Mr. Fantino Goes To Ottawa

November 30, 2010

On the plus side, Toronto, at least we won’t have to worry about incoming mayor Rob Ford bringing back Julian Fantino as police chief.

Besides, by-elections are meaningless, right? We shouldn’t use them to take an accurate political pulse of the nation especially with less than 1 in 3 eligible voters bothering to cast a ballot. Let’s just view this as an entertaining, engaging and diversionary blip on the radar until the real deal comes around.

Otherwise, Julian Fantino’s election victory as Conservative M.P. for the federal riding of Vaughan is grim, grim electoral news. Like we need anymore of that in these parts right now.

Because if we were to read too much into it, it would suggest that the scaly, life-draining tentacles of the Stephen Harper led Conservative government are slowly gaining traction in areas of this country that’ve been, up to now, unyielding to their oily clutches. By running a successful peek-a-boo campaign that has largely kept their candidate from a wider public view shielding both him and the party itself from any significant scrutiny, they’ve set the stage for a policy-free, personality first general election. Issues? What issues? “Give me an issue, I’ll give you a tissue, you can wipe my ass with it.”  (h/t Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners.)

How could the voters of Vaughan, or at least the 16% or so of them that voted for Julian Fantino… and boy, if that number doesn’t send shivers down your spine, 16% of voters sending an M.P. to Ottawa, even in a by-election, then the notion of democracy is truly dead to you… not have been offended by the treatment they received during in this campaign? Fantino sat out almost every candidates’ debate. His campaign videos were shockingly hackneyed, devoid of substance and lifelessly delivered as if the man had never been in front of a camera before. He was a “star” candidate who seemed almost put out that he actually had to publicly campaign for the position. Shouldn’t I just be appointed? That’s how things are usually done in the circles I run.

The fact that someone like Julian Fantino could actually be considered a “star” candidate is the other bitter morning after pill to swallow. Being a “star” should involve something other than name recognition. Possessing political views and opinions that rise above bumper sticker sloganeering is too much to ask? ‘Law And Order’ and ‘Tough On Crime’ make great TV series titles but spouted mindlessly by a “star” candidate suggests a thin veneer painted over a warm body that masks a total lack of understanding about what’s going on out there in the wider world. But, I guess, in this day and reality age that may be expecting a bit much from our politicians and says more about my complete and utter incomprehension of how the world actually works.

A quick look at Fantino’s resumé shows a man who has gracelessly bulldozed his way up the food chain and into being a “star” political candidate. For almost 20 years now, the man has been dogged by controversy as he trampled over civil rights and fuzzy lines of legality at almost every post he served throughout his career. There was the illegal wiretapping of Susan Eng, then chair of the TPSB in 1991. As police chief in London in the mid-90s, he arrested and charged a couple dozen gay men as part of a child pornography ring that turned out to be non-existent. His tenure as Toronto’s chief of police was pockmarked by more ill-advised confrontations with the gay community and corruption scandals within the force itself that Fantino was accused of not rooting out vigorously enough. Then, as OPP commissioner there came further accusations of unauthorized wiretapping, more dubious child pornography rings busted, along with a charge of ‘attempting to influence an elected official’ thrown in that was subsequently dismissed by the Crown due to the always reassuring ‘no reasonable prospect of conviction’ grounds. His involvement in this past summer’s G20 fiasco, both on the ground and the money spent has yet to be fully disclosed but early signs suggest another less than stellar performance review.

All it takes, it seems, to be a “star” candidate is a high profile regardless of how that came to be. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” Brendan Behan said, “except your own obituary.”

Essentially Julian Fantino is an admirable, “star” candidate only to those who pine for the days of hard-nosed cops in B-movies (take a bow, Don Cherry), many of whom apparently occupy senior positions in our political establishment. Rumour has it, Fantino was hotly pursued by both federal and provincial Liberals before he anointed the Conservatives in Ottawa as his party of choice, revealing the paucity of ideas and absence of democratic ideals in our two leading parties. What was promised him in exchange for his fidelity – Fantino does know that’s there’s no King position in a parliamentary system, I hope — time will tell but in the cold, dark morning reality, just a few hours after his win, I do feel a certain bit of relief mixed in with the disbelief, bewilderment and dollop of despair. At least, off in Ottawa and as an M.P. in the 905 region, he will be that much more removed from us here, ever so slightly out of our hair, buried deep in the smothering anonymity of the Conservative caucus, never to be heard from again. (Fingers crossed!) I mean, the man couldn’t possibly bluster and blunder his way into any further, more influential positions of power, could he?

