The Death Of The Automobile — Part 2

November 27, 2015


(With this morning’s news of yet another pedestrian hit and killed by a vehicle, that’s what now, 4 in the past 4 days?, we excerpt another passage from John Jerome’s 1972 book, The Death of the Automobile. “Accidents” like this are simply the natural outcome of a transportation system and hierarchy perverted by the relentless product push of the automotive industry. An industry… a-hem, a-hem… driven by whimsical business practices and dependent on what Jerome calls a ‘captive market’.)


*  *  *

The Smugness of Abundance, and Vice Versa

There are men in Detroit whose sensibilities are not blunted to the anguish of the country, men sensitive enough to recognize the reasons for their own insularity and humble enough to seek external, non-automobile-industry assistance in understanding the public who buy their cars. The very best help is sought: psychologists, motivational researchers, men whose scientifically sound research methods yield computer-quantifiable results, as well as men to whom public accolade gives credit for certifiable wisdom. The purpose of the seeking is additional profit, of course, and no great amount of money is spent on these pundits – nothing like the sums invested in a new rear-fender shape, for instance. But wisdom is sometimes sought. Even the advertising agencies – high-priced agglomerations of professionals trained to gauge public taste – are consulted. The industry gets a lot of advice, not all of it worthless. That it chooses so consistently to ignore the advice it purchases is not, in view of recent history, entirely surprising. It sought the advice that generated the compacts, in 1960 – but it misunderstood the advice it got (it often does), and turned an intelligent marketing gambit into a short-lived defensive reaction. Somewhere the industry must have gotten the advice that it could ignore pollution and safety for a long, long time.

A great deal of the industry’s imperviousness to advice undoubtedly comes from the sales figures. Against the insubstantialities of external market advice, the industry can point to the reality of 7 million passenger cars sold, on average, every year since 1955. If we are so insulated and unresponsive to public needs, the industry seems justified in saying, why are we so rich?

Given the traditional public faith in the sovereignty of the free market, the argument is tough to refute. We bought ‘em, we must love ‘em. Perhaps Detroit does give the people what they want, as the industry is so fond of saying. If the numbers are to be believed. One might even go so far as to assume, as Detroit has assumed, that the industry has some kind of magic taste-indicator – the stylists claim to live five years ahead of the desires of the great unwashed – and can therefore unerringly fashion machinery and sheet metal to match that taste.

A number of counterindications, however, undercut the industry’s self-proclaimed position as ultimate arbiter of public taste. The infallibility of that taste produced “up” years – upward rising scales curves – in only a little more than half of the model years of the golden era. Of course sales successes are always triumphs of judgment and perspicacity, but slippages are the result of “the economy” – or strikes. That 7-million-car average hides wild fluctuations of sales totals – a drop of 47 percent between 1955 and 1958, of more than 25 percent between 1968 and 1970 – despite the best efforts of the industry’s planners to gear for consistent production figures. The sales charts do mirror the major economic indicators, although no one seems quite willing to say whether car sales push or are pulled by those indicators. At any rate, if the economy is responsible for the plunges of the sales curve, it seems quite likely that the sales peaks are also a result of national economic health, rather than the product of specific design responses by the industry to the public’s ineffable aesthetic needs.

Imported car sales also seem pegged to more stable indices. The imports began to come into this country in statistically significant numbers before the beginning of the golden era; Detroit said it would begin to worry about the imports in the, heh heh, unlikely event the little bugs (“shitboxes” is the almost universal familiar term among Detroit’s forward thinkers) ever got 3 percent of the market. The little bugs did. Detroit revised its worry point upwards to 6 percent; the imports surpassed it. By 1959 the foreign cars were getting 10 percent of the market while Detroit sales were sagging badly. Detroit counterpunched in 1960 with the compacts (in the works since about 1957) and scored, and foreign-car dealerships throughout the land began closing their doors. But with two or three years out for retrenchment (and for some makes, badly needed redesign to fit American driving habits), the little cars began slowly and steadily chomping off those percentage points again. In 1971 import sales peaked out a just below 20 percent of the market; Nixonomics thereupon scrambled the picture so badly that the future of imported cars sales in this country is virtually unreadable, but no less a seer than Henry Ford II has estimated that the imports will hold a steady 15 percent for the foreseeable future.

The imports are, by and large, “rational” cars, predicated on economy, functionality, simplicity (sports cars excepted, of course). Their manufacturers have not engaged in styling wars, attempting to anticipate in sheet metal the fickleness of American tastes. In fact the import manufacturers haven’t worried much about “giving the public what it wants”; they’ve simply produced as many cars as they could, to their own standards, and in the case of the more successful makes in which a high level of quality is clearly present – Volkswagen, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz – they’ve sold all the cars they could spare for the American market. Meanwhile the domestic small cars – counterpunch number two against the Old Country menace – seem to be succeeding primarily in taking percentage points of market share away from their own big brothers.

The compacts eventually died because they were not profitable enough as “economy” cars, and so Detroit loaded them with extras and let them balloon in size. The new domestic small cars are clearly less profitable than the old compacts, and their chief function so far seems to be to reduce the sales for domestic big cars. It is little wonder that the moguls are crying poor about profitability these days. It is little wonder also that the industry looks askance at the outside advice; everyone told them they had to stem the foreign invasion, but nobody told them how to do it and continue to make money.

In the final analysis there is, as ex-Department of Transportation aide John Burby has pointed out, a market for about 8 million new cars a year in the U.S., come what may. The figure will expand gradually with population growth until the detrimental aspects of car ownership outweigh the service it provides. “Market” isn’t precisely the term – “rate of consumption” might be more accurate. That “market” is virtually captive. Our motorized miles per year mean that 86 percent of our travelers use private cars, for 79 percent of the trips (by number) that are taken. Commercial airlines absorb another 13 percent of the trips, leaving a full 8 percent for all of the other transportation systems in the U.S. to grow rich over – and expand to the point that they can relieve us of the necessity of pouring our personal wealth into private automobiles. No less than 82 percent of our commuting workers use automobiles to go to and from work; the same percentage of our families now own automobiles. Sixty percent of our poverty-level Americans “own” cars, as do 25 percent of the under-$1000-per-year population (The figure must include a lot of teen-agers). The statistics roll on and on; they are the Automobile Manufacturers Association’s own, published annually in a paperback horror story of overconcentration of an industry.

It is pointless to try to convince ourselves otherwise: we have a single transportation system in this country, pure and simple, with a couple of curious small-time competitors in the form of airplanes and railroads. We have a population pushing 210 million, and we throw away more than 7 million cars a year. The manufacturers – those fellows who defend every tasteless and wasteful gimcrack tagged onto the cars in the effort to stimulate sagging public enthusiasms with the justification that they are giving the public what it wants, nay, demands – know their market so well that in 1970, 25 percent of it slipped away they know not where, and their miniaturized competitors from across the seas stole away almost 20 percent of what was left.

We can, perhaps, be thankful. If the industry really did know how to give the public what it wants – rather than simply grinding out units of production to stuff into the gaping hole of otherwise unfilled transportation needs – our nation might be even more desperately unbalanced in its transportation network, its economic centricity, its misplaced social priorities, than it already is.

excerptly submitted by Cityslikr

The Death Of The Automobile — Part 1

November 25, 2015


Our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, alerted us to the presence of this book written by John Jerome way back in 1972. Jerome had been an advertising copywriter working on car ads as well as a journalist, writing for such pro-automotive magazines as Sports Car Digest and Car and Driver.

I’m only halfway through The Death Of The Automobile, so don’t know if Jerome was being overly-optimistic with the title or if there’s something else at work. Certainly, more than 40 years on, such a predicted demise must be considered greatly exaggerated. His take on the city of Detroit, on the other hand, comes across as grimly prescient.

This particular passage caught my attention for its portrayal of the destructive, divisive force the car industry has played both economically and societally. In what I guess might be considered some sad, sad irony, Woodward Avenue, the street at the centre of the following excerpt, has been the site of a pitched battled between entrenched interests, fighting over the proposed building of rapid transit right through the heart of the Motor City.


Or maybe more, read `em and weep.



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To say that Detroit is the most American of cities is to be both mordantly accurate and balefully pessimistic about the future of cities in this country. Detroit is where the awful ugliness of urban life first began to be visible. From labor strife to racial disaster to polluted unlivability, Detroit has been the honor guard, the advance men, setting up the territory, for the urban crisis.

Detroit is buried in a flat sump of American midlands, just above the grossly polluted Lake Erie (polluted primarily by Detroit, with a little help from Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron). It sprawls for uncounted miles and yet is almost impossibly congested. It is ringed, gouged, sectioned by freeways, most of them sunken in greasy, claustrophobia-inducing moats – freeways which despite frantic construction programs seem to hang ten years behind the mass of traffic volume. The city’s murder rate has zoomed off-scale in recent years, its drug problems rival New York’s, its police still maintain that car theft – in the Motor City – is the most significant crime. Two of the most severe and destructive racial uprisings in the U.S. in the twentieth century took place in Detroit, and racial ghettos – black impaction – now absorb most of the city proper. To the south the city is bordered by the Detroit River and somnolent Canada. On the east is Lake St. Clair and the enclave of the Old Money, the foundation fortunes in the Detroit industrial empire, Grosse Point. On the west is Ford’s-town, Dearborn, symbol to the rest of the unreconstructed U.S. of militant antiblack bigotry, best personified by its colour perennial mayor, Orville Hubbard.

