Monday, November 28, 2011

 

ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA

End of another month; a good time to clear-up accumulated tidbits from under the corners of the desk blotter:

SOMEONE MAY GET IT RIGHT (EVENTUALLY): Investigators poring through the ruins of the lost Mayan civilization of Mexico claim they've uncovered a "second" reference to the Apocalypse predicted for the winter's Solstice next year, December 21, 2012. Experts had previously claimed the existence of just one reference, on a stone tablet uncovered from the ruins of Tortuguero on the Gulf coast. But over the weekend, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology confirmed the existence of another reference amongst stone carvings at the Mayan ruins of Comalcalco in southern Mexico. - It was just over a month ago that California based evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping scored "0 for 3" when once again the world refused to end as he'd three times before predicted. After his initial "miscalculation" in the 1990's, the Reverend Camping claimed (as God is my witness) that May 21, 2011 would be Judgement Day. - Then, when it did not, he said the actual day of reckoning would be October 21: That day too passed without incident. Someone is bound to score...

ENJOY THAT MIDDLE SEAT IN COACH: First-Class and Business-Class passengers make-up just about 8% of all airline traffic; but they account for almost one-third of revenues for an industry which is once again profitable after languishing for more than a decade. Ten years  which claimed many of the carriers through bankruptcy. Though the airlines still manage to squeeze the very last penny from the vast majority who fly the cheap-seats; after the pilot, the "full-fare" business executive is nowadays the most important person on the plane. Airlines in the United-States have earmarked $2-Billion this year to upgrade amenities for their highest-paying regulars. The airlines are focusing on three specific areas: Giving long-haul passengers a full night's sleep - Stimulating their taste buds at mealtime - Providing "escapes" from the chaos of airport terminals. For the rest of us who's free meals, leg room and blankets were long ago stripped-away; it was always a special place on the other side of "the curtain". Now, it's getting even cushier.

THERE IS AN UPSIDE TO THE ILLEGALS: The Roman-Catholic Church of the United-States is being pulled back from dwindling attendance, closed houses of worship, and a shortage of  worshippers, practitioners and pastors. The continued growth of America's Hispanic population is in the process of changing the U.S. Catholic Church more than any other institution in the country along our southern border.  More than one-third of practicing Catholics in the United-States now claim  Hispanic Heritage, that's more than tripple the 10% reported in a survey conducted in 1987. The majority have a Mexican ancestry and a large number are recent arrivals. The feast of "Santa Maria de Guadalupe," the Blessed Virgin who tradition claims appeared to Aztec peasant Juan Diego in 1531, now ranks with Christmas and Easter as the most popular events at most churches.

MAPLE SYRUP BARBECUE SAUCE: The Bouchard family of Frenchville, Maine along the Northern New Brunswick border has made a name for itself amongst Acadian / 'Cajun' descendants as purveyors of buckwheat flour. The flour is the essential element for the local delicacy known as "Ployes"- a flatbread-like pancake. Another St. John River valley transplant born in nearby Fort Kent, Maine, Pete Morin, is now marketing "Maple Leaf Red Dipping Sauces". Hand-written recipes from a long ago abandoned family restaurant are at the base of the "secret sauce". A new more powerful "Rocket Sauce" is now being developed. Morin told a local journalist recently that the "rocket" will put your (chicken) wings into orbit without shooting flames out your arse! Must be the maple syrup at work.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

 

TURN THE OTHER CHEEK...

Granted our neighbours south may not have quite as much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Holiday long weekend as in the halcyon days of the American economic Juggernaut of decades past. One inalienable aphorism remains: Americans should be thankful for Canada.

The week's cover story in our national news magazine, "Maclean's" aims at the heart of the matter in a thought provoking review of recent concerns and political developments which should occasion reflection on both sides of our shared international border: "The U.S. and Canada: We used to be friends."

The Peace Arch:Children of a common mother
However as Washington State "MarketWatch" contributor Bill Mann writes today..."we Americans should take the occasion of our own Thanksgiving here to be thankful for having such a friendly (and understanding) neighbor(sic) as Canada. We could, but we probably won't. That's because like the vast majority of Americans. I know all too well from personal experience, know very little - and care even less - about Canada. This could have negative repercussions in the future. Bad karma and all that."

