October 25th, 2010

[LINK] "Here's to Toronto's Election Workers"

To the volunteers, indeed.

"It truly is the city's largest event," says Colin MacLean, the manager responsible for training at Toronto Election Services. "When you look at it on paper in the planning stage—and I wouldn't say I thought it can't be done—but it's just wow, that's so much."

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to disagree. In the run up to the big day, Election Services has printed more than two million ballots, prepared fifteen hundred voting places, and trained, over the course of seven hundred sessions, between ten and eleven thousand election workers [PDF]. Simply put: running an election in a city the size of Toronto is a colossal undertaking.

[. . .]

One of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of the process is training the thousands of election day workers necessary to operate the polls. To prepare, Election Services has to first recruit workers (this year, about a hundred) from other City departments and then instruct them on how to run the training sessions. Usually, the workers are seasoned trainers with past experience, but after four years, even they need a refresher course. Then, in the weeks leading up to the election, they're sent out across the city to run the hundreds of training sessions needed to teach election day staff.

"In our portfolio, the most difficult thing on election day is ensuring that we have enough staff in our voting places," says MacLean. "We receive many cancellations." Most of which, he continues, are filled by standby workers.

And while cancellations are a problem, this year there was no shortage of willing workers.

"We were overwhelmed with calls," explains MacLean. "We ended up organizing a wait-list as far back as June…By far, there was far more interest this year. I would say that has to do with the economy, but we also have an outreach and communications team for this election. We've never had a dedicated team for that before, so they have to get some of the credit for getting the message out to the public."

[URBAN NOTE] On the refreshing lack of visible homophobia in Toronto's mayoral election

I'm very worried about today's municipal election; I sincerely hope that Smitherman gets the post at the end of this close race, if mainly because he's the best we have. Slap Upside the head has pointed to some homophobia in the campaign.

Catholic Insight, a politically-motivated religious publication, heartily endorsed Ford over Smitherman last week, calling Smitherman “ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil, that of homosexuality.” While the publication tried to remain as polite in phrasing as possible, there was nothing civil about it. “While those attracted to same sex orientation have the right to be treated with dignity like all other persons,” their endorsement stated, “they should not be appointed or elected to leadership positions.”

Gosh, how respectful of them. We gays are perfectly entitled to human dignity, so long as we not take any initiative on any public matters and remain as isolated and invisible as possible. Still, at least Catholic Insight had the decency to use their own name to deliver their hateful message that gays are inferior, incapable as role models, and shouldn’t be elected to any position of influence. Late last week, an anonymously produced, paid radio ad began airing on the Canadian Tamil Broadcasting Corporation. Translated, it begins thus:

Man #1
Elder brother, who are you going to vote for?
Man #2
(Snickers dismissively) What a question! We are Tamil. We have a religion, a culture. Take Rob Ford, he is married to a woman.

Meanwhile, near Victoria Park, crudely-designed posters began to appear overtop of existing election signs asking “Should a Muslim vote for him who married a man?”

Calling the ads “blatantly homophobic,” George Smitherman issued a statement to the press. “I will remain focused on offering a Toronto that finds strength in our diversity and builds for the future, not divides,” he said.

That's it. I don't doubt that a fair number people have Smitherman's sexual orientation in the back of their mind and aren't going to vote for him because of that, but it thankfully hasn't been raised as an issue. The criticisms that have been voiced of him in the mainstream media are legitimate ones: what history does he have in Toronto politics? doesn't he have a bad temper ("Furious George" was his nickname as a provincial cabinet minister)? does he have a positive vision?

I love this. People will be voting for, or against, a queer candidate for the most part not because of his sexual orientation, but because of his suitability (or not) for the job.

[LINK] "You Always Got Time for the Casual Belittling of the Common Man"

Today, on the day when a populist fights against an establishment figure, seems like a good day to bring out James Boiw's essay on the ways in which economic class, social class, class generally is used to debase political discourse in Canada. The "Tim Horton's constituency," referring to the low-cost ubiquitous coffee chain of that name, is at least an original term.