It is to the north – “out Woodward” – that Detroit limns the shape of the American sixties. Woodward Avenue begins at the river, downtown Detroit, amidst broad plazas and shiny office buildings constructed two decades ago in a downtown urban renewal scheme. If the downtown area seems airy and well ordered, it is closely ringed by ghetto and crumbling freeway; if it seems limited, somehow too small for a city of nearly two million, it is because little of Detroit’s reason for being – GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors – is located there.

Woodward Avenue points…out. String-straight to the northwest, it penetrates the ring of urban renewal within a few blocks of the deepest heart of the city, and immediately enters territory still marred by the warlike ruins of the 1967 racial rebellion. Woodward splits the campus of Wayne State University, which, like so many urban universities, is also tightly surrounded by ghetto. The Avenue connects downtown Detroit with the General Motors Building and its ancillary office complex, a strange collection of 1930’s-style buildings more than three miles from Detroit’s “city”. The GM complex is also encircled by ghetto, very close to the center of the 1967 riot’s white-hot violence. Three of four miles of ghetto-strip line the broad expanse of Woodward beyond the GM complex; with meat-cleaver abruptness, the American Dream begins.

Parks. Golf courses. Churches. Eighteen miles of intermittent commercial strip, interspersed with woodsy suburb and public parks. The architecture, the décor of the commercial strip, rapidly escalate in both expense and garishness to the north, from filling station to fast-food franchise house to sporting-goods store. Carpet shops and tire-recappers, soft-ice-cream stands and pizza parlors. Used-car lot after used-car lot. And to the sides, beyond the borders of the thundering commuter traffic of Woodward, lies suburban Detroit, in rapidly rising economic brackets. The flatland countryside was early divided, in the Midwest tradition, into neat squares; thus Eight Mile Road, Twelve Mile Road – numerical demarcation lines of the class of the neighborhood – butt up against the northwest arrow that is Woodward. The suburbs line up: Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Huntington Woods, Berkley, Royal Oak, and finally, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. Management country.

(Woodward goes on. As U.S. Route 10 it splits Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, up the lower peninsula, toward the big Hemingway woods. Another Country. Big trout, clear streams, lakes, misty coniferous forest, half-breeds and subsistence loggers. A long way from Detroit, physically as well as psychically. There is aching symbolism in the way Woodward points toward all that, another kind of life.)

Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, and Grosse Point – in rising order of exclusiveness – are the suburbs where automobile industry management resides. Birmingham is an imitation New England village, spotless white wood facades on expensive small shops, a couple substantial modern department stores. Surrounding the village are concentric rings of progressively more expensive suburban homes, three-car garages and carefully protected maple trees, winding streets. The contours of the terrain have been religiously preserved, to relieve the rigid block-organization of more citied suburbs. It is affluent, snobbish, resolutely white. As Birmingham melts into Bloomfield Hills to the north, all pretense of town or village disappears, along with any democratic notions about inconspicuousness in the act of consumption: Bloomfield Hills is rich. It is countryside, one hundred-acre estates, the horsy set, country clubs and finishing schools. Tone. Memberships in upstate gun clubs, ski trips to Europe. Very carefully constructed to be as un-Detroitish as physically possible, a soft, rich antidote to the pain of the city.

Grosse Point is richer. The automobile industry rewards its captains very well. (The position of chairman of General Motors is carefully maintained as the highest-paid salaried job in the U.S. In a normal golden-era year, with bonuses, its occupant would gross over half a million dollars. In 1969 James Roche received $655,000.) Grosse Point is where the supercaptains live, men who no longer run automobile companies but who run the economy instead, whose principal occupation could perhaps best be described as moving their money about, in order that it might grow. Women here, too – mostly widows of men who formed, founded, managed, inflated and deflated, and often simply sold out the car companies. A musty rich town of stone mansions and walled estates, fortunes seventy-five and one hundred years old – as compared with fifteen and twenty-five years in the other two managerial suburbs. Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are relatively new, and thus are substantially buffered by other, cheaper middle-class white suburbs which have grown out from Detroit. Grosse Point is old enough that the city has grown around it with the squalor of the explosive urban Detroit ghetto.

