Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MEDIA, LIES AND REALITY TV - On Telling our Politicians to Get Real

I have not written here in a period of time, mostly because I am trying to build my business and develop a broader client base.  At this time of the year, clients affected by economic crisis tend to strike out at everybody in their way and spread their hurt all over, including those that are trying to fix things for them.  One Christmas a few years ago, a gentleman phoned my office to tell me he had a gun and was prepared to use it on himself.  His sister ended up spending the holidays with him, though his words haunted me for a long time.  This is why I try to take a few weeks off at Christmas time to get out of everybody's way, not because I celebrate anything or care about the crass consumerism known as Christmas.

Anyhow with the advent of recent federal by-elections, we heard so much about the middle class.  I don't know about you, but I am frankly fed up with hearing about the so-called "middle class" when many of the people I deal with would be very happy just to belong in the "middle class".  The media has it all wrong about us. During the summer, we're all supposed to be going to cottages, taking road trips and participating in sports, such as swimming, hiking and fishing.  As voters, we are theoretically supposed to be too busy with our "families" in the summer and, as such, out of touch with politics.  In the fall, kids are supposed to go back to school and parents are supposed to be paying at least $600 - $900 on back to school supplies and clothing, while parents of older children drive their kids off to universities or colleges, the tuition for which is being paid by them.  I knew a lot of these kids.  They were just as self-entitled in the 1980s and 1990s as many of them are today, living off Daddy's trust funds and blowing all their money on beer and parties.  There are more serious students though, but we don't hear about them in the media, because these people are usually the mature students that go back to school, rely on OSAP and barely get enough to eat, let alone enough money for beer.

In a few days, there will be a day that is called Black Friday, which follows Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and this sort of crass consumerism has crossed our borders to make us Canadians think we have to do it too.  Oh, how we all are now suppose to drive across the border and shop and make an official start to our Christmas shopping ... Yeah, right.  WHAT Christmas shopping, many of you are asking ... I don't even have to be there with you, but I know many of my readers barely have two pennies to scrape together to do any kind of Christmas shopping, let alone have families to go to during the holidays.  Reality on the ground is too different than what it appears to be on TV, in the media and on reality shows ... even politicians have it wrong.  During the last federal election, I couldn't shut off the TV fast enough when the clowns running for the federal Conservatives were going on about how they want to offer 'income splitting' for the average family, which they say earn a household average of $93,000 a year.

These clowns go on to offer -- if elected -- and if they bring the deficit down -- a big expensive tax cut that will allow families where it is possible for one high earner to transfer up to $50,000 of his income (or hers, too -- but we all know they are imagining high earning men and stay at home women to be their trophy wives).  The man who likely earns a six figure income can then "save" on taxes by artificially transferring up to $50,000 of his earnings to his stay at home wife (or much lower earning wife), so he will only be taxed on the remaining income.  This whole thing was concocted by the false dichotomy of pitting dual earner families against single earner families ... pretending again, the old Conservative way, that women really all want to stay home to care for their children and not go to work until after the fly the coop.  Na da.  Ain't happening, especially since tying the knot with anybody doesn't come with guarantees these days.  Most families are two earners, simply because one salary doesn't cut it anymore.

The average expenses of a family tell us much more about our so-called make belief earnings that the media would like us to believe we have or can strive for.  I live in a region that is packed full of low wage, low skilled, no future type jobs ... all this, for those who have turned fifty, worked in the plants all their lives and now were told their employer is moving to India or China or Indiana or Detroit, take your pick.  We are supposed to believe our families average $93,000 a year, because our politicians tell us so when they are on the election trail.  I would really like to invite these politicians into MY life and show them what is real and what is fantasy.  I live in a house that is falling apart and I have no money to fix it.  I live in a neighbourhood that has been losing amenities right, left and centre - all whilst the municipal politicians see fit to continue to increase my taxes.  If this is the case, what am I getting more of?  Certainly not services ... we are losing our schools, so kids can no longer walk to school.  We lost the only two financial institutions that were here when we first bought the house.  There are no more family style restaurants or recreational facilities.  The west end of town also has no community centres, no supermarkets, no community agencies, no swimming pools (e.g. the one that was there was shut down and rebuilt in the north end where three indoor pools are within walking distance of where they put the "new" one, and those of us that must take the bus can't get to at night or on weekends).  This tells you who the municipality serves - people that live in the neighbourhoods where all the amenities are all have money and usually drive.

