Our Liberal Media Bias

March 21, 2011

At the risk of revealing myself to be a downtown pinko elitist (ha, ha), I have to ask the question: who the fuck listens to AM radio? Outside of sports fans, that is, and I think it is sports coverage sensibilities that define the presentational style of the whole band. Strongly held opinions expressed vehemently, often times with little to no evidence backing up said opinions and rarely rising above the level of You Suck/They Suck.

I ask because I found myself yesterday afternoon listening to Councillor Josh Matlow’s regular 1 hour spot on Newstalk 1010’s Sundays with John Downs. As we have written here previously, the good councillor from Ward 22 is an intriguing new face at City Hall, bright, articulate and, as of yet, politically amorphous. He comes across progressive minded when he speaks on all the various platforms he has, and he has a lot of platforms especially for a new councillor. Yet when he votes, he more often than not falls in line behind the mayor’s agenda. Slippery or open to compromise? An opportunist or pragmatist? Time will tell.

This dichotomy was on display as Councillor Matlow took to the airwaves to question the $3 million on offer for outside consultants to come in and uncover all the wasteful spending that Mayor Ford as a candidate claimed he could easily find on his own. There were systems already in place at City Hall, according to Matlow, like the Auditor-General looking into spending like it had at TCHC. Handing over an extra $3 million to have another entity do what could be done for a fraction of that price smacked a little like the gravy the mayor was so intent on eliminating.

So far, so good but this thought was bandied about in the midst of jokes about crazy councillor spending, the TCHC ‘scandal’ and Councillor Matlow’s pronouncement that Mayor Ford was right about one thing. The city’s budget did balloon under David Miller. End stop. The intimation being that it ballooned because of wasteful spending. No other explanation need be discussed although there are plenty of other plausible, laudable reasons even, why the budget numbers rose. (h/t Ben Bergen.)

Councillor Matlow was able to appear that he was critiquing the mayor while accepting whole-heartedly the narrative framework that there was plenty of gravy still flowing at City Hall. Commence the slow clap. Well played, Mr. Matlow. Well played indeed.

More than that, however, my concern is, if John Downs gives over an hour of his show per week to talk to a councillor, why just Josh Matlow? Why not throw it open to all comers? For a diversity of opinion, from the far right to the far left and all points in between. Let Toronto (or at least the portion of Toronto who spends their Sundays listening to AM radio) hear a whole range of views.

Unless, of course, that isn’t your intent. Unless what you’re really trying to do is narrow the debate so it ranges from A all the way to B. But why would a media outlet do that? It makes no business sense, limiting your audience reach like that, undercutting any possible growth…

Yeah, yeah. I’m being facetious. Liberal Media Bias? What Liberal Media Bias? Point me to all those leftie councillors with their own outlet to deliver their thoughts on the goings on at City Hall? Where can I get my weekly dose of Janet Davis, Gord Perks or Shelley Carroll? Adam Vaughan used to be a television journalist. You’d think his former employers over at CityTV would jump at the chance to give him 30 minutes a week to opine on the state of municipal affairs. Remember before he was mayor, how Rob Ford had his regular spot over on 680 with John (Johnny to his good friends) Oakley?

And before you start screeching about George Smitherman and the $1billion eHealthscandalexcessivelyhighenergycosts and all the other offal you involuntarily vomit up every time his name is mentioned, for those of us actually over here on the left, the George Smitherman who ran for mayor was never one of us. The fact that Newstalk gave him a show is akin to Fox News hiring former Indiana senator Evan Bayh, arguably one of the most conservative Democrats ever to serve the party since the collapse of the Dixie Democrats way back when. Empty proof of their objectivity as they claim to deliver news and information from both ends of the political spectrum.

No, it seems when it comes to how they spend their Sunday afternoons, left leaning councillors can only hope to listen to the radio not have their own shows on it. Or, like Councillor Joe Mihevc, they can go out into the community and talk to people, face-to-face, as they did in the old days before the advent of new-fangled contraptions like the wireless. After enduring an interminable hour with John Downs and friend, I wandered up to catch Councillor Mihevc talk about “City and citizens…How the city sees its citizens and how citizens perceive its city. How do we talk to each other? What counts?”

