The Weather Up There

I spent the last few days trying to pull numbers from my ass. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks but it wasn’t entirely a waste of time either. I did find a couple mismatched socks that I’d long ago written off as hostages taken by my cantankerous dryer.

What really baffles me however is just how easily and often conservative politicians, pundits and thinkers pull off this feat. They are perpetually pulling numbers from their ass and using them as ‘proof positive’ of their various arguments and pet peeves. Why, just last week the mayor went deep and came up with a threatened 35% property tax increase if we don’t get down to some serious slashing and burning of city services and assets. Where’d he get that number? He didn’t pass along any footnotes or references, so we can only assume it came from where the sun don’t shine. Just like the 80% labour costs he tells us that that make up our annual operating budget. Or the 6% attrition rate of city staff that occurs every year. (Actual numbers point to less than 3%.)

Mystical, magical numbers that suit whatever situation the mayor’s railing against, thrown up against the wall to see how long they stick. That one’s done. That’s done. Oh. That one may need a little more cooking.

To be fair to the mayor, the 35% property tax increase number probably didn’t originate from up his ass. It seems to be a figure pulled out from the keister of one Matthew McGuire of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. 34% + 1 for good measure. Always round up when looking to scare people. Round down if you need to mitigate the increase to the police salaries you just agreed to.

Where did Mr. McGuire come up with his numbers? Well, I don’t have an MBA from the Rotman School of Business but it looks to me as if he just took the already arbitrary figure of $774 million Team Ford has been using to bludgeon us into submission and calculated what hike in property taxes would be needed to cover that cost. If we did nothing else. As happened every year David Miller was in power. Spend more money. Raise property taxes. Repeat. Years 2003-2010.

(Hey. I just pulled that from my ass. Maybe I am getting the hang of it.)

McGuire floated that number a week or so ago and it was immediately picked up by CityTV news and the receptacle of all things pulled from right wingers asses, talk radio. Stop the presses! Somebody just said something really loopy. Get that man a microphone! City council is a haven for communists? Print it!

Of course, it’s mostly a one-way street on that account. If I were to float something equally as questionable, chances are the press wouldn’t be knocking down my door unless maybe the mayor flipped me off or if I issued death threats. But in terms of policy like, say, Matt Elliott did about budget alternatives. I’m not sure our local mainstream media would be as a quick to set up an interview. Have you been interviewed yet, Matt, on your budget thoughts?

Right wingers float whatever ideas that emanate from their gut and the press is all ears. Nothing is ever too crazy or cracked to pass by unnoticed. It’s just put out there as a starting point for future discussion. Of course a 34 or 35% property tax increase would never happen under any administration but especially our current one. It’s just where the goal posts are planted. Negotiations begin from there. Don’t want a 35% property tax increase? Fine.

Where do we start cutting? Libraries? Grants? Sidewalk snow removal? No wait. That one’s off the table.

In our Matlovian manner, we then desperately search for the middle ground, playing on the field where the lines have just been redrawn. No, no, no. Nobody wants a 35% property tax increase. So let’s settle on the rate of inflation and begin cutting from there. Maybe we can sell off some of our assets instead? The mayor’s heavy lifting has been done for him and all he needed to do was negotiate in bad faith, using dubious numbers he pulled from his ass.

Why don’t we call his bluff? No, no, no. A 35% property tax increase is out of the question. We’re happy with 30%. Of course, the response will inevitably be, are you nuts? To which we respond, are you? You suggested a 35% increase. What? You mean you weren’t serious?

All of which takes me to the clip I’ve been watching over and over again since I first saw it on the season ender of Real Time with Bill Maher. New Rules. The Donner Party. In short, we who don’t adhere to radical right wing ideology need to start bringing the crazy. By playing nice and trying to be reasonable and always searching to find the ‘truth’ somewhere in the mushy middle, we’ve already given up the game. If you try fighting crazy fire with the coolness of logic, you succeed only in moving closer to the crazy not coming to a logical compromise.

HiMY SYeD had it right in his deputation to the Executive Committee last month. Rather than settle for cuts to some libraries, he demanded that we double the number of branches in the city. Why? Mr. SYeD claims libraries increase property values and increased property values increases revenue to the city. Libraries are a creative city’s DNA and engine driving innovation. (A sidenote: The book Mr. SYeD holds up for Councillor Kelly is The Warhol Economy.) Of course, if he were really playing by the crazy rules, Mr. SYeD wouldn’t have offered up any plausible explanations for his reasoning other than, just because or I pulled the number from my ass.