Former Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John McCain told a Canadian television audience last Sunday that he believes it's "legitimate" for Canada to feel snubbed by (recent) moves from south of the border. McCain was commenting specifically about the Obama Administration's decision to postpone approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline beyond next year's Presidential election.  The Senator says: "there's a strong suspicion on my part and many others that this was a political decision rather than one based on facts." - Though his are hardly comforting words from a political "has-been" accused of similar political expediencies during his own failed 2008 Presidential bid; still there is a strong element of truth in his claim: "When we do things that seem to take our Canadian friends for granted and take your allegiance and friendship for granted, there's an understandable reaction in Canada."

On the pipeline, to a limited degree, there may be agreement that an extremely well organized environmental lobby of movie stars and personalities, perhaps financed (in part at least) by wealthy and powerful corporate land owners in Nebraska, backed Obama into a corner as he struggles to re-rail his political career. - There are several other irritants between us which speak of an America indifferent of a best friend, closest neighbour, powerful ally, and the biggest trading and economic relationship on the planet. - The "Buy American" provisions of the jobs bill before Congress; A $5.50 head tax (starting January first) on Canadians flying or sailing into the United-States; the post 9/11 "thickening" of the (once proudly) longest undefended border in the world, including not very neighbourly Predator Drones overflying the Canadian border.

Our neighbours either don't know, or collectively choose to ignore, that Canada (not the Saudis, nor Libya, or Iraq) is the largest supplier of oil to the United-States; that more North-American automobiles are assembled in Ontario than anywhere else in the world; that more trade flows in each direction over ONE SINGLE  BRIDGE  - The "Ambassador Bridge" between Detroit and Windsor - than between all of the United-States and Japan!

This weekend at border crossings into small communities along the 5000 miles from Calais, Maine to Point Roberts, Washington; Canadians will wait in line for hours at security/inspection check-points, fight through American shopping mall crowds, hopefully to score "black Friday" bargains - Dozens of cash strapped U.S. border towns and cities are banking on the strong Canadian dollar for their economic survival...and we'll oblige by being friendly, neighbourly and helpful.

United States "MarketWatch" contributor Bill Mann concludes: "I don't know if Canadians have long memories, but I know they've been long on patience with the U.S. And for that if nothing else Americans should be thankful this holiday. Let's just hope Canada stays as understanding as it always has about Americans' mistreatment of its good neighbors(sic)."  - I'm Canadian - I'll give him the last word. - Happy Thanksgiving!

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Friday, November 18, 2011

 

THE BURST BUBBLING UNDER THE SURFACE

Unrealistic mortgage rates and super-inflated home prices imploded the American economy in 2008, and despite what the politicians would want us to believe, it's an economic disaster from which the United-States (now saddled with a $15-Trillion national debt) may never recover.

Now, as the Euro-Zone's economic Titanic sinks below the water-line, a cynic from 'across the pond' remarked sarcastically this week that the only thing keeping the U.S. economy afloat these days is that it's owned by China: Alas! I digress.
Handyman fixer-upper - Not cheap!

I note with a certain level of of dread and apprehension the monthly (October) report of the Canadian Real Estate Association which now pegs the average price of a Canadian home listed and subsequently sold on the MLS service at $362,899 - an increase of almost 6% since October of 2010 - Clearly we too north of the border are being lulled by unrealistically cheap credit which is bloating housing prices substantially beyond their "real" value. And as (inevitably) that wave of bad credit and worthless debt from overseas eventually crashes upon our shores; credit rates will rise, over leveraged mortgage holders will fold, housing prices will collapse - Well...just look south of the 49th parallel for the rest of the story.

The international Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has already singled-out Canada as a country facing significant challenges from our steady climb in consumer debt. Experts note that with the Canadian and U.S. economies so closely linked to one another, what happens in the United-States has a significant impact in Canada.

Recently, OECD's concerns motivated Pacifica Partners, a Capital Management business based in Surrey, B.C.,  to take another look at the "Misery Index", a tool which faded from the political discourse during the economic halcyon days of the 1980' and 90's.  In the 1960's, an adviser to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson came up with the idea to measure the general economic hardships felt by the masses. The "Misery Index" is calculated by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate.  Pacifica Partners believes that..."with rising inflationary rates and stubbornly high unemployment rates in both Canada and the the US, this index may be more relevant than ever." - The "index" calculated currently for ordinary Canadians isn't anywhere near the "gleeful experience" we have been told by bankers and (especially) politicians that we are experiencing.

Pacifica Partners concludes that the Canadian Misery Index..."has stealthily marched higher after hitting a low in the first quarter of 2008." Fueled by unemployment, inflation and cost of living,  "misery" has risen sharply to levels above the psychological level of 10%. South of the border, Wall Street's recovery may have brought back the market for mansions in the Hamptons, on Long Island, and for luxury co-ops in New York City. The "real" reality Canadian homeowners could be about to face is pretty much that with which middle-class Americans have been dealing for almost 5 years.