The females who reside at this level of purest capitalistic entrepreneurship are exceptions rather than rules, attaining their positions through longevity rather than business careers. Below that level the society of the auto-makers is exclusively male. (The closest a woman ever got to a position in industry management was when Mary Wells’s advertising agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, took over the American Motors account.) The males of the administrative-managerial class inhabit these three suburbs, their wives and children live their lives there, but the men inhabit. They put in legendarily long hours, choosing to compete not just with other corporations, not just within the palace intrigues of their own corporate politics, but even over such minutiae as who will be first at his desk in the morning, last to leave. It is an industry custom freighted with significance. (Might as well come early and leave late; the traffic jams made possible by the bounty of their production make standard commuting hours impossible for industry leaders anyway.)

Come early, go late, whisk through the city as quickly as possible. Duck home with relief to the splendidly affluent, total insulation of the suburbs. These men often fight their way into the industry from external purviews – the industry record for tight-family, father-son successions is not good, Semon Knudsens and Henry Fords to the contrary – but once inside, it is the industry life. They work, play, lunch, vacation in the industry. They belong to the same country clubs, hunt clubs, garden clubs, luncheon clubs. They attend Detroit’s society affairs in each other’s company, frequently sharing automobiles (which are often chauffeur driven). They meet in sterile but plush executive dining rooms for lunch, in the various administrative office buildings of the major manufacturers – or, if they want alcohol in a strangely puritan industry, they meet at the Detroit Club, the Athletic Club, the London Chop House. (To eat with the same faces, in the same places, year after year…) When they travel, they fly – and are met at airports by regional managers delivering the most carefully prepared, sparkling new examples of their own product. They tunnel through the masses on the freeways, to work and home, insulated. Spinning up broad Woodward Avenue, they traverse a serial representation of the American angst: squalid ghetto, tawdry commercial-strip jungle, splintered campus, fire-bombed whitey furniture stores and glittering drive-in teen-age hangouts in the same eighteen-mile stretch. What must these men think about America while they pass through it? Soot-blackened, smoke-billowing public-transit buses competing for commuting space with chrome-plated supercars, art nouveau hot rods, sports cars, motorcycles, hitchhiking hippies, as well as executive limousines. The whole arteriosclerotic urban sprawl and its commuter tangle, twice a day, and the men who make it insulated from it, air-conditioned out of contact, dreaming of sales campaigns for ever quieter, ever more insulative dreamboats, at whatever cost.

The public stance of the industry becomes automatic, built in. It comes with the territory. It sees Vietnam as defense contracts for its distant corporate divisions, as draft cells that squelch the Youth Market. It sees racial unrest as a demarcating force that cordons off sections of the city no longer safe to travel, as a vague terror that somehow enervates governance of the city, as irritating pressure from do-gooders such as the Fair Employment Practices Commission to force expensive, wasteful, risky new hiring policies. It sees the crisis of the cities as short-sighted failure on the part of government to build enough new streets and roads. It sees ecological disaster first as a scare campaign to play on the fears of the weakhearted; later as another uncomfortable pressure from the federal government intended to crimp free enterprise; still later, finally, as a whole new bonanza market, endless profitability to be gained, albeit at the distasteful cost of learning new technologies. (Profit on the waste-making, and then profit on the waste-removal; and the government is even doing the selling!) It sees automobile safety as the exclusive responsibility of its customers – and the police. It sees poverty as laziness, youth rebellion as slack discipline, the erosion of institutions as encroaching communism. It looks at these eruptions on the fair epidermis of society only in search of places to insert the lance of profit. Prick them just right, and they might somehow yield up another fraction of a percentage point of market share.

cut and pastely submitted by Cityslikr

Who’s Out Of Touch?

October 19, 2015


As the interminable federal campaign draws to a close and our well established liberal media (newspaper division) largely circled its collective wagons around the incumbent Conservative party (some following tortuous paths to get there), one thing becomes clearly evident. If you’re not voting for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, you’re the radical, you’re out of step with the mainstream. You’ve lost your way from traditional Canadian values.

If nothing else, this election has attempted to normalise Conservative behaviour as the old stock baseline. Sure, there were a few mistakes and missteps. Nobody’s perfect. Are you? But ultimately, steady as she goes, no serious deviation from the core principles that have defined this country since Confederation. Above all else, Canadians have fought and died for low taxation and a sound economy. Everything else is suspect.

“But mostly the critics [of the Harper administration] are seething with ideological zeal that warns that today’s Canadian progressives have veered to new extremism,” David Frum tweeted out on Saturday. Opponents of Stephen Harper are the extremists, says the guy who helped cheerlead the U.S. into a misguided war in Iraq that set the Mideast on fire. Yes, we’re the extremists.

