A Rethink

August 30, 2012

Let me rephrase that…

A couple days ago, I wrote a post saying, law be damned, I didn’t want to see the mayor thrown out of office due to this conflict of interest claim. It would martyr him and prove to all his supporters what they’ve believed all along. Nefarious forces – left wingers, union types, downtown elitists – were out to get Mayor Ford. They never accepted the results of the 2010 election and were bound and determined to overturn them at the earliest possible opportunity.

It’s not paranoia if it’s true.

Now, I received a little pushback from many folks I normally agree with at a political level. The law is the law. If a judge in a courtroom decided the mayor broke that law, well, the mayor was just going to have to face the consequences. Just like anybody else might expect to if they found themselves in a similar position.

I don’t disagree with that but as I responded to someone, it’s the political fallout I’m concerned with. An already politicized electorate might simply retreat to their respective corners, any sort of compromise now out of the question, and begin training, sharpening the knives in preparation of 2014. An already ugly partisan environment would get a whole lot uglier.

Can’t we all just try and get along?

But I’ll tell you what. I don’t think those still in Mayor Ford’s corner want to get along. I think most of them are digging what’s happening right now. It feeds in mightily to their persecution complex and, truthfully, that’s all that’s really keeping them politically engaged, isn’t it? The drive to stick it to anyone they think has stuck it to them in the past. Left wingers, union types, downtown elitists. The usual suspects.

Let’s not lose sight of the facts of this matter.

This isn’t about where the donated money went. It isn’t about the mayor, then a city councillor, using his official capacity to raise funds for private purposes. That matter was settled a couple years ago.

It didn’t pass the city’s Integrity Commissioner’s smell test who ordered the mayor to pay back the money out of his own pocket, all $3150 of it. Council voted on it. A done deal.

Once in power and carrying a little more sway at council, Mayor Ford managed to bring the item back for reconsideration. One of his most ardent defenders, Councillor Paul Ainslie, brought forward the motion to overturn the previous council’s decision and therefore saving the mayor $3150. Ethically, a little sketchy but hey, to the victors go the spoils.

That Mayor Ford opted to stay in council chambers and participate in the debate on the item and even vote on it is what’s at the heart of this matter. Nothing else. That the outcome would determine whether or not he’d have to pay $3150 out of his own pocket is the very fucking definition of a pecuniary interest. Not recusing himself is the very fucking definition of a conflict of interest.

Even his most slavish scribbler over at the Toronto Sun, Sue-Ann Levy, admits as much. “He [Mayor Ford] should have declared a conflict when the donations were discussed at the Feb. 7 council meeting and not voted on whether to approve Ms. Manners’ [Integrity Commissioner and Birkenstock wearer Janet Leiper] report,” she writes in her article a couple days ago. Thank you, Sue-Ann.

But instead of making that the first sentence and exploring what seems to be Mayor Ford’s deep mistrust of good and sound judgement, she buries it deep within the usual drivel. A plot, aided by a publicity seeking lawyer and cheered on by left wingers, union types, downtown elitists and, what’s a new one to me, the “AHTS” crowd. The “AHTS” crowd? Yeah, apparently you use your best Boston/Cambridge/hoity-toity accent.

What’s especially galling to Ms. Levy, however, is that the mayor’s being singled out when everybody else on council is up to their eyeballs in conflict of interest as well. Take her word for it as there’s not much more to her allegations. Remember Councillor Pam McConnell buying that condo in the new Regent’s Park development at market rate? Yeah well, Sue-Ann assures us there’s a lot more of that going on. So why just pick on the mayor?

What kind of defence is that? Even if there was a shred of evidence to back up any of her assertions (or those made by other supporters), that’s the take away lesson? I may’ve goofed up but so did everybody else. Oh. OK. That’s alright then.

Got that, kids?

So to summarize (and quoting Sue-Ann Levy): “Mayor Ford should have declared a conflict.” But demanding he accept the consequences of his actions as determined in a court of law, well, that’s just a witch hunt and nothing more than cheap politics. “It’s sickening how people want to politicize the process,” Councillor Doug Ford said.

You know, the law’s the law, politics is politics and all that. Apparently, the two should never overlap.

That’s not owning up to a mistake. It’s an attempt to shift the blame. The real witch hunt in this little drama.

And it’s making it difficult to simply shrug your shoulders and say, oh well, just 2 more years.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


Now We’re All Friedmaniacs

August 29, 2012

Maybe somebody can help me out with the math here. I’m trying to crunch numbers in order to understand what’s going on and something’s just not adding up.

