Embracing The Past’s Cold Dead Body

November 22, 2011

Apologies ahead of time for harping on this but the truth is since discovering Chris Turner’s The Leap, I’ve kind of been infected with its thinking. It didn’t help matters any by my going to see him last night at a talk on the German Leap toward a green, sustainable economy. The guy’s on to something big. Right now only some people get it and are acting on it. Those who don’t, well, they’re just standing in the way, slack-jawed and taking up space. I’m trying to become one of the former.

During last night’s session, I was struck by the political implications of all this. Let’s take one of the book’s premises as fact for the moment and look at how we have responded. Early on in The Leap, Turner suggests that in 2008 while the whole world watched in helpless horror as the global financial system sailed uncomfortably close to the abyss, two other equally grave spectres raised up their heads, Hydra-like (or rode in on their apocalypse horses – take your myth pick), largely unnoticed by a wider swath of the population. Say hello to energy scarcity and climate change.

Unfortunate, coincidental timing? Yeah, probably not. All three inextricably linked and three years on, none changed for the better. Our economy remains punch drunk, occasionally lapsing in and out of a comatose state. Conventional, fossil fuel derived energy hasn’t gotten any less scarce. The minute hand’s crept ever closer to high noon on climate change at which point of time there will be no stopping, let alone reversing the negative feedback coming our way.

And our collective response to it all?

To run screaming from the challenges facing us and into the arms of those happy to lie to us. Everything’s fine, they purr. Just a temporary blip. A little belt tightening here, some fat trimming there and it’ll all be as good as new. Steady as she goes. Stay the course. Comforting us with false hope while demonizing any who question their wisdom or motives.

These are our modern day conservatives, folks, heirs of the Edmund Burke tradition, rejecters of all that is new and different including ways of thinking and seeing the world. The old ways are always the best ways. Full stop. All that is novel, innovative or smacks of science is nothing more than the devil’s handiwork. Unless of course it can drain oil from hitherto unreachable places or increases the capability of the modern police state.

The mark of a crank that would be laughable if we didn’t continue to fall into their arms at the first sign of trouble. It’s an abusive relationship. They do something stupid, drain our bank account, smash up our car. We kick them out only to come crawling back when they promise they’ve change, they’ll be better. Trust us. You’ll see.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

A heavy adherence to the ‘status quo bias’, according to The Leap’s Chris Turner. We fear the loss of what we already have more than we’re enticed by possibly bigger rewards through changing behaviour or wireless plans. More or less. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Or how about this little chestnut? Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya.

We are change averse and seem determined to hang on to a way of life to the bitterest end. In times of societal stress, our tendency is believe those who insist there is no need to change. Everything’s fine. This… this is just a temporary blip. It’ll get better, back to normal. Trust us. You’ll see.

So in 2010, the United States went full on Tea Party. We here in Toronto gave the mayoral nod to Rob Ford who simply blamed all the problems the city was facing on out of control tax and spending for things we didn’t need. This spring we handed a majority government to the federal Conservatives on a promise of steady helmsmanship and more of the same same.

Not surprisingly, little has changed. The economy continues to take hits, one more shot from another standing eight count. Oil continues to leak from the ocean where we continue to drill further down. Ice fields melt. Oceans acidify. Ozone hole reappear in the sky.

‘The Age of Fail’ as Turner puts. Or, as Joe Orton phrased it a little more poetically pointedly, “The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul.”  We’re scared and put our faith in those assuring us that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of except for all those telling them otherwise. Guess what? There’s plenty to be scared about, very real, tangible monsters under the bed and no amount of pretending they’re not there or leaving the nightlight on is going to chase them away.

Existing at this time in history and in this place of privilege in the developed western world, it’s hard to get our head around the concept of collapse or catastrophic failure. That’s the kind of thing that happened in the past or to other societies in impoverished parts of the world. I’m going to call it an ‘it can’t possibly happen here bias’. We’re too smart. We’re too evolved to let that happen. If we just continue to do what we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing it, we can dig ourselves out from under this.

Just stop listening to those telling us there’s another way, a better way, a fairer and sensible way. There’s too much at stake here. We have too much to lose to gamble on the great unknown. We just need to do this a little bit harder…longer…

Blinker yourselves like we are. Close your mind off to the possibility of anything else. And behold, the attenuated mind and hearts of our modern conservatives. Embracing the past so tightly, they’re squeezing the life out of the future.

beseechingly submitted by Cityslikr


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


These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine

March 6, 2011

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


His Honour’s Sour Grapes

December 8, 2010

So the Mayor Rob Ford era has officially begun, and for all those who picked ‘Decorously’ or ‘Graciously’ in the How Will Rob Ford Respond To Having The Chain Of Office Hung Around His Neck office pool, pay up, motherfuckers.

