Crisis? What Crisis? Check Out Our 3rd Quarter Earnings

November 24, 2010

I venture outside my comfort zone on this. Beyond the realm of municipal politics and into the wider world. I do so with trepidation, unsure of my footing but feeling absolutely compelled to give it a whirl.

The global financial crisis. Specifically, the slow unfolding of the car crash that is the Irish economy. From pauper to prince back to pauper once more and again under the harsh lash of foreign occupiers. Having drunk the koolaid of neoliberal promise, they are now forced to swallow its bitter pill of logical conclusion. A familiar story played out all over the globe for over 30 years now but one we simply refuse to learn a lesson from.

Now, I’m no economist (and I’ve never played one on TV) but it just seems to me that the mounting real life, on the ground evidence all points in the direction of telling us that this shit simply doesn’t work. What shit is that exactly? Low tax, low inflation, low regulatory, free trade, free market laissez-faire, Friedman-omics that has hijacked our government and public discourse to such a degree that we treat it as gospel. Inerrant teachings so secure in their factual basis that to question or doubt is nothing short of an admission of heresy or mental imbalance.

Exactly how many crises do we need to experience, how many severe economic meltdowns and downturns must we face before we finally stop and say: you know what, something’s not quite right here? How many bubbles need to burst – tulip, real estate, internet – for us to start questioning fundamentals we’ve been told are irrefutable? Or have we traveled so far beyond the point of return where, after a generation or so of indoctrination about “market realities”, we are incapable of challenging a system that is so clearly rigged, corrupt and in need of desperate repair?

We get indignant when protests at G20 meetings turn violent. When students in England, betrayed and lied to by their government over tuition fees, go on a rampage and tear up Tory HQs. When France goes out on another strike, we sit back, shaking our heads, tsk, tsk, tsking. Oh, those French. What the hell do they have to complain about? Yet when something like this (h/t @stealthbadger) crosses our desk, well, it’s all yawns and whaddagonnados. The money boys gotta play. (Hint on content to those not following the link: all about Wall Street excesses like $400 000 summer rentals in the Hamptons.)

Yesterday as news of the Irish IMF bailouts spread it was also reported that American 3rd quarter profits hit a record high. Are those two items connected? I think we’d be naïve to think they weren’t. This is a global crisis after all. At least, at a symbolic level we should recognize how these two stories fit seamlessly together. Another spectacular flame out in the private sector leads inexorably to a monumental flow of public money to save its ass. Again. An orgy of financial recklessness in which a precious few of us benefited back stopped by a drain on public coffers from which many more of us will suffer. Every few years, like clockwork, almost as if it were planned or something. If not planned, at least bad behaviour condoned and ultimately rewarded.

It’s not that we’re helpless bystanders in all this. As voters we oscillate between electing governments that encourage this economic system and governments that enthusiastically encourage this economic system. We soak up the exuberant atmosphere when things are going swimmingly and lash out when they head south which they do invariably and inevitably. We get angry but we get angry at the wrong people. We demand action but never action that might actually help us fix the problem. It’s happened too often to simply be chalked up to ignorance. Willful ignorance hardly qualifies as an excuse. Maybe we just love all the drama.

I weigh in on all of this because as we gird ourselves in preparation for the incoming Ford administration, we’re going to be hearing a lot about austerity. We already did during the campaign. It’s all going to sound strangely familiar. There’s no money. We need to cut taxes and spending. Belt tightening. New fiscal models. None of it will be new and none of it will ultimately do a whit to turn around whatever dire condition has been pronounced upon us. Let’s call it Situation: Gravy Train.

No, what it will be is nothing more than a settling of scores. A governmental ‘correction’. A righting (ha, ha) of 7 years of wrong and a return to the proper order of things. Re-directing the flow of money as it was meant to be. From public to private hands as God and St. Milton intended.

ecumenically submitted by Cityslikr


What’s With The Hate On For Government?

September 2, 2010

“Libertarians like to rant and rave about how everything is funded `out of my pocket’. Like it’s just them. Go live in the fucking woods.”

“govt jobs are parasitic. we need PRIVATE SECTOR jobs. govt jobs are wealth transfer from those who work and save.”Ah, yes. The private sector. Saver of all that is good and holy. Our economic engine. Without the private sector we would find ourselves in a lawless, amoral, tribal society. It’s the difference between civilization and anarchy.