Me, 10 other people and the councillor in the community gallery at the Wychwood Barns for the third of four scheduled St. Clair Salon Sundays. Not the glamour (or reach) of AM radio but an actual give-and-take between engaged community members and their elected representative. I have to admit, I’ve never found Councillor Mihevc to be a forceful speaker at council meetings and the like but one-on-one, up close and personal, he really is quite charming, thoughtful, gracious and well-spoken.

And passionate. Especially about transit. Councillor Mihevc didn’t give up his Sunday afternoon for self-promotion or to score political points. He sat down with a small group and led a discussion on how to encourage further citizen participation beyond just voting. “Deepening democracy,” Mihevc called it. We didn’t solve that particular equation but it’s reassuring to know that there 10 people out there who think that it’s an important enough issue, that of voter/civic apathy, to come out on a brisk weekend day and discuss it with other like-minded people. *Cliché Alert! Cliché Alert!* What’s that saying about big things starting with small groups? No, seriously. What is it? I can’t remember.I know Councillor Matlow isn’t purely a media hog and he too goes out into the community. I know this because he never fails to tell me that’s what he’s doing.  And this isn’t intended as a slag of him. Entirely. Councillor Matlow bad, Councillor Mihevc good. It’s just that for every active, hands-on engagement with citizens Councillor Matlow does, he undercuts it by participating in the pretense of informed dialogue that is AM talk radio. You can’t be fully informed if you’re only hearing one half of the debate.

submitted by Cityslikr


To Not Defend Democracy Everywhere Is To Not Defend Democracy Anywhere

February 2, 2011

Maybe it’s the winter blahs. Maybe it’s the disappointment over the lack of an actual, real life snowstorm that failed to descend upon us last night. Maybe it’s just the lull before the budgetary storm, between the committee meetings and public deputations and flutter of indecision in the Ford administration about what and how deep to cut, and when the thing goes before the full council to be voted on in the last week of February…

I’m sorry. Where was I going with that? I’m a little distracted and been finding it difficult to concentrate on the goings-on around the city over the last few days. You see, there’s this little life-and-death struggle for democracy happening over there in Egypt, a country located smack dab between Syria and Iran if I’m to believe the good people over at Fox News.

It’s difficult, almost impossible actually, to summon up enthusiasm for the political battles here on the home front, whether its attacks on public transit or our libraries or public sector employees, not because they aren’t important to defend but right now they seem, not insignificant, just minor compared to what people are fighting for (and against) in Egypt.

I step out onto less parochial political terrain here very, very tentatively. My knowledge of Egypt specifically and the Mideast in general is nowhere near what it should be. Yet it does seem to be undeniable that what we’re witnessing there is a genuine democratic movement finally bucking up from under a horrifically repressive regime that has had the very explicit backing of western democracies for a very long time now.

This should be a cause for much rejoicing and enthusiastic support on our part, shouldn’t it? Cheers certainly went up when the Tunisian strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was chased from the country he’d ruled for over 20 years last month. But in Egypt, well, things aren’t as simply clear-cut as all that.

The thing is, they never are. That’s just a fact of life. If choices were always easy, always starkly black and white, any knucklehead could make them. We probably wouldn’t even need to elect governments to do our thinking for us.

But when a people regardless of where they are, regardless of their religion, regardless of their… politics, let’s call it, coalesce under the banner of democracy to demand all those things we blithely take for granted like free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom from want, our first and only instinct should be nothing short of, absolutely. We are with you. What can we do to help?

The tepid responses so far from our governments, the western world, the developed democracies, to the situation in Egypt have been, while certainly not shocking or surprising, dispiriting and deflating. If we had reputations in the Arab world that could be damaged, it would also be damaging. Our humming and hawing while revolution and violent reaction rip through Egypt reveal, once more, that our commitment to democratic ideals are fickle and transparently arbitrary. No more so than when it comes to Muslim countries in the Mideast.

Every time we hesitate to embrace those in the region who put their lives on the line in the fight for a more fair, equitable and democratic society (usually in tandem with our refusal to jettison a relationship with a despotic autocrat who has helped maintain our ‘interests’ there with an iron fist), we cleave another wedge into the possibility of rapprochement with the wider society. We show ourselves to be hypocritical and undependable when defending the free wills of all people. Democracy is good. For some. It’s negotiable not essential for everyone. What’s in it for us, your democracy?

