Going Our Way?

April 5, 2012

While the cat’s away, we will take about something other than municipal politics today.

Gaze averted for the past year or so from the train wreck that has become the Ford administration, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with the goings-on at other levels of government. Not that there’s a whole lot more to commend from that view either. But at least it lends one a different perspective.

Which is (Segue alert! Segue alert!) what this country is slowly, incrementally facing, a changing perspective. The Albertazation of Canada, let’s call it where the government is the problem not the solution, taxation is a dirty word and all economic problems can be solved by digging into the ground below your feed and mining the resources.

Or as Erna Paris wrote in a Walrus article from March of 2011, “The New Solitudes”: … an outlook more familiar to Americans than to Canadians, at least since the Reagan revolution of the 1980s. Its organizing principles are a powerful commitment to individualism, and to maximum freedom in every sector. Governments should be small, their powers limited, their taxing capacity curtailed. The market must be free and unfettered. Individuals are uniquely responsible for their failures, as well as their successes, and they cannot expect assistance from the ‘nanny state.’

A twist on an old theme, the two solitudes revisited. No longer English and French with its healthy dose of disregard for those here before any European set foot on these shores. But a new division, grounded in western alienation that may be less geographic than it is philosophical. It’s not that Alberta ever wanted in. They wanted the rest of Canada to be more like them.

Or maybe it’s nothing more than sour grapes written from the heart of what was once the economic engine of the nation. The tables have turned. Power has shifted. Money talks, baby, and these days it’s the west with the deep pockets, Canada’s sugar daddies. The new payer of the piper gets a different tune played. If you want to keep dancing, you better learn the new steps.

Not so fast there, bucko. There’s nothing radical going on here. It’s simply business as usual. What we’re witnessing from this long feared stable Conservative majority government is little more than a slightly bluer tinged Chrétienism.

Take last week’s federal budget for example. Nothing out of the ordinary, no draconian hidden agenda. The new normal. Nothing to see here, folks. Everybody back to work.

You see what just happened there?

It is now taken as a simple matter of fact, plain as the nose on your face that government deficits and debt are due to excessive spending. On bailouts and stimulus spending during the global economic crisis. On pensions and other outrageous luxuries afforded to those not willing to do an honest day’s work in the private sector. We are all now true believers in the Rob Ford maxim that governments have a spending not a revenue problem despite all evidence to the contrary here in Toronto.

Buying into that mantra, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government in Ontario instructs Don Drummond not to even consider new taxes as a way of helping to alleviate the provincial deficit. This is a spending problem, remember? Tell us how to spend less not how to generate more revenue.

The flip side of this leap of faith, this embrace of the Alberta way, is that low taxes, cutting taxes creates a robust economy. It’s that simple, people. Although the Ontario government in its recent budget put off further corporate tax cuts, it was seen as a concession, a sop to keep the NDP happy rather than an admission that having slashed the rate over the last few years has generated little economic benefits to anyone but those businesses now paying less tax.

Lower personal income tax rates and the reduction of the GST at the federal level have also proven to deliver somewhat illusory economic benefits. Yet there’s nary a mention of that in much of the budget coverage. Little analysis to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy blowing in from the prairies. Taxes are bad, evil even to some minds. End stop.

No, the only way to turn this ship around, to build a sustainable economy, is to dig our way out. Addition by extraction. Ontario? Quebec? Stop expecting handouts from the rest of the country and get mining. There’s gold (of something else valuable) in them thar hills. Drill, baby, drill!

You see, according to the Alberta way, green may be good in theory but terrible in practice. Where’s the money to be made in wind, solar? Ontario’s very tentative baby steps in that direction have proven to be a bust to those inclined to view alternative energy with scepticism. Nothing more than a vain hope in the eyes of the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson.

Never mind what’s been going on over there in Germany, say. That country propping up the European economy at the moment. Its embrace of solar and wind power has helped turn around moribund manufacturing areas in the former east bloc parts of the country. In just 12 years, green energy went from contributing 6.3% of the country’s energy output to now over 20%, creating over 300,000 jobs in the process.

