Sunday, August 28, 2011

Testament in the Throes of Death

Christie Blatchford got herself into hot water last week over her remarks on the death of Jack Layton . Her Tuesday’s (23/8) column in National Post took issue with the CBC lack of sense of measure in covering the opposition leader’s passing and the letter to Canadians composed either on Jack Layton’s deathbed by himself or near it with his collaboration and consent. Her inbox quickly became flooded by email with assorted abuse, demonization and laments from Jack’s worshippers who either never read the letter or quickly forgot what was “better” despite the Peace Tower in Ottawa chiming John Lennon’s Imagine while the great sage laid in state on the Hill.

I like Christie’s writing a lot. Like Jack, she has spunk and calls them as she sees them. And she has a keen sense in smelling humbug which of course makes her a comrade-in-arms. I agree with Christie that the letter was extraordinary sample of bad taste though the question remains on the timing of her column. My sense tells me it could have waited until Jack was in the ground. At any rate, what the column said definitely needed to be said.

Someone should have had the sense to try to talk Jack – presumably not as sharp in his dying hours - out of addressing all Canadians. It would be read as vainglory (yes, Christie is right), an essentially undemocratic pining for a one-party perfect society. What about other people, other Canadians, whose politics were not Jack’s ? Would they not feel that this upsizing of Jack post-mortem was going a tad too far and that the sense of tragic loss was being cynically misused for partisan ends ? It was poor judgment to think that perhaps all would be shamed into silence.

Stephen Lewis said in his eulogy of Jack Layton that the “testament in the throes of death” was really a manifesto for social democracy, which earned rousing applause and all the guests in Thompson Hall stood up to pay respect. One could hardly believe this was a funeral. It is sad to see the NDP so hard off it can’t think of the death of its leader in terms other than its political utility. But in one sense Lewis had it right: Jack Layton’s testament is a political manifesto. It was simply misaddressed to all Canadians instead to the rank and file of his own party, where it belongs. Surely, it would have been read by many other Canadians. Surely, some of them would have been inspired to sign up for Jack’s vision.

Of course, there is always the loony element which idealist dreamers seem to have a great success in awakening. The sad news about Jack spread fast in Ottawa last week. But one unforgettable moment that describes everything about the ueber-grief-fest for me were two well-fed women in their twenties tearing up over the letter which one of them read aloud at a local Tim Hortons. When I walked in they were in the middle even though no-one around them seemed to be interested in more than their daily dose of caffeine and sugar. But as the reciter went “love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, …..”, the manager who evidently knew the mood of the Canadians in the joint better busted the sermon “….and two donuts are better than one…..girls can you take this out some place else ?”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fretting Fuelishly

I take it that by now everyone knows gas prices are a joke. A butterfly fluttering its wings in Chongzhou will cause volatility in light crude futures in Chicago. A cellphone call to a buddy who owns a gas pump kitty-corner from you, and who forgot to adjust his price sign this morning will instantly remedy the anomaly in the market. Only make sure that you do not say what the market price is, because that would be participation in price-fixing cartel, subject in Canada to 14 years of jail and a fine up to $25 million. So to stay on the right side of the Competition Act, do not say fuelish things on your cellphone or leave paper trail. It is not an offence under the act to consult price boards of competition and make your own deduction of what the fair market price of gasoline in your neck of the woods should be at 7 am this lovely morning. I am not making this up, friends, this is the cuckoo-conomy you and I live in these days.

So what is new in all of this hullabaloo ? Actually, it is kind of getting even weirder than useless laws designed to catch a dozen idiots among thousands of petro pickpockets. President Obama created an Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group headed by the Attorney General to investigate the ever more brazen robberies at the gas pump. The administration designated hound dog is Eric Holder, the man having trouble identifying the Fort Hood shooter who describes himself as Soldier of Allah as a terrorist inspired by radical islam. Of course it produced nothing of newsmaking note in four months. But we know there are some really interesting data out there. A couple of days ago, the US Senator Bernie Sanders released the names of major traders with their share of oil futures in the summer of 2008, i.e. the names of people who drove the price of oil through the roof at the time. The data comes directly from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. "This report clearly shows that in the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other speculators on Wall Street dominated the crude oil futures market causing tremendous damage to the entire economy,"Sanders said in a statement. "The CFTC has kept this information hidden from the American public for nearly three years. That is an outrage."

The effect of the disclosure was predictable. The president of the Futures Industry Association John Damgard denounced the outing of this information, as threatening “derivatives trading” (oh Lord !) and jeopardizing the Commission's ability to gather such information in the future. But he does not seem to understand the basic thing: Energy commodities speculation which directly causes rapid cost escalations across the whole economy, cannot be good…..for the economy. And indeed, where the governments of the booming economies of the world protect the stability of energy supply by regulation (and subsidies), the US and Canada suffers volatility which now all but assures their GDP will continue to stagnate or tank. So it would be good - as a first thing - to separate concepts like market and criminal conspiracy.

Oh No, not ANother Hurricane..(Aug 27.)

