Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Toronto Humane Society – Humane Care?

Photo of a dog behind a chain-link fence at th...Image via Wikipedia

Last November, Canada’s largest city witnessed something most unusual – the very people charged with taking care of the city’s injured and abandoned animals was itself facing charges of animal cruelty.

On November 26, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and officers from the Toronto Police Service raided the Toronto Humane Society’s River Street shelter. They claimed the shelter was no place for the humane treatment of animals, as they carted off numerous cats and dogs which were kept in overcrowded conditions. There were reports that some of the animals were in such cramped conditions, they were sleeping in their own feces and urine.

Five of the highest ranked Toronto Humane Society leaders – including former President Tim Trow – were charged with animal cruelty.

Today, the employees charged were allowed back inside the animal shelter, for the first time since this oddball case erupted.

What’s really odd about this is the fact that the Toronto Humane Society might not be the safest place for a sick, injured or abandoned animal.

Every summer, there are always stories about some jerk-ass that leaves his poor dog sweating in a car with all the windows closed on one of the hottest days of the year. People like that deserve to be charged with animal cruelty, and banned forever from ever owning a pet.

But those who work and volunteer at animal shelters usually are the least likely to be suspected of animal cruelty – if we suspect them of anything, it is having a big heart where our four-legged friends are concerned.

So how did one of the largest domestic animal shelters in Canada end up facing animal cruelty charges?

The problem isn’t the hearts of those managing the Toronto Humane Society, or rather – it is their hearts, just in a different kind of way.

The philosophy of the Toronto Humane Society has been for some time, to avoid euthanizing animals as much as possible – keep the stray and abandoned animals. Not a bad philosophy, and it shows just how big the hearts of those running the Toronto Humane Society are.

Most shelters will keep strays and abandoned animals only for a set period of time, hoping someone adopts the animals before the time runs out.

The Toronto Humane Society’s philosophy, while their hearts are in the right place, actually causes more harm than good. Because eventually, as more animals end up at the shelter, overcrowding ensues, and you end up with a shelter not fit for any living thing.

Yes, it is always hard to end a cute cat or dog’s life – but sleeping in one’s own urine and feces isn’t any better. In fact it is worse, because that’s how diseases spread, not just among the animals, but there is also a health risk to the staff, the volunteers and the visitors to the shelter as well.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) originated in a cat in China, and quickly spread around the globe. Germ warfare once was only a human-made thing, now we really do live in a society where all living things are at greater risks of spreading microscopic killing machines across species. Thanks to our increased use of antibiotics and other medicines over the years, microbes have become more resistant to these chemical cures, and so the fear of catching something from Fluffy is a legitimate concern.

Which is why the OSPCA did the right thing in forcing a cleanup of the Toronto Humane Society. What both the OSPCA and the Toronto Humane Society really need to do is better educate the public on the enormous responsibility of pet ownership.

Animal shelters wouldn’t overflow with unwanted pets if people knew just how great a responsibility pet ownership was, before they became pet owners, and realized they weren’t able to do so.

Raising a cat or a dog is a lot like raising a child, the only difference is, eventually the child will grow up, move out and have his or her own life. A dog or a cat – or any other pet – is dependent on their owner for life, for their life.

The most “humane” society’s are the ones with the biggest public education campaigns, not the ones which overcrowd their animals, because they can’t do the right thing.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Day Bombing and Beliefs

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: V...Image via Wikipedia

Score one big victory for the terrorists, after the Christmas Day bombing attempt on an American jumbo jet just days ago.

Security – particularly in the United States – got tighter than ever before over the days, weeks, months and years following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Never in recorded history had humankind been on such a high state of alert. At one point in time, we even had to remove our shoes – our shoes – prior to boarding an airplane.

Then, just as the world’s attention was focused on the holiest day for Christians – Christmas – the world was reminded just how important these measures are, as a man lit what initial reports claimed to be “fireworks” aboard an American flight over western Canada.

One wonders how on Earth – or rather about 30,000 feet in the air – someone can even get on an airliner with anything remotely flammable with all these security precautions.

And far worse, the ramifications since the Christmas Day fire cracker stunt may have gone too far, with little effect. In some American airports, security guards are even testing baby milk brought onboard flights. Maybe if you are real nice, they’ll feed and burp your infant?

