Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why We Don’t Need Another Election

Today, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper released his much delayed, but often talked about, budget.

Typically in Canada, there may be a few hints as to what the upcoming budget – outlining how the current federal government will manage the country – will contain. The rest of the budget is kept hush hush. It’s even illegal for journalists to report on the contents of the budget before it is officially released. That’s why many journalists will end up in a “lock down,” which is a locked room, guarded by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) no less. Or at least that’s the way it was when I was a news reporter.

This budget on the other hand, was very much known well in advance. Probably because the Prime Minister used it to delay the inevitable collapse of yet another minority government, run by Stephen Harper.

See, Harper is now in his second term of office, so-to-speak, even though he has never fully completed a prime ministerial mandate. He called the last election early, because he wanted to ensure he’d get re-elected, because no one really knew or understood the other potential leaders.

Now, he’s trying to push through a budget, yet he knows he won’t get the support he needs from the other parties to ensure it goes through. This will lead to calls that he’s an incompetent leader, and votes to that effect, which will topple his government early – again – and lead to another $70 million election.

That’s right, it costs at least $70 million to have an election in this country. That means Stephen Harper has already spent at least $140 million of our hard earned dollars, and without really accomplishing anything yet this term, is about to spend at least another $70 million.

With the economy the way it is, most of us would be so lucky to have $210 million -- $140 million plus $70 million) to toss around wildly and without any due regard for the loss.

Dollar figures aside, the real cost is the loss of time in doing what we elect our public figures to do – run the country. When there’s an election, nothing gets done. The Prime Minister dissolves Parliament, essentially ending the ruling government’s rein, until the next one is elected. Then all the politicians go out campaigning, making promises of what they will do, instead of actually doing what they said they would do.

If big business was run like our federal government, big business would be out of business big time.

I think we need a house cleaning in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. We don’t need to clean house of just the current government drones, but all the politicians – all parties included. We need real people really willing to roll up their sleeves and actually do some good for this country.

But alas, all we’ve got are a bunch of wanna-be leaders and no one to actually take a lead role. The New Democratic Party is already saying they won’t approve of the new budget, even though they haven’t even read the damn thing! They say this just because they want to topple the current government, and take this country to another election, so that they too may one day lead this country from one minority government to another – without actually accomplishing anything substantial.

But then again, I suppose spending over $210 million without actually accomplishing anything, in a sense, is quite the accomplishment. But it is one accomplishment this country can do without.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Self Serving Media

Like many, I get most of my news from television. Television is one of the most powerful forms of communication we have today.

Love it or loathe it, television shapes the way we think.

But news shows are supposed to present, well, the news. Way back in the day, when I was a journalist, news was anything happening right now that can affect our readers, viewers and listeners right now, or in the not too distant right now.

Thanks to 24-hour news networks with a constant need for stuff happening right now, news is less geared towards informing and often more of a form of entertainment. That’s one of the many reasons I left the news biz. Call me old fashioned, but I still can’t figure out how some talentless ditzy twenty-something celebrity’s choice to wear or not to wear panties will somehow have any impact on my life, or the lives of those I’m reporting for.

News is a business, it does cost money to broadcast and print those stories – that’s typically where ad sales come in play. But lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the media, one which takes this business to a whole new low.

While watching a local station’s newscast, I notice how they are now promoting their non-news, non-station produced shows, during the newscast, as a news story.

One station will constantly have a lead entertainment piece on one or two shows they will be airing later that night. Another station will feature guest interviews with the stars of shows they happen to air, about those shows.

It used to be we’d run “in-house” ads exclusively about us. If we had a special feature, an in-depth investigation or an exclusive story, we’d promote that during our newscasts and in our papers. We never made up a story about these, and we were clear that these were promos for an upcoming piece.

I don’t know what’s worse, a news outfit making up a story to attract viewers to their non-news shows, or the fact that they are turning a news show into a forum for advertising. Both are wrong and can do harm.

Remember the story about the kid that cried wolf? Eventually, people may stop believing the news, because of all the made-up self-promotional puff pieces.