Predictably, the news of Irene drove up the gasoline price by 10 cents yesterday. Usually, this kind of a jump in the past was occasioned by a spike in the spot price of crude, but noone seems to care about this sort of protocol these days. The price of crude may be the only truly variable cost in the production and distribution of gasoline, but the oil companies don't care. The will not be hogtied to the price of crude because in times of high prices the demand for gas is falling, and with it the total revenue. So to protect the aggregate revenues of big oil the price of gasoline will need to be re-adjusted until you pay $1.30 a liter on a $85/barrel, where you paid the same amount for $135/barrel just a little while back. The The graph showing the price relationship between crude oil and wholesale price in Canada in the last six months graphically illustrates the new pricing paradigm. (click on the graph to enlarge). The trend is closely parallel to the US which gives lie to the assertion that the fluctuations in wholesale prices (outside of crude oil) are to regional issues of distribution, currency exchange, quality of crude(!), different refinery maintenance standards and whatever other nonsense industry advocates can dream up. There is a marked push upwards for the gasoline price which faithfully follows peaks and valleys of the US development. The price of gas, in the disintegration of any semblance of market is now simply dictated by the oil and gas cartels. Unlike the rapidly developing economies of the world, Canada does not show political will to do the things necessary to counter the effects of this push to higher production costs and inflation across the board - i.e. tax the windfall profits and/or fix the allowed profit in the pricing of gasoline.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rivers of Bloody Nonsense

Much to the chagrin of the Tehran zealots , the UK riots of August 2011 will not be turning to an Islamic revolution any time soon. For a number of reasons which are not obvious to political fanatics, the unrest in Britain over the last week were not of the type that topples governments. These were calculated forays by hoods beating up on whomever looked unwilling to fight back, looting and torching and boozing merrily in the streets because, like Thomas the Little Engine, they could. It looked ugly for mostly two reasons. One, because the police was obviously unprepared to apply full force of the law to anyone other than the EDL whose civil disorder tactics are different. Two, the aerial tapes of burning blocks of buildings made it look like London was blitzed again. Disgusting as the riots were, they were simply nowhere near the levels of lethal violence recently visited in places like Hama, Benghazi or Bombay….sorry, Mumbai, (ever so sorry), places free of the brutal British cops deplored by the brothers in Cairo and students in Tehran. There were not dozens or hundreds of dead or maimed in Tottenham, Clapham, Brimingham or Manchester. So first, thank God for that !

From my perspective, much of the rioting was played up by the media to aggravate the shock and the sense of unreality, extend them as it were beyond the areas immediately affected by the riots to create a national political crisis of what was essentially a hard-to-grasp breakdown of effective policing. (The hapless BBC, realizing finally the dangers of this upsizing, renamed the “UK riots” to “riots in England” on the third or fourth day) . Again, we are not talking tens or hundreds of thousands of protesters but several hundred at a time operating in half a dozen non-contiguous areas. A swift, energetic action in dispersing the mob on Saturday, effectively televised (!) and documented in the papers, would have surely gone a long way to preventing the rampage from repeating the next few days.

Instead, what: not just incompetent arguments against time-proven, effective and non-lethal methods of crowd control, but totally idiotic tangents claiming the state is in competition for services with a vicious thug sub-culture in the chavs’ neighbourhoods, and failing to deliver on that score. It is beyond belief that a major daily would print crass psychobabble that unwittingly legitimizes (or takes as a given, at any rate) the existence of a criminal underworld in urban Britain. That mind-boggling drivel appears on the dailies’ pages on days when swift, effective restoration of civil order is called for is perhaps the most telling of all the items on the riots.

Unfortunately, it is not just the Leftist idiocies. David Starkey’s comments last Friday on BBC’s Newsnight earned him an instant label of racist and provoked the inevitable avalanche of petitions for his dismissal as a BBC commentator. I am not sure what the historian was up to: there is no doubt a gangsta culture of mostly Caribbean blacks in the working class neighbourhoods in England which dominates and terrorizes the black community and has sway over many young white yobs. This cannot be denied. It cannot be denied that the rioting has been orchestrated by this criminal underclass: it was an opportunity to loot and test the will of the establishment. So what does one do with this - essentially correct but trivial - finding ? Do we become transfixed by silly rhetoric and talking through the hat assuring everyone there is not only one version of ineffectual tattle? There were no rivers of blood or cry for rivers of blood in the riots that justified Starkey pulling out the Enoch Powell’s speech from 1968, especially since evidently had no follow-up line to a messed up metaphor for cultural pollution. He himself indicated that the motivation for the riot was a rather banal joy of looting and lawlessness (btw, common in England in advance of Robert Peel, metro policing and immigration from Jamaica or Trinidad,) and not the sort of racial dominance that Powell had in mind. There is no need to go into racially divisive apocalyptic imagery if one intends to approach the issues with a clear head and resolve to fix what needs to be fixed.

No wonder then that Starkey's half-baked ideas were immediately attacked, and he was lectured to by the two interlocutors, Owen Jones and Dreda Say Mitchell, (among other things on the value of rap in the cultural advancement of Britain). Predictably, Mitchell dressed down Starkey a day later in a column written for The Guardian. With the condescending style so dear to Jesse Jackson’s imitators, she suggested his opinions would have earned him a time-out in a school where she was a teacher. Strange idea coming from someone complaining of cultural exclusion. And surely, this would not have been a school teaching democratic principles of respecting plurality of opinions. But I guess that is part of the problem: there is no respect for the traditional ways and no workable model of something to replace them. In some quarters that dilemma can be actuated by a tweet: Lets loot & see! What gives ?