Reportedly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was briefed weeks ago about increased terrorist activities involving bombing attempts and American-bound flights. The reports said that secret terrorist cells had devised a new way to bypass security measures to get explosives on planes, and that these terrorists were conducting training exercises to ensure success.

The recent attempt this holiday season may have been the terrorist’s first attempt or a trial as part of their training exercises.

Either way, it sure got the world’s attention.

The real problem isn’t going to be fixed by adding more security – though that will be the immediate visible solution. For every additional security measure taken, eventually those unscrupulous minds that want to do harm, will.

For every creative and innovative step taken to prevent a terrorist strike, there are just as creative and innovative people at work figuring out how to circumvent these steps.

The only real way to prevent terrorist attacks of airplanes is to stop flying. And that’ll never happen, because air travel is an important necessity in our global village.

Well, there is one other possible way to put an end to terrorist attacks – world peace. If we could only ever achieve a world that truly is at peace, then, and only then, would we ever really be safe from the harm done by those non-peaceful terrorists.

But world peace will never happen either. There is more to peace than sitting around a campfire, roasting marshmallows and singing Cume-By-Ah.

With deeply held religious beliefs – some may even go so far to call ‘em cult-like beliefs – behind many wars around the world, some wars will never end despite all the attempts at peace.

Then you have beliefs so deeply entrenched in a person’s life, they are willing to actually die for them. Like those who killed by flying planes into the World Trade Center in 2001.

Stopping a belief – no matter how wrong – is virtually impossible. A belief is the foundation towards ideas, and ideas lead to actual solutions to problems.

And those problems, for the terrorists, are how to constantly counter all the security measures so they can fulfill their beliefs. So we come full circle, over and over again.

Because the American named “war on terror” isn’t really about people, bombs, planes, or peace. It’s all about beliefs.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wasn’t There Any Real News?

Rick Mercer, September 2007Image via Wikipedia

Today, the Canadian media declared Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the newsmaker of the year. This isn’t the first time for the Canadian leader, as he was awarded the journalistic title last year.

Granted, Harper managed to quash many political fires, saving citizens from yet another federal election – it seems we have two seasons in Canada – winter and election season. However, Harper really didn’t excel as a Canadian leader, so why did a group of journalists take the easy way out and just hand it to the same guy from last year?

Maybe that’s exactly what they did: “who should be our newsmaker of the year? Duh, I dunno, let’s just give it to the dude who won it last year, what was his name again?”

Being granted newsmaker of the year should come with some hefty reasons – I mean we’re talking newsmaker for the majority of 365-days, not just for a month, a week or a day – it’s the whole year.

Prime Minister Harper didn’t solve the hole in the ozone layer, bring about world peace, or cure cancer – but then who has? But he didn’t do what many other potential newsmakers have done, and really stand out from the crowd.

Sure he met U.S. President Barack Obama, but so did Governor General Michaelle Jean – and she actually received a personal invitation from the American president to come to his house in an unofficial capacity. Though she did alienate many when she ate a seal’s heart during a visit up in our Arctic.

What about Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay? Many can’t get the image of the buff politician in a skin-tight wet suit doing donuts on his ski boat out of their minds – the image is both entertaining and disturbing. He’s responsible for finally ending our part in the American invasion of Afghanistan, as he declared this year that all Canadian troops would be out of the war-torn region by 2011.

Though if we’re going to name Canada’s newsmaker based on entertainment value alone, then this year it would have to be Garth Drabinski. He’s the former Canadian theatre mogul who was fined and sentenced to prison time, for ripping us off through his Live Entertainment Corp. – also called Livent. He even received the Order of Canada back in 1995 for producing Canadian-made movies, television and theatre events. But he’s currently a jailbird after being convicted on fraud and forgery charges. Maybe in seven-years when he’s out of the slammer?

I can see just how hard it must have been for Canada’s media to find an honest, hard-working Canadian to be the newsmaker of the year.

Not many choices so far – a blood soaked Governor General with seal guts oozing from her smiling face, a Defence Minister that looks more like a surfer dude, and a convicted criminal.

Surely there must be someone deserving of the title Canadian Newsmaker of the Year?

I know!

Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) funny man Rick Mercer. Rick Mercer probably won’t cure cancer, and he’s not a likely candidate to solve global warming, or bring about world peace.

But he brings out the best in Canadians by showing us who we really are in his silly skits and television comedy shows. Even better, he gets our neighbours to the south in the States to think about us every so often – which is something they rarely do.

