"A Citizen"s Eye View"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Invasion of the "Big-Ass" Pick-Up Trucks

It was a sunny Sunday as I drove to work in my  Honda. I toyed with the idea of being able to bike to work. But I live in Hamilton so living atop the Niagara Escarpment while working in the lower city all but excludes such brave environmentally friendly gestures. That and the fact that I don't actually own a bike at present.

Truck Toyz
At this point, I need to mention that  a pet-peeve of mine for quite some time, has been the growing number of big-assed pick-up trucks on the road. Not for any reasons related to the environment. But simply because they are a nuisance. Yes, a great number of them may well be "work" vehicles, but an ever increasing number also seem to be doubling as family vehicles as well. You see them everywhere, huge gas-guzzling beasts in pristine condition, complete with Children's car seats in the back. Yes, most of these monsters aren't just two seaters anymore. They come with club cabs, meaning there's additional seating space for the "chillins" and the family pets in addition to the usual cargo space.

I won't get into the psychology behind the surge in these enviro-terrors, so I shall refrain from making any comparisons between Freud's theory behind gun ownership and the current obsession with big-assed Pick-Ups. But it is a given that they are purchased almost exclusively by men.

The "Macho" image
But back to my sunny Sunday. I happened to notice on my usual 20 minute drive to work, that there seemed to be more of these behemoths on the road than usual, snarling things up on narrow side streets while forcing smaller vehicles to bow to their will on the main roads.  I wondered if it just "seemed" like there was a larger number of them on the road because of my being hyper-aware of them, or if there was in fact, a huge amount of these things about, helping to contribute to the financial success of the Tar Sands  while adding to the growing number of asthmatics in the city. I wondered to myself why there would be  a growing number of these Pick-Ups on the road when the amount of oil in the ground is shrinking by the day, bringing us ever closer to global economic Armageddon, and especially now when there is such awareness about the harm fossil fuels are doing to our environment. What ever the reason though, I was determined to do a little quasi-research when I was done work, just to see if I was imagining a "Pick-Up conspiracy" or not.

When my commitments for the day were complete, it was late afternoon though still quite sunny out. What I resolved to do was to drive around the city for one hour and actually count vehicles. But just knowing the number of Pick-Up trucks alone that I came into contact with seemed quite useless without that number being compared with other larger family type vehicles. So I divided a piece of paper into four parts labeled "Pick-ups", "SUVs", "Mini-Vans" and "Crossovers". My idea was to keep a running tally.

It soon became apparent that keeping a running tally of vehicles while driving was not only hugely inefficient (I missed a lot of vehicles), but pretty unsafe as well. So I trolled through parking lots counting vehicles. I started at the Staff Parking Lot for the Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre, a Male Dominated workplace for sure. The number of Pick-Ups went up. Then I went to a Walmart Parking lot and the number of Mini-Vans increased. But then I decided to prowl around some quiet residential neighborhoods where I could pull over at anytime to count vehicles. Much to my surprise, the number of these big-assed Pick-Ups increased in the quiet subdivisions. Now I should point out here that I did not include obvious work vehicles in my totals, only vehicles that seemed to have no other purpose than to be a means of personal or family transportation.

So after my hour's research, I found that Mini-Vans were the most used of the larger "personal" type vehicles at approximately 175,  thereby dispelling the myth of the decline and fall of the Mini-Van. SUVs of all makes and sizes totaled approximately 150. The number of "Cross Overs" was quite low by comparison at roughly 50. It should be noted that with all these types of vehicles, the drivers were observed to be almost equally men and woman. In the same period of time, I counted just over 100 huge-honking Pick-Ups. Again, these were not obvious work vehicles though some of them might well have been. These were the finely polished, club cab sportin, status symbols driven almost exclusively by men. So of the roughly 475 larger private vehicles I counted , a little over 20%, or one in five of these, were Pick-Up trucks. Indeed I am not imagining things.