Hmmm, revive a flagging manufacturing base. Reduce dependence on unsustainable fossil fuel sources. Seems like a win-win strategy to those not wedded to the Alberta way.

Unfortunately, there’s little boldness in leadership in that direction currently. Politicians of all stripes have accepted the handcuffs of fiscal restraint to dampen expectations of new ideas and nip any discussion of charting a new course in the bud. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we once were. Hewers of wood and drawers of water we shall continue to be.

Those of us demanding something different are now another solitude, looking forward rather than backward. With a majority federal government intent on reshaping the country and its institutions bit by bit into a decentralized, corporate-minded, neoconservative plaything, we may have to take the prime minister up on his offer to seize more regional autonomy and assume control of our future. A future divergent with the Alberta way. That, to borrow Erna Paris’s title, is our new solitude.

sneakily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Democracy? M’eh.

March 7, 2012

The modern conservative species (genus: WTF?!) has often been a subject of consideration for us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Our overriding impression is one of a political philosophy that has, ironically, strayed far from its traditional path. In short, theirs is not their grandfathers’ conservatism.

There remains a strain of belief, however, that has survived the centuries relatively intact. It’s that unease with the messy aspects of democracy we can trace back to, arguably, one of the movement’s founding voices, Edmund Burke, although it does him a great, great disservice to lump him in with today’s crowd even on that score. His reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution is what I’m referring to on this point. One, I’m sure, our friend Sol Chrom will take the time to straighten me out on.

Conservatives tolerate democracy, I’m saying. Barely. They boil it down to the basic element of elections. The governance that goes on in between is little more than a nuisance, the vagaries inherent in a system that endeavours to accommodate more than one voice, one point of view is vilified, discounted and suppressed.

For example, the pre-stable majority Conservatives in Ottawa. Twice as a minority government they were faced with parliamentary non-confidence, they sought extraordinary measures to wiggle free from out under it and shut down democracy. Any notion of a coalition replacing them as the governing party was couched in terms of being illegitimate, anti-democratic, a nefarious coup d’etat.

As the Robocalls outrage shows, even their successful bid to form a majority is tinted with an anti-democratic impulse. Rather than endeavour to expand their appeal by persuasive arguments and reaching out for a broader consensus, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives sought to misinform voters and to disenfranchise them. Dirty tricks instead of bright ideas. It’s all in the game, yo.

Here in Toronto, conservative supporters are aghast at a mayor losing control of city council, utilizing similar terminology to their federal counterparts. A coup. Illigetimacy. Back stabbing. Treacherous betrayal.

In recent days there has been some very fine pieces written about the current entanglement at City Hall. Open File’s John McGrath got it started last weekend with his post, Rob Ford, the TTC, and the crisis of legitimacy at Toronto City Hall. Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler responded with a spirited rebuttal, An Informed Dissent on City Hall. After the TTC debate and vote on Monday, the Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan weighed in beautifully, City Council is Supreme. The Grid’s Edward Keenan added his voice on the topic, So who’s running this city, anyway?, earlier today.

It is not my purpose to jump into that particular fray now aside from saying I don’t believe we’re witnessing any sort of crisis of legitimacy more than a crisis of leadership. Yes, there are probably some adjustments that could be considered to reduce the fractiousness that arises between the single so-called mayoral mandate and those of 44 councillors. Electing more citywide representatives might be a step in that direction but that’s for another post.

No, my concern here is the reaction of conservative voices to Mayor Ford’s diminishing position on council. The inchoate screeds from the Toronto Sun’s Sue Ann Levy are to be expected. Any reversal of fortune the mayor encounters will always be the devious, underhanded work of pampered left wing, kooky socialists to her mind, such as it is. It only begs for schoolyard nicknames.

