Canadian Trends: Things break down – Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I came across a link during my research for what was going to be a post solely on the U.S. election, I didn’t link it then however. The significance of this particular post needs to sit within the context of other, perhaps lesser, but similar events to start to paint the picture.

I titled this series ‘Thing break down”, as that is really what’s happening here. This presidential election (and the scenes outside) combined with the amount of other divisive issues, the Brexit, the civil strife, the wars… the sheer volume of it. The photos of riot police and protesters used to be somewhat rare just 5-6 years ago. It was a big event. Now it’s everyday. In more places.

Much of the world has already reached the violent stage of this collapse. We’re hearing a lot about Venezuela in the news and their collapse – for instance, but little as to the major contributor of what set it off instead most articles focus on the government’s response to a situation they are increasingly powerless to control which is that they are quite near to the point where they will no longer be able to generate electricity due to a drought and haven’t built the infrastructure to prepare for this problem. Their currency is hyper-inflating, and their society is falling apart. The corruption in the government means nothing ever gets done and their focus is on maintaining control.

Much as ours will be.

You’ll notice no matter how much currency they print, they can’t buy wealth. What their electricity shortage hasn’t destroyed economically has been by the oil price dilemma.

Venezuela of course is an extreme example. They are much, much further on the curve of decline and much less robust than the advanced western world. However, the same principals apply to us – just as they can’t print their wealth into existence neither can we. The oil price is only a problem because the overall cost to produce this oil is much greater than it used to be due to peak conventional oil which means the margins are much smaller or as in the case of a much of our extreme energy production: negative.

This means we have less surplus energy everyday to work with, to apply to sciences, to technology, to improvement, to maintenance. Venezuela squandered it’s returns for it’s surplus energy. It should have invested in new infrastructure. You don’t just dream that shit up overnight it takes time to build it good and build it right.

It’s difficult to build good infrastructure when you are in a state of collapse. You need to invest in it before that collapse, when you actually have the wealth. This is something that the western world also didn’t do, but our mass of infrastructure is vast, and old and the amount of time it would take to repair it all is frankly, staggering. If we had the money to do it that is.

The scope of the world we live is really astounding when you think about it, isn’t it? What we’ve built in the last 100 years is just mind boggling. That we haven’t just built the physical structures, but computing devices which now model in incredible fidelity smaller versions of that same massive scope of a world is mind boggling. That I can play Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, on my phone (which I like to call my “Star Trek pad” – you know, cause they called them pads?) is mind boggling. Unfortunately there are also downsides to this scope and scale… maintenance, which is also mind-boggling in it’s scope and scale.

Let’s start with a small example and work our way up to the article I was mentioning earlier and in the last post.

Whitemud Drive flooding likely too expensive to fix, city officials say

So the basic premise here is that with the anticipated increase in extreme weather events and the increase in flooding not to mention the potential damage and costs that flooding may do the City of Edmonton is instead opting to look to the cheapest solution which does the bare minimum of the objectives which is to reroute traffic and ensure no one gets stuck under there again. A noble cause, but also shortsighted with it’s minimalist objectives as another should be to maintain infrastructure to the highest standard at the lowest cost.
Things always seem to be “too expensive” and yet we exist within a monetary paradigm that *hopes* for inflation – that is, for them to get even more expensive and at the same time we complain about how expensive things are. It isn’t going to get significantly cheaper, so the modifications should probably be done now and since we squandered all of our real wealth we will probably have to borrow from the future to do it and hope the wealth we’re borrowing actually manages to exist when the bills come due.
This is of course but one overpass in a sea of overpasses. And this is also an example of a decision, deliberately made because of cost. Because of budgets. Whenever political talk of budgets arises two unproductive commentator camps emerge, both militant in their belief. One cares only for ‘balanced budgets’, the other cares only for ‘adequate spending’, and neither try to really… understand, each others position. For they are opposites. Aren’t they? We act as though they are.
Rarely do I see anyone ask: what if both positions are true, at the same time? I don’t see many people asking that question I believe because the answer isn’t a very nice answer. It has no light at the end of the tunnel for those that feel they are entitled to infinite growth like the faith in one of those ideologies or the other does. This revelation instead presents a stark mindfuck, a reminder, that what we are doing and how we are living and the resources we are consuming at the rates we are consuming them at, is not sustainable.
Next up we have an interesting little piece on the state of elevators in Canada, lets take a gander.