As much as we’d like to think we are different than our neighbours to the immediate south, more tolerant, more moderate, more reasonable, in the light of this election campaign and the continued viability of the Conservative brand, we need to rethink that smug point of view. Our conservative segment of the population has drifted farther and farther from the middle of the political spectrum, dragging the centre with it and eyeing suspiciously everyone who hasn’t followed their rightward march. From that relative position way over there, enthusiastically enabling the vanishing of Canada, it sees its opponents and critics as the ones out of touch, out of step with their Canada. Radicals. Extremists.

So be it. Accept the fact that at this juncture in our history, we must consign a quarter to a third of our voting population to intractable conservative fanaticism. My party, right or wrong. A faction living quite comfortably in its no longer veiled racism and bigotry, happy at war with information and history, defiant in denying the inconvenient realities of the world around them. One time fringe thinking now mainstream conservative thought.

We need to stop catering to it, to cease trying to woo it or appeal to its better nature. There’s no such thing as a Conservative better nature. That died a long time ago.

You can’t ignore it but you can isolate it. 25%, 33%, that’s still a minority, healthily so, in fact. It’s not enough to govern properly but it is ample enough to disrupt the proceedings.

When Stephen Harper hooked up with the Ford Bros. for a campaign rally on Saturday night, it was a full and frank admission that this was all it was about, all it had ever been about. Disruption. Governance mayhem. Disregard for anything and anybody not holding to their narrow and dim world view. All of them feeding into and off of our worst instincts, asking nothing more from us than our hatred and fear.

Supporters and apologists tried to make that appear as normal, standard practice, conventional wisdom, plain ol’ common sense. You don’t think so? You disagree? You’re out of step with the rest of us. You’re out there, radical, extreme.

To believe that, though, is to admit that you don’t trust numbers, that basic math is an unreliable source of information. Somehow 25%, 33% makes a majority and dictates what constitutes the mainstream. The rest? Deluded, suffering from a simple case of Harper Derangement Syndrome.

It doesn’t add up but it never was supposed to. A stubborn wilfulness sits at the core of conservative thought belief these days. That’s why it’s so hard to engage. We need to stop trying. It only lends credibility where none is deserved.

radically submitted by Cityslikr

Rank Anti-Ranked Ballot Arguments

October 6, 2015

There are good arguments against ranked ballots. Valid reasons in which they are not optimal, mostly revolving around the question of true proportional representation. goodpointIt is not a perfect system.

Unfortunately, these are not the arguments being made currently, especially by those on city council who voted in favour last week of requesting the province not to give cities the option of introducing ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. Motion 6(a) from Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore): “That the Province should not proceed with amendments to the Municipal Elections Act to provide for Ranked Choice Voting.” There’s nothing more to this than not wanting to have the debate at all. It’s essentially trying to kneecap a decision council made last term. No discussion. Just cheap political thuggery.

If you want to hear really bad, woefully inadequate, pure and utter fuckwad nitwittery arguments against ranked ballots, take 5 minutes and listen to this segment on Mark Towhey’s Sunday 1010 talk radio show from three first term councillors, all, interestingly enough, close allies of Mayor John Tory. He voted against the motion. With friends like these, am I right?

I’ll refrain from taking the most obvious snark shot here. Larry, Curly and Moe. Because, really, that’s the first thing that sprang to your mind too, isn’t it.

No. I’m going with Dopey, Doc and Sully. A coterie of dumb. Exemplars of why we here in Toronto can’t have nice things.

When Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb (Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence) opens her mouth to speak, you realize why she doesn’t do so very often. It does her no favours. You know why she supported the motion to bury ranked ballots? She’s never been a fan of them. That’s why. She doesn’t like them.

You can hardly blame her, from an entirely selfish perspective. As Mr. Towhey pointed out, she was elected last year with only 17% of the popular vote. tempertantrumWith ranked ballots, the outcome might’ve been different, depending on the makeup of her challengers and other variables. Councillor Carmichael Greb simply doesn’t ‘believe it’.

Besides, she told listeners, she worked really hard for over a year to ensure that fewer than 1 in 5 voters in her ward put an X beside her name. She earned that 17%, dammit! With 16 candidates on the ballot in Ward 16, it was already confusing for the voters, she claimed. Having to choose 1, 2, 3 would’ve been even more so and, ultimately, not made any difference as far as the candidate who got into office with just 17% of the vote was concerned.

