Fight! Fight! Fight!

January 4, 2011

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would like to begin 2010 2001 2011 by issuing an apology.

To all those sounding the alarm loudest and earliest about the prospect of a Mayor Rob Ford administration during last year’s municipal election campaign, we are truly sorry. While in no way could we have been viewed as sanguine about the possibility of Ford ascending to the office, we ultimately concluded that he would do less damage to the city than his right of centre rivals. Our thinking was based on the fact that as a councillor, Mr. Ford had developed no constituency on council and even less credibility. On the hustings, his constant braying about all the corrupt practices his colleagues engaged in behind closed doors couldn’t have made him any friends at 100 Queen Street West. Ford was a lone wolf, far more often than not on the losing end of votes. We reasoned that he’d have less ability to bring together a working majority to enact his radically right agenda than would, say, George Smitherman who’d be assuming the mayoralty with more or less a clean slate.

In short, we misunderestimated the power of the mayor’s office. Or, more precisely, we failed to realize just how flexible, let’s call it, a good chunk of council members would be in the face of the bluster and chest-beating that began emanating from Team Ford soon after their man was sworn in. The new mayor claimed he had a mandate which appears to be all a majority of councillors needed to hear and they handed it over to him, no questions asked. Would you like your shoes shined with that, Mr. Mayor?

We were wrong. We dropped the ball. Wish we could have a do-over. Nous nous excusons.

On the plus side, has there been a local politician who has drawn a line in the sand so deeply so quickly? Who’s so enthusiastically performed a cannonball into the deep end of the partisan pool and declared so explicitly that you’re either with him or ag’in him? Who has surrounded himself so thoroughly with people who think just like he does, who sees the world exactly as he does?

If the mayor is unprepared to offer any sort of olive branch of compromise to those not sharing his stunted view of the role of government, why should the onus be on his opponents to do so? Yes, the mayor holds a mitt full of high cards in his hand. He sets the agenda and his wish list takes priority. But the power of the office ends there. There is no special fiat declaring mechanism that is the sole privilege of the mayor. Despite what you may read in our newspapers, Mayor Ford cannot simply make a regal pronouncement, clap his hands and proclaim, “Make It So!”

We on the left side of the political spectrum have a terrible habit of trembling and bowing down before the bellowing triumphalism that inevitably follows a right winger’s win at the polls, no matter how close a race or dubious a victory. I’m thinking George W. in 2000 and again in 2004. Stephen Harper and his 2 straight minority governments, bestriding the narrow world like a Colossus. And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves (h/t W.S.) So far, too many of our city councillors have willingly rolled over onto their backs, ever hopeful for an affection rub of their tummies from the mayor. It’s a prone, vulnerable position that is usually taken as a sign of weakness and dealt with accordingly.

Granted, as Eye Weekly’s Edward Keenan noted a couple weeks back, the mayor’s had his way with the council on no-brainer issues (rightly or wrongly) like office expenses, the VRT and making the TTC an essential service (a decision that ultimately is up to Queen’s Park to make). “… low-hanging fruit,” Mr. Keenan wrote, “the bread and butter of Ford’s election campaign and, to any honest observer, the extent of his mandate.” But it’s given the mayor an air of indomitably and allowed him to dig in at the plate and sit on the next fat pitch he can try and go yard with.

So already this early in the game, it’s time to brush the mayor back a little. Throw some high, stinky cheese under his chin. Maybe even fire one behind him, get under his skin and rattle him. If he isn’t prepared to play ball, why should his opposition? He’s clearly chosen the path of divisiveness and conflict with no eye for compromise and accommodation. It’s a winner-take-all mentality, and the quicker Mayor Ford’s disabused of the notion that he’s always going to come out on top in that struggle, the sooner we can get on with the proper give and take of municipal governance.