Broken elevators reaching ‘crisis’ proportions across Canada

This link not only provides a great example of the scale that I am talking about, it also provides a great example of collusion and corruption, along with general greed for profits, hampering what should be considered to be critical infrastructure to all types of operations across Canada. This situation should hardly be considered to be unique to Canada though I’m sure if similar investigations were conducted in other “advanced” western nations you’d see the same thing. The scale and money required today to fix these problems is simply staggering, but we’re not fixing them today and tomorrow doesn’t look good either.
You can see it everyday in the discussions about infrastructure and it’s pretty hard for anyone to deny the truth that we just can’t keep up when every day new cuts are made, the economic situation worsens, and the wear and tear of ill-maintained infrastructure becomes more apparent. From the oil spill in Saskatchewan and our aging pipeline infrastructure, to New York’s fragile subway to a collapsing bridge in India to Fukushima to nuclear plants in the U.S. where according to the EIA “Almost all U.S. nuclear plants require life extension past 60 years to operate beyond 2050“. Where exactly do people think the “money” to do all this is going to come from? And yes while the maintenance of this infrastructure temporarily creates jobs it doesn’t create wealth. We already have a bridge, for instance, and after we deploy the materials, time, and effort to maintain that bridge we still only have one bridge. This is what the death of growth and the reality of that looks like. Until we accept that rebuilding the same things over and over again isn’t growth  – and is in fact an expense as the banks like to claim it is – we’ve got some serious problems on the horizon.

Fort McMurray fire won’t devastate economy, says new report

“Overall, we expect the rebuilding efforts to add roughly $1.3 billion in real GDP to Alberta’s economy in 2017 — or about 0.4 percentage points to economic growth. Construction will likely remain elevated in 2018, and possibly into 2019 as well until rebuilding is completed,” states the report.

 Oh yea, “hardly noticeable”. Rebuilding what they once had will even add GDP! Today’s growth. You can almost picture the bankers licking their lips at the destruction, some much needed stimulus. And if your entire purpose in life is to employ people in jobs rebuilding the same old 1960s and 1970s tech over and over again while racking in tons of printed currency then all is well. But if your view of a healthy economy is improvement in standard of life and well being, surpluses of energy and time to do what you love, you’re shit out of luck.

But here’s the big one.

Inside the aging lock that is one breakdown away from crippling North America’s economy

In other words, the Poe is the only link from Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, and it’s living on borrowed time. In two years, the Poe turns 50, and, with Congress reluctant to fund a new lock, concerns are growing about its reliability. The lock broke earlier this week, blowing an O ring on a hydraulic line that feeds the gate activator. Luckily, mechanics fixed it in 45 minutes. 

It was not a moment too soon. The North American economy needs this lock. The iron ore that passes through here each year becomes more than US$500 billion worth of cars, trucks, fridges, bridges and other things made of steel. A bigger failure would spell catastrophe and it’s an increasing probability. 

This spring, the Detroit Free Press obtained a classified report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which calls the Poe, “the Achilles’ heel” of the North American industrial economy. 

“A six-month shutdown of the Poe Lock … would plunge the nation into recession, closing factories and mines, halting auto and appliance production in the U.S. for most of a year and result in the loss of some 11-million jobs,” the report warns. 

Alarm bells are already ringing for U.S. ship owners. 

“Last year, we had the MacArthur Lock down for two weeks and the Poe Lock went down for an hour,” says Jim Weakley, president of the Lake Carriers Association, whose 17 members own 56 ships. “For the first time in my memory, you had the Army Corps of Engineers unable to move a ship. The scenario of a six-month outage isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.” 

Canadian steel mills also depend on the lock. More vitally for Canada, eight million metric tonnes of prairie grain travelled by train last year to Thunder Bay, and then loaded onto ships headed to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Much of the grain then moved across the Atlantic to help feed Africa and Europe. 

“What’s concerning me is that the Mac lock is the same vintage as the Poe and has had a noticeable failure,” says Kirk Jones, president of the Canadian Shipowners’ Association and a vice-president at Montreal-based Canada Steamship Lines. (The Mac actually opened in 1943 and the Poe in 1968). “We’re nervous that the same thing could shut down the Poe and shut down shipping in its entirety.”

We’re going to leave it here, I want that to sink in. See you in part 3 where we will start to get into the U.S. clownshow as Tom Morello is so elegantly putting it..

Continue reading

Canadian Trends: Canada’s housing hotbed of denial

Writing about Canada’s housing situation is always a frustrating experience for me. For years many of us, sceptical of Canada’s debt-fuelled “recovery”, have said Canada’s housing situation is absolutely insane. Cheap loans have been allowing us to limp along on the back of what we’re likely to discover is a bunch of fake wealth we conjured up out of thin air.