The government of Ontario wants to freeze teachers’ wages for a couple of years (and prohibit them from striking during that time as well – but that’s another story). This is being done, we’re told, as part of an austerity drive in order to reduce the provincial deficit/debt which, we’re told, is nothing short of crushing. The accompanying strike ban is just for kicks, really. Something to do with a couple upcoming by-elections. But that’s another story.

Here’s what I don’t get.

We freeze teachers’ wages, therefore reducing the amount of money the government has to dole out. This reduces costs and reduces our deficit/debt. That’s pretty straight forward.

But by freezing wages doesn’t that flat line or, in real dollars, reduce the amount of taxes being collected by this same government? So while cutting costs, this move also reduces revenue. Surely there must be a study somewhere, with facts and figures that show overall this will ultimately amount in more cash for the government not less because if it’s less, well then, this manoeuvre could be seen as somewhat counter-productive to the claimed goal of reducing our deficit/debt.

Certainly, if we’re frolicking in the murky waters of economic theory, freezing wages will also dampen consumer spending especially in these our tough economic times. Less money in our jeans, as members of the former provincial Tory government would like to say, means less spending and less spending means less tax revenue in government coffers and less money in the coffers makes reducing our deficit/debt that much more difficulty.

Again, Premier McGuinty and his brain trust has factored all this in, obviously, tabulated costs versus spending, money going out and money coming in, and rationally decided that this makes good fiscal sense, yeah? It’s my math that’s bad not theirs, I’m hoping. This will all be short term pain for long term gain. That’s what’s happening here, isn’t it?

And it’s not just some fucking knee-jerk reaction to mollify right leaning voters in a couple ridings in order to, not prop up his government from defeat, but to secure another majority. A politician’s timeline shrunk from building a future for our grandchildren to nothing more than a five week campaign run. For what?

I keep hearing from our elected officials about this time in the future when we have wrestled our deficits and debt to the ground, when governments will spend again, judiciously of course. Where our taxes will remain low and our quality of life high. A time when our wealth/job creators will return to the table and deliver prosperity for all.

This is the theory. All our textbooks say it should work. It’s just that the numbers, the numbers don’t really back any of it up.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s Not Lying If You Believe It

August 28, 2012

What do you call it when you’re not lying exactly? Massaging the truth? Tickling its tummy in order for it to contort into a more agreeable shape? Dissembling?

A few years back, in 2005 to be precise, Princeton University’s philosophy professor emeritus, Harry Frankfurt wrote a quick read book on the subject called On Bullshit. In it, he attempted to draw a distinction between lying and bullshitting. While I won’t attempt a full score breakdown of his argument, it went essentially along the following lines.

To lie is to acknowledge that there is an objective, demonstrable truth to be told. A liar just chooses not to tell it, in order to deceive others, usually for some sort of personal benefit or to avoid accepting responsibility for something or as some sort of means to an end. You can’t handle the truth!

The bullshitter, on the other hand, does not even accept the possibility that a clear-eyed, verifiable truth exists. Frankfurt writes: The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “antirealist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.  Further: It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are – that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.

So the next time somebody informs you that the media has a liberal bias, make sure not to call them a liar. They’re just bullshitting. They can’t help themselves.

Former Mayor Ford media handler and now full-fledged Sun-ista, Adrienne Batra was hard at it yesterday, pushing that bullshit rock up the hill. Actually, I lied—I mean, I was bullshitting. What Ms. Batra said was, “There is a media bias against conservative politicians.”

Never mind for the moment that she’s writing such sentiments in a major daily newspaper in the biggest city in Canada. Her more pro-conservative politician views mean, by a feat of monumental dissociative thinking, that she isn’t part of the media. Why? Well, the media has a bias against conservative politicians. Since she isn’t biased against conservative politicians, she can’t be part of the media. Done, and done.

Look at the newspaper landscape in Toronto. Granted, it’s a small sample size and from it I wouldn’t make a broad generalization that newspapers in this town have a conservative bias but it’s difficult to draw the opposite conclusion. The Toronto Star. The Globe and Mail. The National Post. The Toronto Sun. (Batra gives herself an easy out on that mark, saying in her article that this bias is more present in the U.S. than it is in Canada).

Even the recent example she uses of this bias in the States defies logic and much critical examination.

You see, Ms. Batra cites the media frenzy over Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s statement about ‘legitimate rape’. What’s all the fuss about, she wonders? Sure, his views on such matters could be kindly referred to as antediluvian but it’s not like he’s running for the U.S. Senate or anything. I’m sorry, what? He is. OK. But it’s not like the Republican party agrees with what are obviously his fringe views. I’m sorry, what? “[Todd} Akin co-sponsored every abortion bill supported by Ryan in the almost 12 years the two Republicans have served together in Washington.” And by Ryan, you mean the GOP Vice-Presidential nominee and possible one heartbeat away from being President, Rep. Paul Ryan?