— new yearly 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


Assessing Our New Mayor’s Movement

November 23, 2010

As we breathlessly await firm news of Mayor-elect Rob Ford’s committee appointments, I am trying to convince myself to look upon this not as a horrible, disfiguring moment in the city’s history but as…an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. It isn’t a matter of perspective. No, it’s what kind of conservative our incoming mayor turns out to be.

Kinds of conservatives, you ask? How many kinds of conservatives are there? You’ve got your run-of-the-mill, always irate, incoherent kind, flailing about in the choppy, churning waters of cognitive dissonance and then there’s…? Help me out here. Other kinds of conservatives?

Well yes, at least in theory. There once were conservatives roaming about in the wild who were of Burkean stock. Wary of excess of any stripe including rabid anti-governmentalism, your daddies’ conservatives did not seek to dismantle the New Deal/Just Society welfare state in its entirety. They simply wanted to reshape it in their own vision. Red Tories, let’s call them. These guys were the elitists of their time. Democracy was all well and good as long as there wasn’t too much of it.

Movement Conservatives, on the other hand, the spawn of William F. Buckley-Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher, are a lot less amiable. Theirs is “a revolutionary doctrine hostile to any public enterprise except the military” and, I will add, national security except for that whole no junk touching stream of unconsciousness that has recently emerged. They have manifested themselves in the likes of George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and, to some extent, our current federal Conservative government. There is no form of government that doesn’t drive them batty with inchoate anger. To their minds, democracy is merely a vehicle to smash up democratic institutions.

Much was made during this past municipal campaign about Rob Ford being our very own Tea Bagger, a bigger, louder, less foxy Sarah Palin. It’s a comparison that goes only so far. Yes, he was angry and adeptly tapped into, exploited and manufactured a wide swath of anger in the electorate. He made claims of reclaiming City Hall for the little guy. A deep streak of xenophobia, homophobia and misogyny runs through his core.

Yet, like the earlier strain of conservatism, Rob Ford seems more driven to eradicate government excesses rather than government itself. In fact, he may be prone to more democratic impulses than is normal in conservatives of any stripe. When he says he wants to take back City Hall, it is largely free of the racist, faux-grassroots chant we heard during the U.S. midterm election campaign. Ford actually sounds like an honest to god populist in wanting to give the reins of power to the people instead of his hated bureaucracy. (The irony of this is that the last thing his most fervent devotees would want or know what to do with is to actually exercise that power.)

Therein lies the opportunity at hand. On Metro Morning last week to promote the book Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto, Dave Meslin told host Matt Galloway how, back in 2006, when Meslin was involved with the City Idol project that sought to shine a spotlight on a diverse set of council candidates, then councillor Rob Ford was very helpful in giving his time and advice to the proceedings. Ford’s face now adorns the endorsement page of Meslin’s latest adventure in advancing democracy, RaBIT, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. By all accounts, our next mayor is fully on board for helping further the cause of democratic renewal.

So, fighting our way past the recoil phase of October 25th’s fallout, we can prepare to seize what may be a truly golden moment for positive change on the democratic front. A politician elected to office who truly wants to invest more powers in the populace. It is a gift we should be ready to receive and not allow him to renege on or get horribly wrong (i.e. simply cutting council numbers in half). This may be the only common ground we find with this administration. Let’s not waste the opportunity to take full advantage of it.

exhortingly submitted by Cityslikr


Chris Hedges’ Bleak House

November 9, 2010

A commenter to a post from last week accused me of being “optimistic”. Downright Pollyannish compared to the likes of one Chris Hedges. Well, I never. Of all the nerve. I dwell in the darkness. No glass is full enough that I can’t see as half empty. Optimistic? How dare you, madam commenter!