The private sector sent a man to the moon. Except it didn’t. The private sector invented this thing called the ‘interwebs’. Except it didn’t. It only commodified it. The private sector discovered insulin. Except no, no it didn’t. Apparently that happened at the University of Toronto.

Oh, wait. How about this? Private sector thinking brought an end to the Cold War and triumphed over History itself!

The all-knowing, all-seeing hand of the free market, left unfettered by the grubby demands of government brings prosperity to us all until such time when it doesn’t, and implodes in spectacular fashion, cracking and breaking under the weight of greed and deceit.

We haven’t arrived at this moment of dire economic circumstance because of out-of-control government spending. Actually, yes we have. Billions of dollars in bailout money to our teetering auto industry. Internationally, billions and billions of dollars to a banking industry whose self-interest knew no bounds and unscrupulously brought us to the brink of another, near total economic meltdown. Billions more to keep people working or to just simply keep them afloat when they lost their jobs and benefits in the, yes, private sector.

Now, don’t go getting defensive out there, all you Defenders of the Free Enterprise faith. I’m not suggesting we go all French Revolutionary on your asses, although there are some… no, let’s not go down that road. I just don’t know how all of this has become exclusively a government problem. Why are they now the bad guys?

I know you don’t want to talk about it since you’ve been so deeply in thrall with Milton Friedman for the last 30 years or so but according to Keynesian thinking, during times of economic slumps (and this one’s been a big one), governments take on debt in order to keep money flowing and everything from grinding to a dangerous halt. Done and done. Once things pick up, they then rid themselves of the debt through an increased tax revenue stream and trimming away at programs that are no longer necessary as folks are back at work, paying taxes, etc.

If you think that just two years after our near collapse that we’re through the woods and out onto the other side, you just haven’t been keeping up on your news. So government debt accumulates until such a time that things manage to get better. Doing anything else, like slashing and burning and selling off assets and other bullheaded ideas that cut government revenue seems unsound. Unless of course you’re using this crisis as an opportunity to rollback wages of those types you don’t particularly care for or to eat away at the government itself in order to limit its effectiveness.

But why would you want to go and do that? It stepped up when the private sector faltered, remember? In fact, it was because governments throughout the world dropped the ball in terms of regulation and oversight that we are where we are. Now you’re all like, up in its face, screaming how it’s the problem and how our lives would be so much better if government just backed off and let the private sector do its thing?

What’s that mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi keeps repeating over and over again out there on the campaign trail? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. We let free enterprise run riot for the past few decades with little governmental interference and look what happened. Why are you demanding we do the exact same thing again? You’re not expecting another result, are you?

So to all you Dominion Pundits out there, wailing on about how awful government is, the glory and beneficence of the private sector and raising the specter of wealth transfer, in case you missed it, a massive one of those just occurred, plopping the cost of private sector speculation, risk and failure right down onto governments’ ledger sheets. You’re welcome. Calling for harsh measures that will only bring more pain and dislocation is not only mean-spirited and short-sighted. It smacks of the same dumbass ideology that got us into this mess in the first place.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


Head In The Toilet

July 22, 2010

We’re sitting around the office staring at each other. That is, when we’re not peaking around the corner at the plumber snaking the drain of our toilet. What exactly will he find down there, blocking up the system? I hope it’s some sort of exotic snake, a cobra perhaps. To think I might’ve been that close to death each time I sat down to go about my business. It probably won’t seem as thrilling a few decades hence, in my dotage, when such occasions are always a question of life or death.

On the other hand, Cityslikr knows what’s clogging the pipes and when he’s not looking at me or the plumber, he tries out one of those George Smitherman glares toward Acaphlegmic who lies on the couch across the room from us, smirking up at the ceiling, eyes closed, humming something that approximates a tune. He is high and Cityslikr believes he is the cause of the clog. Every time Acaphlegmic is startled awake (a frequent occurrence), he darts into the bathroom and flushes what can only be his stash down the toilet. Every time. It’s like he has no memory of any previous occasion that he does it. Which is probably the case.

A certain pall has descended down around the office since Wednesday’s night mayoral debate. This one seems to have taken it out of Cityslikr. He is unable to shrug it off, get past it and look ahead. The future’s too bleak to be looking forward to.

“One of these assholes is going to win,” he said to no one in particular. He kept wondering aloud why Sarah Thomson insisted on calling Deputy Mayor Pantalone, ‘Joey’.