But alas, my methodology was far from scientific. It did not take into consideration such things as days of the week, time of day, traffic patterns or rural vs urban  settings. And I did not count regular "cars" either to compare with my other numbers . So home I went to go online to search for some hard numbers. This is what I came up with:

For the first seven months of 2011, the highest selling new vehicles in the *U.S. were Ford F-Series Pick-Up trucks at a little over 300,000 in total sales. The Next was the Chevy Silverado (Pick-Ups) at just over 200,000. Then came the Toyota Camry (family car) at 175,000 then the Toyota Carola, Toyota Matrix (both family cars) and Ford Escape (SUV) all tied at about 150,000.

Yes, a good number of these Pick-Up trucks are going to be bonafide work vehicles, meaning they serve a specific purpose and are more than just show pieces.  But when the F-Series out sells the leading family car by more than 50%, it has to be wondered just how many of them are doing double-duty as family vehicles and over sized play-toys. How many are "non-essential".

But it also makes me wonder, with the price of gasoline firmly fixed above $1.25 a liter (at least here in Hamilton) and not likely to ever go below $1.20 again, why on earth would the car-buying public purchase gas guzzling beasts as a vehicle of "choice". With the fuel consumption of a Pick-Up being about double that of a family car and almost twice the price to purchase new, one has to wonder, does the average American/Canadian vehicle purchaser truly have their head up their ass??

And aside from the exorbitant cost of these beasts that have become prized possessions of the upwardly mobile middle-class, and the fact that they are contributing to our hurtling toward  global economic collapse when the supply of gasoline can no longer keep up with the demand, what of their environmental impact?

A Tailings Pond at the Tar Sands
Large Petroleum  companies are eagerly scouring oil from the earth in Alberta and leaving an environmental catastrophe in their wake, just to feed our ever growing addiction to Oil. We know this to be true, yet the car buying public seems to want to purchase ever bigger, more costly, more wasteful vehicles rather than smaller ones to help conserve on gas, to help reduce the toxic gasses our cars emit in addition to limiting the amount of greenhouse gasses the Tar Sands emits as it scurries to feed our collective addiction.

So while it is easy for us all to point our boney fingers at the big oil companies and the politicians who continue to profit from the unbridled sales of fossil fuels. "We the People" are not in the least bit blameless. We recycle a few cans and proudly proclaim that we are doing our bit for the planet. But when it comes down to making a concerted life-style choice like in the purchase of a vehicle for our families our just for ourselves, vanity and status seems to continue to hold trump and we are therefore just as much to blame for this crisis as the money grubbing Corporatists who eagerly feed our addiction.

* Figures courtesy of WardsAuto.com. Figures from goodcarbadcar.net show that in Canada, The Ford F-Series followed by Dodge Ram Pick-Ups to be numbers 1 and 2 in total sales with the Honda Civic being a distant third. Neither site listed Smart cars, which are rated at over 90mpg, on their list of top 25 selling cars in either the U.S., or Canada.   

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Power of Love

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world". - Jack Layton

Jack Layton spent most of his career in federal politics as an also-ran. He was always number three behind the Conservative's Stephen Harper, and the leader of the Liberal Party- Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Stephan Dion, Michael Ignatieff - take your pick. Hell, poor Jack was even the third wheel behind Gilles Duceppe for awhile. 

But it seemed that divine providence had ordained that In May of 2011, Jack Layton suddenly and unexpectedly became a power to be reckoned with. The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. An also-ran no more. The timing was never more critical for a leader with a social conscience and a vision for a more just and humane Canada to rise to power to counter the inexplicable ascension of the black-hearted, corporate driven, ultra-right-wing Conservatives to majority status. But God, in his often times mysterious sense of justice, saw fit to take Jack from us just when it seemed he was needed most.

But Jack left us a powerful parting gift, his final words to the people of Canada. In it, he spells out quite succinctly, all that is best in human kind as well as his vision for a kinder, gentler Canada. And his words have resonated around the country like a golden sonic boom. 

It is a peculiarity of human nature - a strength really - that when a loved one passes away, those of us who are left behind cling together and are united by the common bond of grief and of the loving memory of the dearly departed. It becomes a "noble obsession" that the final wishes of the deceased be honored at all cost. It is part of how we grieve, to honour the memory of the departed. And this "noble obsession" is a powerful force. One that can move mountains and, if need be, change the world. 