Yep. Nothing to see here.

To Ms. Batra’s mind, if the media wasn’t so busy being anti-conservative it would’ve instead been covering a Minnesota Democratic politician who was pinpointed engaging in a little bit of toilet trade with a consenting adult. “Pretty outrageous,” Batra opines, “yet hardly a peep of anger – from anyone.” And by ‘anyone’, she means the anti-conservative media.

Democratic/liberal politicians are always getting away with these kind of sex scandals because the media’s in the bag for them. Bill Clinton. Eliot Spitzer. Anthony Weiner.

Impeached. Resigned from office. Resigned from office.

Imagine if a conservative politician were ever caught in flagrante delicto like that. Some poor family values type whose name pops up in the unofficial registry of a known house of prostitution. They’d be crucified.

Ladies and gentlemen, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. Still in office, 5 years after the D.C. Madam scandal. Your anti-conservative media at work.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you point these kinds of inconsistencies out to the likes of Adrienne Batra. For her, the media – the media that isn’t her — has a liberal bias. That’s an unassailable statement. Evidence and facts aren’t applicable. It should just go without saying.

Unless, of course, it needs to be said which brings me to the question of why she thought to pen this particular article at this particular time.

A little damage control from her perch at the Sun for the Republican cause, certainly. Writing off legitimate criticism and concern about the next possible Vice-President of the United States as nothing more than media bias against conservative politicians. Check. And also, a certain local conservative politician looks like he might be in for a bit of rough weather next week, answering in court allegations of conflict of interest. Legitimate? Nah. It’s nothing more than media bias against another conservative politician. Hardly worth paying any attention to.

It’s not lying if you actually believe it. No. It’s just being up to your eyeballs in bullshit.

bullshit detectorly submitted by Cityslikr


Just Trying To Be A Good Guy

August 27, 2012

Imma get this out, right up front.

I have no desire to see Mayor Rob Ford chased from office due to a conflict of interest charge.

No. I want to see him chased from office, tail between his legs, soundly defeated at the ballot box. Even if we have to put up with his shenanigans until the fall of 2014.

Why?

Because if a judge removes him from office, it will play mightily into the already deep, deep well of victimhood that many members of Ford Nation drink from. It will be seen as an illegitimate power grab by those, Ford Nation will tell it, who never got over the fact he won the mayoralty in 2010. A cheat, they’ll say. Bad behaviour by a bunch of sore losers. Once more, the downtown elite will have stuck it to the suburbs. Again. Like we always do.

I also don’t think Mayor Ford is dirty or corrupt This doesn’t appear to be an alleged conflict of interest case that benefited the mayor much. In the scheme of things, $3150.00 is “trifling”. Hardly an amount to jeopardize an entire political career over. I mean, the family gives each other monster trucks as birthday gifts for god’s sake. He’s really going to throw it all way for three grand?

This really does appear to be a matter of principle for Mayor Ford. Integrity commissioner be damned! He genuinely seems surprised that anyone thinks he should have to pay any money back. His intentions were noble. Raising money for kids/schools needing a helping hand to put a football team out on the field. What’s a matter, folks? You got hearts of stone?

What this does say about the mayor, however, is one of two things as far as I can tell.

One, he has no concept of what a conflict of interest really and truly is. Since he didn’t benefit personally from the fundraising, using his official councillor letterhead and hitting up some official lobbyists in the mix, where’s the conflict? The interest in question is not the mayor’s. It’s the kids. So there can’t be any conflict to speak of.

So, what’s the beef here?

Or… Or… I guess it’s possible that Mayor Ford believes the Integrity Commissioner has no say over how he conducts his business because, while he used his official stationery, it isn’t actually “official” since he pays for it himself. He shouldn’t be beholden to the same rules and regulations that other members of city council must abide by because they are suckling the public teat, sticking it to the taxpayers by dipping into the gravy train in order to stock up on pens and paper and other office supplies. You pay your way, you play your way. It only seems right.

I guess.. ?

Either way, it’s hard to believe the mayor’s allowed it to get this far. I can’t fathom his thinking. His or any of those in his circle. That somehow no one just didn’t tell him to back off, suck it up and abide by the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling. He didn’t have to agree with it but he couldn’t just ignore it and hope everyone would forget about it.

And somehow there wasn’t big fat red flags crazily waving when it was suggested that they just move a motion and retroactively dismiss the ruling out of hand. Surely someone in the mayor’s office or on speaking terms with him knows the meaning of the appearance of propriety. It just doesn’t look good, Mr. Mayor. It smacks of self-interest.