The mayor used the solemn occasion of his investiture to invite one of his heroes, noted Mississaugan urbanist and sartorial flamboyer, Don Cherry, to chain him and kick off the proceedings. Mr. Cherry, in turn, used his invite, as writer Jonathan Goldsbie noted, as “…mostly just an attack on the Globe’s TV critic.” John Doyle, that is, and his article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. The mayor then followed with an utterly uninspiring speech, full of references to taxpayers and customer service, more befitting (as we have noted numerous times previously) a Walmart manager’s pep talk to his employees just before the grand opening than a new mayor addressing the inaugural council meeting of the country’s largest city. Then some quick business was done like voting in the mayor’s all-male, all-right wing executive committee before the gavel came down to adjourn the proceedings until the real fireworks being tomorrow.

We’re now through the looking-glass here, people. Our new mayor, well-to-do through an inherited family business, speaks for ‘the little guy’. Mr. Cherry, a well-to-do sports commentator, lashes out and ‘artsy, left wing kooks’ and thinks “It’s time for some lunch pail, blue-collar people.” All pronounced while wearing an embroidered pink blazer that would make a geisha blush and his dapper Tom Wolfe high collar. Both men preach the neo-conservative gospel of small government (except for police and military, natch), and both have done alright for themselves, pocketing their fair share of government largesse.

And somehow, pinkos are the bad guys. We left leaning, bike riding, oh-so-privileged, downtown elites, bereft of the common touch and without our finger on the pulse of real Torontonians. We don’t understand the plight of the working people. The mayor does because he employs 350 of them in Toronto, New Jersey and Chicago. Don Cherry talks to millions of them directly through the camera, for a whole 8 minutes every Saturday night. Regular Joes, the two of them. Full fledged members of the lumpen proletariat, they is.

You know what? I say, fuck that. Much discussion has gone on since the new mayor’s been sworn in about how those standing in opposition to him should react. Take the high road. Don’t take the bait. Take a pill and chill-ax. The world’s not coming to an end because the likes of Don Cherry brought his schtick live to City Hall chambers.

All true but we’ve seen this movie before and it never, ever turns out well.

Every time a right wing populist is elected, they claim a ‘mandate’ (sometimes even from as on high as heaven itself) and immediately take the offensive, declaring a state of unilateralism. It’s My Way Or The Highway. You’re Either With Us Or A’gin Us. All Hail And Bow Down Before Me, Minions.

We’ve watched it for the past 4 years or so in Ottawa. A minority (A Minority!) Conservative government has browbeaten the opposition into simpering obsequiousness, giving way on almost every important issue that has emerged. Even the stands they’ve managed to take like on the long gun registry have tied them into paroxysms of soul-wrenching angst, leaving them to look defeated in the face of victory.

It’s a tactical strike adopted from right wingers in the States. George W. pulled it off masterfully throughout his term in office. The Tea Party led Republican congress is following suit. Not even sworn in yet and they have a Democratic President turning on his base. To seek bipartisanship where none is on offer doesn’t make you look evenhanded, open-minded or apolitically above the fray. It makes you look weak, unprincipled and unfit to hold public office.

Now comes Rob Ford who has not made one conciliatory gesture to his opponents since being elect mayor. His executive committee is exclusively right-wing, inner suburban (or from wards that Ford won) and male. He’s been blowing smoke about his power to end Transit City, going as far to say that council never voted about Transit City (it did), so it doesn’t have to be consulted to terminate it. The voters gave him a mandate, you see. Normal democratic principles no longer apply.

Bringing in Don Cherry to introduce him was just another aggressively defiant gesture by Ford. To all those who disdainfully dismiss the outrage that greeted Grapes’ council speech as unimportant, much ado about nothing, an overblown sticks and stones scenario, not worth the media attention, well, you’re diminishing the symbolism of it. “You never know what he’s going to say,” shrugged our mayor about Cherry’s speech. Not the exact words maybe but the intent was going to surprise no one. It was a big ol’ fuck you to anyone and everyone who doesn’t think exactly like the mayor and Don Cherry, pinkos or not.

Imagine if David Miller, re-elected with a larger percentage of the popular vote for his 2nd term, had proclaimed a ‘mandate’ and brought in, say, Naomi Klein to introduce him. She proceeds to say something to the effect of: Eat it, corporate right wing shills. Not political? Unimportant and beside the point? I don’t think so.

