Monday, November 21, 2016

With So Many Tragedies - and Now Election of Donald Trump - Is This The Biblical ‘End of Days?’

Is Donald Trump's election another sign of the End of Days?  Or a Nostradamus prediction?
The world seems to darken with every live-streamed horror. And then Trump won the U.S. election!  But consider this small empirical comfort.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

July 19, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

“Whoa, thought it was a nightmare/Lo, it’s all so true,They told me, ‘Don't go walkin’ slow/Cause Devil’s on the loose.”

– “Run Through The Jungle,” Creedence Clearwater Revival

Are we living in the Biblical “End of Days” prophecy as terrorism, disasters and evil abound around the world?

The astonishing level of terrible violence and disturbing events have started to make many wonder if we are on the verge of a dark new era – or even the beginning of the end.

The signs are ominous: the horrific 84 deaths caused in Nice, France by a deranged man driving a big truck through celebrating crowds; a military coup attempt in Turkey with hundreds killed; black men shot by police during traffic stops and then revenge killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge; millions of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, with thousands dying in conflict; the Zika virus spreading from Brazil and threatening the summer Olympics; and much more.

Those recent events follow terrorist-style attacks in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in June; suicide bombers at Istanbul’s Airport in Turkey in June and Belgium’s Brussels’ airport in March; two Canadians kidnapped and beheaded in the Philippines; and many more gruesome murders.

So far in July alone there have been over 90 reported terrorist incidents, on average more than five a day.

And many have been broadcast live to the world through social media – including tragic on camera deaths and bloody carnage – magnifying the effect.

UPDATE:  And as if that isn’t enough, the election of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump is being seen by some as part of the fabled prophet Nostradamus’s predictions 400 years ago!   

Nostradamus wrote: “The great shameless, audacious bawler. He will be elected governor of the army: The boldness of his contention….The bridge broken, the city faint from fear.”  Yikes!

It truly seems that the “devil’s on the loose” – but is it the “End of Days?”

What the writings say

The term and similar ones such as “End Time” or “Final Days” or “Eschaton” are used not only in Christian writings but also most other religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Rastafarianism and Norse mythology.

In the Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying to his disciples in Matthew chapter 24 that:

“You will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this is something that must happen, but the end will not be yet.

“For nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All this is only the beginning...”

Sounds grim.

And some fundamentalist Christians claim that: “We in 2016, are living in the end of time for this world as we know it. The Biblical signs are clear for all to see...”

But the Ragnarok – the Norse religion’s “doom of the gods” – is also pretty darn nasty.

Ragnarok is when the sun and moon disappear into cold and darkness, the Earth sinks into the sea, and both humans and gods perish in violent conflict.

And yet, in both these and other religions, the end of days are followed by rebirth – like Christ’s promised second coming – with a new, better world eventually emerging.

Some empirical comfort

For those of us not inclined to follow any religion, a more empirical, scientific analysis also brings some comfort.

The world has been beset by terrorism, war, plagues, earthquakes, floods and other catastrophes since its inception.

And while the current string of horrific incidents both human and natural is deeply disturbing, consider 20th century history for comparison.

The First World War began with an act of terrorism and ended with over 16 million dead, but it was merely a precursor to the Second World War, with between 50 and 85 million killed.

That century also saw the Chinese civil war – 8 million killed; the Russian revolution and war – 5-9 million killed; the Korean War – 1.2 million dead; the Vietnam War – 1.3 million killed; and dozens of other bloody conflicts that killed many millions more.

The 20th century also marked the introduction of the atomic bomb, chemical and germ warfare.

And in 1918, the influenza pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people – three to five per cent of the entire world’s population – one of deadliest natural disasters in human history.

The 20th century also saw the rise of other deadly illnesses: HIV/AIDS, Ebola, avian flu and SARS to name a few.

So are we really at the “End of Days” when one applies some rational perspective to these apocalyptic events that humanity has survived? No, certainly not.

No matter how horrible the loss of life, how cruel the terrorist attacks, how scary the illnesses or how stunning the catastrophes – it’s worth remembering that the world has both seen and survived far worse.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Discussing Vancouver Housing Data Isn’t "Racist" - And It shows How Chinese Foreign Buyers Are Driving Up Home Prices

UBS Global Real Estate Index released in September 2016 shows Vancouver with  highest "bubble risk" in the world for housing prices.
Government stats show foreign purchasers buying up real estate equal in value to all new home construction.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

 July 12, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

"Buy land; they're not making it any more."