Mercer was the first Canadian television personality to venture to the States, and ask Americans what they knew about Canada. The piece was hilarious, showing us how little they really do know, but also in a way, educating Americans a bit about us Canucks.

Comic relief may be the best way to solve many world problems. If we could all laugh at ourselves a little more, than perhaps we’d have fewer wars, and a more efficient and effective society?

Rick Mercer makes us see just how silly and trivial many things we take far too seriously are – mainly how too seriously we take ourselves.

And for those reasons, Rick Mercer should be Canada’s Newsmaker of 2009.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Could Teach Woods Many Life Lessons

Tiger Woods stand in front of the Joint Armed ...Image via Wikipedia

Ex-Toronto Blue Jay Roy Holiday could teach professionally embarrassed golfer Tiger Woods a thing or two about life.

Recently traded to another team – and one of the best pitchers in major league baseball – Roy Holiday took out a full-page newspaper ad in Toronto, thanking his fans for all the years he spent as a Toronto player.

In the ad, he says he was blessed for having the opportunity to play for Toronto’s ball club since 1995, and that the city will always have a special place in his heart.

Tiger Woods on the other hand, has led the media on quite the merry-go-round, with mistresses popping up like discarded plates at a banquet. However the banquet Tiger Woods had can talk.

Not to say that all Toronto Blue Jays were the best mannered. Back in the 1980’s Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire – he later apologized – and then there were the constant temper tantrums of legendary outfielder George Bell. Bell once threw a water cooler at then manager Jimmy Williams, barely missing the man by mere inches.

But if Tiger Woods was less interested in taking out his “woods” with women other than his wife, he wouldn’t be in all the trouble he currently is in – with his fans, his sponsors and most importantly of all – his family.

Although cheating on a significant other is never a good idea, to cheat on that person 15-times with women – some very high-profile ones too – all over the world shows a lack of respect, and personal integrity.

And that’s exactly what Roy Holiday can teach the Tiger – respect and personal integrity. Players get traded from Toronto teams all the time, yet Holiday is the first one to take out a full-page ad in a major daily newspaper thanking his fans for their loyal support. No one asked him to do it, he’s a good, honest and respectful person, chock full of something Tiger Woods lacks.

And what is it that Tiger Woods lacks? What could anyone worth over a billion dollars possibly not have?

The one thing which makes even the richest men in the world the poorest – personal integrity.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Winter Solstice and Human Nature

WILTSHIRE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21:  People gath...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Today is the first official day of winter in the northern hemisphere – though you may be thinking otherwise if you’ve already experienced frosty temperatures.

At 12:47pm EST today, winter arrived – wow.

Actually it is a big “wow” if you go back to the start of human civilizations. Long ago we human beings were one with Mother Nature and her seasons.

Stonehenge in the United Kingdom is estimated to have been built somewhere from around 2500 to 3000 BC specifically for the Winter Solstice. The giant stone monument is an ancient burial ground, which archaeologists have cleverly figured out was used in conjunction with another Woodenhenge which is long since gone.

Locals back then would make the trek by foot from all the villages and towns up a giant path to Stonehenge in winter to honor recent and past deceased family and friends. The stones which compose Stonehenge line up perfectly to allow the final fall sunset to shine right through the giant monument – that’s one of the marvels of the thing, because during its construction, they didn’t have the technology we have now to master such miracles.

Archaeologists have found remains not far from Stonehenge of a similar structure which was once made of wood. They have found remains of celebrations, ancient pots, animal bones with burn marks (indicating they were cooked for food) and ancient chalices and other things. The remains indicate this Woodenhenge was constructed specifically to line up with the very first sunrise of summer.

These clever archaeologists have figured that the same people that built Stonehenge would travel to the Woodenhenge and have a celebration, to welcome and honor the re-birth of the growing season. Everything was tied to nature and the seasons.

At the start of the Winter Solstice, these ancient people would pray for their dead, and for the fall harvest. Then when summer returned, they would celebrate and thank their God or Gods for giving them the ability to plant crops once again.

Christian experts even link Christmas to the Winter Solstice, as they aren’t exactly sure of when Jesus Christ was born. But many believe the first Christmas happened on the last day of winter.

These days, with our incredible advances in technology, we know the seasons are caused by the Earth’s rotation around the sun. When the side of the planet you call home is furthest away, your part of the world gets colder and darker, and experiences winter, while the other side is hotter and brighter, and experiences summer.

