Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Car Prices: People Power Making a Wheel Difference

It looks like there is so much cross-border car shopping that Canadian car dealers are starting to make efforts to win customers back (see CBC video report).
Since November 2007, reports had Honda Canada offering incentives on some Civic, Accord and Pilot models, ranging from $1,500 to $5,500 if you pay cash.

Used car prices in general in Canada are also dropping. That's because there has been a record number of imported vehicles from the U.S.
Canadians imported 24,873 vehicles in October alone - a 68 per cent jump over September's numbers and twice as many as in October 2006

The high number of used imports is creating a surplus of used cars for sale in Canada and hence driving down prices, at least on the mainland. It is still wise to compare U.S. prices before the big decision to buy from a Canadian dealer. See a couple of recent car price comparisons here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bad Christmas Gift Ideas for Kids

You may want to think twice before buying the ..
  • Hooked on Foniks Ready to Reed System
  • Type ll Diabetes Ken
  • Obesity Barbie
  • Processed Food Sodium Booster 6-Pack
  • Robbie Bubble Pretend Alcohol Power Drink
  • Barbie as Britney Spears Doll (now with 50% less lead)
  • Lead Zeppelin Heavy Metal PJs (Made in China)
  • Baby Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 'Holocaust Didn't Happen' storybook.
  • Cabbage Nicotine-Patch Doll
  • Stéphane Dion non-Action Figure
  • "The Wisdom of George Bush" written by Mrs. Bush
  • 'Twas The Night Before the Horrific Day of Shopping at Walmart and other Hellish Zoos

    The following Tickle Me Elmo knock-off dolls have been taken off the market:

  • Tickle Me Hitler
  • Tickle Me Harper
  • Tickle Me Bush

Sell also Bad Xmas Gift Ideas II

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Car Buyers Beware: Compare with U.S. Price First

Canadian car dealers are charging much more than U.S. dealers for same model vehicles. When the Canadian dollar is on par with the American dollar, or as it has been in recent weeks, even stronger, you can really compare apples to apples, or for the unfortunate souls described here, lemons to lemons.

Compare the 2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse Coupe GS for example:

5 speed manual transmission


Total Selling Price $ 27,493

(click GS for detailed view)


Total Selling Price $ 20,254

Save $ 7,239

Compare the Sunroof and Sound Option price
$ 3,300
$ 1,850
Save $ 1,450

Compare the Honda Accord Sedan

Starting Price

$ 25,090

Starting Price

$ 20,360

Save $ 4,730

That's over $ 7,000 more to buy the Eclipse from a Canadian dealer, and
$ 4,730 more for the Civic Sedan in Canada. What gives? There is a discussion at the Ottawa Business Journal on this issue. The price difference is huge and can hurt sales for Canadian and local dealerships. They may want to consider better deals as people start comparing Canadian and U.S. prices. Nobody likes being gouged.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Experts say There's No Fuel Shortage; Reduced Demand; and "Energy Militants" are a Big Factor in Price of Fuel

For non-expert mortals like this blogger, the factors affecting gas and oil increases can be a confusing and complex mix of information. We often hear about the huge growth in the Chinese and Indian economies, and how their demand for oil and gas is continually rising. We also relentlessly hear about how world conflicts affect oil prices, because it could disrupt the supply of oil. Oil is close to $100 a barrel now. Local fuel price prognosticator, George Murphy, provides a regular heads-up on price changes. His forecast for the coming winter and summer is, not surprisingly, dismal. On his blog he outlines factors that influence prices - one of which is international political volatility. However, according to this Globe & Mail article, the overall international demand for energy has been reduced three times in recent months by 901,000 barrels a day. One might wonder, "shouldn't prices be falling?"