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


More Michael Moore

November 29, 2010

I don’t make a point of watching Michael Moore’s films. It’s not any problem with him as a filmmaker. It’s his politics.

I tend to agree with him.

He doesn’t challenge my views and opinions. He merely reconfirms them. I am part of the choir he’s preaching to. So, why bother?

But then comes a lazy Sunday afternoon when I probably should be working and there I am, in front of the TV, watching my Toronto Raptors get crushed. I can’t stands it anymore and begin flipping. Just in time for the start of Capitalism: A Love Story. No, no. I really shouldn’t. Really. It’s just going to get me all worked up, mad, angry which, I already am after the Raptors’ drubbing. Suddenly, Iggy Pop starts singing ‘Louie, Louie’ and it’s over. How can I resist? I mean, I’m only human after all. A weak, easily swayed, quick to excite human being.

Sparing you a movie review, let me just say that we need more polemicists like Michael Moore. And by ‘we’, I mean those of us on the left side of the political spectrum.Unswerving, uncompromising, irate, unreasonable, intemperate, pissed-off motherfuckers fed up with having ceded the apparent middle ground to the likes of crackpots from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., talk radio, our very own Toronto Sun, corporate backed think tanks and university economics’ departments, etcetera, etcetera, etc.

Our political and economic discourse has been infected by an ideological mindset impervious to rationality or quantifiable truth. No amount of reaching out and trying to find common ground will succeed. The very act of attempting to have a reasonable debate only gives credence, lends a cloak of legitimacy to what is nothing more than superstitious, mythical lore and cant. It is no longer helpful to engage or participate in such corrupted civics.

People, a lot of people, are angry. They have every right to be. Watching Moore’s film and its agitprop addendum, Inside Job, it is painfully obvious that our economic system is rigged and has slowly over the course of the last 30 years or so poisoned our political system with it. Class war? Hell yeah. And it’s becoming more uneven with every concession we allow to happen in the name of “market realities” or “austerity measures”. We should be angry. It’s just that our anger’s misdirected.

Why?

Because the other side, the evil side, those representing corporate interests over those of the country or taxpayers and customers over citizens, are louder, richer, better organized and more unbending. They’ve seized the megaphone and shaped the dialogue. They don’t seek compromise. They demand acquiescence. When you possess the power, you don’t negotiate. You dictate.

That’s why we need more Michael Moores and his ilk. As direct and aggressive challenges to the status quo and what is embraced as conventional wisdom. While peaceable and fair-minded give-and-take would always be preferable, it’s been some time since any of that has actually happened. The post-war social contract that was drawn up to highlight the rights and responsibilities accorded to citizens and corporations alike has been shredded into pieces, bit by bit, over the past 3 decades. In my humble opinion, we’ve all helped with that by trying to place nice and get along. It’s time that we started to kick up a fuss. Just like Mike.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Librarians Unite!

November 26, 2010

Shhhh!!

No talking and listen to what the folks at the Toronto Public Library Board are saying.

“The Toronto Public Library Board adopted a 2010 budget request this week that seeks a 3.3-per-cent or $5.51-million increase over last year…”

Clearly no one from the TPL has taken their nose out of their book and realized it’s November 2010 not 2003-2009. There’s a new sheriff in town, poindexters. Budgetary increases?! Are you kidding me?

Austerity’s the new black, people. 47% of Toronto voters have spoken, so there will be no compromising, no consensus building, no back talk. And absolutely no increases to budgets whatsoever. Unless it’s for the TPS, of course.

So go back to the drawing board and don’t return until you’re ready to talk cuts. To the budget, that is, not services. There can’t be any cuts to services because a guarantee was made. Just decreases to the budget. How?! I don’t know. We’re idea guys. You’re the ones with all the books and learning materials. You figure it out.

So while everyone else waits, slightly fearful, watching from the sidelines as the Ford storm front masses and creeps in ever closer from the horizon, the plucky folks at the TPL have stepped up and basically said, Oh yeah? Well, fuck you. The Globe’s Kelly Grant suggests that it isn’t an “aggressive” budget ask but I believe its symbolic statement is substantial.

With the public announcements of committee chairs made this week, it’s obvious that mayor-elect Ford isn’t prepared to make nice with anyone who doesn’t share his blinkered view on the role of government. His executive committee is stacked to the rafters with right wingers and as Grant wrote earlier this week in another piece the agenda for his first ‘working’ council meeting as mayor on December 16th will be packed with proposed tax cuts (let’s start calling them ‘government revenue cuts’) and cuts to councillors’ office budgets. A juicy shock and awe display of neo-conservative belief that’ll have the likes of the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy drooling in imbecilic delight.

