The Wrecking Crew

January 11, 2011

My apologies for borrowing the title of this post from Thomas Frank’s book from a couple years ago, but I use it consciously as I think it bears repeating. Why? Because of the pathological danse macabre we insist on performing regularly with our neo-conservative partners and the corresponding amnesia that accompanies it which renders us oblivious to the resulting ugly outcome.

How’s the step go again, you ask forgetfully?

Decrying the state of affairs, politically, economically and/or socially, brought on by overweening and ineffectual (not to mention, elitist) liberal rule, conservatives roll into power on a magic carpet of faux-populism, complete with an easy to remember and entirely meaningless slogan or two. Once there, they proceed to trash the joint, politically, economically and/or socially before the citizens fully comprehend what’s happening and chase them from office. They then “retire” to the private sector (which in all likelihood they’ve helped to enrich) where they lick their wounds, change their outfits and, sooner or later, head back to the political ball for another twirl around the floor.

There was Reagan’s Morning in America where he enticed a weary populace to join him in a foxtrot. Twelve years later, victorious in the Cold War but already mired into increased conflict in the Middle East, the country was eye-deep in debt and much of the FDR New Deal/LBJ Great Society accomplishments, gutted and left for dead, and the political environment toxic. Enter centrist Democrat Bill Clinton who managed to wrestle the burgeoning deficit bomb into a more manageable shape (largely on the back of his most vulnerable base) while, if not fully restoring social programs directed at the most vulnerable of his base, got them back onto life support. A semblance of order restored, give way to George W. Bush, neocon sweetheart, and 8 years later, Iraq, Afghanistan, surpluses ballooned into huge deficits, tax cuts galore and everybody for themselves. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Up here, a very similar pattern. Early-90s, Conservative debts and deficits reign (although to some eyes, strangely, it’s all because of Pierre Trudeau despite 9 years of PC majority rule), the country faces a constitutional crisis. Liberals are elected in a landslide and over the course of the next decade+, they bring the fiscal unruliness to heel (largely on the back of their most vulnerable base) and establish a semblance of political and social order. Hello neocons and… you know where this is going, right? Unnecessary tax cuts, financial crisis hits, here we are again, back in the red and the public sector’s going to have to tighten its belt and prepared to make do with less. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Ditto in Ontario with a slight variation. Left of centre government hit with a nasty recession seeks to spread the pain around (some of it on the back of their base) and is summarily drummed from office, crushed under the pleasingly simply Common Sense Revolution. These fiscally prudent Conservatives (some key members who go on to lay waste to Ottawa) don’t really clean up the economic mess they claimed to have found. They just sort of move it around a little, cut taxes (natch) and eviscerate provincial and municipal infrastructure for good measure. As usual, they’re chased from office two terms later having inflicted maximum public damage. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Now comes Rob Ford to Toronto. A career politician who never saw a tax increase he couldn’t rail about or a government expenditure that didn’t taste like gravy, he bellowed for months on the campaign trail about waste and fiscal mismanagement at City Hall. (Sound familiar?) Citing big numbers with little context and oodles of anecdotal evidence of ‘corruption’, he got himself elected on a vow to Stop the Gravy Train and to usher in an era of Respect for Taxpayers. Meaning? Cutting and/or freezing taxes. ‘Trimming the fat’ and uncovering ‘inefficiencies’ in the system. No more nickel and diming taxpayers to death.

But an altogether predictable thing happened on his way to his first budget proposal. The supposed fiscal ineptitude of his predecessor left Mayor Ford with a shit load of money in which to fill the cavernous gaps left exposed by all the tax freezes and cuts riddling the budget document. So much money, in fact, that any major slashing and burning of services could wait a year. Only a year, mind you. There would be a serious reckoning. You’d be foolhardy to think otherwise.

We know how this story plays out, people. We’ve seen it enough. The ending’s never happy and expecting this time it’ll be different, well, you’ve just defined ‘crazy’. Neoconservative politicians are incapable of leaving a place looking better than when they found it. It’s not in their nature. In fact, they can’t help doing the exact opposite of good stewardship. They are terrible tenants. So let’s stop expecting them to be anything but.

It’s almost as if we’re trapped in some lurid abusive relationship with neo-conservatism. It constantly lies to us, takes our money and spends it on its rich girlfriends. Whenever we speak up and complain, it smacks us around some to keep us in our place and issues threats about how good we have it. You think you got it bad, huh? How’d you like to be living somewhere in Africa instead? Huh?

Even when we break free of its grip for awhile, we’re eventually lured back in with its sweet song of contrition and promises of better behaviour in the future. I’ve learned my lesson, baby. Trust me. I won’t ever hurt you again.

We really have to break free of such a self-defeating and sadistic cycle before the damage inflicted becomes irreparable.

once more with feelingly submitted by Cityslikr


With A Little Help From His (Media) Friends

December 10, 2010

From Chris Hedges’ Death of the Liberal Class:

Truth and news are not the same, as James W. Carey wrote. News is a signal that something is happening. It provides, in Carey’s words, “degenerate photographs or a pseudo-reality of stereotypes. News can approximate truth only when reality is reducible to a statistical table: sports scores, stock exchange reports, births, deaths, marriages, accidents, court decisions, elections, transactions such as foreign trade and balance of payments,”

“The divorce of truth from discourse and action – the instrumentalization of communication – has not merely increased the incidence of propaganda”…[It has also] “disrupted the very notion of truth, and therefore the sense by which we take our bearings in the world is destroyed.”

A minor case in point with Canoe Live’s coverage of yesterday’s executive committee meeting, and perhaps a window into how Sun Media’s going to deliver news programming to us when they get up and going on in the spring.

Ford and committee steamroll opposition

(You have to click the above link and then click again on the video feed to watch. My apologies. Couldn’t figure out how to just embed video. Yes, I am an idiot. Go ahead. Click away and watch. I’ll go and get another cup of tea and come back when you’re finished. No rush.)

OK. Done? Let’s go.

Straight off, five seconds in and the first face shown asking a tough question of the mayor is Councillor and Executive Committee member, Michael Thompson. See? The mayor’s executive committee are no patsies, viewers. No ‘yes’ men, they. They’re not going to simply roll over and do whatever the mayor wants. (Although, I believe, everything on the agenda passed unanimously.) The man is getting grilled! His EC is going to hold him accountable, don’t you worry. Toronto’s new mayor, Rob Ford, facing some strong opposition today during the first executive committee meeting held under his leadership.

Councillors were not giving him any breaks, though, [shot of Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday], hammering away at Ford to give specifics on promises he made throughout his campaign. Cut to the mayor giving the councillors specifics. I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your questions. Exactly! Although we didn’t hear the mayor give any specifics he made it perfectly clear that he answered the questions as clear as he could. So let’s just move on, shall we?

Oh, look. There’s Councillor Vaughan, stating he’s going to make sure the mayor keeps his campaign promises and fulfills his mandate. Blah, blah, blah.

Intro over, now discussion time between Canoe Live’s on air personality and Don Peat, Sun Media reporter, calling in live from City Hall.

Bingo Caller: So Don, this was a meeting [giggle, giggle] of the Executive Committee but unfortunately for Rob Ford, he also had to deal with some hecklers.

Boom! Just like that, Adam Vaughan is not a city councillor. He’s a heckler. While Peat points out to whatever her name is that, no, no, no. Adam Vaughan is a councillor, he has every right to attend executive committee meetings, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, it’s out there. In just one minute and twenty seconds, Sun Media elevates the mayor to the status of reasonable and accommodating politician (I’ve been as clear as I can be at answering your question) and de-legitimizes his critics as nothing more than lowly hecklers.

The rest of the segment is really just filler, to give the appearance of delivering news and information. The mayor seems willing to forgo over $30 million in savings to pander to voters’ hatred of the Vehicle Registration Tax but, hey, he’s offered to cut his office budget by $70 000! So that’s, you know, actually no savings at all. In fact, it’s quite a significant loss of revenue.