But such baseless outpouring of drivel from Marcus Gee of the Globe and Mail is far more troubling. Messy political infighting plunges City Hall into chaos screams the headline of his article on Tuesday. ‘Low rent borgias’, ‘a power-drunk left-wing opposition’, he labelled those who took control of the TTC from the mayor on Monday. He states: The mayor is badly hobbled, but who runs the show in his place? before concluding As fascinating as it is to watch all this ad hocery, it leaves Toronto with a drifting, leaderless government at a time when it needs firm direction more than ever.

I’ve never met Mr. Gee but, from a distance, he seems like an amiable enough chap. While I think it safe to call him conservative leaning, he hardly comes across in his writing as some sort promoter of authoritarianism. Yet, here he is predicating the successful, smooth running of a city with the powerful leadership of one person, the mayor. Without that, well, we’re plunging into the darkness of chaos. Oh my god, the PTA is disbanding!

Such a sentiment is not only highly anti-democratic but it also suggests a very blinkered view of the workings of our municipal government. And to promote the notion that the 29 councillors voting to assume control of the TTC from the mayor who has badly fumbled the transit file are driven by nothing more than left-wing ideology is, well, pure fabrication. Since when did Councillor Karen Stintz become left wing? Or councillors Gary, Crawford, Peter Milczyn, Cesar Palacio, John Parker, James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Chin Lee, Josh Colle? By making such a claim, Mr. Gee is simply propagating the left-right storyline that the mayor regularly spouts.

Aside from the increasingly potent opposition to Mayor Ford not being ideologically cohesive, it spans the entirety of the city, further exploding the divisive urban-suburban myth the mayor so heavily relies on. There is not a former pre-amalgamation municipality not represented in the 29 councillors who stood up against the mayor on the TTC vote. Right of centre Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby joined forces with leftie Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker as part of the team with North York centrist Councillor Jaye Robinson and champagne sipping, downtown socialist Councillor Gord Perks.

We should be celebrating this move toward a city wide conciliation instead of shrieking about the collapse of local democracy. Why do we think that one person steamrolling over 22 others to fulfill a mandate or agenda is how a city best runs? While it might fit nicely into a lazy narrative, it is profoundly autocratic loving. Sadly, it also passes as rigid conservative orthodoxy these days.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Embracing The Past’s Cold Dead Body

November 22, 2011

Apologies ahead of time for harping on this but the truth is since discovering Chris Turner’s The Leap, I’ve kind of been infected with its thinking. It didn’t help matters any by my going to see him last night at a talk on the German Leap toward a green, sustainable economy. The guy’s on to something big. Right now only some people get it and are acting on it. Those who don’t, well, they’re just standing in the way, slack-jawed and taking up space. I’m trying to become one of the former.

During last night’s session, I was struck by the political implications of all this. Let’s take one of the book’s premises as fact for the moment and look at how we have responded. Early on in The Leap, Turner suggests that in 2008 while the whole world watched in helpless horror as the global financial system sailed uncomfortably close to the abyss, two other equally grave spectres raised up their heads, Hydra-like (or rode in on their apocalypse horses – take your myth pick), largely unnoticed by a wider swath of the population. Say hello to energy scarcity and climate change.

Unfortunate, coincidental timing? Yeah, probably not. All three inextricably linked and three years on, none changed for the better. Our economy remains punch drunk, occasionally lapsing in and out of a comatose state. Conventional, fossil fuel derived energy hasn’t gotten any less scarce. The minute hand’s crept ever closer to high noon on climate change at which point of time there will be no stopping, let alone reversing the negative feedback coming our way.

And our collective response to it all?

To run screaming from the challenges facing us and into the arms of those happy to lie to us. Everything’s fine, they purr. Just a temporary blip. A little belt tightening here, some fat trimming there and it’ll all be as good as new. Steady as she goes. Stay the course. Comforting us with false hope while demonizing any who question their wisdom or motives.

These are our modern day conservatives, folks, heirs of the Edmund Burke tradition, rejecters of all that is new and different including ways of thinking and seeing the world. The old ways are always the best ways. Full stop. All that is novel, innovative or smacks of science is nothing more than the devil’s handiwork. Unless of course it can drain oil from hitherto unreachable places or increases the capability of the modern police state.

The mark of a crank that would be laughable if we didn’t continue to fall into their arms at the first sign of trouble. It’s an abusive relationship. They do something stupid, drain our bank account, smash up our car. We kick them out only to come crawling back when they promise they’ve change, they’ll be better. Trust us. You’ll see.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

A heavy adherence to the ‘status quo bias’, according to The Leap’s Chris Turner. We fear the loss of what we already have more than we’re enticed by possibly bigger rewards through changing behaviour or wireless plans. More or less. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Or how about this little chestnut? Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya.

We are change averse and seem determined to hang on to a way of life to the bitterest end. In times of societal stress, our tendency is believe those who insist there is no need to change. Everything’s fine. This… this is just a temporary blip. It’ll get better, back to normal. Trust us. You’ll see.

So in 2010, the United States went full on Tea Party. We here in Toronto gave the mayoral nod to Rob Ford who simply blamed all the problems the city was facing on out of control tax and spending for things we didn’t need. This spring we handed a majority government to the federal Conservatives on a promise of steady helmsmanship and more of the same same.

Not surprisingly, little has changed. The economy continues to take hits, one more shot from another standing eight count. Oil continues to leak from the ocean where we continue to drill further down. Ice fields melt. Oceans acidify. Ozone hole reappear in the sky.

‘The Age of Fail’ as Turner puts. Or, as Joe Orton phrased it a little more poetically pointedly, “The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul.”  We’re scared and put our faith in those assuring us that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of except for all those telling them otherwise. Guess what? There’s plenty to be scared about, very real, tangible monsters under the bed and no amount of pretending they’re not there or leaving the nightlight on is going to chase them away.

Existing at this time in history and in this place of privilege in the developed western world, it’s hard to get our head around the concept of collapse or catastrophic failure. That’s the kind of thing that happened in the past or to other societies in impoverished parts of the world. I’m going to call it an ‘it can’t possibly happen here bias’. We’re too smart. We’re too evolved to let that happen. If we just continue to do what we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing it, we can dig ourselves out from under this.

Just stop listening to those telling us there’s another way, a better way, a fairer and sensible way. There’s too much at stake here. We have too much to lose to gamble on the great unknown. We just need to do this a little bit harder…longer…

Blinker yourselves like we are. Close your mind off to the possibility of anything else. And behold, the attenuated mind and hearts of our modern conservatives. Embracing the past so tightly, they’re squeezing the life out of the future.

beseechingly submitted by Cityslikr


Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat


A Sheepish Admission

July 25, 2011

Standing outside the tent on Saturday night, listening to The Sheepdogs rip through their 2nd set of the day (the first being an acoustic one in the blazing sunshine) at Hillside, my thoughts turned to the 70s. How could they not? Here was a band channeling the spirit of Southern Fried Rock in both sound and look with a touch of The Black Crows and My Morning Jacket thrown in for good measure to a capacity crowd that consisted largely of folks who weren’t even born when this sound first emerged.

Kids these days, with all their rap and bleep-blop electronic music, enthusiastically embracing the more countrified roots rock sound of their parents. Nothing wrong with that although, for me, if I want to listen to the Allman Brothers (an impulse which occurs almost never – my musical taste tends more to the bands that bracketed The Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang and Hollerado) I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers. But certainly, there are worse things to adopt from the recent past as I await the re-arrival of wide, wide ties with some trepidation.

I have mixed emotions about the decade I came of age in. While many of us benefited from the social and political freedoms that opened up as a result of the upheavals of the 1960s, we also wound up stunting them, stopped the march of progress far short of its goals, twisting and bending the ideals into an almost unrecognizable shape that called itself the Reagan (Neo-Conservative) Revolution. In 1969, America put a man on the moon. By 1980, we’d convinced ourselves that government was a problem not the solution. The 1970s just don’t hold up well in that light.