Chinese and other foreign investors buying up homes are spending an amount almost equal to the value of all new housing being built in Metro Vancouver, creating skyrocketing prices that are driving local people out of the market.

That conclusion is easily drawn from last week's B.C. government release of new statistics on foreign housing purchases.

While woefully inadequate, they still show that the new supply of housing built each month effectively disappears from the market as foreign buyers -- mostly Chinese -- scoop up real estate of equivalent value.

And, as Twain says, they aren't making land anymore. It's like exporting a non-renewable resource.

UPDATE:  BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark did a complete reversal in late July on her previous strong position that no action was needed to deal with skyrocketing Metro Vancouver housing prices caused by foreign buyer speculation.  The BC Liberal imposition of a foreign buyer property tax of 15% in Metro Vancouver has significantly reduced non-Canadian home purchases to about 1.3% of sales from 13.2% earlier this summer.

But composite benchmark housing prices remain extraordinarily high despite the tax:  they are up 28.9% since September 2015 and down only 0.1% since August – meaning Metro Vancouver is still utterly unaffordable to most citizens.

The Metro Vancouver ramifications are enormous:

• Insanely high housing prices, up 32 per cent this June over June 2015, for an average price of $917,800.

• Phenomenally low rental vacancy rates that mean rents are consequently going through the roof, with Vancity Credit Union reporting young workers are being priced out of the Vancouver rental market.

• A development and home construction industry that has become dependent on Chinese foreign sales and escalating prices to prosper, meaning any ownership restrictions could seriously hurt employment and the B.C. economy.

Government data flawed, but revealing

First, look at the government numbers released by Finance Minister Mike de Jong last week.

De Jong deliberately directed media attention to the apparently low percentage of foreign housing buyers, even though the statistics came from just three weeks of June data that suspiciously did not include the final day of the month, when most sales go through.

Nor was that information definitive. The government counts on buyers to declare their nationality voluntarily; it doesn't consider whether the real owners are using family members or others representatives to buy housing; nor does reveal whether a buyer with permanent residency actually works or pays taxes in Canada.

These flawed statistics are challenged by estimates like that of the National Bank of Canada stating that Chinese buyers may have spent up to $12 billion on Metro Vancouver real estate last year -- one-third of all sales.

Regardless, the B.C. stats show that from June 10 to 29 the value of Metro Vancouver house sales to foreign nationals was $351 million, or 6.5 per cent of the total of $5 billion in sales.

The overwhelming majority of sales -- 234 out of 284 -- are to Chinese nationals. Citizens from Korea and Taiwan were second at just five purchases each.

If that $351 million over 20 days is extrapolated to an entire year, the estimated value of foreign residential sales would be $6.4 billion, far less than the National Bank's estimate, but still huge.

Compare that to the value of new building permits per year in Metro Vancouver -- roughly $6.5 billion in 2015, Statistics Canada figures show.

That means foreign buyers' purchases are virtually equal to the value of new building permits in Metro Vancouver each year.

It's about money, not race or nationality

Pointing that out is not racist. It's a factual observation based on the B.C. government's incomplete but still indicative data collection.

As Ian Young, the South China Morning Post's Vancouver correspondent, noted, the issue is money, not race. "Why would you think that someone was better defined by the colour of their skin than the colour of their money?" asks Young, who is of Chinese origin himself, raised in Australia and Hong Kong.

If foreign investment is equal to all new construction, is it any wonder prices are going through the roof?

The important number is not the 6.5 per cent of sales to foreign buyers -- it's the ratio of foreign investment to new construction.

To be clear, foreign buyers are not snapping up all the new homes. But their purchases have a value greater than all the new construction.

And if foreign nationals don't occupy or rent their new homes, the rental market shrinks. Even those who can't possibly afford to buy their own home in Metro Vancouver are screwed.

The Vancity report "Rent Race: The Growing Unaffordability of Rent in Metro Vancouver" makes for depressing reading.

"We have made an assumption that the rental market is there for people who can't afford to get into the housing market as an owner," Vancity community investment vice-president William Azaroff says. "What we're saying is: 'Hmm. Not so fast. That's not true.'"

With average Metro Vancouver rents of $1,144 per month and vacancies at less than one per cent, younger and lower-income households are in deep trouble.

And Vancouver city is even worse, with an average rent of $1,233 late last year, and a vacancy rate of 0.6 per cent.

So forget the nationality of homebuyers and ask why anyone would let another country's citizens make homes unaffordable?

Ridiculous? That's why I repeat my call for a six-month ban on the foreign purchase of B.C. homes to find longer-term solutions and stop the insanity.