Now, I am secure enough in my ignorance to admit that I wasn’t sure who this Chris Hedges was or anything about the book Death of the Liberal Class. A Google search followed and, well oh well, I have to admit that the commenter was absolutely correct in her assessment. I am a veritable Santa Claus, bringing joy and happiness to the wider world when put up against Chris Hedges. Where he’s seen fire and rain, I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

In my defense, I have not spent any time whatsoever in the world’s war torn hotspots like El Salvador back in the day, the former Yugoslavia back in the day, northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s violent suppression of Shia and Kurdish rebels in 1991. I did not leave a high profile post at the New York Times after receiving a formal reprimand from the paper for my denunciation of the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq. So the opportunity to truly blacken my soul and shrivel my heart has not been offered up to me as it has Mr. Hedges. To such a consummate professional as he, years and 1st person experience combine to provide a dark view. Me? A mere dilettante, an armchair cynic.

So I bought me a copy of Mr. Hedges Death of the Liberal Class from a locally owned, independent bookstore and set down to reading it. Since I’m only a couple chapters in, this isn’t any sort of review but the premise of the book goes something like this: the liberal class, consisting of the media, academia, labour movement and moderate religious institutions, historically acted as the “safety valve” that fought for, at least, “incremental reform” in the face of the vested interests of the “power elite”. But with the rise of the “corporate state”, Mr. Hedges claims that “the liberal class has distorted its basic belief systems to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization, and staggering income inequalities.” In so doing, it has “relinquished its moral authority” and ceased speaking for the working and middles classes, helping feed the anger that’s given rise to such movements as the Tea Party (and, dare I say it? Rob Ford here in Toronto.)

A dust jacket synopsis to be sure and I bring it up because, despite Chris Hedges’ pedigree including a Pulitzer prize, such a position as he takes in this book will surely relegate him to the fringe bin. That place we put people who spout uncomfortable ideas and question the conventional wisdoms we as a society operate under. It already occurred when Hedges appeared on The Agenda a couple weeks back. During the debate segment of the show, fellow media liberal class member Tony (“The World’s Not Perfect But…”) Keller politely dismissed Hedges’ book treatise as too conspiratorial. Implicit in that argument is the sentiment, and where’s your tinfoil hat, Chrissie?

Why I find all this interesting enough to write about is that at the same time I was discovering Chris Hedges, in an unrelated matter I coincidentally encountered what is now referred to as the Powell Memo. Written in 1971 by Lewis Powell just a couple months before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, it was sent to Eugene Sydnor, a Chamber of Commerce mucky-muck, and outlined a battle plan for beating back the opponents of America and its free enterprise system. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility. There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy. But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

The irony of this memo is rich and the disengenuousness of it deep. Before assuming his position on the bench, Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer whose firm represented various tobacco companies. Powell himself sat on the board of Phillip Morris. So yeah, the 60s were a bad time for businesses like tobacco (Damn you, 1963 Surgeon General’s Report!), as government slowly interceded in tying their hands in peddling their poisonous products and marketing them as ‘healthy alternatives’. Powell expresses special disdain for the likes of consumer advocate Ralph Nader and thought it high time for right thinking American business leaders to stand tall against the creeping insidiousness of anti-consumerism and environmentalism.

More interesting about the Powell memo (or at least, more relevant to this discussion) are the pages and pages written, targeting the culprits (**cough** Communists! **cough**) of said attack on the American way of life and the remedies to combat it. Campus, media and the pulpit. That there would be a huge overlap with Chris Hedges’ pillars of the liberal class. Academia, media and moderate religious institutions. So three decades ago influential business leaders targeted what they saw as opponents of free enterprise (“The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom”) and set out to reverse their influence.