On another occasion when God's wisdom seemed absolutely baffling, he saw fit to take his only son from us, just when humanity seemed to need him most. But the power of his legacy, his memory and his vision for a more loving world has lived on for two thousand years. The power of the memory of God's son changed the world. 

Jack Layton was certainly no "messiah". Not by a long shot and he would cringe at the notion of anyone thinking to make such a claim. But Jack was most certainly, a man of the people. Everyone's friend, even to those who didn't know him. He cared about everyone, particularly those in need. He had a charisma and a charm that naturally drew people to him. When Stephen Harper was shunning and vilifying the members of the  media during the last election campaign, Jack was strumming his guitar and having sing-alongs with them. "Love is better than anger"

So even though we are now missing a noble leader to counter the creeping evil of the Corporatist agenda, we are now 35 million citizens strong, drawn together by the memory of a man who believed that  "...Hope is better than fear and Optimism is better than despair" and that the power of love could change the world.  A vision for a better Canada, just when we needed it most.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Consumerism is an Addiction

A recent  article by the British news paper, The Guardian, ( "UK Riots Were Product of Consumerism" ) suggested, as the title implies, that the recent rioting in North London was a reflection of rampant consumerism gone bad. The article quotes economic researcher Tim Morgan as saying:

  "We conclude that the rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic and social ethos… recklessly borrowed consumption, the breakdown both of top-end accountability and of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades."

Mr Morgan goes on to state:

"The dominant ethos of 'I buy, therefore I am' needs to be challenged by a shift of emphasis from material to non-material values"

Consumerism is of course, the heart and soul of Capitalism. Consumers are the cattle that feed the hungry corporate giants. It has nothing what so ever to do with meeting basic human “needs” of any kind. It's about generating “want” and “desire” and placing value on tangible items and personal “status” above such non tangible notions as equality , justice or social responsibility. It's about excess and maximizing profits.

I'll never forget the monolithic bill board I saw at Disney World a few years ago that read “Excess is Best”. Consumerism then, is about keeping the masses “addicted” , whether it be to Big Macs, Hi-def TVs, iPhones or to the notion that everyone should at least once in their life time visit the ultimate Mecca of pure, unbridled, hedonistic consumerism, Disney World.

But is consumerism an addiction? Not long ago, AlterNet posted an article entitled: "A Radical New Definition of Addiction...". The article states that an addiction is an addiction, whether it be to booze, gambling sex or any obsessive behaviour. The new definition by the American Society of Addictions Medicine (ASAM) defines addictions as:

“... a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry”. 

The case could easily be made then that rampant consumerism is in fact, an "addiction" . The masses are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of messages daily that tell them that success and happiness are things that can be "obtained" through the possession of iPhones, digital cameras and Hi-Def TVs etc. The consumerist ethos is pervasive and absolutely unavoidable. As a result, the "reward circuitry" of the vast majority of the population is programmed to "want" more and more. "Excess is Best".

So creating and maintaining an “imbalance “ in the reward circuitry of the masses, in essence, keeping them "addicted",   is good for business. But as with any other kind of addiction, when something comes between a person or group of people and their so-called “reward”, self destructive or just plain destructive ,anti-social behaviour is inevitable. Hence, pervasive poverty and social disenfranchisement can easily lead to incidents such as the London Riots when the explosiveness of thousands of addicts denied their "reward" comes in contact with the flame of social injustice.

So in London, consumerist addictions were the fuel to the fire that was sparked by Social injustice (though one could easily make the case that keeping the masses “addicted” is pretty unjust in itself). They started over the shooting of an unarmed black man by police. An act that in the minds of thousands of North-Londoners was symbolic of the perceived disdain society has for the poor, the marginalized and the disaffected. And when they see governments pandering to large corporate interests at the expense of vital social programs that are designed to make societies more inclusive and just, they may not be far from wrong. But the result is the "addicted" masses  rebelling, destroying the symbols of the social and corporate hierarchy that first tantalized , then denied them their hearts desires and eventually, taking by force, that which they have been programed to think of, as their just reward.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Comment on: "When is a Riot a Revolt"

Carl Finamore: When is a Riot a Revolt
Cairo, Spring 2011
 So when is a riot a revolt? As Mr. Finamore points out, the difference is with organization and leadership. Cairo would have been little more than aimless violence without organization and leadership (and social media). Not to mention the support of the main-stream media who are currently villainizing the Tottenham uprising. But the intent is the same. A violent backlash against oppression by the state and/or oppressive social conditions.
Tottenham, Summer 2011
 The British Government is certainly not a despotic regime. Nor are our Governments in North America. However their increasing affiliation with, and allegiance to, the corporatist *neo-liberal elite (who ARE despotic), who buy and pay for our politicians as though they were so many fish-sticks, leave the poor, the marginalized and the disaffected leaderless. They are being vilified, and villainized. As with the new Harper Super-Prisons. Who's going to fill them? Certainly not the Koch brothers or the Aspers of the world. No, the poor, the marginalized and the disaffected who are seen as a drain on the profit margins of the Corporations. So the Corporations turn around and pay our politicians to slash social programs which punishes the poor even more and contributes to increases in criminal activity. 
Case in Point - Julian Fantino, the poster boy for the Conservative Party of Canada around Seniors issues and Crime prevention, blames the poor for their lot and would rather see them locked up. Mr. Fantino of course, dismisses reports that connect levels of poverty with crime rates and clearly does not understand the connection between mental illness/addiction and homelessness . 
Toronto G20, June 2010
And lets not forget for an instant, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's words to a gathering of American Elite back in 2000 where he characterized Canada as: "...a Northern European Welfare State in the worst sense of the term". Remember, a Welfare state is not one that advocates  for it's citizens to exist on welfare ( though it is there for those in need), It is one that cares for the "welfare" of it's citizens, its needs, it poor, it's marginalized and it's disaffected. So what was Mr. Harper saying about the needs of Canadian Citizens and the commitment of the Canadian Government to care for the well being of all of it's citizens? 
So when the state starts to punish this segment of society- that would be the ever growing number of poor, marginalized and disenfranchised- at the behest of the uber-rich 1%, then violence is an inevitability. But again, whether it is a riot or a revolt, depends on it's leadership.
Why Neo-Liberalism isn't Social Liberalism
*In order to avoid confusion, the definition of Liberalism in the context above,  has nothing what-so-ever to do with the modern concept of "Social" Liberalism or Progressiveness.  "Neo-Liberalism or "Classical Liberalism" is defined as:  
".. a label for the market-driven approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that stresses the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining the political and economic priorities of the state" 
Neo-Liberalism of course, advocates for the elimination of trade barriers and of environmental and Governmental regulations which would allow Corporations to do business as they see's fit in order to maximize profits. The myth is, that this kind of society is good for all in that everyone would benefit from the success of big- business. There would be a "trickle-down" effect or a sharing of the profits. In reality, elimination of government regulations would see trade unions become a thing of the past. There would be no protection for employees and no collective bargaining rights. Prices for consumer items would increase while wages would plummet,  creating an every growing number of poor. And thus, the working class would become more and more beholden to the business class and workers would have fewer and fewer rights, effectively reducing them to the level of sweat-shop employees or even worse, slaves. There would be no trickle-down effect as Corporations, Share Holders and the rich would be free to keep their increased profits rather than sharing them with employees through increased wages. 
Alberta Tar Sands, Today
The Tar Sands has already transformed a mammoth section of Alberta the size of England into a grotesque, lunar land scape (It can be seen from space). Further removal of trade barriers and environmental regulations would only lead to the further destruction of our environment while our precious natural resources, like fresh water,  would be controlled by huge corporate interests. Having clean water then, would no longer be a right, but a privilege to those who could afford the ever increasing price.
And if all that weren't disastrous enough for the likes of you and I, check out this comment from Wikipedia regarding Neo/Classical-Liberalism:  
"Adopting Thomas Malthus's population theory, they saw poor urban conditions as inevitable, as they believed population growth would outstrip food production; and they considered that to be desirable, as starvation would help limit population growth. They opposed any income or wealth redistribution, which they believed would be dissipated by the lowest orders".
So according to Neo-Liberal doctrine, starvation of the poor, who are seen as a drain on the economy,  is a good thing as it is a natural means of population control.  
And here are just a few names of some Canadians who would proudly claim to be adherents of the European Economist , Friedrich Hayek who was an unabashed Neo-Liberalist:
-Tom Flanagan, ( Influential Conservative policy adviser)

