An Off-Kilter Moral Centre

[We interrupt our regularly scheduled flow of municipal news, information and opinion to give way to our wayward colleague, Acaphlegmic – back from hinterlands unknown – and his thoughts on yesterday’s death of Senator George McGovern.]

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If you’re reading this there’s a very good chance that I am much older than you are. The news of George McGovern’s passing, in likelihood, had the same impact on you as being told a distant great-great something or other had died peacefully in their sleep. A compassionate shrug and I’m sorry for your loss. This does not make you a bad person. Only a young one.

But if you find yourself these days disturbed, dismayed, disappointment at the far right drift of our society, the cult of hyper-individualism, the deification of greed as sound economic policy, wars without end waged against vague concepts, you, my friends, are all children of George McGovern.

It can be argued that his landslide loss to Richard Nixon in the 1972 American presidential election was the official death of the 1960s (although I would mark the occasion 4 years earlier and the assassination of Robert Kennedy). Dirty hippism was soundly relegated to the fringe sidelines; pet projects and peeves of hapless Marxists, jobless malcontents, the socially and sexually deviant. The counterculture was out. Reactionism was all the rage.

We are all Nixonians now.

(And let’s not take comfort in the naïve notion that the likes of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan would be too liberal for the Republican Party these days. Both would’ve changed their skins to suit their political needs. They were as conservative as they needed to be and are the progenitor’s of our age’s radical right chic.)

By voting so overwhelmingly for Nixon in ’72, Americans signalled to politicians that appealing to our worst instincts, dividing rather than uniting, operating under craven cynicism and not any sort of honourable principles would be the surest way to winning elections. From that point forward, no decent candidate would get anywhere near the White House. Jimmy Carter was merely a blip on the screen, an electoral eeek! at the revealed hideousness of the Nixon administration, a collective statement that we may be bad but not that bad. Four years later, Americans shrugged and proceeded down the low road.

Now hold on a minute, I hear you saying. No decent candidate? What about Bill Clinton? What about Barack Obama?

Read the following passage from the New York Times OpEd on McGovern and imagine either of them taking such a stand in terms of the country’s foreign ‘entanglements’ in Afghanistan, Iraq.

Yet unlike most presidential candidates since 1972, Mr. McGovern had a moral streak that he refused to suppress regardless of the cost to his ambition. During a remarkable campaign speech at fundamentalist Wheaton College in Illinois, Mr. McGovern called upon his audience to grieve not only for American casualties in Vietnam but also for the Vietnamese lives lost from American military actions. Indifference to Vietnamese deaths troubled him, so he insisted that Americans confront their own responsibility for the consequences of war and “change those things in our character which turned us astray, away from the truth that the people of Vietnam are, like us, children of God.” Words like these led critics to castigate Mr. McGovern as a moralistic scold who was angry at his own country.

‘A moralistic scold’. An apologist. Forty years after that election and it is still considered fringe or radical to question the actions of your country and leaders. America, Love It Or Leave remains the norm.

And look not southward so condescendingly, Canada. Our governments can hardly be viewed as paradigms of good democracy at the moment. Don’t believe me? Even Mr. Andrew Coyne righteously and rightfully has his knickers in a twist.

Now, the strength of many 1960s causes has resisted crippling pushbacks. Women’s rights, gay rights, visible minority rights – equality and inclusion in a word or two – continue their inevitable march toward wholesale acceptance. Not unscathed or free of the relentless and mindless attacks from the right thinkers who remain doggedly in our midst. Still, it would be too overly pessimistic and entirely incorrect to conclude that George McGovern and politicians of his ilk ultimately died in vain.

But we are less of and a smaller society because the likes of George McGovern were pushed aside and thought of as being too out of touch with the mainstream, a far left extremism. By demonizing basic common decency and morality as fringe traits, nice to haves not need to haves, we normalized radical, anti-social political thought. Liberals began to quake in their boots at the prospect of being labelled as such. Tories took flight. True and destructive radicalism from the right assumed the pole position in the race that is now winner-take-all.

sadly submitted by Acaphlegmic

Austerity. What Is It Good For?

Austerity is in the air.

Can you smell it? It’s acrid, like burning hair, with a hint of pungency as if wafting upwards from Satan’s unwashed bum. Unpleasant. Vile. But an absolute necessity in these days of economic uncertainty.

