Category Archives: government regulation

Interesting times

For some reason, watching the action on the stock markets and so on this week reminds me of September 11, only in slow motion and without the dramatic visuals.  But it’s just as big, just as history-making, and perhaps even more of a disaster.

I actually took all my life savings and plunked them into GICs last December.  The mutal fund advisor thought I was crazy to do so, and showed me some Andex charts of stock performance historically and so forth.  I know how stocks have performed historically, which is why I wanted out.  If you think a big ole’ crash is coming along soon, you get out early and once the dust has settled you wait a while (a longer while than most people probably think) and pick up the bargains that remain for cheap.

I’ve been reading sites like Daily Reckoning and depression2.tv and other bear sites since about 2003 or so. Buffet warned back in 2002 of risky investments like derivatives being financial weapons of mass destruction.  I’ve also been reading up on highly leveraged hedge-funds, the commodities bubble and the reckless lending that’s taken place the better part of this decade.  I’ve been reading about the likelihood of a big meltdown for about five years and wondering if it was imminent for the past year and a half. I don’t blog on the subject much, but have spent a fair amount of time reading up on it.

And yet people still seem to be taken by surprise, or still try to insist that everything is just fine.

I wonder what impact all this will have on the US elections.  One thing that continues to baffle me about American politics is the prevalence among the electorate of the single issue voter. I cannot count the number of times I’ve read people’s comments on various blogs and news articles where they expressed dismay at what Bush has been doing, but still vote for him and his cronies because of their stance on abortion. Or on gay marriage.  Screw the economy, health care, the Iraq war, the national debt, crumbling inner cities and infrastructure, what matters most is whether or not two fags in Vermont can get hitched in front of a civil court judge.  I mean, where the f*ck are people’s priorities?!?

Okay, rant over.  If the US collapse was unable to take the rest of the world down with it I wouldn’t give a crap.  I wonder if the average voter understands how bad this really is, or if they’ve become so accustomed to the doomsaying headlines regarding ‘sub-prime’ and ‘credit crisis’ that they just tune it out. But Lehman isn’t only the largest bankruptcy in US history, it dwarfs the now-second largest Worldcom by a factor of 6 to 1. Even scarier is the increasingly likely prospect of AIG going bankrupt.

Still, I find the unfolding disaster fascinating.  It’s similar to what George Carlin said about coverage of natural disasters. Only there’s no sense of guilt because nobody’s actually dying.  Watching the tickers and the sell-off in the Asian markets last night wasn’t much different than watching the initial reports of an earthquake and wondering how big it will really turn out to be. Will they halt trading tomorrow?  How much more can the Fed pump in? Will AIG be bailed out after all, or will their collapse dwarf that of Lehman?  Who’s next?

“Private Equity” firms were the subject of all kinds of hype as they swallowed up companies through the middle part of the decade, but keep in mind that it was just the old-LBO or leveraged buyout trend that was big in the 80s. Will one of them be the next to blow up? Or perhaps some big hedge-fund bet the wrong way on commodities?  There’s still three trading days to go in this week – until the triple witching hour as they call it, so it should be interesting times.

Motorcycles and Religious Freedom

I find whenever there’s a ‘Muslim headscarf’ story unavailable for public outrage a ‘Sikh Turban’ story invariably appears.
This time it’s a Brampton motorcyclist who was ticketed for not wearing a helmet, which, as a Sikh, he challenged as a violation of his religious beliefs to wear a turban at all times. I dunno, last I checked, riding motorcycles wasn’t integral to any religion (remember that ‘Zen’ book was about motorcycle maintenance, not riding per se 😉

Of course, he could always move to New Hampshire with it’s Live Free or Die motto.  According an article in an Indian publication, though oddly enough not mentioned in any Canadian one, turbans may already be worn in lieu of helmets in BC and Manitoba.

The usual arguments for mandatory helmets come down to the usual safety concerns, as well as taxpayers’ money for health costs and so on. At the same time, there is an ongoing serious lack of organ donors.

Since motorcyclists refusing to wear helmets harm nobody but themselves, I don’t think this should be an issue of religious freedom at all. If people don’t want to wear a helmet, that’s their prerogative. Just make them sign an organ donor card first.

Pitbull Bull

Today pitbulls are back in the news. Not a nasty mauling this time, but a constitutional challenge to the current pitbull ban in Ontario.  The dog generating headlines today was born after the ban took effect, meaning that since it was caught by the authorities it will be put down.

Granted, the owner could have been a little smarter by not letting the dog escape in the first place, and also perhaps by picking a better name than “Rambo“.  Something like “Buttercup” or “Daisy” would be more advisable for a dog whose breed has a serious image problem.  After all, part of being a responsible dog owner, which most pitbull owners insist they are, involves not letting the dog get loose.  Ever.

However, that doesn’t make the law itself any less stupid.  A blanket ban on any breed is senseless, particularly when it can include “a dog that has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially similar to any of those dogs” – when “those dogs” include not just pitbulls, but also any sort of Staffordshire Terrier and any old mutt that might have similar traits.