- Preston Manning,(founder of the Reform Party of Canada along with Stephen Harper, and founder of the Manning Centre, a right-wing think-tank that influences Government policy and provides strategic support to the Conservative Party of Canada.

-Ted Morton (who is currently running for the leadership of the Alberta Conservative Party),

-Jim  Flaherty (our current federal finance minister),

and of course, far from being  last and certainly not the least of whom is:

- Stephen Harper, our Prime Minister. 

And we wonder why riots are occurring with increasing regularity around the world. 


Friday, August 5, 2011

The National Citizen's Coalition has Nothing To Do with the Best Interests of the Citizens of Canada

Colin M. Brown
First of all, lets make one thing clear: The National Citizens Coalition has nothing what-so-ever to do with the "citizens" of Canada. It may well be a "coalition", but it is a coalition of Corporate interests seeking to remove government restrictions to corporate free-booting and to privatize every aspect of our society, including our health care and education systems.

The NCC is in fact, an uber- Conservative lobby group that was formed in 1967 by insurance millionaire Colin M.Brown, to oppose public Health Insurance.  Get the connection there? A Free-Market  Corporatist was essentially pissed that his profit margin was being undercut by the Government of Canada who was seeking to do the right thing by it's citizens.   

The NCC currently has a membership of about 35,000 individual Corporatists (Membership has to be in the name of the individual CEOs as opposed to their actual business interests lest their sham be exposed). So this lobby group represents about 1/10th of 1% of all Canadian "citizens". .

"Gotta build us a Fire-wall 
around Alberta"

Our current Prime Minister, that Libertarian-Free-Marketer , Tar Sands lovin, Alberta Secessionist and all around hater of the poor and the marginalized, Stephen Harper,  was the president of the NCC from 1998 to 2002. He used their "clout" to spring-board himself from the presidency of the NCC into a seat in Parliament in 2002 as a member of the Reform Party. 

According to Wikipedia:

"...The NCC would go on to campaign against "socialized medicine" and other government programs. The NCC has supported privatization, Corporate tax cuts and government spending cuts; it also opposes electoral laws that limit third-party spending. It has been heavily involved in advertising, political campaigns and legal challenges in support of its goals of "more freedom through less government."

In addition, the NCC has gone on to campaign against:

-The Canadian Health Act, 
-The Canadian Wheat Board, 
-Vietnamese refugees (The Boat People)
-The Mandatory Long form census,
-The Long-Gun registry. 
- The Elections Canada Act

The NCC also formed and funded the Ontarians for Responsible Government Lobby group, their Provincial "arm" in Ontario. The ORG was instrumental in the election of Mike Harris as the Premier from 1995 to 2003.

This is a highly secretive organization ladies and gentlemen. It uses every means at it's disposal to protect the identity of it's members and to keep it's activities well away from the public eye.

So under no circumstances fellow Canadians, should we be duped by the euphemistic name of this highly secretive Corporatist Lobby-group. It has no interest what-so-ever in the well being of the citizens of this country (accept that we be kept poor and beholden to our Corporate Masters). The NCC has one purpose and one purpose only: to see Canada turned into a kind of Free-market "wild-west" where corporations are free of any and all regulations, trade barriers are non-existent and all environmental concerns   are permanently suspended. In essence, business can do what ever it pleases while  the rich (the 1% of our overall population) get richer and the poor die-off in solitary confinement in one of the many new private super-prisons being constructed by the Government of Harper.

So don't ever trust the NCC fellow citizens. They mean you great harm.