Bloody well right, we need to tax and spend | #TOpoli #ThePublicGood

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“You’re bloody well right, we need to tax and spend. We’re living with the results of decades of NOT taxing and spending, and what have we got? Buses that don’t arrive. Chunks of the Gardiner falling on our heads. Crumbling infrastructure. Poisonous inequality. Epidemic levels of child poverty. It’s way past time we fixed this, instead of embracing the failed policies advanced by the austerity advocates and other mouthpieces for the far right.”

What I’d love to hear from progressive candidates, not just in the municipal arena, but almost any other context. Stop letting the flimflam artists of the Right use “tax and spend” as a smear. Things cost money. Taxes pay for things. Socialist, left-wing, progressive, whatever. Morans and poo-flingers can call it whatever names they want. A fella can dream.

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Reviving #ThePublicGood, part 6: Government is not a business | #TOpoli #onpoli #cdnpoli

adam smith

One of the most persistent memes in the project of governance is the suggestion that government should be run like a business. Market and private-sector fetishists are nothing new, of course, and they’ve got big bucks behind them. I’ve cited the Fraser Institute previously, of course, so no need to focus on them any longer than absolutely necessary, but they’re hardly alone. There’s the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, and a whole suppurating cesspool of yargle-barglers dedicated to advancing the decomposing meme about Letting the Market Decide. (You’ll note I’m not providing links. Let ’em get their own clicks.)

Once again, let’s go back to first principles. What is A Market? Pardon me for recycling my own wankery, but:

A market is one of the many varieties of systems, institutions, procedures, social relations and infrastructures whereby parties engage in exchange. While parties may exchange goods and services by barter, most markets rely on sellers offering their goods or services (including labor) in exchange for money from buyers. It can be said that a market is the process by which the prices of goods and services are established.

We’ll just set aside, for now, the artificiality of the market as a social construct, never mind the hypocrisy displayed by so many market fundamentalists, and just focus on — yes, that’s right — the public good.

Markets may be good at some things. But, it says here, they’re not so shit-hot at meeting human needs, ensuring living wages and decent benefits, or functioning as the underpinnings of healthy communities. This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, when you consider some of the underlying assumptions — specifically those about rational self-interest, maximizing one’s own benefit, etc. Not to mention the assumption that private actors indulging their greed will inevitably produce the greatest good for the greatest number.

Again, let’s make our own biases clear.

When people place self-interest above all, ignore the rules of civilized behaviour, and don’t give a shit about anyone else, we call them sociopathic. When international investment vehicles and corporations act that way, they’re just maximizing shareholder value and reacting to “The Market.”

Not enough time or space to list here all the dislocations, upheaval, damage, and human cost of our inexplicable decades of deference to “The Market,” so let’s move on and ask why it is that its adherents seem to have such a chubby for The Private Sector.

Perhaps it can start with one of my favourite piles of Zombie Bullshit: the private sector is inherently more efficient because of the profit motive. Forget about evidence for a moment; let’s just unpack some of the assumptions in here: what do the market fundamentalists mean by efficiency? Is it a question of generating greater returns with fewer inputs? Or does it perhaps mean arbitrarily devaluing some of those inputs for ideological reasons? Human labour, for example?

Sure, you can max out your profit margin if you can get away with paying people next to nothing and treating them like shit. Make union organizers disappear the way they’ve been doing in Colombia. Use the TFW program to create a permanent disadvantaged and terrified underclass of people too frightened to assert their rights or stand up for themselves, and then piss all over Canadian citizens for lacking a proper work ethic.

Let’s be clear: the continuing private-sector fetish makes it easier to rationalize the reduction of human beings to mere economic inputs, easier to throw away like used kleenex when they’re no longer useful or profitable. Not that that has anything to do with certain special-interest groups’ (cough, CFIB, cough) hard-on for temporary foreign workers and hatred for unions. Or the so-called Right to Work legislation that Tim Hudak may or may not introduce in Ontario, depending on the breaks. Or the decades-long race to the bottom via so-called “free trade” and the voluntary surrender of myriad policy tools for the sake of “investor confidence.” The agenda is obvious — progressive enfeeblement and eventual destruction of the public sector, and the public sphere as such.