Although knowing the science behind the seasons shows just how far we’ve come as species, we’ve lost that oneness with Mother Nature, and our world has suffered immensely from that loss.

Back before science told us how the world worked, we humans were in complete balance with all living things across the globe. We didn’t over-harvest our food or animal crops, and we didn’t overpopulate the planet with our kind either.

Back then, according to the experts, we lived in the harmonious cycles of nature with all other living things. The summer celebrations at Woodenhenge marked the start of the growing season, for crops, animals and even people – it was the mating season for us just as it was for deer, rabbits, the birds and the bees. Fall would be the harvest, when crops would be ripe for the picking, and most babies were born. Winter would be the dead season, literally as it reminded us of the power of nature. Spring would signal the start of life and lead us back to summer again.

Although it is good to know the reality of nature, it has put us over the top, out of whack and totally out of balance with nature.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Philippine Volcano on the War Path

Experts Expect Mayon Volcano to Erupt In Next Couple of Days or Weeks

Mayon Volcano in Albay, PhilippinesImage via Wikipedia

The Ring of Fire may unleash its fiery wrath in the Philippines, as the Mayon Volcano rumbles and roars.

About 50,000 locals were evacuated around the island nation’s most active volcano today, as it sent orange and red molten lava cascading down its sides, while off-white – but burning hot – clouds of ash and molten ambers fell from the sky.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology – which has kept a watchful eye on Mayon for years – warned residents they expect the volcano to erupt within the month. They detected 83 volcanic quakes, mostly tremors due to falling rocks.

Rockslides are not uncommon on mountainous terrain, however where volcanoes are the focal point, they are signs of much more troubling geological disturbances deep within the Earth’s crust.

Volcanoes – such as Mayon – are formed much as glaciers are, by platonic movements of the planet’s land masses. All of our continents are actually floating on the surface of the Earth on giant “plates” of land, which float on the Earth’s mantle made of liquid lava.

As these plates move across the Earth, they collide into one another. When two plates brush up against one another, enormous pressure builds, until the force is so great, one of the plates literally explodes out, and either slips underneath the obstructing plate, slides up and over the obstructing plate, or slides alongside the obstructing plate.

Any form of movement displaces the land mass on both plates, creating a shockwave which ripples up and out great distances. The area where the pressure is released, causing the slip or the slide is called the epicenter of the shockwave – the shockwave itself is felt as an earthquake.

Not all platonic movements result in earthquakes. All land on our planet is constantly moving – so slowly it is barely noticeable. We’re talking literally millimeters a day – but even this small amount of force is enough to cause dramatic changes to the landscape over time.

Over thousands of years, flat sprawling lands may turn into hilly valleys. Thousands of years later, these hills are now mountain ranges – in the northern regions they are capped with snow and ice, but along the Ring of Fire, they are capped with lava domes.

The Ring of Fire is a horseshow-shaped area circling the Pacific Basin spanning some 40,000 KM. This ring is bound by tectonic plates, which is why it is home to over 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes – 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes happen within this region too. At last count, there were 452 volcanoes in the Ring of Fire.

As the tectonic plates crash and collide, they build mountains, and the pressure from deep within the Earth’s molten crust is forced up into these mountains. As the molten lava bubbles up to the surface, some is released along the base and sides of these.

At the top of the mountain, bubbling lava cools and hardens at the very top, creating a rock-hard lava dome.

The pressure continues to build throughout the mountain, as the tectonic plates move the Earth around the mountain, constantly forcing more and more pressurized lava up and into the mountain.

Occasionally, if the pressure is too great, weaker areas of the mountain will explode, venting ash, rock and some lava. But over time, these natural vents may clog, cool and harden back into solid rock.

This creates pressure back down the volcano, which collides with the pressurized tectonic plate movements. When the pressure becomes too much, a plate may slip or slide, causing an earthquake. This is why earthquakes near volcanoes are a good sign the volcano is about to erupt – they are an indicator of the forces within the large mountain.

Eventually, the pressure all around may be too great for the mountain to contain, and rupture the lava dome at the top, causing a massive and sudden release of pressure – think of the force released from an exploding Champaign bottle – only much larger.

Or, occasionally, the earthquakes caused by all the pressure may be strong enough to actually rupture the lava dome at the top of the volcano, causing the sudden and massive eruption of the mountain.

As the volcano erupts into a fire ball, it shoots burning hot ash hundreds of feet into the air, as searing hot molten lava flows up and out, destroying everything in its path.

The Mayon volcano has killed over 1,200 people in its most violent eruption in 1814 – it’s last eruption occurred in 1993 – but many more could die this time around, as far more people call the neighboring 45 towns and cities circling the dangerous mountain’s base home.

Some of the cities in the “kill zone” for this 2,464 meter (8,077 foot) high massive mass of rocks the size of houses, and oozing hot lava flows include Legazpi, Ligao, Tobaco, Daraga, Camali, Guinobatan, Malililipot and Santo Domingo. The small island nation’s capital of Manila is about 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) from the six kilometer (3.7 mile) kill zone radiating out from the Mayon volcano. Anything within this area – and possibly even further – would be wiped off the planet if the volcano exploded.

The Mayon volcano has erupted 49 times since records of the large active mountain have been kept (since 1616). If it blows it’s lid as scientists are predicting, residents may have little to no warning, as predicting volcanic eruptions is not an exact science, that’s why 47, 285 people are being evacuated over the next 72-hours.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

How a Media Holiday Turns a Tiger into a Fat Cat

Tiger Woods, champion golfer, drives the ball ...Image via Wikipedia

When news broke of legendary professional golfer Tiger Woods’ cheating on his wife, the news media was all over it like a rat on cheese.

Who could blame them? There was not much else going on in the world to report – or at least nothing newsworthy.

Every year, from around the middle of December to the middle of January the following year, the media takes a holiday, or so it seems. Political bodies boldly declare “enough is enough” and close up shop. Canada’s Parliament is already on holiday, meaning if you want to get hold of your local Member of Parliament (MP) you’ll have to wait until the New Year.

Many provincial and local politicians are also on vacation, only reachable in the most extreme of emergencies.

Big business is taking a holiday break too; as people from the highest positions, to even us lay people, take some much needed rest from a busy year.

All of these vacations means there just isn’t much going on around us, so aside from covering that crazy neighbor down the street that put up a life-size replica of Mary and the Baby Jesus, there really isn’t much for the news media to cover.

So when a celebrity scandal like the numerous sexual conquests of the married with kids Tiger Woods hits, the media goes crazy. Granted they would have gone crazy no matter when the story on Tiger Woods broke, but to still be leading the six o’clock news pack is due to the lack of other headline grabbing news. There really isn’t anything that far reaching in the story to justify it continuing to be the top story. We know Tiger Woods had affairs with many women, across the globe, now move onto something else.

Many famous celebrities have got caught with their pants down in sex scandals – the most notable being former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who not only got caught in the act, he almost got himself impeached for lying to Congress about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky back in the 1990’s.

President Clinton’s affair got much more coverage – so far – than Woods – however both got far more coverage than necessary.

Many people have affairs, the only reason we hear so much about celebrities is because they are in the so-called “lime light,” and constantly under the media microscope.

The only difference between Tiger Woods, President Clinton or any of the other celebrities that got caught in sex scandals from you and me, is their fame and fortune.

Though it is times like these, where being rich and famous isn’t a good thing, as the more money and fame a person has, the more it will cost them to get out of their sexual mess.

If the news media weren’t so intently focused on the actual tabloid-trashy gossip of the scandal itself, maybe they would actually delve deeper and explore the socio-economic, anthropological or even the psychological conditions which form the basis for why these things happen, and teach us something about ourselves and our society.

There are many theories about why people involved in monogamous, long-term relationships have affairs. From genetics which say we are pre-programmed to spread our DNA to as many different partners as possible to continue our species; to socio-economic theories which show us throughout human history that the more money a person has, the more power a person has to explore multiple sexual relationships, to psychological theories which say things about how when a person cheats on a spouse, it is a sign of deeper problems needing resolution within the long-term relationship.

But instead of providing news which might actually better society, the focus of these celebrity sex scandals is the celebrity, and not the deeper meaning for us all.

Maybe the news media has taken a holiday, like many others this time of year?
Or more likely, the news media is a business and uses flashy tabloid-trashy stories to lure in readers, listeners and watchers, which in turn increase their ability to sell advertising, which pays the fat cats that own the newspapers, television and radio stations.

So it’s the fat cats behind the business of news gathering, keeping you ill informed, so they can make a fast buck.