It’s cropped up in the last few elections, asking whether Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion or Michael Ignatieff would be more or less likely to be caught dead in a Tim Horton’s. It’s cropped up in the recent Toronto mayoralty race, both as an explanation of Rob Ford’s supposed connection to the common man, and also as an unfortunate quip about his weight. And it is seen as a counterpoint to the “Starbucks” constituency, where it is implied that people who are willing to pay $3 or more for their cups of joe are somehow pretentious, elitist and, ultimately, not real Canadians.

I find this such a blatant and inaccurate compartmentalization of a person’s thought processes that it’s insulting. I mean, I drink Tim Horton’s coffee too, and Stephen Harper and I are unlikely to agree about, well, anything. I also have been known to partake of the Starbucks coffee. So, what do you call those individuals who drink both Starbucks and Tim Hortons? Besides over-caffeinated? And what about those people who drink at one of Tim’s many competitors, like Coffee Time, or Country Style? Are they closet NDPers or Green Party supporters, or do they even have a political party?

[. . .]

I have heard plenty of people badmouthing Harper as well as McGuinty in Tim Horton’s. I’ve heard people praising McGuinty’s full day kindergarten initiative while sipping from Tim’s cups. Go into a teacher’s staff room and count the number of paper cups there; I guarantee you that more than half would be Timmy cups. And yet teacher unions are one of the groups that some Conservatives like to peg as being out of touch with the “Tim Horton’s crowd.”

As a writer, I do head to a Tim Horton’s to hear Canadians talk, and the reason it’s a good writing exercise is because Canadians are a diverse bunch. You’ll find no shortage of characters at these establishments and characters are, by definition, individuals. Individuals are, by and large, unique. The number of people who actually drink at Tim Hortons probably outnumber Conservative voters by at least two-to-one. How presumptuous is it that any political leader could claim an affinity for this great body of individuals?

[LINK] "Why I like Wikileaks"

Foreign Policy writer Stephen M. Walt likes Wikileaks. Why? It keeps a dishonest government in check.

On the one hand, it doesn't thrill me to see individuals inside the national security bureaucracy take the classification process into their own hands and decide to leak large quantities of information. As much as I admire the courage of a whistle-blower like Daniel Ellsberg, government agencies can't operate without a certain degree of discipline and there's always the danger that someone will leak material that isn't just political embarrassing but actually contains information that might put us at greater risk. There's also the obvious concern that leaked information might expose people who have been helping us in places like Iraq or Afghanistan (although Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has acknowledged that earlier Wikileaks releases did not in fact compromises sensitive information or methods). Still, I think some secrets need to be kept, and that belief makes it hard for me to see Wikileaks' activities as an unalloyed good.

But several other considerations override these concerns, and lead me to conclude that, on balance, Wikileaks is performing a valuable service. To begin with, official outrage at Wikileaks' activities is more than a little disingenuous given the frequency that top officials leak classified information when it suits their political purposes. If former Afghan commander Stanley McChrystal can successfully tie a president's hands by leaking a confidential report calling for more troops, then why shouldn't others use Wikileaks to share information that they believe the public ought to know? And as long as senior officials try to advance their political agendas by sharing inside information with sympathetic journalists in off-the-record "background" briefings, it is hard for me to feel outrage when their subordinates decide that the information to which they are privy deserves a wider audience.

Furthermore, we live in an age of "universal deceit," when it is hard to trust anything someone in the national security world tells you. From the very moment that the Iraq War was conceived, for example, top U.S. officials deployed a vast array of disinformation and deceit -- supposedly based on top-secret intelligence information -- to convince the American public that Saddam Hussein posed a mortal threat to U.S. national security. Nor were they the first leaders to lie to the American public. And the lies continued well in to the war, as former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Ellen Knickmayer makes clear here. (H/T to Glenn Greenwald, whose own posts on this topic are well worth reading).

As Eric Alterman and John Mearsheimer have both documented, it is clear from the historical record that all governments lie for a wide variety of reasons. But unless you're willing to believe that the people in charge are always right and that their lies are therefore justified (and if you think that, you haven't been paying attention), you ought to be in favor of any mechanism that brought more facts to light.