Over the past few years, the only businesses that can thrive in my present neighbourhood are hair salons, low end bars, pawn shops, tattoo shops, convenience stores, fundamentalist churches, as well as other "businesses" which might be less than legal.  Over the past two years, I've seen more tags on buildings, representing the settlement of self-identified gangs.  I hear more about stabbings and shootings, let alone the fact I had personally handled cases that arose from this neighbourhood resulting from families being firebombed, a Muslim man getting beaten within an inch of his life and a family whose son recently killed himself.  With the loss of the high school, I can imagine a sharp increase in drop-outs, along with an increased cycle of poverty.  This is why I need to find a way to get rid of my house and get out of here before its value plummets and I end up owing more on it than I get for it.

My dream would be to leave this region, but until that is even possible, I need to get at least out of this 'hood. I've noticed a rash of home sales over the last year or so in this part of the city, or shall I call it town (because we still don't get city level amenities).   Others have sort of stuck it out here, but then they are retired and are not going anywhere.  The rest of the housing is going to student housing or rentals, with high turnover like many on my own street.  Over the years, people have come and gone from this block.  At one time, if one lived in the 'hood, they'd at least see other people's kids grow up and fulfil their dreams and have kids of their own, and so on.  Unfortunately, this is not the kind of 'hood for that sort of thing.  Many times, I long for community and the need to be part of something.  The unfortunate thing is even if there were some of us in the 'hood that wanted to get together to do something about it, we have no place to meet, not even a decent restaurant where we can all gather for a coffee.  Isolation breeds alienation.

We heard so much about a certain 'crack smoking' mayor of Toronto, which has hit not only all the Toronto media, but international media as well, including talk shows, late night comedies, comics, etc.  I feel if there is any of that 'crack' being smoked, an awful lot of it must be smoked by city planners that make decisions, such as where transit routes go, where to locate municipal services, where to build schools, etc., but then again, the federal government didn't help matters when it chose to scrap the long form census and turned it into a National Household Survey which nobody really had to fill out.  Whole neighbourhoods, age groups, social classes and so forth, were left out, because these being the "prototypes" who will be less likely to voluntarily complete such a thing, city planners even if they aren't on crack still won't have a clue as to what communities like my neighbourhood needs or what it is like to live here.

While the media continues to talk about the typical "middle class" who all have loving families to turn to, more than one vehicle to drive, a rich array of community services to go to, the media also tends to portray the "other Ontario" in a stereotypical way.  The food bank, which seems to be another money grabbing machine, hogs a lot of publicity at this time of the year pretending to be the saviour of all the fallen souls and broken spirits this chronic depression left behind.  Certainly, they are not necessarily stereotyping the poor, but they're doing nothing else for them either, such as what I'd want if I were to even visit an agency like that, and that is, to be pulled out of poverty and be given some hope for a future in my life.  If all I am to be given is expired food rich with preservatives and artificial ingredients for three days and told to come back again two months from now, while their 'researchers' take down way too much information about me, I would just want to run ... run far away.  It's time we shut these charities down and started pushing for policies that work.

While I never had much of a family while growing up, I certainly do have and value a strong sense of independence.  That should be upheld by our society.  That doesn't mean, society should just tell people in their darkest nights to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps", but no ... society should come together once more and find ways to get people out of desperate straits once and for all and to actually provide and promote the kind of equal opportunity that our current media pretends that our society still offers.  That means we need to stop pretending that everything is fine for most of us, that most families are pulling down $80,000 to $90,000 in total household income, or that families can go back to the 1950s and rely in a single earner and get all their needs met.  We need to stop living in the past, turn off the TV, put away that newspaper and start looking around you and talk to the people you see.

Instead of assuming certain people are certain ways because ... (fill in whatever self-blaming principle you think fits), we need to ask ourselves what we as a community can do to make things different enough so that the people we see who are in trouble can find themselves out of trouble and be able to stand on their own two feet, given resources that should be universally available and not just "targeted" to those "in need", or in other words, the "damaged goods", "the poor" or "less fortunate".  We need to find ways so we rely less on charity and the goodwill of others, as fairweather as it might be, to fill our basic needs.  We need to have what we all need in our own communities, our own neighbourhoods and our own homes what we need to maintain ourselves and live our lives out in dignity.

Until then, we must all fight and place the responsibility at the feet of our policy makers that want to make it hard for those who were not born with Daddy's trust account or one of the few remaining good jobs left on this planet, to get by and have a reasonable quality of life.  An election is rumoured to be held in the spring of 2014, and the last thing I want to hear on the hustings is how a typical Ontario family lives, unless those making these statements have met and lived the lives of real people, such as the ones I am talking about.

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