Once again, let’s exercise our critical-thinking skills. Who benefits from this? Let’s just set aside, for the moment, all the market-fundamentalist, private-sector-fetishizing cant, and ask ourselves: who’s profiting from all this? The people whose jobs are disappearing? The public sphere that’s increasingly stripped of resources? The communities left without the means to see to the needs of their citizens? The public infrastructure that’s being privatized and/or left to fall apart?

What if, ultimately, meeting human and community needs isn’t profitable? Should they just be blown off?

Again, back to basics. The function of government is not to make a profit, but to Cultivate the Public Good. It is there precisely because doing so is not profitable.

And this, more than anything, is why we must get the language of the business school out of the project of governance — it’s perversion. Infection, even. Remember the lesson about discourse and winning back the words? When we allow others to force us to think and talk in their terms, when we let them define the discursive turf, we’ve allowed them to capture and colonize the whole public sphere. We’re working with their alien ideas, their values, and their assumptions. It’s no wonder we’re at a disadvantage.

Well, fuck that. This is not the private sector. The language of business is utterly inappropriate for governance. Government is there to provide for human and community needs, not to make a profit or enhance the brand or service customers or generate shareholder value. The requirement that public agencies and offices should have to have a fucking “business plan” is an obscenity. If you like the private sector so much, then go back there and leave government to people who understand and are committed to its role in advancing the public good.

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Also from @neville_park, a picture

Liberation theology

Liberation theology

Not for nothing do I love her.

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Austerity’s Targets « Framed In Canada | #cdnpoli #classwarfare

As the post-recession politics of austerity tattoo a bull’s eye onto the backs of workers in Canada and elsewhere, Iceland stands out as a refreshing alternative.

Iceland was the first country to feel the effects of the Great Recession of 2008. Its banks owed nearly six times Iceland’s GDP in the Fall of 2008, threatening to bring the entire Icelandic economy down with it.

The people of Iceland broke out in protest, egging their own Prime Minister’s car and spurring a change in government.

Since then, the Icelandic government has gone after the bankers responsible for the crisis, arresting several bankers in an ongoing investigation into questionable activities.

Iceland is being lauded by many observers, including the IMF and Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Paul Krugman, as a model example of how a country can respond to an economic crisis such as the Great Recession.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy, is a study in contrasts.

In Greece, the government has unleashed a massive austerity program that has been met with citizen protests, strikes, political instability, and ongoing social unrest.

In Iceland, they’ve arrested bankers who caused the economic crisis, but in Greece, they’ve arrested unionized workers for protesting property tax increases.

Iceland appears to be on the road to economic recovery.

Greece, on the other hand, is mired in social, political and economic turbulence which show no sign of abating.

Another must-read from the indispensable Trish Hennessy at Framed in Canada.

All the more timely in light of things like the recently released CCPA report on CEO compensation, juxtaposed with Caterpillar’s lockout of Canadian workers on the heels of a demand that they accept pay cuts in excess of 50 per cent. Our tax dollars at work, helping foreign companies screw our fellow Canadians.

So, two possible responses to “austerity,” or shock doctrine if you like Naomi Klein’s framing. Gee, I wonder which way the Harper Government will go?

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Chris Hedges: No Act of Rebellion Is Wasted | #classwarfare #OWS

We may feel, in the face of the ruthless corporate destruction of our nation, our culture, and our ecosystem, powerless and weak. But we are not. We have a power that terrifies the corporate state. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up or how heavily it is censored by a media that caters to the needs and profits of corporations, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the rot of the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers. Perhaps this will not happen in our lifetimes. But if we persist, we will keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die. 