I was still mightily in my pre-teens during the tumultuous year of 1968 but I do remember that mixed sense of fear and, if not hope, a curious anticipation of what might be right around the corner. Protestors derailed a presidential re-election bid in a fight against an illegal, immoral war. Cities exploded in riots, set alight by inequality and racial oppression. Assassinations. First, Martin Luther King. Then, Bobby Kennedy. More riots.

It was Kennedy’s death that we can now see as something of a turning point for progressivism. Not that it was any more important or devastating than the slaying of King but RFK’s journey from his privileged, elite upbringing and early rabid anti-communism to the moral conscience of a country as presidential candidate signaled that the old order was rotten to the core. A fundamental change of course was needed and underway.

And then he was dead.

The politics of spite and tribalism filled the void and prospered. Even the downfall of the petty tyrant of vindictiveness, Richard Nixon, in 1974 only served to temporarily delay the triumphant of reactionism. It emerged in its full blown hideousness with the ascent to power of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and so on and so forth.

So by the time those younger Sheepdogs fans began sitting up and noticing the wider world around them, radical conservatism had become the entrenched orthodoxy. We who had benefited from progressive ideas in action – livable wages and working conditions, accessible and affordable health care and education, reasonable expectations of fair pensions and a well earned retirement, all that solid middle class claptrap – had decided that enough was enough. No longer would or should we extend such luxuries. They only served to sap our work ethic and encourage lolly-gagging and freeloading. Nose to the grindstone, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and all that.

The flagrant hypocrisy of such I-Got-Mine-Jackism manifested itself to me last week when I came across a video of Paul Ainslie’s maiden speech at Toronto city council (h/t Jonathan Goldsbie) after he was appointed councillor in 2006. Ignoring for the moment his vow never, ever to run for council in ‘Ward 41 or any other ward in this city’ after his interim time was up (he did run both in the 2006 and 2010 election, successfully unfortunately), what really got my goat was Ainslie’s citing of a Bobby Kennedy quote as a source of his political and public service inspiration.

The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.

Councillor Ainslie is a nose-pick of a politician who is a certified member of Mayor Ford’s wrecking crew, intent on dismantling much of what makes this city work so well. Rather than searching out and learning from ‘the reason for disillusionment and alienation’ as Robert Kennedy implored, Councillor Ainslie, the mayor and his other enablers only seek to exploit the disillusionment and alienation in order to reduce government to impotency. The exact opposite of what RFK was seeking to do.

That a politician of Ainslie’s low caliber was able to co-opt the words of Robert Kennedy goes a long way to explaining our modern political dynamic. The Reactionary as Revolutionary. I’m a neo-conservative politician and Robert Kennedy would endorse these words I’m about to speak.

It takes me to the words of another icon of the 60s, Hunter S. Thompson. The best known passage from his best known book, and perhaps the best analysis of the end of what we now think of as the end of the 60s and the birth of a generation of swine.

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

And it’s been rolling back now for over 40 years, slowly and surely drowning much of the progress that had come before it. Just when you think it’s crested, unbelievably you’re hit with another surge. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford. This has to peak too, doesn’t it? That’s the way waves work. Where is the neoconservative ‘high-water mark’? Have we just not seen it yet? Are we lacking the ‘right kind of eyes’?

So kids, follow in our musical steps all you want. Remake it. Remix it. Rejig it. It’s all harmless, nostalgic fun. But stop listening to our politics. We’re sell-outs and con artists. We’ve shirked our duties and responsibilities, leaving us all worse for wear. Our taste in music far exceeded our sense of citizenship, and the sooner you learn that the better.

guiltily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Which Lie Do You Buy?

July 21, 2011

Politicians are all liars.

