Saturday, November 29, 2008

Is It Really Better To Give Than To Receive?

With the U.S. Thanksgiving behind us we're firmly entrenched into the Christmas season, the first in many years accompanied by a severe economic downturn. We've all been taught 'tis better to give than to receive', however I'm going to question that oft recited platitude.

In our society of hyper consumerism Christmas is the pinnacle, with an orgy of buying taking place. It can be stressing of course, trying to find that perfect gift...but what joy when the item we've purchased for someone is warmly accepted and genuinely appreciated. I've heard many people brag about how much money they're spending on Christmas presents, often running into the thousands of dollars. It fills the giver with such joy, casting themselves in the role of the benevolent bearer of gifts.

But now with the economy being such a concern, with many people facing the prospect of losing their jobs, if they haven't already become unemployed, is this really a good thing?

We live in a competitive world, of that there is little doubt. While few people will admit to 'keeping up with the Jones' it is something most do. Think of things like cable TV, cell phones, call answer and call display...none of these are close to being essentials, but they're things almost everyone has. Advertisers bombard us with it.

"You don't have a high-speed Internet connection"?!?!?

If our friends and family are bestowing others with lavish gifts, how can we show our faces if we don't do likewise? When someone gives you an expensive gift, doesn't it make you want to reciprocate?

Now some might suggest that they have family and/or friends who have fallen on hard times...and that they have a moral responsibility to 'spread some joy' during this holiday season. And I won't dispute that, however I will offer a suggestion. Rather than give a gift with a card or tag attached which tells them who it's it anonymously. I suspect some will rankle at this suggestion, that they forgo receiving credit for their generosity. If that is indeed the case I would suggest that their giving is in point of fact selfish...that they're giving not so much to help someone out, but rather to make themselves look and feel good.

There are numerous charity organizations which do tremendous good in our communities, especially during the holiday season. They take in gifts and donations, and pass them on to individuals and families in need. And because those receiving the help aren't aware of exactly who made the donations it eliminates feelings of inadequacy that come from accepting a helping hand. I suspect they'd be even more successful if recipients were made aware of whom the donors were...however that would be missing the point. The aim is to assist people in need, not to make those better off feel good because of their generosity.

Perhaps it is better to give than to receive, but only when it is true giving. Are we really giving if we expect accolades and admiration in exchange for our gifts?

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Note To Stephen Harper - Grow Up and Play Nice

In the political game of chicken unfolding in Ottawa Stephen Harper is coming across as a spoiled little brat who's shorts are in a knot. And what is it exactly that's crawled up his ass? An annoying little thing called Parliamentary Democracy that's what.

The Conservatives came out of the recent election with a minority mandate, not a majority Mr. Harper...a minority. With about 35% of the popular vote that means more than six in ten voters opted for parties other than the Conservatives. It appears there's a very real possibility that Harper's Conservatives could lose a vote of confidence in the house of commons.

If that does come to pass the question is do we go to the polls. Its hard to imagine Canadians being thrilled with the prospect of voting yet again in the dead of winter...casting ballots for what seems like the tenth time in a month. We had the Liberal minority under Paul Martin, followed by two consecutive Conservative minorities...We don't need or want a fourth election in just a five year span!!!

It appears the opposition parties, who cumulatively garnered significantly more support than the Tories, are poised to allow the Liberals to lead a minority coalition government. And this is the wedgie pull that has Harper whining. He's on record as saying:

“They want to install a government led by a party that received its lowest vote share since Confederation. They want to install a prime minister – prime minister Dion – who was rejected by the voters just six weeks ago.”

Someone needs to remind M. Harper that this is Canada and not the United States. We don't vote directly for the Prime Minister, rather we vote for individual candidates in our ridings. If M. Dion is able to garner the confidence of enough sitting members following a defeat of the government, then it is certainly legitimate for him to ask the Governor General for the right to form a government. And it would be Mme. Jean's responsibility to grant that request to save Canadians another costly election.

There is of course an alternative. Mr. Harper can grow up and work with the opposition parties, acknowledging that the majority of Canadians did not vote for the Conservative's agenda. This would involve compromise and a conciliatory approach, things for which our PM is not well known....But if he can learn a second language later in life maybe its not too late for him to grow up and learn that there are ways to get along even if you don't always get things your way.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Canadian Election?!?! #%&@ OFF!!!

I may be a self described 'political junke'....but even I have had it with election campaigns. After our election then the marathon US race, that's enough. We don't need a do-over here in Canada, especially when the last election proved totally worthless. Canadian taxpayers footed a 300 million dollar bill for an election that left us with basically the same government that we had before Harper called it.

In our last parliament the opposition parties (the Liberals in particular) basically rolled over and let Harper govern as though he had a majority...which was all well and good. Nobody wanted to take the blame for an election being called, and the Conservatives deftly stickhandled the issue by categorizing their previous mandate as unworkable. Now it seems obvious Harper and the Conservatives are attempting to force the opposition parties into a vote of non-confidence.