From that starting point, I can envision the conversation going something like: We can’t afford more libraries. Yes but, we can’t afford fewer libraries. That would be the start of some meaningful negotiations.

So let’s all start putting on our crazy dresses and Mr. Peanut tophats and make our demands heard loud and clear. Let’s stop reaching out to find a compromise with half-baked notions and patently false assertions. Let’s be ‘… a dog that can bark at a pine cone for 9 days and not get tired.’

insanely submitted by Cityslikr

These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine

It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile Mayor Ford’s approach to governing and his relatively young age. Just into his 40s, the Ford Nation feels more and more like one ruled by an octogenarian. Maybe it’s because the mayor’s blinkered sensibility is formed exclusively by his view out over his suburban backyard and through his windshield. City life, to his way of thinking, as depicted by the seminal documentary of the 1950s, Happy Days.

The latest manifestation of this is the mayor’s declared War on Graffiti. Signaling an about-face from an earlier decision just after the mayor was elected to target graffiti only on a complaint basis, the city issued over 150 removal notices along Queen Street in just 10 days, catching business owners and the local BIA by surprise in the process. The removal notices appear to make no distinction between your run of the mill graffiti and commissioned murals, bringing to mind a variation on that old standard, I may not know much about art but I know what I don’t like.

This follows an earlier eyebrow raiser last month when the Brickworks received notice for 13 graffiti violations. That chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee that polices matters of graffiti, Councillor Cesar Palacio, has somewhat softened his original hard line stance that graffiti is graffiti, comes as little consolation in light of the Queen Street blitz. The city’s aggressive proactive approach puts the onus on homeowners and businesses to prove that they’re not besmirching the cityscape with graffiti regardless if there have been any complaints from neighbours, belying the mayor’s claim to be looking out for the little guy.

So the mayor campaigned on a promise of taking City Hall’s hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets but seems to have little compunction in unleashing the bureaucracy on them if they don’t measure up to his artistic or community standards.

Which must be a trait of his strain of Tea Party-like reactionary conservatism. As Bill Maher said on his show Friday night, in the U.S. the Tea Party got elected on a straight forward platform of slaying government spending and debt but has quickly moved on to things like attacking collective bargaining, reproductive rights and almost everything else with a progressive stench of secularism. Mayor Ford has similarly set his sights outside of the fiscal realm. He’s trying to push LRTs underground. He’s asked the province to declare the TTC an essential service. Now this wading into public order with an ill-defined, if-I-don’t-like-or-understand it assault on graffiti, he’s revealing his inner non-libertarian and very authoritarian self.

Mayor Ford’s also exposing an attitude toward urbanism that is decades behind the times. A clean, whitewashed main street, full of mom and pops stores, soda shops and cruising the drag on a Saturday night. (No, most definitely not that kind of cruising or drag.) It is an intolerance to differing opinions and tastes, chock full of patronizing father-knows-bestism. Not to mention counter-productive and, ultimately, carrying an additional financial burden to households and small business owners. Eliminating commissioned murals clears out space for less agreeable forms of graffiti and tagging which those owning the buildings will have to constantly spend time and money dealing with. It also appropriates police resources which surely would be put to better use on more pressing issues the city faces.

All in pursuit of what? In a speech he gave to the Board of Trade earlier this year, the mayor said “It’s [graffiti] just out of control. Nobody likes it. It doesn’t help our city. I want people to come to the city and say wow this is spotless, and it is safe.” Note the mental myopia. The world seen only through his eyes. I don’t like graffiti so nobody likes graffiti. It’s stunningly monochromatic and reveals a remarkable lack of empathy. Never mind the Sunday School logic of equating cleanliness with safety. In addition to the mayor having obviously spent his youth watching the wholesome adventures of Richie, Potsie, Ralph and the Fonz, my guess is he also overdosed on regular viewings of The Warriors.

This is the danger of electing a mayor with such unsophisticated thinking who lacks any sort of wider vision for the city. He governs based purely on pet peeves and petty prejudices. Unchecked, we face four years not looking toward the future but back at an idealized past that never existed except in the minds of those like Mayor Ford.

heyyyyly submitted by Cityslikr

Running On Empty

Sitting alone (again, naturally) on a Saturday morning in the office, my 2nd cup of tea still refusing to warm me up. I will not turn on the electric baseboard heating and give our landlord the satisfaction or the cash. I will not!

