Goodbye, Mr. Williams

 

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You know a person has touched people deeply and often – by using the gifts they were born with – when the mediasphere suddenly stops and almost universally covers that person’s death… regardless of how tragically meaningless said death was.

Even the White House made a statement in regards to Robin William’s death.

When Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton eventually O.D. from whatever party drugs are in vogue at the moment, sure the media will blurb about it over the course of the day, but people will collectively shrug while TMZ treats is like a national emergency.

I’m sad that such a vibrant and often brilliant man had come to a point in his life where he thought there was no other escape but through the veil to whatever exists after this mortal coil – but in some ways, I don’t think there could have been any other outcome to Robin’s life: when a person has such a manic and larger-than-life energy, you could hardly imagine the depths of the inevitable lows when all the laughter ran out.

In our daily lives, there are certain universal constants that we all assume will be there the next morning after we go to sleep – and the presumption that Robin Williams would always be there with a movie (regardless of how shitty or uninspired the plot might be) or TV show or stand-up comedy special was something most of us were guilty of.

In some ways, Mr. Williams was the toy that we forgot we had: the one that slowly creeps to the back of the bedroom closet until, one day, your parents come along and toss it in the trash because they never see you play with it  – and the very next day, you remember you had that toy and go to play with it… only to feel the guilt and sorrow that comes from the realization of all the fun possibilities that you’ll never get to make good on.

Robin had surely felt the lack of love on our part since we had lost interest in the trademark zaniness that had been pasteurized and shaped into a formula by studio focus group testing – which is both our own fault for not embracing edgier material, as well as not holding studios to a higher standard with our hard-earned dollars.

As with all suicides, both of the celebrity kind and that of regular everyday people whom you know personally, we don’t realize how much someone means to us until they’ve gone – leaving us all to gaze inwards at ourselves and wonder why we didn’t do more to make that person understand that they had people who loved them dearly.

The prevailing wisdom on the topic of suicide is that it’s “a permanent solution to a temporary problem”, but those who are in the dank pit of depression completely lack the perspective to make that kind of differentiation – which means that all of us have a moral obligation to make sure that we help them find the path back out into the light… and it’s something that we’re woefully inept at since most of us are all too caught up in our own little lives to be bothered with helping a fellow soul out in their time of need.

If Mr. Williams had been able to witness the outpouring of love and admiration that came after his death today (well, yesterday since it’s now after midnight as I write this), I’m absolutely certain that he would have been able to get through the darkness that was consuming his troubled soul.

While unnatural celebrity deaths are one of the unavoidable truths of Hollywood, they fall into a few different categories.

The first is accidental: where a celebrity meets their end due to forces mostly beyond their control – like when Paul Walker met his end in a car wreck… and while these events are sad, they fall in line with the rules of the universe.

The second is accidental drug overdose: where the party-hard lifestyle of Hollywood’s A-list crowd collides with the vicious downside of the illicit drug trade – but that downside is always a possibility since there are no strict quality standards for illegal substances, nor are you always going to be able to use appropriate judgement of how much drugs you can safely take while you’re under the influence of drugs… which is a lesson we learn from the death of someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

And then we have the third, the celebrity suicide: the last, pathetic cries of a usually washed-up actor or actress who has pissed away their fortune and alienated the Hollywood establishment by either generally making an ass of themselves in public forums or signing on to any piece of drivel that comes along in order to make some quick cash so they can fuel their own self-destructive tendencies with shit tons of alcohol or street drugs.

Having reached rock bottom, these former celebrities stick a shotgun in their mouths at a seedy motel and pull the trigger, which generates a few headlines due to our collective morbid curiosity about such things.

But I don’t think Robin Williams was anywhere near has-been status, nor could he have been conceivably poor since he surely still makes plenty of coin through royalties on past hits – as well as having been recently the star of a network television series, regardless of how well it was or wasn’t  received by critics and audiences alike.

In many of today’s articles written after his death, it was revealed that Robin had been fighting substance addiction… which I suppose would be almost unavoidable given his manic personality, but it also underlines one of the facts that we at home overlook: actors, actresses, music artists, and sports celebrities are still human beings – and if any of us mere mortals were to endure the kinds of pressure these people do in their highly performance-oriented lives, many of us would crumple under the weight of endless demands.

I say that last part not to excuse the alcoholism or pill dependency that many celebrities develop, but to simply understand that each and every human being needs some downtime where they are free from worry or stress.

In the end, I truly feel for Mr. Williams’ family who have been left with both a gaping hole where their loved one used to be and a three-ring media circus that will spend the foreseeable future scrutinizing Robin’s life in the months leading up to his suicide in the supposed search for answers, but mostly just to sensationalize the final few sad and lonely moments of an apparently broken man.

 

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The End Of McGuinty’s Marathon

If there’s been one equal reaction around the world to the global financial meltdown and its enduring fallout, it’s that the electorate of every country, state, and province – at least those who subscribe to the free market and democracy in general – has blamed the standing government.

Everybody loves their elected officials right up until those same elected officials reach the end of their budgetary ropes and start asking the people to tighten their belts as the government is forced to tighten its purse strings.

Yes, we’re all familiar with the riots in Greece as that government ushered in drastic austerity measures… the Arab Spring uprisings that stemmed from the citizens of those countries being unable to make ends meet within what the corrupt regimes had laid out… and the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement.

Other governments around the globe have dealt with the financial fallout in a more quiet fashion – at least in so much that there aren’t angry hordes of protesters filling the streets and boulevards in the seats of power.

Canada is one of those places – with the exception of the province of Quebec, which had a spring and summer filled with angry post-secondary students.

Yes, there were some tricky or tumultuous elections from coast to coast where the incumbents were either given a black eye or completely tossed from office – but for the most part, order has been maintained.