Mayor Rob Ford has come out of the gate with no intention of making nice, seeking compromise or trying to find the middle ground with his opponents. Why is the onus on them to reach out? It’s not obstructionist to stand up for your principles and beliefs. It’s called democracy. In a democracy, winning an election is just the 1st step. It doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want and everyone else has to go along, no matter how much right wingers would like to believe that.

helpfully 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


Chris Hedges’ Bleak House

November 9, 2010

A commenter to a post from last week accused me of being “optimistic”. Downright Pollyannish compared to the likes of one Chris Hedges. Well, I never. Of all the nerve. I dwell in the darkness. No glass is full enough that I can’t see as half empty. Optimistic? How dare you, madam commenter!

Now, I am secure enough in my ignorance to admit that I wasn’t sure who this Chris Hedges was or anything about the book Death of the Liberal Class. A Google search followed and, well oh well, I have to admit that the commenter was absolutely correct in her assessment. I am a veritable Santa Claus, bringing joy and happiness to the wider world when put up against Chris Hedges. Where he’s seen fire and rain, I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.

In my defense, I have not spent any time whatsoever in the world’s war torn hotspots like El Salvador back in the day, the former Yugoslavia back in the day, northern Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s violent suppression of Shia and Kurdish rebels in 1991. I did not leave a high profile post at the New York Times after receiving a formal reprimand from the paper for my denunciation of the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq. So the opportunity to truly blacken my soul and shrivel my heart has not been offered up to me as it has Mr. Hedges. To such a consummate professional as he, years and 1st person experience combine to provide a dark view. Me? A mere dilettante, an armchair cynic.

So I bought me a copy of Mr. Hedges Death of the Liberal Class from a locally owned, independent bookstore and set down to reading it. Since I’m only a couple chapters in, this isn’t any sort of review but the premise of the book goes something like this: the liberal class, consisting of the media, academia, labour movement and moderate religious institutions, historically acted as the “safety valve” that fought for, at least, “incremental reform” in the face of the vested interests of the “power elite”. But with the rise of the “corporate state”, Mr. Hedges claims that “the liberal class has distorted its basic belief systems to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization, and staggering income inequalities.” In so doing, it has “relinquished its moral authority” and ceased speaking for the working and middles classes, helping feed the anger that’s given rise to such movements as the Tea Party (and, dare I say it? Rob Ford here in Toronto.)

A dust jacket synopsis to be sure and I bring it up because, despite Chris Hedges’ pedigree including a Pulitzer prize, such a position as he takes in this book will surely relegate him to the fringe bin. That place we put people who spout uncomfortable ideas and question the conventional wisdoms we as a society operate under. It already occurred when Hedges appeared on The Agenda a couple weeks back. During the debate segment of the show, fellow media liberal class member Tony (“The World’s Not Perfect But…”) Keller politely dismissed Hedges’ book treatise as too conspiratorial. Implicit in that argument is the sentiment, and where’s your tinfoil hat, Chrissie?

Why I find all this interesting enough to write about is that at the same time I was discovering Chris Hedges, in an unrelated matter I coincidentally encountered what is now referred to as the Powell Memo. Written in 1971 by Lewis Powell just a couple months before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, it was sent to Eugene Sydnor, a Chamber of Commerce mucky-muck, and outlined a battle plan for beating back the opponents of America and its free enterprise system. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. This varies in scope, intensity, in the techniques employed, and in the level of visibility. There always have been some who opposed the American system, and preferred socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism). Also, there always have been critics of the system, whose criticism has been wholesome and constructive so long as the objective was to improve rather than to subvert or destroy. But what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.

The irony of this memo is rich and the disengenuousness of it deep. Before assuming his position on the bench, Lewis Powell was a corporate lawyer whose firm represented various tobacco companies. Powell himself sat on the board of Phillip Morris. So yeah, the 60s were a bad time for businesses like tobacco (Damn you, 1963 Surgeon General’s Report!), as government slowly interceded in tying their hands in peddling their poisonous products and marketing them as ‘healthy alternatives’. Powell expresses special disdain for the likes of consumer advocate Ralph Nader and thought it high time for right thinking American business leaders to stand tall against the creeping insidiousness of anti-consumerism and environmentalism.