In explaining his opposition to ranked ballots, Councillor Stephen ‘Doc’ (yeah, I went there) Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre) continued his impressive display of seemingly sound, rational reasoning always taking him into the reeds of illogical reactionism. It is a step forward, I guess, from the frequent unhinged rantings of his father, the sire of the Holyday dynasty in Etobicoke, (L’il Ginny, anyone?), but if it lands us in the same nonsensical soft spot, what’s it matter? The journey is a lot less fun to watch.

Councillor Holyday informed us that, under the current system, there’s quite a diversity at city council. A diversity along the political spectrum, that is, left, right and centre, and please, don’t look at the overwhelmingly white, largely male elephant in the room. longrouteSuch diversity, according to the councillor, leads to vigorous debate and discussion which, it can hardly be argued, is a good thing.

The problem with ranked ballots, says Councillor Holyday, is that they will ‘flatten’ that diversity. How? Because – and this is where he goes truly Holydian in his thinking – the second or third choice candidates on a ranked ballots will, and I’m quoting here with italics to emphasize the outrageousness of the statement, “…naturally be that centre, centre-left candidate that’s very neutral, very unexciting…”

Where the fuck does he come up with that?! Was he talking to his dad over Sunday brunch before coming in to the studio to do the show? Councillor Holyday proceeds to pile it on, suggesting such a fantasy scenario will lead to boring debates at city council as if the sole purpose of municipal government is to keep us entertained with some gruesome spectacle.

What’s truly amazing about the councillor’s performance here is that he actually brings up an interesting point before taking it and driving it through his eye into the intelligence centre of his brain, thereby killing any possibility of thoughtful discourse. on2ndthoughtBingham Powell, in his 2000 book, Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions, suggested that our current system, first past the post, let’s call it, which requires a simple plurality of votes to determine election outcomes, may lead “to governments that are more extreme than the voters”. Or, less boring, as Councillor Holyday might sum up.

By making his particular argument against ranked ballots, basically smoothing off the extreme edges of the democratic process, Holyday winds up actually arguing in favour of the hyper-partisan, divisive dynamic that has been paralyzing this city for at least 5 years now.

As egregious an assault on our intelligence as that was, Councillor Jon Burnside (Ward 26 Don Valley West) took home the bullshit prize on this particular day. I nicknamed him Sully because, honestly, I failed to come up with a better word ending in ‘y’ for him. Dicky? Pricky? I even briefly contemplated transgressing the c-bomb stratosphere before settling on Sully.


Councillor Burnside’s anti-ranked ballot justification just drips of condescension toward the voting public. The ‘complication factor’, he stated, despite the fact that host Towhey had perfectly explained how ranked ballots worked in about 45 seconds.idiot Ranked ballots are a lot more complicated than putting down one X, Burnside said, as if counting to 3 gets most of us all fuzzy-headed.

He then goes on to say that when he was out knocking on doors during last year’s campaign, a lot of voters didn’t know the difference between federal, provincial and municipal levels of government as if that somehow proves that we can’t be trusted to mentally multitask. Nope. We’re simple folk. We like to mark our ballots like we like to sign our names. With just one X.

It is hard to refute his argument about the idiocy of the electorate, I guess, at least in Ward 26. After all, voters there voted Jon Burnside into office to represent their interests at City Hall.

In less time than it took Mark Towhey to inform listeners about the nuts and bolts of ranked ballots, Councillor Burnside sullied the reputation of voters and revealed a real patronizing side toward his constituency. I’d suggest anyone wanting to challenge him in 2018 simply print up flyers saying in big bold letters: COUNCILLOR JON BURNSIDE THINKS YOU’RE STUPID, WARD 26! No, wait. KOWNSILER JON BERNSID THINK WERE STOOPID WORD ??WEAR EVER WE LIV!!!

If you’re opposed to ranked ballots, so be it. We do still live in a democracy. idiot1This isn’t Russia. This isn’t Russia, is it, Danny?

Just be honest, is all we can ask. Don’t come up with bogus rationalizations. It’s obvious, listening to these 3 city councillor, Burnside, Carmichael Greb and Holyday, they don’t like change. The won, fair and square, with the current system in place. Why would they possibly want to change that?

But please stop insulting our, albeit limited, intelligence pretending it’s about anything else. You just wind up embarrassing yourselves.

dumbly submitted by Cityslikr

… but He Plays One On TV

October 5, 2015

A thought occurred to me the other day, so obvious that someone must surely have put it out there already. If so, my apologies for making it my own. actingCredit is all yours, whoever you are.

John Tory is far better at playing the role of mayor than he is actually being the mayor. He carries the chain of office with the appropriate level of gravitas and decorum. Photo ops and press conferences serve as his milieu, his political sweet spot. The day-to-day business of running the city? Where’s the fun in that? What about pomp? Don’t we all need a little circumstance?

