Thanks? Thanks For Nothing.

October 9, 2011

(In a turkey induced stupor, we were unable to properly vet the words written below from our long lost colleague, Acaphlegmic, who has returned from the wilds of the mythical land of Ford Nation and, well, the wilds themselves. He is primed, pumped and ready to Occupy something. [We’re partial to #occupykevinoleary] The following words and sentiments do not necessarily reflect those of the management.)

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Hey ho, good citizens of Toronto. Like General MacArthur (but in a good way) I am returned. My revolutionary zeal stoked by the taste of fresh killed moose meat and homemade liquor. The seeds of dissent have been sown. The fuse of righteous indignation lit. Let’s get this party started right!

As a certified member of Club `68 (if you have to ask what that is you’re on the wrong side of history, boyos), I feel that the time for the Big Pushback is upon us. We have been far too complacent in this country for more than 30 years now. Let’s not be mere spectators on the sidelines any longer.

What do we want? The re-establishment of our social contract! When do we want it? 1979!

You know, back in the days of my youth, those whose sole purpose was to make money by any means necessary were highly ridiculed, left to plot away deviously amongst themselves in their boardrooms, golf courses and men’s only clubs. They were not treated as demigods or paragons of merit. They weren’t allowed to cow the population with their own TV shows. I’m fired, Mr. Trump? I don’t think so.

Our Titans of Industry were more circumspect. They knew if we knew what they were up to, well, out came the pitchforks. So it was kept on the q.t. Out of sight, out of mind.

There was also the last vestiges of the noblesse oblige ideal. Privilege entails responsibility, and all that touchie-feelie, New Age nonsense that dated back a few centuries. Great wealth demanded certain sacrifice for the greater good.

Now we hear the snotty dismissal of ‘entitlements’ attached to things like pensions, liveable wages and working conditions. The only entitlement allowed these days is the entitlement to obscene amounts of money with the most minimal contribution to the welfare of the state possible. If you’re not rich or even able to keep a job that maintains a basic standard of living for you and your family, that is hardly anyone else’s fault but your own.

Class Warfare! Class Warrior! Richist!

No, no one’s seriously talking about nationalizing banks and other financial institutions. Although… although… No. Ignore such radical, leftwing nuttery. What we’re talking about, what our demands are, are far less extreme than that. (Good. I’ve set the rock back down.) We demand an end to undue influence on our political system from moneyed interests. We demand more oversight of the freewheeling and dealing that knowingly packages up bad debt and makes a profit from it. We don’t want all your money. Just a little more than you’ve been paying for the last 3 decades or so. We demand all criminality be punished equally. We demand that you regain a conscience.

Now hold on just a second the pundits of profit are saying. Our banks here in Canada didn’t get into all the monkey business, or at least not to such a terrifying degree. Canadian banks are regulated. Why you so down on the Bay Street suits, baby?

We’re talking a much larger illness. Even here in Canada the good, Canada the clean, income disparity is the highest it’s been in over 80 years. Our middle class is getting squeezed. Well paying jobs are dwindling. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our schools are bandaged together by bake sales and out of teachers’ pockets. Too few of us control too much of the national wealth pie. Too many of us profit from the misery of others. Our federal government, fresh with its majority status, is setting about to abolish public subsidies to political parties. Just who’s going to fill that gap?

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. So said JFK back in 1962. To go around squawking about leaderless protests, full of bongo playing, know nothing hippies is to be simply setting a collision course for angry mobs, ugly confrontations and blood in the streets. That kind of thing can’t happen here. This isn’t Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria. Hopefully not. But it’s going to take both sides agreeing that there’s a systemic problem needing a fix. Sooner not later.

There’s been warning signs for a while now. Pretending not to see them only increases the probability of ugly battles ahead. Accept the fact a deal’s been broken and offer up redress.

Until that’s done, let the Occupation begin.

Diminshed Expectations Are Contagious

March 18, 2011

I have come to terms with the fact that our 4 dailies, most of the mainstream media actually, take a dimmer view of government than I do. For I continue to believe that our elected representatives act only as badly, goodly, cravenly, bravely, miserly or magnanimously as we allow them. Their faults are our faults. Their successes ours. At the end of the (election) day, governments remain accountable to the people and to the people only.

Yeah. I do actually believe that.

