Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Publicly misbehaving

Toronto’s chattering classes are up in arms against Mayor Rob Ford’s public display of his personal shortcomings. These are glaring faults in the mayor’s behaviour in public that are perceived below the standard of moral conduct expected of public leaders. Inasmuch as the mayor has not been charged of any criminal behaviour, the city council’s hands are tied for lack of authority to suspend or even impeach the mayor from his duties as the top honcho of North America’s fourth largest city.
When the mayor is caught in a state of drunken stupor in a video released in major newspapers, broadcast in mainstream TV shows in Canada and the United States, or online in social media, there is a strong argument that while the mayor has the right to drink or to be drunk, doing so in public’s plain view diminishes the mayor’s position and runs afoul with the ordinary person’s idea of an elected public servant. Being photographed or videotaped in the company of shadowy characters also makes the mayor’s case even more damning to the public eye.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford listens during a city council meeting which strips his
powers as mayor of North America's fourth largest city. AFP Photo/Geoff Robins.
Click link to view "Rob Ford promises 'outright war' as powers further restricted,"
Or when the mayor admits to smoking crack cocaine and blaming it on being inebriated and later proclaiming to everyone with all contrition that he feels sorry about it—such indiscretions on the part of the city’s top executive do not comport well with public expectations.
Worse, when the mayor uses foul and offensive language on television that demeans women, he has inexcusably crossed the line that separates decency from inappropriate behaviour, a conduct unbecoming of a public figure such as the city’s mayor.
Probably in other jurisdictions, such displays of tasteless and unacceptable behaviour in public are enough to bear considerable weight on a politician’s mind to think of resigning. The political careers of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Congressman Anthony Weiner had been cut short by their sexual improprieties that had nothing to do with their ability to perform in their elected positions. It is almost a public expectation that when a public official is caught red-handed like Mayor Ford, the only and perhaps most responsible thing to do is quit. But not the Toronto mayor who believes he has the impunity to misbehave in public, and that his diehard constituents would not mind as long as he delivers on his election promises.
Should there be a link between immorality and qualification for high office, or is this something like passé or downright impossible in light of today’s modern values?
The expectation that an elected public official must resign in view of his inappropriate conduct and abuse of public expectations still makes a lot of sense. A society with high moral standards is one that knows the difference between right and wrong. It’s true that what politicians do in their bedrooms or on their private time is their own business. But when their behaviour crosses the boundaries of decency and respectability, it also tarnishes their office and their image to the public that have put them in office.
Mayor Rob Ford’s personal shortcomings denote not only a breakdown in his private compass, but have also ramifications to public morality in general. To borrow from and paraphrase Robert Reich, there seems to be a moral rot in Toronto but it is not to be found in the private behaviours of its citizens. It is located in the public behaviour of elected people like Mayor Ford and his brother Councillor Doug Ford who control the city council and are turning the city of Toronto into the laughing stock of the world. Such displays of public misbehaviour on the part of the city mayor cannot be allowed: it downgrades public morality and puts its elected officials whom it has entrusted to govern to shame and ridicule by foreign media and the world at large.
The citizens of Toronto expect more from those they assign with public trust. We cannot give Mayor Rob Ford a free pass for his public misconduct. To give the city mayor the impunity to do what he wishes is synonymous with allowing him to run roughshod against values that people expect in a civil society. This is the greater danger that the mayor’s shortcomings may have on our society.
If Mayor Rob Ford should resign now and seek counsel to mend his ways, he still has the opportunity to seek office again. A re-election would naturally mean his redemption. But of course the people of Toronto, not wanting a return to the current state of affairs, should soundly and vigorously trash him when that opportunity comes. The mayor’s personal deficiencies have become a matter of public record. To rebuke his re-election if he ever decides to run again does not mean punishing him; rather, it is a declaration that the public will not entertain anymore shenanigans from leaders they elect to office.
The idea that there is no connection between loose morals and public integrity is a theory that politicians like Rob Ford and others like him adhere to. While integrity is something like a fungible commodity for most politicians, public outrage against elected politicians like Rob Ford is a clear and strong reminder to our leaders that they don’t have the impunity to misbehave, and that their personal egos have no place in public service.
What could be true in Toronto could also be true to the federal government as well. Before the controversy that Mayor Rob Ford helped stir in the public eye, three Conservative Party senators were suspended from the Canadian Senate for claiming travel and housing expenses for which they were not eligible. In the wake of the Senate scandal, more and more Canadians are now clamouring to reform the Senate by abolishing it or getting the senators chosen through an election rather than the current practice of appointing them. Reform or abolition of the Senate would require a constitutional amendment and the support of at least seven of ten provinces.
With the suspensions of Senators Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hoping that the scandal is now over. But the controversy hasn’t ended, and the scandal continues to persist, because at the heart of this affair is the Prime Minister himself. When the controversy about the senators’ allowances exploded, Harper’s aides and some senior members of his Conservative Party tried to cover up the scandal. Harper denied he knew anything about it.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada takes questions in the House of Commons
over dispute regarding Canadian senators' expenses as it balloons into a larger political
scandal for the Conservative Party government.
It was Harper who appointed these senators and, in turn, he benefited from their presence in the Senate. Brazeau, who was then an influential leader in the off-reserve Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, was one of the few native leaders who sided with Harper’s decision to mothball the so-called Kelowna Accord. Both Duffy and Wallin were high-profile TV journalists who were appointed to the Senate by Harper to promote the Conservative Party cause.
Since members of the Senate are personally appointed by the incumbent Prime Minister for their particular skills or benefits to the party, Filipinos in Toronto should perhaps begin to wonder why one of their so-called leaders was plucked and selected by the Conservative Party to sit in the Senate. What exactly will he bring to the Conservative Party and its agenda in government? Is it just a coincidence that the processing for permanent residence of many live-in caregivers, mostly from the Philippines, has hit a snail’s pace? Why has the Filipino community become peculiarly silent regarding immigration issues such as family reunification, hiring of temporary workers, and reforms in the live-in caregiver program? These are some relevant questions which the Filipino community press should investigate and give deeper coverage to rather than one newspaper’s obsession about bringing down or shaming personalities in the community.
Like the country or city we inhabit, the Filipino community in Toronto is also faced with problems caused by some form of social pathology. After all these years, we are still a fractured community. We are only mobilized to unite based on causes or issues close to each of our particular sector’s interest. There are broken windows in our community, for sure; however, the prevailing proclivity for some of us, especially those in the leadership and control of local media, is to throw more stones at more windows, which ultimately will undermine the integrity of our entire community.
Windows in our community have started breaking a few years ago. Scandals have plagued some of our organizations, putting the uprightness of some of our community leaders in question. One local newspaper continues in its pre-ordained mission to bash other journalists in the community and some leaders on questionable transactions. The telling of unfounded allegations or half-truths in published statements tarnishes not only certain individuals, but also our community as a whole. Until our so-called leaders and their critics deal with these allegations in an open and constructive way, however, they will continue to fester, and our integrity as a community is in great danger of disintegrating.
It’s high time for us, as citizens of Toronto and Canada, and as members of our Filipino community, to stake out the moral high ground. The public misbehaviour of some of our leaders we have elected or selected is not a matter of private morality. They are, like the city mayor’s list of infractions, violations of public morality and common sense. They undermine the integrity of our community, and the city and country we have chosen to live in.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nature of giving


