Mon, Feb
20
2017
Mon, Feb 20, 2017

Fixing Fixed Incomes

This column of mine appeared in the February 9th print edition of The Kitchener Post but did not, for some reason, appear on their website. I've taken the liberty of posting it here:

Fixing Incomes One Way of Addressing Costs

In raising concerns about government spending, some people call on others to be mindful of those "living on a fixed income".

This group of people is at once mysterious and everpresent. Whenever the cry is raised, the implication is that these are the little people who don't get a voice against the tax-and-spend elites that are apparently ruining our country.

Who were these people living on a fixed income, and why are their incomes fixed? Why did they get trapped into deals that failed to take inflation into account?

Never mind the problems of dealing with increased taxes, Canada's inflation rate has raised the price of goods by 17.37% over the last ten years. Why rail against government spending when it is just a fraction of the rising day-to-day costs of living.

But then I did some research. Looking up "fixed income" turned up many investment websites, all talking about how a large amount of money is held in a bond and people take income off the interest from that bond. The principle of the bond doesn't increase, so neither do the interest payments.

So, technically, to get off a fixed income, you could take your equity out of your bond and invest it in something that produces a higher yield. Of course, doing this adds more risk.

Many privately pension plans that have survived attacks by corporations are fixed incomes. Public sector pensions tend to have cost-of-living allowances. Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security also offer increases each year, although these don't always meet Canada's inflation rate.

Indeed, it can be argued that most of us are living on fixed incomes. When was the last time we salaried employees have had a raise? The only people that don't fit this description are self-employed freelancers who work without medical benefits, paid vacation and consistent hours. They wish they lived on a fixed income.

There are a lot of problems here which we should address, and some cities have. One of the big problems is the municipal property tax system, which has been foisted onto our towns and cities by the province, giving our municipal governments few alternatives in raising the funds required to balance their budgets.

Property taxes are, in my opinion, among the worst taxes governments can impose. They charge a fixed amount, making little allowance for the year-to-year income of the property owner. It doesn't matter if the homeowner is unemployed or retired or running a Fortune 500 company; a tax calculated on a percentage of the property's value still must be paid.

Cities like Toronto do offer retirees property tax relief. Low income seniors, or people unable to pay their taxes due to sickness or poverty can apply to have their property taxes reduced or cancelled.

That's the least our cities can do. I would rather that cities receive their revenues from taxes that are levied based on the individuals' ability to pay, such as sales taxes or income taxes.

In any event, these issues should not be used as a club to beat back cities' attempts to offer services that make lives better for citizens, including funding libraries, and keeping our streets clean.

It's a tricky balance, trying to pay for services to help improve people's lives using funds raised from those same people who struggle to make ends meet.

We should do more to help all of us who live on fixed incomes. This means changing the way we're taxed, but also increased government services for those who need them.

James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener, Ontario. You can follow him online at bowjamesbow.ca or on Twitter at @jamesbow.

Mon, Feb
13
2017
Mon, Feb 13, 2017

Happy Belated Anniversary

I’m actually writing this on the 19th. I looked up from whatever it was I was doing and saw that I’d missed my blog’s fifteenth anniversary. Well, fair enough. I didn’t feel in the mood to write.

I have been writing, though, and here’s some of the things that have come out since we’ve last talked.

I continue to pursue a couple of editing projects, and have a non-fiction book project that will be gearing up shortly. And I hope there will be some fiction writing news in the near future. In the meantime, happy anniversary to this blog. It’s amazing the difference fifteen years makes.

Sat, Jan
28
2017
Sat, Jan 28, 2017

Outrage Overload

Geez, it has not been pleasant to read the news this past week. It is, all at once, horrifying, and horrifyingly familiar. I thought I’d had outrage overload watching Mike Harris and George W. Bush take power, but what Trump has been doing has been gleefully disassembling American civil society, and just as gleefully directly and deliberately bringing harm to thousands of people. Look at what’s happening at airports across the world as even Green Card holders from several Middle Eastern countries (but NOT mid-east countries that Trump has a business interest in) have been refused entry, detained at entry points, and blocked from getting on planes.

These are real families that have been disrupted in horrible ways. Pray that something like this never happens to your family.