In the Globe story, and it's no big surprise, several oil industry analysts say that the current environment of rising fuel costs is largely generated by geopolitical fear speculation. Michael Economides says that "Energy Militants" such as Iran's mullahs, Russia's Putin, and Venezuela's Chavez, use their energy resources as weapons, as their economies are "based on high oil prices". (3 years ago Economides predicted that oil would reach $100/barrel)

"He also dismissed as irrelevant refinery and other shutdowns that news reports sometimes cite as contributors to rising prices." (Globe article)

Tim Evans of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. says that

"we are not in a situation of tight inventories or imminent supply disruption here." (Globe article)

Oil analyst Fadel Gheit at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York dismisses the current environment as a bubble.

“It's a farce, ... The speculators have seized control and it's basically a free-for-all, a global gambling hall, and it won't shut down unless and until responsible governments step in.”

“The players have solved the riddle, ... They know what is coming they can make a bet on that. It's almost like fixing the score in a sporting event.” (Globe article)

Michael Ecomonides even speculated that you would see oil at $150 a barrel if a headline read, "Israel Attacks Iran."

That area of the world has been in a continuous state of combustion for decades, so even the suggestion of events like this can certainly be used to fuel rising fuel prices. It's quite plausible for leaders like Putin and Chavez to cryptically promote through any channel that helps, like the media, suggestions that there are immediate threats to energy supplies. We've been hearing that for years, and now the price of oil is just about $100 a barrel. It certainly benefits oil selling nations and oil companies.

The huge profits from bloated oil prices won't be money in the bank for average consumers, but rather directly more money out of pocket, and less spending power for other things. For the individual it is financially hard. Someone will benefit though. The only compensation, which comes with mixed emotions, is knowing that there is a silver lining for Newfoundland and Labrador in the much higher than expected oil revenues the province will benefit from.

Oil analyst Fadel Gheit mentioned responsible government stepping in to shut down the rising price trend. In the past, there have been calls for federal and provincial governments to cut taxes on fuel. The trend sadly looks like oil will top the $100/barrel price. There may be a renewed pressure on governments to give people a break at the pumps, but with overflowing tax profits, it may fall on deaf ears.

In the meantime, here's a suggestion. For Christmas, that spending/giving time of year, wrap up a gas station gift certificate for that special someone. It's a gift they're sure to use, and it just keeps on getting more valuable. So don't be embarrassed when you tell someone, "this Christmas, I gave my better half gas" - they'll thank you at the pumps. One way or another, it's hard to avoid getting gas.

Here are some fuel-saving tips from a 2006 post.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dion Quits Party

Support wasn't strong enough apparently. Oh, that's Celine Dion by the way - she cancelled a concert scheduled for Aug. next year. Media personnel are to blame - according to Dion's husband and manager, Rene Angelil - radio and newspapers comments continually insulted her. Angelil quoted specific reporters. One, David Rodeniser, said, "Oh, no. Say it ain't so. Celine Dion is our big Concert on the Common news? What could be more of a letdown?" Rodeniser responded by pointing out positive things he also mentioned in his comments. (see CTV story and reader comments here)

CD apparently performed there four previous times, so perhaps the "Dions" are a bit touchy this time. Otherwise, it could cost the city of Halifax a couple of million dollars in revenue. It didn't help that negative comments about her were given public space, but, that's freedom of the press, and it would be much worse to cancel that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Historian Janice Stein has Kind Words for Gen. Rick Hillier

In a special Globe and Mail section yesterday, Janice Stein answered some questions from readers about Afghanistan, politicians and Gen. Hillier. While she noted that policy regarding Canada's stay in that country should be determined by civilian leadership, Hillier did not overstep his bounds by publicly saying that the mission could take another decade. There appeared to be support for Hillier from readers as well. Here are a couple of responses from Janice Stein:

Gen. Hillier is an inspirational leader, respected and admired by soldiers serving in Afghanistan as well as many others who serve in Canada.

He has the capacity to connect to officers and enlisted men/women, and he is certainly the most effective "communicator" the Canadian Forces have had for decades.