A survivor carries water in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban, Leyte. AP Photo/Vincent Yu.
Natural disasters, like earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons (or hurricanes in this part of the world) awaken the better angels in people almost everywhere. For whatever loss of life and property and other dire sufferings these disasters may have brought upon their victims, people opening their hearts and wallets in order to give will always share equal time and space in the retelling of the story and of how people helped others in the aftermath.
Super typhoon Yolanda (or Haiyan) which hit the Philippines last Friday is a great example. This is not to forget or belittle the efforts of those who’ve helped victims of typhoons in years past. News and images on TV, print media and the Internet are enough to arouse people to understand and empathize with the victims.

Police line up bodies for processing in Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines. CNN photo.
Click link to view
"Typhoon Haiyan: Scenes of devastation, calls for help."
Giving and helping tell us that we all want to make the world a better place, despite of all the deaths, the losses and the destruction. People will rebuild from the ashes, if they need to. That’s the clear message we’re getting, no doubt about it.
Reading through social media, including Facebook, can make one sad, however. Despite all good intentions, there will still be those among us who would capitalize on the Yolanda wreckage to promote their personal agenda.
For some, this has become a prized opportunity for self-promotion, to put themselves back in the limelight and corner every chance to appear on TV to announce the laudable efforts they have launched to help the typhoon victims.

A survivor walks past a cargo ship washed ashored  by Typhoon Haiyan in
Tacloban, Leyte. AP Photo/Vincent Yu.
Still others would take advantage of this opportunity to further divide the community, such as the case in Toronto, for example, where the Filipino Canadian community is currently beset by a pestering internal strife among the local community press, with some reporting on the reporters and the personalities instead of on the issues and events that the community should be aware of. Rather than restoring civility in the community, this type of community journalism practised by some only makes us the butt of jokes and the laughing stock among Toronto’s visible minority.
What could be worse is when some people tell you to donate to them or to their organizations, instead of using the more tested and reliable international relief agencies such as the Red Cross, primarily due to their ideological distaste of these organizations, and because of issues of transparency, honesty, and whether the help really goes to the people who are in need.
The magnitude of Yolanda’s wrath and damage clearly shows the need for logistics, an effective organization, and available equipment to clean up the debris that currently block the path of relief agencies and workers. These agencies need to reach the victims first and foremost. Even the national government, with its entire military at its command, cannot handle Yolanda’s aftermath to the satisfaction of their critics and the people they intend to help.

A man sits crying on a packed aircraft in Tacloban. CNN photo.
So when some groups tell you not to give to the Red Cross, for example, because the organization is headed by a career politician, that kind of message not only dampens the enthusiasm of potential givers but also leaves a bitter taste to the act of helping itself. Instead of joining others in helping our poor and suffering compatriots, these individuals and the type of talk they spread dampen the collective relief efforts. They only politicize the act of helping others, and communicate a self-serving message that only through them, and no one else, can you help the victims of Yolanda.
This is the time to set aside political differences, whether you are from the right or left of the spectrum. The victims need help, and they don’t care where this is coming from.
This goes too for groups who are taking Yolanda’s destructive aftermath as a soap box to promote arguments that global warming or climate change is the main culprit and we should take immediate steps to restore earth to its original nature. While the argument may be valid, it loses its great appeal because it’s not the kind of talk that the people really need to know now. There is a time, and we should give ourselves that time, to debate on man’s profligate nature and habits for we cannot afford any longer to wreak havoc on the earth around us and bask in the knowledge that nature will continue to be benevolent to us.
The power of the people to give and to lend an extra hand to those in great need cannot be underestimated. It is during these times of disasters that we are tested. To care for others is part of our culture and nurture. But to ply our own agenda on how to give better, or where to give, and how we can achieve the greatest impact, we need not resort to negative messages but instead allow everyone the free will to go to what’s deepest in their hearts.