As a society, we need independent news outfits to tell us what’s going on around us, and how these things will affect our lives. If we can’t trust those delivering these valuable nuggets of information to us, who can we trust? Where would we go, to stay informed? How will we know what is really important and what is just something tossed into the mix to generate a bigger audience share?

The longer this goes on, the more likely these self-serving manufactured stories will go from the entertainment desk, to the news desk. And that’s when we really are in over our heads – because when those that print and broadcast the news start making the news up, no one will be able to separate fact from fiction.

And in the real world, one needs to know what isn’t real, to exist.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Voluntary Tax? Oh What The Hell.

There’s this old joke about some guy, we’ll call him Homer. Homer lives a modest life, with his wife and kids. He’s not a very religious man, but every day he prays for his family, his friends and that one day: “please God, let me win the lottery.”

Every week Homer anxiously watches the lottery balls drop on television, and every week is the same – no winnings. But he’s happy, because his family and friends are okay, and that’s what really matters.

When Homer dies from old age, he goes before God and says: “thanks for taking care of my friends and family, but please tell me, why did you never answer my prayers to win the lottery?”

“Homer, you need to give me a break, you should have at least bought a lottery ticket.”


I always joke about lotteries, how they are voluntary taxes. Sadly, some people put all their hopes and dreams into these things, yet the chances of actually winning the big take are slim to none. You’d have a better chance getting hit by lightening, dying in a plane crash, or seeing Elvis.

But then again, our government run lotteries do a lot of good in other ways. The profits made from ticket sales go into the communities – funding hospitals, shelters, after-school programs and other worthy causes.

Though our thoughts really don’t turn to those we help when we purchase a lottery ticket. Our thoughts are pure greed-driven here, as we salivate wondering what we’d do if we won the big one.

That was my thinking today when I bought a handful of tickets to this week’s Lotto 6/49. I don’t usually buy lottery tickets, like I said, I think they are a waste of money. But this week’s draw is about $43 million.

That’s a lot of money to salivate over – though I’d have a better chance of getting run over by a herd of wild rhinos during a full moon.

I just happened to be at the local mall, getting some basic essentials, and noticed the long line-ups throughout the mall. There are a few places in the mall where you can purchase lottery tickets, and at each one, eager wanna-be millionaires were lined-up, gobbling up their hopes and dreams in lottery tickets.

As I fumbled through the mall, with armloads of stuff, passing these long line-ups, I thought: “what the hell.”

I don’t pray that I’ll win the lottery, I’m not a religious kind of guy. But you never know unless you try – and seeing as the last time I actually bought a lottery ticket was probably over three-years ago, I’m probably due.

And that $43 million would be a nice addition to my bank account. I’d pay off all my debts, and buy a nice island somewhere in some sunshine destination to live in seclusion – just me and my army of centerfold porn stars that do my bidding. . .

I just hope it isn’t a full moon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Striking York U Spoiled Rotten

My old alma matter is on strike – has been for over three-months. Teaching assistants, graduate assistants and contract faculty at York University have been on strike since November 6, 2008, knocking out classes for over 50,000 full and part-time students.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) which represents the striking workers wants the same as most labour unions do for their members during work stoppages – bigger pay cheques, better working conditions, and guarantees of job security.

Problem is, in these tough economic times, most of us non-union stiffs – which makes up the bulk of the Canadian work force – are just lucky to have a job, any job. Wage increases, a bigger office and some hocus-pocus document providing job security are the stuff of dreams.

Most of the auto sector is unionized, and suffering because of those so-called job security measures. The big three automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all closed their plants earlier than normal for Christmas break, and kept them closed longer than normal over that break, to cut costs. Sure, it means those that work at those places have jobs to go to, but they won’t have a salary over the holidays.

And even extended holidays won’t save the dying automobile companies – the big three are still closing plants, which will cut many unionized employees.

Striking faculty at York University must live in a pretty cozy and isolated glass cube, because they have failed to see what happens to unionized employees who make unreasonable demands of their employers. Eventually, they may get what they want – bigger pay, better working conditions, and job security guarantees. But none of that will matter if their employer doesn’t exist anymore.

