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


Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Be A Nader, Ralph

October 10, 2010

So it seems that the Ralph Nader Sweepstakes are on. People are stating their case and placing their bets on who’s going to play official spoiler in this year’s mayoral election here in Toronto. And the stakes are quite high this time around, too. One bad wager, a slight miscalculation and you know who will become our next mayor…

Joe Pantalone supporters? Do you really want to be the blame for a Rob Ford victory?

A quick recap for those of you groggy from all that turkey tryptophan. Conventional wisdom has it that if Ralph Nader had not run his ridiculously impossible presidential campaign back in 2000 and siphoned off some progressive votes from Al Gore, George Bush would not have won the state of Florida (probably wouldn’t have even been the need for a recount and all those hanging chads etc.) and not become President of the United States. Hoo-rah! Probably no Iraq. No backsliding in terms of the environmental policies. No massive debt.

Ralph Nader and those who supported him have all that to answer for.

When asked afterwards if he regretted his role in bringing about the presidency of George W. Bush, Nader was unrepentant, saying that he saw no difference between the corporate owned entities that were the Democrat and Republican parties. After much sounds of indignant blustering and pointing of fingers at examples of just how bad George Bush was for the country, for the world, Nader is then written off as just some bitter old crank. Yesterday’s man, coasting on past glories and with no eye on the future.

Yet, the Democrats regained both the Senate and the House by 2006, and the White House in 2008 on a surge of hope for change and a massive reversal of the Bush era damage. Now in 2010, one might argue that not a whole lot has changed. A draw down of troops in Iraq hardly constitutes actually ending the war. There are more troops in Afghanistan, the battle has intensified and now become Obama’s war. Environmental agreements in Copenhagen were underwhelming as have been many of Obama’s domestic moves. He staved off a complete economic meltdown but has since been very timid in reworking the economy, leaving in place many of the culprits responsible for the crisis. His healthcare bill was but a shadow of what progressives hoped it would be.

So you might have to excuse Ralph Nader a little if he popped his head in to score himself an I Told You So. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. The only thing keeping that from truly being accurate is the Republican insistence on moving further and further into Crazytown.

A parallel between the situation in 2000 with the U.S. presidential election and our mayoral campaign of 2010 is a little iffy although that hasn’t stopped those petrified at the possibility of a Rob Ford win on October 25th from accusing anyone thinking of backing Joe Pantalone of Naderism. Firstly, as much as the Smithermaneers want to marginalize Pantalone the fact is, Pantalone isn’t some 3rd party, fringe candidate here. Of the four remaining leading contenders he is the only true progressive and thereby represents a huge swath of voters. He is hardly Ralph Nader in this equation.

And George? I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth. I’ve read The Assault On Reason. And you’re no Al Gore, sir.

But if there is a Naderish role in our election, I’d nominate John Sewell for the position. Like Nader, politically speaking, Sewell is not a major force, representing a small if resolute portion of the voting public. His open endorsement of George Smitherman will hurt Pantalone but perhaps not as much as Joe Mihevic’s move into the Smitherman camp. If the election is really close, even the slightest support from more left of centre voters toward Smitherman could be enough to put him over the top.

The real Sewell-Nader comparison, however, comes with the reason that brought about Sewell’s endorsement of Smitherman. If elected, Smitherman has promised to establish a panel to examine “municipal government” reform that Sewell would head. “I think it’s a spectacular opportunity,” Sewell said. “I congratulate George on it. If that means I’m endorsing him because of it, so be it; that’s fine with me.”

Not a ringing thumbs-up certainly but it makes one wonder if John Sewell was so easily bought – the panel is an unpaid gig that Smitherman said shouldn’t cost more than a pot of coffee – where was the Pantalone team on this? Was municipal reform not high on the candidate’s list? If so, it suggests Pantalone is seriously out of step with progressive grassroots and shouldn’t be expecting a swell of support from them.

“If I can say one thing about Joe Pantalone,” [says Sewell], “he’s representing the position that Toronto’s working well right now. I don’t think a lot of people share that. It’s not an opinion I share.”

