Inaction and Consequences


There are risks and costs to action…But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.          John F. Kennedy – 1917-1963, 35th U.S. President

Somewhere along the line – was it in the disco 70s? The ‘Me” decade of the 80’s? The Naughty 90’s? The despair of the Noughties?

Somewhere in there, we lost our way.rox-1964-5th-grade-lacademie-assomption

In the 1950s, we were all shook up, and in the sixties, we tuned in, turned on, and changed the world. We believed in ourselves and that our actions had global impact. And we were right.

But all that action was exhausting.  We couldn’t keep it up, and we were busy patting ourselves on the back for being so hip and cool and groovy. We had used our flower power to launch a civil rights movement, and to stop an unjust war! The U.S. landed a man on the moon! Now we dance!

civil rights 60s protest.jpgRetribution for the changes we had wrought came swiftly. Those who hate change targeted those who encouraged change. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy – all assassinated for daring to dream of a better world.

Racism and ignorance tore the bright and shiny dreams of peace and equality of the sixties into shreds, and now, it threatens to do so again. The way forward is not paved with bullets and brutality. The raised voice and fist of dictatorship enslaves;  it does not elevate a people or a culture, it tramples them into the ground.

Our years of ‘comfortable inaction’ have birthed some of the worst, most self-indulgent, and reprehensible political representatives of all time. Around the world, and at every level of government, the choices are dismal, with little to discern one corrupt, manipulative and greedy candidate from another.

Before you point the finger – know that you did this to yourselves. Know that wanting our own well-being at any cost, opting for indulgences as we decimated the middle class, slotting anyone who didn’t look or act like us into the reject pile of life … all of these ‘inactions,’  in the name of comfort, created the monsters we now see before us.

walle_interactionThe years of focusing on what made us happy; on choosing the cheap over the well-made (and in that group, I include the ‘heroes’ we pedestaled;) the crude and ugly brutality of racism and bigotry whipped up by leaders who chose fear of others as their platforms; the laziness of passionate if largely uninformed opinion over fact and reason; the years of “too long: didn’t read”  – all of those   combined – have given us the governments we deserve.

govt-we-deserveWe lost belief in ourselves, and demanded less of our leaders. We lost sight of the fact that every action we take has global impact. We refused responsibility. We chose comfort for ourselves over the welfare of the planet.

The actions we could have, and should have, taken in controlling our voracious greed for wealth and power, never happened.

And now we are reaping the long range risks of comfortable inaction.

Dollar Store-y Of My Life


Cleaning the kitchen is always more of an archaeological study than a Lysol scented soap bubble fest in my house.  I’m no Suzy Homemaker – haven’t been in years. Once you’ve absentmindedly burned the dinner for the hundredth time, you learn to get in there, do what you gotta do, and get out again quick.

But if I ever want to get this house on the market, rooms must be cleaned. Cupboards long unopened must be, however gingerly, encouraged to display their contents. The purging must begin.

The pairing of like with like is an eye opener. Who knew I had purchased so many necessary and unnecessary items – sometimes two or three times?  I blame the dollar store.

dollar store kitchen 2Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the dollar stores keep our homes chugging along smoothly. I have dollar store items in the pantry, the cupboards, under the sink, and under my feet, in the form of floor tiles. As I sort and purge, I begin to realize that I have somehow amassed thousands of dollars, in  kitchen ‘stuff’  alone, from the dollar store. These are the things you don’t think about, just pick up as you go; the serving spoons, tongs, measuring spoons and cups;  the knock-off cleansers and scouring pads;  the novelty drinking glasses and salt and pepper shakers; the plastic bags, containers and baggies that hold those leftovers you can’t remember enjoying the first time around.   There are odd food items in my fridge and pantry that I picked up on a whim, just because the manufacturer changed the packaging and decided to purge stock by dumping it for ten cents on the dollar. Teas, coffees, spices, mustards … the list goes on and on.

It’s not just the kitchen either – every room in my house has dollar store items, picked up almost as an afterthought. The bathroom, the bedrooms, the laundry room –  and then there’s the office … oh my! The office is a temple of dollar delights!