York University is a long way from folding – and so far no Canadian university has ever gone out of business. But as this strike continues, despite the university’s very generous counter-offers, it suffers the consequences.

Applications to York University are down – the first time any Canadian university’s applications have been down in over two-decades. As government funding is closely linked to the number of total students, this will have a sharp and negative impact on how much money York University gets in years to come.

Current students may drop too – who’s to stop ‘em from going to another university to finish their education. And those that can’t get credits for courses already completed at York University may also be forced out by the strike, for financial reasons. Many students earn their tuition money by working summer jobs – and as it stands now, if the strike were to end, the academic year would have to be extended well into July.

Not to mention all the businesses in the area which cater to the 50,000 students – as the strike continues, these businesses suffer, because there simply aren’t any customers.

All of this because of a handful of spoiled employees, that just don’t live in reality. Aren’t universities supposed to be places of higher education?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Only Take the Bad?

I was watching the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama today – what a show! Hollywood is definitely an American invention, but we Canadians should take note.

The American inauguration was filled with music, dancing, and very well rehearsed performances by the dignitaries. That’s what today was all about – performance.

From meeting the with President Bush and his wife for tea prior to the swearing in, to having legendary American singer Aretha Franklin singing during the ceremony, to the presidential walk-about after the swearing in to the White House, it was all very entertaining.

When a Canadian Prime Minister is sworn in, there is a quick ceremony up on Parliament Hill, but that’s about it. You don’t have an estimated million-plus people lining the streets watching, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a big name Canadian roc k star perform.

Oh we Canadians have taken some lessons from the American political machine – negative campaigning has been used in municipal, provincial and federal elections up here for years. Negative campaigning is when one politico tries to make his or her opponents look bad, and unfit for public office. It has been used in campaigns at the federal level – remember when Prime Minister Kim Campbell tried to make Prime Minister Jean Chretien look evil for talking out of the side of his mouth? That campaign back fired, when Chretien held a press conference, admitting to a childhood illness that left a portion of his face paralyzed, hence his speech impairment.

Negative campaigns have even been run at the local grassroots level – former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall tried to slam former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman’s campaign with a whole bunch of ads labelling him nothing more than a slick salesman. This campaign didn’t work either, Lastman went on to be a long-time mayor of Canada’s largest city, until he retired from politics just a few years ago.

Still, taking away the bad from American politics doesn’t necessarily do us Canadians any good. Many people in this country don’t care for Canadian politics – the American election got more attention here than our very own Canadian election running at the same time.

We need more Hollywood in our Canadian politicians. We need to have amazingly crafted speeches, spoken by truly great orators, in front of stunning back drops. Sure, there is more to a politician than how he or she is perceived – what he or she actually does to better or make worse our society is the end product.

But come on – how many people remember all the great advances made in society? When we reminisce about our leaders, we tend to focus on the negative – the GST from Brian Mulroney, the lack of funding for the CBC and our military from Chretien, the inability of Stephen Harper to have enough support to make any change. But when it comes to the good, we remember what kind of image that politician left on our minds. The slick, three-step-at-a-time ladies man Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the deep broadcaster-like booming voice of Brian Mulroney, the energy and passion in the speeches of Lester B. Pearson.

Obama is being called the “coolest” president the States has ever had. Cool uh? Sounds like a great image that can only come out of the Hollywood-American political system.

I remember when Ronald Reagan was president back in the 1980’s. He was an actor-turned politician. But he was never a great actor, he only did a handful of commercials, and his best movie had a chimp as his co-star. But still, Reagan had mass appeal in the States, even though years later his economic policies – dubbed Reaganomics by economists – led in part to the economic recession of the early 1990s.

That’s because Reagan had style. He was slick, smooth talking and knew how to give a speech. Reagan became famous for his speeches, where he used peaceful settings – like his desk in the Oval Office, with big containers of brightly colourful jellybeans on it – to deliver bad news. The peaceful setting offset the bad news.

Reporters often joked that they could predict how bad the news was, by the number of jellybeans on his desk. If he had more containers all topped up, look out!

Joking aside, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was one of the country’s best public speakers. I still remember his now famous speech on the south lawn of the White House, at the service remembering shuttle astronauts after the Challenger explosion.

The meaning of the message may be the most important part, but if you don’t have anything to lure people in, and hold their attention while you deliver that message, no one will ever get the message.

And that’s why most Canadians tune out of Canadian politics – but know all about our neighbours to the south.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Can Obama Handle The Pressure?

Tomorrow, the United States of America will swear in it’s first ever Black President. Not since the swearing in of President John F. Kennedy has there been such a roar. Many are already comparing Obama to the former JFK.

Hotels in Washington are all sold out – and the few rooms available at further hotels are going for an alarmingly high $800-$1,000-plus a pop, as people from all over the world flock to the American capital to see history unfold.

There are even groups from here in Canada going south to the States, to see the swearing in ceremony.

The media around the world, but naturally mostly in the States has been hyping this too – not just the swearing in, but the whole Obama craze.

Obama, not to be out done, has continued on his theme of global change.
That’s a lot of pressure on the new prez. Can Obama handle it?

Obama appears to be a visionary, with new ideas, enthusiasm and energy. He will be one of the youngest presidents to be sworn into American politics too, and there lies the problem.

Many a young person has come and gone from all walks of life, hoping to make a change, but in the end just following the herd. It isn’t uncommon for young people, fresh out of school, to enter some big mega-corporation with a visionary mantra, full of new ideas, enthusiasm and energy.

Although those at the top say they are open to these youthful spurts of exuberance, very little changes. In fact, those that continue to push their ideas forward usually end up quickly looking for another job. Those left behind, seeing their colleagues crushed and defeated, quiet down, and step in line – as they have learned the one lesson they don’t teach in school.

That lesson is simple – new ideas are great, but keep them to yourself unless you want to be unemployed, and unable to pay your bills.

Will Obama face the same fate? Granted, Obama is the leader of the pack, unlike our fresh-out-of-school kids. But the old, regular faces of the House of Representatives, and even of Obama’s own political party still must accept their new leader’s ways, before anything actually happens.

If Obama’s ideas don’t make it all the way up the political ladder, eventually he will lose the faith of those who elected him, as they see him fall into line, just to get some of his less controversial initiatives passed.

We have seen this happen even here in Canada, towards the end of former Prime Minster Brian Mulroney’s leadership. Mulroney was smart, he knew he had lost the support he needed to be leader of one of the largest countries in the Western world, so he stepped down, and put Kim Campbell in charge. Campbell lost the subsequent election – essentially taking the fall for Mulroney – in what was one of the shortest Prime Ministerships ever.

Obama comes into power amidst one of the worst times to do so. The American’s have started wars they can’t finish without international aid in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with potentially new wars brewing for them in Israel and North Korea. American foreign policy has already built brick walls in many countries around the world, and public opinion globally of Americans is at an all time low. The global economic crisis is hitting the States hardest of all, as millions have lost their jobs, their homes – their lives.

And despite all of this and perhaps more, Obama has all the energy, enthusiasm and eagerness of a young kid out of college.

Good luck young man – you certainly need it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Remarkable Airship Skills Save the Plane

Flying a plane is no easy feat, but landing one – on water – is next to impossible. Today, a pilot did just that, saving 155 lives.

U. S Airways airbus made an emergency landing in the Hudson River near New York City, and all 150 passengers and five crew survived with minimal injuries.

Although the American National Transportation and Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash, early reports indicate the plane may have hit a flock of birds.

It is said any landing you can walk away from is a good landing – one may add swim to that description. Landing a plane on water isn’t uncommon, but having minimal to no injuries from such a wet landing is.

Most planes that have to make a crash-landing into water usually break apart, leading to numerous fatalities. Not so with today’s water-based landing, thanks to an alert and very capable crew.

Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III was in charge of that plane, and brought it down safely – doing what everyone in an emergency situation hopes happens – saving the plane and crew.

Sullenberger’s forty-plus-years of flight experiences paid off big time, as the worst injuries appear to have been caused by the freezing temperatures of the water, not the landing of the plane. The former U.S. Air Force pilot has flown Learjets, Boeing 737s, DC-9s and Airbus A320s – which is what he landed today in the Hudson River.

The last time a plane had to ditch in water was in 2002, when A Garuda Boeing 737 lost power to an engine and hit the water off Java Island. In this instance one person was killed, but the remaining 59 people aboard were alive. Prior to that, in 1996 a Boeing 767 from Ethiopian Air ran out of fuel during a hijack attempt, and fell out of the sky into the shallow waters just off the shoreline – only 52 people out of the 175 onboard survived.

Clearly, any time a plane has to ditch in water is an air emergency – commonly called a Mayday. Whenever a plane declares a mayday, everything depends on the flight crew’s ability to remain calm, and their knowledge and experiences in being able to handle whatever is thrown at them. Often they will be dealing with many alarms, warnings, and malfunctioning gear – all of which they have to consider in making their decisions which ultimately affect the lives of all on the plane, and on the ground or water beneath.

The Hudson River is a channel for boats, ferries and other watercraft. Landing a plane on this body of water is like landing on a busy road – just instead of cars in the path of the plane, there could be boats and ships.

Luck may have had a lot to do with today’s incident – but the brunt of the success is from the captain and his crew – outstanding flying!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How Canadian We Beavers Are

We Canadians are a curious bunch. Our national animal is the always peaceful and cute beaver, while our national sport is quite the opposite – rock ‘em sock ‘em hockey.

Just as Canadian as the beaver and hockey, complaining about the weather has become quite an essential character trait of us Canucks.

If you live in Ontario, chances are you’re complaining about the frightful freeze – today in Toronto the temperature sank to -17C without a wind chill – though the winds are a-coming. Wind chills are expected in the -20 to -30C range until the weekend. If you live on the west coast, you are used to complaining about the rain, and for those in the east about the storms and winds off the ocean.

Canada just wouldn’t be – well Canada, without constant complaints about the weather. In the summer, when the temperatures soar to +35C we complain it is too hot. If it rains for a week, we complain about all the rain, even when the sky is clear, we aren’t satisfied – that cloud is too puffy . . .

I suppose there could be worse traits. The Americans are known as snobby arrogant hot heads when they travel, expecting to get their way “because they are from America.” People from China are impossible to understand even in their own language – why can’t everyone understand Mandarin and Cantonese? And everyone loves to poke fun at the French.

But here in Canada, we’re known for being overly polite, with a strange fascination with the weather.

Though it really isn’t all that odd to be awed by Mother Nature, when your country is as vast as ours is. Weather has greatly influenced us as a nation, and continues to do so.

We all love snow days – when it snows so much, we call in with any excuse in the book to stay at home instead of going to work. Even in the summer we use the weather as an excuse to go out and play – who hasn’t suddenly come down with some stomach problem or flu on a beautiful summer’s day, only to take off and watch a baseball game?

Beavers, as with all wild animals, have to plan their lives around their environments. They innately know when it is time to mate, build a damn, and when and where to find the best feeding locations, by subtle changes in the weather.

We Canadians are very much like our national animal, constantly planning our lives around the conditions outside – whether we like the weather or not.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Zap and Scruffy is Dead

Today, a man took his dog for a walk in Toronto, and in the blink of an eye, the dog died. It happened when the dog walked over a metal hydro vault plate in the sidewalk, which had been electrically charged by a short circuit in the hydro pole next to it.

This isn’t the first time this has happened in Canada’s largest city – it happened just a few blocks from today’s incident a couple of months previously.

You’d think in one of the largest and most technologically advanced countries in the world, our sidewalks would be safe – but think again.

Toronto Hydro, when asked about how wide spread this risk is, says they just don’t know.

In the winter, our bare pawed four legged friends are most susceptible to this type of risk, as their paws act like a conductor and draw the current through their bodies. Our thick soled winter footwear can prevent the current from going into our bodies.

