Business Economics 101 (Or something like that)

August 6, 2018 at 1:23 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: At the first meeting after the Cuban Revolution , Castro is doling out jobs. “Is anyone here an economist?” he asks.

Che puts up his hand. “Right. You’re the minster for the economy.” Che looks a bit shocked, but says nothing.

After the meeting Che approaches Fidel ans says, “I’m happy to rake care of the economy, but you know, I’m not an economist.”

Fidel snaps back, “Why did you put up your hand when I asked if anyone was an economist.”

“Oh,” Che replies, “I thought you said was anyone a communist.”


Now, it turned out Che was neither an economist nor a communist, (sorry, left-communist snark here), and while the new Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford certainly never claim to be communists, its grasp on basic economic principles  doesn’t appear too solid either.

The cancellation of the Liberal government cap-and-trade pollution policy was an ideological one, but part of the money was earmarked for school repairs – The Toronto District School Board was scheduled to receive $100 million for repairs to plant and infrastructure, and as a parent who still has one kid in the school system, I’m OK with money being spent on schools. Where does that money go now? Presumably it says with polluters.

A few years ago when Ford’s brother Rob was the Mayor of Toronto, the Fords railed against a 5 cent charge for plastic bags in grocery stores. which the previous Mayor David Miller had instituted in order to reduce plastic bag use Outrageous they said. No longer would Toronto collect that money. Funny thing is,  most of the stores I shop at still charge me for a plastic bag. .

Last week, the government announced it was cancelling the province’s basic income pilot program. This caused much consternation, since the Conservatives had maintained prior to the election they would be continuing with the program. Minister Lisa MacLeod more or less fessed up to the broken promise, but fell back on the time honoured tradition of claiming the previous government had left them with less money than they had assumed, only to claim the next day that the media’s reporting was….wait for it…fake news.

But it’s not all bad news. One of the other campaign promises was the return of the buck-a-beer. Currently in Ontario the minimum price a brewer can sell a bottle or can of beer for is $1.25. Prior to 2008, the minimum was $1. Ford’s idea is to reduce the floor, so while your kids’ school may have holes in its roof, the air is too polluted to go outside, and you may have been pushed deeper into poverty, at least you can save some money on beer. Maybe…because there’s no guarantee that brewers will actually sell at the minimum price (a quick survey of LCBO and Beer Store prices indicate no one’s selling anywhere close to that minimum now).

I’m not an economist either. I took a few classes in school, and read a few books since then, but I do remember a couple of things. One of the basic principles of capitalism is profit maximization. The other is externalities. I.e., if you can get someone else to pay for some of the messes you create, you can make more profit. Oh wait, now I get it: Business and the wealthy enjoy socialism; the rest of us get capitalism.

Last week, the right-wing Toronto Sun featured an article by John Snoblen, a high school dropout who was a Minister of Education under a previous Tory Government. Snoblem, who applauded Ford’s decisions to date, was most famous for being caught arguing that in order to more easily accomplish their policies, it was necessary to create a crisis.

That’s the way the game is played. I’m not suggesting that the old Liberal policies represented a moment toward a fairer society etc., but the new Conservative government’s early decision suggest that this is a taste of things to come.




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The People’s Republic of Toronto (Redux)

July 31, 2018 at 4:39 pm (Uncategorized)

I had meant to write a follow-up piece to Marxist Prediction Power and Marxist Prediction Power II about the Ontario election. But, life and work got in the way, and I never did. As it turned out, I was right (along with everyone else) that the Tories won the election, but I was surprised that the Tory vote was so large. The right-wing social-democrats of the New Democratic Party picked up some of the collapsing Liberal vote, but hardly enough to make a difference. After that, things proceeded pretty much as expected. Lots of grand talk, lots of fear-mongering, the I.S. held a “How we can stop…” [insert name of candidate you just failed to stop] meeting etc. Anyway, this piece is what you get instead. Not a trenchant piece of political observation, but a few random thought. 

In the later part of his long political life, Murray Bookchin promoted the idea of libertarian municipalism; In Bookchin’s words, “The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality—the city, town, and village—where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy.” On a certain level, this makes sense. Municipal government tends to deal with the day to day problems of life (garbage pickup, pot holes in roads etc.) although on a much more important level, you can’t create islands of (municipal) socialism, anarchism or whatever. Still, as you may or may not remember, Toronto’s recent municipal history has been…well, let’s say, interesting.

