Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Slouching Toward A City Near You

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

- W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

The man pictured above is Nick Shcherban, a Toronto resident who was arrested, hauled off to jail and is now awaiting a bail hearing for reasons I will explain later in this post. For now, it might be useful to think of him as a David who has just lost his battle with Goliath. Kind of like the battle we all seem to have lost to the forces of neoliberalism.

A curious term, neoliberalism, one that sounds innocent enough and is fondly embraced by politicians of all stripes, including the much-photographed Justin Trudeau. But what does it really mean?

Probably the best definition I have read is one offered by Naomi Klein in her latest book, No Is Not Enough:
Neoliberalism is shorthand for an economic project that vilifies the public sphere and anything that's not either the workings of the market or the decisions of individual consumers. ... governments exist in order to create the optimal conditions for private interests to maximize their profits and wealth, based on the theory that the profits and economic growth that follow will benefit everyone in the trickle down from the top - eventually.

The primary tools of this project are all too familiar: privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sphere, and low taxes paid for by cuts to public services, and all of this locked in under corporate friendly trade deals. [Think, for example, of Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in NAFTA and CETA.]
For anyone paying attention, there can be little doubt that the forces of neoliberalism are in the driver's seat, despite growing recognition of how destructive it is to the common good.

The latest example is to be found in Amazon's search for a second headquarters. In my mind, it represents the ultimate expression of neoliberalism, one in which a very powerful and extremely profitable corporate entity is demanding massive subsidization by the taxpayer in exchange for bestowing jobs. All of this from a company that has already received well over $1 billion in the form of subsidies and tax breaks.

Consider some of the telling elements of its Request For Proposals, one that leaves little doubt that the more taxpayer-funded 'freebies' a jurisdiction offers Amazon, the more kindly disposed it will be to locating there.

Please read the following carefully for both the explicit and the implied expectations of the jurisdiction that 'wins' their approval.
Incentives – Identify incentive programs available for the Project at the state/province and local levels. Outline the type of incentive (i.e. land, site preparation, tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, permitting, and fee reductions) and the amount.The initial cost and ongoing cost of doing business are critical decision drivers.[Italics mine]

Please provide a summary of total incentives offered for the Project by the state/province and local community. In this summary, please provide a brief description of the incentive item, the timing of incentive payment/realization, and a calculation of the incentive amount. Please describe any specific or unique eligibility requirements mandated by each incentive item. With respect to tax credits, please indicate whether credits are refundable, transferable, or may be carried forward for a specific period of time. If the incentive includes free or reduced land costs, include the mechanism and approvals that will be required. Please also include all timelines associated with the approvals of each incentive. We acknowledge a Project of this magnitude may require special incentive legislation in order for the state/province to achieve a competitive incentive proposal. [Italics mine] As such, please indicate if any incentives or programs will require legislation or other approval methods. Ideally, your submittal includes a total value of incentives, including the specified benefit time period.
I think we can see where this may be going. It is hard not to imagine a day in the very near future when mega corporations will demand to be relieved of all taxation in exchange for the jobs they provide. A kind of corporate, neoliberal extortion disguised as munifescence, no?

So where does Nick Shcherban fit into this picture? Well, Nick was taught a lesson on Monday about who really rules the world, and that includes the 'world-class' city of Toronto. Tired of the almost non-stop use of a neighbouring house for filming purposes, he decided to take some action:
Two speakers and an amplifier was [sic] set up in his backyard where a radio was blasting in the direction of 450 Pape Ave. during the production of the HBO movie Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan and Scarborough-born YouTube star Lilly Singh.

Shcherban said in an interview earlier on Monday that 450 Pape is exclusively and constantly used for filming movies, commercials, and having photo shoots, causing disruptions like excessive noise and blocking access to a TTC bus stop.
His act of resistance did not go unnoticed:
When Shcherban concluded his interview with the Star, a police officer approached him to discuss a noise complaint against him. Shcherban told the officer that they would need a warrant to do anything about it, and within 30 minutes, three [italics mine] detectives appeared at his door, warrant in hand.

It took more than 15 minutes for Shcherban to respond to the detectives after receiving multiple warnings that his door would be broken down if necessary.

He was escorted out of his home and into a police car, as the film crew watched the dramatic scene.
Perhaps most indicative of the mindset that corporate behemoths like HBO deserve unqualified obeisance, a film crew member had this to say about
Shcherban's arrest:
“Serves him right ... We’ve put billions into the Toronto film industry in the last decade.”
Some may say that Nick Sahcherban is getting exactly what he deserves. After all, who is he to try to interfere in something that is providing much-needed jobs and other economic boosts, just because his personal peace is compromised? And, I guess, that is exactly my point in this post. We have become so used to accepting orts from the corporate table that we have reached the point where the public's well-being is only a secondary consideration, if, indeed, it is considered at all, in the greater scheme of things.

Not nearly good enough, in my book.


  1. The "public well being" is something that's wrapped in lies during election campaigns. Who can forget when Justin solemnly promised to rehabilitate the public interest by cleaning house at the National Energy Board or implementing electoral reform or restoring our navigation and fisheries laws gutted by Harper or that business about First Nations consultation, "social licence" and pipelines that would never be approved without both? Just an endless load of bullshit from a wantonly deceitful neoliberal draping himself in a progressive cloak to steal votes he did not deserve. But, oh my goodness, isn't he pretty?

    1. The list of Trudeau's betrayals is indeed long, Mound, paralleling the myriad failures of Western democracies to protect and promote the interests of their citizens.