While I think that comment may be overly harsh and slightly out of context (Pantalone’s been making that claim in the face of unduly and at times outrageous attacks on how dysfunctional Toronto actually is, some even from the candidate Sewell’s now endorsing), it shouldn’t pass without notice and is reminiscent of Nader’s a plague on both their houses sentiment. If Joe Pantalone wants to take credit for the things that are going right in Toronto because he’s been a part of the process for 30 years, then he should accept the blame for that which isn’t working, and be out campaigning on what he would do as mayor to move forward and fix those things. That includes municipal reform. George Smitherman recognized it and seized the opportunity. Joe Pantalone didn’t.

Like Ralph Nader, John Sewell pulled back the curtain a little and our progressive candidate was shown to be somewhat lacking.

naderly submitted by Cityslikr


Our Cancerous Campaign

August 12, 2010

I write today in soothing tones like those of the 1970s FM DJs, all smoky and silk, in hopes of ratcheting the shrill tone of the mayoral campaign down a notch or two. It has been all vitriol, spouting nothing but contempt and vilification. Yes, some of it is unfriendly fire between candidates as one might expect especially from an uninspiring brood of candidates who lack anything close to resembling a forward thinking vision for the city.

But much of the ugly, mean-spirited rhetoric has been directed at the very body the mayoral hopefuls are vying to lead: the municipal government itself and all those who Tend to the Garden of Its Upkeep (the title of a never released ELP album from the late `70s). The bureaucracy, in other words. The allegedly ‘corrupt’ council. City workers who have the temerity to inconvenience us and go out on strike. Oh sure, Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, the standard bearer of incumbency, does chime in with the occasional dissenting peep, peep, peep of ‘This isn’t Cleveland. This isn’t Detroit’ but it’s usually lost in the indignant jeering of his rivals calling for a jihad against those making our lives miserable. Entrenched and self-serving civil servants and career politicians.

Vote for me because I hate the institution of democratic governance as much as you do!

Never mind the bent, twisted logic of that sentiment and please ignore the results of electing the practitioners of such political thinking (the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush, the diminution of Ontario under the Harris-Eves-McGuinty rule, Stephen Harper’s full frontal assault on the state currently underway), when we’re angry we have a tendency to favour politicians who mirror our distrust and dislike of politicians. And nothing eggs on our ire toward politicians more than hearing about the kind of salaries they enjoy and the perks they wallow in. They make how much?! That’s unbelievable, outrageous, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph…

It’s a funny dichotomy. We extol those in the private sector raking in much larger sums of money per annum and enjoying far more luxurious perks. They are the titans of industry, we say. Creators of jobs (although not so much lately) and floaters of boats everywhere (again, not so much lately). Making a success of yourself in business is the height of accomplishment. Toiling away in the bowels of government, well, clearly you’ve settled and should consider your life wasted.

It is an odd case of self-hatred. Shouldn’t we encourage our best and brightest to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the business of government? Wouldn’t that make for a better society? Instead, we shower praise and riches on those who package our middle class aspirations overseas and make monstrous returns for their investors. When business is paramount, government is seen as nothing more than an irrelevant impediment.

So here we are, cheering on millionaires and the well-to-do, telling us that they’ll improve our lives by dismantling the very apparatus that paves our roads, brings us water, maintains peace and order (on most days). Not only that, but they’ll happily do it for cut rate prices! Rocco Rossi pledged to slash the mayor’s salary by 10%. Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone and Sarah Thomson have promised to freeze their pay if elected in October. Hell, Ford could probably seal the deal and become this city’s next mayor if he promised to do the job for free.

All this in the face of a recent report suggesting that, in fact, the position of mayor in Toronto was under-valued, remuneratively speaking. No matter. A politician should not be concerned with niggling things like pay, pension or their financial future. At least, according to Rocco Rossi.

“Politics is a high calling, but it should be a time of service, it’s not a career, and the moment you start looking at it as a career, that’s when people start worrying about the salary, the pension and the benefits, as opposed to serving the people,” Rossi said.

So, only the selfless and those that can afford a life in politics need apply. Or, to steal a phrase from business parlance, you get what you pay for.

sedately submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Defiant One

July 25, 2010

There’s going to be no logical, reasoned way of keeping Rob Ford from becoming mayor, is there. He’s hopped aboard the Resentment Rail, hoping to ride it right into office, cheered on by the Persecution Choir and its conductor, Sue-Ann Levy, chief Pamphleteer and Disseminating Dissembler of Disinformation.

