One More Kick At The TCHC Can

March 1, 2011

I know I really should let go of this TCHC imbroglio, I really should. It only draws out the timeline and plays into the mayor’s hands since it is the heart and soul, the bread and butter topped with gravy of his schtick, and ultimately diverts attention from the real news of the past couple days. That is, his complete reversal on his campaign theme of the city not having a revenue problem. Apparently, Mayor Ford now thinks it does.

But enough of that. Back to the TCHC.

To the mayor and his folks, this mess at the TCHC represents everything they’ve been railing about for years now. Wasteful spending at City Hall. And just like on the campaign trail with Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party or the bunny suits, it’s a scandal that comes in units everyone can fully grasp. $53,000 Christmas parties! $1800 spa retreats! $1000 for chocolates?! I mean, come on! I scour the shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart for post-Valentine Day sales of cheap Lindt chocolates! (Reminding me, as many things do, of an exchange on Arrested Development between Michael and his mother, Lucille. Michael has been refusing to give his brother, Gob, any free frozen bananas from the family’s frozen banana stand. Coming to Gob’s defense, Lucille asks Michael what a banana costs. $10?)

I’m not intending to downplay the seriousness of the situation at TCHC or to serve as an apologist for those who thought it fine and dandy to charge such extravagances to a city corporation that oversees social housing serving many low income citizens. If nothing else, how could they not know how badly this would play out? It’s an obliviousness that is incomprehensible. (See Lucille Bluth, above.) The right wing, pro-Ford, anti-government types have every right to be dancing with joy and ululating on web pages and newspapers everywhere. This has not been bureaucracy’s finest hour.

But let’s not lose sight of the big picture. As we wrote yesterday, the amount of money in question (high estimates right now place it at about $10.2 million through poorly tendered procurements and employee expenses) is infinitesimally small in relation to the funds the city gives to the TCHC and smaller still in terms of Toronto’s overall annual operating budget. It’s a sliver and nowhere near the amount the mayor will need to dig himself out of the budget hole he’s created for himself next year. This is a convenient diversionary tactic he’s using to deflect attention from our bigger fiscal problems.

Some are suggesting that this is just the tip of the ‘corruption’ iceberg, as those who lack any concrete evidence will indeed say. Until there’s any actual proof of that assertion, it’s nothing more than political theatrics to operate under that assumption. The Auditor General has uncovered some reprehensible dirt and tells us he’s just scratched the surface. So be it. Let him proceed with his work, and until he finds massive, large scale fiscal sordidness, it’s nothing more than political opportunism to talk of rot.

“This would never happen in the private sector,” Councillor Frances Nunziata told the CBC’s Metro Morning this morning, parroting the administration’s line about anything to do with government that they don’t like. An odd sentiment, really, coming just 2 days after the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature went to Inside Job, a movie detailing the widespread fraudulent behaviour in the financial private sector which brought the world to the precipice of economic ruin. Yes, Councillor Nunziata, such things do happen in the private sector. That doesn’t excuse it at the TCHC but please stop pretending this kind of problem only exists within governments.

Any large organization, public or private, with thousands of employees and spending billions of dollars is going to be subject to financial irregularities. To think otherwise or to accept it as business as usual in one sector and not the other, is misguided or delusional. That is why mechanisms like the Auditor General’s office exist. In order to combat such things. That is what has happened at the TCHC. So far, the numbers are nowhere near the 10% of waste the mayor told us he would find, easy, and certainly way off the amount he needs to find to compensate for the loss of revenue he’s inflicted on the city with his tax cuts and freezes. Until they begin to so much as approximate those figures, let’s leave the Auditor General to do his job and get on with the actual work of finding ways to balance our books.

doggedly submitted by Cityslikr


Responding To Our Responders

February 19, 2011

So we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke received, if not a deluge of comments to our post from a couple days ago, A Plea to Conservatives Everywhere, let’s call it a handful. A good percentage of which were from almost exclusively well-behaved self-described conservatives taking exception to much of what we’d written. It would’ve been time-consumingly impossible to respond to each one individually. Instead, we’re lumping them together into a single response post which, undoubtedly, will look as if we’re misrepresenting what everyone wrote and deceptively framing the terms of debate in order to make ourselves seem much smarter than we actually are.

Alas, the burden of ultimate editorial control.

There seemed to be four currents of argument running through the anti-comments that came in. When we asked to be shown “…how further corporate tax cuts will kick start our economy,” we got a lesson in the theory of corporate taxes. Yes, we understand the concept. We just weren’t sure where the proof was that cutting them further at this particular time was going to help. Unless you’re one of those anti-Keynesian absolutists, reducing spending along with taxes in such an anemic state of recovery doesn’t make a whole lot of economic sense.

Besides, we’ve been hacking away at corporate tax rates both federally and provincially for a few years now, haven’t we? When should we expect to see positive results? And if corporate tax cuts are such an effective weapon in stimulating the economy, why not lobby for their complete removal? Eliminate them entirely. If 13% is going to help, why not 0? Point to a jurisdiction with significantly lower corporate tax rates than ours are currently and say, see? They work. And if I can’t find one, like say Mexico, that counters your argument, I’ll lay down my sword.

