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

Architecture Of A Debate

August 31, 2010

Seated in a packed Great Hall on the 3rd floor of the St. Lawrence Hall last night awaiting the most recent mayoral debate, this one hosted by Heritage Toronto, I took in the (mercifully) air-conditioned magnificence of the room. Its salmon coloured walls… or were they pink? Hard to tell in the dim light cast by the gas-powered chandelier and wall sconces. Is that what they’re called, sconces?

Politics runs deep in this building, having hosted the likes of John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George Brown and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Maybe tonight we’d witness a politician rising to the occasion to match the august surroundings. A breakout performance that would signal a turnaround in the so-far dreary race. One has to maintain hope in such possibilities if one doesn’t want to become totally disillusioned with the process.

After two hours, it was obvious nothing of the sort was going to happen but… but… Let me say this as we head humidly toward Labour Day, the unofficial end of summer and beginning of the campaign’s witching hour where carriages turn into pumpkins and us Prince Charmings run around in a desperate attempt to find someone who fits into the glass slipper. George Smitherman looks as if he’s getting into fighting form.

There were flashes during the debate where, for the first since he declared his intentions to run for mayor, we actually caught glimpses of humanity in George rather than a political machine. Hey, I found myself thinking a couple of times last night, the man actually likes this city he wants to lead. Maybe City Hall isn’t just a stepping stone for him on his way to a higher profile political gig. Who knows how much smoother the campaign trail might’ve been had he embraced a more conciliatory stance toward the current governance of this city from the get-go instead of joining the chorus of blind ragers looking to do nothing more than stir-up a pool of discontent with loud bellowing.

Smitherman was primed and ready for a healthy debate, having released his 5-point Heritage Plan earlier in the day. He came across as one-step ahead of everyone else on stage (football fields ahead in some cases), weaving policy talk in with personal anecdotes of living a heritage related life, not always seamlessly but more often than not effectively. His response to the question about the disparity between heritage preservation in the downtown core versus the suburbs, slyly extended an olive branch to the suburbs with his vow to empower community councils to deal with such matters. There was the odd political swipe, left and right, here and there. He also expressed a surprising antagonism to the idea of putting a Toronto museum into the old City Hall building ‘sometime in the future’ after the courts had been moved elsewhere which seemed an unnecessary shout-out to the fiscal conservatives surrounding him.

Still, to our eyes, it was Smitherman’s strongest debate performance to date and should make Team Rob Ford look down from measuring for new curtains in the Mayor’s office (paid for entirely by Rob Ford, of course) and realize that it may take more than name-calling and scandal mongering to put their candidate into office. For his part, Mr. Ford once again looked out-of-place and ill at ease addressing one of them downtown, elitist crowds. Although he did zero to help his cause like, maybe, brush up on the topic at hand a little. He seems pathologically unable to veer from his script and eventually drew derisive groans, mocking laughter and the odd heckle as he refused to answer many of the questions asked of all the debaters, and drifted off onto inane non sequiturs and pat responses.

It’s almost painful to witness over the course of 2 hours. Almost. To the point where I wonder why he participates in these particular debates at all. Then I remember this is primo campaign strategy. The laughing and jeering has nothing to do with Rob Ford being ill-informed and thick-headed and all about the smug, condescending downtowners who’ll get theirs when Rob Ford becomes mayor. So far, it’s been working for him but they may have to add to the repertoire if Smitherman continues to perform like he did last night.

As for the others?

Rocco Rossi, despite his campaign team shake up over the weekend, remains almost as single-mindedly fixated on a ‘single money for value’ issue as Ford although he’s added another neo-conservative trick to his… wherever you add a trick. A trick bag? Voter Recall which has done wonders for places like California. Rossi just seemed louder than he usually does but did pronounce his love of the city’s ravines. Loudly.

Joe Pantalone was performing in front of a supportive crowd and, as usual, had nice moments especially when he responded to a question of ‘cultural landscapes’. But he seems unable to deliver a sustained performance over the course of an entire debate, lapsing back into soft platitudes when he doesn’t appear all that interested in the topic. He’s also developed an annoying tic of punching a single point relentlessly from the morning’s strategy meeting. Last night? The Fort York bicentennial, coming up in 2012. Again and again. Yeah, we get it, Joe. Fort York = Heritage.

Once more, Sarah Thomson appeared out of her depth, saying little more than ‘let’s preserve old buildings’. How can a candidate (aside from Rob Ford) seem continually surprised and caught off-guard at a debate on Heritage by questions about, well, heritage? Last night might represent the weakest we’ve seen Ms. Thomson.

For the second time we watched Rocco Achampong take a spot alongside the front running candidates and are now convinced that it should be his last. While chalking up his underwhelming performance at June’s Better Ballots debate to a case of nerves, once again last night he displayed a knack for not delivering a succinct point in his allotted time. Ever. There’s no focus to his campaign and as a candidate, he seems torn between two instincts: a fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. They seem at war with one another and render him conflicted and ineffective. It’s time to turn over the one measly chair to another outsider candidate.

Debate moderator, former Chief City Planner of Toronto and professor of City Planning at U of T and Ryerson, Paul Bedford, closed out the debate saying that cities need to grow on purpose not by accident and implored all those in the Great Hall to go out and “make passionate love to the city”. Well, we didn’t see a lot of that on display from the candidates but it was interesting and more than a little heartening to watch George Smitherman’s iciness toward it begin to thaw, just a little. With it not even Labour Day yet, we may be seeing signs of the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Better Ballots Mayoral Debate 6 + 2

June 2, 2010

Attending my first mayoral debate last night, thrown by the folks at Better Ballots at the University of Toronto’s Hart House, it’s difficult to properly assess the proceedings. There’s no baseline to measure it against as the scientists say. Are they all like this because if that’s the case, debates are a lot of fun. More people should make a point of attending them. It was infinitely more entertaining than, I don’t know, Iron Man 2, although in reading that sentence I realize it could be taken as less than complimentary toward political debates.

I do know that this one was different than previous debates so far as it introduced some of the other 22 candidates who have registered to run for the office of mayor. Two, Rocco Achampong and Keith Cole, had won an online poll to join the 6 main contenders up on the stage while the other 20 were given the opportunity to give a 1 minute speech throughout the course of the evening. (We’ll go into more detail about how the “other” candidates fared in our Friday ‘Meet A Mayoral Candidate’ post, only to say now that Mssrs. Achampong and Cole acquitted themselves very, very well on stage last night.)

Held in the very proper Debates Room, the atmosphere was both stuffy and almost carnivalesque. Stuffy, owing mostly to the lack of A/C in the place. It was warm, close. To the point where I was half expecting a wet-pitted Huey Long to appear on the podium, exhorting a radical redistribution of wealth.

Yet, at least metaphorically speaking, the event felt light and airy. Finally allowed access to a wider audience, many of the previously overlooked mayoral candidates who were present took the opportunity to mingle with the crowd, some handing out their campaign literature, others promenading down the middle aisle of the room, holding up handmade campaign posters. Candidates on parade! Place your vote for mayor here!

Doing their level best to dampen the upbeat mood, however, was the Red Menace. A group of youthful red t-shirted Rocco Rossi supporters, hogging up chairs by the row full, wrestling the loose vibe in the room to the ground, harshing the mellow. As the jostling swirled around me, I realized they were in a pitched battle with equally young but perhaps even more doe-eyed, undercover George Smitherman (only one of them sported their team’s purple shirts which he quickly removed) backers. I fought the urge to ask one of these youngsters why on earth they were wasting their formative years working for such soulless candidates but fortunately resisted, not wanting to ruin the evening with fearful thoughts of our future well-being.