Who could celebrate an occasion without the help of dollar store cards, gift wrap, bags, streamers, glitter or helium balloons?  And outside, the backyard and garden teem with necessities bought for just a dollar or two – everything from tools to paper plates and napkins, candles and pool toys and pots for plants.

dollar store lineupWe just don’t notice how completely the dollar store items have crept into our lives. If, heaven forbid, my house burned down tomorrow, I couldn’t even begin to guesstimate how many items I’d not even think to claim on the insurance as property- they’re just too ubiquitous. These junky bits and pieces are the grease that we never notice is keeping our homes running smoothly.

The dollar stores have slipped into that place that the long gone Five and Dime stores used to fill. As our first world fortunes rose, and the K-Marts and WalMarts and all the other schlocky marts, consolidated, these humble essentials fell off the corporate radar, for the most part, or were replaced with ‘better’ (more expensive) alternates.

Meanwhile, those in the know have been driving up the price of dollar store stocks, while bigger named and supposedly safer stock options keep dribbling downward.

dollar store kitchenSo I blame the dollar stores for my excesses, but I also bless them. There will always be a need for stores where thrifty people can stretch their dollars and meet their budgets. Today’s economics demand that we show dollar stores a little respect.

I do believe it’s time for a dollar store run … need some burner bibs. Care to join me?

So – Where Are You From?


everything-affects-everythingI live in Canada, and I am Canadian. However, I am also a citizen of the world. When it comes to activities all over the globe, there are no more borders – all countries are affected by the actions of those in all other countries. You’ve only to look at the recent terrorist attacks, the Ebola outbreak, or the long tail rising from weather or chemical spills at home or half-way around the world to see that we can no longer ignore or be silent about events in other countries.

global citizenshipThe world has become a global village. Understanding that we are world citizens should be creating a new level of understanding amongst countries. We have the ability to stop thinking that it’s “us against them,” to end foolish militaristic posturing, and to work together to solve problems as one, rather than reinventing the world with every new advancement.

Instead, some countries seem to be curling in on themselves, becoming xenophobic, fearful of anything even slightly foreign to their lives. We stereotype each other, with the more fervid extremists creating myths that certain people and races are not only different to us, but evil and subhuman. Some feel it’s not enough to enjoy their own religion; they insist that everyone must adhere to the same beliefs, at pain of death.

nigeria_boko_haramEvery human life is worthy and valuable. The lives of the thousands of Nigerians being slaughtered by Boko Haram are as worthy of being honoured as those of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in France. The world’s leaders marched in solidarity with France, but are strangely silent over everyday atrocities in Africa and the Middle East.

Racism, tribalism, regionalism, religious bias, segregation – these are the beliefs and banners of those who would divide to conquer. In that division, there is money to be made, regardless of how much blood must be spilled. Wars hell-bent on maintaining those divisions kill the young and naive, who sacrifice themselves on these altars of delusion.

bomberman Luis QuilesIn the free world, we raise barriers around ourselves, building ‘safe’ communities where those who are not like ourselves are not granted admission. We wrap our own children in protective cocoons, while children in war torn countries deal with the madness of adults who consider the maiming or death of innocent civilians nothing but collateral damage.

wealthy foodIndustrial complexes rape the land, destroying century old forest growth and rain forests, and pushing the creatures that once lived there further and further away from their natural habitats. Those too wealthy and jaded to have a sense of their place on the planet elect to spend their family vacation picking off animals near extinction for ‘sport,’ while illegal poachers slaughter the last remaining wild elephants for their tusks and temporary riches. Impoverished villagers rise early to secretly haul away the sand from their beaches, which they sell to industrialists for use in manufacturing computer chips – for computers they’ll never have access to in their lifetimes.

Poverty has an effect on us all. 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s.

wealthy never have enoughThe middle class is disappearing, and a new stratum of untold wealth shelters the richest 85 people across the globe who share a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

In a global economy, where we are all citizens of the world, wealth inequality is becoming the most important division of all, threatening political stability and driving up social tensions. The wealthy elites, not content with merely controlling vast fortunes, are now concentrating their efforts on controlling the political process of many free world countries, in an attempt to rig the rules in their own favour.

