Wednesday 18 April 2012

The past year has been fun but...

I'm retiring this Hellberta blog. I am refocusing completely on global trends which will be blogged on my new blog: Canadian Trends. Hope to see you there.

Friday 23 March 2012

So you know the problems but are looking for solutions?

One of the criticisms I get most often are that I'm good at pointing out or even predicting the problems of the day but so-called solutions are few and far between. It's a fair criticism in the world of modern journalism. Most articles start off explaining a problem, provide a counter-point, then conclude with a solution of some sort.

It's standard within our society to look to others for solutions to our problems. As someone who commented on my blog yesterday said:
I believe that Canada has huge potential and we need good leadership to lead us towards success.
I completely agree that Canada has huge potential. I don't agree however that we need good leadership to realize it. In fact the way I see the situation is completely opposite in that I do not believe we will get good leadership until we are ready to realize our full potential. Afterall what exactly is 'Canada' if not the sum of the capabilities and morals of it's people? As the old saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears.

There's a few reasons why I chose not to provide these black & white quick-fix solutions you often find in other commentary. The first and most important is a personal reason for me: who am I to tell you what to do about a particular problem? I don't know your circumstance or your access to resources - in fact I don't know if my readers view the problems I describe as problems at all (obviously this commentor agreed with me, but I'm positive many don't).

The first & foremost thing I believe in is critical thinking. The ability for people to think for themselves. I believe strongly that a person who is motivated to implement change or address a situation doesn't need the go ahead or ideas from me. Every person in this world is able to take a problem, look at their local surroundings, and make personal change to address it or at the very least insulate themselves from it. You don't need a new election, a new leader, or a new government to do that. In other words, it is all about personal responsibility.

I do not describe these problems expecting a govermental white knight to show up and fix them. I write about these problems so that you (the reader) may become aware of some of the more complex issues we are facing that are not normally spelled out for you in your standard media in hopes that once aware you will be able to take action to protect yourself and your family and friends.

The final reason I don't provide the simple solutions is that we're simply not ready to discuss solutions yet. We're not even discussing the problems. If there is ever to be some sort of grand country-wide (or world-wide) solution that's credible, it can only come about if everyone is on the same page about the facts and the problems and only after we drop the hyper-partisan bickering we find within our political system.

It's all about personal responsibility, that's the solution.

Thursday 22 March 2012

The speculation about speculators speculating about oil price

It's becoming a recurring theme to blame the high oil price on "speculators". This of course implies some sort of clear distinction between someone legitimately purchasing oil contracts or someone purchasing or selling them purely for profit. There is of course a difference. You might call the first one a country or a company. You might call the second a trader.

The solutions being presented suggest that all we have to do is convince Wall Street to stop trading oil! Here's a choice exert:
Saudi Arabia promises to fill in the supply gap if the Iranian crisis escalates, but there's only one place that can help stave off high oil prices: Wall Street.

Now, blaming speculators for high prices is nothing new. What is new is that one of the largest speculators in the oil markets, none other than Goldman Sachs (GS), admitting that heavy speculation does have an impact on oil prices. How much? Well, Goldman's oil analyst wrote in a note last month that every million barrel equivalent of oil futures that was net long the market adds 10 cents to the price of oil. The market is currently net long US benchmark crude, or WTI, by 258,406 contracts which is equivalent to 258 million barrels of oil. At 10 cents per every million barrels, that would mean speculation is currently adding $25.80 to every barrel of oil -- without the excess speculation, oil would trade at around $81.52.
Note the language here, without the "excess speculation". Excess. So who decides whose contracts are "excess"? ALL of the contracts are speculation but only some are "excess" speculation. Well it's simple some are probably saying, the "excess" would be those not in the market to take delivery. It sounds simple, but effectively what you are saying is that you would be entering into a non-transferrable binding contract. A country that made a loosing bet on oil for instance would not be able to trade their contracts and would have no option but to take delivery, take the losses and then put the product back on the market. Not very effective. So this is to say that if we are to have an oil market at all, it will be a speculative market.
Despite the verbal assaults, there has been little impact on global oil supply as a result of the tougher sanctions on Iran. OPEC estimates Iran produced 3.424 million barrels of oil a day in February, which is off around 5.4% from the 2011 average. Increased crude production from the rest of OPEC, namely Libya and Saudi Arabia, more than made up for this small decline in output. Meanwhile, the U.S. market continues to be well supplied. There is currently enough oil in commercial oil storage tanks to cover 57.5 days of demand, which is 4 days more than a year ago and 6.6 days more than the five-year average.

But it is the potential for a massive supply disruption that is adding a special premium to oil prices, even though such a possibility is remote. Saudi Arabia's oil minister told reporters last week that the Kingdom stands ready to "make good any shortfalls – perceived or real – in crude oil supply." This week, the Kingdom's cabinet released an official statement saying that it "alone" would supply enough oil to the markets to return prices back to what it deems to be a "fair" level for consumers. U.S. benchmark crude futures shed about $2 after the news, to end Tuesday at $106.07.
If only the futures market cared about the present. What they are telling you here is that even though there is plenty of supply now (enough to last 57.5 days) the "speculation" is being driven by fears about the future. People are paying a premium now because they are anticipating supply issues in the future. Traders are "bull" now because they anticipate supply disruptions in the future. Wall Street isn't causing the anticipation, possible supply disruptions are.

We're all speculators. Ever filled cans of gasoline because you knew or expected the price to go up? congratulations, you're a speculator. The price could possibly go down, but you made a bet it wouldn't. That it would go up and paid a premium price in the now to save money in the future.

Now I'm not saying the market isn't corrupt. It is. But if we want to do something about that, oil speculation is hardly the place to start. The reality is, if it wasn't Wall Street, it would be someone else. Like the Chinese for instance, or Japan whose imports have tripled since Fukushima. There is no shortage of demand, and speculators have nothing to do with that.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Where's the vision? Where's the dream?

Where's the vision? Where's the dream? No seriously, where is it? In an unusual twist today I've decided to write 2 (yes 2!) blog posts. This post just occured to me now as I read the op-ed's rolling in about Harper's latest attack ad. They all seem to have a few points in common: that negative ads simply turn off people from wanting to be involved in politics and that we need to do something to stop them. Few however seem to mention what else these politicians would talk about.

As a member of the "politically disengaged yet aware" demographic I would like to tell you columnists that for me, negative attack ads are not the reason I am not inspired by our political system. Hell I don't even have TV. I didn't know he put out attack ads until some papers started writing stories about it. Do you know why? Because being I am a part of the "politically disengaged yet aware" demographic I seriously don't give a flying fuck what Harper is wasting my hard earned money on. He's wasting it, I don't need a TV to know that and neither does anyone else in my demographic. Unlike the baby boomer generation who at least saw in their lifetimes some sort of political honesty, my generation has mostly seen 10 years of bullshit war & the lies to cover it. Then my generation got to see the world's banks commit what may be the largest bank robbery in human history and not only get away with it but in fact gain more power with the full clearance & support of our corrupt political class. We've matured in a decade overflowing with lies & deceit and people seriously wonder why we might be disengaged?

We never had the blind faith in the system to begin with. This is why many more from my generation can see how easy it is to prove 9/11 was an inside job while many baby boomer's are so struck with disbelief that they simply ignore the evidence. "Bush was bad, but not that bad". "There's no way they would kill their own people" and etc etc. Yet in clear contrast NATO countries have been on a 10 year killing spree all because of 3000 people killed 10 years ago. For 10 years we've watched bullshit politicians make bullshit foreign policy based on bullshit lies and funded by our bullshit money and people seriously wonder why we might be disengaged?

Or how about the light at the end of the tunnel? "There will be jobs", or "we'll balance the books". WOW, big fucking dreams you have there Mr. Politician, I mean it's almost just as good as going to the moon. It is really inspiring for my demographic for instance to hear all about how the baby boomer's have to get their pensions. My demographic? Well we might get one. We might be a little older, or you know.. dead. Then of course there is the massive debt the baby boomer's have decided to leave for us to pay off with the money that should be going towards the pensions we'll have to supply ourselves and people seriously wonder why we might be disengaged?

Maybe attack ads are symbolic of a larger problem in the political system? That it's so full of corruption, dirty tricks, and bullshit that attacking each other over it is really all thats left to say.

When politicians start talking about how to address our criminal monetary system, admit peak oil, take seriously the crimes of Bush and Cheney (as in arrest and prosecute them if they come to Canada), and I think most importantly: stop acting as though all of our resources are your resources and that they have to all be sold now they just might find out that Generation Fucked wants to be engaged. Maybe stop hiking tuition fees, maybe just act as though you give a fuck about what happens in the future beyond your retirement and the economic now.

My demographic has a dream and a vision of what this world could be, and I think many of us have a good idea what needs to be done to set things straight. However most of us know that unless we can partake in a "fundraising dinner" we'll never be heard and even if we were; we'd be lobbying the very people looking to sell our future labour now at rock bottom prices. Do you think if you ask the thief nicely he'll give you back that TV?

There is a multitude of reasons why my demographic is disengaged. Attack ads are a drop in the bucket.

End Rant.

Canada and the fine line between reality and lies

Gone are the days of fairytale stories about Canada's incredibly stable and safe banking system. These stories are now slowly being replaced by a stark reality: Canadians are carrying too much debt.

It is now 2012, and the much promised economic security and stability isn't here. Sure, many supporters of our politicians will say "well it's not our fault, the global economy is at fault" and I certainly won't argue that point, it is definitely at fault. What few seem to realize though is we are a part of that economy as well. It's not that I honestly expected the global economy to be out of the woods but what upsets me is just 1 year ago: our politicians and supposed economic experts did expect that. What good is an "expert" if they can't tell which way the wind is blowing?

Even now, our politicians continue to provide promises of "balanced books" by 2014, 2015, and beyond. Pick a year and somewhere there is some government estimating that's the year their books will be balanced. But based on what? This is utter and complete double-think. The world economy cannot both be recovering and holding back economic recovery at the same time. Someone's lying, and I don't think it is reality.

Canada's tipping point will be here within the next few months. Already austerity is the talk of the town in Ontario. Quebec is now pulling an Alberta; betting that royalties from mining will cover anticipated deficits. People should be quite upset when royalties are used to balance budgets. Why? Because that's future revenue being used to cover current revenue shortfalls or overspending. It's shortsighted and when the future they are stealing wealth from arrives, what then?

Maybe that future is here right now. A recent indicator to our true economic health passed by recently showing just how thin the line we're walking really is. Back in February TD & RBC ended a cheap mortgage financing scheme early a few days after a series of warnings about Canada's debt load sustainability. But it didn't last long as the banks recently just launched the same deal again! What's going on here? Can you think of a good reason why banks would cancel cheap financing for mortgages early only to relaunch the same deal a month later? The only answer I can think of is that Canadian's are out of wiggle room.

If we're to keep up the illusion that our economy is actually still growing, secure, and stable Canadians must be able to afford houses. Not being able to afford a home is a sure sign that your purchasing power has been destroyed; that your real wealth has fallen. Thus there is a need for the Bank of Canada to maintain low interest rates and for banks to offer cheap loans. As long as housing sales & housing starts look healthy most people believe the economy is healthy. Indeed "housing starts" blanket the headlines every time new reports come out. However, if the Canadian household debt continues to grow then it is safe to reason that housing starts & housing sales are only bouyant due to the financing options available and only at the record low interest rates that come with them, but should these rates raise it's likely many people will not afford their monthly payments: triggering defaults. Sound familiar?

Thursday 1 March 2012

An open response to "A False Majority by Fraudulent Means?"

You can find the Green party's press release here.

Canada needs electoral reform - no doubt about it. No matter what happens with this robocall scam one thing is evidently very clear: our system can be easily manipulated, and we have little or none of the tools we need as citizens to investigate sources of manipulation. It's quite likely we'll discover we have even less recourse 9 months (and counting) after the fact.

I'm not going to get into any details or speculation on the robocalls in this post; from my perspective this late in the game it doesn't matter who perpetrated the fraud. What worries me even more than if this election was stolen is: now that we have discovered a problem (vulnerability) in our electoral system we must take great care not to implement solutions that may put us in worse positions in the future. In the Green's press release they advocate a "proportional" voting system and I believe we should be very cautious going down such a path.

Let me ask you a simple question and please be honest with yourself. Who did you vote for in the last election? Think of your answer before continuing.

I expect four "types" of answers to this question:
  1. A name of a political party.
  2. The name of a political party's leader.
  3. The name of an MP.
  4. No one/threw my ballot/whatever.
Now, think about why you chose the one you did. For instance: if your answer was "The Conservatives", is it because you identify as a "conservative"? If your answer was a specific leader, was it what you saw them say in the debates? If it's the name of an MP, do you identify with a political party or even a specific party platform or ideology at all?

A proportional system is proportional for the parties running. Its proportional for the promotion of political ideology, but is it proportional for me? Maybe the MP I chose to vote for got my vote because I respected his or her own personal ethic? Maybe I voted for an MP that I had faith in would advocate for their constituents even if what a majority of their constituents want in some cases may be against their ideology. Maybe I voted for an MP that would represent *me*, as a person -- not a brand name -- instead of dictating to me? If I did would a "proportional" system represent me at all? I don't think so.

Our electoral races are strange. Take any typical party press conference: the leader stands behind a podium and somewhere within camera view is (lately) usually a sign that says something like: "[Party Name] party! Vote for [Leader Name]". However when it comes to election time most Canadians will not find [Leader Name] on the ballot. To vote for the "leader" you must vote for the party. Not the MP.

Lets say, theoretically that the liberals won last election, but say for the sake of argument Michael Ignatieff still lost his seat. You would have a situation where the party wins, the leader has no seat, and probably a majority of voters who voted liberal because they like the leader are all like 'WTF?'. Sure the leader will probably trade with another MP to have a seat, but the point remains: What are you really voting for?

If you're voting for ideology or the party line, proportional representation will do wonders. However if you're like me and view MPs as having a responsibility to their constituents regardless of the party line proportional representation isn't for you.

Just think about the joke that is question period. Partisan bickering, finger pointing, and fantasy facts on all sides. It's a big real time flame war - and how often do you ever EVER get a straight answer? That is what proportional representation will bring: all flame war, all the time.

We need to focus on the MP, the individual. All the parties have some good MPs - people I think still have honor. I say forget your political allegiance.. the party brand name because in a war of ideology, everyone loses.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

February mid-month round-up: Greece burns, Alberta gambles & Canada trades soul for Pandas

Well it would appear that China has finally found a spot to park it's unwanted USD. That would be here in good old Canada and all it cost them was leasing us two Pandas. What a deal! Back in 2011 I wrote a quick post about why Canada's economy is good, bad and bullshit. A key portion of this post was that China was dumping the USD - but one year later with multiple countries such as Russia, India, and Iran writing off the USD as well one has to wonder, who exactly is taking it? Well it would appear the answer is Canada.

Now not only are we trading resources to the U.S. for a devaluing USD, no no.. now we will accept them from China as well. Many people are probably looking at our new trade relations with China and say to themselves: "well thats good isn't it? We're diversifying from dependence on the U.S. economy" - but this isn't really the case. Whether we are receiving USD from China, or USD from the U.S. it is still USD which is directly tied to the health of the U.S. and global economy. So are we breaking our dependence on the U.S.? When it comes to the actual physical trade: yes. When it comes to the value we receive for what we trade: no.

Are you a big coffee drinker? Have you noticed anything happening to the price of coffee? How about other imported foods? If you are conscious about your grocery bill you will probably have noticed it's gone up quite a bit. This is a direct result of piggybacking the CAD off the USD. Many analysts now claim the CAD is directly tied to resources now. They indicate that when resources go up, the CAD goes up, and when resources go down, the CAD goes down. However, the target for comparison always happens to be the USD. You may notice that if the CAD does exceed the USD, it's not by very much and not for very long. This is because while resource prices influence our dollar, a 1:1 ratio with the USD at most (approximately) is essential not just for continuing trade with the U.S. but also to continue trade with any country who trades using USD. The number of countries is large, albeit dwindling. It is really a match made in heaven: MAny countries around the world are looking for a place to dump their USD and Canada's valuable resources are "open for business". As most of our politicians are heavily involved in the U.S. stock market, they also have a vested interest in keeping the USD alive, even if the cost of food and gas for you and your family becomes unaffordable. This is the new measure for economic health, this is why the Euro was rising even as Greece was burning. On paper accepting austerity is great, but in reality it is destroying what's left of their physical economy. You know; the economy that feeds people, not HFT.