Whether or not they succeeded in doing so is not the point of this post. Clearly writers like Chris Hedges think they did. But to dismiss his arguments purely on the grounds of being ‘conspiratorial’ as Tony Keller did is lazy and suspect. Mr. Hedges has earned his dim world view by engaging it on the ground. Those disagreeing with him based solely on the notion of his ideas being too fantastical really only serve to prove the point of his book. We purporting to be of the liberal class are our own worst enemies.

liberally submitted by Cityslikr


Political Genius Genus Evil

November 1, 2010

In the afterglow of Rob Ford’s surprisingly convincing mayoral victory last week came the inevitable outpouring of ink and bytes about the whys and hows of his win, complete with a revelation of a “dirty tricks” controversy. Actually, let’s call it more of a contretemps or set-to, to lessen it slightly from such a harsh moniker but mostly to cement my downtowner elitist status. Kelly Grant’s exhaustive piece in the Globe and Mail revealed a campaign team that was highly disciplined, relentless in ferreting out where its support was, tireless in punching the divisive hot-button issues that set the agenda from Ford’s entry into the race.

While I hesitate to use the word ‘genius’, as its constant misapplication drains all meaning from it, for my purposes here, let’s do so. Political genius. Eliciting the question, why does so much political genius manifest itself as the evil variety? Squandered as it is, attempting to make silk purses from sows’ ears, foisting upon the voting public candidates clearly unfit for office and out of their depth. George W. Bush. Sarah Palin. And now, Rob Ford.

Imagine if the likes of Lee Atwater (may he be roaming swelteringly the halls of Hell still), Karl Rove and now the boys of the Rob Ford brain trust applied their significant skills to the betterment of society rather than to the detriment of it. But, of course, that instantly answers the above question. They have no interest in contributing positively to society. Their political genius comes from having to mask that simple fact. On a mission to drive back the gains made for the greater good by FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s War on Poverty and PET’s Just Society (or any other government intent on making life a little fairer and more equitable), they dance and sing populist songs, with generically uplifting titles like Respect For Taxpayers while exemplifying none of it.

They are the political ‘Hidden Persuaders’, Vance Packard’s 1950s term for the marketers and ad men who convinced the public that cereals were the only breakfast food, cigarettes were the epitome of cool with health benefits to boot, and that consuming more of everything than we needed put us on the path of enlightened happiness. We applaud them for doing their jobs well, for convincing us to go against our best interests and better instincts and buy into a truly toxic, detrimental world view. Yep. They got us to put the shotgun barrel in our mouths but, damn, were they smooth!

I have little doubt that Rob Ford, like George W. before him on Ronald Reagan before him, truly believes that government in all its forms is the source of much that is wrong in society today. Raised on the teat of neo-conservatism with his beloved late father a small part of the Common Sense Revolution, Ford may be many things but disingenuous about his politics does not seem to be one of them. He is the perfect spokesman and front man for the movement of the privileged class to be embraced by a big chunk of the population that shares absolutely nothing in common with it.

What’s even more remarkable about this political sleight of hand is the timing of the current version of the trick. Economic calamity brought on by overly zealous free marketeering combined with governmental lapse of judgment and negligence of duty. Crushing private sector debt piled into the public purse, followed by immediate calls of out-of-control government spending and demands for cutbacks and rollbacks. A mere two years after a deep lingering recession brought on by neo-liberal/conservative politics, we’ve already internalized the counterintuitive belief that only neo-liberal/conservative policies and politicians can dig us out of the hole they helped us dig. It is truly a bravura performance, delivered by masters of their profession who should be richly rewarded for their outstanding efforts in pulling such a feat off.

Except that, they are amply enriched by the narrow interests they serve and protect. Except that, inevitably they’re much better at campaigning than they are governing and tend to leave big, heaping piles of steaming crap in their wake. Except that, society is that much worse off because of what it is they do, the dark arts they practice.

You can admire, even applaud, those whose brilliance is obvious even though their purpose is contemptible. The great villains are always our favourite characters. But what we really have to stop doing is handing them the keys to power. They aren’t in it to make the world, the city, the neighbourhood a better place for anyone else beside themselves, and those sharing their perspective, regardless of how much they try telling us otherwise.

People who use their talents for evil should not be expected to do good. It’s not in their nature. We need to stop expecting anything else from them. Experience should’ve told us that a long time ago.

full of goodnessly submitted by Cityslikr