His leadership matters enormously to those who are serving in Afghanistan.

She says Hillier made a military expert comment about how long the mission would take, and that's the type of information that policy makers need to make an informed decision on.

Gen. Hillier is obligated to speak privately to the civilian leadership about Canada's capacity to execute operations and about the conditions that he sees in Kandahar.

When he is asked publicly to comment about these issues, I think that it is important for him to share his informed analysis. This is what he has done.

It is not appropriate for a Chief of Defence Staff to advocate policy — such as, should Canada stay in Afghanistan after February 2009 or leave — and this he has not done.

In practice, these clear lines can blur and sometimes create difficulties.

On balance, however, Canada benefits from a clear and forthright analysis by Canada's military leaders, analysis that stops short of advocacy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Heart & Stroke Foundation Promotes Foods that Increase the Risks of Heart Attacks & Strokes

This symbol
is Misleading. It should be seen more as a warning than an endorsement of a food product.

When it is somehow allowed to be placed on an advertisement for a burger, a juice with much higher sugar levels than pop, then you know something's wrong.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) promotes a Health Check program that is supposed to recommend food products that are beneficial, and not harmful to a person's health.

From the HSF article entitled, Judge a food by its label, is this statement about the Health Check symbol:
The Health Check symbol on menus is designed to help you make healthier meal choices when you are away from home.

On the contrary, and this is appalling, the Health Check stamp is getting stamped on products that are excessively unhealthy, and increase the risks of cancer, obesity, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

The HSF is a volunteer-based health charity, that is regularly seen in public ads. They have done great work in raising research funds - $90 million in 2005, and as it says on their splendid web site, they promote healthy living. It does not fit the image or the otherwise good work that this huge organization does, to be endorsing foods that cause the very illnesses they fight against.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a specialist in obesity and weight loss. He was consulted by journalist Wendy Mesley for last weeks broadcast of Markeplace, which reported on sodium in food.

His blog, Weighty Matters, gives the scoop on the Heart and Stroke Foundations Health Check program. This current blog post is spreading the word about the revelations posted at Weighty Matters. Dr. Freedhoff's evidence-based information backs up his assertions that the practices of the Health Check program is unethical and misleading. (for future reference check his November, 2007 archives)

The criteria for a food product getting the coveted Health Check stamp is that the product has to meet the Canadian Food Guide standard. There's a big problem - the Food Guide that is still being used is 15 years old, has been criticized as deficient, and therefore, drops the standards so that many unhealthy meats, drinks, and children's food products, can get the Health Check symbol.

In light of the major study released just over a week ago that showed the relationship between red meats, high sodium level, and cancer, many of the foods that are endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation are detrimental to one's health.

As Dr. Freedhoff points out,

"Health Check, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's program that with their little logo, steers patients to products in a manner that they promote as,"

when you choose foods with the Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check symbol, it's like shopping with their dietitians.

This is what people want to hear alright. People want to trust national health organizations.

Health Check's CEO Sally Brown, pointed out that "products must comply with nutrient criteria based on Canada's Food Guide."

That sounds great too.

Unfortunately, what sounds good is not what it seems. The Canada Food Guide that Ms Brown refers to is the 1992 Canada Food Guide. That, according to Freedhoff, "even Health Canada recognized as being deficient and behind the times."

A revised version was released in February of 2007 - "slightly less woefully deficient" (Dr. Freedhoff).

You would think that the criteria has also changed for applications for products to get Health Checks. The Heart and Stroke Foundation site says that the criteria will be revised and they hope to finish their revisions "in the next few months." It's 9 months since, and no revised criteria.

Why the hesitation? Work overload? Laziness? A cozy relationship with big meat and food companies? Money? Possibly. This is interesting - the Health Check program generates over $3 million annually.