First there was the reign of error of Rob Ford. Ford was a long-time councilor who was elected mayor in 2010 who during his time in office briefly caught broader attention as “Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor.”  if you’ve forgeotten all of the details, read Robin Doolittle’s book Crazytown, which is an excellent summary of the Ford years, and contained a lot of things I’d forgotten (repressed?) Ford planned to run for re-election, but his diagnosis of cancer forced him to drop out and run as a councillor (He was elected, but died after the election, and his spot on council was one by his …nephew). His brother Doug ran for Mayor in his place representing the so-called “Ford Nation.” Comedian John Oliver had this to say at the time:

Ford lost the election to John Tory, but earlier this year captured the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party as they were heading into an election they were widely expected to win. Despite, Ford largely staying away from the public eye, and the lack of any kind of comprehensive program, the Conservatives handily defeated the ruling Liberals and the NDP and captured a majority government.

The first two months of  the PC term were relatively uneventful and hardly surprising: As promised the new sex-ed curriculum from 2014 was rolled back to one dating from the 1990’s (i.e., before smart-phones, cyber-bullying, the legalization of gay-marriage, etc ); Pro-police noises were made ; the Ontario Hydro Board were fired (which will not affect the notoriously high Ontario hydro rates); there was a lot of rhetoric about Ontario being open for business. Yeah, nothing too surprising.

Then last Friday, just before the deadline to register as a candidate for this year’s municipal election, Ford announced that Toronto’s city council would be reduced from 47 councillors to 25, and that two elections for regional leadership positions in the sprawling 905 region would be cancelled. The rational being that by reducing the number of councillors, Toronto would save $24 million over four years, though many were quick to respond that $6 million for a city with an operating budget of over $10 billion is almost pocket change. The second reason was in terms of efficiency, and a vague campaign promise to “shrink government.”

There are three levels of government in Canada: Federal, provincial and municipal; however, the Constitution only recognizes two. Therefore, municipal government exists under the  umbrella of the province. In 1998, Conservative Premier Mike Harris amalgamated Toronto, East York, North York, Scarborough, and Etobicoke into one city on similar grounds, although it was widely believed that he did it because he loathed Toronto and expected dire results to follow. There are over 400 municipalities in Ontario. Ford has expressed the desire to intervene in three so far: The 905 decision will affect political rivals, and the Toronto decision affects the city that rejected him as mayor. Seemingly the mark of a petty, vindictive man. But there are plenty of them elected to high office these days.

All of this makes the upcoming municipal election interesting. Centrist mayor John Tory is running for re-election. There are also the usual gaggle of fringe and perennial candidates including a neo-Nazi and an alt-right commentator who was fired from the Canadian younger brother of Fox News Rebel Media. Lastly, Jennifer Keesmaat, a former city planner, who is considered Tory’s main rival recently called for self-governance for the city of Toronto. Yeah, People’s Republic here we come.

I guess we do live in interesting times.


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Music Notes: July 2018

July 31, 2018 at 4:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Half way to fall! 

1 Liz Phair – Girly Sound to Guyville

If you thrilled to the sheer audacity, the sheer brilliance of Exile in Guyville, you must surely want to own this set too:  The original album, along with the “Girly sound” cassettes. The packaging is a little underwhelming, but the music is worth it.

2 Rolling Blackouts CF –  Hope Downs

Jangly Australian pop. Lovely summer sounds.

3. The Undertones – Get What You Need

A wonderful band which released two (possibly three) near perfect albums and then breaks up. The band reforms with a new singer. Gotta be shit,  right? Erm. Actually no. It’s a pretty great record. Buzzing guitars and catchy sounds. And while Paul McLoone will never truly replace Fergal Sharkly, he comes close.

4. Shacks – Haze

You may remember them from an Apple commercial a while back, but the full-length record by Shacks is a fuzzy dream pop treat. You might still be able to find editions with a bonus disc of demos too.

5. Robert Gordon – Live Fast Love Hard

If you’re a fan of Gordon, this is really something to have. Two live discs, one with Link Wray, and the other with Chris Spedding (man, the guy had good taste in guitar players), and pretty amazing sets. The sound is good, the song selection choice, and the energy high.