Ontario – which had been the wealthiest of provinces for the longest time before Alberta got it’s oil sands operations into full swing and took the title – was forced into a corner when the American economy collapsed, and the government at the time had to make some difficult choices.

The most visible – and the most quoted – was joining the U.S. in bailing out General Motors and Chrysler who were bankrupt from decades of bad deals with the auto worker’s union that had bled their coffers dry in a time where neither company was innovating at a level to compete with their counterparts from abroad.

Before I move on, I’d like to point out that those bail out loans have been paid off as both companies managed to pull their asses out of the fire.

As in America, the average citizen didn’t think the government had any business propping up private interests like Fortune 500 companies that had made bad choices – that it was perfectly acceptable to let those industrial giants die and take every job they created with them to the grave.

However, it was actually cheaper to prop up General Motors and Chrysler than to have all their workers (plus all the workers from companies that  manufactured parts for the auto industry) suddenly flood the nation’s unemployment benefit system – which would have crumbled under the load of 500,000 new applications since there was barely enough money to go around for the existing case load.

Plus, unlike money paid out to unemployed workers, all the money loaned to General Motors and Chrysler would come back to the government plus interest.

Anyhow, after the putting out the most immediate fires, the government of Ontario was left with a basic truth: all the smaller companies that either went bankrupt or had to radically downsize their workforces removed a sizeable chunk of tax income from the province’s spreadsheet.

Added on to that problem was the strategically leveraged investment tools that governments use to grow their bottom line – mainly investment bonds issued to raise capital – took the same kind of hit that the primary stock exchanges did… which turned billions into millions practically overnight.

People who drink the Hudak & Horwath flavor Kool-Aid fail to take that into account when they blame the Liberal government – and Premier Dalton McGuinty himself – for all the financial woes that have fallen on Ontario.

I’m not here to say that the McGuinty government hasn’t made any number of mistakes: a few programs have turned into total clusterfucks due to the lack of oversight.

Most notable are the eHealth and ORNGE debacles – and those two messes are all kinds of bad… but it’s one of those situations that make people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Both programs were created to save the province money, and they should have… but the Liberals decided to save money on top of those savings by not appointing the number of provincial overseers that would have prevented the repeated foul-ups at eHealth and the insider kickbacks at ORNGE.

The eHealth program – which, by the way, was set in motion under the previous Progressive Conservative regime – was designed to/still has the potential for measurable savings to the province’s public healthcare system by creating a singular patient database that would eliminate layers upon layers of redundant paperwork across hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices… pointless duplication that costs millions of dollars in working hours needed to fill it out, process it, and file it.

The sort of electronic data system to store the patient information – which would include everything from your family doctor’s written notes to blood work results to x-ray images – doesn’t exist anywhere in North America… which means that it has to be built from scratch.

Information servers, remote client software, unified image/video protocols… and that’s just a fraction of the problems facing just the technology vendors – and doesn’t account for the legal teams necessary to create a framework that protects both the patients and the healthcare providers.

The very nature of public healthcare makes it even more complicated as governmental agencies aren’t really suited to the kind of R&D (research and development) that a company like IBM does routinely – so, regrettably, the staff at OHIP took a stand-off approach with the idea that the ‘professionals’ that were hired would figure things out on their own without much input from the government.

Obviously, that hasn’t worked – and it’s going to be a long, hard road before the eHealth concept comes to fruition because the province is trying to compete with the private sector for the management staff needed to make it happen.

Looking over towards ORNGE, the same hands-off policy lead to a disaster – albeit for different reasons.

Prior to the province incorporating ORNGE, the health ministry leased the aircraft it used for air ambulance services from private contractors which meant that Ontario was losing money on the service in 2 out of 3 categories: while the pilots were trained and managed by the province, the fuel costs and aircraft use/maintenance was sold to Ontario at a moderate mark-up.

ORNGE was formed so that the province would own all the aircraft – purchased directly from the manufacturer – and would be buying the fuel for those planes and helicopters at open market prices.

Over the projected service life of the aircraft, the province would save hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – in the same way that owning a home saves money over a 20 year cycle in comparison to someone renting an apartment for that same 20 year period.

The problem was that the province picked the wrong people to manage ORNGE, people who felt they weren’t beholden to the people of Ontario – managing ORNGE like a private company instead of a subsidiary.

When you run your own company, you can arrange all the kickbacks and shmoozefests you want – but when the money you’re playing with is supplied by the public, you’re responsible to the public.

Again, the Liberals had a little too much faith in the people they chose – and it came back to bite them in the ass.

Other problems that people want to hang around Dalton McGuinty’s neck – things like the poor relations with the province’s educators for instance – aren’t really the fault of the government when you look at the bigger picture.

Remember how I said the province is taking in a lot less money than when the Liberals ousted the Progressive Conservatives due to this shitty economy?

Well, that kinda means that the Liberals – or any government for that matter – can’t make the pay scales continually rise like in days of yore.

Up until quite recently, the McGuinty Liberals were the darlings of the public employee unions because the Liberals were happy to spend money to maintain the status quo where all the nurses and teachers had their demands met.

Problem is that the province can’t spend money it doesn’t have… and that fact fails to register with the unions.

There is already too much red ink on the provinces budgetary tables, and to pay for what the teachers are asking – and what the nurses will soon also be demanding – would require adding a lot more debt… the same debt that the ignorant public wants to hang around the government’s neck.

The same kind of thinking – though modified by a lot of NIMBYism (people saying ‘not in my backyard’) – is what has caused the power generation snafu that the opposition is beating the Liberals over the head with.

By and large, the people of Ontario had given the Liberals an environmental mandate – demanding that dirty, smog-creating power generations stations be replaced by cleaner alternatives like natural gas plants and wind farms.

Problem is that nobody wants these things near their homes – regardless of the fact that they had already grown up in the shadow of the coal power smoke stacks, and that they would only be trading one for the other.

No… they demand that these new power generation facilities be built far from their homes – which would be an okay idea if it weren’t for the problem of transmitting electricity from far-off locations to the average home with 2.5 kids and an ever-growing collection of electronic devices.

Which means that on top of the costs of replacing coal with renewable/environmentally friendly alternatives, the province would be on the hook for the cost of building new transmission corridors – which, coincidentally, nobody wants in their backyards either.

The natural gas power generation facility that the Liberals cancelled was called off due to NIMBY pressure – cancelled so that the voters in that area would be happy.

Those same voters are now angry because the province now has to pay a cancellation fee – a fee incurred on their behalf.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad about getting exactly what you asked for, does it?

However, John Q. Public isn’t known for making sense – he depends on his elected officials to make sense of the world for him in the form of a sound bite that requires him to think the least amount possible.

The only time John Q. Public wants grand visions of the future is during election season – the rest of the time, he doesn’t want to be challenged.

Which is why Dalton McGuinty is stepping down as premier.

The truth is just far too complex for the average voter… which leaves them to be influenced by the more basic name-calling and finger-pointing done by the leaders of the opposition.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to blame someone than to help that same person fix the problem.

South of the border, we see that in the Romney/Obama contest.

If Romney wins, it will be because the public at large – who doesn’t follow/understand the machinations of their government – has swallowed all the bullshit that the GOP opposition has thrown out there… when the truth is that Obama didn’t meet a lot of his promised goals because the GOP/Tea Party has refused to work with the White House on just about anything.

We here in Canada like to think we’re smarter than our American neighbors – but honestly, if we’re so easily convinced by the person who yells the loudest, then that isn’t the case at all.

Dalton was never perfect… but he has always tried to do the best thing possible for the people who elected him.

Resigning now is a less-than-ideal option, but it’s what was left in his toolbox: the PCs and NDP won’t work with him as they’ve painted an image of the premier that they won’t reconcile with in the interest of the province.

No… that’s not entirely accurate.

The Progressive Conservatives sided with the Liberals on the salary freeze for the province’s teachers – which means the PC’s are capable of working with the party that the electorate chose to govern… but in larger scheme of things, they don’t want to because they want to have their own hands on the levers of power.

Mr. McGuinty made it clear that he was resigning in an effort to give the Liberal party a new face – one that doesn’t carry 8+ years of name calling with it whenever the next premier appears to the public.

Of course, the next premier and leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario won’t have that long of a grace period before the opposing politicos start flinging mud.

It’s the nature of the game – and no matter what anyone says, politics is a game that’s paid for by the public.

It’s just not a game that people keep track of – unlike something like baseball where the fan at home can cite any number of statistics for their favorite team or player.

No… the public at large has no stomach for politics and therefore has a very short memory.

They’ve clamored for McGuinty’s head on a pike – but have no idea what to replace him with.

They still remember the shit Mike Harris did, so the voters don’t trust the Progressive Conservatives.

The public service unions remember the cutbacks they received at the hands of Bob Rae and the NDP (coincidentally, this happened during the last time there was a recession even remotely like the one we have now), so they don’t really trust the current New Democrats all that much either – but it would seem to be the only option in a 3 party system.

Anyhow, I’m going to bring this blog to a close since you probably came into it with your mind already made up as to whether Dalton McGuinty has been a good premier or not.

However, the facts are indisputable: the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty healed a very fractured province that was left in the wake of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves era.

They also brought a socially responsible agenda – one that was expressed once again mere hours before Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to resign at the earliest possible convenience… a message that I’m going to leave right here instead of the usual clever graphic that I normally end my blogs with.

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Preoccupied With The Occupation Of Occupy Wall Street

Let me say this first: the Occupy movement has already failed.

In the first handful of days at the Occupy Wall Street event, there was something interesting going on – there was a hopefulness that a message could be made loud enough to catch the much-derided 1%’s attention at the top of the capital food chain.

It seemed like a situation that could spark to a sort of Arab Spring uprising that would force changes.

But… the message was quickly lost as everyone (and their dog) who had ever had a grievance with the system of capitalism showed up with a cardboard sign.

Immediately, the movement became a hodgepodge… a cohesive mess of the needy that lacked any sort of focus.

Just as quickly as the Occupy movement spread to other cities, this terminal protest disease spread out to the new locations… and nobody seemed to notice or was willing to do what was necessary to heal the organized group organism.

Instead of a single, collective voice calling on the rich to change their ways, the Occupy movement mutated into something that required not just the ears of bankers and investment brokers, but the attention of every sort of executive that had ever been in contact with money: bankers, investors, insurance agents, HMOs, Hollywood types, retirement fund operators, school board trustees, mayors, execs at restaurant chains, dental surgeons, toy makers, taxi operators, and the list goes on almost indefinitely.

In a few quick and easy steps, the Occupy movement had gone from relevant (good) to super relevance (bad).

To have an effective message, it has to be concise and to the point… something that can be carried by the masses with a unified voice.

The Arab Spring protests succeeded in overthrowing the governments of countries like Egypt because every person who picked up a stone to throw at the government’s forces in the streets wanted the same thing:  they wanted the ruling party and it’s corruption gone – end of story.

It’s a model that could have made the Occupy movement truly revolutionary and the Western world would be on it’s way to change.

But, instead, the Occupiers maintain an incredibly fractured front with nearly every person at these protests wanting a different form of change… and it’s that kind of behavior that those in power can effective ignore pretty much forever.

It’s sort of like someone on Facebook creating a group that sets out to draw attention to one thing that would seem very important – let’s say the abuse of raccoon dogs in China – and then proceeds to flood the group with links about Nike sweatshops in Thailand, the amounts of trans-fats in KFC chicken, and the failures of the American political system.