However, in the warmer spring and summer months, when people walk around in flip-flops, sandals, or even bare footed, we humans are just as much at risk of electrocution as Scruffy.

Which makes it all the more important that Toronto Hydro take immediate steps to fix this, and fix it fast.

Though that probably won’t happen – they have to rent the inferred equipment from the States, and because there are thousands of metal hydro vaults and poles all across the city, it could take several years before they have found every “hot spot.”

Still, this shouldn’t have happened in one of the world’s largest and most advanced civilizations – we should be masters of our domain, so-to-speak. Thanks to government cutbacks, infrastructures crumble and now a walk outside could prove deadly.

For years people have complained about the increase in pot holes in our roads, the backups of our sewers, and various water mains which break and flood. Although all of these are great inconveniences, none have proven deadly, until today’s electrocution of a dog out for a stroll with his owner.

Politicians are doing what they do best, divert attention away from themselves, and try to act like the heroes by launching investigations into the cause – justice will be served, reports will be written, and public hearings may even be called.

But that won’t bring back the two dogs killed by our careless cost cutting politicians. And if all the hoopla over government reports and public hearings that may result from today’s events follows the course of all the hoopla of reports and public hearings before, they will just fade away. Once the public hearings close, no one talks about them, the news forgets about them, and focuses on more current events. Reports are filed and collect dust in government depositories, where even Conan the Librarian may never find them again.

Real action must be taken to ensure our cities have the money needed to protect those that call those cities home, and their pets too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Nasty Filthy Boars

I was at the local Wal-Mart today, looking for a space heater. I love Wal-Mart, they always have what I want, and the prices are pretty decent.

Though they had a lot of space heaters to choose from, I was dismayed by the messy display. None of the space heaters were in boxes. Oh, there were boxes for them, but they were scattered on the shelves and some were even on the floor.

It was like a heard of wild animals rampaged through, removing all the products and leaving everything in a state of disaster.

I can understand people opening up boxes to check out the merchandise – I do that too occasionally, to ensure I’m getting something of quality and value.

But I am always neat, and if I intend to open something, I always look for one that is already opened, because I never buy something not in a sealed package.
It’s like buying underwear, would you buy a pair of undies from an open pack? You don’t know who – or worse what – they were on before.

Granted, a space heater isn’t as much of a personal item as a pair of underwear, but it is still better to have a non-opened package than one which may have been damaged by someone else, and simply placed back on the shelf.

Getting back to the Wal-Mart mess – I know we are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression many moons ago, which is why I was just as amazed as shocked to see the mess. In retail, as with many other things in life, presentation has a huge impact on success. The neater and more inviting a store, the more likely people will actually buy things at that store.
It’s why many real estate sales people will tell you to make sure your house is spotless if you are selling it. Some even advise to bake an apple pie just prior to a showing – the smells of the apple pie will fill the house, making it all the more inviting to potential buyers.

Wal-Mart may be the largest retailer in the world, but they are certainly not immune from the recession we’re in. They even announced last week that their sales are down, and that they may have to take extra measures to ensure they don’t succumb to the same fate as the auto makers.

Maybe they haven’t started those extra measures yet, because having a messy – no FILTHY – store certainly stopped me from purchasing my space heater there. I went to the nearest competitor just on the other side of the mall, Sears, and got a nice unit there.

Sears had a far better display than mega Wal-Mart. They had one model out for every type on sale, which was plugged in, so I could try each one out before buying. And those not out for trying, were all in sealed boxes, neatly stacked and easily accessible, making it very easy for me to simply grab what I wanted and make the buy.

Today, Wal-Mart lost some of my business, which in these tough economic times isn’t good for any business – no matter how big or small that business is.

Maybe this recession will do us some good, and filter out the businesses that really deserve to be in business, from those that just don’t give a rat’s ass?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Pointless Points Programs

Everywhere I go I get hounded to sign-up for points programs. Points programs are nothing more than a slick marketing campaign called loyalty marketing. Loyalty marketing is part of an even bigger marketing ploy, one which is very evil, which threatens us all.