6. The Crystals – “He’s a Rebel”


7 Sleaford Mods – “Stick in a Five and go!”

You be the judge. Good to see you back lads.


8 The Pixies – Acoustic: Live at Newport

One of my biggest regrets is never seeing the Pixies in their prime. This DVD doesn’t make up for it, but it’s a good way to spent time.

9 Mazzy Star – So Tonight that I might See

If you’re in the moon, this is untouchable. Like the Cowboy Junkies or Lana Del Ray, all their songs kind of sound the same – whispered, world weary vocals and a groovy backing, but who cares? It’s a great sound. Fine record.

10 The Pirate – “My Babe”

Wilko Johnson mentions this in a recent piece in Uncut. Basically a rewrite of “This Train is Bound for Glory, ” but a hell of a good one. Listen to that guitar.


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North Korea

June 30, 2018 at 7:30 pm (Uncategorized)

For a while there I was sleeping well. After Trump’s trip and meeting with loopy Stalinist Kim Jong-un (who is apparently more popular among Republicans that Nancy Pelosi) , there was the announcement that even though Kim had made the same empty promise North Korea has been making for decades, nuclear war had been averted. Then of course a week later, the US rhetoric began to creep back and it turned out Kim is upgrading his weapons. Huh.

It feels as if the U.S. research and prep was based on screenings of Team America and The Interview.

Now all we need is the Workers Vanguard article defending the “North Korean deformed workers state” and North Korea’s right to have nuclear weapons. What did they used to call that, the workers’ bomb?

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Music Notes: June 2018

June 30, 2018 at 7:30 pm (Uncategorized)

For some or other reason, there was no May Music notes post, so here’s June.

1 Roxy Music – Roxy Music 

There’s a delulxe edition of the classic debut with a disc of extras including Peel sessions and a live set.  Also in the booklet is an extended essay on the origins of the band which is quite interesting. The original album is pretty great, and the extras are cool versions. Something to consider, even if you’re not a big Roxy fan

2 Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Live at the Garrison

No, not a live album. Rather the band’s Canadian debut. Unfortunately, the band’s debut hadn’t been released at the time of the show, (it’s out now), so I had to make do with repeated listens to the French Press EP. which I recall buying at  Soundscapes, and being instantly hooked by the sound. “Sort of like all your favourite New Zealand bands” read one review, but RBCF aren’t actually from NZ; they hail from Melbourne, Australia. Great show and they’re coming back in September.

On the bill too were Kiwi jr., who, despite their name, were also NOT from New Zealand. But they do also have that jangly Clean/ Bats/NZ sound. They even cover the Clean’s “Thumbs off” to great effect.

3  Link Wray and his Ray Men  – Law of the Jungle (The Swan Demos 64) des,” “Rumble” etc.) and it’s just great. Saw Link at the Horseshoe Tavern sometime in the nineties. Kinda cool to see living legend. This collection from ’64 features slightly different versions of all your favourites (“Deuces Wild”, ” Ace of Spades” and “Rumble”), and because it’s Link Wray, it’s worth a listen.

4. Christian D

Came across this one recently: Christian d Local Toronto act. Rockabilly, punk and more. Free music if you subscribe to the email list. CD out soon.

5 Lydia Lunch

The Hard Luck Bar is just that. Little in the way of frills, but good sound and a big dance floor, so when Lydia Lunch graced its smallish stage back in May it was a treat. . True it was a short set, and there was no encore or merch to get, but it was still a great show. Ms. Lunch wailed a primal blues at us for the better part of an hour. if you were there, you were a part of something big.

6 Public Enemy: Yo! Bum Rush the Show

The first Public Enemy album. Let’s leave aside the misogyny of “Sophisticated Bitch,” the debut PE release is a great Rick Rubin rock-rap record. But who knew what was just around the corner.

7 Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Sparkle Hard 

The seventh album may be the best (at least that’s what people say). Yeah, pretty amazing record. Like much of Malkmus’ work, it plays with pop, punk, country and I dunno oft-kilter stuff. Featuring Kim Gordon on one track. Great stuff.