Bank Of Canada Warns Of “Higher Possilbity” Of Housing Downturn, Sees Vancouver, Toronto Prices Unsustainable

Governments terrified of popping foreign-buyer housing bubble: Don Pittis

It’s ironic isn’t it, that the bank of Canada is only now warning that Toronto and Vancouver are “unsustainable” since other overheated parts of Canada – like Calgary – are already “un-sustaining”? Even this admittance by the Bank of Canada is a better sounding understatement than the true situation. The Bank of Canada, along with the federal government, has manufactured this situation and for years they have been using this artificial asset bubble to “prove” the recovery is real.
A few years ago I wrote some commentary titled ‘The magic of minimum wage and inflation hocus pocus‘. It is without a doubt one of the most important things I’ve written about the state of our economy and the belief in economic fixes that attempt to fix the unsustainable within that same unsustainable box. A significant portion of the piece is spent on housing, in which I show that the author of the work I was commenting on actually believed that devaluing your purchasing power to create the illusion of rising equity was a “good thing” because it supposedly fought off “evil deflation”. How so-called “economists” are blind to the unsustainable and inevitably deflationary nature of that arrangement I’ll never know, yet here we are. The rabbit is out of the hat now.
Back in September of last year I caught a little-noticed article.

Canadian banks helping clients bend rules to move money out of China

Some Canadian banks allow wealthy Asian investors to skirt Chinese law by helping them bring in large amounts of money that is often used to buy real estate in Vancouver. 

Financial institutions in the area have flagged more than 8,200 suspicious transactions since January, 2012, the year China began cracking down on citizens they suspect of corruption. 

Ninety-six per cent of those transactions were also facilitated by the banks, however, even though the vast majority of that business involved suspected money laundering, according to FinTRAC, the federal agency responsible for tracking money laundering. 

These findings, obtained by The Globe and Mail through an Access To Information Request, come as a debate rages over the source of foreign investment and Vancouver’s soaring luxury housing markets. A recent study by Macdonald Realty said 70 per cent of clients who paid more than $3-million for Vancouver houses last year were from China.

This housing situation didn’t happen by accident, the government and the banks have been relying on foreign currency to prevent it from collapsing in the first place. It’s been obvious as day with millennials moving home and wages stagnating that there was a disconnect between reality and the housing market. It was clear with Canadian household debt hitting ever increasing highs and constant low interest rates to “spur borrowing” that this would be the result. All those who have been saying “don’t worry” for the last 3 years as they drank the economic koolaid should be ashamed of themselves; if they call themselves an economist? resign. This situation couldn’t have been more obvious for those not mesmerised by the belief in infinite growth or easily fooled by non-sensical “there’s no bubble” propaganda.

“The Whole Shebang Is Broke” – The Only Thing That’s Growing Is Debt

Continue reading

Canadian Trends: "Cancellation fees and jobs", "empty words and double standards"

Central to the international human rights system is the essential principle of universality. States are committed to fulfill their obligations to promote universal respect for and the observance and protection of all human rights for all. The international system does not declare that the rights of individuals and peoples matter more or less because of where they live, or that there should be more or less international level concern about human rights protection in certain countries over others. From the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the advent of the Universal Periodic Review 60 years later, in 2008, universality has been fundamental to international human rights protection. An important dimension to the principle of universality is that Canada’s implementation of human rights should be measured against its capacity and history: whether it is progressing, regressing or stagnant, and in light of what should be reasonably expected of a country with such an abundance of resources and wealth.

From “Empty Words and Double Standards: Canada’s Failure to Respect and Uphold International Human Rights” / Amnesty International

 I’ve been observing an exchange on Progressive Bloggers that I can’t help but interject on. The subject matter covered in the last volley is of particular interest to me as I don’t particularly feel that either has provided a true analysis. Montreal Simon’s is written in partisanship, and Mound of Sound’s in haste – while also failing to correctly identify the issue.

Rather than quote and comment on those posts though I’m instead going to comment on the source material they are both commenting on.

Canada would face multi-billion dollar penalty if it cancelled armoured vehicle sale to Saudis

The focus here will be on the issues with Simon’s post as Mound’s entire take was based on a statement I’m assuming he either misread, or misunderstood, and which is actually attributed to John Baird – Montreal Simon explains this aspect within his own response so I won’t explore that further.
The reason I call his post written in partisanship is that he deliberately omits certain quotes and re-frames the Liberals actual position as “getting screwed”.

When Harper announced the $14.8-billion sale in 2014, he and land systems officials touted the 3,000 jobs to be created — mostly in London, Ont. — and the importance of Canada working with Saudi Arabia, a key regional security ally in the Middle East. 

The Liberals did not oppose the sale during last year’s federal election, with a campaigning Trudeau at one point calling it a commercial contract for a bunch of “jeeps.” 

Once in power, foreign affairs minister Dion signed off on export permits in April to approve the shipment of the LAVs based on an assessment the Saudis would not use them against its civilian population but would use them to defend Canada’s common security interests with the desert kingdom.