That Facebook user meant well, but is left wondering why he or she doesn’t have anyone joining their online cause and it’s simply because they couldn’t stay on message.

It’s the same in politics: the politician who’s most likely to win is the one who has a set number of priorities and then hammers away at them on the anvil of the public stage  – instead of jumping around from issue to issue as each voter mentions a problem during the campaign.

In fact, in the brief history of the Occupy movement, there’s only been one time that protesters got to the verge of getting some concessions made.

Several days ago, a group of Occupiers from the Los Angeles movement managed to shut down one of the United State’s most important ports by sealing off the entrance: trucks that would normally have picked up goods made in China and hauled them away to Walmarts across the nation couldn’t get in or out due to the mass of protesters standing in their way.

This ‘stand in’ lasted for about 4 hours before the Occupiers drifted away to their usual encampments… which is quite unfortunate.

Four hours may not seem like a long time, but when you take into account the amount of freight that goes in and out of the Port Of Los Angeles, even seconds of inefficiency cost shippers and receivers millions of dollars in lost revenue because those lost seconds propagate forward through time and can eventually turn into minutes and then hours.

So, when you make a four-hour stand, the collective sphincters of shipping magnates and the companies like Walmart or Target – who depend on their goods being delivered on time – clamp shut hard and then those execs start sweating as they start seeing the money they normally make slow down.

If those Occupiers had maintained their presence at the Los Angeles docks, and then got protesters from movements in other port cities to do the same, the very people who the Occupy movement is supposed to be targeting would become very uncomfortable – and would start thinking of ways to assuage the angry mobs.

Of course, that would depend entirely on the commitment of the people in the Occupy movement since those billionaire executives would put pressure on elected officials (that most assuredly received campaign contributions from companies controlled by said execs) to crack down on these protesters via legal means through the deployment of riot squads or military personnel.

If the Occupiers are willing to be arrested, pepper sprayed, tased, shot with high-speed bean bags, hit with sound cannons, bombarded with tear gas canisters, and beaten with billy clubs – all in sufficient numbers to completely overwhelm the legal mechanisms that were deployed on behalf of the 1% – then they could indeed successfully create change.

Governments that are freely and democratically elected have no stomach for bloodshed in the streets, especially at the behest of billion dollar corporations that could afford to lose some money if it meant that people’s lives would get better.

But, no.

The Occupy movement lacks that focus… that honest desire to change things.

The extensive camps across North America have become love-ins for the economically disenfranchised… meccas for every hipster, Gen X slacker, unemployed teacher, and general malcontent that doesn’t have anything better to do.

For these people, the message is the act… instead of the message leading to an act – which is why Occupy will eventually fail.

Media outlets focus on the Occupy movement mostly because it’s become a sideshow, but also because it provides some political drama as various city councils try to cope with the public disruptions.

In fact, the media are the only people honestly paying attention to the Occupy movement since the 1% have decided the Occupiers present no threat to themselves and their money-making empires.

So let me say this to you, Occupiers of the world: change your strategy or go home.

If you’re not actually interfering with the 1% by removing money from their pockets, you’re of no real consequence.

Gather up… firm up your resolve… solidify your message… and declare war on the 1%.

Block access to major ports.

Physically prevent people from shopping at major retailers.

Stop buying Starbucks coffee on your way to the Occupy camps.

Take your money out of the major banks and commit to a local credit union.

Honestly threaten the 1% by taking away their money… instead of being a bunch of dirty hippies standing around clapping each other on the back for a job well-done when you actually haven’t accomplished a single thing.

In the words of my progenitors: shit or get off the pot.

Or… in modern vernacular: get real or fuck off.

Occupy This

Tim Who ‘Dat?

Ontarians – from border to border, and from Hudson Bay to the Great lakes – are on the verge of going to the polls again.

How and who they vote for will shape the government of Ontario for the next 4-5 years, and that is no inconsequential responsibility: North America is pretty much three inches and a market fart away from falling back into an economic recession that will no doubt put further pressure on the unemployment safety net as thousands of workers are let go.

The province of Ontario is a very complex machine… and when a machine breaks down, you want the right tools in your hands to fix it, right?

Unfortunately, Tim Hudak is just a tool (in the most derogatory sense).

During the 2011 election campaign, Mr. Hudak has tried to paint himself with Mike Harris’ left over cans of Tremclad Rustoleum in the supposedly trendy colour of ChangeBlue™… but he’s failed to realize that colour has been out of style for more than a decade.

While LiberalRed™ is still the preferred colour of the Ontario electorate, they’ve also developed a hankering for Andrea Horwath’s truckload of LaytonOrange™ – at least in small doses.

Tim Hudak may be good at mugging for the cameras,  but he’s been overly terrible at public policy ideas – a failing that’s always terminal in a politicians’s case, and one that can make you a laughing-stock at what’s supposed to be your defining moment.

At the start of the campaign, everything was coming up roses for Timmy and his merry band of Harris leftovers because Ontarians thought that change would be nice after 8 years of Premiere Dad – and that’s bound to happen, no matter who’s been holding on to the province’s keys: people like change now and then.

Instead of always getting the pepperoni pizza, sometimes you go out on a limb and get the Hawaiian with extra pineapple.

After a week or so of glad handing voters around the province, Hudak firmly took his campaign off the rails by repeatedly saying the word “foreigners” – and in a province that only grows with the importing of landed immigrants from other countries around the world (because the Canadian birth rate is abysmal), that was just the wrong thing to focus on.

Suddenly, Tim Hudak was all about white guys – despite him looking out over Toronto sidewalks that skewed a bit more towards yellow and brown.

On top of that, the Progressive Conservative party – that’s led by Mr. Hudak – has always been the champion of big business.

So… Tim Hudak is all about rich white guys.