Oxfam executive director, Winnie Byanyima cautioned that people around the world believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

WealthDisparity“In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

trickle_down_xlargeWe global citizens fear an oligarchy, and for good reason. The wealthy wield more and more political influence, allowing them to shape government policies in their favour. Faulty economic principles like the ‘trickle down theory’ have given the lowest tax rates to the rich in 29 out of 30 countries while personal taxes for the poor and middle classes have increased.

world citizenWe can no longer be silent when we see inequality or injustice, no matter where they are happening. “Where are you from?” is no longer applicable in a global village. The only question can be, “What are you doing to help change what is wrong with our society?”   

On a lighter note – here’s a link to my Sunday music column, at Bob Segarini’s “Don’t Believe A Word I Say” blog.

https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/roxanne-tellier-popping-the-top-off-covers/

Canada’s Heartaches by the Numbers


crude oil boomingOur dollar depreciated more than 2 cents on Wednesday, and is now worth .81 of the U.S. dollar, the lowest level since 2011. The Harper government put all Canada’s eggs in one basket by banking on North American crude oil, our top export, but the commodity has plunged from a high of $85 US a barrel in October of 2014, to a low of $46.US on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver announced this week that he would be delaying his budget from the usual February-March date until at least April, due to “market instability.”

Unable or unwilling to admit Canada’s damaged economy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters yesterday that “These things are creating some shocks that will impact us but they’re not going to throw us off our fundamental growth path or undermine the very strong fundamentals of the Canadian economy.” He added that “The government has complete confidence in the Bank of Canada in the actions that it has taken.”

The Bank of Canada cut the rate on overnight loans between commercial banks by a quarter point to 0.75% on Wednesday, in a response to the recent drop in oil prices. The previous rate had been at 1% since September 2010.  market failure

“The drop in oil prices is unambiguously negative for the Canadian economy. Canada’s income from oil exports will be reduced, and investment and employment in the energy sector are already being cut,” BoC’s Governor Stephen Poloz explained.

Many, including NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen, think Harper is in denial. The Conservatives had hoped to sail into 2015 on a high of oil fumes and the elimination of the$2.9-billion federal deficit , but it looks like their plans may be tanked as predicted federal tax revenues could be reduced by several billions of dollars thanks to global oil price shake-ups.

No worries, though, as Harper is relying on the annual $3 billion contingency fund built into the budget for “unforeseen circumstances.”

He also said that “The oil industry isn’t remotely the entire Canadian economy.” So … what is the Canadian economy?Canadian economy

Our population of 36 million boasts a 6.6% unemployment rate, with approximately 62% employed (16-64 years of age). (The United States, with 316.1 million, is at 5.6% unemployed, and 59.2% employed, while the United Kingdom, with 64.1 million people, has an unemployment rate of 6.0%, and 73% of people are employed.)

In Canada, wealth inequality, while an issue, is not quite as visible as in America; our Canadian 1% holds 12.5 per cent of Canada’s total income. 29 per cent earn $135,000 or more. But our incomes are generally lower – 95 per cent of working Canadians earn less than $100,000 a year. Our definition of ‘wealthy’ begins at $150,000.00 per year – chump change for wealthy Americans.

One of the reasons Canadians have not felt as impacted by wealth inequality is that, beginning in the late 1970’s, women surged into the workforce in record numbers. A household with two incomes could manage quite well. With the inclusion of children into the family, however, things got shakier financially. If one of the two wage earners has to stay home with the kids, they’ve effectively halved the family income, in order to raise children and run the home. As baby boomers aged, that child care burden lifted for a large portion of the middle class.

canadian workforceEducation, and it’s inevitable costs, are a factor. In order to succeed in a technological society, we need workers with complex skills and higher education. 64.1% of adults aged 25 to 64 had post-secondary qualifications in 2011, with women aged 25 to 34 holding a larger share of university degrees. 8 in 10 Registered Apprenticeship certificates were held by men.

In 2011, Almost two-thirds of adult Canadians had post-secondary qualifications, Stemwhile 2.1 million adults had a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree in STEM (science and technology, engineering and engineering technology or mathematics and computer sciences) but half of STEM university degrees were held by immigrants who have lived in Canada for many years, and Canadian newcomers.

waiterUnfortunately, Canada has the third-highest proportion of low-paying jobs in the world, with only the U.S. and Ireland having a higher percentage of low-paying jobs. Canada is becoming a ‘nation of part-timers’; part-time employment may still outgrow full-time employment for some years as the baby boomers reduce their working hours or retire.