From the good doctor's blog:
Perhaps it is that $3,000,000 annually, a $3,000,000 that has explicitly purchased the Health Check seal, that prevents Sally Brown from explaining how it is the Heart and Stroke dietitians are unable to state that in fact red meat's not healthy, that refined flours lead to metabolic syndrone, that sugar contributes to calories which contributes to obesity, that using cartoon characters to promote nutritionally deficient foods to children is wrong ...

Even though there is a small print disclaimer on ads, saying "this is not an endorsement", the Heart and Stroke Foundation actually brags about it.

With ground beef burgers being one of the most popular meats in the summer months, having the Health Check symbol in place now helps consumers understand that lean and extra lean ground beef can be part of a healthy diet.

The Health Check symbol is a powerful label, with magnetic product-selecting effects on the consumer. Food companies know this. In fact, in a 2004 research study, an HSF dietitian, Carole Dombrow said,

65% of consumers recognized the Health Check logo as meaning the food is
'nutritious', 'healthy', good for you', or 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.' Sixty-eight percent agreed with the statement: 'I can rely on Health Check to help me make healthy food choices.'

Here's an example of one the "healthy food choices" that Health Check endorses for kids:
Disney's Buss Lightyear Milk Buddies - a sugar sweetened milk beverage.

It has 22 grams of sugar per serving along with 140 calories. That' 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per 200 ml. Drop per drop it's the same amount of sugar found in Coca Cola and almost double the calories. For an obesity specialist like Dr. Freedhoff, calories and sugar are key players in diabetes and obesity. For more examples and detail, see his post on how Health Check sells junk food to children.

Just over a week ago when the World Cancer Research Fund released the results of an extensive report which recommended no more than 500 grams of red meat a week, not surprisingly, the Big Meat industry complained about it.

In his blog post, Why the Food Guide Matters Part II, Dr. Freedhoff points out, they turned to Canada's Food Guide to defend their product.

"Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide continues to recognize red meat in the diet. The Food Guide recommends 1 to 3 servings of Meat & Alternatives per day."

Again, that guide is outdated, but still used as criteria to allow food products to get the coveted Health Check symbol.

The informative Weighty Matters blog reveals much about the HSF and the Health Check program. Dr. Yoni has written letters to them in protest, outlining specifically the harmful food products they put their label on. He continues to discuss openly with HSF representatives this whole issue, and demands answers - but the answers do not justify the actions. The HSF and Health Check are being exposed, and will lose the public's trust if they continue to promote foods that lead to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and other medical problems. Right now the Health Check symbol is very misleading, and that has to change.

Monday, November 12, 2007

If you're low on sodium, go to a sit-down restaurant, that should take care of you for 2 or 3 days

Eating out is enjoyable. You don't have to cook or clean away, just sit, relax, chat, eat, drink and walk away. There's usually a wide array of choices on the menu, but what's not usually on the menu are a few basic pieces of information about the dish. As Wendy Mesley of Marketplace points out, it is very easy for restaurants to add three things after each menu item - calorie count, fat, and sodium amounts, but they don't. (it is worth seeing the whole show)

And it's not the fast food drive-thru restaurants that are the focus here. Restaurants such as Montana's, Boston Pizza, Red Lobster are some of the joints that get covered. A food chain representative tried to put a positive spin on their "nutrition information" campaign. 75% had no information available at restaurants. People were very surprised to learn how high calorie counts were. (check out this sample of typical meals calorie, fat & sodium amounts as compared to ¼ pounder burgers scroll down the page)

Here's a preview:

It was also alarming to see the extreme amount of sodium in some appetizers and the main courses. It's recommended that a person not consume more than 1500 mg of sodium a day. Many meals had over 3000 and 4000 mg of sodium. That's the type of information that's still being hidden from easy public view. Restaurants and government are not too hungry to change this. More on this in a later post.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Cutting Cancer Risk, and Health Costs

It's the kind of news there ought to be more of ... by controlling lifestyle habits, we can prevent cancers from occurring by one third. This week's announcement of a study showing the relationship between weight and risk of cancer, is very positive for anyone, and positive for governments' budgets.