But.. but, Mr. Peat points out, it is a 20% cut to the mayor’s office budget. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Put together with the 40% cut that the executive committee is proposing for councillors’s budget and you got yourself some significant savings. Nowhere the amount to make up for the shortfall in eliminating the VRT in January instead of September, still.. you gotta start somewhere, right?

Bingo Caller: But wait a second though, why is his [the mayor] budget only being cut by 20, 25% and theirs [giggle, giggle] being cut by 40? Good question, Bingo Caller. Don? Don Peat: His budget’s a lot bigger! You know, when we talk about the mayor’s office budget, we’re talking about the millions. When we talk about councillors’ office budgets, we’re talking about $50,000…

Right. So what you’re saying, Don Peat, is that because the mayor’s office budget is bigger than individual councillor budgets, you can cut a smaller percentage of his to have the same amount of savings in absolute dollars. Sounds reasonable enough although, a little semantic-y for a mayor who was elected to cut deep and cut often.

Yet, Mr. Peat doesn’t bother to explain that. Choosing instead to take the remaining time of the segment for one last dig at council, wondering if they are up to voting for the mayor’s proposed cuts, a second such reference in about 20 seconds. Or maybe, Mr. Peat wasn’t at all sure why the mayor was cutting only 20% from his budget but 40% from councillors’ budgets. The question was just posed to give the appearance of objectivity and offer up one last opportunity to tee up on the mayor’s opposition on council.

Why do I bring all this up? In the aftermath of Rob Ford’s election as mayor and his attack on such initiatives as Transit City, much as been made of the downtown elites’ inability and/or refusal to reach out to their fellow city dwellers in the inner suburbs and explain things to them. But as this segment from Sun Media shows, it’s not as easy as all that. When you’re contending with misinformation and outright propaganda that passes itself off as news, how does the truth or actual facts overcome it? As long as a significant portion of the electorate believe that they’re watching the news when they see something like this, it is going to be a long, uphill battle to ever convince them of anything.

deconstructively submitted by Cityslikr


His Honour’s Sour Grapes

December 8, 2010

So the Mayor Rob Ford era has officially begun, and for all those who picked ‘Decorously’ or ‘Graciously’ in the How Will Rob Ford Respond To Having The Chain Of Office Hung Around His Neck office pool, pay up, motherfuckers.

The mayor used the solemn occasion of his investiture to invite one of his heroes, noted Mississaugan urbanist and sartorial flamboyer, Don Cherry, to chain him and kick off the proceedings. Mr. Cherry, in turn, used his invite, as writer Jonathan Goldsbie noted, as “…mostly just an attack on the Globe’s TV critic.” John Doyle, that is, and his article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. The mayor then followed with an utterly uninspiring speech, full of references to taxpayers and customer service, more befitting (as we have noted numerous times previously) a Walmart manager’s pep talk to his employees just before the grand opening than a new mayor addressing the inaugural council meeting of the country’s largest city. Then some quick business was done like voting in the mayor’s all-male, all-right wing executive committee before the gavel came down to adjourn the proceedings until the real fireworks being tomorrow.

We’re now through the looking-glass here, people. Our new mayor, well-to-do through an inherited family business, speaks for ‘the little guy’. Mr. Cherry, a well-to-do sports commentator, lashes out and ‘artsy, left wing kooks’ and thinks “It’s time for some lunch pail, blue-collar people.” All pronounced while wearing an embroidered pink blazer that would make a geisha blush and his dapper Tom Wolfe high collar. Both men preach the neo-conservative gospel of small government (except for police and military, natch), and both have done alright for themselves, pocketing their fair share of government largesse.

And somehow, pinkos are the bad guys. We left leaning, bike riding, oh-so-privileged, downtown elites, bereft of the common touch and without our finger on the pulse of real Torontonians. We don’t understand the plight of the working people. The mayor does because he employs 350 of them in Toronto, New Jersey and Chicago. Don Cherry talks to millions of them directly through the camera, for a whole 8 minutes every Saturday night. Regular Joes, the two of them. Full fledged members of the lumpen proletariat, they is.