Funny thing about breeds and bans.  When I was a kid in the 70s the breed everyone was hysterical about was the Doberman Pinscher.  I knew several children who’d been badly mauled by Dobermans.  My mother’s dog was viciously attacked by a poodle – the ‘standard’ poodle is actually a large dog, and can be pretty ill-tempered. Not exactly a breed that generates media hysteria however.

A lot of high profile attacks seem to involve one of two things:  a vicious dog that the owner has not secured properly, or a child that is too young to be left alone near any animal.

In England the law – Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 – is even more draconian as it includes not just pitbulls, but also a couple of lesser known ‘fighting dogs’ such as the Argentine Dogo. Over there, Rottweilers seem to generate the most headlines and there are continued calls to add them to the list of breeds to be banned.

Meanwhile in Ontario, Rottweilers seem perfectly uncontroversial. And like any blanket prohibition, rather than single out reckless people, even law-abiding, responsible dog owners are turned into criminals.

I’ve argued this before, and I’ll argue it again.  There shouldn’t be prohibitions on everybody because of the stupidity of a few individuals.

Lotto fraud – a confederacy of dunces

I’ll be upfront: I think playing the lottery is stupid.  That doesn’t stop me from sometimes partaking – I’ll blow an occasional 50 cents on the Ontario 49 or if Lottario goes over 500K I might waste a dollar on a ticket.  I’ve won 5 dollars twice in Lottario and $50 in Ontario 49 so at this point I’ve probably broken even.

Despite full awareness of the miniscule odds of even getting a free ticket let alone millions of dollars, I have always checked the numbers myself.  If not online or on the little ticker that runs on CP24, most retailers have a bundle of tickets that contain the winning numbers right in the blue booth.  I always do the quick pick, so I manually check each number. After all, if I haven’t won anything I don’t see much point in bothering the cashier.  I’ve always thought that those who just take their tickets to the clerk must be pretty lazy.

Those who play the same numbers each week have even less of an excuse.  A quick scan of the winnings numbers – they really aren’t hard to find – and you should be able to tell you’ve won something.

So in some ways it’s a little hard to feel much pity for those who’ve been scammed.  Especially when those doing the scamming are often treated by customers as though they are only one rung up on the social ladder from the homeless guy with the coffee cup sitting outside their store.

At the same time, my work lottery pool typically plays about twenty sets of numbers or so depending on the size of the jackpot.  I’ve stood in line behind others who seem to grab a fistful every week – if they invested that money instead they probably would have been millionaires by now.  Even then I’d still compare at least the first and last numbers to ensure no jackpot was won. Not that I don’t trust my co-worker who manages it, but  I don’t know how thoroughly she checks either.  Nevertheless, society does function best when a certain amount of order and mutual trust is the norm.  And right now, the lottery retail system in Canada resembles that of New York garbage collection in the 80s.

The chief dunce has to be the guy who stole the $5.7million jackpot though.  Not that I’d ever steal that much money (or any money for that matter), but if I were to steal that big a sum I sure as hell wouldn’t be dumb enough to stay in the same city let alone the same country! I suppose if he bought a giant HDTV with some of the purloined winnings he never switched it to the news once in the past year, or perhaps assumed that the Ombudsman would only want to investigate all the other shady retailers out there.

It must take a special kind of arrogance and stupidity to pull the stunt that this ex-store owner is alleged to have pulled.  For a start, if I just had millions of dollars I sure as heck wouldn’t stick out a single Ontario winter.  I certainly wouldn’t be dumb enough to buy a huge freakin’ mansion in the same city.

But I suppose that the people who are not so stupid and arrogant as to do those things would also not try to steal someone else’s jackpot in the first place. No matter how stupid you thought even they were.

Funding for religious schools… and a L’shanah tovah

Only time and an election will tell whether Tory the Tory’s proposal to fund separate schools for all religions will get him voted in or is the serious blunder that McGuinty and so on are counting on.

I still don’t know who I’ll vote for (or if) in this election… I don’t have any interest in the NDP, particularly for my local constituency, have little use for this Liberal administration, but just when I was seriously tempted to vote conservative for the first time in my life, Tory blows it with the announcement that he’s in favour of separate, taxpayer-funded schools for all religions.  Then he went on to compound the blunder by coming out of the closet (albeit temporarily) as a creationist.  Let’s leave the ‘monkey trials’ for Kansas and the other bible belt states for now, eh?

I don’t even agree with the separate Catholic school board. There should be public – which is public in the truest possible sense – and private, in which the individual parent has to pay for the privilege of segregating their precious child from the godless riff-raff. Or the churches, already blessed with tax-free status, can pay for it.  I’d even support a ‘religious’ class as part of the curriculum – based on local demographics – as the first class in the morning, where the parents can either have their kid take a class in their respective religion, and the secular parents can sleep in an extra forty-five minutes.

