Junk Politics

May 10, 2012

Times being what they are, I find occasionally stepping away from it all beneficial to my mental health. To head off and visit somewhere free of the politics of place and simply enjoy the view. I’m just a tourist, taking in the scenery.

It’s been difficult over the last couple years certainly to tear myself away from Toronto politics. Blink for a minute and you may well miss something extraordinary, something you’d never thought you’d see in your lifetime. When you think it couldn’t get any crazier, nothing could top what you’ve just witnessed, those diminished expectations are easily surpassed.

But I’m discovering that such novelty does have its limits. When the incredible becomes simply routine, it loses significance or much of any newsworthiness. The abnormal sinks into the swamp of the new normal.

So it goes with the mayoralty of Rob Ford.

Much has been written in the last few days about the latest antics of His Worship, his aggressive encounter with the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale in a public park outside the mayor’s home in Etobicoke, the controversial appearance of Sun News’ David Menzies on the Ford Brothers’ Sunday radio show and Mayor Ford’s declining to attend the PFLAG flag raising next week. None of it flattering for either our city or the chief magistrate we voted to represent us. “Rob Ford’s stupid and offensive radio show demeans us all” from Matt Elliott. “Send in the clowns” by Edward Keenan. And “Rob Ford and the Banality of Excess” by Michael Kolberg in the Toronto Standard.

There’s not much I can add to the growing canon of Rob Ford is really a bad mayor literature except for a hearty but sad agreement. What was once funny and entertaining has now become just sad and worrisome. Who knew that electing a mayor with destructive anti-urbanist views could adversely affect the city?

I remember way back in 2000 with the election of George W. Bush as president, comedian Richard Belzer saying that while as an American he was sad about the result, as a comedian he couldn’t be happier. The jokes essentially wrote themselves but, 12 years on, America has yet to recover from the debacle.

That’s sort of the feeling that’s developing here. Oh, the fun we are having watching such a sad spectacle but at what cost? In fact, that’s not even quite right. The fun was fleeting. “But a story needs an arc,” Kolberg writes, “and Rob Ford’s administration is a flat line.” Pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. indignant mayoral temper tantrum.. pause.. pause.. pause.. Where’s the new beat to push the story forward?

Actually, that’s being supplied by city council. In the face of Mayor Ford’s inability or interest in leading, a majority of councillors is slowly coalescing to fill the void. Normally unaligned players are now finding common ground in developing an agenda without any positive input from the mayor and city business is being conducted. Perhaps more slowly than it would if a mayor participated but proceeding nonetheless. First time councillors are now finding their footing in the wide open space created by the mayor’s truculent intransigence.

Not all is dark and forlorn.

What is most disturbing about all this, however, is Toronto’s descent into what Benjamin DeMott has called ‘Junk Politics’. It’s the politics of anger, resentment and division that appeals to our worst instincts rather than seeks to inspire our better natures. Watching the risible reactions from the mayor’s supporters in defense of his indefensible actions is increasingly disheartening. There is no wrong in anything he does, no justification that isn’t based on some perceived slight or ulterior motive of those who are not seen as being onside or part of the team. The once vaunted Ford Nation, the mayor’s base, sees only threats not opposing opinions. They thrive in a cesspool of negative catch phrase outrage, unable or unwilling to engage in any semblance of adult discourse.

This is Mayor Ford’s Toronto, his bread and butter and only hope in any sort of political future for himself. They are proud in their obstinance and conviction that the way forward is by looking backwards. It’s a tough nut to crack. One that guarantees a continued war of attrition and a threat to Toronto’s ability to develop into a healthy, productive and fair-minded 21st-century city.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Austerity. What Is It Good For?

January 29, 2012

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