The thing is, while Harris and Bush may have had that businessman’s arrogant belief that governing is easy, that there is a gravy train that they can locate and liquidate and everything will go just fine, they at least wanted to do right with the people — all the people. Harris seemed genuinely surprised that his policies didn’t work in reducing poverty and making Ontario better. He even, to his great credit, acknowledged his mistakes and reversed some of his decisions. Even Rob Ford, who shares some of Trump’s delusions of being a heroic bull in a villainous china shop, was controlled by the fact that he was just the mayor of a city, not the leader of the most powerful country in the free world.

From where I’m sitting, it feels as though everything that is good about America is being attacked by its own president. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Parks, even possibly Amtrak, are being sighted for vengeance. I can tolerate somebody who gets it wrong as he’s trying to do right, but vengeance is a whole other kettle of fish. By definition, it is out of whack with justice. It needs to be fought back against. But right now, I have no idea where to begin.

I do appreciate the sentiments of this blog post, however. I should turn off Facebook and stop reading the bad news. I need to, for a little while at least. Valerie Aurora notes that doing so is not surrender, but a valuable means of restoring your reserves so you can continue to resist.

On the other hand, Facebook does seem like such an addiction sometimes. I don’t know how to look away.

Fri, Jan
27
2017
Fri, Jan 27, 2017

Where the Wasps Were

One interesting thing about the leaves falling from the trees in winter is seeing the nests that the squirrels and birds used to reside in. And also the old wasp nests.

I am still very phobic about wasps, but in wintertime I am at least assured that the cold has killed the little buggers off, and so seeing the grey teardrop-football in silhouette presents only a sudden jolt and then a thrill, as I safely look up at the strange creations made by mandibles from rotted wood.

Most of these are located high in the trees, well above the roads and sidewalks. They would have been shielded by all the leaves. Nobody would know these things where there. That’s how they survived until the first hard frost killed them. Eighteen months ago, I saw that wasps were making a nest out of a hole in the exterior brick of my house, and I took care of it immediately… by calling in an exterminator and telling them to take care of it immediately (they did).

But in these trees, these wasps lived above hundreds of humans who walked beneath them day after day, and we didn’t notice until the leaves fell. It’s strange to have your fears revealed, long after they stopped being something to be afraid of.


Except for a handful of posts, my blog has been basically silent since I learned that my mother had pancreatic cancer back on November 15. Though I have written, even on frivolous matters on Facebook, writing on the blog just hasn’t felt right for me. It feels too public a place for me to talk about my mother’s illness and subsequent, and yet it was too personal for me to talk about anything else. Blogs, I guess, still are different from your Facebook rants or your Tweets. Facebook rants disappear down the memory hole quickly, but blogs are forever, comparatively speaking. That’s why the eulogy had to go here.

I do hope to start writing on the blog again, though, and I think I will in the coming days. Some stuff may be frivolous, but it’s still a part of me.

Wed, Jan
25
2017
Wed, Jan 25, 2017

It's important to stand up for the truth

My latest column for the Kitchener Post

It’s important to stand up for the truth

Trump may not be our president, but his influence on everybody’s lives cannot be denied.

Events over this past weekend have given me a lot to think about regarding the nature of truth and the importance of speaking out.

Simply from viewing his activity on Twitter, Donald Trump has built a reputation of being a deeply egotistical individual who cares about the pettiest things.

For example, on Friday, only around a quarter million people attended Trump’s inauguration in Washington.

It may seem odd to say “only” about 250,000 people, but it was lower than the number of people who showed up for Obama’s inauguration, and it was dwarfed by the number of protestors who came out for the Women’s March on Washington.

And when photos showing the differences between the events surfaced on Facebook and Twitter, the Trump administration could not let this stand.

Press secretary Sean Spicer held a conference where he accused the media of “under reporting” the numbers of attendees, and even showing unflattering photographs that were somehow inaccurate.

Then Spicer made one whopper of a statement when he said that Friday’s inauguration was the, “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period.”

The thing is, he’s wrong. He is verifiably wrong. We have the photographic evidence, and we have the eyewitnesses.

(Read more…)

Here are some other things I’ve also written in the past couple of months:

I’ve also been given another non-fiction writing assignment, and am working on the outline for it now. The manuscript is due in March. It’s good to be writing.

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