However, if politicians are really interested in religious ‘fairness’, then here is my humble suggestion:

Every major religious holiday should be a statutory holiday, just like Christmas and Easter are. At the very least, the following should be included:

  • Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year – today)
  • Yom Kippur (Jewish and to a lesser extent, Muslim – next Friday)
  • Eid ul-Fitr (Muslim, end of Ramadan)
  • Muharram (Muslim New Year)
  • Diwali (Hindu festival of lights)

McGuinty struck a chord when he shamelessly proposed a ‘Family Day’ in February and although I am certainly not against that concept, I really do think that it’s only fair, in the name of religious and cultural inclusiveness, of course, to publicly observe all the major holidays of the major religions first.

More thoughs on the Toronto shootings and the roundup of gangsters

I posted an item the other day after the announcement of the various police raids that were conducted all over Toronto, rounding up suspected gang members.
The basic points I made are that little will change regardless of how many arrests are made, or guns are seized, or government funding is thrown into bad neighbourhoods until A: drugs are legalised and B: parents or other adult role models start getting serious about dealing with the very serious problems that a lot of kids growing up in bad neighbourhoods have to face.

One point I forgot to make as well is this: is conducting such a mass roundup really the way to ingratiate the local community into wanting to cooperate with the police? Or is it likely to further alienate most of its members? Although the ‘don’t snitch’ code of silence is ultimately self-defeating, it’s hard to blame people who feel they are the victims of injustice. I would imagine that being the subject of a raid would be a terrifying ordeal, particularly to impressionable young children. Being witness to a single incident such as that can undo years of community outreach efforts.

However, I find it terribly ironic that the sister of one of the high profile victims was herself arrested in the sweep, facing gun charges. Of course, that’s not to say she’s actually guilty of anything – she may have just been caught up in a very wide net. That’s for the courts to decide, and if she’s exonerated, hopefully it would be just as widely reported. But if one is to demand government inquiries into youth violence it’s best to be sure that your own kids aren’t hanging around the wrong sort of people first.

One of the biggest problems with parents, it appears to be, and as outlined in this Globe and Mail article, is flat-out denial. At least in those instances though, the parents were not involved in criminal activity themselves. However, according to one gang expert, Michael Chettleburgh, some of the gang members involved in recruiting younger members will often be uncles, cousins or older siblings. In such cases it makes it even harder for parents to do much apart from turn a blind eye. Familial ties and a not-misplaced sense of loyalty will often deter people from seeking outside help even if they were to want to. As this blog points out, blind not-my-kid parenting is not just a problem with poor families either. Where income disparity really does rear its ugly head is when the poor kids get rounded up.  The rich ones can get access to better lawyers and hide in ‘American Beauty’-land.

What may be needed is some sort of resources for parents to turn to that perhaps don’t have to involve the legal process, but where they can have other sorts of means to help set their kids straight.

However, the real solution isn’t rounding up everyone and throwing them in jail. It might temporarily make authorities look good, but as long as the same problems remain – bad families and the demand for illegal drugs and the accompanying violence driving out legitimate opportunities – new gangs will flourish to fill the void left by the old, and more violence will follow.

Thoughts on Gun Control

First off, I want to make it clear that I am not pro-gun.  I would never allow one in my house.  However, I think in Canada gun-control has become one of those hot-button issues that a lot of politicians and policy wonks trot out whenever there’s a high-profile shooting.

I just don’t believe that making more laws or bringing in more restrictions or stripping every car crossing the US border will solve anything.

For those who are anti-gun, I do say this: I don’t believe that having a gun in your house would protect you from a single burglar or intruder, and that if you have children and a gun, adhering to that belief is just foolish. To those who are ‘pro-gun’, think about it this way.  If you have kids, you need to lock up your gun so that your kids or your kids friends can’t get a hold of it.  (Your kids might be smart, but you can’t count on them to have smart friends) If you wake up or come home to an intruder do you honestly think that person is going to wait for you to go to your gun locker, find the keys, etc.?  If you wake up to an intruder, the only way a gun will protect you is if you have it loaded and easily in reach.  Bet your aim’s real good in the dark while semi-conscious.  Just think the argument through to the logical end please, that’s all I’m saying.

Also, although there are plenty of law-abiding people who own guns, there are plenty of people who were law-abiding until they got a hold a gun.  On the flip side, it should be pretty obvious that for most criminals, and wanna-be criminals aren’t deterred by the current laws and would unlikely be deterred by any future law either. Although I abhor the siege mentality that so many gun-advocates have I don’t blame them from doing what they think they need to allay their own fears.

On the other hand, when dealing with gun crime, there’s a limit to what the police or the government can do. Guns don’t kill people, they just make it a lot easier for narcissistic thugs to get high on a power trip. The problem in Canada is that ‘gun’ is the same sort of trigger word in political campaigns and posturing here as ‘gay’ or ‘illegal immigrant’ is south of the border. I happen to think that inaction is superior to a pretense of action, but that’s just me.

If people want to hunt, or engage in target shooting, or they themselves are convinced that having a gun in their house will protect them from the boogeyman, that’s entirely their prerogative.   I’m not against the concept of a registry – after all, cars are registered – but I don’t know how the current registry in Canada works enough to make any sort of judgement about it.
I just wish that various groups & politicians would quit taking the easy way out and find something other than screaming for more gun laws the next time some stupid kid gets a hold of one.