Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat


A Sheepish Admission

July 25, 2011

Standing outside the tent on Saturday night, listening to The Sheepdogs rip through their 2nd set of the day (the first being an acoustic one in the blazing sunshine) at Hillside, my thoughts turned to the 70s. How could they not? Here was a band channeling the spirit of Southern Fried Rock in both sound and look with a touch of The Black Crows and My Morning Jacket thrown in for good measure to a capacity crowd that consisted largely of folks who weren’t even born when this sound first emerged.

Kids these days, with all their rap and bleep-blop electronic music, enthusiastically embracing the more countrified roots rock sound of their parents. Nothing wrong with that although, for me, if I want to listen to the Allman Brothers (an impulse which occurs almost never – my musical taste tends more to the bands that bracketed The Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang and Hollerado) I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers. But certainly, there are worse things to adopt from the recent past as I await the re-arrival of wide, wide ties with some trepidation.

I have mixed emotions about the decade I came of age in. While many of us benefited from the social and political freedoms that opened up as a result of the upheavals of the 1960s, we also wound up stunting them, stopped the march of progress far short of its goals, twisting and bending the ideals into an almost unrecognizable shape that called itself the Reagan (Neo-Conservative) Revolution. In 1969, America put a man on the moon. By 1980, we’d convinced ourselves that government was a problem not the solution. The 1970s just don’t hold up well in that light.

I was still mightily in my pre-teens during the tumultuous year of 1968 but I do remember that mixed sense of fear and, if not hope, a curious anticipation of what might be right around the corner. Protestors derailed a presidential re-election bid in a fight against an illegal, immoral war. Cities exploded in riots, set alight by inequality and racial oppression. Assassinations. First, Martin Luther King. Then, Bobby Kennedy. More riots.

It was Kennedy’s death that we can now see as something of a turning point for progressivism. Not that it was any more important or devastating than the slaying of King but RFK’s journey from his privileged, elite upbringing and early rabid anti-communism to the moral conscience of a country as presidential candidate signaled that the old order was rotten to the core. A fundamental change of course was needed and underway.

And then he was dead.

The politics of spite and tribalism filled the void and prospered. Even the downfall of the petty tyrant of vindictiveness, Richard Nixon, in 1974 only served to temporarily delay the triumphant of reactionism. It emerged in its full blown hideousness with the ascent to power of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and so on and so forth.

So by the time those younger Sheepdogs fans began sitting up and noticing the wider world around them, radical conservatism had become the entrenched orthodoxy. We who had benefited from progressive ideas in action – livable wages and working conditions, accessible and affordable health care and education, reasonable expectations of fair pensions and a well earned retirement, all that solid middle class claptrap – had decided that enough was enough. No longer would or should we extend such luxuries. They only served to sap our work ethic and encourage lolly-gagging and freeloading. Nose to the grindstone, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and all that.

The flagrant hypocrisy of such I-Got-Mine-Jackism manifested itself to me last week when I came across a video of Paul Ainslie’s maiden speech at Toronto city council (h/t Jonathan Goldsbie) after he was appointed councillor in 2006. Ignoring for the moment his vow never, ever to run for council in ‘Ward 41 or any other ward in this city’ after his interim time was up (he did run both in the 2006 and 2010 election, successfully unfortunately), what really got my goat was Ainslie’s citing of a Bobby Kennedy quote as a source of his political and public service inspiration.

The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.

Councillor Ainslie is a nose-pick of a politician who is a certified member of Mayor Ford’s wrecking crew, intent on dismantling much of what makes this city work so well. Rather than searching out and learning from ‘the reason for disillusionment and alienation’ as Robert Kennedy implored, Councillor Ainslie, the mayor and his other enablers only seek to exploit the disillusionment and alienation in order to reduce government to impotency. The exact opposite of what RFK was seeking to do.

That a politician of Ainslie’s low caliber was able to co-opt the words of Robert Kennedy goes a long way to explaining our modern political dynamic. The Reactionary as Revolutionary. I’m a neo-conservative politician and Robert Kennedy would endorse these words I’m about to speak.

It takes me to the words of another icon of the 60s, Hunter S. Thompson. The best known passage from his best known book, and perhaps the best analysis of the end of what we now think of as the end of the 60s and the birth of a generation of swine.

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

And it’s been rolling back now for over 40 years, slowly and surely drowning much of the progress that had come before it. Just when you think it’s crested, unbelievably you’re hit with another surge. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford. This has to peak too, doesn’t it? That’s the way waves work. Where is the neoconservative ‘high-water mark’? Have we just not seen it yet? Are we lacking the ‘right kind of eyes’?

So kids, follow in our musical steps all you want. Remake it. Remix it. Rejig it. It’s all harmless, nostalgic fun. But stop listening to our politics. We’re sell-outs and con artists. We’ve shirked our duties and responsibilities, leaving us all worse for wear. Our taste in music far exceeded our sense of citizenship, and the sooner you learn that the better.

guiltily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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


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


Rocco Rossi Goes Underground

May 5, 2010

So now Rocco Rossi’s going to build us subways. Two kilometers of track and one stop per year for the next ten years. Once we get that albatross Toronto Hydro from around our necks, the world will be our oyster! Get cheque. Go to the bank. Pay off debt. And the money will start rolling in.

Monetization of public assets. It’s so simple that it’s amazing no one else has ever thought of that before.

Oh, wait. They have. Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan’s President’s Commission on Privatization in 1987. Our very own Mike Harris. Remember the 407? (Hey! There’s a snappy campaign catch phrase. Remember the 407! Reminiscent of the defiant battle cry, Remember the Alamo! It’s open for public use. Maybe you want to use it, Councillor Pantalone. A little bump to help you step up and get involved in the conversation.) How about the recent long term lease deal/debacle in Chicago where they outsourced the revenue for parking meters and lots into private hands?

What I’d like to know before we go all weak in the knees over Mr. Rossi’s plan to trade Toronto Hydro for subways is does it make an economic sense? With more than a few substantive examples of privatization plans gone awry, where are the positive illustrations of asset monetization? One? Any? I’m all ears here.

Even in the Fraser Institute’s call to privatization arms, the to-the-point article entitled Time to privatize, there’s talk of the tremendous benefits of “sweeping privatization” backed by overwhelming research in academic literature. The results have shown that privatized firms increased profitability, efficiency and dividends while reducing debt ratios. OK, but what about any benefits to the public purse? What does the public gain from monetizing assets?

Errr… well, a better run, more profitable company will help increase economic growth overall. More money, more tax revenue. So we’re counting on that old trickle down theory that conservative groups like the Fraser Institute love so much. There’s also the possibility of an increased amount of capital investment which would also stimulate overall economic growth, taking us back to trickle down again.

There seems to be a much more robust argument against privatization coming from people like Dexter Whitfield and the Municipal Services Project. Mr. Whitfield summarizes the crux of his recent book, Global Auction of Public Assets: Public Sector Alternatives to the Infrastructure Market and Public Private Partnerships, in a post at Truthout. His view seems to be that the public is better served by directly investing in infrastructure without relying on the private sector. Real life examples seem to back his argument up.

Examining Mr. Rossi’s plan specifically, things just don’t seem to add up. If I understand correctly, the city of Toronto garners more equity annually from it’s ownership of Toronto Hydro than it spends on servicing the debt. In selling Toronto Hydro, we pay down some of the debt thereby decreasing the amount of interest we pay per year. But after the one time payday, we get no further revenue from Toronto Hydro. So unless Mr. Rossi plans on paying off the debt entirely, we’re still in a negative cash flow situation as opposed to a slightly positive one if we keep revenue coming in from our ownership of Toronto Hydro.

And he plans to build 2 kilometres of subway track and one station per year at roughly $200-300 million a pop? How? Where’s the money going to come from?

Yet this announcement was made to great fanfare yesterday morning. What has Rocco Rossi done to earn himself such a free ride? Serious candidates should have serious plans not simply the hocus-pocus of you want subways? I’ll give you subways. Just don’t look behind the curtain.

Rossi’s announcement is the latest in a trend from our conservative candidates of shameless pandering that was best summed up in the Tweet-o-sphere yesterday by Graphic Matt. Look at me! I’m a right-wing candidate for Mayor of Toronto. Here is my proposal: subways! Here is how I will pay for them: magic!

— head scratchingly submitted by Cityslikr