You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

July 30, 2012

Turns out, even for a somewhat political obsessive like me, it’s remarkably easy to switch off the electronic gizmos and happily walk away without so much as looking back. Head off to some place where people haven’t the foggiest idea what #TOpoli means and might just stare blankly at you when you respond to their query about where you’re from. “You mean, New York?” Places our country itself is but a vague notion. “It’s big, yes? With big mountains?”

Admittedly, it wasn’t complete cold turkey. I did find myself on occasion plopped down in a fully licensed free wifi zone, casually, very casually, checking in on what was going on back here. More disconcerting gunplay. More a-one diplomacy with the province from our mayor. The mayor’s big birthday surprise.

All the important stuff.

Still, despite such self-imposed exile (yeah, that’s what we call ‘vacations’ in these parts), politics does seep in, largely unnoticed at first. Knocking around Madrid and then more southerly spots in Spain as well as unOlympicized parts of northern Great Britain, it’s difficult not to see the economic distress. En alquiler, en venta, for sale, to let. Precio reducido. We won’t be undersold.

Everywhere. Along with boarded up storefronts and abandoned buildings. I tweeted about a moment in Grenada. Wandering through some alleyway, we encountered two bins on wheels outside a five storey walk up building. Both were full to bursting with what could be seen as stuff pulled out as part of some pre-renovation demolition. But it was all too intact and too many personal items for that to be the likely case. Repossession and salvage was our guess.

A man walked up the stairs past us and, very likely hearing our English prattling, turned back in our direction as he passed the bins and said, This Is Spain. Twice. Not necessarily angrily although it wasn’t simply a passing remark. Sad wouldn’t be how I describe it either. Resigned? Disappointed? Disbelieving? How the hell did it come to this?

Sitting in one of Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, we chatted with our waiter about the quiet atmosphere of the place. Granted it was a Monday night and it was only midnight or so, things do generally pick up later in Spain than they do here, but it was July. It was a gorgeous evening out. Que pasa?

Apparently, the place is packed and jumping on weekends but come the week nights? Nada. Unsettlingly subdued. On the upside… yeah, no. There is no upside.

The parts of northern Wales and up into Scotland we travelled didn’t look a whole lot more robust. Plenty of places for rent or sale, deserted and derelict properties. Sales galore! Of course, all that gloominess could’ve been on account of the greyer skies and cooler temperatures.

For its part, Edinburgh seemed chock full of vital with infrastructure construction going on all over the place. Sure, most of that was to do with the building of a tram system but even that will sound familiar to those of us who’ve been living in Toronto for the past 5 years or so. Initially, the system was supposed to run from the airport down through the town centre and onto the portside community of Leith. The whole enterprise was put on hold a couple years ago due to concerns over funding. A more modest version is now well underway. What was once a War on Cars has been scaled back to a mere skirmish.

Hanging over all of the UK now is the shadow of a double dip recession. It seems the austerity measures of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition haven’t quite worked out as hoped. Or, depending on your political perspective, it’s all gone swimmingly. Growth is down, unemployment is up and angry eyes have turned toward the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Fortunately for him and his government, the Olympics have got Britons’ hearts a-beating and their flags a-waving; their minds momentarily diverted from the economic crisis taking firmer hold of their green and pleasant land.

(That’s not hokey now if Danny Boyle used it.)

I couldn’t have been happier travelling in my relative Canadian anonymity than I was during the past two weeks. Who wants the rest of the world to know what our government is saying about their situation right now? Smugly tsk, tsk, tsking the Euro-region for the dire condition of their books and urging more, deeper austerity despite all indications pointing to this being the worst thing we can do at this moment. It’s working so well for us, right? What’s that you say CIBC?

Thank god I didn’t have to explain to anyone the nonsense going on here in this city where we’ve had to fend off a faux-financial crisis entirely manufactured by those who see almost any government spending as the root of all evil. Fiscal dimwits gravely invoking the names of Greece or Spain every time they sense any pushback to a proposed cut to services or programs. As if library spending rather than LIBOR fiddling was at the root of the global economic malaise. (Woo! Did I have to work for that one.)

