A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[PHOTO] Pillar, Yonge Eglinton Centre

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Pillar, Yonge Eglinton Centre #toronto #yongeandeglinton #architecture #blue

Written by Randy McDonald

April 21, 2015 at 7:33 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Anchored in hope: How Toronto is learning from Cleveland’s return to prosperity”

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Sara Mojtehedzadeh’s Toronto Star article suggesting that Toronto can prepare for the worst by learning from the example of Cleveland is hopeful. It even has a certain degree of superficial plausibility to it. It’s just that, as she concludes, this does not transform underlying issues significantly, that while hundreds might benefit from Cleveland’s example in specific neighbourhoods tens of thousands would be left untouched. There’s hope here, but it’s thin on the water.

If you’ve ever imagined a worst-case scenario for Toronto, it probably looks something like this: a burst housing bubble, massive job losses, crumbling roads, rapid economic decline and spiralling inequality.

That’s the nightmare that Cleveland has already lived in spectacular style.

The silver lining? It survived, thanks in part to an ambitious undertaking known as the anchor mission, which harnesses the massive spending power of a city’s so-called “anchor” institutions, such as universities and hospitals, to keep business and opportunity closer to home.

Think of it as a live, buy and hire local project on a grand scale.

The strategy has been so successful at reviving the Rust Belt town, now affectionately known as Comeback City, that Toronto is taking notice.

The city has begun a yearlong partnership with leaders at some of Toronto’s largest public employers to explore what an anchor mission might look like in a Canadian context.

“People had all these big dreams,” says Denise Andrea Campbell, director of social policy for the City of Toronto, who is heading up the city’s efforts. “I was very inspired by that.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 21, 2015 at 12:02 am

[LINK] “Russian dissidents seek asylum in Kyiv”

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At Open Democracy, Anna Yalovkina suggests that as Russia shifts towards totalitarianism, a broad array of Russian dissidents are fleeing towards a friendly, largely Russophone, post-revolutionary Ukraine.

From the moment the Maidan started in Ukraine, Russian authorities rushed to pass judgement on the emergent revolution, supporting President Viktor Yanukovych in any way they could. Russia’s leadership feared that the revolution could spread to Russia. Accordingly, Russian state media responded with a massive information campaign against the Maidan, convincing citizens that Ukraine had suffered an illegitimate coup and that all members of the opposition are ‘fifth columnists’ and ‘agents of the West.’

The Russian government’s apprehensions were, in a certain sense, justified. Despite mass propaganda, some citizens in Russia began calling for a Maidan in their own country. After the change of leadership in Kyiv and the outbreak of conflict, the majority of the Russian opposition came out in favour of Ukraine in its war against separatist forces in the country’s Donbas region.

But in a country where writing a provocative Facebook post, attending a protest action or making a public declaration out of line with the government’s position are potential grounds for criminal prosecution, individuals and groups have started to make their way to Ukraine.

A certain ‘clique’ of Russian émigrés has emerged in Kyiv. Despite their ideological differences, they’re all one degree of separation or less from one another, and they gather at a certain cafe in the old city centre to discuss politics and their plans for the future of Ukraine and Russia. One wants to simply split up Russia into independent republics, another wants to make Russia part of Europe, and the third is anxious for reform.

But they are united, at least, by a shared dissatisfaction with Putin’s government and an inability to return to their homeland.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:56 pm

[LINK] “Killer of Chilean folk singer Victor Jara to face US justice”

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Al Jazeera America’s Alfonso Serrano reports.

More than four decades after Chilean folk singer Victor Jara was tortured and executed in Santiago’s Chile Stadium, in the wake of the military coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973, an army lieutenant accused of killing the musician will face a civil lawsuit in the United States.

A U.S. district court in Florida agreed this week to hear the case against Pedro Barrientos Nuñez, the former lieutenant now residing in south Florida, who is alleged to have assassinated Jara, the poet and songwriter who became an iconic symbol of the struggle against Pinochet’s regime and one of Latin America’s most prominent protest singers.

[. . .]

Jara was assassinated five days after the U.S.-backed Sept. 11, 1973, coup ousted democratically elected Salvador Allende from power. Jara, a member of Chile’s Communist Party, had served as Cultural Ambassador under Allende. He was also a professor and theater director at Santiago’s State Technical University when it was overrun by military troops a day after the coup.

Jara, along with hundreds of other university teachers and students, was loaded onto a bus and transported to Chile Stadium (subsequently renamed Victor Jara Stadium) before he was recognized by military personnel and separated from other prisoners.

In 2009, former soldiers told a Chilean court that Jara was placed in Barrientos’ custody. Soldiers under the lieutenant’s command tortured Jara before Barrientos allegedly shot Jara to death. A Chilean appeals court in 2009 determined that Jara was killed on Sept. 16 as a result of 44 gunshot wounds.

That same year, Chilean prosecutors indicted Barrientos and seven other men for Jara’s death. Barrientos, however, fled Chile in 1989 and currently resides in Deltona, Florida, and is beyond Chilean court reach. However, Chile’s Supreme Court in 2012 approved an extradition request for Barrientos, and the former lieutenant could one day face a criminal trial in his native country.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:54 pm

[LINK] “The Drought Isn’t California’s Only Water Problem”

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Wired‘s Nick Stockton reports on yet another aspect of California’s worsening and apparently structural drought.

[A]llow me to divert your attention to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a massive estuary to the east of the San Francisco Bay that is the heart of a story that will at least explain why you’ll never get a satisfying explanation.

Actually, it’s not about the Delta, exactly; the real story is 200 feet below it, where the governor of the Golden State wants to dig huge tunnels that will make it easier for southern California to get northern California’s water.

Officially known as Conservation Measure 1 of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan—but commonly known as the Delta Tunnels—the idea is to dig two 35-mile tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter and capable of pumping 67,000 gallons of water per second from the Sacramento River to the California Aqueduct. The tunnels are supposed to fix the plumbing that delivers water to two-thirds of the state: every coastal city from San Francisco to San Diego, and millions of farms along the way. The plan is controversial, and has been in talks for a decade. If approved, the tunnels would take about ten years and an estimated $25 billion dollars to build.

[. . . C]onsider that this massive public works project—which will be paid for by all who drink from it—is not a response to the four-years-and-running drought. It’s just the latest attempt to solve a problem that has vexed the state for well over a century: how to move water so it satisfies all of California’s demands and desires.

Here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to push forward, last week Governor Jerry Brown announced that he was scuttling key environmental provisions that would have guaranteed that the tunnels and works associated with them would improve the Delta for 50 years into the future. “We can’t accurately model what things are going to look like in 50 years,” says Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:51 pm

[LINK] “Canadian-backed telescope construction delayed as Hawaiians defend Mauna Kea’s sacred summit”

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The National Post‘s Lauren Strapagiel looks at how a Canadian-backed telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has become a major issue for indigenous Hawaiian activists.

The construction of what will be one of the world’s largest observatories — a project to which Canada has pledged $243 million — is on hold amid passionate protest by indigenous Hawaiians.

The $1.5 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will sit on top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island and the highest peak in the state. At 4,205 metres above sea level, scientists say its summit provides unrivalled conditions for cosmic observation from TMT’s 30-metre wide primary mirror.

For some Native Hawaiians, however, Mauna a Wākea is a sacred place — a home to deities and buried ancestors. Traditionally, access to its summit is forbidden to all but chiefs and spiritual leaders.

Though the volcano is already home to 13 observatories, protesters have said TMT crosses a line, citing concerns for Mauna Kea’s unique flora and fauna as well as the peak’s cultural significance. Protesters have clashed with construction crews since they broke ground on the observatory last fall and 31 protesters opposing the project were arrested earlier this month.

Lawsuits have been filed by indigenous groups and an online petition opposing TMT has surpassed 51,000 signatures. On April 11, Hawaii’s governor David Ige announced the non-profit building the telescope has placed a moratorium on construction until at least April 20.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:49 pm

[LINK] “Ontario legal aid vows to ‘weed out’ bad refugee lawyers”

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Metro Toronto carries a Torstar News Service on the subject of the much-belated need to save refugees in Ontario from incompetent lawyers. I’ve read elsewhere that this is particularly a problem for Roma fleeing central Europe, but I’m sure other groups are also vulnerable.

Torstar News Service Raoul Boulakia of the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario says his members have been asking for years that “the minority who represent people negligently be removed from Legal Aid.”

Ontario legal aid is set to launch a new system to “vet and weed out” bad refugee lawyers in order to ensure asylum seekers receive quality representation.

After two years of consultations, the body that administers the province’s legal aid program will start screening lawyers representing refugee claimants based on their experience, expertise and records if they want to get paid to do asylum cases.

The reform — part of an initiative to assure the quality of government-funded legal services that will extend to other areas of law practices — arises from ongoing concerns over poor representation of the most vulnerable by some lawyers in jeopardizing legitimate refugees’ claims for protection.

“We are going to have a new set of quality standards for refugee lawyers. It’s going to be a more rigorous system to police and monitor compliance standards,” said Andrew Brouwer, acting senior counsel of legal aid’s immigration and refugee law section.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 20, 2015 at 9:45 pm

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