Thursday, August 11, 2011

Motorcycle Humour, Funny or Not

Mary Ann received an email joke today that she forwarded to "The Lost Motorcyclist" (me). I will put a link to the joke here, in case you want to read it first. This blog is actually about the discussion we had after I read the joke on the computer.

I did laugh, I tried not to, I couldn't help it. She said "That's impossible, motorcycles can't start when they're in gear."

I said, "First, the reason most motorcycles will not start in gear is because they have a lockout switch to disable the starter unless you are in neutral and/or have the brakes applied. Motorcycles up to the early 1970's had no lockouts, the owner's manual simply told you not to start them in gear. Second of all it's not a true story anyway, it's a joke."

"Couldn't the guy smell the gasoline in the toilet before flicking a lighted cigarette in there?"

"Maybe he didn't have a sense of smell."

"Why would somebody clean a bike with gasoline?"

"Well is does dissolve the grease really well, but on the down side it tends to blow up unexpectedly."

"How do you know how well it dissolves grease? You would never be so stupid as to clean your bike with gasoline, would you?"

"No, never! Well, not recently."

"And what about using gasoline in the house?"

"Of course not."

Social Unrest Made Simple

Social problems are in the news lately: riots in England and the stock market volatility, along with unemployment which feeds into both these stories.

One slant I have been hearing on TV is that the riots are caused by "Liberals". Let me follow up on the logic behind blaming the liberals. I have to start with a bit of a background history lesson, because unfortunately people tend to rewrite history to suit themselves, which often results in distortions of epic proportions.

Before I begin with this educational blog, I want to make my own opinion clear. Even though I have liberal tendencies, I am as disgusted by the riots in England as any conservative would be, and would like to see ringleaders punished. But on with the lesson.

Liberals, also known as the left, are properly associated with "the people" or the rabble, if you prefer. Conservatives, sitting on the right, are correctly associated with the upper classes, the rich, the nobility, and by extension the police and military that keep the rich in power.

The unfortunate consequence of not learning history is that it is easy for people to confuse "Liberals" with out-of touch wealthy elites when it suits them, and it is easy for Conservatives to imagine that they represent the needs of the hard working poor and middle class, when they actually only represent the needs of the rich.

So hopefully that confusion is cleared up, and we can begin to make sense of our problems today. I can start by saying our problems today are basically the same as the problems of all societies throughout history. There are rich people who want to keep their power and money. There are poor people who need to eat and stuff. When the rich get too greedy, the poor starve more than usual, and rise up in mindless, destructive, revolts and anarchy. This has been documented since the time of the Roman Empire at least, going through some famous examples more recently, like the French Revolution of the late 1700's.

So generally speaking, any massive amount of rioting would be directly (and correctly) attributed to the Liberals, or the Left. But the indirect original cause may be the Conservatives, representing the rich and powerful who set up conditions where the poor are unemployed, maybe starving, or without freedom or human rights.

Now are the rioters in England really starving, or are they just hooligans out for a bit of fun burning down the city and killing people? Is rioting really the fault of liberal do-gooders who are always letting people out of jail, and refuse to allow the police to use deadly force to control the crowds?

Or is rioting caused by the police shooting people at random in poor neighborhoods, against the advice of liberal do-gooders?

Another question is how are the conservatives doing economically compared to the middle class and the poor? Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war twenty years ago, the rich have been getting richer and the rest have been losing their jobs and their homes. Two years ago, the entire global financial structure almost melted down due to scams run by the very rich against ordinary citizens. Then the wealthy banks were bailed out by the governments of the world, meaning even more taxpayer money squandered in propping up the rich. The final chapter in this financial story has not been written yet, but within a year, the banks were back to paying out multi-million dollar bonuses to their top employees, and successfully fighting legislation that was intended to eliminate their scams and pyramid schemes.

Meanwhile, for middle class people, layoffs continue as governments are forced to tighten their belts. Why are the governments poor? According to Liberals, it would be three reasons. Reason one: refusing to make the rich pay their fair share of the tax burden. Reason two: giving huge payouts to the rich supposedly to avoid economic catastrophe. Reason three: Fighting multi trillion dollar wars in oil producing countries so that the oil companies can get rich.

According to conservatives, the reasons governments are poor. Reason one: welfare cheats. Reason two: welfare in general. Reason three: Any government operation (other than police or military) is a complete waste of money and should be eliminated. Reason four: Poor people are lazy and undisciplined, and so contribute nothing to the good of society. Reason five: Rich people do not have enough money to create the jobs that people need, because they are being unfairly taxed out of their minds. This leads to unemployment, and hence to lower government revenues because unemployed poor people don't pay taxes. (I know that was a long convoluted one, but it is also well known as "trickle down economics".)