For sure, there are some agenda items this mayor grabs and runs with, pushing and pulling the levers of powers of his office to further. So far, however, they’ve largely coalesced around roads and drivers — See: Parking Enforcement! — and his signature transit plan, SmartTrack. On these matters, Mayor Tory is indefatigable in his mayoral pursuit of championing. The bully pulpit that comes with being mayor, he has used to its fullest on these matters.

The rest of it? His mayoral passion waxes and wanes, depending on whether there’s an Olympic bid to ponder or public event to speak at. bullypulpitAs long as whatever it is doesn’t get in the way of more pressing mayoral matters, have at it. If it’s prudent, reasonable and gets done without too much fuss and bother, you’ve got the green light from Mayor Tory.

Which probably goes to explain exactly how the motion to rescind the request to the province for the right to use ranked ballots in the next municipal election passed city council last week. The mayor was asleep at the switch. The matter wasn’t on his radar. He had distinctly stated, at least on the topic of the Scarborough subway, this council shouldn’t spend its time reversing decisions of the previous council. So why would he be expecting this kind of motion of reversal?

Especially since it came from one of his allies, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Tory “Super Saturday-ed” with him last election to boost Di Ciano’s chances of winning the council seat in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore. He appointed Di Ciano to be a member of the powerful Budget Committee. Hell, the mayor’s office tapped Councillor Di Ciano to be part of the working group that met with city staff over the summer to work on the City of Toronto Act report which council was debating when this motion hit the floor. You’d expect, just out of common courtesy, Mayor Tory might’ve been alerted beforehand that this was coming.waitwhat

Clearly he wasn’t, as he ended up on the losing side of the vote. The mayor didn’t even get up to speak against the item, to urge council to vote it down. Maybe he realized it was an uphill battle and didn’t want to risk further embarrassment. Eight of the twelve other members of his Executive Committee voted in opposition to the mayor in favour of not wanting ranked ballots including three councillors, Michelle Berardinetti, Gary Crawford and Jaye Robinson, who flip-flopped from their 2013 vote. Three of Mayor Tory’s four deputy mayors opposed him.

It could be that ranked ballots just did not…ummmm…rank high enough up on the mayor’s priority list for him to risk an internal battle with his closest council allies. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Loyalty isn’t bought but horse-traded. Fair enough.

If that’s the case, though, Mayor Tory can’t claim to have supported ranked ballots simply because he voted against Councillor Di Ciano’s motion. He supported ranked ballots but just not enough. If it comes to pass that the provincial government doesn’t grant municipalities the right to use ranked ballots in response to this motion, it will be under Mayor Tory’s watch that the initiative died. It will hardly matter that he supported the idea in principle. blindsided1In practice, he didn’t fight for them.

Ahh, well. You win some, you lose some. No mayor should be expected to pitch a perfect game. There’s only so much political capital to go around. Whipping votes and enforcing discipline among your council supporters comes at a cost. Even the best of mayors sometimes get sandbagged by their best of buds. Pushing back on that would only look petty and pissy.

So while we bemoan yet another attack on voting reform by status quo seeking politicians, we should celebrate the fact that our weak mayoral system remains in effect. Great freedom resides at City Hall for even the most lightweight of dim bulb councillors to pursue and hunt down any pet peeve that irks them, even if it defies a mayoral edict not to reverse previous council decisions, even if it runs contrary to a hearty pro-ranked ballot endorsement the mayor made earlier this year, even if you’re, apparently, a part of the mayor’s team.ettubrute

Go for it, Mayor Tory has signaled to ally, Councillor Justin Di Ciano. Do your worst. There will be no repercussions for undermining the mayor, especially for friends and over inconsequential matters. Political in-fighting is undignified, beneath the office of the mayor. There are appearances to be maintained, after all. The actual dirty work of running a city isn’t the job of someone who likes to keep their hands clean.

democratically submitted by Cityslikr

Justin Di Ciano’s Coming Out Against Voting Reform Party

October 3, 2015

Just in case you missed Councillor Justin Di Ciano rolling back the ranked ballots initiative at city council on Thursday, here it is in all its dripping idiocy. Councillor Di Ciano, perhaps in a little bit of projecting, I believe the psychological term for it, thinks voters are too stupid to understand the concept of ranked ballots, especially poor people. Features some cameos from this term’s burgeoning confederacy of dunces.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr

The Worst. The Absolute Worst.