But then, there’s no one that didn’t immediately jump to their feet when Mayor Ford got up to discuss why he thought he shouldn’t have to pay back the money during the debate on the motion. Advise him that, he probably shouldn’t even be in council chambers. He certainly shouldn’t be voting on the motion either. Councillors declare an interest and bow out of the proceedings for much more distant reasons of possible conflict than this. Did Mayor Ford never bother to find out what that was all about?

Of course, it is Mayor Ford we’re talking about here. He seems to take very little counsel from anyone once his mind is made up. Witness how he’s brushed aside suggestions from the police and his brother about getting himself a driver. Maybe there was just no talking him out of this course of action either.

So now, he could feasibly lose his job over a measly $3150.00. Even if he doesn’t, he’s subjected himself to participating in yet another sad public spectacle that has very little to do with the actual running of this city. He will diminish himself and of the office of the mayor just a little bit further.

I don’t want to see him turfed over this. But my oh my, part of me thinks he should go, just for being so willfully stubborn and obtuse.

confoundedly submitted by Cityslikr


Be Coloured Skeptical

August 24, 2012

Before we proceed too far down the 2013 budget deliberation path, I really think we need to set up some sort of Budget Comprehension School. Municipal Budgeting For Dummies 101. For anyone seeking to opine on matters related to the budget process they will have to learn a few basics and pass non-multiple choice examination. City councillors (including our budget chief) and staff (including our city manager), journalists, hoity-toity dilettantes who shall remain nameless.

Barely out of the gate this year, and we already seem to be simply throwing numbers, big numbers around. Yesterday the CBC reported that the opening “shortfall” for next year’s budget was $200 million. “It’s nearly $500 million less than the ‘opening pressure’ identified by the city manager at the start of the budget process in 2011 when city departments were asked to cut their budgets by 10 per cent.” Actually, last year’s “opening pressure” was reported to be some $774 million. So that would make the difference closer to nearly $600 million not 500. But, who’s counting?

Apparently, different people with very different types of calculators.

Last week, when Budget Chief Del Grande went to the Toronto Police Services Board to tell them it’d be all belt tightening for realz this time, and not just some pretend spending reduction, we read that, in fact, the opening pressure was going to be some $465 million. Still, substantially less than last year but not $500 or $600 million less. What gives?

How can we possibly have a reasonable discussion about this city’s financial situation, conduct an honest debate about budgeting when we can’t even agree on a starting point? I get that, especially this early on in the proceedings, it’s all about estimates. We’re still, what, 5 months away from the 2013 budget vote? Never mind about 8 months from the end of the 2012 fiscal year when the numbers really solidify. But can’t we at least settle on something resembling a concrete estimate?

The problem with this “opening pressure”, aside from actually understanding what it is – the total costs the city estimates it will have to pay out in the upcoming year? – comes from it being used as a political football. If councillors and senior city staff want to scare Torontonians into favouring cuts to services and programs or have sign off on a tax increase, the “opening pressure” is always big and seemingly on the verge of being unmanageable without a heroic effort to tame it. On the other hand, if their intent is to display their fiscal acumen, the given number is low. See how we’re managing your money, Toronto.

The number we use as the opening pressure should be fairly straightforward, within reasonable limits of variation since it’s based on educated guess work. I would argue that a $265 million difference within a 5 day span does not constitute a ‘reasonable limit of variation’. Somebody’s playing with numbers. Somebody’s not doing their homework.

And, of course, the opening pressure is only half the equation.

It’s all about projected costs. The full picture doesn’t come into focus until revenues are factored in. Crunching numbers solely on costs would be like tallying your mortgage, car, food, utilities, school tuition and all other personal expenses, panicking about the huge number staring up at you from the bottom of the column and deciding the sell your house to pay for all of it. But.. but.. what about your income? Surely, that’ll help offset at least some of those costs, yes?

An opening pressure is just that, a starting point. It should not be a number wielded above your head like an axe. Whether it’s $200, $465 or $774 million, this is not the amount of money we need to find in order to balance our books. And we always have to balance our books. It’s provincially mandated. So when you read or hear that the opening pressure is x millions of dollars and the implication that follows is that we have to make x millions of dollars in cuts (or raise taxes y percent to generate x millions of dollars) in order to reach a zero balance, step back, cross your arms on your chest and ask, And what about the revenues?

But forgive me. It seems I’m getting ahead of myself here. That’s lesson two. First, there’s still the matter of settling on our opening pressure. Without that, it’s all just hepped-up, partisan politicking.

numerically submitted by Cityslikr