To deem a democratic movement inconvenient, inopportune or destabilizing suggests that there are certain conditions that have to be met before democracy can be granted which sort of undercuts every principle of democracy, doesn’t it? It’s as if the concept comes with an asterisk that takes you to pages and pages of fine print. Watching events in Egypt transpire in real time, it looks like one of those clauses reads: Some Muslims May Not Qualify.

Continued resistance to the Egyptians demanding justice and freedom suggests that we’re not, in fact, all that married to democracy. We’ve forgotten its true meaning and, ultimately, are no more deserving of it than those we’re watching die for it in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and throughout the country right now.

submitted by Cityslikr


Ford Tough. We Laugh.

March 27, 2010

When news broke about councillor Rob Ford’s entry into Toronto’s mayoral race, well, let’s just say that pandemonium broke out here in the editorial space of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. “I want to write the post!” “No, I want to write the post!!” No, I want to write the post!!!” “No, I do!!!!” “No, I do!!!!!”

You get the picture. But I eventually won out because this is my site. I call the shots. If somebody else wants to step up and start contributing a little more than doodles on cocktail napkins or even.. just anything, every now and then. I mean, we still haven’t caught up with Acaphlegmic since he pulled the Houdini act in Niagara Falls last week. If you’re out there, buddy, how about just a quick note to let us know everything’s cool?

Anyway, Rob Ford’s now running for mayor and we’re even more excited than Sue-Ann Levy. He represents everything we hate in today’s “grassroots” right wing political thought. The bogus claim of populism. Long since discredited Common Sense that is anything but. Fiscal prudence masking nothing more than a miserly mean-spiritedness. The man’s demeanour smacks of pure I got mine, Jack, and you can go fuck yourself.

He’s a politician that hates politicians leaving you unsure why he ever ran for public office in the first place aside from protecting his and his own. Now he wants to be the head of the 6th largest government in the country?! And we couldn’t be happier about that even if we were Sue-Ann Levy. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist another look. Is the lady honing her skills for a crack at a spot on Fox News or what?)

Some of our joy springs from a tactical place. Ford’s entry into the race crowds an already crowded right of centre spectrum and promises to divvy up conservative votes. It will force the others who have pledged fidelity to reactionary policies to differentiate themselves from the hard core values that Ford brings to the table. Rocco Rossi has already attempted the repositioning tango when he declared last week that he was not nor had he ever been a right winger. There’s little sense now in courting Rob Ford voters now that the real deal’s arrived at the dance.

But mostly it’s the theatrical shenanigans that Ford will bring to the campaign that has us over the moon. There is the very serious possibility of some retro-Lastmanesque buffoonery that brings on a wave of oxygen-inducing giddiness. A dash of unscripted, wacky remarks mixed with a soupçon of belligerent outbursts topped off with heaping cups of bluster and blather that is the Fordian trademark. His is a horn of plenty candidacy that will never leave those dabbling in political commentary empty of meaty material to run with.

If this sounds like little more than a hasty dismissal of Rob Ford for Mayor, it is. Although we did likewise when Mel Lastman threw his hat into the ring back in the day and much egg wound up on our faces. But this is different (fingers crossed.) Lastman was alone on the right side of center when he faced off against Barbara Hall. Ford is sharing those digs with others who have, at least so far in the campaign, been treated as viable candidates.

We also heartily welcome Rob Ford into the race because it places everything that he stands for on a much wider stage than he’s had as merely a councillor from Etobicoke. Now a far bigger audience will be given the opportunity to plug into his preposterous anti-politics politics. The soap box is that much higher for him to bellow out to the heavens explaining how exactly he would run a city by spending less, taxing less and basically doing less. Governing by not governing.

Call us naïve. Call us cock-eyed optimists but we still think a majority of Torontonians have heard that siren call before and witnessed the havoc it wreaks on the common welfare of this city and aren’t prepared to get fooled again.