You know what? I say, fuck that. Much discussion has gone on since the new mayor’s been sworn in about how those standing in opposition to him should react. Take the high road. Don’t take the bait. Take a pill and chill-ax. The world’s not coming to an end because the likes of Don Cherry brought his schtick live to City Hall chambers.

All true but we’ve seen this movie before and it never, ever turns out well.

Every time a right wing populist is elected, they claim a ‘mandate’ (sometimes even from as on high as heaven itself) and immediately take the offensive, declaring a state of unilateralism. It’s My Way Or The Highway. You’re Either With Us Or A’gin Us. All Hail And Bow Down Before Me, Minions.

We’ve watched it for the past 4 years or so in Ottawa. A minority (A Minority!) Conservative government has browbeaten the opposition into simpering obsequiousness, giving way on almost every important issue that has emerged. Even the stands they’ve managed to take like on the long gun registry have tied them into paroxysms of soul-wrenching angst, leaving them to look defeated in the face of victory.

It’s a tactical strike adopted from right wingers in the States. George W. pulled it off masterfully throughout his term in office. The Tea Party led Republican congress is following suit. Not even sworn in yet and they have a Democratic President turning on his base. To seek bipartisanship where none is on offer doesn’t make you look evenhanded, open-minded or apolitically above the fray. It makes you look weak, unprincipled and unfit to hold public office.

Now comes Rob Ford who has not made one conciliatory gesture to his opponents since being elect mayor. His executive committee is exclusively right-wing, inner suburban (or from wards that Ford won) and male. He’s been blowing smoke about his power to end Transit City, going as far to say that council never voted about Transit City (it did), so it doesn’t have to be consulted to terminate it. The voters gave him a mandate, you see. Normal democratic principles no longer apply.

Bringing in Don Cherry to introduce him was just another aggressively defiant gesture by Ford. To all those who disdainfully dismiss the outrage that greeted Grapes’ council speech as unimportant, much ado about nothing, an overblown sticks and stones scenario, not worth the media attention, well, you’re diminishing the symbolism of it. “You never know what he’s going to say,” shrugged our mayor about Cherry’s speech. Not the exact words maybe but the intent was going to surprise no one. It was a big ol’ fuck you to anyone and everyone who doesn’t think exactly like the mayor and Don Cherry, pinkos or not.

Imagine if David Miller, re-elected with a larger percentage of the popular vote for his 2nd term, had proclaimed a ‘mandate’ and brought in, say, Naomi Klein to introduce him. She proceeds to say something to the effect of: Eat it, corporate right wing shills. Not political? Unimportant and beside the point? I don’t think so.

Mayor Rob Ford has come out of the gate with no intention of making nice, seeking compromise or trying to find the middle ground with his opponents. Why is the onus on them to reach out? It’s not obstructionist to stand up for your principles and beliefs. It’s called democracy. In a democracy, winning an election is just the 1st step. It doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want and everyone else has to go along, no matter how much right wingers would like to believe that.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Sneering Smitherman

February 22, 2010

OK. So when can we expect to start hearing some positive tones coming from the George Smitherman campaign? Almost from the get-go there’s been nothing but invective spewed forth, denigrating anything and everything to do with City Hall. Yeah, we got it, George. The place is a nest of under-worked and over-paid politicians and bureaucrats alike, and you’re the tough guy who’s going to knock heads and make things fly right. City Hall is Jack Palance. George Smitherman is Shane.

Not that he’s alone wallowing in the bile. Rocco Rossi is no slouch himself when it comes to matching Smitherman in heaping sneering superciliousness upon Toronto’s public servants. Together they are proving to be the Beavis and Butthead of the 2K10©®™ campaign trail, sitting around watching the proceedings and yelling: Fire! Fire!! Burn! Burn!!

As we have said in these pages relatively regularly, criticism’s the easy part. Solutions aren’t so simple. Unless of course you are George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi who have both displayed an easy affinity for right-wing, neoconservative/liberal platitudes and claptrap.

Rossi thinks that if we just sell everything, it’ll be clear sailing ahead. Along with squeezing out ‘efficiencies’, that’s the heart of his multi-year plan to restore fiscal health to the city. It’s like listening to a panicked investment advisor when he hits a rough patch. Sell! Sell! Sell!! And the next thing you know, you’re looking at a Great Depression.

Smitherman, having learned firsthand from his former boss at Queen’s Park, is pitching himself just slightly less fiscally conservative than his opponent. It’s not that he is against selling public assets per se (he couldn’t be, what with Ralph Lean as his chief fundraiser). He just thinks it should be done in a more orderly fashion than Rossi’s willy-nilly, fire sale approach. Aside from that, the two candidates are pretty well marching in campaign lockstep.

Smitherman’s response to the city’s proposed budget is all dismissive snarl, manly chest beating and empty campaign rhetoric. Cuts, slashes, freezes and a general shaking up of the sense of indolent entitlement George perceives City Hall to be full of. No more ‘hobby horses’ under the responsible leadership of a Mayor Smitherman. It’s all about long term thinking replacing stop-gap measures with a dollop of ‘innovative models’ and ‘new approaches’. It’s a campaign strategy of can’t and cant.

To Rossi and Smitherman, it’s as if the last 12, 13 years never happened. For both, Toronto’s fiscal problems are all its own doing. Never mind that structural deficits really started in earnest when the provincial government massively downloaded social services on municipalities in the late-90s without the corresponding money to run them. Never mind that the same government pulled out of the traditional 50-50 funding of operational costs for the TTC at the same time. Never mind that all those annual savings from amalgamation never materialized. I mean, come on. That’s so last century.

Of course this heavy tilt to the right is made possible in the absence of any credible progressive candidate in the race since Adam Giambrone’s flameout. Oh wait. Who’s that over there? Right, right. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone and his 30 years of municipal experience. But come on. He’s not really plausible for mayor. I mean, look how short he is and he’s got that funny accent.

Pantlone is either proving to be an ineffective candidate or he’s just being bulldozed past in what, according to the cold, logical analysis of the National Post’s Terence Corcoran, is Toronto’s “… momentous shift to the right”. Either way, until someone is able to step up and be heard above the shrill din of hard conservative blather, Smitherman and Rossi (sounds like the name of an appertif) are going to continue battling it out to prove who can be the meanest, nastiest, slashiest-and-burniest neo-con on the block. Or until Rob Ford enters the race and assumes control of the hardcore spectrum of the right wing, making the other two seem almost reasonable by comparison.

This anti stance by the likes of Smitherman and Rossi with some similar haymakers thrown by Giorgio Mammoliti may sound good to receptive ears but it really amounts to little more than a cancer on the body politic of Toronto. It’s self-immolation and makes it impossible to see how any candidate who gets elected on such a platform could govern properly. Who wants to work with or for someone espousing dismissive, malicious attitudes towards you and what you do? While George Smitherman may think such hard-nosed tough talk exemplifies leadership, it’s nothing but cold calculation and mean-spirited posturing which will repel more voters than it attracts.

City building it’s not and shouldn’t that be the one thing we demand from our mayor?

testily submitted by Cityslikr


A Better Second Thought

January 6, 2010

You want brief? Fine. Here’s brief.

http://settingtheagenda2010.com

I want a campaign of ideas not personalities. Do I care about George Smitherman’s workout regimen? Couldn’t give a shit. Hey. George is gay! Did you know that? Who fucking cares?! Why’s he running for mayor and what’s he bringing to the table that’ll make this city a better place to live in? That’s what I want to know.

The last time we elected a ‘personality’ mayor, we got an appliance salesman. Remember how that all worked out?

There. Short. Better, ‘cat?

snidely responded by Cityslikr