Or so we are being told at the turn of every newspaper page, radio channel, and at every level of government. Prepare for the Big Cut. We’ve been living too high off the hog for too long, living way beyond our means. Poke another hole further along your belt and tighten up.

All a great heaping pile of steaming bullshit, of course, from the root causes right up to the tip of the stiffy we’re being screwed with.

[Don’t believe us? Put Alex Himelfarb, Trish Hennessy and Sol Chrom on your immediate reading list. – ed.]

What I don’t understand about this coming age of austerity is how it’ll help anyone other than those who’ve already benefitted most from the supposed bacchanalian descent into debt that we’ve all been participants in. How will everyone spending less turn things around and grow our economy? I get the whole government cuts reduce deficits pitch but that’s only a part of the whole equation. Those cuts result, usually, in lost jobs and, ultimately, further lost revenue to governments in the form of taxation. Lower revenue means more cuts. A vicious, downward cycle; the snake eating its own tail.

Austerity2Prosperity is another mythical kingdom bordering on the Republic of Debtfreetopia that baffled Urban Sophisticat here earlier this week. Sounding good on paper or up on a blackboard but how exactly does it work in real life? It would be nice if someone could point to an actual occurrence of this theory working in practice. And if you’re about to write ‘Canada in the mid-90s’, don’t bother. You’ve already pounded back the koolaid and are blindly singing along to the set playlist.

We here in Toronto are looking down the barrel of some serious labour disruption next month entirely because we have a mayor who wants to dismantle city workers’ unions in order to contract out city services to private companies that pay their workers less, provide fewer benefits. The goal, we are told, is to save the taxpayers’ money although the case for that in many circumstances is actually quite iffy. For every example of, say, contracted out waste collection, there’s a counter example of municipalities contracting waste collection back in house. It’s a wash.

Instead of busting up unions on the theory that private sector workers can do any job more efficiently for less money, prove it first. Being wrong about that will wind up costing us all much more in the end. Mistakes always do.

Even if a case can be made that contracting out government services does save the said government money with the savings passed along to taxpayers, what is the bigger societal cost that comes with workers making less money? For the sake of pocketing 25, 50 cents per weekly curb side collection, how does a community benefit having workers make half of what they were paid before? I’m catastrophizing, you say? That won’t happen. Fearmonger.

Exhibit A. Caterpillar Inc. A company tax incentivized up the wazoo and how do they pay the economy back? Demand to cut themselves some $30 million in labour costs, thank you very much. Take it or leave it, and by leave it, we mean, the province for a more pro-low wage jurisdiction.

“That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played,” claimed Metro Morning’s business commentator, Michael Hlinka. [Just a ‘yo’ away from claiming gangsta character status on The Wire. It’s all in the game, yo.— ed.] To Mr. Hlinka’s point of view, organized labour is a monopoly. And poor ol’, put upon free marketers like Caterpillar Inc. with only their 58% 4th quarter earnings increase and record revenues have no choice but to freely move their capital elsewhere if their workers insist on demanding their fair share of the wealth.

That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played. Which leaves us with this kind of headline on a regular basis: More Canadians in low-paying jobs.

I am old enough to remember and to have voted in the 1988 federal election. It was the Free Trade election, and those standing in opposition who said that it would be the start of a rush to the bottom were labelled knee-jerk, parochial, backward-looking nationalists. [If you say so, old man. – ed.] Free trade was the way of the future. Glorious wealth will be sprinkled on more people. Don’t fight the future. It is inevitable.

Yet here we are, nearly 25 years later and more Canadians in low-paying jobs. Income inequality has grown to a degree that has not been seen here since the 1920s. And now we’re being told to prepare for austerity.

Tell me again, how that’s going to make everything better.

lavishly submitted by Acaphlegmic

This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Revolution

This old revolutionary’s got to admit that he’s a little bewildered about the direction, nay, seeming directionlessness of Occupy Toronto. In fact, the whole North American Occupy movement seems at a bit of a standstill right now, surprised by the authorities’ orchestrated attacks on their outposts. What were they thinking would happen? A warm embrace and big sloppy wet kiss? Where’s the backup plan? The next step?