And yes… I’m using white guys on purpose since the PC party has never really been on board the women’s rights train – paying lip service to it when necessary, but always mumbling quietly about finding ways to outlaw abortions.

The funny thing about the “Foreigner” debacle is that, by and large, the immigrant population are the people most likely to agree with the PC platform since most of them have come from moderately- to radically conservative countries… which makes them more likely to drink the HarriBerry Blue™ Kool-Aid.

The idiocy of Hudak’s derailment is based on one glaring fact: they have no serious issues to grab the undecided voter’s attention.

Television advertisements paid for by the PC party have only harped on about taxes: Dalton McGuinty and his Fiberals are supposedly raising taxes every other week and twice on Christmas.

While it is true that taxes have gone up in Ontario, they’re not disproportionate to the rate of inflation… and there’s been a concrete need for any taxes implemented by the Liberal government over their past two mandates.

Evil Tax Number One a.k.a. The Health Care Premium: Do you have any idea how much money is needed to care for the rapidly aging Baby Boom generation?  To care for the existing senior citizens?  To battle health concerns like SARS and swine flu?  Billions of dollars… billions of dollars that can’t be completely extracted from the amount of money brought into public coffers through various levels of personal and retail taxation – so the government needed a way to continue paying for our universal health care without digging itself further into debt.

Evil Tax Number Two a.k.a. The Eco-Tax: More than a million metric tons of used electronics used to go into landfills across the province before the turn of the century, and many still do… but that’s changing under the auspices of the Ontario Stewardship (a program that was itself set in motion by the previous PC government as a way to boost their environmental credentials) – and the money that’s required to start complex recycling programs province-wide has to come from somewhere… and where better to get that money than at the point of sale for the widescreen LCD television that you will discard in the next 5 years? That way, you’ve already paid for it’s recycling long before it’s necessary… instead of the government having to dip into it’s already strained and tattered pocketbook.

Evil Tax Number Three a.k.a. The HST: I’ve already explained why the HST is a necessary evil in previous blogs, so there’s not much I can add here. At the end of the day, Ontario needed to have the HST so it’s businesses could compete with other business entities around the world in our Global Economy because other jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, the U.S., Mexico, and South America already had in place single-point or so-called “value added” tax systems that made paying corporate taxes easier and more streamlined… and therefore cheaper over the long run.

With that Evil Tax Trifecta, surely Hudak could have made a better case for lowering taxes for the masses, right?

No… he couldn’t – and didn’t.

The HST couldn’t be revoked without activating a ‘poison pill’ scenario that was inserted by Hudak’s Conservative cousins in the federal government: if the province of Ontario were to revoke the HST, it would have to pay back $4 billion dollars in equalization money that’s already been sent to majority of Ontario citizens by those four special cheques you found in your mailbox over the past year – which would immediately be added to the province’s debt load and sinking the S.S. Ontario further into the Sea Of Red Ink… and would necessitate a rise in income taxes.

The best Hudak could promise on the HST front (and to be fair, Horwath has said the same things) was a modification of items that were included on the list of items taxable under HST – mainly removing the federal portion of the taxes on heating oil and electricity bills.

I suppose that would be nice, but hardly practical since it would cause a headache for the taxation department – a department that would eventually find a way to make up the difference from some other way of taxing you.

Onto the Health Care Premium.

Has Mr. Hudak said he would do away with those?

Nope. In fact, he’s said – very quietly and far away from voters waving little blue flags – that he will keep those in place because they do what I said they did a few paragraphs upwards from this one.

At the end of the day, the only one of those three Evil Taxes that Mr. Hudak and the PCs could tamper with in any meaningful way – and the meaning wouldn’t be necessarily good – would be the Eco-Tax.

However, as I hopefully made it clear up above, that would simply be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul – letting you off the hook at the point of purchase and then raising your personal taxes to maintain funding for the recycling facilities for your disposable iPods, Blackberries, flat screen televisions, and laptops… and to also pay for the water purification plants that remove the chemicals you put down the drain every day.

Outside of he Evil Tax Trifecta, Hudak doesn’t have a platform.

Healthcare? It can be argued that Ontario’s health care system is in the best shape it’s ever been in.

Yes… there are still crowded emergency rooms at hospitals across the province, but the wait times are getting better on the whole – especially for surgeries that can change people’s lives… or let them continue their lives as whole persons.

A few years ago, I was in serious bicycle accident and I snapped my leg in three places – something that would have been seriously debilitating in decades and centuries past…. even so bad that amputation would have been considered in more primitive times.

Guess what? The accident happened just after 1 o’clock in the afternoon… and I was in surgery to have a titanium rod permanently inserted down the middle of my tibia with attending screws and other hardware required to regain structural integrity – allowing me to walk on it again within several months – at 6 o’clock in the evening on the very same day.

So, I went from mangled to mostly fixed in five hours… and I didn’t have to pay a single cent – not even for the ambulance ride.

No… our healthcare system may not be perfect, but it’s still pretty damn amazing when you consider how much it has to struggle when it comes to finances.

The Progressive Conservatives, during their last stint as the province’s controls had taken a slash n’ burn approach to healthcare – firing doctors and nurses, and closing nearly twenty hospitals across the province… which caused such systemic damage that Ontario’s healthcare system was amongst the worst in the country, and it’s only now (2011) that it’s gotten back to the top.

Hudak & Pals don’t have any where to go with education, either.

The Liberals under Dalton McGuinty have made some radical improvements to public education in Ontario.

More students are sticking it out all the way through high school, graduating with marks that they can be proud of.

Smaller class sizes have helped students get the attention they need from their teachers, which means they get the help they need if they need it – either in that same classroom, or in more specialized learning environments.