But the big, well-paying manufacturing companies have left Canada to take advantage of lower labour costs abroad. What’s left for those with or without special skills are low-wage service and retail jobs, which generally lack the benefits associated with higher paying positions, and are becomingly increasingly insecure.

StatsCan released this information in January 2015:statscan

In December (2014), Canada lost 4,300 jobs as full-time employment rose by 53,500 while there was a decline of 57,700 in part time jobs… Employment gains in 2014 amounted to 186,000 (+1.0 percent), with increases in the second half of the year accounting for most of the growth. Compared with 12 months earlier, the total number of hours worked increased by 0.7 percent.”

“There were 24,000 fewer women aged 25 to 54 employed in December. Their unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.2%, as fewer of them participated in the labour market. Employment among men aged 25 to 54 increased by 23,000 in December and their unemployment rate declined 0.2 percentage points to 5.5%, their lowest rate since 2008.”

This month, however, it was announced that five large retail companies will be closing Canadian operations. Lured to Canada by massive tax breaks, cuts and incentives, they’ll be leaving more than 21,000 unemployed by March or April.

Stephen-Harper-CowboyIn Alberta’s tar sands, Suncor cut 1000 jobs last week as oil prices crashed. They also announced that they’d decrease their capital spending program by a $1-billion, and reduce operating expense s by another $200 million.

Canada’s largest growth sector in jobs has been in service and retail industries. Only Alberta has seen respectable job growth. Mr. Harper’s blithe suggestion that the current oil crisis will fail to impact the economy as a whole, sounds very much like a man whistling past the graveyardcanada bleak future

Update Jan 24/15: Last week on Global TVs The West Block, Jason Kenny (MP, Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism) told host Tom Clark, “We won’t be using a contingency fund. A contingency fund is there for unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.”

But during an interview for this week’s episode of The West Block, Canada’s Finance Minister, Joe Oliver told Tom Clark, “The contingency fund is there for unexpected and unavoidable shocks to the system and, you know, the oil price decline – which was a dramatic one – would fall in that category. I’m speaking as minister of finance so I’m sort of current on the thinking here.”

Running On Empty


It’s minus -21C today – that’s 5 below zero in Fahrenheit – and it’s so cold my cats have cat I has a sadgone beyond being angry and have become despondent, either staring sadly into space or denying the existence of the world with their heads smacked up against a wall. I’m sitting at my desk, wrapped in a black flannel poncho, and wondering where I’ve left my fingerless gloves.

I sprang from my bed this morning, rested and brimming with ideas of ‘great social and political import,’ but instead of researching, I’m waiting for oatmeal to cook – this is not the sort of day you face on an empty stomach.

On days like this I am very grateful for the science and technology that allows me to stay warm. I’m over the moon that I can flip a switch and have light to see by, and flip another switch to start up my computer and read mail and messages from family and friends. I’m really pleased that I have warm clothing that just rests in my closet until I want to wear it, and I’m grateful for the closet being part of a house that has walls and a roof that keep out the worst of the cold.

Silly-HolidaysWe often take for granted what less fortunate people would consider luxuries. We set aside a day here and a day there to give lip service to the giving of thanks, the honouring of lovers, parents, veterans and a host of others to whom we see fit to throw a bone. “Here you go, secretaries. It’s not much, but we’re calling today National Secretary Day! As soon as you’ve read that card, I’ll have a coffee with two sugars. Thanks for being you!”

Our culture has moulded us into people that can never have enough. Everywhere we turn we’re told that we’re missing out on something – a new power drill, an iPhone6, a bigger or tidier home, a more luxurious car, vacations in the sun, and most importantly … money, money, money!

and then we'll get himEven though studies have definitively shown that those with heaps of money are not significantly happier than those with enough to comfortably cover their needs, we’re still told that it is only with the amassing of wealth that we can really be content.

In reality, rich people are not all tanning by their dollar-shaped pools while chatting casually with the men and women we’ve elevated to media stardom. They’re far more likely to be spending their time trying to get yet more money, in any way possible, and are probably more anxious and hostile than you are when trying to decide whether to go with a name brand tin of peas or the generic house brand.