October 2, 2015

Just about a year ago (340 days or so but who’s counting?), as the results of the 2014 municipal election rolled in, I looked over the debris and carnage and declared that this may well shape up to be an even worse city council than the one that preceded it.JustinDiCiano

Impossible to imagine, I know, in the wake of the drunken, crack-laden, I’ve got enough to eat at home Ford years. But I held firm in my view that we did ourselves no favours with the new composition of council even with the new mayor we installed. Just watch, I said.

While I think there have been more than a few examples to back up my claim (the Gardiner east hybrid hybrid anyone?), a vote last night at council cemented it. In a 25-18 vote, our local representatives decided to reverse course and reject the notion of using ranked ballots in forthcoming elections. “A real setback for democratic reform and renewal,” according to Councillor Joe Mihevc.

How did such a turnaround happen? Aside from this simply being a worse city council, you mean? We have to go back to earlier this year, June to be exact.

The province is undergoing a 5 year review of the City of Toronto Act, the 2006 piece of legislation where Queen’s Park bestowed more powers and autonomy on Toronto’s city council. City staff struck up its own review process and the mayor’s office established a panel of 3 councillors, Norm Kelly, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Justin Di Ciano, to work with the staff in coming up with recommendations to pass along to the province for its consideration. The resulting report was before city council to vote on yesterday.

During the debate, councillors were putting forth ideas of their own to package off and send to Queen’s Park. JustinDiCianoThey were flying so fast and furiously at one point that Mayor Tory stood up to lecture his colleagues on governing ‘on the fly’. Staff had worked with council for months to come up with this report. These slap ons were, to the mayor’s mind, going to muddy the waters and diminish the seriousness of the report’s intent. Two of the working group members, councillors Kelly and Wong-Tam, echoed that sentiment.

The third member of the panel, Councillor Justin Di Ciano, had other ideas. Despite apparently working throughout the summer with Kelly and Wong-Tam and city staff on the report council was now amending, plenty of time, you’d assume, for him to float the idea of tossing out the request for ranked ballots, he decided to pursue it ‘on the fly’, as the mayor said. What were his reasons? They were doozies. Real fucking doozies.

Voters found ranked ballots “too confusing” he said. Never mind that the Toronto Star’s Betsy Powell explained how they work in a couple paragraphs.

Under ranked balloting, voters select candidates in order of preference — potentially first, second and third. The candidate with the majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — wins, just as in the current system.

If nobody meets that threshold, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is knocked out. The second-place choices of that candidate’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls, and so on, until someone has a majority.

Hopelessly and utterly confused, are you? As the ranked ballot literature says, Easy as 1, 2, 3.

Under softball questioning from fellow council lightweight, Michelle Berardinetti, Councillor Di Ciano cited some study from California that said ‘low-income voters’ had trouble understanding ranked ballots. JustinDiCianoSee? The poorz. They just wouldn’t get it.

The councillor went on to say that this particular council, you know, the one worse than the previous one, shouldn’t be beholden to a decision made late last term. The vote on ranked ballots happened in June of 2013, with almost 18 months left in the mandate. What point does Councillor Justin Di Ciano think should serve as a cutoff in the term of council when it needs to stop doing stuff that might impinge on subsequent councils? A year? Two?

What makes this line of reasoning even more fucking ridiculously vacuous is that the June 2013 vote from city council was a request to the provincial government for the power to decide to use ranked ballots. Even if the province grants the city that power, council would have to vote to enact it. So this city council would have the opportunity to vote against it, and no decision from the previous council would be forced upon it.

Instead, city council said yesterday, nope, don’t even want to consider it.

This boneheaded motion from a terrible, terrible city councillor, Justin Di Ciano, could’ve, should’ve died right there, in its infancy. JustinDiCianoAll it needed was 7 councillors who’d voted in favour of requesting ranked ballots in June 2013 (and one who’d “missed” that particular vote) to vote against it. Amazingly, they didn’t. They did a 180. Like that. Killing months and years of advocacy that a whole lot of people had dedicated their time to. Just like that.

Who were those councillors?

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest). Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre). Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth). Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport). Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West). Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West).

Had these councillors not cravenly flipped-floppped, the results of the vote would’ve been reversed, and the motion would’v died. They did and it didn’t. Yeah, this city council sucks.

Click on those links, get a phone number or email address. And start asking these councillors why they changed their minds on pretty much a moment’s notice. Why did they think ranked ballots were a good idea last term? JustinDiCianoWhy do they think ranked ballots are a bad idea now? What changed?

Oh, and let’s not forget the architect of this clusterfuck and big ol’ fuck you to voting reform, Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5 Etobicoke Lakeshore). Remember this face. It is the face of a city council that makes you pine for the Ford years.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr


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