First, these points programs are so pointless to begin with, I wonder why so many people sign-up? Perhaps it is due to those pesky cashiers, always pushing them? I was just at the local supermarket today, and the cashier wouldn’t let me leave without at least taking the brochure for the points program. I had to tell her I really wasn’t interested at least half-a-dozen or more times just to escape.

And all I really went in for was a handful of groceries!

This points program is like many others, you earn points for everything you buy at that particular store. In this case, one dollar for every dollar spent. Sounds like a good deal, until you read on – for every 500 points, you get $10 off your purchase. That means you have to spend $500 to get $10 – or for me, that’s about three-months worth of groceries to get a petty $10 discount.

What does the local supermarket get? Aside from your continued business, they require your name, address, phone number, age, number of kids in your house, number of people in your house, total household income – and a bunch of other information which they claim they will never sell or rent to anyone “outside their own family of businesses.”

They may honour their claim to never sell or rent their demographic information, but rest assured, they are making money off of having all that data somehow.

They can use that information to personally call you up and offer you great deals on things which you most likely would buy, based on your profile.

As you continue to use the card, and swipe it every time you shop, you build a bigger profile, as they can track everything you buy to you. That means, the one time you go out and buy that can of whatchmacallit just to try it out, could lead to coupons suddenly appearing at your door encouraging you to buy more. Or worse, as they know it is the first time you have bought this, you could get some college kid calling you up, wanting to conduct a survey about that one product. Maybe you just accidentally grabbed the wrong can off the shelf, and didn’t even mean to buy it – but that nosey kid will still call.

This kind of information helps the stores, they know which products to stock and which ones not too. But it leads down a very windy road of trap doors, where personal information becomes all growing, and all knowing.

Do you really want a bunch of strangers knowing what kind of toilet paper you use? What if you happen to have a medical condition which you’d rather not talk about? Drugstores have these points programs too, and that rather embarrassing rash you had once will appear on your profile, just because you had to purchase a prescription cream.

Air Miles is probably the biggest program of its kind in the country, and they sell their lists to all those companies that give you rewards and points. Think about all the gas stations, utility companies, even the media knows where you live, how old you are and what kind of underwear you prefer – most give points for subscribing to their papers, satellite radio stations and even when you enter their online contests.

And all you get in return? About $10 for every $500 spent!

Not only should you feel ripped off, you should feel quite naked. Just imagine all those strangers at all the companies all over the world who know more about you than you think you know about yourself.

My advice is simple, and something I’ve been practicing since these programs started – don’t sign-up. Do not fill in those rewards cards applications, and don’t use those rewards programs. The only people benefiting off those programs is the clever and evil marketing genius that invented it, and the businesses which use it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Union Boss Herald’s In New Era of Anti-Semitism?

The war between Israel and the various Palestinian factions in the Middle East has been going on far too long. This decades-long battle started when the League of Nations (now the United Nations) sanctioned a piece of land for Jewish folks, in the wake of the Holocaust. Israel was that piece of land, nestled in and around the most religiously sought after land by various world religions.

Sounds like the building blocks for geographical unrest – and that it was – and is today.

In steps Sid Ryan, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), a national labour group, which as with all unions, fights its own battles to the betterment of it’s members. CUPE represents many government and other public sector workers – including academics, which is where this whole story really begins.

Ryan put forth a motion to his national union, which would demand all Israeli born academics requesting work visas to work in this country – and requiring the support of the union for those workers, which is CUPE – to declare that they do not support the war in Israel.

Regardless of whether or not the motion passes and is enacted by CUPE isn’t at issue – the fact that such a declaration is being even considered is.

Granted, here in Canada we celebrate freedom of expression, and Ryan is certainly entitled to express his own personal beliefs and values on anything he’d like. However, forcing those beliefs and values upon someone else coming here to earn an honest day’s living is beyond wrong – it’s potentially Anti-Semitic.

The expression of hatred towards a particular ethnic and/or religious group is wrong. Anti-Semitism – expressing these thoughts of hatred towards the Jewish faith has been on the rise globally – there have been marked instances of this in Europe, the States, and even here in Canada over the years.