In the housing market inhabited by most Americans, prices have fallen 30% or more since 2007. That is a steeper decline than during the Great Depression. Some people have had their homes on the market for over a year without a single offer. Almost a quarter of American homeowners owe more on their house than it's worth. Another quarter have less that 20% equity and about half of all U.S. homeowners could not get a mortgage if they applied for one today.

Not very pretty, but a reality far too many over-leveraged and mortgaged Canadians may be about to encounter.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

 

ADVENTURES FROM THE ROAD...

Heck Y'All (I am in North Carolina), over the years I have posted too many of these road adventures to even recall what "Road Story" post number this is -

NOW, THEY TOO ARE LIKE AIRLINES: The times they are changing and apparently getting tougher: Friends who weekended at an Orlando, Florida hotel recently noted a $20 per day Resort and Amenity fee tacked-on to their bill at check-out. Industry experts claim that is just one significant part of the latest in North American hotel trends: Some have begun adding a $12 housekeeping surcharge, and a fee for storing your luggage in the lobby. And, Beware - The advent of pump dispensers in hotel bathrooms is bad news for guests obsessed with the tiny bottles and individually wrapped soaps that have been their beloved amenities.

ONE SURE THING ABOUT AMERICA'S BAD ECONOMY: Have you seen one too many TV ads about ambulance chasing injury lawyers. Since most Canadian cable TV viewers access U.S. television networks via the Cancom system based in Windsor, Ontario; we get to watch Detroit television stations. The visually challenged Sam Bernstein Family Law Practice is just about as well known north of the U.S. border as any Canadian superstar. Well, it seems that  advertising for "at fault injury lawyers" has been multiplying on U.S. television because the bad economy means bad drivers have been staying off the roads. As America's economy has sputtered motorists curbed their driving. In a published report, one Florida Lawyer was quoted recently: "There's been a little bit of a drop in activity...it's been slow for all lawyers."

RUN FOR THE BORDER: America's Thanksgiving Holiday is celebrated just about 6 weeks after Canadians mark our annual turkey day. Friends along the border with the State of Maine and the Province of New Brunswick claim they are dealing with an altogether new (and surely somewhat) unexpected "issue".
The "right of way" which is being cleared through the boreal forest for a Maritimes and Northeast (electric and natural gas) energy corridor has become a conduit for a new type of U.S. illegal immigrants - The eastern wild turkey. It seems that the gobblers are just in time to avoid the zealous axing of modern day American Pilgrims and the annual food orgy they'll mark once again on November 24, 2011.

11-22-63: Speaking of the State of Maine: Portland native and Bangor resident, icon of the macabre Stephen King, will publish next week the fictional adventure of Jake Epping who travels to Dallas in November of 1963 and somehow manages to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  King's book "11-22-63" explores how America might be different had JFK been elected a second term President. Perhaps not quite the fictional "macabre" for which Stephen King is known best. Nonetheless probably an interesting read for students of the "what if?" - King says he's had the scenario in the back of mind since the early 1970's.

LAST AND (THANK GOODNESS) LEAST: A story making the cocktail rounds in Washington D.C. purports that a black Congresswoman from a Houston area district has complained to the Miami based U.S. National Hurricane Center that the names of all tropical storms are too 'Caucasian" sounding. She also notes that during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, black people had difficulty understanding the seriousness of the situation, and is alleged to have scolded officials, for not broadcasting in a language that "street people" can understand. Waz-Up Wit Dat?

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Monday, November 7, 2011

 

....AND THIS IS NOW!

Like most of my generation, I mourn our collective loss of innocence in the decade since the attacks on New York, Washington and Shankville, Pennsyslvania.  I was born and raised along the border, and I've witness far too frequently just how much the security measures, now common place in the post 9/11 world, complicate and divide lives, friends, commercial enterprises, business relationships and even families.

Within weeks of the September 2001 events, the United-States launched a massive security build-up which is still growing pretty much unabated along our shared border where for centuries people had crossed back and forth to shop, work or visit relatives with only a nod from a friendly Customs Officer.
Windsor - Detroit's Ambassador Bridge
Canadians acknowledge and accept the need for enhanced security in the United-States and that "our" lives will never be quite the way they were. But the disruptions and changes remain a source of frequent frustrations on both sides for residents of the cities, towns, villages and communities which dot our shared 8891 kilometer / 5557 miles  border; the longest (once friendliest) on the planet. There are nightmarish stories recounted by emergency responders (fire and ambulance) on mutual-aid calls held-up by overzealous border agents. Small towns struggling with soured economic conditions: Has anyone been to Van Buren, Caribou or Madawaska, Maine recently? Towns like Ogdensburg, Messina and Watertown, New York reduced to advertising their "economic opportunities" in far off large Canadian city newspapers.