A number of commenters suggested the burden was on me (or the entire Left) to prove that de-regulation and less oversight was the source of the global financial meltdown. I thought they already had. Google Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman and see what he’s been saying over the last couple years. Or Jeffrey Sachs if he’s more to your economic taste. Check out Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone for the naked criminality at the very heart of the meltdown. Read Michael Lewis’s The Big Short or Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big To Fail. Watch Charles Ferguson’s documentary, Inside Job. The case has been made quite definitively. You dispute it? You refute it.

And on a couple little side notes. One commenter asked if we wanted to return to the days of the Glass-Steagall Act “…which limited credit growth and therefore slowed down economic growth…” Errr, am I wrong in remembering that the full repeal of Glass-Steagall occurred in 1999, at the height of one of the biggest economic expansions in history? So how exactly did it slow down economic growth? The commenter then went on to point out that no Canadian banks failed due to smart regulations — which, while in opposition, the current Conservative government fought against — and kind of proves my point for me, doesn’t it? We missed the brunt of the financial shitstorm because of government regulation and oversight not because a lack of it. Or am I missing something?

“Prove this whole trickle-down theory to me,” I taunted. “How rising tides raise all boats.” That brought forth a litany of indignation, mostly in two forms. One, things were much better now than they were 100 years ago, owing to the miracle of free market capitalism. OK, sure. But my line of attack wasn’t necessarily directed at the idea of free market capitalism, only how it’s been conducted in the last 30 years or so. Cast your minds back, 50, 60 years ago, to the more immediate post-War era. Where governments taxed the richest of the rich more prodigiously and spent massively on things like infrastructure, established universal health care and sent men to the moon. An era when a single bread winner could buy a house, raise a family, put the kids through college and retire comfortably.

A picture, I’m sure, more idyllic than it actually was but one that is a pipe dream nowadays. Much of our prosperity is built on a mountain of debt. Two income households are the norm. Post-secondary education has grown into an onerous financial burden that is increasingly failing to deliver on its promise of leading to better lives.

Secondly, please, please, please stop bringing up China and India when attempting to defend modern day capitalism. Yes, millions of people are climbing their way out of poverty. And yes, China in particular has turned away from its Maoist past and heartily embraced aspects of the free market. But as another commenter pointed out, both countries remain planned economies, control highly centralized. If our governments here attempted to intrude into the economy the way the Chinese and Indian governments do, conservatives would howl in outrage before soiling themselves and passing out. Witness the reaction to the various stimulus packages.

Finally, conservative commenters took exception to our painting them all with the same brush. There were pro-environmental conservatives who believed in anthropogenic climate change. Conservatives who suspected the War on Drugs was a bust. Pro-choice conservatives. Non-Rob Ford voting conservatives.

Fair enough but that type of red Toryism or socially liberal conservatism is hardly in the ascendancy. Your movement has been hijacked by the radicals under your umbrella and they’ve seized Washington, Ottawa and city hall in Toronto. They’re attacking women’s rights. They’re declaring climate change hokum and maybe even beneficial. The federal Conservative government is trying to close down a safe injection site in Vancouver in the face of overwhelming evidence of its positive contribution. At the same time they’re attempting to roll back drug laws to a Draconian state in order to fill the prisons that they are building. These neocons hate government and everything it stands for.

They don’t believe much of anything you’re claiming to believe. In fact, your views sound much closer to my left wing bias. So why are you fighting me and not those who are doing great damage to your conservative brand and giving you all a bad name?

respondingly submitted by Cityslikr


More Michael Moore

November 29, 2010

I don’t make a point of watching Michael Moore’s films. It’s not any problem with him as a filmmaker. It’s his politics.

I tend to agree with him.

He doesn’t challenge my views and opinions. He merely reconfirms them. I am part of the choir he’s preaching to. So, why bother?

But then comes a lazy Sunday afternoon when I probably should be working and there I am, in front of the TV, watching my Toronto Raptors get crushed. I can’t stands it anymore and begin flipping. Just in time for the start of Capitalism: A Love Story. No, no. I really shouldn’t. Really. It’s just going to get me all worked up, mad, angry which, I already am after the Raptors’ drubbing. Suddenly, Iggy Pop starts singing ‘Louie, Louie’ and it’s over. How can I resist? I mean, I’m only human after all. A weak, easily swayed, quick to excite human being.

Sparing you a movie review, let me just say that we need more polemicists like Michael Moore. And by ‘we’, I mean those of us on the left side of the political spectrum.Unswerving, uncompromising, irate, unreasonable, intemperate, pissed-off motherfuckers fed up with having ceded the apparent middle ground to the likes of crackpots from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., talk radio, our very own Toronto Sun, corporate backed think tanks and university economics’ departments, etcetera, etcetera, etc.

Our political and economic discourse has been infected by an ideological mindset impervious to rationality or quantifiable truth. No amount of reaching out and trying to find common ground will succeed. The very act of attempting to have a reasonable debate only gives credence, lends a cloak of legitimacy to what is nothing more than superstitious, mythical lore and cant. It is no longer helpful to engage or participate in such corrupted civics.