As for the debate itself, it was a tightly run operation based around the 14 electoral reform proposals that Better Ballots have been working on, ranging from extending the municipal vote to permanent residents and online voting to term limits and campaign finance rules. If I can offer up two bits of constructive criticism, it would be as follows:

  • One, since Better Ballots had held 4 town hall meetings throughout the city in April for interested members of the public to discuss and vote on, I might’ve used the numbers to eliminate the issues that least caught peoples’ attention, i.e. municipal parties, at-large councils, even possibly term limits. That way, there would’ve been more time to discuss the remaining issues in more detail and not allowed any of the candidates to simply agree or disagree without giving the reasons why.
  • Two, again to afford more time to delve further into details, I would nix the 6-10 minute open portion after each of the candidates were given their 1-1½ minutes to speak on a specific issue. It only opened the door to pre-packaged digs between candidates and empty, rhetorical posturing that often had little to do with the issue at hand.

That said, for much of the evening all the candidates seemed to be in the spirit of things, offering up thoughtful opinions on electoral reform. Except maybe Rob Ford who came across as completely uncomfortable and out of his element. To be fair, he was the main target of shots from the other candidates and the Hart House crowd was not his crowd and the room grew increasingly hot so he was sweating a lot but I still half expected him to break out into a Chris Farley “I live in a van down by the river!” routine. Ultimately, if I were voting for the candidate who I thought would make the best Walmart manager, Ford would be my candidate.

Sarah Thomson struck me as a high school valedictorian. Whenever she kept pointing out that she’d built a multi-million dollar business, I wanted to stand up and scream, “But government isn’t a business, Ms. Thomson!!” Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti drifted in and out of lucidity, constantly badgering Ford, dismissing his incessant call to reduce the number of councillors to 22 as nothing more than empowering the unelected bureaucracy and calling for (I think) publicly funded elections. George Smitherman was smooth, said pretty well next to nothing (a voting reform package sent to a council committee) and struck me as extremely unlikable.

I must admit that, despite the presence of his Redshirts, Rocco Rossi caught my attention with his thoughtfulness and passion. So much so that whenever he talked I found myself thinking, if we only could get him off this whole selling of public assets nonsense… Then came his final statement where he tried to convince the audience that the real reason for voter disaffection is due to the choices the current mayor has made, and then proceeding to dismiss plastic recycling and public toilets as unimportant. Clearly the man had no read on who he was talking to on this particular evening and his ideas of civic engagement are wildly antithetical to mine.

Leaving us with Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone. Neither here nor there, pretty well lost in the shuffle, he didn’t seem out of place so much as content to go along, surf the various tides as they swell up in order to be one of the last candidates standing come October. He seems non-ideological and cordial enough to work well with a fractious council. But I just wish he’d stand up (no pun intended) and be more forceful about why he thinks government matters, why he would be a good mayor and that after 29 years in office, the city he’s represented is not doing too badly despite what the gaggle of naysayers on the stage around him are saying.

It is still just June yet. Lots of time remaining for policies, platforms and personalities to coalesce. Onward and forward to future debates!

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Meet A Mayoral Candidate XV

May 28, 2010

It’s Friday again and—wait, wait. Friday? Really? Didn’t the work week start, like, just 3 days ago? Oh well. If you say so. Friday it is then, bringing another installment of Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

Up this week: Rocco Achampong!

Voted by those in this office as the Candidate Most Likely To Break Out From The Back Of The Pack And Start Running With The Big Bulls (you mean your office didn’t have a similar pool?), Rocco Achampong appears ready to fulfill that destiny. He’ll be appearing along with Keith Cole at the Better Ballots Mayoral Debate on June 1st at the University of Toronto’s Hart House with the 6 top dogs, acronymously known as TRFMPS. His time in the shadows is about to be a thing of the past as steps out into the glaring limelight.