From a Hedges column just over a year ago.

No one can say for certain what 2012 will bring, but for starters, let’s go back to first principles.

We’re citizens of a democratic society, deriving our rights and our obligations from a public sphere that is both the sum of its parts and something more. I’ll say it once more for emphasis: we are citizens.

Not taxpayers. Not customers. Not shareholders. Not consumers. We are not defined in terms of how much profit we create or how much we spend on goods and services or pay in taxes. We have an intrinsic value that goes beyond generating returns for investors.

For 2012, let us at least rededicate ourselves to the idea of engaged citizenship.

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Income inequality, the 99 percent, and the dysfunction of American society | via Esquire | #uspoli #OWS

Income inequality is a symptom, not the disease. People realize that now. They see the symptom erupting in all directions, but, at a visceral level, they can sense the deeper pathology at work in their lives. The disease is a lack of accountability, a failure of the responsible institutions, political and otherwise, to do their jobs as a check on the inebriate gluttony of the financial sector of the economy, abetted by its pet economists and its legions of fans in the business media, and the disease is also a political system so awash with the proceeds that it can’t clear a space to do anything about making whole the victims of this reckless pilferage.

Income inequality is the medical shorthand. The butcher’s bill will run to volumes.

A little further reading on how the United States got to where it is today.

Note the backhanded compliment paid to the New York Times, and how people missed the signs leading to this in the 90s because “a pack of ignoramuses decided to chase the president’s penis all over Washington.”

Not much to add to this, really, other than to note, once again, that there are people currently governing our country who look at what’s going on in the United States – ignorance, distractions, polarization in economic and cultural terms, belligerent stupidity – and think it’s a good thing worthy of emulation.

I know I keep going on about the cultivation of stupidity, but demented greed isn’t a civic virtue either.

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The cruel reality of the American class system: We Are Not All Created Equal | #classwarfare #uspoli

There are some truths so hard to face, so ugly and so at odds with how we imagine the world should be, that nobody can accept them. Here’s one: It is obvious that a class system has arrived in America — a recent study of the thirty-four countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that only Italy and Great Britain have less social mobility. But nobody wants to admit: If your daddy was rich, you’re gonna stay rich, and if your daddy was poor, you’re gonna stay poor. Every instinct in the American gut, every institution, every national symbol, runs on the idea that anybody can make it; the only limits are your own limits. Which is an amazing idea, a gift to the world — just no longer true. Culturally, and in their daily lives, Americans continue to glide through a ghostly land of opportunity they can’t bear to tell themselves isn’t real. It’s the most dangerous lie the country tells itself.

More than anything else, class now determines Americans’ fates. The old inequalities — racism, sexism, homophobia — are increasingly antiquated [fig. 1]. Women are threatening to overwhelm men in the workplace, and the utter collapse of the black lower middle class in the age of Obama — a catastrophe for the African-American community — has little to do with prejudice and everything to do with brute economics. Who wins and who loses has become simplified, purified: those who own and those who don’t.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/thousand-words-on-culture/american-class-syst…

It may be the day after Christmas, but this seems more appropriate for Halloween. This is some scary shit.

Retreating to the comfort zone in the face of something like this would usually point to some nostrum like “well, at least we’re talking about it openly.” But the thing about nostrums is that they’re designed to soothe, to paper over, to stifle discussion and make confrontation with unpleasant truths easier to avoid. I don’t find any comfort in that, and in truth, I’d have grave doubts about anyone who did.

We can’t congratulate ourselves for being able to talk about class, about inequality, about polarization between haves and have nots. Or more accurately, we can, but we shouldn’t. Talking about something honestly is all very well, but if you’re not prepared to pursue the implications of what you’re talking about, you might as well not bother.

So let’s address those implications. Is this what we want for our country, our future? Is this the kind of society we want to become? If so, then as Marche argues, the least we can do is have an honest conversation about it.

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