Admittedly, I come from the rock throwing, epithet hurling school of protest, so am unfamiliar with the new way of doing things. Back in my day, you seized onto a single issue, took to the street and let fly, fully expecting pushback, thuggery and inevitable retreat to lick your wounds and regroup. You won some, lost many but you made sure to let those in charge know that there were lines they could not cross without expecting some sort of fight.

Granted, that was some time ago.

Now it’s all about dialogue. A sort of passive aggressive stance. Taking up a position in a grey area of legality – should they be there? can they be there? – and wanting to discuss their list of grievances. That list, itself something of a murky document, more of a litany of causes than series of demands. The only commonality among them a simple yet maddeningly complicated overarching ultimatum: We want change. We want to change it all. We’ve tried doing things your way for a little while now and it hasn’t worked out for most of us. So if you don’t mind, how be we just press the restart button.

Perhaps it’s a bit unreasonable on our part to be expecting clarity and cohesiveness this early on in the process. How do engage a group that rejects your way of conducting business? It’s not all Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a five note sequence to understanding. That was, after all, just a movie. [Last couple sentences are mine. The author is almost movie illiterate. – ed.]

But one thing that has not changed, the reason there are still people protesting in the streets, is the intransigent nature of those in power and their fearfully atavistic reflex to lash out at anything they don’t agree with or understand. That is the one thing to be counted on, that reactionary overreaction. An irrational response to dissent. You can’t say that. You can’t stay there. Can’t, can’t, can’t. Cant, cant, cant.

Today in Toronto there is great sturm and drang over the occupancy of St. James park, a small parcel of green a stone’s throw from the heart of the city’s financial district. It is surrounded by a church, commercial interests and residences. Hardly innocuous, but neither is it particularly intrusive. Unsightly? Yes, probably. Nobody said a revolution had to be pretty. [Except maybe Revlon – ed.] Inconvenient? Very likely to those who use it as their main public space. How would you like it if #OccupyTO camped out on your front yard? Well, when they move their tents to the balconies of the nearby condo buildings, we can have that conversation.

My question is, where was all this high dudgeon when the indigent alone called the park home? The drug-addled, the ne’re-do-wells and other various down-on-their-luckers who now mix uneasily with the social justicers living in their midst. As long as they weren’t too bothersome or threatening, we accepted their presence in the public realm as just part of living in the city but when others show up, pitch a tent and point out such unpleasantries, that’s unacceptable and untenable.

To be sure, many of the same loud protestations emanating from the corridors of power raining down derision and warnings upon Occupy Toronto are occasionally burped out at any and all kinds of street living, both voluntary and not.  Always presented as a choice, taking up residence on a grate for warmth during the winter, they demand a clean sweep. Surely all these people have somewhere else to go. Why do they insist on diminishing our enjoyment of all the things the city has to offer those who can afford it?

But the anti-social urge passes. Everyone nods knowingly at the fact it’s become an intractable problem we’re unwilling to set our minds to solving. In the society we’ve set up, there will be winners (a few) and there will be losers (more than a few). Most people will scrap by largely out of sight and out of mind. Unfortunately, some will fall so far down through the cracks that they will land smack dab in our sightlines. Best to avert our eyes and carry on. All we can ask is not to have to step over too many of the bodies.

And yet, we’re surprised when those demanding change finally say, enough is enough, this is unacceptable. Things do not have to be this way. We’ve come to accept the intermittent signs of protest, marches, sit-ins, the odd violent clash with police. But when the tactics change and the presence of those who question our values and our clearly rigged system becomes less provisional and more permanent, all rag tag, discordant and amorphous, it’s all too much to bear. Go back to your street marching. Boycott something. Just stay out of our parks. That’s where we keep our less fortunates.

Our acceptance, embrace even, of such inequality and disparity of prosperity has led us to this place in time and history. That is the message. The constant, nagging presence of the occupy movement is simply the result and is only the beginning, by my reckoning. Like any virus threatening a host, the symptoms start small, an annoying itch here, a minor rash there. But this is a super bug, immune to the usual antibiotic treatment. The defences are not prepared for the oncoming onslaught.

prophetically submitted by Acaphlegmic

[Acaphlegmic is not a TV watcher and, unfortunately, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t at all internet savvy so we could only find you the Tumblr version of a bit comedian Louis CK did that summed up much more succinctly what our colleague’s trying to say here. – ed.]