If the Liberals, Bloc and NDP do plan on taking down the Conservatives they should do it on only one condition, that they're able to form a coalition government and get on with the business of running the country and managing the economy during these troubling times. Ideally Harper will back off from this game of chicken and introduce measures to appease at least one of the oppposition parties, thus ensuring some stability.

  • Canada does not need another costly election at a time when our politicians should be governing, not campaigning.

Our Governor General Mme Jean, although not elected, has a responsibility to Canadians. If the opposition parties do bring down the government and come to her with a proposed coalition she must accept it. Canada does not need another costly election at a time when our politicians should be governing, not campaigning. Together the three opposition parties garnered roughly 65% of the vote last time around, that's certainly more of a mandate than Harpers 35%. If they're able to come together on a legislative agenda that will keep us from the polls for at least another year then that is the only solution.

I might feel differently if there was an Obama on the horizon waiting to take the reigns. Unfortunately here in Canada our choices are restricted to Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Auto Sector - To Bail or Not To Bail

There's a debate raging right now as to whether Ottawa and Washington should make a major financial commitment to the North American auto industry. Personally I don't want to see any of GM, Ford or Chrysler dissappear...but only under one condition do I favour bailouts. And that is with major concessions from the unions.

I have heard and read the missives from CAW and UAW leaders, how this crisis was not of their making and that they've already made concessions. And that is a fair comment in my opinion, but only to a degree. Even if wages were much lower for auto workers I could still see the industry in serious trouble given the current economic climate. But to suggest that the high wages paid in the auto sector have had no bearing on the big three's plight...well that's overstating things to put it mildly.

From what I've heard line workers in Canada earn somewhere in the neighbourhood of $35 per hour. Assuming a 40 hour work week that equates to over $70,000 per year, without even taking overtime into account. That's more money than many nurses earn, and nurses have to undergo years of training often leaving school with significant debt loads. There are in fact many professions that require people to invest heavily in their education, and at the end of the day they're still not earning what an auto worker gets.

I don't wish to come across as a heartless advocate of the free market, one who extols the virtues of business over labour because that's far from the case. In fact I consider myself to be a pretty ardent supporter of the union movement. However the current financial state of the world does not allow for dogmatic thinking.

We all know that expenses rise to meet income, and that an auto worker making 70+ thousand a year is probably spending most of it....not unlike most people. In our society identities are built around our possessions, hobbies and leisure activities...and many come to expect them as something of an entitlement. But reality often ignores that to which we feel we're entitled.

The harsh reality is this...if any or all three of North America's auto giants go bust, the vast majority of auto workers are going to be hard pressed to find jobs that pay as well...taking their skills into the marketplace I would wager a hefty sum that the vast majority would not be able to find anything near as remunerative as what they've been used to.

Now...does that mean I think the unions should be disbanded and the jobs filled based on strict market influences? Absolutely not!!! But I do think wages in the range of $20-$25 per hour are more than reasonable. $20 per hour equates to over $40,000 per year which is still a decent wage...and a damn sight higher than what most would be able to find were the auto giants allowed to fail.

Things have changed remarkably over the past twenty to thirty years. Back in the day when the big three owned the North American auto sector life was easy. Unions could bargain hard for big increases in wages and benefits and the costs would simply be passed onto the consumer. But in today's competitive global marketplace that's no longer and option.

If the unions balk and refuse to accept substantial wage concessions? Then I think we should simply let the sector fail and hope that Honda and Toyota among others can step in and fill some of the void. Maybe some of those who would lose their $35 per hour jobs would be able to find replacement jobs paying $15/$20 per hour with one of the foreign based, non-unionized companies.

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Blogging???? Here Goes!!!

Greetings blogesphere, if that's even a word...And if it is did I spell it correctly? I've been sharing my thoughts on a variety of subjects on my Facebook page, and have even managed some positive feedback, so what the heck...why not create a blog.

Everyone's life experience is unique, with views shaped by various influences...and the more we share the better and more informed we become. My own bio is that of a forty two year old divorced father of two children. While I'm a proud Canadian the majority of my youth was spent growing up in the United States: New York, New Jersey and Oregon, however from the age of 12 forward I'm as Canuk as maple syrup, hockey and Bob and Doug. After graduating high school I went to University for two years in Toronto before leaving. I imagine my experience wasn't unique, I was there to basically kill time...not having been able to decide upon a direction.

One gift I was given by my parents however is what I consider a fairly developed capacity for critical thinking. If you decide to read up on my thoughts you can decide for yourself how well developed this skill is. There are no sacred cows, politics and religion are two of my favourite topics. I may post some of my Fbk notes here to give you a taste.

Happy Blogging All

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