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


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 Moth-like Politics of Dalton McGuinty

May 4, 2010

A debate has been raging around the office in recent days… OK, not so much raging as dribbling out in fits and starts. If not fits and starts, at least, bored bouts of opinionated discussion. And even the word ‘discussion’ gives too much a sense of engagement in the topic.

You see, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been pondering on Dalton McGuinty. So you understand the complete and utter ambivalence and passionate disinterest at the core of the subject. The room was far from electric when talking about the provincial premier.

The two sides can be summed up as follows: Dalton McGuinty, evil Machiavellian political operator masking as country bumpkin or just plain country bumpkin? Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Barney Fife? Andy Taylor of Duran Duran or Simon LeBon?

Frankly, I don’t buy the Machiavelli angle. There’s no convincing proof. Stephen Harper is nothing but Machiavellian with a little sliver of ideology to give him direction. Dalton McGuinty possesses neither. He doesn’t machinate nor does he even so much as dabble in the cold, cold waters of doctrinairism. Dalton McGuinty simply is.

It is my contention that Dalton McGuinty is the luckiest politician going. He took over his late father’s seat at Queen’s Park in 1990. He took over a dispirited provincial Liberal party who’d just been caught flat-footed by the Common Sense Revolution. He was fourth on both the 1st and 2nd ballots of the 1996 leadership convention before finally lurching to victory in the 5th and final ballot, ultimately backed by the Red Tory contingent of the party. He was summarily defeated in his first provincial election as Liberal leader by a far from popular Progressive Conservative government but retained the leadership reins with little struggle. He became premier next time out with the collapse of the Harris-Eves government under the weight of its own malicious incompetence.

As the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty has successfully governed by being perceived as a better fiscal manager than the NDP and a more humane overseer of social services than the PCs. It is a baffling perception. The province has a record deficit. (Yeah, yeah. They’re dealing with a nasty recession. Where was that slack cut with Bob Rae back in the early 90s? Or the present city budget?) In terms of social spending and provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, well, the Liberals have hardly restored matters to anything close to pre-Harris Tory levels.

One of the most telling shortcomings of the McGuinty government is in terms of education funding. With the devastation of the provinces manufacturing sector, all the talk is about the new, high tech information age. For that to happen, we need heavy investment in education at all levels. Yet, Ontario remains last in higher education spending per capita of all the country’s provinces. Yes, that was a trend started under the Tories in the 90s but more than a decade later we are still last.

Excuses only go so far. For McGuinty, first it was that the preceding government had left a bigger deficit than expected. Now it’s the economic downturn. He’s trying his best but let’s be reasonable, people.

It is my hypothesis here that the success of Dalton McGuinty is due to the fact that he governs as a moth flies. His is an unpredictable, random approach that is near impossible to pin down. He zigs when you think he should zag. And like the moth, McGuinty has no control over it. It’s like punching water or putting the squeeze on jello.

Hey, don’t worry Toronto voters. If I’m elected premier I will upload all those services that mean nasty Mike Harris burdened you with. Eventually. Maybe. Transit City? You bet. Or maybe not. Times are tough all over. The cupboard’s bare.

You can never tell when the man will stand firm or fold up like a card table made of a deck of cards. He’s remained staunch in the growing outrage over the harmonized sales tax that’s coming down on us in July, possibly risking what should be an easy re-election. But with a minor peep of protest from a small contingent, he quickly backed off the proposed sex education grade school curriculum.

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s a governing style impossible to engage with rationally. At least with the stridently ideological bent of Mike Harris, you knew what to expect and (usually) prepare for the worst. With Dalton? He’ll stab you in the back without apparently even knowing he’s doing it. Apparently, it’s a method conducive to political longevity but impossibly difficult to work with or count on.

musingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat