experience documented in the movie, “The Forecaster”. Although he provides a political backdrop in identifying the climate inherent to his analysis of international capital flows, he does so with an emotional indifference even tinged with sarcasm suggesting a deeper sense of abomination for the mismanagement of global monetary policy.

In contrast to other contemporaries of Austrian economic theory, Armstrong does not foresee an imminent collapse in the equity markets, nor a short term devaluation of the U.S. dollar.  Armstrong sees the rising interest rate environment and cracks in the European bond markets as potential sources of support for the U.S. dollar over the short term given that big money will have few places other than U.S. equities to turn.

Armstrong also differs from his peers in referencing a direct correlation between rising rates and rising equities in the current environment. He cites problems with European bond yields as reason to flee for quality in U.S. equities.

Over the long term however, Armstrong sees the monetary system start to unravel come 2021 once emerging markets come to the realization that debt repayment in lofty valued U.S. dollars will become untenable. Alas, Armstrong falls in line with others espousing ultimate trouble for markets of all sorts other that real estate, precious metals and other tangible assets.

On the contrary, P.H.D. of statistics Jim Willie, suggests that contagion associated with European banking default could become the prime driver of economic chaos. My sense is that Willie’s time frame is shorter than that of Armstrong’s.  Both gentlemen see problems such as hyper inflation, unemployment, and corruption in under developed nations masked from media view as seeds adjunct for the culmination an economic reset.

 

Do Public Debts and Deficits Matter?

Yes they do. Are there consequences to never ending increases in government debt? Yes there are. Do we care like we should? No, we don’t? The Olympics are coming and the Canadian Press has indicated that governments will be on hook for three billion dollars associated with the endeavour. Your governments mean you. 

Gary Mason from the Globe and Mail has pointed out that when the Notley government took control, the Alberta debt was a manageable $11.9 billion. Given the unwillingness of this government to shave expenses during the collapse of oil royalty revenue, the debt is now projected to balloon to $71 billion dollars by 2020. Think about that for a minute….11.9 versus 71. Yup, it’s a 6 fold increase and the mayor of Calgary is worried about who leaked a report regarding Olympics planning. 

Greece in 2015 came to learn about what it means to spend beyond its means. Banks went on holidays and bank machines got turned off.  The health care system in Greece went on hiatus and austerity measures went into full effect. If creditors to a governmental jurisdiction come to learn that their investment is in jeopardy, terms will change to the detriment of debtors. You are your government.  Your government will ask you to come to their aid in the event of hardship in making payments. 

Your country also continues to spend like drunken sailors. Politicians love to match debt to GDP as if they can rationalize their continued increases in spending. The fact is that your country’s debt increases at a rate of $50 million per day. The taxes you send to Ottawa help cover the interest on this ever increasing debt.  Take $660 billion in federal debt while compounding a daily growth of 50 million per day and then factor in an increasing interest rate environment. Now, think again if the Olympics are worth the risk to you the taxpayer.