So most political coverage from our newspapers that comes across my desk I read with a mixture of anger, dismay, incredulity, angrier, disbelief, confusion, angrierer. (But not you, Christopher Hume.) It’s not that I simply disagree with much of what’s written. That’s a given. I just find it discouraging to think of the influence the discourse has on our political atmosphere. A disheartened atmosphere of No Can Do-ism and diminished expectations. Ask not what your government can do for you because it can do diddly squat.

So it was as I read Chris Selley’s piece in the National Post a couple days back, Let’s get diesel trains to airport on track Mr. Selley may have a tepid point with his analysis of the diesel vs. electric debate. Let’s take whatever we can to get a rail link between downtown and Pearson. Finally. It’s long, long, very long overdue. But isn’t it this grudging acceptance, this settling for something less, this sense of diminished expectations that has got us into our current transit mess in the first place?

Had the newly minted Harris government not experienced a failure of nerve or a failure to take the long view or just been less… oh, I’m so tempted to drop the c-bomb and add an ‘ish’ here but I’ll restrain myself… back in 1995, we’d already have a subway running along Eglinton Avenue. Fast forward 13 years, Premier McGuinty wavering in the face of a recession induced deficit and scaling back plans on funding Transit City, itself something of a We-Don’t-Have-The-Density/Money-To-Build-Subways compromise. The result? More delays and opening the door wide to the new mayor’s ridiculously under-thought out Sheppard subway plan that, whatever the outcome, only means even further delays for Toronto.

What happened to the time when our politicians marshalled an uncertain public to embrace the great unknown for the greater good? Like JFK sending Americans to the moon. I’m sure a very solid dollars and cents case was made why that wouldn’t be a good idea. Or (and I hesitate to go here, fearing that I may just be invoking Godwin’s Law which I only recently learned about from @jm_mcrath) back in 1939, imagine western governments worrying about the costs, both human and financial, of going to war with the Nazis? You know, the timing’s really bad. Winter’s coming. We’re still a little behind the 8 ball with this Great Depression-y thing…

Oh, right. We now have leaders marshalling an uncertain public to embrace bad causes for the lesser good. Like say going to war in Iraq. Deregulation. The debasement of government itself.

The strange thing is, we watch as the private sector nose dives into a near death spiral through mismanagement, criminality and irrational swings in triumphant certainty to baseless fear, only to be picked up, dusted off and sent back along their way with billions of dollars of government cash, yet still we lionize these titans of industry for their daring-do, spirit of adventure and risk taking in the face of daunting odds. Our politicians? Not so much. Just deliver the services we demand, don’t take too much money from us and try and keep quiet over there.

While no transit expert, I think the case for electrifying the rail link from downtown to Pearson is a slam dunk. Yes, the upfront costs are more but the general feeling is we will recoup that money through lower operational costs down the line. Electrification would allow more flexibility in terms of the numbers of stops along the way. There’s that whole concept of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. I know some of our electricity is coal generated but it is more flexible to future energy innovations (although there’s another front where our politicians are easily swayed away from green energy by dubious arguments). Diesel is diesel and electric trains simply make public transit a joy.

Mr. Selley does his argument a great disservice by blithely pointing out that the diesel trains Metrolinx has contracted to buy are convertible to electric as if it’ll be as easy as that. Slap up some wires, attach a couple of those rod thingies to the trains and we’ll be good to go. It’ll be a little more burdensome than that and, if history can be used as an example, the cost will be much higher in the long run than if we just electrified it now. (And while we’re in critical mode with this. Please, Chris. “If I worked downtown and was flying to London, I’d much sooner change in Montreal, or even Newark, than brave Pearson.” Seriously? A connecting flight rather than making your way to Pearson for a direct one? A little over the top, wouldn’t you say?)

But that seems to be what we do these days, make questionable claims to back up our demand for less bold measures from our governments. Bold measures are inherently risky, unpredictable and oftentimes don’t immediately pay off. It takes some courage to step up and see them through. If our politicians aren’t capable of such conviction, maybe it’s because we aren’t either.

boldly submitted by Cityslikr

Politics 101

July 19, 2010

I like to think of myself as a man not oblivious to political machinations. There is no subterfuge buried deep enough that my nose cannot uproot, truffle style. Long gone are the days when I read anywhere but between the lines.

But I am the proverbial babe in the woods in these matters compared to my acquaintance, one Jose Cuervo Manchego (not his real name, I suspect). Sitting drinking in our favourite west end watering hole, he coolly and quickly dispels any notion I might have of possessing an ‘operative’ mindset. It is both disturbing and thrilling to watch one’s self-assured perspectives so systematically dismantled.

“To think Harper staged the G20 where he did simply to kick sand in the face of Toronto is infantile in its level of petulance,” Jose sneered at me. “It attaches human emotion to someone who possesses none.”

“Yes, yes, everyone’s trying to convince us the man’s actually a warm, huggable guy in person,” Jose continues. “All kittens and lollipops but in the political realm, he’s a machine, a robot, Vulcan. Spite is something completely foreign to him.”

So if not spite, what?

I make the mistake of wondering the thought out loud and am met with nothing but an icy stare of heart-stopping derision. It cost me another round of drinks plus one of the establishment’s marvelous pulled pork sandwiches to get Manchego to stay, let alone fully explain his diabolical theory. An investment well worth it in order to travel down the river to such a heart of darkness. But it would have to wait until the sandwich arrived. Our table was overcome with a stony silence.

“Everybody knew there was going to be a riot,” Manchego restarted in between bites. “As soon as the thing got moved downtown. Expected and desired.”

Sitting listening to Jose Cuervo Manchego brought to mind that scene in Oliver Stone’s JFK where Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison is schooled in duplicity by Donald Sutherland’s X on the park bench. Yes, the man is that mad!

“They knew there’d be a riot. They knew there’d be police overreaction. Hell, they assured it with the number of cops they put on the street and the toys they gave them to play with. They knew there’d be a huge outcry of protest afterwards. Laws manipulated. Rights stepped on. And they knew… there… would…be…pushback.”

Manchego delivered the last line pretty much as written. Like he was talking to a child. To someone who would never fully comprehend what he was pointing at. But he underestimated my growing grasp of the situation.

“Over 70% of Torontonians approved of how the police dealt with the protesters!” I yelled out, startling everyone in the bar except for Jose Cuervo Manchego. He sat back, smiling a Yoda smile and gestured to the bartender for another round.

Locate and mobilize. Showing support for police actions over the G20 weekend (and beyond) revealed a law and order sensibility that was the Conservatives’ bread and butter. Where these people are and getting them out to vote might be the key to future electoral success.

“The Conservatives are this close,” (gesturing but, in fact, I take some editorial license here because what Manchego actually said about the miniscule proximity included an Andrew Brett degree of vulgarity which I’m not sure readers of this blog are ready for), “to securing a majority government. But they’re tapped out everywhere else in the country. The major breakthrough in Quebec fizzled because they have a fundamental cluelessness about the population. So, where … are … they … going … to … find … the … extra … seats?”

Now, I was just being patronized. The Conservatives had no presence in the country’s 3 biggest cities. A surge in any of them would provide the numbers needed to finally go over the top. So Manchego seemed to be suggesting that the PM deliberately set Toronto on fire in order to find out where his supporters were and to get them excited. That was too Machiavellian even for my tastes.

“Look at that debate at City Hall afterwards,” Manchego countered. “All those councillors who stood up to applaud the police. They proudly claimed to have had no part in the protests and watched it all go down on TV. Why? Because they don’t live anywhere near the downtown core. They go there to work and that’s the extent of it.”

“They live in Rob Ford country, friend.”

Maybe it was the number of drinks we’d downed on this sunny weekend afternoon but my head was a-swirl with the implications Manchego put forward. So the summer of 2010 was to be one of recruitment for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 416 area code. Identify, locate and mobilize. All they needed was a handful of seats and discontent was indeed running high throughout the city. Discontent generated and intensified by many of the candidates running for mayor, none more so than Rob Ford.

“His campaign is nothing more than a trial run,” Jose Cuervo Manchego suggested. “Trotted out to see what sticks and what slides. And exactly where his support is most intense.”

“And if he wins even better!”

Once again, the depths of my ignorance and obliviousness were revealed by Manchego’s reaction to my statement. He dropped his head back and his jaw down, staring in astonishment up at the ceiling. Before I could be relieved over the gentleness of his scorn, he grabbed a crust from his pulled pork sandwich and flung it at me, scoring a direct hit right into my slightly open mouth and forcing me to spit it out onto the floor in full view of the bartender. We apologized after getting a rebuke from him and remained quiet for a few moments but Manchego could not contain himself.