Mr. Achampong should have somewhat of a home field advantage at next Tuesday’s debate as he is a graduate of U. of T. where he co-founded the Black Students Association and served as the president before being elected president of the university’s Students’ Administrative Council (now known as the Students’ Union). In fact, so at home with the place is he that Achampong even announced his candidacy for mayor earlier this year in the very room where the debate will be taking place. He’ll be well versed with where the puck bounces unexpectedly off the boards into the slot in front of the net.

There is little question that as a candidate for mayor Mr. Achampong has all the goods. He is young, driven and possesses a compelling and uplifting biography. Born in Ghana, his family immigrated to Canada when he was nine years old. Some of his youth was spent in Toronto’s rough-and-tumble Jane-Finch area, where Achampong was well aware of the violence that sometimes flared up in the community.  But with a strong family bond steeped in love and faith, he overcame these struggles to make his way through school, eventually graduating from Osgoode Hall with a law degree in 2008.

It is perfect political pedigree, bestowing a can-do under dog, over-achieving mantle on him that Achampong clearly relishes. “I think of myself as Rocky,” Achampong has said. “As long as I’m still on my feet after 12 rounds, I’ve won.” Strike up the Bill Conti theme music, we say, because up that flight of stairs we go!

Yet for all the fresh-faced, new blood, rising star qualities enveloping Achampong, there’s a whiff of familiarity upon closer examination. Imagine my surprise when glancing through his biographical material that Mr. Achampong campaigned for John Tory back in 2003 in that mayoral election. I say, what? Tory may be a nice guy and genuinely decent human being but what’s a bright-eyed, impressionable young thing doing going to work for the consummate insider, an official member of the unofficial kitchen cabinet for the execrable Mel Lastman regime? What does that say about Achampong’s politics?

It speaks volumes.

From Mr. Achampong’s speech announcing his intention to run for mayor: I have no experience when it comes to raising your taxes – time after time after time. No experience when it comes to looking for ever more innovative ways to separate our hard-working citizens from their hard-earned money. I have no experience when it comes to wasting these same hard-earned tax dollars through reckless and irresponsible spending. I have no experience when it comes to selling our city out to special interests, no experience in caving in to demands, to sitting idly by and complacently while union bosses hold our citizens hostage with outrageous demands.

Unlike my professional politician opponents, I have no experience when it comes to running government agencies rife with scandal and corruption. I have no experience when it comes to hiking transit costs for hard-working citizens to pay ever higher salaries to overfed employees who sleep on the job.

Words that could just as easily be emanating from the mouth of George Smitherman, Rob Ford or Rocco Achampong’s former boss on the John Tory 2003 campaign team, Rocco Rossi. For a new kid on the block, Mr. Achampong sounds awfully shopworn, clichéd and hackneyed. Where is the new vision to accompany the new face? Even his answer to the question we’ve been asking all our candidates, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Achampong like to see his legacy written? strikes us as somewhat generic. “A Mayor Achampong would like his legacy to be that of economic growth, prosperity for the many, and hope for all…when they look back, I  would like them to not forget that times were great under my administration”.

Yes, there is much to admire in the compassionate and progressive elements of Achampong’s platform. A national housing initiative. TTC fare freeze. Doubling of the city’s arts funding. Dedicated bike lanes.

We just do not see how all this gibes with the anti-tax, anti-union stance Mr. Achampong’s touting right now. The hope is with a new voice comes a new vision. Rather than trotting our all the old sawhorses about this city’s out-of-control spending and being held hostage by union layabouts, we’re looking for someone, anyone, to point out how the fiscal straits Toronto is facing presently are largely beyond its control. We’re looking for a candidate to stand up for our interests in the face of recalcitrant and negligent senior levels of government and state categorically that we refuse to play delivery boy to the heartless and harmful effects of the neoliberal policies that they’ve been pursuing for decades now.