Which is why watching the TPL getting out in front of it is so edifying. Simply because Rob Ford thinks he has a massive mandate or (weirdly, according to Grant) “moral authority” doesn’t mean those in opposition have to bow down meekly before it. The proposed TPL 3.3% budget increase appears to be quite modest, made up of only “inflation and contractual salary and benefit increases” with no new hiring or spending but no cuts in services either. That’s the key.

Rob Ford pledged – no, guaranteed – he’d tame the perceived out-of-control spending without cutting any services. The board of the Toronto Public Library has stepped forward and lobbed out the first pitch. We all should take careful note how the incoming administration swings away. It’ll be instructive and reveal the plans they have for running the city.

The stuff you can learn from your local public libraries, eh?

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


Signing Off On Mayor David Miller

November 25, 2010

David Miller’s legacy? Rob Ford.

So conventional wisdom has it as our out going mayor gives way to our incoming one, again glaringly revealing our backward belief in the fallacy of correlation proving causation. (Simply because one thing follows another does not mean the first caused the second, people. How many times do I have to tell you that?)

Listening to Mayor Miller’s interview this morning with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, I couldn’t help thinking that those waiting for His Worship to aurally prostrate himself before them and humbly admit defeat and beg their forgiveness for a job poorly done were going to be sorely pissed off. He did nothing of the sort. And good on him, frankly. Because if you are seriously going to look back over the past 7 years and conclude that this city is in worse shape than when Miller first took the mayor’s office than you are suffering from one of a host of ailments and quite possibly a combination of a few of them. Amnesia. Mental myopia. Congenital stupidity. Blinkered ideology. Factual debasement.

And your pants may even be on fire because you are a big fat liar.

Is that to say that everything the mayor touched turned to gold? Let’s not run aground on the shoals of false dichotomy here. To expect anyone, let alone our elected officials, to perform perfectly is unreasonable and the surest cause of disappointment.

The way Miller lead the charge in sweeping police actions at the G20 meeting in June under the rug was, for me, the low point in his mayoralty. No one truly concerned with civil rights could’ve urged the city to “…put what happened over the weekend behind us…” regardless of how politically expedient. In comparing police behaviour at similar gatherings around the world “…the only conclusion you can come to is that we have a police service that respects peoples’ rights, that acts with incredible professionalism…” Miller said at a post-summit press conference. That obviously wasn’t true when the mayor said it and it’s painfully obvious 5 months later.

Yet it does not make me regret twice voting for him and certainly would not have stopped me from doing it again had he sought another term. Others were not so forgiving. For those writing the history of Mayor David Miller will invariably point to the Toronto Civic Employees Union strike in the summer of 2009 as his undoing, his Waterloo. As the garbage piles grew, his support dropped and when he didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, well, the only conclusion you could come to was that he caved and handed over the keys to the vault to them.

Complete and utter nonsense, of course. Pure bullshit in fact. But no matter. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” as Mark Twain suggested. The unions won. Miller lost. He had to go.

Never mind that in engaging with the union so aggressively, Miller went where no municipal politician dared to go before. Certainly not our previous mayor, Mel Lastman, who never made a peep about such contentious matters as banking sick days when he faced a strike by the same union in 2002. He still couldn’t come to any sort of agreement, needing provincial intervention to end that strike which, arguably, gave much more to the union than Miller did.

This is what should be the hallmark of David Miller’s time as mayor of Toronto. His resolve to wade in and deal with messy matters of governance that had to be faced for this city to progress.

Transit City. Bringing workable public transit to parts of the city that are dying on the vine without it. The mayor rightfully points out that it’s the biggest transit development the city’s had in 3 decades. Why? Forging agreement and the financial resources necessary is not very easy at the municipal level, let alone bringing the other two levels of government into the mix. So previous administrations ignored it or took half-measures to appear as if they were doing something.

Urban renewal. Especially in his 2nd term, Miller took to heart the social/economic divide within the city and endeavoured to initiate steps to address it. Thus the redevelopment of Regent Park and the proposal to do likewise with Lawrence Heights. The Tower Renewal Program to revitalize Toronto’s aging high rises. Targeting 13 priority neighbourhoods – most inherited from the pre-amalgamated inner suburbs that had created them – in order to address issues of poverty, crime and isolation.

Of course, the irony is that these same neighbourhoods and communities Miller had attempted to reach out to soundly rejected his initiatives and voted heavily for the anti-Miller, Rob Ford. As has been written at great length both here and elsewhere, there was a failure to fully sell these accomplishments to those areas most benefiting from them. Actually, it was probably more a failure to beat back all the misinformation about them.