“Nobody in official Conservative circles wants Rob Ford to be mayor, you idiot!” Manchego hissed at me nowhere near as far under his breath as he might’ve imagined. “That would be a disaster. It would set back their agenda years if not decades.”

“The man’s a moron, a buffoon. One year in office as mayor would reveal the entire neo-Conservative, anti-government ideology to be the destructive, brutal, ruinous movement that it truly is. He’d get nothing accomplished except for sinking Conservative chances of ever electing anyone to office in this city ever again.”

I began to suspect the sanity of my drinking partner, Jose Cuervo Manchego. If what he’s saying were true then Toronto progressives should consider voting for Rob Ford as mayor. Take the long view and embrace a one term Ford mayoralty as a giant step toward damaging the neo-conservative brand. Our own little George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Take one for the team for a brighter future. Fall on the grenade to save the platoon.

But alas, that was too far through the looking glass for me. A worldview I was unprepared to embrace lest I lose my very soul. I would admire the mind of someone like Jose Cuervo Manchego but would not seek to emulate it.

A conclusion I kept to myself, not wanting to be pelted by any more sandwich detritus although, judging from the smoldering, even hateful, look I was subject to, Manchego very likely knew what I was thinking. We continued drinking in silence. The heat outside was too stifling for us to do anything else.

shakenly submitted by Acaphlegmic

Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part VIII

April 9, 2010

Don’t know about you people but here it’s Friday, and here Friday means: Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

Up this week, Keith Cole for Mayor. So just Get Over It!

If ever a mayoralty campaign in Toronto needed the panache and zazz that Keith Cole brings to the table, it is this one in 2K10™®©. To date it has been a largely dreary affair, damp and musty with pessimism and hostility. Everything, it seems, is negative and out of control at City Hall and without severe measures, our future will be bleak.

With most of the frontrunners adhering to this narrative and vying to prove themselves the meanest, toughest, cuttiest and slashiest som’bitch out there, Cole is all about the positive. He is the can-do to the others’ can’t. We can’t think big in terms of public transit, they say. We can’t provide secure, well-paying jobs to our public employees. We can’t stand up to the egregious neglect shown us from the provincial and federal governments.

Well, colour candidate Keith Cole unconvinced and unimpressed to such unconstructive sentiments.

A performance artist, Cole is naturally passionate about the arts and what they contribute to the well-being of the city. “Toronto is more than TIFF, LUMINATO and Harbourfront Centre,” Cole told us. “Our city has more events (often free) in one week than anyone could ever attend. We have to foster, care and support the arts in our city. We are so lucky to have this vibrant artistic culture in this city but we have to care for it or it could disappear.” A timely thought, what with the battle now waging over how to use the revenue from the new billboard tax. Lead by the organization , there is a call for all the money to be directed towards the arts, a notion championed at City Hall by Budget Chief Shelley Carroll and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone. That’s not going to happen this year but we have a pretty good sense which way a Mayor Keith Cole would vote on the matter.

But it’s not all about the arts for Cole. The overlying theme of his candidacy is civic engagement. Imagine JFK in a wig, dress and pumps, invoking his fellow citizens to ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country, and then tap dancing to Michael Sembello’s Maniac. That’s candidate Cole.

“Think of what Toronto could be if more people just got involved,” he said. “Educate yourself. Figure it out for yourself. Get involved with politics and your politicians, your community and your city.”

And pick up your own fucking garbage, we might add, agreeing whole-heartedly with Cole’s assessment of the city looking dirty, inundated as it seems to be with litter. True civic engagement means not thinking others are going to clean up after you. Or assuming someone else has called about that burnt out streetlight in the back lane or the huge pothole in the middle of the road. Engaging means participating and Keith Cole sees that as the first step toward living in a healthy, exciting and fair society.

Like many of the candidates running for the mayor’s office, Cole’s campaign is full of ideas and short on matters of implementation. How does one demand and get increased civic engagement from the population? In a city allegedly strapped for cash, how would a Mayor Keith Cole ensure that funding for the arts is maintained, even increased, in the face of competing demands from other sectors and the philistinism of a council filled with Rob Fords, Giorgio Mammolitis and Doug Holydays?

Granted, the task of building and strengthening is much more complex than the simple wielding of an axe to hack and diminish as many of Cole’s mayoral rivals advocate. Even though the theory goes that it requires more energy to frown than smile, the opposite is true when it comes to governing. Keith Cole stands for optimism, engagement and a heaping help of civic pride in Toronto. That’s an uphill, rockier road to travel compared to the easy and smooth sailing of political destruction and reactionary malevolence that has been the main theme of the campaign so far. This race needs to hear more from Keith Cole and the little ray of sunshine he would bring to the proceedings.

When asked to answer our feeble question, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cole like to see his legacy written?, Cole initially expressed surprise. “Is that what David Miller wants?” Thus, he became the first profiled candidate to call us out on the issue. We… think so, would be our response. Pretty sure we read that somewhere. Let us get back to you.

Having not had that cleared up for him, Cole gamely proceeded. Keith Cole Art Mayor, he told us but also wouldn’t rule out being The Bicycle Mayor before finally settling on a legacy. Art. Bikes. Green.

Now if we can only get the other candidates espousing such positive, constructive and proactive ideas.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Adam Giam-boner. Yeah! Nailed It!!

February 10, 2010

As a campaign strategy, let’s call it risky; a roll of the dice gambit.

On Monday, rumours started seeping out about personal indiscretions on the part of councilor and mayoral candidate, Adam Giambrone. After a quick acknowledgment of an inappropriate but seemingly non-sexual relationship, news broke of a much wider swath of far more intimate liaisons on Giambrone’s part. By Wednesday morning, we were in the middle of a full fledged sex scandal.

And who says municipal politics is boring?

If managed right, this may ultimately work to Giambrone’s favour on at least 3 levels.

One, for the time being at least this mess has supplanted the TTC chairmanship as the biggest obstacle to Giambrone’s campaign for mayor. Nobody’s talking about his supposed ineffectual stewardship of the organization right now as the number of dalliances he was involved in continues to grow. Even if he is compelled to step down as the chair (or Mayor Miller demands it), it can be blamed on the scandal rather than him blanching in the face of criticism about his performance… errr, with the TTC, that is, rather than on his office couch. See? A nice little sleight of hand.

Secondly, with the chorus of ‘young’, ‘boyish’ and ‘inexperienced’ peppering press coverage of the candidate, his serial philandering might serve as a counter-intuitive counterweight, if you will. While I might have skewed older than the 20 year-old who was the first to go public, the infidelity moniker (especially of the multiple sort) has a certain old school, Hugh Hefner feel to it. It’s amazing Giambrone was able to get anything done in his official capacity with that many balls in the air.. as it were.

He has now given himself a Kennedy-esque hue. No longer simply this overly ambitious, grasping, policy wonk, boy wonder but the quintessentially flawed figure with his very own grown-up, personal demons. It is the stuff of political myth making legend, torn from the pages of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Thirdly and, perhaps, most importantly, Giambrone’s maneuver might fully push the Toronto Star into straight-up irrelevancy if the paper wasn’t already plowing that field. In choosing to be point on this story, the Star has revealed itself to be little more than a tabloid rag and purveyor of crass, yellow journalism. They’ve injected an element of prurient moralism that frequently mars politics in America but seldom finds much traction here. It is lazy, detrimental and, ultimately, more damaging to the Star’s credibility than to that of Adam Giambrone. Or, at least, should be.

Rather than run from that, the well-regarded Royson James vigorously embraces his paper’s descent into the mud with his editorial today. It is the absolute height of sanctimonious self-righteousness, erroneously equating personal comportment with professional competence. History is littered with figures who were less than ideal people but somehow still managed to compose brilliant music, write masterpieces of fiction and ably steer the ship of state. JFK averted nuclear war with the Soviet Union while adulterously fucking his brains out. Simply because they failed to meet the Royson James Moral Code of Uprightedness does not disqualify them from serious political consideration.

If all this does derail Adam Giambrone’s political career, hopefully the integrity of journalists like Royson James and newpapers like the Toronto Star will crash and burn too. While the choices the candidate made in how he lead his personal life should’ve only affected those directly involved, the decision of the Toronto Star to make political hay of it is far more injurious to society at large. When news and information take the backseat to salacious sensationalism and gossip, we are no longer informed citizens but simply sad, bug-eyed peeping toms.

erectfully (morally speaking) submitted by Cityslikr