Happy reading, watching and listening!

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

All the Time But No Time For a Deadline

My world is all upside down and downside up – or at least it is when time management is concerned in this new economy.

PLANTATION, FL- NOVEMBER 02:  Howie Brown adju...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Being an ex-journalist, I’m used to juggling several deadlines simultaneously. I’ve learned the best way to get just about anything done is to put a deadline on its completion. Without doing that basic task, things don’t get done, because there isn’t the need.

Although I’m no longer in the timely world of news gathering, I still tack deadlines on all my projects. I give those who I need to get things from deadlines, so that I can meet the deadlines I’ve given myself to get those things done.

Though those I issue deadlines to never seem to care. A couple of weeks before the deadline, I politely remind them about it. A day or two before it comes due, again, another polite reminder. Then the deadline passes, and nadda, nothing, not even a frantic email apologizing for missing the deadline.

When I was a journalist, if you missed your deadline, the first time you’d get an earful from the editor, and on the next occurrence, you’d be done, gone, finite-oh, fired.

These days, when I chase people down who’ve missed a deadline, I’m the one who gets the earful from some executive that doesn’t meet deadlines either.
Must be the so-called new economy of today.

In our haste to cut costs, we’ve cut corners, and forgot the importance of getting things done.

I’ve been “working” on several projects continuously which normally would have been completed months ago, just because no one has met the deadlines I’ve set, and despite my attempts to get the information from ‘em, nothing gets done.
That’s why the word “working” is in quotes – until I get what I need to do my job, there really isn’t much of a job for me to do.

And it isn’t just my place of employment where time management has taken a back-seat in this new economy.

Today I got a cool flyer about improvements to my digital cable service. These new enhancements provide more interactive controls, allow me to preview six-channels at the same time, and even have a local news and weather feature.
The implementation deadline for these new enhancements? Mid-January – not a specific date, just that it’ll happen sometime next month.

Not to rock my cable provider’s services – they do an amazing job and provide the best customer service I’ve ever had from a cable company. When they enhance the system, they really do improve it – not like many other companies that just change one little thing and then jack up the price.

But back in the old economy where things got done, my cable provider would actually specify a date, and even a time, when they rolled out new features.
Guess they have moved to that new economy too, where time just doesn’t really matter. We’ll get things done when we get ‘em done.

That’s too bad, because open-ended deadlines don’t work. Read any management textbook, talk to any expert on running a business, even ask that geeky kid down the street that just took his MBA and they’ll all tell you the same thing.

Deadlines drive the wheels of the global economy.

Or at least they used to before those wheels fell off and left us twiddling our thumbs, wondering – just when will anything ever get done?

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Canada’s Largest City Continues Wild Spending Spree, Despite New Tax

Canada’s largest city continues to demonstrate its poor management of resident tax dollars, passing the latest in what could be a long line of service fees, increased fines and taxes.

Rather than trying to figure out why they are constantly running out of money, today Toronto City Council voted in a Billboard Tax.

That’s right – a tax on putting up a billboard advertisement. Originally – or so goes the talk at City Hall – the revenues generated from the Billboard Tax were to go into enforcing the laws regulating where, when and how large billboard displays were. However, just as the city’s council voted in favor of passing the new tax, they announce all money collected will go into the city’s general revenue stream, and be budgeted where needed.

This really comes as no surprise, as the City of Toronto, despite being the economic powerhouse of the country, is always short of funds.

Maybe if city politicians actually watched their spending, they’d realize where all the money is disappearing, rather than constantly looking for new ways to gouge their residents to make up for the loss.

It doesn’t take a lot of work to see where some of the wasted dollars are going. Anyone who’s walked outside for even the briefest of moments probably has stumbled upon the new, and modern stylish recycling and garbage bins dotting Toronto’s sidewalks. These new containers are the latest in street fashion – if there ever was a street fashion – they even have a nifty foot pedal which when stomped on opens the doors, so you don’t have to get your fingers messy.

The City of Toronto spent thousands of dollars on these things, yet in these hard times, and with all the new taxes and other ways the city is trying to increase revenues, the first question that springs to mind is – just what was wrong with the old recycling and waste containers on our streets?

The previous containers collected the exact same stuff – pop bottles and cans, paper-based recyclables (like newspapers) and non-recyclables (trash). They were covered, and enclosed just as the new containers were, the only real difference that stands out is that nifty foot pedal.