I remember just a few years ago, tombstones were toppled in a Jewish cemetery in Toronto, and just last year in the suburbs of that fair Canadian city, Swastikas were spray painted on some Jewish homes.

Now we have the front man for one of the nation’s largest unions forcing people, presumably of the Jewish faith, as that is the dominant religion and culture in Israel, to denounce their support of their homeland, to work in our land.

It’s one thing when teenage thugs topple tombstones, and spray hatred in paint, but quite another when a highly visible union boss does the verbal equivalent. Now Anti-Semitism has taken on a whole new tact – that of being publicly supported.

Ryan is an intelligent and skilled negotiator, he has to be, as that is key in any conflict negotiations. And that in a nutshell is essentially what the war in Israel is – a negotiations of sorts. It certainly isn’t as tame as one of Ryan’s typical negotiations across a table with labour on one side and management on the other. But in order for their ever to be peace in the Middle East, there will have to be some complex negotiations.

Which is why I wonder where Ryan’s head was at when he came up with the rather dubious and potentially Anti-Semitic notion that citizens from Israel would have to take a side at the negotiations table, before that table has even been set?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Who’s The Real American First Lady?

American President-Elect Barack Obama won’t be sworn in and officially take control of the United States until January 20, but guaranteed the airwaves will be swamped with Obama this and Obama that.

What’s really interesting is who will be influencing one of the most powerful men in the world. Usually, this post is held by none other than the president’s wife – the first lady. Michelle Obama probably assumes that she will be no different than any other first lady of American presidents in the past.

But there she would be wrong. She will hold the title “first lady” and participate in all the duties of the first lady. However, she won’t have nearly as much influence over the president as the unofficial first lady – Oprah.

Oprah – the woman with the talk show where Tom Cruise jumped up and down on her couch – will have more influence over the new American president than his wife.

Without Oprah’s support, Obama would probably never have got into the Oval Office in the first place – hell, it was Oprah that encouraged him to run for the presidency. As all politicians, he probably had dreams of becoming president, but without Oprah’s help, he wouldn’t be there today.

And without Oprah’s continued support, Obama probably would have a hard time in office. Not that he doesn’t already have his hands full – he’s got two wars, both of which the American’s are losing – the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. The economy is dead in the water, unemployment is on the rise, and the image of America around the world isn’t exactly in top shape. George W. Bush has left the country in tatters – which should have been expected, he is just an oil-hungry Texas hick after all.

That’s the thing I don’t understand about American politics. You’d figure the country with the most power in the world would elect the best leaders, the cream of the crop. But they don’t – in the 1990’s they had the womanizing Bill Clinton, before that a bully that dared Saddam Hussein to “read my lips,” and before that a former actor who co-starred with a chimp – a CHIMP of all things – Ronald Regan.

Hopefully Barack Obama will be more than just another Dr. Phil – who isn’t even a real doctor – and actually be able to cure America’s ills. But if the past is any indication of the present, and it usually is, then it’ll be interesting to see what Obama really is.

Guess it makes some sense though, when a country listens to the advice of a talk show host on television, with no experience running a major country. That’s how Dr. Phil became famous – Oprah originally hired him to advise her on how to deal with the beef producers in the States, and this showed us her true power.

It was during a mad cow scare in the States, and Oprah bad mouthed American beef, saying how she is now refusing to eat any American-grown beef. So many people followed Oprah’s stance, that the beef producers – mostly cow farmers – banded together and sued her.

Oprah sought the advice of many people, one of them was Dr. Phil, who she had on her show for a while, before he finally got his own spin-off show.

So, the unofficial first lady is Oprah – a talk show host – because she got the president elected. I wonder if Obama will have his own spin-off show? I can see it now, surrounded by housewives in a studio audience, he’ll run up and down the aisles with a microphone, gathering opinions and questions about all his cool guests.

Maybe if Oprah is lucky, she’ll get to be a guest on his show?

Holly president Jerry Springer.