Predictably, Ford and his committee were told, over and over again, not to cut anything at all. Also predictably, the mayor was and continues to be a target for a CN Tower full of hatred, much of it irrational and visceral. Yes, Rob Ford and his brother Doug are right-wingers with little patience for things they don't use themselves. (Doug, a city councillor himself, made waves last week telling Margaret Atwood, of all people, to get herself elected or shut up. Atwood had leapt to the defence of Toronto libraries, which are possibly on the Ford chopping block.)
It remains to be seen what Ford will actually cut. He was handily elected last year promising to "stop the gravy train" at City Hall...and now people have figured out they like gravy...All that said, how many mayors facing similar budget shortfalls would actually seek public input to this degree? Damned few of them, I'm thinking. Dismiss the meeting as political theater if you must, but Ford doesn't strike me as the kind of person with much patience for theater, political or otherwise.
There's another entity facing a budget mess just across Lake Ontario from Ford's fiefdom. Its elected representatives are also working around the clock to avert default. That entity wields just a titch more clout in the world, mind you. If the United States actually defaults on its debt...well, truth is, nobody knows exactly what will happen, but it ranges from "not pretty" downwards.
I still think, or I'd like to think, that the United States will come to its senses at the last possible minute. Of course, it's a fair argument whether the Democrats and Republicans in Washington have any sense left between them. One side refuses to budge off its insistence there be no tax increases, while the other side is more interested, at least publicly, on heaping opprobrium on the opposition than in putting the country's interests first.
Raising the debt ceiling used to be a meaningless ritual. It's been done 74 times in the last 49 years, rarely with any fuss or muss whatsoever. This time, things are different: the government is virtually paralyzed. Which makes me wonder how they'd face a real crisis...
Now, don't get me wrong. The United States debt is a train rapidly getting out of control. You can call it a "gravy train" after Rob Ford if you want, but be aware that Americans define "gravy" differently from us Canucks. (For one thing, they look at you funny if you ask for it on your fries.)
WHAT'S DRIVING U.S. DEBT?
It's really that simple. The Department of Defense budget for 2012 is well over a trillion dollars, and that's just the money that's explicitly allocated. Doubtless there are countless billions being thrown at the military from other accounts. Cuts to defense spending are a political third rail in a country embroiled in the amorphous 'war on terror'. Were I an American, I would be afraid to even mention the prospect in a blog, lest I land on some shadowy list somewhere: the idea of even reining in defense spending is nothing less than traitorous.
Yet the U.S. is currently engaged in combat (of a sort) not just in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but also in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. These wars--every single one of them--are ultimately unwinnable. Every terrorist killed begets more terrorists; ten years in, Afghanistan is no closer to U.S. style democracy. Nor, truly, is Iraq.
The U.S. maintains over a thousand military bases in well over a hundred countries worldwide. Including over two hundred bases in Germany alone. Are these strictly speaking, necessary? Germany hasn't been a threat to anyone for nigh on seventy years.
So: cut the military back a bit. But they shouldn't bear the austerity alone. The U.S. is, contrary to popular citizen misconception, among the least taxed wealthy countries on earth. Many citizens like to think that their low taxes are the source of their wealth. It ain't true. Canada's standard of living is the same or higher, and our taxes would make citizens of many states (not all) blanch. And taxes in Scandinavia, which is not under the toxic Euro-cloud of debt to its south, are considerably higher than those in Canada.
A couple of years ago, General Electric paid no taxes to Washington on revenues of $10.3 billion. That was accomplish through sleight-of-hand accounting, which really should be made illegal. A law taxing overseas gains at the marginal rate when they are offset by U.S. losses should do the trick. Truth is, there are many corporations in U.S. avoiding taxes while reaping ridiculous profits (even now, when the real American economy is sputtering and guttering.)
Raise corporate taxes. Institute a VAT (the U.S. is the only wealthy country without a national value-added tax of some kind). Do all of this in combination--or even some of it--and you'll avert default. But most importantly, STOP THE GODDAMN BICKERING. It's childish, it's unseemly, and it doesn't accomplish anything at all.
Oh, and I do agree with the Tea Party on one thing (wonders never cease): a balanced-budget Constitutional amendment. Raise the debt ceiling just this once more...and never again. A city or a country can not be run the way a household is...but excessive debt is just as poisonous no matter if your nation is the Land of the Free, the Land of the Fords, or the Land of the Breadbin.