“They’re just trying to muzzle me,” Ford said after receiving an official reprimand for campaigning outside City Hall. “If the other candidates can be on the Square, I can be on the Square … you can’t have two sets of rules.”

Uhhh, Mr. Ford? You may want to check that letter you got from the city’s Chief Corporate Officer, Bruce Bowes, advising you that you’d contravened both the councillor expense policy and Council’s Code of Conduct when you made your Taxpayer Protection Plan announcement in Nathan Phillips Square. Bowes cited “…the section of the councillor expense policy which prohibits corporate resources and funding from being used for election-related purposes and the Code of Conduct which states councillors aren’t permitted to undertake campaign-related activities on city property during regular working hours.” [underling and bolding all ours.]

So there aren’t two sets of rules at work here as Ford claims. Sitting councillors can’t campaign on city property but private citizens can, it seems. Thus, George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi show up at City Hall, unmolested by the socialist apparatchiks getting their “marching orders from on high” while Ford is technically prohibited because – and this may be news to Mr. Ford, rushing in and out as he does council meetings to maintain his 98% voting rate without always spending much time there to figure out who’s who and what’s what before actually casting a vote [most likely] against whatever it is everyone’s voting on – neither Smitherman nor Rossi sits on council. (Although at the last debate, Ford did continually point out that neither man understood City Hall as well as he did. So he must have some inkling that they’re not councillors.)

Now, if Councillor Joe Pantalone decided to deliver a campaign announcement on city property and didn’t receive a similar reprimand then Rob Ford could—

Oh, fuck it. What’s it matter? It’s not like explaining it fully is going to change any Rob Ford supporter’s opinion. That is simply the nature of conservative thought these days. Right is right and the rest is wrong, and very likely plotting to overthrow everything that is good and wholesome. Facts have no bearing on the issues. You’re either with us or agin us; a paranoid pumping, divisive style of politicking that goes back to… well, let’s avoid any Hitler or Nazi references although they were masters of this particular tact… how be we just start at Nixon and move forward from there?

Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan. The Bushes. Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. You can draw a direct line between our current Prime Minister and his ongoing war with the long-form census and the statistical conclusions he doesn’t want to hear and this mindset. Their thinking was best encapsulated by Stephen Colbert when he said that “reality has a liberal bias”. If that’s the case, then they have to create and live within a separate reality, trying to draw in as many people as they can just long enough to claim positions of power in order to try and tilt real reality ever so slightly their way.

Thus, Rob Ford and his inherited wealth is just ‘looking out for the little guy’. How exactly does he do that? By cutting their taxes and out of control spending at City Hall. Just generally getting government off their backs. It couldn’t be simpler. So simple in fact that there must be plenty of examples of it working like charm out there in the bigger, wider world. You know, lower taxes = higher government revenue, deregulation = equitable running of the free market, higher tides raising all boats.

Well no, not exactly. After about 30 years of neo-liberal economics, we can look around and conclude that wealth never trickles downhill. It simply gushes upward like a busted deep sea oil rig, polluting everything around it. Deregulation (or getting the government off peoples’ backs) leads to near economic collapse and the socialization of private risk and debt. And higher tides float only those who’ve stashed enough money away to buy themselves a fancy yacht and drowns everything else that hasn’t learned how to swim.

That is what experience tells us. That is, if you subscribe to an evidence-based reality, of course. Those who aren’t so particular can go on believing that their cars aren’t contributing to climate change, greed is good and that Rob Ford is a viable mayoral candidate who has as much right as the next (non-councillor) guy to conduct campaign events outside City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square.

According to his choirmaster, Sue-Ann Levy in the Toronto Sun, Ford has “…every intention of continuing to use the Square for campaign announcements.”

No doubt. How better to hype his martyr status among all those who truly believe there are two sets of rules? One for them and one for all the privileged, egghead, sushi-eating, transit taking, downtowners who think that Rob Ford is a lying, manipulative, ignorant, backwards buffoon who makes Mel Lastman seem reasonable and who will set this city back a decade or two if he’s allowed to exert any power or influence.Don’t believe me or just outright disagree? OK then. Let’s sit down and examine the evidence, shall we? Oh right. We’ve already tried that. I guess that’s why we call it ‘wilful ignorance’. It is both wilful and ignorant.

fed-uppedly submitted by Cityslikr