On top of Canada's "everything must go" fire sale policy it appears that we also are in a bit of a huff about proposed changes to the U.S. banking system. The take away paragraph from this article is:
The source of concern is a new U.S. regulation meant to deter deposit-taking institutions that receive backstopping from Washington from engaging in speculative trading for their own—not their clients’—profit, a practice known as proprietary trading. Risky trades by global banking giants were central to the banking crisis that compelled former U.S. president George W. Bush to launch a $700-billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008.
Translation: our banks engage in the same practices as in the U.S.

It goes on further:
“I think the impact could be very, very negative,” said Canadian Bankers Association President Terry Campbell. “If you interfere with the ability of governments and corporations to fund themselves, if you interfere with liquidity in the marketplace, which is necessary for funding, then you could have a very severe impact on our economy.”
Translation: Governments and Corporations fund themselves using risky and sometimes fraudulent banking practices and if we try to change that now then our "financial stability" is put at risk. Canada's complaints about these changes should confirm for all Canadians that our banks ARE NOT anymore stable than the U.S. or European banks. When you combine this fact with a world that uses the USD and a U.S. whose financial system is mostly dependant on foreign countries providing goods for that USD it should be no surprise the Fed's crisis fund bailed out non-US banks including Canada's TD.

The crisis in Greece is a preview of what's to come for all countries that engage in these practices as their ponzi economies rely on ever-increasing returns while peak oil ensures returns will be ever diminishing. It is the shortfall between leveraged value and real wealth which has Canada concerned as without riskier and riskier ways to leverage funds: profits dry up. For proof of this look no further than Alberta's latest budget which depends on a predicted 40% increase in oil revenue to meet expenses and bring Alberta out of a deficit (yet again).

Alberta's entire budget is based on a "bet" and betting is a feature of gambling. So Alberta's budget isn't really a "budget" at all now is it? When I budget for the month, I do not assume that sometime during that month I'm going to win the lottery and I certainly do not factor my theoretical lottery winnings into my budget. After you win the lottery and have the money in your hand then it is safe to include that in your budget. Now of course the odds of predicting oil price are a lot better than winning the lottery, but the cost of failure is the same.

Back in 2008, no energy analysts and no economic experts predicted a drop in oil price from $147/barrel to $38/barrel. No experts predicted that there would be a scooter revolution due to the price of gas at the time. Alberta has spent the last decade convincing Albertan's the oilsands were making them rich and yet wheres the money? The sustainability fund has been drained, infrastructure is crumbling or 20 years behind, the heritage fund in leu of their olympic train, $25m rebranding effort, and $2B for carbon capture is hardly sufficient to account for all of the resources given away in Albertan's names. With the latest budget and Alberta's continued campaign to pretend it has more money than it does - I expect a repeat of the 2008 situation in Alberta within the next 2 years.

Remember, at $147/barrel - and with cheap credit everywhere - debt could not be sustained. This time around all of that cheap credit has been used up and I believe the ceiling on oil demand is a lot lower. There is no more debt people (Americans) can get into to subsidize their ever-increasing cost of living. If oil hits Albertas targets and without some external crisis (Iran), it's highly unlikely it will be sustained any longer than the time it takes for those price changes to show up in the cost of consumer goods.

Further Reading: The Federal Reserve's Explicit Goal: Devalue The Dollar 33%: Forbes

Monday 30 January 2012

Why the dinosaur propaganda system can't use social media effectively

Lately I have been swinging my sights on to Ethical Oil's latest mouthpiece Kathryn Marshall. Of course I am not a radical environmentalist; what angers me about Ethical Oil is how insulting their campaign is. Their campaign is propaganda designed to fool Canadians, not other countries.

The Ethical Oil campaign is the face of fascism. Their campaign is nationalist in nature (Canadian interests against foreign interests). Their campaign is a collaboration of government and industry. It is text-book fascism, and fascism never falls on the side of truth.

Luckily for us that live in the era of social media; fascist propaganda is a lot harder to get away with. Take for example Marshall's viral embarrasment from a few weeks ago. All 3 organizations featured boasted this interview on their social media feeds; each expecting to have positive feedback as a result. Of course since Marshall's performance was so poor the Ethical Oil organization didn't get the feedback they were probably desiring, and instead received a big 'ROFL' from the Twitter universe. This brings us to today's topic, which is why the old dinosaur propaganda outlets just can't master the art of social media; specifically Twitter.

The first thing to notice about social media is that your audience is very aware if you are "real". Almost every politician has a Twitter account, but not all of them actually man it. Many (such as simply treat it as another arm of their PR spin, putting out "tweets" like they put out news releases. It's impersonal and a failed use of social media for PR. It's rare that you will get a reply if you message these sorts of "manned" accounts and it's so obvious that it's a PR team answering your message even if they do reply that these accounts should really be named @[Politician]sCampaign.

Another form of "news release style" social media practices are those used by the @Ethical_Oil account and @KVMarshall. They do take an interactive approach, but they do so in the same form of a relationship that say a blogger and their readers/commentors have. Bloggers often moderate (censor) comments coming from their readers and as a result most blogs usually end up with a "cherry-picked" feeling; where all of the comments strangely seem to be of the same view as the blog they are published on (For the record I do not modify, moderate, or delete comments posted on this blog). Of course, what Ethical_Oil and Kathryn Marshall seem to not realize is: that Twitter isn't a blog and you can't cherry pick your public presence on it (even though it might appear that you can).

For the next few days after her embarrassing interview, Kathryn Marshall went on a Twitter banning spree. Anyone who disagreed with her was banned and blocked from following her on Twitter and thus she no longer can see these user's mentions either. She justified this mass blocking beating some sort of sexist drum and retweeting the few who did make sexist comments to make it appear as though everyone she was blocking was being sexist. Of course most in fact were questioning her absurd statements about Enbridge funding being a "conspiracy theory". What Kathryn Marshall doesn't seem to understand though, is that a Twitter search still returns all "mention" tweets even by user's she herself has blocked. Since she's blocked all those user's who oppose her (Enbridge's) position she has inadvertently created a virtual "social reality" in which everyone she sees agrees with her which reinforces her belief that most of Canada must be on her side.

The result of this is quite amusing, looking at her feed you will see statements such as "I'm so glad I have so many fans, etc" - and looking at her twitter in which she retweets anything even remotely positive about her or Ethical Oil it would indeed appear that is the case, however.. the picture changes starkly if you search her twitter handle. Under the tweets mentioning her handle (or @Ethical_Oil), you will find the majority of them are quite negative. Most are calling out Ethical Oil for being funded by Enbridge. Many are laughing at Marshall herself for seemingly being so oblivious about how stupid she has made Ethical Oil look - and are there any replies or rebuttals to any of these statements? No. Why not? Well it's hard to reply and make your point about your PR spin if you block everyone who disagrees, this might work on a blog but when it comes to social media - sorry - all of those "blocked" comments are all still available for everyone except the blocker. Not exactly smart when the point of launching such a campaign is to convince those who would disagree with you that you are correct. By blocking everyone who disagrees they are simply revealing how disingenuous they are. What's really sad is I think that this point is actually beyond Ethical_Oil and Kathryn Marshall, either that or this campaign is designed "for the ethical oil choir". I mean honestly, the only people they are "convincing" is those who already agreed with the concept of "ethical oil" or those who are so brainwashed they think giving our oil to China isn't "foreign special interests" - but these people all thought this way before Ezra's pathetic blog.

So this is why the dinosaur propaganda outlets will never make good use of the social media platform (however hard they may try). The reason is that social media (unlike traditional media) is an interactive two-way street. Propaganda depends on a one-way, information-out only - where critical thinking is deflected with straw-man arguments about nothing at all. Such as "is our oil ethical?". This is why the ethical oil argument can't stand up in any interactive forum, it's propaganda at it's purest - a 100% straw-man argument - that when analyzed or questioned even a little: falls apart like a house of cards.