It also suggests that politicians of David Miller’s caliber aren’t a dime a dozen. Without him on the campaign trail, trumpeting his agenda, it withered under the assault from those seeking to undermine it for their own political gains. We somehow expected another David Miller to step from the shadows, displaying similar skills and smarts. Now we should realize he may be the exception not the rule.

The simple fact of the matter is, David Miller didn’t elect Rob Ford. We did. He has nothing to apologize for. He presented us a vision of the kind of city he wanted Toronto to be and, after 7 years, we bailed in a shocking failure of nerve. We chose easy sentiment over hard work, pithy phrases over complicated solutions. David Miller is not responsible for the next 4 years. We are.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Crisis? What Crisis? Check Out Our 3rd Quarter Earnings

November 24, 2010

I venture outside my comfort zone on this. Beyond the realm of municipal politics and into the wider world. I do so with trepidation, unsure of my footing but feeling absolutely compelled to give it a whirl.

The global financial crisis. Specifically, the slow unfolding of the car crash that is the Irish economy. From pauper to prince back to pauper once more and again under the harsh lash of foreign occupiers. Having drunk the koolaid of neoliberal promise, they are now forced to swallow its bitter pill of logical conclusion. A familiar story played out all over the globe for over 30 years now but one we simply refuse to learn a lesson from.

Now, I’m no economist (and I’ve never played one on TV) but it just seems to me that the mounting real life, on the ground evidence all points in the direction of telling us that this shit simply doesn’t work. What shit is that exactly? Low tax, low inflation, low regulatory, free trade, free market laissez-faire, Friedman-omics that has hijacked our government and public discourse to such a degree that we treat it as gospel. Inerrant teachings so secure in their factual basis that to question or doubt is nothing short of an admission of heresy or mental imbalance.

Exactly how many crises do we need to experience, how many severe economic meltdowns and downturns must we face before we finally stop and say: you know what, something’s not quite right here? How many bubbles need to burst – tulip, real estate, internet – for us to start questioning fundamentals we’ve been told are irrefutable? Or have we traveled so far beyond the point of return where, after a generation or so of indoctrination about “market realities”, we are incapable of challenging a system that is so clearly rigged, corrupt and in need of desperate repair?

We get indignant when protests at G20 meetings turn violent. When students in England, betrayed and lied to by their government over tuition fees, go on a rampage and tear up Tory HQs. When France goes out on another strike, we sit back, shaking our heads, tsk, tsk, tsking. Oh, those French. What the hell do they have to complain about? Yet when something like this (h/t @stealthbadger) crosses our desk, well, it’s all yawns and whaddagonnados. The money boys gotta play. (Hint on content to those not following the link: all about Wall Street excesses like $400 000 summer rentals in the Hamptons.)

Yesterday as news of the Irish IMF bailouts spread it was also reported that American 3rd quarter profits hit a record high. Are those two items connected? I think we’d be naïve to think they weren’t. This is a global crisis after all. At least, at a symbolic level we should recognize how these two stories fit seamlessly together. Another spectacular flame out in the private sector leads inexorably to a monumental flow of public money to save its ass. Again. An orgy of financial recklessness in which a precious few of us benefited back stopped by a drain on public coffers from which many more of us will suffer. Every few years, like clockwork, almost as if it were planned or something. If not planned, at least bad behaviour condoned and ultimately rewarded.

It’s not that we’re helpless bystanders in all this. As voters we oscillate between electing governments that encourage this economic system and governments that enthusiastically encourage this economic system. We soak up the exuberant atmosphere when things are going swimmingly and lash out when they head south which they do invariably and inevitably. We get angry but we get angry at the wrong people. We demand action but never action that might actually help us fix the problem. It’s happened too often to simply be chalked up to ignorance. Willful ignorance hardly qualifies as an excuse. Maybe we just love all the drama.

I weigh in on all of this because as we gird ourselves in preparation for the incoming Ford administration, we’re going to be hearing a lot about austerity. We already did during the campaign. It’s all going to sound strangely familiar. There’s no money. We need to cut taxes and spending. Belt tightening. New fiscal models. None of it will be new and none of it will ultimately do a whit to turn around whatever dire condition has been pronounced upon us. Let’s call it Situation: Gravy Train.

No, what it will be is nothing more than a settling of scores. A governmental ‘correction’. A righting (ha, ha) of 7 years of wrong and a return to the proper order of things. Re-directing the flow of money as it was meant to be. From public to private hands as God and St. Milton intended.

ecumenically submitted by Cityslikr