It had been suspected that too much fat in our foods and bodies, too much alcohol, and not enough exercise could lead to a higher risk of cancer developing. This study (here's a related CBC video interview), is significant. A team of nine independent scientists from around the world, analyzed 7000 other related studies, over a period of five years - very comprehensive.

The main findings in the study were:
  • excess weight increases the risk of cancer
  • the consumption of alcohol, red meat and processed meat also elevates cancer risk.
Specifically the report recommends:
  • (Limiting intake of cooked red meat to about 500 grams (1.1 lbs) per week)
  • Limiting intake of high-fat and sugar-rich foods that are low in fibre, including most fast food
  • Avoiding completely bacon, ham, sausage and luncheon meats
  • Limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
  • Limiting consumption of salt
  • Eating mostly foods of plant origin
  • Being physically active every day
  • Breastfeeding
The study had new recommendations for body mass index (BMI).
The BMI is an indirect measure of body composition, based on your height and weight.

It was surprising. According to one of the lead scientists, Dr. Phillip James, the leaner the person, the better (with limitations). His suggested weight to height ratio may seem alarming to many people. As Peter Mansbridge pointed out to him in an interview, people who appeared slim and healthy, were still over the suggested BMI number. Here is a tool to measure your own BMI. (This works in Firefox, and if it does not for IE, try this link: ) A normal BMI is between 18.5 - 24.9, i.e., the BMI with the least risk of developing cancer.

Another health news item that got wide attention in the past two weeks concerned sodium in food. A coalition of 17 health groups in Canada called for reduced sodium levels in packaged food.

(from CTV's web site) In a National Sodium Policy statement, the coalition urges the federal government to:

  • Set graduated targets for sodium levels according to food categories;
  • Monitor and report on progress by 2012 and 2016
  • Establish effective monitoring systems to track sodium levels in the diets of Canadians
  • Educate Canadians on the health risks of high dietary sodium and how to reduce consumption
  • Provide incentives to the food industry
  • Ensure health professionals understand the need to reduce dietary sodium and educate their membership about health risks and how to reduce intake

  • This is in the right direction. The story revealed that Canadians are getting far too much sodium in their diets. The recommended level for a person to get each day is no more than 1500 mg. Unfortunately, many get double that, many men, triple that. High sodium levels have been linked to coronary problems. If you don't already read food nutrition charts, it is truly worth your while to take a look at the next can of soup, pizza, beans, or any product. The sodium levels in some of these is already startingly high. A 240 ml can of Campbell's chicken soup has 890 mg of sodium - over half of the recommended amount.

    News items like the above are so welcome for the publics knowledge. More credible information like this on other foods, preservatives, colorants, and any dangerous ingredient needs to be repeated to the public. Changing dietary habits is not easy, and can take years for some to learn and make healthier lifestyle changes, so the health news and messages need to be promoted more, and continually over time.

    This will save lives, and save the troubled health care system millions. It's a win-win situation for people and government.

    There has been criticism from Canadian & American meat associations because of the potential affect the news could have on the beef, and pork industry. In the end, it will be peoples' deitary habits that determine how well any product sells. Things probably won't change much overnight for sales of these meats. In the future, however, meat producing companies may have to be content with lower sales at least domestically, but they can always look to exporting more internationally.

    For consumers, continue reading the nutrition charts on food products, get more knowledgeable about what's in processed foods, and what you're feeding your system. Is it good or harmful? Garbage in, problems later. There are 1000s of studies done every year on food effects, they may be commissioned by food companies themselves, or by an arbitrary health association, or by government. The study referenced in this post appears to be very credible, and a cut above the rest.

    The federal government in particular might want to consider putting more money into public service health announcements promoting healthy living, preventative lifestyles. The investment now, could very well save $100s of millions in the future.