So welcome to the circus, Councillor Ford. We’ve been waiting for the clown act to appear.

gleefully submitted by Cityslikr


Back Room Brouhaha

February 8, 2010

What I would’ve given to be a fly on the wall in the room where John Laschinger decided to join the Adam Giambrone campaign team. One of the architects of David Miller’s two election victories, Laschinger seems to have embraced another hopeless cause in chairing Giambrone’s run this time around. The face of everything that’s wrong with Toronto these days, Giambrone sports the wrong kind of name recognition and to say his path to the mayor’s chair will be an entirely uphill one is to display a firm grasp of the obvious.

So is Laschinger simply attracted to the underdogs? Miller in `03. Belinda Stronach’s bid for the then Progressive Conservative leadership in 2004. John Tory in 2007 and his tilt at the windmills to become premier of Ontario. Laschinger seems to have made a profession of attempting to snatch victory from the gaping jaws of defeat. Now add Adam to the list.

Or maybe there’s a little something more at work on this one? Is it too much to hope that there’s a back room battle royale brewing? In the murky political shadows, dueling operatives have thrown down. Feathers have been ruffled. The dander is up. Yes, this time it’s personal.

I muddy my hands in the besotted dirt of conjecture and speculation after re-reading the National Post article from last September where jowly bagman and Bay Street big shot, Ralph Lean QC publicly split with Mayor David Miller and referred to Laschinger as “… the hired help” on Miller’s campaign team. Oh no, he di’int!! This coming from the guy who was lying low when Miller was a nobody back in 2003 and then jumped on the bandwagon when Miller was a shoo-in to win re-election in ’06, citing “It would be better if we had a voice at the table to represent our views.” Who exactly is this we and our that Ralph Lean QC is talking about?

It’s hard not to see how someone couldn’t take the “hired help” retort as a short, smart slap across the cheek with a white glove. In my mind John Laschinger read it, sat back, biding his time and waited to see what candidate Ralph Lean QC would get his hooks into. With that set – Come on down, George Smitherman! You’re now a contestant on the Price Is Right!! – Laschinger saddles up with Giambrone and prepares to slay the dragon.

The move seems almost noble in that light which is not a sentiment one normally associates with management consultants and political strategists of John Laschinger’s stripe. But compared to the dismissive arrogance and doughy sense of entitlement projected by Ralph Lean QC, chairman of Cassels Brock law firm and eerie but fitting Fox News honcho Roger Ailes look-a-like, backing Giambrone comes across as nothing short of selfless on the part of Laschinger. If you don’t count the whole personal insult angle that I’ve completely manufactured.

Roger Ailes or Ralph Lean?

And it’s a no-brainer to side with Laschinger in the made up war in my mind. Whatever else you may think about the merits of professional consultants and paid political operatives, there is clearly a skill to delivering up a viable campaign plan especially one of this duration which is pure marathon, second only to the U.S. Presidential slog. You might even call it an art form.

How difficult is it to do what Ralph Lean QC does? He’s a guy who wants to cut government spending, freeze councilors’ wages and — follow the line on this – examine the outsourcing of some city functions. That’s gobblie-gook for privatization, folks, and Lean is nothing if not a spokesman for privatization, lobbying for a number of U.S. firms looking to get in on the outsourcing action.

Lean or Ailes?

A typical campaign fundraising pitch by Ralph Lean QC? “So my candidate is thinking of outsourcing some of the city’s functions.. I don’t know, garbage or tax collection, part of the TTC.. whatever. If you want on the ground floor of that, maybe you and a few of your friends might want to cut me a cheque.. ?”

The ironically surnamed Lean doesn’t even have to leave his desk to do that. The money comes to him. And oh yeah, the man’s a “… big supporter of Porter [Airlines].” So it’s not hard to imagine another round of voting to bring back a bridge or push for a tunnel to the island, errr, the Billy Bishop Airport if the new city council comes together in the shape of which someone like Ralph Lean QC approves.

It’s enough to make you want straight up, publicly funded elections. No money from anyone, individuals, unions, corporations. Financing doled out solely from the public purse. Candidates would still need the likes of John Laschinger to run for office but Ralph Lean QC and his ilk would be shit out of luck. And the commonweal would be all the better for that.

imaginatively submitted by Urban Sophisticat