“Who’s she playing to with that shit?” he demanded to know. “Who the fuck is she playing to!?”

Acaphlegmic just laughed, putting Cityslikr that much more on edge.

They have a complicated relationship, these two. Cityslikr admires what he imagines Acaphlegmic once was and detests what he’s become. Acaphlegmic admires nothing about Cityslikr, imagining he and his ilk are all that has gone wrong in the world these days. Borrowing a moniker from Hunter S. Thompson, Acaphlegmic refers to Cityslikr as part of that ‘Generation of Swine’. Cityslikr tolerates such ridicule as he, deep down, might well agree with that assessment.

“How have we let this happen?” he asks, as if he was reading my mind. The plumber pops his head out of the bathroom to answer the question, assuming I guess that Cityslikr was asking about the clog but is waved off and turns back to the task at hand. Acaphlegmic lets out another snort of bemusement.

“I mean, seriously. We didn’t do anything wrong this time. We let the bastards have their way. We bowed down at the feet of their Milton Friedman statue.”

“Gave them enough rope, what?” Acaphelgmic interjected, using that strange upper class British accent he sometimes affects for no apparent reason whatsoever. He then breaks out into a verse of The Clash’s song, Tommy Gun.

Cityslikr stares over at him, malevolence changed to dismay. The plumber joins in, singing along with Acaphlegmic from the bathroom.

Tommy Gun, you’ll be dead when the war is won.

Tommy Gun, but did you have to gun down everyone.

I can see it’s kill or be killed, [garbled, garbled, garbled] something, something…

Whatever you want you’re gonna get it!

As the song muddles on with even some startling attempts at harmonization, Cityslikr turns his attention full in my direction. He calls the front running mayoral candidates ‘henchmen’, sent in to bring down the hammer, the final blow on any remnants of the laughably called ‘welfare state’ that the city’s been trying to desperately maintain for the last 7 years.

“And when it’s all gone, guess who’s going to get the blame?” he asks. “Us. The city. Because of our alleged fiscal irresponsibility.”

He refers to Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone’s run as little more than a bone thrown our way. To make us feel like we’re not actively participating in the dismantling of the last vestiges of Trudeau’s Just Society. To assuage whatever guilt we might be feeling. To mollify us.

Before he goes any further, Acaphlegmic bolts up from the couch and onto his feet and begins reciting.

“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.”

Ahh, Acaphlegmic certainly did love his Hunter S. Thompson. It never failed to amaze me how easily the words tripped off his tongue, how deeply imbedded in his memory they must be. How many times had he read the book? I mean, the man sometimes has trouble remembering his own address. Where did he summon this from?“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.”

Recital over, Acaphlegmic sat back down on the couch, spent. But wait, he wasn’t done just yet.

“The greatest decade in the history of mankind is coming to an end and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.”

Although sometimes, he did get his cultural references all entangled, much like his neuronal memory, I imagine. It is this kind of cheap sentiment, the ‘60s veneration, that drove Cityslikr nuts. The disgusted look on his face registered as much.

“Alright, which one of you boys has been playing with dolls again?”

This came from the plumber as he emerged from the bathroom holding a horribly disfigured dolls head. It was big enough that some force would’ve been necessary to push down into the drain. Cityslikr threw up his hands to such a degree of raging disbelief that I’d almost think he’d finally had it with Acaphlegmic and the break between them would actually happen this time. That is, if I hadn’t seen it a few times before but never, ever over a situation that involved a doll’s head being shoved down a toilet. This was new and there was no way of judging if it actually might be the final straw.

But the tension was broken when Acaphlegmic stood up and walked toward the plumber, never taking his eyes off the doll’s head. As he came close, he reached out his hands, cupped together. The plumber was probably much more freaked out about the situation than we were but he’d never witnessed Acaphlegmic in action before. We were used to it although this was particularly odd.

Acaphlegmic accepted the doll’s head from the plumber who just turned back and started assembling his tools. Quickly. For about a minute, Acaphlegmic stood, staring down at the doll’s head in his hands before he turned and walked slowly and carefully back to the couch, his hands still out in front of him. He sat down, still transfixed by what the plumber had just retrieved from the toilet.

Cityslikr and I exchanged looks. Were we witnessing a real life Citizen Kane moment? Charles Foster Kane finally reunited with his Rosebud. The rediscovery of lost innocence and all that. I mean, it was too perfect, almost scripted.