More interesting about the Powell memo (or at least, more relevant to this discussion) are the pages and pages written, targeting the culprits (**cough** Communists! **cough**) of said attack on the American way of life and the remedies to combat it. Campus, media and the pulpit. That there would be a huge overlap with Chris Hedges’ pillars of the liberal class. Academia, media and moderate religious institutions. So three decades ago influential business leaders targeted what they saw as opponents of free enterprise (“The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom”) and set out to reverse their influence.

Whether or not they succeeded in doing so is not the point of this post. Clearly writers like Chris Hedges think they did. But to dismiss his arguments purely on the grounds of being ‘conspiratorial’ as Tony Keller did is lazy and suspect. Mr. Hedges has earned his dim world view by engaging it on the ground. Those disagreeing with him based solely on the notion of his ideas being too fantastical really only serve to prove the point of his book. We purporting to be of the liberal class are our own worst enemies.

liberally submitted by Cityslikr


The Enthusiasm Gap

November 4, 2010

What exactly would it take to get what is essentially the other half of eligible voters out to cast a ballot?

I ask because in the past 10 days or so, we here in Toronto have participated in and born witness to a couple notable elections, let us call them. Hotly contested affairs with nasty slinging of mud and fundamental questions about the kind of government we want. Yet, only in and around 50% of those eligible to vote came out to do so.

Big increases from previous elections, you’ll say. A record number in post-amalgamated Toronto, nearly 53%, up about 14% from 2006. On Tuesday, just over 41% turned out, the highest for U.S. midterms since 1982.

Where was everybody else? If these two elections could not stir a massive majority of the population up and out of their La-Z-Boys or away from the gaming consoles, what will? In the States, there were candidates openly questioning Constitutional amendments. Here, it was a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed visions of the kind of city we want to live in. Nosing up on high drama, I might offer, and still, nearly 48% of those who could vote in Toronto chose not to. Almost 3 out of 5 Americans opted out of exercising their democratic right.

I lace up my empathy shoes and perform a tolerance tango in an attempt to understand what exactly de-motivates people from voting but come up empty. I’m so busy. I had to get the kids to cello practice. I work 3 jobs. Who has the time? My vote doesn’t really matter. Politicians, they’re all the same.

None of it washes. The political burdens of being a member of a 21st-century free society are far from heavy. Not much is asked of us. Showing up for even a couple hours if need be every other year or every 4th year is not really all that onerous. Hell, I’m not even asking for voters to be all that informed although it would help.

I pay taxes! How much more do you want from me?

That’s a commercial exchange, really. Money paid for services rendered. As our mayor-elect says, it’s all about respect (or not) for taxpayers. Voting is what a citizen does.

I took in Inside Job last night, a documentary about the financial meltdown that brought us to the current Great Recession. One of the take away messages I got from it was that our democracy has been hijacked by special interests, in this case the financial services industry. Money and influence in the form of political contributions and lobbyists constantly guts the will of the people, transforming government into nothing more than a tool of the wealthy and business.

Big surprise. So it is as it always has been. What’s one vote from one little person going to do to change that?

Probably nothing. But sitting at home when the opportunity arises for you to express an opinion will do nothing to alter anything either. Arguably, disengagement from the process only serves to encourage political lawlessness and disregard for well-being of the commonwealth. If you don’t care enough to bother to vote, why would those intent on bending democracy to do their bidding worry about the repercussions of their actions? Non-voters actively collaborate in the corruption of the system.

Those who chose not to vote (or forget or simply can’t be bothered) are as much enemies of the body-politic as those seeking to undermine it for their own gain. Societal parasites leaving the heavy lifting of democracy to their friends, family and neighbours who do find the time and inclination to cast a ballot. It’s nothing more than a big fuck you to everyone else trying to make this thing run right. Deciding not to vote doesn’t constitute a statement or political stance. It just signals to everyone that you simply don’t care enough to be slightly inconvenienced. It’s a mockery to all those coming before us who fought for the very right to do what you are now neglecting to do and to those throughout the world still struggling and dying for that right that you shrug off.

People shouldn’t need to be chided for not voting. No law should be necessary making it compulsory to vote. Nor should blame be laid at the feet our politicians or system for not engaging voters enough to get them to do what they should reflexively do as citizens. Voting is not merely a right. It is a responsibility. By shirking that responsibility, non-voters work in cahoots with the predators operating and scheming to undercut the democratic principles that differentiate us from the despotic regimes that deny the most basic of human rights.

If the only voting you take part in is that of Canadian Idol, there should be an exchange program to send you over for a spell in Iran or China or Myanmar (or any other place where voting really doesn’t matter) and bring us people who know what it’s like to exist without an opportunity to have a say in how the government works.

sanctimoniously submitted by Cityslikr