So the conclusion is that riots are generally caused by liberals, who do not allow harsh methods to be used by police. But the root causes tend to be with the economic conditions that are under the control of conservatives. Obviously, both are to blame.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Truth About Standard and Poor's and the AAA Rating

What is the real problem with the US economy and the downgraded US debt rating?

We are being told that a highly trusted debt rating agency has judged the US government to be not as good a risk as it used to be. The reason given is that the US government can't get its spending under control, and that the politicians are always getting deadlocked.

Standard and Poor's is the credit rating agency that made the downgrade.

To me there are a great many red flags indicating this is all pure BS.

To the Lost Motorcyclist, the biggest problem is that the markets started to slide before the news was announced. This indicates a leak, where some well connected people had advanced notice of S&P's earth shattering decision. Many people could have profited illegally from advanced knowledge this downgrade, and thus the downgrade itself is suspect.

Next, was the decision even justified? Two other equally respected debt ratings agencies made no change to the AAA rating. The White House pointed out a two trillion dollar accounting error in the S&P numbers, which should at least lead to some recalculations.

Why did S&P not point to the real reason why you might downgrade the US government? In my mind, that would be the government's unwillingness to eliminate tax breaks granted in a time of surplus. My understanding of government debt is that it is highly rated because of the government's ability to raise taxes to pay off debts, not because their expenses are low. That's why a rich country like Canada has a higher rating than a poor country like Sierra Leone. If we used S&P logic, Sierra Leone, with almost no government expenses, would be rated AAA while Canada with huge expenses would be B-. No, it does not work according to expenses, credit depends on the ability to raise money through taxation - that's where Canada gets a AAA credit rating and Sierra Leone does not. And that's why any reasonable person may doubt the US ability to repay debts, because the US is apparently unable to raise taxes on the richest citizens. However, in their recent decision, S&P did not clearly highlight this weakness of the US economy.

And why would we be trusting the ratings agencies anyway? Almost ten years ago, there was a market crash caused by an auditing firm that could not be trusted.

S&P itself was partly responsible for the market crash of 2008, by failing to downgrade the profitable mortgage backed securities.

So the truth is that an unreliable company, S&P, has destabilized the world economy with a questionable decision about US debt. And furthermore, probably leaked the decision to some well placed people ahead of time, resulting in huge profits for them at the expense of ordinary investors. Finally, even the reason for the downgrade was a thinly disguised and politically motivated right wing statement rather than a discussion of the real social, political and economic reasons for the weakness of US credit.

In my opinion, the greatest disappointment is that one more trusted institution in our world economy has become dysfunctional. Not the US government (although there is a real worry there), it is one of the well respected debt ratings agencies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Actually, Harper's Resemblance to George W Bush is More Disappointing

Recently Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister expressed his disappointment over opposition leader Nycole Turmel's one time membership in the "Bloc Quebecois" political party. Apparently Conservatives think the Bloc is a party of traitors to Canada.

Here is a news article from the Toronto Star on this subject

“It’s most disappointing, it’s disappointing for me,” the Prime Minister said in French at a press conference Wednesday. He said other Canadians will also be disappointed by the revelations about Turmel’s political affiliations.

“I think Canadians expect that any political party that wants to govern the country be unequivocally committed to this country,” Harper told reporters as he switched to English. “I think that’s the minimum Canadians expect.”

Actually Stephen is right and wrong at the same time. Yes, as a Canadian I expect politicians to be committed to this country. But my disappointment is not with the Bloc Quebecois, or any of their members. It is with Harper and his Conservatives for turning Canada from a well respected country to a disgraceful imitation of the worst America has to offer. Even Harper's denunciation of Nycole Turmel for being a "Card carrying" --(fill in the blank)-- has creepy overtones of Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist witch hunts.

Harper has turned Canada from a leader in human rights to an abuser. He has turned the Canadian military from peacekeepers to invaders. He has turned over vast areas of Canada's wilderness to American Oil company's tar sands destruction. The real traitor to Canada is not the Bloc Quebecois, it is the greedy gun-toting US-style conservatives who care nothing about social justice, the environment, peace, democracy or Canadian traditions.

So Stephen, if you can read this, I am one Canadian who is not disappointed in the leader of the opposition. I am disappointed in you. The sooner you are voted out, the better it will be for the Canada that I knew and liked.

Not that it really matters to Stephen or Senator McCarthy I guess, but Nycole Turmel does not actually support separatism.