Here is another one missing from Simon’s post:

On Thursday in the Commons the NDP demanded to know why the government would not create a committee to oversee arms exports to guard against human rights abuses

Pam Goldsmith-Jones, Dion’s parliamentary secretary, said “the government takes every opportunity to raise critical issues with senior Saudi officials with respect to humanitarian issues, consular issues, and human rights, as the minister did in his visit to the region last week.” 

Asked later how the government intends to monitor whether the LAVs would end up being used by Yemeni military forces against civilians, she said, “We’re watching that situation very closely. Of course, as you know, with regard to our permit process, monitoring the human rights situation is of utmost importance, so that’s all I can tell you at this time.

My personal favourite:

In fairness to the Liberals,” Baird said, “this was successfully negotiated by General Dynamics Land Systems under the previous Conservative government and you shouldn’t blame the Liberal government for that. Contracts should be sacrosanct, and the new government is honouring that and it’s the right thing to do.” 

Fast’s and Baird’s views are in sharp contrast to the position taken by the Conservatives’ current foreign affairs critic, Tony Clement, who said information now available about Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen wasn’t available at the time the deal was struck. He said the deal should be shelved.

And there it is, the false left/right paradigm and continuity of government wrapped up in a simple two paragraphs. As I wrote yesterday:

It’s how the system manipulates the public: a politician comes in, makes many unpopular changes then a popular one comes in and doesn’t change much at all and simply utilizes the changes passed by the previous government. The anger about those changes leaves with the previous political party but the changes themselves? Those remain.

And there is Baird telling you to do exactly that, while the “opposition” takes on their role pretending to give a shit as with nearly every other major issue we never see change on.

Ironically just today the Saudi-led coalition has been removed from the blacklist, “pending review”:

Following a complaint by Saudi Arabia, however, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases cited in the annual report of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in war. 

“Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. 

But Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said the removal of the coalition from the blacklist was “irreversible and unconditional.” 

“We were wrongly placed on the list,” he told reporters. “We know that this removal is final.” 

Mouallimi, who described the removal as a vindication, earlier on Monday said the figures in the U.N. report were “wildly exaggerated” and that “the most up-to-date equipment in precision targeting” is used. 

Saudi Arabia had not been consulted prior to the publication of this year’s report, Mouallimi added. 

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri said in a statement sent to Reuters late on Sunday that the U.N. had not based enough of its report on information supplied by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. 

The Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.

Yes, you read that right, the U.N. “had not based enough of its report on information supplied by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government”. And we’re supposed to believe that Canada “is watching the situation very closely”? That we take “every opportunity to raise critical issues with senior Saudi officials with respect to humanitarian issues, consular issues, and human rights”? If you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.
Deals always have cancellation fees. Considering Canada spent 1 billion dollars beating it’s own citizens, I think we can probably afford a “multi-billion” cancellation fee, don’t you? To ensure we are not involved in the oppression? This is of course if that fee can actually be enforced. I’m sure if Canada is actually “watching things closely” it wouldn’t be hard to fight the legal ramifications at the WTO or whatever secret corporate court would handle it. If we actually had any interest in doing so, anyway. We don’t.

So who’s he to pretend he’s a great defender of human rights? Why would he twist my words? When he’s the one who is siding with the Saudis by suggesting that we should pay them billions so they can buy armoured cars from another country.

So we could lose $20 billion dollars, and throw thousands of Canadian workers into the street, for nothing.

First of all, the deal is only worth $14.3 billion. The cancellation fee is cited at “multi-billion” – probably less than the value of the deal. Second, the Saudi’s don’t need our billions – in fact they are trying to dump their reserves in preparation for a new monetary system that is not based on the USD. This deal is just one of many that the Saudi’s, the Russians, and the Chinese are carrying out sending their stored U.S. debt back to the west where it came from and getting real material and assets in return. Third, it’s not “for nothing” – if not for at the very least Canada and Canadians having a legitimately clean conscious about our involvement.

As I’ve been writing about over the past year, the Saudi’s along with the Russians, and the Chinese are all moving away from trade with the U.S. dollar. Canada is working to establish itself in this new alliance. “Screwing the Liberals?”, no, this about serious things – not the political circus. Governments everywhere love to talk about human rights, meanwhile the neoliberal agenda works to eradicate them and turn everyone into a debt slave in a new world of feudalism as the industrial age and the control system of a taste of luxury disintegrate due to limits to growth taking hold. We’re up against very powerful forces here and they don’t play the same political bullshit we do.
The Amnesty report on Canada is named perfectly “empty words and double standards”. The Canadian public gets all in a huffypuff that a journalist was “berated” by a Chinese ambassador here on a business trip representing the very same alliance our Saudi deal is connected to and yet when our government that claims to “uphold the value of human rights” has a real chance and window to actually make a difference all it takes is the mention of some debt based fiat currency and some jobs to change our tune, even though “money and power” is where most human rights violations stem from anyway.
“Empty words and double standards”, indeed.

Continue reading