It’s ugly out there which causes me to think the situation isn’t nearly as rosy for many of us here as we’re trying to convince ourselves. Pretending that it is, pretending all that stands between us and future prosperity is a tax cut here, a service efficiency there is nothing short of fucking delusional. Delusional, and if you’re an elected official, bordering on pure negligence. No, we’re not Greece or Spain. We’re not Great Britain. But the surest path in that direction is to advocate slashing and burning as the way avoid their grim fate.

*sigh*

Vacation’s over, I guess.

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr


Organized Bands Of Roving Thugs

June 29, 2010

Thanks to a conspiratorial roving band of criminals/anarchists/ … (fill in the blank as to your dismissive name of choice) who chose not to disavow the use of violence and instead burnt and tore some shit up on Saturday, the well-armed and equipped security forces entrenched in downtown Toronto for the G20 gathering had all the excuses they needed to respond in kind, justifying not only their heavy-handed presence but the exorbitant cost of maintaining them here. If you build a barricade, they will attempt to storm it. From the very beginning, the organizing of the summit was a provocative act, used to demonstrate the need for a police state apparatus to keep us safe from the onslaught of threats swirling around us. Crazed terrorists from the outside; civil unresters on the inside.

It strikes me as funny that law and order types, mostly right of centre leaning, will throw unlimited money and resources at what they perceive to be a problem of national security but when it comes to issues of a more social nature, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Matters like poverty, the environment, unemployment are all best dealt with in a less is more fashion. There’s never enough money to go around especially if you’re doling out a billion dollars plus for a three day event hosting the world’s most vulnerable leaders.

But at least we know where these people stand and what it is they truly believe in.

What about the rest of us, many who merely shrugged a miffed shrug at what we felt was little more than an inconvenience albeit a costly inconvenience? Those that saw this gathering arbitrarily enforced and organized very much out of the public eye as simply an excuse for an extended summer getaway. To the cottage. To Scotland. (Yes, readers. I am indeed making a very pointed reference to those I once thought of as like-minded colleagues and fellow foot soldiers in the battle for progressive causes. I see them now as merely co-workers. Strangers sharing nothing but office space. Shame, shame I say to them and yesterday’s mea culpa should only be the beginning of their rehabilitation.) What exactly is it that they believe in?

Clearly it isn’t democratic principles. Those, we have just failed miserably. We stood idly by and watched as governments dismantled long, hard won ideals like freedom of expression and the right to open public assembly. “Designated areas of protest” do not constitute either of those freedoms. The provincial Liberal government’s Public Work Protection Act, secretively enacted by cabinet fiat earlier this month, handed over broad and very likely unconstitutional powers to the police, allowing them “to demand identification from and search without warrant anyone who comes within five metres of the security zone.” How did we find out about it? After someone was arrested and charged. Your papers! Where are your papers?!

We have not seen such intrusive, far-reaching powers granted to the government by the government since the fallout from 9/11 and, before that, Trudeau’s War Measures Act in response to the FLQ crisis. No longer does it take an actual threat for us to cravenly hand over our rights and responsibilities to the authorities. Any old perceived threat will do these days. Do we deserve any sort of freedom when we so easily hand it over with barely a peep of disgruntled complaint whenever we`re asked?

People on both sides of this battle line seem to agree on one thing: the violence we saw on Saturday did nothing to help the situation. There were many like Craig Kielburger who wrote that the nasty turn only served to diminish all of the protesters in the eyes of the public. “This group [Black Bloc] doesn’t deserve to be called protesters. Martin Luther King was a protester. He campaigned against racial segregation through non-violent tactics. The groups that marched peacefully on series of social issues, they were protesters.”

May I remind Mr. Kielburger that while Martin Luther King played an integral role in the civil rights movement, he was hardly alone in the effort. There was a more militant strain also at work within the African-American community epitomized by the likes of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. I don’t believe that one would’ve worked successfully without the other. For every Ghandi pacifist led march to independence there is the blood soaked path as witnessed in places like Algeria. The world’s beacon of freedom, the United States of America, was born from the womb of violent insurrection.

Am I likening the Black Bloc to early American revolutionaries? No. We’re simply talking tactics and I do empathize with those who feel the need to rage. While many will simply brush the riot-inclined off as professional agitators, I would suggest they’re missing the bigger picture.