8 Shilpa Ray – Door Girl

Apparently Shilpa Ray was a door girl once. This latest album contains punk, 50’s style pop, spoken word and everything between. Great live act too, but maybe a new video director is needed (OK, the intro is funny and the song is great, but…)

9 The Telescopes – Splashdown

Now, you really should get this one.  Shoegazer pop with loads of extras. THe second album, EPs, and much more. Really great.

10 Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth 

It doesn’t work in the car, but the minimalist pop of YMG still resonates if you’re home alone.


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Marxist Prediction Power (II)

June 6, 2018 at 11:41 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s election day tomorrow in Ontario. and I’m going to revisit my earlier predictions.

  1. I still think the Conservatives are to win, but there are a couple of complicating factors. It seems likely that they will win a majority, but if the Liberal vote collapses and flows to the NDP, they might be denied it in favour of a minority. It remains to be seen whether or not the fact leader Doug Ford’s being sued by his sister-in-law will affect things. My guess is no, but it may cost them a few seats. It’s really amazing that had the party stuck with Patrick Brown or even chosen Christine Elliot to replace him, much of this speculation would have been put to rest. the more you get to know Doug Ford, the less you like him.
  2. Kathleen Wynn took a bold gamble last week, admitting the Liberals would lose the election. On the one hand, it’s nothing people didn’t already know, but to admit it, is usually a NDP strategy. It;s likely a strategy designed to appeal to Liberal die-hards to come out and vote rather than just give up. If the Liberals fail to win eight seats (something which might well happen), the party will lose its official status  – given that the Liberals were pissed when the NDP fell into this category in 2003, the Liberals can’t hope for favourable treatment from them. The day before the election, it doesn’t seem clear that Wynn’s idea has paid off – if anything, more voters continue to bleed towards the PCs and the NDP.
  3. For a brief moment the NDP seemed poised to form the next government, but that has faded. Offering the usual bland neo-Keynesian policies, the NDP does seem ready to be the official opposition.  But given the absences of anything like class struggle to back them up, you can probably expect little from them.

But yeah, I’ll watching tomorrow night to see how wrong I am

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Scott Hutchison

May 13, 2018 at 9:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Frightened Rabbit were a band for ten years. I saw them five times. They were one of the few bands that I saw live more than I owned their records. Oh, I liked the records too, btu live they seemed in their element. The perfect blend of exciting rock ‘n’ roll, a sombre lyrical content, and a band that seemed to be having a great time.

I saw them last a few months back at the Mod Club, the place I first saw them in 2012. They were in fine form.

The passing last week of front-man Scott Hutchison brings back all those happy memories, and fills me with a deep sadness over the loss of this brilliant singer-songwriter with a barbed wit and the soul of a poet.

Sometimes words just won’t do it.


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The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair

May 13, 2018 at 9:35 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s mid-May, and that means it’s only a couple of weeks until the annual Montreal Anarchist Bookfair. The bookfair has been around since 2000, and is the biggest of its kind in Canada. The past few years have felt a bit smaller, but there’s still loads of things to do, see, and buy their (loads of free stuff too!)

I’ve tabled at the bookfair every year, but unfortunately this year I won’t be there. Personal commitments and a heavier than usual work load, have made it impossible for me to attend, but maybe next time…

The bookfair takes place May 26 and 27 from 10:00 until 5:00 both days.

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Marxist Prediction Power

May 5, 2018 at 9:58 pm (Uncategorized)

June 7, 2018 is election day in Ontario.

Using deep seated reasoning and magical Marxist prediction powers, here’s what’s going to happen.

The Progressive Conservative Party will win the election. Despite the unpopularity of leader Doug Ford, who unlike his brother cannot blame the fact he’s an arsehole on a drug problem, the Liberal are even more unpopular. My powers cannot see whether Kathleen Wynn will keep her seat, but she will fall on her sword after the decimation of her party, and Michael Coteau will emerge as the new leader.

Of course, my powers also predicted the Liberals would see a reduced minority in the last election and lose the one before that  (in the last election, they won with majoirty and won the one before that with a minority- 0 for 2 Mr. Fischer) I also predicted that Rob Ford would lose his race for Mayor. He won handsomely. Lastly, I told everyone who asked that Trump could not possibly win, and believed it right up to the minute that I realized he would win.

So Ontario? Pretty much anyone’s guess.



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Marx 200

May 5, 2018 at 9:49 pm (Uncategorized)

200 years ago today.

May 5, 1818

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