People, a lot of people, are angry. They have every right to be. Watching Moore’s film and its agitprop addendum, Inside Job, it is painfully obvious that our economic system is rigged and has slowly over the course of the last 30 years or so poisoned our political system with it. Class war? Hell yeah. And it’s becoming more uneven with every concession we allow to happen in the name of “market realities” or “austerity measures”. We should be angry. It’s just that our anger’s misdirected.

Why?

Because the other side, the evil side, those representing corporate interests over those of the country or taxpayers and customers over citizens, are louder, richer, better organized and more unbending. They’ve seized the megaphone and shaped the dialogue. They don’t seek compromise. They demand acquiescence. When you possess the power, you don’t negotiate. You dictate.

That’s why we need more Michael Moores and his ilk. As direct and aggressive challenges to the status quo and what is embraced as conventional wisdom. While peaceable and fair-minded give-and-take would always be preferable, it’s been some time since any of that has actually happened. The post-war social contract that was drawn up to highlight the rights and responsibilities accorded to citizens and corporations alike has been shredded into pieces, bit by bit, over the past 3 decades. In my humble opinion, we’ve all helped with that by trying to place nice and get along. It’s time that we started to kick up a fuss. Just like Mike.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


The Enthusiasm Gap

November 4, 2010

What exactly would it take to get what is essentially the other half of eligible voters out to cast a ballot?

I ask because in the past 10 days or so, we here in Toronto have participated in and born witness to a couple notable elections, let us call them. Hotly contested affairs with nasty slinging of mud and fundamental questions about the kind of government we want. Yet, only in and around 50% of those eligible to vote came out to do so.

Big increases from previous elections, you’ll say. A record number in post-amalgamated Toronto, nearly 53%, up about 14% from 2006. On Tuesday, just over 41% turned out, the highest for U.S. midterms since 1982.

Where was everybody else? If these two elections could not stir a massive majority of the population up and out of their La-Z-Boys or away from the gaming consoles, what will? In the States, there were candidates openly questioning Constitutional amendments. Here, it was a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed visions of the kind of city we want to live in. Nosing up on high drama, I might offer, and still, nearly 48% of those who could vote in Toronto chose not to. Almost 3 out of 5 Americans opted out of exercising their democratic right.

I lace up my empathy shoes and perform a tolerance tango in an attempt to understand what exactly de-motivates people from voting but come up empty. I’m so busy. I had to get the kids to cello practice. I work 3 jobs. Who has the time? My vote doesn’t really matter. Politicians, they’re all the same.

None of it washes. The political burdens of being a member of a 21st-century free society are far from heavy. Not much is asked of us. Showing up for even a couple hours if need be every other year or every 4th year is not really all that onerous. Hell, I’m not even asking for voters to be all that informed although it would help.

I pay taxes! How much more do you want from me?

That’s a commercial exchange, really. Money paid for services rendered. As our mayor-elect says, it’s all about respect (or not) for taxpayers. Voting is what a citizen does.

I took in Inside Job last night, a documentary about the financial meltdown that brought us to the current Great Recession. One of the take away messages I got from it was that our democracy has been hijacked by special interests, in this case the financial services industry. Money and influence in the form of political contributions and lobbyists constantly guts the will of the people, transforming government into nothing more than a tool of the wealthy and business.

Big surprise. So it is as it always has been. What’s one vote from one little person going to do to change that?

Probably nothing. But sitting at home when the opportunity arises for you to express an opinion will do nothing to alter anything either. Arguably, disengagement from the process only serves to encourage political lawlessness and disregard for well-being of the commonwealth. If you don’t care enough to bother to vote, why would those intent on bending democracy to do their bidding worry about the repercussions of their actions? Non-voters actively collaborate in the corruption of the system.

Those who chose not to vote (or forget or simply can’t be bothered) are as much enemies of the body-politic as those seeking to undermine it for their own gain. Societal parasites leaving the heavy lifting of democracy to their friends, family and neighbours who do find the time and inclination to cast a ballot. It’s nothing more than a big fuck you to everyone else trying to make this thing run right. Deciding not to vote doesn’t constitute a statement or political stance. It just signals to everyone that you simply don’t care enough to be slightly inconvenienced. It’s a mockery to all those coming before us who fought for the very right to do what you are now neglecting to do and to those throughout the world still struggling and dying for that right that you shrug off.

People shouldn’t need to be chided for not voting. No law should be necessary making it compulsory to vote. Nor should blame be laid at the feet our politicians or system for not engaging voters enough to get them to do what they should reflexively do as citizens. Voting is not merely a right. It is a responsibility. By shirking that responsibility, non-voters work in cahoots with the predators operating and scheming to undercut the democratic principles that differentiate us from the despotic regimes that deny the most basic of human rights.

If the only voting you take part in is that of Canadian Idol, there should be an exchange program to send you over for a spell in Iran or China or Myanmar (or any other place where voting really doesn’t matter) and bring us people who know what it’s like to exist without an opportunity to have a say in how the government works.

sanctimoniously submitted by Cityslikr