When those we have elected stop listening to our concerns or wilfully ignore the requests we make upon them, what recourse is left us? The dangerous route is to throw our hands up in the air and dismiss them as only politicians doing what politicians do and head off to the cottage in disgust. Politicians will only do what we let them do and every so often they have to be reminded of that fact. Sometimes at the ballot box. Sometimes by peaceful protest. And sometimes by any means necessary.

Attempting to diminish that option with media massaged propaganda about anarchic radicals bent on nothing other than mindless destruction or trying to take it off the table entirely by an overwhelming show of official force emphasizes rather than addresses the underlying causes of dissatisfaction and anger. It is the growing disconnect between the citizens and those they have chosen to represent them that lies at the heart of the conflict that flares up every time the world’s leaders gather behind locked gates within our midst to discuss our collective future. We want to be heard not dictated to and if it requires the odd petulant outburst, so be it. Other, more reasonable methods don’t seem to be working at the moment.

violently submitted by Acaphlegmic


M.I.A. At The G20

June 28, 2010

All things considered, I guess arriving back home with only an hour delay should be considered a pleasant surprise. As we approached Pearson airport last night, the pilot informed us that we should buckle in due to reports of ‘weather’ on the ground. Certainly the plane circled in the dark clouds and growing dusk for a time but the landing was no more adventurous than many I’ve sat through.

It was raining for sure, more startling to my eye perhaps due to the fact that I’d just spent 6 days in Scotland without seeing more than a wee dram of the stuff. Hey! You’re looking tanned. Been down south recently? No, Scotland. What?!?

We sat for a spell on the tarmac, waiting for gate personnel to come and free us, again due to the earlier deluge. There was no reason to suspect otherwise. That is, until I caught sight of this monstrously huge, unmarked, half-cargo/half-military plane taxiing on past us on the right and into the darkness ahead. Ah, yes. The G20’s packing up and heading out. Moments later, our plane lurched forward to the gate.

Truth be told, in the part of the world I was holed up in during the course of the G8/G20 meetings there wasn’t much talk of them. Granted, I was in the soccer mad U.K. although they still insist on calling it ‘football’ despite the fact that what we play over here is called ‘football’, leading only to confusion and Three’s Company-like conversational mix-ups. Not much else but soccer was talked about and with England’s humiliating ouster at the hands of Germany yesterday, it will continue to be so in all likelihood until the qualifiers for 2014 start up again in a couple years’ time.

We heard about the outbreak of violence on Saturday, of course. The main point of the exercise, I imagine. There were images of the suited G8ers, glad-handing and photo-opping in front of Muskoka backdrops. As for the details of what was going on inside the gathering? Nothing much aside from many commentators pointing out that the annual aid pledges promised to the developing world were less than the cost of hosting this particular 3 day event.

According to the statement our Prime Minister released at the confab’s conclusion, it appears that the deficit hawks in the crowd won the day. Countries have vowed to start cutting and slashing their spending and wrestling down their debts and deficits starting almost immediately. The PM assured us that Canada would lead by example, hitting its targets ahead of schedule. It will be interesting to see if we’re more willing to keep that promise than we’ve been with past declarations of international aid.

Making my way uneventfully from the airport and into a cab, the drive home was tinged with the surreal. There was no westbound traffic on the Gardiner except for the two motorcades that zipped past us. Motorcades. Huh. Our driver seemed skittish and told me that it had been a crazy weekend. A moving target of road closures and detours. As if to prove his point, he attempted to turn north from Lakeshore only to be sent back west by a traffic cop blocking the street. This, however, seemed to be G20 non-related and more to do with the earlier weather event, what with the massive pool of water in the road and a downed hydro pole nearby.

We wound our way through unfamiliar territory all of which was very quiet and peaceful. Granted, it was 10:30 on a wet Sunday night so I’m not sure what I was expecting. It was only when we reached College Street that some life seemed to pop back into the streets. But there’s nothing really all that unusual with that, right?