If there’s a bigger cop-out for political apathy, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. It brushes with a broad stroke and enables those pronouncing such a trite sentiment to walk away with an unearned sense of superiority. I would deign to participate in the proceedings if those involved weren’t so contemptibly untruthful.

More insidiously, it gives cover to vote for those we know are determined to act on our worst, self-interested instincts. When they do once being elected, we look shocked, throw up our hands and exclaim, what are you gonna do? Who knew they were going to cut [fill in the blank] and ban [fill in the blank]? They’re all liars.

It all comes full circle as opportunistic politicians then do only what an easily cynical electorate expects them to do: lie. Tell us what we want to hear with a wink and a nod and then unfurl an unspoken agenda, much to our satisfaction and mock dismay. What are you gonna do? They’re all liars.

So we had a recent federal election that, to hear tell it, nobody really wanted and had nothing to do with a minority government in contempt of parliament. There’s an upcoming provincial election in the fall that looks as if it’s going to be fought on the flimsiest of grounds. A tax mad incumbent who’s buried the province under a sea of red tape, making it uncompetitive and on the road to ruin. Never mind that indications point to a more upbeat outlook. A slow if unsteady climb from the biggest economic downturn in over 80 years. The Taxman Cometh! Oogly-boogly!

And of course, there was last year’s municipal election in Toronto, chock full of pithy phrases, sleights of hand and misdirection. “Stop The Gravy Train.” “Respect For Taxpayers.” “City Hall Does Not Have A Revenue Problem. It Has A Spending Problem.”

Less than a year later, turns out much of that was — how to phrase it gently? – complete and utter shit. Most of then Councillor Rob Ford’s opponents for mayor said exactly that on the campaign trail. His numbers didn’t add up. His anecdotal evidence of waste and profligacy was nothing more than that, anecdotal. There was no way possible for him to cut taxes without cutting services.

But the soon-to-be next mayor of Toronto and his self-proclaimed Nation plugged their ears and yelled la-la-la-la-la-la, unconvinced. Waste would be found. Easy. Taxes could be cut. Easy. No services would be cut. Guaranteed.

Quickly however, ‘no services’ became no major services’ and now, as we head into the budget battles in the fall Everything. Is. On. The. Table. Exactly like many of those Ford defeated last October said it would be. As Edward Keenan pointed out in his Grid article last week, the KPMG core services review report ultimately showed what the previous mayor, David Miller, and his supporters had said all along. There wasn’t a whole lot of gravy at City Hall. Toronto was being run pretty darn efficiently and the major cuts that were available to Mayor Ford weren’t going to amount to a hill of beans money wise.

In short, the entire campaign platform that propelled Rob Ford into the mayor’s office was predicated on one whoppingly big faulty premise, let’s call it. All the waste he promised to find easy, well, wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, it’d be a stretch to call most of it waste at all. No matter how much the generously paid consultants at KPMG tired to frame it otherwise, the fact of the matter is candidate Rob Ford was wrong.

A more humble or intellectually accommodating person would stand back, admit the error of his ways and proceed to re-evaluate his thinking. New information. Recalibrate. That’s generally how a species successfully adapts.

That is not our mayor’s style, choosing instead to just bull on, spouting even more nonsense and claptrap. As Mr. Keenan noted Tuesday in The Grid, the mayor’s on something of a ‘truthiness’ whistle stop tour, telling AM radio talk show listeners that labour make up 80% of the city’s costs. Ummm, actually no, Mr. Mayor. It’s more like 48%. Maybe if he’d said 84%, we might think he had a brain fart and mistakenly flipped digits.

Not to outdone on the nosestretcher scale, the mayor’s brother and apparent stunt double in mendacity, Councillor Doug Ford, blurted out that his neighbourhood had more libraries than Tim Hortons. As if that would be a bad thing. As if that was an indication that we were spending too much money on libraries. As if…

It doesn’t matter because it turns out not to be the case. Not even close. “We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world,” Councillor Ford blustered on. Wrong again, Doug. We don’t. You’re just spouting out sound bytes that have no basis in reality. Infecting discourse with a contagion of half-truths and not even close to half-truths.

What kind of politician, a public servant, would do that?

One whose arguments can’t be won on facts and reason. On equal footing, they’re dead to rights, as is often the case when you watch them at work during debates at council. Make shit up because it can’t be contested since it’s not based on anything real or actual. Like punching the wind.

Moreover, a constant misstating of facts fills the whole space with an air of deceit and dishonesty. Sure, I may be lying but so is everyone else. That’s what politicians do.

All politicians lie.

A lie built on lies.

And we let them get away with it because it lets us off the hook. Why bother if nobody’s telling the truth? A pox on all your houses.

If we’re lied to by our elected officials, it’s because we let them lie to us. We encourage them to lie so that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting of governing. We’re lying to ourselves if we think otherwise.

honest as the day is longingly submitted by Cityslikr


On The Road To Metropolis

June 14, 2011

Mission Accomplished.

In less than two generations, conservative “thinkers” and politicians have succeeded in their undertaking of denigrating and vilifying the notion of government as a force for good. It can’t help, only hinder. The best form of governance is less governance. As St. Ronnie intoned (and everybody say it along with me), government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.

So it is that we have arrived at a spot in history where the eminence grise of Canadian conservative thought, Preston Manning (which should say a lot about the sad sack state of conservative thought), is able to boast that Canadians are not looking to governments for grand visions or designs for society. “Managerial Conservatism” is now the buzzword we should all rally around. Competence replacing edifying or lofty in the expectations we now look for in our elected representatives.It’s all about lowering the bar which makes it more palatable when the likes of George W. Bush, Stephen Harper and Rob Ford assume the mantle of office. Governments can’t do anything positive for us, so why elect anyone who claims they can? It’s a virus that has fully infected non-conservative parties and politicians as well. Dumb down their rhetoric. Eliminate any thoughts of grand visions or designs they might have. We don’t want leaders. We want managers. Bad managers are even preferred to those wanting to impose their dreamy dreams upon us.

With the advent of managers business think invariably displaces political discourse. It’s all about finding efficiencies, value for dollars, bangs for you bucks. We become taxpayers rather than citizens. Customers, clients and stakeholders. In fact, it’s much worse. We’re little more than widgets to the minds of manager/politicians. (Oh, where has our veneration for warrior-poets gone?)

Witness the insidious creep of some icky, sci-fi/Scientology sounding Lean Six Sigma into our public sphere. Down in the States, it’s claiming the brains of various GOP presidential candidates. Lean Six Sigma is already in practice even closer to home in Erie County, New York where County Executive Chris Collins has credited the system with aiding him in slashing jobs. Our very own budget chief, Michael Del Grande, also seems to be brushing up on his knowledge base as he expensed two books on the subject earlier this year.

While I don’t expect our modern political leaders to be well versed in their Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Tocqueville, it distresses me that they might be filling their hearts and minds with such soulless ideas as these:

  • Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
  • Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction or profit increase).
  • The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, specifically terms associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes.
  • In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.
  • Like its predecessors, Six Sigma doctrine asserts that:
  • Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results (i.e., reduce process variation) are of vital importance to business success.

It’s all about things and processes not people. Perfectly acceptable if you’re talking about manufacturing products but how does it align with governing society? It feels like we’re on the road to Metropolis. All of us replaceable parts, judged and viewed not by our merits or character but by our lack of defects. If our elected leaders are endeavouring to be nothing more than our managers, doesn’t that make us simply staff or the hired help?

If a country or a city no longer aspires to grand visions or designs, what’s there left to do? The answer that immediately springs to my mind is: lead lives of quiet desperation. That may be what managers want from their employees but it hardly seems like something leaders should have us aspire to. And that certainly shouldn’t be the quality we’re looking for in our leaders.

desperately submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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