The biggest change, of course, was the implementation of full-day kindergarten for all youngsters – which had two effects: the first being that children started experiencing a constructive learning environment sooner than most other children in North America… and it eased the financial burdens of working families that would have otherwise had to pay for daycare or babysitting services.

There’s very little to complain about when it comes to Ontario’s public schools.

In fact, there’s very little for Ontarians to complain about on the whole as the province simply works.

Compared to the Mike Harris years – an era where nearly every public sector union in Ontario was on strike – that Tim Hudak clearly yearns for deeply, Ontario is firmly planted in the Garden Of Prosperity.

Yes… there are many people across the province who are out of work because of the current global financial climate that isn’t particular to Ontario.

However, there are many people who’ve either regained or retained their employment because of programs that the current Liberal government forced into being with their majority… programs that cost many billions of dollars, but had very clear and tangible results.

Sure – the bailing out of General Motors and Chrysler (now owned by Fiat) was a popularly unpopular move… but it kept those two massive companies who employed thousands of Ontarians (either directly or through companies G.M. and Chrysler depended on to build their cars and trucks) alive.

The manufacturing sector in Ontario – and the world at large – has taken a beating as money becomes tight for consumers.

Companies that face certain peril if they don’t downsize their workforce have no choice to let employees go… and this is not the fault of the Ontario government.

It’s the fault of American banks and financial institutions who squandered and pissed away more than a trillion dollars in crooked investments and other equally worthless endeavors – actions that had a ripple effect across the entire world of stock exchanges and investment banking from New York to Tokyo.

The current hard financial times facing Ontario are not something that was caused in Ontario, and is most definitely not the fault of the McGuinty Liberals.

However, Tim Hudak has done his best to blame Dalton McGuinty for it… and in the end, the blame hasn’t stuck.

Maybe because the average Ontario voter is smarter than that… and I would really hope that’s the case.

However, I think the Ontarian electorate is sticking with the Liberals because Ontario is in a better place than a lot of jurisdictions in North America – and even the world.

Dalton McGuinty goes on television and shows you all the  good things the Liberals have done over the time they’ve been in charge – most of which I’ve discussed here.

…And Tim Hudak challenges McGuinty and Horwath to a BBQ cook-off.

If that wasn’t a sign of non-existent political platform, I really don’t know what is.

No, Timmy.

No you can’t.

A Decade After The Fall: 9/11/11

Bright and early tomorrow, New Yorkers will have a new destination to fill their idle time.

Monday September 12th, 2011 marks the opening of the WTC/September 11th Memorial that takes up roughly half the 16 hallowed acres that formerly – 10 short years (okay… long years if you’ve been doing a lot of air travel) ago – housed the previous incarnation of the World Trade Center for 10 hours of that fateful Tuesday before being turned into a pile of smoking wreckage.

Up until now, the public at large hasn’t had any access to the WTC site – unable to stand on the ground where 2,500+ normal, everyday people were killed in an orgy of violence and death set in motion by hateful, bearded men half a world away in a country that for the most part was ignored by everyone except the Russians in the 1980s.

Monday morning, New Yorkers have the opportunity to obtain some closure as they can physically travel to the footprints of the North and South towers – looking deep into the pits where they once stood – that are now the world’s largest man-made waterfalls.

But more than just a water feature, the square tower imprints are bordered by bronze rails inscribed with the names of every soul lost to 9/11: both those perishing in the towers, and those killed at the Pentagon and in that barren field outside Shanksville, PA… which, like the Vietnam Wall in D.C., gives a place to mourn those souls – a great number of which simply vanished into thin air as their bodies were torn, crushed, and incinerated.

These bronze rails give those families who never received any remains of their loved ones a place to visit… something tangible where nothingness and abstract concepts have shadowed their daily lives for a decade.

Yet… the cynic deep inside me (maybe not that deep) wonders how long it will be until some asshat kid spray-paints a graffiti tag onto some part of the memorial? I fear it’s only a matter of time… whether it be on the bronze name rails, or on the side of the waterfalls, or on a tree – maybe the ‘Survivor Tree’ that was the last living thing pulled from the WTC wreckage?

Perhaps 9/11 is a tragedy that will transcend the disrespect that the 4chan generation has honed – the types of kids who video themselves urinating on other monuments to fallen heroes.

But I digress…

The memorial plaza will also host a museum, but that won’t be open to the public for another year – but will be very much worth the wait: all manners of debris and relics retrieved from ‘The Pile’ will be on display for people to see and emotionally connect with, including smashed firetrucks, ambulances, police cars, twisted ‘impact steel’ (portions of the WTC tower’s iron outer shell that the two hijacked planes collided with), recovered uniforms of fallen first responders.

However, the two defining features of the museum will be both iconic and immense: two of the recovered steel tridents that were an architectural flourish in the design of the WTC towers, and the naked retaining wall that held back the Hudson river from flooding the Trade Center’s lower levels and adjoining subway station – still covered in the nubs of structural supports that held the towers to the bedrock.

I’m not going to go on about the various politics of 9/11 as I’ve done that previously in this blog on another anniversary of the murders, and that topic has also been covered to death by those much more learned that myself – so what could I possibly add now?

9/11 is a defining moment that will stain and reverberate through history – and personal human conscience for the 90 years or so until the last survivors and victim’s family members have gone on to whatever is after this life – like Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, and the Challenger explosion… all of these events are something that you can look back and say with certainty where you were when you heard the news.

We, as a civilized and caring society, feel the pain of those affected by 9/11… even when the vast majority of us had nothing directly invested in the tragedy – having not lost a son, daughter, mother, father, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.

To not feel the collective grief is something one should be alarmed by… and something to admit with a great deal of shame.

But that is the way of the world: hatred consumes and burns inside many people… even in ways that aren’t quite so obvious, or not directly related to terrorism.