Did our politicians actually ditch the old containers, just for a nifty foot pedal?

Transit fares are increasing dramatically in the New Year, as are property and water taxes. And the city is looking at implementing new fees on various city-run services which currently cost residents nothing, all because Toronto City Council is crying about how broke they are. But they aren’t too broke to spend whimsically on fancy recycling waste containers with nifty foot pedals.


What’s next, a tax on breathing city-air to fund a much needed replacement of hand-dryers in public washrooms, because the old ones, although they work, they just don’t have that “new” hand dryer smell?

Pot holes riddle Toronto’s roads like raindrops, making any trip hard on drivers, passengers, and their vehicles. Sidewalks, bridges and other city structures are crumbling from age and wear and tear – yet instead of putting money into these much needed projects, Canada’s largest city purchases fashionable items which really didn’t need to be purchased in the first place.

Maybe in the up-coming municipal elections in Toronto in 2010, residents will exercise their right to good government, and vote the current council out.
Because whatever Toronto City Council is at the moment, is anything BUT good for the city.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Beware of End of Year Job Numbers

Today, Canada’s federal government released the latest unemployment rates for the country – painting a rosy picture if you believe ‘em.

According to Statistics Canada, the country’s unemployment rate dropped last month by a tenth of a point since October. Canada’s official unemployment rate now stands at 8.5 percent.

The government claims this is because the number of full-time jobs increased by 39,000 in November, which is the third straight m

MIAMI - MARCH 27:  Gregory Tai, who lost his j...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

onth of an increase. Part-time jobs also increased by 40,000 – previously they had decreased in the past two months of October and September.

That means we saw 79,000 new jobs created in Canada – if you believe all the media hype. For most of us, the worst global disaster since The Great Depression of the Dirty Thirties is still rampaging its wrath. I personally know many families which continue to struggle to put food on the table, despite the constant headlines hollering that the economy is improving.

Chances are if you aren’t one of the millions looking for work, you know someone who is. So as you hear the network news anchors boast about our country’s new low unemployment rate, you may ask yourself: “so how come my friend is still out of work?”

Truth is the unemployment rate just doesn’t take into account the very basis for real value employment in this country – or any country for that matter.

The federal government’s statistics do not take into consideration the largest area of employment for the past twenty-years – self-employment.

The Causes of The Great Depression / FDR Memor...Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

Over the past two decades, companies have been hiring fewer and fewer on staff, favoring the more cost effective approach of bring in people on contracts.

Also, as the economy shrank in the recessions of the 1990’s and today, many people were let go, at times when there were no jobs. Many simply gave up looking for work, and went into contracting as they were unable to find anything else.

Last month’s self-employment numbers fell sharply by 32,000 self-employment jobs according to Statistics Canada. These numbers are not considered in the unemployment rate calculations, the government thinks of them as more of a wild card which indicates the volatility of the job market.

Not only do the unemployment rates not consider one of the largest sectors of jobs in the country, they also fail to take into account the real money maker for most people – hours worked. The Canadian government only compares full and part-time positions – they don’t take into account the actual number of hours people work, and that’s what really affects most pay cheques.

The total hours worked actually declined last month by 0.3 percent according to Statistics Canada. This means although more people were being hired, they were working fewer hours, so in the end, were being paid less.

WPA poster 1935 USA, color photoImage via Wikipedia

When people don’t make as much as they once did, they cut back on spending, and that means less money being distributed into the economy, which fuels economic downturns such as a recession or depression. Statistics already are indicating that most Canadians plan to spend 40 percent less on holiday gift purchases this year than last year – and last year at this time we were well into the worst economic decline since The Great Depression.

And to add some vinegar to a widening wound, most of the increases in employment were in the education and service sectors.

In the education sector, this increase could be due to budgets needing to be spent before year-end, otherwise the money is gone for good. Meaning next year at this time, we could see a sudden loss of jobs in this sector, as everything eventually balances out.

The December holiday shopping season always boosts employment in the service sector at this time of year, as those in this sector make most of their profits during this time. Many companies in the service sector hire part-time temporary workers to fill the holiday rush, only to be let go either at the end of the year or early in the New Year. So again, these numbers are not a good sign of more jobs and a better economy.

So, how will you know when the economy really is booming again? You’ll know from your own experiences, and the experiences of the people in your life, long before the Canadian government’s statistics confirm what you and your family and friends experience.

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