Mindful of our long standing and mutually beneficial economic trading relationships with the United-States; successive Canadian governments, provincial and state authorities, and business, manufacturing and trade organizations (often from both sides)  have sought to ease cross-border passage if not frequent tensions. Mired by paranoid patriotic fervor the Bush Administration, First - (and) - Overwhelmed by economic and political turmoil the Obama Administration, Second - have neither expressed nor entertained any genuine interest in effecting change.  Most recently plans for a new crossing over the Detroit River suffered a crippling setback in the Michigan State Senate, the American federal government re-introduced a $5.50 per person levy on Canadians entering the USA, and President Obama's multi-billion dollar pre-election jobs creation scheme hinges on  "Buy America" provisions. The much touted, ballyhooed and delayed "Perimeter Security Framework" has turned into an irritant for Canadians, and an embarrassment for the Harper government.

Whether it's a matter of how Canada gets routinely sideswiped when the U.S. is really targeting someone else (that has been suggested by some observers) or bad manners and discrimination; the cacophony from our noble friend and ally down south has grown somewhat tedious, irksome and alas, wearisome!

The message may be starting to get through: Since North Americans and the world were turned upside down by terrorism a decade ago, instead of working together as neighbours on common strategies to reduce internal problems and re-build damaged economies we hop from crisis to crisis and Band-Aid solutions. Perhaps out of frustration but always with the political correctness required of his office, Canada's Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, said recently that U.S. politics can sometimes be "dysfunctional." - Someone else remarked: "Once the presidential race fully takes off in January, "dysfunctional" may look like a compliment.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

 

BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID

It is said that the Evening News is where they begin with - 'Good Evening;' and then proceed to tell you why it is not. As this is written the European Common Market, the "Euro Zone" is at the brink of financial and political collapse after Greece backed-off a pledge to fix its debt crisis, proposing instead to bring the matter before a national referendum. (Beware of Greeks bearing referendums!)

The net result being that the long simmering worldwide deep-Recession, a troublesome Depression for many, which began when banks in the United-States over-extended their own credit in 2008 does not appear to be going anywhere north of the ledger for the foreseeable future. Investors and retirees who squirreled away their nest-eggs 15 years ago in so-called safe instruments saw the value rise until 2001 then flatten-out and stagnate. Check the major stock market indices: They are hovering over the same territory as ten years ago. Little wonder that desperate people have taken to the streets in shiftless and pointless "occupy" protests.

Weather extremes so severe that some regions
may be only "marginally habitable".
Just as the planet's population topped 7-Billion souls earlier in the week,  scientists issued a warning that there are too many of us here..."global warming isn't the sole villain in future climate disasters. An even bigger problem will be the number of people who live in harm's way." - One of two conclusions reached in a yet unpublished report of a Nobel Prize winning panel of experts working for the United-Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. A draft summary of the report was leaked to the Associated Press in the United-States probably because its authors fear their conclusions will be "watered-down" by U.- N. officials, politicians and diplomats after a scheduled meeting to review its content in Uganda near the end of the month.

To digress: Critics of The Bilderberg Group, the highly secretive club of influential business tycoons, financiers and politicians formed in 1954, have accused the "club" of fomenting a plan to reduce the planet's population to a sustainable 500-million to 1-billion people....

The leaked report obtained by the Associated Press says our future together is one of grim floods, more heat waves, more droughts, typhoons, stronger hurricanes and, if the world economy wasn't already bad enough, far greater costs to deal with weather catastrophes.  It warns that extremes occasioned by climate change may eventually grow so severe that some locations become..."increasingly marginal as places to live." (!)

AP says the report claims the world will have more extreme spells of 'heat' peaking as much as 5 degrees (C) hotter by 2050 and as much as 9 degrees by the end of the century. Weather reports being compiled in the United-States show already that 2,703 specific daily high temperature records were set this past summer (2011). According to Weather Underground Meteorology, that makes it the hottest summer in the U.S. since the height of the Great Depression Dust Bowl of 1936. - Maybe there's a noteworthy parallel here!

Perhaps there is a valid reason after all why the mysterious centuries' old "Mayan Calendar" expires in December 2012.





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