And somewhere in our peabrains we lodged the idea that a candidate such as Rocco Achampong might be that one. Now, we’re not so sure. It saddens us. Maybe over the course of the election campaign we will be proven wrong.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

Personality Mapping By Numbers

April 10, 2010

So apparently, if going by where I live is indicative of the type of personality I possess, the good folks at the Martin Prosperity Institute at U. of T.’s Rotman School of Business would conclude that I am a fairly disagreeable introvert who is mildly conscientious but very open to experience with nary a hint of neurosis. Or, I am none of those things but live amidst a high concentration of that type which, at first blush, sounds nothing like my neighbourhood at all. Or maybe the disconnect is due to complexity being shoe-horned into ill-fitting boxes. Like the evil stepsisters trying to cram their big, flat feet into the tiny glass slipper Cinderella left behind.

All of which has to do with an interview I came across recently with Dr. Kevin Stolarick, a Research Director at the MPI. He and his team amassed a database of some 1300 participants from an online personality test in order to discover a link between types of people and where they live. According to Stolarick, personality traits fall into five and only five categories. “No matter what you ask people in behavioral questions,” Stolarick told Meghan Lawson of The Strand magazine last fall, “their answers always fall into the Big Five traits.” The Big Five? Conscientiousness, agreeability, openness to experience, extroversion, and neurosis.

Really? Do our lives break down that cleanly into a mere five categories? Can a 7 million year march through human evolution only have brought us to a point where we can be psychologically fitted into so few, easily defined slots? Sounds more like a marketer’s dream rather than anything even closely resembling reality.

There is also the very real possibility I just don’t have the necessary academic underpinnings to fully comprehend what Stolarick and his colleagues are attempting to do with this study. Into which one of the big 5 personality trait categories is ignorance placed?

It also could be my misgivings about putting much credence into self-reporting tests that serve as the basis for the research of Stolarick et al. As honest as people think they might be, there’s always going to be a hesitancy to ascribe to oneself less than flattering attributes. Do you like to acknowledge the fact that you’re the type that does ‘get nervous easily’ and ‘can be tense’ and ‘who worries a lot’? Wouldn’t you much rather be that person ‘who remains calm in tense situations’ and ‘is a deep, ingenious thinker’? Even just a little? Agree? Strongly disagree?

I gather that there’s a growing science behind putting together a more reliable sort of questionnaire in order to weed out the biggest, fattest liars and that there’s always increased accuracy in larger numbers, still… I find it difficult to fully embrace the veracity of the responses to such intensely personal questions. No, I am not comfortable admitting, even to someone at the end of a fairly anonymous online survey that ‘I see myself as someone with few artistic interests’ and ‘who starts quarrels with others’?

How much information should be deduced from such exercises? Can useful specifics be gathered from such broad strokes? Even Stolarick thinks that “personality is one of those things that doesn’t change very much. These are underlying personality types. Ideally, you should be seeing that these types don’t correlate with anything else.” So, what exactly is he looking for in crunching these types of numbers?

On the plus side, some pretty pictures have emerged from the MPI personality study, using heat diagramming that tells a tale of self-described types and where they reside here in Toronto. It seems that anyone lacking in curiosity lives up in the north end of the city. While all us suspicious and bad-tempered folk inhabit the central region top to bottom (making North Yorkers both close-minded and unfriendly) and stretching out along the lakeshore through the Beaches and into Scarborough. And if you’re neurotic, you better find yourself a place east of Yonge Street unless you want to go around feeling all conspicuous over here on the laid back west side, yo.

It all seems so narrow and confining, if you ask me, especially coming from a think-tank operating under the direction of urban guru Richard Florida. Isn’t he always on about the strength of diversity? Just how diverse are we if we can be so clinically boiled down to 5 kinds of personalities who huddle around other like-minded people? That, to my very open mind with all its introverted disagreeability and ever-so-slight traces of conscientiousness and neurosis, is the exact opposite of diverse; evoking more societal patterns in the Appalachians or medieval Europe. Surely, the complex web of life in a 21st-century, multicultural city like ours goes about its business on a much more complicated level than that.

very unneurotically but quite disagreeably submitted by Urban Sophisticat