Once home and slightly unpacked, I began to comb through in more detail the reports of what happened here over the weekend. Again. Huh. As bad as the doomsayers predicted? Well, there were no dead bodies on the streets but outside of that, despite all of the military tactical planning, serious violence against property erupted, civil rights were egregiously trampled upon and nothing more came of the proceedings than an attempted buffing up of the justifiably damaged neo-liberal brand.

Likewise, I too feel shamed. For choosing convenience over conviction and allowing myself to be chased from the city by the braying of the law and order crowd. Retrospectively reading through the stream of information that emerged over the course of the weekend – much of it in real time – it is clear that a significant segment of this city’s population was traumatized by the show of force shown on both sides of the (figurative… and quite possibly, literal) fence. And I was m.i.a.

What would my presence here have accomplished? Next to nothing, I’m sure, except maybe bearing witness to the imperious show of power. Citizens’ rights were summarily rescinded while I was off drinking beer and watching soccer in the warm Scottish sunshine. A scenario, I must admit, that is depressingly routine (minus the Scottish sunshine angle).

So to those of you who remained here and got involved, recorded the events for posterity and maybe even were detained or arrested, my heartfelt apologies for abandoning you and this city during a time of need. It is due to attitudes like mine and my cavalier approach to our rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy that allow our elected officials to behave as if there are no consequences or repercussions to their actions.  They cannot be held accountable from afar and no few hundred words in hindsight will change that. Again, my sincerest of apologies.

And if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…

supplicantly submitted by Cityslikr


Taking The Low Road Out Of Town

June 22, 2010

The original plan was to cancel my scheduled trip and stick around town for the week, get a close up, bird’s eye view at what would most certainly be an eventful few days around town. Or maybe it would all amount to little more than The Big Fizzle. Could they erect a temporary police state and nobody shows up to the party? What’s that you say? The successful spending of a billion dollars for preventative measures?

But then Urban Sophisticat announced that he was bailing. An unexpected invite to a friend of a friend’s cabin in the woods, far away from all the fuss and bother, to kick back and luxuriate in a self-imposed media blackout, free from what will surely be a crescendo of hysteria and nefarious terrorist/protestor spotting. That he also gets a break from the incessant World Cup chatter is only an added bonus for him.

And then Acaphlegmic reappeared after a long absence, sporting what he referred to as a spirit of ’68 glint in his eye. There was a certain unsettling bounce in his step, a swagger one might say. It even looked like he might’ve been working out. He was more buff than a man his age should be. I told him as much. “Hey. We didn’t start this thing,” he responded. “They came in and hijacked our house.” Oh, good christ. He’s juiced. Again. This wasn’t going to be about political protest. What I was witnessing was an incipient case of roid rage.

So I decided to pick up stakes and head out as planned. Off to a quinquennial gathering of the clan with the hopes of finally settling the matter of a new sporran design. Leaving behind one wall, I would spend the week behind another; older but equally as ineffectual in the long run. Like Hadrian, you can try and keep people out but you can’t stop the free flow of ideas forever. And in Scotland, I’ll get a few days enjoying soccer, free of the dismissive taunts of those who aren’t even willing to try and understand the appeal of the sport. “No, it is not called the Beautiful Game because we’re watching it in HD.”

Yes, I’m probably acquiescing to the intimidating barks of law and order or just simply threatened by inconvenience. The preparations all seem so unnecessary, provocative even. It’s like this place was chosen to prove a point. We are important. We and what We represent are unassailable. We are not afraid of you. You cannot sequester Us out in the middle of nowhere. You cannot keep Us from exerting Our will.

In the face of that, Acaphlegmic and his ilk are right. Sometimes you do have to make a stand. Sometimes you have to strike a blow against egregious shows of force and intimidation. Fight fire with fire. Sometimes, as Ferris Bueller once stated, you just have to say, what the fuck.

Once more to the barricades, my friends! I will be watching and pulling for you from afar. If you would be so kind, could you organize your news breaking events when the World Cup isn’t airing any games. That would be from 1230-2130 GMT (0730-1630 local time). And if you could keep your rampages away from our offices that too would be appreciated. We haven’t kept up with all our insurance payments. Some cash flow problems lately. You know how those companies can be. Damages due to riots and civil unrest are most definitely not covered. Read the fine print.

Firth of Forthly submitted by Cityslikr