“You found my bong, man.”

And the magic was gone. Once again, Cityslikr threw his hands up and stormed away from the desk toward the door, heading out for a drink no doubt. As he left, we heard a familiar refrain.

“Fucking hippies.”

I had to agree with my colleague’s sentiment. It is little wonder that the future looks so bleak if this is what’s become of the past. We may’ve thought we’d won but lost whatever ground we had gained when we stopped fighting and got all caught up celebrating at the victory parade.

The day was not a total loss, however. At least, we’d be able to use our toilet again.

novelistically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Selling The Crown Jewels

March 11, 2010

What’s with our politicians lately and their hell bent determination to sell off the proverbial farm? Is it something in the water (publicly owned, for now) they’re drinking? First, mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi made divesting the city of Toronto Hydro a major plank in his campaign platform. His main rival, George Smitherman, has slowly come round to a similar way of thinking.

Now the provincial government has been pondering aloud thoughts of unloading such assets as Hydro One, OLG and the LCBO. While putting nothing on the table in the immediate future, the government has hired a couple investment banks including — wait for it, wait for it — Goldman Sachs to assess the worth of a proposed super Crown corporation, bits of which could be sold off to private hands in an attempt to “monetize public assets” and “unleash” an economic jolt to the economy. Colour me unimpressed because I smell a big steaming pile of panic in this approach.

Didn’t we just undergo about 18 months or so of near economic calamity followed by a present recovery that is robust only in its anemia? All but the most hardcore Milton Friedmaniacs should have no trouble with governments carrying a debt load as result of keeping the economy and vulnerable citizens afloat during such harsh economic times. And frankly, why anybody would be listening to anyone touting Milton Friedman tinged views after their healthy contribution to the recent financial fiasco is beyond me. The acolytes of Milton Friedman should still be silent with embarrassment.

Maybe if I could find a single unqualified example of a government being well served by a one time sale of a public asset, I’d be more open to the concept. Proponents hail the leasing last February of Chicago parking meters for the $1.2 billion dollars it netted the city. Yet within a month, problems arose with price hikes, bad maintenance and no public accountability (read all about at theexpiredmeter.com) and for the next 75 years, the money paid for parking at meters in Chicago will go directly into private hands instead of the public purse.

And this is cited as an example of a good deal by pro-privateers. Let’s not even bring up our provincial government’s 99 year “lease” agreement of the 407 toll road back in 1999. For me, a public sale of assets inevitably amounts to nothing short of a public fleecing.

I’m no economist but the selling of public assets just doesn’t make in any sense. If an asset is worth something and by that I mean it generates revenue, why sell it? If an asset doesn’t generate revenue, who wants to buy it? And if the asset in question is a public utility? Well that’s a non-starter. Society cannot be well served by placing public utilities into private hands.

Yet here we are once more with a government in power, facing a looming election and an ugly looking bottom line. Short term thinking holds sway. Hawk the public wares, pay down the debt and declare your fiscal prudence. Pay no attention to the revenue stream that ceases to flow into government coffers. The next time a crisis arises (and in the boom and bust economy we embrace, there will always be another crisis), we’ll just auction off another asset. That is, of course, if there’s anything left to sell.

But just for a moment, how be we try thinking outside the privatization box? What about instead of selling off, say, the LCBO for a single cash grab that we’ll never have access to again, we impose a twenty-five cent tax on every bottle of intoxicant purchased and dedicate it solely to lowering the debt? Drink Down the Deficit®™©, we’ll call it. When things are back under control, we rescind the tax?

Fuck that. If things are so dire that we’re actually contemplating the sheer stupidity of selling off money making enterprises, levy a buck a bottle at the LCOB and two bucks a square at the Beer Store. Yes, it’s regressive and we’re piling the debt load onto the backs of those who can least afford it but if we’re being truthful about the matter, we’re doing the same thing by selling off cash cow Crown corporations. It just simply delays the inevitable.

As an imbibing enthusiast, I will happily pay more for the privilege of the tipple knowing that the money is going toward deficit reduction rather than into the pockets of the vultures who are greedily circling the body politic. In fact, I will consider it my patriotic duty to up my consumption of alcoholic beverages and do my part in slaying the deficit dragon. Let us raise multiple glasses to the health of the commonweal.

Chin, chin.

soberly submitted by Cityslikr