Scrooge-PorpoiseBeing addicted to money is like being addicted to drugs; at first, a small amount gives you a buzz, but as time goes by, you need higher and higher doses to maintain the high. And if money is your drug, that upward spiral contains another component – a need to have more than anyone else, to have it all, regardless of whom it damages. Exorbitant, mindless wealth precludes empathy towards those who struggle to survive on minimum wage or government assistance.

“The peasants have no bread!” “Then let them eat cake,” tittered Queen Marie Antoinette. Her joke, rather than having them rolling in the aisles, soon had heads rolling from the guillotine instead.

That anecdote is likely only the fabrication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiographical, “Confessions,” but has been used ever since as a cautionary tale of the perils of great wealth and self-indulgence in the face of social unrest. One would think the lesson would be self-explanatory, but apparently the accumulation of wealth does not always translate to the accumulation of historical knowledge.

In Canada, we can point to arriviste Kevin O’Leary, who, with a net worth of US$300 million that the true 1% would consider pocket change, can’t seem to stop patting himself on the back. When he’s not crowing over his own wealth, he’s exhorting the poor of the world to pull themselves up by their socks – even if they don’t own any socks.

But of course, that’s the dream we’ve been sold since the Industrial Revolution. “Come, work for me, make me wealthy and I will share my largesse. You too can be like me, all you need do is work hard, save your money, and keep your nose to the grindstone.” And we bought it, for decades. We called it the Protestant work ethic, and called anyone who didn’t agree lazy and stupid.

scrooge silly pleasures“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith, in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacrament in the Catholic tradition.

The phrase was initially coined in 1904–5 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” (Wikipedia.org)

We forget that his essay was his observations on the Germany of his time, and not a ‘how-to’ manual. Weber considered himself agnostic. His argument was that Catholicism, with its emphasis on doing good works in the hope of eternal salvation, rather than pursuing wealth for its own sake, impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West.

Capitalism depends upon everyone in the society believing in the same goals. When the West had a booming middle class, there was room within the prosperity to dream of a country free of traditional constraints. We could reach out a hand to those who needed help, be they poor or infirm, or young or old. That sense of community resulted in government safety nets and a surge of infrastructure building that connected and included all of the people, regardless of their economic place.

North America looked at what they had wrought in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and found it good. Good enough to not make a priority again until it started to collapse around us.

glittering TorontoIt’s been decades since the roads and bridges and communities were put in place, decades in which the needs of the wealthy became more important in politics than the needs of the tax payer. In Toronto, once Canada’s most glittering city, our highways are clogged with commuters, while our transit system is woefully inadequate to shuttle workers from their homes to their jobs. The local politicians have been arguing about whether to tear down the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway since the 1990’s. And the majority of our subway system, which opened in 1954, is held together with patches and prayers.

business and politicsThere’s blame enough for everyone at this sorry state. Although we love to complain about ‘the system,’ every aspiring politician has to present a platform that will be seen to not only address community issues, but cost the tax payer less. Once in office, the newly elected official can point to budgetary concerns, and remind us all that there aren’t any funds since he’s cut taxes, just as we requested. Or that they are working on a solution, but we mustn’t hope to see real change until some year in the future where they will hopefully no longer be held accountable for the project and the additional costs incurred during the delay.

Politics on crosswordFor corporations, political concerns are less about the community, and more about expediting the accumulation of more wealth. Despite needing an infrastructure that allows workers to arrive at the work place on time, and roads and other delivery systems to get product to consumers, the emphasis is placed squarely on tax cuts that they have convinced politicians, and even many consumers, will result in a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Corporations spend billions on pushing forward measures that will deny workers fair wages and benefits, and will spend yet more on media essentially blackmailing consumers into giving them what they demand. Health care, no. More tax cuts, yes. Or we’ll take our ball (company, franchise) and go home. Many even believe that we have no other alternative but to agree.

The last several decades of austerity for the general public, but unheard of wealth for the few, is slowly shaping us into a timid, obedient mass, who are only valued as long as we are able to further enrich business through our labour and consumption of goods and services.

hedonic-treadmillThe pursuit of happiness has become a joyless pursuit of money, dooming its followers to an endless treadmill of greed and desperation. You’ll never catch up to the 1%, no matter how hard you try, but real happiness and satisfaction can be had in a life that encompasses empathy, generosity, and gratitude for what you’ve achieved.