The myriad of conspiracy theories that surround 9/11 is a glaring example of that sort of hatred.

Groups of people who have – for the lack of a better term – hijacked the events and memories of 9/11 to suit their own biases and hatreds toward parties and persons of all political stripes… and generating fantastical, improbable, highly insane plots as to why all those people were really murdered.

By doing this… by creating these conspiracies… these people deny the simple truths of 9/11 and do a great disservice to the victims who gave their lives for nothing more than being in the wrong place and the wrong time.

Disrespect for those murdered is something I can’t tolerate, and isn’t something you should abide either.

So, in that spirit, I present here a video that comes completely without any message or leaning other than what is communicated visually – you can even turn off the audio to mute the music I chose.

You, yourself can be the judge of what happened 10 years ago today since you were blessed with two eyes and a brain capable of making independent conclusions.

Of course… many of you won’t do that, and will continue to think what someone else has told you to think – and I will feel a great swell of pity for you.

Send In The Clowns: Death Of The Last Politician

Jack Layton is dead.

There is very little doubt that the 2011 federal election killed him.

Yes… I know that it was his last duel with cancer that actually took his life from him, but do you honestly think that flying/driving/riding/walking around this vast country of ours didn’t wear him down so much that the cancer made easy prey of him in it’s last, great push?

Perhaps it’s morbid to speculate at this early juncture, but when it comes down to the brass tacks, I’ll stand by my statement.

Anyhow… the country has lost it’s last great politician, and we should all feel the worse for it.

Jack Layton had a podium presence that none of the other federal leaders could touch – he was bold, brash, sure of his convictions, and had no traces of the wishy-washy/flip-floppy attitudes of the Conservative and Liberal leaders… who’s stances changed as often as the wind changed speed or direction.

It’s no wonder at all that he was able to do what no other NDP leader had ever done before: take his Big Orange Surfboard and ride the wave right into the Official Opposition’s seats… even if he had to vacate his chair barely months later and leave the NDP in care of The Fates.

The reasons for this were simple and best explained in the diagram below:

As you see, Canadians who wanted an actual leader had no option other than to jump on that Big Orange Surfboard and leave the rest of the country to vote for policy… which is why Stephen Harper is Prime Minister.

We’re on the eve of a state funeral for the most popular of the federal leaders – even if you won’t see any foreign heads of state attending… but this is more than made up with the thousands of ordinary Canadians who will travel from all corners of the nation to pay their respects to a man who managed to capture the public desire for hope.

However, I really think that Canada as a whole should mourn Mr. Layton’s passing – not just the NDP party faithful that made The Orange Wave possible.

As I’ve said, Jack was the last politician in the truest sense – he was the barn storming type of politico from days of yore… the type that would shake hands, kiss babies, address the masses from atop the biggest stump you could find .

When he was dealing with the public, Mr. Layton had the bravado of Don Cherry and a silver tongue to rival Sean Connery (well… maybe not, but it was close).

In comparison, Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff spent most of their campaigns on the bus or in hotel back rooms pouring over statistics and telephone polling results so they could change their speeches at the last minute in hopes of sounding less like a deflating balloon.

I’m not a foolish romantic – I’m sure the Layton team also did their fair share of electorate research as they toured the cities/towns/provinces of this great land, but Jack kept up the same tone throughout the campaign.

It may have not led to an ultimate victory, but there’s no shame in second best – and Jack proved that when he took the stage at the end of election night and brandished his cane like a mighty sword.

I salute you, Mr. Layton.

May you rest in peace.

Election 2011: Now That The Dust Has Settled…

The Big Election is over and done… quickly disappearing in Canada’s rear-view mirror.

Conservatives won the day, which was written in the sand from the outset – but they made out like bandits and secured themselves four years of (what they hope to be) uninterrupted rule in which they can sell the country out to American interests and continue to ignore the real social issues like poverty and the environment.

What’s that? I was on their side during my last political blog?

Yes… I was – but that was in the face of a floundering Liberal leader who couldn’t have won a butt-kicking contest with his own two feet in field of one-legged contestants.

I also came to the conclusion that the NDP would pick up seats in the vacuum that the Liberals were leaving in their wake – but I wasn’t in any way ready for The Big Orange Machine that steamrolled Iggy’s Grits and made it all the way to a 100+ seat Opposition… though I was quite happily surprised since it turns our venerable parliament on it’s head.

As the news outlets have said over and over, the New Democratic Party has never been the official opposition in the history of Canada – always an ‘also ran’ behind the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Quebecois… playing the role of spoiler/king-maker during the times we’ve had minority governments by placing their votes on bills and motions up for grabs in return for concessions from the ruling party.

However, on May 3rd, Jack Layton and his Merry Orange Band of NDPers woke up after the election and realized they were now Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition – which had turned out to be a both a boon and a curse: while they had gone from fourth place to second and boosted their national profile considerably, they had also lost any and all sway they had over the levers of power.

You see… being the Official Opposition comes with a set number of powers, and the only one that really matters is that they get the right to be the first ones to put the Government Of Canada (in this case, the Conservatives) on the hot seat during Question Period after Prime Minister Harper and his cronies prattle on about any given issue of the day.

While that may seem like a nice thing on paper, the fact that it means very little in practice is something that the inexperienced NDP caucus failed to calculate in their campaign: that they’ve gone from a place where the Harper minority government would listen to them and occasionally put items from the NDP wish list into the budget – to a position where they can scream/shout/bolster themselves up and needle the Conservatives all day long… only to have Harper blithely ignore them on all issues due to the Conservative’s 160+ seat majority that doesn’t need cooperative votes to pass legislation.

At the end of the day on May 2nd, it was clear that vote splitting had given the Conservatives their longed-for majority.