I am pondering the rightward tilt the race for mayor seems bound and determined to follow and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. OK, so people are angry. I get it. The recession lingers on like the first autumn cold that will not quit regardless of what you throw at it. (My suggestion? Plenty of booze and cigarettes. Take it out for an all-night bender. Show it just how unwelcome a host you really can be.) We’re told that we’ve weathered the blow but that the turnaround is going to be painfully slow and drawn out. There’s still some bloodletting to be done in order to get us back to fighting weight.

We’re looking for somebody to blame for this mess and who better than government? There is an orderly process in place for us to make our displeasure known: voting. The alternative is dicier and slightly more involved as it would mean gathering together in groups and tearing some shit up. But, judging by the reaction to things in June during the G8 meeting here, such recourse is frowned upon in official circles.

For us in Ontario, the first crack we’re getting at expressing ourselves at the ballot box is at the municipal level, by-elections aside and who really counts those? The thing that’s baffling me about how it’s all playing out, at least in Toronto, is why are people reacting so, well, reactionarily? We’ve been down this road before, people. Remember?

That hapless and spendthrift Bob Rae government at Queen’s Park in the mid-90s? We ushered in the fiscally austere and oh-so competent Mike Harris Conservatives to clean up the mess. They didn’t. Or how about the corrupt and profligate Jean Chretien/Paul Martin team up there in Ottawa, blowing through all our hard earned dollars on pet projects like… what was it called again? Shawinigate? Time to bring in the restrained and prudent sensibilities of the conservative Harperites to restore order. Except, ooops, they didn’t.

Modern day conservatives never solve problems. They only exacerbate them, deepen them and create ones where none existed. It is a bankrupt ideological movement that successfully achieves two objectives, and two objectives only. One, to roll back any and all social and economic gains made over the last 80 years or so. Two, to dismantle the mechanisms of government in order to render it inoperable for society as a whole so they can turn around and parrot the empty words of their patron saint, Ronald Reagan. “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

After that? They’ve got nothing but a dog whistle to call forth the furies of outrage and resentment lurking just below the surface.

Rather than spend time and space today running down the shortcomings, lies and delusions of the anti brigade vying to retake City Hall for us here come October 25th, let’s take a glance south of the border to our American neighbours who are taking neoconservative/libertarian thinking to its illogical extreme.

Watching the last couple episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher, we encountered 3 cases in point. There was P.J. O’Rourke, the satirical lion of Reagan era libertarianism now simply looking old and tired, stating emphatically that ‘governments don’t create jobs’. When questioned by co-panelist Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big To Fail, an account of the economic meltdown of 2008, that if by choosing to build, say, a bridge, wasn’t government creating jobs? O’Rourke’s response? Don’t get him started on bridge safety. He was all for bridge safety. Aren’t we all, P.J.? Now, would you please answer Mr. Sorkin’s question.

Next up on the same show was one S.E. Cupp, a shiny-faced conservative pundit star on the internet. In the midst of a discussion about America’s need to start investing more fully in developing alternative sources of energy, she declared that alternative energy solutions were a rich country’s concerns. Again, somewhat flummoxed, Sorkin pointed out that China had surpassed America in pursuing alternative energy solutions which only seemed to prove Cupp’s point. For her, China is now a rich country because it owns a big chunk of U.S. debt and it was the U.S. that was broke. So no alternative energy for America. By reducing a complex economic system to one single factor, this conservative mind believed China was rich and the United States poor. O’Rourke then piped in with the view that we couldn’t do anything about climate change anyway because everyone in China ‘wanted a Buick’. Seriously, kids. He used to be funny.

Last night’s episode featured another conservative internet star, radio show host and proud member of the Tea Party party, Dana Loesch, “… the sweet Midwestern goth version of Laura Ingraham.” Railing against the bailouts and stimulus spending as un-American, she was unimpressed by the notion that the move probably helped staunch the bleeding and ward off another Great Depression. “Why does the government get to decide who succeeds and who doesn’t?” she responded. Uhhh… well, I guess since the private sector was collapsing in on itself, somebody had to step up and try to avoid long breadlines and overcrowded soup kitchens. When Dan Neil, a Wall Street Journal writer, corrected her earlier assertion that more money was spent on the bailout and stimulus then on the war in Iraq, she countered that ‘there are a lot of figures out there that dispute that’.

Ah, yes. Those mystical, magical ‘figures out there’ used to dispute whatever needs disputing in order to keep the belief system going. Or what rational people call, clutching at straws. Because that’s all modern conservatism is capable of anymore. Clutching at straws.

And yet, we keep turning back to it attempting to solve our problems. Our delusion seems to be mutual.

consternatedly submitted by Cityslikr