In a large number of ridings across the 9,984,670 square kilometers of Canadian territory, NDP and Liberal candidates were neck and neck in the polls – which would be exciting if it was a 2-player horse race, but effectively canceled each other out… leaving the inside lane free and clear for the Conservatives to storm their way to a commanding 1st place.

The fact that Michael Ignatieff – then leader of the Liberal party that had surged to power in 1993 and held on until 2005 – had failed to win even in his own riding was a bitter, bitter pill… one that the Liberal party executive council is still choking on this very minute.

Yet, even in his concession speech, Ignatieff seemed to be certain that he’d continue to lead the Liberals after he had torpedoed the party – clearly maintaining his lack of connection with reality that had hounded him and his closest lieutenant from the time he was named party leader in August of 2009 – before coming out the next day and telling the press that he was resigning the leadership effective immediately.

Since the Liberals have been mostly silent in the 6 days since the election, I’m forced to presume that as soon as Ignatieff had come down from the podium at party campaign headquarters in the early hours of May 3rd, he was promptly taken to a room far from the press’ omnipresent eyes and ears before being flogged/kicked/beaten by the Liberal executive for  killing “the natural ruling party” (a title foisted on the Liberals by opposing parties due to the arrogance that a string of back-to-back majorities had brought – and mostly assimilated by Liberal members over the years) and lacking the common decency to promptly fall on his sword during his concession.

Hell… even the leader of the Bloc Quebecois – a party determined to separate Quebec from Canada no matter what happened – had the sense to resign his post after securing only 4 seats out of 308, of which 75 are in Quebec.

As it is, only the Liberal party’s presumptive interim leader Bob Rae (himself once a provincial NDP member and 21st Premier Of Ontario before abandoning politics for a number of years in advance of joining the federal Liberals) has come out of seclusion to tell the party faithful that the party will rebuild and refocus in efforts to win the next election.

In fact, a strong case can be made for Rae to become the Liberal’s official leader come the next leadership convention – mainly because he’s the only guy in the Liberal camp who’s had political party leadership experience, and because Rae’s pretty much the only Liberal seat holder who has any sort of public persona that people could get behind – a born politician who can command a crowd with his oratory skills and an actual personality that can engage the Canadian population at large… which is precisely where Ignatieff failed since he was about as lively as watching grass grow.

The only problem with Bob Rae is optics… specifically how he’s seen in the province of Ontario – which is generally the area of the country that makes or breaks the Liberal campaign.

Rae had the unfortunate luck of being premier of Ontario during the early 90’s recession – an event not of his or his party’s making that bankrupted the province and forced Rae to create the unpopular “Rae Days” for employees of various governmental institutions that equaled forced, unpaid furloughs every so often… which was an act that greatly angered the public service unions and eventually led to Rae and his party being booted from office in the next election in favor of the provincial Progressive Conservatives who were promising the moon (and delivered deep public service cuts instead).

An acquaintance of mine says Rae could never be prime minister because he bankrupted Ontario – which is simply not true… and is something the Rae leadership camp needs to get out ahead of in the coming weeks and months: turning a generalist public opinion in Ontario from something unfairly negative into the actual reality that Rae did the best he could given the circumstances.

Once that problem is resolved, I seriously think the Liberals have a strong chance of rebuilding with Rae at the helm… or even one of the other candidates that are being bandied about like former federal finance minister Ralph Goodale – though I have to say the man lacks subtlety when interacting with the public, but that could in the end be a strength when running against the likes of Stephen Harper who never seems to get excited about anything.

But, for now anyway, we as Canadians are saddled with a brand-spanking-new parliament that – for better or for worse – we chose for ourselves.

It’s really hard to determine where the Government Of Canada is going to go from here on out since we haven’t seen an unconstrained Conservative party in power since the early 1990’s… and even back then, it was an entirely different party under the leadership of Brian Mulroney – a kinder, gentler group of politicians that was still known as the Progressive Conservative Party Of Canada which – by it’s very name –  seemed to imply an openness to outside ideas.

When Stephen Harper led the charge to reform the Conservatives (and in the process swallowing the Reform Party), he tossed out the “Progressive” name and moved the party from the right-of-center brand of politics to firm right wing entrenchment similar to their American Republican cousins – big on crime & punishment and friendly to big business interests through aggressive cuts to corporate taxes.

Since the Conservatives came to power in the 2006, they’ve always been kept in check due to their continual minority government status – having to rely on the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc Quebecois to achieve the number of votes necessary to pass legislation in the House Of Commons, which has kept the right wing agenda from dominating the Canadian landscape by continually adding more socially-minded items to budgets and other major governmental positions.

Now, heading into the middle of 2011, Harper & Co. have been given free rein to pass any legislation that tickles their fancy without any interference from other parties – a political blank cheque that will allow the Conservatives to implement laws, regulations, and spending cuts while swinging their arms akimbo if it suits them.

And while Prime Minister Harper came out fairly quickly after the election to say that he and his party weren’t going to change the way they did business from how they conducted themselves during minority government times, the average Canadian would have to be completely stupid/naïve to believe one word out of Harper’s mouth.

Harper has continually said his party has been chomping at the bit to implement the Conservative agenda since the 2006 campaign began… so how can we be expected to believe that, all of a sudden, Harper & Co. are going to learn the art of self constraint?

But… that’s how the war of politics is waged in a democratic system: the hopeful dependence on society’s short memory from election to election.

A democracy that we as Canadians just took part in… a democracy that we all voted for (well, at least more than 60% of eligible voters according to Elections Canada).

A democracy the Michael Ignatieff campaigned hard on – saying that it was time to fix democracy in Canada by voting Liberal and chasing the Conservatives from office that had been found to be in Contempt Of Parliament by the Speaker Of The House.

A democracy that turned on it’s supposed champions and made the Liberals a laughing stock.

Ah, well.

Democracy is great, isn’t it?

It's great!